Resolve: Take the Family to Family Camp

If you haven’t made your New Year’s Resolutions yet, put this one at the top of your list.  Resolved:  this year we will take the family to family camp.  Moms, imagine a vacation where you drive to one place, park the car, and don’t get back in until it’s time to go home.  Imagine the fun of the whole family falling asleep in close quarters as you giggle and talk over the adventures of the day.  Imagine 3 meals a day prepared by and cleaned up after by other people and all you have to do is show up.  Imagine enough activities at your disposal to keep the whole family so busy that by the time it’s bed-time everyone actually WANTS to go to sleep.  Imagine spending meaningful time worshipping and being encouraged through the Word all together.  Imagine, just imagine, a few days without cell-phones, lap-tops, video-games, and T.V.  Imagine nothing to distract you from the beauty of God’s creation, the bounty of His Word, and the blessing of fellowship with other believers.  That’s family camp and it’s the best gift you could give them all year.

If you are blessed enough to live in California there are probably any number of Christian Conference Centers offering family camps within a few hours drive.  My husband grew up going to Mt. Hermon and Hume Lake and I grew up going to several smaller camps.  But our favorite by far was Hartland Christian Camp near Sequoia National Park.  Years ago we were thrilled when some good friends of ours (Hi Eric and Amber!) went on full-time staff there and not long after Tom joined the summer staff team.  Our family has now spent 8 summers living the camp-life and loving every minute of it.  If you are a homeschooling family, you may be interested to know that Hartland offers two Homeschool Family Camps, one in May and the other in September (the perfect way to end or kick-off the school year).  Dads, if you have an overworked homeschooling wife on your hands, this is probably the most relaxing and rewarding family vacation you could give.  It’s an investment, but it’s worth every penny and it will absolutely be the highlight of 2015.  Happy New Year to all you friends, family members and long-suffering blog followers!

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Christmas Mad-Libs

When it comes to homeschooling I like to put the bulk of our time, energy and resources into the fun subjects that we do all together like science, social studies and Bible.  When it comes to the 3 R’s I’m pretty much a cheapskate and use simple essentials that get the job done.  This means that math can sometimes get a bit boring.  My solution to this has been, instead of switching to a glitzier, costlier math program, to let them take a 1 or 2 week long break from their usual math drudgery and work out of an alternative workbook or read from some fun math-based series like Life of Fred or Sir Cumference (Thank you again, Kristin C.)  The same thing goes for grammar.  We use Rod and Staff’s “Building Christian English” series which is notoriously dull and thorough to the point of being repetitive.  But it is also cheap, has a long shelf life, and effectively gets the job done.  Every now and then I get the sense that the natives are restless and about to revolt if forced to read one more chapter which means it’s time for a break.  Lately, their grammar substitute of choice has been doing Mad Libs. These humorous fill-in-the-blank activity books were around when I was a kid and now come in every subject you can imagine.  Titus just finished reading the entire 60+ book Hardy Boys series and is thus currently interested in all things forensic. Yes, there’s a Mad Libs book for that and yes, I let he and Joel do nothing but that as grammar for a week.

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Here’s how Mad Libs work:

You’ve got a story with blank lines in every sentence and instructions to fill in each blank with a noun, verb, adjective etc… The reader asks the word-giver for someone’s name or a place or some descriptive term and writes it in the blank.  Then he reads back the story with the word-giver’s answers and of course it always comes out very silly and confusing and not making any sense at all.  Listening to my boys giggle over these non-sensical stories I couldn’t help but think of how many things in our post-modern society resemble Mad Libs in their philosophy.  When there are no absolutes pretty much anything can be used to fill-in-the-blank.

Take Christmas for example.  Sometimes I wonder if the inventors of this holiday didn’t use some kind of Mad Lib type format in it’s development.

