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29 December 2016

2016: Challenges and Change

Some similarities in facing challenges and experiencing change in fitness and in Christian life.

I've seen this quote several times now. First it was a Pinterest fitness motivation thing. It caught my attention as much because I'm working on learning that pose as anything. I have scoliosis, so balance poses are a particular challenge and this is a very long term project.

Then I think I saw it in my Facebook feed. It came up the other day again, just as I was starting to think about a year-in-review kind of post, which made me think about it in a whole different light.

This has been a tough year. 

The old job decided to make working on the Sabbath mandatory; we quit instead, last January. There were other things going on too, but that was the thing that tore it.

But remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labor and do all they work: but the seventh is the Sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work...
-Exodus 20:8-10

We had a go at a business, but market fluctuations following the Brexit forced the Daddy back into a day job. 

We thought for a while we might lose our house, but things stabilized. 

The new day job is an absolute nightmare, and the pay is a lot less, the hours longer, and the physical demands more punishing than the old one.  And the bosses... oi.

Lingering bills from our NICU stay are still complicating our finances; even with insurance, a NICU stay is expensive. 

And now the new job is pondering seven day work weeks: Sunday work.
Which we still. won't. do.

So it's been a challenging year. Now, thanks to this quote, I'm looking for how it's changing me. I'm still not sure what it's doing for me, honestly. Sometimes it's hard to see these things in the fire, in the process. But I think that it's significant that this started out as a fitness quote.

Fitness isn't something that has ever come easily for me. I left school convinced that I couldn't run, couldn't throw, couldn't catch: that's what they taught me in gym class. Turns out it's all a lie; I can do those things: my body is not a lemon. There's reasons why running is so difficult: scoliosis means that my lungs are perpetually squished. Which makes breathing hard when I'm working. Like when I run. And once nobody was mocking my efforts, once there was a little bit of encouragement instead of scorn from teachers and peers alike, turns out throwing and catching are things that I'm merely inexperienced at -- but can learn. Still. I spent a long time thinking that I couldn't, and there's habits and patterns that followed that have to be overcome --and the small matter of healing my spine-- before I can have an athlete's body. It's a long journey; the vast majority of it happens between my ears.

Fitness makes a nice metaphor. I tell my kids that learning is like growing a muscle: you do it, and it gets easier, because the "muscle" grows stronger. There's lots of stuff -most things, actually- that works like that. This year has been growing some muscles for our family. How to work together, how to find a way to keep going. How to lean on the Lord, to trust Him to make good on His promise to make it possible to keep the commandments. That's a pretty good "muscle" to have well-developed.

PS. To see what other homeschool bloggers are saying about their year, stop by:

Homeschool Review Crew Reflecting on 2016

27 December 2016

Psalm 14: Paul on Grace and Works

A discussion of Paul's quotation of the 14th Psalm and his teachings on Grace and Works. #MormonBibleStudy

Paul references this Psalm in Romans chapter 3, so the next thing that I did in studying this  was to head to the New Testament and look at what Paul has to say. (You can look at Psalm 14 part 1 and part 2 if you like.) One thing that I'm really liking about the Psalms is that, because Paul likes the Psalms and quotes them regularly, studying the Psalms is helping me to get to know Paul. He's always been difficult for me. And, reading through this section of his Epistle to the Romans, I'm extremely grateful for the benefit of the modern revelation and prophetic commentary. It makes trying to work through these passages a whole lot easier!

So, looking at chapter three, where he quotes this Psalm, it's a continuation of what's being said in chapter two... which is a continuation of what's started in chapter one. So I backed up in order to find the beginning of the thought, and because Paul can be a bit verbose, I did a quick paraphrase:

Chapter 1:
From Paul, to the saints in Rome.
I'm glad that you're strong in the gospel; I pray for you every day, and I'd like to visit. We could then strengthen each other in the faith. I am ready to preach the gospel; I am not ashamed of it because it has the power to bring souls to salvation: the just shall live by faith. There is a lot of wickedness in the world.

Chapter 2:
Hypocrisy is serious; it will get you in big trouble; indignation and wrath follow wickedness while glory, honor, and peace follow righteousness -- for both Jew and Greek: God is impartial to all according to their works. People can tell good from evil with or without the law. However. If, having the Law (of Moses), you still only have the appearance (but not the reality) of righteousness, what good does it do you to have the Law? And if a Greek is righteous without the benefit of the Law, won't that be counted for good to him?

Chapter 3:
Having the Law is better than not having it; disbelief does not hamper God's work. There is none that is righteous; all fall short of the glory of God. Grace comes through faith on Christ, equally to all men. Chapter 3 is where we find the quotation of Psalm 14, which is really kind of a paraphrase:

As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. 
-Romans 3:10-11

Paul continues with a section from Psalm 5:

Their throat is an open sepulcher; with their tongues they have used deceit...
-Romans 3:13

Next, he references a very descriptive passage from Job 20, as well as Psalm 140:

...the poison of asps in under their lips.
-Romans 3:13

Then he turns to Isaiah 59:

Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness: Their feet are swift to shed blood: Destruction and misery are in their ways:

Paul continues out this chapter of his Epistle to the Romans with a discussion of Grace, and its relation to both the Law and to our works.

