Posted in musings, quotes

patriotism vs. the presidential election

As the weeks go by, my hope for our nation in the upcoming presidential election is steadily eroding. We’ve narrowed the race down to two people who are known to lie and manipulate events for their own gain; one of them is, in my opinion, of significantly worse character and far more dangerous as a leader, but I honestly would rather have neither of them. I suppose the difference for me is that while I can find some things to respect about Clinton, despite my utter disagreement with her on abortion, I haven’t been able to find anything to respect about Trump. Being rich and marrying attractive women, his sole accomplishments in life, are not particularly worthy of respect in my opinion…

And the thought of Trump winning the presidency and representing my country on the global stage makes me blush with shame – to the point where I am tempted to abandon my country, flee somewhere else, attempt to build a new identity and integrate into a different nation, one that actually valued honesty, self-control, responsibility, and community. But these words keep coming back to me, the words of G.K. Chesterton that I’m sure I’ve quoted before:

My acceptance of the universe is not optimism, it is more like patriotism. It is a matter of primary loyalty. The world is not a lodging-house at Brighton, which we are to leave because it is miserable. It is the fortress of our family, with the flag flying on the turret, and the more miserable it is the less we should leave it. The point is not that this world is too sad to love or too glad not to love; the point is that when you do love a thing, its gladness is a reason for loving it, and its sadness a reason for loving it more. All optimistic thoughts about England and all pessimistic thoughts about her are alike reasons for the English patriot. Similarly, optimism and pessimism are alike arguments for the cosmic patriot.

Let us suppose we are confronted with a desperate thing—say Pimlico. If we think what is really best for Pimlico we shall find the thread of thought leads to the throne or the mystic and the arbitrary. It is not enough for a man to disapprove of Pimlico: in that case he will merely cut his throat or move to Chelsea. Nor, certainly, is it enough for a man to approve of Pimlico: for then it will remain Pimlico, which would be awful. The only way out of it seems to be for somebody to love Pimlico: to love it with a transcendental tie and without any earthly reason. If there arose a man who loved Pimlico, then Pimlico would rise into ivory towers and golden pinnacles; Pimlico would attire herself as a woman does when she is loved…  If men loved Pimlico as mothers love children, arbitrarily, because it is theirs, Pimlico in a year or two might be fairer than Florence. Some readers will say that this is a mere fantasy. I answer that this is the actual history of mankind. This, as a fact, is how cities did grow great. Go back to the darkest roots of civilization and you will find them knotted round some sacred stone or encircling some sacred well. People first paid honour to a spot and afterwards gained glory for it. Men did not love Rome because she was great. She was great because they had loved her.

 – G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy

What our country needs is not for us to wring our hands in fear, or throw them up in dismay, or give up in despair; what she needs is for us to love her and to labor for her restoration and beauty. It is a harder and a more painful task, especially when faced with the anger and resentment of so many who don’t love their country or their communities, but a necessary one if true and worthwhile change is to take place. And this is where the virtue of patriotism lies, not in praising our country or her leadership no matter what poor choices are made, but in loving her enough to care about even the poorest and least likable of her people, to make right the things that are broken and rotting in her systems and communities, to see both her beauties and her flaws and admire the one while acknowledging and working to change the other.

Posted in Uncategorized

apple-printing!

The official beginning of fall has actually coincided with the onset of beautifully cool weather here in the desert, and I’ve been accumulating fall activity ideas to do with the boys. Apples are going to be our loose theme for the next two or three weeks, followed by pumpkins in time for October leading into Halloween. We just picked up a couple apple books from the library on Saturday (and have more on hold since everyone else seems to be into apples right now too!), and Saturday morning we tried out some apple printing.

