April Snowflakes

One way to cope with April snowflakes is poetry. So here’s a little poem I wrote a few years ago for “Poetry Day” in our homeschool.

Winter’s Last Kiss

Winter came back for a kiss good-bye,
Tossing snowflakes in the April sky.
‘Oh my, oh my!’ little children cry!
‘No, not again,’ frowning grown-ups sigh.

But the joyful birds – steadfast to sing,
Tweet, chirp and trill – such sweet songs they bring.
Robin, finch, and blackbird with red wing,
Add voice to the glad chorus of spring.

Let’s send off showers of April snow,
Thankful for a cup of hot cocoa.
Farewell, winter! Far away you go!
Green grass, green leaves – come and grow, grow, grow!

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A Back-to-School Creature

’Twas the night before school,

And downstairs in the house,

Some wild creature was stirring;

Was it a bat or a mouse?

 

Trapped within the li’l wall

Between girls’ beds and bathroom,

This creature was restless,

Would the school day be doomed?

 

And Ma still up planning

With her nose in three books,

Sat frozen to her chair

Too afraid to go look.

 

But Pa with his courage

Went to investigate,

Thumping hard on the wall.

Oh, so what if it’s late?

 

The girls in their soft beds

Slept on – still unaware

Of the noisy creature

Who was certain to scare!

 

Early they all arose,

A new school year to start.

With fresh pencils and paper,

Story-writers take heart.­

 

To library Ma went

Toting students and books,

While the pest man and Pa

Searched the crannies and nooks.

 

Found still stuck in the wall

’Twas a mouse, not a bat.

Now Ma sits a-wonderin’

If she’s happy ’bout that.

Let This Be Written

A few years ago our family had the privilege of seeing an amazing exhibit of the Dead Sea Scrolls at our local science museum. How incredible to see those ancient words of God – words that He miraculously preserved in jars inside of caves for two thousand years! What a mighty act of God! Preserving words on paper for two thousand years would be impossible for man, but it was possible with God.

Seeing those scrolls reminded me of Psalm 102:18, which says, “Let this be written for a future generation, that a people not yet created may praise the LORD.” I am indeed thankful for those men of long ago who obediently and diligently wrote those precious words down on scrolls so that my generation and my children could see them and praise God.

The Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit also reminded me of Psalm 145:4. “One generation shall commend Your works to another, and shall declare Your mighty acts.” What a great verse this is for homeschool moms – and all parents and grandparents for that matter. If we could only teach one subject as homeschoolers this year, I think this should be it.

In her story book Bible The Mighty Acts of God, author Starr Meade explains that the purpose of telling stories of God’s mighty acts isn’t for entertainment value or good moral examples. The purpose is to make known the wonder of God’s great character.

Likewise, John Piper of Desiring God says we want the next generation to have not just heads full of right facts about the works of God, but also “hearts that burn with the fire of love for the God of those facts – hearts that will sell everything to follow Jesus into the hardest places of the world.”

That’s quite a vision for our students! And as this new school year begins, Psalm 102:18 and Psalm 145 are great encouragements to pass on to my children not just what I know about the one true God from reading the Bible, but also to pass on – heart to heart – what I personally love about God and how I have witnessed Him at work in my life. He has revealed specific attributes of His character – like His faithfulness, compassion, and unfailing love – in specific moments and seasons throughout my life. Knowing by heart those personal faith stories and marveling at God’s great character will fuel my children’s love for Him and better equip them to pass the faith on to their own children someday.

When I take time to recall how God has acted mightily in my own personal history, God is magnified and I am encouraged and comforted. But in order to recall these little faith stories and declare them to my children, I must first record them somehow. That involves watching for God’s grace in daily life, taking lots of pictures, making lists of specific things I am thankful for, writing down prayer requests, keeping a blog, and scrapbooking when I can. These practices take time and no, I don’t keep up with all of them regularly. But these practices are quite meaningful to me because together they build the history book of our lives.

Puritan Pastor John Flavel says, “There is not such a pleasant history for you to read in all the world as the history of your own lives, if you would sit down and record from the beginning hitherto what God has been to you, and done for you; what evidences and outbreakings of his mercy, faithfulness, and love there have been in all the conditions you have passed through.”