One thing that I noticed several years ago is that there are paired doctrines, often things that are in apparent conflict or tension with each other. We are not to judge - but we are also to judge righteous judgements. There's the interrelationship of self-reliance and dependence on God. In each case you need to understand the Lord's teachings on both sides of the coin in order to be able to determine what we ought to do. Grace and works are, I believe, an important example of these paired doctrines. In the process of teaching this pair of principles, Paul says that there are three things that are available equally to Jews and also to the Gentiles or Greeks, which I understand to mean to both believers and non-believers:

When working with these paired principles, it has been my observation that, to make our attempt at keeping the commandments, to achieve what I think of as Correct Action, you have to thoroughly understand both sides of the coin. Correct Action is found, balanced on the knife's edge, at that place where the two apparently opposing ideas come into harmony. This, to me, is the reason why the Lord's way is so often described as a strait way: this strait is not the word that means direct or unbent line; this strait is the one used describing passages of water, such as the Straits of Magellan, and it means a narrow channel between two larger bodies of water, and is often used in relation to difficult or troublesome situations: traversing a strait is a hazardous occupation for a ship, as there is typically only a narrow channel, often a winding narrow channel, and there were deadly rock hazards on both sides, should they steer wrong. While the scriptures do characterize the Lord's path as straight, they much more often characterize it as being strait. The beautiful applicability of this analogy is readily apparent when contemplating all these paired principles, but especially in understanding Grace and works.

Paul addressed works first, and he clearly thought that we ought to be aware of our actions, and working hard to embrace righteousness and flee from sin.

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who love not the truth, but remain in unrighteousness. 
-Romans 1:17-18, with JST footnote integrated

He asks his listeners to consider: what advantage is there in being [a believer] if it's only outward, and not from the heart? What good is circumcision - the ordinances - if you don't actually keep the law, if it's not in your heart? Won't this make your circumcision into uncircumcion? He's talking specifically about the Jewish ordinance of circumcision, which was symbolic of all that they did in pursuit of obedience to their Law; it was the symbol of their membership in the kingdom. In our day, it is the temple that we've been asked to make the great symbol of our membership, and I like to look at passages like this in light of my temple covenants: what good do temple covenants do me if I'm not keeping the law, if it's not in my heart, if my actions don't match my covenant? The Lord, Himself, emphasized the importance of our works:

Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven, but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.
-Matthew 7:21

Our works are so important to the Lord that when He taught us how to show love to Him, it was actions that He asked for:

If ye love me, keep my commandments.
-John 14:15

Works are important; they matter. We need to be doing our best, serving Him, working with all our hearts, might mind and strength, "that ye may stand blameless before God at the last day." I love the way that Brad Wilcox explained it, when a student came and asked about Grace. He explained to her that Christ paid the whole debt, the whole gap between what she can do and what the law demands; it is finished.

She said, “Right! Like I don’t have to do anything?”
“Oh no,” I said, “you have plenty to do, but it is not to fill that gap. We will all be resurrected. We will all go back to God’s presence. What is left to be determined by our obedience is ... how comfortable we plan to be in God’s presence and how long we plan to stay there.”
Christ asks us to show faith in Him, repent, make and keep covenants, receive the Holy Ghost, and endure to the end. By complying, we are not paying the demands of justice—not even the smallest part. Instead, we are showing appreciation for what Jesus Christ did by using it to live a life like His. Justice requires immediate perfection or a punishment when we fall short. Because Jesus took that punishment, He can offer us the chance for ultimate perfection and help us reach that goal. He can forgive what justice never could, and He can turn to us now with His own set of requirements.
-Brad Wilcox, His Grace is Sufficient, emphasis added

Christ has made clear that works are integral to the requirements that He places on us: the requirement for works is unavoidable. We must pay attention to our works, and strive to live the kind of life that He showed us, and that He has commanded that we live. The doctrine of the importance of our works is inescapable, intrinsic to the Christian life. But it's also only one side of the coin.

It's only one side of the coin, because, however hard we try and however well we succeed, it's never, ever going to be enough to satisfy Justice. Justice is a stern, strict taskmaster: for every crime, a punishment. No unclean thing can live the kingdom of God. No exceptions. No exemptions. No take backs. No second chances. Forever.  

This law must be satisfied; it is part of the nature of God.

And it is completely, utterly beyond our ability.

Our work, our devotion, however sincere, our effort, however consistent, will never be enough. We are not perfect, and perfecting is what the law demands. Every one of us is an unprofitable servant. Paul talked about it using the words of the Psalmist:

What then? are we better than they? No, in no wise: for we have before proved both [believers] and [unbelievers], that they are all under sin; As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one... They are all gone out of the way, the are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one.
-Romans 3:10,12

It looks pretty bleak, but there is no reason to fear. Works, though important, were never intended to bring us to salvation.

Elder Dallin H. Oaks has said... “The repenting sinner must suffer for his sins, but this suffering has a different purpose than punishment or payment. Its purpose is change”. Let’s put that in terms of our analogy: The child must practice the piano, but this practice has a different purpose than punishment or payment. Its purpose is change.
I have born-again Christian friends who say to me, “You Mormons are trying to earn your way to heaven.”
I say, “No, we are not earning heaven. We are learning heaven. We are preparing for it (see D&C 78:7). We are practicing for it.”
-Brad Wilcox, His Grace is Sufficient

The two principles, Grace and works, work in tandem, like the two sides of a brace, shaping us, helping us to reach our potential as children of God and allowing us to aspire to becoming, someday, heirs and joint-heirs with Christ. We urgently need them both.

There's so much more here in Romans that I'd like to dig into more completely. There's also this very interesting explanation of the historical setting for Romans, and why so much of this is centering around a Jews vs. Greeks theme in this section, and its companion article about questions Paul asks in his epistle to the Romans. I would like, at some point, to also do a serious study of Romans, though Psalms will be keeping me busy for a while yet, I think. There's still so much in Psalms that I haven't looked at, yet. The way that you can keep coming back to the scriptures, time after time, and always there is some new insight to be gained, that's one of my favorite things about them. Stop by again, sometime. Click the button to see the index for my Bible Study posts, or come join the conversation over on Facebook; we'd love to have you.

