28 January 2009

Norms & Nobility, I

I'm currently rereading Norms & Nobilityas part of my plan to continue to educate and challenge myself regarding the specific vocations to which the Lord has called me.

It's going slowly, but that's a good thing.  I'm taking more time to contemplate what I'm reading - multum non multa, deeper instead of more.  A few years ago, I found it quite helpful to blog through my notes from CiRCE and I think I'll do the same for N&N.  This isn't an overtly Christian book, but much can be gleaned.  

From Chapter 1: 'Virtue is the Fruit of Learning':
The purpose of education is not the assimilation of facts or the retention of information, but the habituation of the mind and body to will and to act in accordance with what one knows.
While Mr. Hicks has just quoted Aristotle, I'm reminded of 'be ye doers of the word, not hearers only,' and 'for him who knows what to do and does not do it, to him it is sin.' 

Later on, as he develops the idea of the purpose of education by comparing the life of pleasure, the practical life, and the theoretic life (or the life of the mind):
The life of pleasure eventually fades and exasperates the pleasure-seeker because it is not a life that is sufficient unto itself.  Pleasure demands a never-ending list of luxurious accessories, the acquisition of which wears man down with work and worry.  In the end, the pleasure seeker becomes preoccupied with what he lacks to complete his picture of happiness; gratification never catches up with his desire, and consumption consumes the consumer.  By the same token, the practical life falls short of completeness.  The wealth one acquires in a business is a useful thing, but as such, it exists for the sake of something else. […]
Dr. Hicks then goes on to elaborate on the theoretical life, or the life of the mind.
So we arrive at the theoretic life - not to be confused, as Professor Burnet (1976) warns, with the contemplative or passive life.
'What Aristotle calls theoria is emphatically an activity.  The fact is that he includes a good many things in it which we are too apt to regard as wholly different, things of which we fail to realize as he did the fundamental identity.  In the first place, scientific research is theoria, and no doubt Aristotle was thinking chiefly of that.  But so too is the artist's life, so far as he is not a mere artificer, and so is all enjoyment of art and literature. So too is the life of the religious man who sees all things in God.'
Aristotle defends the theoretic life as the true end of education and the source of happiness.  One does not require more than the bare necessities in life to achieve happiness in thought, nor is the active life of the mind dependent upon inherently unequal endowments of nature.  One need be neither strong nor handsome, well-born nor gregarious, nay, not even brilliant to participate happily in the theoretic life. […] [T]he theoretic life is the life of virtue, so long as we mean by virtue all that the Greek arete expresses: the life that knows and reveres, speculates and acts upon the Good, that loves and reproduces the Beautiful, and that pursues excellence and moderation in all things.
I would add to that last paragraph: 'by the power of the Holy Spirit, because of gratitude for the Gospel of Christ, and to the glory of God'.  His definition of virtue reminds me of biblical fruitfulness.

I must keep reminding myself that it's not about how much I can cram into my children's heads, rather that I teach them (through example and precept) to act on what they know to be true, starting with the gospel from which everything flows.

Norms and Nobility: A Treatise on Education

26 January 2009

Teriyaki Sauce

We had stir fry for dinner tonight, adding a honey teriyaki sauce that was sitting in the fridge.  But we didn't have enough of said sauce so we looked up teriyaki sauce recipes.  The ingredients were simple: soy sauce, brown sugar, fresh mashed ginger, and garlic.  We added the ingredients to the frying pan with the chicken and veggies and a bit of arrowroot powder to thicken it up.  I didn't really measure, just poured and flicked in ingredients; garlic and ginger were in jars in the fridge. That's how I often cook - a pinch of this … a dollop of that … taste it and see what else it needs.

The sauce was wonderful! We've decided that we don't need to purchase teriyaki sauce anymore. It tasted much fresher, not so chemically, and, of course, there were no preservatives. We might add a little honey next time, too.

Bon Appétit!



'The price of liberty is eternal vigilance.'  
~Thomas Jefferson
While I don't often write about history, politics, economics, demographics, or current events, I am intensely interested in them.  There are much better-informed and more logically and eloquently-written sources for this type information and philosophy than I could be, so I won't try to fill a niche that's already being well-filled.  However, I will be writing about different policies that will affect us here at home and how we're planning to respond to them. 

