Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Fireproof

Mock if you will, but I'm one who enjoyed the movies "Flywheel" and "Facing the Giants." Sure, some of the acting was bad. Sure, some of the effects were obviously and embarrassingly low-budget. But the stories were good. They were movies I wanted to show my kids... and their friends. They were movies I wanted people to see. They were remarkably similar to the prime time television all of America used to watch weekly when I was little. (Think Little House on the Prairie and The Waltons here. It is unbelievable to me that these family-oriented shows were the usual weekly fare in households just thirty years ago.) Anyway, there is a new movie coming out that's written and produced by the same crew. This one stars Kirk Cameron, and - however cheesy it may end up being - I'm going to see it. I'm not convinced that some movies are not all the better for being distinctly UN-Hollywood.


Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Broken Heroes and Beautiful Feet

This has been an interesting morning. We are just home from our trip, and I've arisen this morning and read several disconnected pieces of published news. (If you'll grant me a wide berth of tolerance for my "news" sources, I'll share...)

The first was found unpacking our dog's bag of stuff upon her return... let's see... container of food... leash... brush... squeaky toy... People magazines... My mother is a People magazine fan, and while many people donate their old magazines to local doctor's offices or mail them to troops overseas, my mother passes hers on to us. (Magazine subscriptions, unless they're part of our curriculum for homeschooling, were crafted out of our family budget a long time ago.) In the Southern Living and Better Homes and Gardens issues I have learned great decorating tips and found great recipes. But the People magazines keep me "up to speed" with contemporary pop culture, and it grows more disturbing every day.

This morning I read about a "man who gave birth." (Yes, of course she is not, nor has she ever been, a man, but is a disturbed and confused woman who has surgically removed her breasts, takes male hormones, and wears her hair and clothing in a distinctly male fashion. And now she has given birth. The article refers to her only as "he.")

I saw pictures of jubilant brides and grooms who had scrambled to be the first same-sex legal marriages in California. There were photos of young same-sex couples attending their senior proms together. And there was the usual fare about which celebrity is now dating which other celebrity's "ex," and which currently-married celebrities are having babies with which current spouses. It is particularly confusing to read about Tom Cruise's and Nicole Kidman's and Jennifer Anniston's and Brad Pitt's births and parenting plans all in the same couple of issues. Who was married to whom, and who is now married to whom, and which children were born when, and to whom?

Our heroes are broken. All around us (and certainly also among and within us), broken marriages, broken homes, broken relationships, and broken lives are on display... and all "prettied up" to look like something we should emulate. In an age when more marriages fail than succeed, it is difficult to find someone who is currently with his or her first spouse. Second, third, fourth, fifth marriages are not uncommon. Where is the child who doesn't have step-siblings and half-siblings and multiple sets of grandparents and cousins? It is now a common thing for kids to have two completely different homes, with different closets full of different wardrobes. Some alternate weeks; some, months; some, seasons. But there is no home... only homes. Different beds. Different rules (if there are any). Different practices and policies and ways of doing things. Do we really think this sort of chaos isn't damaging to kids? Do we really think we don't reap what we sow?

And all of this craziness is to be embraced and tolerated and celebrated. We who think that having "two mommies" may not be the best thing for children or society are considered intolerant and narrow-minded and hateful.

And while we're busily embracing and tolerating and celebrating these "alternate lifestyles," we are also busily legislating against one particular lifestyle for which there is to be no tolerance...

Enter my second "published news experience" this morning...

The rabid desire for a completely secularized society is hitting closer and closer to home.

BRAVE NEW SCHOOLS
Academia to high schools: No God allowed
State rejects Christian education as valid for university admissions

Posted: July 19, 2008
12:00 am Eastern

© 2008 WorldNetDaily

Arguments were heard today in a federal district court case to determine whether a state university system can dictate that private Christian schools in the state teach their college prep courses from exclusively secular, Bible- and God-free textbooks.

As WND reported earlier, the University of California system adopted a policy last year that basic science, history, and literature textbooks by major Christian book publishers wouldn't qualify for core admissions requirements because of the inclusion of Christian perspectives.

Robert Tyler, who is representing Calvary Chapel Christian School and five students in the case against the University of California, told WND that the university's discriminatory policy creates an ultimatum for Christian schools. "If you want courses to be approved in private education, so your students are qualified to attend (UC) institutions, you must teach from a secular point of view," he said.

"Christian schools will have to decide: teach from a Christian worldview and eliminate your student's ability to attend a UC school, or teach from a secular worldview, so that the kids can enter the UC school system," he explained.

