To the Electoral College

We are facing down the barrel of the shotgun of history. The people of the United States of America, the most powerful country in the world, are on the brink of electing our first despot leader to office. You might think that this is an exaggeration, but I greatly fear that it is not. I am not any kind of authority on world politics, but other people are. We must listen to the people who study the rise and fall of authoritarian governments when they say that Donald Trump is raising a sea of red flags. Having this man as our president poses an existential threat to our nation and our concept of civilized governance. I implore you to step in and prevent this from happening. You have the power to vote for someone else. Hamilton might even say you have the obligation, as evidenced by his words in the Federalist Paper No. 68. I do not know how much contact you have with each other, but the ideal scenario would be for you all to agree on another candidate: Rubio, Cruz, Kasich, or Pence, perhaps.

If this is not possible, I implore you to consider voting for Clinton. While she is far separated from your preferred policies, she will work with you, and she will not lead to a dismantling of everything we hold dear. I myself found her a distasteful candidate, but I do not think that the portrayal of her as evil is truthful. Does she lie? Yes. Don’t all politicians? But what is more important? Her lies, or her truths? Do not be distracted by the Benghazi and email red herrings the media has been feeding us. When in office, Clinton always manages to garner high approval ratings, because she truly works for the people. She is known for her listening, perhaps to a fault. Faced with Republican control of the House of Representatives, the Senate, and a majority of state legislatures, she will spend her time learning who you are and why the people elected you. You will be able to put through legislation. She will likely support the vast majority of it. And when you do not have her support, Clinton will not have enough power to prevent you from accomplishing the things you want to accomplish. You can legislate around her; will you be able to legislate around Trump?

I do know that you are concerned with her potential selection of Supreme Court Justices. I understand that this is important, and this is the one thing where I do not see a path to getting what you want. Consider for a moment, however, that Trump will not appoint an impartial judge, but rather a judge who will rule in the favor of Trump’s best interests. A puppet government is in complete contradiction to the idea of a free republic, but that is what we are already witnessing with Trump’s staff selections. I rue what life in this great country will become if we do not do everything in our power to stop him. Writing this letter is what is currently in my power, so I write. You have greater power: You have the power to stop him from entering office to begin with.

If Trump were sincere about his policy positioning, if I thought he would take office and do the work of a president, I would not be writing this letter. I have been wanting our governing body to focus on domestic issues over foreign ones for many, many years. Trump’s messages of bolstering industry in the US, of imposing taxes on imported goods made by slaves in other countries, and of not wasting our precious time and resources at war all resonate deeply with me. Even within this promising framework, many of the specific actions he has layed out to accomplish these goals are troublesome in their own right, and are likely to have negative consequences in my home state of Texas. His lack of experience does not bode well, even if he does his job in good faith. Most unfortunately, I do not believe he can be trusted to pursue anything but his own personal gain.

Many people have noted that Trump is a Narcissist. If you have ever been the subject of narcissistic manipulation, you know how soul draining the experience is. I worked for a Narcissist for four long, awful years. These people only care about themselves and their own personal glorification. They do not care about law, order, rules, or procedures. They do not care how their behavior harms other people. Trump has demonstrated that he has no shame, and a person who does not feel ashamed of shameful acts is toxic and dangerous. If you, fair elector, have ever endured such treatment, I believe that you will see that this man is capable of anything, that he will do anything to enrich himself, no matter the consequences to those around him. If you have not experienced such treatment in your life, please seek out someone who has. Have a good, long heart-to-heart about what life is like working for or living with someone who could not care less about the people around them. Then expand what they tell you to the nation as a whole. Picture Congress bowing to Trump’s every wish to avoid being publicly derided. Picture a Supreme Court bought and paid for. Picture an executive branch that uses its power to line the pocketbooks of the president. Picture complete silence to the media, followed by wave after wave of propaganda. I fear that this is one of the best case scenarios with this man as president. If you believe that he can be kept in check, you may end up greatly disappointed. People can be manipulated into submission and compliance. This is not a time when we should go along to get along. This is a time when we must stand up to the bully on our doorstep.

As a veteran, I once vowed to protect the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic. A Trump presidency would bring both. In addition to alarming ties to Putin, Trump himself has shown an incredible disdain for the traditions of the office of the President. His refusal to be paid is not charitable, it is dangerous. His cabinet choices are causing worry among leaders in the Republican party. His transition team is steeped in dysfunction. Appointing his children to key positions smacks of monarchy, not presidency. His refusal to put his assets into a blind trust will give him enormous power to line his own pocketbooks, no matter the expense to taxpayers. He has not yet taken office, but has already shown his hand. He will rule, and we will bow.

