31 December 2007

Change of Direction

After about 14 years of white walls and a pink and blue stencil, we decided to paint our kitchen/dining room.

This past week, we've been painting different patches of wall in different shades of yellow in different combinations using sponging on, ragging off, and dry brushing to test the looks of these various paints in faux finishes. We've narrowed it down to a pale lemon sorbet and a brighter buttery yellow and are happy with our choices.

We also wanted to add a tile backsplash between the countertop and the bottom of the cupboards. With that in mind, we headed down to the tile store today. We began browsing and then things took an unexpected turn.

You see, our counters are a medium blue. We'd like to change them, but the countertops we've looked at in the past are far, far out of our budget, so we were going to change other things and continue to save until we could replace the countertops. However, at the tile store, we began to see possibilities we hadn't thought about in terms of tile countertops. I've seen tile countertops at others' homes and haven't really liked them, but the counter at the store was finished in large tiles and they were butt jointed (very little grout between them). The salesman said that porcelain is five times harder than granite, so we started browsing for porcelain counter tiles. We have a few samples here at the house, along with some samples of tiles and decorative strips for the backsplash. Painting is now on the back burner as we want to do the counters first. We'll also tile the island and desk, and lower the snackbar so it's the same height as the counter to open up the whole room. I'll try to post before and after pictures as we work. (I'm having trouble getting any pictures to upload, so I can't promise anything.)


30 December 2007

Sign of the Times?

While watching PBS's Jane Eyre tonight, I was surprised at the end to hear the ad for the DVD's. One could purchase the mini-series on disc, or (insert picture of the novel by Charlotte Brontë) the 'companion book to the series'. My daughter and I almost fell over laughing.

29 December 2007

Dinner Guests

We've been meaning to have a couple of the single guys from church over for a home-cooked dinner for about nine months now, and we finally followed through on Thursday evening.

They arrived at about 6:30 and we put them right to work helping in the kitchen. With the two guys, plus the eleven of us, it was a tight but cozy fit. My Honey planned the menu (tarragon orange chicken, bread for dipping into olive oil, sweet balsamic vinegar and herbs, veggies, one bottle white wine, and one of a sweet blush wine that tasted berry, berry good) while I took care of the dessert (a simple marble cake from a boxed mix, served warm with ice cream and melting frosting).

We had a delightful time getting to know the guys, the things that keep them busy and their plans for the future. It was such an encouragement to hear how the Lord has been working in their lives, their love for the Saviour and his church, and their gratitude to our amazing pastors.

This was probably our most successful dinner and we hope to do it often in the future. A few things we did to help things along: we let them know that we wanted them to work with us in cooking the meal, and we provided aprons for everyone (installed a small rack in the kitchen to hang them and bought three 3-packs of aprons in different colors from Sam's that afternoon). Clothes don't make the cook, but they help to get into the appropriate mood!

I read somewhere years ago that hospitality isn't so much dropping everything when you have guests, but rather inviting your guests to take part in the life of your family. This is the first time we've actually done this and it's definitely something we want to repeat.


26 December 2007

New Home

Well, iWeb has been running fairly slowly on my laptop, which is over three years old and, even though it works great for most of what I use it for, the iWeb file is just too big. I thought I'd try Blogger. If it's easier to post (meaning typing itself goes faster) then maybe I'll post more often.

Quick update from the last six weeks:

Oldest son got his license.

Three oldest sons finished their film for the upcoming Student Film Festival. They made the deadline by just a few hours. It turned out great! The learning curve was pretty steep - after writing the script, they had to learn about planning a shoot, lighting, sound, and editing. It was a great blessing to watch the boys work together. They recognized each other's strengths and deferred to one another respectfully.

Our Christmas was wonderful. We enjoyed a quiet day of opening presents, playing games, good food, and listening to old record albums with my father and step-mother.

