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21 April 2015

The Slow Unfolding of Spring

This was a month ago. I wrote this, and then I got sick, and didn't see it, didn't think of it, for almost exactly a month when I found it in my drafts this evening. It was such a lovely trip to the park, and a productive Nature Study. The pond is thawed now, and last week we saw the turtles that give it its name. It's remarkable the difference the month can make.

We have a nature preserve we like to visit, and see what is happening in the pond. They closed the pond area for the winter, and last week was the first week we were able to go look at the pond since last fall.

It was still frozen solid. 

We went back this week, and I was surprised at how solid it still is; we've had temperatures in the mid 60s all week, and even had rain one day. 

There's some free water around the very edges, but mostly, the pond is still frozen pretty solid. 

The boys tried stabbing the ice with sticks, but for the most part, the ice still didn't care. 

Dragon noticed that some of the sticks on the ice are sunken, embedded into the ice.

We think that the water is melting a little in the daytime, so the sticks are in puddles in the day, then at night it refreezes. It isn't very warm today, so the sticks were still embedded in the ice. 

Then we headed out into the woods by the pond. Nearly all of the snow is melted, and there is less mud (yay!!), but things are mostly still dormant. We talked about how some animals live in a brush pile like this. Hero was pretty surprised that a pile of sticks could be so useful.

Our little Tigress is delighted by all the going "side" we've been doing, and she has to be right in there, exploring and discovering with her brothers. She was easily the muddiest when we got home. Not long after this picture was taken, she tumbled off that root and was fine... except for the mud. 

20 April 2015

Psalm 3: Christ's Grace Brings Confidence

First, this is labeled as "A Psalm of David, when he fled from Absalom his son." That's not a story that we spend a lot of time talking about in Sunday School or other classes, so the first thing I did was to go review the story. The Bible Dictionary lists quite a few passages that deal with Absalom, but the main event is in 2 Samuel 15-18. After studying that, and re-reading the psalm, I also went and reviewed the story of David and Bathsheba in 2 Samuel 11-12

This was an incredibly trying time for David. It's sometime after he had taken Bathsheba and killed Uriah, and now his son Absalom has risen up against him. First, Absalom played a subtle game where he undermined the king and stole the hearts of the people. Then, he actually raised an army, and David and his supporters had to flee Jerusalem. The third Psalm deals with both the difficult situations that he faced, and also expresses his confidence in the Lord's care.

Lord, how are they increased that trouble me! many are they that rise up against me.
Many there be which say of my soul, There is no help for him in God. 
But thou, O Lord, art a shield for me; my glory, and the lifter up of mine head.(vs.1-2)

I have frequently heard David held up as a singular example of What Not To Do. There are good reasons why this is so. We know from the Doctrine and Covenants that his sins were severe enough to cost him dearly in the eternities. In the beginning, he was described as "a man after the Lord's own heart", and he was chosen, and elevated above his brethren because of this. But his rise was followed by the tragedy of his choices regarding Uriah and his wife. You still hear, from time to time, people saying that, "there is no help for him in God."

David, himself, clearly felt otherwise, and the Psalms are full of his praise for the amazing Grace that the Lord extended to him.  This is one of those Psalms.

But thou, O Lord, art a shield for me; my glory and the lifter up of mine head. 
I cried unto the Lord with my voice, and He heard me out of His holy hill. 

Even in this extreme case, the Grace of the Lord is such that David wasn't utterly abandoned. What a hopeful thing that is for all of us!

The Gift of Grace, April 2015

Even in these difficult circumstances, and in spite of past sins, David seems to have enjoyed the peace which passeth understanding. If ever there were troubles that would cause one to loose sleep, David had some, particularly at this time. He had to have known that the conflict with Absalom was not going to end well; attempted coups nearly never end in reconciliation for the dynastic family. And quite often, neighboring countries see this sort of weakness and take the opportunity to annex some territory or the country descends into civil war, so there were quite likely concerns for his people that could keep him up at night, even if those family issues didn't. But he's not talking about how little he's sleeping; instead he talks about the strength he draws from the Lord.

