Wednesday, June 29, 2011

On Mommy Blogging: Image, Identity, Authenticity and Freedom

Dear friends,

Are you ready for my musings on the subject of blogging? Thanks!  Don’t mind if I do!  

A bit of background, shall we?  I have been writing for the on-line community on the topics of education, spiritual life, and family life for 13 years now through my Hope Chest e-magazine, and blogging for over three.   I technically have seven blogs, though I only post at least weekly on a few of them: my “life” blog, a blog of encouragement for moms, and a preschool/elementary education blog.  I think there are about 550 articles on them, including excerpts from two of the home schooling books I have written.  Most of my posts are about whatever is on my mind at the moment that I think might be interesting, inspiring, amusing or otherwise useful to someone else out in cyberspace.  I try to be intentional about what I write, and think about who might be reading it and how it will affect them.  My thoughts have certainly morphed over the years, definitely more divergent and less rigid, and hopefully for the better. 

Writing, for me, is a potent means of self-expression.  It helps me think.  I’ve often said that I can’t NOT write.  It is an integral part of who I am.

Not only do I write about who I am, I write myself into who I am becoming.

Meander with me a moment longer into perhaps unfamiliar territory?  I regularly read two blogs written by ex-members of a church organization of which I too am an ex-member.  Some of it is pretty dicey stuff, which is understandable since it is written from grief, confusion, pain, and justifiable anger over distressing, long-term, unresolved issues.   I take it with a grain or two of salt, realizing that most of it is valid, but still trying to use discernment.  I agree with enough of it to keep reading and occasionally contributing my own comments.  It helps me to realize that I am not crazy to be concerned about the things that were red flagging in my mind for years.  It helps to know that I am not alone.  I think one thing that strikes me about these blogs is that while they are a bit raw with emotion and assertions, there is reality and authenticity to them. Maybe because most of the people there post their comments anonymously, they relish the liberty to express their deeper feelings that they had squelched for so long out of fear and peer pressure.  They work it out and find healing and refuge as they write and interact with each other. I have my own angst as I write, but I try to be civil and encourage others to consider their words carefully, too.   I try to reflect the heart of Jesus no matter where I am and who is reading.

One of the minor themes I’ve noticed lately on one of these protest blogs is a disdain for young mommy bloggers (within this group of churches) who write as if they have all of the righteous answers to dish out to the unenlightened, who are perfectly submissive wives, sage mothers, uber creative homemakers, chirpy friends, sentimental photojournalists.  Yet there is often also a paradoxical element of self-deprecation, with a constant thread of “I am such a sinful person, I need to repent about this and this and this.”  This little bunny trail complaint about bloggers is that these young women are projecting an unrealistic image of their lives so that others will know they are piously committed to the whole devote-my-entire-life-to-this-particular-rigid-model-of-church-and-family-roles-and-only-in-my-four-walls-homemaking-lifestyle-even-though-I-am-such-an-unworthy-little-worm.  Wow, that was a mouthful!

You know, I really couldn’t say one way or another whether that is true.  Maybe for some of them, some of the time?  Many of the young mommy bloggers in our old church are my friends, and I don’t see that in them.  To be honest, I really don’t know what is going on in their minds, and it’s not my place to conjecture or judge.  I want to give them the freedom to blog in their own style, for their own reasons, whether they tell it like it already is or tell it the way they aspire to be.  What they say is a blessing to me.

Speaking just for myself, I can get a bit Pollyan-ish and rose colored glassy on my blogs.  Sometimes it’s because things really are going well for me at the moment, and I want to capture it in my memory before it disappears.   Other times I blog about something cheerful just because it’s the only way I can keep my sanity when another element of my life looks dark.  I write my own light.  There is a purpose to all of it.  I trust God is going to use what I write no matter why or how I write it.  I try to be appropriately aware of my inner impulses as I write, but it is not healthy for me to over-analyze this.

The truth is that we all project our images.  We all have our identities – public and private -- and blogging is certainly intertwined with that.  Perhaps my blogs make it seem like I think I have it all together, that I have all the answers.  I sincerely hope I am not casting that impression.  I personally wouldn’t mind being more transparent about my struggles, but there is a matter of prudent discretion.  My family has a right to privacy.  Plus, you never know who is reading what you are writing, and how they are taking it and what they intend to do with your information.  Do you know what I mean?  So I might come across like one of the Happy Clone Bloggers at times, too.  My utmost apologies.  I’m really a worm in disguise.  No, not that either.  There must be a happy medium somewhere!

