Sunday, December 29, 2013

It Finally Feels Time to Sing Stille Nacht (Silent Night)

As the sugar rush wears off and the fog envelopes us, we still ourselves from all the activity to rest and reflect. We reflect on time with family, reminisce over memories made in 2013, and ponder the coming of 2014.
I can't help but ask myself: What will we testify to in 2014? What will we live? What paths will we walk? What hope will we impart? What hope will we gain?
 Where in the world will we create altars? 
What will we bow before and below?
What nature will we nurture and protect, and what in my own nature needs to be nurtured and protected?
Quietly, I will enter 2014. Praying for peace. Praying for the path to be made known. Trusting in His presence.Watching for His Spirit at work in the world.
I feel it is finally time to sing Stille Nacht (Silent Night), for certainly He has arrived. He didn't arrive quietly, but in order to receive Him, I must be silent. 
And so, may the new year dawning be a year of His presence and peace. May His indwelling Spirit abide within us, and may we learn to recognize His presence - which is indeed all around us. May I be what He has created me to be, and thus content in Him. May I bring my offering, as meager as it may be, and lay it at His feet. For if the rocks can praise Him, certainly so can I.
(Photos: mine)

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Advent from Another's Perspective

We don't usually write St. Nicholas a note, nor sit on his lap. But, this year they couldn't resist the urge to write, and I wasn't about to stop them. Friday, we marched their notes down to the post office and put them in Santa's big red box. Thankfully, they don't charge postage for letters to Santa and they don't make you wait in their line! But, I'm wondering: Does a note to Santa go to the North Pole or Turkey?

Dear Santa,

I would like these three things:

1. more hex bug batteries - lots of them.
2. more helicopter blades.
3. a refrigerator box.

Your Friend, 

Shh. Don't tell. He's getting two of the three, and the other one will arrive in time for Epiphany!

Sister's note was more typical for a ten year old girl: She wants an ipod and a pony. Here's to wishing!
Once an angel, always an angel :-)
The star of Jesus
above the manger
was made of tinsel.
Jesus liked to help
and love as well
as the dove.

by Brother
A "neighbor boy" for one more year. Next year, the costume will be to small.    
An ox
looked upon
the helpless 
babe, lying
in a 
A star
shone light on 
the Savior
who was
God's choice. 
by Sister

Talking to the birds, quietly being fed by his feet.
Ah, He gave us a voice, and we too, get a choice.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Drawing Near, the Magi and Me

For I know the thoughts and plans that I have for you, says the Lord, 
thoughts and plans for welfare and peace and not for evil, 
to give you hope in your final outcome.

Christmas draws closer, and I seem to draw quieter. We finally have a tree up. A Noble, and I dare say, she's not very noble. She's a bit shaggy around the edges. I feel the same this season. Still, she's deemed worthy and desirable. She's adorned, decorated, and decked out, and we lay presents at her feet. 

Last night at church, big and little girls ponder what we will lay at Jesus' feet for His birthday. The conversation requires conversing with one's heart. Both young and old are still, dig deep, pause, and ponder. A few are anxious to share, and yet others, are silent. The silent ones are still on the journey, with their gift in hand, and the destination is yet unknown.

I'm currently of the lot that is still trekking. My back bothersome to me these days, it feels like I've been riding a camel. I'd like to identify less with the Magi, but it is they who are speaking to me most this year. As Epiphany beckons me, I'd happily add inspiration to my saddlebag. Yet, my trek seems to lack inspiration, and leans more towards identification with ordinary men. Magi men to be precise: camel riding, dust ridden, tent camping, star gazers who wander and wonder when they'll arrive at their destination....

The Star of Bethlehem from producer Stephen McVeety (Braveheart and The Passion of Christ) is fascinating. See it this season or soon.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Advent Art and Slappy Happy

Tonight, we are inspired out. After several full days, the kids were very happy to head to bed. Surely, Mary knew sleep loss in order to appreciate and birth beauty.
Last night, beauty was found in breaking bread with friends, some old and some new.
A St. Lucia Day Loaf
This morning, we crawled out from under warm covers to see the beauty of the Samurai.