15 October 2007


All our literature reading is based in history (as I’ve said before, I like to kill two or three birds with one stone). I’m also lumping my kidlets together, which cuts down on the number of books I have to read and the number of literature discussions I have to lead. Lumping also makes our discussions more fun as the kids have each other to talk with, learn from, and bounce ideas off of.

So, here’s what we’re doing. First the kids simply read their first assigned book (Carry On, Mr. Bowditch! for the middles and Andrew Nelson Lytle's At the Moon’s Inn for the older kids). They each took a couple of weeks and my goal for their first reading was that they simply enjoy and get caught up in the story.

I assigned other books after that: At the Sign of the Beaver, Johnny Tremaine, and The Slave Dancer; House of the Seven Gables; The Scarlet Letter (for our Gileskirk discussion group), and the Fenimore Cooper title of their choice. (We also read Mark Twain’s essay ‘The Literary Offences of Fenimore Cooper’ which had us roaring.)

While they read these other titles, we’re going back through Mr. Bowditch and Moon’s Inn and rereading them much more slowly (four chapters of one and one section of the other each week) and discussing our way through them.

The first time we met for discussion, I threw quite a few literary terms and their definitions at the kids. I told them to become familiar with them, but if they couldn’t work with them or find them in stories yet, that was okay as that was what we would be focusing on for the rest of the year.

Each week, we first lay out the plot points. By starting with plot first, we’re looking at the overall structure of the story. This also helps me know where we are if I haven’t had a chance to reread the kids’ assignments that week. And, this helps the kids to see how plot relates to character as changes and growth in the characters make the most sense when they’re caused by events of the story.

After we discuss the plot points, we look at the main character and what we’ve learned about him in this smaller section. Sometimes the main character changes and grows, and sometimes we simply learn more about him. We also compare the main character to others in the story (foils). As we see his growth or the way he’s revealed and the way he is like or unlike other characters, we begin to discover the themes of a work.

Then I ask which literary devices they’ve noticed that week. Right now, we’re working on foreshadowing, metaphor and imagery. As they get better at finding those, I’ll add to this list.

This is pretty basic right now, but as we do this through the year with different works, we’ll get lots of practice. I want my children to know how to dive deeply into a work, understanding how to approach a work, so they aren’t left to simply read what others say.

A couple of books that I found quite helpful in my literary education:

Reading Between the Lines, by Gene Edward Veith

How to Read Literature Like a Professor, by Thomas Foster

Here are a few more hints:

If you’ve never looked at literature like this before, start slowly. Choose a couple and when you begin to understand how those work, add a few more.

Don’t try to find anything your first time through. Simply enjoy the story the first time you read it. Save the analysis for a reread.

It’s easier and faster to watch a film a second or even a third time than to read a long book twice, so look for these things in films, especially in kids’ films. Pixar has some of the best scripts for these types of things.


08 October 2007

My New Preciouses

Took a trip to the used bookstore tonight with my oldest and, boy, did we find some treasures!
First to the foreign language section. I was hoping to find a beginning French reader, but instead I found a copy of La Jument Verte (The Green Mare) which my good friend Debra in Mozambique highly recommended when she discovered I was reading Le Petit Nicolas.

Next, we headed to the fiction and literature aisles, where we discovered How to Travel with a Salmon & Other Essays by Umberto Eco. As much as I love stories, I’m beginning to appreciate humorous essays. They’re short enough to fit into my schedule and can really brighten my day. And I love sharing them with my kids.

My friend Jenny in Michigan had mentioned Tempest-Tost by Robertson Davies to me over a year ago. Alas, they didn’t have that title, but they did have many of his others. I bought The Deptford Trilogy (Fifth Business, The Manticore, and World of Wonders), and The Papers of Samuel Marchbanks. I read a couple of excerpts from the last to my daughter as we sat there on the floor and, as we laughed together, I knew I had to buy it.

I turned to see what was on the shelf behind me and saw an interesting title among Dickens’ works: The D. Case or The Truth About the Mystery of Edwin Drood by Dickens, with a bit of help from Carlo Fruttero and Franco Lucentini.

