when sometimes only television will do (a defense for a family tv night)

When Covid hit in March 2020, we were prepared in the sense that we were already used to being around the house and with each other most of the day. Our routines didn’t exactly change – we still did our schoolwork, went on daily walks, (we live in the country) and read the day away. Even still, the world was changing and you could feel the tension in the air, at times. We tried to keep our kids pretty guarded from the panic but they knew what was going on. Their co-op was cancelled, plane tickets for a Spring trip back to California were refunded, church closed, and there was no going out – not to our favorite restaurants, not to the library, not to the supermarket.

We didn’t have any answer except the obvious: God is in charge. The girls put on a brave face and we carried on. We completed projects, spent loads of time on the farm, and made it through a pile of novels. We actually had a pretty lovely year together. Sean worked from home, we spent loads of time planting flowers and vegetables, we played in the snow, we started a co-op once a week with another family, we order take-out from our favorite places, and we baked, cooked, and ate. A LOT.

Still, it was an anxious time and while it was mostly Sean and I feeling it, we knew that the kids were perceptive. We wanted to do something special and out of the ordinary. That’s when we decided that after 10 hours working at normal life stuff, we would treat the kids to a show. We don’t normally watch tv on school evenings, so this was exciting business for the girls – and we started with an old favorite.

The girls and I read the Little House on the Prairie book series and listened to it on cd. We have special memories of that time and since I had grown up watching LHOTP on television (but never actually reading it as a child), I thought we could start with them getting to experience what I did as a little girl. I was the only one in the family that had seen the episodes and so on March 18th, 2020, we curled up after dinner and settled in for the first of 204 episodes (*there are 2-3 episodes we didn’t watch because of sensitive subject matter.) What began as a small treat blossomed into a really memorable family tradition that has sustained during the past 1.5 years and I hope for years to come.

Yes, we watched a show every night. I mean, we took nights off for a few things, but all in all, it became a part of our family routine. I know this makes some people’s toes curl, but that’s ok, we all loved it. It never got old, the girls looked forward to it very much, it has gifted us TONS of family memories, we laughed so hard, we often cried. It has, surprisingly, spurred on even more reading for the girls, as well. They bought books about Wilder, and Westward Expansion. They have been encouraged to learn more about relationships between settlers and Native Americans. There wasn’t an episode that went by where we didn’t leave asking questions and going on a journey to answer them.

We finally wrapped watching LHOTP in Fall of 2020. We bought a cookbook that included many of the recipes from the meals in the book and we cooked several things. We learned more about the lives of the characters. Covidtide will hold many good memories for us as a family and one of them will always be the watching the entire series of The Little House on the Prairie (and yes, we did buy the made-for-tv specials that aired after the show was over. They weren’t amazing, but we had committed to watching it all, no matter how much it had changed.)

After we concluded that moment in time, things were slowly (in VA, at least) getting a little bit back to normal. And by that I mean the new school year was beginning, we were starting back to co-op with friends, restaurants were opening back up, the holidays were coming, we had joined a new church and were attending in person twice a week and getting heavily involved etc. We didn’t have as much time as we once did, and that was a good thing. In fact, I’m glad it didn’t turn into a forever-habit. It holds that season in a unique place in our hearts, as silly as that may sound.

That being said, every now and then we feel the itch to find something we all watch together and enjoy. This has proven somewhat difficult simply because there’s so much garbage out there. But there are a few gems available. Here is what worked for us and gave us some great memories during a bizarre 2020 (and well into 2021):

1.) Little House on the Prairie on DVD/Netflix (Mr. Edwards is the best, followed by Harriet Olsen. I’ll defend this to the death.

2.) All Creatures Great and Small on PBS // This was BY FAR my favorite show of the last year. I adore it. It’s clean, wonderfully written and cast, beautifully shot, and based on the life and books of James Herriot (who we love.) I hear the original show that aired in the 70s is also a fan favorite! If you only choose one of the shows listed, let it be this one.

3.) The Mysterious Benedict Society on Disney Plus // This is a clean show and so fun if you’ve read the books. The wardrobe and casting is pretty sensational as well.

4.) The Andy Griffith Show on Amazon Prime // Always a good choice. Always.

5.) The French Chef on Amazon Prime // This was a fun adventure – the girls really enjoyed her accent and how entertaining she was to watch. We watched a few of these when we were on a cooking kick. Julia Child is a treasure.

5.) A Series of Unfortunate Events (2018) on Netflix // We had read the 13 books and seen the original movie, so we gave this a try and it was pretty fantastic. That being said, there are several jokes in it that will go over kids heads and I believe a curse word or two. Use your discretion for sure and watch all the others first!

