Category Archives: Books
The last third of the year can become unenjoyably busy for our family very easily, with ten family birthdays and our anniversary sprinkled in among the bustle of Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas. So in 2016 Greg and I resolved to designate one day from each weekend in October, November and December as an “at home only” day: no outings, no plans, no chores and no to-do list. We called it a family Sabbath, although we first instituted this for practical reasons and our own comfort rather than as an effort to obey the religious guidelines of Sabbath keeping.
When we first decided to implement this in October, I breathed a sigh of relief, knowing that we would benefit so much from the rest this boundary around our schedule would afford us. There was one problem though. The only date that worked well for Rowan and June’s joint birthday party fell on the same weekend that the huge Lego tour would be in town. The Lego event that Rowan has been asking to return to since he saw it the last time it came to town two years ago. The one I had been excited to take the kids to for months.
We looked at three different scenarios: attending an abbreviated weeknight Lego session, packing the Lego fest in on the same day as our at-home birthday party, or breaking our Sabbath guidelines and attending the beloved Lego event on the second day of that weekend. We decided to break our new rule and go to the event on the second day of the weekend. After all, we made the rule so that we could enjoy the holiday season more fully, and we knew we would all enjoy the Lego fun. This never sat right with me though. In seasons past when our busy-ness sapped our strength and joy, our schedule was (over) filled with fun, enjoyable things- no drudgery; yet the pace still wore on us. So I sensed that breaking our Sabbath boundary to avoid missing out on something fun and enjoyable was not going to work at all. I knew that every single weekend during this festival-and-party season, the prospect of something fun, memorable, important or educational would beckon to us, asking to be dropped into that emptied Sabbath calendar square. Still, I persisted. I told myself, “We’ll go to the Lego fest this one time, then that’s it- we’ll protect a Sabbath day each week through the end of the year.”
Two days before the big weekend, I went online to secure tickets. I had delayed, at first, because we were throwing around our scheduling options, and next due to reluctance mixed with a delusional belief that the less popular time slots wouldn’t sell out. In reality, all of the time slots for this hugely popular, once-every-two-years event sold out long before I got around to checking on tickets. So we didn’t go. After the excitement of their birthday party, the kids never even asked about the Lego event that weekend. They still haven’t- it just hasn’t come to mind. While I’m sure the event would have been a blast, I was surprised that there really was no sting in missing it. And we had a very restorative day at home instead.
That first experience illustrated to us the immense value of rest, and it revealed that the one obstacle that most often robs us of rest- the fear of missing out- is actually not a very formidable foe; it turns out that the thing we feared- the phantom prospect of missing out on something- never materialized at all. True, we did not attend the Lego event. But during our peaceful unplanned day spent at home, we did not miss it either.
This is how we started to implement the principles of Sabbath as a family. We continued this practice of keeping one weekend day clear for the rest of the year. We have enjoyed it so much that we are going to continue it indefinitely.
A quick look back:
Unbeknownst to me, this Sabbath idea was percolating at the beginning of 2016. Last year began with a post about The Big Rocks: Self-Care for Care Givers, which describes prioritizing items in your schedule which are of the most value to you, then fitting in less important or unimportant tasks around those big rocks. It seems as though the rest of last year was a slow, progressive implementation of that post as our family pared down our schedules and our possessions. That was providential because 2016 was indescribably stressful for me, with so many people, opinions and mistakes thrown into our well-established routine via the Medicaid hoops, nursing SNAFUs, invasion of our introvert sanctuary, the start and shuffling of twice-a-week therapies, the transition from ECI to the school system and ongoing nursing and Medicaid difficulties. This “Big Rocks” process of purposefully stewarding our time and energy protected my sanity last year. At the same time, I was completing an intensive spiritual discipleship program through our church which introduced me to the works of CS Lewis and other gifted Christian and Jewish theologians. As I studied, the themes of prioritizing my time and resources and seeking rest stood out to me, given my stress. Naturally this led to the study of the Sabbath, with is prominent in the Jewish theology I ventured into, and which is the subject of the Bible study I ultimately finished the year on (Priscilla Shirer’s Breathe).
