Friday, August 28, 2009

On Bread, Building, and Other Eclectic Thoughts on Thrift & Creativity

Dear friends,

This morning I visited our local bakery outlet store, as I do every few weeks. I hate to buy bread anywhere else! Why? Because if I'm lucky, I can buy bread, bagels, and English muffins for a mere 50 cents a bag! Otherwise, it's still only about $1 per bag there on the clearance table. This is not junk white bread either (which I personally can't stand anyway). It's the premium Arnold's whole wheat bread, Thomas's English muffins, and Lender's bagels. For the bread pictured here, I paid a grand total of $8. The list price for these 16 bags was $46! I just can't imagine paying $4 for a bag of English muffins!

I commented to the clerk that with bread that cheap, and eggs being so economical, it's a thrifty meal to make either French toast or eggs-in-the-basket. The latter, for those who aren't yet familiar with it, is made by buttering bread, cutting a hole in it (with the rim of a plastic cup), cracking an egg into the middle, and frying it up on a griddle. Ben was supposed to make a protein meal as part of his science homework the other day, and that's what he chose. Thad had made some for dinner a few days before that.

With a family as large as ours (9 of our 10 children still at home) we have to be thrifty whenever we can. I thought you might also like to see just part of the set of wooden blocks we have accumulated over the years. When our big girls were very small (about 16 years ago) I decided to keep Christmas very simple. For one of their presents, I went to a used toy store and bought a set of wooden blocks for just a few dollars. Since then, we've added more to it, including Jenga blocks, figures from a wooden train set donated by my sister, etc. We have a huge wicker basket of them in the living room, much more than the ones pictured here on the table. The kids like to build elaborate cities while I read aloud to them. Yesterday we finished The Ocean of Truth by Joyce McPherson, a children's biography of Sir Isaac Newton, and today we resumed On the Banks of Plum Creek by Laura Ingalls Wilder. It is so inspiring to see how much families of yesteryear were able to make do with what they had. "Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without!"

Right now, we are doing without TV broadcasting. I bought a digital converter for our TV early in the summer, but we lost the remote for it two months ago. I could easily replace it with a universal remote for $5, but I'm much happier NOT having a TV around. My own parents ditched our TV set when I was seven, and we didn't get another one until the 1976 elections six years later. We learned to read, write, garden, play music, paint, and do lots of other interesting things instead. In my own family now, we often go without TV for months at a time. I think we tend to get more done that way, even though the computer is still a distraction. We can still use the TV set for DVD's and video cassettes, although our VCR is on the fritz, too, right now.

One of the creative and educational things that some of my kids love to do on the computer is build with Sketchup. It's a 3D drawing and architectural program. You can build a house or any other kind of structure and even furnish it. There are all sorts of textures to work with, too. You can navigate around and through your building, inside and out. It's fascinating! I'm amazed at the intricate things my children make with it, and there's no mess to clean up either. Educators recommend it for kids with autism, too. Even if they can't communicate effectively with others, they can often manipulate things brilliantly on the screen. The great thing about Sketchup is that it is FREE. You can download it here:

Here's a cabinet and stove that Micah drew with Sketchup. Too bad he can't use it to replace our real dishwasher, which has been broken for several days. The appliance company says it's already been repaired too many times for them to do it again. I guess that's what happens when you do at least three loads a day! With the warranty maxed out, we're just going to have to suck it up and buy one for ourselves. Meanwhile, at least my kids know how to wash dishes in the sink! We've got this little poem taped to our kitchen cupboard...

Thank God for dirty dishes
They have a story to tell
And by the stack we have
It seems we’re living very well.
While people of other countries are starving
I haven’t the heart to fuss
For by this stack of evidence
God’s awfully good to us.

And speaking of world hunger, my second cousin Ellen Morehouse linked this insightful article on her Facebook page...

World Vision's Richard Stearns sets out to put an end to global poverty

Now how is that for an eclectic blog post that rambles all over?

For thrift, creativity, a making the world a better place...

