Israelite Abode, Part Two

Today we built our tiny house! We made the bricks from scratch with gluten-free salt dough, please see this post for details. Now for the mortar, the timbers and the construction!

First, the kids went outside and collected some sticks to serve as the house’s timbers. If our house had two stories, we would have placed timbers in the middle…but ours is a humble little home and we only needed sticks to support the roof.

When we had our sticks, we collected all the needed items for this stage of the project: Wood glue, corn flour, salt, hot water, tiny trowels (pallet knives…find these in the painting aisle of a craft store), something to mix the mortar in (disposable is a good idea), a nice cardboard base for the house, some additional cardboard scraps, and something with which to cut the sticks and cardboard.

The mortar is one part wood glue, one part corn flour, two parts hot water and about 1/8 part salt. First put the glue in your mixing container, then add the water, the flour and the salt. Mix well, adding additional water or flour to make a paste consistency.

Plan the foundation of your house. We counted the number of bricks needed for one layer, counted the number of layers we wanted for our house, multiplied these numbers together and found that we had just enough bricks to make the house, with some for the stairs as well. Then we outlined our foundation in pencil on the cardboard and set the first layer of bricks.

Put your mortar on the bottom of each brick, press it into the cardboard, and then do the same with the next. Put mortar on the sides of each brick and make sure that there is plenty of mortar between each brick.

I love how projects help you work together! Three sets of hands…the house was built row by row and took form so quickly! We put a small piece of cardboard inside one side of our house, because ancient Israelites used to have a raised area in their homes where they would put their sleeping mats.

Leave spaces for windows and use a strip of cardboard over the empty window to place your next row of bricks

At the level before your last layer of bricks, space the timbers between bricks. Add plenty of mortar around each timber and snug them into the bricks. If we were doing this over, I would have cut the bricks in half (they cut fairly easily with a knife) and added more timbers.

Now it’s time to set the stairs. Your child will know just how to do this…it’s just like making stairs with Lego’s! We put some wood glue out on the cardboard to make sure that our stairs stuck. Make sure that there is a nice layer of mortar on the side of the house where the stairs are so that they don’t separate from the house. Make the top stair even with the top of the house.

Once you’ve built the stairs, it’s time to cover the bricks with mortar. We smoothed mortar over the outside of the house and the stairs, making sure all the cracks were filled (so no snakes can get in!) and the exterior of the house was smooth.

Update: We discovered that this works better if you first let the mortar on the bricks dry completely, then apply the mortar to the outside of the house. Our house cracked on the outside overnight…we will remove the outer layer and I will have the kids use a can of wall spackle instead of the mortar, just in case. I’ll post new pictures next week when we do step three!

Next week we will continue our project with the roof (removable, so you can see inside!) and the courtyard. We’ll also be making some household objects and a family to go with the house, as well as a few textiles!


Random Acts of Poetry…After

after the storm
after the cold and chill
after the sky cracked open
and fell, crashing
with the weight of it all
after the darkness seemed certain
the sun broke through
tore wet curtains of gray asunder
and pierced every dark place
with saving light

During the season of remembering, I see echoes of His story everywhere.

For TUC’s beautiful daughter, who is a spark of light

Create….An Ancient Israelite Abode (with gluten-free salt dough bricks!)

More thoughts on creativity…

I notice that when we don’t take the time for creative projects, my children’s love of learning dries up, tapers off. We have trouble staying focused, we lose interest in what we’re learning. I know that this is the case, that a scattering of art projects, craft ideas, cooking projects, and hands-on building projects throughout the year keeps my kids interested and engaged and learning. But sometimes we get too busy, we fall behind and crank out page after page of seatwork to catch up, we forget to stop and apply what we’ve learned by creating something that represents the knowledge we’ve accumulated…something real and tangible to share with the world. Creativity cements knowledge, puts it into three dimensions, sets roots in the mind where it might otherwise wither away.

We’ve been studying ancient civilizations this year, and have been talking for the last few months about creating a miniature Ancient Israelite house using clay, sticks, and felt. Today, we put off Grammar and spent the morning creating tiny clay bricks made from Gluten-Free Cornflour Salt Dough. We’ll bake the bricks, collect sticks for the beams of the house’s roof, and we’ll assemble the little house later this week.

