A Heart Transformed with Thanksgiving

At the beginning of yesterday's homeschooling get-together, our 'Thankfulness Tree' looked like this:


It doesn't look too good, does it?

By the end of the day, this is what we had.

Yes, a few leaves of 'things for which I am thankful', and our tree is transformed. 

I couldn't but think our tree was a picture of our heart. How often our heart is empty, cold and barren. Would it not do us good at times like these to stop and fill our prayers with thanksgiving. If we added leaf after leaf of 'What I am Thankful For' to our prayers, would our hearts not soon blossom like the tree on our wall blossomed?

Let's try it. This coming week, let's set aside time to pray prayers of thanksgiving only. Let's do what the song suggested: 

Count your blessings, name them one by one. 
And it will surprise you what the Lord has done.

David, the Psalmist had lots going on in his life. He had heartaches involving his children; he had wars to fight and a nation to keep. He had sin to confess; and the consequences of sin to bear. And yet when we read the Book of Psalms, we see that David - inspired by the Holy Spirit - has written psalms of thanksgiving and praise over and over again.

Yes, we may have busy lives. We may have our fair share of ups and downs; of heartaches and trials. But surely we can spend time each day consciously counting our blessings and thanking God, the Giver of all good and perfect gifts, for all He has done for us and is doing for us.

We began yesterday's Thanksgiving get-together by singing the first two verses of Psalm 92. (Scottish Metrical)

To render thanks unto the Lord
it is a comely thing,
And to Thy name, O thou most High
due praise aloud to sing.

Thy loving-kindness to shew forth
when shines the morning light;
And to declare Thy faithfulness
with pleasure every night.

David also says in Psalm 34: "I will bless the Lord at all times: His praise shall continually be in my mouth". I truly believe that my own heart will be transformed from cold, barren and dull .... to being fruitful, attractive and warm, if only I take my own advice and THANK my God for my innumerable and immeasurable blessings.


Giving Thanks ... Beginning at my Childhood

I hardly know where to begin in my list of 'Things for which I am Thankful' ... I can begin, but where would it ever end. My blessings are innumerable, and seem immeasurable. For this post, I'm going to concentrate on my past and on some of the blessings I enjoyed in my childhood years.

1. I am thankful for the parents God gave me. 

My childhood was one of total love and security. I took it completely for granted, and it simply didn't occur to me that this was not the norm for everyone else. It's only now, as I've become much older, that I realize how amazingly blessed my childhood was. 

I read the horrors of the hundreds of thousands of baby girls who are killed in the womb before they ever see the light of day - simply because they are girls. And I begin to grasp the blessing of growing up in a family, in an era, and in a culture where I was never, ever made to feel inferior because I was a girl. 

I become aware of what some children have to suffer because of parents who have addictions and who are violent and abusive, and I begin to grasp the amazing blessing of growing up not even knowing such lives existed.

I read of so many devastatingly sad lives, and I can only praise God for the wonderfully happy childhood with which He blessed me.

I am thankful for my Mum:

... who was at home every single day when I came home from school;

... who did all the household 'chores' much more efficiently than I do, and who did them all - as far as I could see - with joy in her heart;

... who always let us know that school holidays were her favourite time of the year, and who always dreaded the end of holidays and the beginning of a new term. She was happiest when we were all at home, and for the sense of security that brought, I will always be thankful;

... who loved to have an open door. I have wonderful memories of lots of aunts, uncles and cousins with us for Christmas or New Year dinners; I knew as I got older that I could invite any friends to our home, whether for a meal or to stay for a while; and I know it was easy for my childhood friends to come into my home any time.

I am thankful for my Dad:

... who worked so hard, often six days each week, and without complaining. I never, ever heard my Dad moan about 'another day at work'. Not ever.

... who, despite his long working hours, spent many evenings playing Monopoly with us kids. Now that the Builder and I are at the stage of life at which he then was, I see more and more how much of a labour of love these Monopoly games were.

... who, along with Mum, thought nothing of taking us off school on Wednesdays in May or in August so we could all go for a day trip to Harris. When he had a day off, it was on a Wednesday - not ideal when Saturday was our day off school. These 'unofficial' days off sorted that. I'm not aware that our education suffered significantly, but I am aware that precious memories were made - memories of picnic baskets, of fishing rods, or long sunny days roaming Harris hills. 

