Sunday, September 28, 2008

A Place for Everything

Dear friends,

You've probably heard the saying, "A place for everything and everything in its place!" Let me just say that this is a huge challenge for a mother of 10. We wage a continual war against clutter at our house, and sometimes we're on the losing side. But then we pick ourselves up and go to battle again. Maybe we'll finally get this down by the time our last child leaves the nest, though by that time there should be ample grandkiddos tumbling around. At any rate, people often assume I must be organized, and I guess I do have a few tricks up my sleeves. That's not to say that just because I have a place for most things that they stay in their places, but we'll get to that, too.

This week I made a special effort to get the kitchen and some other areas organized, and I figured I would take pictures while it still looks halfway tidy, if you know what I mean. I decided to share them with you, too. Maybe it will inspire you. Just don't knock on my door unannounced to see if it stays that way all the time... It doesn't.

We'll start with kitchen cabinets. These two shelves hold hot beverage supplies and spices. We have a lazy Susan for most of the smaller spice bottles, and then the large bulk ones from Sam's Club (cinnamon, taco seasoning, etc.) are in the back. The bin on the left side of the upper shelf holds various kinds of tea, which leads to our next picture.

We had a whole bunch of half-filled boxes of tea in this cupboard, so I decided to put each kind in its own zip bag with a portion of the original box to identify it. Then I put them in a Rubbermaid container for which we have lost the lid. As cozy as tea sounds, I don't actually drink the stuff and we don't even keep coffee in the house! I like hot chocolate (with whipped cream) and hot spiced cider. During the holidays, we brew up some wassail. I'll give you the recipe for that later in the season.

This cupboard houses our casserole dishes, glass pie pans, mixing bowls, measuring cups, funnels, and large rectangular plastic storage containers. A few of the shelves have labels to help family members remember where to put things, but I still have to rearrange this cupboard constantly. The cabinet that's worse, though, is the one with all of our smaller Rubbermaid containers. It's like a jigsaw puzzle sometimes. People prefer to just toss them onto the dish drainer and let me deal with it. I am not always amused by this tactic. By the way, when I organize our cabinets, I often take everything out and wipe down the shelves with a wet cloth.

I confess that I, too, prefer to put something somewhere "just for now." This is not such a bad thing. For example, that white basket on the top of our microwave it there for just that reason. We find little things here and there and rather than get distracted from what we were otherwise doing to go put away one stray item, we toss it in the basket. I clean it out about once a month, along with several other "catch-all" bins scattered around the house. It saves time, and it keeps the clutter contained at least. It works for me! That big bowl on the microwave holds hot pads, and the canisters on the counter hold cooking utensils. And yes, that is a fire extinguisher right next to the stove. I've only had one kitchen fire that I remember, when the burner coil itself burst into flames. I got a new glasstop stove out of that mishap, which was providential considering that the oven had been acting up for quite some time!

Yes, I know this picture is sideways. Blame it on Blogspot. It just uploaded that way. I even tried rotating it before uploading to compensate, but no deal. You'd think all of those first aid supplies and medicines would fall right out of their bins this way! Actually, it's this stuff that kicked off my organizing spree in the first place. We were putting away groceries earlier this week and a spaghetti can fell on Micah's toe and cut it open. When I grabbed the first aid box from the kitchen cabinet, I realized how disorganized it had become. So I put it in order, then tackled the medicines, throwing away anything that was expired. Then I hit the bathroom medicine cabinets while I was at it. That evening after dinner, I decided to clean out the rest of the kitchen cabinets, though I didn't finish up until the next day. (Yes, I did go to bed that night in between. Mama needs her beauty sleep!)

Because our little kids have always lacked in the area of self-control with carbohydrates, and because we don't want cereal all over the floor all the time, we store it on top of the refrigerator. The plastic containers keep the bugs out, which is important since las cucarachas are so prevalent in Florida. We found the sugar dispenser at Walmart. It has a spout on top and a sturdy handle on the side, and holds a whole 5 pound bag of the stuff! Yes, that is a chore chart hanging on the freezer door. The kids do a large share of the daily chores, like dishes, sweeping, bathroom cleaning, cooking, vacuuming, etc. Some of them need to be reminded more often than others. Do you see that little paper slot taped onto the freezer door that says, "Pen -- Put me back"? Of course, the pen wasn't in it when I wanted to take the picture, so I went and found one. I'm really trying to set a good example.