"Essentially what's happening is the UC has to pre-approve courses taught in high school," Tyler said. "It's pretty shocking, because in depositions UC reps made it clear: whether it be English, history or science, the addition of a religious viewpoint makes it unacceptable."

Tyler also told WND that though a decision from Federal District Court Judge Otero is expected in the next two to three weeks, he fully expects the case to be appealed to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, and perhaps even the U.S. Supreme Court, since both sides are firmly entrenched and likely to appeal if Otero decides against them.

"We believe that UC's discrimination is clearly unconstitutional and violates the First Amendment, because UC is attempting to secularize Christian schools," Tyler said.

"The UC is intent upon defending some 'right' to discriminate unlawfully," he said. "They seem steadfast that students will not be adequately prepared for college because a Christian worldview was added to their curriculum.

"We won't accept that, and we're resolved to take this to higher court if necessary."

Under the admissions guidelines to University of California colleges, in-state students must either score in the top two to three percent on standardized tests or complete a core curriculum of approved preparatory classes (called "a-g" classes) to be deemed eligible for entrance into the state university system.

According to the lawsuit, more than 90 percent of UC students achieved eligibility by completing an approved a-g curriculum.

Under the disputed policy, however, a-g classes based on books that mention God or the Bible don't count, effectively making a secular education a prerequisite for admission.

After reviewing textbooks from major Christian publishers Bob Jones University Press and A Beka Book, UC officials deemed them insufficient, specifically because the books supplemented the basic material with a Christian perspective.

Burt Carney, an executive with the Association of Christian Schools International, said he's met with officials for the university system, and was told that there was no problem with the actual facts in a BJU physics textbook that was disallowed.

In fact, an ACSI report said, UC officials confirmed "that if the Scripture verses that begin each chapter were removed the textbook would likely be approved …"

"Here's the very university that talks about academic freedom," Carney said. "It's very discriminating. They don't rule against Muslim or Hindu or Jewish (themes) or so forth, only those with a definite Christian theme."

According to the lawsuit, a variety of textbooks with supplemental perspectives were accepted – just not those with a Christian perspective.

For example, "Western Civilization: The Jewish Experience" and "Issues in African History" were accepted, but "Christianity's Influence on American History" was rejected. "Feminine Roles in Literature," "Gender, Sexuality, and Identity in Literature" and "Literature of Dissent" were accepted, but "Christianity and Morality in American Literature" was not.

Most strikingly, "Intro to Buddhism," "Introduction to Jewish Thought," "Women's Studies & Feminism" and "Raza Studies" were deemed acceptable electives, but "Special Providence: American Government" was unacceptable, both as a civics and elective course.

"In other words, (UC schools) routinely approve courses which add viewpoints such as non-Christian religion, feminism, an ethnic preference, a political viewpoint, or multiculturalism, or that focus on religions such as Buddhism or Judaism, (and plaintiffs believe they should evenhandedly approve such courses), but disapprove courses which add viewpoints based on conservative Christianity," the court filings said.

The official court documents also charge, "Methodically and ominously, (UC schools) have assumed increasingly more authority over secondary schools in California by expanding the reach and impact of requirements for students in nonpublic secondary schools to be eligible for admission to the University of California (and effectively also to the California State University system). Even without authority for and guidance in doing so, (UC schools) press onward from deciding admission guidelines to determining what viewpoints may and may not be taught in secondary school classrooms, which books may and may not be used, and what students with the same tests scores are and are not eligible for admission to the University of California."

The ACSI, with the help of Advocates for Faith and Freedom, a non-profit law firm dedicated to protecting religious liberty in the courts, contends the university system's discrimination is unconstitutional on several grounds, including an unlawful intrusion and entanglement of the government in the church.

The court documents state, "Entanglement with religion results from (UC schools) and the state parsing through the viewpoints and content of Christian school instruction and texts to ferret out disapproved religious views, and intruding into the content of religious schools and texts, and doing that when there is no deficiency at all reflected in their scores or grades."

"Every teacher teaches from a point of view," Tyler told WND. "We all have a worldview, and if you teach from secular perspective, it's a viewpoint.

"Our argument is that the government has to be neutral when it comes to viewpoint."

It seems to me there is very little room for doubt regarding which viewpoints are endorsed as acceptable in our current society and which are not. I guess where I'm at a loss is in figuring out what we're to do about it. Some would argue that Christians have an obligation to be involved in the civic arena... others would just as strongly argue that we should remain outside of active political involvement. Some would argue that the conservative agenda is the only truly godly one... others would suggest that only liberals push a point of view that cares about the same things God does... still others abandon either with the overly-simplistic idea that, "only the gospel matters; therefore, politics is irrelevant."

