Four Winter Walks

Having Jackson means that at least one daily walk is a necessity. It's not often that task falls to me, but the other day, on a lovely sunny day, I headed out for his daily stroll.

It wasn't far off midday, but the sun was low and both Jackson and I - astonishingly - looked rather tall. 

It's not often Jackson will sit still whilst on a walk....

Once he heads off, it's all sheer joy for him. He absolutely loves his 'Walkies!' (Does anyone else think of Barbara Woodhouse any time they hear the word, 'Walkies!'? I always do.)

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Yesterday, DR - Jackson's normal dog-walker - took him for his walk. After the walk, he decided to head back down to the machair with the camera. And a set of wheels.

We've had some beautiful winter weather.

No snow, but spells of blue skies and low sun always make for loveliness.

Having a very blue sea on our doorstep is an added bonus, especially when the low sun rays give a golden hue to the land. 

Those of you who follow Homeschool on the Croft on Facebook will have seen the next two photos already. Katie took them on her mobile when she and some of her cousins went on a coastal walk just after New Year.

Such an unusual cloud formation ... looking more like an explosion.

This photo was taken on the coast looking south.

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And, finally, Katie's walk today ...

It was frosty and again she had her mobile. I love the frost, but I really love the beautiful signs of life peeking through the dead grass. 

"While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease." Genesis 8:22

Frost makes everything look alive!


Red Farmhouse's Guest Post on Why we Homeschool

Here's another post from my Drafts folder. This one has been sitting there for a long time, and it comes from Kim at her lovely blog, Life in a Little Red Farmhouse

Kim and her husband and three sons live on a homestead in Oklahoma. Head over to the blog and see how they live their lives.

Here's a post that Kim posted on her blog quite some time back ...

Homeschooling - it sounds like a hard thing to do. Honestly, sometimes it is. But often difficult things are the most rewarding. And homeschooling has been rewarding for our family.

We are on our eleventh year in our homeschooling journey. I call it a journey because it is an ever changing road that we decided to walk down. I never thought we could make it this far. Somehow it has just worked for our family. Now it just seems a normal part of life. Teaching our boys spelling and math has been an extension of teaching them to eat with a spoon and to walk. Each year we evaluate each boy to decide if it is best for them. So far, homeschooling has been successful for each of them and so we continue on our road of learning together. I must admit, over the years I have learned as much as they have, not only about phonics and history but more importantly about myself.

Today, I wanted to answer a few questions about homeschooling that I have been asked over the last decade...

1. Why did you decide to homeschool your children?

I had an excellent example, my sister in law, that homeschooled before me. Silently, I observed them for years mulling it over in my mind. I would ask myself, "Can I do that?" When our oldest, went to Pre-K, he started getting in trouble. He was a very sweet boy and obedient but wiggly as most boys are and so he became very unhappy. We decide to give homeschooling a try. And then I knew, "I really can do this!"

2.What is your philosophy of education?

Our philosophy is simple: Build a foundation of faith. Add to that the basics: math, science, grammar and writing. Polish it off with an understanding of history and good age appropriate literature.

Teach them they can pick up any book at any time and learn something from it. Encourage each one in their strengths and help them along in their weaknesses. And have a little fun along the way.

3. What has been the best thing about homeschooling for you?

That's hard to pick just one thing. I'll give you the top two:
Character development has been the biggest plus in homeschooling our boys. It has given us the opportunity to know them better as they have grown, deal with issues that arise (and they always do), and mold and shape their character in a way that we never could have without homeschooling.
And second, they remain the best of friends to the point that they all still want to share a room together at ages 17, 14 and 11. I hope that this will last their entire lives. The truth is that friends come and friends go but close brothers last a lifetime.

4. What has been the hardest thing about homeschooling?

The knowledge that we are soley responsible for their education. It can be an overwhelming thing if you dwell on it. Now that I have one that will soon be off to college, I realize that taking one step at a time down a long path is the best way to get there.

I  when I feel like I'm failing, I comfort myself in the thought that no one wants my children to succeed more than I do.

5. How do you know what to teach?

Now days, there are endless options for curriculum. Most are very user friendly and require little work for the mom-teacher. This is a great thing especially when you have multiple ages. Whenever we can combine history, literature, or science and still be age appropriate for each child, we do.