A creative and warm art teacher arranged a tour of the Samurai exhibit for her kids.
A particularly moving sculpture of water.
Brother and a Monet
He liked the electronics, a few pictures, and the gift shop books.
Who cares if it's a Picasso? It's time for fuel.
Happy at Slappy Cakes.
Pour out the pancake batter, add toppings, heat, and eat!
Chicken Fried Bacon with Caramel Sauce. Undecided. 

Then carolling, cookies, cocoa, and a bonfire...and now you know why it's bed time!

Friday, December 6, 2013

Happy St Nicholas Day!

 The giver of every good and perfect gift has called upon us to mimic God's giving, by grace, through faith, and this is not of ourselves. 

~St.Nicholas of Myra

"My ear stings. She basically rubbed sand paper on it." 

"You know what you did. You took a handful of snow, and pretended it was talcum powder and rubbed my face in it."

"Well, they always do that in the Bobbsey Twins, when it's winter and whoever it is, someone, puts snow down their back. That's what they do."

"Rub it all over someone's face?"

"Yeah, and you put snow down my back. Come, help me get our wet things."

"Okay, but then I'm never leaving this house again!" 

"Let's pretend we are kids. No, let's pretend we are people."

And off they go to gather wet snow clothes. Why? So they can dry out and go play in the snow all over again!
Link Love

Fresh Cake Donuts, A tradition for us, at every first snow of winter.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Friday Musings

  If you have a garden and a library you have everything you need. 
~ Cicero
The last few days, I'm asking myself what this space is about. There's lots to write, but what is worthy of the effort? Precious and rare, are moments to put pen to paper. Lately, limited time has kept me from finishing several posts. These include, but are not limited to:
  • Gettysburg Battlefield, PA 
  • Philadelphia with Kids
  • A Letter Across the Divide to home schoolers and public schoolers about love and what we've seen on both sides of the spectrum.
  • Schooling resources such as Life of Fred Math and Life of Fred Physics that I'm stoked about.
  • Homer's Odyssey at Corban College (go see it!)
  • Day to day life for family far and near.
That said, we are struggling to keep up with life right now, as are many. We are so ready for Thanksgiving break. We are ready for time. Time to be together. Time to sit by the fire and read. Time to work on craft projects, and time to bake with family. Time to BE. Time to DWELL. Time to LOOK. (Under rocks, for some of us :-) Time to see what is around the next bend. Time to think about GRATITUDE. Time to accept GRACE. Time to MUSE. Time to PONDER.
I have a million little scraps of paper tucked away in drawers and many book projects I'm working towards. Writing: It's what I do. Ah, but which project to work on today? They all feel inspired by the Lord! I'm throwing caution to the wind today and posting a teeny tiny tidbit of something I'm working on. This is rough, rough, rough, but I'm gonna be brave. It's time. And no, I'm not going to tell you more about the project, but I am several pages deep in it.

He'd always been a noticer. He took it all in. His sharp eyes missed nothing. Growing up around ink and paper, he'd doodled as much as he could: plants, animals, trees, and every kind of insect. Some people looked for the pot of gold – He looked for the rainbow. He knew printing wasn't his destiny, but he'd use those skills to find his destiny. He'd make it happen. Like the ocean, his destiny spread out before him, and he set sail. The waves pushed him towards a distant shore. Daily, the mast of the ship, reminded him of the tall trees he so eagerly sought.

That's your story tidbit for this Friday. But, because books are pivotal to healthy and happy people at our house I'm also sharing these book links:
Stealing Magic (Thorne Room Mystery)
Secrets of Shakespeare's Grave
Creating Innovators
The Secret of the Ginger Mice
The Natural Navigator

Anna was Here

Right now, I'm also totally obsessed with Matt Redman's, Your Grace Finds Me. My bones are soaking up this song. I am thirsty.
Wherever the path takes you today, be intentional. 
Time to RISK. 

(Photos are from the Chinese Garden in Portland, Oregon. On a recent day, car work found me wondering new paths for a few hours, and of course the path also went to Powell's Books.)

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The Smartest Kids in the World by Amanda Ripley

Success is going from failure to failure, without losing your enthusiasm. 

~Winston Churchill

We need every person in Oregon involved in our children's future. Oregon has de-funded education for decades, is living through a deep recession, and is facing educational reform, i.e., the Common Core, whether you like it or not. On top of that, the societal pressures our kids are facing are huge. It will not be any one person improving our educational system. It will take moving the whole system to a new level of intention, requirement, and action. So let's talk about the book...

