Monday, September 22, 2014

A Birthday Post: Second Son is Four!

A few months ago (sigh), Second Son turned four! Here he is showing off some of his ninja skills.

We told him he could only take swimming lessons this summer if he was done with diapers and I think it may have been a small motivation for him. He succeeded and took lessons with the other kids. I was absolutely amazed at what he was doing by the end of the week. He would actually move his arms and legs like he was swimming! His favorite part of each lesson was the time at the end when he could jump off the diving board. (His instructor is off camera, ready to pilot him to the ladder.)

He talks and he talks and he talks. This boy could rival First Daughter for his chatting, especially when she's not around. Mostly he talks about Legos. More than anything, he likes to take Legos apart. He has to lose some of his screen time when he takes apart other people's Lego creations, though, because it usually makes them rather upset. (We talk a lot here about how four and six year olds are still working on building up a little self control. They have an idea that might not be so good, but lack those neurons that make them stop and think, "I wonder if I should do this...")

He is so adorable without his two front teeth! Second Daughter lost her second top tooth this past weekend so we'll have another Tooth Twins picture. (We have one of First Daughter and Second Son both with missing top teeth.)

This boy runs around the house constantly doing ninja moves and attacking bad guys like Darth Vader. He can make some impressive sound effects, too. If you want a light saber battle, he can accommodate you. Beware, though, he doesn't hold back!

He had a bad habit of jumping on the sofa all day long. All day long. We would remind him and chastise him and punish him and nurse his bumps and bruises, but he just couldn't stop himself. So for his birthday, we asked his Grammy and PawPaw for a little indoor trampoline. He's only jumped on the sofa a couple of times since then and spends a lot of time on the trampoline. Apparently, the boy has a deep inner need to be bouncing up and down.

I love the times I can find him lounging with a book. His favorites are Bear Wants MoreStuck, and anything Star Wars, or Lego, or Star Wars Lego.

His favorite place is the local frozen yogurt restaurant, though he also loves the local candy store. I suppose that's not too surprising. His favorite types of candy are (currently) Rainbow Nerds and Fun Dip. At home, he loves to eat yogurt and cottage cheese. His favorite vegetable is sweet red pepper. He'll steal pieces of it as you chop for salad or cooking. He often skimps on breakfast. For some reason, he'll only eat eggs if we have bacon, and then only an egg white. He doesn't really like donuts or cake. He'll just eat the frosting. He likes cinnamon rolls, though.

He was in my Catechesis class last year and is again this year. It's one of his more challenging times. Sometimes he'll work happily and sometimes he'll demand I take him home immediately. His favorite work is preparing the cruets and the chalice, which are both a little nerve-wracking for me as I don't feel like he's quite careful enough with his pouring. He did improve during the year, though.

He's great at spotting praying mantises and walking sticks (along with Second Daughter). He loves to be outside. He and Second Daughter play elaborate games indoors and out.

For his birthday, Second Son's godmother made him an amazing fireball cake, complete with flames designed and crafted by his godfather. I have a picture of it...on my laptop (which you may recall is temporarily out of commission) so you'll just have to take my word for it.

Second Son, we look forward to another year of blessing with you!

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Wondering Where I Am?

I'm obviously not on the blog.

My laptop suffered a shower of a cold glass of water and has been in various stages of repair and disrepair for over two weeks now. Kansas Dad is confident the hard drive is fine and all my lesson plans and homeschooling files are waiting patiently for the logic board to be repaired. All of that can be recreated pretty easily from my last back-up (lazily done over a month before), but the family pictures for the summer were also on the laptop and those weren't yet backed up. Is there a patron saint of electronic files? If so, I should consider a novena.

So while I have other options for getting online and posting, I find my motivation even less robust when faced with the lack of my trusty laptop.

Hopefully I'll be back with good news in the near future!

Thursday, September 4, 2014

A Birthday Post: Second Daughter Is Six

In July, Second Daughter turned six year olds. Six!

Second Daughter is a free spirit. She doesn't follow a schedule at home, just wander about the house whenever and wherever she likes. Sometimes I love how free she is and sometimes I am more frustrated than by anyone else I've ever met!

She loves the water. I think Second Daughter would spend the entire summer swimming if she had ready access to a watering hole. She took swimming lessons this summer and did really well moving her arms and legs. I think the private lessons were a great investment.

We visited my parents in August and spent some time at their pond. She just floated in the pond most of the time, but she also loved fishing and sleeping in a tent. (They tried sleeping overnight in a tent at our house, but it was the Fourth of July and the fireworks kept her awake so she slept on the floor of our bedroom with me.)