Where most of our pens are supposed to go is in one of the bins on this supply shelf, which is in the room that doubles as our school room and dining room. I have bins labeled for regular pencils, pens, colored pencils, crayons, scissors & tape, rulers, hair supplies, etc. This works most of the time, but the kids sometimes ignore that and just throw the stuff in whichever one is handy. Again, I have to sort all of the bins out regularly, with help from the kids. Also on these shelves, the green bin on the second shelf from the top holds books that are waiting to be repaired. The big bin on the right hand side of that shelf holds game pieces in zip lock bags. The game boards are underneath it. This is my solution to the Broken Box Syndrome. One of the shelves holds a stack of wooden puzzles. I labeled the edges of the boards with a permanent marker so that when I find a stray piece I can get to the right one quickly. The shelf below it holds drawing books, right next to the drawing supplies. Another bin holds whatever papers are on the table when it's time to set it for dinner. There is also a set of encyclopedias on the bottom shelf. We don't always use these for reference since we have Google, but they are good for pressing flowers and holding down the edges of bedsheets when building forts in the living room...

Keeping stuff organized in the kids' rooms is also a challenge. One of my boys has a long standing habit of doing school work on the floor.
We recently moved in a desk from one of the other bedrooms, which helps most of the time, but this is what I still found when I walked in there an hour ago. By the way, the desk has racks for holding notebooks and textbooks upright. Whoever invented those was a genius.

This bedroom is always tight on space since all three boys are in there. They have one set of bunkbeds, as well as the toddler bed you can see to the right of the desk. We also installed wire shelving several years ago, as well as a plastic toy bin shelf. Right now they are partly empty because Thad just moved everything to paint the adjacent walls a lovely shade of dark blue.

More storage shelves? Yep! This is actually our storage room. It used to be part of our garage, before we closed it in to make a 5th bedroom several years ago. Thad found these wonderful sturdy plastic shelves at Home Depot and designed the storage room dimensions around them. Our laundry area is in this room on the right side of this picture, with plenty of room for baskets of the dirty stuff. We run about 5 loads a day, so this place gets a lot of traffic.

We buy our paper goods in bulk, so the storage room shelves really come in handy. We buy restaurant dispenser napkins at Sam's Club because they are so much cheaper than regular paper napkins.

We try to cut down on the use of paper towels by cleaning up with white terry cloth bar rags, also purchased at Sam's Club. We use so many of these every day that we put a small hamper for them in the dining room near our storage room door, as well as another one next to the kitchen sink.

And speaking of laundry, it's not so hard getting it clean, but then it sits around in baskets until I can get someone, often myself, to sit down and fold it and put it away. It is the bane of my existence -- or at least one of them. We call it Mount Neverest. I put dots on the labels of our boys' clothes so I can figure out what belongs to whom: one dot for Andrew, two for Micah and three for Ben. The older girls do all of their own laundry, thankfully. If you can relate to my laundry woes, you might be interested in an earlier laundry blog post I wrote called And You Wonder What I Do All Day...

Unmatched socks are another huge hassle. I keep a wicker basket on a corner of the living room for these, but I don't even have the heart to photograph it. However, this is the shoe basket in our foyer by the front door. It is meant mainly for the little kids, though I often throw our teenagers' flip-flops in it, too. As you can see, there is a place for the shoes, but the shoes don't always make it in to their place.

The living room is another place that often looks like a hurricane has hit it, though it's not quite so bad in this picture. Books, papers, pillows, blankets, pencils, building blocks, cups, pieces of bagel (which are not supposed to ever be in there in the first place!), laundry (clean at least), and more often take over this room. I try to get the kids to straighten it up a few times a day, but I still find myself needing to tidy up again myself before bed if I'm not too exhausted. Our couches are sturdy, easy to clean microfiber with attached back cushions.

I'll end with a cozy picture of a book basket in the living room. I don't ever want to get so busy cleaning house that I can't read to my kids. (I do miss this some days, though.) We probably have about 2,000 books in the house, most of them in big bookcases throughout the house. Our preschooler's boardbooks are in durable plastic bins to make it easy for her to put them away by herself. This big basket is for the books that I am currently working through with them, or that we use frequently enough that it would be a waste of time to shelve them. Good literature is at the heart of childhood. And Mrs. Piggle Wiggle, as silly a book as it is, has some great tips for getting their kids to clean up after themselves! (OK, so she did tell one mom to let her son's room get so bad that he got trapped in it and cleaned it up out of desparation! But she does make cleaning up seem like a whole lot of fun!) I loved this book as a child, and my friend Clare gave it to me when she was decluttering her own house and getting rid of lots of stuff her kids had outgrown.