As we see by the signs that a storm is coming and prepare accordingly, so we must keep an eye on our world, not so that we become frightened (after all, our trust is in the Lord and his loving sovereignty), but so that we can prepare.  Better to keep watch and prepare ahead of time when possible than to scramble and try to figure out what's happening when the winds blow, lightning strikes, and hail pummels you.

In light of our current president's economic views and his emulation of FDR (whose economic policies caused the depression of the 1930's to become great), our household is preparing for very hard times.  We're watching not only current policies, but demographic trends.  As we move through the next few decades, the Baby Boom will retire and, as is usual during that season of life, will spend less, which will lead to an almost permanent drop in the stock market as consumer markets are significantly reduced.  Life for our children and grandchildren will be very different from what we've know to this point.

So, what changes are we making in the day-to-day running of our household?
  • We're cooking more from scratch.  (This includes the yogurt recipe previously posted, and making granola instead of purchasing boxed cereal - recipe coming soon! - baking more bread, making mayonnaise, and I've gotten our sprouts grower out again.) 
  • We're working to get the garden to produce again.  (We started a compost bin this weekend - Arizona soil isn't so good and we'd rather use our own free scraps and yard waste than purchase compost.)
  • We're sewing more of our own clothes (with fabric purchased at low prices on sale).  
  • I'm going to study pattern-making to give us more flexibility in clothing design and save money on expensive patterns.  
  • We've been using fountain pens for years, but we'll be purchasing more for the whole family (a bottle of ink can last for years and costs less than other pens which don't last as long).  
  • We're cutting back where we can in order to purchase tools that will make our family more productive and less dependent on public policy (for example: a knitting machine, a clothes line, wood-working tools).
  • We're learning new skills.  (The girls are learning to crochet; I'm re-learning to knit; I'm teaching the girls to sew; we hope to learn to embroider and draw and even paint; as well as the above-mentioned pattern-drafting, and Drew is teaching the boys wood-working skills.)
  • We made many of our Christmas presents this year and will continue doing that for birthdays.
  • Drew and I are going out for dessert for our date night, instead of eating dinner out.  We're also going to the movies less often.
We're not doing these things only for our family, but we hope that our preparation and work will put us into a position to minister to and help others.  Here's one example:

The new administration is planning to put into effect an energy policy called 'Cap and Trade'.  This will require local power companies to produce less electricity.  Our tax dollars will then be given to the electric companies so that they don't see a loss of revenue.  This will give us rolling blackouts and brownouts along with higher taxes.  We are working to save for solar power for our home.  When the rest of the neighborhood is sitting in the dark, we'll have light.  What an opportunity to invite our neighbors in, to share what we have, building relationships with them, and possibly having an opportunity to share the gospel.

The coming times will be challenging, but we hope to rise to the challenge in a joyful and faithful manner.


24 January 2009

The Mother and Her Reading, II

Most of CJ's focus was on spiritual growth, developing an affection for the Saviour; as we read, so we think and as we think, so we feel.  In order to develop passion for the gospel, we must be reading books about it, books that will help us look at it freshly and to see new aspects of it.  We must strive never to grow familiar with the gospel.

So the first category of our reading must be books that care for our souls. Scripture is a no-brainer, but also we should be reading books that challenge us spiritually to examine our hearts, books that remind us freshly of the gospel, books that help us get a firm grasp on solid theology. Not all at once, but they should be part of the plan.

This applies to every believer. Yet it applies to moms at home because it affects our children as well as ourselves.  In a very real sense, we are pastoring and discipling our children as we raise them. Their souls must be a focus of our efforts. However, we cannot give them something we don't have. If Mom isn't experiencing a deepening faith and relationship with Christ, she can't pass that onto her kidlings, nor will she be quick to walk in dependence on the Lord. (Yes, Dad is the head of the family and ultimately responsible before the Lord for child-rearing efforts, but most moms spend more time with their children than dads do; we must be working along with our husbands, following their leadership, submitting to their goals; but often the time, effort, and day-to-dayness of raising children falls on our shoulders, not as a burden, but as a privilege.)