I laid me down and slept; I awaked; for the Lord sustained me. (vs. 5)

We can have this kind of strength from the Lord, too. Whatever we have done, we, like David, are not too far gone for Christ's mercy. We can also draw on the strength that He offers.

In the Strength of the Lord, April 2004

Since I started studying the Psalms, I've come to have a greater appreciation for just how dramatic the power imbalance between us and God is: a mosquito has a better chance of stopping an elephant than any human has of frustrating God's Will. At this point in his life, David has returned to a place where he desires the Lord's Will, and is unflinching before it. "Here am I," he says. "Let Him do to me as seemeth good unto Him." This is important; it enables the confidence we see in the psalm:

I will not be afraid of ten thousands of people, that have set themselves against me round about. Arise, O Lord; save me, O my God, for thou has smitten all mine enemies upon the cheek bone; thou hast broken the teeth of the ungodly. Salvation belongeth to the Lord: thy blessing is upon thy people. Selah. (vs.6-8)

17 April 2015

Spring Discoveries

Our park visit was short, but the kids loved it. We found Willow catkin this morning. They're so soft, and really striking against the grey of our early Spring. 

We saw turtles in Turtle Pond, too, but didn't end up with any good pictures. They were pretty far away for a little phone camera. The kids discovered that their usual shouting and running scares the critters; almost all the turtles were hiding by the time we finished. 

It was a good visit, even though it was short. 

New Games

This week, we've been having great success with games for school. First, there's this Japanese game. The inspiration for this came from this article, the first in a series about the stages of learning a language. They suggested this:

If you can say ‘Do you want to speak Spanish with me now?’ and you can also say ‘I’d like to practise speaking with you tonight’, then see how many different ways you can chop them up.  Have a go at ‘I’d like to speak Spanish with you now’ or ‘Do you want to practise speaking with me tonight?’ – challenge yourself to make up as many different phrases as possible.

So, I thought this was a really good idea, but I knew that Hero was going to need some support to make this happen, so this is what I came up with: 3x5 cards. Each card has the word written several different ways. There's kanji at the top of a number of them, and hiragana below that. Those are what real live Japanese people use. But Hero's an American kid, and he has  yet to master either, so below that, I wrote little romaji letters (that's the English transliteration). And I broke it up into syllables, thinking that it might help him to improve his hiragana that way. It's hard to see in the picture, but the English translation is also down in the corner. Then, we split up the cards, and we each made up sentences.

今何時ですか。 (What time is it now?)

九時です。 (It's 9 o'clock.)

He asked me for some of the animals they've been learning from YouTube. Why, yes, I'd be delighted to give you more cards. I added the ones I could remember off the top of my head, and we reshuffled. Now, he was really having fun. This was his favorite sentence:

すみません、うさぎのよるです。 (Excuse me, it's the bunny night.)

His confidence in his ability to produce sentences was noticeably improved by the end of the game - he was playing. We got to talk a bit about word order. He's developing a better grasp of this type of sentence structure. It was just an all around good thing, and when it was done, he said he had fun and was looking forward to playing again, soon. I'd call that a win.

Our other game is probably even more successful. It's nothing fancy, just war. It really is the game that's worth 1000 worksheets. The kids have begged me to play this one with them every day this week. The red cards are single deck; Dragon loves red, and that's the one he usually uses. I often pull out the big cards for him, since he's just starting addition. He still counts the little clubs and hearts to figure things out, which is fine. But that's tough to do on the 11s and 12s, since those are face cards, but he really didn't want me to throw them away. Hero is working on multiplication, so I often pull out the small numbers, and have him practice the more difficult problems. We have a multiplication table that goes to 12x12 that he keeps handy so that he can reference it. Looking things up repeatedly will help him to start to remember.