Here is my list of go-tos: 
  • Math U See
  • Apologia Science
  • Easy Grammar
  • Institute for Excellence in Writing
  • Spelling Power
  • Wordly Wise Vocabulary
  • and my favorite - Sonlight literature and history

6. What do you do if there is something you just don't think you are qualified to teach?

It wasn't until high school that this even became an issue. With our oldest son reaching that stage a few years ago, we started taking advantage of private and group tutoring for science and math. Letting some very qualified ladies teach the things that were out of my comfort zone has worked out great for us. It has allowed me to still oversee the completion of the schoolwork and step in to help if needed but leave the heavy teaching to someone else. This year, I am trading off a subject with another mom. Her girls come to take drawing from me and she teaches writing composition to my boys. I love that. I also love that she doesn't mind teaching them outside even if it's on a fence post.

7. What about socialization?

There are so many opportunities for socializing with other homeschooled kids that you can not have enough time to do schoolwork. Over the years, my boys have been involved with a homeschooled Boy Scout troop and a weekly PE class as well as art classes, pottery, playgroups, book clubs, and even a Shakespeare club. I had a woman ask me once how my children were going to learn to stand in line. Funny, we were at that very moment in a check out line at Walmart. Is that really socialization anyway? Good socialization, in my opinion, is a child being able to relate and communicate with any age of person, something that homeschooled kids often do well.

8. If "school" doesn't take as long at home as it does in a classroom, what do you do with the rest of the day?

Oh, that has been the fun part and one of the reasons we built this farm. Keeping kids busy is important. Boys, especially as they get older, need something to do that makes them feel important. And they sure don't need more time in front of a screen. We have tried over the years to encourage life skills and hobbies.

Doing things like properly saddling your horse and taking it for a ride,

building something on their own,

caring for animals (yes, even falcons),

playing thinking games,

or even working for spending money, are all ways that our boys spend their days.

"Find something that you love, and do that", is what our boys hear us say on a regular basis. Education should not be all about the books.

Thanks, Kim, 


My Bookshelf ...

I have a number of posts in my Drafts folder - twenty-seven to be precise - so I'm going to post some (not all!) of them before writing any new ones. 

At some stage towards the end of last year, I decided to post on some of the books I'd recently read. Here are the books:

Conn Iggulden's series on Ghengis Khan: Wolf of the Plains; Lords of the Bow; Bones of the Hills; Empire of Silver, by Conn Iggulden
The Well Educated Mind, by Susan Wise Bauer
The Woman with the Book, an account of Gladys Aylward's life, by M.A. Mijnders
Time for Favour, by John S. Ross
The Promised One: a ten week Bible Study - seeing Jesus in the Old testament, by Nancy Guthrie
Jesus on Every Page, by Dr David Murray
Glory Veiled and Unveiled, by Gerald M, Bilkes
Selected to Live, by Johanna-Ruth Dobschiner
Ben Carson: Gifted Hands
The Last Days of Jesus, by T.V. Moore

There's the list, and here's the photo. 

I read Conn Iggulden's series on Ghengis Khan. Four books of can't-put-it-down reading. Throughout the books I had a series of emotions: amazement, horror, inspiration, horror, sadness, horror, joy, thankfulness ...

I felt amazement and inspiration at the wonder of this family that had been left with nothing, and yet survived. 

I felt horror at the brutality of the way in which they were abandoned.

I felt sadness at the lives people lived, and how little joy they knew. 

I felt horror at the ease with which people killed.

I felt horror time and time again - at times, it was because of the death of one person; at other times it was at the deaths of tens of thousands in a short space of time.

Death and bloodshed were the order of the days. But what never stopped ringing in my heart throughout the whole series was a feeling of thankfulness for the place and era in which God has placed me. These words sum it up:

'The lines have fallen unto me in pleasant places. 
I have a goodly heritage.' (Psalm 16:6)

They really have. And I really do. 

Reading of lives lived without Christ, without the Gospel, without hope ... makes for difficult reading on one level, although reading this author's work is no chore. DR has his Emporer series lined up for me now.

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Some of the books - like the Khan series - come to an end and I haven't lifted a pen once to mark any pages. Others, however, have a different story to tell!

My copy of Jesus on Every Page looks like this ...

... with page after page of underlining, of filled post-it notes, and of marks and stars in the margins.

Soon, I'm going to read this book again - straight through, with no stopping for further studying, no pausing to write my thoughts (I'll try and stick to this), and no back-and-fore to relevant sermons or articles elsewhere. 

*      *      *

I'd read Selected to Live as a child. My childhood readings of some of the events in Nazi Germany spawned some of my present-day loves, hates, fears and hopes. The re-reading of this book once again made me wonder, 

'How could this have happened?' - seriously, where was every decent-hearted citizen?

Would we act differently? - after all, there are more unborn babies being killed every year than there were Jews being killed, and yet we sleep at night.

