Thursday, December 30, 2010

Nature Display

I've been enjoying one of my Christmas gifts from my mom, a book called "The Creative Family" by Amanda Blake Soule. While many of the suggestions in the book are second nature to me, there are many fresh, inspiring ideas.

One of these is something I've been wanting to do for a long time, and that is to set up a nature table with treasures we find outdoors. Ever since I can remember, I've collected rocks, pine cones, shells and fossils from my many outdoor adventures. Most of these I've had to discard, though I've held on to a few amazing specimens. And the kids are following suit.

But it's not exactly practical in a small house full of little ones to have our treasures out in the open. I have learned from experience after a beautiful conch I found on the Gulf of Mexico got flushed down the toilet. So a nature table seemed out of the question. Don't have that kind of space that is out of the reach of the littlest ones. And then I thought, why does it have to be that big? We can set up a small space to display a few treasures at time, and change them with others as we cycle through the seasons.

As soon as I told the girls that I had set out a basket for the treasures they find outdoors, they ran out to collect some. Pine needles, rocks, acorns, some dried flower skeletons and thin, papery leaves soon graced the winter display, with a fossil some friends and I found long ago when I lived in rural New Jersey, and a lovely piece of quartz my sister had found when we first moved to this state, over thirteen years ago. I wonder what we'll add next.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Waldorf Gnome Tutorial

I've had a blast this week end making these Waldorf gnomes out of some recycled wool sweater scraps I had stored away and some large wooden beads from a bag of craft odds and ends my mother-in-law gave us. They are super quick and easy. If you're interested, check out this tutorial I wrote on hubpages.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Build a Snowman

Here in South Carolina, we don't get to build snowmen very often. Maybe once or twice a year. But with this easy felt game, we can have lots of fun and stay warm and snug in our cozy kitchen. Ok, so nothing beats the real thing, but this project comes in for a close second and makes a great homemade gift that the kids can help you with.

To make this game you will need 1 sheet of white felt, scraps of black, brown, orange and other desired colors for the scarves. Then you will need four colors of felt for the building surfaces, each made of half a sheet. Also, you will need 1 die.

First, draw your patterns onto paper. I drafted a whole snowman, rather than three separate balls. Virginia designed the hat, scarf, carrot nose and stick arms. Next, on the sheet of white felt, trace four snowmen, cut them out and then cut into three "balls". Trace and cut out the accessories. Make four hats, four scarves, four noses and eight arms.

To play, each player chooses a building surface. Then, they take turns rolling the die and adding each piece that corresponds to the number rolled. Here's how we did it:
1. snowball
2. nose
3. give a piece away (if everyone already has the pieces you have, you don't have to)
4. hat
5. scarf
6. arm

The winner is the first to assemble a completed snowman.

The game has become quite a hit with the kids. Miriam asked for it first thing in the morning. And they can't just play one game at a time. It usually takes 3-5 rounds before they have lost interest, which makes for a great rainy day activity.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Peg People

We've been working on some Christmas crafts today. If you recognize these two families, please don't let on to the two little girls who they might be for. :)

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Trip to Greenville, SC

Last week we met my sister, Marianne, her two kids, her friend and her daughter, in the city of Greenville, SC for a fun outing. After a picnic at Cleveland park, we drove to Main Street and parked near the Reedy Falls Park. Here are my kids waiting by the entrance. There were several interesting fountains.

Next, we took an elevator down from the busy street to the riverwalk below, where the only traffic we had to worry about was pedestrians and cyclists.
Here, in the midst of the bustling city, one could enjoy watching the river, observing the waterfowl, or taking a quiet picnic.

One of the highlights of the riverwalk is the Children's Garden, full of giant sculptures, storybook themes, and lots of other fun, interactive stuff.

Lastly, on the way back, the kids enjoyed splashing in a fountain that squirted random spurts of water, including a surprise tunnel sprinkler!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010


This post is in answer to an invitation by my sister Marianne to share what it means to be a woman. I tried to answer in the comment section, but it was too long, and I lost it all. :( So just a reminder, always copy your comments if you spend a long time on them, because you just never know when they will just randomly fall through the cracks in the internet. But I believe in providence, so this is just a chance to write it even better.

