Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Melissa Makes Apple Fritters

Melissa is my personal pastry chef, or at least that's what I've teasingly called her for a long time. She loves to bake, and she always chooses to make something delicious. Last night, she was busy in the kitchen again, this time making Nancy Silverton's apple fritter recipe. As I moved around the house, cleaning messes and taking care of a few tasks that needed doing, I couldn't help but smile at the cheerful scene in the kitchen. Melissa had tied an apron around herself, put on a Frank Sinatra CD, and was busy mixing dough and chopping apples.

The dough was a tasty, eggy (quite yellow, like brioche) yeast dough, so there were a few dough-resting and dough-rising steps involved in making the fritters. When Melissa sauteed the apples in butter and vanilla bean, the house smelled heavenly. But the best moment was when the fritters were fried and brushed with glaze and ready to eat. Yum!

Some people have referred to Nancy Silverton as the best pastry chef in America. I am certainly no judge of that, but I do know that everything we've made from her pastry cookbook has been delicious! And the apple fritters were no exception.

Here is Silverton's description of her apple fritters, taken from her book, Pastries from the La Brea Bakery:

"Most recipes for apple fritters call for apple slices dipped in batter and fried. When I think of an apple fritter, I think of chopped apples encased in crispy, light dough. Unfortunately,the doughnut shop version is always oversized and grease-laden. Fortunately, this fritter is delicate, packed with tart, plump pieces of sauteed apples and won't leave you stuffed and full of regrets."

And that would have been true had I eaten just one fritter! But no. So, I was left both stuffed and full of regrets (but not too much on the regrets).

Worth Reading...

I'm working on the next post on my "ten things" list-- this one on creativity-- but I'm a-swim in too many thoughts, resources, and things I've jotted down about this in the past. So, I'm hacking my way through the brush and weeds in order to keep this as simple and direct as possible. I'm not writing a thesis after all, but a very basic explanation of what I mean by creativity as it pertains to children, what I think is important about it, and how I think it be can nurtured it in the home.

I hope you understand that I don't consider myself to be an expert on (or even particularly knowledgable about) any of the ten things I'm writing about. I'm merely sharing with you the fundamental elements of our home environment. These are the things that seemed to draw my children (and their mother) into an enthusiastic educational life. They made our home-life rich and fun. And I do think that they can help make a good environment in any home. If you can pick and choose and glean from any of this, then great, and if not, then that's great, too.

Hopefully, I'll have that ready to post in the next day or so.

Lately, I've been cleaning, cleaning, cleaning. Digging deep into corners, emptying every drawer and replacing only the things I use often, making empty space, sorting through paperwork. Progress is very slow, but I want to be thorough, so I'm taking my time.

Sorting through paperwork is by far the slowest part of this cleaning process because I end up reading pretty much everything that passes through my hands. And most of it has been fun to read. On top of my bedtime reading pile last night was an article I came across in a box. It's called Typing Alone and was posted at National Review Online three years ago. I don't know if Laura A sent this to me or if I sent it to her, but I remember we both liked it and had a nice conversation about it.

The article is about a kind of self-education that requires "uninterrupted moments," "free time," "space to act with purpose (with narrow, deep focus)," "dead" or "empty time," "narrowed involvements," and more. It's the kind of learning Mark Twain meant when he said not to let schooling interfere with your education. The article is written with college students in mind, but I think it says something important about learning at any age.

This is the kind of education I hoped my children would have at home. And it was very gratifying to see, when they went off to college, that they continued to learn in this way. Their coursework has been interesting to them, and they've taken it seriously, but they've kept doing their own thing, too. On their own time, outside work or school, they've continue to read and learn and think and do the things that have appealed to them without worrying about their importance. I like that about my kids.

And I thought I'd post a link to the article here:

Typing Alone by Mark Oppenheimer

Here's something else worth reading. It comes from one of my favorite blogs, In A Spacious Place:

In A Spacious Place: All Literature is Dangerous

Sunday, April 27, 2008

I'd Like One of These for When Company Comes...

The company can stay in the house, and I'll sleep in the tent! This is definitely my kind of relaxed charm and comfort. I absolutely love camping, sleeping in a tent, feeling the fresh, cool air (that's why my bedroom window is always at least partially open, even when it's mid-winter). And I would definitely enjoy sleeping in one of these more luxurious tents, too. You can even put a wood stove in them in case you have an extra chilly morning (which we often do here, even in summer).

I was looking at a new issue of Sunset magazine today (the magazine of western living), and the cover photo is of one of these tents. I think they're so appealing. I first heard of the tents through http://www.maryjanesfarm.com/, but they're spreading all over the west now (and possibly in other places, too).

Don't you think it would be nice to wake in the morning, tie back the tent flaps, sit on the "front porch" with a cup of coffee in the early sunlight, enjoy the sights and sounds of nature, and write in your journal (if you do that kind of thing)? That sounds like a nice morning to me. But I do something similar here on summer mornings anyway. I take my coffee or tea, my journal, and some books out to the little table on the back deck and very much enjoy sitting there for a long time in the warming sun.

I don't think I'll really be getting one of these tents (at least any time soon), but it's fun to think about it.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Things That Make Me Smile Today...

Our usual pleasant routine of Saturday scones. Sitting at the counter with Melissa. Listening to Bach. Writing in my journal. My favorite round, hand-painted Polish coffee mug. I bought it at the Eastern Market in Washington DC a couple of years ago. I love the look and feel of this mug.

Farm fresh eggs. I pick these up every week at my friend's house. I love getting all-natural, free range eggs from her. Opening the carton is always a surprise-- I've had quite a range of sizes, shapes, and colors. And the almost shocking bright orange-yellow yolk of these eggs indicates a very high vitamin content.

Fresh-smelling line-dried sheets on the beds! Every Saturday (well, mostly). It's heavenly.

Kleanser Kate. She's cute, and I like her. She represents all of my homemade cleaning supplies. I just filled Kate last night with baking soda I scented with citrus essential oils. Baking soda works magic on many things. It makes my sink shine. It magically takes coffee or tea stains off cups and mugs. It takes baked on gunk right off Pyrex or my LeCreuset bakeware. It's good for many things.

And speaking of Pyrex. Aimee, I'm thinking of you on this one. You haven't seen any of mine yet. Here are some of the pieces I've bought. Quite a few are busy at work in the fridge. I didn't put my brightly colored-- green, orange, yellow, bright blue-- ones in this arrangement. I have some more pink, too. I'll show you the rest later.

These are the cookbooks I've been browsing the most lately. I love Super Natural Cooking! I've cooked many things from it, and tonight we're having the delicious "Giant Crusty and Cream White Beans with Greens" recipe from it. (We have it often.)

Lindsey Shere's Chez Panisse Desserts books is a wonder. She does lots of ice creams, sherbets, etc. because her desserts are fruit-based (always in season). There is a nice-looking chocolate chapter, too, and lots of detailed lessons and tips to make your desserts extra special.

Then there's the incomparable Nancy Silverton. Melissa is going to make her apple fritters on Monday when she has the entire afternoon off work.

Claudia Roden's books are beautiful, fascinating, and extremely educational. Arabesque focuses on the cooking of Morocco, Turkey, and Lebanon. Everything I've made from Roden's books has been terrific. I have a little list of recipes I'll be making from this book soon.

Marcella Hazen is the goddess of Italian cooking. This is an Italian cooking manual and encyclopedia! She can bring amazing flavors out of simple ingredients. If you want to really learn all about Italian home cooking, this is the way to go.

And Anne Willan's beautiful Country Cooking of France. I bought this book with my birthday money, and I love reading through it. My favorite cookbooks are those that are especially well-written with beautiful photos and lots of cultural, geographical, and historical culinary information. They are highly readable. This one has these attributes in spades. Gorgeous photography.