Speaking of sleeping, Second Daughter is the most likely of any of our children to come in to our room at night. She often comes in during thunderstorms. I usually let her stay, because I'm sleepy and in theory like the idea of snuggling with her. In reality, she steals my pillow, kicks me constantly, and her hair tickles my face. So it's usually not so much fun for me. Luckily it's not very often.

Here's a silly face at Second Son's birthday celebration. She and Second Son play together remarkably well most of the time. They have invented their own version of the board games and card games they like best. I love to watch them playing happily, especially while I'm doing lessons with the older kids. It's amazing when they can do so without creating complete havoc in the living room or around us.

Her favorite foods are candy, popsicles, ice cream, and more candy. (That's a girl after my own heart, though we have to intervene immediately if we catch her sneaking candy from her candy bag.) Her favorite candy is Fun Dip. She also loves yogurt, enchiladas, Kansas Dad's barbecue ribs or chicken, PawPaw's macaroni and cheese, Doritos and Cheetos (sigh), muffins, apples, peaches, canned mandarin oranges, and baked blueberry oatmeal. Her favorite vegetable is canned green beans.

She still loves the craft box more than just about anything else. Give her some glue and free access and she'll be happy for hours (and leave lots of little pieces of paper under the table). She will create truly amazing and interesting pictures. (Kansas Dad has an impressive Jesus on the crucifix surrounded by cotton balls hanging in his office.) She's incredibly generous with these, wanting to mail them to whoever catches her fancy.

She has memorized a prayer asking St. George to pray for us because it includes a specific place to mention intercessions. She has been praying each night that my back would get better for over a year now and also prays almost daily for the former librarian of our local library with whom she shares a name.

She is currently enamored of birds. She loves to pore over books about birds from the library, especially birds of prey. She also recently scoured an animal encyclopedia from my own childhood (and a beloved book it was!) to discover a bird we saw at the zoo and could not identify.

She is always the first to find the praying mantis or walking stick outside our windows or in the yard. She doesn't have any interest in drawing them, being too frustrated by what to her is an obvious inability to express in pencil when she sees with her eyes. She has a camera, though, and often takes (too-close, out-of-focus) pictures of wildlife she finds.

Second Daughter is the "strawberry monster" and is the most consistent of the children in searching the strawberry patches for the few fruits they have this time of the year. Sometimes she just eats them, but she's just as likely to present them to a loved one as a special treat.

Oh, she loves to play games! Some of her favorites are Sleeping Queens, There's A Moose In The House, Hoot Owl Hoot, and Skippity. She'd love to play just about any game with you, though.

Her favorite toys are Playmobil, anything Playmobil, but especially girls and boys and toys and playgrounds and moms and dads and baby animals. She received quite a few Playmobil sets for her birthday. She and First Daughter play for hours with them. I appreciate how they encourage open-ended play and tell myself all those small pieces are excellent for fine motor control, until I step on one.

Usually, Kansas Dad makes a pancake as big as your head when it's your birthday, but Second Daughter didn't want that. Instead, she dropped lots and lots of chocolate chips on her pancake and we let her eat it with chocolate syrup.

For some inexplicable reason, Second Daughter insisted she wanted a dog bone cake for her birthday. The benefit of this desire is that I could make it myself. (I've been farming out cake-making to various friends the past few years; cake decorating is not something in which I am skilled or even interested in learning).

I did have to invest in a dog bone shaped pan, so if you live nearby and have a need, you know where you can find one.

She had asked last year for a pinata at her birthday party just a few days before the party, long after I was planning to buy anything else, so I told her she could have one when she turned six. She did not forget! She wanted one shaped like a puppy, but I couldn't find one and didn't want to order one online, so I took her to the store and let her pick whatever she wanted: a party hat.

We've recently started school and Second Daughter started kindergarten. She could have started last year, but wasn't very interested and she was so young. So we waited and I am very pleased. She's happily learning to read, is delighted to take out the salt box for her writing, and loves her saint book (My First Book of Saints) and Aesop's Fables for Children. She'll be singing with our parish children's choir for the first time this year and attending children's adoration while I teach a Catechesis class. Hopefully all of that time with Jesus will bless her (and us).

I'm looking forward to a fabulous year with Second Daughter. Many blessings to her!

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

First Day of School Pictures

These are a few weeks old now, but it seems like the blog would be incomplete without them.

Second Son is four years old and will mostly be getting into trouble. I have Making Music Praying Twice (not an affiliate link) for him, though I don't intend to start until Advent. He'll be in my Level 1 Catechesis of the Good Shepherd class and listening to family read-alouds like The Complete Tales of Winnie-the-Pooh.

