A girl named Elsie.

Julie / September 13, 2010

41eVIBgvLEL._SL160_I’m very sorry to say that the first time I read the Elsie Dinsmore books was just this summer.  I say “sorry,” because I rather would have liked the experience of reading them as a child, along with Anne Shirley, Laura Ingalls, and Jo March–the Elsie stories are so very similar to these which I’ve known so much longer, and yet very significantly different.


Little Miss Elsie Dinsmore is eight years old when her series opens, and she finds herself in dire circumstances: her mother has died, her father is gallivanting around Europe having never met his little daughter, and she finds herself in her grandparents’ rather hostile home, with a grandmother who dislikes her, a grandfather who is fairer but still prefers his own children (who are Elsie’s age), a schoolteacher who is cruel to her specifically, and a horde of fellow-children aunts and uncles who torment her.

At this point Anne Shirley is escaping into her elaborate world of make-believe and wishing for parents while quoting Tennyson.  Elsie, on the other hand, is busy praying for the salvation of her heathen companions, quoting Scripture, and bemoaning her own imperfections in responding to the persecution that surrounds her.

Finally Elsie’s father returns from Europe, and in some ways her life gradually improves–he takes up for his daughter against his siblings and parents–but then Elsie’s in for the darkest days of her life when her father (who is not a Christian), who insists on always being obeyed, asks her to do something she thinks is wrong.  The resulting battle of wills between an eight-year-old and her father is fascinating and horrible to read.

The story ends happily, as every believer’s story eventually does, but not before trekking through adolescence, romance, marriage, and children; the Civil War, slavery, criminals, and business ethics; and the ways little girls should choose their friends and the influence friends and companions can have over us.

In short, these are books full of endless thought-provoking dilemmas and assertions by the main characters, who are relentlessly portrayed as flawed and fallen humans.  The books have one very major (although rarely surfacing) flaw in their treatment of race; the Union is subtly presented as the “right” side in the War, but the issue lacks some of the clarity we could wish for, and at one point Elsie assures her slaves that they’ll be white in heaven, which was really jarring, to say the least!  Theologically the main thing that stuck out to me was Elsie’s obsession with observing the Sabbath in a way that we certainly wouldn’t hold to today; I don’t know enough about the time period to know if her strictness would have been more appropriate back then,  but especially since the Sabbath was the heart of the issue Elsie had with her father in the first book (i.e., I agreed more with her father when clearly the authorial intention was to agree with Elsie) this was a hard issue to ignore.  I honestly couldn’t tell on my first read-through whether the books were Reformed or not–they were kind of like A.W. Tozer that way!

Lastly, it’s difficult not to find Elsie’s very goodness a literary flaw: what eight-year-old could ever be that holy and consistent?  And she does come off at first glance as a goody-goody.  But the more I think about it, and especially in these many weeks since I first read the books, I’m becoming convinced that this isn’t a flaw at all: rather, it’s a deep illustration of how very different Christianity and Christian lives should be from secular.  One of the major themes of the Elsie books is the difference between being moral people and being true believers, and it strikes me that, as believers, we really should be a little more reserved in our praise of books like Anne of Green Gables and Little Women.  I’m the first to admit their artistic superiority, but I think they invite us to confuse morality and common values of bygone years with spirituality.  Anne and Jo’s behavior really should perplex us; both girls, however brilliant and intoxicatingly fascinating, were clearly on their fictional way to a fictional version of Hell.  Let’s not miss the full impact of that.

51gaQz8GcmL._SL160_Someone wrote an overview of the Elsie books that pull out some of her “virtues”  and make an instructive book out of them.  I haven’t read it and I have no plans to–but isn’t it significant that it’s even possible to do that?  And have the resulting book be not only about what is “kind” and “moral” and “good citizenship,” but about what’s biblical and what pleases God?  I could read some pretty boring books (and the Elsie ones aren’t boring!) for that kind of trade-off in quality that goes far beyond the surface.

So, stop reading my blog and go check them out.  🙂  Here’s the first book online.