... and one more thing: my Dad was not at all concerned for what other people thought or may have said about his family. I remember him saying on a number of occasions that 'what other people do is not our business, and what other people say about what we do isn't our worry. What God thinks of what we do is all that matters'. This attitude made a deep, deep impression on me, and I am very thankful for it.

Yes, I'm very thankful to God for the parents He gave me.

2. I am thankful for the place in which we live, and where I grew up.

In a similar way to my home life, life in the wider community was also blessed. In my naivety, I thought all boys and girls could wander home from school, taking hours to meander the mile between school and home. I had no idea that it wasn't the norm not to fear anyone, and not to learn not to talk to strangers. When my friends and I walked home from school each afternoon, we would stop for a game of football on an empty patch of land beside the river. We'd stand at the bridge and throw stones into the water and then we'd find a stone to kick all the way home, following it into its numerous digressions into the ditches. We'd saunter down the road as if we had all the time in the world - after all, we did, didn't we? We'd stop off to say Hi to an old cailleach who may have happened to be at her door as we passed. We'd accept sweets or biscuits from anyone who offered them, and we didn't know that other children lived totally different lives.

I didn't know there was such a thing as fear. For that, I truly give thanks to God.

3. I am thankful for the people who were my neighbours.

The Builder often laughs at me because I know so few people on the island and even in our district. He says this: 'If they weren't in Taigh Stingear or in Taigh a' Mhinisteir, Anne will have no clue who they are'.  These two houses were next door to our home, and he's not far wrong! I really knew very few people by name - remember what I said about my Dad? He never spoke about people and what they were doing (I don't mean just gossiping, but even in general chit-chat). But these two homes that I mentioned have such warm and happy memories for me. I don't want to mention names on the blog without people's permission, but Taigh Stingear was always such a warm home for me. The kitchen always seemed to smell of scones and of strong tea - oh, this is bringing so many memories flooding into my mind, making me smile, laugh and yes, cry! And Taigh a' Mhinisteir was the same: warm and loving, it felt to me like an extension of my own home. To this day it reminds me of my Grandpa and the people he loved, and that fills me with joyful sadness. These 'extensions' to our home allowed for a neighbourliness that is fast becoming a thing of the past. I am thankful to have grown up during a time when wandering into my neighbour's home for a cuppa was considered normal. And I'm thankful for bonds that were created then and that last a lifetime.

My darling Grandpa, front right, with three of his nephews.


My Dream This Morning

Early this morning, when I was still in slumberland, I dreamt I killed Abraham Lincoln. 

I'll pause here while you re-read that statement.

You still here? 

Hi, Southerners! (I'm assuming all the Northerners have gone.)

Well, it's true: I was in a room alone with Lincoln and I plunged a narrow-blade knife into his heart.

*Gulp*. (I didn't gulp in the dream. I simply waited for those who'd come to arrest me. Calm as can be.)

And then I heard their footsteps. When the footsteps reached the door of the room, the Builder walked into the bedroom with my morning cuppa.

Phew! I hadn't killed Abe! I wasn't being arrested. And the Builder was here with my cuppa (my first cuppa of the day is a cup of hot water, but that's beside the point.) It's not the first time he saved the day for me.

Please tell me that y'all think it's normal to have dreams like that. No? 

I also think I know where all most of the different aspects of my dream came from: 

* I reckon the killing-of-a-President came from having watched part of a docu-drama about JFK's assassination on Saturday night. (He wasn't assassinated on Saturday night. Rather, we watched the programme on Saturday night.)

* I reckon my choice of weapon and choice of mode of killing (I can't believe I'm writing these words) came from one of the last scenes in Conn Iggulden's series on Genghis Khan.

So before any dream psychologists seek to take me on as their dream patient, that's my dream explained. 

Except the fact that it was Abe. Why him? Well, I'll have to leave that question to the experts ...

Thank you all for listening.


Ten Things I'll Never Regret

I've had this post sitting in my Drafts for some weeks, but before I posted it, Tim Challies posted his very similar post called 18 Things I Will Not Regret Doing with my Kids

When I saw that, I thought, 'well I can't very well post my very similar sounding post'. Why? Well, because folks could think I was copying him, but worse - much worse - y'all may go comparing.

