O Frabjous Day!

A Beatrix Potter book has been discovered after 100 years! Callooh! Callay! (I know I’m mixing children’s authors here. That happens when I’m excited.)

Publisher Jo Hanks re-discovered the treasure after she read about it in an out-of-print biography. (Another argument for reading old books: they contain things we’ve forgotten.) Kitty-in-Boots is about a cat with a double life. According to Potter biographer Linda Lear, Potter’s edgy cat — she sneaks out in men’s clothing and hunts rabbits with a gun  — wasn’t warmly received in 1914. Although she lived for another three decades, Potter never revisited this tale.Kitty-in-boots

I’m excited to read about this new addition to Miss Potter’s world and to revisit some old favorites (Peter makes an opinion, older and — one would hope — wiser). Since it was submitted to the publisher, I have high hopes that it’s something she wanted read, unlike some of the “rediscovered masterpieces” heirs sometimes find among neglected papers. My one disappointment is that Potter drew only one illustration for the tale. The publishers chose Quentin Blake, illustrator of Roald Dahl’s works, to illustrate the book. While I think his style is perfect for Dahl, I’m skeptical that it will be fitting for Potter. We’ll see.

I do hope they publish it in the small format that’s perfect for little hands. The big, bulky books just don’t have the same charm.

A scholarly paper on mushrooms is another “lost treasure” published 100 years after the fact.  She was a woman of many talents and interests.

What authors do you hope have undiscovered works waiting to be found?


100 word challenge: Advice from Mom


I’ll admit it: Mom usually knows what she’s talking about.

Put a little money in savings each paycheck. Great advice.

Don’t put anything in writing you wouldn’t want read by everyone. That saved my bacon and my job more than once.

Someone who will gossip to you will gossip about you. So true, Mom. So true.

Wear clean underwear. Obviously.

But sometimes she’s a little goofy, ya know? I thought she was just teasing me. It turns out I should listen to her even when she sounds ridiculous.

Mom, you were right. I learned my lesson. Never gamble with fairies.

This story is part of the fascinating “100 Word Challenge” project by Darleen Click over at Protein Wisdom.

My previous stories are here.

I’ll link to Jimmie’s story and roundup if he has one.

Join in! (If you don’t have a blog, leave your story in the comments.)

100 word challenge: Treasured Time



These moments are too precious, too rare to waste. I have to drink them in.

Every day changes our relationship: how we look at each other, how we talk to each other. Sometimes the change happens so quickly, I don’t recognize the new person in front of me.

I know I can’t take this for granted. I know the day will come when my knock on the door won’t be answered. I will pay attention to every second and treasure it.

Oh, wait. He seems to be getting in trouble.

“Looking good, Grandpa, but keep an eye on your line.”

I took a little break, but apparently I’m back. This story is part of the fascinating “100 Word Challenge” project by Darleen Click over at Protein Wisdom.

My previous stories are here.

Here’s Jimmie’s story (with an unexpected twist!) and roundup. 

Join in! (If you don’t have a blog, leave your story in the comments.)

Fine Arts Friday: The þing

*þing is pronounced “thing. Yes, I could just write “thing,” but where’s the fun in that?

The Icelandic Althing in session, by British W. G. Collingwood.

“Althing in Session” by British W. G. Collingwood.

This year, we’ve moved away from the “Fine Arts Friday” model to a “Morning Time” model. I’ll post some resources to find out more about the concept at the end of the post, but basically we spend about an hour together reading and singing and memorizing together (and prayer and going over the plan of attack for the day). But since it doesn’t always happen in the morning, we call it the þing to honor my children’s Viking roots.

Ahem. Anyway, our basic schedule is as follows:

Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday: Art study, hymn, folk song, read from the King James Version of the Bible (currently about 10 verses from Proverbs), a smidge of Plutarch (Excellent, free resource here), memory work, and a read aloud. Right now we’re reading My Side of the Mountain, which is a hit with everybody.

Fridays we have Poetry Tea, except that it in no way resembles anything that one might recognize as a tea. We gather haphazardly on the couches, eat whatever food is munchable, share poems, and read some Shakespeare. We’re also going to add composer studies because I’ve been really bad at fitting that in. Really, it’s just the Friday þing with snacks.

Tuesday is still terrible, so the kids mostly grunt while I yell, “Get your shoes on! How do you always lose your shoes? Your backpack! You have to bring your backpack! GO! GO! GO!” Honestly, I should just make a recording of that and put it on a loop starting at about 8:30. We try to have a mini-þing in the afternoon where we at least do some reading, but it’s hit or miss.