Here’s part one of our endeavor….

Here are some books that we used for education and inspiration:

Ancient Israelites and Their Neighbors: An Activity Guide
We’ve enjoyed this book, which covers the Philistines, the Phoenicians, and of course the Israelites! It is full of information as well as learning activities.

Old Testament Days: An Activity Guide
This is a great book for younger kids, full of history and packed with simple activities…make a sleeping mat, make a table mat and have a picnic with foods they would have eaten in King David’s time, all sorts of easy projects that an older child could help a younger child do!

Lamps, Scrolls & Goatskin Bottles: A Handbook of Bible Customs for Kids (Teacher Training Series)
This was a very informative book, full of engaging short historical fiction accounts of life in Bible times. The projects are fun, the information was very educational and there are Bible quotes and references throughout the book to help place history in with Bible reading. Fun!

Instructions can be found in all 3 books on making a house. We took a little from each and made up some ideas of our own!

Gluten-Free Salt Dough (Cornflour Salt Dough)

You need:

1 cup salt
3 cups Masa Corn Flour (not corn meal)
1 cup corn starch
1 tsp. cream of tarter
about 2 cups boiling water
2 tablespoons oil

You do:
Mix dry ingredients together in a large bowl and stir well. Add the oil and hot water, mix until combined (you will want to add 1 1/2 cups of the water first, then more as needed to form a stiff dough). Knead the dough. Make sure it’s not too hot…but it’s calming for kids to knead the warm dough!

Roll the dough out between two guides…we used two cutting boards of equal thickness.

Using a guide (we used existing blocks from a building set we have, but you can form two blocks from the clay as a guide before cutting), measure out the width of your blocks and cut using a straight edge. As you can see, we were creative with what we used for ours!

Set a guide block at both the top and bottom of each strip to keep them reasonably straight. We figured that the clay blocks used to make ancient houses were probably not perfect either, so we didn’t allow too much stress about getting them perfect. We made some smaller blocks using 1/2 the width of the larger ones, to make the parapet around the rooftop. Rooftops were important in Ancient Israel, so we are paying special attention to ours!

Put the cut blocks onto a cookie sheet (or two!) and bake at 200 degrees for an hour. Take out the small bricks, flip the large bricks over, and bake for about another hour or until bricks are very hard.

Check back here later in the week for the building of the house! I’ll post on that as we construct our house.

And, here’s a random act of creativity from leftover clay….


The need to create runs through our veins, our lifeblood courses with creativity. My children know this, they work under the constant drive to create.

Snow sculptures dot the yard like frozen sentinels. Crayoned drawings of stick-figures, lean and lanky, stand precariously on a green-line horizon, guarded over by the ever-present spikey yellow sun. Children paint with their fingers, spend hours gluing every-day objects on construction paper, draw tirelessly on concrete with fat orange chalk.

They draw on the backs of used copier paper, they draw through reams of printer paper. They model with clay, with salt dough, with their mashed potatoes. When deprived of paper they each, as toddlers, chose forbidden canvasses on which to create…the wall behind the chair, the back of a door, the insides of kitchen cabinets.

They create pictures and patterns with wooden train tracks, with blocks, with breakfast cereal. They make music with whatever is available, instruments intended for that purpose or created from the lids of pots and pans, the jingle of metal rings from canning lids. They sing loudly the songs that come to mind at the moment.

They write story after story, illustrated and bound with stapled construction paper (sometimes read from right to left). Their creations are jolly and askew, they are passionate and unbridled, they are garish and delicate and sometimes heart-rending in their honest beauty. They are the heartfelt expression of an ongoing celebration of life.

Why does this celebration of creative passion slow to a trickle, die out? What do we do to our children (to ourselves) to dry this flow, to desiccate the lifeblood of creativity? Why do we cease to be driven to create?

Do we stop valuing it?

Do we expect to grow out of it?

Are we too busy for it?

Are we too prideful to risk it?

Do we cease to see the beauty of the world, and therefore stop mirroring it?