So what does praising God and declaring His greatness in the bits and pieces of my personal history look like? Some days it’s telling a story about my childhood as we eat lunch or reading aloud a passage from an old blog post or an old baby journal. Other days it’s looking at photos in a family scrapbook, reading an old letter from a grandparent, or clicking through a digital photo album of last week’s field trip.

In looking back at these records through the lens of God’s goodness, I see things I did not see before. I see ways He has cared for us, provided for us, comforted us, strengthened us, encouraged us, healed us and equipped us. I see how He has brought us through trials and sorrows. I remember joyous moments I would forget otherwise. And as I share all those insights with my children, I praise God.

Jonathan Parnell at Desiring God says the most essential detail to look for in our personal history is God’s mercy to us through Jesus.

“Every detail of God’s goodness to you has come through the blood of Jesus,” he says. “Look back on these providences and remember that you’ve earned none of them. They come by Jesus, or they don’t come at all. His cross is the most vivid demonstration of God’s love for us, and every little good we’ve seen has flowed from that glorious fountain. It did yesterday, and it will tomorrow.”

Parnell also suggests several other details to look for, such as God’s care for you, wisdom for you, grace for you and humility for you, as well as His goal in all your provisions and His goodness in comfortable stuff like socks. He explains each of these ideas thoroughly in an article online entitled “Seven Details to See in Your Past.”

This school year, I pray that teaching the next generation about God’s mighty acts and sharing stories of His goodness and mercy will be a higher priority each day. I pray that we keep pre-algebra and science lessons in the right perspective. I thank God for the fresh encouragement given by Asaph in Psalm 78, a passage which the ESV Bible titles “Tell the Coming Generation.” And I pray that we may arise and tell our children truths about God so that they set their hope in God, keep His commandments, and never ever forget the works of God.

 

Redeeming Ruby

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“It’s a nutshell pram.”

Our oldest was still in the womb when I first heard my husband utter that phrase. We were at a wooden boat show because Michael was in the thick of restoring a 1962 Windjammer sailboat that had been badly damaged in a hurricane. In just two months we’d face the life-changing onset of parenthood, and I honestly wasn’t remotely interested in entertaining any of his wild daydreams about a nutshell pram – whatever kind of boat that was.

“Oh, isn’t it cute?” he exclaimed, pointing out the tiny boat’s beautiful woodwork and oars. “Someday, I’m going to build one of those,” he added dreamily. Cute? Sure. An alluring daydream for a lady who is seven months pregnant and who has been laboriously walking around all day looking at non-descript boat parts? Not really.

Six years and two children later, the nutshell pram daydream reappeared in family vacation conversation while visiting a folk school on the north shore of Lake Superior.

“Oh, girls! Wouldn’t it be fun to build one of these?” Michael implored, not even looking at our young daughters as he spoke. His eyes were wholly fixed upon a shiny little 8-foot wooden boat. At ages 3 and 6, the girls never even realized he was talking to them. Their little hearts were set on finding rocks on the shores of Lake Superior and a sweet treat at the next stop.

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A few years later I found my husband at the computer, feeding his nutshell pram daydream with Google images and researching websites that sold kits to build one.

“This would be a great homeschool project for me to do with the kids,” he quipped, still trying to enthrall me with the beauty of his daydream.

“And how much does it cost?” I asked, trying to pull his head down from the clouds and tally up how many school books I could buy with the same budget.

“Two thousand dollars plus shipping,” he said.

“Wow. That’s a lot of chapter books,” I thought to myself as I shook my head doubtfully.

“We’d just have to save up for it,” Michael said, still daydreaming. He and I both knew that saving up for a boat kit, even as a school project, wasn’t a high priority in our one-income budget, especially when every spare dollar was already committed to the church’s capital campaign.

But God is sovereign, and all that is in the heavens and in the earth is His. Three months later, my father-in-law called us. His neighbor’s garage had flooded and, as part of the clean-up process, much was being thrown away. Into the dumpster the neighbor had discarded a partially assembled boat hull and pieces of a kit for building a 9-foot nutshell pram.

“Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart.” –Psalm 37:4

God was indeed giving Michael one of his heart’s desires.

The wooden hull had some water damage, but my father-in-law thought it and the rest of kit were worth redeeming for us. So into the dumpster Papa Larry climbed on a hot Arkansas summer day, pulling out the hull, blueprints, bronze hardware, rope, wood for the mast and spars, and a VHS instructional tape. Later we learned that the neighbor had started the project with his father, who had recently passed away. That loss paired with the flood damage made him abandon any hope of finishing the boat.

Hearing the story and imagining the worst, I really wondered what our daughters, then ages 6 and 9, would think of their grandpa’s dumpster discovery. But at the dinner table that night when my elated husband relayed the news, the two girls excitedly adopted the project and confidently declared they would paint the little boat red and name it “Ruby.”

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When summer arrived, we took a 1,500 mile road trip to haul Ruby’s hull and the rest of the kit home to Minnesota. At first glance, the overturned hull wasn’t much to see, and the girls’ excitement seemed to wane a bit until the strongback was removed and they could imagine the little boat it might become.

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Soon curls of wood shavings, piles of sawdust and woodworking tools littered the garage as Michael and his little crew set to work reassembling the damaged hull and building seats. More than once the girls decorated their daddy’s tool box with curly wood shavings.

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During the winter, they sewed canvas together to make Ruby’s sail.

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The next summer, the girls were 7 and 10, and they continued to help their daddy with the woodwork and staining, rounding the mast, painting the hull red and attaching the bronze hardware.

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In early August, great-grandma came and helped the girls sew a red streamer flag for the top of the mast.

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By late August, Ruby was nearly ready to sail, and Papa Larry flew up with my brother-in-law Lance and our nephew to help us launch her into the lake.

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And the dream of seeing Ruby sail across the water became a reality.

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To Michael’s many years of daydreaming, he and our two daughters added a lot of hard work. They learned about team work and compromise, tools and boat parts, woodworking techniques, sewing, physics and sailing. Some parts of the project were indeed dull and tiresome, but the girls caught on to their daddy’s passion and shared his dream of someday sailing that little red boat across the lake. That dream motivated them to keep at it, and in the end, their perseverance helped build more than a boat and more than many summers of father-daughter memories. It built character.

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Above all, what I pray my daughters will cherish most about Ruby is her story of redemption. Because of a father’s sacrificial love for his son and his granddaughters, Ruby was redeemed from the pit. Redeemed from a dumpster! And because of a father’s love for his daughters and his passions for woodworking and sailing, Ruby was given a second chance to fulfill her purpose.

“Bless the Lord… who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy.” –Psalm 103:2-4

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Like a gem, Ruby is precious because she reminds us that we once sat helpless in pit of sin. She reminds us that we have value, and we have a Redeemer whose steadfast love ran red for us on the cross. Indeed, we have a heavenly Father who loves us, treasures us, delights in us, and is faithful to complete the good work He began in us.

“Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever! Let the redeemed of the Lord say so, whom he has redeemed from trouble.” –Psalm 107:1-2

 

Fly, Butterfly, Fly!

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When the little package arrived in the mailbox that sunny afternoon in May, I was not sure what to expect inside. My two daughters were busy playing in the backyard, so I was alone when I cut open the cardboard box and found the five tiny caterpillars inside a little cup. It was just what I had ordered. The cup had a thick layer of gooey brown food on the bottom and a nice tight lid on top. This project was to be the highlight of our homeschool unit on butterflies, but I secretly feared these caterpillars were dead upon arrival. I could not detect any movement whatsoever.

Continue reading over here at The End in Mind.

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Treasures for Pre-Teen Girls

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“She is always sitting with her little nose burrowing into books. She doesn’t read them, Miss Minchin; she gobbles them up as if she were a little wolf instead of a little girl. She is always starving for new books to gobble…”

That’s how Captain Crewe describes his 7-year-old daughter Sara’s love for reading in Frances Hodgson Burnett’s classic A Little Princess. And like Sara Crewe, my pre-teen girls always seem to be gobbling up books and starving for new ones.

