The Indoor Nature Study

Just a few weeks back, I wrote an article for Heart of the Matter entitled “Getting Rid of the Winter ‘Blahs’.     I wrote that article when it was 30 degrees here–as a high.    I now have to laugh at the positioning of myself–even if only briefly–as an expert in winter weather given that we’re now back in the 70’s, and will perhaps see only 1 week more of the cold before Easter.  

Much of what we do in our homeschool I absolutely love, and I’m thankful that, after years of frustration from failing to emulate others, we’ve found a “style” that works with our home.   The kids are (on most days) in a peaceful flow of a well-established routine, and if I could get me together, we just might be alright.    Having said that, if there is one thing I would change, it would be the amount of time that we spend outside.    Every school year I say that, especially for our youngest, who loves the outdoors, I am going to get out more.   Every year, I fall into a routine of work, chores, computer time, and playing taxi cab, all on top of school, and I fail miserably at taking that time to get out and just breathe the fresh air.     By the way, did I mention that it’s now competition season?

The beauty of my inefficiencies is that, in my weakness, He is indeed made strong.    Years ago, when our son studied birds, we purchased an inexpensive feeder from Home Depot and filled it with black oil sunflower seeds.    We also made suet and bought a suet feeder.     In a fairly new neighborhood, we placed the feeders at one of our few trees, which just happened to be at the window.  Though the suet feeder drew little more than ants, the sunflower feeder has been perhaps one of our homeschool’s greatest joys.

The following pictures are not mine.   Beauty met with practicality as we realized that a solar screen would block some of the western sun and lower our electric bill.    So capturing our daily eye candy through our own lenses is now impossible.   These shots were taken from “Bing’d” images and

We regularly see these little fellows, but they show up in droves during the winter.    Funny how, since we see them so much, their presence doesn’t send us running to the window anymore.   It’s a shame because they are actually quite colorful and gorgeous in their own way.

The treat this winter, and I suspect that it was because of the extremes in weather that we had for about two weeks, was a relative wealth of even more colorful visitors, like this blue jay.

The Northern Cardinal came often enough this winter that we even learned his song, and the kids would often hear him before they saw him.    Wanting to see more of him prompted us to break out our field guide, and we found out that he prefers the sunflower seeds spread out on the ground as opposed to eating from a feeder.     So we spread out the seed and he brought friends. 

The Orange-Crowned Warbler was a new visitor this winter.   At first, we thought he was a yellow finch, but our daughter is learning a thing or two about wing bars and crown markings.

With an early spring coming (or so it would appear), there will be plenty  of opportunities to clean up weeds and remove plants that winter killed.   Given that my yard-obsessed neighbor has already put down her spring plantings, our house looks like I’d better get busy, and I will have help, come hell or high water.   Until I get there, though, I am thankful for the chance to study nature from our window, and for God to meet us right where we are.      He’s doing the same for you, too, and I’d love to read about it.

Our Pseudo-Winter, and Unplugged Days

I’m in the process of writing an article regarding how to move forward from the I’ve-done-nothing-that-I-originally-planned-to-do-and-winter-is-making-me-miserable blues, and I’ve had a chance to live this article over the last few days.    We don’t see much winter here, but when it does come, we learn how unprepared we are for it.    (Interestingly enough, I read where a newspaper writer from Rochester, NY criticized our exaggeration and over-preparation for winter weather.   Let’s see her survive ~90 days where it’s already 90 degrees and 100% humidity at 8 a.m., with no chance of a cool breeze.)   The mere warning of winter has, for all practical purposes, shut the city down for the next 4-5 days.   Personally, I’ve laughed at myself as I, the notorious introvert, had finally worked myself up to get out of the house and take the kids out on a group field trip this Friday.   Cancelled.     The cheerleading practice for Saturday’s Upward games?  Cancelled.   All I await is the text from the dance instructors saying that tonight’s practices are a wash.

Because of the extended cold temperatures and high usage rates, the electric company has shut off the power intermittently throughout the city—45 minutes here, 45 minutes there, with no warning.   Yesterday, we woke up with no clocks, no heat, no nothing.   Then, just as everything clicked back on and we started about our day, there came another click, and everything was off again.   By the afternoon, life was far more normal, but the morning’s interruptions had taken a definite toll on a crew that doesn’t need much to get off track, anyway.    By this morning, I was just thankful to have consistent power while I baked oatmeal.

