10th Blogiversary and a Blog Break

Faith made a beautiful snowflake swag for our mantelpiece

Over Thanksgiving break I realized that my blog was having a birthday. It's 10 years old!

So much has changed in our family in the past decade! I began blogging when Kara was a freshman at Purdue, and now she's the contented wife to Collin and Mama to her three (going on four) sweethearts! In 2004 our nine children ranged from 1-19, and seven were still at home full time with the two college students back frequently. Now we still have two college students (three next year), with only four children live at home. Occasionally things even get almost quiet here!

But life is still running full-tilt. Ha ha! - if I had any thought that things would get easier as the children grow, the joke was on me! Every day brings new joys and challenges as the Lord leads us through this phase of parenting.

Each snowflake has a unique, intricate design. This one features polar bears.

So much is going on right now that I'm finding it hard to carve out time to write, even for the columns and reviews for which I have deadlines. For now, I'm going to be taking a break from writing in this space, and hope to make a decision over the next weeks about the future of this blog. 

Until then - may the Lord bless you and your families in this season of remembering His Advent and looking forward to His return! 

Without Ceasing (Prayer III)

Cycling down Old Frankfort Pike outside of Lexington, KY

Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus. (I Thes. 5:16-18)

Pray without ceasing. This command alternately fills me with dismay and with hope -- dismay because I know I'll never manage the without ceasing part of things, but hope when I catch a glimpse of the wonder and beauty wrapped up in this precept.

Praying without ceasing isn't in opposition to regular, set-apart times of prayer. I think of the two ways of praying a bit like the different ways I interact with my husband. .

Throughout most days Tim and I communicate in snatches via texts, emails, or short phone conversations. Even when he's home, often we find ourselves grabbing moments between interacting with all of our children, both those at home and those no longer living here. There have been long periods in our marriage when the best time for us to catch up was while he showered after work. And then there are the sweet moments to reconnect before we slip off to sleep. We're still snatching minutes here and there. These little moments keep us involved in the details of one another's lives, but if that was all we had, the lack of extended, deeper conversation would make us weary, lonely for one another.

So we periodically take an evening away for a meal and a walk where we can talk alone for hours. And the, oh joy, occasionally we rearrange our lives enough to allow for extended, in-depth communication. Not long ago we stole away to a state park in Kentucky for three days/two nights of glorious unhurried time. We biked outside of Lexington with gorgeous horse farms lining the road, hiked land that Daniel Boone once fought over, and canoed on the beautiful Elkhorn River. And we talked. And talked. That kind of time happens maybe once a year or so, but nothing compares with these getaways for renewing our relationship and helping us to gather strength for the days ahead.

These beauties seemed curious as I passed on my bike

Just like communicating with my husband takes many different forms, some leisurely and unhurried, and others quick but meaningful, prayer takes different forms. If we are to be praying people, we need to have both regular, set-apart times of prayer and also frequent, spontaneous short prayers.

We ought to have regular times when we meet alone with God much like Tim's and my date nights or getaways. (More on that in the next installment in this series!) But between these daily appointments, our hearts can be tuned to Him by sending up short, brief prayers, just as when I send texts or other quick messages to my husband throughout the day.

OK, now let's get practical. Here are some things I've found helpful as I'm learning what this daunting command involves.

First, a change of mindset helps.  As overwhelming as the idea of praying unceasingly is, it is also a tremendous privilege! Just think - we are able to enter into the throne room of the King of Heaven at any time of the day or night and from wherever we are! Are you in the midst of disciplining two bickering children (for the umpteenth time today!) and you don't know what to do? Send up a quick prayer for patience, wisdom, and love. Unable to sleep because you are fretting about your family's financial needs? Run to the Father in prayer. If you wanted to meet with the Queen of England, the President of the United States, even the president of your local university, you wouldn't be able to simply walk into his or her office at will. Yet we have that amazing privilege given to us by the Lord of the Universe! Praise be to Him who made the way throne of heaven!