(Gee, blogging is fast and easy when someone else takes care of all of the picture stuff for you! :-) ) And please forgive all of the weird spacing and stuff that appears in almost every blog post. No matter how much I attempt to edit and fix things, it messes up more and more and more... When I have more time, I might figure out how to create a cleaner, more balanced, nicely laid out post. It does sort of drive me nuts... :-)

Saturday Nature Notes

I awoke this morning to the rhythmic tap, tap, tapping of a Northern Flicker on the side of our house. Every spring, the flickers start drumming on our cedar siding just as soon as the sun rises. I like waking early, but sometimes that monotonous steady tapping is akin to the Chinese water torture! When the flickers first start this in the spring, I often mistake the taps for knocks at the door. More than once, I have opened the front door to find no one there, and then I realize that it was only the flickers I heard. Melissa and I will sometimes have enough of it, and we'll go bang on the wall or slide open the window to scare the bird away briefly. They promptly return. Those flickers are persistent!

The big surprise on waking this morning was the clear blue sky! Last night, the weather report still showed cloudy skies with possible morning showers, so I was elated and energized when I saw the sun rising over the eastern hill in a cloudless sky.

Every Saturday morning we have chocolate chip scones, so the first thing I did when I got up was to slip some jeans under my nightgown and head to the kitchen to get busy. I turned on a very familiar morning CD, Bach for Book Lovers (I love hearing Bach in the morning), and got to work. When the scones were almost ready to come out of the oven, I ground some Sumatran coffee beans and brewed them in my French press. Coffee is not a daily thing for me anymore, but I always have it on Saturday with my scones. I grabbed my Bible, my journal, and my current morning quiet time reading (I'm re-reading the journals of Alexander Schmemann, who is very much a kindred spirit as far as what matters and what is meaningful to him) and sat down at the counter with Melissa.

The flicker started tapping on the wall once again, so I decided to see if I could sneak up on him. I managed to open the door and tiptoe across the porch without scaring him away (the flickers are quite attuned and ready to dart away at the slightest disturbance). I was even able to slowly peek my head around the corner for a closeup view of the flicker drilling a hole into our siding. In just a moment, though, the flicker flew away in a fluttery panic.

As I turned to go back into the house, I heard the loud, distinctive call of my favorite Greater Sandhill Cranes (the largest of all sandhill cranes). The call is so loud it can be heard miles away, thanks to a modified windpipe that has been likened to a French horn.

I scanned the meadow in the places where I can usually find the cranes, but I couldn't make them out, so I ran indoors to grab the binoculars. When I came back outside, still in my nightgown and jeans, with very unkempt hair, Melissa followed me with her camera. I looked and looked through the binoculars, but didn't see any sign of the cranes. I walked back and forth along the fence across the road, and suddenly, there they were. Melissa came over to snap some photos (as she said with her camera "seriously zoomed," hence pictures that are slightly hazy). We moved onto the neighbor's property and down their fenceline to get a closer look, but the cranes were still far in the distance. Now the little neighbor girl, who had seen us through her window, joined us. We all watched the cranes for awhile and then went back to our houses.

As I walked back to the house, another formation of birds (I'd seen several that morning) came flying toward us. I watched through binoculars, and Melissa took a picture or two. Ignorant, as usual, I have no idea what they were. They sounded and acted like some kind of water birds.

It was time to feed the dogs, and as I walked to the kennel down at the barn, I happily breathed in the morning air and enjoyed that special early light. There's nothing like morning, really. It feels better to me than any other time of day. As I walked back toward the house, I listened to a veritable symphony of singing birds all around me. One song stood out. I noticed a bird sitting on a wire, singing a nice, bubbly song. Another bird landed to face it on a nearby wire, and they proceeded to sing to each other and have a nice conversation.

Again, ignorant as to what they were, I ran inside to grab the binoculars (maybe I should keep them around my neck). And, also again, Melissa followed me outside with the camera. I watched and watched. I have no idea what this bird is, but I was flipping through my favorite bird books (SIbley, Birds of Oregon, and the gigantic Audubon encyclopia) to find out. No luck. There was a bird in the guides that looked something like the ones I saw, but the wings and tail seemed different, and the head was not so totally black. I know there are huge variations in particular birds, though...

Does anyone know what this is? For now, I'll be content to live within E.O. Wilson's advice in his book, Naturalist:

"...better to be an untutored savage for a while, not to know the names or anatomical detail. Better to spend stretches of time just searching and dreaming."

When my kids lived here, I counted on them to act as living field guides for me. All I had to say was, "What's that?" and not only would I get an answer but also a nice narration on the behaviour of that particular bird. I have been lazy, and this is so apparent now that I'm fending for myself, bird-wise. I'll figure this stuff out eventually, but my first step will be simply to watch and enjoy. I'll be that "untutored savage" EO Wilson mentioned (the sound of that quite appeals to me, actually!). I do look through field guides because it's all interesting, but at the moment, I'm not very good at the specifics of birding.

Well, it's a lovely, lovely day on the high desert. I'll be going out to hang some sheets on the line as soon as the washer has finished it's cycle, and doubtless I'll see and hear much more out in God's beautiful world.

Friday, April 25, 2008

"Excessively Domestic"?

"Being perceived as excessively domestic can get you socially ostracized." (Cheryl Mendelson in Home Comforts)
A few mornings ago I told Melissa that it felt like a puttery, coffee kind of day, so I brewed some freshly ground beans in my French press, poured the hot coffee into my favorite round mug, and proceeded to sort through a disorganized box or two of papers that have accumulated over the past year or so.
Ever since I can remember, almost everyday, I've written things down, seemingly on whatever papery thing has been nearest to me-- in journals, in notebooks, on the backs of envelopes, on the backs of business letters, everywhere. Grocery lists, to-do lists, goals, what I'm thinking about, things I enjoy, what I've been reading, what I want to read, funny/interesting/nice things my kids said or did, what I'm thankful for, passages from books, spiritual musings, and so on.

I don't know if this writing is a kind of therapy or what, but it's actually been amusing to read through it all. There are bits of mystery writing in the boxes. For example, I ran across an envelope with several passages from a book copied onto it. One of the lines I copied on that envelope was this: "I want the fairytale, and instead I feel as though I've been stolen away, a princess orphaned when June Cleaver was killed by Jane Jetson." Recognize this? (I kinda like it, and I'd love to know where I read it.)

"June Cleaver was killed by Jane Jetson..." Progress, right? I wouldn't say so. Last fall I had a group of women from my church over for a meeting. Since they were coming right after work, I cooked a homey dinner for them-- Cheddar Chowder, a crusty round loaf of bread, and an apple harvest cake with cream cheese frosting for dessert. Some of the ladies teasingly called me June Cleaver, as if cooking that meal qualified me either as hero or domestic martyr. But I didn't mind.

I have always been one of those women who are "excessively domestic." When I was young, I thought it was great fun to watch or help my mom or Grammy with daily chores. My mother's wringer washing machine fascinated me. I liked seeing the clean towels and sheets flap in the wind on the clothesline. You'd often find me hanging around in the kitchen while the women (and the men, I must say; my grandpa was a wonderful cook and my brother is a kitchen fiend now) cooked (this was probably motivated at first by my desire to lick batter off spoons and to eat whatever was being created).

Many of my earliest memories are happy food memories-- warm-from-the-oven peanut butter cookies with crisscrosses on them; Grammy's wonderful gravy and overnight buns; Grampy's heavenly sourdough biscuits and sauerkraut; eating several types of berries from Grammy and Grampy's garden; going out in the boat and combing back with crab and clam for a big feed; raw milk from a small family dairy just down the road; going out into the wild to pick buckets of blackberries with Mom; buying produce as fresh as could be from local farmstands. As soon as I learned to bake, I baked and baked and baked. I took as many Home Ec cooking classes in high school as I could just so I could hang around in a kitchen. I've always loved food and cookbooks and kitchen stuff.

You'd think I'd be a good cook by now, huh? Well, not so much. But I do love food, and I do love being in my kitchen. It's not just the kitchen, though. I have loved making a home for my family and a place to invite my friends. Our house has many eccentricities and problems, but making home is first and foremost a matter of the spirit. Love, warmth, and welcome are the primary things that make a house a home. Without these characteristics, the creative aspects of home are superficial adornments.