And in the meantime, very few of us "regular people" talk about any of it. "Never talk about religion or politics," we are taught at a very young age. And so - while religion and politics remain off-limits discussion points for Christians - our secular society has set its own agenda.

And, unfortunately, it doesn't seem to include us.

What is the appropriate, godly response to the myriad of issues we face? Godless conservatism is as scary as godless liberalism, but finding a place of discussion which includes God in politics - apart from vitriolic soap boxes - is difficult... especially in a society seeking to craft God out of every public arena. How will we ever get to a place of resultant action if we never even have the discussions? And what solutions exist if they are pursued apart from the Lord? And how will a post-modern, post-Christian society come to know Him if we're too afraid to speak up? In an election year, politics is context. It is what folks are thinking about and talking about... it is the setting into which the good news must be brought. However strong the likelihood of misinterpretation. However likely the guarantee of misunderstanding.

"For, 'Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.' How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, 'How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!'" - Romans 10:13-15

The gospel is still good news. Even in an election year. Maybe even especially in an election year. May we get beyond the rhetoric and the hype and speak of Him...

For some, it will be to statesmen or celebrities or foreign diplomats... As for me, it will be to whomever He has me near right now, and tomorrow, and the next day... wherever He gives me a voice...

I'm just longing to be beautiful feet...

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Across the Miles

I got an email from a dear long-time friend (better not call her "old") tonight that has filled me with wistful nostalgia. Every once in a while something strikes me that drives home the fleeting nature of life... the speed at which it flies by. Last week it was when iivo mentioned an old college suitemate of his with whom he'd reconnected on Facebook. He is now married with five kids! (I didn't really know this guy very well, so the last time I laid eyes on him or even thought about him, really, he was single and just leaving William & Mary. It seems like just a couple of years ago. Alas, it was many more than a couple...)

The email that I received tonight came across the ocean from India, where my friend is serving with her family as missionaries. Her words are playing around in my head, and the profoundly bittersweet nature of life is getting to me a bit.

I thought of you when I was walking this evening. I had to dodge a water buffalo and her calf coming from the other direction. Moments like those I consider "I bet this doesn't happen to Laurie" moments. The themes of our lives are so similar that sometimes I lose track of how different the settings are. Then suddenly I will realize that this or that type of thing probably isn't happening in your world. I hope you don't mind that I've chosen you as my reference point for those musings. I think it is because I relate to you more than to any other friend.

These kinds of friendships you don't find everyday. They are a rare find, indeed... the kind that last for decades, through all the crap you each dish out, through all the great and crummy things you each experience, through all the distance and all the miles and all the heartache and all the joy. I miss her.

Anyway, we're off to other such friends' house tomorrow. As my husband's old college roommate is among the funniest people I know, I plan to laugh very hard. Because he knows me very well, much of the laughter will be directed at myself, I'm sure. And I plan to have deep and important conversations, because these are those kinds of friends. We'll pile into their basement across the miles and still feel very much at home.

The Rebelution Conference is part of the planned activities. I'll let you know what thoughts and life change that stirs up...

Of Avocados and Eggs...

One time I had a friend over for lunch, and I was serving avocados. As I began the yucky process of peeling and de-pitting the avocado, she offered up a very easy, astonishingly amazing "trick" that I never knew about peeling and de-pitting avacados.

[In case you don't know it, either, I'll tell you... Slice into the avocado all the way to the pit, then circumnavigate the entire avocado with the knife. Twist the two halves you've made in opposite directions, and the thing will separate into two perfect halves, one of which will contain the pit. (That much I had known previously, but this next part I'd never seen or heard before Sarah taught it to me. Thanks again, Sarah!) At this point in the process, you can whack your (large, substantial) knife straight down into the pit so it sticks a little, then twist. Just like that, the pit slides out just as clean and smooth as it did on the other half. How many avocado halves have I destroyed over my lifetime by digging my thumb into them, trying to get the dumb pit out?!]

Anyway, I was astonished and thrilled at this trick that I'd never known, which made this thing I did rather regularly so much easier. The first thing I did? I called all my kids into the kitchen and made sure they knew the trick. Over the next few days, I called a few of my friends and said, "Do you know this astonishing trick about cleanly de-pitting an avocado?" The first friend I called said, "Yes, I knew that. But I didn't know that you didn't know that, so I never told you, of course." We shared a good laugh, and then I called the next person. Her response? "Yeah, I know about that, but it doesn't work." As I assured her that I had just done it, and that it did - in fact - work great, she made some sort of, "Yeah, right" snort and I decided to get off the phone. Life's too short to try to help people who don't want to be helped. The third person I called quipped something about not believing that I still eat avocados since they are so high in fat. (I no longer try to have discussions with people who are strongly in the "high fat is our biggest problem" health camp unless I'm asked a direct question by someone who's open and curious. It is much too radical a shift in thinking for them to consider anything else unless they're investigating and willing to research a bit.)

