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The love of God for Israel

Tuesday, 24. November 2015 by Renee Ellison

No one parents better than God himself.  See here, His love for His first born, Israel, and the love that is expressed back to Him.  May WE learn to parent with such love. 

From the calling of Abraham out of the din of paganism to the hair-raising, iffy passage through the Red Sea, to the skin and bones of the holocaust, to the creaky old cast-off ships bringing the outcasts home to the land, to the making of the desserts to bloom where there is no water, to the current David and Goliath existence of escaping bullets and bombs and international bullyings every hour of every day, the Lord’s love story will prevail.  In the end, He will YET EMERGE out of earth’s swamp, triumphant with blood dripping from His hands, the apple of His eye firmly gripped in His upraised palm…yes, there will sit the apple.  And we will sit there, too, incomprehensibly, and head-spinningly grafted in.  Surely, it’s the greatest love story ever told.

Filed Under: Spiritual tips

Salad dressing and chai tea recipes! :)

Friday, 20. November 2015 by Renee Ellison


One of many simple pathways to better health is to replace store-bought salad dressings with ones that you make with ingredients that are welcomed at the cellular level.  Our good friend Megan shared these; following them you’ll find my chai recipe that I shared with her:

Italian Dressing
1 T garlic powder
1 T onion powder
1 T raw cane sugar
2 T dried oregano
1 t ground black pepper
1/4 t thyme
1 t dried basil
1 T dried parsley
1/4 t celery seed
3/4 T salt

Tips - If some spices are not powdered, blend in coffee grinder or blender.  If you don’t have all the spices, don’t worry.  It tastes great anyway. smile
Mix all spices together and store in a tightly sealed container.
To prepare - whisk 1/4 cup vinegar, 1/2 cup oil, 3 T water and 2 T dry mix.

Poppy Seed Dressing
2 cups olive oil
1 cup honey
1 cup apple cider vinegar
3 Tablespoons poppy seeds
a pinch of mustard powder

Blend on high in your blender until it really thickens.  What we served today, we had to dilute because it is so thick. smile  It stores for a long time in the fridge.

“Ranch-like” Dressing : )
This is simply a combination of mayonnaise and salsa.  We buy a “Vegenaise” (made from grape seeds) at the health food store.  My sister makes her own mayo and uses that.  I never measure - but I would guess that it would be about 1 cup of mayo and 1/2 - 3/4 cup salsa.

An old favorite is just -
lemon juice or apple cider vinegar
olive oil

Another favorite is to use -
mix with water
lemon juice
salt and spices
optional - yogurt

Chai Tea (homemade)
I make my own Chai now and it is delicious.  Serve it with rice milk and a smidgeon of honey.
I mix a big pan of it on Sundays and then drink a cup of it a day…wonderful spicy warming tea…with good energy ...and great elimination from it as a bonus!

8 cups water
2 T Yerba Mate tea (loose leaf)
1/2 tsp cardamon, cinnamon, ginger, fennel
1/4 tsp clove, and nutmeg

Bring it all to a boil, and then cover and let sit for 20 minutes.
Then bring it all to a boil a second time; cover and let sit again.
Finally, strain out the spices and store the tea in two glass canning jars in the fridge.

For much more along these lines, order our Mother-easy quick-fixin’ great-tastin’ super healthful mostly raw delicious food ideas, a booklet of scores of mouth-watering, healthful food combinations that you may never have thought of.  Gets you goin’ in the right direction right now!

Filed Under: Nutrition tips

Gaining a broad perspective on marriage

Friday, 13. November 2015 by Renee Ellison


When couples first enter the super-charged waters of struggling with strong differences, they can feel bewildered and overwhelmed at learning how to deeply relate to one individual on earth.  They can feel that the task of getting along is insurmountable. A key tool the enemy uses is to keep the couple isolated, thinking that their situation is worse than that of 3 billion other marriages.

Isolation from any other thought—living in the prison of one idea, trapped in our own internal mental mulling—is counter-productive.  Rolling around only our own spin about the situation in our heads, over and over (like sucking on hard candy), is the enemy’s finest artillery.  He strives to keep the couple disconnected from finding out that others struggle, too.

The enemy of our souls keeps the couple from thinking that marriage books would be helpful, and he makes it conveniently inconvenient to go to the effort of attending marriage seminars and workshops.  And when they do go to view helpful marriage YouTubes, he works hard at distracting them, convincing them to watch other YouTube clips instead, on more seemingly urgent subjects.  And by all means, he suggests that they don’t get marital counseling—that is for really troubled marriages—getting them each to think it is better to smolder about one’s own troubles by oneself.

Conversely, the great comfort of the Holy Spirit, the helper of our soul, is to show us how universal marital troubles are.  The dominant emotion of marriage seminars is laughter.  Why? Because each couple looks around the room and realizes that all of the men are feeling this way and all the women are identifying with another entirely different concept,  Thus the couple begins to relax withIN their dilemmas, and breaks out of their trips around the barn.

Conversation in all directions helps restore perspective, grants insights, and diffuses pressure. By all means, seek wisdom from older good strong marriages, and read the experts.  There are enormous repositories of help out there in the big, wide, wide world…a veritable store house of relational GPS’s.