A look ahead:
As I mentioned in the last post, however, this attention to rest and Sabbath results in less blogging. Or no blogging. So, while I have many topics and resources I would love to share, posts in 2017 may be sporatic. If you ever wish to check-in with us or ask a question, feel free to use the Contact button on the blog. We don’t expect any big medical changes for June this year, since she recently got her g-button out (WOOHOO), and her doctors want her trachea to grow for another year before re-evaluating options for another attempt at removing the trach. However, Greg is hoping to transition into a new professional field this year, so we are waiting to see what new adventure his school and career opportunities will bring to us as a family, in terms of our routine and location.
We are quite excited about the year ahead.
At the very beginning of this year, I shared why I am so excited to “homeschool” this fall. I use the quotes because most of the time, “homeschool” with my almost-4-year-old son and almost-2-year-old daughter is woven into everyday playing and errand running rather than appearing more “school-like,” such as doing worksheets at a table. But sometimes we do worksheets and crafts at the table, too. And sometimes our sole goal is to make it through the day. But ideally, these are the skills and activities we are aiming for in a given week.
Our “curriculum” is a hodgepodge of different things. I started my planning with the Letter of the Week Curriculum from Confessions of a Homeschooler, which I’ll refer to as LOTW. It’s a great curriculum at an awesome price. It features one letter a week with accompanying blending ladders, a Bible verse, and optional Spanish language vocabulary, plus one shape and one color per month. However, the LOTW falls squarely in the middle of my kids’ current academic levels, as my son knows the content already but my daughter is not quite ready to tackle letters. But the crafts and activities are so cute, I decided to plug in and/or modify any LOTW activities I could into the content areas that are important to us. This is the list of categories we are working on this fall and what we are using for these subjects:
June does parts of the LOTW curriculum including an introduction to the letter in written, spoken, and ASL form and some large letter or coloring pages which don’t require advanced fine motor control. I don’t think she’s quite ready to learn the alphabet, but I think she’ll enjoy being introduced to the ASL alphabet concurrently since many of the ASL signs she knows already utilize the letter handshapes.
Rowan occasionally uses some of the letter crafts from LOTW which require more fine motor control, like lacing. Additionally, he has sight words on the felt board and letter discs to match to interesting words (both very cool activities from Confessions of a Homeschooler). At this point, we just want Rowan to have access to things he’s interested in, rather than dragging him down any specific path or timeline. And with access to our local BBBS resale sites and a big homeschool resale store, we can try out different things without investing a ton in each rescoure. Rowan is quite interested in letters and reading, but he *really* wants to do everything himself. He has maintained interest in the sight word felt board and letter discs, with game-like pieces that can be used independently. But engagement with the more directed, school-like activities have fizzled out very fast with him, including Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons (Bad fit for now! Maybe when he’s older), Bob books (I think he’ll like them once he can read them himself without prompting and supervision from us) and Explode the Code (The uncertainty of what word the drawing is representing greatly frustrated *me,* so we set that one aside for now). He can also complete lessons on ABC Mouse, but even in the guided lessons mode, the difficulty of the work seems to vary widely, and his engagement with it is hit and miss.
I separated actual reading from the “language arts” category above, which contains skills needed to read like letter recognition, letter sounds, phonics and blending. For “actual reading,” I strive to read to the kids each day, signing along with the book in June’s case and having Rowan read frequently occurring words or sound some out from the story. Thankfully, both kids love snuggling up with a book- with or without someone reading it to them!
Both kids can participate in these activities, which involve moving, balancing, and generally jumping around. The LOTW curriculum has a few activities and we also find fun ones on Toddler Approved like Alphabet Pillow Jumping and via Pinterest like Toddler Color Hop from Learn~Play~Imagine. But mostly the kids take care of this category all by themselves. They are forever climbing on furniture and building obstacle courses with the couch cushions.
*A few notes on this:
1. This is how the kids get their exercise when we’re cooped up for RSV season. Or when it’s too hot to go outside. Ok, anytime they’re bouncing off the walls but we can’t go out, really.