At any rate, all in all, my phone campaign was not all that successful. I didn't really get to share the great discovery with anyone whose life was going to be made easier by it. And so it went. That was probably three or four years ago now, and I've not destroyed probably hundreds of avocados since then.

So why post about it here, now, three or four years later? Because this morning I discovered a similar "trick" which, if it works, will equally thrill and astonish me, and which I will want to share. And since "word of mouth" in today's world no longer happens by mouth, but online, I decided to post it here. Does it actually work? I have no idea... I haven't tried it yet. But his video seems to indicate that it does, and - if so - hooray for another time-saving, labor-saving, water-saving (I've usually tried to peel them under running water to make it easier), frustration-saving procedure. And good for him for making a video to share with those of us who care to benefit from others' experience and wisdom.

So there it is. And if you're thinking, "I can't believe you're still eating eggs because they're so high in cholesterol," then we'll talk some day later, if you ever get curious and directly ask me about it.

Happy non-peeling!

Monday, July 21, 2008

"Required Summer Reading"

As a homeschooling mother, I always want to try to find that delicate balance among the "stuff I know they should read" and "stuff I think they shouldn't read (at least for now)" and knowledge of "what everyone else it reading" (both for fun and for school), so that in the end my children will be well-rounded, well-prepared, well-educated students.

Consequently, every summer I go to Barnes & Noble to peruse the "Required Summer Reading Lists" of all the local public and private schools - both collegiate and Christian. This alone is quite an eye-opener for anyone interested in seeing the varying standards and expectations that exist... first, between the regular and honors programs in the local public schools; second, among the different public schools in the area; third, in public versus private schooling; and fourth, among the distinctly collegiate, distinctly Christian, and Classical-model private schools. It is enough to make your head spin and your brain hurt.

Anyway, one of the books that has appeared on several of the middle and high school level honors lists for a couple of years now, even across the wide array of schooling options, is The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd. Being touted (and studied) as a "modern classic," it is the story of a young white girl who has lost her mother, run away from her father, and taken up residence in the home of three unmarried black sisters in 1964 South Carolina, where one just didn't do such things. Sure, there's the distinctly feminist bent that is unavoidable in much contemporary fiction, but overall, the book is beautifully written and the story magnificently orchestrated. I loved it.

A relatively profound moment (and there are many):

"There is one thing I don't get," I said.

"What's that?"

"How come if your favorite color is blue, you painted your house so pink?"

She laughed. "That was May's doing. She was with me the day I went to the paint store to pick out the color. I had a nice tan color in mind, but May latched on to this sample called Caribbean Pink. She said it made her feel like dancing a Spanish flamenco. I thought, 'Well, this is the tackiest color I've ever seen, and we'll have half the town talking about us, but if it can lift May's heart like that, I guess she ought to live inside it.'"

"All this time I just figured you liked pink," I said.

She laughed again. "You know, some things don't matter that much, Lily. Like the color of a house. How big is that in the overall scheme of life? But lifting a person's heart - now, that matters. The whole problem with people is --- "

"They don't know what matters and what doesn't," I said, filling in her sentence and feeling proud of myself for doing so.

"I was gonna say, The problem is they know what matters, but they don't choose it. You know how hard that is, Lily? I love May, but it was still so hard to choose Caribbean Pink. The hardest thing on earth is choosing what matters."


And isn't that the truth?!

Friday, July 18, 2008

How to Make Homemade Yogurt

What a boring title. What a boring topic. Sorry. Several friends have asked (including the one in the comments section of my last post) and it seemed easier for her and others to find it if I posted it here rather than in a reply comment. So, here it is, for whomever cares about such things.

Homemade yogurt is a staple in our home. We consume obscene quantities of it. My kids love it. Homemade yogurt is cheaper and healthier than the store-bought variety. It isn't difficult to make at all, but it - like any other "homemade" venture - is more difficult than picking it up at the store. It will be worth the trouble to you if your family eats it already and you want to cut the cost and the sugar and the preservatives down.

NOTE: Home-made yogurt is not kefir. Although yogurt is very healthy and beneficial to the digestive tract in its own right - and quite delicious - if you are interested in the kind of health benefits I extolled in my last post, you will need to choose kefir instead of yogurt. Kefir is also much easier to make than homemade yogurt.