Filed Under: Spiritual tips

Organizing your home school materials

Monday, 26. October 2015 by Renee Ellison


For much more on this topic, read our booklet/e-book/Kindle book, Razor Sharp Teaching Tips for Homeschool Moms.  It is loaded with practical proven ideas.

Meanwhile, here are some of the general organizational principles for getting your homeschooling shipshape:

(1.) Begin with labeled containers.  No matter how tight the budget is for a family, containers are a must.  Start on some level, using any sort of container—even with just cardboard boxes you bring home from the grocery store and store under the beds.  You always start conquering organizational chaos by organizing in containers.  The principle?  Everything has a place, and there’s a place for everything.

(2.) Visual clarity.  You can see it at a glance.

(3.) Easy grabability.  No stuff is stored behind other stuff unless it is duplicates of the same thing; there’s no digging for anything).

(4.) Like things with like things, and back-ups for frequently consumed items.  Ideally, you want to have on stock two or more of everything you commonly use, so you never run out of anything.  If you do this, you will seldom if ever have to do emergency shopping for food or school supplies.  When you get down to the last one, you note it on your shopping list so you remember to re-stock that back-up second thing on your shelves.

Organizing your school stuff:

In addition to arranging picture books by size, if you have some early readers of various sorts, arrange those by level of difficulty so that you escort the child through all of them progressively.

Arrange everything so that your family members (including your husband whenever he’s taking over the homeschooling when you’re not available) don’t have to ask you where anything is.  They will know by looking.  Localize all of your school stuff near where it will actually be used, on shelves either under a counter eating area or flanked along a wall next to your main projects/schooling table.  Build long shelves at waist height, using 8-12” deep boards held up on each end by bricks cinderblocks—free from somewhere—and then group all your supplies (like things with like, down to minutiae—i.e., no pencils in with the markers).  Separate out everything into its own container.  Group all of your school books and workbooks together.  Top it all off with a large wall map of the world, a large map of your country, a large clock, a large calendar—all on the wall in that area—and each child’s large homeschool to-do checklists.

Set your young children’s flashcards in little white plastic baskets (3 for a dollar? cheapo at Walmart—either in their kitchen container area or the general container area).  Their size is 5 inches by 6 inches by 2 inches.  These let your flash cards breathe and flop backwards and forwards with some air and finger room in there, as opposed to using tight 3X5” metal/plastic index card boxes.  Stick a card upright for a marker to separate each type of flashcards, and label each division of cards on this upright card.

‏Summary: general organizational principle:
Your overall organization principle is arrange your stuff so that anything you do repetitively, you want to do optimally.  In other words, spend as much time as necessary up front on getting it organized exactly right, so that you will have to spend no time organizing it later smile

Filed Under: Home management tips

Homeschooling when you also have preschool children in your home

Thursday, 22. October 2015 by Renee Ellison


Do you wonder what to do with wiggle worms while you’re schooling the others?  Here’s the overall principle: busy children are happy children!

This means you have to stay ahead of your little guy with projects—even if those projects are only just busy work.  For much more on this topic, read our booklet/e-book/Kindle book, Training Terrific Tots: 50 ideas to use with a little one who can’t read!  It is loaded with ideas. 

Meanwhile, here are two possible approaches to homeschooling children while you also have a child who is too young to do academics.  One approach moms use is to let the little guys “hang from the chandeliers” and just concentrate on the academics with the older children—you’ll get to those younger guys later.  The other method is to corral all of your youngsters into your school area: no one can go out beyond this line during school time—here is YOUR part of the table to work on—or, you must work on this large beach towel on the floor with your puzzle, trucks, or whatever.

The secret for the mom is to stay ahead of the little guy with attention-focusing activities that he can do with little or no input from you.  Toward that end, here are some ideas:

Athletics of various sorts:  three laps around the living room; ten reps with an unopened can of soup in each can; four push-ups in each corner of the school room—etc.

Chores: dream up endless little jobs to do that really don’t matter but that will occupy him.  For example, he can use a washrag to wipe all of the door handles throughout the whole house, or sort books or papers by size.  He can empty all the trash cans, sort the silverware drawer, wipe down the front of all of the cupboards and the lower realms of the walls near the floor, wipe the bathroom floor with a damp paper towel, wipe out the bathroom sink, wipe down the inside of the front window, sweep the front steps, shake rugs, dust the window sills, etc.—whatever he or she is physically up to.  You get the idea.  If you don’t use soap for any of these projects there is no danger that they will do anything wrong or make your life more miserable.

Creative activities in place:
• you draw large squares on a piece of paper, and then the little guy colors each square with a different color
• he plays with ice cubes on a tray
• he plays with a tubful of water on the kitchen floor, using measuring cups and funnels on a towel on the floor right here at your feet

The overall accomplishment goal for the mother is to focus on just one child at a time, deeply—shifting your focus from child to child until you have covered them ALL and then you get back at it with the first ones again, no matter what you are doing during the day—laundry, fixing a meal, etc.  You get one child fully into that activity with you, so that you are double-whamming your time—building relationship, character qualities, bonding, securing obedience, laughter, enjoyment, letting them know that you cherishing them,  etc.

