I Think I Am on to Something

Well. That was pretty amazing.

Because of my recently diagnosed Type 2 diabetes, I have been exploring a Low Carb High Fat (LCHF) way of eating. It takes me a while to adjust to a new way of living and I have been bored and frustrated by my limited choices. No gluten, no sugar, no toast with my eggs, no ice cream–no, I scream in desperation!

The authors of Trim Healthy Mama have developed a generous portion of recipes that fit the bill. Since their research led them to understand our bodies cannot burn both carbs and fat fuel at the same time (one gets stored, apparently), they propose a simple way of eating. The plan offers three kinds of meals: protein and good fats, protein and good carbs, protein with low carbs and low fat. They are called Satisfying (S), Energizing (E), and Fuel Pull (FP). No calorie counting. Keep S and E meals at least three hours apart. Have around seven E meals per week. Get used to stevia. Eat lots of good vegetables. Make good quality chocolate snacks.

So, that’s what I did. Having had two really decent meals today, for my evening meal I baked Trim Healthy Mama (THM) chocolate muffins. They use a flour made of almond meal, coconut flour, and flaxmeal. They had some butter, and eggs, and were sweetened with a good quality mix of pure stevia, xylitol, and erythritol. The frosting was made of some heavy cream, vanilla, sweetener, and cocoa.

It was really very good.

In general, I have moved away from sweet things, but this made for a pleasant change. I served it to the family and it received good reviews.

I do recommend the Trim Healthy Mamas book and cookbook. I have the old version which is a remarkably disorganized presentation of some pretty remarkable recommendations. The recipes were scattered throughout the book. Some of the stevia concoctions were hard to take.

Now they have come out with two books: the plan and the cookbook. They have also made an improvement to their stevia blend. They have two: Super Sweet Blend (erythritol and a small amount of pure stevia) and Gentle Sweet (equal parts erythritol and xylitol, again with a small amount of pure stevia.) The xylitol makes a smoother blend.

That’s all I wanted to say. If my reader is looking for a way to kick the sugar and carbs habit, I warmly suggest looking into the Trim Healthy Mama way of doing things.

Some of you may remember me enthusing over Isagenix. While I enjoyed using that healthy product line for over a year, I had to stop when a low carb lifestyle became necessary. Too many carbs in a shake for my waistline. And too many dollars for our bottom line when we have three children in college. Thankfully I have other choices.

Note: to honor the authors’ intellectual property I refer you to the book. There are many versions of similar cakes out there. Here is one from a reliable blogger. She has created a recipe of her own that is not entirely unlike the THM cake. I baked mine as a dozen muffins and froze some for the future.
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A Practicum in Grace

Dear Reader,

I am sitting at a table before a soot-stained fireplace at a wee wood-shingled library in coastal Rhode Island. Just coming off my final practicum for Classical Conversations, I am resting with friends in their tiny cottage two miles away in Jerusalem. My husband and two of our teens make up the party of eight. We lounge by the ocean; we eat; we sing. Tomorrow the Hollerans head home after four days of rest.

Each practicum at which I spoke came in a different color. Two of my groups had many veteran classical homeschoolers, while two others had lots of babies and mothers new to Classical Conversations. In any case, when licensed tutors went for their training in the afternoon, the remaining attendees had lots of questions about how homeschooling would work in their situation. We had good times, talking about both the vision and the details. Throughout all of it we explored rest, beauty, and poetry.

Sarah MacKenzie’s Teaching from Rest formed the backbone of my message. Throughout the standard practicum offering of lessons on the Trivium and on how to apply it to History, I wove the message that we need to teach from a place of rest. We can and must rest in the grace of God. How we need to hear this! Over the three days of sessions I watched as faces softened from anxiety into peace.

Another message I felt strongly about was our need for beauty. As often as I could, as attendees came off break they were greeted with lovely music, a painting, and a poem. (Have you ever heard O Magnum Mysterium by Lauridsen? I discovered it this spring and I am a bit miffed I missed it during my career as a music teacher. Seven minutes of hauntingly beautiful music that will reverberate for weeks. $.99 on Amazon.) We used an article by Sarah MacKenzie in CiRCE Institute’s free CiRCE Magazine 2016, “The Flower We Have Not Yet Found: Beauty as a Gateway to God” for exercises in writing and in practice with the highlighting system. Very few of us can afford the time for a creative hobby, so we talked more about how we can grace ordinary days: playing classical music, lighting a candle for meals and study hours, putting garden flowers on the table.