Don't take that to mean that yogurt is difficult to make, however, because it isn't. But it does take a bit of prep work, and a good bit of time to sit and incubate. (Yogurt is a cultured product, like cheese, and has to incubate in a temperature-controlled environment for a certain amount of time.) You can either throw it together in the evening and let it culture in the oven overnight - which is what I do - or put it together on a day when you won't need your oven and let it brew during the day.

To get started, you will need milk, glass jars and lids, a starter yogurt from the store or from your own last batch of homemade yogurt, and sugar/vanilla if you want sweet yogurt instead of plain.

Here's how you do it: You will need clean jars and lids. (No need to sterilize - if they went through the dishwasher, straight from the cabinet will be fine.) You can use pint jars or quart jars, too, if you'd rather. I use any combination of sizes which I have clean and ready to go. Good "free" jars come from removing the labels and saving the jars and lids from Classico tomato and basil sauce or Mountain Ridge pure raw honey (both about quart size with a one-piece standard Ball lid), or Bonne Maman jellies (about cup size with a pretty red and white checked lid). Of course, you can just use Ball canning jars, too, if you want to pay for them and don't mind the two-piece lids. It helps if most of the jars you use take the same kinds of lids so that you know right away which lid goes with which jar as you're making your yogurt.

I start with a gallon of milk, which makes about 15 cups of yogurt in the end. (This lasts us not quite a week.) I use whole milk, which makes the yogurt creamier and thicker in the end, but I've used 2% as well, so I know that will work. I'm not sure about 1% or skim, but I wouldn't hesitate to try it if this is important to you. Since I've also used raw milk, or milk with added soy milk or rice milk in it, I think it is pretty tolerant of most base milks.

If you want plain yogurt, add no sugar. If you want vanilla yogurt - sweet versus plain - add however much sugar you like before you heat up the milk. (To get the same sweetness as the store-bought variety, you will have to add at least two cups of sugar to the gallon of milk. I add about 1/2 C. sugar per gallon now. This makes it slightly sweet but not at all "sicky sweet" like from the store. If you and your family like how sweet the store-bought kind tastes, you'll want to make your homemade yogurt pretty sweet at first to "win yourself over," then gradually reduce the sugar as you go. You'll barely notice if you just cut back a little each time.

Heat the milk in a large pot to just barely boiling. (Add the sugar at the beginning, if you use it, and stir to dissolve.) Once the milk comes to a light boil, remove it from the heat and let it cool down to the same temperature you'd want the liquid for making a yeast bread. (If you're not familiar with this "pretty warm but not hot" feeling with your finger, you can use a candy thermometer the first few times. You want it around 100 degrees, but it must be between 90 and 110. If it is too cold at the time you add the starter, it won't culture. If it is too hot, you'll kill the culture.) When it is this temperature, add about a tablespoon of vanilla (if you want it).

For the starter yogurt, I use some of the previous batch until such time that my kids end up eating all of it without saving me some starter. When this happens (about once a month or so), I start fresh with a store-bought starter. In order to get the best "health benefit" combination of live cultures (the friendly bacteria that turns the milk into yogurt), I start with a combination of Stoneyfield Farm (plain) and Activia (vanilla) brands. This combination contains the widest variety of beneficial intestinal flora, and seems to give the best "set up" power and balance of sweetness versus tartness. However, you can really start with any plain or vanilla (not flavored) yogurt where the container says something like, "Made with active live cultures." I take about half a jar (of the cup size) of my own yogurt, or a few tablespoons of each of the store-bought ones, and put it in a plastic mixing bowl and whisk it smooth. Then I take a measuring cup (Tupperware makes a really nice one with a detached handle that can hang on the side of the pot, but whatever is fine) and transfer some of the warm-but-not-hot milk into the just-whisked yogurt. I stir it in, and repeat until the bowl is full. I then pour that bowl of liquid back into the remaining milk in the large pot. (This process adjusts the yogurt to the temperature of the warm milk gradually, preventing a shock that could kill it. Since I don't bother to check the temperatures anymore with anything but my finger, I figure it doesn't hurt to be careful.)

Once the milk and starter are combined in this way, use the same measuring cup to transfer the mixture into your clean jars. Cap them and put them into a metal baking dish (for no other reason than to make transport easy and to keep them from tipping over in the oven) and place it into your oven with either the gas pilot light or the electric light bulb on. Close it up. (I latch it with the self-cleaning oven latch as a signal to myself and the others in my family that yogurt is culturing so we won't go by and accidentally turn off the light.) This (leaving the oven light or pilot light on) will maintain the correct 90-110 degree temperature range for culturing the yogurt. It will set up in a few hours, but I regularly leave it for twelve or more since I culture it overnight while we're sleeping. Once it is set up, transfer the jars to the refrigerator and enjoy!