Focus, but then shift your focus—that’s the name of the game.  Cycle through your children over and over and over and over.  Smile warmly at the other three—while going deep with the one.

Intentional family camping

Thursday, 15. October 2015 by Renee Ellison


Years ago, Dr. James Dobson did research to identify what people thought were the most effective activities to bind a family together.  At the top of the list, after having a strong faith, came family CAMPING, with not even a close second.  Apparently, camping embodied the bulk of people’s fondest memories.  Children LOVE to be squished into tight places WITH their parents, in ever-new “on the edge” surroundings, a unified force against the elements!

To make camping a success and not a fiasco, one must become at least moderately intentional about PREPARING to have a good experience.  That means thinking through a fair number of details ahead of time.

So, whether you have camped before but want to improve your efforts at camping or you are brand new to its challenges, here is a bit of practical hand-holding to help you boost the experience into the list of “fun things we did as a family”—and not a blackout bad memory!

To begin with, you want to think of CONTAINERS.  The first container you’ll have to consider is your major overall container of how you will transport all of the stuff.  Determine whether that will be your car trunk, a rack on top of your car, the back compartments in an SUV, the open back of a truck, or a small trailer that you pull behind your vehicle (which means you’ll have to get a trailer hitch, too).  The finished size of that space, established by you ahead of time, determines how MUCH stuff and what weight and size of things you can take with you—because it all has to FIT.  Some people with SUV’s like to put columns of plastic drawers in the back so that when they open up the back of the van they have an instant tailgate kitchen already organized and ready to go.  Others like to construct wooden shelves in a small trailer so that all of their boxed stuff is neatly labeled and easily grabbed whenever they’re camping.

The first two big items to consider are your sleeping tent and a kitchen tent (if you want one).  After hours and hours of research we have three suggestions of real winners for tents for FAMILY camping (not hardcore lightweight back-backer single guys : )  Those guys can survive with a nylon tepee tent—which only weighs 24 pounds and only involves staking the sides, setting one lightweight pole up into the middle of the inside of the tent, and presto they are done.  No floor, of course, on this unit.

Sleeping tent
Cabela’s Big Horn III and Cabela’s Alaknak tents provide oceans of space for a family.  (The Big Horn has no internal poles to deal with—providing a large dome-like interior atmosphere.)

The Kodiak tent is a light weight canvas tent (canvas breathes better than nylon) and is super easy to put up for a single mom with children, or a single widow.  It has a sealed in floor for those who are squeamish about night crawlers, spiders, snakes, etc. gaining entrance into one’s tent withOUT a floor.

And, finally, a Davis tent—which may be the ultimate in large canvas tents.  It weighs a lot, but once constructed feels like a real house.  It is ideal if you are staying in one spot for a long time.  Hunters love them.  They can also be four season tents with the ability to add a stove.

Kitchen tent
Why would you want a kitchen tent?  Because if ANY inclement weather appears, it can immediately shut down your cooking efforts indefinitely.  Menacing weather of high winds, rain (with its attendant mud afterwards), hail, tornadoes, dust storms, etc. quickly drives you back into your car or sleeping tent until it blows over—which could last anywhere from a half hour to all afternoon or evening to several days!  If you want to keep your paper plates, chairs, and utensils from blowing all over the mountains you’ll have to provide some secure kitchen space.  An E-Z-Up shelter with tarps for sides will help in this endeavor, securely anchored with super strong tent pegs and taut ropes tied through ALL of the grommets on the tarp walls.  Or some outdoor tent gazebo which has both screened walls and tarp walls that can rapidly be let-down or unfurled when a storm approaches.  Or another canvas tent with no floor.  If you pick a tent gazebo with ONLY screened walls the weather will march right into it and either lift it up in the air and hurl it into the nearby lake or collapse it all over your stuff.  Obviously for your kitchen enclosure there is no need for flooring other than the dirt.  You don’t WANT flooring, other than dirt, so that people can troop in and out of it to eat without taking the time to remove shoes.

Be sure that you lock away all perishable food each time you leave your camp site and each evening after dinner.  You don’t want food smells attracting unwanted animals.

For both your sleeping tent and kitchen tent, look for used deals on Craigslist or E-Bay.  Some people start out with great expectations, but then sell their gear with dashed expectations not too long afterwards!

Selecting your campsite
Pick a place higher up rather than lower down—so that if any torrential rains come you won’t be flooded out, as the water pools down below.  If you find yourself with a lower spot as your only possibility, be sure to dig a small trench around the base of your tent—to collect and divert water should that become necessary during a downpour while you are sleeping some night.

If you pick a place higher up, make sure it is not all the way up on top of a hill.  You want your tent site tucked in closely a ways down from the extreme top edge, so that you don’t catch sudden winds that tend to blow on mountain tops.
Preparing your tent’s foundation
Give time to making a smooth foundation for under your tent, before setting it up.  Bring a shovel and rake along to get rid of any unwanted stones or fallen branches and twigs so that they don’t poke holes through the floor of your tent.  Bring along a rubber mallet for pounding in your tent stakes.