Being compared with Tim Challies' blog isn't what most of us want out of life.

And so I waited. Mr Challies then, very inconsiderately, decided to add 18 Things I will Not Regret Doing with my Wife blog post.

And so I waited. Finally, his wife posted her excellent 18 Things I will Not Regret Doing with my Husband.

Y'all really need to head over and read them. But one condition: no comparing.

And so to my original post:

Despite my many regrets at my very many failings as a mother, right now I'm going to do a very un-Highland thing, and look at the bright side.

Here are ten things I will not regret about these past years. They are in no particular order:

1. Taking the plunge

Homeschooling was almost unheard of here when we began on this journey; I cannot remember receiving any personal words of encouragement from any person, and yet, doing what we knew God was calling us to do is first on my no-regrets list.

Most homeschoolers will testify to the fact that homeschooling is so much more than 'schooling at home'. It really is a complete way of life. There are some aspects of it I'd do differently if I was starting out now, but still ... I don't think I'll ever stop being amazed at God's leading of us into this wonderful life.

2. Open home

We have often had the kids' friends in our home, and I will always be glad we did. We have loved getting to know these teenagers, and it's been to our benefit to have had an open-door home. Our distance from town means we don't have the young folks getting together in our home as often as we'd like, but not once will I regret any of the times our home has been invaded by some great groups of kids.

This also means that our friends are also our children's friends. In general, our troops don't see age as a barrier to a person being their friend. For that, I'm very, very glad.

Many times, we have had a packed Lounge, filled with the Lord's people who are ready to talk all night about what God has been doing in their lives, or about what they've read or heard of God's Word recently. These blessings are impossible to put into words.

3. Reading aloud
I think I would say that my favourite part of our 'school' day is our time of reading aloud. 'One more chapter, Mum. Pleeeeease', is the norm when I go to close the book. And let's face it - who can resist a wee fella's pleas?

Not me!

Whether we were homeschooling or not, reading aloud is definitely a habit I'd be recommending. So far, our favourite books have included the whole Little House series and the Viking Quest series.

4. Watching movies ... together
And only having one Goggle box (although laptops and ipads have negated some of this benefit, admittedly). We've had lovely family nights of filling our coffee table with chocolates, ice-creams, cups of tea, cans of juice (hate 'em), and shoving a DVD into the player.

These nights have, admittedly, resulted in whole conversations around our dinner table being quoted from one movie or another.

Frank from Father of the Bride is Catherine's speciality. Her Frank impressions normally lead me to looking at the Builder and saying, in my most serious voice, 'Mr Bennett, life holds few distinctions, but I believe I can truly say that here we have some of the silliest girls in Scotland'.

5. Family holiday
In 2008, we headed across The Pond for our very first family holiday. By that stage, we'd been married for about eighteen years, and we'd never been able to have a real, money-costing, family holiday.

We could have used the money to finish our house completely and especially to have made our drive suitable for all vehicles and not just off-road 4x4 types. And yes, all these years later, our drive is still full of water-filled holes, but you know what...? I wouldn't swap that first amazing family holiday, and the incredible memories it created, for any amount of tarmac.

Our trip = priceless.

6. Being interested
Our older kids may think I'm nosy, but I prefer calling it 'interested'. Staying interested (or nosy, if you insist) in every detail of their lives is something I reckon they'll be glad for some day. I'm trying to stay interested in the Wee Guy's incessant ramblings about football, but I have to be honest in saying that it's getting to be a struggle. (And yes, Mother, I do realise this is pay-back for the countless conversations you had to endure from us about that very same subject. But at least it was Rangers then  ... not just facts and figures about players, squads, positions, transfer fees, number of goals scored last season, number of goals scores this season ... on and on and on.)

Y'all get my drift?

However, back to the point ... I will never regret the times I have been interested in all aspects of the kids' lives. Even the times my probing has got on their nerves ...

I'm counting on them being glad one day.

7. Hugging
Some of my kids are naturally more huggy than others, but all our kids get hugged.

A lot. And I will never regret it. Sometimes, when we are too tired to talk, or when it's not easy to find the appropriate words, hugs are the way to go.