Next, look for ways to incorporate prayer into your daily activities. When I used to do laundry for many small people, I started praying for the owner of each piece of clothing as I folded. My kids all do their own washing now, so I don't have that natural opportunity, but I do still pray for my husband as I fold his pants and shirts. Doing this actually often transforms what can be one of my least favorite household chores into something I enjoy. And it changes my attitude from irritation at the mound of clothes to thankfulness for my husband who works hard for our family or for the sweet toddler who wore those adorable sleepers.

Catch moments to pray with your children, too, Meal blessings, of course, should be part of this, but find other routine events which lend themselves to a short time talking with our Father above. For example, if you hear a siren or see an emergency vehicle, stop and pray together for whomever is suffering. Pray before naps or heading to bed at night. Make prayer as natural as breathing - for both you and your children.

And then another way you can build quick times of prayer into your life are by associating certain places or events as a reminder to pray. As I pass by a grown son's room, I frequently stop and pray for him. Are there things or places you can peg prayer reminders to?

Spontaneous prayer is like having a running conversation with God. Cast your troubles on Him. Share your joys. Express your thankfulness. He delights in hearing from His children.

Spurgeon: Between these times of devotion (regular times of prayer), labor to be much in sudden, brief prayer. While your hands are busy with the world (or children!), let your hearts still talk with God --not in 20 sentences at a time, for such an interval might be inconsistent with your calling, but in broken sentences and interjection. It is always wrong to present one duty to God stained with the blood of another, and that we should do it we spoiled study or labor by running away to pray at all hours. But we may, without this, let short sentences go up to Heaven, yes, and we may shoot upwards cries and single words, such as an "Ah," an, "Oh," an, "O that," or, without words we may pray in the upward glancing of the eye, or the sigh of the heart. He who prays without ceasing uses many little darts and hand grenades of godly desire which he casts forth at every available interval.

With Two Hands: Hidden Heroes Missionary Stories

Two hands! With this hand I renounce the devil and all his works! With this hand I surrender to Jesus Christ! All I am and all I have.”

When men and women from the Omo River region in Ethiopia come to Christ, they often proclaim their allegiance to Christ in this way.

I've just finished reading Rebecca Davis' account of God's work in the Omo River region of Ethiopia, With Two HandsWe read many missionary stories in our home, but this one stands out. It tells of the work of Dick McClellan, an Australian missionary who served in Ethiopia from the late 1950s until Communists took over in the 1970s, but more than that, it recounts the courage and faithfulness of numerous Ethiopian evangelists such as Nana and Fanta through much suffering. In all the stories, With Two Hands portrays the work of God, giving glory to Him, as He builds His kingdom in this African nation.

Often as I read to my sons, my eyes teared up. Not from sorrow, but from joy at God's might and His mercy. As you read, your faith and that of your children will be both challenged and strengthened. Each reading left me giving thanks to God for His work throughout the world to call men and women to Himself.

With Two Hands is the first in five (soon to be six) books in Rebecca's Hidden Heroes series. These are not missionary biographies per se, but instead focus on God's work in one particular geographical region. You can find a sample chapter from each of the books at the Hidden Heroes website.  I heartily recommend these books!

How to Feed Your Family When Food Makes You Gag

Sometimes dinner at my house looks like this:

Tray with veggies, chicken, and eggs for spring rolls

Not often, though.

Actually, only if my daughter, Kara, happens to be visiting.

My family does appreciate beautiful presentations. But mostly they just want to eat. Every day. Whether I feel like preparing food or not.

Sometimes cooking brings great satisfaction, and other times it is just part of a routine daily chore. But what about those times when meal preparation turns your stomach? What about those days when you have absolutely no interest in food? Maybe food smells make you gag. How is a mom to feed her crew when being around food is the last thing you want to do?  Most commonly this happens in the early months of pregnancy, but there will be other times as well such as periods of great grief. At other times you might be fasting, but still your children and husband need to eat. I've had more times in the past year than ever before when cooking was the last thing I wanted to do.