Second Daughter is six and will be in kindergarten this year. She has a late July birthday so we waited a year to start formal school. She's very excited to learn to read!

First Daughter is seven years old (soon to be eight!) in second grade this year and is most excited about preparing for her First Reconciliation in December and her First Communion in March.

First Son is ten years old and starting fifth grade. He'll be learning about the human body this year and starting a writing course of study. He'll also be in the first cohort of Level 3 students in our parish's Catechesis of the Good Shepherd. So exciting!

The first day of school was a little rough, but it's been better since then. Let's hope it's all uphill the rest of the year!

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Book Review: The Drama of Scripture

The Drama of Scripture: Finding Our Place in the Biblical Story by Craig G. Bartholomew and Michael W. Goheen

This year, the children and I are cycling back around to Volume 1 of Connecting with History, Old Testament and Ancient History. I asked Kansas Dad for recommendations in placing the Old Testament in the context of history and this is the book he recommended. He uses it in his theology courses.

This book is not written by Catholics, but the text is still valuable. I noticed one reference to Jesus's siblings (which of course Catholics would say were cousins). Also, the books of Maccabees are placed in the intertestamental period rather than the Old Testament. Interestingly, though, the authors never explicitly say the books of Maccabees are non-Biblical, and they present the content of those books with as much authority as those they cover in the Old Testament section. Also, the appendix in the back that lists all the references used in the course of the book includes 1 and 2 Maccabees without even an asterisk. So in some ways, it is perhaps more Catholic than I expected.

Basically, the book presents the historical thread of Scripture as a single story, combining the events of all the books of the Bible. The goal is to see the overall picture of God's work on earth and his plan for all of creation, including ourselves.

One of the aspects of the book I found most helpful was the authors' ability to explain the understanding of the Jewish people of the Scriptures as they were handed down and how that understanding (or misunderstanding) was addresses by Jesus in his teachings and in the moments of his ministry selected and emphasized by the writers of the Gospels. Lots of sources tell a bit of what life was like in Jesus's time, but this book incorporated all of Old Testament history to generate a picture of the Hebrew people as a whole, including those areas in which there was debate and disagreement.
The church of the first century is almost two thousand years removed in time and (for most of us) half a world away in distance...The biblical accounts of how all these different people struggled to live faithfully in their distant times and places may seem to have little to do with you and me.
Yet it is not so. The world of the Bible is our world, and its story of redemption is also our story. This story is waiting for an ending--in part because we ourselves have a role to play before all is concluded...We must resist the temptation to read the Scriptures as if they were a religious flea market, with a basket of history and old doctrines here, a shelf full of pious stories there, promises and commands scattered from one end to the other.
The authors are interested in convincing their readers to integrate the story of Scripture into their lives, not just on Sundays or during a prayer time, but throughout their days. We are participating in God's kingdom already come but not yet complete.
Salvation is not an escape from creational life into "spiritual" existence: it is the restoration of God's rule over all of creation and all human life.
Because our own culture is very different from that in which Jesus and the apostles ministered, we must be creative in how to understand and carry out that continuing mission today.
Witness will mean embodying God's renewing power in politics and citizenship, economics and business, education and scholarship, family and neighborhood, media and art, leisure and play...It means that the way we live as citizens, consumers, students, husbands, mothers, and friends witnesses to the restoring power of God.
As I said, Kansas Dad uses this book in his university level courses, so it's written in an academic style. That doesn't mean it's impossible to understand for a layperson, just that there are a lot of quotes from academic theologians (those that publish in academic journals) versus popular theologians (those that write most of the books and do most of the touring around the country to speak at conferences for laypeople). There are lots and lots of endnotes, which makes me happy. It is a little dense for someone wanting to just sit down and read a bit now and then. I generally found I understood it better if I read it while the children were focused on something or in bed. Interruptions were problematic.

All product links in this post are affiliate links, either with Amazon or RC History. Our homeschool budget is grateful for any commissions we receive, but all opinions in this post are objective and not written at the prompting of any vendor.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Book Review: The Nesting Place

The Nesting Place: It Doesn't Have to Be Perfect to Be Beautiful by Myquillyn Smith

I'm not really interested in interior decorating. We have some beautiful things we've picked up on our travels and I asked my mom or Kansas Dad to hang them for us. Nearly all of our furniture was given to us and most of what we've purchased is either used or from some superstore. Honestly, up until a year ago or so, I didn't have the mental energy to think too much about anything besides growing babies and kids.