In 1972, Joan Didion opened a famous essay criticizing the women's movement by saying, "To make an omelette you need not only those broken eggs but someone "oppressed" to beat them." (Who's going to want to do the cooking if it gets put like this?!) I think the famous "marriage contract" idea of the 1970's attempted to divide housework equally between men and women, to the point of silliness. Of course, it's wonderful when men are very involved in taking care of the home and children, but the point of the women's movement was to liberate oppressed women. And I just don't want anyone pitying me for living the life of an "oppressed person." I happen to like my life. I've never felt slightly apologetic for being a busy and happy at home.

"Oh, goody! A new vacuum cleaner!" (Just kidding. Sort of.)

And I'm not talking only about cooking. I don't feel bogged down by the mundane round, by ordinary day following ordinary day, by the over-and-overness of daily routines and tasks. Actually, they don't seem ordinary and mundane to me. I don't see cleaning bathrooms as undignified or washing dishes as a waste of time. Making dinner and setting the table day after day is not an uncreative drain. To be honest, I don't feel like doing these things every single day (I'd sometimes rather remain in my chair with a book), but there are reasons for doing them. Once I recall my vision for home and determine to get started with a cheerful attitude, the inner resistance falls away. When the acts of making a home for the family are done in love, I see them as setting the stage for very warm, meaningful, influential relationships.

At home I am free. I can set my own schedule. I can read. I can learn. I can grow. I can develop a skill. I can do what I want. I create an atmosphere and build an environment-- one that is perfectly suited to my family. Home is a good base for acts of compassion and service. Neither my creativity nor my intelligence should be stifled by homemaking. On the contrary, I think being busy at home gives me a huge range of opportunities, possibilities, responsibilities, and joys, not the least of which is playing the largest role of anyone in my children's lives. This job has eternal importance.

I like what GK Chesterton has to say about this:

"To be Queen Elizabeth within a definite area, deciding sales, banquets, labors, and holidays; to be Whitely within a certain area, providing toys, boots, sheets, cakes, and books, to be Aristotle within a certain area, teaching morals, manners, theology, and hygiene; I can understand how this might exhaust the mind, but I cannot imagine how it could narrow it. How can it be a large career to tell other people's children about the Rule of Three, and a small career to tell one's own children about the universe? How can it be broad to be the same thing to everyone, and narrow to be everything to someone? ...a woman's function is laborious, but because it is gigantic, not because it is minute."

With a bit of vision, being busy about the tasks of home can be a profoundly influential, rich, full life, even if loving it can get you socially ostracized! :-)

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Martha likes it! And it's good for you...

When I first started telling people we drank green lemonade, they looked at us strangely and almost suspiciously. But apparently, green drinks have become vogue. Martha Stewart is pictured holding a pitcher of a very green beverage in one of her recent magazines. I suppose that means the green drink has arrived. And, much to the surprise of people who taste our green lemonade, green drinks can be really delicious. My grandsons love the stuff. When I offered some to my husband, he scrunched up his nose at it, but went ahead and tried it. When I glanced over at him less than a minute later, his glass was empty and he was scraping it with a spoon to get out the last bits of green foam!

We routinely have other healthy drinks that might seem strange to many people, too. The green lemonade is made daily, and we'll have at least one of our other drinks every day, too. Two of the drinks have kefir in them. Kefir is extremely nutritious, and it's easy to make. It's a cultured milk drink (like yogurt), so it's full of healthy stuff. Melissa is lactose intolerant. She becomes quite ill when she consumes milk, but she can have some yogurt and some cultured cream cheese, and kefir never bothers her at all. The cultures in kefir consume most of the lactose in the milk, making it one of the easiest to digest milk products there is.

To make kefir, you can either use (reusable) kefir grains, or you can buy little packets of kefir starter powder (I use Yogourmet) at a natural foods store (or online), which is what I'm currently doing. This is so easy: fill a quart jar with milk. Stir in one packet of kefir powder. Let the mixture sit on the counter overnight and until the kefir is as thickened and as tangy as you want it. I leave mine a good twelve hours, giving the jar an occasional tip to check for thickness. When it's almost as thick as homemade yogurt, I put it in the fridge. It's now ready to use.

Here's a line-up of four of the drinks we currently drink most often. (Sorry we only have photos for two of them. We just don't think of snapping pictures when we're having our drinks!) Three of them call for a bit of maple syrup (not much). If that bothers you (it doesn't bother me), just drink them when you're craving something sweet. The drinks are definitely satisfying!

Serves 1

(This is really thick and cold, like a real milkshake. I make smallish servings.)

1 frozen banana, sliced
1/4 c. kefir (cold)
1/4 c. whole coconut milk (cold-- I just dump a can or two into a jar and keep it in the fridge)
a drizzle of maple syrup (may not be needed since banana sweetens)
a little bit of pure vanilla extract
1 T. cocoa powder (or more if you want really strong chocolate)

Put in blender and whizz it all together til it's blended and thick.


Serves 2

(We have this every day. We crave it. You need a juicer for this. I have a Breville-- the cheapest. An ultra-high powered blender like a Vitamix might work, too, but don't try it in a regular blender. This is supposed to be a clear, clean drink, though, so, personally, I'd only use a juicer. Oh, and all of the ingredients should be cold when you make this because it tastes better that way.)

1 head of romaine or other green lettuce
A big bunch of other greens-- kale or spinach is what I use
2 fuji apples (or braeburn or, if needed, whatever non-sour apple you have)-- unpeeled
1 juicy lemon, peeled
sometimes I put some Italian parsely in with the lettuce
sometimes I add half a cucumber (peeled)

Run everything through the juicer. Stir in some cold water (not too much).


Serves 2

(Lissy and I think this tastes like cheesecake!)

3/4 c. frozen strawberries (or other berry)
1/4 c. yogurt (all natural, whole milk)
1/4 c. kefir (cold)
1 T. (or more) pure maple syrup
a little bit of vanilla
1 1/2 T. coconut oil

Put all but coconut oil in blender. Blend til smooth. While blender is running, drizzle in coconut oil.

(Serves 3 or 4)

(This is my favorite non-dairy smoothie. I love this. Melissa says it reminds her vaguely of grape bubblegum. I cut this recipe in half when I make it for just Lissy and me. It helps to have a juicer, but I think a person could make due without one.)

1 1/2 c. frozen blueberries
1 1/4 c. crushed ice
1 banana
1/2 c. fresh-squeezed orange juice
2 T (+) maple syrup
1/4 t. vanilla
1 braeburn or Fuji apple, juiced (not sure how much juice this is)
juice of 1 small lime

Put all in blender and blend til smooth. You may need to add a bit of water if it's too thick to move around in the blender, but you do want to keep the smoothie thick (we use spoons when we consume this), so add just enough water to keep the blender moving.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Easy Green Living

Mid-afternoon yesterday, the UPS guy showed up at the door with an Amazon box for me. It was my new Renee Loux book, Easy Green Living. I sat down to have a quick look, and quite a while later, I had read through most of it (not every word, but a solid perusal).

I like the attitude of this book. It's informative. It takes a gracious approach, saying that being green is not black and white. Renee encourages doing what we can, making progress according to our convictions and abilities. As with everything, making simple, gradual changes is a good way to proceed and progress. And we each have our own way of thinking about being "green" (or not).

Green living seems to be the current trend. It's what everyone is doing nowadays, though it was the only way possible to live in the not-too-distant past (it's funny how often looking back can show us how to move forward). We are saturated with messages and information about green living, and the barrage can get old and tiresome. But, to me, it's important.

Basically, I think it's just smart to avoid toxic chemicals and unnatural things in our atmosphere, in our homes, in our hygiene products, and in our food. And why not?! It doesn't have to cost a lot of money. In fact, it can be far less expensive and less wasteful to live this way-- that's part of the point, I must admit that there are still too many ways I am wasteful or abuse the planet :-), but I'm moving forward.