'How could they have been so accepting?' - was it because a different era from today's made people more accepting of authority? Is that why countless thousands quietly stepped out of their homes and onto trains? Or does the threat of death cause a numbness that will accept orders, unquestioningly? 

More questions than answers, I'm afraid. But reading of what was taking place in Germany in the 1930s and comparing it with what I see on mainland Europe, in the UK and in the US and other Western nations makes me fear for the future. I'm glad I can take that fear to the One who casts out fear. I'm glad the future is in HIS hands.

But that does not mean we don't fight the encroachments to our liberties. We'd jolly well better fight - and fight with all our might. Otherwise, how can we face future generations but with shame at how we capitulated for the sake of peace and comfort? 

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Both Selected to Live and the Ghengis Khan series made me wonder at God's providence.  In the historical note at the end of Empire of Silver, Iggulden says this:

The third son of Genghis was great Khan for just twelve years, from AD 1229 to 1241. At a time when the Mongols were sweeping west into Europe, Ogedai's death would be one of the crucial turning points of history. Western Europe could not have stood against them. The medieval castles there were no more daunting than walled Chin cities, and in the field, the Mongol style of fast-striking tactical warfare would have been practically unstoppable. It is no exaggeration to say the future of the West changed when Ogedai's heart failed.

The brilliant tactical manoeuvres of Liegnitz and the Sajo river were rendered void by the Mongol withdrawal. They are rarely taught outside military schools, in part because they did not lead on to conquest. Politics intruded on Tsubodai's ambition. If it had not, all history would have changed. There are not many moments in history when the death of a single man changed the entire world. Ogedai's death is one such moment. Had he lived, there would have been no Elizabethan age, no British Empire, no Renaissance, perhaps no Industrial Revolution. In such circumstances, this book could very well have been written in Mongolian or Chinese.

I couldn't but read these words: 

"There are not many moments in history when the death of a single man changed the entire world" 

with something of a smile on my face. There was the death of a man two thousand years ago too. He died, not of heart failure, but because He had a heart to save His people. Ogedai's death was the end of his rule. But this man, Christ Jesus - His death, then resurrection, is the cause of his continuing rule. He will reign for ever and ever.

God's plan of salvation is amazing - read about that in Jesus on Every Page - and God's works of providence are too. The Mongols were stopped from coming West. Our providence was to be very different for, after all, God had 'many people in this city' (Acts 18) and in these countries.

And so, whether we're reading about the past, about our present, or about the future; about God's work of redemption and of creation, our hearts cannot but praise our God, from whom all blessings flow.


A Look Back and a Happy New Year!

In Deuteronomy 33:29, we read these words:

Happy art thou O Israel; who is like unto thee, O people saved by the Lord, the shield of thy help, and who is the sword of thy excellency!

Many times over the next couple of days, I will wish people a Happy New Year. There are many happinesses I would wish for them: good health, happy family lives, and successful employment or studies are just some of them.

But there is nothing I would wish more for them all than to be like those of whom the verse speaks - people saved by the Lord. For what is it if a person gains the whole world and loses his soul? 

New Year is a good time for looking forward, and also for looking back. Here's a quick look back at some of 2013's most popular posts (an terms of numbers of views).

January's most popular post was on oatmeal. It also shared the recipe I use for oatcakes.

In February, Jo Wheatley, the winner of the previous year's Great British Bake-off, visited Stornoway. The post, Bake-off day in Stornoway , proved popular.

Jo with my sister, Marina, Iona and myself.

Some of the baking was simply stunning: few more so than this wonderful creation.

March and this chat with Patrice seems to have had a lot of views.

These two photos were taken only a couple of hours apart. The Wee Guy had wanted to drop his Maths lesson to go outside in the snow. I was so glad I allowed him the pleasure of the little bit of snow, because a couple of hours later, the view looked like this ...

One of April's most popular posts was this one from when the Builder and I had our trip to London. This particular photo was taken shortly after the death of Lady Thatcher had been announced.

Westminster Abbey with its lowered flag.

In May, the readers seemed to enjoy reading of our first day in the peats this year.

And one of the most popular posts of the whole year was another peat related one: this time is about the Peats being Home.

The Remembrance Day post from November was another popular post. I am glad that so many are committed to 'never forgetting'.

The photo shows all who were involved in the Remembrance Service in one way or another.

And this post called Forty-seven Truths proved more popular than it probably deserved.

Seriously, how interesting can facts about me be?!

(Don't answer that out loud, thank you.)