The ironic thing is that a while back, one of the pastors of our former church (whom I still appreciate, despite the problems there) was preaching about something or other and tried to encourage the women, “Don’t feel like you need to work at having the best blog.”  I don’t know quite why he said that.  In hindsight, I think maybe his point was that we should avoid the performance mentality of comparing ourselves to others in a way that makes us feel inadequate.  But I felt a bit miffed and unsettled. Maybe I took it wrong. Maybe I read something else behind the words, based on my lingering impressions of that church culture as a whole.  Part of it was that I had the uncomfortable sense that he was pointing a proverbial finger right at me – one of the most prolific bloggers in the church and an independent thinker. But even apart from that (most likely imagined) personalized impression, I felt like the pastor was subtly communicating to all of us that blogging was a frivolous hobby, a waste of time that we should be devoting to something else.  That we shouldn’t bother pursuing excellence, thinking for ourselves, and expressing our own divergent opinions.  That our words, feelings and attempts at Titus 2 mentoring don’t matter as much because we aren’t the ones behind the podium.  I felt dismissed, minimized, as a woman and as a Christian created to be creative in the image of an amazing Creator. 

I do work hard at blogging, not to prove that I’m a better person but to become a better person -- and to help others do the same.

So what is the “take away” point of this post?  I’d like to share a word of advice to blog writers, and another one for blog readers.

To my fellow blog writers:  Find your own voice and write from your heart.  You are your own person and you don't need to conform to groupthink.  At the same time, feel free to dabble in a new idea or style that you see on someone else’s blog.  (I get a lot of mental sparks from bloggers like Ann Kroeker, like the "Curiosity Journal" and "Food on Fridays" memes that are meant to be imitated.)   Even as you borrow ideas, put your own unique twist into whatever you do.  Don’t feel like you have to be stuck in a single genre; variety is the spice of life.  Write the kind of things you like to read.  And don’t feel like you must protect your image or prove your worth. Our kids are terrific topics for mommies to write about, but don’t put them in a fish bowl or on a pedestal.   Be real.  Be discrete.  Be creative.  Be authentic.  Be kind.   Be truthful.  Be yourself.  Be like Jesus.  That is not a contradiction, because he does not create cookie cutter clones.  Each person can be like Jesus and still be completely unique.  Each member of his body reflects him in a different way (2 Corinthians 12).  Think about what will bless and equip your readers.  Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

To my fellow blog readers: Don’t take everything you read too seriously and don’t feel like you (or your children) have to measure up to everything you see.  Glean what you can use, and buzz past the rest.  Read blogs from a variety of viewpoints to stretch your perspective and hone your own convictions.  (On a practical note, using Google Reader is a handy way to keep up on blogs you like, without having to go hunting around to see if there is a new post.  You can read all the current posts from all your favorite blogs in one place!  I have a bunch in my Google Reader.)   As you read from different blogs, respect where people are – either in their “season of life” or their background or in the way they see things.  They aren’t just like you, and that’s a good thing!   There are some blogs that I stop reading because they just consistently irritate me and I don’t need that extra stress.  There are others I stop reading because I don’t relate to them as well, and I don’t have all the time in the world.  If I add in new blogs, I look at removing others that I’m not as thrilled about anymore.  I have to be selective and read what feeds and challenges me.  I try to read, reflect, and respond.  Bloggers need feedback!  Feel free to leave a comment and share your opinions if they will be helpful.  Encouraging words are manna to a bloggers soul.  But be careful about flaming a blogger with a sharp comment if you disagree with their post.  Endless blog arguments are a waste of time and can be quite agitating to the soul.   Again, the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

I guess that's about all I have to say right now, but I wrote two articles a while back that are closely related to my thoughts here: 

Thanks for reading!  I’d love to hear what you think about any or all of this!

Virginia Knowles

Friday, June 17, 2011

Friday Favorites #10: On Puffin Mumpkins and Pringles (And Being Broken and Real)

Dear friends,

Welcome to Friday Favorites #10!  As usual, I have a few stories and pictures to tuck in!  And my favorite links for the week will be embedded right into the stories.