I'm glad that, even as our older children have grown up, our habit of giving and receiving hugs, and of sitting snuggled up together on the sofa has not left us.

8. Mum first
Sometimes, as the children got older, it was tempting to be their Friend first and their Mum second, but I am glad that I often risked them thinking ill of me because I realised that my primary responsibility was to be a parent. Being their friend came second to my role of discipling, leading, guiding and disciplining. There's a fine line here when our kids grow into their teen years, and on many levels they are our friends.

Tough love ... Sometimes, it's just gotta be done.

9. Talking
Who? Me?? Talking???

I will never regret all kinds of opportunities we took to talk. Sometimes these talks took the form of one-to-ones in the car, in the kitchen, or sitting on a bed;  sometimes they were family affairs around the table, or snuggled on the sofas in the Family Room.

At times, they were Talks. You know what I mean by Talks. If you lower your voice by about five octaves, give yourself a double chin and say, 'a Talk', you will know exactly what I mean.

A child may have something weighing heavily on his or her heart. He or she may have done something they now regret. There may be a need for them to talk through a situation in which they're struggling to find the 'right way' as opposed to the 'wrong way'.

Other talks are simply times of blethering. Yarns about work, about friends, about the movie we just watched, about football (See #6), or about their latest holiday plans. We may begin reminiscing about fun times we've had in the past, or they'll begin talking about the Youth Conference they attended in Grand Rapids, or the one they were at much closer to home, in Arbroath.

Many times, our blethers end in, ahem, some heated talk. Often times they end with some of us rolling on the floor, weak laughing! Either way, as the old adage goes: It's good to talk...

10. God's Word
This is the bottom line and my constant advice to them. Search the Scriptures, steep yourselves in the Word, get to know the Author and what He has to say to you.

This is what will give our kids the wisdom they need for the rest of their lives. I wish I spent more - much more - time reading God's Word, and teaching it to our kids, but I will never regret a minute of the time we have spent reading it, discussing it, listening to sermons on it. I hope our kids know that knowing the Word that was made flesh, Christ Jesus, as their Saviour, and living to His glory is what I've wanted for them since they were born ... before they were born, in fact.

~      ~      ~

What would you add to this list? Remember, it's things we do not regret.... my life is full enough of things I do regret: this post is looking at the other side.

It'll be some time before I see the sun setting while I sit in my favourite chair. I'm adding this photo simply because I like to savour these sunsets even at this time of year. Or maybe especially at this time of year. 

I'm only allowing myself a list of ten, but I may just sneak in here one more non-regret: I do not regret my regular oohing and ahhing over God's amazingly beautiful creation.


Peats: the Story from the Peatbank to the Stove

Over the past few week, a number of readers have been asking specific question regarding our peat. To answer them, and to give y'all an overview of how peats come from being part of a peat bank out in the moor to being burnt in our kitchen stove, I've put together a series of photos which will, I hope, make it all clear to you.

Before going onto the photos and our peats, a wee overview may be helpful. The Isle of Lewis is mostly moorland. In practically the whole island, all the people live along the coasts, and all of what is between the west-coast homes and the east-coast homes is moorland.

Moorland - as far as the eye can see.

You can see the Atlantic Ocean in the distance, and the Ness houses can be seen following the coast.  

Here again, on the far right, you can see the sea and some of the houses.

In late April, the peatbanks are turfed. This means taking the top layer - the ceap - off, and so exposing the peat underneath.

The turf - na ceapan - are placed on the ground, in the broinn - the inside of the peat bank. Later, you'll see the peats that have been cut being thrown either into this lower part of the bank or on the upper part.

This top part is cleaned to give a smooth surface, free of heather roots.

The peat iron is then used to cut the individual peats. They're cut in 'slices', as you can see from the photo. Each one is cut, 

and pushed out.

Then the person who's throwing (although these photos show the Builder doing both the cutting and the throwing, that's not how it happens 'in real life'. My multitasking abilities don't stretch to taking photos and throwing the peats), takes that peat and throws it on the dry heather round about.

Here, you can see Big Brother turfing - further back in the photo. The Builder is using the peat iron - an taraisgeir - to cut the peats, and DR is throwing them: some are on the top of the peat bank; others are thrown on the lower ground - the inside of the bank.