I inflicted poetry on the group at regular intervals, noticing a common reaction of discomfort. I learned to precede the reading with definitions of key words, such as ‘lanyard’ and the thin plastic strips I grew up calling ‘gimp’ so they could enjoy Billy Collins’ “The Lanyard”.  But not even the help I gave them was enough to dispel the tension around poetry. Not until the afternoon session on Day 3 when I led my few remaining attendees into an activity with Socratic Circles did we crack the mystery of poetry.

This past week I gave the first group of parents “Introduction to Poetry” and asked only, “What do you notice?” The five slightly nervous “volunteers” discovered that as they spoke of what they individually noticed, the group developed a sense of the meaning. One would offer an observation that would lead to a second persons’ insight and a third person’s thoughtful question.

Not only that, but I saw them get excited. I know more than one expressed how frustrating poetry has been to them but if, as this poem suggests, the reader is meant to enjoy the music of the poetry rather than labor in analysis, from now on they will feel more relaxed about exploring on their own. I know for myself that as I read poetry I become more comfortable with it, accepting that I like some and not others, that to me some poetry works like sun through crystal, while other poems are like a dark solid rock. 

Through all, there is the message of grace. Grace teaches us to trade in our anxiety for rest in God; grace urges us to make Beauty a guest in our home; grace welcomes us to explore poetry like tasting a little of every dish at the potluck.

My summer as practicum speaker taught me I am unavoidably a veteran homeschooler who cannot escape the task of encouraging young mothers. They want assurance that classical education will enrich their souls and that of their children, and I say emphatically, “Yes! Yes, it will!”


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These two words

I find “lovingkindness” and “truth” paired all over the Old Testament. This morning I googled the words to see if anyone else noticed what I had seen.

This is just perfect.



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What Now?

My friends,

Aren’t personal letters a rare and precious gift to find in your mailbox? Here’s my letter to you, and in it I will catch you up to date with news of this and that.

Having come to grips with the fact that I have a personality that latches on to a new interest, focuses on it as long as it takes to become adequately proficient, and moves on–having realized this, I am not embarrassed to say my new interest is bullet journals. Another “talent” I have is to identify a problem with home management and recognize a solution when I see it. Bullet journals put the principles of Dave Allen’s Getting Things Done in a simple, elegant paper-and-pen system. Here is its originator, Ryder Carroll, explaining it in a four minute video (you can ignore the pitch for the book; a fancy book isn’t necessary, and it is sold out anyway; June 2016).

Want a summary? Others have explained it better, but here it is: Bullet journalling works on four principles:

  • The Index. Keep an Index at the front of the book so you can use the next blank sheet as you go, keeping track of where your lists reside.
  • Rapid-Logging. THis is about getting your tasks and thoughts into collections so your mind stays clear. Brief, simple notes using bullets (for tasks, events, and notes) and signifiers (symbols that give more information to the bullet, such as Priority, Call, Email; you create your own.)
  • Collections. You work with two kinds:
    • Logs: Future, Month, Week (opt), Daily
    • Lists: Anything that needs a page such as Goals 2016, Bucket List, Writing Ideas, Gratitude Log, Gift Ideas, Movies to Watch, and Books I have Read. My bujo includes “Birthday Perpetual Calendar”, “Upcoming Big Scary Irregular Bills”, “Perpetual Calendar for Recurring Monthly Bills”.
  • Migration. This is the process of moving uncompleted tasks into the next log.

Ryder’s approach is clean–just black on white–and has no frills or curlicues. Just the way I like it. However, when the women got a hold of it they opened a wide world of creativity, exploring all kinds of layouts, stencils, techniques, calligraphy, and color. Some of this appeals to me. I am still using a fine point Cross pen with black ink on my Leuchtturm1917 lined notebook–rarely fiddling with color–but have made this bullet journal really work for me.

For example, years ago I learned from FlyLady how to clean my house in Zones. It worked for me but I have neglected the simple technique for years. Now I have two-page spreads for each zone with the tasks listed on each room for that week’s work. When I plan my daily log it is simple to consult it and delegate chores. When the zone list is in my computer files, it does me no good.