We're studying the Bible; We'd love you to come join us.

21 December 2016

Odd Bits: December

A grab-bag of things that caught my eye the past little while.

Something For Mom:

The American tradition of self-education has gone so far underground that most people find "get an education" and "go to school" to be synonymous, and that which is self-taught often feels like it doesn't "count" -- but it wasn't always that way, and not everybody's forgotten. Mom doesn't need to loose herself in her Mothering. But it takes some mindful effort, and probably learning some new skills, to work on educating yourself: we don't typically leave home armed with the tools of self-education! The good news is, we don't have to make it all up from scratch. For instance. This lovely bit from Afterthoughts Blog is actually an introduction to a whole series on the topic of Mom's self-education. And they're working on a Mothers' course at Ambleside Online! It's going to be a while before it's ready to go, but there's enough there to give some good ideas for starting now. She touches on reading (audio books while you get dinner count!), on listening to lectures (we often call those podcasts, now), on getting in touch with nature, and a number of other things. And many of them can be squeezed in the cracks of daily life, even if we have minimal time to carve out for it.

Something Current: 

I'm a big fan of the Bill of Rights. I love that the Constitution is written, more or less, in plain English: you don't need a law degree to understand what it was they had in mind.  The Bill of Rights just had its 225th birthday, mostly without any fanfare. But Rand Paul wrote a great piece about it, and then The Blaze had a pretty good article about Paul's work. Here's my favorite bit from Paul:

Not all of these 225 years have been kind to the Bill of Rights, though.  It’s been challenged, debated, and far too often just ignored. Don’t be fooled into thinking this would have surprised the Founders. We have the Bill of Rights precisely because the Founding Fathers knew government can’t resist stretching its limits. When some in government say “of course we can,” you and I are supposed to use the Bill of Rights to say, “No, you can’t.” Some believe government has grown too large to hold down with these chains, that it’s too late to rein it back in.  If the Bill of Rights were mere words on paper, perhaps we could afford to indulge that feeling. But they are not mere words.  They are principles fundamental to who we are as a people and what we represent as a nation.

Something Seasonal:

It's a Wonderful Life has been my favorite Christmas movie for as long as I can remember (rivaled only by White Christmas). I'd never given much thought to the actors; it's all about the story for me. But this year, when I watch it, I'm going to be looking at Jimmy Stewart, as well as at George Bailey. Turns out that this great movie also has a great story.

Something Educational: 

I came across this, from Memoria Press, about how a Classical approach to phonics works. I don't know tons about the history of phonics instruction, but what they describe about how a "classic" approach (a structured, orderly approach, with plenty of well-timed practice) works makes a great deal of sense to me, and has been very successful with my kids: Hero reads well, and Dragon is coming along beautifully. I particularly liked this bit:

The traditional phonics sequence is effective because it is systematic, not random. It reveals the underlying order of the great variety of English spelling patterns, one pattern at a time. This orderly presentation is an aid to memory and is the very heart of phonics. Without it, many students are unable to recognize, master, and read English words fluently, for the English language has the most irregular spelling of any of the modern languages.

I've seen some say that, because there are a large number of irregulars in English, we shouldn't bother burdening kids with phonics. However, English is something more than 90% regular, and it seems absurd to ignore that fact. Your average educated native speaker of English knows about 35,000 words (about 20% of the current contents of the language), which makes 32,500+ of those words rule-following words. Teaching the rules -and in a rational order- seems pretty sensible, when compared with the daunting task of trying to memorize all 35,000 words individually! For the chronically curious, there's a follow-up article. And a pretty interesting discussion of how many words there are in various languages, and how many of those words are typically used by natives and non-natives of various stripes.

Something About History:

Way back when, a guy named Roger Williams had these radical ideas about how the law ought to stay out of dictating convictions and faith -- what we now call Freedom of Religion, or Freedom of Conscience. He left England shortly after the Puritans founded Massachusetts, but found that though they enjoyed being able to worship their own way, they hadn't learned to allow the same to others -- he ended up getting banished from their colony, so he set up his own: the Providence Plantation. Which became famous for its religious toleration. And he wrote The Bloudy Tenent of Persecution, which came highly recommended after a recent Facebook conversation. I'm looking forward to digging into it.

13 December 2016

Into the Wild 1 & 6: Mississippi Flyway

I'm helping the boys in Hero's Webelos den learn about our local flyway for the Into The Wild pin. We're working on requirement six:

Learn about the bird flyways closest to your home. Find out which birds use these flyways.

Turns out there's a couple of main traffic routes that the birds like to take when they migrate: flyways. We'll be learning about the Mississippi Flyway, which is green on the cool little map I found.

There's a lot of birds during migration:

 Then we can explore this chart of when birds arrive in different places, so that the boys can figure out what birds are using our flyway.

If we have time, we can also work on requirement six:

Identify an insect, reptile, bird, or other wild animal that is found only in your area of the country. Tell why it survives in your area.

The DNR has a PDF that the boys can look through that lists our State's endangered species, and also how these species are doing globally, so that they can quickly determine which of our rare species are rare all over. Once they've picked a species to focus on, then we can learn about them, and what makes them like it here.

Additional resources for Into the Wild, requirement 8 are here.

07 December 2016

Snapshots From Our Day

Just an ordinary day, doing our ordinary things...

Here's the soundtrack for our day. We've been listening to this one a lot lately, so we started down the list a little. With 67 songs, we seldom make it all the way through!