We then headed to the kids’ section where we found two copies of Johnny Tremaine for my middles’ literature reading. I also found Theater Shoes by Noel Streatfeild. I’ve had Ballet Shoes and Dancing Shoes for a few years now and, as a dyed in the wool thespian, was thrilled to finally find this at such a good price.

I also found Village School and Village Diary, both by ‘Miss Read’, in the children’s section! I could hardly believe it and wonder who put them there?

Last week, we went to another used bookstore and I found an anthology of Anthony Trollope’s shorter fiction, some of which haven’t been published since their first appearance over 100 years ago. I also found a copy of Stone Soup in French.


20 September 2007


I have four boys and through the years, they’ve seemed at times like alien creatures. As I’ve read books for and about boys I’ve learned to relax about their strangenesses, even if I still don’t really understand them. Here’s a list of my favorites:

Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain (of course!)

The Story of a Bad Boy, by Thomas Bailey Aldrich (I have my dad’s old copy, given to me by my grandmother.)

Penrod, by Booth Tarkington (this is a hard-to-read-aloud book because I laughed so hard through the whole thing.)

The Real Diary of a Real Boy, by Henry Shute (another hard-to-read-aloud book, not only because of the laughter, but because I had to stop and spell everything out loud.)

I’m always on the lookout for books in this category and I think I’ve found another, a real gut-buster: Le Petit Nicolas, first published in 1959 by Sempé and Goscinny (the men who brought the world Asterix). It seems boy-weirdness crosses cultural lines.

I ordered several books for my French-studying children this year. I love our French Children’s Bible and both stories in the Ernest et Celestine series (Ernest et Celestine Vont Pique-Niquer (Ernest and Celestine Go on a Picnic) and La Tasse Cassée (The Broken Teacup)), but I think Nicolas is going to be my favorite this year. So far, I’m understanding about 2/3 of what I read, but I’m laughing out loud several times on each page. This is available in an English translation.
Now to look for an affordable electronic French dictionary to speed things up.


03 April 2007

One Lump or Two?

I had a wonderful chat with a precious mom of seven this afternoon. As we talked, she shared some of her difficulties in teaching such a wide range of ages. She’s currently actively educating five of her brood, with a pre-schooler and a toddler in tow. She said she’s felt scattered lately. I understand her struggles.

I’ve found that, with a large family, the more I lump my children together (in other words, teach them all the same thing, even if they’re working at different levels) the more sane and the less scattered I feel.

This blending (or lumping) requires a different approach to evaluating curriculum. There are many good books and curricula on the market today. We are blessed and almost have too many choices. It can be overwhelming. Currently, in addition to evaluating the worldview and rigor of materials, I think about how I can use it at many levels at the same time. Even better, will it also allow me to combine two or more disciplines or subjects together at many different levels? (Talk about multi-tasking!)

Now, I don’t necessarily mean that my children are at different places in the same text book, although for independent studies (math and phonics), that works well. I mean that, if it’s something that we struggle to get to and I decide my direct involvement is necessary for learning to take place, I ask myself if there’s some way we can all work together, yet each at his own unique ability-level.

Here are a few specifics of what this looks like in our home:

We all study the same era of history. I can’t answer questions about Napoleon, Nero, and Nixon all in the same day...or the same week for that matter. Our oldest students’ Gileskirk study decides which era we’ll be studying each year.

Our literature studies are not approached and assigned by grade level. All my high schoolers read, discuss and write about one and the same book; all my middles read, discuss, and write about another. And our literature studies are dictated by our history studies. This year, we’re studying Christendom (a.k.a. “The Middle Ages”) and so all our literature selections were written during or are about Christendom.