Zone 2 spread

I like the following spread.20160619_221401This is fancier than most of my pages. It is the menu plan for a month. Each day has a theme (such as seafood, pasta, poultry, pizza.) I list three or four meals for each category. When I plan the week, I pull from this if I have no other ideas or directives from the chief vegetable gardener. On the second page I list grocery items we’ll need and the cooking schedule for my teens and twenty-somethings.

The bullet journal becomes highly personalized, reflecting the soul of the one who creates it, just like our laptops are customized to the way we think.For those who find apps and computer programs too cumbersome or intrusive to adequately handle all the things buzzing in the brain, this is perfect.

I keep it with me wherever I go, and leave it open to my daily log when I am at my computer.

I’d like to tell you about my garden–how the $19 bistro table from ACE hardware allows me to bring a tea tray out to go along with my devotions in the morning, when I am wrapped in a quilt against the chill of the low 50s. Hummingbirds drink from my feeders and if I am wearing my red jacket they hover near me, threatening me with beady eyes because I am not a flower. Strangely unnerving.

But I shall close here. Do you bujo? If so, I’d love to see your favorite page in the comments below.




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The Invitation of the Bench in the Garden

garden bench and birdbath

The luxury of two benches in my garden
gives me a seat to contemplate the other,
nestled between astilbe and hosta,
empty in the shade-dappled sun.
It faces the jade-green birdbath
tall among geraniums,
sun glinting on the rippling water,
framing leaves backlighted in the rising sun.

The flagstone path travelling
between bath and bench
widens into a nook,
inviting the one who visits to linger

to pause

to rest

to soak the warm sunlight on bare arms
and feel the sturdy security of the garden bench,
away from the news
the bills,
the floor in need of a broom,
the meals in need of a cook.

Cotton clouds scudding in the blue sky above,
golden sun on foxglove and columbine, and green, green
froth of fresh foliage–
such rare jewel-days
join so few on the necklace of memory.


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Double Take on John Finnemore’s Double Acts

John Finnemore is the author of Double Acts, six half hour BBC 4  radio skits for two actors. He is a British writer and actor, introduced to this family through Cabin Pressure, a radio sitcom about the crew and adventures of MJN Air, a charter airline of one jet. Cabin Pressure focuses on the young inexperienced pilot who does everything by the book, the debonair and highly skilled copilot whose career is behind him, the jet’s owner who is a cynical former stewardess, and her daffy son who like a jester makes us laugh but speaks the inconvenient truth. We have listened to the episodes, one for each letter of the alphabet, over and over and it continues to deliver.

The characters develop in Cabin Pressure and several important secrets come to light through the zany plots, but in Double Acts plot is secondary to character. In 28 minutes we come to know our characters very well.  What they do is less important that who they are. What fascinates me is Finnemore’s way of showing they are not as they seem. He explores people who are not who they appear to be.

In each of them at least one character is transformed as we listen. Some begin by appearing foolish and later earn our respect; others turn out the be far worse than we took them to be. That skillful transformation attests to John Finnemore’s  genius. But one in particular caught my attention, for in it not only do the characters slowly reveal their secrets but also they are recast in entirely different roles. I can only say so much without revealing the O. Henry-like twists, but in this one a wise character recasts the life story of the other and redeems the character from self-shame. It is my favorite.

The story we tell of our lives is important, and most of us give our mistakes, sin, and shame far too much emphasis. We see them as accident scars that permanently disfigure us. The best writers, among whom Finnemore certainly is, accept humans as a fascinating mix of glory and shame, beauty and flaws, light and dark.

Author Ray Bradbury says,

Love. Fall in love and stay in love. Write only what you love, and love what you write. The key word is love. You have to get up in the morning and write something you love, something to live for.

Bradbury isn’t only speaking of a love for writing. He counsels young writers to view the world with a large love that nourishes and builds rather than a cynicism that stands aloof and criticizes. In Something Wicked This Way Comes, the frightening evil threatens young Will Halloway and his friend. Eventually his ordinary father stands between the boys and the evil incarnated in the carnival man, Mr. Dark. Charles Halloway comes against  powerful wickedness with only the certainty of his weak and flawed nature, but with great love for his son and for life itself. He overthrows evil with laughter. The janitor is the hero.

