Saturday, 30 November 2013

Seasons in learning

(Ideas from Oliver and Rachel DeMille's book Leadership Education)

We have four seasons in our natural world.  In the past, almost everyone was tied to the agrarian cycle of the seasons.  Spring meant planting, summer meant tending, fall meant harvesting, winter meant resting.  While my family is not involved in planting and harvesting, there is something to be said to adhering to the long-standing tradition of seasonal shifts.


"Winters are for stories."  Temperatures plummet, making long hours outside uncomfortable.  Daylight hours are shortened, lessening the working hours of our natural circadian rhythm.  Instead of feeling cooped up and tripping over family members, embrace the idea of togetherness.  "Winter is the time to tell the old stories, sing the old songs, and for the younger generation to learn the wisdom of the elder....Winters are for stories.  Not just any stories - but mainly the stories of family, ancestor, founder and pioneer past.  In short, winters are when we pass on that which is classic.  Winter is a time of family closeness."


Spring is for renewal.  After a season spent trapped indoors, it is time to embark on adventures.  Spring naturally lends itself to the study of science, nature, experiments, and the world around.  Goals, plans, and dreams that formed over long winter nights have the chance to take wings.  Try something new, take a risk, stretch yourself physically, mentally and spiritually.  Shake off any winter blahs and boredom and renew yourself.


Summers are for family, especially work projects, evening work, and family activities.  In our modern return to nomadism, there is a real need for summer connections with extended family."  We no longer live in multi-generational homes, with grandparents and cousins part of the fabric of every day life.  Summers is a time when we can reclaim that closeness.  Travelling, vacations, sleepovers, extended stays, cottage weeks - any opportunity to knit the extended family closer.

Summers are good for work - real work, done together in families.  Hard work, sweat work.  Work that means something, that contributes in a real way to the family or community.  Equally, summers are for languishing with good books, when temperatures soar and the air grows thick with heat.


"Fall is for Beginnings."  I've never bought into the idea that the new year begins in January.  The dark days of winter don't lend much excitement to starting new things.  Instead, the advent of the crisp air of fall cleanses the body and soul and invigorates the mind.  Out with the old, in with the new.  Find the structure and schedule that has been missed over the summer.  Make inventories, purge the house, organize. "Set goals, raise the bar to a new level of study, make plans for the months ahead."

Friday, 29 November 2013

The Bean Counter Game

As parents, we have been falling down over and over in the area of disciplining our little imp, Benjamin.  Defiant to the core, nothing seems to be working.  We take away privileges, we withhold rewards, we send him to cool down on his own, we remove him from the situation, we clearly explain expectations, we allow natural consequences...but there seems to be a real disconnect most of the time.

Benjamin doesn't seem to be connecting behaviour with consequences.  Once a consequence happens, he becomes so focused on it that he forgets what behaviour led to the consequence.  Then all we have is a 4 year old melting down because he doesn't get something and he can't for the life of him remember why. 

And so, two years after the "terrible twos" kicked in, we are still facing many battles every single day, with the result of many tears, much anger, yelling, battles, and contention.  Two proverbs come to mind:

The definition of insanity is doing the same the over and over again and expecting different results.

If the student cannot seem to grasp the concept, then the problem is not with the student, but with the teacher.

Something has to change.  I don't want to battle my child every day.  I don't want him to constantly live in a state of distress and unhappiness.  I don't want him to be in danger because of disobedience (like running into the street, which he thinks is quite funny.)

I came across the Bean Counter Game in Oliver and Rachel DeMille's book Leadership Education.  (Much, much more on the ideas in this book to come.)  Looking for something new, I think we are going to try it.

The Bean-Counter is simply a jar of [dry beans,] a nice vase, and another jar to put them into.  Whenever someone does anything correct, noteworthy or admirable, beans go from the jar to the vase.  When the vase is full, an agreed-upon reward is meted out.

When anyone succeeds, all benefit.  No one is resentful or jealous one [someone gets a bean] because everyone gets closer to the Bean-Counter goal.  It is fun to be totally subjective in the awarding of beans so the game is never taken too seriously.  Beans can be awarded for having shoes on the right feet or for clean ears.  Beans can be awarded for being not-as-grumpy-as-one-might-have-been after too little sleep, or for exactness in obedience.