The excerpts we analyze for our grammar studies (KISS Grammar but I don’t use the workbooks) come from the literature the kids are reading or, currently from Shakespeare’s plays as we’re working on a Shakespeare unit (ie. watching many versions of many plays and then discussing them). My little ones use portions of these same excerpts for their copywork. This cuts way down on my prep time. I love Project Gutenberg! I find the excerpt I want to use there and copy and paste it into a Pages document, format it with a larger font and triple-spaced for the olders, and with lines on the lower half of the page for the ones who are copying it, print them all out, and I’m done. My older students analyze the excerpt for more elements than my younger students, but the youngers listen in and glean what they can while the olders and I go through the more advanced work. When we watch the play, all the kids enjoy join in in reciting the lines from the monologue or dialogue they analyzed or copied. Another thing I love about KISS Grammar is the continual review. Students analyze for everything they’ve learned in the past while they practice new concepts.

The format for the writing that they’re doing for history and literature comes from The Lost Tools of Writing, although the topics are adapted from Veritas Press’s Omnibus II. Since the process is repeated for each essay with new bits added as the student progresses, I can use the Lost Tools techniques with all my kidlings, adding a new bit for each child as he’s ready, but we still work through the invention process together. And while we work on that invention process, we’re discussing history and literature.

As I re-read what I’ve written, it occurs to me that this may sound overwhelming and that’s not my intention. I added in one element at a time, using curricula that wasn’t necessarily the easiest to use until I found something that worked better. It was a process. I was willing to change, even in the middle of a school year if I thought the change would be beneficial in the long-run. And most of the time it was the right thing to do (not always, but we learn from out mistakes, right?)

If you can eliminate grade-level divisions from your thinking, and look at each discipline in terms of skills and each ‘subject’ as the context for learning those skills, many options open up for those of us teaching a larger brood.


24 March 2007

A Time to Every Purpose

The picture of the freesia blooming outside my front door was taken on Thursday morning between thunder storms. No poem yet...haven’t had time to finish it, although I’ve been working on it slowly.

Speaking of time...I had an interesting interchange with an acquaintance recently. She asked what my daily school schedule looked like and I had to admit that I don’t really have one. She seemed a bit surprised by my revelation. The conversation was interrupted shortly thereafter, but it’s given me something to think about since.

I’ve read those books and manuals that instruct you to block out your day in quarter- or half-hour increments, a column for yourself and for each of your children. I’ve assembled schedules that look like something NASA could use to launch the space shuttle. They’re color-coded, carefully planned so that each minute of every day is filled with purposeful activity. I work hard to make it all come together, but I just can’t pull it off.

I don’t have the heart for it. After I put that much energy into creating these scheduling masterpieces, I fall apart when the schedule does. I know when we get off track that we’re supposed to simply jump into the activity scheduled for that particular time, but it always seems that we miss the most important things that way. I also hate for every day to be like every other day, which means that I need several schedules to get me through a typical week and I’m continually tweaking. Because of the effort I’ve invested, I hold my plans too tightly.

So, no, I don’t have a schedule per sé, but our days, weeks, months, and even years have a rhythm to them. Some days we must be somewhere at a specific time, but when we don’t have to be anywhere, I simply don’t watch the clock. (Spring Forward reinforced what I’ve been learning from George Grant’s Gileskirk Christendom and James Daniels’ workshop on leisure at last year’s CiRCE conference, helping me see time in a slower, more relaxed fashion. It wasn’t the book’s main purpose, but it underscored the arbitrary and commercial nature of our modern notions of timekeeping and clockwatching.)

There are a few activities (personal, household, and school) that I aim for each day or on certain days of the week. We don’t get to everything everyday . But the kids seem to be learning and we’re not burning out, stressing out, or flipping out. Different studies rise to the top of the heap each day. I’ve also been trying to pray through my days, asking the Lord what he wants for that day.

Ironically, in the midst of all this, I’m working on organization and time management with my kiddoes. I recently bought The Organized Student and am learning a bunch, especially when combined with Organizing from the Inside Out. I worked up an assessment to go through with each of my kidlings to figure out how and where they work best. They’re each making different choices regarding how to organize their school work (binders, poly envelopes, accordion files, etc.). Once their physical environment is more orderly, then we’ll work on time management. But it’ll be rhythmic, not according to a stopwatch.