Legos are great while listening to stories, and he comes up with some remarkable things.

Practicing our scripture memory work. 

Then we did our poems.

The Sea
An everywhere of silver,
With ropes of sand
To keep it from effacing
The track called land.
 -Emily Dickinson

I eat my peas with honey;
I've done it all my life.
It might taste kinda funny,
But it keeps them on the knife!
-Mother Goose

The Sea was perfect for today. Hero and I saw Moana with some good friends of ours last night (it's fantastic), and he's been humming snatches of song all day, especially this one.

Listening to Alexander and Bucephalus, and then Diogenes. With Legos. Because that's how Dragon does it.

Guess who is my kitchen helper today! Best job in the house. The only one that we have an official schedule for, because otherwise there's fighting. She oiled up the potatoes we had for lunch; they were delicious.

Don't let her fool you; she adores doing purlers. This is her concentrating face. She's working on letter A right now, has been for several days, and wanted to do an A car, so I helped her build it a bit. She's doing very well with her letters, and I think that Dragon is a mite jealous that he's not in preschool anymore... preschool does fun stuff.

He's growing up: today he read Plutarch to me, rather than the other way around!

Dragon and I are reading the narrative portions of the Bible, and then we always draw a picture of the story. Last time, he drew the Ark of the Covenant, but this time, he was distracted, so I got to draw the Tabernacle.

Meanwhile, the Peanut announced that she was tired, and I suggested that she could lay down a minute... and she fell asleep. Guess she wasn't kidding!

Dragon was too excited about these games to be super worried about doing the drawing in his Bible himself. "Mom, can I play these games?" Uh... sure. You can do some extra phonics. Knock yourself out!

"Mom! I'm booorrrred!"
Poor kid doesn't really like to go wait for his brother at Cub Scouts. Truth is, it's not very interesting a lot of time time, just sitting and waiting for an hour.
"If you're bored, you need a job. Let's get the vacuum."

Now, it's bedtime, and I'm waiting for the last munchkin to go to sleep, and learning a little about chess, since my kids and my brother all like to play: I want to be able to hold my own when I play them! Plus, it turns out, once you find a good explanation of chess strategy, it's pretty interesting to see all the ins and outs of it. I am surprised at how much I like it.

01 December 2016

Today is Lovely


Outside my window... it's damp and overcast. The snow is late, and I'm missing it.

I am thinking... about charity. I want to spend some time looking for stories from Christ's life that illustrate particular aspects of charity.

I am thankful for... comfort in Christ. This year has been a difficult season for us, and I'm grateful for His support and guidance.

I am wearing... jeans. tshirt. old grey sweatshirt. white socks. I'll have a ponytail soon. Pretty much the same as always.

I am remembering... when this used to be a meme. Looks like the host blog is not only inactive, but gone. That's a bit sad; I was hoping to link up again.

I am going... to take the kids to violin lessons, come back and eat quick, then head to the Pack Meeting tonight. Busy afternoon.

I am currently reading... I just finished Girl of the Limberlost, and I'm thinking that I need to get that in print: I listened to the Librivox. It was excellent. I'm still choosing the next one, but it'll probably be another Librivox, because I have a Christmas gift that I need to spend my after bedtime time on for the next little while, and a story is great company, now that the Daddy's schedule has him going to be so very early.

I am hoping... my kids make some good faces when I give them the cranberries they've been after me to let them taste. I've warned them, but I think they only hear "berry" and they're probably expecting it to be cousins to blueberries or something. They still want to taste; my camera will be ready. This should be good.

On my mind...getting that Christmas gift done. It's going to be close. My friend is loaning me a tool this afternoon. I'd tell you what I'm making but I'm afraid Hero will catch me!

Noticing that...I'm almost out of the tiny post-it notes that I use to mark spots where Hero is supposed to read. Gonna have to grab a few more of those.

Pondering these words... "for the works which ye have seen me do that shall ye also do; for that which ye have seen me do even that shall ye do" -3 Nephi 27:21

From the kitchen... I'm waiting for the Pineapple Turmeric Sauerkraut to be ready. I think I'm excited, but I'm also a little nervous: that's quite the combination. Those cranberries the kids want to taste are supposed to turn into a fermented relish, too, but I lost the recipe I was going to use, so I have to go find something that will work again.

Around the house... it's beginning to look a lot like Christmas. The Daddy found places for several of my nativities this year, which is awesome. We rearranged our furniture a while back, and lost some large flat places. Which has made it hard to display the nativities ever since.

From my picture journal... A conversation with Dragon about the differences between the Old Testament Laban (and that whole complicated family tree) and the Book of Mormon Laban to help him settle in his mind who is who and where they all belong in their various stories.

Commonplace Book: November

“He was now known to be a man of skill; it was observed that he gathered herbs and the blossoms of wild-flowers, and dug up roots and plucked off twigs from the forest-trees like one acquainted with hidden virtues in what was valueless to common eyes.”
-The Scarlet Letter, by Nathaniel Hawthorn

There is no education without leisure for the simple reason that education is a leisure activity. It requires all the other values: controls, freedom, money, and honor. But the only true end is virtue for the simple reason that only virtue is big enough to rightly order the other goods. The wise man ... is not driven [by his desires] as by an unruly mob. Instead he governs them.
-Andrew Kern, quoted in "Charlotte Mason is Powerful"


The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God. They are corrupt, they have done abominable works, there is none that doeth good. ... They are all gone aside, they are altogther become filthy, there is none that doeth good, no, not one.
-Psalm 14:1,3