After each trip, hose down your tents and thoroughly dry them in the sun.  If your gear is stored dirty, its lifespan will be shortened.  If you pack wet gear, it may become moldy.  Then fold up and keep all of your camping gear packed and ready to go in ONE area of your garage, trailer, or other storage area.

Sleeping bags
Your next most important purchase is DOWN sleeping bags.  The deeper temperatures the bag is tagged for, below zero, the better.  Then you want a thin self-inflating 3 or 4 inch air mattress underneath (there’s nothing worse than having to inflate your air mattress by some manual means when you are already exhausted from putting up your tent).

Exped Down mats are the luxury liner warmest mats—but you have to inflate them.  There are several other easier models that work fine, obtainable from REI, for instance.  But if warmth is a higher priority, then go with the Exped mat.  For added insurance, purchase a thin exercise mat to put below your air mattress in case the air goes out of your air mattress in the middle of the night (and check for deflation before you go to bed, each night, top them off with some more air, if some was lost in the last 24 hours—this is a miserable job to do in the middle of the night, so tend to it BEFORE going to bed).  The exercise mat ensures that you won’t be sleeping directly on the cold ground.

If you are the kind of person that just can’t get warm—bring along a polyester warm blanket to further cut the air on top of your sleeping bag for when you first go to sleep.  Your body will warm up in the night and you can toss this extra layer off later.

Keep in mind that when coolers are full of ice and food they become super heavy.  So opt for several smaller coolers instead.  In addition to being lighter, this allows you to even categorize the types of foods via each cooler.  Put cheeses and yogurts in one, pre-cooked dinners in another, drinks in another, cut up veggies and fruit bowl contents in another, etc.  The 28-qt. Coleman Extreme is ideal for this; it is built to retain the coldness longer.

Ice solutions
If you freeze your water bottles WITH water in them—either your own concoctions of bottle and ice or the large six packs of pre-bottled water—tossed around in the cooler individually, you double-whammy your space—because you can drink them as they defrost. 

You can buy several half-gallon cardboard containers of juice or rice milk, and freeze these with the liquid IN them.  Because these become blocks of ice, they last far longer—and again you can drink them when they’re unfrozen.

Another way to keep the cold ice coming is to cram ONE cooler completely full of ice packs (no food at all in this cooler).  Each ice pack will keep all the other ice packs cold for a week!!!  Remove one ice pack a day to put into your food cooler and you’ll not have to return to town so often to refurbish your ice.
Food choices
Pre-cook as many meals as will fit in your cooler.  It is wonderful to be able to open and dump dinner in a pot and have it hot and ready in five minutes.  Often there is no time or WAY to cut up the ingredients for dinner right there on the scene.  And you may be too exhausted from just mere survival which takes more energy than at home—or long day hikes, hauling water, etc.  For additional quick meals bring along dehydrated soups and canned food (don’t forget a can opener) as well as bars and supplements and super food powders. 

Cooking utensils
Keep a duplicate set of all cooking utensils that you will be using so that you don’t have to ransack your house trying to remember what to take each time you go camping.  Have all of these things already packed, for camping use only, and keep them packed for easy quick retrieval for fast getaways. 

Cooking burner
A simple lightweight Coleman one-burner Powerpack stove may be all that you need.  This is a large 3 inch burner which runs on a propane canister and takes both small and large pans.  It has a metal frame to keep pans from slipping off while stirring.  Heat your tea or coffee or hot water first, and then set aside and heat your main meal in a separate pan, within mere minutes of each other.  Purchase a butane lighter-stick to make lighting this stove far easier than using tiny matches, and burning your fingers.

An American Camper propane heater delivers 10 hours of marvelous heat with each can of propane fuel.  This is far easier than bringing along a wood-burning stove for short trips in the fall.

In addition to flashlights which only yield light directly ahead of you, purchase several LANTERNS that will give you light in all directions.  You need two or three.  One for your kitchen area, one for your tent, and one outside the entrance of your tent, if coming home to the tent in the dark.  Have BOTH battery operated and SOLAR operated versions of each of these so that if you run out of the other, you always have the opposite fuel for backup.  Goal Zero makes good solar equipment—an excellent source of renewable free energy. 

Solar oven
(This item is totally optional).  American Solar Cookers are FREE heat source ovens.  Some enjoy them so much that they use them every day in their regular non-camping life as well.

Keep in mind that even if you bought the most LUXURY editions of all camping equipment it would total far less money than any RV purchase—or hotel bills.  Nowadays, hotels have become so expensive for families that the popular phrase “spend a night, not a fortune” is on the lips of many travelers as they seek less expensive alternatives.

For further reading on this topic, download our Survival Planning for Simpletons e-book (also available as a Kindle book, and in print).

Filed Under: Home management tips

Escorting your elderly parents through their final chapter

Sunday, 20. September 2015 by Todd Ellison


If you have elderly parents, here, to help you shepherd them through their last days, is a compilation of helpful quotes from Atul Gawande’s excellent book, Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End.

Many of us need help in even just opening a discussion with our aging parents about the important issues facing them in their final stages.  As Gary Smalley has noted in Making Love Last Forever, experts have found that death and sex are two of the most difficult things to discuss.