Let’s make a holiday to celebrate Christ’s birth.  We don’t know exactly what day he was born on so let’s choose     (random date)   .   For his birthday we will always depict him as being    (random infantile age)   and not as the Exalted King of Glory and Eternal Judge that he is.  We will also make    (random store)   rich by buying presents for    (names of everyone you know)   even though it’s not their Birthday.  We will deck our homes, businesses, and public places out with    (names of plants, animals, mythical characters, and particular weather patterns common to the Northern latitudes and not at all relevant to Christ’s actual place of birth)   .    We will feast on    (random foods no one from Bethlehem ever tasted)   and participate in parties, programs, and parades no Nazarite ever knew.  All in all, this celebration will be as far removed from the Judean culture as the North Pole is from    (random middle-eastern location)   .  Everyone from   (random country)   to    (random country)    will join in celebrating the birth of someone they either ignore, don’t believe in or downright hate the other 364 days of the year.  We will call this celebration of his birth a Christ-Mass, which is actually a commemoration of his death, unless we’re a public figure in which case we will refer to the holiday as    (some other secular seasonal greeting)   .

Before you get up-in-arms and start shouting “Scrooge!” at me, I’m not attacking Christmas nor anyone’s particular methods of celebrating it.  I’m just suggesting that as referenced in Joshua 4, when our children ask in times to come, “What do these [traditions] mean?” we better have something more substantive than the typical post-modern Mad-Lib-fill-in-the-blank response to answer them with.  Especially when it comes to the worship of our King.


A Noiseful Joy

The week before Thanksgiving our memory verse was Psalm 100:3.
“Know that the Lord, he is God! It is He who made us and we are His;
we are His people, and the sheep of his pasture.”
The next week we cancelled school and instead used the time to memorize the rest of the Psalm in it’s blessedly brief entirety, verse 4 being particularly timely.
“Enter His gates with Thanksgiving and His courts with praise!
Give thanks to Him and bless His name!”
But the part that really hit home with me was Psalm 100:1.
“Make a joyful noise to the Lord all the earth!”
I suppose this really “struck a chord” because the boys have recently started bagpipe lessons. Now I’ve never considered bagpipes a “joyful” kind of instrument, just kind of “noiseful.” But a neighbor of ours happens to play the pipes and we’ve thoroughly enjoyed our little concerts on the beach. So when he offered to teach the boys and even ordered them a practice chanter straight from Glasgow we jumped at the opportunity to learn something new.

Most memorable bagpipe concert ever:  a salute to some old Marine Corps Veterans Nov. 2013.

Most memorable bagpipe concert ever: a salute to some old Marine Corps Veterans Nov. 2013.

10, even 5 years ago, I never imagined my children would be learning to play the bagpipes, nor that they would pick up the instrument in Hawaii of all places. Before moving here I had visions of those delightfully refined chamber orchestras made up entirely of siblings from the same family. You know the ones- the oldest boy standing straight and tall behind a string bass while his graceful sisters hug a harp or cello and all the younger ones hold up violins of varying sizes. That’s exactly the kind of family I envisioned.

Joel trying out their new practice chanter

Joel trying out their new practice chanter

But I got a whole passel of boys and a one-way ticket to Hawaii. And then I got another boy and an Ukulele for each of them. And then none of them really cared to learn to play one, which in Hawaii is a bit like a Brazilian not caring about soccer.

Titus, rediscovering the Ukulele after 3 years of neglect.  Entirely self taught.

Titus, rediscovering the Ukulele after 3 years of neglect. Entirely self taught.

Then God led me to our neighbor, Linda’s place where I spied a piano- quite a rarity in the islands. Turns out she had given lessons for decades before retiring here and she offered to teach the boys if we got a keyboard to practice on. For months I prayed that the Lord would provide a keyboard for us and of course, He did! Only Titus and Nathan were interested in lessons though, and having learned from the whole Ukelele endeavor that you can’t force an instrument on kids I settled for a slightly smaller talent pool. But after spending a year in the recital audience Joel and Sam decided it would be much more fun getting all the applause than giving it. So now dear, gracious Linda has all 4 boys under her tutelage and they are flying through their books.

Nate basking in his piano teacher's approval

Nate basking in his piano teacher’s approval

My friends, just imagine for a second how at any given time I have the joy of hearing in our little condo a bagpipe chanter, keyboard, or ukelele often all at the same time.

Substitute choir members

Substitute choir members

Oh, and did I mention they can also sing? Our entire bass and tenor section was absent from choir for a couple weeks so I volunteered Tom and the boys to fill in (if there’s one thing I can provide when called upon, it’s “man”power). I thought you might enjoy hearing the vocal talents of our two youngest choir members.

Yes. Mine is indeed a noiseful joy.