Here are some steps I've enjoyed taking toward green/natural living. I'll be taking more:

1. I've been making my own cleaning supplies for a few years. Each formula costs mere pennies. The products smell good and they work well, too! It's fun.

2. I use my new pyrex, flat-lid containers for storing food in the fridge. They're vintage! Pyrex is becoming a popular collectible (I've just learned). This is much more fun and attractive than using plastic and foil.

3. I use natural body care and beauty supplies. A variety of brands.

4. I use the clothesline for much of my laundry.

5. I don't use chemicals in the yard. I do some xeriscaping and want to do a lot more.

6. I've been collecting cloth market bags for grocery shopping, so I can take my own bags to the checkstand (and farmer's market).

7. I take what I can to recycling.

8. I have a compost pail in the kitchen (and I use it).

9. I use a French press for coffee! Better coffee. No filters with bleach to poison the coffee or fill the garbage. :-) No waste at all-- the coffee grounds go into compost.

10. I drive less, stay home more.

11. I buy local, organic foods when I can (but I do buy foods from afar-- spices, citrus, etc.).

12. I use cloth napkins. Really cute and colorful ones made for me by Michelle for Christmas.

13. I participate in a local CSA. I highly recommend this!

14. I've switched to using only non-VOC paints in the house (YOLO Colorhouse is my favorite-- another cool Oregon company).

Basically, I make choices gradually and painlessly. I don't act out of guilt or peer pressure, and I don't recommend that anyone should. We should all do what we are truly convicted and motivated to do. For me, the changes have been enjoyable.

What about you?

An Inspiring Home for Learning, #5

5. Routines help to develop habits and make life lovely.

"The chief aim of the Christian order was to give room for all good things to run wild." (~GK Chesterton)
I'm convinced that having a good, consistent daily routine is one of the most important factors in the life of a child, and, I would venture to say, in our own lives, too. Over the years, I paid attention to changes in the attitudes and behavior of my children when the routine was upset, and this helped to convince me of the power of routine in building habits and character. When routines were kept, the children were better behaved in just about every way-- more cheerful, more compliant, more eager, more willing to delay gratification. They were less inclined to balk at my expectations and more inclined to take initiative in every area of their lives. They were more productive and more creative. When the routine was in place, there was a significant improvement in all of us regarding our habits and discipline. And a bonus was that pleasant routines made for lovely family warmth and spirit.

Keeping a consistent routine or pattern to the days can help to instill in all of us an understanding and appreciation of the very nature of God, and, to talk in circlels, paying attention to His nature can provide insight into how we should order our own days. Creation is nothing if it isn't consistent. There is a definite pattern to the way God runs the world. Sunrise, sunset. Tides. Seasons. Nature-- emergence, growth, abundance, dormancy. Cycles of life and death. Phases of the moon. The earth's steady revolution around the sun. Consistent behavior in plants and animals. Beauty. Order. Promise. Hope. Spontaneity and surprise. Creativity!

Great love is behind God's routines. They bring a deep sense of His care, of His dependability and faithfulness. From them we gain a sense of security and safety (because He has set limits, and we generally know what we can expect from day to day). We can settle in and enjoy our days and lives. It is the same in our homes with our children. In orderly routines there is freedom-- reasonable freedom from fear and freedom to grow in the very image and nature of God ourselves.

Routines help to develop discipline. Discipline produces freedom and leisure.

"The chief aim of the Christian order was to give room for all good things to run wild."

It was important for me not to be an overly authoritarian parent. I wanted to set parameters, to draw boundaries, to expect obedience, but I didn't want too many rules to dominate the working of the household. While I wanted my children to become disciplined and orderly (they did), I wanted the pattern or order of our home to fit loosely and comfortably. I wanted breathing room. I wanted a space for those good things to run wild!

Respect was important, but I didn't want machine-like obedience from my children. I wanted thoughtful, willing obedience. I wanted the kids to have plenty of freedom within the boundaries. So, I set firm boundaries, but I left a lot of room for spunk and personality and personal choice. Teddy Roosevelt said he wanted his children to have a robust righteousness, and that's how I felt, too.

So, I set up a daily routine that changed over the years. As children grow older, they begin to take increasing responsibility for different areas of their lives so that by the time they are grown, they should be self-discplined and self-sufficient-- ready to survive (thrive!) on their own. So, while there is a long, playful bath time in the routine when children are young, that is obviously going to phase out entirely. The same thing is true of our oversight of different parts of the daily routine throughout the kids' life at home. By the time they are ready to leave, they should not need our supervision at all.

Again, the daily routine changed as the children grew older. There was a particular routine for babies, an adapted one for toddlers, and so on throughout childhood. Our general routine for the kids when they were homeschooling consisted of times for going to bed and getting up, chores (we had a set chore chart), meal times, table time in the morning, free learning and play time, morning/afternoon/evening routines, read aloud times. There were times for music practice (up to the kids when). And there was a lot that fit freely into this-- enjoyment of music and art, plenty of time in nature, hard physical play, quiet creative play, exploration, daydreaming, cooking and baking, building things, lots of conversation and laughter, reading, writing letters, and on and on. We lived in a house full of enthusiasm and bubbling creativity, and it was in large part due to keeping a steady routine.

While the routine was mostly consistent, we were not afraid to make spontaneous changes (it's when the changes are consistently based on mere whim or emotion or lack of discipline that a problem arises). In spring, when we woke to a gorgeous, sunny day, it might seem only right to go out and enjoy it. To take a walk, to play, to explore nature (look at all of the new wildflowers; listen to those birds; breathe the fresh air; enjoy the sun's warmth).

We had weekly routines-- music lessons, library day, homeschool meetings in our home, church, dessert day, Saturday scones, Friday Night Party Night (did this all through the years).

And there were yearly routines-- trips to the coast to visit family, other trips, birthdays (we turned them into big, festive celebrations), Christmas and other holidays. These were all made extra special.

You'll have your own daily patterns, rituals, and routines. Make them lovely. Enjoy your children. Be attentive! Give them room to be themselves and to develop according to the lines God meant for them to grow (individually). Your routines have everything to do with whether or not your home will be joyful and full of life and creativity. They have everything to do with whether or not your children will respect you. They build strong, habits, character, and discipline, and offer your children hope for a good future. And they can help to give children a proper view of God's love and care for them.

Monday, April 21, 2008

I'm an INFP. What are you?

Yesterday I was rereading A Gift From the Sea, and I was struck, once again, by how much I think like Anne Morrow Lindbergh. And then I remembered that she is supposedly an INFP, too. So is Annie Dillard. And JRR Tolkien, Anne of Green Gables, Audrey Hepburn, Albert Schweitzer, Helen Keller, William Shakespeare, AA Milne, and many others. Supposedly anyway.

Have you ever taken a Jung typology personality test? I took this online for the first time many years ago, and I have taken many versions of it since. Every single time, the results are the same. I am an INFP. I'm not really into a lot of psychobabble, and I tend to be somewhat skeptical about these things (even though I think they're fun to take), but these tests seem to be pretty accurate. A lot of big businesses have their personnel take these tests in order to know how they can best serve, and work within, the organization. I've known of colleges and universities that have incoming students take these personality tests in order to provide insight into the way they can best organize their lives as students.

What is an INFP? There are descriptions of an INFP and other personality types (I think there are 16 different types) all over the internet. You can see lists of occupations that are supposedly best suited to your personality type. And lists of famous people who had your personality type (not a single US president has been an INFP, which is no surprise to me!).

Here's the kind of information you'll be provided with if you take the test. Every time I read one of these descriptions, I'm surprised all over again by how much it describes my personality:

INFP-- The Dreamer

INFPs are introspective, private, creative, and highly indealistic individuals that have a constant desire to be on a meaningful path. They are driven by their values and seek peace. Empathetic and compassionate, they want to help others and humanity as a whole. INFPs are imaginative, artistic, and often have a talent for language and writing. They can also be described as easygoing, selfless, guarded, adaptable, patient, and loyal.