Although Dr. Gawande doesn’t write from a Judeo-Christian perspective, he (aHarvard Medical School surgeon and professor) is effective at front running some thoughts on the complex issues that face the elderly.  You as a believer can read these management strategies within the context of our faith in the resurrection—adding the very real hopes and eternal realities for your parents which are absent from this book’s presentation.   

“Being mortal is about the struggle to cope with the constraints of our biology, with the limits set by genes and cells and flesh and bone [and, we would add, the personal and loving sovereignty of Almighty God].  Medical science has given us remarkable power to push against those limits…  But again and again, I have seen the damage we in medicine do when we fail to acknowledge that such power is finite and always will be.

“We’ve been wrong about what our job is in medicine.  We think our job is to ensure health and survival.  But really it is larger than that.  It is to enable well-being.  And well-being is about the reasons one wishes to be alive.  Those reasons matter not just at the end of life, or when debility comes, but all along the way.  Whenever serious sickness or injury strikes and your body or mind breaks down, the vital questions are the same:
• What is your understanding of the situation and its potential outcomes?
• What are your fears and what are your hopes?
• What are the trade-offs you are willing to make and not willing to make?
• And what is the course of action that best serves this understanding?”  (p. 259)

This is a good way to think, at this juncture in life: “living for the best possible day today instead of sacrificing time now for time later.” (p. 229)

Dr. Gawande has come to believe that “whatever we can offer [a person who is in this situation], our interventions, and the risks and sacrifices they entail, are justified only if they serve the larger aims of a person’s life.  When we [medical staff] forget that, the suffering we inflict can be barbaric.  When we remember it the good we do can be breathtaking.” (p. 260)

“At least two kinds of courage are required in aging and sickness.  The first is the courage to confront the reality of mortality—the courage to seek out the truth of what is to be feared and what is to be hoped.  Such courage is difficult enough.  We have many reasons to shrink from it.  But even more daunting is the second kind of courage—the courage to act on the truth we find.  The problems is that the wise course is so frequently unclear.  For a long while, I thought that this was simply because of uncertainty.  When it is hard to know what will happen, it is hard to know what to do.  But the challenge, I’ve come to see, is more fundamental than that.  One has to decide whether one’s fears or one’s hopes are what should matter most.” (p. 232)

Dr. Gawande observes that the default setting of the medical establishment has been “You took the most aggressive treatment available.”  On the other hand, “This [new] business of deliberating on your options—of figuring out your priorities and working with a doctor [him not as the Dictator or even as the Information-provider, but as a collaborator in interpreting the data and trying to fathom the unknowns] to match your treatment to them—[is] exhausting and complicate, particularly when you [aren’t able to ]...parse the unknowns and ambiguities.  The pressure remains all in one direction, toward doing more, because the only mistake clinicians seem to fear is doing too little.  Most have no appreciation that equally terrible mistakes are possible in the other direction—that doing too much could be no less devastating to a person’s life.” (p. 220)

Dr. Gawande summaries a study Daniel Kahneman reported in his book, Thinking, Fast and Slow, that found that there are two ways to evaluate experiences: how we apprehend them sequentially as they’re happening, and how we think of them afterwards.  How we think about the afterwards, sticks with us a lot longer, and what we tend to recall are the most intense periods and the very last period of the experience.  [Thus, how an experience—including a person’s life—ends, is crucial.]  Kahneman called it the Peak-End rule.  A key point here (pp. 238-239), is that “We have purposes larger than ourselves.  Unlike your experiencing self—which is absorbed in the moment—your remembering self is attempting to recognize not only the peaks of joy and valleys of misery but also how the story works out as a whole.  That is profoundly affected by how things ultimately turn out.  ...  in stories, endings matter.” (pages 236-238)

“I am leery of suggesting the idea that endings are controllable.  No one ever really has control.  Physics and biology and accident have their way in our lives.  But the point is that we are not helpless either.  Courage is the strength to recognize both realities.  We have room to act, to shape our stories, though as time goes on it is within narrower and narrower confines.  A few conclusions become clear when we understand this: that our most cruel failure in how we treat the sick and aged is the failure to recognize that they have priorities beyond merely being safe and living longer; that the chance to shape one’s story is essential to sustaining meaning in life; that we have the opportunity to refashion our institutions, our culture, and our conversations in ways that transform the possibilities for the last chapters of everyone’s lives.” (p. 243)

“Technological society has forgotten what scholars call the `dying role’ and its importance to people as life approaches its end.  People want to share memories, pass on wisdoms and keepsakes, settle relationships, establish their legacies, make peace with God, and ensure that those who are left behind will be okay.  They want to end their stories on their own terms [we would say, on the terms God dictates for them].  This role is…among life’s most important, for both the dying and those left behind.” (p. 249)

Filed Under: Home management tips

We shall be like Him…

Saturday, 05. September 2015 by Renee Ellison


Yeshua’s high priestly prayer in John chapters 14-17 is surely the Holy of Holies of all of Scripture (John Stott).