Homemade yogurt is slightly less firm than store-bought yogurt. You will quickly get used to this, but if you really miss the texture of the latter, I remember reading that you can add some gelatin to the milk to make it more firm. I've never done this, so you'll have to find it in a cookbook or elsewhere online if you want to know how to do that.

If fruit-flavored yogurt is really important to you, you will have to add the fruit flavoring once the yogurt is made. You can use some sort of jelly/preserves or a liquid fruit syrup for this purpose. The more you stir the yogurt, however, the more liquid it will become, so be careful here.

If you eat a few bites from the jar and then add Welch's 100% grape juice to the jar and shake, you'll have pretty good replica of those probiotic-type drinks they sell in teeny little bottles for a fortune.

My kids' favorite way to eat this yogurt is as "yogurt and oats," which is where they add raw oats and stir it into a meusli-esque sort of blend. You can add apples, bananas, and walnuts or almonds if you want a true meusli treat.

Well, in my attempts to be super-detailed so I won't leave anything out, I'm sure I've scared most of you off and made it sound much harder than it actually is. It is a standard twice-a-week process in our home, and every member of my family (from the seven-year-old daughter to the 40-year-old husband) could do it in their sleep by now. If we can, you can!

Let me know how it goes!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Kefir, anyone?

Anecdotal evidence is just that, I know, and I claim nothing scientific, proven, or accurately studied and researched when I make the following observation: kefir keeps people healthy, and makes them well if they're not. At the risk of sounding totally wacky (which has never stopped me before), I share the following information for whomever might be interested. If you're not, stop reading now, because it is likely to strike you as long, boring, and weird...

My family was first introduced to the idea of kefir by our friends Dawn (who has celiac disease and consumes store-bought kefir regularly) and Rae (who habitually drinks a cup of home-brewed kefir each day to help her allergies). I think that's what Rae said she takes it for, but since I don't struggle with celiac disease or severe allergies, I honestly didn't pay much attention. Interestingly, a few weeks later, another friend (a fellow "natural type" who is concerned with health and wellness) mentioned that she and her family had attained some kefir "grains" and were now "brewing" kefir at home. I began to do a little internet research, and found plenty of interesting (read: strange) information regarding this naturally fermented beverage originally hailing from the region near the Caucasus mountains.

However strange it may have seemed, however, everyone I knew who was drinking the stuff was claiming major health benefit, and now the strangers (read: weirdos) on the Internet were claiming the same thing. Since it seemed a lot easier to make than homemade yogurt, which my family consumes in absurd quantities, I figured I could brew and use it instead of the yogurt in the smoothies we make many mornings. I obtained some grains from Jan's supply and got going.

Since that time - over two years ago - I have not been sick once... not a cold, not a stomach flu, nothing. (I did lose my voice last month, ostensibly related to all the smoke from the fires burning in the area, but interestingly that happened during our week away on the shores of NC when we were not drinking any kefir!) No one else in my family has been sick, either, in over two years' time. My youngest was sick once, but since it was only once and it was two years ago during the beginning of the first and only year she spent in public school - kindergarten, complete with all the new germs and the candy rewards - I tend to think that's not too bad, especially for a thumb sucker!

Anyway, I dared to venture into mentioning this to another friend, my daughter's violin instructor, who was having to cancel many lessons because her preschool children were always sick. I saw that she was giving them those pro-biotic yogurt drinks, so I dared to mention our homemade yogurt and kefir to her, mostly thinking about how much cheaper it is to make at home yourself. We gave her a lesson on how to do it, and she set off on her way.

This morning she called me to tell me that her children have not been sick since they started drinking the kefir - over six months now. These were girls that were sick something like twice a month before that! She also sheepishly mentioned that she has had a condition since her high school days (we're talking years ago) involving a persistent skin issue and nail ridge on the big toe of her right foot. She had been treated for a fungal infection in that nail decades ago, but these problems had persisted long after everyone told her the infection was cleared up. She shared that since she began drinking kefir daily, the ridge on her nail that has been there for years is now gone. Further, the rough, scaly skin that hasn't ever gone away during that same time, hardened and peeled away, leaving clean soft skin beneath it for the first time in years. At the risk of sounding like a charlatan, I won't go on to mention that she has also suffered significant digestive issues (as in diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome) and has been on strict dietary restrictions for several years, but that these issues have gone away since she started drinking the kefir.

