29 August 2013

Ten Things I've Learned About Life, The Universe, and Everything: Reflections At 42

Dear Lissy,

I'm celebrating a birthday this week, which invariably causes me to pause and reflect.  Below are a few lessons I've learned since turning 21 half a lifetime ago.  In one way or another, these are truths I either didn't know or didn't apprehend until I was much older.  Who knows?  Maybe one of them will help you through a rough patch in your twenties or even thirties.

God may change your platform, but He never changes your purpose.  
(I Cor 10:31)

Every day is a battle.  
Endure the hardness.  Care for your armor.  Communicate regularly with your CO.  Know your sword. Learn your enemy.  Keep rank. Obey orders. 
Proverbs 31:10-31 is filled with verbs normally reserved for narrating battles.  Remember that others around you are likely weary, wounded, and scarred, just like you, and act accordingly.   Don't whine about the battlefield accommodations here on Planet Earth -- you won't even remember them once you're home.

People cannot change;  they can only make exchanges.  
The great exchange, of course, is salvation, and that is impossible outside of God's grace because the value is ludicrously unequal.  Isaiah 40:31's renew carries the idea of exchange, too. If you ever get the chance to study Biblical Psychology, it's the Put off-Put on principle.   On a much more mundane level, we can't change bad habits or routines, we can only exchange them for better ones.  An exchange typically implies equal value:  figure out how to make the new habit or routine worth more to you than the old one, and you'll succeed. 

If anyone else can make you bad, sad, mad, or glad; they're in control, not you.  
Meekness (strength of purpose under the direction and control of the Holy Spirit) and a quiet heart -- still, confident,  and peaceful no matter the circumstances --  are signs of the power of God on our life.  Precious little can disrupt the woman who's life is characterized by those two qualities. 

The wealthy do three things the poor do not:  Plan, Invest, and Give. 
This is true in every arena from  money to relationships to spiritual fruit to emotional stability.

Doing precedes understanding.  Understanding precedes passion.  Passion precedes expertise.  Expertise exhilarates and empowers.
Just start.  Just do it.  Even if you can't wrap your head around the "why" and especially when you don't feel like it, do it. Understanding will dawn with the doing.  Passion will bud with completion and success.  Pretty soon you're an expert, and there's nothing you'd rather do.  This progression is true across a wide variety of disciplines from math to music to personal devotions.

Information excites, but connections inspire.
Most of us need inspiration more than information.  Information may excite or delight when presented well, but it will rarely change beliefs or behavior.  In contrast, seeing how that information connects to and impacts other things I already know, believe, and do will inspire me to exchange the new information for old bits that aren't working well. Ultimately that exchange will affect my beliefs and actions.

Right relationships are more important than being right. 
Your relationship to God is the most important relationship to keep right. Barring heresy, it's almost always better to nurture a relationship and concede a point graciously.  It's even better to value your relationships so highly you never engage in an argument in the first place.

Positive choices bring satisfaction, negative choices ignite cravings and feed addictions.
Bad choices may bring pleasure, or even happiness, but they'll never satisfy.  You'll always want more.  Good choices satisfy.   Positive decisions may hurt or be uncomfortable initially, but they still bring a certain satisfaction.  It's true with the simplest things in life (food, sleep, purity) as well as the more complex and eternal decisions.

A biblical marriage -- one man and one woman committed to God and each other for life-- has almost limitless power in this world and the next. 
Like the humble atom, a marriage holds tremendous potential.  God chooses to call the wife "help meet" with the same word (ezer) He uses to describe Himself.  That word is only used in those two situations:  a wife and God.  An unfaithful wife, by comparison, is compared to leukemia.  I don't think we understand by half our own power and position.

I blew in on a tropical storm over four decades ago, and we've got another good one blowing tonight. I wish I were up at the lake and could watch the thunderheads and lightning move across the water. Instead, I'll unplug my poor 'puter and head to bed.

Hugs and kisses,

P.S.  I've also learned that salted dark chocolate is one of the best ways to satisfy a sweet tooth.   That didn't make the cut, but it is good to know!

28 August 2013

Cheap Eats: Graham Crackers with Chocolate Frosting

Dear Lissy,

We're neck deep in the first week of school, and our car's been out of commission for a full week.  It looks like it could be another week before we're back on the road, so I'm having to do some creative things to come up with lunch treats.  And protractors.  But I digress.
Graham crackers filled with chocolate frosting are a New England treat dating back at least 75 years.  This chocolate frosting recipe, named "Chocolate Joy Icing" by the trusty old-fashioned Betty Crocker Picture Cookbook, uses a handful of pantry ingredients to make a silky-smooth icing that resembles the filling in Little Debbie treats. 