No greater words have ever been spoken.  The earnestness with which the Savior pleads to the Father (and WHAT He asks for) is incomprehensible: “That they may be one as We are one.”  AS WE ARE: in like manner—to share in OUR glory—the glory which We had, in which We existed for all time beforehand.  The implications are staggering.

While we find ourselves fighting in vain against endlessly sinking into living for activities and accruements, our Lord and Master is steadily, constantly, masterfully relational.  In and through all things, His eye is ever on the relational dynamics of all things.  His conversations with the wicked unbelieving pierce to the dividing of soul and spirit, more like surgeries than conversations; and oddly enough, the righteous experience the same from Him, but theirs is unto LIFE.

When one meditates on the restraint the Messiah exhibited while on earth, away from His almightiness, one is spell-bound.  His ability to do dashing miracles of untold numbers was controlled entirely by His relational aims.  He performed only what would deepen the relational.  He had no desire for show.  When we peek into this high priestly prayer and see Him on His knees, we get a glimpse of the ultimate in unfettered love.  Our humble High Priest quietly succeeded in asking and obtaining the inscrutable for us.

Filed Under: Spiritual tips

Why classical music is important

Thursday, 27. August 2015 by Melanie Ellison


I (Renee’s 24 yr. old daughter) recently had two friends separately ask me why classical music is so important to me, so I decided to take the time to write a thorough response. I thought you might like to read what I wrote, so here it is with a lot of links to peruse if they catch your interest…

I was raised on classical music. It started in utero, and then as a baby, my folks moved my arms and legs in ballet positions in time to classical music. By age three, I was playing the piano (video at that link). In my high school years, I was blessed to be able to solo on cello with two youth orchestras (these moments were some of the highlights of my life), playing Kol Nidrei and Prayer. Then in my one year of college (before leaving and writing the book Chucking College: Achieving Success Without Corruption) I pursued a music major, practicing 3–5 hours every day and studying under a teacher who had attended Julliard. My parents didn’t accidentally raise me to love classical music. It was a deliberate move.

As believers, we cannot in good conscience let our mere preferences be the only guide in choosing the music to which we listen. Lucifer was the music director in Heaven (this assumption is based on Ezekiel 28:13, where the words that are translated “settings and sockets” mean “timbrels and flutes” in the Hebrew). This tells us two things: 1) the field of the arts can be a slippery one morally, and 2) if Lucifer had his hand in music before the angels rebelled and fell, there’s substantive reason to think he still inspires some composers and wields some types of music for his purposes.

As an example, look at Rock ‘n’ Roll. The very term is a sexual one (no further explanation necessary, I hope). Some believers will claim that there can be a Christianized form of rock music, but regardless of the lyrics, the beat appeals to the flesh (how does your body want to move when you are “worshipping” to such music?). Conversely, classical music invigorates the brain. It is very mathematical and ordered. The strong beats on 1 and 3 align with the human heart beat: ONE two THREE four; whereas in rock music, the strong beats are emphasized on the off beats 2 and 4: one TWO three FOUR (causing chaos within the body’s natural rhythm).

Not only does classical music appeal more to the brain than the flesh, it also requires extensive mental effort to play. Researchers say that it is only after 10,000 hours that a musician reaches the level of expert fluency on a classical instrument. The mental rigor required to play or understand classical music is a large part of what appeals to me about it. It’s not so much just the music but the culture of discipline that permeates the whole life of one associated with such music. There is an understanding that it might take years to master a piece of music, and that disciplined application toward goals carries over into other areas of life as well.

Homeschool convention speaker Andrew Pudewa has an excellent talk on The Profound Effects of Music on Life (I highly recommend it). As one of his points, he talks about a music study that was done on mice. The study was conducted with three groups of mice. One group listened to rock music for 24 hours, another group listened to Mozart for 24 hours, and the control group had silence. At the end of the 24 hours, each group was sent through a maze and timed. The rock group stumbled into the walls and retraced their steps confusedly; the classical group made it to the end of the maze in record time; and the control group was mediocre. This proves that music actually has an effect on ordering or disordering the brain. And also, it is to be noted, listening to classical music is even better than not listening to anything at all.

Choice of music carries over into worship as well. Hymns are much deeper in content and musicality than much modern praise music. It has been said that the repetition of some modern praise songs is the equivalent of singing “Mary, the cows are in the corn. Mary, Mary, Mary, the brown cows, the brown dairy cows are in the corn. They are in the tall, tall corn. And I feel good about the cows. I just want to go lay my head on the cow…” (Otherwise described in the classic and hilarious Youtube video: How to Write a Worship Song in 5 Minutes or Less—946,000 views). Compare that to the theological progression of depth in a four-verse hymn. Also, in hymns, if the words are serious about our Messiah on the cross, for instance, the music will deliver the same message and not be flippant. Admittedly, there are a few wonderful modern praise songs (including this one that I recorded merged with a hymn), but in general, hymns are preferable.

