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Off the top

A blog dedicated to the Source of everything good.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Three taps of the gavel

For nine weeks each summer, western New York's Chautauqua Institution offers residents and visitors a host of events related to the arts, religion, and current issues, as well as recreation on the shores of Lake Chautauqua. Billing itself as a center for lifelong learning, Chautauqua brings in national-level speakers and offers world-class artistic productions by such groups as the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra, with which my husband and I are privileged to perform.

My husband has enjoyed Chautauqua since childhood, and I have come to know and appreciate Chautauqua through him and 20+ years of visits.

Though the hectic symphony season doesn't allow us much relaxation. But we find opportunity to recreate with symphony colleagues and occasionally enjoy other features of Chautauqua. Sometimes we stay on the grounds rather than commute, which adds a much-welcomed dimension to our Chautauqua experience.

Another integral component of Chautauqua is its religion program. Unfortunately, it is broad and ecumenical to the point of actually discriminating against the evangelical Christian perspective. In spite of that, there is much to appreciate about the seriousness of intellectual and spiritual inquiry at Chautauqua. There are many opportunities for worship including daily morning worship services and weekly Sunday evening sacred song services.

The season is opened each year by three taps of a gavel. These are given by the president of the Institution during the first Sunday morning worship service. At the end of the final sacred song service, the gavel is tapped three times more to close the season. These ceremonial “three taps” have been occurring each year since the first Chautauqua season opened, 133 years ago.

This year's closing service was beautiful, austere, and bittersweet (at least the latter portion was; I arrived late). White pillar candles spread across center-front stage of the outdoor ampitheater – the same stage upon which symphony concerts, ballet performances, morning and evening worship services, afternoon lectures, and special-event concerts (acts brought in, such as Kenny Rogers, Mark Russell, and the Beach Boys) take place -- and attendees were invited to take them away after the service as a memorial of the season.

As my family and I walked back to our apartment with our candles, we reflected upon experiences of the summer and of Chautauqua. That was four days ago. I've since spent some time reflecting personally upon where I’ve been and where I’m going, these events having served as a catalyst. Summer’s end signals the end of my year. The cusp of August into September begins a new year; that’s when my husband transitions to his public-school and university-teaching jobs and I transition to homeschooling and community activity. We both return to a different phase of life from our musical performance-oriented and otherwise different summer.

Based on my reflections, I resolve to do the following this “new year”:

1) Reorient my priorities

2) Streamline family activities

3) Enforce proper limits upon my time and energy as given to various endeavors

I am grateful to those friends and family who have helped me find my way through various challenges this summer. Their reminders have given me new impetus to do the following:

1) Take care of myself

2) Honor those who know, depend upon, and love me the most

Therefore, I tap the metaphorical gavel three times and...close this blog. My prayer is that those who have read it may find a “candle” here to take with them; something meaningful that will bless their lives. I am grateful to those who have participated in the chautauqua that this blog has been; you have blessed me beyond what I can tell you.

I do hope to start a new project to take the place of this blog. But it will not happen as I had originally planned. I will announce here when it launches, though*.

Meanwhile, I will still be writing at Intellectuelle, and reading and commenting elsewhere. I hope to “see” you there.

As the gavel tapped, the final Chautauqua service concluded with quiet singing:

God be with you ‘til we meet again;
by His counsels guide, uphold you,
with His sheep securely fold you;
God be with you ‘til we meet again.

‘Til we meet, ‘til we meet, ‘til we meet at Jesus’ feet,
‘til we meet, ‘til we meet,’
God be with you ‘til we meet again!

*hint: it will be a photo-blog :-)


Thursday, August 17, 2006

Hi folks, part II

Something has come up (don't worry, everything's fine :-) ) and I will be going on hiatus for at least a week. I might just extend the hiatus after that to make preparation for an unveiling...which will be announced after the hiatus! Check back in 2-3 weeks.

In the meantime thanks again for reading, and enjoy the rest of your summer (or whatever season it is where you are!)