Nice throwing action, DR ;)

This peat bank has now been cut. You are able to see the top layer - the ceap - lighter in colour, and full of grass and heather roots. Then you have the two layers of peat that were cut out. 

And can you see similar looking peat banks in the distance? 

The peats are left to dry for a few weeks. When the top part is dry enough, they're 'lifted' into wigwam type shapes. This allows the wind to blow through the little pile, drying them all over.

Some time later - the length of time depends on our weather - they are ready to be gathered into bigger piles - dùintean - ready for taking home.

When the tractor comes for taking them home, the peats will be thrown directly from these piles into the trailer. 

And so to taking them home. 

The tractor drives slowly along the peat bank, and each pile of peats is thrown into the trailer.

Because many of peats break up, or at least bits break off the peat, we put the little bits - na caoranan - into bags.

The bags come home on top of the load of peats.

The Builder had made a 'platform' for the peats - simply so they wouldn't sit on wet ground.

The loads are dumped here - here's the first load -

and they're stacked into a peat stack.

We only cut a very small amount compared with what used to be cut when we were growing up. We only have one small stove, but when we were growing up, all the cooking and baking was done in the big kitchen stove, which was burning peat all the time.

In the evenings, the open fire in the Living Room was lit. All in all, this amounted to a lot of peats!

For us, we have the delight of our lovely-smelling peat, 

giving a wonderful, cozy flame in our kitchen area.

Forty-seven (yes, 47) Truths about Moi

Today is my birthday, so I thought I'd write a post with some facts about myself that you may not already know. Before I even got to number one, I realized I had two problems:

1. I've been blogging for a number of years no, so there ain't too much y'all don't already know.

2. Were I turning thirty today, the blogpost would not be so much of a challenge. After all ... Thirty Things you May Not have Known about Me ... well, that sounds do-able. But Forty-Seven things ...?? Gimme strength!

There are hardly forty-seven facts about me in existence. But I need to find ones I would actually tell y'all. I mentioned this a wee while ago on the Homeschool on the Croft Facebook page, and some suggestions have begun coming in. I'll include them, telling who sent me the comment.

1. Until the past few weeks, I thought I was going to be forty-eight this birthday. This happens to me often because all year I'm thinking, 'I'm gonna be 47 this year', but by the time November comes around, I've been saying forty-seven for so long, I assume my next birthday will be forty-eight!

2. I am very logical. See #1

3. I am dreadful in my concept of passing time. In conversation, I'll often say, 'Last week, when ....'. Then my kids say, 'Mum, that happened two months ago'. No idea.

4. My dad is having a knee operation right now, so I'm in the process of baking him a cake. After all, cake is the answer to all knee problems, right?

5. I love the winter and dark nights (Thanks, Magaidh, for that one). This is true, and is unlike most folks who live in this far-north-part-of-the-world.

6. I've just finished reading Conn Iggulden's four book series on Genghis Khan.

7. I've realized that if I am able to sit and read with an hour of silence each day, this charges my batteries better than any amount of pampering would.

8. I cannot drive out to the peats without wanting to cry. (I have begun a blog post about this, but I can't quite articulate what I wish to in English.... It's odd, but what I wish to say comes out in Gaelic.)

9. I laugh hysterically at the weirdest and un-funniest things. (My sister, Marina wrote that one on my FB post). She may, or may not, be accurate in her assessment.

10. My favourite joke ever, ever, ever is this:

Q. What's white and can't climb trees?

A.  A fridge.

I first heard this joke about thirty years ago, and I cannot even write it here without laughing hysterically. Maybe #9 is accurate after all.

11. We've never had chickens (to raise, I mean. We've eaten plenty of them.) despite having ample space in which to raise them. (Thank you, Thomas, for that one!)

12. I have an unusual interest obsession with the ships that pass by the Butt. (My sister-in-law, Donna, wrote that one on fb, and reminded me of her hysterics when she realized I had a folder full of photos and information re our passing ships. That's perfectly normal, right?)

13. I have realized that my Dad will probably not have much of an appetite for cake today. That means Mum and I will have more to ourselves. Sorry, Dad :)

14.  Ever since I watched a wildlife programme on eagles in the Norwegian Fjords, I've had a longing to visit this beautiful part of the world.