About the INFP

"To understand Healers, we must understand their idealism as almost boundless and selfless, inspiring them to make extraordinary sacrifices for someone or something they believe in. The Healer is the Prince or Princess of fairytale, the King's Champion or Defender of the Faith..."
The Portrait of a Healer Idealist (Keirsey)

"INFPs are highly intuitive about people. They rely heavily on their intuitions to guide them, and use their discoveries to constantly search for value in life. They are on a continuous mission to find the truth and meaning underlying things. Every encounter and every piece of knowledge gained gets sifted through the INFP's value system, and is evaluated to see if it has any potential to help the INFP define or refine their own path in life."
Portrait of an INFP (The Personality Page)

"creative, smart, idealist, loner, attracted to sad things, disorganized, avoidant, can be overwhelmed by unpleasant feelings..."
INFP Jung Type Descriptions (similarminds.com)

"An INFP's feelings form the foundations of the individual. They are sacred and binding, in the sense that their emergence requires no further justification. An INFP's feelings are often guarded, kept safe from attack and ridicule. Only a few, close confidants are permitted entrance into this domain."
INFP Profile (INFP Mailing List)

"Highly creative, artistic and spiritual, they can produce wonderful works of art, music and literature. INFPs are natural artists. They will find great satisfaction if they encourage and develop their artistic abilities. That doesn't mean that an INFP has to be a famous writer or painter in order to be content. Simply the act of "creating" will be a fulfilling source of renewal and refreshment to the INFP. An INFP should allow himself or herself some artistic outlet, because it will add enrichment and positive energy to their life."

- INFP Personal Growth (The Personality Page)

"INFPs never seem to lose their sense of wonder. One might say they see life through rose-colored glasses. It's as though they live at the edge of a looking-glassworld where mundane objects come to life, where flora and fauna take on near-human qualities."
INFP Profile (TypeLogic)

"Their job must be fun, although not racous, and it must be meaningful to them. They need a strong purpose in their work. They want to be recognized and valued, without undue attention given to them. They may become embarrassed when make the center of attention. As a result, they may undersell their strengths in order to avoid being singled out and made to feel conspicuous. They would rather have their worth be noticed gradually over time."
INFP - The Dreamer (Lifexplore)

What about you? Do you know your personality type? Do you care? Here are two of my favorite tests (they seem more thorough and accurate than most I've seen). Sometimes it's nice to take more than one to compare results. It's important to really try to answer questions according to how you really behave and not according to your goals for "improvement." :-)



If you take the test, let me know your results. Do you think your description suits you? I think there are types more inclined than others to take these tests (and to take them seriously) like maybe INFPs and INTPs. And I know there are probably some personalities who completely blow this kind of thing off as silly or unnecessary. :-)

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Why I Walk...

Because I like it. Basically, that's it.

I continually see lists of the benefits of walking: it reduces your risk of heart attack; it helps to manage your blood pressure; it reduces your risk of getting diabetes; it manages your diabetes (if you already have it); it manages your weight; it manages your stress and boosts your spirits; it helps you stay strong and active as you get older. Now that I have been invited to join the AARP (how do they know that I just turned 50?!), I am privy to lists like these. They want to keep the aging American population healthy!

And so they provide us with information similar to this:

Does that look like fun to you?! This takes all the joy out of walking, if you ask me. I think of walking as more of an art than a science. I like the beauty of simply moving in nature. I learned to walk when I was one year old, and I can walk just fine now. I don't want to focus my eyes 15 to 20 feet in front of me. I want to look around! This is an illustration of how a person can become a walking machine. I'd rather just go for a walk.

(Photo below: me directing traffic on Mt. McLoughlin last year):

I'm glad for the health benefits of walking. It does keep me fit and energetic. It does give me a better sense of well-being. And I'm glad it reduces my risk of having a heart attack or becoming diabetic. But mostly I walk because I like it. I like being outside. I like to move. I like being in the fresh air. I like looking around at the scenery (whether in town, on my country roads, on the beach, or in the mountains) when I walk. I much prefer ambling along, or even speedwalking, outdoors, on my own two legs, to climbing on a machine and working up a sweat while staying in one place, usually looking at bare walls or maybe a TV screen that has been put on the exercise machine to keep one from being bored!

I'm not really complaining about exercise machines. I would have liked to have had a treadmill this winter when our roads were too icy, snowy, or muddy to take a long walk. Using an exercise machine is better than being inactive, but given the choice, I'll be outside! I don't care if it's raining, snowing, freezing, windy, or what. Someone said that there's no bad weather, there's just wrong clothes, and, except in the case of extreme weather conditions, I agree.

I take two kinds of walks. Sauntering, exploring walks and fast walks for exercise. I enjoy both. The reason I like to think about pushing the pace a bit (and doing some hills) on my fast walks is because I like to hike, especially in the mountains. And I like to go as high on the mountain as I can. Mountain hiking offers spectacular scenery. It's uncrowded and peaceful. The air is fresh and colors are more vivid at high elevation. And going on a difficult or strenuous hike is satisfying. It's especially satisfying to reach a summit.

Last year, Aaron and I climbed to the top of this mountain with some friends:

Mt. McLoughlin, Cascade Mountains

The summit is almost 10,000 feet. The hike is over 11 miles. Elevation gain is almost 5,000 feet. It wasn't Everest, but it was enjoyable. It wasn't a technical climb requiring equipment-- it was mostly a hike, sometimes steep, sometimes scrambling up boulder-strewn paths on hands and feet.

This year I want to climb this mountain:

South Sister, Cascade Mountains

The difficulty is about the same as that of the mountain I climbed last year. A beautiful, strenuous hike. I'm looking forward to it, and, in order to enjoy it, I need to ratchet up the intensity of my exercise walks. I do this every spring. I walk throughout the winter as much as I possibly can, but when the weather is brightening and the snow is melting and mountains are beckoning, I start getting the urge to hike, and that means I need to work a bit harder, to discipline myself, so that I can fully enjoy the more difficult hikes and climbs. It is no fun at all to labor torturously up the mountain! So I walk faster and harder in order to get fit, but the process is enjoyable because it's part of a nice vision. I have an aim, and the aim is to be able to enjoy a part God's wonderful creation that is not necessarily easy for everyone to access.

Aaron, partway up Mt. McLoughlin last summer.

And it's sort of gratifying, too, to think that fully enjoying something for its own sake is frustrating to that devil Screwtape. In The Screwtape Letters by CS Lewis, Screwtape chides his protegee, Wormwood, demon-in training:

And now for your blunders. You first of all allowed the patient to read a book he really enjoyed. He read it because he enjoyed it and not in order to make clever remarks about it to his friends. In the second place, you allowed him to walk down to the old mill and have tea-- a walk taken alone through country he really likes. In other words, you allowed him two very positive pleasures... How can you have failed to see that real pleasure was the last thing you should have let him experience? Didn't you foresee it would kill by contrast all the worthless nonsense you have been so laboriously teaching him to value? Didn't you know that the kind of pleasure the book and the walk gave him was the most dangerous of all? Didn't you realize it would peel off from his sensibility the kind of crust you have been forming on it...?

The man who truly enjoys anything for its own sake, without caring what other people say about it, is by that very fact protected against some of our most subtle methods of attack. You should always try to make the patient abandon the people, food, or books he really likes in favor of the best people, the right food, the important books.

And I would venture to say that walking according to the chart above, or merely for the health benefits one gains from it, is as soul-deadening as pretentious eating and reading.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The Kitchen

"If you're interested in cooking, you're also just naturally interested in art, in love, in culture."

(Madame Jehane Benoit)

This is my favorite place in the house. Not specifically this corner, but the whole room-- the kitchen. This is where I spend more time than any place else. This is where I like to be.