CJ also, rightly placed a specific emphasis on books about our specific callings. For those of us whose calling is to keep house and raise our children, this would include books about being a godly wife, a joyful mother, a skillful teacher. 

Books to help and encourage us in our home making activities: cooking, gardening, household organization, home crafts (sewing, knitting, crocheting, tatting, things that make a home and a life beautiful), the theology and philosophy of keeping house (there are many voices telling us that we are wasting our lives by devoting it to drudgery - we must remind ourselves of the truth of the high calling to which we aspire so that we don't grow weary in well-doing), leadership, bargain hunting, hospitality, cleaning tips, caring for the sick and elderly. The list goes on and on.

Homeschooling moms would also benefit from reading books about educational philosophy and practice as well as literature, history, biographies, logic, science, even some math books. Part of this is to equip us to help our children learn, but this type of reading also keeps our minds sharp. We may not remember everything we read, but we'll be much better able to point our children to books that will benefit them and we'll be able to discuss them together.   It is also an excellent example to our children of the joy of a lifetime of learning.

My intent isn't to overwhelm anyone by these lists of possible topics for us to read about.  I point them out so that we can be intentional in our reading choices.  I certainly don't read all these types of books at one time.  I have certain areas in which I lack skill or motivation and  I need to be reading books about those topics (my current focus in school is books about writing and teaching writing).  There are also certain areas of particular gifting or topics that appeal more to me than others; those are books I want to read.  These lists are more suggestions to get you thinking about your reading.  It's better to start anywhere and read one at a time than to feel so overwhelmed that one never starts.  I hope these lists lend themselves to a lifetime of reading.

Teddy Roosevelt said that those who read will be those who lead.  We live in a post-literate society.  It's not that people don't know how to read (although they may not have been taught how do it well), but that they don't see the importance of reading; they choose not to read.  We may feel that we're at home, not out leading in our culture, however, cultural change happens the way yeast works in bread.   'A little leaven leavens the whole lump,' is how Christ described the church.  Chesterton said that there is nothing more powerful than an average man and his average wife and their average children living their average lives to the glory of God.  Reading can help us do so, and do so well.

Next time, I'll list specific books that I've found helpful and that I think are worth reading and re-reading.


22 January 2009

Yogurt Tweak

For those of you who've tried the crockpot yogurt recipe I posted last week, I've figured out how to make it in about 5 hours instead of the 13 1/2 hours of the original recipe.

Most yogurt instructions say that you have to heat the milk or cream very hot and then let it cool to between 110o and 115o, as did this original recipe (heat on low for 2 1/2 hours, then cool for 3 hours).  This step is included to pasteurize the milk.  However, if you're using pasteurized milk, you can simply heat the milk to the target temperature and then add your cultures.  In my crockpot set on low, with a half gallon of liquid starting at fridge temperature, that takes an hour to an hour and twenty minutes.  After checking the temperature with a meat thermometer (making sure the thermometer doesn't touch the bottom or sides of the crock!), I add the cultures, turn off the pot, and wrap it in a big beach towel.  It finishes incubating in about 4 hours, not the eight called for in the original recipe.

By doing it this way, I've cut the heating time, eliminated the cooling time, and cut the incubating time, resulting in more flexibility in my day; I can start it at noon and still be able to put it into the fridge before dinner.

Now that I know how long it takes to heat up, next time I'll be able to rely more on the clock to know when to check it.  Play with your own set-up.  The temp in your fridge and your individual crockpot may require more or less time than mine, but once you've figured it out, it should get easier from there.  And some folks think science isn't useful in every day life!


17 January 2009


I've been thinking more about my post regarding the way I've been approaching kitchen maintenance lately.  As I continued to mull it over, I began to think it helpful to look at this in terms of usefulness; I want my kitchen to be useful.  But as I looked at it more, I began to see some rocks in that path.  I don't want to descend into hard-hearted utilitarianism and pragmatism, which measure everything by usefulness and therefore shut out beauty, goodness, and joy.  I continued to turn this over in my mind and I realized that it's not specifically about usefulness, rather it's about fruitfulness.