Movies we loved this year:

1.) The Lord of the Rings Trilogy // It doesn’t get much better and we dragged these three movies out over a week.

2.) Hoosiers // My favorite sports movie of all time. Note: there is some language but the story is just so compelling, even my 6 year old loved it.)

3.) Nacho Libre // You can’t watch it and not love it.

4.) Little Women (2020 version) // I cried so hard at this one. We listen to the soundtrack on repeat while we do schoolwork. It’s a beautiful film and perfectly cast.

5.) Pride and Prejudice (with Colin Firth, OBVIOUSLY) // You can like other versions of P&P but if you tell me that one is better than this the Colin Firth version, I will have to kindly correct you.

6.) EMMA (the 2020) // Halfway through I lost my two younger girls, but it’s just so visually stunning, and I adore Bill Nighly so I had to. I will also say that the Mr. Elton in this version is the best Mr. Elton, hands down. Plus, I personally can’t abide Gwyneth Paltrow, so this was a welcome movie.

7.) Seven Brides for Seven Brothers // I mean, a bunch of guys kidnap a bunch of girls and force them to marry them. What could go wrong? Good thing it was filmed in 1954 – it’s clean and there’s lots of enthusiastic music and dancing. It’s just plain fun.

***

I could go on but this should get you started. If you want to have a bit of screen time with the kiddos but don’t want it spent watching nonsense or staring blankly at bizarre apps, give one of these try.

Not all television is awful. Not all time spent in front of the old book tube is wasted.

Pop some popcorn, get a blanket, and make a memory.

inside

It’s July in Virginia which means it’s so hot that I groan when I open the front door – the combination of humidity and heat make it feel at least 10 degrees hotter than it actually is {and it actually *is* about 90 degrees most days this week.}

But….the gardens love it, the grass is beautiful, and we have passes to our local recreation center. Which means that a few times a week I don a bright yellow swim cap and do laps with the girls to beat the heat.

Primarily inside {with air conditioning} is where you’ll find us during this summer month, but there’s plenty to occupy our time. Canning the vegetables coming in from the garden, painting, reading, loads of schoolwork, baking, dressing up, putting on plays, potting new plants.

July may not be our favorite month, but there are plenty of good things. Oh, and did I mention the thunderstorms? We are usually left with no electricity, but man they are beautiful.

Luther + Terrariums

I have had two things chiefly on my mind lately.

These would be: 1.) what makes the life of a Christian whole and right, and 2.) how to enjoy the Lord’s creation daily.

These are fraught times. I’m not sure how often I will type those words, but it is true. Anyone who believes otherwise is simply not living in reality. To ignore what is happening outside the walls of our homes is a luxury for some, but not a possibility for most. It’s a bizarre moment but that does not mean we are to retreat with no simple joys or a constant appreciation for God’s handiwork in and through His creations.

This week our sermon was filled with goodness. We concentrated on the preface to Romans that Martin Luther provided – words of explanation as it pertains to justification through faith alone that is followed by good works. While it’s a few pages, I commend to you the entire thing, as well as to learn about the man behind the words more fully. One particular paragraph that was shared moved me to tears:

“Faith is a living, unshakeable confidence in God’s grace; it is so certain, that someone would die a thousand times for it. This kind of trust in and knowledge of God’s grace makes a person joyful, confident, and happy with regard to God and all creatures. This is what the Holy Spirit does by faith. Through faith, a person will do good to everyone without coercion, willingly and happily; he will serve everyone, suffer everything for the love and praise of God, who has shown him such grace. It is as impossible to separate works from faith as burning and shining from fire. Therefore be on guard against your own false ideas and against the chatterers who think they are clever enough to make judgements about faith and good works but who are in reality the biggest fools. Ask God to work faith in you; otherwise you will remain eternally without faith, no matter what you try to do or fabricate.”

How timely these words are! What an instruction for us Christians who are living in this moment. I found such encouragement and I hope you do as well – the Christian walk is not simply a life of faith but a life that faith informs – doing good that tells the tale of the Gospel and shares His truth with others through deed. They go hand in hand and must be married to one another. A natural out-pouring of a proper faith is good works and charitable kindness for ones fellow man.

Along with pondering my place in this world and the way that I, as a Christian, work out my salvation, I am finding such joy in the small moments of each day. I am especially finding happiness in God’s creation of plant life…..as odd as it sounds. He is the God of the big and the small. He created the immense and the tiny….both formed through His imagination and creativity.