Homeschooling, Printables

Twinkle, Twinkle “Totbook”

Julie / September 10, 2010

I finally finished my first “totbook,” or lapbook aimed at 2-3 year olds.  I am much more a fan of simply putting all the pieces into a envelope than actually attaching them to folders, but I included little mini-packs to assemble for all the pieces nevertheless.  🙂


It’s based on Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.  Here’s what’s included:

  • Overview / Further Suggestions: a brief description of each activity, and detailed suggestions on tying the study into Bible time.
  • Connect the Colors: Connect the dots worksheet, except for little ones too young to understand sequencing and numerals–simply connect the colored dots instead! A star appears when completed.
  • Can You Count the Stars: a simple card game, with sixteen cards with varying numbers of stars on them. Ask child to identify which card has how many stars, how many stars are on each card, which card has more stars, etc. Includes two cards for each number, so can also do matching.
  • Constellation Connections: a worksheet where students form their own “constellations” by drawing connecting lines between matching letters.
  • Stars and Diamonds: a same/different matching game, these eight cards can each be matched up with a different card by matching either color or shape, but not both! A step more difficult than simple matching.
  • Pin the Stars on the Sky: the child can cut and paste the stars into “outer space” (avoiding the Earth), or the parent can pre-cut. Either way, teaching the concept of boundaries and appropriateness, so that the child puts the stars where they belong not on Earth!
  • Big Star, Little Star: a very simple ordering game. Arrange stars from smallest to largest, or stack from largest to smallest, so that all stars may be seen at once.
  • Twinkle Tracing: improving eye-hand coordination in preparation for writing: a variety of star shapes and sizes for little ones to trace and color.
  • Simple Star Puzzles: two very simple puzzles to cut out, 2″“ and 3-piece, to develop students’ spatial abilities.
  • Twinkle, Twinkle, Real Stars: a small book (8 pages) with full-page photographs (mostly from NASA’s archives) and simple scientific facts about stars, from the sun to the universe. Available in two sizes; both print on regular letter-sized paper.
  • Free to use and link to, but do not redistribute online.  Permission is granted to redistribute offline, e.g. within a school, but credit in footer must remain intact.


    Works for Me Wednesday: Microfiber Cloths!

    Julie / September 8, 2010

    I know I’m way late to the gate on this one, but I’d never really tried microfiber cloths before.  I was very confused about the whole safe-to-use-with-cleaning-fluids issue, and I don’t like the feel of them on my hand–they’re just so sticky and they get caught and pulled in microscopic fingernail tears I didn’t even know I had–and they remind me of nothing so much as pantyhose.  Just, ewwwww.

    But I kept reading about how they were literally the best thing to happen to 41y83ukPHXL._SL160_a housekeeping since sliced bread, and with the whole cloth diaper thing, it just seemed to make a whole lot of sense to try to reduce our astounding trash pile of paper towels.  So I ordered a great big pile of microfiber cloths and chomped at the bit until they finally came in and I could see for myself if all the hype was true.

    It is.  The most amazing thing about microfiber cloths is to clean off semi-solid messes, like tomato sauce or peanut butter from R’s highchair; there is no comparison between these cloths and anything else I’ve ever tried.  They’re really good about not just pushing messes around, but actually picking them up.  They’re also more than competent at cleaning up liquid spills: one cloth, wrung out once, cleaned up about 10oz of spilt milk, which means they’re as efficient as most sponges and less work–and less leave-behind smearing.  They’re obviously good at dusting and picking up very small particles (like crumbs), but they’ve surprised me with their grippiness and ability to de-stickyfy surfaces as well.  Honey, for instance, is no match for the microfiber.

    I’ve also been surprised by how often it’s efficient for me to simply rinse them, wring them, and keep using them.  I bought 36, and expected to have to buy more (or do laundry all the time) because we easily were going through that many paper towels in a day just cleaning the counters, the floors, and various other kid-dirtied surfaces.  And it is nice to have enough of them so that if one gets too grody, I can toss it in the laundry without worrying about whether or not it’ll make me run out too soon, but I definitely don’t anticipate buying any more.  I keep one on our paper towel rack for drying hands, one on the counter for cleaning counters, and one on another towel rack in the kitchen for getting little drips off the floor as they happen.  The floor and counter ones end up getting replaced at least a couple of times each day, but they still last a lot longer than paper towels did.

    The only thing I really regret is that I didn’t know about microfiber cloths sooner!

    works for me wednesday at we are that family


    School ““ some reflections.

    Julie / September 6, 2010


    “Doing school” has changed our little lives. 

    I’m not being very rigid about it–E is usually very eager (more than I am) for “dool time!” and so I haven’t really needed to push her at all.  Focus, yes, but not push.  Which I guess is a good thing.