15. Right now, the Wee Guy and I are reading through a series called Viking Quest, by Lois Walfrid Johnson. He is now desperate to visit the fjords too.

16.  I work from home, translating materials from English into Gaelic.

17.  We are not having turkey for Christmas Dinner this year.

18.  One of my favourite themes to hear being preached is Christ in the Old Testament sacrifices.

19.  I can not abide flavoured teas. Bleugh!

20. At times, I allow our house phone to ring out and don't answer it. This drives certain members of my extended family nuts, but if I have a visitor, I give them priority over the phone.  

21. Montana and North Dakota have a special place in my heart even though I've never been and I don't know anyone from these states. If I ever arrive in either of these states, I may never actually leave.

22. I love most soups.

23. My Mum's chicken and rice soup is probably my favourite soup ... followed by Scotch Broth.

24.Very shortly after this photo was taken, I was pregnant with the Wee Guy. My sister was married just in time. :)

Isn't Katie so, so, so, so cute? And isn't the Wee Guy a dead ringer for the Big Guy, who is ten in this photo?

25.  I was a passionate supporter of Rangers FC when I was growing up. When I say 'passionate', I mean passionate.

26.  Roses are my favourite flower.

27.  The Builder never got that memo.

28.  My right knee has a scar right across it where I had 12 stitches. I fell off my bike, heading to Primary School. I think I was about nine at the time.

29.  When I was growing up, we had a miniature Shetland Collie called Game. She was gorgeous.

30. G-A-M-E spelled backwards is Emag. If you're not from Ness, that will mean nothing to you.

31. That came to my mum in a dream the night they bought Game, and we all reckon Mum's smartest moments are when she's asleep.

32.  I often go to bed far too late because I love that time of silence when everyone else has gone to bed.

33.  I stayed in town today for ages. It was nice to visit with Mum and Dad. 

34.  My dad's operation was cancelled at the last minute because of complications the surgeon was dealing with in theatre. That meant Mum and I had to share the cake with him. 

35.  I'm quite sure mushrooms were not put on the face of the earth for human consumption.

36.  I am five foot. As in, five foot zero. The Builder is six foot. Maybe six foot something, but it's too high for me to check.

37.  Another of the Fb readers, a friend of mine, said I was 'a great listener and confidant'. It's certainly true that, although I 'blether' a great deal on the blog, I do prefer real talk, rather than chit-chat in real life.

38.  I'm now the only person in the house who's not in bed. 

39.  It is also now no longer my birthday. That means my next birthday will be my forty-eighth.

40.  The kids and I began reading through the Bible, chapter by chapter, every day quite some time ago. We're now in 2nd Corinthians. My favourite time was when we were reading through Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers. I'm not kidding. The precision of the teaching concerning the Tabernacle was AWEsome. God's detail simply blew me away. Then, the differing sacrificial laws - oh, I loved reading them, and finding Christ and His work and sacrifice being typified in them. Paul's letter to the Romans is in second place for me.

41.  I know what we'd have called a baby boy, had we been blessed with another son, and I know what we'd have called a baby girl. Micah, which means 'Who is like Yahweh', would be my boy's name. The prophecy of Micah also contains one of my favourite verses: "Who is a God like unto Thee, who pardoneth iniquity and passeth by the transgression of the remnant of His heritage? He retaineth not His anger for ever, because He delighteth in mercy." Micah 7:18.

I love it!

Oh, a baby girl would have been called Hannah.

42.  This photo was taken around 1977.

Can you find me in it?

43.  My maternal grandparents' grave is in our local cemetery. My granny passed away before I was born, and my Grandpa passed away in 1975. My mum has never been to the graveyard since Granny was buried.

I was named after her.

44.  I love going for walks through cemeteries. I would love to know the stories behind the words on all the plaques.

45.  At the moment, I'm doubting any reader will have reached this far. If you've dutifully read all the way to #45, please let me know in the comments. I wish I could say I had a prize to give you: you deserve it.

46.  My first car was a Ford Fiesta. 

47.  My favourite car ever was my brother's RS 2000. 

And so, there you go. Forty-seven mostly useless pieces of information that will not change your life one little bit. Thank you all for listening to my ramblings. 

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