Once again, I'd like to thank y'all for sticking with me. Many of you have been on this blogging journey with me almost since my first foray into cyberspace. It's been a great experience for me, and I've loved getting to know those of you who leave comments. Thank you for every time you've given encouragement, asked a question, or simply said Hi in the comments. 

None of us knows what 2014 has in store for us. I am thankful that my Heavenly Father has mapped out every providence that will come my way. I pray that whatever He has in store for me, that I will always say that 'God is good'. 

May you all have a truly Happy New Year. 


2014's Calender Photos

** Anna V, please contact me to give me your 

details so I can send you the calender you won!**

Davene, from Spilled ... because my Cup Overflows, asked me to show the photos I'd chosen for the 2014 calender. And so, here they are ...

The cover of the calender has this photo:

It shows some of the wild flowers that grow on our machair during the summer, and in the distance you can see our house. For a certain number of weeks each summer, the machair is cleared of all livestock and this gives these flowers the opportunity to grow and delight both our sense of sight and our sense of smell.

Ahhhhh ..... summer.

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 January's photo is of the Gearannan, on the West Side of the island.

This thatched village has been restored and some of the houses are now available for holiday lets. One of the homes is used as a museum which shows what island life was like in times past. The last of these homes were actually still home to folks right up until the 1970s. When the final few older residents moved to modern homes - homes without thatch, and all the additional work that entailed - the houses were given 'conservation status'.

The houses seem to us to belong to another world, and yet ... thick stone walls, their low profile, and the insulating thatch ... all these features make them ideal for the weather conditions here in Lewis. 

And the materials are all to be found locally. I can see Green Grants being issued for the building of this type of home in the future - yep, sounds like a plan, Mr government-green-grants Adviser.

Y'all heard it here first, folks ;)

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February's photo needs no explanation.

Well, okay, I ought to explain that he doesn't always look like this. 

This dirty? No.

This cute? Yep.

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March could be nothing else but the lambs.

Here are some of Big Brothers' gorgeous lambs. Between March and April, he spends practically all his wakened hours in the Maternity Ward. So far, he's never felt it necessary to call for my help.

Strange that ...

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We had a gorgeous spell of weather in April, and I nipped out one morning to take a walk along the beach.

This was the same morning DR's run of Fire Service call-outs for moor fires began, but while I walked in these dunes, moor fires were the furthest thing from my mind. Early morning, I think, is the best time to wander down to the beach.

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Occasionally, Calum and I take a wee wander over to town, and on this lovely May day, we chucked a flask into the car with some sandwiches, a couple of books, and of course, his sword and additional weaponry.

The castle grounds are so lovely, and worth having a day off school to go visit.

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June: the Callanish Stones.

My Dad joined Katie, Calum and I the day we took a spin around the West Side and visited the Broch and the Callanish Stones. It would seem that these stones have been around for around 4000 years. Yes, that's four thousand...

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July's photo is of the Wee Guy, aka Calum Stewart, helping in the taking home of the peats.

The tractor is a Massey Ferguson 35, and has been in the Builder's family since way before we were married. It's been responsible for taking many loads of peats home.

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The photo I chose for August is from our friend, Calum's, trip to St Kilda. Our three St Kilda blog posts, Part I, Part II, and Part III, were amongst the most popular posts of 2013.

This is looking down on the Village Bay, Bàgh a' Bhaile, on a stunningly beautiful summer's day.

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We return to the Castle Grounds for September's photo.

This photo is taken from close to Cuddy Point, and shows the main part of Stornoway, the island's only town.

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We stay in Stornoway for October's photo.

This photo is taken from the town, looking over the inner harbour to the castle from with the Castle Grounds takes their name. 

The castle was built by Sir James Matheson in the mid 19th century. Matheson, who'd made his money from the Chinese opium trade, had bought the island in 1844, and the castle and wonderful grounds are his lasting legacy.

*      *      *

November: an early sunset and a reminder that we will all, one day, die.

I love visiting the cemetery - not for morbid reasons, but because my visits bring reality home to me. My grandparents are buried here, as are the Builder's parents. There are graves belonging to many, many people I knew: some reached old age, and others were called out of this world way before the expected 'three score years and ten'. 

I am sad, yet rejoice, when I read some of the gravestones. They speak of people who are now in heaven, awaiting the resurrection. They are people with whom I will spend eternity, and together we will sing praises to the Lamb in the midst of the Throne.

There are some that make me weep: in the early part of last century, there were so many young children who died as a result of illnesses that are so easily cured now. How blessed we are with the age in which God's providence placed us.