The world tends to look at life in economic terms, telling us that we are wasting our lives uselessly staying at home instead of making a contribution. The world focuses on usefulness. The world's schools train for usefulness.  The world measures people's worth by their usefulness.  The biblical response is fruitfulness. It's not about the economy, stupid. It's about so much more!

A kitchen that has every tool and lots of space to work in, but is stark in its efficiency is useful, but not so enticing.  A kitchen that is painted cheerfully, with pictures on the walls, curtains in the window, pretty utensils and crockery, music playing in the background is much more cosy.  The beauty nourishes the cook's heart as the cook works to nourish her family.

Besides efficiency, cleanliness, and orderliness, there are other, intangible aspects of keeping our homes that we mustn't lose sight of.  If I take an hour to complete work that could take me half that time, but I'm sharing a heart-to-heart talk with my daughter as we work, then that's a good and fruitful use of that time.  If my boys toil in the garden and get all kinds of work done, yet are at odds with one another when they're done, that's neither good nor fruitful.

Fruitfulness speaks to getting the work done, absolutely, but it also speaks to joyful relationships, spiritual riches, mended hearts, and encouraged souls.  If we remember this, the world's criticism will fade away as we make homes for our families, our friends, and even strangers.  


16 January 2009


Just a couple of things I've learned lately.

1) If a permanent marker is used on a white board, it can be removed!  I tried a couple of different techniques and they both worked great to get the littles' French vocabulary cleaned off and neither ruined the board's finish.

a)  Take a dry erase marker and trace over the offending mark.  The alcohol in the marker dissolves the Sharpie.

b)  For larger messes, wash the board with alcohol-based hand sanitizer.  Works like a dream.

2)  Yogurt can be made in a crockpot.  I have a yogurt maker and love it, but it makes 7 6-oz jars - not enough for us and a bit hard to fit all those little jars into the fridge.

The recipe calls for low-fat milk, but I've discovered that half-n-half makes a great yogurt.  (Yogurt made with cream is called crème bulgare and is my favorite.  Half cream, half milk (or bought half-n-half) is just as thick, but less expensive.)  I made more than a half gallon earlier this week and we've been enjoying it immensely.  This recipe is easier than using my yogurt maker as it takes less of my time, even though the recipe takes longer overall.

Non-instant dried milk can also be added for a thicker consistency (I'm not sure how much you'd need for this recipe - play with it).  I make it plain and we add flavorings to our bowls.  I like mine with a small sprinkling of brown sugar, but fruit or granola is also delicious.

For those of you who are local, I purchase my cultures from Sprouts.  Or you can use a container of plain yogurt bought from the grocery store, as long as it contains live or active cultures.

Here's the recipe.


15 January 2009

The Mother and Her Reading, I

As I mentioned before, I've been slowly working my way through the Sovereign Grace Leadership series of podcasts, wherein, last summer, Josh Harris interviewed Jeff Purswell and CJ Mahaney. I'm amazed at how much of it I can apply in my life as a wife and home educating mom. While I'm not claiming pastor-status for what I do here, there are many parallels, so I thought I'd go through each podcast and share the things that occurred to me and how these ideas might apply.  However, I won't outline the podcast itself; better for you to listen to it in its entirety (it can be found through iTunes or on the Sovereign Grace Ministries website).

CJ's first point was about the importance of reading as a regular part of life.  If we want our children to become readers, it's important for us to model reading for them.  Read aloud to them; read books while they're awake and can observe you; rejoice with them as they learn to read; share your excitement when you receive the gift of a book.  If you save all your reading until after they go to bed, and don't talk to them about what you're reading, they'll think it's an optional part of life.  If, however, you share this part of life with them, chances are better that they'll catch your love of books.

CJ also emphasized planning our reading.  If we don't set aside time, if we don't plan which books we'll read, we won't read any or we'll meander through books and not benefit ourselves and our families as much as we could if we read more intentionally.

The plan may be to read a chapter or smaller section of several books each day, reading them slowly with time to digest the ideas.  Or, if you'd rather read one book at a time, you might read a daily, greater portion of one book, until you're finished.  The important thing isn't that our plans all look alike, but that we do what works for us.

