Meantime, Back in Greenwich

With the switch to Daylight Savings Time coming soon, it seems timely to revisit Greenwich, England.

You’ve heard of Greenwich Mean Time. Folks here seem to have invented time itself. Well, to be more accurate, they invented how to measure time, and I am thankful for that.

Clocks, antique timekeepers, and all sorts of devices for astronomy and navigation are featured throughout the Royal Observatory here, which was founded by Charles II in 1675.

The Great Equatorial Telescope (1863) is impressive.

To fully appreciate what’s on display at the Royal Observatory, you have to realize the problem of being lost at sea and the problem of longitude.

Back in the 1700s, longitude was an urgent problem, especially for sea-going nations involved in international trade. The precious lives of sailors and the valuable cargoes their ships carried made navigation at sea a matter of life and death. Skilled sailors, out of sight of land, could only find their north-south position (latitude). They had no methods or instruments to accurately calculate their east-west position (longitude). They did not know where they were!

Unfortunately, mapping the night sky and trying to predict the complex motion of the Moon does not work so well on cloudy days at sea. So after lots of trial an error and a big invention competition, the problem was solved by the development of a portable clock that could keep accurate time on board ships.

John Harrison, an 18th century clockmaker, made the first practical marine timekeeper, a monumental development in navigation.

Way back in 1775, Harrison claimed that his clocks were a hundred times better than those made by his contemporaries.  And a few years ago, this clock, titled “Burgess Clock B,” set a Guinness World Record for being the most accurate mechanical pendulum timekeeper of its type. It uses a radical theory proposed by Harrison, and it varied by only half a second in 100 days, finally proving in 2015 that Harrison’s claim was correct.

If you have time to read it, the book Longitude: The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time tells all about Harrison and how important longitude is to navigation. My sailor husband highly recommends it.

The biggest tourist draw at the Royal Observatory is not the clocks, though. It’s the Prime Meridian of the World. That’s zero degrees longitude, where the eastern hemisphere and western hemisphere meet.

And it’s a prime spot to stand in line outside to take a selfie.

The Prime Meridian covers 12,427 miles from pole to pole, but most of that is an imaginary line that doesn’t show up in a selfie.

Inside and away from the crowd, I couldn’t resist standing with one foot and one daughter in each hemisphere.

Learning about longitude and time made me ponder it for a while. How do we know where we are? Where does time go? Why does it disappear faster and faster the older we get?

Frequently in motherhood, when I see my kids growing taller and notice the years flying by so quickly, I want to panic like a sailor lost at sea. It’s easy to feel like time is running out and I don’t know where in the world I am. It’s easy to wish for some way to stop the clock or maybe even turn back the hands on the clock.

But I don’t truly want to go back in time. Not really.

One of my favorite authors, Ann Voskamp, writes: “I watch the hands move grace on the clock face. I’m growing older. These children are growing up. But time is not running out. This day is not a sieve, losing time. With each passing minute, each passing year, there’s this deepening awareness that I am filling time, gaining time. We stand on the brink of eternity.”

Likewise, author Elizabeth Foss writes: “No, I don’t really want to stop time. But I do want to fill it. I want to fill it with gratitude and grace worthy of the days I trade for them… I want to take each one of these days…and really live the story [God] intends. I don’t want time to stand still, but I do want to still my soul and fill the time with His blessings.”

The idea of filling time with gratitude and stilling my soul encourages me.

My prayer is that God would teach me to number my days so that I gain a heart of wisdom (Psalm 90:12). My prayer is that, as I count the days, that I make the days count. And my prayer is that I would walk carefully and wisely, making the best use of my time and understanding God’s will for me (Ephesians 5:15-17).






Redeeming Ruby

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“It’s a nutshell pram.”

Our oldest was still in the womb when I first heard my husband utter that phrase. We were at a wooden boat show because Michael was in the thick of restoring a 1962 Windjammer sailboat that had been badly damaged in a hurricane. In just two months we’d face the life-changing onset of parenthood, and I honestly wasn’t remotely interested in entertaining any of his wild daydreams about a nutshell pram – whatever kind of boat that was.

“Oh, isn’t it cute?” he exclaimed, pointing out the tiny boat’s beautiful woodwork and oars. “Someday, I’m going to build one of those,” he added dreamily. Cute? Sure. An alluring daydream for a lady who is seven months pregnant and who has been laboriously walking around all day looking at non-descript boat parts? Not really.

Six years and two children later, the nutshell pram daydream reappeared in family vacation conversation while visiting a folk school on the north shore of Lake Superior.

