Friday, May 26, 2017

Piano Lessons

Our kids are taking piano lessons once a week and practicing everyday.  The teacher actually comes right to our house.

I am not actually taking lessons myself, but I watch the lessons and I practice everyday and I have the ability to ask our teacher some of my questions, which is nice.

We always thought it would be annoying to hear our kids learning piano, because it was always irritating to us when we visited a place with a piano and we heard them banging on the keys before.  But it isn't like that when the kids are practicing everyday at home.  My husband and I have both been surprised that we don't feel annoyed at all by the sounds of their playing.  It is actually really pleasant and soothing to hear them practicing. Perhaps this is because their playing is more ordered now, since they are practicing scales or working on specific skills or songs.

And playing for myself at the beginning, the end, or even when I sit for a few minutes in the middle of a busy day, is such a blessing. It refreshes me and I find I can get up from the piano relaxed or even more energized for tasks.

We prayed for more music in our lives and God is being faithful to answer that prayer.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Watercolor Lessons

My oldest daughter is gifted in art and enjoys it so much. I have prayed that I will be able to find ways and means of fostering her God-given talent and interest.  

We recently moved and I made a new friend here and she mentioned that she's got an art degree and gives lessons, and I was like, "Really?!" She usually teaches groups, but we couldn't go to any of the times or places where she already teaches. So I was brave and I asked her how much it would cost to have her come to our home and give us private lessons, three lessons and specifically on water color, because I didn't think I could commit to more time or money than that.  I found that the price was right, so I made the deal and I purchased all the supplies we would need to dive right in and make the most of the few short weeks studying with a master. I know so much of learning anything is just doing it. So we are trying to paint everyday for the next few weeks. 

We don't ever take an extensive break from schoolwork for summer like many people do, but we do stop a lot of school work we do during the fall/ winter/ spring and we try to add special stuff like this. So my daughter has agreed to paint at least one picture every single day as part of her "schoolwork" for the next few weeks. 

She's got a hard life. 

I sit through her lessons with her and try to paint something, too. This way, it is something I can be more fit to help her with throughout the week, and something we can do together. (We didn't have the easiest school year, so it's been a time to feed our spirits and connect over something she really enjoys.) 

I can't paint with watercolors everyday like my oldest does, but I have been able to paint three pictures so far.  Her little sisters are also painting with watercolor everyday, too, but they don't sit in on the formal lessons. I did not think it would be wise to have them there, since they are so young still. I wanted my oldest to get as much of the teacher's attention as possible, so she could make as much progress as possible. And I knew I could paint with the little ones on my own time, and even teach them some of what I learn, etc.  

God willing, this might lead to more lessons in the future.  I know there is a world of other mediums out there: acrylic, oils, pastels...  But, I am grateful that my daughter has this opportunity to focus on watercolor and move towards mastery in that.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Psalm 19 Recitation

I made it a goal to memorize twelve Psalms this year.

I finally learned Psalm 19. It took a few months longer than I expected.  Here is the recitation.

Now I will begin working on the next Psalm on the list.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Book Discussion

Last night I hosted a book discussion on The Abolition of Man by C.S. Lewis and invited the ladies in my Classical Conversations group.  Four people came and it was a rich discussion that went on twice as long as the three hours planned for it.  This book is only three chapters, but it's dense reading! Lewis uses a multitude of examples and vocabulary that are unfamiliar to modern, American society.  None of us came to the discussion as an expert. But one of the ladies studied Philosophy in college, so that was helpful. Also, all of us came to the discussion with respect for objective moral law, or the Tao, as Lewis put it in the text, so that made the discussion coherent and productive. Together, we summarized, or tried to summarize what Lewis is communicating in each chapter. We shared quotes, asked questions, and discussed numerous topics as they related to the book, or as they were brought to mind by the discussion. This morning, I am thankful for my friends and I feel encouraged to be connected to women who love Jesus and have a desire to follow Him with their minds.  My own plan is to read the book again this week, for a forth time. But, truly, the book is that challenging, and with the discussion fresh in mind, I feel like I will come away with an even better understanding of the ideas in the text.  

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Contemplating Good Books and Healthy Food

I have started to read Cicero "On the Good Life."  I've had the book for several months, but we have been in a busy season of transition, and perhaps more importantly, I have been reading too many other things to begin.