Hunting down a steady supply of wholesome, captivating books to feed their souls, encourage their hearts, and inspire their imaginations can be quite a daunting task. I want my girls to read and think about what is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, or worthy of praise, just as Philippians 4:8 instructs. But so much of what is newly published on the shelves for pre-teens is none of the above. Either it looks dark, creepy and twisted, or else it appears completely frivolous. Sometimes just seeing the book covers makes my heart sick enough that I don’t want to explore what unpleasant characters might lurk inside.

In His grace, God has been faithful in equipping me as I search for books. His hand is at work through wonderful websites that offer Christian reviews of children’s literature, such as Redeemed Reader and The Story Warren. God has led me to meaningful, age-appropriate books that I don’t have to pre-read entirely before sharing with my daughters. Specifically, I have felt God leading me to entire series of books written by trustworthy authors – some who lived a century ago and a select few from recent decades. Finding an entire series of books is a treasure! It helps satisfy my bookworms much longer than when I offer them a stand-alone novel. In addition, finding older books usually helps us steer clear of the objectionable worldviews that characterize some recently published works.

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Because of television and movies, nearly everyone is familiar with the classic fiction series like Anne of Green Gables series by L. M. Montgomery, The Chronicles of Narnia series by C.S. Lewis and The Little House on the Prairie series by Laura Ingalls Wilder. We do enjoy reading these, and we especially adore Anne of Green Gables.

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Sometimes in hunting for book series, I realize that a well-known, classic book has a sequel or is part of a series. For instance, Louisa May Alcott’s classic Little Women is one of four in a series, and Caddie Woodlawn has a sequel entitled Caddie Woodlawn’s Family. Who knew?

More often, though, God leads me to a less popular series that tells the enchanting stories of lovable characters who demonstrate commendable virtues like perseverance, kindness, gratitude, creativity, patience, forgiveness, and gentleness.

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For example, one of the older book series that we treasure is the All-of-a-Kind Family series written by Sydney Taylor in the 1950s. This delightful series relays the holidays and surprises shared by five Jewish sisters growing up in New York City in the early 1900s. The girls are genuinely kind to their family and others, and they persevere through challenges together.

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Also based in the early 1900s, the Betsy-Tacy series by Maude Hart Lovelace features best friends Betsy and Tacy and their whimsical childhood excursions in Deep Valley. Their devotion to each other and their creativity in playing together make these stories sweet and memorable. They were first published in the 1940s.

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Another excellent series published in the 1940s, the Melendy Quartet by Elizabeth Enright introduces readers to the four Melendy children and their lively adventures while residing in the city and in the country. The siblings endure change, hardship and occasional disputes with one another as they grow in perseverance, forgiveness, and patience. Elizabeth Enright also wrote Gone-Away Lake and Return to Gone-Away, in which three brave cousins discover an abandoned lakeside resort and courageously make new friends.

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Of course, not all of our favorite book series are old. One newer but lesser known fiction series my girls cherish is the Sarah, Plain and Tall series by Patricia MacLachlan. It includes five books about a mid-western farm family in the 19th century. Like the Ingalls, they carry on through the trials of farm life and adjust to family changes with love, forgiveness, patience and selflessness.

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The Kathleen McKenzie series by Tracy Leininger Craven, which includes four books about a spunky and competitive 11-year-old growing up during the Great Depression, is another favorite collection. Kathleen bravely works through difficulties and uses her talents for God’s glory.

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The newer collections that my oldest daughter reads over and over are those written by Lois Walfrid Johnson. Her faith-based historical fiction work includes the Freedom Seeker series, which is set in the 1850s along the Mississippi River and features the daughter of a steamboat captain. Set in Minnesota and Wisconsin in the early 1900s, her Adventures of the Northwoods series portrays the life of a 12-year-old who becomes part of a new family. And in her Viking Quest series, a young girl named Bree is captured by Viking raiders and taken from her home in Ireland. I had the great joy of meeting Lois at a conference this spring, and I told her that my 12-year-old had already gobbled up all of her books – most of them twice – and was eagerly awaiting her next series. Lois gently told me to tell her, “I’m sorry I can’t write books as fast as you can read them!” We look forward to her next series.