Melissa got a new camera today. It was delivered to our door just a little bit before she had to leave for work. She quickly snapped a few pictures, and this corner of the kitchen was one of them. When the photo was taken, I'd just made cabbage with lemon and cream for lunch, and the mess had not yet been cleaned. But that's okay because that's how it is in a kitchen. I think Melissa will have fun experimenting with her new camera, figuring out how it works and what she can do with it. I hope she'll shoot some photos that she won't mind me posting here.

One of my favorite books to browse is A Pattern Language, an architecture book that contains a series of patterns one can choose from to create a desired design and spirit in their home. The patterns explain how design and use of space affect the people who inhabit those spaces. Why do certain rooms draw people and others don't? Why do people tend to gather (and remain) in certain spaces and not in others?

One of the possible recommended patterns in house design is "Farmhouse Kitchen." Here's an excerpt from the explanation of that pattern:

"In the farmhouse kitchen, kitchen work and family activity were completely integrated in one big room. The family activity centered around a big table in the middle; here they ate, talked, played cards, and did work of all kinds including some of the food preparation. The kitchen work was done communally both on the table, and on the counters round the walls. And there might have been a comfortable old chair in the corner where someone could sleep through the activities. Therefore:

"Make the kitchen bigger than usual, big enough to include the 'family room' space... Make it large enough to hold a good big table and chairs, some soft and some hard, with counters and stove and sink around the edge of the room; and make it a bright and comfortable room."

My kitchen is old and a bit beat up, but it fits this pattern. We brightened the kitchen by painting the cabinets, and we get wonderful light in the area, so it's cheery. The end of the counter has sitting space with two stools that are in constant use when people are here. The kitchen is wide open into the dining area, which is only a few feet away. So, while the table is not directly in the center of the kitchen, it's right there. And off to the side of the table is an overstuffed green chair with a little table and reading lamp beside it. Also adjacent to the table is our wood stove, which is in constant use during the winter. There are big windows in the dining area and kitchen, so there is a lot of nice natural light coming into the room.

This is the area of the house where people gather most of the time. The living room is right on the other side of the kitchen counter, wide open and in plain view to the kitchen and dining area, but for some reason, people would usually rather hang out in the kitchen-dining area. There's almost always someone sitting on the stools at the counter (and often someone sits on the counter, too, chatting or helping in the kitchen). The green chair in the corner is also in constant use, most often for reading or napping. And there are also usually people at the dining table, reading, writing, playing games, eating, or just hanging around to visit.

I love the kitchen. It's a warm and buzzing social place. It's a happy place. It's often filled with talking and laughing and good smells.

The last thing I made there? Pancakes. For dinner. Melissa asked if I could make a healthier version of Barefoot Contessa's Banana Sour Cream Pancakes. I did, and they were yummy! We liked them better than the original recipe.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

What are some of your favorite read alouds or children's books?

When I was writing the post below about creating a book-rich home and reading aloud to our children, I wondered if anyone would like to post a few of their family favorites? What have your children enjoyed having read aloud to them? What are some of your favorite picture books or chapter books for children?

Any of my own kids want to answer? Anyone else? It would be fun to see what you've enjoyed.

Some of my favorite picture books are the Little Bear books, the Frances (the badger) books, Lois Lenski's Mr. Small books, Owl Moon, anything by Robert McCloskey, Tasha Tudor's A Time to Keep, Oh What a Busy Day by Gyo Fujikawa, and lots of others.

For chapter books, I loved reading aloud the Little House books, the Little Britches series, Wheel on the School, Wind in the Willows, Heidi, Madeleine Takes Command, Caddie Woodlawn, Lois Lenski's regional stories, The Chronicles of Narnia, and many more.

This is all off the top of my head, so I'm sure I'm not thinking of some of my favorites, but I'd love to hear some of yours.

My grandson really enjoys the Mr. Small books, Owl Moon, Blueberries for Sal, Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus (and other pigeon books), If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, the Eric Carle books like The Very Hungry Caterpillar, and a whole pile of others!

What about your family? What books have you enjoyed?

An Inspiring Home for Learning, #4

4. Build a book-rich home. Read lots of good, living books aloud together.

The best way to rear up a new generation of friends of the Permanent Things is to beget children, and read to them o' evenings, and teach them what is worthy of praise: the wise parent is the conservator of ancient truths. As Edmund Burke put it, 'We learn to love the little platoon we belong to in society.' The institution most essential to conserve is the family. (Russell Kirk in The Conservative Mind)

Reading aloud together is a profoundly important thing for a family to do. It pulls a family together, creating a bond and building a culture in the home. We learn to love our little platoon. Books matter. And when a child learns to read for himself, he should have plentiful opportunity to read good books every day. An entire future is shaped by the books a person reads, beginning in childhood.

John Senior, in his great book The Restoration of Christian Culture, writes: "We must put our greatest effort into restoring reading in the home, first and foremost reading aloud around the fireplace of a winter's evening or on the porch of a summer's afternoon; and for the older children and adults, silent reading, each by himself as they all sit together in the living room, reading not the hundred great books which are for analytic study and mostly for experts, but reading what I shall call the thousand good books, not everyman's but everychild's library, the ordinary stories and poems we all should know from Mother Goose to Willie Shakespeare...the thousand good books for children in the nursery to the youth at college, which we read and reread all the rest of our lives."

Senior continues, "We want what Robert Louis Stevenson called 'a child's garden,' something simple, direct, enjoyable, unreflective, uncritical, spontaneous, free, romantic, if you will, with the full understanding that such experience is not sufficient unto salvation... but indispensable as the cultural soil of moral, intellectual, and spiritual growth."

As parents, it's easy to overly focus on all of the benefits of having books around and of reading aloud-- that it will make kids readers; it will advance kids educationally; it will build a moral imagination in our children; it will build virtue; it will give the children an ability to think well; and so on and so forth. All of these benefits are indeed important, but it matters first that reading should be just plain delightful for children. They should be able to read a book with no thought of its importance. We do not need to explain to them what books mean or how they should think about them.

Leave a child alone with his book. Let him simply "receive" it, as CS Lewis encourages, and do not encumber him with an "obligation to express a judgment." Lewis writes: "The clever schoolboy's reaction to his reading is most naturally expressed by parody or imitation. The necessary condition of all good reading is to get ourselves out of the way; we do not help the young to do this by forcing them to keep on expressing opinions." So, don't come between a child's mind and his reading of a book. In time, almost magically and unawares to the child (and certainly not because we tell him how to think about his books), the child will develop a unique way of reading and thinking, a moral imagination, a set of values, an education, and all of those benefits that are so often put on lists.

John Senior suggested that reading the Great Books will do nothing but produce puffed up pedants unless a child has first freely delighted in the magical books of childhood and youth. He wrote that the Great Books go flat in "minds that lack the habit of reading," and will "only properly grow in an imaginative ground saturated with fables, fairy tales, stories, rhymes, romances, adventures-- the thousand good books of Grimm, Andersen, Stevenson, Dickens, Scott, Dumas, and the rest."

A wonderful education is made up of books, but it must have as its foundation, a free and delightful poetic education. Senior and his cohorts were so convinced of this that they would actually attempt to build this foundation in college students who had been given a poetry-impoverished education. They would read children's books to them, take them out in nature, and expose them to the kind of culture and wonders we should all enjoy as children. Once a poetic view of things was established, students had a proper foundation for grappling with bigger ideas.

My son once told me that if I did two things right, it was the books and the food! :-) And since these are two of the things that matter most to me, I was very pleased by his comment.

When I had my first child, I wanted to create a book-rich environment in our home. I began reading aloud when Aimee was an infant, and I never stopped until she was almost an adult. We'd read and read and read in our home, all throughout the day. When my children could barely toddle, they'd take every opportunity to enjoy a story. If I'd sit down on the couch for a bit of rest or relaxation, it wouldn't be long before a little one would throw a pile of picture books on my lap and climb up beside me to hear some stories. I loved that.