So, as all parents often do, we are shifting around, trying to find something that will work.  And please, please, please - if you have dealt with something similar, do share your tried and true techniques!

Thursday, 28 November 2013


Our darling little girl is nearly 18 months and I still can't believe it.

She's starting to gather more and more words.  She has always "talked" a mile a minute, gibberish words but in complete sentence structure, with inflection and everything.  Now she says "mommy," "daddy," "nurse" (breastfeeding), "doggy" (all animals), "dance" (for music), "yes," "no," "Ben," "shoes," "go," "gagget" (blanket.)  She understands everything we say now.

She loves to read.  I have a little green bucket of board books that sits on the step down to the play room.  She has two little plush chairs there, and she loves to wander over and read through her books on her own.  She doesn't have as much patience if you try and read a book to her.  Her favourite books right now are a little set of board books my sister gave her, with the lyrics from Christmas carols.  "Fa-la-la!" she exclaims, which used to mean "Deck the Halls," but that book went missing, so now it just means any book that is a song.

She loves to dance.  "Dumb Ways to Die" (thank you, Australian metro, for that gem) is a favourite, as well as the remix of "Once There Was a Snowman."  But her absolute top choice is a new CD I have that has scripture verses set to music.  The first one has a beautiful piano part that she loves, and every time a child or children's chorus sings she stops and stares, mesmerized.

She is finally starting to sleep longer chunks.  She does a solid 2 1/2 hour nap every afternoon.  She usually does one 4-5 hour sleep at night, which is a vast improvement.  We only lose that on the occasional times (less than once a week) that my willpower is too weak to avoid a little chocolate (one Hallowe'en chocolate) and then I pay for it because she's up all night having got the allergen through the breast milk.

She has discovered what I term "girl pitch," which is a shrill shriek that none of my boys ever used, but I've heard many times from my friends with girls.  And now we have it in our home.  She used it when she wants something, so I've been firmly teaching her to say "please" ("eez" - with an adorable grin) instead.  It seems to be working.

One of my favourite things she does right now is when she waves "bye."  She's usually such a large personality, jumping right in with the boys, yelling and shrieking.  But when she says bye, she waves her hand back and forth and says in a small, sweet voice, almost a whisper, "bye-ee."

We are having so much fun, just the two of us at home.  We read and dance and colour and sing and it's absolutely lovely.

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

If I was homeschooling this week

(I feel like writing down these moments, because one day I really do want to homeschool.  I can remember these times and know that I can do this.)

If I was homeschooling this week:

Colin would be splitting his time between three things: math/logic problems (a boy after my own heart!), Lego building (he's currently designing and building a bi-plane with movable parts) and art exploration (he's nearly through an intro to different art mediums at the local art store.)  We would also be going through his Cub book and working on at least one badge a day.

Caleb would be writing away.  He's filled page after page of stories so far, and would love the endless hours to write and illustrate tales of aliens and pirates and adventure and exploration.  He would be sitting at the piano going through song after song.  He would also tag along on our cub badges, even though he's two years too young for the official program.

They would both be getting some geography with our "find the country" game on our wall world map, and some daily application of our current scripture verses.

(Reality check: Benjamin would be tearing apart any progress we made.  Juliette would be preventing me from spending even two or three uninterrupted minutes with the boys.  And I'm dreaming again of a country property, a space with a least one quiet corner for readers to curl up and retreat from the craziness.  And wide space to hike and explore and build.)


So it turns out that Caleb is our little musician.  I started piano lessons with Colin and Caleb in September.  Lessons have been sporadic, due to James' long work hours and Juliette's desire to scream at us every time we try and sit down.  But Caleb has a real natural ability and affinity for my beloved instrument.   We are flying through his music book.  He can play most of the songs after a couple times through.  He has all the songs he's played so far memorized.  He doesn't spend hours and hours in front of the keys, but he does wander over at least twice a day, just to sit, play, and then bounce off again.

This week he was asked to participate in my friend's Christmas piano recital.  She has a few small recitals over the year and always invites students being taught by parents, who wouldn't have the opportunity to play in a teacher recital.  I arranged a simple version of Jingle Bells, that I now realize is probably too simple, since he can play the whole thing already and he only learned it last night before bed.  Four times through and he's got it.