Virginia Knowles

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Secret of Replacement (How Can We REALLY Change?)

("The Secret of Replacement" is an excerpt from my book The Real Life Home School Mom, which you can download for free from the sidebar of my blog at

The Secret of Replacement
by Virginia Knowles

Perhaps the path to your life goals is hindered by destructive personal habits. Trying to break them seems to be a lost cause. How many New Year's Resolutions are dead and gone by the end of January? Sometimes concentrating on the distressing patterns in our lives only digs them further in. This dilemma reminds me of the poor man in Luke 11:26 who had a demon leave him, only to come back with seven worse evil spirits. His heart had been swept clean, but the Holy Spirit had not been invited to fill the empty spot. True repentance and reform require that we turn away from the bad thing and toward the high ideal. The good shall prevail over the bad. This is firmly established in Scripture:

♥ “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” Romans 12:21
♥ “The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me ... to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.” Isaiah 61:1a, 3b
♥ “... you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.” Colossians 3:9b, 10
♥ “Therefore, prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed. As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: 'Be holy, because I am holy.'” 1 Peter 1:13‑16

The obvious foundation for this is the Lordship of Christ through the indwelling Holy Spirit. In addition, there are specific wise choices we can make to counteract the foolish ones. Proverbs is full of them:

♥ “The wise woman builds her house, but with her own hands the foolish one tears hers down.” Proverbs 14:1
♥ “All hard work brings a profit, but mere talk leads only to poverty.” Proverbs 14:23
♥ “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” Proverbs 15:1
♥ “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.” Proverbs 17:22

As Francis de Sales noted in the 17th century, “As to these smaller temptations… as it is impossible to be altogether freed from them, the best defense that we can make is not to give ourselves much trouble about them; for although they may tease us, yet they can never hurt us, so long as we continue firmly resolved to dedicate ourselves in earnest to the service of God…. Content yourself with quietly removing them, not by contending or disputing with them, but by performing some actions of a contrary nature to the temptation, especially acts of the love of God… This grand remedy is so terrible to the enemy of our souls, that as soon as he perceives that his temptation incites us to form acts of divine love he ceases to tempt us… He who would wish to contend with them in particular would give himself much trouble to little or no purpose.” (Quoted by Gary Thomas on page 76-77 of Seeking the Face of God, published by Harvest House.)

What are the life areas in which you long to improve? What are the habits you want to banish? Let's replace our hit list with our hot list!

The Hit List The Hot List

Retaliation and Alienation >> Blessing and Reconciliation
Complaints and Depression >> Gratitude and Cheerfulness
Accusation and Nagging >> Encouragement and Affirmation
Rudeness and Harshness >> Courtesy and Kindness
Gossip and Slander >> Prayer and Protection
Habitual Messiness >> Systematic Tidiness
Distraction and Slothfulness >> Daily Routine and Diligent Work
Junk Food (Body and Soul) >> Wholesome Nourishment
Ugliness >> Beauty

These are not passive changes. They require positive action. They demand that you go out of your way and take extra effort at doing good things that don't come naturally.

♥ “I won't eat that extra piece of chocolate cake. I'll have a banana and a glass of milk.”
♥ “I won't give my husband the silent treatment because he was rude to me. Instead, I will figure out why he was upset, pray for him, make a list of his good qualities, and fix his lunch for tomorrow.”
♥ “I won't watch soap operas. I will listen to worship music while I fold the laundry.”
♥ "I won't tear out my hair over teaching double digit addition. I will demonstrate with hands-on materials.”
♥ “I won't nag the children about our messy school room anymore. We are going to clean it up, get rid of the junk, buy organizing supplies, put the papers in notebooks, and schedule a tidy time every day.”

If you have tried and failed, tried and failed, this may seem like a hopeless effort. Keep your mind fixed on the fact that the changes are possible and that they are important. They will only come about if you encourage yourself to keep trying, no matter how many times you fail. And then, wonder of wonders, some day it will click! Eventually your new hard-won habits will even become natural and you will wonder what all the fuss was about. Isn't God good? To God alone be the glory, for the great things he has done!