Today my daughter Naomi and I drove over to our former church to deliver books to be sold at the big used curriculum sale tomorrow.  It was lunch time and we were quite hungry (yes, I know, poor planning) so when we stopped at the gas station, we picked up some hot dogs and soda to munch on before going to Aldi for groceries. She is a really terrific shopper.  I rarely buy groceries without her because she has a good sense of what we have at home and what we need for meals.  Besides that, she is just plain fun to be around!  

After the curriculum sale tomorrow, we are going to a nearby pool for a small family reunion with Thad's aunt and uncle, two of his cousin's kids, another of his cousin's family, two of his sisters, two nieces, our own ten children, my son-in-law and my grandson.  Did I say small reunion?  Oops.  That's 25 people right there!  (See our last get together here: 

More Weekend Gratitude, This Time in Pictures with a Recipe for Bread Pudding.)

Anyway, we're supposed to bring our own lunch and a snack to share, so Naomi and I were debating what kind of snacks to buy.  I grabbed some tortilla chips and cookies, and she suggested Pringles potato chips in a can.  I never buy Pringles, but occasionally she does with her spending money.  I had a funny flashback to childhood when one of my own cousins, at a small family reunion, had a major hissy fit because one of her Pringles potato chips was broken.  Mind you, normal potato chips that come in a bag are often broken by the time you even open the package.  But we have this expectation of Pringles.  They come in a can, sheltered in that perfect round tube.  They are not supposed to be broken before we eat them!  And my mind leaps to the metaphor of how when we shelter our children, we have expectations that they will be completely whole.  (Let's not stretch the metaphor to "before we eat them.")  And yet we are humans.  Humans get all broken inside.  Rules meant to shelter us can sometimes suffocate us or break us instead.  Sigh.  A friend wrote to me recently, "We home schooled and did all the "right" things and yet it is not the picture we had in mind for our children. I guess God has a path for us that we will not understand this side of heaven."  Oh, I wish everyone would realize that home schooling is not the answer to life's problems.  Neither is doing all the "right things."  We are all broken, but some of us don't realize it yet because we're too busy to conforming to the rules that promise us perfection.  I do long for heaven, when I can see how it all works out.  The stories we will tell of grace and redemption!  All of this also relates to a blog post I wrote on my main blog this morning, which you can read here: A Sacred Romance in the Deeper Places of Our Hearts. I do hope you'll take a peek at it.   It's a good one.  Anyway, just the nostalgia of remembering my cousin's temper tantrum compelled me to buy a can of Pringles.  We'll see what happens tomorrow... If something is broken...

Since Father's Day is coming, I also wanted to buy ingredients for a special breakfast for my husband Thad.  We'd been buying all of this picnic junk food, so I wanted it to be something healthy.  He likes healthy.  I spotted a jar of apple sauce on the shelf and remembered I had just read a recipe for Multi-Grain Pumpkin Muffins on one of my favorite blogs (by Sheri Graham).  I already have a can of pumpkin in the cupboard, so I figure that will be just the thing for Sunday morning.  Naomi is not fond of pumpkin (I like to make Pumpkin Streusel Muffins and Peach Pumpkin Muffins).  She protested, getting her tongue twisted in the process, "Puffin mumpkins!  I don't like those!"  Puffin mumpkins!  I like that garbled phrase.  We shall have to always call them that, much like we call gingerbread "zinzerbread" because a little girl who visited us once called it that.  Naomi also doesn't like Banana Cake, so whenever I make a batch, I always make some without bananas.  We call it "No-Nana Cake."  I assured her I will do the same this time, making some pumpkin muffins and some blueberry.   And I'll make some sausage quiche.  Sounds like a plan to me!  And since we're talking healthy food, I should also say that I bought plenty of fruit (frozen berry mix, fresh strawberries, cantaloupe, etc.) for a fruit salad for our picnic, too.  Honest, I did!

Also while we were at Aldi, we saw a display for a wasp trap.    Apparently the wasp flies into it and can't get out.  Sounds like the song "Hotel California" to me: "You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave."  They were only $3.99 and we have a bunch of wasp nests right outside our front door, so I bought one and hung it up just about a foot from three or four nests.  