Here are my coping tips for making meals when I can't stand the thought of food:

1. Use a plan.
Knowing what to make goes a long way towards getting the job done, especially when my brain wants nothing to do with food. With no dithering about what to cook, I can go into automatic mode and get the job done. I've written about why meal planning make life simpler before in these posts:

Meal Planning I:Why Bother?
Meal Planning II: Creating a Personalized Meal Plan
Meal Planning III: Using Your Master Plan
Meal Planning IV: If It's Monday, It Must Be Muffins

2. Crockpot!
I've such a fan of  slow cooked meals! Toss some ingredients in, put on the lid, and walk away. Yay! Soups, chicken, and pork are some of our favorites in the crockpot. A newer favorite is this recipe for Garlic Thyme Chicken that uses an astounding 20 cloves of garlic! (Cooking slowly somehow makes it very mild and sweet.)  Or how about Apple Cinnamon Pork Loin? Yum! Or Salsa Verde Chicken? (I add black beans to that one.) Tonight we had one of the easiest meals ever - pork loin cooked with BBQ sauce and served on buns with various sides.

If even the smells from the slow cooker make your stomach turn, put it out on the front porch or in the garage.

3. Children as cooks - a.k.a. "Kitchen Elves"!
The first time I remember my kids cooking dinner, I was pregnant and had the stomach flu. Not a good combination. We were studying earth science, and I was teaching from a prone position on the floor. "Do you think you could make some earth meatballs?" I asked my six and seven year olds. They said they could, and they did, along with some Jello to demonstrate what happens in an earthquake! (Earth meatballs = meatball (earth's crust) wrapped around a cheese cube (mantle) with a peanut inside (inner core.) Here's another version of Earth's Core Meatballs.

Older children ought to gain experience in the kitchen, so turning over meal preparation to them from time to time is useful skills for their future. (We have a requirement that both sons and daughters needs to know how to prepare a minimal number of main dishes before graduating from our homeschool high school.)

A six-year-old can make pancakes. We learned that when our youngest, left home with no one but his dad, decided he was hungry. Electric griddle + pancake mix + syrup = nice snack. Or breakfast. Or supper in a pinch.

4. Freeze partially prepared meats.
I buy chicken in bulk from Sams, and I like to freeze some in marinades. Then, on a day I don't want to fuss with food, I simply place the bag in the fridge to thaw during the day. The meat in minutes for a nearly painless main dish.

5. All else fails - Sam's rotisserie chicken
This is my go-to convenience meal. At under $5, Sam's roast chickens make an economical take-out dinner. I usually have my daughters make mashed potatoes and a vegetable or two, and we're good. Toss the carcass in a large zip bag to make into broth in the crockpot some day you feel better.

A few days ago I asked my husband if he really wanted dinner. He assured me that he did. I don't think I'm going to get a consensus from the family to do something like fast every Monday. Instead, on those days when I need or want to stay away from food, I'll be relying on these strategies.

Skip Count Fun!

Though I write reviews for Practical Homeschool magazine, I don't often run reviews in this space. Sometimes, though, I find something that is far superior to anything else in its category, and I want everyone to know about it. That's how I feel about Access to the Answers, an absolutely delightful skip count CD! (Even better, it is the creation of some friends of mine. But even if it weren't, I'd love it just the same!)

Skip counting teaches children to count by multiples rather than simply by ones, and once your children do this, mastering multiplication facts is a breeze. Young children often find it very easy to pick up anything set to music. So imagine teaching your children to count by 9s by singing these lyrics to a lively rendition of of “I've Been Working on the Railroad”:

9, 18, and 27, here comes 36
45 and 54, these are cars that switch
63 and 72, then comes 81
90 and the train ride's over
Nines come blow your horn!

Access to the Answers will have your children tapping their toes, singing along, and learning to count by 2s, 3s, 4s, 6s, 7s, 8s, 9s, and 12s. 

Our friends, Amy and Al Parker, teamed up with Lori Morrison, a homeschool mom and math tutor, to create this album. The Parker family provide the catchy and very fun music, complete with sound effects. Each song is sung to a well known melody, making them easy to remember and repeat. The 2's song is about counting falling stars (with appropriate sound effects), the 3's is to the tune of Jingle Bells and has sleigh bells and horses neighing, 4's is a song about counting fireworks and is played with a brass band, and so on.