The Real Life Home School Mom: Free in PDF Format!

Dear friends,

Announcing the free PDF version of my book The Real Life Home School Mom!

I have a trial offer of Adobe that ends in a few days, and decided to put this book in PDF format while I have the chance. I posted the link for it in the sidebar of my blog at as well as on the and blogs, and several people have already downloaded it. It may not be as cozy as cuddling up on a couch with a real book (AHH, bliss!), but it's free and searchable, and it doesn't take any room on a bookshelf! Not only that, you can send the link to friends who might need the encouragement, or who are thinking of home schooling but not willing to fork over any money to order a book about it yet.

If you've ever wanted to "pick the brain" of a veteran home school mom who knows she doesn't have it all together, but is willing to put up warning signs over the pot holes and detours along the journey, this is your chance! There are chapters on choosing educational approaches, goal setting, lesson planning, home organization, spiritual life, reaching your children's hearts, keeping your sanity, striking a balance between character and acadmics, cherishing your marriage, home school support groups, how to handle your preschoolers and babies, and more.

I originally published the book way back in 2000, after nearly a decade of home schooling. Then, after raising some teenagers to adulthood and getting another several years of eye-opening "real life" experience in home schooling, I entirely revised it two years ago. I give you the "real skinny" on it, not just the trite platitudes. (Well, there may be a few trite platitudes in there.)

If you're going to read it on-line, I recommend that you choose the full screen option. The search bar is at the bottom of the screen either way. Or you can print it out, though it is 175 pages long. (If you're going to print, you might want to do only do a chapter or two at a time, and use fast draft mode to save ink.)

Please send me a note if you decide to read it on-line or download it! I'd like to keep track of who this is reaching.

Yours for the Grand Adventure,

Virginia Knowles

P.S. If you're looking for a place to upload PDF or PowerPoint or other files for others to access, check out That's where the book is!

How to Feed a Brain Every Day

Dear friends,

I love the Holy Experience blog by Canadian Ann Voskamp. Today her post is full of links for web sites that offer up free daily educational goodies like spelling quizzes, geography facts, poems, writing prompts, bird pictures, classical musical, today in history, Biblical art and so much more. She notes that this is her kids' "go-to" list when she is busy with another child.

How to Feed a Brain Every Day (Daily Links for Hungry Minds)

While we're at it, you may as well feast on a foundational home schooling piece she posted last year. I need to reread it myself!
Seven Daily Rungs

Virginia Knowles

P.S. I've also posted this on two of my home school blogs, and, but thought I'd include it here too, especially since this blog ( is the one with a subscribtion list and it feeds into my Facebook notes!

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Do It Well, But Keep It Humble

"Homier than thou!" A bunch of years ago, Mike Farris of HSLDA wrote an article about being “homier than thou” (a pun on the old phrase "holier than thou") in which he cautioned home educating parents against arrogance and self-righteousness, especially when relating to other people who have chosen (or have no choice) to do things differently. I can’t remember all that he said, but the phrase stuck with me. Unfortunately, I find that it still applies. I read several blogs about Biblical womanhood, family life, and home schooling. I truly appreciate each one of them, but occasionally I stumble on a post or subsequent reader comments that make me cringe. Usually, the writer is trying to make a case for home schooling, or having a large "full quiver" family, or respecting your husband's leadership, or following the courtship model, or training daughters to be "keepers at home" or whatever the worthy issue is. That’s good, up to a point. The problem is when this turns into a diatribe and ridicule against those who either may disagree with them or who are simply asking sincere but pointed questions because they really want to understand what all the fuss is about. This grieves me. This is not Christian grace or humility. It is not "speaking the truth in love." I see it as a huge turn-off to those whom we really do want to win. As the old adage goes, "You can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar." I’ve always treasured the home schooling lifestyle for the positive benefits that it can bring, rather than as a negative reaction against public schooling. Sure, I think home schooling is better! That’s why I’m doing it, despite all of the challenges! That's why I spend so much time writing and speaking to encourage and equip other moms in this Grand Adventure. But that doesn’t mean that someone is “bad” or “brainwashed” if they don’t (or can't) home school. (Yes, I have seen those exact words used…)