Forgive, and leave his further retribution to the Power that claims it! ... There might be good for thee, and thee alone, since thou hast been deeply wronged and hast it at thy will to pardon. Wilt thou give up that only privilege?  Wilt thou reject that priceless benefit?
-The Scarlet Letter, by Nathaniel Hawthorn

...it is natural to be selfish, defensive, argumentative, full of pride, but it is supernatural to be mature, loving and patient, humble.
-How To Slow Down All The Fussing

A Jesus girl who rises up and unexpectedly gives grace when she surely could have done otherwise reveals the power and mystery of Christ at work in her life and in the world.
-Seen on Pinterest

"But you don't see the point, Wesley. She would have grown into a fine woman with us; but as we would have raised her, would her heart ever have known the world as it does now? Where's the anguish, Wesley, that child can't comprehend? Seeing what she's seen of her mother hasn't hardened her. She can understand any mother's sorrow. Living life from the rough side has only broadened her. Where's the girl or boy burning with shame, or struggling to find a way, that will cross Elnora's path and not get a lift from her? She's had the knocks, but there'll never be any of the thing you call 'false pride' in her. I guess we better keep out. Maybe Kate Comstock knows what she's doing. Sure as you live, Elnora has grown bigger on knocks than she would on love."

-quoted by Khatz

“It is June. Philip and I are in the grades. You have an hour to put an idea into our heads that will stick for a lifetime, and grow for good. That’s the way I look at your job. Now, what are you going to give us? We don’t want any old silly stuff that has been hashed over and over, we want a big new idea to plant in our hearts. Come on, Miss Teacher, what is the boiled-down, double-distilled essence of June? Give it to us strong. We are large enough to furnish it developing ground. Hurry up! Time is short and we are waiting. What is the miracle of June? What one thing epitomizes the whole month, and makes it just a little different from any other?”
-Girl of the Limberlost, chapter 16.

A day may come when the courage of men fails, when we forsake our friends and break all bonds of fellowship, but it is not this day. And hour of wolves and shattered shields, when the age of men comes crashing down! But it is not this day! By all that you hold dear on this good earth, I bid you stand, men of the West!
-Aragorn, Return of the King


But remember, when the people once part with power, they can seldom or never resume it again but by force. Many instances can be produced in which the people have voluntarily increased the powers of their rulers; but few, if any, in which rulers have willingly abridged their authority. This is a sufficient reason to induce you to be careful, in the first instance, how you deposit the powers of government.
-Brutus #1

From this view of the subject it may be concluded that a pure democracy, by which I mean a society consisting of a small number of citizens, who assemble and administer the government in person, can admit of no cure for the mischiefs of faction. A common passion or interest will, in almost every case, be felt by a majority of the whole; a communication and concert result from the form of government itself; and there is nothing to check the inducements to sacrifice the weaker party or an obnoxious individual. Hence it is that such democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property; and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths.
-James Madison, Federalist #10

Baby and I were baked in a pie;
The gravy was wonderful hot.
We had nothing to pay
To the baker that day
And so we crept out of the pot.
-Mother Goose

The Owl
When cats run home and light is come,
And dew is cold upon the ground,
And the far-off stream is dumb,
And teh whirring sail goes round;
Alone and warming his five wits,
The white owl in the belfry sits.

Whe merry milkmaids click the latch,
And rarely smells the new-mown hay,
And the cock hath sung beneath the thatch,
Twice or thrice his roundelay;
Alone and warming his five wits,
The white owl in the belfry sits.
-Lord Alfred Tennyson

Fortitude should be learned by the subduing of self; that is to say, by repressing the desire to play at the wrong time or beyond the proper time, and by bridling impatience, discontent, and anger.
The principle which underlies this is that we should accustom boys to do everything by reason, and nothing under the guidance of impulse. For man is a rational animal, and should therefore be led by reason, and, before action, ought to deliberate how each operation should be performed, so that he may really be master of his own actions.
-Comenius, quoted in Charlotte Mason and Comenius: The Will and Reason

29 November 2016

I'm on the Crew!

Schoolhouse Review Crew

I'm so excited: I get to be a part of the Homeschool Review Crew! I'm looking forward to seeing what they have in mind for this year, and telling you all about it. The adventure starts in January, and they're still taking applicants, if you'd like to play too.

28 November 2016

Frog Study: Blanchard's Cricket Frog

We're learning about local frogs this year, in the hope of possibly recognizing them better when we're out and about. Our State has only about 12 of them, so I've slipped them in here and there on our schedule. Today's frog is a cutie: Blanchard's Cricket Frog.

This is the first time I've done a study like this, and I'm not quite sure how to take it from our kitchen table to being able to actually being able to identify frogs when we find them next summer, but I figure the chances are better with a inexpert effort than they are if we don't try at all! So right now, we're drawing them. And listening to some YouTube recordings of their song. And that's pretty much it. Today we did Blanchard's Cricket Frog, which is a cute little thing: fits on a fingertip with plenty of room to spare.

This is the drawing from Dragon(6). In addition to learning about these cute little guys, he's also learning to see well enough to draw. I have him sit on my lap (ufta! he's not little anymore!) and help him know what to look at, and how to really see it in a way that works for drawing:

He draws a circle for the eye, which is the most prominent feature.
"Look, the eye is cool, but it's easiest to start with the outline of the whole frog, and worry about the inside details later; let's save the eyeball for last, so you can tell more easily where it belongs. Look at the frog's nose, instead. See how this part is part of a circle?" -I run a pencil along the curve of the frog's mouth, showing him the circle-
"Next to that big circle part, there's this small curve, where the other eye is hiding. See how those connect?"
"Do you think you can draw the big circle part and the little one? Can you see how they go?"
"Yes." And he did it pretty credibly.
"Good. Now, look, first. Put your eyes up here on the picture. See how his back goes along like this, not super round, but not quite curvy, either?"