I have a dream that down the road we'll all be able to pick up our instruments and play together as a family.  Maybe a little too picturesque and idealist as it appears in my mind (think "Little Women") but I still hold to the dream.

Sunday, 24 November 2013

Cleaning your room

If I asked my son to go clean his room, what is it that I expect?  Do I expect he will go upstairs and sit in the room and contemplate ways he could clean it?  Do I want him to go with his brother and discuss the merits of cleaning?  Do I want him to journal and illustrate a picture of him cleaning his room?  No, I just want him to go and clean.

I have had this analogy floating in my head for a few weeks now.  Every day I wake up and teach my children.  Every Sunday I have a group of 60+ children to teach.  Every day I try to learn a little more myself.  And yet, too often, we get caught up in the teaching part and stop one step short of what really counts: the application.

I read about the gospel.  I discuss the ideas in the scriptures.  I dissect others' dissertations on the subject.  I engage in philosophical conversations.  I write and ponder and write some more.

I teach about the gospel.  I read scripture passages and help children memorize verses.  I strip away the difficult language and share simple concepts.  I encourage understanding and help them remember what they are learning with visual aids and interactive games.

But this...all a dead gospel.  It is the study of ideas written thousands of years ago.  It is reading a book and knowing its stories and becoming a scholar.

It is not the gospel in action.

There is life in what I believe, if I remember that that is the most important part of it all.  My personality is such that I would happily lock myself away in a dusty library to learn Hebrew and Greek and read scripture passages until I knew them by heart and be able to give lectures on the historical figures.  My mind comes alive in this kind of debating, but it makes my heart die.

Each morning I want to wake up and metaphorically "clean my room."  I think it might be a new mantra for me, something to whisper to my soul throughout the day.  "I don't have time to read scripture because 2 minutes isn't enough to really get into it."  Just clean your room.   "I can't stop what I'm doing because this must get done right now."  Just clean your room.  "Walk briskly so you don't have to deal with the anxiety of talking with people you don't know well."  Just clean your room.  "I could implement this idea, and that, and more of this, with my family and my children."  Just clean your room.

I am more blessed than I can really understand.  I have so much, while others have so little.  I know joy and peace woven throughout the daily moments of my life, while others have heartache, pain, anger, loss.  I literally have no wants.  None at all.  The things that I set myself to worry about aren't worth the effort it takes to worry about them.  Instead, with a little perspective, I can slow down and stop being this little ant running around, moving small bits of dirt back and forth.  I can just clean my room.

Sunday, 17 November 2013


Colin had a math problem for homework the other day:

Emma has 7 flowers.  She picks 16 red ones, 4 green ones and 34 blue ones.  How many flowers does she have now?

He had to answer four questions to help him arrive at the answer:

1.  What do you know?
2.  What are you looking for?
3.  What is the equation?
4.  What is the answer?

I hovered over, watching him work on the equation.  He was thinking, writing, erasing, thinking and writing more.  I looked more closely, knowing that this kind of math is quite easy for him.  For the equation, he had written:

18 x 2 + 40 - 25 + 10 = 61.

I inquired what sort of equation he was writing.  His answer: Well, when I looked at those four numbers I knew right away they made 61.  So now I'm trying to write an equation that equals 61.  It pained me to have to inform him that actually they just wanted a simple addition of the four numbers in the problem.  He looked at me, confused.  "But I can add that in my head in two seconds.  Why would I wrote all that out?"  I know, I know, I reassured him.  It also made me cringe a little inside because unfortunately his teacher would not recognize what he was doing, or that he was doing it because the work is too easy and he's trying his best to make it more interesting.  She likely would just mark it wrong.

Friday, 15 November 2013


I was going to post today about my personality, and why I have certain tendencies.  Then I was going to post about how I have a yearning lately to bake cakes instead of the usual muffin and cookie fare.  Then I was going to post about report cards and parent teacher night and where the kids stand right now.  Maybe in the next few days I'll still post about all this.

But today, it all feels frivolous.  I can't put my finger on why, but I feel like sometimes I'm just rambling here, pouring out words without filter or forethought.

I want to write less.

I love writing.  I don't want to stop.  I don't want to post less, or cover fewer topics, or skim over in-depth subjects.  I do want to choose my words more carefully.  I want to be clearer and more concise.  I want to write when I actually have something I want to record.