Speaking of enjoying the latter part of summer -- the sweet corn is in here and mmm is it good! We have neighbors who grow and sell it; they let the kids go pick their own. Doesn't come any fresher than that :-)

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

hosta flowers Posted by Picasa

Monday, August 14, 2006

Hi folks

Well, I'm too busy to write anything here for awhile probably but will still post photos. (Too busy with what, you ask? Oh, just family -- I have lots -- and friends and work and life.)

I've got all kinds of notes and ideas to develop into posts but alas, as blogging is my avocation, those ideas will have to sit in WordPerfect for awhile and hopefully not get lost (or forgotten...)! They include:

1) continuation of the discussion on defining evangelicals and evangelicalism, as well as the future of same, as picked up by some others bloggers. I am excited about this discussion!

2) summarization of the talk I heard tonight at Chautauqua Institution by David Limbaugh based on his book, Persecution.

3) a post on modesty (almost ready to go)

4) a post on Hector Berlioz' Symphonie Phantastique, which I participated in a performance of this evening.

5) the Individual Home Instruction Plans for my kids for our next year of homeschooling (just kidding...but they're due! aagh!)

6) more discussion threads for the topic of Christian singleness (maybe...)

7) commentary on the points of reference people use for speculation, based on a comment in The Week magazine on Oprah and her best friend Gayle.

8) commentary on an article I read in the Chautauquan Daily newspaper about a talk on emotions and religion.

And the list goes on...

Actually, I am also reassessing my blogging activity and will be making some soon as I have time to make them!

Meanwhile, I am still blogging at Intellectuelle and participating in some fine discussion there with my fellow blog-members and readers.

(sorry I didn't provide more's too late...goodnight :-) )

Sunday, August 13, 2006

petunias by the deck Posted by Picasa

Friday, August 11, 2006

respite Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Stargazer lily

Posted by Picasa

This lily plant grows just outside my front door, and has great personal significance to me. As its time comes to bloom dazzlingly each year and fill the air with a heady aroma, I rejoice and receive a sacrament of God's blessing.

This year the number of blooms doubled; there were six. I thanked God as each opened, on a different day.

The final lily is now dropping its petals. I am not sad, though, because the lilies had their time and I was able to enjoy them. I also know that, barring unforeseen circumstances, their presence will return next year.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Lyrics: The Trees

Words by Neil Peart, Music by Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson of Rush

There is unrest in the forest,
There is trouble with the trees,
For the maples want more sunlight
And the oaks ignore their pleas.

The trouble with the maples,
(And they're quite convinced they're right)
They say the oaks are just too lofty
And they grab up all the light.
But the oaks can't help their feelings
If they like the way they're made.
And they wonder why the maples
Can't be happy in their shade.

There is trouble in the forest,
And the creatures all have fled,
As the maples scream "Oppression!"
And the oaks just shake their heads

So the maples formed a union
And demanded equal rights.
"The oaks are just too greedy;
We will make them give us light."
Now there's no more oak oppression,
For they passed a noble law,
And the trees are all kept equal
By hatchet, axe, and saw.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Scooby-doo, II Posted by Picasa

Scooby-doo II, B&W Posted by Picasa

Saturday, August 05, 2006

yellow daylily profile Posted by Picasa

Friday, August 04, 2006

Cheers to two years

Well, today was this blog’s 2nd-year blogiversary. In honor of this momentous occasion I will do something I haven’t done in all two years of blogging:

Post a recipe!

(Can you stand the excitement?)

This is my favorite dessert:


4 large egg yolks*
1 cup sugar
8 oz. mascarpone cheese
1 pint heavy whipping cream
2 pkgs. ladyfingers
3 oz. (3 shots) espresso
1-1/2 tsp. brandy
1 Tbsp. powdered sugar
¼ tsp. vanilla extract
dark chocolate for garnish
1/4 tsp. cocoa

3-quart bowl, preferably clear glass

1. (Start water heating in double boiler.) In top part of double boiler, hand-whip together 4 large egg yolks and 1 cup sugar for 1 min. til thick.*

2. When water boils, reduce heat to low and cook yolk mixture, stirring constantly, 8 – 10 mins. Let cool.

3. Make brandied espresso.

4. Add mascarpone cheese to yolk mixture 1 spoonful at a time on low speed. Then beat on med. speed 2 mins. more til light, smooth and creamy. Cover, chill 45 mins.