We cut one apple vertically so the prints would have the recognizable apple shape, and the other one horizontally so the boys could see the star inside (and hopefully get it to show up in the prints too). At first I just gave them the apple halves, but it ended up being difficult to get the apples out of the bowls of paint, so I stuck popsicle sticks in two of them to use as handles. It worked pretty well! I think that brushing the paint onto the apple would allow you to get more even prints; dunking tended to give us an excess of paint for the first stamp or two. The prints would also probably be better – as in, more apple-like – if the boys hadn’t taken bites out of them all🙂

I made the paints from flour, water, and food coloring (with some salt so the leftovers would last, and some baking powder so we could use it as puffy paint), because I knew the apples would be impossible to resist. If it’s any indication, we’ve gone through 10 apples in the last 5 days… so I needed our paint to be completely edible. I may have done more actual stamping than the boys, but they had a great time – we spent almost an hour and a half on the project, not including all the cleanup, and that’s a long time for a 3 year old and a 1 year old!

And they got into the painting too:

We didn’t microwave the paintings to make the paint puff, and when it dried it really curled the paper up, but the boys are far more interested in the process than the product so I don’t think they cared. Actually, I don’t think they even noticed… I hung the papers to dry on a clothesline in the garage but I probably could have recycled them without triggering any emotional danger zones🙂 I’m pretty much the same way with my own art, though, so I like it!

All in all, a great start to our fall apple “unit study” and a wonderful way to spend a Saturday morning together!

Posted in musings, quotes

looking up at the heights

“Dear me! We Tooks and Brandybucks, we can’t live long on the heights.”

“No,” said Merry. “I can’t. Not yet, at any rate. But at least, Pippin, we can now see them, and honour them. It is best to love first what you are fitted to love, I suppose: you must start somewhere and have some roots, and the soil of the Shire is deep. Still there are things deeper and higher; and not a gaffer could tend his garden in what he calls peace but for them, whether he knows about them or not. I am glad that I know about them, a little.”

Like Merry, I have grown in a deep, rich soil; my mind, my heart, and my soul have been nourished well by the people, books, and experiences I’ve had. And I’m thankful for that! But sometimes I catch glimpses of the things that are deeper and higher: the beauty, the truth, the holiness that stands guard around the simple things I know and love, and sanctifies and transforms it. Can I see it fully, or remain there long? Not yet. But I am glad for what I can see, and hope to see more someday – and maybe grow into those greater things myself, at some point.

Merry’s deeper understanding of the great and true things around him leaves him not with a contempt or disdain for the little things and the simple everyday things that characterized his life in the Shire, and I think that’s an important point. It is a sign that we have strayed away from beauty and truth when we begin to feel that contempt, I believe, as Saruman did when he chose to pursue power, knowledge, and control instead of wisdom, goodness, and beauty; true growth will leave us instead with a deeper appreciation for all that was good and noble in what we knew before.

Posted in family life, Uncategorized

more pancakes!

So, I know I’ve posted about pancakes before. What can I say, they’re still a hit around here🙂

I am on the search for a good pancake mix, though, too simplify the process even more; I’ve tried the recipe from Like Mother, Like Daughter but it wasn’t our favorite, and I’m planning on trying the whole-grain mix from King Arthur Flour next.

In the meantime, however, I used up all my wheat berries and haven’t made it out to east Mesa to buy more… so the other night when I planned on pancakes and hadn’t yet realized my critical shortage, I had to find another recipe ASAP (it was either that or come up with an entirely new dinner plan thirty minutes before everyone was going to need to eat – yeah, not happening).

I ended up using Mark Bittman’s recipe from the New York Times, which is a very basic white flour pancake recipe, but I made it special by adding some small diced pears (which we needed to use up anyway) along with some cinnamon and cardamom. I don’t think anyone else in the family gets bored of eating the same pancakes every time we make them, but I always want to try something new or different, and the King Arthur Flour mix recipe had provided some add-in suggestions that got me thinking. And ever since I discovered Smitten Kitchen’s pear bread recipe I’ve been unable to separate pears and cardamom in my mind, so I added some cinnamon and cardamom to these pancakes as well! (Incidentally, the pear bread recipe doesn’t actually call for cardamom, and I don’t remember why I originally added it – but it makes the bread really stand out from otherwise similar applesauce/spice cakes. What can I say, I modify all the recipes I touch.)