My prayer today is that I, as a parent, as a child of a Creative Creator, remember that creative passion and have the courage to tap into it every day. My prayer is that I find ways to encourage my children to continue to follow their creative passions as they grow, that they continue to be unafraid to praise God with whatever media strikes their fancy. My prayer is to remember that the creation of any form of art…painting, music, the written word, the act of placing a beautiful purple weed plucked from the grass into an empty glass jar…. is about the process of crying out joyfully to the world, the act of echoing the beauty of it all with the creative nature inherent in each of us….created in the image of the ultimate Creator.

Need some inspiration today?

Discovering the one thing you may have forgotten about you
Create Your Own Storybook (Youngest is working on hers in the photos above)
Recipes for craft clay
Bob Ross teaches how to paint a sky….
Create beautiful paper sculptures…just print out and fold!
Poetry at High Calling Blogs
Frame and display your child’s artwork (or your own!)

To greet the day

The sun still sleeps, the sky is ink-black above us as I kiss him goodbye for the day, step into cold mudroom, secure this displaced farmhouse’s old red door behind him. He has been up for over an hour already, has set his clock to the wee hours of morning’s beginning to take the time to sit, read, devote time to a life-long love affair that I, his wife, support and rejoice in. This is the early-morning rendezVous, the first meeting of the day, the dedication that begins the day anew. This is the quiet time, the sacred in the ordinary, the habit of love. Time spent reading this Book, time spent meeting Wisdom at her table, time spent with the Word that hovered over water’s mirrored surface at very beginning of the very first day. He has risen early to meet with God.

The door secure, I watch him leave like a child spying on the object of her affection, peer out between wooden window slats and watch him open the gate, head to the garage. I wave and he waves, a private morning ritual. The open slat I peer through lets a shaft of kitchen-light into the darkness of outside, a slash of gold piercing the early-morning gloom and I cherish that light, because it is love. Love that strikes a glow into the darkness, love that climbs with the sun (the Son) over the dark hulk of mountains and breaks golden into the valley, banishing the night.

Before the dawn, when all is cold and dark, I pour beans in the hopper, grind and press, heat water in my favorite cup. I have a promise to keep, a ritual to prepare for, a meeting in the quiet before the world wakes up. I need to need this more than coffee, I need what wakes my soul. I need to want this more than food, more than comfort, more than praise and acceptance, more than money or shelter. This Book, these words, are nourishment enough. My flesh wants sleep, my flesh wants a hundred other things that will not fill me up. But He is waiting, and I go.

I read the words like a thirsty woman drinks water, like a glutton eats sweets. Some days I read them like medicine, some days they startle me by being new despite the number of times I have read them. Some days I read them with half my brain and the other half continues on its own way, thinking of banalities and to-do lists and other things less presentable. He forgives. Some days start late and get interrupted and I realize, the sun having burned off all dew and the day having raveled like a knotted shoelace that I have forgotten, left my meeting un-attended and the Book lies unopened in it’s gum-wood drawer. Waiting. He offers Grace. I have gone whole months of rebellious sleeping-in, time wasting and procrastination, reading a few short verses with causal flippancy. He gently nudges, reminds, calls me back.

I sip hot blackness and read through the cold blackness outside, embrace the warm shaft of light that pierces the darkness of inside and finds the empty space that was meant for Him alone. Over the mountains comes the slightest sliver of gold, which widens into an arch of crimson and copper as the light outside turns from black to gray, and the gray develops into blue and for a moment, the black limbs of bare trees etch like India ink blown with a straw onto a luminous blue page. The sun has risen, the Son has risen and I have the privilege of a new day ahead of me. I think of Husband and know we are fed from the same spring, that this water is what keeps us together and what blesses us, what keeps this almost 14 years of marriage fresh and refreshing and sustains our love and our family. Filled, I listen for the sound of small feet descending narrow, code-defying farmhouse stairs. I hear, over the sound of city traffic, a bird’s morning song. I see the clouds turn now from gold to white, the sky above is almost light and I thank the Word, the Wisdom that was there before the world was created, that He would take the time to meet with me, to care that I was there.

In what ways do you strengthen your Walk with Him? Share your story and read others at Ann Voskamp’s beautiful blog, Holy Experience.