The wasps were buzzing right on one of the nests as I hammered in the hook.  I think one was fanning the nest dry as they were building it with mushed up wood pulp.  They have no idea of the new "digs" I have planned for them.  Pre-fab plastic, no chewing or fanning required. Hey, why don't you move in right now?  :-)

Another kind of wasp or insect (my son says a mud dauber) built its nest right on the leaf of the potted tree just below the other nests.  What's funny is that it is an artificial tree.  

And what's even funnier is that I found a grasshopper on a branch of the same tree, at least five feet off the ground.  I wonder if he is disappointed to have climbed so far up and then realize that the tree is inedible.  But he didn't seem to be in any hurry to go find some real food.  He's still clinging to the tree!  I guess he's still luckier than the grasshopper I stepped on this morning when I stepped out the door.

Well, we do like real food around here, and sometimes we grow a little of our own, though I am a black thumb when it comes to that.  Thad had mentioned seeing an upside down planter for growing tomatoes without having to worry about weeds or grasshoppers, and they had them at Aldi for $4.99 so we bought one of those, too.  I've been told fresh from the vine tomatoes are heavenly to taste.  I don't eat fresh tomatoes, but I'll bet my husband will enjoy them.  Come to think of it, though, if that grasshopper managed to climb the artificial tree, he might just find a way to get to my hanging tomatoes, too!

Well, I guess that's all the stories for right now in this post, but here is another link that has stories in it, too: The Impulsive Decorator's Room Redo #1: The Front Hallway

fofOh, and lest I forget, since I am linking this to Ann Kroeker's Food on Friday blog meme, here is the link to her most recent post, too!  Food on Fridays: Easy Chocolate Pudding.   Got a blog post even remotely related to food?  Link up and join the fun!

Virginia Knowles

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Impulsive Decorator's Room Redo #1: The Front Hallway

Dear friends,
So it started with a pile of shoes.  My younger five kids and I have a habit of taking our shoes off as soon as we come in the house -- which is a very good thing -- but they also have a habit of just throwing them on the floor in the front hallway -- which is not a good thing at all.
This being summer break, I'm sort of on a home organizing and decorating kick.  I tackled the master bedroom a few days ago (that will be my next post in the series) and then started to turn my mental energies to our front hallway when I passed the aforementioned messy shoe pile one too many times for my aesthetic comfort. 

Oh, we've tried throwing all the shoes in a big basket or two, but then they end up pulling them all out looking for the right pair.  I decided we each need our own labeled container.  But what kind?  I didn't want plastic bins or cardboard boxes, since this is the first room visitors see when they enter our home and I like to make a favorable impression.

Yesterday, I went to the household storage department at Target, looking for something pretty and practical.  They had some nice canvas bins, but they cost about $7 each.   For six bins, that would be $42 plus tax!  Yow!  Not in my budget, honey!  So then I stopped by Deals on the way home.  It's like a glorified dollar store.  First I spotted a stack of wicker baskets for $3 each, but they looked bulky, and not very well made.  Then, on my way back out of the store, I hit the jackpot.  I saw a rack that had packages of fold up canvas bins, 11 x 11 x 9, for only $1 each!  Yes!  Each one is just big enough for several pairs of kids' shoes.  And they have stayed neat since yesterday!

I made little initial labels, cut out with decorative-edge scissors, and attached them to the handles.  Then I lined them up in a row on the hallway floor and filled them up.  It all looks so much better!  

Red, white and blue is not my usual color scheme for the front hallway, but I decided to build around it using what we already have.  I wanted to stick with a vintage country theme, with stripes, checks, and hearts for patterns, and muted shades of red and blue. I noticed that there was already a red and blue wicker basket on the chair, holding library books waiting to be returned.  (The chair is a family heirloom, too fragile for sitting!)

Then I remembered a homey woven blanket with a similar color scheme on the back of my easy chair in my bedroom, so I folded it and placed it in the open bottom of an antique radio cabinet.  (We had to remove the damaged lower doors many years ago.  There were blue and white handmade quilts there before, but they are now on the chairs in my bedroom.)
For the top of this cabinet, I borrowed some vintage Harvard classic books and a small stuffed "Faith" heart from the living room, and a wedding picture (with similar color accents in the frame) from the master bedroom.