    I’m very surprised, though, by how much more attuned I am to what she does and doesn’t know, and how rapidly she is picking things up.  Intentional instruction is definitely making a big difference!  She’s really latched on to the alphabet and goes around pointing out letters even when we’re not in “school” and asks, quite often, what various words / letters / numbers are that she sees.  She also must have picked up a lot more from Blue’s Clues or Dora than I ever would have thought that she would she knows a good number of letters that I haven’t taught her yet.  Conversely, there are some concepts in the “same/different” category of learning that it just blows my mind that she doesn’t understand–but she doesn’t.  I guess this is something we haven’t really run across in our daily lives, that S and I haven’t been pointing out to her.  But, see, formal school means I know this giant gap exists now, and we’ve been working on it together and she’s starting to understand more!

    It is more work than just playing was.  We spend maybe an hour and half or so per day–although a very big part of me likes the “four day schoolweek” and so Fridays occasionally fall by the wayside–usually our time is consecutive, but sometimes it gets split in two pieces.  I’ve started making use of the time after breakfast to get E started on various tasks that work well at our dining room table by herself: tracing, coloring, and critical thinking exercises.  She works on those while I do my morning chores, which works surprisingly well.  So I guess in one way, it’s less work because it definitely adds a lot of structure to our morning, which everyone seems to like.  But it’s a lot more work because I’m having to do a lot of planning and assembling activities that I wasn’t doing before.

    I finally got some giant folders this past week which I divvied out the activities and worksheets into, and another multi-pocket folder which I’m going to use to divide up the activities on the weekend for the upcoming week–based loosely on this modified workbox system.  One folder per day, with maybe some sticky notes for things that don’t fit in the folders.  I did finally get my act together last week enough to sit down and figure out what my formal subjects actually are, what activities fall in the purview of which subjects, and what days I want to focus on each subject. 

    It’ll all work out eventually.  I’m definitely becoming a big proponent of this kind of early schooling, though: it’s beginning to seem like quite a waste of everyone’s mental resources to just coast around PLAYING.


    preparing our children for marriage

    Julie / September 3, 2010

    It occurred to me that since my last entry was more or less from the perspective of “my” generation, that it might come across as critical of my parents‘ generation, which wasn’t what I meant at all.  This cultural shift away from “responsible twentysomethings” and early marriage doesn’t seem to me like it’s going anywhere anytime soon, and it’s been in the works since the 1970s or so, based on what I’ve read.  I’ve actually been thinking about it as a parent more than I have as a participant, and it might be more balanced if I talked about it from that direction, huh?

    In short, as it’s becoming ever more clear that society is arrayed against young marriage, what can we do as parents to help our kids bridge the gap?

    The biggest thing, I think, is to raise them to be married.  Not, in other words, to raise our daughters to be career people, or to raise our sons to be single wandering types who can barely provide for themselves, much less a family.

    The American “track” for kids and teenagers goes something like this: do well in high school, participate in sports and extracurriculars; get scholarships to college, do the whole college scene with at least a year on-campus to get the “experience”; graduate after four or five or six years (or maybe go to graduate school); get a job, settle down, maybe marry that boyfriend you’ve been toting around since senior year; after five years of marriage (and entering one’s thirties), have kids.  And woe to those who get off the track–how many high school drop-outs end up at law firms?

    But we want our kids to glorify God.  Full stop.  That’s what we want, and all we want, right?  How much of this American “ideal” do we really need?

    Not excepting the possibility that a child may be called to celibacy–and not underemphasizing that parents need to be aware and discerning of that possibility–the general expectation is that our girls will want to get married and be moms some day.  So what is the very best preparation and support that we can give them to serve and glorify God in that role?

    I find myself planning their academics and asking myself what will be most useful to them as a wife and mother rather than what will help them succeed in a career–or even in college, although I definitely think that a good homeschool education should be more than sufficient to prepare them for college in a coincidental sense.  It is more important that they be able to run households well more than that they can discuss the leaders of the French Revolution.  This is one type of preparation: basic life skills to live without Mommy and Daddy.

    There’s also emotional preparation: to be the type of mature twenty-year-olds who have the discernment and knowledge to choose good mates, and be able to take the challenges and blessings of marriage in stride.  A wedding changes your life, no mistake about it, and teenagers aren’t quite “done baking” yet on the maturity front–but when society expected them to get married and stay married, they managed–with minuscule divorce rates.  I want our kids to have that kind of maturity and understanding of things larger than themselves (i.e. the sanctity of marriage!) so that they don’t want to “sow wild oats” before they feel ready for marriage.  Somehow we’ve got to help kids have some confidence in their ability (by God’s grace) to make marriage work, even when the world is telling them they’re way too young to pull it off.  We can help them have reasonable expectations (and aspirations) and to build relationship skills to help it all come together.