You, dear elector, have the power to stop him dead in his tracks. I implore you to use that power. Such a move is unprecedented, but that does not mean it is unreasonable. The founding fathers created the electoral college for exactly this purpose. You, the politically knowledgeable, are tasked with making the best choice of president for the country. Please, demonstrate to the world that our system works. Let Clinton into office, and then hold her feet to the fire for the duration of her stay.

God Bless,

A Concerned Citizen


Building Your Child’s Library: Leveled Readers

Leveled Readers versus Leveling Books

I stumbled upon a strange practice while looking at a school curriculum website the other day. Apparently, classrooms are required to have a leveled reading library for students to check out books from. The student is assigned a level, based on one of three+ systems, and then they may choose books at their level for practicing. The children are given freedom to choose their own reading material, while still having books at an appropriate reading level.

Sounds good, right? Except, the books are not leveled in any logical way with regards to introducing phonics and sight words. So a child at a given level could be given a book containing phonics or other linguistic elements that have not yet been introduced, which causes difficulty in reading. The child is indirectly told, “You ought to be able to read this. You must be stupid if you make a mistake or don’t understand.” Simultaneously, the book could have trite, simplistic language that does not engage the student. (One of the criteria for many of the early levels is a “predictable plot.”)  In short, the vast majority of these books are twaddle meant to give the child an easy read, but that are unlikely to actually help the student advance in reading skill.

I do not think that a child will be harmed by being required to read the same stories as everyone else for their reading lessons. I also think that they do need leveled readers coordinated with the phonics and sight words being taught. It is unnecessary to level every single book in your classroom. The other books are for other purposes, such as teaching science or literature. If a child wants to look through a book, then let them. It cannot hurt them. If there is a word they do not understand, they will ask, and in being given the answer, they will learn and grow. Or perhaps they won’t ask, instead guarding their question until the answer can be found through their lessons or other activities. When a person finds the answer on their own, they grow even stronger than when they are given an answer. Insisting that students always choose books “at their level” robs them of this opportunity and leads to stunted intellectual growth.

Conversely, when a student selects a book that is “below their level,” they may be particularly intrigued by the illustrations, or want to read the same books as their classmates. A child who is told that they should never read a book that is too easy will miss out on an entire world of wonderful picture books and lyrical stories. What a horrible evil to rob children of such an opportunity because they are already fluent readers!

In summary, for reading aloud, practicing phonics, and learning how to decode words, a phonics-based leveled reading system is ideal. The selections in the series should be culturally engaging to the student(s), but not at the cost of reducing linguistic complexity and beauty.

Using Leveled Readers to Teach Reading

While a child should be exposed to language well above their reading level by being read to, for those first steps in decoding words it is of utmost importance that they be provided with books that they are capable of reading on their own. It is best to have the material in the books follow a systematic introduction of phonics and sight words. (Yes, you must use both!) You introduce a phonogram, you talk about the rules surrounding that phonogram, and then you let the child practice reading aloud. My very favorite series for this purpose is All About Reading, with the McGuffey Readers and Bob Books tying for a close second. The stories are engaging and the phonics well thought out for all three.

For detailed instruction in reading aloud, the McGuffey Readers are far superior to everything else. I am actually considering adding a learning stream for reading aloud, separate from the phonics/reading/spelling stream, or perhaps as a continuation of that stream. I have met many a child who can read, but who cannot read aloud. Monotone recitation with no or inappropriate pauses is painful to listen to. Completion of the McGuffey series should eliminate such issues.

The list below also includes a few additional series of readers that have enjoyable stories. These are the sort of thing that you just have laying around the house for a child to pick up as interest is sparked. I love books, and I don’t think that a child can ever have too many. Surround your children with books, and they will surprise you with what they know.

All About Learning Press

This is my favorite reading and spelling program. The woman who developed this is very thorough. She includes every rule and every exception for all of the ways that we spell in English. I have a friend who is using the spelling curriculum with her children and says that she is finally learning why we spell words the way we do. To accompany the reading curriculum, Marie Rippel wrote and curated a series of decodable readers. They are hard-cover books with wonderful illustrations and engaging stories. The language is easy, but not simplistic, which is a true gift to the child.

McGuffey Readers

The McGuffey Readers were very popular in the U.S. in the 1800s. I like that they put an emphasis on reading aloud with good pronunciation, diction, and rhythm. They combine phonics with sight words, a wise approach to learning how to read and spell in English. The stories in the early books are a bit trite, but you can only do so much with a phonics approach. These are for practicing reading aloud; exploring literature should be done through listening until a student is able to read independently. By the second reader, the selections are sufficiently engaging and include many classic works.

I have put links to the free versions of the revised edition eclectic readers on Google Books. You can purchase various versions of the books from many online sellers.