In the same way John Finnemore helps us feel compassion for his quirky characters.He illustrates the power of retelling a life story that seems to be about failure so the characters finish with an entirely new perspective. And when we embrace the complex nature of these characters as they cast out their shame and are recast as heroes,  we embrace the possibility for ourselves as well.

John Finnemore’s Double Acts is available on Audible.com.


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Billy Collins’ “The Trouble with Poetry”; Bluebook exam

As a Challenge III tutor with Classical Conversations last year, I had the pleasure of studying poetry with my students. Besides our readings in The Roar on the Other Side, we discussed a poem a week. Since in our study of Cicero, we also became familiar with many rhetorical devices, we engaged with the poems on many levels. When it came time for their end-of-year Bluebook exam, I included a poem by Billy Collins, asking them to write about what they observed. Here is what I thought of it.

“The Trouble with Poetry” by Billy Collins:

The trouble with poetry, I realized
as I walked along a beach one night —
cold Florida sand under my bare feet,
a show of stars in the sky —

the trouble with poetry is
that it encourages the writing of more poetry,
more guppies crowding the fish tank,
more baby rabbits
hopping out of their mothers into the dewy grass.

And how will it ever end?
unless the day finally arrives
when we have compared everything in the world
to everything else in the world,

and there is nothing left to do
but quietly close our notebooks
and sit with our hands folded on our desks.

Poetry fills me with joy
and I rise like a feather in the wind.
Poetry fills me with sorrow
and I sink like a chain flung from a bridge.

But mostly poetry fills me
with the urge to write poetry,
to sit in the dark and wait for a little flame
to appear at the tip of my pencil.

And along with that, the longing to steal,
to break into the poems of others
with a flashlight and a ski mask.

And what an unmerry band of thieves we are,
cut-purses, common shoplifters,
I thought to myself
as a cold wave swirled around my feet
and the lighthouse moved its megaphone over the sea,
which is an image I stole directly
from Lawrence Ferlinghetti —
to be perfectly honest for a moment —

the bicycling poet of San Francisco
whose little amusement park of a book
I carried in a side pocket of my uniform
up and down the treacherous halls of high school.

At the water’s edge, where land meets sea and sea meets sky, the uncluttered horizon allows thoughts room to expand. The author is irritated, as an oyster is with a grain of sand, and he works it and works it until he has smoothed it with his insights and created a pearl. “The trouble with poetry is…”, he begins, gets distracted, but returns to the niggling thought. He finally spits out in amused exasperation, that poetry begets more poetry.

Why is this a problem?

One can never rest and be done. Poetry demands a response. The reader feels compelled to roll up his sleeves and, as it were, knead a loaf of bread, lay row of stones, or cook a gourmet meal. Art calls to art. Beauty’s effect is to create a restless desire for beauty.

“And how will it ever end?” he asks, as though property taxes have gone up yet again, or his friend pleads for another loan that will not be repaid. He engages in hyperbole, imaging a day when everything has been compared to everything else, when all our insights about the world have already been aptly explained by a perfect metaphor and there is nothing else to contribute. He illustrates with the good student’s pose of repose: sitting with hands folded on our desks because we have done everything there is to be done. This good-girl posture is in contrast to the messy begetting of poetry, the cold wave swirling at the feet, the bouncing bunnies  and random guppies, and the breaking in to steal from others.

“And how will it ever end?” It is the question you ask when you are dangerously addicted to a behavior that will eventually give you grief. He utters this in deadpan concern and it makes me smile. All right, so his writing and reading of poetry leads him to more writing and more reading, links of a chain that has no end. If that is his burden, it is also his delight. A poem can perfectly clothe an idea in a metaphor, and if a writer ‘steals’ this to build on it, it is the theft that shows up at a potluck as a tasty variation on a dish once offered by another cook.

We see in the end that poetry for him was a place of delight and retreat as he moved “up and down the treacherous halls of high school.” Not only does poetry  create in him desire to write, but this writing is his salvation. It is his energizing joy and his safe sorrow.

Poetry is mimesis, an imitation or image of an idea; we clothe an insight with familiar garments to express the unknown by the known, the difficult-to-grasp by the common, the je ne sais quoi by the voila! 

And so, fear at the sight of a snake iszero at the bone“. 