“Oh, girls! Wouldn’t it be fun to build one of these?” Michael implored, not even looking at our young daughters as he spoke. His eyes were wholly fixed upon a shiny little 8-foot wooden boat. At ages 3 and 6, the girls never even realized he was talking to them. Their little hearts were set on finding rocks on the shores of Lake Superior and a sweet treat at the next stop.

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A few years later I found my husband at the computer, feeding his nutshell pram daydream with Google images and researching websites that sold kits to build one.

“This would be a great homeschool project for me to do with the kids,” he quipped, still trying to enthrall me with the beauty of his daydream.

“And how much does it cost?” I asked, trying to pull his head down from the clouds and tally up how many school books I could buy with the same budget.

“Two thousand dollars plus shipping,” he said.

“Wow. That’s a lot of chapter books,” I thought to myself as I shook my head doubtfully.

“We’d just have to save up for it,” Michael said, still daydreaming. He and I both knew that saving up for a boat kit, even as a school project, wasn’t a high priority in our one-income budget, especially when every spare dollar was already committed to the church’s capital campaign.

But God is sovereign, and all that is in the heavens and in the earth is His. Three months later, my father-in-law called us. His neighbor’s garage had flooded and, as part of the clean-up process, much was being thrown away. Into the dumpster the neighbor had discarded a partially assembled boat hull and pieces of a kit for building a 9-foot nutshell pram.

“Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart.” –Psalm 37:4

God was indeed giving Michael one of his heart’s desires.

The wooden hull had some water damage, but my father-in-law thought it and the rest of kit were worth redeeming for us. So into the dumpster Papa Larry climbed on a hot Arkansas summer day, pulling out the hull, blueprints, bronze hardware, rope, wood for the mast and spars, and a VHS instructional tape. Later we learned that the neighbor had started the project with his father, who had recently passed away. That loss paired with the flood damage made him abandon any hope of finishing the boat.

Hearing the story and imagining the worst, I really wondered what our daughters, then ages 6 and 9, would think of their grandpa’s dumpster discovery. But at the dinner table that night when my elated husband relayed the news, the two girls excitedly adopted the project and confidently declared they would paint the little boat red and name it “Ruby.”


When summer arrived, we took a 1,500 mile road trip to haul Ruby’s hull and the rest of the kit home to Minnesota. At first glance, the overturned hull wasn’t much to see, and the girls’ excitement seemed to wane a bit until the strongback was removed and they could imagine the little boat it might become.



Soon curls of wood shavings, piles of sawdust and woodworking tools littered the garage as Michael and his little crew set to work reassembling the damaged hull and building seats. More than once the girls decorated their daddy’s tool box with curly wood shavings.



During the winter, they sewed canvas together to make Ruby’s sail.


The next summer, the girls were 7 and 10, and they continued to help their daddy with the woodwork and staining, rounding the mast, painting the hull red and attaching the bronze hardware.

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In early August, great-grandma came and helped the girls sew a red streamer flag for the top of the mast.

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By late August, Ruby was nearly ready to sail, and Papa Larry flew up with my brother-in-law Lance and our nephew to help us launch her into the lake.

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And the dream of seeing Ruby sail across the water became a reality.

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To Michael’s many years of daydreaming, he and our two daughters added a lot of hard work. They learned about team work and compromise, tools and boat parts, woodworking techniques, sewing, physics and sailing. Some parts of the project were indeed dull and tiresome, but the girls caught on to their daddy’s passion and shared his dream of someday sailing that little red boat across the lake. That dream motivated them to keep at it, and in the end, their perseverance helped build more than a boat and more than many summers of father-daughter memories. It built character.

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Above all, what I pray my daughters will cherish most about Ruby is her story of redemption. Because of a father’s sacrificial love for his son and his granddaughters, Ruby was redeemed from the pit. Redeemed from a dumpster! And because of a father’s love for his daughters and his passions for woodworking and sailing, Ruby was given a second chance to fulfill her purpose.

“Bless the Lord… who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy.” –Psalm 103:2-4

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Like a gem, Ruby is precious because she reminds us that we once sat helpless in pit of sin. She reminds us that we have value, and we have a Redeemer whose steadfast love ran red for us on the cross. Indeed, we have a heavenly Father who loves us, treasures us, delights in us, and is faithful to complete the good work He began in us.

“Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever! Let the redeemed of the Lord say so, whom he has redeemed from trouble.” –Psalm 107:1-2


A Hard Road Paved with Grace

At a crossroads. That’s where our homeschool journey began. By God’s grace, we felt peace that the public school path was not an option for our soon-to-be Kindergartner. But still two paths remained: private school and homeschool.

A Hard Road Paved with Grace - By Diana Barto

The private school option seemed like the most obvious route, especially since our oldest daughter was already attending preschool at the local private Christian school and enjoying it.

Click here to continue reading “A Hard Road Paved with Grace” over at The End in Mind.

Dancing with the Daffodils


Most of last week I spent chasing after girls as we ran to and from dance lessons, dress rehearsals, and dance concerts. It was all quite lovely, really, but this week we shifted gears and decided to chase a few flowers instead.


At the Arboretum my camera caught some dancing daffodils fluttering in the breeze of mid May.


Yes, some years we have daffodils in March, but not so this year.



Daffodils always remind me of this poem and this daffadowndilly day a few years ago.

After dancing among the daffodils, we tiptoed through the tulips.


This lonely little tulip was one of our favorites.





We do indeed have a slight obsession with tulips, which goes back several years.


The blooming azaleas were simply captivating, too. Azaleas always remind me of my husband’s grandma, who has such a lovely display of azaleas at her house in the spring.




What’s blooming in your neck of the woods?

Origami Love

While my youngest and I were making lollipops last week, my oldest daughter sat at the kitchen table making origami stuff. Last summer I bought her this easy origami kit and she was completely hooked on it after spending an afternoon playing with the kit and my dear cousin.

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Over the last several months, she has very much folded herself into quite an impressive little origami artist. So for Valentines, origami was a perfect idea for sharing with her friends. She made these cute little origami frogs. They really hop!

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We stumbled upon a new origami book at the library last week — Easy Ocean Origami by Christopher Harbo. The book has directions for origami water lilies. They turned out quite well!

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My little artist was not sure she approved of using scissors with origami, as this book suggests for several of its projects. Even so, she had quite a lot of fun making the goldfish in this book, too. But probably the most fun was racing the windsurfer boats. We give the book two thumbs up!

Cinnamon Heart Lollipops and Candies

A few years ago the girls and I started making cinnamon candy hearts, and now it is a Valentine’s week tradition. We use Wilton’s candy melts (the red ones) and cinnamon oil for flavoring.

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This year my youngest baker helped the most — especially with the stirring. Her dream is to become a French chef someday.

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She loves nearly all projects in the kitchen, except those involving the dishwasher.

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Happy Valentine’s Day!

Glory in the Interruptions

This week our homeschool had an unplanned, last-minute field trip that turned out to be a very memorable one. We had planned to do our usual school work at home, but then mid-morning a realtor scheduled a showing, and so we needed to leave the premises for at least an hour. I was grumpy about the interruption, but I quickly threw a picnic lunch together and headed to a nearby nature center for an attitude adjustment.

As we meandered into the woods, the sunshine glowing through the brilliantly colored leaves created a magical canopy overhead that helped dissolve my frustrations.

We ate our lunch — during which my youngest lost tooth #6. Oddly, she has lost three of her six lost teeth away from home. After our picnic, the girls and I played for about an hour in the nature exploration area, building a house out of sticks and logs.

The girls would have stayed there the rest of the afternoon, but I was hoping to get in a nice hike through the woods, so we set off on the trail. I lagged behind just a bit so I could capture a picture of them hiking down the path.

I paused to put away my camera, and I looked up when I heard sudden screams. The girls came running madly back toward me in a complete panic. When they ran right past me and nearly all the way back to the visitor center, I knew they must have seen something more frightening than a bee. Through the tears and sobs they finally explained that a garter snake in the path had spooked them. My oldest daughter was first to see it and, thinking it was a colorful stick, had bent down to pick it up just as it slithered off the path.

So much for my hike. Nothing — and I mean nothing — would convince them to head down that trail again anytime soon. I never even saw the snake, but I must admit I felt a little creeped-out, too. We headed toward the nearby dock to re-group for a few minutes at the lake, where snakes weren’t likely to find us. En route back to the visitor center, we came across a “wooly bear” caterpillar, which was much more warmly received than the garter snake.

Shortly after that, we loaded up into the truck and started for home. But just outside of the parking area we noticed a pair of Trumpeter swans on the pond.

Oh joy! And they were close enough to photograph. I turned around, parked the truck, hopped out and captured a few shots of the swans. The girls weren’t eager to hike much closer to the pond, but I didn’t mind. This distance was close enough to photograph the beautiful pair.