First, I'll start by saying that I think this book should be required reading by educators and parents alike - whether you home school, charter school, private school, or public school your kids. Second, I've quoted a lot from the book and those quotes are italicized. Third, Ripley wrote in the past tense much of the book and for ease of reading, I've changed a few verb tenses to the present tense. Last, I've highlighted a few select points that I took away from the book, but there is no way I could even begin to cover it all, so read the book! 

In the Smartest Kids, Ripley travels all over the world to interview educators and students alike based on the results of the PISA exam. She follows exchange students from America to Finland, Korea, and Poland. She goes where the top learners reside, and seeks the reasons for their success. She looks at the results of the PISA, which demands fluency in problem solving and the ability to communicate. She finds out who has critical thinking skills and who does not, because critical thinking skills are critical to thriving in a modern world.

What is the PISA you ask? PISA is a test developed by a kind of think tank for the developed world, called the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, and the scientist at the center of the experiment, is Andreas Schleicher. When you see the statistics on who is best in the world in math, reading, and writing, and who is not, it's the PISA exam behind those results. 

As for us Americans, our children scored 12th in reading. In math, the average score placed the United States twenty sixth in the world, below Finland (third), Korea (second), and Poland (nineteenth). Math has a way of predicting kids' futures. Teenagers who have mastered higher-level math classes are far more likely to graduate from college, even when putting aside other factors like race and income. They also earned more money after college. 

Why does math matter so much? Some reasons are practical: More and more jobs require familiarity with probability, statistics, and geometry. The other reason is that math is not just math. Math is a language of logic. It is a disciplined and organized way of thinking. There is a right answer; there are rules that must be followed. More than any other subject, math is rigor distilled. Mastering the language of logic helps to embed higher-order habits in kids' minds: the ability to reason, for example, to detect patterns and to make informed guesses. Those kinds of skills have rising value in a world in which information is cheap and messy.

America's math handicap afflicts even our most privileged kids, who are more privileged than even the most advantaged kids in other nations. Our top math students are still behind folks. Let's wake up! If we don't, our kids are going to have a rude awakening when they get to college and find that those who have come to the U.S. for their education from other nations are better prepared for our schools than our own students. Our world is becoming more global, not less.

Interestingly enough, the PISA reveals that spending on education does not make kids smarter. Everything-everything-depends on what teachers, parents, and students do with those investments. So what are some of these other nations doing to invest in their education systems?

Ripley points out that in Finland acceptance into a teacher training college is like getting into medical school. Finland invests in educating their teachers first, before their teachers can become educators. Only a select few are accepted into teacher training colleges based on their grades. Further, by the time they graduate they will have spent about as much time in teacher training school as someone in medical school. This transfers a great deal of respect to the teacher and creates a culture of both hyper-prepared teachers as well as environment that clearly communicates that learning is essential and respected.

Further, the Finnish matriculation exam, or final high school exam, is an example of the self discipline and persistence kids need in order to do well. Ripley found that the Finnish final exam is much harder than even our NY State Regent's exam, by alot. So, are Finnish kids smarter than U.S. kids? There are no studies that attest to that. Studies show that teachers are better prepared and more is expected of both teachers and students in Finland (and high achieving countries). In addition, once teachers are in a classroom, they are given great autonomy to teach what they would like with little interference. Also, more kids access special needs services sooner in Finland; they don't let a student fall behind, and there is no stigma in receiving extra or focused help when needed. 

NY State Regent's Exam Samples (link)
(I will be giving my kids these sample tests soon.)

The World's Smartest Kids also follows exchange students in Korea and Poland. What is clear is that the Korean way of learning and studying from eight in the morning to midnight is not working to produce happiness and well rounded students. Ripley likens it to being on a hamster wheel, and it should not be adopted here.

Poland however, is an interesting case of education reform that is working. This young post communist nation is rapidly making education a priority, and while reform is painful, they are getting good results. They didn't replace their teachers, they began investing in their teachers and students in more effective ways. Some of the results? They beat us at math on the PISA. Who's noticing? American companies are building factories in Poland because their students are better prepared to work in a high tech manufacturing environment.

Ripley also finds a lack of technology in classrooms around the world, and they are still out scoring us on the PISA. Technology can be powerful, but a lack of technology, does not put a classroom at a disadvantage with the right teacher teaching.