When we started this practice, I was really nervous about devoting an entire hour singing and looking at pictures when there is math to be done. Math! But I’ve really come to appreciate the value of our þing. For one thing, I say we educate to pursue virtue and cultivate truth, beauty, and goodness. But when the rubber hits the road, my actions tend to value output: math, grammar sheets, etc. Devoting an hour together, especially one of those precious, productive morning hours, not only shows the kids that these pursuits are to be valued, but it reminds me that education is not check marks in the planning software.

Another benefit is the unity it builds. With four kids at different levels, we are at risk of losing the cohesiveness of homeschooling. The boys still do many of their lessons together, but the girls are mostly on their own path. The þing is the thing we share, and it’s creating a storehouse of shared stories, shared songs, and shared memories. The girls model good narration to the boys, and the boys crack us all up with their creative narrations.  While math and grammar and all those other things are good and necessary parts of our education, the heart of our education happens at the þing.

For more information on morning time, check out these resources:

Yes, we’ve also got new music and art, all from Ambleside Online. Our hymn is “He Who Would Valiant Be” by John Bunyan. (Yep, that John Bunyan.) The folk song is a favorite of ours, “My Grandfather’s Clock.” Here’s another version by Johnny Cash. The composer is Franz Schubert and the artist is Jacques-Louis Davis.

Belisarius Begging for Alms 1781

Picture 1 of 10

Now, I’m off to do our þing!

The Epiphany post

journey of the magi


At the beginning of the year, we’re inundated with admonitions to set goals, make resolutions, and in short plan to be a better us in 365 days. I haven’t been tempted to make any public resolutions, although I’ve had a couple of “I’d like to do X this year” thoughts. The truth is, I’m right in the middle of an epiphany about goals and disciplines and how best to grow and challenge myself, and I’m not sure what I think about New Year resolutions at the moment.

I had an “aha” moment a few weeks ago while while I was listening to a Circe podcast about Flannery O’Connor and a new biography The Terrible Speed of Mercy. On the face of it, that doesn’t seem likely to give any insights into resolutions or goals. The author and interviewer were talking about the difference between O’Connor’s mysteries and shocking scenarios and the 8-steps-to-a-better-you books found in most Christian bookstores. You’re unlikely to find O’Connor in said bookstores, but she’s probably just who the 8-steppers ought to read. (Seriously, it’s a great podcast, and it encouraged me to dig out my O’Connor and add it to the to-read pile and the biography to my wish list.)

Honestly, the 8-steps approach appeals to me. Just give me a list of steps to take, a goal to achieve, and get out of my way. But the 8-steps/mystery-revelation-grace juxtaposition got me thinking about how I approach challenges and difficulties and whether my tactics are ultimately beneficial.

Over the last year, I’ve become a little disillusioned with goals. For two-plus years, I published a blog post every day. While this isn’t really a huge accomplishment, it was something of an effort. I’m not sorry I did it, but toward the end I realized I was doing more posting and less writing. Actually, I think the final straw to daily blogging was my series on the Persecuted Church during Lent. Writing about violence, oppression, and death of innocents every day for six weeks tends to bring a blogger down. So I set aside the “post daily” goal for a “I will do my best to write daily” goal. Protip: vague goals aren’t much better than no goal at all.

But I’d lost the joy of writing, and I’m not sure I could have told you why I had a blog if you asked me then. I needed the break. The goal had become a task master rather than an aid. I find this is true in every area of my life where I seek to develop discipline, be it healthy behaviors or parenting or spiritual habits or homeschooling. I home in on the mechanics of goal keeping – the rules and procedures – and I forget that the purpose of having a goal is not simply to check something off a list or to have random acquaintances congratulate me on my success. I set goals (I ought to set goals) so that I can grow and change and become a better me.

The goal of writing every day had become more important to me than being a better writer. But without the goal, I kinda fizzled. Since breaking the chain eight months ago, I’ve only posted sixty-five times and only three times in December. So I need a goal; I just need a goal that’s not the boss of me.

And that’s where I am. I said I was in the middle of an epiphany. I don’t know what the final illuminated conclusion will be. These are some of the thoughts rolling around in my head and sending out sparks:

I must be careful about goals. They are necessary, but I tend to focus on accomplishing my goal at the expense of all else. And, if it looks like I’m not going to meet that goal, I tend to ditch the whole thing. “Since I already broke the write-every-day chain, it doesn’t matter if I write today.”

I require structure and routine. If I don’t set aside (and protect) time to write or read or exercise or whatever, it won’t happen. But my life as homeschool mom also means I need to be flexible. Trying to force a set schedule on a day that’s gone off the rails is a train wreck in the making. This is a particular problem when the goal itself is to do something daily. “I will do X arbitrary thing regardless of the pain it causes everyone” is not a good way to have a happy family.