I don't write for the masses.  I don't have a huge audience.  I'm not expecting to alter the mindset or outlook of those few who do take a gander through my brain.  I write so that one day my children, or daughters in-law, or grandchildren or great grand children might peruse through these pages and find an honest look into someone who went before, someone who struggled and triumphed and lived.  I want one of them who is a young mother to find comfort that someone else dealt with a screaming baby or a naughty toddler.  I want to inspire them to pursue new ideas and take roads less traveled.  I want to encourage them in friendship, partnership, marriage, and parenthood.

But to do this, I feel like pages upon pages on one subject or another would be a hinderance rather than a help.  The more you talk, the more likely you are to convince someone of your position rather than inspire them to consider the matter on their own terms.  My favourite writings are not ones that are long essays on their subject, but rather short glimpses through a window at a world only knowable if I choose to enter in.  I don't want to take my readers on long tours of great big buildings, but instead walk hand in hand down a street, peering into the windows, and stepping in when something peaks our interest.

And so, I will try to practice the art of less.

Tuesday, 12 November 2013


Tuesday mornings I have been gathering with a small group of women/mothers to study and discuss motherhood.  This morning, more than any other, I realized how precious this group is.  We are challenging each other, not just batting ideas around.  We are trying to move to higher ground, to improve ourselves and our relationships with those in our families.

The book we have just begun is called "Raising up a family to the Lord."  This week, in chapter one, a list popped out at me.  It listed a number of ways of "helping fathers stay on target."  (Which made us laugh, because while the book is not specifically written to women, we have often noted that we as mothers devour books and then our husbands "read" them through us!)  I started the discussion on this list, because I struggled with some of the ideas in it.

One item firmly stated that the father is the "presiding authority in the home."  "The mother is the helpmate, or counselor."  Now, while I have acknowledged this concept in the past, I asked myself if I really believed it.  I found myself leaning toward the next point: "The role of the father is inseparable from the role of the mother."  Yes, that sounds more like the equal partnership in which I believe.  So how to reconcile the two ideas?  In what way should a father lead is household?  Is the idea archaic?  Is there any benefit or merit to it?  CAn you have an equal partnership if one person is the head?

The questions tumbled out of my mouth, without any answers to follow.  I let them hang in the air, gazing questioningly at my friends.  What did they think?  Interestingly enough, the women in this group are all very much like me - strong, leaders, and without a doubt the powerhouse in their homes.  I have some friends who are softer, but none to be found in this group today.  What did they think?  We are all mothers who are staying at home with our kids, and so of course our primary work every day is to run the house.  How can we not have the most insight into decisions regarding our children, family and homes when we are the ones here every single day?

We discussed it a bit, and then this thought formed in my mind: there are two things at play here - the family, and the home.  Yes, as a stay-at-home mother, I am the head of my home.  But my husband can be head of the family.  We have come to fuse these two concepts, that home and family are one.  But they do not have to be.  I can run an efficient household, without subverting the authority of my husband as father.

I know this has been some strong language here: power, authority, head, leader.  Certainly in some circles it might be viewed as anti-feminist and archaic.  And while I strongly believe in the women's movement that allows us to stand out strongly as never before, I wonder if in craving that independence we have thrown the baby out with the bathwater.  So let me take a turn for a moment.  In Shaunti Feldman's book For Women Only, she talks about interviews she did with hundreds of men.  A very high percentage of these men affirmed that it was more important to them to feel respected than to feel loved.  It is inherent to the make up of a man's nature that he longs to be respected by those around him.  So imagine if a man was to walk into his home after long days away at work and feel like just another child, being told what to do and when, and how.

I catch myself more often than I'd like to admit falling into this trap.  I nag about tidying, I instruct on child-rearing, I determine scheduling.  The times when I make gestures of conversing are nothing more than paying lip service to the idea of equal opinions.  What I really want is to convince him that my ways are the best ways.

Then we come to moments where we really want another opinion, and we get frustrated that our husbands are not really listening or contributing.  Are we surprised?  If we spend 90% of our time trying to tell them how things go, they probably aren't sure if we really want their opinion or not.