In composer Ben Botkin’s talk The Power and Importance of Music, he asks the pointed question: “What kind of music do you want to be the sound track for your life?” It may take a choice of the will to start listening to a different type of music, but soon you will grow to love it. It is especially helpful to attend a concert in person where you can watch the choreographed dance of the orchestra and the intrigue of each person’s unique approach to the whole. One tip is to find out when the dress rehearsal is for your city’s symphony and attend that for free. It can be very engaging to watch the process of how a concert is put together. There is less pressure on families with small children to be absolutely still and quiet during a rehearsal (I have fond memories of growing up dancing down the aisles and writing letters to penpals during symphony rehearsals).

I highly recommend watching this presentation by master conductor Benjamin Zander: The Transformative Power of Classical Music.

As far as composers that I recommend listening to, Bach is at the top of the list. Since he was a believer, at the beginning of each composition he wrote at the top of the page J.J. (for “Jesu Juva”—Latin for “Jesus help me”), and when he had finished, he marked the music S.D.G. (“Soli Deo Gloria”—to God alone be the glory). Renowned musicians say they can practice his music all their lives and still discover something new (not true of more modern composers). Mozart and Beethoven are also excellent choices.  We have an engaging CD of the biography of Bach available.

in case you want a listening list to go through during meals or housecleaning, here are some of my all-time favorites (many of which I have personal connections to—either having played them or known someone who did),

Theme from Schlinder’s List by the great violinist Itzhak Perlman
Dvorak, Silent Woods, Yo-Yo Ma on cello
Bach Harpsichord Concerto in D Major
Bach Violin Partita in E Major
Chopin Nocturne transcribed for cello
Bach French Suite No 5 for piano
Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No. 2
Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto
Mendelssohn Octet
CPE Bach Cello Concerto
Bruch’s Scottish Fantasy
Handel’s Messiah (all 2 hours)
Beethoven’s 5th Symphony

Fun videos for the children:
Joyful Joyful We Adore Thee (Beethoven) flashmob!
The William Tell Overture (with movements!!!)
Flight of the Bumblebee performed on piano by an amazing boy
3 year old Jonathan conducting
Victor Borge Classical comedian: Hungarian Rhapsody
              The Minute Waltz for two pianos
Blue Danube Waltz by the Vienna Philharmonic, with stunning ballet
Almost Angels — a 1962 movie about the Vienna Choir Boys

And this is just the start! Each of these videos will link you to many other good ones.

The grown daughter/aging mother dynamic

Friday, 21. August 2015 by Renee Ellison


Having taken back spiritual territory from the culture, many Christian grown daughters, who haven’t married yet, are currently living in their birth home, under their parents.  In previous generations, this was not the case.  Generally, the grown daughter got married and was gone, or she moved out while still single, and was gone.  In both cases, she was gone.  But recently, as a result of our shift in thinking as believers, we now have a very different dynamic to deal with, as aging homeschooling mothers.  We solved the problem of how to protect our daughter from severe temptations during her tender years (scores of temptations that could have ruin the remainder of her life), but now we have a very different kind of challenge to deal with.  Now we have two matured women, capable of running households apart from each other—the mother AND the daughter, presently reigning over ONE domestic domain.  Because of the strong nesting instinct in both women and the territorial preferences of each one, there can be friction.

Because of our wide exposure to hundreds and hundreds of homeschooling families through state convention work, we have seen examples of this older mother/daughter duo that work out well and conversely, examples of this duo that are relational disasters—and everything in between.  Here is some clarity about why this dynamic may not work out well sometimes, and how to fix it.

In every case, where the grown daughter/aging mother relationship is under severe stress it is due to unspoken engulfing expectations, each of the other.  Because it is a living situation and not a job situation, there is no way to get away from the chronic pain 24/7 of unspoken, brooding expectations on both parts, taking place in one of the closest relationships on earth—with one’s own mother or one’s own daughter, who have hardly taken a breath apart from each other for 18 long years.  Because women are feelers and have social antenna out 100 yards from themselves, there can be deep anguish going on that is never spoken about, and a feeling on both parts of being trapped.

So let’s get up and out of the morass and clarify some issues that are true in every case of this duo.  There is blue sky up ahead, if we’ll understand these issues and talk about them. The sooner we do it, the better.

Re: the daughter:
If one plays this chapter right, not only the spiritual advantages, but the fiscal advantages of continuing to live at home can be real and can be very significant, particularly if one doesn’t go to college.  (For more on that, read Chucking College to see inside the college loan debt nightmare.)  Never again will a grown daughter have a chance to earn money to build a nest egg for her future, at this exponential speed.  By not having to pay rent and in some cases food and gas bills, as well, the daughter can contribute to building up her own future home, whether she remains single or marries.  Just because she may marry, doesn’t mean these short-lived, rare, fiscal opportunities are to be squandered.  Who doesn’t need more money, while building a young family or when one’s parents age and/or die?  The young man, if he is smart, will be using his early years to save up for these eventualities, as well.  Just because he will bear the lion’s share of this job, doesn’t mean the young woman can’t contribute to doubly bless their lives together.  Every stable future individual fiscal mini-empire is built with a nest egg as the starter rung on the ladder.  Without a nest egg, there is nothing to lay as a foundation that is strong enough to stabilize growing fiscal pressures.  Such a chance to build sure future fiscal growth for the future, by aggressive savings now, doesn’t come around again in one’s lifetime.