And now, a bizarre transition…

Our family loves indoor plants. Yes, we have outdoor gardens and we love them, but I find extreme fascination with indoor plants and terrariums of all kinds. I saw a beautiful glass-jug terrarium for sale a month ago at a local vintage shop. It was well over my price range (at $100), so I left it for someone else. Recently I decided to make my own and found materials that didn’t surpass $20 so I decided to make a go of it. I used clippings from a Boston fern we had growing outside and some compost, rocks, and moss we had around the house. While making it, I felt such joy – God’s wondrous imaginings are so delightful and perfect – small and big. His fingerprints can be found in even the tiniest of living things – a dainty fern, for instance. His goodness and beauty can be found everywhere.

In a world that is gasping for breath, there is peace in knowing the Lord is in control and has guided us with His word. He has instructed us how to live – clinging to a true belief which will inevitably prompt good works. He gave us His scriptures to live by and His creation to enjoy daily.

It’s up to us to stay alert to the many opportunities to live out His Gospel and relish in His infinite masterpieces.

Even when it might be a man-made terrarium.

with the end in mind.

After you’ve been homeschooling for a certain amount of years, people begin asking the following question: “If you could give one piece of advice to someone thinking about homeschooling, what would it be?”

Given the chance, I would say many things to my former self. When we embarked on the lifestyle of home education, I had a newly-minted 6-year old, a 4-year old, and I was ready to give birth to our third. People thought we were out of our minds. They didn’t get it. Homeschooling bucks the status quo in general, but starting when you have a baby on the way and there is a wonderful Christian school down the road? We knew it wouldn’t make much sense to most people. At that moment in time, I had many veteran homeschoolers give me bits of wisdom like, “1st grade shouldn’t take more than 45 minutes a day” or “don’t replicate school at home” or “don’t get hung up on public school standards.” All things I agree with and things that helped me but….

On this side of things, 8 years later, the one thing I needed to hear was:

Think with the end in mind.

For some families, homeschool is a temporary solution for a contentious classroom dynamic for a child. It can be a solution for those who want quality, Christian education but do not desire to spend thousands of dollars a year on a private institution. It can be a perfect fit for a child who struggles to keep up due to a learning difference or a child who sits inside a classroom, bored to tears because they outpace their peers. People homeschool for a variety of reasons and 2020 threw fuel on that fire, to be sure. With decades-long inadequacies related to government-controlled institutions becoming increasingly clear, many parents are grabbing their kids and running for the hills. The main concern used to be, “The US doesn’t score that high globally in the area of math” but that is no longer the main concern. It’s hasn’t been for quite awhile, but it’s coming into clear focus now, for so many.

There are many important reasons one might choose to educate their own children and I believe the most important of these is the fact that our children are a precious gift and legacy from the Lord – we should desire to pour truth into their minds and souls and to preserve innocence and wonder as long as humanly possible . As believers, we have one opportunity to fill their hearts with the most beautiful things this world will offer. We prepare them for what they will meet and we help shape their beliefs, viewpoints, compassion, truth-detectors, work-ethic, generosity, and resolve for that moment they will leave our homes.

All children will become like their teachers (Luke 6:40) and so who their teachers are and who they are governed by becomes extremely important. In our present day, it isn’t just one singular master, but a group of them and in addition to that, it’s their peers. If we are not extremely comfortable with allowing people who we do not intimately know to babysit our children when we head out for date night, why we would trust them to instruct and shape our children for up to 8 hours a day? Make no mistake, whoever spends the most time with your child will have a strong hold of influence over them – whether that be the television, video games, their peers, the homeroom teacher, their club baseball coach, or you.

There are many people who will never understand homeschooling and I can see their point of view, certainly. Homeschoolers are still a relatively small minority and our culture has been lulled into a “norm” when it comes to how children are to grow and learn, but it wasn’t always this way. In fact, it wasn’t this way for almost all of civilization (another post for another time.)

All this to say, if you are here and you are questioning things regarding your family structure and priorities, I am here for you and I get it. If you are scared about homeschooling, I get that too. I was there. If you are skeptical, I also understand that feeling of questioning. My husband especially gets that – he wasn’t on board at first (but is now the biggest advocate for homeschooling.)

I understand where you are at.

If I could give you advice it would be to picture your child/children about 15 years down the road. Picture the end.

What is it the purpose of their education? What is the priority? Is it an emphasis on grades and achievements? Do you want a focus on family relationships and time together? Are you desiring a slower pace for your child so that they can work on their own timeline? Are you wanting the ability to marry their education with a Christian worldview? Are you wanting more time with your children in a peaceful atmosphere without the running to and fro?

Think with the end in mind, my friends. It answers a lot of questions.

When Sean and I asked ourselves what we wanted at the finish line, we both knew that the priorities were simple – we had three focuses:

1.) Christ-centered learning. That is, Christ is the bedrock for all the many subjects we will learn about. He created this amazing world and all the things that interest us – from Botany to crochet to violin practice to algebra. He is the foundational aspect and is woven through it every lesson and discussion.