Coincidentally, my friend Stephanie sent me a note the other day which confirmed my thoughts: "I cannot thank you enough for your example of not only homeschooling, but of godliness and love. You never PUSHED homeschool on me or told me how awful it is to send your kid to public school or anything like that. Your children have flourished in both the collegiate and business worlds as well as in their social endeavours. You did what you believed God would have you do and did not push those beliefs onto others. I thank you for that. My children and I have been blessed by the years I was able to teach them and have them home 100% of the time. Starting my final year of homeschooling , that is why I wanted to say thank you to you for helping me travel down this glorious road." Then my friend Michelle wrote just this morning, "You have been a wonderful inspiration, not because you are perfect , but because you are not, and you help me believe maybe I am really doing a good job."

You see, we really don't have to be obnoxious or strident to get our point across. When my younger kids bicker (as they often do) I remind them that the only thing you prove by calling someone an "IDIOT!!!!" is that you yourself are one. Of course I am preaching to myself as well! We simply cannot build ourselves up by tearing others down. We will only prove how immature we are! Maybe this little article itself will seem like a diatribe. It’s not meant to be. My aim is to bring a little necessary correction in an area where I too have been guilty. We home school moms can take a certain amount of satisfaction in how our children are turning out. I’m certainly proud of my ten terrific kids, even though I see their weaknesses and they definitely see mine! Where this parental contentment takes a turn for the worse is if we smugly give the impression that the reason why we are having so much outward success is because we are so good at what we do! Bosh! Whatever we do is sheerly by the grace of God. It is this grace that will also pick us up again after our pride leads to the inevitable downfall. If you ever get to the point where you recognize things in your own heart or your children’s lives that make you gasp in shock, then thank the Lord for his enlightening mercies! This is the opportunity to embrace the gracious gift of humility and to plead for his help. We need to be keenly aware of our continual dependence on God. Sometimes he allows these bumps -- big and little --to shake us out of deathly complacency. Brokenness brings so many blessings, not the least of which is a new and deeper compassion for hurting people. You see, no matter how good things look on the outside, folks are struggling. We may hide it well, but we all have fissures beneath the surface. Some of us have even experienced internal earthquakes. I am full of gratitude for the very painful, eye-opening seasons of my life, even the ones that continue to make me gasp. They were (and are) the mercy of God to wake me up, to spur me to pursue change, to help me to bring compassionate grace and healing to others, to make me see how his power is perfected in my weakness. In our home school, it is Mom who is really being educated!

So, dear friends, whatever you do, "Do it well, but keep it humble!"

P.S. If the topic of humility and motherhood hits a tender spot, please read my article "Be It Ever So Humbling, There's No Place Like Home". Another short article related to legalism, "Your Unique Home School Family", accompanies my poem "This is My Song and I Sing."

Friday, August 21, 2009

True Power, Love, Wisdom, Vision & Impact

"Lord, please fill me again with your Holy Spirit and empower me, not to fulfill my own agenda or bring honor to myself, but to serve people and glorify you. Help me to fully experience your lavish love in Jesus Christ and to make this Good News known so others can enjoy the abundant inner-life riches. Knit me in with people who cherish your name, so that together we can reveal the wisdom of your purposes and plans. Give me a vision for the generations to come, to impact them with a momentum that will ripple toward eternity."


When I study a Bible passage, I often use a note page I designed to Read, Reflect & Respond. This prayer is one of my responses to Ephesians 3:14-21. You can find the PDF of the Bible note page at

P.S. The web site I just linked allows you to make your PDF, PowerPoint and other similar files available to the public. These kinds of resources can help us mentor and equip others, make God's wisdom known in various areas of life, and ultimately make an long-term impact. That is one way for me to follow through on my own prayer.