I guess I've come to the end of my little pictorial primer on home organization! Perhaps you will be inspired to organize your home, too! Don't be afraid to buy the supplies you need and to make sure they are not ugly or flimsy. The investment is worth it. I'll be doing a blog post on easy and thrify autumn decorating soon, but I know that the first step to an attractive home is keeping it tidy!

Virginia Knowles

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

A is for Angela

If you read my "B is for Bolivia" post last week, you know that a young lady named Angela was staying with us while waiting to get a flight back into that country after protesters had seized the airports there. Apparently, folks down there are getting pretty upset with the socialist president, Evo Morales, who is closely aligned with Hugo Chavez in Venezuela. Morales, who is Bolivia's first indigenous president, has nationalized the natural gas industry, among other things. Many who live in the eastern regions rich in these resources are fighting for autonomy. I read one news story in which a commentator declared that the country is just plain ungovernable. Not very hopeful, is it? Another family friend of ours, a native Bolivian who lives in Cochabamba, has reported that things are just awful, with bread costing six times as much as it did before, and rampant corruption and unrest. Fortunately, things at least settled down enough that Angela was able to fly home to Bolivia on Sunday. She said that once she gets out into the rural areas where she lives, things are mostly peaceful anyway. Still, her calmness and contentment amazes me.

Angela, who is on the left in this picture, made a big impression on us. She is so sweet! I just love her gentle and simple personality. I asked her what she misses about the USA when she's in Bolivia, where she has lived for 8 years, since she was 19. Her reply? "My family!" Then I asked what she missed about Bolivia when she was in the USA. "EVERYTHING!" When she is down there, she lives a pretty primitive lifestyle. Eating red meat or fresh vegetables is rare. She doesn't drive. She organizes Sunday School classes not only at the mission in the small town of Entre Rios, but also travels around to six other villages by bus or on foot, which can take hours. While traveling, she has to carry along her supplies, like Sunday School papers and books for the kids. She has to travel all the way to Tarija to get copies made, though she is contemplating buying a copy machine for the mission. Somebody gave the mission enough equipment to start a small TV station, which they use to broadcast family-friendly programs like Little House on the Prairie in Spanish. They intersperse this with Christian programs, such as excerpts from the Jesus Movie. In addition to Spanish, which she learned at the YWAM school in Santa Cruz, Angela has had to learn one of the native languages that I can't even spell, and will eventually learn others as well. She says the children love books and that she read them the entire Spanish language translation of The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis.

One of the days she was here, I asked her to tell us about her life in Bolivia. I tried to record it on my MP3 player, but I didn't have it close enough to her. I could barely hear it when I went to replay it, but I'm going to listen closely and write some of it down later. However, she did tell us about the time she was hitchhiking and a red truck passed her by. She was wondering why it didn't stop for her since there was room for more passengers, but a blue truck did pick her up. Shortly thereafter, they passed that red truck teetering off the side of the mountain road... Traveling there is extremely hazardous! Another time, Angela came across a newly killed rattlesnake, still wriggling, directly in her path. If she had walked by there just a few minutes earlier...

Our kids really enjoyed Angela, and it's obvious that she loves kids, too! One day Julia was able to take off work and go to the beach with her, but she hung around with us for a few days at the house, too. It seems like Melody was on her lap most of the time. She played countless games of Sorry, Rummikub, and Hangman with our little ones. On Thursday morning, she went to the "Mom's Meeting" at church with me, and got to see a lot of people she had met at our church before, some of whom had been to Bolivia on Mission:X teams like my Julia.

Our house is a pretty busy place to be with so many of us here all the time, but she held up surprisingly well! Melody keeps asking where Angela is, even sleeptalking about her at night! As for me, I have been more inspired to declutter the house. If she can live a very simple life, we can at least learn to live with a little less stuff! I had commented to her about this, and she acknowledged that it takes so much more time to care for things when you have more. It's obvious that she prefers to spend her time caring for people instead of things.