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Lightly drizzled with maple syrup (for Limerick and I) or just butter (for Rondel, who thinks he doesn’t like syrup), and accompanied by hash browns and sausages, they made for an incredibly luxurious dinner🙂 Even my picky eater didn’t seem to notice or mind the small pear chunks scattered throughout, which was my main concern, and the sweet tooth of course thought they were a step above normal pancakes.

So – if you’re looking for a special occasion pancake, that may be more of a treat than a seriously healthy food, I would recommend this one! Once I get more wheat berries we’ll go back to our whole-grain pancakes, but these are quite good and, at least with the add-ins, don’t leave me missing the rich depth of the others. I’m already starting to plan different fruit and spice combinations to play around with – maybe something with cranberries and apples? Any suggestions?

Posted in family life, links

thoughts on connection from the Read Aloud Revival podcast

One of my current favorite parenting/homeschooling podcasts is the Read Aloud Revival podcast; the host is an upbeat, faith-filled mom who manages to be idealistic and practical at the same time, and who together with the rest of the podcast team puts together a deep line-up of interviewees for each season of the podcast (they’re on season 9 now, so they have some experience!). Topics range from reading with toddlers, to exploring the world of fantasy literature, to developing high school curricula, and more.

This most recent episode, #50, was ostensibly about building upon picture books with simple and natural projects for young children, but what stood out the most to me was the emphasis on connection with your children, and using the books and the projects as a means to that end. The guest, Jennifer Pepito, said among other things that

I feel like connecting with our kids is probably the best antidote to any of the social ills that people struggle with… when kids aren’t well-attached to their parents, they’re not interested in carrying on the values of their families. Projects serve as a starting point for that attachment.

We get so busy with the planning and the researching that a lot of the time that we could be connecting with our kids is lost. Your kids are really better off having you look them in the face and chat with them about what they’re doing… they’re better off having you than all the fancy ideas.

I am definitely guilty of being an obsessive researcher and planner; I get lost in the world of my ideas, too wrapped up thinking about what I could do with the boys that I lose the time I have with them in the present. So it was a really good reminder to me to hear this veteran homeschooling mom say that no matter how good a project is, if it requires you to spend a whole day researching, planning, and preparing, it’s made you lose a whole day of connecting, a whole day of spending time with your children, a whole day of showing them just how valuable and precious they are to you – and that’s just not worth it.

In the end, what I took away from this episode was that it’s better to just read good books together, and play the simple pretend games or do the basic activities that naturally spring from the stories, than to make everything as perfect and wonderful as possible, because nothing can replace the love and connection you have with your children. And that is something I can totally get behind🙂

Posted in family life

problem solving as a preschooler

Rondel’s always been a bit more of an abstract thinker than Limerick. You can explain something to him in terms of concepts and principles and he’ll get it, whereas Limerick will simply stare at you blankly until you end up just telling him what you do and do not want him to do in this situation right now. (This has been a huge help in dealing with his sensitivities, since he has the capacity to discuss them rationally and reason out ways to cope with them.) As he gets older, he’s been able to use this framework of concepts in his mind to network facts and ideas together and come up with some pretty creative solutions to problems.

Lately, one of the problems that’s been on his mind is Limerick’s chair. Limerick has a booster seat buckled to a kitchen chair, and has a tendency to push it away from the table with his feet while sitting in it, as well as to stand up in it if he’s not strapped in. Both of these things make me really nervous that he’s going to tip over, and so we’ve been talking about some different options for our kitchen dining area. Rondel’s been listening to these discussions and adding his own thoughts to the mix.