As for immigration, Ripley found that roughly 3% of kids in schools are immigrant children - no matter where she went. Yes, there are schools that have a higher percentage, but generally speaking, classrooms across the world have about 3% of their students as immigrants. The case cannot be made, that immigrants are skewing our test results in the U.S.

It was also very interesting to me to see her stats on public vs. private education. At the time (2011), 11 percent of children in the United States were enrolled in private schools--less than average for the developed world. According to PISA data, private schools did not add much value; private-school students did better than public schooled students on the PISA, but not better than would have been expected if they'd been in public school, given their socioeconomic status.

As for preschool education and younger, Ripley found that giving your kids alphabet blocks while young did nothing for them. Reading to them daily, gave them a year of extra education in their young lives. I also found amazing her stats on parent involvement in U.S. schools. My time in the school, makes little to no difference for my child's education. I can help other kids at the school or help with Parent Teacher Committees (PTC), but my kids will not thrive because of my investment in their school. My kids will thrive in school and in life based on what I give them from 3 p.m. to 9 p.m. each day. Did they learn their multiplication tables and math tricks, did I read to them, did we learn together? Did I make sure their homework got done and can they can articulate what they learned?

Ripley's words are convicting as she wraps the results up...We had the schools we wanted in a way. Parents did not tend to show up at schools demanding that their kids be assigned more challenging reading or that their kindergarteners learn math while they still loved numbers. They did show up to complain about bad grades, however. And they came in droves, with video cameras and lawn chairs and full hearts, to watch their children play sports.

That mindset had worked alright for most American kids, historically speaking. Most hadn't needed a very rigorous education, and they hadn't gotten it. Wealth had made rigor optional in America. But everything had changed. In an automated, global economy, kids needed to be driven; they need to know how to adapt, since they would be doing it all their lives. They need a culture of rigor. 

There were different ways to get rigor, and not all of them were good. In Korea, the hamster wheel created as many problems as it solved. Joyless learning led to mostly good test scores, not to a resilient population. (High suicide rate in adults.) Still, kids in hamster wheel countries knew what it felt like to grapple with complex ideas and think outside their comfort zone; they understood the value of persistence. They knew what it felt like to fail, work harder, and do better. They were prepared for the modern world. 

In the moon bounce (the U.S.), kids (are) were being misled. Too much of the time, they were being fed a soft diet of pabulum by middling professionals. If they failed, there were few obvious consequences. Only later, after high school, would they discover they had been tricked. The real world does not always give second and third chances; the real world doesn't give credit for just showing up.

Education is sorely needing a boost in our nation and "We the People" must engage if we want a quality education for our children and a future for our nation. Are we teaching our kids to be driven to succeed or driven to learn? Is there a difference? I believe so. If we are driven to simply succeed, what do we do when we fail? Do we give up, and call it a day? I think that is a huge danger. If however, we are driven to learn, we keep on learning because learning is for life and life is for learning, and the time to learn becomes NOW.

While this book is not about the Common Core, it is coming and there is much disagreement about it. But, everyone should be able to agree that our children need higher standards in the American education system. There are those who would question my Christianity, faith, and attitudes about democracy for the comments I'm making on the Common Core. Don't be mistaken, I'm not thrilled with the Common Core, but I don't think it's going away, and I do think higher standards are appropriate for our students. There are radical differences in how our states are educating our kids. We've been in amazing school districts and ones with far fewer resources for our children. It's painful to see the discrepancy and know what is possible if collectively people are willing to risk change. As they say, "no pain, no gain." However, our kids will only rise to the challenge of the Common Core if they know we believe they are up to the challenge. We need hard enough schooling environments in which our kids have to deal with failure. Not everyone can afford the luxury of home schooling or private school. We must serve our children with an education, all of them, and we need to give them enough rigor while young to make them more resilient. 