Even when the children could read on their own (which was, for me, the most exciting educational milestone of their lives), we'd still read aloud-- in the morning, often at lunchtime, at bedtime, and sometimes in between. There were times when a book we were all reading aloud together was so engaging that the kids would ask me to read (again) in mid-afternoon (please!), and then they might plead with me for just one more chapter, then another, then another, and we might read for hours, maybe even until we'd finished the book. Every single night, when the kids were in bed and their lights were out, after the prayers and singing and conversation and good night hugs and kisses, I'd sit in the lit hallway where they could all see me, and I'd read for a long time. Often, I'd read until the first child had fallen asleep.

And every day after lunch, we'd have mandatory quiet time-- for reading or for sleep only!-- so there was an abundance of book time in our home.

We read books aloud that had us laughing all the way through (Wind in the Willows), books that made us cry (when "Little Britches" father died), books that were too sad and heavy to finish for sensitive children (The Yearling-- one of my children begged me to stop). We'd read aloud books that some people would say were not age appropriate (we reread Winnie the Pooh when my kids were teenagers). We read good books, exciting books, moving books, inspiring books. We traveled all over the world and to different worlds and through time in the pages of those books. We simply enjoyed books together!

Anna Quindlen once said, "I'd be most content if my children grew up to be the kind of people who think decorating consists mostly of building enough bookshelves. " In our home, bookshelves were everywhere, and, indeed, nothing was more exciting to the kids than to have their very own bookshelves. Now that they are all adults, bookshelves are a priority. The first thing my second-oldest, married daughter did before moving into her new apartment was to build a really nice, double wide bookshelf for her living room, and when she had her first child, one of the first things she bought for the nursery, along with a crib, was a bookshelf! And now my daughter reads and reads and reads aloud to her young sons.

Read books. Enjoy books. Collect books. Talk about books. Learn and grow through good books. Books become beloved friends. A book-rich home is a wonderful place for a child to grow up.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Signs of Spring

"Weather Around the State of Jefferson..."

Sometimes when I'm driving in the car, I listen to our regional NPR radio station, Jefferson Public Radio. And when it's time for a weather report, the announcer almost always says, "Weather around the state of Jefferson today..." and proceeds to give the forecast for our regional towns and cities.

Have you ever heard of the state of Jefferson? It's where I live:

After dealing with more snow this winter than we've ever seen since we lived here...

(Taken from our living room window in late January.)

it's been really nice to finally have some lovely, warm weather. Forecast for today is 73 degrees and sunny, clear skies. And, it's just beautiful outside. I've got all of the doors and windows open. I made a list of jobs to do today for both inside the house and outside, so I work inside for a bit, then I'll be overcome with an urge to go back outside. And sometimes I just enjoy the warmth and the singing of the birds, so I walk around outdoors to see what I can see.

I've moved the pile of wood from beside the back door to the barn. I extended the retractable clothesline from the house to the post where it connects, and then I hung out some sheets to dry. I swept the back deck and eyed the barbecue with renewed interest. I moved my little table and chairs from the barn back onto the deck. I picked up three wheelbarrow loads of Ponderosa pine cones off the lawn.

And Speaking of Cougars...

Some of you may remember the post I wrote about cougar sitings in my area. Well. Last night my neighbor, who is a trapper for the US Government, asked me if I'd like to see a cougar he had trapped (dead). It was in the back of his truck, and it was a big one. Yes, I wanted to see it!

Oh my. The thing looked powerful, and even though it wasn't alive, it still scared me. I ran around to the other side of the truck to have a look at his head. I was immediately struck by the powerful musculature of its neck and shoulders. My neighbor said, "Let me show you what always amazes me. The size of the paws." He proceeded to move the cougar's paw so that I could see it, and the stiff (rigor mortis) cougar's head and shoulders popped right up as if he were sitting himself up. I jumped (and then laughed).

And then my neighbor began to explain why and how he traps the cougars. He showed me the equipment he uses and how it works. He told how he can lure them to the area where he sets up the traps and then how the traps work. And then he proceeded to tell me stories about cougar attacks on humans. Shudder. I am going to spare you the really unsettling details of this, but let me tell you that you don't want to go out where the cougars are without rearview mirrors and a spray bottle!

They're Back!

Yesterday I was standing at the kitchen sink, washing dishes and having a good look at the signs of spring that were visible from my front window. The meadow is beginning to turn green. Snow is melting quickly from the big hill in the distance, and there is barely any visible on the ground around our home. The clear sky was that gorgeous vivid blue color of the high desert. And I could hear birds singing and calling everywhere. Then up in the sky, above the meadow-flats, I saw two birds flying and circling and soaring together. I couldn't make them out, but they reminded me of Greater Sandhill Cranes. Oh, I was hoping that the cranes would return this year. Maybe it was them! For most of the springs we've lived here, there's been a pair of Greater Sandhill Cranes that have obviously nested somewhere out in the field.

Later, when I was at the sink again, leisurely washing dishes (if you have a window over your sink that looks out at anything interesting at all, it makes washing dishes by hand kind of nice), I looked out the window and noticed the unmistakeable form of two cranes, bobbing their way slowly, and seemingly aimlessly, around the field. I ran and grabbed the binoculars and watched them until they had ambled out of sight. It was almost like the return of old friends. I don't know why it was such a thrill to see them again, but I really was so glad that they came back, and I hope I'll see and hear them many times this spring.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Taking My Time...

If you've been reading the so-called "Top Ten" things about home atmosphere that I've been posting, you may have noticed that I'm not posting one every day. That's because, even though they're written, it takes me a little bit of time to read through, edit, and make them coherent. When I wrote them, I thought of them mostly as discussion notes, and since some of you haven't read them or don't know much about my home atmosphere or homeschool, I want to get that across at least a little bit. So, I'll post one every two or three days, depending how long it takes me to clean up each item.

Being such a prolific poster might make you think I'm sitting here at the computer for hours on end, but I'm really not. I write most posts really fast. (I told Aimee that I should call my blog "The Blitzkrieg Blogger.") The picture part is slower, but Melissa has taken care of that, and I've slowly gotten pretty quick at it, too.

(By the way, Melissa messed around last night and designed my header. What do you think? I love it! )

Now that I'm familiar with the basics (the very basics) of how this blog setup works, it's easy and quick to put up a post. My goal is to have a routine for this and to spend very little time each day working on it. Posts will be getting shorter, especially once this "top ten" thing is finished. Actually, I looked at the paper, and the rest of them are much shorter than the first three I posted, so they'll take up less room and less of your time if you're reading them.

I was thinking that these posts might come across as more complicated or difficult than I mean for
them to be. I scanned the list of ten things last night, and I cut each thing down to four words and then to two. If all the amplification of each thought makes these ten things seem difficult or tricky, please don't think of them this way. From now on, I'll give you a four word synopsis of each post, and then I'll put the two word version in parenthesis. If all you do is what is in these tiny synopses and forget about all of the research and the ideas, you'll still be doing all that is needed to give your home the spirit of what matters!

Here are the short versions of what I've posted so far (oh, I can't find my list... where is that thing...? oh, well, I'll make up new ones):

1. Converse attentively with children. (Get chatty!)
2. Long hours for play. (Play hard!)
3. Direct contact with nature. (Go outside!)

As I post, I'll list the short versions for each one, and if looking at the simple list helps you to remember that it's not so much what and how you do these things as that you do them with a light, loving spirit, then I'm happy. Don't even think of them as helps for learning. Think of them as something that makes a nice home and family spirit. And, as a benefit, the kids will become increasingly engaged in interesting things, and a nice family atmosphere will grow.

I have a meeting this morning, so I'm off!

Have a lovely day,

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Storing Food the Old Fashioned Way

I went to the antique warehouse yesterday morning, and I was the only customer there. I headed straight to the Pyrex room-- the unheated part of the building, way, way in the back (creepy!)-- and it was so cold that I was shivering before I left. This building is crammed full of antiques and junk. Some if it is very nice. A lot of it isn't. But there are treasures to be found if you look! There were three big shelves full of the kind of thing I wanted to sort through. I wanted covered casseroles and refrigerator dishes, all with stackable flat lids to use for storing leftovers. I was hoping to find a range of container shapes and sizes in near-perfect or perfect condition. And I did.