    And then there’s financial.  I don’t see a practical way, honestly, to have a large number of children and still support them with great scads of literal money after they’re grown up… but there are many young people whose parents are giving them the advice and friendly urging that they need in order to find a little business niche of their own, even in young teenagerdom, in the grand tradition of the Proverbs 31 woman.  Parents can help their kids discover their marketable talents and give them the sound business advice to actually get a small work-at-home operation off the ground and running with some degree of reliability before the child ever marries and leaves for their own house.  It’s also gigantic if parents can help their kids stay debt-free before marriage–I haven’t seen diligent, frugal couples very often who can’t make it work financially… unless they’re struggling under a mountain of debt, which sometimes is their fault through poor judgment and sometimes isn’t their fault at all.  But I don’t think anything keeps you debt-free as much as good advice.  Lastly, parents should teach and model frugality.  It really is an acquired skill!  Not only because we grow accustomed to certain spending habits and then have massive culture shock when we have those habits without our parents’ pocketbooks attached–but because living frugally is largely a matter of simply knowing how to do it!  Knowing which corners to cut, how to stay entertained and have fun without expending large amounts of money in the process, which items to invest in and which not to buy at all, knowing how to cook on a budget without resorting to pre-processed foods (which are sadly cheaper than fresh ones) or an unbalanced diet: these are all valuable pieces of knowledge, skills, and discernment that we can teach our children!  We can also teach them as many money-saving talents as we can, and encourage them to pursue them on their own–things like knowing how to fix things around the house yourself, or your car; how to sew, and so on.

    This is by no means exhaustive.  We’ve only had girls so far, and so I’ve thought about it almost entirely in the context of daughters.  I’m only now really beginning to wonder how to help our soon-to-arrive (Lord willing) son learn to provide for his family, and I imagine that is going to look very different in significant ways from teaching daughters how to care for their families.  And I’m still learning so much of this myself.  I am sure, though, that I want our kids to achieve success in God’s eyes–and I’m unconcerned about how that looks compared to success in the world’s eyes.


    Seasons in life.

    Julie / September 2, 2010

    I am learning–very slowly–that life comes in seasons.  My life of late revolves very clearly around pregnancy: first there is the sick time, in which housework is breezy but eating and cooking are real challenges; then there is the happy middle time that I never take advantage of as much as I should; then there’s the bone-deep tiredness and ambivalent happiness and vague excitement that makes up the last four months or so of pregnancy.  I never remember how tiring that stage is, either (she says from the depths of it).  Then there’s new baby time, with a sudden rush of energy amidst sleepless nights and wondering how it’s possible that I have more energy than in pregnancy even though I’m getting much more disturbed sleep.  And lastly, there’s the early-nursing stage, with all its physical challenges and recuperating from labor.

    Then, if you’re me the past two times, the cycle repeats itself instantly.

    I’m finally beginning to understand that I need to plan for the changes and live each of these little “seasons” to the fullest.  Of course, there are bigger seasons, too; I’m beginning to be old enough to grasp the idea that there was a person I was ten years ago who is not at all the same person I am today, and that ten years from now, I will undoubtedly again be a very different person.  Or dead, let’s not forget that possibility.  I remember my fifth grade Sunday school teacher saying that none of us students could possibly understand the concept of a decade, and I’m beginning to see the truth in that–and I’m beginning to understand what a decade means, as I come ever nearer to my third.

    I’ve also been noticing that suddenly there are stores at which I should not shop, because I’m too old, and that a freaky day of purple hair now would be just silliness.  I have a little family.  I’ve spent more time in the past ten years married than I have single.  I look at our wedding pictures and am struck by how very, very young I look.  I didn’t realize I’d acquired that many wrinkles in the years since, but I have.  I’m aging, and sometime close to this age is when things officially stop going uphill and start the long, long trek downwards until one day you’re so old and falling apart that you really can’t wait to go home.  I’m finally seeing myself on that journey and not just at the beginning of it.

    All this to say, there are little seasons and there are big seasons.  There’s morning sickness and there’s mid-life crises.  I’m beginning to see that there is real value in seeing those seasons with accuracy and forethought (maybe especially the little seasons–planning for morning sickness is always a good thing) and drinking them all to the last drop.  These are the different places and different times in which I am, by the grace of God, and I should be honest with myself–and aware–and do the best with each season’s imperfections and beauties.  Every one of these moments is laced through with sin and fallenness and the longsuffering glory of my Savior: the fallenness and decay drive us towards home, and the glory provides the scenery along the way. 

    I don’t want to miss any of it.