5. Whip 1-1/3 cups whipping cream just until stiff peaks form.

6. Fold whipped cream thoroughly into chilled mixture. Chill for another hour.

7. Whip ½-cup whipping cream, adding 1 Tbsp. powdered sugar and ¼-tsp. vanilla extract to make sweetened whipped cream topping. (Do not overwhip; make slightly less stiff than for filling.)

8. Line bottom and sides of bowl with ladyfingers. Brush ladyfingers with half of the brandied espresso.

9. Spoon half of chilled cream mixture on top of ladyfingers. Repeat layers.

10. Top with sweetened whipped cream. Garnish with chocolate curls and a dusting of cocoa.

11. Refrigerate overnight.

12. Partake!

*For larger volume of filling, use 5 egg yolks, 1-1/4 cup sugar, and 10 oz. mascarpone. Add 1-2/3 cup whipped cream. Use 2/3-cup whipping cream for topping (increase powdered sugar to 1 Tbsp. + 1 tsp. but do not increase vanilla).

Thursday, August 03, 2006

pink daylilies Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Carry-on luggage: do justice, love kindness

(I’m taking a lot on board with me this week ;-) )

Micah 6:7-8:

Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,
Or with ten thousand rivers of oil?
Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression,
The fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?

He hath told you, O man, what is good
And what does the Lord require of you
But to do justice, to love kindness
And to walk humbly with your God?

Do justice...

Love kindness...

Walk humbly with your God.

I think of these verses often, but most recently they came to mind as I read this post at Out of Ur on love as a commodity. It features portions of an interview with Donald Miller, author of Blue Like Jazz:

You've said that the church "uses love as a commodity." What do you mean?

Miller: We sometimes take a Darwinian approach with love—if we are against somebody's ideas, we starve them out. If we disagree with somebody's political ideas, or sexual identity, we just don't "pay" them. We refuse to "condone the behavior" by offering any love.

This approach has created a Christian culture that is completely unaware what the greater culture thinks of us. We don't interact with people who don't validate our ideas. There is nothing revolutionary here. This mindset is hardly a breath of fresh air to a world that uses the exact same kinds of techniques.

What's the alternative?

Miller: The opposite is biblical love, which loves even enemies, loves unconditionally, and loves liberally. Loving selectively is worldly; giving it freely is miraculous.

HT: The Dawn Treader

Well, this explains it...

How to have an Obscure Blog that Almost Nobody Reads

And I didn't even do it on purpose!

(or with the help of this or any other guide...)

HT: evangelical outpost

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

a prickly subject Posted by Picasa

Monday, July 31, 2006

red-orange daylily Posted by Picasa

yellow daylily Posted by Picasa

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Carry-on luggage: Psalm 150

(Why "carry-on luggage?" Because that's where we put our essentials when we're traveling. So much of blogging and any other Christian endeavor can become about the endeavor itself rather than the God it is supposedly for, at least for me, especially if the endeavor supplants what ought to root it, i.e., a relationship with God through prayer and meditation upon Scripture that is founded upon Christ. We must make sure that we "bring along," and rely on, the essentials of Christian faith when embarking upon any enterprise.

It is simple things that ground me: a Psalm, a great hymn, or other nugget that distills the gospel and draws me back to the Lord's bosom.)

Today I am inspired to simply praise my Father in heaven for everything that He is, much of which I can't begin to fathom. Yet what I can fathom absolutely blows my mind.