Filling the days without electricity has been enlightening.    The computer wasn’t always available, and neither was the television.   The oldest spent her day no differently than she always does, but our younger two were forced into some creativity with their normal outlets unavailable.   And though I missed television, I have to confess that I didn’t need to see one more angle regarding how the Packers might take down Ben Roethlisberger this Sunday.    Incidentally, playing in Green Bay, WI and Pittsburgh, PA, respectively, both NFL teams have requested to keep the “palace that Jerry (Jones) built” open for Superbowl Sunday.    For the Texas natives who control the Dome’s operation and the Superbowl-related revenues?   Not a chance.  

What did I do with my unplugged time?   I rushed to secure clean clothes before we lost the washing machine and dryer.    I got dinner prepared early—oven-fried chicken, mashed potatoes and green beans, and for once, every family member could eat some portion of the same meal without me having to cook anything extra.    I washed and braided the youngest’s hair.    I had my own praise and worship via my cell phone (okay, so maybe I’m not so unplugged in after all).   When our son complained that he wouldn’t get to watch “Live to Dance,” I had another praise and worship session.    Kids in traditional schools today had no power and no hot lunch, and most had to brave the elements to get back and forth to home.   How dare any one of us stand with a full belly and a heated blanket and complain.   I think he, too, saw the light when he later came and sat and enjoyed his sister’s reading of Mark Twain’s Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc.

   I even worked out, blowing the dust off my 8-lb weights and adding in some sit-ups.  

Besides the power outages and the cancelled school days, the city has yet to actually see any of the snow and hazardous weather that anyone predicted.  Yet, though I’ll be the first to say that I enjoy my modern conveniences, I can admit that a day or two with nothing to plug into, type, or watch passively probably did us a world of good.

P.S. Just got a text.    Dances classes cancelled.   Wonder what our (potentially) unplugged time might look like tonight?

Parade Fun, and Christmas Thoughts

I mentioned in my last post that the dance center’s performance team marched in two parades this past weekend.    For most team parents, this meant getting the child to and from the parade, and (in many cases) standing on the sidelines to cheer the kid on as they performed.   For us, it also meant walking—all five of us—in the parade.   How do we get ourselves into these situations?!!!    Somehow, our knack for offering to “help out where we can” often lands us in some interesting places.   This time, little brother wound up carrying the boom-box of Christmas tunes, dad helped carry the parade banner, and little sister and I walked behind as the first line of defense against the float behind us.   We were too busy keeping up to take any pictures of this, but the oldest was still the headliner.


parade; christmas; marching; performing; team


For some strange reason, this parade always brings the cold weather.    Honestly, it was 60-70 degrees all week before this parade; the night we walked it was in the 50’s and dropping.    Some of you reading this will laugh that I thought 50 degrees was cold, but bear in mind that we were out in it at night for almost 3 hours, and of all the places for our group to line up, we were right on the water.   The wind chill had to be in the 40’s, so even though we layered up, we still wound up snuggling just to have a chance at staying warm.    Thankfully, someone with more knowledge about how to stay warm over an extended amount of time (her family had a deer lease) brought disposable hand warmers for us all.   I’d never seen these!   They looked too good to be true, but once they heated up, it felt soooooooo good to stick our hands in our pockets and be refreshingly warmed all over again.   The girls were able to muster this shot once we all felt better.



parade; christmas; marching; performing; team


Sunday’s parade was much warmer, but a fog so thick you could cut it with a knife rolled in.   Amazingly enough, the fog didn’t come until after the parade was finished, which meant an interesting walk back to the car.   Yet, the girls were still in a festive mood.