Across from the cabinet, there is the hall table which has the shoe bins lined up under it. I moved an antique book stand (from Thad's aunt) and my grandfather's Bible in from another room, then leaned a "Love Begins at Home" framed needlepoint across the front of it.  Above, I first hung a stained glass mirror that my mother had made for my college graduation 26 years ago.  Unfortunately, the colors were wrong for the new scheme.  After looking around the house for something more suitable, I chose a framed geranium poster from the living room.  The verse, translated from French, reads, "The joy of the Lord is my strength."  
Since many of my decorations have sayings related to faith, hope, and love, I opened the Bible to 1 Corinthians 13, part of which says, "Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.  Love never fails," and "And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love."

I hung a welcome sign with dangling hearts directly across from the front door; it came in from outside where it was hanging under our mailbox.  

The Faith-Hope-Love angel, a gift from my sister-in-law Dana, came from the living room.

After I had been twiddling around with decorations from other room, I started wishing I had a small rug to match the new color scheme.  I had an extra hour out while my teenage son was at Bible study tonight, so I visited Bed Bath & Beyond and JoAnn Crafts.  JoAnn had a whole aisle of patriotic country-style red, white, and blue decorations, all marked at 60% off, but I had enough of those kinds of things.  I didn't see a rug I liked, so I didn't buy anything at all.  It was tempting, but anything more would have just been clutter. 

My final piece?  I remembered that a couple of years ago, I had a lovely picture of a house with the saying, "God rest your hand upon this door and bless this house forevermore" hanging next to the front door. But when Thad repainted that one wall, he took it down, and I hadn't seen it since.  I had looked for it a while back, but hadn't found it.  God's hand was with me tonight, though, because after a quick prayer, I found it in the second place I looked -- wedged between my husband's desk and bookshelf.  Ha!

So there you have it.  I started with a messy pile of shoes, and ended up with a lovely entry way!  And since I was mainly using what I already had, I only spent $6.42 for the whole project!  Not only that, I was able to bring a bit of variety throughout the house by rotating artwork between rooms, such as swapping out the big waterfall painting from over the hall table for the geranium poster that was over the living room couch.

I should note that in addition to the shoes, I was also spurred on by reading the chapter on "Entrances" in Alexandra Stoddard's book Creating a Beautiful Home which I picked up at our library bookstore's bag-of-books-for-$2 sale.  Here are her introductory thoughts: "From the moment you open the front door to your house or apartment, you instinctively feel the emotional rush of being home.  The entrance hall is the face and character of the house.  Just as a writer must find his or her voice, your place of entry -- like the first paragraph of a book -- conveys the whole feel of the house, its atmosphere and integrity, the voice that hints of home.  Immediately, you reveal your story. So begin by asking, What are your major messages?  What do you want to express to yourself, your family, and friends when walking through the door?"

I want people to think about faith, hope, and love -- and to feel welcomed by our family into our home!  I also want my family to see a reminder to love each other!  Yes, indeedy, we do need that!

How about you?

Virginia Knowles

P.S. If you would like to see what the hallway and living room looked like during autumn decorating, you can read this post here: Easy Autumn Decorating on a Dime.  You will see a lot of the same objects, just in different places!

P.P.S. Next week, I hope to show you my master bedroom "redo" -- which started with trying to wipe a few smudges off the wall...

Friday, June 10, 2011

Friday Favorites #9: Meeting Halfway (Or Not), Beauty in Nature, and Blog Updates

Dear friends,

A few mornings a week, I walk with my friend Tonya, who lives in the next neighborhood over.  We have an "official" meeting spot about halfway between our houses.  But likely as not, that's not where we meet up.  One of us is usually running late, so sometimes I make it almost all the way to her house before I see her smiling face.  And just as likely as not, she makes it well into my neighborhood before she sees me ambling toward her.  "I just woke up ten minutes ago..."  And that's perfectly fine with us.  We're each willing to go more than halfway, especially since we're going to be walking together for an hour anyway!  Sometimes she talks more, and sometimes I do.  Sometimes she chooses the route, and sometimes I do.  Our joy is not in the technicalities, but in our friendship of over 25 years.  