It is the summertime, a time when I do by far the most professional activity with my trumpet than any other time. This can become burdensome in many ways, especially if I lose focus on Who I am playing for first and foremost. So, today and always, may I (and you) give praise a la Psalm 150:

Praise the Lord!

Praise God in His sanctuary;
Praise Him in His mighty firmament.
Praise Him for His mighty acts;
Praise Him according to His excellent greatness.

Praise Him with the sound of the trumpet;
Praise Him with the harp and lyre;
Praise Him with timbrel and dance;
Praise Him with stringed instruments and flutes.
Praise Him with loud cymbals;
Praise Him resounding cymbals.

Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.
Praise the Lord!

Note that the instruments to be used are the instruments of the times; there are no separate, "special" instruments set aside with which to praise Him. He gave all the instruments, for everyone's use; all are made according to the created properties that govern musical tonality, tambre, and rhythm.

Also note that we may praise Him with dance. Dance is a very deep-reaching expression (as is music); what better kind of expression to use in praising Him!

And, last but not least, there's no requirement for being exclusively quiet and subdued in praise. How many "quiet" congratulations have you ever witnessed, really? When your team wins, do you whisper, "Yessss!!! __________(insert name of team here) rock!!!"?

No! You make some noise! (A joyful noise :-) )

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Scooby-doo, the horse Posted by Picasa

Friday, July 28, 2006

under an old branch Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

If you're over 25...congrats for surviving!

A friend emailed this to me and I love it; I've had similar thoughts myself.

(Not that I advocate complete abandonment of common sense or caution, but let's not get carried away to the other extreme. For example, removing any apparatus from a playground that a kid could possibly injure themselves on. What would be left? NOTHING!)

Congratulations to all the kids who were born in the 1930's 40's, 50's, 60's and 70's!!

First, we survived being born to mothers who smoked and/or drank while they carried us.

They took aspirin, ate blue cheese dressing, tuna from a can, and didn't get tested for diabetes.

Then after that trauma, our baby cribs were covered with bright colored lead-based paints.

We had no childproof lids on medicine bottles, doors or cabinets and when we rode our bikes, we had no helmets, not to mention, the risks we took hitchhiking.

As children, we would ride in cars with no seat belts or air bags.

Riding in the back of a pick up on a warm day was always a special treat.

We drank water from the garden hose and NOT from a bottle.

We shared one soft drink with four friends, from one bottle and NO ONE actually died from this.

We ate cupcakes, white bread and real butter and drank soda pop with sugar in it, but we weren't overweight because......WE WERE ALWAYS OUTSIDE PLAYING!! We would leave home in the morning and play all day, as long as we were back when the streetlights came on. No one was able to reach us all day. And we were O.K.

We would spend hours building our go-carts out of scraps and then ride down the hill, only to find out we forgot the brakes. After running into the bushes a few times, we learned to solve the problem.

We did not have Playstations, Nintendo's, X-boxes, no video games at all, no 99 channels on cable, no video tape movies, no surround sound, no cell phones, no personal computers, no Internet or Internet chat rooms.........WE HAD FRIENDS and we went outside and found them!

We fell out of trees, got cut, broke bones and teeth and there were no lawsuits from these accidents.

We ate worms and mud pies made from dirt, and the worms did not live in us forever.

We were given BB guns for our 10th birthdays, made up games with sticks and tennis balls and although we were told it would happen, we did not put out very many eyes.

We rode bikes or walked to a friend's house and knocked on the door or rang the bell, or just yelled for them!

Little League had tryouts and not everyone made the team. Those who didn't
had to learn to deal with disappointment. Imagine that!!

The idea of a parent bailing us out if we broke the law was unheard of. They actually sided with the law!

This generation has produced some of the best risk-takers, problem solvers and inventors ever!

The past 50 years have been an explosion of innovation and new ideas.

We had freedom, failure, success and responsibility, and we learned HOW TO DEAL WITH IT ALL!

And YOU are one of them!


You might want to share this with others who have had the luck to grow up as kids, before the lawyers and the government regulated our lives for our own good. And, while you are at it, forward it to your kids so they will know how brave their parents were.