And, when the English math is finished, we will often play another round in Japanese. Dragon is still challenged by just naming the numbers in Japanese when they are out of order, but Hero is working on doing addition in our second language. This works for me, as I'm in need of some practice manipulating the numbers. Doing it with the kids is really interesting. I'm realizing that my concept of three is attached to the word: three, and not to the numeral: 3. Learning to do math in Japanese is making me move more toward the numerals. I don't know how much difference that's going to make, but I find it interesting. I'm not super surprised; I'm very text-oriented in my thinking. Even dreams aren't pictures. So it will be interesting to see how my thinking evolves as we play around with building numerical fluency in Japanese as well as English.

10 April 2015


The boys love to use my fancy Japanese pens. I love that it makes it easy to persuade them to practice their Japanese. Which is what we were doing today. Dragon and Hero both did a great job.

06 April 2015

Childbearing in the Old Testament

Reading about childbearing and the importance placed on childbearing and the continuance of the family in the Old Testament is fascinating stuff. I first spent time studying some of the Old Testament women when I was struggling to deal with my own infertility problems. There's tons of stories where you see this idea.

Hannah grieved until it affected her marriage, and eventually the priest thought she was drunk.

 Rachel's anguish was such that she thought it would kill her.

Sarah, seeing that she had no children, gave her maid to her husband as another wife to secure the continuance of his line.

In each of these stories, the women not only deal with the grief of childlessness, but they also must cope with the taunting of the women around them who are able to bear, and mock them for their barrenness. The grief of their empty arms is compounded by cruel jibes about their inability to perform in the sacred role of mother.

But there's some other, less familiar, less comfortable stories, and these almost tell us more about the importance placed on childbearing and the continuity of the family line.

Lot's daughters get him drunk and conceive - in our day, drugging someone like this is criminalized as rape. The Bible tells us that they were trying to preserve the seed of their father. It's an extreme that I can't picture in our day. Quite aside from the criminal nature of the act, I don't see our world putting that kind of importance on the matter. Family lines die out regularly, with no fanfare.

That's not the only story of what seems to me like an extreme position to take in order to preserve the family line. There's also the one I was reading tonight, from 2 Samuel 14, with the Widow of Tekoah.

Basically, it goes like this: two of David's sons have a disagreement, and the one kills the other (he's not without a certain amount of justification) and then runs away, fearing that King David will be angry with him. 3 years pass, and David misses his son, so one of the son's buddies gets a Widow of Tekoah to go see the king. She spins this tale about how she had 2 sons, and one killed the other, and now the family wants to kill the survivor, and can't the king do something so that her husband's line isn't ended forever? And the king listens to her! Tells her he'll handle it, and her surviving (murdering) son will be safe. At that point she says, "Uh, king, sir, don't be mad, but I was actually talking about YOUR son that's in exile," the son comes home, and life goes on.

It's amazing to me to see how far the cultural shift has gone in the other direction. This widow asked the king to excuse her son's murder, so that her family line could continue. And he was prepared to do it. No way that would fly now. Now, it's wait to have kids, if you have them at all. I've heard that stuff from folks in the church, even, though it's contrary to what the prophet says. But that's the fashionable thing, waiting. But then, then it was different.

From April Conference 1979: Fortify Your Homes Against Evil

 The importance placed upon children in the Old Testament is amazing. Women now often peg their value to education or other things, but you can see in the stories of Hannah and Rachel and Sarah how they pegged their value on the ability to bear children. (Neither is correct, in my opinion; a woman's value is intrinsic.) The lengths that some of the people went to just boggles my mind. I don't think that the extremes are good, but that's what brought this particular theme to my attention. Maybe that's why some of those stories are in there: to draw our attention to the importance of children. Because it's not just the crazies. Those women we love to hear about, Hannah, Rachel, Sarah, Elizabeth, they knew something about how important children are, too. Interestingly, in every case, those feminine heroes of the scriptures' infertility was resolved, and they bore at least one child. I'm still pondering that; obviously not every story ends so well in this life. But I'm certain that if I ponder it long enough, the Lord will teach me what it is His message is in their stories. I'm looking forward to that.

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