2.) Family. We knew that we wouldn’t be satisfied with just two hours together a night and less on weekends if we were all running around to different endeavors. Because of this choice we limit some activities so we aren’t frazzled with playing chauffeur every night. We prioritize family time. We sit around together most nights and play games, eat, watch movies, read books, and just talk. We don’t miss each other’s “stuff” for our own stuff. We don’t each do multiple activities. Our lives are spent together and with one another and we have seen how sweet it is.

3.) Classical, Literature-based Education. I knew that if I was going to homeschool, there would have to be a strong emphasis on the classics and quality books. Once I decided that, it was off to the races and it’s been a pleasure since. We read the good stuff, the old stuff, and some of the new stuff. We read and read and read. My children may not head off to college with a portfolio detailing the 9 extracurriculars they were involved in, but they’ll have a completed book list of the best from the Western Canon!

Think with the end in mind. Pray intensely and decide what the Lord is calling you towards and into. Yes, there will be sacrifices and many that people will look at you sideways for making, but I have never

ever

ever

heard a parent say they regret the time they spent educating their child, when they are doing it out of a calling to do so. It won’t always be easy, but man…..it’s been the best job I’ve ever had. By a long shot.

I had initially intended for this to be a Q&A type post but at a certain point, I realized that if I was to answer all of those questions in one post, it would be the longest post of all time and not be very helpful because it didn’t have a clear direction.

Maybe one day I’ll sit down and draft out all of the answers I have to the hundreds of questions I get. Maybe once all of these sweet girls have flown the coop I’ll speak to a group of ladies and encourage them with what I have learned over the years. Maybe I’ll design a line of Hallmark greeting cards exclusively for the mom that has been teaching her kids for 13 years and would really like to have one shirt without stains on it. Who knows.

I’ll tell you what I do know:

1.) If you desire to homeschool, you can do it and you can do it beautifully and simply.

2.) Homeschooling need not be anxiety-inducing or stressful. It can be both of those things at times and for a short season, but whether that lasts is up to you.

3.) You do not have to be a teacher by trade or a college graduate to homeschool your kids. I have met hundreds of homeschooling moms and many of those mothers only had a high school diploma and yet they still graduated kids – most heading off to college (not that that is a litmus test for success, but that’s a whole other post.) In fact, a high percentage of the homeschooled kids I know who are at elite colleges or who own their own businesses had parents who weren’t academics. Trust me…it is nota pre-requisite.

4.) Homeschool parents do NOT have more patience than you do. We have the same amount. We just have to learn to manage it each day.

5.) Homeschooling need not be expensive. I’m serious about this one. Do not let yourself feel like you need to spend thousands of dollars on curriculum and supplies. In leaner years I think I spent $200 per year on each child. I had to be creative, use my library card a lot, head out to garage sales and estate sales for fun craft supplies, but it is doable!

6.) Regarding socialization: 100% of children are socialized. It isn’t if your child will be socialized, it is by whom will they be socialized. I’ve taught in public and private schools and worked with children for over 25 years and there isn’t an overwhelming social deficiency in homeschooled children. Perhaps there was the perception of one at one point in time as homeschooling was such a small grouping of people, but no longer. Let’s get rid of this myth and move on.

7.) When you homeschool you are with your family all the time. This seems to be one of the largest roadblocks for some people because it is different than how the normal family unit functions in our modern society. It is counter culture for a family to be together and eat all their meals together, let alone learn together – different ages and interests included! I will say that, yes, it is an adjustment and you will make sacrifices. But what may start as your biggest roadblock for homeschooling might just turn into the biggest blessing of your life. I had no clue how close a family could become when they do everything together. It’s a rope that cannot be broken. It’s a wonder and it’s a gift Sean and I could never have imagined.

8.) You will make sacrifices. It might be a job, it might be luxuries you have to forgo because one person is no longer working, it might be saying “not now” to a Masters Degree in US History (ahem….), it might be your yoga class, it might be your quiet bathroom breaks and it will certainly be your free time. But what you “give up” will be returned to you 100 fold. Trust me.

9.) People will not understand and might think you are making a mistake. Some will say it but most won’t. They’ll especially think it when your child moves towards high school. It’s alright – trust in the Lord.

10.) God is generous in ways you have no idea and when you are following His will for your life and trusting in Him, He will equip you and give your children exactly what they need. Hold fast to Him, pray, love your spouse, and read the good book each and every day. It will be enough.

Look down that path and think about what you want for your children in 15, 20, 30 years from now. Ponder the desire of your heart and what you feel the Lord is asking you to do. Keeping the end in mind has granted peace on the most harried of days and comfort when we are weary. Where He is guiding you, He will surely equip you…..all the way to the end.

around the farm on a friday.