That's just a tiny metaphor for the rest of life.  So many times in our relationships, especially in our marriages, we have to go "more than halfway" -- and sometimes we feel like we are doing more than our fair share.  Sure, there are times that we need to address that issue if someone is consistently taking unfair advantage of us.  We're not doing them any favors or helping them mature if we let them get away with this.  

But there are times when we just need to accept temporary imbalance as a very normal fact of life.   As has often been said, marriage is not 50%/50%, but 100%/100%.  Each person ideally needs to "give it their all" as much as possible.  Don't try to keep score, though, because that's the ideal, not always the real, in any relationship. Part of that is seasons of life, such as the fact that my husband Thad took over a lot of the heavier home duties during the decades I was birthing babies every other year, but now that our youngest is almost six (!) I am having to remind myself to take my jobs back and not take him for granted.  And we certainly have to serve our children sacrificially when they are young and can't do much for themselves.  Another part of going more than halfway is being sensitive to circumstances and special needs.  On my walking route, there is a sweet older widow who just had back surgery the other day.  There are so many practical ways my family can serve her, such as watering her plants or cleaning her roof gutters, even if she can't reciprocate at the moment.  Yesterday, my husband Thad suggested that I take her a stuffed pepper which he had made.  She was delighted, since she used to make them for her husband, but hadn't had one in the few years since he had passed away.  And part of it is just "give and take", like doing the dishes for a teen who is rushing to get to work on time, and later finding that another child has cleaned up one of my messes just because it needed to be done and I looked busy. 

Did you see those delicate white mushrooms in the pictures above?  At first glance, I thought they were flowers when  Tonya and I saw these on our walk the other day.  The mushrooms were accidental, I'm sure, but the owners of that house always plant the prettiest flower beds, such as great clusters of marigolds around their trees and along their walkways.  It inspires me! These pretty pink portulaca are flowers that I planted in our own yard.  They are succulents, supposed to be hardy and love full sun, but they bloom best in the morning.  The other picture is of something dangling from trees that we pass on our walks.  Can anyone tell me what it is?  

I love to notice beauty as I go, whether it is a mushroom, a flower, the sun and clouds, or a bird singing.  And I love beauty created by others, whether it is a painting in a museum or a crayon drawing by my kindergarten daughter, a symphony on CD or an improvised piano melody by my teenager, and elaborate botanical garden or simply a star jasmine bush trimmed by my husband. (He's even more beautiful of the bush, of course!)

OK, the rest of the post is dedicated to blogging -- a few posts that are related to what I wrote above, plus updates on my own blogs, plus a list of other favorite blogs.

Learning-Naturally by Sally Clarkson "Nature walks can be some of the most educational, enjoyable, and memorable experiences for children."  

Serving Your Way to Their Hearts by Sally Clarkson "When it comes to teaching and ministering to our children, we must realize what a powerful tool our demonstrations of love and grace to them can be–when we put down the phone or the dishes to play with or comfort or simply talk to our children when they need us, we are teaching them how God sacrificially loves them in a real and tangible way that penetrates their hearts and souls deeper than any eloquent speeches or words ever could."

Beauty Never Lies by Sarah Clarkson  "This is also why I write. To capture even a hint of that sure loveliness, to embody that illusive, certain grace in what I create, this is my work. To present the beauty I have found in a story of my own is to offer my time and people the most precious thing I have ever found. This is no waste, no child’s dream. This is a glimpse of the kingdom of heaven as it invades the world. I suspect most artists sense this as they work; a hint of redemption seeps into what they create, God speaks into their work from outside the circles of pain, striving, and blindness. My own “knowings,” are just one glimpse of God’s far country. But to listen, to picture, to tell of that world beyond this earth is the work of God’s own kingdom, because the beauty is his. The joy is his love. The life is his own holy self, throbbing through all of creation, calling us back to the wholeness for which we were made."