First, he noted that his own chair won’t tip over because there is a wall right behind it. So, he said, if Limerick sat in his chair and he sat in Limerick’s chair, Limerick wouldn’t be able to fall over and hit his head. But then he, Rondel, might fall over and hit his head! (Gesturing with his hands on his head and a sad face to accompany this statement). So that wouldn’t be a good solution.

A day or so later, he brought up the subject and suggested that we simply build a wall behind Limerick’s chair so that he would be protected from falling over in the same way that Rondel is. He showed me where the wall should be, and presented the idea as a fully logical solution to the problem – which I suppose it is, to someone who has no concept of the time or expense that goes into building a wall, not to mention the spatial ridiculousness of a wall in that location! But I was impressed that he had made the connection and come up with an idea.

I was even more impressed a few days later, when, I suppose unable to understand why his parents hadn’t yet build said wall, he told me that he was going to build a wall, using blocks, because “Blocks are especially good for building!” And a few minutes later, there behind Limerick’s chair was a little wall, and a very proud big brother wanting to show me what he had made:

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I asked him if I could take a picture of it and he got so excited! I love his initiative in doing something to solve this problem instead of waiting for the grown-ups to fix it, as well as his ingenuity in coming up with a solution and figuring out how he could implement it with the resources he had on hand.

Posted in family life

Being three

Three is such an interesting age.

The three-year-old is developing his sense of self, expressing his own opinions, exercising his will, and pushing for the things he wants. The easy compliance of the 1.5-2.5 year-old child, who occasionally tests boundaries but in general finds happiness in doing the will of the parents with whom he’s deeply attached, fades away. And the (sometimes difficult) thing to remember is that this separation of the child’s self from the parent’s self, as expressed by defiance, disobedience, or a different of opinion, is a good and healthy thing: a necessary part of growing up and becoming an individual. It is good for a child to begin to ask why a certain behavior is prohibited while another is encouraged, so they can develop a conceptual of morality and ethics instead of thinking of right and wrong as no more than a list of arbitrary rules. It is good for a preschooler to begin to process and understand his own emotions and desires, as distinct from his parents’ emotions and desires, as a first step for perceiving and responding to the emotions and desires of other people.

(As a note on that last point, the 3-4 year old child does not yet have a true sense of empathy; they just haven’t learned to observe other people’s feelings and mirror those feelings back in a compassionate way. Neither the brain development nor the social maturity is there yet! This is the time to begin overtly teaching the principles of empathy, however, building on the foundation of emotional connection and unconditional love that we have hopefully laid during the first few years of life. Learning this information consoled me greatly after I observed Rondel and another little boy at church engaged in an angry shoving and spitting match…)

But while all this development is going on under the surface, it tends to manifest itself in a huge variety of behaviors. Pretend/imaginative play soars to a new dimension: Rondel, always a storyteller, has now taken to creating whole worlds in his play, with characters who persist from day to day and whose relationships and interactions mirror what he himself is learning about friendship and kindness (as well as whatever frustrations he may be feeling…). On the flip side, controlling behaviors can also escalate, as the child finally has definite opinions of his own about what is the correct way to play with a certain toy, for example, and lacks the empathy to understand that different people may enjoy different ways of playing with the toy in question. As their emotional perception grows, they see and understand when others are upset but usually can’t guess why, and aren’t sure how to respond to the emotions that may scare or confuse them. Rondel tends to lose his cool completely when Limerick starts crying about something, screaming at his brother to stop crying and please be happy again! The intensity of the emotion, coupled with his own inability to understand it or do anything about it, overwhelms him. But when he’s simply presented with sadness, minus the raw intensity, he genuinely wants to help and will come over to give hugs and kisses to the person identified as sad.

It’s difficult to deal with at times, because the three-year-old is changing so fast in so many ways, and acting out in response to those changes, but at the same time fascinating and exciting to watch that development take place! I also like to think it is giving me some practice for adolescence😉