If you’ve been reading this blog long, you know I am slightly obsessed with Trumpeter swans, as I have mentioned in this post about a spring swan sighting and this post about how God orchestrates our homeschool plans.

It’s amazing how God truly reveals His glory in the interruptions some days.


Hitting the Books

It’s been a long, hot summer but now we are hitting the school books again! During our break, we read aloud one of my favorite chapter books: Summer of the Monkeys by Wilson Rawls. By the way, Rawls is also the author of the tear-jerker Where the Red Fern Grows. Anyway, Summer of the Monkeys partly inspired the sock monkey theme we have going in the school room this fall.

Our bubbly first-grader named her newest monkey Gris.

And our dilligent fourth-grader named her newest monkey Marron.

The sock monkeys and books aren’t all that’s new to the classroom this year. The biggest addition is a couple of used school desks (with storage under the lid!) that I bought from a nearby Christian school that had closed. The girls are quite enamored with these desks, and I love that they are exceptionally durable and adjustable in height.

So that’s a quick update of what’s shaping up around here. I might be back in a few days to discuss some of the books and various curriculum we are using this year. But for now, please excuse me. I have some reading assignments waiting!

Feb. 21 is an Official Snow Day

One of the downsides of homeschooling, from a parent’s perspective, is having to make so many decisions. Which math curriculum? What spelling book? Do we skip learning cursive handwriting? How much time should we focus on this period of history? Should we continue with this language program or switch to another method? The list is endless.

Likewise, one of the best parts of homeschooling is getting to make decisions about your daily schedule. That’s so true today — we decided to declare Feb. 21 an official Snow Day! When there’s 3 inches of fresh snow and conditions are finally perfect for sledding and snowman-building, fractions and spelling words can wait until tomorrow!

Happy Snow Day!

Homeschool Moms, Let’s Do Lunch!

As a kid, I always, always, always toted a lunch box to school. My first one was metal with a blue plastic handle and had illustrations of Holly Hobby on it. Inside I usually had a slightly smashed peanut butter and jelly sandwich and a thermos of chocolate milk. The best part of lunch was sometimes finding a love note from my mom, written on the napkin. I missed my mom, even while I was busy at school, and so those notes were a comforting reminder of her love.

When I started out as a homeschool mom a few years ago, I was happy to have my oldest daughter home at lunch time and thankful we did not need to pack lunches for her. The thought of packing lunches seemed silly and unnecessary for a homeschool family.

Somewhere along the course of the last three years, though, lunch time morphed into something less than pleasant. With all the morning chores and school work to do, lunch always sneaked up without a plan. At noon, instead of feeling the relief and satisfaction of having most of our school work done, I stressed out over what to feed my now starving students who were too short to safely reach things in the kitchen.

A while back I decided we needed to try out bento boxes, like the school kids use in Japan. In the process of shopping for those, I stumbled upon Goodbyn lunch boxes.

These aren’t insulated, so they might not work for a typical school kid who stashes lunch in a warm locker for several hours. But with five deep compartments under one lid, plus a beverage container, these lunch boxes fit well in the refrigerator and work superbly for our homeschool family. Packing them at dinner or breakfast time keeps me proactive about the lunch meal. So if my 3rd grader and I are still finishing up a math problem at 12:04, my hungry Kindergartener marches up to the kitchen and happily starts eating on her own. Finally, lunch time feels like a real break for me! Yay!

By the way, the Goodbyn lunch boxes come in a few sizes and colors. The ones I purchased have “ears” and came with dozens of dishwasher-safe stickers for customizing. Each costs about $25, is made in the U.S.A., and is BPA-free. The plastic cleans easily and dries very quickly; I usually make my kids handwash theirs. The biggest compartment is large enough and deep enough to fit a whole banana or apple. Another compartment fits a cup of pudding nicely. So far, nothing has jumbled up with food from another compartment. This box is really fun to pack and I enjoy seeing what fits in each compartment; maybe I’m just weird. But you’ll be happy to eliminate the need for plastic baggies, I bet. Oh, and just in case your child does need to carry his lunch somewhere, the Goodbyn does have handles.

My children insist on having a napkin packed, too, and sometimes I even include a mint with it. My youngest reports that mints make the napkin smell better.

So, without further discussion, let’s do lunch!

PLEASE NOTE: I am not being compensated in any way by the company that makes the Goodbyn lunch box. But if they’d like to pay me for this honest review, I’d {probably} gladly take their money. 🙂