So here's my third try. (the first time I hit the wrong button when I was halfway through and found myself on another webpage.)

What is my deepest desire? It is for the world to be healed and for the people of God to be completely defined by the all encompassing new creation order of the Second Adam. Defined by the Sermon on the Mount and the Jesus story just as Israel was defined by the Law of Moses and the Exodus. Defined by the resurrection order of reconciliation, not by human institutions organized under the curse. Defined by the infusion of the Spirit into every living member of this Body.

This is what my personal identity stems from. In my aspirations and pursuit of organic homesteading and natural parenting, I see my participation in the renewal of creation. In my choice of unschooling/homeschooling, I see it as a way to undo the mental hegemony of "the powers that be", a way to "bring down strongholds and make every thought captive to Christ". These are just some examples that come to mind.

I guess my deepest personal desire is to be free. Free to exercise my gifts in every arena and to be recognized as an equal in every circle, as a competent defender of truth and a formidable foe against evil. I have the heart of a warrior, a fierce instinct to protect, to mother all that are weak, to undo the powers of oppression with all that I have and to offer shelter to the beaten and oppressed. I hate injustice and the thing I hate next to that is a stereotype. I am always seeking ways to define myself outside of them, and when I stay in them I am stifled.

What fulfills, moves, inspires, frees? Dancing to a good rhythm, when the beat and music flow through my body and control my movements. Swimming in a river, biking on an open road by woods and fields, any kind of flowing motion in a natural setting. I love hiking a new trail, wondering what is around the next curve or over the next hill. I constantly crave adventure and novelty. I almost always have to have something new to try. And ideas. When I am reading something and a spark goes off somewhere inside. And suddenly a million sparks go off at once, connections are made, and a new idea is conceived. Then it must be born somehow, through some form of expression, whether prose, poetry, a form of physical art, or even an activity. These are the things that make me "tick". What does all this have to do with being a woman- a wife, a mother, a sister, a daughter? Everything. My family and friends are both the recipients of my gifts, which are expressions of love as well as fulfillment of the cycle of who I am and what I think and what I do, and a constant source of inspiration for them. But I want to make one thing clear. Womanhood does not define me so much as I define it, or rather contribute to the definition of it, along with all the other women who do so as well.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Education, the Business Model and the Imago Dei

What is education? It is the subject of much debate, though usually the matter is consigned to educational directors and social planners. Most parents do not feel that they posses the intellectual qualifications to grapple with it. Yet perhaps a more fundamental question needs to be asked first. "What does it mean to be human?"

In the book of Genesis, in the Bible, we read a story of origins. We read that God created the world and then formed humans out of the dust of the earth. He made them male and female and placed them as co-equal rulers over the rest of creation. And most importantly, he made them in his own image. To be human, therefore, according to the Biblical narrative, is to bear the image of the Divine, the stamp of his own character. We can think, reflect, reason and create after the same manner as our Creator.

This propensity to emulate God is evident from earliest childhood. I can look around the room and see it in the activities of my own children at this very moment. Just as God thought, then expressed his thought in creative act, so they make use of the elements of paint, water, glue, piano keys, a computer, and random toys and objects in order to rearrange them into a form that was conceived in their own minds, by their own wills. And, like God, they can step back from their creations and say to themselves, "It is good." Furthermore, as God himself completed his masterpiece, and set aside a day for his people to enjoy it, so is the urge to share what is made expressed in so many words, "Look what I did, Mama!" or, "Listen to this!" or "I made this for you.", followed by an expectation of approval, a sign that the delight is mutual. This should naturally lead to the desire for God's own approval, exercising our creative labor during the week, then enjoying that work in the context of God's gifts of grace in feasting, thanksgiving and worship together when the week is done, and a new one begun. This completes the cycle of love between the Creator and his people.