At this point I feel a little like Miracle Max, so I'll stop. But I sure won't stop drinking my kefir! If you ever want to start brewing some, let me know, and I'll get you some grains.

To read or not to read, that is the question...

This morning I received a transcript of an audio program extolling the benefits of family reading. I love what they had to say, because I believe it to be so true. We have been doing this right before bed since our first child was born. Reading her a bedtime story just shifted into "family read-aloud" when she got old enough to handle following "chapter books" by making it from one night to the next. We started reading a chapter a night when she was two years old, but I'm sure we could have started even sooner. Her younger brother was a baby at the time, and he (and his subsequent siblings) sat in on it every night even of their infant lives.

(This is the son who went on to read Tolkien's entire Lord of the Rings trilogy, independently and with full comprehension, when he was five years old - but that is another story for another time.)

The speaker is author Richard Grant:
You know, Mike, what we actually do is what is actually important to us. The biggest thing to free up time for reading would be for parents to set reading as a high priority, and then do it. We spend time on Little League, ballet lessons, all kinds of good things, but few of those activities are going to impact our kids as profitably as reading. How many of our kids are really going to be pro ball players or ballerinas? Not many. But they all need to be good readers. So parents can set reading higher on their list of things to do.
Another thing they can do is turn off that TV. It consumes us. Turn it off! There are a whole lot more good books than there are good TV shows.
Also, a busy homeschool mom can add recreational reading to her daily routine. Every day she can schedule a time when everyone, including herself, gets a specific number of minutes to read quietly. I call this USSR: uninterrupted silent sustained reading. No phone calls, no chores, no answering the door. Just reading. Reading like this can be an oasis in an otherwise hectic homeschool day.

What a great idea about the USSR! Our homeschool day requires this kind of silent reading of each of our children, but how fun to work it in so that occasionally you're doing it simultaneously. I'm sure it is encouraging to the younger ones to see all the older ones in the family (including their parents) reading at the same time they are.

In an era when one in four Americans has not read a single book during the past year, we can make a significant difference in whether our children fritter away their lives in front of a moving screen, or become the lifelong learners that those who love to read are destined to be. (Here's a hint: as long as the addictive flickering screen is an option, they'll never choose the book. Or much of anything else, for that matter.)

Anyway, happy reading!

Friday, July 11, 2008

Rasta-genarian

Any of you who know my father know how hilarious this concept is. Age has robbed him of his hair, but even if it hadn't, this would never be his look! ;)


We love you, Grampa!

Friday, July 4, 2008

Making me laugh...

When I was in college, I told my friend Ron that I wanted one day to marry a man with a sense of humor. He retorted with, "No you don't! If you marry someone with a sense of humor, he'll know you're not funny. You want to marry someone funny."

How right he was.

And so I did.

And I agree with Joanne Woodward, wife of Paul Newman for 50 years now, who said, "Sexiness wears thin after a while, and beauty fades, but to be married to a man who make you laugh, every day, ah, now that's a real treat."

Sure, he's still sexy. But he also makes me laugh. Really hard. Every day.

Such fun!

Living Life on Purpose

Well, we find ourselves inexplicably and unbelievably back at the NC shore for a short, two-day reprise. It turns out that there were a couple of unrented days at my parents' beach house, the last for this summer, so here we are again. Who could pass up the chance to grill Independence Day burgers in paradise?!

I've been contemplating Independence Day today. As a homeschooling family, we should be doing some sort of creative and memorable history lesson, I know, and, once again, we are simply celebrating like most everyone else does... grilling out, playing in the sun, hoping to catch some fireworks. And I've decided that's okay. It's hard to picture Ben Franklin or Thomas Jefferson catching some rays when there was so much world-changing to do, but we're blessedly and unexpectedly here, and it fits, and if my kids don't learn American history well enough on the other 364 days of the year, a quick-peek reiteration on July 4 isn't going to make much difference.

And so, really, what I've been contemplating while I've been here is the idea of resolve. Deliberateness. Living life with purpose. On purpose.

I've deliberately determined that, this year, there is no history lesson surrounding Independence Day. I'm okay with that. But I'm okay with it because I've decided it. I've thought it through and given it the attention such a decision deserves (at least to over-thinking homeschoolers who must turn every life experience into an opportunity for learning). It didn't just "happen that way," with me rolling along as life moves on without my thoughtful attention to decision-making.