As I picked up the book this morning to read a little more of it today, I said to myself, "I really need to focus and get this done."  But then a split second later, I realized that attitude is all wrong.

I said to myself, "No. That was the way I used to think about learning..." when I was in modern school. Each subject was studied for a grade, for a diploma or a degree, for an accomplishment, as an end, and then, at some point, I was supposed to be totally done with that subject. And, far too often, that model of education fostered the idea that I was also done with learning altogether or worse, that if I wanted to be a learner again, I needed to go back to school in order to do it. How silly!

My view of education is totally changing now that we are practicing the Classical model and homeschooling.   No, this book and others like it are not just projects to be finished just as soon as possible, so that I can move on with my life and from now on say, "I've read Cicero." to satisfy my pride or impress others.  No, this is the sort of book that I should probably read again, and go back to in reference, and contemplate for decades.  I should build a relationship with this book and books like it.  It should be more of a habit, less of an accomplishment.

In that way, reading good books like Cicero is similar to a having a healthy diet. I am a part-time health coach so I live this and see it all the time. We all know that we should not think, "I just need to focus and get this healthy diet over with, so I can go back to my regular life. I just need to lose all this weight, so I can hurry up and go back to eating doughnuts."  That's an erroneous attitude and mindset that will fail anyone in an attempt at weight loss and weight maintenance.

And like an education is supposed to be an ongoing journey and a life-long relationship with good books and ideas, a diet is an ongoing journey and life-long relationship with healthy foods. It isn't something you finish. It is something you constantly contemplate and experiment with. It's a lifestyle.  Andrew Kern says the same thing about Classical education; "Classical education is not an end. It's a life."

We approach far too many things in life with that "Okay. I just have to get this done, so I can move on." attitude.   (And now I wonder if we do that because of the way we were educated.) We miss the point!

I suppose there are some books or media or even some foods that we should just binge upon.  I think it depends on the quality.  Downtown Abbey is great fun, but it's not something to contemplate for years like the great books such as Cicero or C.S. Lewis or even more, The Gospel or John or Galatians. I may buy ice cream once or twice a year for a special occasion. We will eat it up quickly and it's great fun, but we don't keep it around.  We do, however, keep foods like asparagus, almond milk, and protein powder in the kitchen all the time.  They bring us life, so those are foods that are worthy to keep around.

So in the same way that I eat healthy foods, I continue my journey with good books like Cicero, in no big hurry, because learning is not something I ever want to be done with or something that I ever want to have gotten over.  No, learning is a life I want to live and be living.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Psalm 1 Recitation

I have made it a goal to memorize twelve Psalms this year.  

I plan to share my progress here via video for the sake of accountability, motivation, and fun.

I think these videos will also provide me with a sense of perfection in a very traditional sense of the word, meaning that my task will be totally complete and in the past tense.      

I drew a little sketch in my journal that illustrates the Psalm and commemorates the occasion for me (and my supportive husband was a good enough to take the video.)   

This is the first of the twelve I have memorized well enough to say throughout the day at any time without reviewing or having any prompts of any kind; Psalm 1.  

Curiosity Abounds

In an effort to steward the gift that God has given me in this new home, I've allowed myself time to take walks. As a result, I've got a growing fascination with the mosses, fungi, and lichens that grow in the woods around me.  Painted with infinite shades of one or two colors, they are each glorious in their own right.  So I am arming myself with the appropriate field guides.  I can't wait to be able to call these beauties by their names and discover details about how they work.  

Saturday, January 14, 2017

A Gentle Word on Goal-Setting

I made it a goal to read The One Year Chronological Bible in 2017.  I tried this last year, but I failed to stay with it. 

The Bible in this format as compared to the other One Year Bible is more difficult without a doubt; No inspirational Psalms;  No convicting Proverbs.

But that's not really why I didn't accomplish this last year.

I just I hated being so far behind, so then I just gave up trying to catch up.

But I wanted to try again this year. I felt like there was something there, something important in that failure that I needed to confront, something that God wanted to show me.  

So I started again on January 1, 2017 and did well for like three days.

Then I got behind almost immediately, not able to read the Bible every single consecutive morning, because... life.    

But this morning, I had a little more time than usual, so I caught up.  

Now I am set to read January 15 tomorrow and all is right with the world.  

But seriously.

When I closed the Bible this morning after catching up, I had a moment of realization about goal-setting.