Chocolate Joy Icing for Graham Crackers
from Betty Crocker's Picture Cookbook
Makes enough "for a small cake", or about 10 graham sandwiches
In a medium bowl, sift together:
2 cups powdered sugar
1/4 tsp salt
3 Tbsp. cocoa
1 large egg yolk
1/4 cup soft shortening

3-1/2 Tbsp. very hot water
Beat with electric beater until smooth, fluffy, and easy to spread.

Mom's notes
  • Icing starts out dark, thin, and lumpy, but quickly thickens.
  • Yup, it's got raw egg.  We're daring like that around here. The egg yolk is the single most important ingredient, so don't try to sub it out. It's easy to find egg free icing recipes anywhere online.
  • "Shortening" in the 1950"s refers to any solid fat:  Crisco, butter, margarine, or lard.  I have yet to make lard icing, but you never know.
  • Use coffee for up to half of the water.
  • Spread graham crackers thinly with peanut butter before adding icing for a yummy twist.
You and your brothers are the fourth generation of our family to love these funny treats as an after school pick-me-up.  Have fun keeping the tradition alive!

Love you, Sweetie,

25 August 2013

Don't Be That Friend

Dear Lissy,
I read a fantastic article about mom friendships this morning, and it got me thinking about what I wanted to leave you for a legacy on this topic. This is a letter from deep in the drafts, and hopefully I'll add more during the coming year.  Friendships are one of the most beautiful gifts God has given us here on this earth.  I prefer to have a handful of close sister-friends in which I invest one-on-one time, but I have a wide circle of people who are dear to my heart that I keep in touch with via e-mail. 
Available framed or as greeting cards here.
 There is only one kind of friendship I have ever ended, and I've been on both sides of the problem. Maybe because we're New Englanders, I rarely see outright hostility. Our drama tends more to the cold war variety, and is rooted in imagining the worst.   I've found that the closer we are in age and circumstances, the more likelihood there is for imaginations. Imaginations can cripple a marriage, too.   I'm not too concerned what a 22 year old single guy thinks about our homeschooling curriculum, but if Dad or another home schooling mom questions me, I start wondering what they're really thinking.

We usually don't judge others who are weak in areas where we're strong. . .
I like to cook.  I cook a hot breakfast and dinner for our family every single day.  I really don't care if you're eating candy corn for breakfast, or heading through McDonald's drive through three times a week.  I'm more than happy to eat whatever you care to serve if I come to your house for dinner.  I don't expect you to whip up a dinner party for 8 -- let's make Ramen cups and enjoy a movie with the kids.  Jokes about my cooking skills or lack thereof don't phase me much, because I'm comfortable and confident with that skill set.

. . .but we assume others judge our weak areas when they are strong.
A friend who has a spotless home just dropped by.  My porch rug and mud mat inside the door are furry and dirty and covered in crushed leaves.  My Webster is still leaned against the porch railing drying off after a major cobweb expedition yesterday.  Cue rogue imaginations:  "They must think I'm such a slob!  I bet that's why he hurried away so fast. . .he must be grossed out."   Ugh.

Now the twist:  We respond to our friend and gossip to others as if they've actually judged us and found us wanting. We pass over the months, or even years, of encouragement and love.  We ignore the areas that we're stronger and they struggle. We go cold when the topic comes up in conversation with her, but eagerly compare notes with other friends we know struggle in our same area.  We mentally divide our mutual friends into "hers" and "mine." We begin judging her weaknesses to make us feel better about our own.  We end up doing the very things we imagined and despised in her.

Don't be that friend.  Don't be the one who imagines she's being judged, and then retaliates against her innocent friend.

What's the real problem?  Pride.  If you start getting frustrated with a friend who's better than you at being a wife, or mom, or cook, or housekeeper, or gardener, or fitness expert, STOP.  
  • Has that friend ever expressed anything but encouragement and hope for you in this area?  Are you thinking true things she's actually said, or things you imagine she must be thinking when she looks at your life?  Are you listening to gossip from another friend's imaginations?  Are you shifting your disappointment in yourself onto her so you have someone to fight?  Have you talked to her and believed what she said, not what you thought she might be thinking?   
  • Have you taken this area to Jesus?  Have you repented of any sin that's causing your troubles?  Have you shown him the pride that's making you miserable?  Have you asked for His cleansing, grace, and help in this time of need?  Have you memorized Philippians 4:8?  Have you read through King Saul's life story and seen how this ends?
You will have at least a time or two during your life that someone really does gossip, backstab, or condescend, and I've already written about that.  This letter is about being a good friend, and realizing how easily pride can tank a relationship that has the most potential for sanctification and companionship.