We went along like that, trying to help him to see what he needs, and reminding him to look at the picture before he draws, and at the end, his frog is pretty credible, particularly the front half, and the front leg, which he did entirely by himself. He's making good progress with his drawings, though judging from his comments after it was done, I don't think he can see his progress, yet. Unfortunately, his nature book is lost right now, so we didn't put this in there, just on regular paper, which makes it hard to look back and see how progress really has been happening. Hopefully, we'll find it soon and tape in this drawing.

Hero(10) is well past the point where he needs me to sit and hold his hand. He's been turning out stacks of ever-improving drawings for quite a while, now, and I didn't have to do any more than just show him the frog I wanted him to observe, and let him choose which picture he was going to do; he takes care of the rest.

It's been too busy a day for me to get this drawing into my own nature book, but I'm hoping that, here in the next little bit, I can put a cute little frog in my notebook, and possibly even paint him a little to show his lovely colors. I've got a cottonwood leaf pressed in my book that I'm finishing up this evening.

26 November 2016

Psalm 14: None That Doeth Good

I spent a lot of time last time, learning about what it means when the scriptures talk about fools, which wasn't what I'd expected when I first read the chapter. So, now that I understand that a little better, I'm backing up and looking at more of the chapter. This chapter seems to have a lot to it; there's a JST version for the whole chapter, and it's also quoted by Paul in the New Testament, so I'd always planned on spending some time here.

The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God. They are corrupt, they have done abominable works, there is none that doeth good. ... They are all gone aside, they are altogether become filthy: there is none that doeth good, no, not one.
-Psalm 14:1,3

So, to draw on the things I learned before: The fool, either unable or unwilling to reason  says there is no God. He then acts contrary to sound wisdom, preferring trifling pleasures to the service of God, whom he treats with contempt. He turns aside from the strait and narrow path, crosses into sin, and becomes filthy, rather than good. We are all foolish from time to time; we fall short of real goodness. The Hebrew word used here to mean good is towb, which means completely good in every sense that a thing can be good. It looks like it's similar to the Greek word, agathos, which is what's used to convey Christ's words in this next verse:

Why callest thou me good? There is none good but one, that is, God.
-Matthew 19:17

Strong's, in the entry for agathos, says God is "essentially, absolutely, and consummately good." It's important that we know that; knowing our Father's character enables us to have faith in Him. Knowing that He is absolutely, completely, consummately good, and that this characteristic is central to His being, it gives us confidence in Him, and teaches us what we must do to please Him.

There are those who, while they may not actually keep all the commandments, are seeking to keep them, but there is none that is actually completely, essentially, absolutely, consummately good. King Benjamin talked about this when he addressed his people near the end of his life:

I say unto you, my brethren, that if you should render all the thanks and praise which your soul has power to possess, to that God who has created you, and has kept and preserved you, and has caused that ye should rejoice, and has granted that ye should live in peace one with another--  I say unto you that if ye should serve him who has created you from the beginning, and is preserving you from day to day, by lending you breath, that you may live and move and do according to your own will, and even supporting you from one moment to another--  I say, if ye should serve him with your whole souls yet ye would be unprofitable servants.
-Mosiah 2:20-21

Always we fall short. It's interesting to me that Christ, Himself, refuses to be called good; it puts me in mind of the difference between His command to the Jews to be perfect "as your Father who is in Heaven is perfect", and the command when He offered the same teachings to the Nephites, but told them to be perfect "as I, or your Father who is in Heaven, is perfect". In any case, we all fall short of the glory of God, and are dependent on Christ's grace to save us. There is none that is wholly, completely good.

The grace of God is our great  and everlasting hope.

But, knowing that we're all falling short, and that Christ's grace is absolutely essential, it's not an excuse for just sitting around; the Lord expects that we will be up and doing, and that in our efforts, we will be seeking Him and doing our best:

The Lord looked down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there were any that did understand, and seek God.
-Psalm 14:2

Scripture chain:
Psalm 14:3
Matthew 19:17
Mosiah 2:20-21
Romans 3:23
2 Nephi 25:23

24 November 2016

Keep the Electoral College

I'm glad that Hilary lost; I'm sad that Trump won.

There's often a lot of hurt and pain, following an election. Voting for Darrell Castle, I knew my guy was going to lose, and I'm at peace with that; you get used to it, voting third party. But a number of my friends fully expected they'd backed the winner, and they're sad, upset, and frightened by the outcome. I think either Hilary or Trump winning is grounds for being sad, so it's pretty easy to be sympathetic to those who are upset by our outcomeThey talk about how they are so concerned about where our country is headed. They feel disenfranchised. Some of them were panicky. The outcome was a surprise; many feel robbed. I remember feeling some of those things when Obama was elected; it's not a pleasant place. It's a hard place to be. So I can understand why there's talk of doing away with the Electoral College. Four years ago, and eight years ago, it was a different set of friends expressing many of the same feelings, and also rumbling about doing away with our Electoral College; that seems to come up pretty regularly, about every four years.

"We live in a very different world than they did, and changes need to be made in order to adjust. The way I see it, we're in more trouble every time we try to make rules from hundreds of years ago that no longer make any sense apply to our current country."
-Heather, on Facebook

The Electoral College isn't the problem, and it's not that the Constitution was created hundreds of years ago. It's the monarchical power we've allowed to collect in the presidency that's the problem, and both parties are complicit. Donald Trump, while never a stellar specimen of human decency, was never a cause of widespread fear or dismay as a private citizen. It is Donald Trump with the vast powers that the presidency has assumed that is a cause for alarm. And there is a just cause for alarm.