Bob Books

Bob Books were developed in the 1970s to provide children an engaging way to learn phonics. The books use simple line drawings with story lines centered around Mat and Sam, a circle and a triangle. I think the books look entertaining, but a friend of mine tried these with her very imaginative son and he was not interested. So maybe they are not for everyone, and it would be a good idea to borrow some from a friend or the library before taking the dive to purchase the entire set. For using these to teach reading, check out Teaching Reading with Bob Books by Brandy Vencel.

Free and Treadwell Reading-Literature Books

The stories in the Free and Treadwell Reading-Literature Books are enjoyable classic tales with beautiful color illustrations. Children and adults alike will be attracted to the selections in this series. Unfortunately, the books do not appear to follow any specific pattern for introducing a student to phonetic patterns and should thus be used after a phonics-based program. Teaching Reading with Bob Books uses this series after completing the Bob Books program. Another way to use these books would be to include them in your literature studies, rather than as books for learning to read.

I have provided links to the adult guide, primer, first, second, and third readers from The Baldwin Project. Their versions are also available as print books. I (finally) found all of the books on Google Books.

More Free Readers

Check out The Ultimate Guide to Free Graded Reader E-Books over at Contently Humble. Their list is AMAZING.

Pathway Readers

These are used by the Amish, and therefore have a very simple feel and stories that are agrarian rather than post-industrial. The core readers all have accompanying workbooks and teacher’s guides. I am drawn to them because of the way they feel when you hold them, as they have been published using older techniques that result in high-quality, durable books. The books can be found in many online stores, but to order directly from the publisher you must write to request a catalog:

Pathway Publishers
43632 CR 390
Bloomingdale, MI 49026

Pathway Publishers
10380 Carter Road
Aylmer, ON N5H 2R3

  • Learning through Sounds (K-2nd)
  • Working with Words 4-8 (4th-8th)
  • Before We Read (K)
  • Helping Yourself (K)
  • Let’s Read Pictures (K)
  • Stories to Tell (K)
  • Listen to the Birds (K)
  • Listen to the Farm (K)
  • My Outdoor Friends (K)
  • Runaway Sled (K)
  • The Shoe That Tattled (K)
  • First Steps (1st)
  • Days Go By (1st)
  • More Days Go By (1st)
  • Menno’s Ducks and Barbara’s Fears (1st-3rd)
  • Lizzie and Lizzie in Grade 1 (1st-3rd)
  • Midnight Test (1st-3rd)
  • Busy Times (2nd)
  • More Busy Times (2nd)
  • Climbing Higher (2nd)
  • Benjie and Becky Series (2nd-3rd)
  • New Friends (3rd)
  • More New Friends (3rd)
  • Between Heaven and Earth (3rd-6th)
  • Eli and the Purple Martins (3rd-6th)
  • The Lone Pine’s Secret (3rd-6th)
  • Twenty Stories for Children (3rd-12th)
  • The Sun Went Down in the Morning (3rd-6th)
  • Building Our Lives (4th)
  • Shagbark Hickory Series (4th-7th)
  • Appletree Creek Series (4th-10th)
  • Living Together (5th)
  • Step by Step (6th)
  • Seeking True Values (7th)
  • Our Heritage (8th)

Christian Light Education Readers

The CLE Readers are frequently used by the Mennonites, who are close relatives of the Amish. The stories retain many of the charming aspects of the Amish works, but take place in a society that has accepted post-industrial innovations. CLE also publishes many other children’s books, including titles that continue series from the Pathway collection.

  • I Wonder (1st)
  • Helping Hands and Happy Hearts (2nd)
  • Doors to Discovery (3rd)
  • Bridges Beyond (4th)
  • Open Windows (5th)
  • Calls to Courage (6th)
  • The Road Less Traveled (7th)
  • Where Roads Diverge (8th)

The Ultimate Homeschool Curriculum Outline

I have been working on this matrix since I was pregnant with John, so almost three years now. Today, I have reached a point of satisfaction. I have found good curriculum options, beautiful book lists, and online resources. This spreadsheet lays out what I would like to my son to accomplish from year to year, birth to 18 years old. I wanted to share.

Using the Matrix

To use the matrix, download a copy:

Homeschool Curriculum Outline Public Version

Change the name. Perhaps use your child’s name, i.e. Suzy Homeschool Curriculum Outline. Put the file in your homeschool folder. Now open the file. In the first row, put the years that your child will be the given ages. For instance, the Baby Year might be 2016-2017. Now look at the categories and divisions down the first column. There are a lot, so take the time to absorb the system before making changes. I have listed the amount of time to spend each day or week studying for each broad category. These times are based partially on Charlotte Mason’s PNEU Programmes, partially on what I think will be sufficient to make our way through the material, and partially on overall limits for direct instruction at a given age. Sabbath Mood Homeschool has a very helpful series on scheduling that I relied on intensively in developing my ideas.