I think of Angela often, and pray for her, too. After all "B is for Bolivia!" May God richly bless her life that so passionately honors Him!

Saturday, September 13, 2008

B is for Bolivia!

Thad just called from a youth meeting at church. He said that our 19 year old daughter Julia told him we are going to have someone staying with us for a while -- not sure how long, but starting tomorrow afternoon! You see, Julia has been to Entre Rios, Bolivia, twice on mission trips and loves the people there. She is very fond of a twentysomething single lady missionary named Angela who has ministered there in the rural areas for many years. Angela is in Miami and was going to fly back to Bolivia, but apparently there has been violent civil unrest there and I think the airports have been seized by rebels -- or something like that. The CNN headline reads Bolivian 'State of Siege' Declared. So she is taking the train to Orlando and she'll stay with us for the time being! Yay! No, this kind of hospitality on short notice does not bother me at all. Hebrews 13:2 says, "Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares." In my mind, it is an especially high privilege to host someone who selflessly serves the kingdom of God. It should also be very educational for all of us.

The irony is this: "B is for Bolivia"! Let me explain... My sister Barb gave me a prayer shawl for my birthday last week. (Click here to read more about that and see a picture of the shawl.) At one end it has twelve beads, one each for Thad and I and our ten children. Each one has an initial on it: T, V, M, J, R, J, L, A, M, N, B, and M. I decided that beyond praying for my own household, I would "recycle" each letter as a reminder to pray for someone or something else starting with that letter. And a mere five minutes before my dear hubby called to let me know about our impending guest, I had decided that B would be for Bolivia!

Do pray for Bolivia! Things have been really hairy there for years. When Mary and Julia went in 2005 (has it been that long?), the rioting and uprisings were spiking up, and things weren't that much better when Julia went back last year. It is all more complicated than I can understand, but at least I can pray to the God who knows it all.

Note on September 24: You can read an update to this post at: A is for Angela.

A Poem by Phillis Wheatley, A Slave in the 1700s

by Phillis Wheatley

WHILE an intrinsic ardor prompts to write,
The muses promise to assist my pen;
'Twas not long since I left my native shore
The land of errors, and Egyptian gloom:
Father of mercy, 'twas thy gracious hand
Brought me in safety from those dark abodes.
Students, to you 'tis giv'n to scan the heights
Above, to traverse the ethereal space,
And mark the systems of revolving worlds.
Still more, ye sons of science ye receive
The blissful news by messengers from heav'n,
How Jesus' blood for your redemption flows.
See him with hands out-stretcht upon the cross;
Immense compassion in his bosom glows;
He hears revilers, nor resents their scorn:
What matchless mercy in the Son of God!
When the whole human race by sin had fall'n,
He deign'd to die that they might rise again,
And share with him in the sublimest skies,
Life without death, and glory without end.

Improve your privileges while they stay,
Ye pupils, and each hour redeem, that bears
Or good or bad report of you to heav'n.
Let sin, that baneful evil to the soul,
By you be shun'd, nor once remit your guard;
Suppress the deadly serpent in its egg.
Ye blooming plants of human race divine,
An Ethiop tells you 'tis your greatest foe;
Its transient sweetness turns to endless pain,
And in immense perdition sinks the soul.


Phillis Wheatley arrived in America in 1761 as a slave child from Gambia. Her first name comes from the name of the ship, and her last name from her master's family, who educated her well. She became an accomplished poet, was the first African American to publish a book, and appeared before George Washington in 1776. In 1784, she died free but in poverty. You can find out more at Wikipedia article on Phillis Wheatley.


The 7th/8th grade students in our home school co-op are doing a history report over the next two weeks, and one of their topic options is Phillis Wheatley. Their history teacher and I are trying to integrate some of the material in our two classes, so it is a joint writing project. She will evaluate it for historical content, while I will grade for grammar, punctuation, spelling, and organization. I will also go over this poem with them on Monday and talk about Phillis Wheatley's life as part of my Great American Communicators series. I want to especially point out the lines "Improve your privileges while they stay, Ye pupils, and each hour redeem..." since I have been constantly encouraging them to make the most of their education, to THINK THINK THINK beyond the bare minimum, and to pay close attention to spiritual and social justice themes in their studies.