I've been pondering - and observing from a distance - the person I've slowly become over the past decade or so of teaching that has taught me not to strive. Not to resolve. Not to "try harder," because that's not the way of the gospel. Hogwash. I'm not buying it.

The Year of Jubilee was God's idea. A fresh start. Things made right that had gotten out of whack. He came up with the Sabbath, for crying out loud. A weekly chance to cease from the relentless tyranny of the urgent and to rest. To reflect. To prayerfully ponder and purpose and contemplate. To pursue the Lord and His thoughts and His plans and His heart, and then to set forth on a fresh course for a fresh week with a fresh vision. "Be still and know that I am God," (Psalm 46:10).

And so, ironically, it is in the quiet of rest... in the deliberate pursuit of the Lord beyond the moment-by-moment "Yeah, yeah, I know He's with me always" and into the "Here I am to meet with You, Lord, and seek Your face" that He meets us with the still small voice of guidance, and asks of us the grit to get up and follow. "Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, 'This is the way; walk in it'," (Isaiah 30:21).

This I have lost. Daily, weekly, monthly, seasonally, yearly. I used to set goals at each of these built-in calendar-points. They are gifts from the Lord for such a purpose. He knows we need them, and so He gave them to us. A sunrise in the quiet morning hush. A mandated day of rest and worship and ceasing of tasks. The cool breeze and dead leaves of autumn. The stillness and cold of bare trees in winter. The spring-time bursting forth of fresh green and flowers and fragrance. The bountiful harvest and hot of summer.

I believe He expects us to use them. To walk with Him closely enough to consult Him and ask Him and listen and hear Him as He leads us on our way, through each day and week and month and season.

I used to deliberately meet with the Lord at these times, and set goals in line with what I felt Him telling me... weighty, lofty things I set down on paper and strove to achieve. I was "continuing to work out my salvation with fear and trembling," (Philippians 2:12). There was an appropriate amount of action and purpose to it.

I am finally beginning to wake up from the more recent hazy fog of purposelessness. From the lie that pursuing Him, in all His glory and omni-presence, is somehow mutually-exclusive from goal-setting... from striving... from resolve.

And so, I am considering the concept of resolutions... of "setting stakes," which I wrote about a few days ago. The Lord is faithfully shaking me from the stupor of lethargy and inaction that I have fallen into for who-knows-how-long. I am learning to love and embrace, rather than shun and scorn, the concept of resolve. Of grit. Of determination.

I'll let you know what I come up with - what He shows me in these glorious times together - but for now I've set two stakes in the ground... I'm shooting for six days a week with the "S's of exercise" (sixty, sixteen, or sex) and I'm no longer talking on a cell phone while driving.

Not much, really, but it takes time to get a herd of elephants off your back.

Check out some other thoughts about this same issue from a woman I don't know, but wish I did. Here is her blog post from six months ago. (Don't be fooled by the title). The Beehive: My Resolutions for 1997

"For it is God who works in you to will and to act according to His good purpose," (Philippians 2:13).

Thursday, July 3, 2008

We don't care what you believe...

Well, I finally had a chance to get on and check email this morning, and this was among what I found. It is from the July 2 Citizen Link e-alert mailing from Focus on the Family. Sometimes they make me crazy, but I like the reporting of some news stories I feel certain I would not otherwise hear about. Like these, for instance...

ADF Appeals Ruling against Christian Photographer


The Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) has filed an appeal in district court challenging a judgment against a Christian photographer in New Mexico who refused to shoot a same-sex "commitment ceremony."

Earlier this year, the New Mexico Civil Rights Commission ordered Elane Photography to pay $6,637 in attorneys' fees for "sexual-orientation bias."

“Christians in the marketplace should not be penalized for abiding by their beliefs,” ADF Senior Counsel Jordan Lorence said. “The Constitution prohibits the state from forcing unwilling people to promote a message they disagree with and thereby violate their conscience. The commission’s decision demonstrated stunning disregard for our client’s First Amendment rights.”

Gay Couple Sues Adoption Service

A same-sex couple in New York is suing an online adoption group based in Arizona that refused, based on religious beliefs, to provide services.

ParentProfiles.com, an Internet service that matches adoptive parents with babies, allows only “a qualifying husband and wife couple” to use its services.

Rosario Gennaro and Alexander Gardner are fighting the policy.

"We've already seen a Catholic adoption agency in Massachusetts shut its doors rather than compromise its religious convictions,” said Dawn Vargo, bioethics analyst for Focus on the Family Action.

“Unfortunately, we will see more agencies forced to choose between religious beliefs and the desires of homosexual activists unless we protect the freedom to act according to moral and religious convictions."