Several of My Favorite Blogs

Blogs by a cluster of my friends who mostly know each other and all have Titus 2 mentoring hearts:

  • Colored with a Positive Crayon by Marjorie Nelson -- a BRAND NEW WONDERFUL BLOG about parenting in the early years, by a veteran grandmother and educator.  Marjorie mentored my friend Mel Franks, and Mel mentored me in my early marriage and motherhood years, so she is extra special even though I have only met her a few times!
  • Mrs. T's Thoughts from a Titus 2 Mom by Tonya Travelstead --  Tonya has a huge variety of lovely and practical information on her blog. On our walks we often chat about making our blogs more effective in helping other moms.  She helped Marjorie Nelson with some of the technical details on hers.
  • Submission is Not Silence by Lizzie Julin -- Lizzie is another veteran grandma in this cluster of friends. She writes to encourage wives to bring all of who they are to their marriages, and not just "sit down and shut up!" 
  • Cheaper by the Baker's Dozen by Debbie Pittman -- Debbie is a bio and adoptive mom of a huge bunch of kids, now a grandma many times over, too
Let me try to connect the dots a little better here.  Tonya, Marjorie, Lizzie and I all used to be members of the then-tiny Northland Church, now a megachurch with about 13,000 members and an internationally known pastor, Dr. Joel Hunter.  I met my husband at Northland over 27 years ago.  We moved away to Maryland shortly after we married and lived near (and went to church with) Northland's former pastor, Roger Franks, and his wife Mel, whom Marjorie mentored.  We moved back to Orlando 18 years ago and went back to Northland for a few years before moving on.  Last year, a bunch of us had a mini-reunion for old time Northlanders from over 20 years ago when Roger and Mel were in town.  I met both Marjorie and Lizzie there, only vaguely remembering them from the 1980's.  Later, Tonya told me about Lizzie's blog, but I didn't recall that I had met her at the reunion until I saw her picture.  As for Debbie, I met her about 10 years ago at a small Reformed Baptist church where Tonya is still a member. Debbie moved to north Florida, so I never got to know her well.  But I love these blogs and count these ladies as friends, even though Tonya is the only one I see regularly. 

Other lovely blogs about education, beauty, family life, and more:

Update on my own blogs:

You can now subscribe to all five of my blogs to receive them by e-mail, or you can read them in your favorite feed reader.  Just look for the subscription features in the sidebar of each blog.   Note that when you subscribe by e-mail to one of the three home school blogs, you can all three. (I don't post very often, so this is not a major source of traffic.)  Also, if you read my blogs at their normal web addresses, you can now view them in mobile format on your iPhone, iPod Touch or similar device.  My blogs, with new posts listed below each one, are:

I would love it if people would start commenting on the blogs to make them a bit more interactive.
If you subscribe by Google Reader, could you please drop me a note and let me know!  Otherwise, it is hard for me to figure out how many people are reading this way.

Also, if you have any suggestions for my blogs, please send me an e-mail!

Virginia Knowles

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Ideas for Summer Activities

Dear moms,

Our family has been looking for free or inexpensive things to do in our area this summer. Many of these ideas were sent to me after I posted this question on Facebook.  

While most of you do not live near Orlando to visit some of these specific places, hopefully this will give you ideas to look for where you live.  If you do live in the Orlando area, send me an e-mail and I will put you on my list to receive local announcements of events, home schooling stuff, etc.

Let me know if you have ideas to add to this list! 
  • Serve your neighbors -- there are plenty of elderly folks, widows, single moms who need free or reduced price yard work, home cleaning, errands, etc.
  • Get together with friends, old or new. Invite someone to your house for some old-fashioned hospitality.  Go out and meet your neighbors!
  • Join your public library's summer reading incentive program.
  • Start a blog about your favorite hobby.
  • Try crafts, gardening, nature photography or another new hobby.
  • Do home decorating and improvement projects.
  • Challenge yourself to read the New Testament all the way through, or memorize a whole chapter
  • Find web sites for local events  (Orlando area:
  • Go to Regal Cinemas $1 summer movies on Tuesday and Wednesday mornings  (selected kids movies like How to Train Your Dragon, Charlotte's Web, Mega Mind, Tale of Despereaux, Ramona and Beezus, and more...)
  • Enjoy free AMC Bowling for kids -- 2 free games each day, just pay for the shoes -
  • Visit as many free public parks as you can, at least one a week.  Bring old bread for the ducks, if there are any. (Orlando area: Maitland, Big Tree, Secret Lake, etc. See:
  • Tour botanical gardens (Orlando area: Leu Gardens -- free on first Monday of each month -- the Leu House museum is a wonderful field trip in itself, but will be closed in July
  • Get wet at a splash park.
  • Learn and have fun at a science or history museum. (Orlando area: Orlando Science Center at - $125 annual family membership, lots of huge screen movies -- if you join, you can use your pass at other museums around the country!)
  • Join the YMCA (ask about scholarship based on family size and income).
  • Go tubing or canoeing. (Orlando area: Wekiva, Rock Springs / Kelly Park)
  • Visit an art museum (Orlando area: Morse Museum with Tiffany stained glass and more American art, free for kids under age 12, $1 for students with ID, $5 for adults, closed Mondays
Leave a comment with your ideas!  Include web links if you can!