Each subject row has the curriculum I have chosen listed under the appropriate ages. You can find descriptions online by searching for the title. These are my very favorite options, based on some broad criteria and my own personal situation. Your selections may differ, and that is good. Just put your own choices into the matrix. That is what I made it for!

Selection Criteria

My selection criteria included financial, implementation, and aesthetic considerations. I am not a wealthy person, so I looked to free and inexpensive resources as much as was reasonable. Some things, such as phonics and spelling, I felt were worth purchasing as a thorough, book-based curriculum, instead of making do with a hodgepodge of library and internet materials. For other things, such as computer science, I was able to find free resources that matched or exceeded the quality of expensive curriculum packages. Many of the college level books I included simply because I already own them. While most do represent my favorite texts, there is nothing sacred about them. Use what you have, or what you find that is inexpensive. I did find a few really awesome curricula in my searching that are a bit more expensive, but I felt they were worth the money. If you know of a less expensive alternative that is of similar quality, please let me know.

In my searching, I also was looking at ease of implementation. Is the program self-explanatory? Can my child work through the material alone? If not, are there clear instructions on what I need to do? My expertise in some areas will show; for instance, I was less concerned about the math and science selections since I will be able to navigate through the material as needed. For the humanities, however, I was much more interested in programs that are already well-prepared.

Finally, I made my selections to conform reasonably well with the pedagogy Charlotte Mason used in her schools. The methods of verbatim copying and narration are applicable to any area of study. (I have been using narration in math tutoring with decent results.) I was attracted to materials with beautiful images and high-quality language. The details are what make a book a pleasure to read, instead of a drudgery.

Keeping in mind the ways that my personal situation and tastes influenced my choices, you can go through and make appropriate changes. If you are not a math person, you may greatly prefer Teaching Textbooks. If you know Latin, you may have a library of material to use. (And please share titles if you do!)

Some Notes on Scheduling

When arranging the curriculum, keep in mind the concept of streams. While I have put a given book in a set year, this is not the way that I look at the information. Each row is a stream. We will begin the stream when the student is ready, which will likely be at the indicated times. If he is ready early, then we will start early, and perhaps more slowly. If he is not ready at the age I have indicated for the stream, then we will wait until he is. It is more important to thoroughly absorb the material than to get to the next item on the agenda.

Once started in a stream, schedule a weekly time to work on the material. Whatever method you use for scheduling, make sure to incorporate time for the new stream. Use and adjust the time guidelines given by category. While it is helpful to have time blocked for a general subject, such as English or math, you must schedule each specific stream within that structure. A lower elementary English session may consist of 10 minutes copywork and 10 minutes of phonics, with time for reading poems and recitation during circle time. The reason for this approach is two-fold. One, things that you do not schedule you will not do consistently. If you do not put Spanish in your schedule, then you will be prone to skip it or put it off until you have forgotten so much you have to start over. Two, the schedule provides a guide for how quickly you move through the stream. If your child can only write two letters during the 10 minute handwriting slot, then that is what they do. You must be patient, and you must stick to it.

Decide before starting how far down a stream the child must go to graduate from high school. I have indicated typical high school levels of achievement by using a brown color for advanced studies. The pace I have set is very fast, but this pace is not appropriate for every child, and definitely nor for every subject for a given child. Pay attention to the person in front of you to make sure that you are not rushing them, and that they are not dragging their feet.

References and Licenses

Please note that this matrix would not exist if I had not found Ambleside Online very early in my homeschool quest. Their work is wonderful, and I have used their curriculum abundantly in designing and filling out my own matrix. I very much recommend reading through their website, and using the parts that resonate with you. I have found so many treasures in their reading lists, books that I would have been unlikely to find otherwise. Even so, I found that their curriculum was very much by white people for white people, and so I was not satisfied in following their reading lists verbatim. There are also some areas glaringly missing from their suggestions, such as computer science. It is my sincere hope that my work will complement theirs, and I have done my very best to adhere to their license. I would ask that you extend the same respect both to them and to me. This material is free, but it had a cost. Use it for your own purposes, and send other people the link to download their own copy. You may not sell or share this spreadsheet. If you would like to use this or a similar matrix for an institution, please contact me.

Please, enjoy, and happy planning!

Reading Charlotte Mason ~ Home Education Preface

Charlotte Mason opens her monumental work with the following words:

“The educational outlook is rather misty and depressing both at home and abroad. That science should be a staple of education, that the teaching of Latin, of modern languages, of mathematics, must be reformed, that nature and handicrafts should be pressed into service for the training of the eye and hand, that boys and girls must learn to write English and therefore must know something of history and literature; and, on the other hand, that education must be made more technical and utilitarian––these, and such as these, are the cries of expedience with which we take the field. But we have no unifying principle, no definite aim; in fact, no philosophy of education. As a stream can rise no higher than its source, so it is probable that no educational effort can rise above the whole scheme of thought which gives it birth; and perhaps this is the reason of all the fallings from us, vanishings, failures, and disappointments which mark our educational records.”