Miso is nicer than she looks.

Happy Friday, everyone. As promised, I’ve been working on a beast of a post about homeschooling, but there’s so much to include! I’m hoping to find some time to continue work on it later this afternoon. This is the busiest time of the year on our small farm. After a long and relaxing Winter, and a gloriously long and mild Spring, it feels a bit like you are being shot out of a cannon, but it is good.

Our cucumbers are doing great!

We have a small operation here at Arabella Farm, and we keep it that way intentionally. There’s always a temptation to get more animals or build more gardens or add new: ponds/tree houses/bird feeders/ fencing/ vegetable varieties/ bee hives/ barns/ hobbies.

Our first round of taters are starting to yellow at the bottom – huzzah!

We add small projects on little by little, but we are always very cautious not to overload ourselves so much that we take away from the things we also love doing as a family (meeting new people in the community, going to all the events at our church, relaxing at night together, dining out at new places, local adventures.) We try to keep a healthy balance. Sometimes we are good at it, sometimes we are a work in progress.

K planting some flowers around the borders of veggies to bring the bees.

For now, we are enjoying our bursting garden and all the veggies and herbs we know will soon be harvested. We expanded the garden by 6 feet this year and moved our composting location to directly next to the beds.

Planted a few pumpkin seeds near our compost and they are taking off.

We planted about 30% more vegetables this year on a rotation so that we will hopefully have 2-3 really good crops of some of the varieties we use regularly. We also hope to be able to share our bounty with our church family. We have been taking our chicken eggs to church each week in a basket and putting a sign on them that says, “FREE” and it’s making some people really happy. That makes us happy.

A sampling of K’s hydrangea plants. I love their leaves.

I’m hoping this year that I will perfect (or at least improve) in my canning. I am going to make several varieties of pickles and dilly beans. I want to try pickled onions and lots of tomato sauce and salsa for the year.

Our beans are flowering!

Sean is one of the most industrious workers I know. When he doesn’t know something, he heads to YouTube or asks a local farmer. He rarely buys something to solve a problem, choosing to walk around the property for something free that might work. When he fails he doesn’t get mad enough to quit, only irritated enough to keep trying (except with building fencing to keep the chickens in. He’s hopeless at that and he wouldn’t mind me saying it.) He has failed at things, only to think about it for a solid year and come back the next year and make it work. He has taught me to be better at that.

Sean has about 6 varieties of tomatoes he is trying to perfect.

He has built our entire garden, researched so much about each vegetable, found his favorite fertilizer, has specific ways he trellis’ our tomatoes, is in the process of mulching around the entire area plotted, figured out a way to use an old, discarded sink as a washing station by the onion bed, made a harrow out of wood palettes and old grating…..and the list goes on.

I’m in the habit of making mini bouquets from weeds I find.

Sometimes I give him a hard time when he’s explaining his ideas because it seems easier to buy whatever he needs, rather than build it. But he does it anyway and almost every time he not only saves us money, but has the satisfaction of knowing he learned something new and shows his wife she shouldn’t be so quick to dismiss his creativity (although he never acts rude about it.) Anyhow, I’m proud of him. And even more proud because he’s not proud of himself. I don’t think I’ve ever heard him bring up our garden or any projects he has worked on, unless specifically asked. He just goes about his work quietly. He’s quite a guy.

My strawberries!

While we try and keep it simple around here, we are trying a few new things this year. Firstly, I’m learning about strawberries and how best to grow them after failing miserably last year. Secondly, The girls and I have decided that one week this summer we will be working on a project where we identify all of the song birds on our property and their calls (is that what you call their tweets?!) When Sean and I sit on the porch we have been able to count at least 9 specific and different bird songs, so we are going to try and figure out the birds names and match their tunes.

Of all the things I grow, I am the most successful with Basil. It LOVES humidity and makes the best pesto sauce I’ve ever tasted.

Thirdly, Kensington is very much attached to learning about and growing flowers. She has multiple books about the meanings of flowers, how they grow best, and where to plant them for best care. She takes such good care of her flowers in the greehouse in her room and it’s been really enjoyable for her father and I to watch this organic desire sprout.

The structure we are thinking about turning into a greenhouse.

We have a structure out by the garden that the previous owners used to house their goats/donkey and it is currently used as a sub-standard potting shed (more like a catch-all for junk lying around.) Sean had a wonderful idea of stripping the sides and roof and making it into a large greenhouse for our family and for K’s flowers. She was overjoyed at the thought!

Two of our three barncats.