Kind of makes you want to run through the house with scissors, doesn't it?!

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

A T-shirt for bloggers

No, it's not "I Think, Therefore I Blog"...

I saw this at a department store:

“You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say will be misquoted and then used against you.”

I almost bought one but they didn’t have my size.

(yes, this is another example of my ironic, vintage-cabernet style of humor)

Queen Anne's lace Posted by Picasa

Sunday, July 23, 2006

The story of the songbird

Our pastor told this story during his sermon last week (my paraphrase):

There once was a little songbird who was late flying South. His wings got wet and then they froze. Shivering, he fell to the ground, right in the middle of a field. As he lay there, cold and miserable, he thought, “Oh, what can I do? What will become of me? I’ll never sing again.”

No sooner had he nearly given up hope but a cow came along and deposited a large pile of manure right on top of him. “Oh!” thought the bird, “What’s this? I feel warm, and I can move again! Oh, this is wonderful!” And he began tweet-tweet-tweeting with joy.

Along came a cat, heard the tweeting, and said, “Hey, what are you doing in that manure pile? Let me give you a hand.” And he pulled the bird out. And he ate him.

Moral of the story:
Someone who dumps manure on you may not be your enemy.
The person who digs you out of the manure may not be your friend.
If you’re in a manure pile you may not want to sing about it.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Cartoon of the month

(yeah, so I'm a month behind :-) )

Image Hosted by


by the meadow Posted by Picasa

Friday, July 21, 2006

Success 101 part 2

Tip #2

"Success is 20% skills and 80% strategy. You might know how to read, but more importantly, what's your plan to read?"

-- Jim Rohn

Is use of strategy always a good thing? Perhaps different situations call for different types of strategy. Might there also be situations in which strategy is not recommended?

My husband is very strategy-oriented (maybe it's a guy thing?) and is brilliant in using it, in sports and in working out plans for our family and for his work. My own strategy tends to be looser, either more big-picture or else closely focused on a single task. I'd also say I'm more adaptive and responsive than I am strategic. Not that I don't plan; I plan all the time. But a plan is not necessarily a strategy.

Strategy as a focus reduces a plan to a set of calculations. Sometimes this is necessary in order to accomplish a goal. Yet perhaps an "un-strategy" is better in other endeavors. What kind of strategy, if any, ought to be involved in Christian witness? Is love a strategy?

Thursday, July 20, 2006

red petunias by shed Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Success 101

Tip #1:

"Success is the study of the obvious. Everyone should take Obvious I and Obvious II in school."

-- Jim Rohn

bindweed 2 Posted by Picasa

Monday, July 17, 2006

bindweed Posted by Picasa

Sunday, July 16, 2006

hollyhocks 2 Posted by Picasa

Thursday, July 13, 2006

A very long ramble on the status of my blogging

It figures that just as I was getting used to the fact that hardly anyone reads this blog, Joe Carter posted The “How To Start a Blog” Series: Tips and Suggestions for Launching a Successful Blog and got me wondering all over again, “Why does hardly anyone read this blog?” (What I mean is, why does hardly anyone besides a few dear faithful friends read this blog?)

Here are my guesses:

1) I’m not “consistent.” I blog about too many miscellaneous things and plaster the surroundings with photos. Sometimes I go for long periods without posting anything but photos.

2) My writing isn’t so engaging or interesting.

3) I don’t blog about things that many people are interested in, or, if they are, there are others writing more excitingly and consistently about them than I am.

4) I have no niche. Except the “has no niche” niche.

5) My blog layout is pretty boring. I don’t know how to improve it without ignoring the rest of my life completely.

6) There are a ton of blogs out there.

7) My ship has yet to come in.

8) I own a black cat.