Life is much easier when I hold my plans loosely, accepting that my Sovereign King might have something in store that wouldn’t fit on any schedule I could dream up. There truly is a time to every purpose under heaven, I just need to remember that I’ve been put on this earth for God’s purposes and not my own and that I can trust him to guide my days.


01 March 2007


I took this photo a couple of weeks ago. Our peach tree was in full bloom, with new life breaking out all over.

The Lord works subtly: the days begin to lengthen imperceptibly, the sap begins to run through the hidden veins of the tree, and then, with little warning, life breaks out on what had seemed outwardly to be a bunch of dead twigs and branches stuck in the ground.

Thus he also works in our hearts and souls. He not only offers comfort and safety in the storm, but in the fullness of time he commands the maelstrom to be still, and it obeys. The sun shines again, we begin to show signs of bearing fruit, and he is glorified.

I’m working on a couple more poems, but haven’t had much time lately.

Thank you for your prayers. They are precious to me. Dawn has come, and our path has risen out of the valley.

08 February 2007

A Frowning Providence

I finished Behind a Frowning Providence last night. This little gem is full of comfort and wisdom from the Puritans as well as author John J. Murray, including several poetic excerpts. Here are a couple of my favorite quotes.

The most wise, righteous and gracious God doth often-times leave for a season his own children to manifold temptations, and the corruption of their own hearts, to chastise them for their former sins, or to discover unto them the hidden strength of corruption and deceitfulness of their own hearts, that they may be humbled; and to raise them to a more close and constant dependence for their support upon himself, and to make them more watchful against all future occasions of sin, and for sundry other just and holy ends.

The Westminster Confession of Faith
I walked a mile with pleasure,

She chatted all the way,

But left me none the wiser

For all she had to say.

I walked a mile with sorrow

And ne’er a word said she,

But oh the things I learned from her,

When sorrow walked with me.

Every work of Christ towards His people carries something more great and precious in the bosom of it than we are capable at the time of understanding.

Ralph Erskine

The vessels of mercy are first seasoned with affliction and then the wine of glory is poured in.

Thomas Watson
Prayer Answered by Crosses

I asked the Lord, that I might grow

In faith, and love, and every grace, 

Might more of his salvation know, 

And seek more earnestly his face.

'Twas he who taught me thus to pray, 

And he, I trust has answered prayer; 

But it has been in such a way, 

As almost drove me to despair.

I hoped that in some favoured hour, 

At once he'd answer my request: 

And by his love's constraining power, 

Subdue my sins, and give me rest.

Instead of this, he made me feel 

The hidden evils of my heart; 

And let the angry powers of hell 

Assault my soul in every part.

Yea more, with his own hand he seemed 

Intent to aggravate my woe; 

Crossed all the fair designs I schemed, 

Blasted my gourds, and laid me low.

Lord, why is this, I trembling cried; 

Wilt thou pursue this worm to death? 
‘Tis in this way," the Lord replied,

"I answer prayer for grace and faith.

"These inward trials I employ, 

"From self and pride to set thee free; 

"And break thy schemes of earthly joy, 

"That thou may’st seek thy all in me."
John Newton

02 February 2007

Opus #10

How I begrudge the sparrow plain,

Tho’ unadorned, subdued,

Unprepossessing, indistinct,

Appears not ornate-hued,

Yet she has wings to fly away,

Escaping earthly care.
She leaves her burdens far below,

And dances on the air.

She twirls and whirls and pirouettes

Across blue firmament,

Unweighed by earth’s persistent pull,

Exuberance unpent.

I stand beneath, observe her waltz,

While to take off I yearn.
She skirts o’er each impediment,

Her path still straight, unturn’d.

Fast fetter’d to my shackling grief,

I covet joy of flight;

But wingless, fixed, weighed down with dread,

I’m grounded from such height.

She’s gone from sight, I turn away,

Then pause… entreat… conclude:

Tho’ sorrow binds me to the earth,

God’s love is not so rude!