We had to be realistic that it would be a lot of work and, “You know….daddy does have a full time job” and all that, so it might take a year or two to finally strip it, clean it, wrap it, get it ready for potential harsh winters and windy/stormy hurricane seasons….but we will certainly work on it. Slow and steady wins the race (or at least enjoys it more and doesn’t burn out as quick, right?)

The ladies are enjoying the cool weather on this beautiful Friday.

Days on the farm are wonderful and it keeps getting better. We will likely never be on the front of a farming magazine or featured homesteaders at some fancy conference…..but we sure are enjoying the quiet times together, up on our hill, at Arabella.

questions?

I’m putting together a comprehensive post all about homeschooling because I’ve received quite a few questions about education lately.

People are looking around, concerned, and weighing options….there’s a lot to think about if you’ve never given home education a thought before {and even if you have!}

However, I’m here to help {if I can!} and encourage you that homeschooling is possible. If you feel like you should, you can.

SO…if you have a question about anything homeschool related, ask away in the comments and I’ll address it in my upcoming post!

I look forward to sharing.

adding my voice to the choir (saying goodbye)

I wouldn’t say that I loved my high school experience as much as some people I know. It certainly wasn’t horrible, but I don’t look back with great fondness for the “days gone by” when thinking about those four years.

That being said, there are two reasons I will always be grateful that my parents made the sacrifices necessary to send me to a private, Christian junior high/high school when there was a local, public option about 10 minutes closer to our home.

The first thing I’m eternally grateful for is meeting my husband. I first spoke to him when I was 14. The rest is history. Of course, I don’t believe in fate or chance or luck. My parents could have sent me to Timbuktu and if the Lord purposed for us to be married, we would be. I get that and believe that. Still, BCHS was where we met and Sean has been the best thing that has ever happened to me, this side of heaven.

The second thing for which I am filled with deep gratitude are the six years that I spent in the choral program, under the instruction of Miss Carleda Hutton. From 7th-12th grade I sat in a large choir room, being taught all manner of choral musical education and I consider it a true gift that because of this, I can now read sheet music, discern choral parts, likely conduct a small group of students if push came to shove, sing several songs in Latin and German, pick up instruments and have some knowledge of how to play, sing by heart numerous hymns, and the list goes on.

If someone had Miss Hutton as a teacher, they can likely do these same things. These are wonderful skills she taught us, but they are eclipsed quickly by the real education Miss Hutton delivered.

Carleda directed our school choir for over 50 years. She knew what she was doing. She has a rock solid pedagogical system and she stuck with it. She wasn’t soft and she didn’t let us get away with anything. She demanded respect and I recall even the most sharp-tounged students would zip their lip when she instructed them to. She had the respect of her students not because she frightened them but because (I think) we all understood she deserved it. We knew that Miss Hutton loved us, wanted the best for us, and was going to teach us what we needed whether we liked it at that moment or not.

When I say she taught us what we “needed” I’m not speaking about music instruction. Yes, Miss Hutton surrounded us with music that expressed the greatness of the Lord, but more importantly she taught us about the Lord. She taught us why we should want to sing those songs. Each class began with a Bible lesson on the glory of Christ, His gospel, and why we should be honored and compelled to raise our voices to Him. My other classes didn’t start like that….I don’t remember talking about the intricacies of the cell and how that displayed the creativity of God. I’m sure it might have happened, but I distinctly remember Miss Hutton’s devotion to Christ because it was the foundation of all she taught. Music wouldn’t start until we understood why she thought it was important for us to sing.

As an educator I have come to understand the vital importance of knowing the “why” behind the paideia. Why do we teach? Why do we instruct our children? Why does it matter?

For the Christian, all educational paths begin with Christ at the foundation. It really must. If Christ is the creator of all things, His goodness and power are exhibited throughout all of the world and woven into every subject…..we are pulled toward learning about His world because if He made it, it is worth studying, loving, fearing, and knowing. This is the bedrock and beginning of all knowledge. Understanding the world will only be eternally fruitful if we use our energy and resources to draw from His well. He is to be the start of all education.

Without a desire to understand God’s world because He made it (and is in every piece of it), it would seem fair to suggest that a completely secular education is basically teaching people facts and figures so they will get “good enough” grades, get into a “good enough” college, and life will be….”good enough.” I’m not sure I can be convinced that there is much more to it. Sure, one could say that they are teaching so the student can learn to appreciate beauty through art history or champion organic chemistry in the hopes of possibly creating a new medicinal marvel.

But that would be its ultimate conclusion and nothing further. If we as believers are honest, what is the point of momentary and fleeting beauty if there is no God?

Miss Hutton understood this. All the best teachers do.

There has to be more to teaching, educating, filling young minds. There has to be an everlasting component because, if there is not, we might as well all pursue whatever hedonistic pursuits we find most pleasurable and be done with the entire charade. I’m sure that seems very purposeless, selfish, and not quite workable for a national economy, but it is essentially is the argument at hand.