What happens to this universal work ethic model, for it is nothing less than that, when one enters the business world, or the public school system which was designed to prepare children for it, is the great question that the book I am reading, The Underground History of American Education, by John Taylor Gatto, helps to answer. In it, Gatto, a retired public schoolteacher of 30 years, traces the various influences in history that played a part in shaping the structure of society as we know it today. Through a strange wedding of wealthy opportunists to Utopian dreamers, armed with the tools of scientific management and the moral commission that Darwin granted to those handpicked by natural selection to help the selective process of evolution along, the modern business model and it's labor force supplier, the public school, emerged.

Despite the danger of oversimplifying Gatto's intensive investigation, I think the words of Frederick W. Taylor, brilliant evangelist of the scientific management model of the early 20th century, best sums up the sentiment of the age. He said, "What I demand of the worker is not to produce any longer by his own initiative, but to execute punctiliously the orders given down to their minutest details." In his book, "Principles of Scientific Management" Taylor summarized his managerial discipline in the following power points:
  1. A regimen of science, not rule of thumb.
  2. An emphasis on harmony, not the discord of competition.
  3. An insistence on cooperation, not individualism.
  4. A fixation on maximum output.
  5. The development of each man to his greatest productivity
Perhaps this list does not scare you as much as it does me. But listen to how it is applied by Taylor in a theoretical scenario at a steel factory:

"Now Schmidt, you are a first-class pig-iron handler and know your business well. You have been handling at a rate of twelve and a half tons per day. I have given considerable study to handling pig-iron, and feel you could handle forty-seven tons of pig-iron per day if you really tried instead of twelve and a half tons.

Skeptical but willing, Schmidt started to work, and all day long, and at regular intervals, was told by the men who stood over him with a watch, "now pick up a pig and walk. Now sit down and rest. Now walk—rest," etc. He worked when he was told to work, and rested when he was told to rest, and at half past five in the afternoon had his forty-seven tons loaded on the car."

And so it goes, so it goes. The deliberate massification of the population. The systematic destruction of the Imago Dei in the human imagination, both in the mind transplants of those forced into the school manufacturing process and, more so, in the goitered jowls of the suit and tie business tycoons and their bought-and-paid-for politicians. We owe much to this model. Suppression of creativity leads to violent passions, which requires psychological therapy and brain altering medication to control, and television to soothe the numbed mind, or mass policing when these other methods fail. Students are trained to trust an elite hierarchy from birth onward for every area of life. First there is the immune system rape of mass vaccination, upheld by mythic hero tales, coupled with the disabling and vastly under-reported neurological side effects of these toxins. There is the seizure of the food supply by powerful agribusiness lobbies, squeezing out the nourishing traditions of small farming families and replacing them with nutritionless convenience foods with addictive chemicals added to mask their flavorlessness. And let us not forget the seizure of lands rich in fossil fuels, both local and abroad, regardless of the cost to human and ecological life. There is the co-opting and absorption of religion and indigenous traditions into mass national and global identities. There is the mutilation of family life, the shared table replaced by the cafeteria. And the list goes on.

What is the remedy? It is as manifold and varied as it's adversary is monolithic. Each of us must stop and seek to recover the Imago Dei in our own lives, in our own localities. We must reflect deeply, nuture our creative urges, and create free spaces for our children to develop theirs, away from the mind control of massified society. We can plant gardens, support local farmers and crafters, invite neighbors to read through classic literature together, share meals, and learn skills to become independent in herbal medicine, traditional foods, and locally produced renewable energy. There are many possible avenues to be explored, many minds to recover. There is much to be done.

"the fight against the wall continues" (picture by Yann Forget)

Monday, September 20, 2010


Last week we were blessed by some kind folks who chose to share their abundant harvest with the freecycle crowd. I responded to their ad and was invited to come pick muscadine grapes from a very old grapevine. It had been planted by the owner's grandmother, and has now seen five generations of happy pluckers.

After a moderate 30 minute drive, the kids and I were greeted by Lynda and escorted to that venerable matriarch of the plant kingdom. It grew over a long trellis, which it covered completely, and its foliage formed a hollow tunnel along the entire length. The children were just the right size to crawl underneath, and could easily stand upright once inside. They chattered happily with Lynda, who helped us with the picking, and the conversation was pleasant all 'round. The baskets were quickly filled and, after a heartfelt thank you and gifts of our fig preserves and apple butter for Lynda, we left with three gallons of grapes in the floor well of the station wagon.