Love you forever, like you for always,

21 August 2013

How To Write Lesson Plans for A Real Book

Dear Lissy,

I'm busy getting together our schoolwork for next week -- this is just a little break while I wait for AAA to rescue me again.   Anything from A Beka and Saxon comes in neatly numbered lessons. . .easy-peasy.   I purchased daily lesson plans for Apologia for a song, and they are worth every penny.  But I'm charting my own course for two non-academic courses this year:  FACS (Family and Consumer Sciences) and Bible. 

So how do you choose a real book and use it for a class?


Choose a book that's well-designed for teaching.
Given unlimited time, almost anyone could write a fantastic course with modules that incorporate books, websites, and hands-on experience.  For our purposes, I want a single book that lends itself well to working through from beginning to end as the backbone of my course.  
  • I look for interesting and relevant subject matter woven into every chapter first. I don't want to have to teach through three months of filler or preparatory information.
  • The material must be roughly organized from simple to complex.  I do not have the time to jump around between chapters.
  • I prefer books that review material and re-use key skills. I love books that have a single page summary or mnemonic that highlights all the major points. 
Choose a book that will delight and inspire your child, but also fits your own philosophy and experience.
Our first project in cooking class is making our own bacon from a pork belly, but they'll also learn how to saute a chicken breast and make a simple pan sauce without a recipe before the year is out.  The personal evangelism course is going to require your brothers to master the use of 111 gospel verses by the end of the year so they can work seamlessly with the Holy Spirit in an individual's life. They're nervous about that, but they're eagerly anticipating loading up a USB drive with material that will help them navigate apologetics and discipleship.
If a book matches your philosophy and your children's personalities, it's probably a winner.

Ok, so now I have my book, what am I supposed to do???


Figure out the big picture using the Table of Contents.
Skim read the entire book in an hour or so, and then turn back to the Table of Contents. Pencil into the margin what month you plan to cover each chapter.  With real books, it often makes sense to skip a chapter (or two or three) if they don't fit into the core concepts or time frame for the course.  I don't have to spend class time on the chapter, "The Reason for Evangelism," because we are doing this course at the boys' request.  They'll read it for homework, but their motivation level is sky high because of their attempts to share the gospel over the last year with their robotics group.   

Divide the first month's work into weekly segments.  
After penciling in a basic schedule for the year, I want to have a rough idea of how much material I plan to cover each week.  I place a little W1, W2, etc. into the margin at each start point for the first month. I don't do this for the whole year until I have a good feel for the pace of the course.   If the material goes faster or slower than anticipated, I can easily adjust after the first couple of  weeks. 

Divide the first two weeks into daily segments.
The first two weeks of school can be hectic as we settle into new routines, celebrate birthdays, and usually end up with last-minute Labor Day plans.  I take the time to go through and pencil the day number and record any homework assignments into the margin beside each day's material. I also make a list of supplementary material during this time.   I don't do this for more than a couple of weeks until I have a good feel for the course.  In some courses, I don't go through and mark daily work until the break week before the new session.

Dive in!
Even if I haven't had time to go through the whole book and make seamless plans, I jump right in on Day 1.  There's always time to re-adjust when I catch my breath during break week.  Done is better than perfect.

Keep Good Records
I'll be re-teaching these courses when you hit high school, and I don't want to have to redo work.  I keep careful records of time, assignments, any glitches, and supplementary materials I used.  I also need to be able to give proof of course for high school transcripts as a home educator.

With a little passion, creativity, and planning; real books can become one of the best textbooks available.

Lovin' you,

15 August 2013

Why We Don't Have The Cheapest Grocery Bill on the Block

Dear Lissy,

There's a LOT of pressure on moms to keep the grocery bill impossibly low.  Because the grocery bill is a variable expense, husbands, friends, popular bloggers, and even our own conscience pushes us to drive the number ever lower.  In our current economy, I've seen numbers as low as $12 per person per week, with $20 being about average for frugal families.  For comparison when you read this letter, the June 2013 USDA Thrifty Food Cost for the individuals in our family is pushing $40 per person per week, with the Liberal plan coming in just under $80 per person per week.

I'm reasonably intelligent, a good cook, and very motivated to save $$$ as a full time mom.  So why are my grocery numbers hovering closer to $30 per person than $20?