Every time I read these words, I feel like they could have just as easily been written yesterday as over a hundred years ago. We have, with the passing of more than one generation, not made coherent progress towards any of these goals, and in many cases we have moved away from them. Science has become a focal point in our society, and yet we teach children science as a body of facts rather than a process for acquiring knowledge. Latin, modern languages, and math have all indeed been reformed, but not actually improved, and many schools push the same ineffective methods alluded to by Charlotte. The nasty battle between those who think that children need to play in fresh air and those who think that they need to pass standardized tests has been intensifying as of late, with no resolution in sight. The reality of our world and culture places screens and video games as a contender for time that children used to spend making things with their hands, even in the upper classes. That children can manipulate computing devices more powerful than those used to send man to the moon, but cannot write legibly, is the strange state of affairs in which we now find ourselves.

Charlotte Mason proposes that what we need is a unifying philosophy of education. The wisdom of her stance is evident in the way that individuals come to very different conclusions about how to educate based on what they believe about why we educate. Someone who sees education as a means to an end, as the training of a worker, will have no patience for Latin. When would it be used? Someone who sees education as the growing of the mind may equally discard vocational training as not vital. I believe, as Charlotte did, that all of these things are important, as a part of what it means to be human. The auto mechanic has just as much right to knowledge of the divine as the professor, and the professor could very much benefit from knowing how to execute manual labor efficiently. When we reduce people to one-dimensional roles, we rob them of part of their humanity.

In her 20 principles of education, which she put at the beginning of each book in the Home Education Series, Charlotte says first that “Children are born persons.” This is such a simple and yet profound statement, and I think that this is the very best way to begin any philosophy of education. Encapsulated in this phrase is the idea that we must recognize the self in others. Many woes in our society stem from the ease with which we are able to ignore the person-hood of another. Those who are different, those with whom we disagree, those who do things that we find atrocious—they are people, also. They are image-bearers of God, just as we are. If we could find a way to begin with the common base of being human, then the variety of expression of that humanity would become a cause for celebration rather than tension and war.

The foundation of Charlotte’s philosophy is rooted in Christianity. Education is, first and foremost, knowledge of the divine. It can be difficult for people who come from other religious traditions to look beyond the specifics of her lived religion. But those who look a little deeper will find that her ideas are so firmly rooted in what it means to be human that they are applicable in any religious context. The atheists will perhaps have the most difficulty with her work. Without some faith in the divine, it is impossible to see the divine in the world. In her 16th principle, Charlotte makes plain the way in which reason can deceive us:

The Way of the Reason.––We should teach children, too, not to ‘lean’ (too confidently) ‘unto their own understanding,’ because of the function of reason is, to give logical demonstration (a) of mathematical truth; and (b) of an initial idea, accepted by the will. In the former case reason is, perhaps, an infallible guide, but in the second it is not always a safe one, for whether that initial idea be right or wrong, reason will confirm it by irrefragable proofs.”

I see many people, both theists and atheists, falling into the trap of relying on reason as the basis for all that is good. Reason is not good in and of itself, however, and can lead us to evil just as surely. Because of this, it is of utmost importance that we temper reason with emotion, with history, and with morality. If we do not, we will be able to justify any evil act.

Education following the philosophy of Charlotte Mason, then, is an education in humanity, morality, and utility. I find this combination unique and beautiful.

Planning the Year ~ UPDATED




I’ve been obsessed with calendars for most of my life. I can easily buy and fill out three or four a year. They are never entirely satisfactory. So I have set about making my own calendars.

In order to plan my year, I find it helpful to be able to actually see the entire year at once. In the past I have purchased pre-printed calendars and then written my information in. But they’re never quite right. There are always holidays listed that I don’t celebrate. There are days with five things to put down, but not enough space to write it all. So this year I have made myself a spreadsheet, which I am sharing with you. I made two versions, both with US holidays, one secular and the other Episcopalian. Choose the one that you prefer, and then follow the instructions below.

Step 1:

After downloading and opening the file, take time to review what is already there and delete anything that is not relevant to you. I have some things that are only applicable to people who live in Houston, or in Texas, or in the US. So delete away.

Step 2:

Put in religious holidays that are relevant to you. Catholics will be able to use the Episcopal version with very little modification. Orthodox Christians will probably have more work to do; I am not very familiar with their calendar. People from other religions will likely want to choose the secular version and then add in their own religious celebrations. Maybe next year I will have more versions.