Now, I do want to encourage moms of younger kidlets that grace is a necessary component of this idea.  Little ones demand a lot of time and energy, and if a little one isn't sleeping through the night yet, napping while the baby naps may be a better use of your time.  You may need to ease up on your reading for a season, or you may want to be more creative in carving out that time.  (I often had a book at hand when I sat down to nurse a little one.)  You may be able to listen to audio books while performing other tasks.  (That's something I'm not that good at - I need to see the words for it to make an impression.)  Please realize moms of littles, that there will come a time when you do have more time and can devote more of your time to reading.  There is a time and a purpose to every season under heaven.  Relax and flow with whatever season you're in now, thankful to the Lord for your little ones who grow so quickly and relying on the strength of the Lord to face these busy days.

A proper approach toward and priority of reading is a service to your family.  There have been many books I've read that have challenged my attitudes and thinking in managing my home, educating my children, and relating to others that my family has benefited from.  Reading, for an appropriate amount of time, is not selfish, but can help us serve more effectively.  (Reading can become selfish when it becomes more important than our children, our duties, our responsibilities, but that is probably rooted in selfishness and pride, not in reading itself.)

I've been finding that I'm fighting to maintain my concentration lately.  I was wondering why, and then I read an article that proposed the idea that time spent online, with its quick hyper-links and short articles, undermines our ability to concentrate (this is why I didn't include any hyper-links in my post today - I may begin adding them at the bottom rather than in the midst of the text, so they aren't such a distraction).  I think there's something to this and have determined to spend time each day reading from real books, away from the computer.  It is important for us to discipline our minds, loving the Lord with them, by reading real books: books that point us to Christ, helping us broaden our affection for our Saviour, as well as husband and children, inspiring us to creativity and fruitfulness.

Next time, I'll go through some of the categories of reading mentioned in the interview, along with some ideas of my own that those pastoral categories sparked.


12 January 2009

Cleaning the Kitchen?

After Sunday dinner, you look around the kitchen at the stacks of dishes, piles of glasses, mountains of pots and pans.  This room was clean a few hours ago and it'll take a long time and a lot of work to get it there, again.  And it won't stay that way for long, but will need to be cleaned several times each day … today… next week… forever.  We don't wonder why housework is viewed as drudgery.  The striving for a clean kitchen, or clean laundry, or a fully-stocked pantry never ends.

The way we think and talk about things has a great deal to do with our attitudes about them.  He who defines the terms wins the debate.  We see this in things as important as the words culturally used to describe abortion and marriage; it's also true in our everyday approach to keeping our homes and caring for our families.  As I read the chapters in Keeping House about feeding the hungry, I realized that my attitude toward cleaning the kitchen was causing discontent, disappointment, and discouragement. If a clean kitchen is my goal, I'll fail several times each day (after every meal and snack). How disheartening! I end up trying to cook with an eye toward a clean kitchen, which means I don't do as good a job of feeding my hungry family.  As the kitchen is used and dirtied, my work to clean it is undone and ruined.  It was time to redefine my terms. 

A kitchen that stays clean all the time isn't fulfilling its purpose. Instead of trying to get my kitchen clean, I now approach it as preparing it for the next meal.  

As I look to ready the kitchen to prepare the next meal, I acknowledge and embrace the ongoing essence of the purpose of the kitchen, or, to use one of Andrew Kern's favorite terms, the nature of the kitchen.  I acknowledge that the purpose of the kitchen is to prepare food to feed hungry people.  I also end up with a more realistic standard for success: not a clean kitchen, but one ready to be worked in.

Trying to keep a clean kitchen becomes a battle, with as many defeats as victories and the victories are tenuous at best, always swallowed up in defeat.  There's no energy to carry you along, but instead a sense of continually pushing a rock up a hill that then tumbles down on top of you again, that this is a useless task of unrelieved monotony, as Sisyphus experienced and it was hell.

Focusing on preparing the kitchen for the next meal gives the job a momentum that makes the enterprise easier. Success may thus be defined in a more limited, less grandiose way, but that just means I have more opportunities to experience that success and that's encouraging. Success may also be defined a bit more broadly: perfect cleanliness isn't necessary to prepare a meal; good enough is, well, good enough.