I've been using Access to the Answers with the young children in our co-op. They are loving the tunes and learning their facts! When introducing the idea of skip counting, I like to first teach “whisper counting.” It works like this for 2s:

1 (whisper), 2 (loud), 3 (whisper), 4 (loud), 5 (whisper), 6 (loud), and so on.

Then I might write the numbers on the board and erase all but the ones we are going to skip count. But singing the songs over and over is what really helps cement the facts in little heads. And this CD makes that really, really fun. Our family has used several other skip count albums through the years, but this one beats them all! I bought a copy for myself and also one for my grandgirls.

You can order copies through Rainbow Resource for $15 or directly from the Parkers. We placed a group order for a number of families from our church and received a significant discount.

Al and Amy run Canoe Creation, an outdoor ministry based in Ohio. If you are looking for a summer camp for your children or a place to take a youth group, you need to check out what they have to offer!

Canoe Creation
Al and Amy Parker
6400 Cutler Lake Rd.
Blue Rock, Oh. 43720

Pineapple Sage!

It bloomed! We weren't sure the pineapple sage would actually blossom before the first frost. It's so nice to see some color in my otherwise worn out garden.

Ben has been enjoying Banana Pineapple Sage smoothies all summer, though.

3/4 c. plain or vanilla yogurt
1 t. honey
1 small banana
1/2 c. milk
1 T. chopped pineapple sage
1/2 t. cinnamon

Puree in blender or use immersion blender.

More pineapple sage recipes here.

What Homeschoolers Can Learn-From the Finns

Note: It's one of those years! A year with a high school senior in our family. Which means I'm up to my ears in college admissions paperwork for the next month. Since my writing time is taken up with other less fun documents, I'm going to run some different material here. This is an article I did for Practical Homeschooling magazine a bit over a year ago.

The genesis of this article was a conversation I had with someone at my great-aunt's funeral. This woman happened to be a newly retired judge and was there as friend of my cousin, also a judge.  Learning that I had homeschooled my children for over two decades, the judge, who had been an elementary teacher before attending law school, began grilling me about our educational methods and results. It was one of the liveliest, most challenging conversations I have ever had about homeschooling. At the end she thanked me "for allowing me to cross-examine, er, I mean discuss this with you." Deeply interested in alternative educational models, the judge at one point brought up the Finns, which led to my later researching how they do what they do.

What Homeschoolers Can Learn From the Finns

Does this sound familiar? Children attend class in their stocking feet in a homey setting. The highly motivated teacher has a great deal of freedom, choosing her own books and instructional methods. With a classroom day of around four hours, the children study language arts, math, science, music, art, sports, and some practical skills. Little ones learn primarily through play. Older ones have a minimal amount of homework, and tests are rare with only one standardized test at the end of nine years. The teacher takes very seriously her responsibility to not only teach but to also nurture the young people under her care, and she knows her students intimately as she teaches them from first to sixth grades. Oh, yes. By the time they are 15 years old, students who have attended this type of school whoop up on their peers in reading, science, and math.

Though much of that description may hold true for many homeschools, it is actually a portrait of a typical Finnish school. In the past decade or so, Finnish schools have become the darling of many in the education world because of their unique philosophy and stunning results. Since 2000, the first year the study was performed, Finland has appeared in the top echelon of the prestigious PISA (Programme For International Student Assessment), a test given to 15 year olds around the world every three years. Just last year Pearson Education named Finland and South Korea as “education superpowers.” The unassuming Finns have found this attention a bit disconcerting. After all, they had simply set out to provide a quality education for every student, not set the world on fire.

Finnish schools have not always been at the head of the worldwide class. Back in the early 1970s when they were behind most countries, they determined to revamp their entire system. Now compulsory schooling begins at age 7 and continues through 16. Having an egalitarian society, one of Finland's goals is to educate all children equally well, so they do not separate out gifted students or slow learners. They do provide extra help for any who need it, something like 30% of younger children, but that help comes in the regular classroom. Bright children aid their friends, and from several measurements, remarkably it appears the Finns have been able to raise the bar for everyone, rather than allow the slower students to drag down the others. After primary school, students can either move to a college prep secondary school or a vocational high school. From there they may attend college or a polytechnic institute or head out to work. So far that doesn't sound too radical. Just wait.