Many instances can be produced in which the people have voluntarily increased the powers of their rulers; but few, if any, in which rulers have willingly abridged their authority. This is a sufficient reason to induce you to be careful, in the first instance, how you deposit the powers of government.
-Brutus #1

So there's quite a few voices out there right now questioning the legitimacy of our system, and being upset because, as has happened a few times before, Trump won the necessary Electoral votes, but did not collect a majority of popular votes. I've seen a number of opinion pieces suggesting that it's time to do away with the College, this one being pretty representative.

However. Our system was never intended to be a one person one vote kind of system. We are not a democracy, and in fact the Founders were highly critical of democracies, considering them unstable and prone to violent endings, and little more than mob rule or a tyranny of the majority (see the opening of Federalist #10, for example). We do not have a democracy, what we have is a carefully balanced constitutional republic, designed to bring the interests of the People, the States, and the federal Union into balanced and stable harmony, and to serve and protect both the majority and minority voices. A pure democracy can never hope to do all that.

One of the tools used to achieve this balance is the Electoral College. Like the Senate, the College is weighted slightly in favor of the small States. (The House favors the populous States.) But to really understand the way the College works, you have to realize that we are not actually a single nation; we are a federation. One of the charges the antifederalists brought in the ratification debates was that the Constitution aimed to make a single nation of what was then thirteen individual sovereign States. When the colonies threw off English rule they did it working together, but they becme, not a single nation, but thirteen nations -- thirteen States, with Rhode Island being as distinct from and independent of Virginia as the States of France and Spain are distinct and independent of each other. Antifederalist charges that the Constitution aimed to end that independence (for instance in Brutus #1) were vehemently denied in the Federalist Papers, while firmly advocating for continued united cooperation and safety from bloody interstate quarrels in the Union:

An entire consolidation of the states into one complete national sovereignty, would imply an entire subordination of the parts; and whatever power might remain in them, would be altogether dependent on the general will. But as the plan of the convention aims only at a partial union or consolidation, the state governments would clearly retain all the rights of sovereignty which they before had, and which were not, by that act, exclusively delegated to the United States.
-Alexander Hamilton, Federalist #32 (emphasis original)

So the idea of the United States as "one nation... indivisible" is an incorrect concept of our system, and you cannot really understand the Electoral College with this misconception. What happens is, in each of the several States, the citizens of that State assemble and select a president. In this process, the citizens of each State assemble and cast their votes in order to instruct the Electors from their individual States. Wisconsin's citizens may not dictate to Illinois what who they will select; they are making choices for their own State only. Then, the process is completed with the Electoral College. The College takes the individual votes and weights them in order to ensure that small States are not excluded from the process, in order to aggregate the individual elections held in the several States into a single decision binding upon them all. The Electoral College exists to balance power between the interests of large and small States, and creates the possibility of "swing states" rather than allowing candidates to focus on just California and other populous States and ignore Maine, New Hampshire... and Wisconsin. It keeps ALL States relevant in elections, which is a pretty important function. It also helps to preserve the sovereignty of the several States, and their unique character, by preserving influence to the States, as well as to the individual people, a voice at the federal table.  Historically, the several States have taken turns at being "safe" for this party or that one, and at becoming swing States, so, over the long run they take turns at being more and less in the limelight at election time. Understanding the process makes it clear how very irrelevant it is which candidate collected the greater number of popular votes and how that correlates with the Electoral Votes: we are not having a single election, so the aggregate of popular votes is unimportant, regardless of if it aligns with who wins the College or not.

Every time we've moved from the inspired systems the Founders gave us, we've moved from balance into imbalance and removed checks on the growth of the federal government's power. You can see this in the changes made in the Seventeenth Amendment, which gave us direct election of Senators, rather than having them selected indirectly by the State Legislators, a system which gave those who feel the loss of State power in federal overreach first and personally in their own loss of power the ability to select -- and to recall - Senators who did not remember and observe the limitations on Federal authority. I am convinced that the direct election of Senators not only created massive overgrowth of the federal government, but that it also contributed in no small part to the loss of our identity as a federation of sovereign nations. We are not supposed to have a national system, and but a federation (think Star Wars's Galactic Senate, which was a cooperation among allied entities who each retained their own government and individual culture).

Abolishing the Electoral College would be a huge loss in a number of important ways, and it would make the parties still more powerful; more of the toxic partisan wrangling would be an inevitable result, as well as an increase in the already bloated influence that parties have over politicians who, ostensibly, are hired to represent us. Has you ever wondered why Congress sits in parties, rather than by State? It wasn't always so, and I think it speaks volumes about how their first loyalty lies with the party -- not the People or the State they are supposed to represent. Abolishing the Electoral College will exacerbate an already serious problem.

Rather than abolishing the Electoral College, what we ought to do is repeal the 12th Amendment. Prior to the passage of the 12th, the runner-up became the Vice President, which, rather than leaving Hilary and her supporters out in the cold, we would have kept those voices at the table, with influence both in the White House, and also in the Senate, as the VP is the president of the Senate. Then we could keep the balance of power that the Electoral College gives us and it would keep better representation for those States and individuals who preferred someone other than the front runner.

Additionally, the system we've had since the 12th was passed institutionalized the toxic party system that creates such terrible divisions in our people. Washington warned us of the dangers of party in his farewell speech, and we disregarded his wisdom, to our sorrow. The problems he warned about have pretty much all come about in the deep partisan divides we currently suffer from.