I’ve also considered the fact that Intellectuelle, despite having a stellar cast (plus an extra from off the street – me), isn’t exactly a blockbuster either. True, it almost died awhile back, and no one wants to be around a dying corpse. No wait, a corpse is already dead. But I thought its readership and dialogue might pick back up after the blog was resuscitated. It hasn’t, though. Perhaps the reason is inconsistency of posting (timing especially), but there are other blogs that update much less frequently yet maintain a respectable (in number, not in character necessarily. NO, I mean in number of readers, all of whom of course are respectable) readership. Why? Niche, perhaps. Loyal following. Colleagues, etc. Big names. Major affiliations.

Intellectuelle has a niche, or so I thought, not to mention a heavy-duty sponsor, so the fact that its readership isn’t greater is a little puzzling to me. I thought that its attempted ecumenical character might be a draw, but then it’s not fully ecumenical, which perhaps has some people wondering what it really is. Mostly Reformed, a little Catholic and a little Not-sure, I guess. (OK, I’ll be honest: a little Doesn’t Want the Label).

Yes, I am largely responsible for the present team (inviting them, anyway), but theological bent was not one of my criteria. I invited women who had demonstrated that they were Bible-believing, thoughtful, analytical, and wicked smart. And glory be, they accepted the offer. There have been some fantastic posts, I think, and terrific discussion, but not enough people are reading and commenting to carry the discussion further. It’s also hard to hook up with others in the blogosphere who are discussing the same things – there are several different conversations going on at once but they’re all at different tables. "So?" you might say, but I think it shows that, rather than enhancing communication, the blogosphere in some ways serves to dissipate it. I don't mean to sound emergent or anything, but I think that conversation is important, and the more people participate in the same conversations, the better those conversations will be.

I would think that people would want to seek out what others have to say about the topics they blog about, because I do, but maybe not everyone is like me. Imagine that. A few exceptions I can think of are Joe Carter, John Schroeder, and David Wayne. Maybe Andrew Jackson too. I’m sure there are others. Hey, maybe I should look up all the relevant posts on certain topics and post a list of links!

The other thing that has me scratching my head is all the theological camps. It seems that people are quite self-conscious about them. Yet for all some seem to resent “labels” and misunderstandings, I’m not sure how much effort is made to do more about it than complain or pontificate. Then there’s me, idiot quasi-Arminian (who had no idea what an Arminian was until several months ago) who found a bunch of Reformed-types’ blogs, thought they were awesome, and got totally hooked before even realizing they were Reformed! And do I care? No. I love these people. I love the way they think. I find that they are intellectually rigorous in ways that other “Bible-believing” Christians (accepting some form of inerrancy of the Scriptures) are not.

Why is that??? It seems that most of the “major” bloggers are Presbyterian, Episcopalian, Catholic, Baptist, or emergent. (Maybe a few Orthodox?) Where are the Lutherans? Where are the Methodists? Where are the Covenanters? I know they’re out there, but why aren’t their heavies in the arena with the others?

I haven’t really been able to connect with the few other non-Reformed bloggers I know of except for Charlie Lehardy, but then he’s a fellow Covenanter and Covenanters are the coolest people on earth. (Yes, I realize what I just said.) Then there’s the wonderful Jan Lynn, and Martin LaBar. I’m not really sure what his exact theological “persuasion” is, nor do I care. I have no idea of the denominational affiliation of some of my other readers. Theology hasn’t been my concern in that regard; I’m more interested in thought as it relates to living out the faith, i.e., evangelical concerns. I'm appreciative of anyone who reads my blog. And let’s face it, I’ve been smitten with the bloggers I started reading to begin with.

Have I been barking up the wrong tree? I don’t know. I’ve made some pretty great friends, and they mean more to me than lots of readers.