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Besides reading a lot of fiction, my girls also appreciate biographies. An excellent collection of faith-based biographies for pre-teen girls is Wendy Lawton’s Daughters of the Faith series. Each book features a girl who lives out her faith boldly and overcomes significant struggles. The titles are Almost Home: A Story Based on the Life of the Mayflower’s Mary Chilton, The Tinker’s Daughter: A Story Based on the Life of Mary Bunyan, The Hallelujah Lass: A Story Based on the Life of Salvation Army Pioneer Eliza Shirley, Ransom’s Mark: A Story Based on the Life of the Pioneer Olive Oatman, and Courage to Run: A Story Based on the Life of Harriet Tubman.

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Another collection of biographies that we just began reading is the Chosen Daughters series, which portrays the lives of women who accomplish extraordinary things by the grace of God. The first book we read is A Cup of Cold Water: The Compassion of Nurse Edith Cavell by Christine Farenhorst. It’s a compelling and very well written biography about Edith Cavell’s family, her childhood, her life of faith and her exemplary service as a nurse during World War I. We loved it and are eager to continue the Chosen Daughters series this fall. The other title by Christine Farenhorst is Wings Like a Dove: The Courage of Queen Jeanne D’Albret. Other titles in this series are Dr. Oma: The Healing Wisdom of Countess Juliana Von Stolberg by Ethel Herr; Against the Tide: The Valor of Margaret Wilson by Hope Irvin Marston; and Weight of a Flame: The Passion of Olympia Morata by Simonetta Carr.

More Random Favorites

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Ticonderoga Black Pencils As a writer and homeschool mama, I have become totally snobbish about pencils. I absolutely detest pencils that fall apart as I sharpen them or  — worse yet — have erasers that don’t actually erase! These black #2 pencils are durable, write smoothly, and have excellent erasers. Ticonderoga Pencils are now the only writing pencils allowed in our house, except the occasional mechanical pencil.

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Prismacolor Premier Colored Pencils My children’s favorite art teacher once encouraged us to buy these colored pencils, and I am forever thankful. Their colors are splendid and so vibrant! These will totally ruin you on ever using inexpensive colored pencils again.

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Kleen Slate Dry Erase Paddles and Markers I bought these mini dry erase boards and markers last summer and they are a big hit with my 3rd grader and 6th grader. They are the perfect size for students to handle and they have a nifty spot that holds the marker, which includes an eraser on the end of the lid. Genius! We bought ones that have a graph side and a blank side. The graph side is especially useful during math lessons.

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Norwex Enviro Cloth This microfiber cleaning cloth allows me to clean using no chemicals — just water. Silver fibers make the cloth antibacterial. It works great on most surfaces — including mirrors.

Norwex Window Polishing Cloth I use this cloth to polish mirrors and windows after I clean them with the Enviro Cloth. My husband steals it to use on the inside of the car windows. It works well and does not leave behind annoying streaks or lint.

Norwex Microfiber Dusting Mitt To be honest, my daughter uses this more than I do. It is a super-absorbent mitt that works wonderfully.

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DaySpring sticky notes Am I the only one who loses entire pads of sticky notes amongst the clutter on desks or countertops? These are such pretty sticky notes, and because they are held together in a nifty 6 by 8-inch folio, they are much easier to find.

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Bluecorn Naturals 100% Pure Beeswax Tapers These tapers were recently a gift we received from a dear friend, and our family enjoys having them lit during dinner time. They burn for one hour per inch of length, plus they are paraffin-free and lead-free and handmade in Colorado. I want to try their tea lights next.

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Mpix Quality Prints As the granddaughter and niece of professional photographers, I inherited rather lofty expectations in terms of photo finishing. Both my grandpa and my uncle used Miller’s Professional Imaging, which was founded in 1968 and is this country’s largest professional photography lab. Mpix is a division of Millers, and it does an outstanding job with print quality, not to mention the speedy turnaround time. Mpix prints all my 4 x 6 photos, enlargements and canvas prints. It does take some time to upload images and wait for the box to arrive, but the exceptional quality of the end result makes all that worthwhile.

These are a few of my favorite things! What are some of yours?