While men and women can (and should) have an equal partnership as parents, there is something to be said for the traditional role of mother as nurturer and father as leader.  Generally, women have a more tender heart, more patience, more ability to soothe.  Men are protectors and providers.  The way I view a man as "head of the family" is not that he is ruling over his wife.  I see it as a way to teach and guide his children and set them on a course of good character building.  A mother's influence is gentle because she is there more often.  A father's influence is stronger because he has less time in which to do it.

As we wrapped up the conversation, I posed another question that we left open-ended for each of us to consider on our own.  In what ways are we subverting our husband's authority as father?  In what ways might we be holding back some of the respect he desires?  What can we do to shore up his confidence as the leader of our family?  How can I successfully run my home without making my husband feel like another person I have charge over?

Monday, 11 November 2013


This Sunday, I was called to be the Primary President, the person in charge of leading the children's ministry program at our church.  For the past year, I've been helping a good friend (as her counsellor,) but now they have asked me to step up and fill that role.

It's an interesting process.  I've never led an organization in our church like this.  It's a very fast transition process.  I was asked earlier in the week, and within 6 days I was stepping in, with two new women I chose to serve with me.

I can assuredly say there was an emotional and spiritual shift within me.  I have loved and worked with these children over the past year, but as I accepted this role, I felt a burden rest on my shoulders.  Suddenly I wasn't just creating lessons and offering ideas, I am now responsible for their spiritual learning in a church setting.  It's hard to articulate, and I'm not sure I would have understood anyone trying to put this feeling into words before having experienced it myself.

I have been flooded with inspiration over the week.  With no formal training (like Seminary or Bible College), those who volunteer in a lay ministry like those in our church must rely heavily on the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.  If I plow ahead trying to make decisions on my own, while some things may work, some things will fail.  Human beings learn through experience and failure; it is the path to true success.  Only in this area, I don't want to fail at the expense of the children under my charge.  But if I patiently wait and ask God, then I can make the right decision every time.

I must keep reminding myself of my life scripture at this time:

"Trust in the Lord with all thine heart, and lean not onto thine own understanding.
In all thy ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct thy paths."
     (Proverbs 3:56)

This has been a reminder again that what I'm doing isn't about programs.  It's about people.  It's about helping these children and their families come to know and love God the Father and Jesus Christ.  Our family scripture time this morning led us to John 17:3: "And this is life eternal: that they might know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent." In the end, everything that we do should be lifting up this one purpose.

It's an exciting time, and I have wonderful women who have love, joy, and experience to help me along the way.  I pray for wisdom, guidance, patience, and most of all holy inspiration as I move forward on this journey.

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

A little geography over breakfast

I love, love, love our kitchen map.

It's a lovely antique-looking map, almost 4 feet by 3 feet, that is laminated and mounted behind our kitchen table.  We use it in conversation all the time.  Plus, because it is laminated, I often use sticky-tack to hang other things I want to display, like our Articles of Faith memorization chart, and our Thanksgiving turkey with scriptures about being thankful for his tail.

I came up with a new game this week, and the kids are eating it up.  Each morning I post 3 the names of three countries for them to find.  I don't give them any hints.  When they find those 3, I post 3 more.  Not only are they finding those countries, but they are asking questions about others along the way.  Is this in Africa? Is it bigger or smaller than Egypt?  What is that country that starts with a "U?" (Uzbekistan.)  As they scan the map, they remember the countries they found in the days before, and really start to understand the world in which they live.  My favourite comment to date is "Iran" must be somewhere near India and Afghanistan, because it has the same kinds of sounds in its name.

Sunday, 3 November 2013


At 16 months, Juliette is nursing twice an hour through the day, and every two hours at night.  75% or more of her nutrition is still coming from breast milk.  And now we have realized that her allergens found in my breast milk (after I eat those foods to which she is allergic) are really affecting her.  Over the last month I have been eating her diet (only fruits, vegetables and meat, with the occasional almond flour patty.)  Unfortunately, I have been starving and irritable and miserable.  It's hard to grab a quick meal that is filling, so I have sometimes gone without.  More often than not, I've accidentally consumed something that contained something bad and she's been affected.