I just wonder about the readership thing. I am sure that mine is the least-read/most-linked blog in the TTLB ecosystem. My link ranking is currently #1049. The highest I got was in the 800s, I think, about a year ago. I was a Large Mammal then. Currently I’m a Marauding Marsupial. Yet on average I get a mere 15 hits/day, not all unique and usually a couple of my own! (Surreptitious glances, hand over mouth, pretend to look elsewhere.) I did some research and discovered that several Christian blogs with less than 10 inbound links, ranked in the 20 000s or lower, have 30-60 readers/day! Others didn’t list traffic data, but, based on comment activity, I’d guess they probably get more than 15 hits per day. The lowest readership of any other blog that I checked was still above 20 hits/day. (Sorry, I wasn’t trying to be nosey; I was merely collecting data on readership and linkage among Christian blogs.)

Oh and yes, it’s possible that some read my blog via Bloglines without ever actually “hitting” it. It’s possible.

Have I considered quitting? Yes I have, as anyone who reads this blog knows, though actually I’ve considered it more frequently than I let on. A few times I almost made the announcement (the draft is still sitting in WordPerfect). But I just can’t do it.

I love to blog. I really do. I would blog even if no one read this blog. I would. The only reason I’d quit would be because I spend too much time at it. But then I’d spend way too much time reading and commenting on other people’s blogs, so why quit?

Well, if you’ve made it this far in this post (and even if you haven’t), have a wonderful nap. And thanks for reading.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

hollyhock Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Let the children learn

At Intellectuelle I wrote an essay on the absolute nature of human nature. It was prompted by a quote I read in the Buffalo Sunday News by young author Ned Vizzini:
I learned at Stuy [elite Stuyvesant High School in New York City] about competition and kind of the absolute nature of life. There are winners and losers...High school was a brutal social arena where you learned the way the world really works.

Vizzini “acknowledges that his frame of reference is narrow, limited to elite, highly driven students in New York City,” yet I find that his frame of reference isn’t terribly different from mine, a relatively small school district in a relatively rural area of the Northeast. Nor is it terribly different from what can be observed in nearly every arena of life. Vizzini’s book, It’s Kind of a Funny Story, is “ an indictment of zero-sum cultures,” he says.

I would like for things to be a little bit different. I would like for people to be able to explore their interests a little bit more as young people, as opposed to be thrown into a cutthroat social environment from the time they’re 8 or 9.

Or from the time they’re 4 or 5....

True, children should be guided through the perils of society rather than sheltered from them entirely, yet at the same time, why throw a kid into such peril before they’ve had a chance to grow, learn, and mature in a loving, supportive environment? There are ways to buffer and ease a child into learning the ways of the world while at the same time teaching them what it all means, so that they may become “wise as serpents yet harmless as doves.” Not that this is impossible with involved parenting and good teachers in a school setting, but by separating social challenges from the general learning environment (other than sibling and parenting issues, of course) as occurs with homeschooling, a child is free to learn, unencumbered by social issues. Social understanding can then be gained in a social environment. Certainly a homeschooled child may also take public classes such as Sunday school, sports, music, and workshops, or attend any number of other public events, so that s/he gains group experience as well.

Such an environment is a prime one for fostering what I’d like to emphasize here, which is that children be allowed, even encouraged, to discover and explore their interests. Their interests will likely be where their giftings are, which is why children ought be given opportunity to pursue them, within reason. Other types of skills and knowledge can be gained around or through them. For example, a child can write a report on something of great interest to him/her, so as to learn the art of writing unencumbered by the burden of writing about something they are uninspired by. (Doing that can come later!) They can learn the mathematical or scientific principles behind what they like as part of their schooling.

I suppose such an approach might be called “unschooling.” Not that I believe that a structured, methodical approach should be forsaken, for there is great, even necessary, value in this as well. But I think it’s great when a child can be shown how the structure or method, or content of same, applies or relates to their area of interest. In this way a child can be motivated to study the nuts and bolts in a structured and methodical way. Their education may then be truly relevant (concrete rather than an abstract) to where their minds and gifts are, and they may be prepared to make proper use those gifts in this world. (Their minds and gifts can be made relevant to where the world is as well.) This is practicality of a sort that truly honors all involved, minus the type of contrived or abstract social engineering and occupational training that may be attempted in other educational environments.