Now, here’s the rub.  In exchange for this chance to partake in rapid savings, mothers, often without verbalizing it, expect a return of shared domestic output to run the home.  The problem is that in many cases, the expectation becomes infinite.  This greatly frustrates the grown daughter.  She eventually, comes to desperately realize that no time is her own.  She is always “on duty”—always “on call”—because she knows that her parents are due an infinite debt of gratitude for this fiscal arrangement.

Re: the mother:
If the mother sees that the daughter is not using her hours for either domestic output or to earn a living, this gnaws on the mother and is taken out upon the daughter through disparaging looks, withholding affirmation, smoldering silences, etc.  This becomes torture for the daughter who is oblivious to the problem she is creating by her laziness.

To compound the problem, both mother and daughter define laziness/free-time differently—everyone does, even after young gals marry and run their own households.  Many a mother-in-law and/or mother look upon even their married daughters with what they think is bull’s eye accuracy, which manifests in condescension, and withholding affirmation for anything else that is going on that is good in the emerging daughter’s life.

Thus, in this mother/daughter duo there often exists this crisis of expectations that must be talked through.  At first, we may shrink back, thinking this is far too fragile a dynamic to openly talk about—that “mother-love”, or “daughter-love” wouldn’t do it.  But if the duo don’t talk about it, and it exists, it may ruin the relationship for the rest of their lives.  Any way you slice it, this is a long-term, life-time relationship that one must work upon to get it right.  One can’t take back the feelings and impressions this chapter of “tight” living situation produces, if it is deteriorating in the hearts of one or both women.  Either talk about it, or watch it crash and burn, to your own, far deeper sorrow, than merely that the dishes didn’t get washed today.

So, here is what you talk about:
Since the mother and the daughter both have both domestic burdens and fiscal burdens they need to talk about the boundaries of these individual challenges and pursuits

—have the daughter clearly estimate how much money she will make in a month and how she will make it—given the gift of this free living situation.

—have the mother clearly define what must be done domestically in the home, and who is ideally responsible for what

—thirdly, talk about space issues—what space belongs to the mother and what space may belong totally to the daughter (to either be fastidiously neat in, or looser than her mother organizationally—depending upon her individual wiring).  If this space separation is not achievable in the home, then consider an addition of an RV in the driveway or backyard.  This accommodation must be made for mature people; every adult has a large private life going on inside her head.  There is to be no uninvited reading of each other’s mail, email, diaries, etc.  Privacy is an adult right of passage.  The mother must treat the single daughter psychologically the same as she would regard her grown married daughter, as if she has already moved out and now has her own life to express and live.  Micro-managing must cease.

Because both women are mature, their work/domestic preferences will be pronounced and strong and will, in most cases, be different.  As the daughter becomes more and more developed and differentiated, she will express herself in both of these domains differently from the mother, so achieving mutuality in these spheres of work is a delusion.  Both the fiscal pursuits and the domestic pursuits must be given space to be individually pursued in one’s own way—i.e., give each other space to do jobs differently without the invasion of the opinions of the other.   The more work fusion, the more emotional confusion there will be.  This may even require that the other adult woman gives the kitchen over to the other one—does not interfere with suggestions, opinions, etc.—and is nowhere around as the other one is working.  Defer and be polite, here. 

—if there is tension over any of these issues, stop and reach agreement on paper about them.  Talk about it some more, until there is mutual consensus about expectations coming from both directions.

then talk about taking domestic “turns of duty”, and what that looks like—so that the mother is fully “on cooking duty” for one day and the daughter is fully “on cooking duty” for the next day—alternating back and forth (or if you prefer you can alternative weeks)—both a mother and a daughter need to be fully off duty to maintain sanity and longevity in the midst of this ongoing living arrangement.  Otherwise, chronic long-term grey areas will produce emotional fog and heaviness and stressful private mental gymnastics and escapisms.

—and mothers, be sure that you don’t view your grown daughters as “go-fers”—as personal appendages to yourself to get things done for you.  Live your life as if your daughter is not in your home; find your own solutions.  Your married children are free of you, and so it must be in your mind regarding your at-home grown child.  If your daughter volunteers to help you, or if you pay her, that is acceptable, but no adult can have a private butler/maid on call for any instance or time without compensation.  If such a dynamic exists it will boomerang on you.  The adult child will flee away from you— if not physically, she will run away mentally.  This is a stiff loss, reaping deep sorrow, for lack of a mother’s wisdom in this area.

View yourself as coming up under your daughter to enlarge and serve and strengthen her future life—which will all too soon, in the majority of cases, not be under your domain anymore.  The only thing that will live on are the memories of that grown time with you—so see to it that they are good ones.

If your at-home daughter is not earning money, or doing domestic work that amounts to the same (figured by tabulating her hours and duties on paper and valuing that work commensurate with sustaining her life as a single person, living alone); if she is, in fact, freeloading, then you must go back to the drawing board and point out that this existence is not possible in the real world and that if the income or domestic output doesn’t increase, she must leave.  By the way, this is an absolute must for any emerging son in your home; where there isn’t the domestic compensations complication in tabulating what exists.  Don’t allow your son to freeload for one day.  It could ruin his manhood.