It's going to be a busy class on Monday. We need to talk about how to plan and organize their history report and do our regular literature study. We will also start to rehearse Patrick Henry's "Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death" speech, which I have split up into 15 paragraphs so each student can recite several lines. I want them to practice speaking clearly and with expression, as well as to learn the pronunciations and meanings of several of the longer words. They will have a week to work on it at home before we attempt to present it as a group in the next class. I think we'll skip grammar this week! Do you think they'll complain too loudly about that?


Virginia Knowles

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Volcano Cake! (Plus Home Management and Motherhood Mentoring)

My friend Rachel came over today with her two little children to talk about home schooling and home management. J.J. and Elsie are only three and almost two, but she's trying to get started on the right foot! Smart lady! Of course, I'm not exactly the most organized or calm mama in the world, but I've been doing this for a long, long time, and I can at least point out some pot holes to avoid! (My top advice: get the habits right when they are very small, because it's so hard to change them later!)

I think Rachel's already off to a terrific start because she reads to her kids, sings songs with them, does little devotions in the morning, and spends a lot of time playing and talking with them.

While they were here, we made a volcano cake. We usually do it by making a pan of brownies, cutting them up, and making a mountain out of them. Then we spoon on a can of cherry pie filling (for the lava) and a tub of whipped topping (for the smoke and steam), and sprinkle on chocolate chips for the debris. This time I used chocolate cake mix in a bundt pan, as well as some brownies underneath to add to the height. The kids added all of the other goodies!

Here are J.J. with the chocolate chips and Melody with the whipped cream.

This was the volcano cake we made for my birthday a year ago. I originally made up this recipe when I was teaching the kids about Ancient Rome many years ago, and wanted a visual aid for Mt. Vesuvius. It has been my traditional birthday dessert ever since, though this year Lydia made Boston creme pie for me instead. Last night, she made sloppy joe filling from scratch so we could eat them for lunch today while our company was here. She also made yummy homemade macaroni and cheese with onions and bread crumbs. Unfortunately, when Thad went to Sam's Club yesterday, I forgot to ask him to get eggs (so I could make the cake) and kaiser rolls (for the sloppy joes). I had to go this morning, which is evidence to the fact that I'm not always efficient at my time management or homemaking. At least Sam's is only a mile away, though!

Melody kept trying to hug and kiss Elsie!

I learned a few things from Rachel, too! She was mentioning that vitamin B12 has been really effective for stress and fatigue. I had heard that, but to hear her share her own experience was a helpful reminder. She also gave me some good web sites while she was here. Please note that I have not looked at these sites thoroughly and do not necessarily endorse everything on them. I think most of them are a bit more conservative than I am, since I have loosened up considerably in recent years. However, I can always learn something from anyone!

Herba Family Wellness Matt Herba is a Christian chiropractor in Winter Springs, Florida, who also uses naturopathic remedies

Keeping the Home This is a very conservative Christian web site about home management (I like that this lady schedules in large time blocks, not small ones.)

Biblical Womanhood This is a site by Crystal Paine, a young mom who wrote a few articles that were included in my Hope Chest newsletter a few years ago

Money Saving Mom The name is pretty self-explanatory, but this is also a site by Crystal Paine. You will find out where to get the good deals right now.

I'm thankful that Rachel is taking time from her busy schedule to mentor some of the younger single women in the church, including one of my daughters. What a treasure!

I am also exceedingly grateful for the dear ladies who mentored me when I was a young mom living in Maryland, such as Mel Franks, Vickie Botkin, Janet Maxim, Paula Muller, Darlene LaPlue, Karen Ervin, Nadya Wurm, Peggy Smith, Sharon Abbott, and so many more. (If any of you are out there in cyberspace, I would love to hear from you!) They showed me their home school curriculum, loaned me magazines and books, taught me how to machine quilt, talked to me about child training and marriage, and counseled me through the snags of life. They were true "Titus 2 and Proverbs 31 women" and I am trying to follow in their footsteps.


Virginia Knowles

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

G.K. Chesterton on Gratitude

"When it comes to life
the critical thing is
whether you take things for granted
or take them with gratitude." ~G.K. Chesterton

"The aim of life is appreciation;
there is no sense in not appreciating things;
and there is no sense in having more of them
if you have less appreciation of them."
~G.K. Chesterton

(These two quotes are from Ann Voskamp's poetic and inspirational blog, A Holy Experience, which I receive by e-mail.)