We learn because God created each and everything in the world and it is worth knowing because He is wise, and perfect. If there is no God, the real purpose of learning turns into a social construct of what we “ought” to do in order to survive and live out our short years with the least amount of discomfort.

Miss Hutton understood this. All the best teachers do.

They teach outside of their own passions and preferences, always turning the focus back to the King of all the Universe, in order to draw our attentions and attractions to Him….this is when education soars and becomes eternally meaningful.

This is when learning becomes a fire.

This is when children have their eyes and hearts open to the mysteries of our planet and created order.

This is when facts are not just for memorization but revered because they are part of the story.

Miss Hutton was one of the greats not simply because she led her choirs through competitions or taught us to sing in other languages or because she was revered amongst her contemporaries.

She was one of the greats because she was a student of Christ and He informed her lesson plans. Her words. Her attitudes. Her interactions with students. Her life.

Miss Hutton was a true teacher because Christ was her curriculum.

world shapers

I’m not sure who to attribute it to exactly, but a sentiment was shared once that pops into my head regularly.

The person shared, “the difference we make in the world may not be through something we “do” but rather through someone we raise.”

This has never left me and has often been a source of encouragement in times that were lean in the area of inspiration or perceived purpose. I don’t need to tell you that the career choice to be a homemaker, a homeschooler, or simply a woman that is married without a focused vocational path isn’t the most revered in our society. That’s not headline news because it’s understood. It’s a choice that we are free to make, of course, but it’s not necessarily a choice that is recognized as praiseworthy or to be aspired towards.

And that is alright. That shouldn’t matter to us!

But sometimes it seems to matter a great deal and if this feeling never descends upon you, please teach me your ways because you are wiser and more mature than I. We all seek to be purposeful and meaningful and to work well and toward something…..

So why do we lose sight of how purposeful and meaningful (and God ordained!) the task of taking care of a home and raising actual humans is? It’s divine work but very quickly we question if we aren’t living up to an arbitrary standard if we don’t have an ETSY shop or we aren’t published or we aren’t contributing financially to our household bottom-line. These things (an ETSY shop or working outside of the home) aren’t wrong – not at all! It’s not wrong to have a job or be passionate about the beautiful skills God might have blessed us with. Some of us are set on a path to change the world through paintings or in the courtroom or in a classroom. Do those things, yes!

But if those are not your things to do, it is wrong to doubt that the work you are called to is not worthy or less. The Lord has set in my heart the task, the “small” work of primarily taking care of our home, making inroads in our small church and community we have been called to, and educating our girls before we send them out into the world. This can be daunting and overwhelming but it can, at times, feel tiny.

But you see…..it’s not small. To the contrary, it is enormous work! We display the love of the Lord, the goodness of His grace, and the bounty in His creation each day! We nourish hearts and minds, we impart wisdom and truth through scripture and story, we provide sanctuary for growing hearts, and we train for a battle that lay before our children. We read to them, instruct them, discipline them, admonish them, hug them, teach them, pray for them.

There are so many paths one can take in the world and occasionally I wonder what mine might have been had I not had children. But those paths were never to be and there is peace in knowing that the Lord chose something else for me. Something beautiful and perfect and unique. For this task in front of me I am devotedly secure and grateful.

The path I am on {and that you might be on as well} is a path of quiet, peaceful work that shapes the world.

Silently, within four walls, simply, daily, routinely shaping the world – their world. And His!

appendix vo. 14

Cheese with friends this week was simply divine!

Can we not mention that it’s been a few weeks since I had a Friday appendix post? Let’s not speak of it. I’m back today and that’s all that matters, right?

Here’s what’s catching my eye this week:

  • Like I’ve been saying for years and years…..one mans trash is another mans treasure. Don’t forget to glance in the dumpsters!
  • Three cheers for Grandmothers! They might never become famous or get a cookbook deal, but their food has fed nations. Watching these is such a delight.
  • I can’t tell you how hard I have fallen in love with the work of Flannery O’Connor. I haven’t felt this admiration for a writer since I was introduced to this man. I have now read 10 of her stories and have more on order. I can’t tell you how wonderful it was to listen to some of her stories on Audible – the thick Southern accents made the characters that much more vivid and real. I would also recommend this documentary for some introductory background information about her life. I am so looking forward to learning more about her, reading all her works, and discovering her hidden and layered nuance. She was extraordinary and it’s a shame that modern day high-schoolers and college students aren’t being introduced to her to with more flourish and frequency. Her word drawings are very appropriate for our time.
  • And finally, if you are in love with cheese as much as I am, this is the site for you.