2. Yes, this is the usual state of my house currently. Unless it’s Monday. That’s pick-up-and-vacuum day.
3. That formless mass of energy is in fact Rowan. I think it captured him quite nicely.
4. June’s looking on like, “I got next.”
This is an area we emphasize with June because her history of prematurity, frequent hospital stays and her mild hypotonia all impede her natural process of learning these skills, somewhat. Even with all of these factors, she does very well in this area. So mainly we try to offer a variety of activities to keep her practicing. LOTW includes tracing, cutting, and prewriting practice sheets which I sometimes provide to June, but they are a little advanced for her. Mostly, we provide dry erase surfaces or regular coloring activities for her to practice holding markers and crayons, and we get the felt board out with felt shapes of different sizes for June to play with. Much of the fine motor practice occurs naturally with household objects like picking up small toys, coins, and stickers, using latches and buttons on educational toys, and building with blocks. Signing is also a huge fine motor work out. We always model the correct execution of signs, and occasionally we focus on correcting June’s handshape or placement when we feel that she might be ready to perform a certain sign more correctly. I anticipate that her interest in the ASL alphabet will propel both her signing accuracy and fine motor skills forward this fall.
For Rowan we replaced the LOTW letter writing activities with a dry erase handwriting pack (Lets Get Ready for School Activity Pack: Letters) and making our own word tracing worksheets which Rowan chooses the content for (translation: he’s tracing dinosaur names). Rowan also gets much more than his daily quota of fine motor practice in by playing with Legos.
Both of the kids are naturally interested in these activities, so we make various options available around the house including puzzles (toddler for June and preschool for Rowan), blocks and Legos. We try to point out or make patterns in every day play. Occasionally I also try to get the kids interested in the mazes and object hunt activities in their kid magazines- without much success; here again, self-directed activities are WAY more fruitful than mom-directed ones.
Because she cannot vocalize with the trach currently, American Sign Language is June’s only mode for expressive communication. We play at least one Signing Time episode in the background during playtime every day. Usually several. The kids love it , and they know more than half of the signs in the series already. As part of our morning routine when we update the board with the day of the week, we sign the days of the week, numbers up to the current day, and review the signs for colors with the Rainbow Song from Signing Time. Greg and I are really striving to sign concurrently when we talk throughout the day, but that is challenging because true ASL is not a word-for-word translation of spoken English; even the basic sentence structure differs between the two. But we always sign when communicating in basic sentences with June and when reading to her.
Art and Music
Art activities occur naturally around our house as well, and as part of the other learning categories. Rowan likes to excavate dinosaur toys from playdough. June likes to write with anything, on anything right now. My written objective is to do letter, shape, and color crafts along with our current LOTW curriculum, but those are good intentions that just don’t happen, especially since the kids are self-directed in this area anyway.
For music, we listen primarily to Dinosaur Train and Jurassic Park (Rowan’s picks), Signing Time songs (June’s picks) and pop music (my picks) on my iPhone, YouTube or the radio. Listening naturally develops into recognizing the rhythm, notes, and new vocabulary (English and ASL). I’m always on the lookout for NON-ANNOYING educational songs on YouTube that the kids like. Current favorites are StoryBots, Signing Time/Rachel and the Treeschoolers, and Coilbook.
We opted not to use the LOTW curriculum for counting activities because I felt we had ample opportunities to count during the day without printing many-paged activities out specifically for that purpose. For June, we often count up to 5, like counting the medicine syringes she’s receiving (#medicallycomplexlife) and for Rowan, we often count up to 20 by counting up to the date, estimating the number of crackers etc we pour, and talking through simple addition and subtraction word problems that come up during the day. We also have a Let’s Get Ready for School Activity Pack for numbers, but I don’t plan to use that until a later date when we venture into written math problems.
This is everyone’s favorite. I try to do one simple science experiment a week that we improvise, like vinegar and baking soda variations, freezing stuff, or our weight capacity of boxes experiment, or experiments that stumble upon online, like Magic Milk from Lemon and Lime Adventures, DIY Dino Excavation Kits from Live, Craft, Love, or the Solar System Scale Model with toilet paper from Adventures in Learning. Baking and cooking fall under this category, too, because any homeschool activity that results in chocolate for me is a winner.