I need to acknowledge that not every good think I want to do or become is something I need to work on right now. Life has seasons. Currently, my life is focused on educating my children, helping through their struggles, and preparing them to take on life. There are many things I hope to do with my life, to learn and see and become. But many of those will have to wait, and some of those will never come to fruition. Nobody gets all the good things. Everything is a trade-off, but it is a good trade.

I need goals, but I need grace. I need structure, but I need flexibility. I need to pursue big things, and I need to accept that many big things aren’t for me in this season. I need to be okay with paradox.

I’ve been doing yoga for the past few months, and yogis use is the term “practice” to talk about doing yoga. I like that. It gives room for improvement and room for failure — and more importantly picking oneself up from failure. Goals are important, but thinking of them as goals is becoming less helpful to me. I want to develop disciplines and habits and practices. I don’t want to write X days in a row for X time period, I want to be a writer. I don’t want to exercise or eat healthily for a certain time frame, I want to be strong and healthy and able to embrace life with energy. (BTW, if that’s your goal/discipline/hope and you need some help to get started, check out my sister’s webpage.) I need to stop worrying so much about getting “there”, wherever there may be, and pay attention to this moment, this task, this opportunity.

Today is the Feast of the Epiphany, the day the Church celebrates the magi visiting the Holy Family. Much of the art about the magi features them on their journey. They brought with them extravagant gifts and horrific danger. They left for a far off country and may have never known the rest of the story after they returned home. Even if they lived until Jesus began his ministry, is it likely they would have heard about him? But they took the journey regardless. The problem with our cultural focus on goals – with my focus on goals – is that it needs a wrapped-up story, a “happily ever after.” But the voyage of life doesn’t work like that. If the current goal is the top of the next ridge, we know there will be another path down into a valley and up another hill after that. Making those “goals” our life’s purpose leads to despair. If I want to be okay with the paradox, I must embrace the journey.

Happy St. Nicholas Day!

Remember, neither Santa nor his inspiration are to be trifled with.



 The Boy Who Laughed at Santa
by Ogden Nash

In Baltimore there lived a boy.
He wasn’t anybody’s joy.
Although his name was Jabez Dawes,
His character was full of flaws.

In school he never led his classes,
He hid old ladies’ reading glasses,
His mouth was open when he chewed,
And elbows to the table glued.
He stole the milk of hungry kittens,
And walked through doors marked NO ADMITTANCE.
He said he acted thus because
There wasn’t any Santa Claus.

Another trick that tickled Jabez
Was crying ‘Boo’ at little babies.
He brushed his teeth, they said in town,
Sideways instead of up and down.
Yet people pardoned every sin,
And viewed his antics with a grin,
Till they were told by Jabez Dawes,
‘There isn’t any Santa Claus!’

Deploring how he did behave,
His parents swiftly sought their grave.
They hurried through the portals pearly,
And Jabez left the funeral early.

Like whooping cough, from child to child,
He sped to spread the rumor wild:
‘Sure as my name is Jabez Dawes
There isn’t any Santa Claus!’
Slunk like a weasel of a marten
Through nursery and kindergarten,
Whispering low to every tot,
‘There isn’t any, no there’s not!’

The children wept all Christmas eve
And Jabez chortled up his sleeve.
No infant dared hang up his stocking
For fear of Jabez’ ribald mocking.

He sprawled on his untidy bed,
Fresh malice dancing in his head,
When presently with scalp-a-tingling,
Jabez heard a distant jingling;
He heard the crunch of sleigh and hoof
Crisply alighting on the roof.
What good to rise and bar the door?
A shower of soot was on the floor.

What was beheld by Jabez Dawes?
The fireplace full of Santa Claus!
Then Jabez fell upon his knees
With cries of ‘Don’t,’ and ‘Pretty Please.’
He howled, ‘I don’t know where you read it,
But anyhow, I never said it!’
‘Jabez’ replied the angry saint,
‘It isn’t I, it’s you that ain’t.
Although there is a Santa Claus,
There isn’t any Jabez Dawes!’

Said Jabez then with impudent vim,
‘Oh, yes there is, and I am him!
Your magic don’t scare me, it doesn’t’
And suddenly he found he wasn’t!
From grimy feet to grimy locks,
Jabez became a Jack-in-the-box,
An ugly toy with springs unsprung,
Forever sticking out his tongue.

The neighbors heard his mournful squeal;
They searched for him, but not with zeal.
No trace was found of Jabez Dawes,
Which led to thunderous applause,
And people drank a loving cup
And went and hung their stockings up.

All you who sneer at Santa Claus,
Beware the fate of Jabez Dawes,
The saucy boy who mocked the saint.
Donner and Blitzen licked off his paint.