Step 3:

Put in civic holidays that are relevant to you. Start with national holidays, then state or province holidays, and finally local holidays. Don’t forget things like tax due dates, voting days, and work or school schedules. I’ve placed many of these for Houston, but your dates may vary, so move things around as needed.

Step 4:

Put in family celebrations, such as birthdays and anniversaries. Also consider travel schedules for work. I don’t put things that happen every month on this calendar to prevent it from becoming cluttered, but if doing so helps you visualize your year better then go for it.

Step 5:

Now the fun part! Choose vacation, travel, and play time. I’ve shaded weekends and typical days off for US office workers. Change the shading to suit your own devices.

Step 6:

Review your work, checking that you’ve included all the major things for the year. It’s ok to write on it after you print, too, so don’t get caught up in perfectionism. You rule the tool, not the other way around.


Now it’s time to print. I printed in four sections on letter paper in landscape view. Select the entire calendar area, open the print dialog box, and choose ‘Print Selection.’ You’ll have to tell the computer to scale the selection to the page at 39%. On my system, that meant going to print preview and then choosing page setup, where I could choose the print size. Print to a PDF to check that everything is correct before you waste paper and ink.

I ended up with four pages. The top is in two sections of Jan-Jun and Jul-Dec, and the side is in two sections top to Day 16 and Day 17 to bottom.

If you have printed on four pieces of paper like this, you now get to do a cutting and pasting activity. If you have a good print shop, you may be able to print all at once on a larger paper.

Anyways, I hope this inspires you to plan out your year. Let me know if you have any suggestions or questions in the comments section. And have a Happy New Year!


You Know the Dementors Are after You When It Takes All Day to Get through Your Morning Routine

I’ve been having a rough month. My stress has been ridiculously high, and then I forgot to take my medicine for a few days. My mood subsequently tanked out, and I’m having a difficult time keeping my life on an even keel. My routines are an important tool for managing my life. When I stop following them, things like forgetting to take my medicine happen, which then causes life to spiral downward rapidly. Stopping that downward spiral can take a gargantuan effort. Starting the routines again takes time. It can take a week or longer to get to where I can accomplish most of the dailies consistently. It can take months to slog through the backlog of weeklies. I’ll admit, I haven’t yet made it to the monthlies or beyond. I will eventually.

When I began to climb slowly  this time, I noticed simultaneously that I would get to bedtime without having finished my morning routine, and that I felt like the life was being sapped out of me. I thought, “I’m being followed around by a dementor.” Because, my friends, that is exactly what mood and anxiety disorders feel like. J.K. Rowling knows the feeling, and she was able to capture it in a story in a way that no other ever has. So, I have put together a step-by-step guide to dealing with dementors.

STEP 1: Identify that you have a dementor following you.

This is both the easiest and the most difficult step. Most people will notice that something is wrong, but will quickly make excuses for why that is normal. “If I would eat better, I would feel better.” Or, “If I would exercise, I would feel better.” Or, “If I could quit my job, I would feel better.” Or, “If I just had a million dollars, I would feel better.” Except, demetors don’t pay attention to any of those things. They follow you around, and no matter what you do they will continue to suck the joy out of your life. I highly recommend seeking professional help if this might be the case for you. Only witches and wizards can see the Dementors, after all.

STEP 2: Find someone to make a Patronus so you can have a break.

Because really, who can learn how to make their own Patronus with a Dementor breathing down their neck? This is where friends are invaluable, and where it is ok to pay someone to take care of the problem for you. You might need medicine, you might need to talk…a LOT. You might need to make drastic changes in the way you deal with your life. Just to relieve the pressure enough to breathe for a minute. It is important to understand that not everyone finds this sort of help. Being followed around by a dementor saps your motivation, turns you into the sad sack that no one wants at their party, leads to the inability to work which leads to the inability to pay a witch or wizard to scare off the dementors for you. Medicine doesn’t work for everyone. Therapy doesn’t work for everyone. Finding a therapist is an exhausting endeavor all on its own, forget about dealing with insurance, forget about taking time off of work. Bottom line: A lot of people get stuck here. If you can make a Patronus for someone, you just might save their life.

STEP 3: Learn how to make your own Patronus.

How do you go about producing a Patronus? Well, you have to find something that produces joy for you, even in moments of despair. My son is my Patronus. He keeps me on my toes, won’t let me cycle into the depths, brings joy and light into my life. I believe that he is a gift from the Holy Spirit to keep me from permanently falling into the deep well of despair. For some people, religion provides sufficient joy and connection to scare away the dementors. For others, it could be spending time outside, taking care of other people or animals, or membership in some other sort of tight-knit community. Each Patronus is unique to the individual; they cannot be copied and pasted. Learning how to make them requires hours, days, months, years, and maybe even decades of practice. It cannot be accomplished over night. But if a person can learn how, they will be able to banish dementors on their own.