We have to stay away from crowds and close contact with kids during the winter time due to June’s susceptibility to respiratory viruses, particularly RSV. We also remain sheltered when June has a critical procedure coming up. But whenever possible, we make up for lost time and jump on [economical] opportunities to learn “in the field” whether it’s nature observations at the park, community/holiday events, free museum days and discounted family memberships to a favorite spot (“the dinosaur museum” and the zoo). So much learning occurs naturally as we encounter the unexpected on these outings, like when we happened upon a giant iguana (with its baby sitter) sunbathing on the steps outside the Natural Science museum. The kids are so curious and observant at this age, even trips to the grocery store are educational, as they ask about people they see, our food choices and how money works.
Those are our goals this fall! We think of this list more like a flexible guide to our intentions rather than a to-do checklist. Life gets very busy at the Safari House, but thankfully, many of these objectives are accomplished through natural play. In fact, with a newborn on the way in early September, I’m certain that in upcoming weeks those “naturally occurring” objectives are the only ones which will get done. That’s totally okay. Forecasts predict a season of Legos and couch slides in the future.
Transforming For a Purpose is my favorite book of the readathon. I came across it when I wrote the recent post about women’s ministry which included my account of attending the Inspire Women conference in 2008. That conference was truly inspiring not only because of its content, but because it was evidence that there is hope for women’s ministry as a whole. After writing the post, I checked out the Inspire Women website and found this book, written by the founder of the organization. It is about using the lives and choices of Bible heroes (and heroines) as a model for how to handle the painful events in your life and the emotions associated with them. Often, it turns out that God can use the experience you gained during the painful events, and the way those events shaped your life, for a greater purpose.
The author herself has an incredible story that includes great hardship and pain. But it also includes divine fingerprints left behind as the author describes the faith, personal transformation, and providence involved in how Inspire Women came to be, despite pain all along the way. She describes how seeking and practicing a Biblical response to hardship has prevented those sources of pain from being barriers to the purpose God has for her.
I loved this book because this past year grief from the past caught up to me, and several new sources of grief were added. And finally, after a year of wrestling and praying variations of “why?”, I have heard the same hint of an answer several times, including through this serendipitous book- that God will use these experiences in some way and redeem them for good.
Another book that I have loved this year is No Other Gods, by Kelly Minter. It’s a realistic but gracious look at modern day idolatry. That is to say, it’s not an over-the-top legalistic view of idolatry which claims that watching tv or listening to “secular” music is a gateway for the devil. Instead the author focuses on her own humorous and even unflattering experiences with identifying and dealing with things- issues, habits, desires- that had become god-like in her life. She quotes John Calvin saying, “The evil in our desire typically does not lie in what we want, but that we want it too much.” So even good things, like for the author, a specific career path, can become elevated to ultimate importance. She even mentions that while ice cream and Friends reruns are certainly not bad, if the bowl and tv grow to be a necessary source of comfort or even numbing, how different is that from someone who looks to a bottle of vodka for the same thing? The tricky thing is, no one is going to judge you or stage an intervention over your tv ice cream time (or your stubborn passion for a certain career path). In fact, two people could be doing the exact same outward behavior but only one of them has made an “idol” out of it. Only you know whether your attitude about those things has placed it as an “ultimate” and therefore introduced a little or big wedge between you and God. On the other hand, she makes it clear that tackling “idols” with rules and legalism is simply another way to go off track, because the focus still isn’t on how you relate to God.
Several times in the book, themes appeared that I have been wrestling with over the last year (with which my blog readers are probably overly familiar). She talks about times that God purposefully leads her into the desert like in Hosea, but at the time it just feels like dry, homeless wandering. And that thankfully, eventually she sees the hints of a city line heralding an end to the desert time. (I hope I’m at that point now.) And there were at least three more strange coincidences that lined up with themes I was already exploring on my own. I loved reading the book, but a big part of that may be that it was so perfectly timed and in line with what I’ve been working through for a while.