Recently, though, I've been thinking a little more about "decorating," especially the kids' bathroom, which is also the guest bathroom. I've been slowly working on that. When I saw this book mentioned at Conversion Diary, I decided to check it out from the library. I had to wait a while for a copy, but it was worth it. I read this book a few pages at a time while driving to visit my parents for a much-enjoyed-though-not-relaxing vacation.
You don't have to get perfect to have a pretty house. Most of us simply need to learn to see the beauty in the imperfect. Because life is gloriously messy. We can find rest in our less than perfect circumstances when we figure out that no amount of striving can create the perfect life we think we are looking for.
The book was wonderful. It's not about decorating as much as it is about allowing yourself to create beauty in your surroundings, with whatever you have. Even as I read through the book and thought to myself, "I don't think I'd like that living room for our family," I was thinking about what we could do around the house - and came up with lots of ideas! (And only one of them will require safety goggles and masks.)

Her advice on husbands was fabulous, too, and applicable on a wide range of topics (not just decorating or home improvement).
I've found, though, that often we ask our husbands for advice when we are unsure of what to do. Then we blame them if we don't like the color of the new bathroom rug, when they didn't really care what color it was in the first place. They were just answering a question that we asked out of obligation or lack of confidence. It helps to figure out what things your husband cares about and get his input on those things, and then don't bother him with the rest.
Oh how Kansas Dad must loathe the homeschool curriculum questions!

I didn't go crazy and paint the fireplace bricks and tiles bright green (though they'll probably end up painting something). I did "shop" my mom's house extensively for some interesting pieces for above our fireplace. I also wandered the house and moved some things around. I even (oh, shock!) hammered in a few nails.

There's a long list of blogs at the end of the book to seek out for decorating ideas, in addition to the author's blog: Nesting Place. I think my own decorating is done for a while as we settle into a new school year and start up all our activities (but hopefully not too long as there are quite a few frames standing on the floor just now). I'll be keeping my eye out for ideas, though!

Monday, August 11, 2014

July 2014 Book Reports

God King: A Story in the Days of King Hezekiah by Joanne Williamson will be a history read-aloud for us next year. There are a few battle scenes that might be a little scary for the girls (who will be 6 and 8) but I think they'll be alright if I talk through them. This book is excellent and I'm looking forward to reading it with the kids. (purchased copy, I believe I bought this directly from Bethlehem Books. They have great sales so if you are interested in their books request their emails or follow them on facebook.)

Uncle Tom's Cabin
by Harriet Beecher Stowe is a classic. It was interesting to think about how it would have been like to read it when it was first published and contemplating what it might have to say to us today. (I don't have any great insights to share; it was just thought-provoking.) (playaway from the library)

Still Life with Dirty Dishes: poems
by Ramona McCallum is a book of poetry by a Kansas poet with young children. A great many of the poems seemed to reflect my own life and I enjoyed the book tremendously. The title poem is still my favorite. You can read it online here. (library copy, purchased after I requested it)

The Smart Martha's Guide for Busy Moms by Tami Kiser (inter-library loan)

Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton surfaced in my searches for books set in Africa for First Son to read this upcoming year. I read it myself in eighth grade but couldn't remember much of it, so I thought I'd refresh my memory even though it's not one I would ask him to read. It's heartbreakingly beautiful. I listened to most of it and loved the reader's interpretation in the the audio version. (audio CD from the library, library copy for the chapters on one of the discs which wouldn't play for me)

Burning for Revenge by John Marsden, the fifth book in the Tomorrow series, which I'm reviewing for another website. (library copy)

The Idea of a University by Bl. John Henry Cardinal Newman (Kansas Dad's copy from a library sale, which I managed to almost destroy)

Champion: A Legend Novel by Marie Lu is the third book in the Legend trilogy. It managed to be better than the second book and a much better ending than the Divergent series. I read this to review on another site. (library copy)

Walk Me Home by Catherine Ryan Hyde was predictable, but sweet, a nice book to read over the summer. (borrowed for free from Kindle Owners' Lending Library, since replaced by Kindle Unlimited, which is not free)

How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare by Ken Ludwig (a review for Blogging for Books)

The Sense of Wonder by Rachel Carson (library copy)

A Little Way of Homeschooling by Suzie Andres (library copy)

Books in Progress (and date started)

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Book Review: A Little Way of Homeschooling

A Little Way of Homeschooling by Suzie Andres

This is Suzie Andres’s second book, building on Homeschooling with Gentleness. In the first book, she presented arguments supporting her belief that unschooling is one of many methods of homeschooling acceptable and appropriate for Catholic families and she described a little how that looked in her own family.

This book expands on the theme by presenting chapters by eight Catholic families that unschool and five Catholic families that incorporate some aspects of unschooling. Many of these families are large or deal with illness or disability, a nice complement to Suzie’s own small family of two boys so far apart that the first one was going off to college as the second one started school.