parade; christmas; marching; performing; team


Walking in a parade or two was great exercise; it also gives an introvert a lot of time to think.   I thought about how good it felt, particularly with everything going on in the world right now, to smile and say, “Merry Christmas.”   Much of what I thought about was a conversation I’d had just the day before with my mother-in-law.    The church where I met her, and subsequently met my husband, has moved past the position of Christmas being too commercialized and secularized.   For the last several years, that church has been on a “there is no Christ in Christmas” campaign.    Much of what the church espouses comes from the perspective that Jesus wasn’t born on December 25th, along with the pagan origins of the Christmas tree and the red-suited, “ho, ho, ho” version of Santa Claus that we see all over the stores and television.   So there is no Christmas music (not even Christian songs that are categorized as Christmas music, like “Silent Night” or “O Come, All Ye Faithful”), no encouragement to give gifts or do any of the other traditional things that we associate with this season.    Though much of their perspective is a matter of fact, as my mother-in-law says, it’s never been about a tree for us.   My father-in-law adds that celebrating Jesus, even if it’s technically in the wrong season, is never a bad thing.    I say this knowing that there are whole Christian sects that do not celebrate Christmas or any other holiday.    My mil’s concern, and I think she’s right on target with this, is that Christmas is a wonderful time to minister to the lost, whether you buy into all the traditional trappings or not.   Because of the adamant determination of her church (we left years ago) to depart from what we associate with Christmas, they’ve all but lost the chance to show people Jesus at this time through giving, through sharing, and through loving.    As one example, there was a vendor who donated to her church bicycles.    The bicycles were for children of incarcerated parents.     The leaders of the church actually met to decide whether or not to accept the bicycles, and if they accepted and then distributed the bicycles, would it be a violation of the “Christ is not in Christmas” policies.   Huh?   It sounds a lot like Karen’s comment below that her church stopped having services during Christmas week.


 All of this flowed through my mind, and then came throbbing to the front when pastor described us, the church, as the frog sitting in a pot of water that is gradually heated to boiling.   As a child, I remember our school Christmas programs, where the songs mentioned above, as well as others like “Amen” with its lyric ‘see the little baby (Amen)/ lying in a manger (Amen)/ on Christmas morning (Amen, Amen, Amen) were part of the school chorus’ repertoire.    Now those songs are replaced with the more politically correct harmonies about “chestnuts roasting on an open fire.”    Don’t get me wrong; Nat King Cole’s rendition of that particular classic is one of my favorite songs of the season, but it will never replace “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing.”    Our ability to celebrate this holiday is slowly being taken away from us with each expressed “Happy Holidays,” Merry Xmas,” or even the mention of, as one university where I teach says, a “winter break.”    No one denies the right of others to celebrate Hanukkah or even Kwanzaa; this would be the mark of the intolerant.    One of my mantras during this politically correct age is that ‘toleration’ really means that the Christian is expected to tolerate everyone; no one tolerates the Christian.


So as I walked with one hand on my six-year-old and the other in the air, my spirit was uplifted as my smile met other smiles and echoes of “Merry Christmas.”    I mused about our traditions and how they’ve developed over the years.   This almost made me laugh out loud.   I reflected upon our earliest Christmases B. C.—before children.     I was so determined that we would have our own traditions, though I had no clue of what they would be.    So with that agenda in mind, I fought my husband’s contentment to go to his parent’s house for the entire day—breakfast, lunch, and dinner—and assuredly hurt my mil’s feelings with such an unsettling, though unspoken, announcement of how her family traditions were changing.   Mind you, it wasn’t as if we were rushing off because we had other plans; we didn’t actually do anything worth remembering when we left her home.   It was simply my way of trying to say that we, the two of us, were our own family now.    


Fast forward almost 20 years, much of what we do during this time is geared toward the kids’ happiness—at least that’s the way I saw it.    The teacher in me wants them to learn the lyrics to “The Twelve Days of Christmas” and other popular tunes because they are a part of our cultural literacy—at least for now—so I play our favorite seasonal soundtracks.   We always buy a tree, even if it’s late in the season.   Gifts are always set out on early—oh, so early–on the 25th, as if Santa really did bring them during the night (HA HA).    And though I stopped helping decorate the tree—just didn’t feel like it anymore and the kids were happy to take over, I still enjoy the Hallmark ornaments that I’ve bought over the years—half-price after Christmas is over.


I don’t want to be the frog in the pot that doesn’t realize the water’s grown hotter until it’s too late.   If only for the generations that will come from me, I will fight to keep our once-laughable traditions alive.    More than anything else, I’ll make a special effort to say those magical words that are currently threatened with extinction:


Merry Christmas.

parade; christmas; marching; performing; team