All of this to say that crawling out of anxiety or depression requires a lot of TIME and ENERGY. So if someone you know seems to be struggling, but they do not seem to be “trying hard enough” or “getting help” the way you think they should, then take a step back and reassess the situation. They likely don’t have anything left within them to try any harder. When it requires every ounce of motivation just to get out of bed, a person cannot be expected to just “buck up”. THEY NEED YOUR HELP. They need someone to help with the mundane so that they can take a breath. They need someone to listen without judging, and to stick around even though they never have anything positive to say. They need someone to speak with the First Sergeant, because saying the words themselves is just too painful, too shameful, too hard.

This is not to say that you will be able to help everyone. Some people refuse to seek treatment, and at some point you have to discern between enabling bad behavior and giving help to someone having a hard time. But don’t give up before you even start. Stay up with them all night, because now you know how to save a life.

Generosity and Charity

If generosity is a Christian discipline marked by an open willingness to give, what is charity?

I’m reading Toxic Charity by Robert Lupton, and I find myself disagreeing with much of what he says. Our disagreement stems from differing views on what generosity looks like, and how charity is defined. In fact, I think that Lupton lumps generosity and charity together, but are they really the same thing? I would argue that they are not.

Where I see generosity as an act with no stipulations about need and future use, charity is full of qualifications of neediness and stipulations about how gifts must be used. Where generosity requires giving AND receiving, charity is a one way street. Generosity lifts the spirits of the people involved, leaving everyone feeling good. Charity leaves the recipient feeling dirty, beggarly. In this way, I would argue that ALL charity is toxic, and that churches should restructure their charities to be avenues of generosity. Instead of sending people, money, or other resources out to help others, churches should use their leverage and dedicated volunteer base to create systems of mutual giving.

Let’s make an example. You and I are neighbors. I have a mansion and you have a cottage. You like your cottage quite well, and while you don’t really mind that I have a mansion, you don’t really feel a need to upgrade either. I, however, cannot imagine how someone would possibly be content to live in a cottage, and so I take pity on you. I start bringing you gifts so that you, too, can have a mansion like I do. I make the plans for the mansion, and I hire the construction company, and I let you stay in my mansion while yours is being constructed. You don’t get much say in the matter. Then, when the construction is complete, I say ‘Ok, time to go to your new home!’ ‘Where’s the furniture?’ you inquire. ‘Oh, well, you don’t really need furniture,’ I say. ‘You have a mansion, that’s all you really need.’ You’d be pissed, and rightly so. What you really needed wasn’t a mansion, it was furniture for the cottage you already had. But instead of asking you what you need, or what you want, I made these decisions for you. This is charity, and this is how people receiving charity feel about the things they receive.

So what would generosity look like? Well, first of all, I would have to leave my mansion and actually get to know you. I would enjoy the flowers growing around your cottage, and then you would invite me in for tea. I would notice that you don’t have any furniture, and I would casually offer you some of my furniture. You would take me on a tour of your house, detailing what furniture you would most like to have. I take your words and wishes in, finding the perfect pieces from my mansion to place in your cottage. I invite you for dinner later that week and show you the things I have that I think would meet your criteria. You say yes to some and no to others. We decide on a date for the furniture to be moved. When all is said and done, you have a beautifully furnished cottage. I continue to visit for tea. You bring flowers to my famous dinner parties. Everyone has given, everyone has received, and everyone is content. See the difference?

Generosity, Tithing, and Defending the Poor

I went to a discussion recently about how we Christians ought to behave in regards to poverty. While I did not come away with some great step-by-step action plan for eliminating poverty, I did come away with a shift in perspective, allowing me to reconcile tithing and generosity. I had been struggling to sort out whether the acts of generosity I engage in ought to count as part of my tithe.

I have been living just above the poverty level for a while now, and when I stopped tithing, I was suddenly able to afford food. (Imagine that!) So I haven’t been tithing for some time. When our financial situation improved a bit, my husband decided that he wanted to tithe, not by giving money to the church, but rather by sending money to his impoverished family in Mexico. When I joined my current (very rich, very ritzy church), I therefore didn’t feel any great pressure to contribute financially. This is because I had the three distinct disciplines of generosity, tithing, and defending the poor congealed into one in my mind.