Have a wonderful and restful weekend!

-Rachel

the book review I don’t want to write, but might have to.

I read a lot but I don’t write book reviews. My opinions are generally saved for date night with my husband or for the ears of close friends over a cheese plate (obviously.)

However, once in awhile a book gains enough traction for being so popular with all the loudest dissenters or thought-makers in a movement that it’s hard to ignore. Trust me, I have no problem ignoring the latest NYT Bestseller when I can feel in my bones that the content is antithetical to my beliefs or, in the simplest words, nonsense. I say those words having never written my own book and am sure that I don’t precisely understand what it must require for someone to formulate pages and pages full of their own deeply-felt inspirations, only to have people like myself get wound up and pontificate why it isn’t worth buying. That’s why I don’t write book reviews.

Well, until the one I might start writing this afternoon.

I’m simultaneously reading all of the short stories of Flannery O-Connor (she is incredible) and also making my way (although very slowly because I am writing comments after just about every sentence) through, “Jesus and John Wayne” by Kristin Kobes Du Mez. Honestly, I don’t even know where to start with Du Mez’s book, so I won’t. Yet.

I will say this:

I grew up Evangelical. My entire life I’ve been in evangelical churches. My mom was on staff at three separate churches in my childhood. My father served as an elder. I went on missions trips and to bonfires with the youth group in the summer. I killed it in “Sword Drill” contests and played “Sardines” long into the night with fellow junior high friends. We had lock-ins and I grew up on a steady diet of Psalty, McGhee and Me, Brio, Amy Grant, Considering Lily, DC Talk, and SuperTones. I was in devotion groups with pastors wives and toilet-papered the assistant pastor’s house. I went to Hume Lake, Camp Fox, and Forrest Home and jumped on “the blob.” My uncle was the pastor of the church I attended when newly married and I worked on his staff for seven years. On that staff I was the only female that wasn’t in an administrative position. I’ve been at church parties, at youth group retreats, at potlucks, prayer meetings, interventions, reconciliation prayer nights. I’ve been at the deathbed of church goers and I’ve been at births. I’ve watched church bodies split and go their separate ways after decades together. I’ve organized and ran multiple VBS events, Sunday school teacher trainings, pool parties, summer camps, and Harvest gatherings. I’ve been the first person at the church in the morning and the last to lock up.

Aside from preaching in the pulpit, I think I’ve done just about everything you can do at an Evangelical church.

Why am I telling you this? It’s certainly not assure you that my opinion about evangelicalism is the only one, or to assert that those with a dissenting opinion are not valid.

That quick glimpse over 40 years of my life is shared to couch my forthcoming review of Du Mez’s book with, as the youth say, “receipts.” I feel like I can confidently assert myself into a conversation about evangelicalism, and have a leg to stand on – as much as any other person my age. My relationship with the evangelical church wasn’t casual, it was life.

And while our family recently changed denominations to the Anglican church, it was not out of an animosity or anger towards the larger Evangelical church. I don’t have an ax to grind and I certainly don’t look at the national church (as does Du Mez) with a glaringly reductive and obviously never-to-be-redeemed negative view.

Is the Evangelical church without her faults? Obviously not.

Is she fumbling now? Yep.

Might she need to fumble further and even harder in order to come back to the important “first things?” Possibly.

Do I see major problems in the Evangelical movement and an unhealthy marriage with politics? Certainly, and I hope you do as well.

Have I been hurt while attending an Evangelical church? Of course.

All these things are true. But all these things can be true while also existing alongside the fact that there are many, many evangelical churches that don’t deserve to be unfairly lumped into an oversimplified soup of progressive “woes” railed against the American church.

I’ll stop.

I haven’t finished the book and want to give it a completely fair shake before I attempt to comprehensively review it. I will say though…..I pride myself on not being the person who can’t listen to the “other side” and so I want to hear stories and experiences. This is important to me. But I will also say that when someone shares opinions as “factual evidence”, while also providing a very suspect and slim paper trail, all the while couching it under the cloak of “academic research”…..I have to slow you down.

Give me facts and I will listen.

BUT. If you’re just going to write a 300 page hit piece that loosely ties John Wayne to the Capitol attack on Jan 6th and then go on to blame every man who ever attended a “Promise Keepers” event for the election of Donald Trump, I’m going to have a tough time taking you seriously.

We will see how the the remaining chapters strike me, but the outlook isn’t good. I hope to offer you a review that is based in something that Du Mez seems unfamiliar with…..snarkless factually-based evidence that isn’t propped up by hyper-emotion.

For now, I need some O’Connor as a palette-cleanser. And, if you’ve read anything by Flannery, you know that “palette-cleanser” isn’t how she is usually described. That’s telling.