Welcome to visitors from which is featuring a Weekends with Chesterton linkup.  This may be an old post of mine, but it's what I've got to offer!  It's good for me to look at it again afresh.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

My Busy Weekend: Farewell and Birthday

It's been a busy weekend! On Friday evening, several dozen couples gathered at Sal's Deli at the Porto Fino Hotel to say farewell to our friends Lee and Jeannette Walti, who are moving to Italy tonight to be missionaries with their five children. I am sure going to miss them!

You can see all of the pictures here: Walti Farewell


On Saturday morning, soccer was canceled because the field is still soggy from T.S. Fay, but I took Naomi to a birthday party. Then three of the girls went to a surprise party for Bethany and Hannah Walti.

This morning, my daughter Mary and her husband Ryan met us at church and then came over for lunch for my 45th birthday! What a treat!

My family knows me well. For my birthday I received three books, a CD, some potpourri, some scented candles in holders, two very nice hand towels, and a Gratitude Attitude bracelet. The books, which I haven't had a chance to browse through yet, are When God Weeps: Why Our Sufferings Matter to the Almighty by Joni Earkeckson Tada (the same quadriplegic woman whom the movie Joni was about in the 1970s), Eternity in Their Hearts: Startling Evidence of Belief in the One True God in Hundreds of Cultures Throughout the World by Don Richardson (missionary author of The Peace Child, which I read when I was a teenager) and King of the Jews: Resurrecting the Jewish Jesus by D. Thomas Lancaster (which was from my son-in-law Ryan, of course!). The CD, Asleep in a Storm is a remix of several Sovereign Grace worship songs. What wonderful gifts, and what wonderful givers! I sure do love my family!

The most unique gift is a beautiful prayer shawl that my sister Barb knit for me. It has beads on it with the initials of each of my family members, so I can pray for them one by one. I had just been thinking of something like that the other day, and here it is! Thanks, Barb!

You can see all of the birthday pictures here: Birthday 2008

Thank you, everyone, for such a lovely weekend!

Saturday, September 6, 2008

His Eye is on the Sparrow

In Sam's Club yesterday, I heard a squawking, squeaking, flapping, and fluttering as I walked past the paper plate aisle. I followed my ears and found a little bird frantically trying to fly out of a box that held bags of of plastic cups. There are often birds flying around in Sam's, so I figured maybe he just got stuck. I tried to clear the way for him to fly, and even nudged him with my folded up shopping list, to no avail. So I carried the whole big box, with just the little bird in it, all the way to the front of the store and then outside, where I hoped he would be able to fly away. An employee named Jennifer gently picked him up and he seemed to calm down in her hands but still not fly. Meanwhile, I stepped aside to call my friend Kathy, who often takes care of injured birds, to see if I could bring him to her. She was out of town and told me to call our friend Allura, who is also skilled in this. While I was dialing Allura's number, Jennifer came inside and sadly told me that the wee bird had just died. There wasn't much that either of us could do for this tiny creature that God had made. I didn't even give it the blessing of a tender touch as she did. But you know that God saw and that he cares, even for a little sparrow.

"Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows." Matthew 10:29-31

I wrote this little story (which is true) to encourage one of my cousins, who is a nurse in a VA hospital. Her tender care of God's wounded ones is so important, even when it doesn't always seem like she is making a difference!

After I wrote it, I remembered that when I called my friend Kathy about the bird, she told me that "The Bird Lady" had died last week. This is a woman who is known throughout our community as the one to take sick and injured birds. Kathy and Allura have both learned much from her. Now she is gone, but there will be ones who take her place, not in quite the same way, but doing what they can. I don't even know her real name, but I know the impact she has had, even in caring for what seems like the least of God's creations. God bless her!

This bird experience also reminded me of an old Gospel song, "His Eye is on the Sparrow." There are numerous versions on YouTube, but this one by CeCe Winans and Lauryn Hills is one of my favorites...

Lyrics from

Why should I feel discouraged, why should the shadows come,
Why should my heart be lonely, and long for heaven and home,
When Jesus is my portion? My constant friend is He:
His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me;
His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.

I sing because I’m happy,
I sing because I’m free,
For His eye is on the sparrow,
And I know He watches me.

“Let not your heart be troubled,” His tender word I hear,
And resting on His goodness, I lose my doubts and fears;
Though by the path He leadeth, but one step I may see;
His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me;
His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.