So finally yesterday morning I came to the conclusion that it was time to wean her.  This was after a very obvious confirmation that she is being affected by breast milk (I caved the day after Hallowe'en and went down in spectacular fashion as I gobbled up about 10 little chocolates and chased it with a small bite of pizza.)  Juliette woke up with puffy, dark eyes (known as allergy bruisers) and was awake for 3 hours during the night with a gut attack.

I prepped James (who would have to take the night shifts) and myself (I have to keep her occupied out of the house during the day to distract her) and was ready to begin last night.  Then, as I drove home from a band concert last night, I started bawling in the car.  Thinking about weaning, about not nursing, about not sharing that with Juliette, was too much.

Instead I've decided to hang in a little longer.  The naturopath we are seeing says there is a good chance that Juliette will be able to tolerate small amounts of these allergens within the year, so I'm hoping that she'll be able to take it in breast milk sooner than that.  So maybe, just maybe, I can hang in there for another month or two and then see how it goes.


(My friend Erin was watching Benjamin.)

Erin: Would you like some water or milk to drink?
Ben: I'd like ice cream.
Erin: Well, we have water or milk.
Ben: Ummm....okay, I'll have milk.

(Erin pours a glass of milk. Benjamin studies it carefully.)

Erin: What's wrong?
Ben: This isn't how I usually drink milk.
Erin: How do you drink it?
Ben: On cereal.

Friday, 1 November 2013

The one standing in front of me

These days of my life are about the one standing in front of me.

My head whirls.  My ears hurt.  My days are filled with little people yelling at me and crying and whining and demanding things of me.  No one wait their turn or heeds the fact that I'm already engaged in something.  The laundry piles and the fridge empties and the clock ticks towards dinner with nothing planned.  The commitments and appointments are scrawled across the calendar.  My stomach is empty and my head is full and my patience is short.  I am in a lull, without a spark, void of inspiration.

These dips happen.  The landscape of motherhood isn't a rolling meadow but rather a rugged journey over mountains and valleys.  The highs are soaring, the lows are deep, and everything in between is a climb and descent that takes its toll mentally and physically.

If I let myself get overwhelmed trying to multitask it all, I won't make it.  Burnout might not be a spectacular crash, it might just be a loss of interest and joy in this work.  I don't want my days to roll forward missing that joy that I want to have.

And so I have a new outlook.  I will serve the one standing in front of me.

When I was in university I had a friend who looked at you when you spoke.  I mean, he really looked at you.  He didn't break eye contact, he didn't look away, he wasn't distracted by someone else walking by or a honking car or a cell phone or his fingernails.  At first, it was a little disconcerting, because we are not used to being looked at so intently.  But while our conversation endured, he gave me his 100% undivided attention.  I have long thought about that habit of his.  It made me feel as though he really wanted to hear what I had to say, that I was important enough to give his attention to.  That feeling has stayed with me a decade later.  It was a small, brief contact that left a lasting impression.

I am going to experiment with being less distracted when one of my children, or my husband, are standing in front of me.

I see it in the bible also: Jesus was busy.  He had places to go, plans he had made, journeys to make.  And yet, on the way, he was constantly being interrupted.  Pleas for healing, helping, teaching.  Requests for detours: come to my house, go see my child, don't leave us.  And yet we have all these little bible stories, some are only mere verses or lines, that constituted Jesus stopping and serving the one standing in front of him.  It may have taken him 6 hours to journey a 2 hour trip, just as it takes me 6 hours to do 2 hours worth of laundry.  He may have gone hungry as meal times came and went and still the people pressed.  His plans and visits were waylaid time and time again.  But for those two or three verses, he let the world melt away as he served the one standing in front of him.  For Jesus, it was moments, maybe a couple of hours.  But for the one mentioned in that verse, it was a lifetime changed.

Imagine!  How radically would your life be changed if you were suddenly healed of a disease that kept you from entering the cities and towns?  How different if the lifeless child in your arms suddenly sat up?  If your lame legs could take you places?  If you saw the sun for the first time?  These are pivotal moments in these characters lives, moments that likely changed the way they lived their lives forever.  All in a few verses.  All because Jesus served the one standing in front of him.

My friend left that kind of impression on me, albeit much less dramatic.  And yet, it opened to me a better understanding of how to love.

I want my heart to open even more to that kind of love.  I want to lavish it on those around me, especially those little ones and loved one in my own home that deserve the very best of my attention.