In spring, a slender April rill “...flashes tail through last year’s withered brake/
And dead weeds, like a disappearing snake.

Even onomatopoeia helps us catch what we may not have noticed: The husky, rusty russel of the tossels of the corn/And the raspin’ of the tangled leaves as golden as the morn…”.

Read poetry. And then write some.

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Going back to school

This fall, we hope to be sending our fourth and fifth to college. During Sylvia’s “gap year” she recovered from a broken leg while we looked into art schools. She was accepted by both–and earned the highest presidential scholarship they can give–but the rest of the funding eludes us.

John is applying for a dual enrollment opportunity at Vermont Technical College, Ben’s alma mater. If he is accepted, the tuition is covered but not the room and board. How will we pay for it?

I have been thinking about entering the work force part time. I still teach two at home and I have teaching responsibilities in our Classical Conversations community. I think it would be lovely to earn $20,000 a year; surely $10,000 of that would be available after taxes, increase in health care cost, and gas money, right?

I’m looking for opportunities. My experience as a teacher, both six years of public school music and six years with teens in Classical Conversations, equips me for teaching. The classical education I have had through the latter taught me how to attack new endeavors; I feel fearless. But my years as the financial manager of our family of eight and Grandpa too also had make me familiar with a wide range of banking transactions. I have noticed there are openings for tellers.

But I got to thinking about teaching music. I doubt I can go back and get my license renewed. But I could substitute. Granted, I wouldn’t earn $20,000! But it is a beginning. That was last week.

On Friday I got a call about a music teacher who needs a sub for a couple of days for two weeks. It happens to fall on two days I can be available, if I plan well. Now, it is for high school choir, which I never taught, but having worked with teens for six years in a dialogue setting I feel comfortable teaching them. The music will be a stretch, I admit, but we work with what we have. (In conducting class years ago my baton would often beat to its own rhythm; it needs a lot more practice.)

I am so grateful for the opportunity. Recently I have been working with the high school Sunday School to teach them to sing parts for “There is a Fountain Filled With Blood”. We’re going to be able to do it, though they–and one of the adults–aren’t so sure. It made me wish I had been teaching music literacy in the public schools. I sense this is even less of a priority than it was 28 years ago when I taught in Maryland. I love helping them make music!

A wise old college professor said, “You don’t teach music; you teach children.” The years have confirmed I am not a music teacher; I am a teacher. Through homeschooling I taught a wide range of lessons to my children; with Classical Conversations I guided dialogue and learning in math, science, history, logic, philosophy, Shakespeare, and writing; I have taught Bible verse songs to adults and children. I have led online training. I have trained classical tutors. (This is the first time I have catalogued it.) Looks like a lot. I wonder if my experience will be attractive to a future employer? The skeptic in me doubts; but I trust God will lead me.

Tomorrow I go back to school. I will learn from my students as much as they will learn from me.

Still having adventures!

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An Unexpected Adventure

My pocketbook was stolen on Thursday morning.

I was at fault; the owner provides the first layer of security and I admit I left it on the seat in the pediatrician’s waiting room unsupervised. That was a dumb thing to do in a town with a high number of desperate heroin addicts.

So. My story begins on Wednesday, as I prepared for the monthly dinner and discussion of our fellowship group we call TWIG. I forget exactly what all the letters stand for, but I do know we made a mistake when we coined it the “Third Wednesday Something Group.” We meet on fourth Wednesdays. We can’t call it FWIG What is a fwig? At least we can say we are twigs from the vine. No one has come up with a better name so we keep it and laugh at ourselves.

As we took turns around the table telling the group what we were dealing with these days, I was touched and encouraged by the tenacious faith of two fellows in particular. I used to be like that; but I “have sinned and grown old”* and those days seem long ago. I have faith, don’t get me wrong, but it is like having title to a property I do not visit.

So, in my Thursday morning devotions, I was open to hear from God when I read in Jeremiah 17:7 “Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD and whose trust is the LORD.” It goes on with the metaphor of a tree planted by a stream so that even in times of drought it is watered, green, and fruitful. So I knew that I would take every opportunity to place my trust in the Lord that day, not putting my trust in my wits or any other ‘savior’.