13 August 2013

Practive Parenting: Principle #3: Children Are A Welcome Part of the Family

Dear Lissy,

We've had a quiet couple of weeks before the rush and excitement of a new school year.  Matt has been fighting with Lyme disease, and all of us got knocked flat with summer head colds.  I wanted to continue my thoughts on proactive parenting with a principle that could have easily been #1:

Children are a welcome part of the family.

09 August 2013

A Day in the Life: 2013

Dear Lissy,

Today is a bit of a time capsule letter.  I'm going to share with you what an ideal day looks like in my life.  Now that you kids are older, I see many more ideal days than I did when you were toddlers. My school year and summer don't vary a whole lot anymore, either.

The Big Picture:
  • Get myself and the other people in the house ready for the day by 8 a.m.  Our morning routine includes devotions, getting dressed, eating a nourishing breakfast, and tidying up after ourselves in the bedrooms/bathrooms.  I have a "thing" about moping around in PJ's until mid-morning, as you well know :-)
  • Daily chores by 10 am:  Laundry, tidying up, swiping bathrooms, meal prep and cleanup.  My workout falls somewhere between 7 a.m. and 10 a.m, too.  You and the boys often join me.
  • School or Project pretty well finished by 1 pm.  I assign 1-2 hour projects during the summer.  These may be pruning trees, working on a household maintenance project, or just helping me punch out our weekly chores so we can get to the beach or go on a hike.
  • Weekly chores/errands before 5 pm.  I've moved my days around periodically to meet our family's schedule.  Currently it looks like dis. . .
    • Monday:  Kitchen deep cleaning, reorganize pantry/fridge/freezer, grocery shopping, prepping/storing food for week, baking.
    • Tuesday:  Office day - anything paperwork from planning school work, bills, taxes, or even preparing a Sunday school class.
    • Wednesday:  Cleaning Day (sometimes swapped with Friday)
    • Thursday:  Mending/alterations and garden projects. 
    • Friday:  Town day - library, errands, quick grocery stop for weekend needs, thrift/salvage store
    • Saturday:  Family projects, Sunday prep including car cleanout.
  • Dinner
  • Projects:  Sewing, baking, school prep, research/video classes, pre-reading for lit classes.

5 am:  Coffee and devos.  I currently alternate between Professor Horner's plan and adding to my What Do I Know About My God? notebook.  This is the only quiet alone time I get all day now that the boys are in high school.
6 am:  Make Daddy's breakfast and pack his lunch.   Daddy is so not a morning person!   A hot breakfast helps him wake up and prepares him for his very physical job as a contractor.  His lunch takes a bit to pack, too, since he's often gone through dinner time and needs enough food for the whole day.
6:30 am:  Wake up Daddy for breakfast.  Computer check-in time for me (Reader, G-mail, Facebook)
7 am:  Start a load of laundry, unload dishwasher, morning visit with kids during school year, get dressed for walk/workout. 
7:45 am:  Switch laundry, make sure kids are doing "Morning 5" and on track for school day.  In the summer I head out for a walk before you all are up.
8:00 am:  Bible class (Still walking in summer)
8:30 am school /9 am summer:   Tidy kitchen, bathrooms, bedrooms while helping with school work.  Finish up laundry.
9am school year:  Go for walk/workout, make sure expectations are clear for work to be done while I'm out.  Gardens/outdoor projects during the summer.
10 am:  Breakfast:  Poached egg, a couple of Jones natural sausages, and fruit. I'm not hungry at all when I wake up, so I eat breakfast late.   I usually am not hungry again until dinner time, but I might have a snack late afternoon.
10:30 am:  Shower, dress, make-up.  Work on weekly chores, keep checking on kids' school or assigned project in summer.
1 pm:  Tidy kitchen, start supper prep, double check all school work.
1:30 - 4 pm (5 pm summer):  Errands, friends, downtime. Grocery shopping, library, piano practice, blog letters, etc.  1:30 - 4/5 is my "evening".  I may even nap if I've had a late night.
4/5 - 6:30 pm:  Prepare dinner, eat, and clean up kitchen.  Kids are doing a quick pick up through the house and yard while I prepare dinner.
6:30 - 7:  Computer time - Gmail, facebook, etc.
7-9:  Project time (Mon - Wed):  Baking, sewing, processing fruit or veg for preserving.  The boys are at robots during this time for a big chunk of the year.  We have church on Thursday night, family fun time on Friday night, Sunday prep on Saturday.
9 pm:  Final house check, good night to Liss, set out breakfast, set up coffeemaker
9:15 - 10 pm:  Read or watch a T.V. program, get ready for bed, good night to Matt
10 pm:  Lights out.