Other graves speak of sons who never returned from the World Wars. That, in turn, speaks of unspeakable heartache and that makes my heart sore for mothers and fathers whose grief was unimaginable.

This also makes me thankful for the time in which I live.

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December's photo was also taken by our friend, Calum, when he visited St Kilda. 

When I posted this photo on Homeschool's Facebook page recently, a lady contacted me to say that the closest house in the photo is where her mother was born, and where she lived until the final evacuation of the island in 1930. Wow! 

I find the scenes from St Kilda so poignant. I think any poet, or writer, or composer, or artist, who is struggling with inspiration ought to take a visit to this island.

The stones truly speak, even though the homes are empty and silent.


On the Run-up to Christmas, on Patrice's Porch

Our last chat before Christmas, Patrice. Doesn't time fly!

1. What is your favourite way to have potatoes?

I love potatoes. I really, really love 'em. 

I love baby 'new' potatoes with butter melted over them. Yum. 

I love creamed potatoes: lots of melted butter and milk added, and even some cream cheese. Double yum.

And I love a variety of takes on dauphinoise potatoes. I love leek sautéed in butter and added to the dauphinoise, and then grated cheese sprinkled on top before baking. Triple yum.

Duke of York Reds and Whites

When we're having fresh mackerel straight from the sea, there is nothing quite like our own earlies. Boiled in their skins and tasting awesome!

Our own Roosters from the year before last

There's the world of difference between the taste of home grown tatties and bought ones. 

As I mentioned, I love potatoes!

2. Do you keep your house toasty warm or a bit cooler?

I love warmth in the house. Ohhhh yes, inside, I love to be toasty and warm. Since we got the stove, our kitchen area is absolutely toasty! I may have mentioned (once or twice) on the blog that I love our stove. It's a similar love to the love I feel for potatoes: it goes deep, folks. Really deep.

But because we spend so much of our day here in the kitchen area with the stove, the rest of the house can end up being neglected. It's normally when we go up in the evening to sit in the Family Room, or even when we head up to bed that we realize just how cold the rest of the house is!

3. What would you most like to see under the tree?

Hmmmm, I really don't know. Let me think....

Help me out, folks. I really don't know. We don't do much in the way of presents for ourselves - it's mostly for the kiddos - so I've not really spent much time thinking about a gift I'd like.

Oh well, go on then - give us trans-Atlantic plane tickets for next year. Yeah, that would be nice!

4. Do you have an Elf on the Shelf? This one may not translate to other countries. Just tell us something you want if you don't know what I'm talking about.

Nope. I haven't a clue what that is, so I shall ramble on about something else. Rambling, as you know, Patrice, comes rather naturally to me.

Last night as we went to bed, the winds here in Ness had reached 90mph. Okay, so it wasn't over 100mph like we had the other day, but our older kids were a bit concerned because they were heading off on the ferry early this morning. 

Bleugh! My stomach is churning at the mere thought of the Minch on a windy morning. Of course, their concern wasn't how rough the sea was going to be, but that the ferry may not sail. That would be a disaster (the meaning of the word 'disaster' changes depending on the stage of life one is at. Yep, that's a fact.) because they were meeting up with some friends from London who now live in the US of A, and were flying up from London for two days just to see them.

Well, the London/USA kids' grandparents also live in Inverness and I'm sure visiting with them was really their reason for coming so far north. Or maybe not.

Anyway, to cut a long story short - erm, excuse me, I heard that guffaw: I can cut stories short. I can, you know - they did get away, they did meet up with their friends, and they are having a great time. 

I assume. I'm having to assume because I haven't heard from them. And I take that as a good sign.

Anyway, because the older kids are away, the Wee Guy and I were home alone today. We took a complete day off: we sat in front of the stove, read books, and had cups of tea. It was bliss! It was also such fun to read for a while, then listen to Calum telling about what he'd read, and his story would lead us onto some related topic and we'd just a good blether whilst dunking our biscuits in our cuppa.

Bliss, I tell y'all.

5. Have you put up a Christmas tree this year?

We haven't actually. When we took down last year's tree, we decided it looked a bit robach. It had seen better days, so it got the heave-ho. But if you're planning to buy a new Christmas tree, do it in the January sales. Don't leave it until December, when your money has other priorities! 

*      *      * 

Patrice, I believe you're not going to be on your porch next week. I'm not sure why you'd miss a week ... ? Maybe the weather? I'm quite sure there's nothing too important on next week. 

Please say Hi to Wendell, and tell him we're all glad he's out of the horsepital (Patrice, I love it!).

See y'all in two weeks' time.

Oh, and have a great Christmas, y'all. 

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