Why didn't I just keep reading last year and finish The One Year Chronological Bible later?

If I had just kept reading, I might have finished today, for all I know.

Even if I finished in February or March of 2017, would it have really mattered in the end?

No.  I didn't finish, because I didn't like feeling imperfect, so I quit trying.


The revelation came so quickly and gently, I almost missed it.

It's not about perfection.

It's about progress. 

It's not about saying, "I read The Chronological Bible every single morning in 2017."

It's about having a better understanding of how God worked in history.

It's about taking a big, worthy goal and making it attainable by following a plan and doing the best you can everyday.

So set some goals, people!

You will probably fail and find that you are imperfect almost as soon as you start trying.  

But if you keep on trying, you will look back and see that you "caught up" to your goal after all.


Saturday, January 7, 2017

Bag Work

I got a chance to fill up my punching bag and hit and kick on it last week. It had been in storage for many months during the move. It felt great to have it again.  

Wednesday, January 4, 2017


This little cast iron do-dad was left in our house when we bought it.  I wasn't sure what it was supposed to be for...

Was it a candle holder?  No, it was too big for a tea light, too small for other typical candle sizes.

Was it a spoon rest of some kind?  No, it was too small to hold cooking utensils and it's rim was too high to be used for tea spoons.

I couldn't figure it out, but it was interesting to me. So I kept it, cleaning it, then putting it in the kitchen cabinet.

Then the other day, I was making gumbo and I needed to taste the broth...

That's when I thought of this do-dad!  It occurred to me that it is the perfect design for tasting broths, etc.

So I tried it as a tasting spoon.  I scooped up some broth and gave it a look and then a taste! It was the perfect shape for dipping, swirling, and then drinking!

Of course, I am not really sure this is actually what it is for, because I haven't seen a tasting spoon in this shape. Most look more like a spoon or ladle, but this do-dad works great as a taster, so I think that's what I will be using it for!

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Easy Gumbo

I call this recipe easy, because the only thing I really ever need to buy for it is kielbasa and okra, because I usually have all the other ingredients in my cabinets, fridge, or freezer at all times.

It's also easy, because I have left out ingredients altogether, like zucchini or worcestershire sauce. I have also swapped out fresh flavorings for powdered ones, onion powder in place of chopped onion, for example, and it always tastes great no matter.


Extra Virgin olive oil
Water (or thawed chicken or beef bone broth- approx. 4 cups)
Corn flour
Beef kielbasa sausage
Two chicken breasts
One bag frozen, chopped okra
One large can chopped tomatoes
Minced Garlic

Onion Powder (or fresh onions if you feel like chopping them)
Kosher Salt
Worcestershire Sauce
Dried parsley (or fresh parsley, of course, if you have it)

Jalapeno Powder

Drizzle a lot of olive oil in the bottom of a deep pot and turn it on medium-high heat.  (If you are using fresh, chopped onions in place of onion powder, add them now.)

Chop your meats into bite sized pieces and throw them in the warm-hot oil. Let them begin to cook and begin to brown, stirring them fairly constantly, and adding more olive oil to keep the meat from burning.  With gumbo, brown and sizzling is good. Black and dry and bad.  Add oil to avoid any dryness or burning.

Once the meat is browned all over and the fats are rendering out of the sausage, push all the meat  over to one side of the pan.

In the open space at the bottom of the pan, add approx. one quarter cup of water. This water will steam a little, it will mix with all the oils and fats on the bottom of the pan, and it will begin to bubble up, because your pan is pretty hot at this point.  Quickly sprinkle in a few tablespoons of Worcestershire sauce and about two tablespoons of corn flour and mix it around in the open space on the side of the pan.  Let that "gravy" cook for a few moments. Other people are probably much more careful about their roux. I am lazy, and I like easy, so I don't even take the meat out of the pot.  It still tastes great in the end.

Next add your tomatoes with juice and then add your spices or your spices and then your tomatoes. I don't really measure and I don't think you should measure either.  Just be generous with everything. Sprinkle, sprinkle, sprinkle and then mix it all together and give it a little taste. If you are using fresh parsley, you would use less, because fresh spices are more potent and can be overdone.  But if you are using dry spices, you can add a lot more and I usually do.  Remember gumbo is supposed to be savory and thick with flavor.  Make sure to add enough salt.  Like the oil at the beginning, you want to use enough. For it to be a true gumbo, don't skimp.