(These are not my dishes, but I like them!)

I bought a 3-piece casserole set that makes a tier if you stack it. It looks to be from the 70's, with the smaller and larger dish colored bright deep yellow and the middle dish a vivid orange. On the clear glass lids are painted yellow sunflowers. When I came home, I cleaned it up (it looks like it's brand new) and set it out and Melissa exclaimed, "I want that!" It is really cheery. (But what is something from the 1970's doing in an antique warehouse? That's when I was a teenager!)

I also bought three turquoise casseroles that were supposedly made anywhere from the late 1950's to the 1960s. Two of them are ringed with a white pattern made up of an Amish couple with farm tools, a rooster, and wheat. And I bought two really small capacity storage dishes in the same pattern, but these are blue on white

I also bought a nice pink rectangular refrigerator storage dish with white flowers on it. This style was said to have been produced in the 1950's. And I bought a small (1qt?) casserole with a flat lid-- white with pink flowers. I think it's called the gooseberry pattern. I've already gathered that this one is very popular with collectors.
(Not mine, either, but I have one like the top casserole.)

I've already put these dishes to good use. Our leftover soup was poured into one of the turquoise dishes last night, and I couldn't help but smile at it every time I opened the refrigerator door. (I'm very easily amused.) And before bed, when I put my oatmeal on the counter to soak overnight, one of the turquoise dishes was just the right size for holding this. I stirred the oats, water, and yogurt together, and covered the container with its glass lid. This morning, I poured the oats into a pan to cook them, and after I finished my breakfast, I put the extra oatmeal in one of these containers, covered it, and put it in the fridge, stacking it, of course, on top of the container with the soup.

Doing this is a bit of an investment (not that I've spent that much money, really), and it truly is an investment because it matters to me to use less plastic and aluminum, both for health and environmental reasons. It should save money in the long run, too. (What do you think you spend each month or year on plastic cling wrap and aluminum foil and boxes of ziplock bags?) And anyway, orderly, attractive stacks of these dishes look a whole lot cooler in the fridge than food crammed chaotically around in ugly ziplock bags or in bowls covered with foil or plastic.

An Inspiring Home for Learning, #3

3. Enjoyment of the natural world is very important for the healthy development of children.

"A child's world is fresh and new and beautiful, full of wonder and excitement. It is our misfortune that for most of us that clear-eyed vision, that true instinct for what is beautiful and awe-inspiring, is dimmed and even lost before we reach adulthood. If I had influence with the good fairy who is supposed to preside over the christening of all children I should ask that her gift to each child in the world be a sense of wonder so indestructible that it would last throughout life, as an unfailing antidote against the boredom and disenchantments of later years, the sterile preoccupation with things that are artificial, the alienation from the sources of our strength."

(Rachel Carson in The Sense of Wonder)

When my siblings and I were growing up, we'd often visit our grandparents at their property just over a mile away from our childhood home. It was always wonderful going to Grammy and Grampy's house, and one of the things I remember hearing often is, "Go outside, honey!" Grammy and Grampy always made a point of going outdoors every day. They thought that the fresh air and sunshine and natural surroundings were important for good health. And I agree.

Children need to be outdoors, and not only for fresh air and exercise, but so they can gain an appreciation for the wonders of our amazing world. God tells us in Romans that there is proof enough of His existence in Creation, and if this is true, we should be enjoying what He made for us! "The heavens declare the glory of God..." So, go outside!

Research shows that direct experience with nature outdoors is very important for children. I have an interesting MIT-published book of research-based essays called Children and Nature. One researcher (Pyle, 1993) stresses the importance of contact with "ordinary" nature: "It is through close and intimate contact with a *particular* patch of ground that we learn to respond to the earth... We need to recognize the humble places where this alchemy occurs... Everybody has a ditch, or ought to. For only the ditches-- and the fields, the woods, the ravines, teach us to care enough."

In his "Experiencing Nature" essay, Kellert writes: "critics argue that encounters with nature on television, on film, or through the computer can never provide the challenge, immersion, intimacy, discovery, creativity, adventure, surprise, and more afforded by direct and spontaneous experiences in family natural settings. Pyle (1996) remarked in this regard, 'Everyone has... a chance of realizing a pleasurable and collegial wholeness with nature. But to get there, intimate association is necessary. A face-to-face encounter with a banana slug means much more than a Komodo dragon seen on television... Direct, personal contact with other living things affects us in vital ways that vicarious experience can never replace.'"

Emotional and intellectual benefits abound when a child simply explores outdoors. Stephen R. Kellert writes in his essay, "Experiencing Nature," that one could "suggest that few areas of life provide young people with as much opportunity as the natural world for critical thinking, creative inquiry, problem solving, and intellectual development" (and he proceeds to list a string of researches who back up this statement). Psychiatrist Harold Searles suggested: "The non-human environment, far from being of little or no account to human personality development, constitutes one of the most basically important ingredients of human psychological existence." Anthropologist Elizabeth Lawrence (1993) underscored that "even in a modern world of pervasive human domination and artificial construction, nature continues to provide young people with an unrivaled source of attraction, stimulation, and challenge relevant in both intellectual and emotional development." Biologist Edward O. Wilson (1993) suggested that the natural world is the most information-rich environment people will ever encounter.

There is so much in nature to bring delight to a child (and to all of us) that we should enjoy it, if not daily, then as often as possible. Let children explore and play freely outdoors-- those old-fashioned long hours of childhood that most children of today are sadly missing. But we can also help build an appreciation, always careful, as Charlotte Mason warns, not to act as translator or mediator between nature and the child's mind and imagination.

Take slow walks with your young children and let them putter about, noticing all of the things around them. When they ask questions or point to something, bend down, notice, and talk to them about it. If you don't know anything or can't answer questions, it's okay. It's nice sometimes just to wonder and wonder together about something (and you can always look it up later). Lie on a blanket on a warm summer night and look at the stars and the moon. Put up a birdfeeder and watch the birds (really watch them-- what do they do? where do they go? how do they behave around other birds?). Take out a magnifying glass and examine snowflakes that have landed on a fencepost. Notice the trees, the flowers, the clouds and how they change, the weather, animal tracks or other evidence of animal life. Take it slowly and observe. Don't hurry!Let the children collect whatever is interesting to them-- sticks, rocks, flowers, leaves, shells, feathers, anything, and help them find a place to put their collections! Enjoy whatever natural sites and experiences are near where you live and also when you take trips. Take ranger guided hikes. Do the Junior Ranger program at national parks if your children are interested. Look things up in a field guide, but don't force this on anyone. Do it for yourself, and someone else might be interested, too. Talk about what you're looking up and learning. Read stories of nature together. Draw pictures of what you see. Maybe keep a nature journal. Books like Nicky the Nature Detective and Linnea's Almanac (there are many similar books) inspired my girls to do the projects and to draw and paint what they saw. Children can take nature photos, too, and keep them in a book.

There's no one way to do this, and we certainly won't do everything. Take it slowly. Let it happen. And find what inspires your own family.

Much of the early science education of my children took place in nature, and many of the children's later, more advanced, science studies grew out of the things they loved most in nature as a child. I'm absolutely convinced that no formal elementary science education is necessary. All we have to do is enjoy nature, look things up, and learn naturally. Let kids explore and play and learn as they enjoy nature. Charlotte Mason's wonderful philosophy of education lets children learn "science" by enjoying nature, by purposefully observing it, and then keeping a nature journal. Arthur Robinson, a respected scientist, goes so far as to say that science should not be formally learned (with texts or curriculums) until a student has taken calculus. (Most of us aren't going to go that far, but we can at least relax a bit about science before high school!) Robinson believes a child should explore and play and follow interests and learn about science naturally in the early years.