Random Acts of Poetry…Poem, Interrupted

Poem, Interrupted

Crystal castles decorate
(Good morning, sweetheart! You’re up early!)
bending blades
(Done brushing your teeth? Good job! Do you mind…)
of spent-gold
(…getting yourself some cereal for breakfast? It’s a little early still)
grass, bent and burdened
(no, we don’t have any more of that “bad-for-you-cereal,” please eat what we do have)
under layers of transparent
(no, sweetie…please don’t give the cat that milk)
(really, dog? You need to go out now? Walk to the gates, pull them shut. Warm your fingers as you make your way back to the house. Let out curly-yellow streak of a dog, pull door closed)
touched by
(Really? Just grab a rag and clean it up, please. There aren’t? Check the dryer, love)
some frost angel artist fairy
frozen for this
(is that a stain on the carpet? Where did it come from?)
chilled and
(Sweetie, could you let the dog in? She’s at the door!)
perfect moment
(let the phone ring, I can call them back)
dressed in finest
(well, I guess it must be important for them to call back again. Seriously? No, I’m perfectly happy with the phone service I already have)
lace like
(We’re out of cotton balls? Okay, write that down on the shopping list)
debutantes waiting
(does that even make sense? No time to decide)
impatiently for Spring.


Selah…”Let those with eyes see and with ears hear”


Have you seen this word in the Psalms? Selah, while difficult to translate into English, is Hebrew for…basically…Stop. Listen. Reflect.

Why is it so hard to do that? I think of how often in my day I am doing things automatically, how often auto-pilot takes over. I spend whole days without taking time to reflect, whole chunks of life spent without looking up.

God wants us to pause, he wants us to stop and listen, to really see what He has created and the gifts He has bestowed on us. When Jesus wanted his disciples to really take something in, he said it…“Let those with eyes see and with ears hear.” I have eyes, I have ears. I just forget to use them sometimes.


Selah can make all the difference. Moments spent recognizing and counting your blessings, moments spent reveling in our Big God who is amazing beyond words, moments spent just soaking in the joy of little every-day moments, those blessings of time and space that fall so abundantly from the Maker’s hand. The smell of a newborn baby’s head, the softness of a child’s cheek, the crystal-blue of a winter sky, the sound of water running, the delicate petal of a rose, the world reflected in a drop of dew.


Stop, acknowledge these moments, this beauty. Reflect on them, soak them in. Let these beautiful things, these precious gifts, permeate through the business and anxiety of the day, let them find the soft places where you can be moved to tears by the sound of a baby’s sigh, the sight of crimson leaf, the feel of the sun playing across your shoulders. Let the joy of it, the importance of it, the tragedy of it, the preciousness of it all soak into your bones. Let His grace overwhelm your senses, His beauty wrap itself around your mind. Know that He recognizes and takes this same delight in you. Know that you are indescribably, perfectly loved.


Reflect on the Word. Read it as you would read a love letter, written passionately by a lover who is devoted completely to you, by One who would give His very life for you. Run to it during the day and night, memorize it so that your favorite parts are always on your tongue. Let your ears hear and your mind understand the words, don’t just read them (and don’t we all do this?) with one part of your mind while the rest of your thoughts migrate towards chores undone, tasks at hand. Meditate on each verse, let it melt like sugar on your tongue and let the words sink into your mind, find your heart.


Lord, let me not be a blind woman despite my eyes, a deaf woman despite my ears. Let me remember to look up, to open my heart to You, to appreciate each moment. Lord, I covet those who walked with Jesus During His physical ministry on Earth, who saw in Him what it was like to live every moment in Selah. Let the Spirit teach me this, too. Let me not forget.


Gratitude Journal

1 Chronicles 29:13 Now, our God, we give you thanks, and praise your glorious name.

251. For friendship knit over needles and yarn, scrapbooks of memories and laughter.

252. For surprise drawings found on whiteboard’s open canvas, child-etched and jubilant

253. For worship music ringing in our ears and echoing in our hearts, a joyful noise!

254. For Middle Child’s creations, so whimsical and fun

255. And another birthday, one in the ten’s place and three in the one’s.

256. For frost etched on standing grass

257. For soft warmth permeating lap and heart

258. For work that brings families closer to a common goal

259. For the love of my life, who works so hard for us and brings such joy to my heart.

Would you like to join the gratitude community? Count your blessings, and visit Ann Voskamp’s beautiful blog to join in the bounty of God’s gifts!