According to Pasi Sahlberg, author of Finnish Lessons and Director General of Finland's Ministry of Education and Culture, “Less is more” in Finnish education. Finnish children attend school for fewer hours, spend far less time on homework, and take fewer tests than American children. By law, Finnish children are not even allowed to be given grades before 5th grade, according to Sahlberg.

Finnish teachers also have less top-down control than many others, including ours. While Finland does have a national “curriculum”, it acts as a guideline and not a taskmaster. The math section, for example, consists of ten pages for the first nine year. The math section of the Common Core, by contrast, has seven pages for fourth grade alone. Official school inspectors were done away with in the 1990s, and teachers and principals work diligently because of internal responsibility rather than some form of external accountability. Speaking at Vanderbilt University, Sahlberg said that there is no word for accountability in Finnish. Instead, "Accountability is something that is left when responsibility is subtracted."

What Finns do have in abundance are passionate, intelligent teachers. Pasi Sahlberg says only the best and brightest high school students, about 10%, make it through the competitive selection process for the 650-700 spots available at the five-year teaching colleges. Prospective teachers must excel in all academic areas, most particularly math and science. On top of that, they need to sing and dance or be musical and should have some sports experience. Finnish teachers appreciate the autonomy they are given to creatively teach, and even though they are not paid as well as their counterparts in the U.S., they are repaid with a high amount of prestige.

As intriguing as the Finnish model is, even if I lived in that country, I would still want to homeschool my children. (Happily, according to the HSLDA, homeschooling is on the rise in that country and is protected by the Finnish constitution.) And while for a host of reasons the model likely wouldn't translate well into school systems at large in the U.S., the greater flexibility of homeschoolers puts us in a position to be able to glean some valuable strategies from the clever Finns while discarding other elements. Here are some take-away lessons that might be useful to homeschooling parents:

  • Build time in your schedule for “professional development.” Finnish teachers have about two hours each week. The time we spend reading about educational ideas, attending support groups, or listening to live or web-based seminars can all help sharpen our skills and refresh us when we are weary. Reading Practical Homeschooling is one great way to to this, too! Read widely. Keeping your mind active and piquing your curiosity will make you a better teacher.

  • Play is important! The Finns have proven that you don't need to rush academics with preschoolers for them to be very successful in the long run. Let your little ones learn primarily through indoor and outdoor play, art experiences, and listening to good books.

  • As your children grow, keep your school rich in play, arts, and hands-on activities. Handcrafts and music are integral parts of a Finnish child's day, along with learning two foreign languages. Teachers often employ creative instruction such as outdoor math where the children use sticks, pine cones, and other natural materials as manipulatives. Finnish children play outside and have about an hour or more of recess each day.

  • Teach your children how to learn and don't focus on test-taking. If your children become self-learners who love to discover new things, they will do just fine on any tests that come their way.
  • Do you have a gifted child? One who has special needs? Give each one what he or she needs, including extra tutoring or more advanced challenges. But don't make a big fuss about your child's abilities, either which way. Let the advanced child help the struggling one and both will gain. Maybe if we do this, our kids will have some of the Finnish humility as well.

If you want to spend some of your “professional development” time learning more about how the Finns educate their children, you might check out some of the resources listed below. Anne Wegener


Hancock, LynNell. "Why Are Finland's Schools Successful?." Smithsonian. Sept. 2011. Web. 21 Jun.
"Homeschooling Gains Attention in Finland." HSLDA. 24 Sept. 2010. Web. 25 Jun 2013.

Kouta, Maria. On Top of the World: How the Finns Educate Their Children. 2013. eBook.

Levine, Joshua. "Finnishing School." Time Magazine. 11 Apr 2011. Web. 21 Jun. 2013.

"Pearson Launches The Learning Curve." Pearson. 27 Nov. 2012. Web. 25 Jun 2013.

Sahlberg, Pasi. Finnish Lessons: What Can the World Learn From Educational Change in
       Finland?. Youtube, 2011. Web. 22 Jun 2013.

©2013 Home Life, Inc. Originally published in Practical Homeschooling magazine. Used by permission.