I sing because I’m happy,
I sing because I’m free,
For His eye is on the sparrow,
And I know He watches me.

Whenever I am tempted, whenever clouds arise,
When songs give place to sighing, when hope within me dies,
I draw the closer to Him, from care He sets me free;
His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me;
His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.

I sing because I’m happy,
I sing because I’m free,
For His eye is on the sparrow,
And I know He watches me.

Remember that God cares for you! You are so much more important to him than the birds!

Friday, September 5, 2008

Our Thanksgiving Indians

“Our Thanksgiving Indians”…

Darshan, Kartik, Siddharth, Nilesh and Ramaram. No, these Indians weren’t guests at the first Pilgrim Thanksgiving in 1621, along with Squanto and Samoset. They are REAL Indians, from India! And we hosted them, along with Nan and Feixue from China, for a traditional American Thanksgiving in 2001. I suppose I should back up a little here in the story.

One day in 2000, I saw a notice in our church bulletin that a ministry to University of Central Florida international students was looking for furniture and other household items to help the newcomers get settled. I quickly called Mei-Ling Liu to make arrangements for donating couches and chairs which were cluttering up our garage. Later, we delivered a van load of household supplies to help set up an apartment for a student whose wife was arriving from India the following week. Anyway, this was so much fun that I decided to make four gift baskets of household and school supplies for a new student prize drawing Mei-Ling had planned. The two of us, along with one of my daughters, had the pleasure of delivering them to Darshan, Nilesh, Kartik and Nan at their scantily equipped apartments. At the same time, we invited them to come, along with a friend (hence Ramaram, Siddharth and Feixue), and join us for Thanksgiving. They all eagerly accepted.

As the time drew near, plans began to take shape. We had eight children back then, including five school age daughters, two preschool sons, and a baby girl. I sure needed the help of my older daughters, and this was one way to develop their hospitality skills while learning about other cultures! Joanna and Lydia worked hard on choosing the menu and writing a shopping list. We had to plan for plenty of vegetarian foods for our Hindu guests, but we also fixed our traditional turkey. We actually roasted and carved the turkey a day ahead of time and reheated it with the broth, which saved me a lot of time on Thanksgiving Day. It was one way for me to be more "Mary" and less "Martha" in my hospitality. The children also made several desserts a day ahead of time. Of course, there was still lots to do on Thursday, but everyone pitched in wonderfully. The girls hung autumn-colored paper leaves from the ceiling, folded the cloth napkins in fancy patterns, made name tags and place cards on the computer, raked the yard, and cleaned up the house. Everyone cooked up a storm, but we still put our guests to work opening cans of vegetables at the last minute. (They WANTED to do something to help!)

Our dinner conversation was lively. We talked some about American culture and foods, about their majors at UCF (all engineering and computer science, and mostly, if not all, at the graduate level). One of the Indian men happened to ask Feixue about freedom of religion in China. She staunchly defended her government and said that they were merely educating people to be more scientific instead of superstitious. To an atheist like her, it seems the reason that people are religious is that they are raised that way by their families and don’t know what else to believe. The Hindu said he could not imagine not being able to talk to a god about things that bothered him. Feixue joked that in China, before you get married, your father is your god, and after you get married, your husband takes that place.

After dinner, we watched an animated video about William Bradford and the First Thanksgiving. This was my husband’s great idea. The video is neat because it tells about a group of dedicated Christians leaving England in 1620 to gain religious freedom, and how they set up their own government where each man could vote and help make the decisions. (What a radical concept for a Chinese person!) It also showed how much friendship there was between the native Americans and the Pilgrims in those early years. After the video I explained a few things they may not have understood, and told how the colonists eventually won their independence from England and became the United States of America. I also shared the story of how the Star Spangled Banner was written during the War of 1812.

Mei-Ling had suggested that we ask each of the students to tell us something about their country or their growing up years. This sure made for a great geography lesson! Some of the Indian men told us about the temples, idol worship, pilgrimages, arranged marriages and other Hindu customs. Our new Chinese friends told about inventions and education in their country. It’s interesting to note that Feixue, the young lady, was much smitten by baby Naomi, our eighth child. In her country, families are usually only permitted one child each, with forced abortions for those who try to have unauthorized extra babies. Sigh... We did have a few opportunities to share tidbits about our Christian faith, and for that I am thankful.