I do not have an unschooling personality. Even the thought of it makes me a little anxious. I like my year planned out in advance with readings for each day in nice neat (and very large) Excel spreadsheets. It’s good for me to read this sort of book to remind myself that planning to the exclusion of listening to my children could foster disenchantment with learning and faith. In the most extreme cases, it could damage our relationships with each other.

One of my favorite quotes is from Cindy Kelly (who writes on her blog here)
When I was a teenager and in college, I only knew one thing: how to play the game. I knew that if I got A’s and pleased professors, I would advance, and I did. I wish I had known that while it is fine to play the game, the game is not the goal. The goal is finding God’s will for me and my place in the world.
If our goal is seeking God and his will for our lives (and it is), then our homeschooling choices should point toward that goal.  To that end, I have been thinking even more carefully about what we’ll be doing next year.

One revelation I had while reading was the thought that textbooks are written to fit the traditional school year. Of course I knew that before, but I suddenly realized the math book had lessons for the whole year not because they were all appropriate for the student but because they had a certain number of days to fill. I don't want our lesson plans to be like that. So I wrote lesson plans but I will be discerning as we go whether the lessons we do each week are leading us to God or if there is something better we could be doing with our time. I have a lot of history on our schedule this year and we might spread the readings out more even if we don't finish it all. I don't have any grammar on our schedule this year, but First Son will be doing some more writing and I will try to teach him a little grammar as we go along. Or not. We'll see.

At the end, the author reminds us that the beautiful words we read are only a part of the women who wrote them:
We are just like you, wondering what in the world we will put together for dinner tonight. We are just like you, and not entirely sure of ourselves. We may write long books and thoughtful Internet posts proclaiming the goodness and freedom of unschooling; at the end of the day we still lie in bed exhausted and wonder if our children are learning what they should.
Much of the book describes following the Little Way of St. Therese and the example of St. John Bosco, a great teacher of orphan boys in the 1800s. These thoughts are most fitting for Catholics, though both of these saints have insights into human character that many non-Catholic educators would find interesting if not enlightening. For example, Don Bosco writes:
It is certainly easier to lose one’s temper than to be patient; threaten young people rather than reason with them. I would say that it better suits our lack of patience and our pride to punish those who resist us, rather than bear with them firmly and with kindness.
The booklists at the end are excellent, divided into categories on St. Therese, unschooling, Catholic homeschooling and general homeschooling, education, and more.

It was a joy to read this book and I highly recommend it. As a side note, Hillside Education did a wonderful job printing and binding this book. It's beautiful.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Book Review: The Idea of a University

The Idea of A University by Bl. John Henry Cardinal Newman

I spent months slowly reading this book. It was a pleasure to read, with plenty of small quips and carefully explained and defended ideas. It's the kind of book that rewards the careful reader and deserves a measured approach. I usually read only one or two sections at a time, sometimes only three pages.

As I read this book, I thought carefully about the kind of university education I want my children to have, and therefore the kind of education we should provide, the kind of environment we should create, to foster the love of learning and of the faith we desire for our children.

I'm not sure this post qualifies as a review as much as simply a statement that I finally finished the book. You can browse my quote tag for excerpts I wanted to share, but this post has my favorite.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Book Review: The Sense of Wonder

The Sense of Wonder by Rachel Carson, with photographs by Nick Kelsh

This book's brief text is lavishly illustrated by nature photographs. Published posthumously, it encourages the reader to step outside with young people, even very young people. For those of us who hope to infuse nature study into our homeschools, it's a short book full of inspiration.
I sincerely believe that for the child, and for the parent seeking to guide him, it is not half so important to know as to feel. If facts are the seeds that later produce knowledge and wisdom, then the emotions and the impressions of the senses are the fertile soil in which the seeds must grow. The years of early childhood are the time to prepare the soil. Once the emotions have been aroused--a sense of the beautiful, the excitement of the new and the unknown, a feeling of sympathy, pity, admiration or love--then we wish for knowledge about the object of our emotional response. Once found, it has lasting meaning. It is more important to pave the way for the child to want to know than to put him on a diet of facts he is not ready to assimilate.
I emphasized that last sentence. I believe it's true: that to be outside even without a guide book or any knowledge of the plants or bugs or birds, is more important that to sit inside and read about them. I'd much rather sit inside myself, though, and therefore I must fight this lethargy year after year.
The lasting pleasures of contact with the natural world are not reserved for scientists but are available to anyone who will place himself under the influence of earth, sea and sky and their amazing life.