Next add your vegetables and remaining broth or water. Turn the heat up a bit, until it begins to boil, then turn it down and let everything simmer until your chicken and zucchini are fairly soft.

I like to make this in the late afternoon when I still feel like cooking and, once it is done, turn off the heat and let it sit on the back of the stove until a few minutes before dinner, when I heat it up to a temperature that is just right.  The time spent sitting on the stove is not critical, but it definitely gives the flavors a chance to mix.  If I plan to let it sit, I will stop cooking the gumbo just until the chicken is cooked through and then trust the hour spent hot on the stovetop to cook everything the rest of the way.

I serve this over brown rice that I also make ahead in the rice maker and let sit and warm until we are ready to eat.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Simple Avocado and Pepper Salad

Chop up one ripe avocado and one fresh bell pepper (red, yellow, or orange). Sprinkle with garlic salt and jalapeƱo powder, toss, and enjoy!  This is one of my favorite snacks right now.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

How A Simple Writing Assignment Quickly Becomes So Much More

I had my oldest read the book My Brother Sam is Dead with me.  It's a historical novel set in Redding, our new community. All the sites are within walking distance of our new house, and apparently, while the characters are fictitious, the events in the book are based on original sources the author could find and as accurate as can be.

We practiced some of the writing skills we are learning in Challenge A to discuss the book together. It's Christmas break, so we have some time to do this extra reading and this will function as a sort of review for the things we are learning in The Lost Tools of Writing, the writing program we are using.

*Spoiler alert*

The title of the book might give you some idea of what may happen in the story, but if you want to read the book My Brother Sam is Dead, don't read below, because there will be spoilers.

I asked my daughter to choose between two issues: "Whether Sam should have stolen his father's gun" or "Whether Putnam should have had Sam executed." I usually let her create her own issue, but I was really interested in these issues, so I guided the conversation in that direction, because I can do that as teacher/parent and my daughter didn't have a strong opinion to the contrary.  She just wanted to get it done and get back to all the extra library books she gets to enjoy over Christmas break.  

She chose the former issue and I asked her to make an ANI chart that had at least twenty items in each category: affirmative, negative, and interesting.  She managed to get ten to twelve items in the first two columns on her own then she came into the kitchen and started complaining that it was too hard. At that point, I made some coffee and we started our discussion while I made dinner. By the time we were done talking about the book, she had filled in the chart.

During our discussions like this one, I realize how quickly teaching turns into parenting and how quickly parenting becomes discipleship.  I saw that this was true before I started homeschooling, and it's why I wanted to homeschool, but moments like this help flesh out that reality for me.

When we began our conversation, my daughter was sympathetic to Sam and she was certain that he was right to take the family's gun.  But by the time we went through this thought exercise together, she was much more critical of Sam. She saw how he was a bit selfish, really naive, zealous for good, but also reckless, adjectives that can describe many a young person with noble ideas.

As we talked, we touched on the other issues in the book, too, and she saw how the story shows that Sam was not entirely guiltless of the crime he was executed for.  And the questions came up: What is guilt? What is innocence?  Are any of us really ever innocent and totally undeserving of any suffering?  We begin to realize how relevant science and faith can be to what is actually happening in our lives.

She also recognized the hard truth of how Sam left his family unarmed, and unfortunately, that ultimately, contributed to his father's being vulnerable enough to be taken by a group of lawless men and dead on a prison ship. So critical topics like right, wrong, war, peace, law, justice, guilt, innocence, conscience, morality, loyalty, duty: all of these came up as we thought through this issue, and they always do come up, even when the simplest of issues are really thought through.

Truth is always much more complicated than we think at first, is it not? We came away with a lot more clarity on the issues in the book than we started with, but we also came away with a lot more questions about the most important things in life.  I had even changed my mind and I begin to see things differently than I had when I started the conversation!

All I can hope is that this sort of thinking and learning will help my daughter make better decisions as she grows up.  That's the best I can do for my daughter as a parent.  Of course, my practical goal was simply to make her review what she is learning in her writing program, because I am her teacher and I need to do that.  But, of course, she and I were obviously doing so much more than a writing assignment. But aren't we always doing more than that? Was I teaching her writing or was I showing her how to really think and helping her discover what is true?