The students were most intrigued when I told them about home schooling. One asked about diplomas, and another asked about how we choose our scope and sequence. I told them about how I approach each school subject, and mentioned that for geography we pick a different continent each year. The previous year, when we had studied Asia, we learned about Mahatma Gandhi and Indian independence. When I told about how we get to choose our own curriculum, I can only wonder at the impression this made on our Chinese guests, where education is so tightly controlled by the government.

We also had a little musical entertainment, with one daughter playing a Beethoven Sonatina on the piano, and another singing “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” and “Come Ye Thankful People Come.” Feixue then asked each of our daughters to tell something about themselves and what they like to do. What a jolly time of uproarious laughter! At the end, we all gathered on the couch and Thad took pictures.

All in all, it was a most wonderful experience! The students all expressed their delight at being invited for an American Thanksgiving just a few months after arriving here. One student pulled Thad aside to say how much he appreciated visiting our family because he had been in a boarding school most of his life. Another one called the next day to say how much he liked the food, especially the desserts! We had a few of them back for a Christmas party the next month, but unfortunately, we haven’t kept up with them in the past few years.

I write this to encourage you to consider showing holiday (and every day!) hospitality to folks outside your normal circle of friends and relatives. Ask God to connect you with someone who could appreciate a home cooked meal eaten with a friendly family. This might be an elderly neighbor or nursing home resident whose children and grandchildren live far away. It could be a young single mom who has been forsaken by the ones who were supposed to love and support her. Or it could be that college student, international or not, who is missing his or her family at holiday time. (I remember being in this unenviable position while I was at UCF in 1983, and am grateful that the parents of one of my friends invited me for Thanksgiving.)

"But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous." Luke 14:13-14

These small acts of kindness do make a huge difference!

(Note: This article first appeared in the Hope Chest Home School News, and later in Making It Home magazine. Making It Home is no longer in print, but you can still read Cat Staat's blog.)

Thursday, September 4, 2008

What in the World Is This?

Dziwani kuti kumwamba ndi dziko lapansi kulibe wina woposa Ambuye wathu Yesu Khristu. Inde ambiri amadziwa kuti kunja kuno kuli timilungu tambiri tomwe timapembedzedwa mu njira zosiyana-siyana, ndipo mwa timilungu timeneti mulibe chipulumutso angakhale moyo ndi kuchiritsa, timilungu timeneti timachedwa milungu yakufa yopanda moyo (ZIWANDA) Koma mwa zonsezi kuli Mulungu weni-weni wa moyo kudzera mwa Ambuye wathu Yesu Khristu amene ali nazo mphamvu zochiritsa ndi kupulumutsa. Mateyu 28:18. Yesu akutero nawo ophunzira ache ndi tonse amene; Mphamvu zonse zapatsidwa kwa ine kumwamba ndi dziko lapansi. Tiyeni tilingarile zomwe Yesu anena motsikimizira wina ali yense pa zonse zimene apatsidwa ndi atate wa kumwamba; apa zikusonyeza kuti iye ndiye woyamba ndi wotsiriza; kulibenso wina angampose iye. Atate akonda mwana wache napereka m’manja mwache: Ndi iye amene amkhulurupirila iye ali nawo moyo wosatha, Yohane 3:35-36, Yohane 13:3.


What in the world is this? It is an excerpt from a Christian tract written in the Chichewa language by Headson Makazinga, who is a pastor and church-planting evangelist based in Nsanje, Malawi. Here is a partial, rough English translation of the paragraph above...

Let us know that from heaven up to earth, there is no one who is above our Lord Jesus Christ. In this world there are so many kinds of gods, and many people are worshiping these kinds of gods. In these gods there is no salvation or even healing. These gods are called devils. But in all these gods, there is one above all dead gods. He is precious and exactly God. He is Jesus Christ, one who had all power and all authority from heaven to earth. Matthew 28:18: Then Jesus came to them and said, “All power and authority in heaven and earth has been given to me.” Beloved, let us believe the one who had all the power and authority -- Jesus Christ. See John 3:35-36 and John 13:3.

If you are curious about why I am putting this on my blog (which is my goal!), you can read more in this post from April 12: Out of Africa (A Letter from Headson Makazinga).

Virginia Knowles
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