Generosity is a selfish act; you give something you have to someone else so that you can feel good about yourself. Generosity is an unqualified act. It doesn’t matter whether the person you are giving to deserves the gift, nor whether they have earned it. Giving freely of your time, money, and other resources is generous. Giving to a wealthy person is just as generous as giving to a poor person. Refusing to give because the receiver may not do what you want with it is NOT generous. (One of my pet peeves is food banks that will only give food to people that they decided ‘qualify’ for the food. We’ll talk about that more in depth another day.) Refusing to give money to someone because they might spend it on drugs is contradictory to the discipline of generosity. We should actively give to our family, our friends, our acquaintances, our fellow Christians, and complete strangers with shocking regularity. It is good for our sense of well being, and it is good to live in a society full of generous people.


Tithing is the dues you pay to your church in the same way that you pay membership fees for joining almost any sort of organization. Our tithes give us a stake in how the organization is run, leading to an increased desire to participate. Tithing is a different sort of discipline than generosity. While tithing will probably lead to some of the same good feelings that generosity does, it is an insufficient form of generosity. It basically defers what is a very personal act to other people: ‘Here’s my money, go give it to some people.’

Tithing, however, is also a discipline of financial management. By taking a set portion of your income and allocating it to your church, you are making a conscientious budgeting act. Tithing for Christians is one part of a broader discipline of financial management, which in turn is one part of a broader discipline of resource management. By giving to God (through the church) first, we remind ourselves that everything we have is thanks to Him, and then we make better choices in how to allocate the rest of what we have.

Defending the Poor

Here is where things get tricky. Generosity and tithing are relatively simple disciplines to understand; when you’re doing them right, you know it. Defending the poor is much more complicated. You can pull an individual out of poverty with little difficulty, particularly if you have excess wealth. I would classify that as an extreme form of generosity. But defending the poor requires so much more than that. It requires addressing systemic oppression through political action. If you think that there is a separation between your political views on welfare and your religion, you are terribly mistaken.

So what specific actions should we take to defend the poor? That particular question does not have an easy answer, and it is one of the major themes that I intend to explore in this blog.


So, how have I altered my behavior? Well, I have been practicing generosity more frequently and with a softer heart. I have not started tithing quite yet as my financial situation is still a mess, but I continue to make progress. One thing that has helped me is letting go of the all or nothing approach, and instead starting small. By putting $1 a week in the offering basket, and then slowly increasing the amount, I can slowly work up to a proper tithe without feeling overwhelmed or guilty. As for defending the poor, I hope that the words I write in this blog will help to reveal the systemic injustices that we all play a part in.

What do you think? How do you experience generosity? Do you tithe? What actions do you take to defend the poor? (I really want to know, so leave some comments!)

Note: Since much of the material will be contentious, I think that it is very important to keep discourse civil, and to listen carefully to other points of view. The one thing that I will not tolerate, however, is a misconstruing of facts. If we cannot agree on the objective reality of a situation, then we cannot have productive discourse.

What Comes After Patriarchy?

The feminist movement preaches that Patriarchy is the root of all that is wrong with the world, and that we should work to eliminate it. But I have not seen anyone really discussing what society looks like after Patriarchy is defeated. A common theme in feminism is equality, so let’s take the stance that equality is what we are working towards. But now we beg the question, “What does equality look like?” If we are striving for a society that is devoid of hierarchy, then we are on a fools errand. Society needs hierarchy in order to function. Take a society without hierarchy to its extreme: Do you want a 5 year old running a nuclear power plant? Should an illiterate person be a teacher? Wait, how can we have teachers if we don’t have hierarchy? Nonsense and anarchy ensue.

How else might we view equality? Perhaps we could see equality as valuing people equally, no matter their contribution to society. In a way, this is what communism was trying to achieve. A janitor receives the same compensation as a physicist, since clean floors are just as important as new lasers. Part of me likes this view of equality, and it is a useful lens to look through, but it fails to account for some basic human truths. People are motivated by power and wealth, and we are competitive. We need hierarchy to function, beginning with the basic hierarchy of parent > child, and continuing into senior worker > junior worker. So people at better positions in the hierarchy have greater power and wealth. Through competition, the most fit individual is the one who is able to move to higher and higher positions in the hierarchy. Communism failed before it was ever achieved, because it is impossible to eliminate hierarchy from human society.

So what are we left with? How can we reconcile equality with hierarchy? First, by not relegating entire groups of people to the bottom rungs of the hierarchy based on entirely superficial grounds, such as

  • male > female
  • white > black
  • Anglo > everyone else

Second, by giving every person the same opportunities to climb the hierarchy. Every child would have the same educational opportunities, the same financial supports, the same early work opportunities. Advancement through the hierarchy would be entirely based on personal qualifications, skills, and abilities. (Some people live in the delusion that society in the U.S. already looks like this, but any critical reading of recent sociological literature will rapidly paint a very different picture.)

While striving against the Patriarchy sounds nifty, it is generally more productive to work towards something than away from something. So I will strive towards Meritocracy.

What do you think? What characteristics define equality in society for you?