So a few hours later when Abe and I came back to pediatrics from the x-ray department and realized my pocketbook was gone, I didn’t have a fit. As a parent I know the experience of taking my child into situations he finds uncomfortable, and asking him to trust me. It is like taking a toddler in a sled down a snowy slope for the first time. “It is going to be all right!” I am that child. I will not whimper. This is small stuff to my heavenly Father.

The police came for a report. The building manager came and we pored over the video stills. My pocketbook was on my shoulder when I got off the elevator; it was missing when I entered it again to get that x-ray. She looked for anyone leaving the building with it, but it could easily have gone out in a baby bag.

My car keys were in the bag. Actually, the keys for two cars were stolen, because I had the Honda set in there too. And I was astonished to learn when I went to the dealer to get a key cut that the car needs to be there in order for them to program the key to the car. And that meant two tows: the Dodge one mile to the dealer in Springfield, but the Honda 40 miles from my house to Keene.

Did you know these keys cost about $200 to replace? Fortunately, for much less you can get a no frills version without the clicker. No more opening the doors from afar to astonish and delight the uninitiated.

So, I spent the rest of Thursday setting this up and contacting my bank and my credit card companies. Did you know Google is tracing your travels by watching where your phone goes? StraightTalk wouldn’t locate my phone, but Google did. My son John saw that it never left the office, and was turned off or tossed in the river shortly after it was taken.

So, Friday morning I met the tow truck, driven by a wise old man who looked like he could have been captain of a lobster boat. He left me at Kelley Sales and Service and went off to get the Honda. After a while the service manager came to the waiting room and told me the Dodge had a dead electronic something something something and wouldn’t talk to the key. I got a ride home with a neat salesman, the old fashioned kind that really wants to serve (I would buy a car from him), and came upon the tow truck finishing up the challenge of getting my Honda caravan onto his huge flatbed in a not-so-huge space. Good thing my garden was frozen.

Alone at home again, I called Honda to let them know a car was being towed to them. (Meanwhile, my boys are working through their lines of Caesar translation without me.) That’s when I learned they would not cut a key until I showed up in person to prove my identity. I had no car and I had no driver’s license. Actually, I had two cars: a 1951 International that Grandpa built and just might make it all the way to Keene and back without a breakdown (but is registered, inspected, and insured), or the 2000 Dodge caravan that runs well but is none of those things.

I called a friend who is an artist and works at home. She volunteered immediately and needed to go to Keene anyway.I brought my birth certificate and marriage license which I still had in the house after renewing my Vermont driver’s license a couple of months ago. They fixed the car and got me on the road again. I lingered in the Big Town to shop for a pocketbook and wallet.

Meanwhile, the bad guys attempted to get $6300 from my checking account. Twice. The account is flagged so nothing is going to happen without scrutiny. I just happened to know the last two check numbers I wrote and their amounts so we put a block on the checks in my wallet. No activity occurred on my credit cards. They didn’t come back and take the Dodge, which they could have done by driving slowly through the parking lot and clicking the door-unlock button. It could have been a lot worse.

Since my phone, for my convenience, is not locked with a password, the thief had access to my gmail and other apps. A few hours after the purse was taken, I left $40 with the receptionist of the orthodontist, and sent an email to my phone with “Please return my pocketbook” in the subject and saying they could have it if they returned it and the phone, no questions asked. It could have worked! But we now think they got rid of the phone shortly after they took it.

Lots of this troubles me. Someone has intimate details of our family life and finances. They know where we live. The cost of this comes at a bad time, when I had already gone over budget for February. (That was for our anniversary getaway and I don’t regret a thing!) It took two days out of a particularly busy week: FAFSAs are due March 1 for scholarships eligibility and I still needed to do taxes for some of the kids. And I have several lessons to prepare for subbing.

Every time I thought about these things, I “preached to my soul”, remembering that I can trust Him. This is small thing for God! He is willing and able to walk me through this.

“Though he slay me, yet will I trust Him,” says Job.

He is worthy.
*G.K.Chesterton: quotation from Orthodoxy

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Death Ice: The Sequel

This is written by Nicole Bartner, own of the Hartland Diner, and judge for Classical Conversations’ Mock Trial last year and in 2016. I needed the laugh.

There is so little explanation for really anything that happens at The Diner. I mean, I’ve got data. Do I have data! I can look back at any day that we’ve been open. I can break sales down by month…

Source: Death Ice: The Sequel

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