The Constitution is so remarkable, as far as balancing and splitting power both horizontally between the branches, and vertically, between the States and the federal governments, and to abolish the Electoral College would further deform that balance. Instead, we should correct the mistaken 12th Amendment.

There are other objections, not based on the one person one vote argument. This comment is pretty representative of what I have seen of those: 

Yeah. I'm not cool with keeping a system that was based on white male power and slavery. Let's get rid of it
-Gwen, on Facebook

The Constitution, including the Electoral College, isn't about white male power. Its about bridling the avaricious elements of human nature in order to secure maximum Liberty to ourselves and our posterity. It is true that the principled response to the slave States would have been to count slaves at zero fifths -- not because slaves were not human, but because the slave States should not have been claiming they were no better than cattle AND counting them as citizens for purposes of representation. That defect has been corrected, and in a way that counts all humans correctly. But let's not rashly throw the baby out with the bath water.

Slavery is abolished (as it should be), and many things have changed since then -- but human nature is not one of them. And it is in understanding and coping with the human tendency to crave power that the Founders shine the brightest. Each fundamental change of the Constitution away from the limited republican system they gave us brings us closer to democracy's mob rule -- which is exactly why losing an election is such an unpleasant experience. That ought to warn us that we're traveling down the wrong road, and the answer is repeal of the Amendments such as the 12th and the 17th so that we can restore the balance, rather than doubling down on the error and bringing in still more mob rule.

15 November 2016

Book of Centuries

We have kept a binder timeline for a while now, and even added to it pretty regularly recently. But I've had this nagging feeling that it was more of a timeline than a Book of Centuries. We started with this simple printable a long time ago, and even though it's labeled a Book of Centuries, since then I've seen a couple things that made me think maybe this isn't what Miss Mason was talking about when she said "Book of Centuries". It's nice, and I'm glad we do it, I'm just not sure that it's the same thing.

See, Miss Mason would take her kids to the museums, and they'd draw stuff. Museums like that are far away... but we have the internet, which is almost like having a museum, if you close one eye and squint. And I've read how she would have them draw stuff they saw, and that they were especially encouraged to pick one type of item and draw that thing from a bunch of different cultures and times. Which is a pretty cool idea. The sample I remember was shoes. Draw shoes from all over. Not very inspiring.

Enter Pinterest.

This morning, I was looking for a blackline map of Mesopotamia for another project, and I came across this cute little guy.

And all the sudden I thought, what if I did birds, instead of shoes?! Oh, that could be cool. I wonder if I could find paper thick enough to use watercolor sometimes, if I had the time and inclination?

All the sudden, it sounds very interesting. So I went and started reading some more about Books of Centuries. I'm not the only one that is too far from a museum, Brandi of Afterthoughts is, too. And I found some lovely pictures from another blogger, and she's got a great idea for how to lay it out -- I may have to try something similar in mine. Here's another sample and free download, this time with boxes for each of the years, and sample pages. They all seem to emphasize drawing, which is interesting. And the one that was my favorite to look at had drawings all over the place.

I want to put that cute Mesopotamian birdie in my book. And I want to keep an eye peeled for other birds as we look at other periods of history. I like birds.

And I want to read more about how other people do this, and figure out what we're doing with ours and make them a little more purposeful. This could be fun.

09 November 2016

Shakespeare's Pegdolls

I saw this amazing idea on the Ambleside Online Facebook group: Pegdolls for Shakespeare plays. Oh my goodness, we're having so much fun with this.

So this is how we tackled Comedy of Errors:

First, we read the Lamb's version. This is a retelling, in story form, of the play. Officially, Lamb's is for Dragon, but unofficially, I'm glad that I get to start with something that's simple, straightforward, and a story. We had a couple of false starts as we tried to settle into the new school year after taking our first-ever summer vacation (I still have mixed feelings about those), but we made it through, and everyone enjoyed it.

Next, we listened to a Librivox version of the original play. I'd like to find a movie version, but haven't yet. And Librivox is free, and something that the kids are already used to. So we tried that, and it worked nicely. They have an app that I've put on my phone that makes listening very easy - even remembers where we stopped last time. And it's easy to stop and explain, back up, and listen to a section again, when I laugh but the kids missed it. This being Shakespeare, we've suspended our usual habit of only reading things once, then expecting the kids to understand and remember. Even with the more difficult language, the kids liked it and protested each time I turned off the play, and seemed to follow much of it readily. We tend to listen over lunch, and they always wanted more. I like to read books slowly, but we did this one pretty quickly.

And then, just as we were doing the Librivox, one of the ladies on the Ambleside Facebook page posted pictures of the peg dolls they were doing with their play. And they were adorable. And I had blank peg dolls in my stash. So of course I got them out and we painted while we listened. And the kids had a blast at it. And I did too.

Aren't they cute? This is Antipholus and Dromio of Syracuse, with the Lady Luciana. I did the twins, so they'd actually be identical. Dragon did Lady Luciana, but had me help him with her face. 

This one is the Abbess, though we've since lost her, and I think we'll have to make a new one. Peanut painted her (I helped with the necklace & face), but then nearly immediately lost her in the car, which is a bummer, because she's super cute.

Hero did the goldsmith and his troublesome necklace all by himself - I just love the detail. And he also did the officer. 

We had a couple more dolls to make on a second day- notably the duke and the father - and they needed some clear coat. Oddly enough, it's warm enough to do that, just barely.

Next we'll listen again, and act out a couple of the scenes. I'm really looking forward to it. 

Who knew Shakespeare could be so fun?!


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