God probably could have created the universe so that it didn't need his ongoing, sustaining activity, but he didn't.  As he wills and works to sustain the very molecules of my pans and utensils, I am privileged to take part in the ongoing nature of that sustaining work, in my own small and dependent way.  As he brings order to a disordered soul to ready it for good works which he created in the eternal past, so I can bring order to my kitchen to ready it for the good work of feeding the hungry.  I get to take part in his provision for my family, nurturing them, caring for them, loving them.

I must admit that getting the kids to clean the kitchen has been a battle for years.  But their attitudes are slowly changing too, as I encourage them to prepare the kitchen for our next meal instead of simply cleaning it.  They're also more willing to cook or bake, knowing that that's why the kitchen is clean.  It's much more inviting than when the focus was a clean kitchen.

An anecdote: Saturday, we had a tech in to give us an estimate for a new heat pump.  Normally, I cringe at having tradesmen in my kitchen because it's not usually a pretty picture.  However, after a week of preparing the kitchen for the next meal, it was in fairly good order.  I was able to offer him a cup of tea, and could make it without having to clean out the tea-maker or wash any cups.  Because we'd prepared the kitchen for the next meal, it was a simple process to provide a bit of warmth on a cool morning, a bit of hospitality to a stranger.  There was a liberty in this that I don't usually experience.  To most of my readers, this may not seem earth-shaking or different, but it was a big deal in our house because this has been a struggle for so long.

What terms might you need to consider and re-define?  I'm thinking about this question in other areas involved in keeping my home and have more posts planned along these lines. I'd love your input!


10 January 2009

Blogging and Keeping House: The Litany of Everyday Life

My friend Carol blogged about why she blogs and asked her blogging readers to tackle the same question. She had some great thoughts about it and got me thinking.

1) Blogging helps me think more clearly. As I work to get my ideas into a form that others can understand, I refine them.

2) I need the practice writing.

3) I aim to be an intelligent, hopeful, joyous voice standing for biblical womanhood and all it encompasses: submission to my husband, joyfully teaching my children, working with creativity to make a comfortable home from which my family can serve the Lord and others. There are so many strident voices denouncing anything less than paid work and overreaching ambition in wives and mothers that there needs to be someone speaking the truth. I may not be a loud voice, but many small voices might have an influence.

4) Not only do I hope to speak truth in a hostile culture, but I hope to be an example to younger women and an encouragement to women my age and older. I don't read many blogs, but the few that I do read regularly encourage and sharpen me. It would be a privilege if my writing did the same for others.

5)  I hope to leave a written record of my thoughts for my children, a legacy for future generations.

In light of these reasons for writing, I'd like to recommend another book.

I recently re-listened to CJ Mahaney, Jeff Purswell, and Josh Harris discussing 'A Pastor and His Reading'. While I'm not a pastor, there was much food for thought there. One realization I came to is that, as a wife, mother, and home educator by calling, I should regularly include books about these callings in my reading diet (more in later posts about some of the other observations I've drawn from this whole series of podcasts).

Then a friend recommended this gem:

I nipped over to Amazon.com and was pleasantly surprised when my package arrived the next day.  (Amazon's two-day shipping is great!)

As I read it, I was refreshed in my vision of making a home and all that it means.  This isn't a list of practices and techniques, but a theological and philosophical defense of, well, keeping house.  Margaret Kim Peterson reduces keeping house down to Christ's commands to provide food, clothing, and shelter in his name.  However, while she reduces and simplifies the scope of keeping house to these three areas, she doesn't reduce their importance; she makes them larger. 

She also turned to Psalm 104.  As I read the excerpt through tears, I saw the Creator of the universe keeping his creation, putting it in order, providing for life and comfort -tasks that we see as drudgery and mundanity, yet the Lord himself does these things.

I came away from each chapter with a new appreciation of the work I've been called to. I've also realized that there are ways of thinking and talking about them that need to change. By the Lord's grace, I'm making these changes and I think that will be helpful in maintaining this new focus (more about that in later posts, too).

Not only was the content enlivening and inspiring, but the writing itself has an appealing, lyrical quality.  It was a joy to read and re-read.