As for disagreements about how the Common Core is administered and what is taught, you can still stand up and say, "No, my child won't read that book, or that material is not okay for our family." If we don't teach our children how to take a stand at school to follow their convictions, when will they learn? We cannot control and shelter them all through their schooling years, release them to college, and somehow expect them to be the one who raises their hand in college to disagree with their professor, or a cocky graduate student. Yes, a few of those students exist, but they are few and far between. For most of us, the opportunity to engage while we are young, to practice over and over, is what creates a young adult who is willing to take a stand for morality. In our home, we talk a lot about thinking about what it is we think about it. We have to practice this over and over and make it a practice in our lives. I pray that the goal at our house is to engage others in exploring and recognizing moral truths without losing our own compass. I firmly believe, we will never win by the sword, we will win by love, and carrying the true light of truth into the world. As for the truth? God's Word can stand on its' own, I am simply the bearer of the light. I do not create the light. That requires some humility.

No matter how you and I educate our children, we need to work education out as a community and continue to invest in all the children around us. It is indeed a fine balance, doing what is best for my child(ren) vs. staying where you may be discouraged by what the future looks like. But, as I shared with the Deputy Superintendent of Public Instruction in Oregon Rob Saxton, "We will either grasp a vision and grow, or fail to catch a vision and collectively groan." Vision requires intent, preparation, planning, and implementation. Vision requires action. Action comes with a cost, and it's uncomfortable. Change is rarely, if ever comfortable, but our kids need more and we will either give it to them and help them thrive, or we will fail to step up to the challenges before us. If we fail, the American dream, amazingly enough, rooted in grit, determination, and perseverance, will be uprooted from our land. I don't want to move to Finland to find the American dream. Do you?

Interesting Links:

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Fall Marches Forward

I seem to be in catch up mode since our arrival home from Pennsylvania. I do intend to post more information on Philly and Pennsylvania. I just haven't gotten to it yet! And to be honest, I'm still pondering Gettysburg, and not at all sure, how I'm going to convey the depth of the place in few words. I do not want to do an injustice to a place of such significance and loss.

The kids are busy with art classes, piano, and fall sports. Is there anything more glorious than a beautiful fall day filled with soccer? We've had an exceptionally beautiful fall in the Pacific Northwest (minus the leftover typhoon in September), and we've been savoring sunny fall soccer around here.
The light slanting through the trees amazes me each morning. The soft hues and golds of fall are my favorite. I closed the animals up last night, and sat stargazing. It was early, about 8 p.m., and the moon had not yet risen. A shooting star raced across the heavens, and was gone, just that quick. Rarely, do I see them. So rarely, do I sit still long enough to ponder His creation. Working on that. 

As fall advances toward winter, we are praying about where He wants us to root in for winter, and where He may root us next year. We are trusting He will guide us to the right path, when the view is obscure.

Who is the man who reverently fears and worships the Lord? Him shall He teach in the way that he should choose. ~ Psalm 25:12 (Amplified)

In these challenging times, we can shrink back and become less, or we can become more in Him. More to our communities, more to our families, and more to those around us. How hard this is to work out, but work it out we must. 

Humoring my family, I'm known to often mix my metaphors. One example? "It's time to bite the bull by the horns." Yes, sometimes you can't just grasp the bull by the horns, you gotta bite him! Whether, it be fear, anxiety, stress, anger, frustration, or just stepping in courage, sometimes we just gotta take a chunk out of the bull! It amused me to find the Message translation of Psalm 25:12 as such:

My question: What are God-worshipers like?
Your answer: Arrows aimed at God’s bull’s-eye.

That's the way through the maze. Aim your arrow at God's bull's-eye. What is God's bull's eye? Jesus. Love. Grace. Truth. Faith. Hope. Forgiveness. Intentionality. Action.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Birthday Celebrations and Unexpected Brandings

We headed east this past weekend and had a great time of fellowship and fun! I came away blessed and renewed by the love and friendship in our lives. We were filled up full with people we love very much and who choose to share deeply their lives with us. I'm kicking myself for not getting more pictures of our moments, and yet, the memories we made, will remain, and I will treasure them in my heart.
Saturday, we had planned to do some hiking at Smith Rock State Park, but the weather put a stop to that. No matter, it was branding day at the ranch. Like city slickers, we watched for awhile, then headed out to rummage through a nearby antique/farm shop. Brother found a handsome Navajo bracelet for $2.00. After a long nap (for some of us), we had a lovely dinner with friends.

Coming home, we managed to get to fall tilling. I'll plant a cover crop today. We are as usual, running behind on our yard chores. Yet, the Lord and the good fall weather are helping us out.
Yes, the lambs will be butchered this week. I'm trying hard not to think about it too much.