His grace puts flight within my grasp-

I tentatively praise,

As I mount up with eagles’ wings,

He clears away the haze,

Now weightless - Christ removes distress,

Lifts off my heavy care,

He smiles at me and takes my hand,

And we waltz on the air.

© Lynne Bourgault Spear, 2007

31 January 2007

Opus #9

(With appreciation and apologies to R.L. Stevenson...)

The rain is raining all around,

It falls on field and tree,

Reflects the teardrops on my cheek,

While grief envelops me.

The wind keeps whistling merrily,

It mocks my deep despair - 

Pretended joy and happiness, 

Mere castles in the air.

The thunder roars despondent din,

My silence I must keep,

Yet agony is thus proclaim’d,

As deep calls unto deep.

The gloomy grey of clouds above

Shrouds sunshine warm and bright.

The frigid air lays bare my heart:

I wish for death or flight.

Oppressed...forlorn? Abandon’d not!!!

I’m safe beneath His wing,

And though the tempest rages on,

To Christ I clasp and cling.

He holds me fast, my Sanctum true,

Through torrent, gale, and wave,

His grasp is firm; He won’t betray,

I trust in Him to save.

When deluge whelms, He anchors me,

My storm-toss’d soul He calms,

My Ark amid the tumult fierce,

Soul’s Harbor, Home, and Balm.

© Lynne Bourgault Spear, 2007

25 January 2007

God Moves in a Mysterious Way

“You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”
John 13:7
God Moves in a Mysterious Way
by William Cowper

God moves in a mysterious way

His wonders to perform;

He plants His footsteps in the sea

And rides upon the storm.

Deep in unfathomable mines

Of never failing skill

He treasures up His bright designs

And works His sovereign will.

Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take;

The clouds ye so much dread

Are big with mercy and shall break

In blessings on your head.

Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,

But trust Him for His grace;

Behind a frowning providence

He hides a smiling face.

His purposes will ripen fast,

Unfolding every hour;

The bud may have a bitter taste,

But sweet will be the flower.

Blind unbelief is sure to err

And scan His work in vain;

God is His own interpreter,

And He will make it plain.

24 January 2007

A Bitter Bud

We’re not necessarily doubting that God will do the best for us; we are wondering how painful the best will turn out to be. 

C.S. Lewis
We were promised sufferings. They were part of the program. We were even told, “Blessed are they that mourn.” 

C.S. Lewis

I’m sorry for the long absence. I took some time off for Christmas and then January hit, and hit hard.

Our family, both nuclear and extended, has been walking through difficult times. We each have a long and painful path ahead.

In the past, I would have prayed for the Lord to move me through this valley as quickly as possible, impatiently running full bore to reach the end. But as I survey our current landscape, I begin to see that I would have been crushed had the pain come all at once. At times it felt as if I would be, but his grace is sufficient and has meted the grief out slowly over time. His desire is not to crush, but to purify and make us into the glorious image of his Son. His motive is not punishment, but love - he wants us to learn more deeply that he is our only hope.

Jehovah-Rophi. I Am the Lord That Healeth Thee

(Exodus 15:26)
by William Cowper

Heal us, Emmanuel! here we are, 

Waiting to feel Thy touch: 

Deep-wounded souls to Thee repair

And, Saviour, we are such.

Our faith is feeble, we confess, 

We faintly trust Thy word; 

But wilt Thou pity us the less? 

Be that far from Thee, Lord!

Remember him who once applied, 

With trembling, for relief; 

"Lord, I believe," with tears he cried, 

"Oh, help my unbelief!"

She too, who touch'd Thee in the press, 

And healing virtue stole, 

Was answer'd, "Daughter, go in peace, 

Thy faith hath made thee whole."

Conceal'd amid the gathering throng, 

She would have shunn'd Thy view;

And if her faith was firm and strong, 

Had strong misgivings too.

Like her, with hopes and fears we come, 

To touch Thee, if we may; 

Oh! send us not despairing home, 

Send none unheal'd away!