Virginia Knowles

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Big Brother's Birthday Brunch

Dear friends,

It's not often that I see my big brother John and his sweet wife Dana, and it's an extra special treat when I get to celebrate his birthday with him! I got lucky this year, though! This week, on their way home to New Jersey from a trip to the Bahamas, they honored us with a very nice visit. They arrived on Tuesday afternoon, bearing cheesecakes from Denny's. We enjoyed just chatting about childhood memories, eating dinner, and looking at Joanna's photos from the Dominican Republic. Later in the evening, they headed for their hotel. The next morning, they came back for a birthday brunch of bacon-and-scallion quiche, homemade turkey scrapple, fruit salad, and french toast sticks. I cooked the bacon and scrapple ahead of time so I wouldn't be so rushed in the morning, which is a good thing since I overslept and didn't even realize what time it was until 8:45!

For John's 51st birthday present, I gave him a framed photo of he and my sister Barb and I when I was about a year old. That's back when they still called me Ginny Lynn!
I admire my brother because he's so friendly, intelligent, hardworking, and capable. I wish I had asked him to play the piano for us before he left, because he's a very talented musician!

(These are a couple of pictures from what I affectionately call our "suburban hippie days" in San Francisco in the 1970's. The picture on the right was taken on a family vacation in Crater Lake, Oregon.)

Thanks for being my big brother, John!

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Two Birthday Parties and Three Very Special People

Dear friends,

So far this month, I've had the privilege of participating in two birthday parties -- one for my little daughter Melody, and the other for my husband Thad and our friend George.

Melody turned four on Sunday, August 2. Days ahead of time, some of her older sisters and brothers started planning a very special birthday for her. Since she likes Winnie the Pooh, they decided to turn our dining room into the Hundred Acre Wood.

Lydia, Andrew, Micah, and Naomi lovingly crafted large cardboard figures of Pooh, Piglet, Owl, and Tigger. When she woke up in the morning, there they were! We played a tape of Pooh singing, "I'm Just a Little Black Rain Cloud" too.

Melody was so excited about her new dolly and stroller that she gave her quite a wild ride through the house!

Settle down, Melody! (It seems like I'm always saying that, birthday or not, but she was a quite a handful for her special day!

In the evening, Thad fired up the grill for a wonderful barbecue dinner of burgers and chicken.

My daughter Mary, her mother-in-law Donna, and her husband Ryan are on the couch.

Three of our guests were Julia's friends Hannah, Alex, and Sarah (all in their 20's) who always take time to talk to Melody whenever they see her. Melody loves to play with them!

Lydia made this Pooh Bear cake from scratch! What a sister!
OK, enough of the kid stuff! Now on to a grownup birthday party!
On August 3, our friend George Pyros turned 40. He suggested to Thad, who turns 50 on August 18, that they celebrate their birthdays together. That's what we did tonight, August 8. They didn't want to burden Karen and me with the details of planning and preparing it, so they pulled it off themselves! George fixed a Greek dish, pastitsio, as well as other delicious food, and Thad brought the cake. We had the party at the home of George's friend and coworker John, along with several other guests. George and Thad are standing with the O Club decoration, to commemorate their Big 4-0 and Big 5-0. Thad has so often said that even though George is 10 years younger, he has learned so much from him. They usually meet every week for encouragement, and this party was designed for the same purposes. Each guest came with something to say to encourage the birthday boys. Karen also gave us each a random question to answer, such as, "What is the one thing you want to do before you die?" and "What is a favorite memory of childhood?" A great way to get to know each other!

I first met George's wife Karen way back when in a home school support group. They started attending the same church as us about five years ago, and we were in the same Bible study group for a while. We have always appreciated how passionate they are about the Christian faith, and about raising their five children well.

Larry is the one who first introduced me to Thad (then his roommate) back in 1984, and was a groomsman in our wedding. Such a blessing to have this dear friend all these years! Actually, it was at Thad's 25th birthday party -- at Larry's house -- that Thad first noticed me!