Happy St. Nicholas Day! Be good.

100 word challenge: Dark



The darkness is everywhere, invasive. It reaches out into nothingness. Coldly, silently, it consumes everything it touches.

There is no edge, no boundary, no end. Only spreading night.

People flee the darkness, hoping to outrun it. They hide and scurry. But still the darkness follows. They barricade themselves against the pursuing night, but it seeps under doors and through cracks. They stuff the cracks to keep the dark out and only succeed in darkening their own souls.

There is no escape. The darkness is everywhere.

But not here. Here, I shine my light. And where the light shines, darkness flees.

Okay, so it’s not really a story. This not-a-story is part of the fascinating “100 Word Challenge” project by Darleen Click over at Protein Wisdom. Her story is beautiful and heartbreaking.

My previous stories are here.

Jimmie doesn’t have his story and roundup out yet. But I’ll update when he does. For now you can read last week’s stories.  I didn’t participate because we were traveling.

Join in! (If you don’t have a blog, leave your story in the comments.)

Free Advent resources

As my kids are getting older, I’m noticing that most family devotions are aimed for younger kids. It’s hard to find something that spans later elementary and teen ages. Recently, I’ve stumbled across two resources that are currently free. FREE! Snoopy Dance!

snoopy dance

The first free resources is Joy to the World! An Advent Journey Through the Songs of Christmas by Ray Pritchard. There is a short history and explanation of a Christmas song for each day in December through Christmas, as well as a link to a YouTube version of the song. (Here is the playlist of the first few songs. I’ll be adding to it throughout the month.)

Next is Behold the Lamb of God: An Advent Narrative by Russ Ramsey. I only acquired this today, but based on my initial observations, this looks perfect for families with a slightly older audience. It also has the benefit of being a narrative and not a lesson.  Stories sticks with us; lessons and lectures are forgotten.

Together, these readings would take maybe 15 or 20 minutes. I plan on adding them to our Morning Time, using the Christmas carols for both hymn and folk songs.

(These links are affiliated links, which being free resources means nothing. But if you were so inclined to do your Amazon shopping through links on my humble blog, I’d receive a small compensation at no cost to you. Wouldn’t that be nice for both of us?)

(Caveat: I’m not sure how long these will be free, but they’re free now. So get to clicking!)

For families with younger children, the Story Warren has The Family Advent Art and Reading Guide. It’s short readings and art projects that look perfect for younger kids through perhaps mid to later elementary. My boys aren’t much for art projects, and for that I say, “Thank you, Jesus.”

They are into Legos, so we may do this Advent Lego challenge. But then again, maybe not. There’s only so much Adventing you can do before you reach the tipping point.

I hope you find these useful, and I hope you have a blessed Advent.

Tiptoeing into Christmas


Now that Thanksgiving is over, we are officially and fully in the Christmas season. Traditionally, this is the weekend that we pull everything down from the attic, spend the whole day decorating, and “prepare” for Christmas in one fell swoop. But that didn’t happen this year. The turkey is eaten; the pie is gone; the scarecrows and cornucopia are stored away for another year; all the trappings of the last holiday are put away. But we didn’t rush into the Christmas season. Oh sure, I listened to some instrumental Christmas music while I was getting ready for our next week of school, but that’s about as Christmasy as we got yesterday.

The Advent season is a time of preparation for the coming of Christ, and that’s generally a busy, almost frantic time as we decorate, buy, bake, celebrate, and stress. But recently, I saw a friend compared Advent to nesting — the season before a woman gives birth where she prepares for the baby. While that certainly is a busy season in a family’s life, there are also times of peace and quiet waiting. A mother not only decorates the nursery, but she also sits in the rocking chair and imagines who will inhabit that room.

As that well known sage Ferris Bueller advises, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” With all the extras that come with the Advent season — extra events, extra parties, extra shopping, extra baking, cleaning, and traveling — it’s easy to miss that which we are preparing for. So we’re going to start our season by stopping.

The only thing that’s coming out of the attic today is our wobbly Advent wreath and the devotional book we’ve been using since Little Miss was a toddler. We’ll light the first candle, sing familiar carols, and hear well known bible stories. We’ll talk about our plans for Christmas and pray for our family, our neighbors, and our world. We’ll ease into the Advent season.

Yes, we’ve already got a calendar full of Christmas parties and events, the girls have been crocheting and knitting up a storm, the boys have been making secret plans, and I’ve been keeping a weathered eye out for Christmas deals and ideas for presents. This holiday season promises to be as busy as any other. I’m sure I’ll come to the end of it wondering if I just celebrated Christmas or a cyclone. But maybe we can teach ourselves to stop and look around in the midst of the bustle. I’d hate to miss it.


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