The next day was spent almost entirely making muscadine jam. First we washed, stemmed and crushed the grapes, using a potato masher. These were cooked for a little while, then pressed through a colander, resulting in a purple, pulpy juice. Sugar was added and the mixture was cooked down to a thick sauce, then processed in the pressure canner. I did all three gallons in two batches, but I wasn't quite sick enough of the kitchen not to make some biscuits to have with tea and fresh jam. Mmmmmm.....

cooking the jam.....

Jam and Biscuits...

other yummy stuff we preserved this summer

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Getting Ready for Winter

The nights are finally cooling down and the mornings hold promise of autumn's changing dress and relief from summer's oppressive heat. It is time to make preparations for winter.

We spent the past three day week end cutting, splitting and stacking our supply of fuel for heating the house. I absolutely love splitting wood- the sweet aroma of oak and that glorious feeling when instead of a dull thud, a loud crack is heard when the axe comes down on the log as it falls apart. Our neighbor graciously gave us several trees he had recently cut, and this increased our stash considerably, although this will not be dry enough to burn until mid to late winter. And to top it all, we enjoyed dinners and breakfast cooked on a campfire, the first we've had in a long time, to celebrate the cooler temperatures.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Un-School on Saturday

Miriam came over while I was planning the menus and writing up a grocery list, and pointed to some of the words for me to read them. I did, but chose one to write in neat print, opposed to the chicken scratch I normally scribble in. She copied it and asked for another. That's not the first time a grocery list has turned into a lesson.
Grocery lists and menus make great teaching tools. Here are a few reasons:

1. Kids want to do what Mom is doing.

2. Kids want to learn things in the context of something in life that they can relate to.

3. It sets a good example to always plan what you are going to eat and buy in advance so you eat healthier, save trips and save money.

4. It turns ordinary excursions into jolly holidays when your little ones get to be involved in the planning and help with real, grown up things.

I wish I had taken my camera with me to the grocery store today, because Virginia scanned nearly the whole lot at the self check-out and didn't mess up once!

Friday, July 23, 2010

Stories to Inhabit Part 2: Books from the Inside Out

We read these three books this afternoon, gifts from Dolly Parton's Imagination Library, which is sponsored here by our local chapter, Cherokee County First Steps. This is a ministry that targets poorer areas of the country and provides every child who signs up a free book every month from birth until their 5th birthday. Needless to say, the mailbox is checked with much enthusiasm when the long awaited time draws near.

I have also been pleased by the quality of the books and stories. Some of them are a bit on the silly side, which we all need a little of, and some have truly inspiring messages to impart.

The first book we read, "The Spiffiest Giant in Town" is one such gem. I won't give too much away, but it is about a giant who wanders sadly around in tattered sandals and a worn out, old gown. He is tired of being so shabby so he buys himself a new suit. He is now the spiffiest giant in town. But he keeps meeting fellow creatures in desperate predicaments, and each time, he sacrifices a bit of his new wardrobe. He is left with almost nothing, but the end is absolutely glorious, the revelation of "a prince in beggar's clothing". The detailed, fairy tale hodge-podge illustrations are also captivating and, at times, whimsical (like a princess walking along holding hands with a frog), with more to discover with each subsequent reading.

"Pip and Squeak" remind me of two little girls I know, who can be so competitive that they end up hampering their own endeavors. But, like these two little mice, they occasionally find that when working together, their stars shine brighter than when selfishly pursuing their own advancements. The pictures are a cleverly created mouse world, with a whole village made from odds and ends in a very "Borrowers" fashion.

The third book, "Look Out Kindergarten, Here I Come", was pretty good, other than being a sycophantic puppet dance for the educational hierarchy. But it did show kids doing fun things, in a fun oriented room, which is something we can do here at home. Like the young hero, Henry, my little ones found painting to be the activity that excited them most.

And that's just.....

...what they....