We've also known Tim for 25 years, ever since my InterVarsity Christian Fellowship days at UCF! We often joke about the fact that on his first date with Sue about 9 years ago, he brought her to our house to meet us -- to see if we would approve! We did! Thad was a groomsman in Tim's wedding and they now have three sweet little boys themselves. Here's to more lifelong friends!

Tim and Sue had to leave a little early, but here's a snap shot of the rest of us. The other guests were Melanie and Mark, Steve and Katie (whom we also know from home schooling and church), Dodie and John.

Thanks, everyone, for a lovely evening of fellowship and celebration!
And happy birthday again, guys!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The Throne Room of Grace

Dear friends,

We've been enjoying the series on the book of Hebrews at church for these past few months. Last Sunday, Benny Phillips preached on Hebrews 10:19-25.

The sermon reminded me of an oil painting I did in spring 1982, when I was 18, for my sister Barb's wedding present. The inscription at the bottom left of the painting reads "Hebrews 10:19-22." You can find that passage further down on this page. You don't see God's throne in this picture; the man is on his way in through the heavy ripped curtain of the Temple into the Most Holy Place. I couldn't figure out a way to adequately depict the Glory of God, so I left it to the viewer's imagination what they would see further down the path of the Cross that the man is walking. I know the Biblical symbolism of each facet of this picture isn't immediately obvious, but you may understand more if you keep reading this page. If you still don't get it, let me know, and I'll be happy to explain it in easier terms.

Who Is There Like Unto Thee?

by Virginia Knowles

Who is there like unto Thee, O Lord,

To Thy name give glory!

Full of compassion, righteousness and truth,

Full of strength and power, and clothed in majesty!

And yet on the cross, you were willing to bleed,

And you met us there, in our time of need.

And now at your Throne Room, we may boldly enter in,

To receive grace and mercy again and again!

Picture with me this scene:

You enter The Most Holy Place, the Throne Room of God, and bow before the King. Then after he embraces you and places a comforting hand on your head, he hands you this beautifully wrapped package. Inside are his gifts of Mercy and Grace. They aren’t generic brand either! They are specifically designed for your particular needs that very day. Whatever your problem is, there is the solution. Whatever your grief, there is a unique balm of comfort. What’s even better, his door is open whenever you choose to visit, and he has a different care package for you every time you come. All of these benefits can be yours if you trust in sacrifice of Jesus on the cross to pay the penalty for your sins.

The Scriptures paint this picture for us of the the tabernacle (and later the temple), where the Most Holy Place was blocked by a veil, a heavy curtain from floor to ceiling. Only the high priest could enter the Most Holy Place, and he could only do this once a year on Yom Kippur, the sacred Day of Atonement. When Jesus (the promised Messiah) gave himself as a sacrifice for our sins on the cross, the curtain in the temple miraculously tore in two, symbolizing open access to God in the Most Holy Place for those who believe. Now we too can enter into the Throne Room of Grace -- every day! Isn't God kind?

“Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.” Hebrews 10:19-22

You can read more of the Scriptures associated with this story at

A Trio of New Home School Blogs for All Grade Levels

Dear friends,

A few weeks ago I set up in preparation for the Finish Well conference that my friends Meredith Curtis, Cheryl Bastian, and I were doing. After the workshops, we all posted lots of goodies on this blog for families who are home schooling through the high school years.

This morning I woke up in the wee hours of the morning with a brainstorm of two companion sites! After all, before you FINISH well, you first need to START and CONTINUE! will encourage and equip moms for teaching and training their own children at home during the preschool and elementary years. Many of the posts are gleaned from my book Common Sense Excellence: Faith-Filled Home Education for Preschool to 5th Grade. picks up in the challenging middle school years. I seriously LOVE teaching this age range! Current posts include Learn to Discern, study guides for the novels The Witch of Blackbird Pond and Johnny Tremaine, and Justice & Mercy.

I have already posted several articles from my archives, and I'm recruiting other seasoned home schooling moms to contribute their wisdom as well. Cheryl has already taken me up on this and posted, and we've got others who are working on their stuff, too!

Take a peek and pass the word!
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