Virginia Knowles

Friday, June 3, 2011

Friday Favorites #8: A Potpourri of Beauty and Grace

Hello friends! 

This is a busy weekend, so not much commentary from me today to go along with the web links I have been collecting this week!  

My 18 year old daughter Joanna is graduating from our former church's home school program, The Regent Academy, tomorrow.  My parents are flying in from Maryland this afternoon, just in time for the grad banquet tonight!  So I've got to finish cleaning house, make a pineapple pie, go over to the church office to staple and fold the programs (which I designed with a vintage typewriter theme), and help Joanna with her graduation display board.  

How do you like the cloud pictures I snapped on my iPod?  Nice follow up to last week's fog photos, yes?

Here are my favorite links for the week!

Paris - 16 - 19 aprile Amazing photos from Rachel and Joanna's sidetrip to Paris while living in Italy for three months.  Louvre, Notre Dame, Eiffel Tower.... I'm jealous!

doOLIN, IRELAND {PERSONAL + TRAVEL} by Kristen Leigh at

As long as we're doing pretty pictures from Europe, I found this blog on my computer screen recently -- one of my daughters had been looking at it.  I'm hooked. Kristin is a wedding photographer, but this post is not about a wedding.  A very creative blog, especially since my daughter Julia is getting married on October 15! 

Love Like Crazy by Sarah Clarkson at
"Love like crazy. Love like this wild storm.  Live with this goodness rushing through you. I could see a picture of God’s wild love before me in the unbounded beauty of the storm and rush of the wind; saw the unfetteredness of his life in the tangle of new vines and profusion of leaves and zip of the birds. There is nothing that holds itself back either in springtime or in the unexplainable mercy of God’s love for me. And to love like crazy, to love as Christ did, means to love freely, in unbounded gladness. Love must be rampant in its goodness, an untameable force of new life that broaches no resistance. I must love like crazy; love like the blue of the sky in its vast blueness, in its endless drama of color."

Call Me Jacob by Sarah Clarkson at
"If I follow Jacob’s story, then I will cling to God until I am blessed. I will clutch at his arms until he claims me as his own and gives me a name as his child. But I am afraid to end like Jacob, for the tale of his fight is a strange one, and the ending of it, more than I understand. Of course, God won. Jacob could not out-wrestle the one who made his own muscles, nor out-argue the one who gave him speech."

Hope in the Storm #5: God Will Restore by Ginny Jacobson at
Ray Ortlund unpacking these verses: “And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.” 1 Peter 5:10-11

Learning from the Bible's Unsung Heroes by Trevin Wax at

"Nympha opened up her home and let the church meet there. She gave of her resources for the sake of the gospel. You may think you have nothing to give. But Christ can take the most ordinary thing and shape it into a tool for the advancement of His kingdom. He asked to use the boat of some fishermen, and that simple boat became a pulpit to preach to the masses."

Poppy Summer 91 in Desktop Wallpaper Calendar: June 2011Free Desktop Wallpaper with Calendar for June 2011  My daughter Mary sent me this link, and now I have a poppy calendar on my laptop's desktop!  Almost 30 others to choose!

Curiosity Journal: June 1, 2011 by Ann Kroeker at

Question for you, folks: "What is this art made of?"

Florida Field Trips #4: Secret Lake Park by Virginia Knowles (Yours Truly!) at  You may not live in the Orlando area, but this post might give you inspiration to visit around at your own local parks with your kids this summer!  Catching little fishies with their bare hands?  Sure!  But I just bought them a net for next time!

And speaking of enjoying nature, last but not least, a bit of birdsong from my morning walk the other day.  Why don't we stop to notice little beauty like this more?

Blessings and grace,
Virginia Knowles
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