This is the one bad review of the readathon, and it is the main reason why I left the women’s ministry group recently. I actually delayed joining this group for six months until I thought this particular study was over because critical reviews online described problems with the book that were big concerns for me. But when I joined the women’s group I learned that they actually had five more weeks of study on the book, and so I opted to go along and take a serious look at the material.
The book cover purports that, “Within its pages is a detailed portrait of a godly wife. Not only is the standard high and holy, but Martha demonstrates that by God’s grace, it is attainable.” Some of the book is biblical, maybe even most of it. But the author throws her own opinion in the book at times and twists a narrowly related Bible verse around it like a barb, presenting it as God’s standard. This occurs most clearly in her chapter “Home- The Wife’s Domain,” in which the author states that God intended for women to stay home rather than working or committing much time to any outside activities. She doesn’t list any possible “godly” reasons why a woman would seek work outside of the home. Rather, she lists several possible reasons, such as escaping the demands of parenting or wanting recognition, and then says of these lone skewed examples, “none of these motives are for the glory of God,” and they are “self-serving and sinful.” She states that women should learn to be content with what they have, at home. And even in the case of women who need to work because of family debt, she states that the woman should “work towards quitting her job and staying at home.”
This author is clearly of the opinion that a woman’s place is in the home. That’s fine. But she does not present it as her opinion, she presents it as God’s command. She states this based on the fact that a Greek word for females in Titus translates to “worker at home.” But it is a giant logical leap to then claim that the phrase “worker at home” is intended to describe the whole, entire schedule of each and every woman. The text doesn’t support such a leap. And there are many examples of Christian women who fulfill purposes outside of the home into which God appears to have called them and blessed them. Oddly, the joy-filled woman who leads the women’s ministry that was studying this book is one. And the author of this book herself, *is clearly an author.* I truly wonder what criteria the author feels distinguishes her own career from those at whom she casts stones. Perhaps she feels her profession is justified because it is less than full time? Or she doesn’t get paid hourly or salary? Or because it’s Christian ministry? Or because she can physically be in her home while she writes? I don’t know, but it’s ridiculous.
The reason why the quality of women’s ministry is so important to me is that women seek trusted guidance from the church and from God particularly when they are burdened in some way. And hopefully those two sources say the same thing. When they don’t, and a ministry adds extra stuff, extra judgement, and extra requirements into the equation like the Pharisees did, it actually further burdens the women instead of helping. Then the woman has to sort out all of the extra stuff while also still listening for God. And in the meantime before it’s sorted out, the “extra” stuff is burdensome and misleading. I kept wondering if there may be women in the group sensing a spark inside them of a beautiful calling outside of the home from God, but the spark was quenched with the “a woman’s place is in the home,” speech. It is saddening that in one way or another- legalism or conformity or shallowness- I’ve often seen women’s ministry seem to stifle growth in women rather than foster it.
There was never any shortage of good conversation when I worked at a university. At my most recent university job, postmodernism was a big topic, and a colleague of mine taught a class on it. Friendly debates arose in the hallways and break rooms of our department over the virtues and dangers of using technology to replicate real life through photos, Internet, video games, and even mass reproduction of art. Taken a few steps further, this topic can morph into the nature of reality today, and to what degree the replicas (art, digital “matter,” man-made versions of everything, even language and history) have now become reality, instead of just duplicating it. It’s a fun topic to touch on, but it can become overwhelming quickly. And so it was with this book.
I had previously read a few works written by people who are commonly associated with various aspects of postmodernism. But the term “postmodernism” is used in so many different ways and contexts, it often defies definition. I looked to this book for a quirky, whirlwind overview of postmodernism, and it delivered. And made me dizzy. It was like hanging out at a undergrad coffee shop and overhearing three naively pretentious conversations at once. And it seemed like every few sentences I had to retrace my steps and see whether the logic connecting the ideas presented was actually sound (often it wasn’t). Wait, how does romanticism relate to Y2K and then Al Qaeda? But the goal of introducing post modernism was achieved quite well, and with tons of clever illustrations.