Monday, November 24, 2014

Dressing Up for All Saints and Halloween

It's a month past Halloween and I'm just now getting to the pictures. The blog wouldn't be complete without a record of our costumes for the All Saints party at our parish and Halloween.

Here we have St. Michael the Archangel, St. Bernadette (before she joined the convent), St. Elizabeth of Hungary (with a crown made by Second Daughter based on St. Elizabeth's card in the Happy Saints A to Z cards (not an affiliate link) and a basket of homemade rolls), and St. Bruno. It was St. Bruno's second appearance in as many years, but I was pleased to use the Sculpey skull I made last year again. I had to miss the party this year as I wasn't feeling well, but the children assured me it was better than ever. Some very generous members of our parish made magnificent games and lots and lots of cookies.

For Halloween, we had an interesting assortment of personages. Second Son wanted to be Simba, and not just any lion but Simba the baby lion without a mane. We searched high and low for a costume without success but a mom from our homeschool group came to my rescue. She had one in his size from a previous Halloween and let us borrow it.

Second Daughter decided she wanted to be a tribble after watching The Trouble with Tribbles, arguably the best original Star Trek episode and the only one the children had seen. I debated a long time about how to manage such a costume without any sewing but with inspiration from my dad and my mom ended up with a furry throw blanket wrapped and clipped with big gripping clips the kids received in their stockings one year for making tents and forts in the house.

First Daughter is Zita the Spacegirl from the wonderful trilogy. First Son is Tintin. Their costumes are a combination of items we found in a single massive shopping trip at Goodwill. Recognize First Daughter's skirt? Second Son is wearing it as a cassock in the All Saints picture above.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Advent 2014 Activity Chain

It's more than a week away, so there's plenty of time to print out this easy activity chain. I just modified a few of the activities from last year (a post that has some pictures of the chain). This year, I intend to have my kids cut the activity sheets, tape them onto the purple and pink strips, and make the chain. (They won't be surprised by the activities this way, but most of them are traditions now.) I think we'll also share some with friends.

Here's our list in case you'd like to use it yourself or just modify it a little.

Make sure you have some Advent candles and you're all set! If you'd like to read more on our Advent activities, this post on what we did in 2012 is pretty thorough. It'll be a similar Advent this year.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Love Is...Washing the Dog Outside in the Cold Dark Night

The bad news is...we have a skunk living under our shed.

The worse news is...our dog discovered the intruder.

Kansas Dad is my hero.

(Love is also disposing of said intruder, just not tonight.)

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Second Daughter Is Reading

Second Daughter has discovered the joys of reading. She read Have You Seen My New Blue Socks? to me a few nights ago...twice. Then she read it again. And again. And again.

It's amazing to witness that light bulb moment, when kids realize the letters on the page can all be sounded out and that it's fun.

We just need a few more books from the library...

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Thumbs Are Awesome

This picture is from September, when First Son read in Blood and Guts about the importance of the opposable thumb. One of the activities recommended was taping your thumb to your other fingers and trying to do all your normal activities for an hour. First Daughter and Second Daughter thought this looked like so much fun they couldn't be excluded.

If nothing else, this school year my children learned thumbs are awesome.

* If you want to try this yourself, athletic tape worked the best. We tried two or three other kinds before hitting on one that actually held.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

October 2014 Book Reports

The Postman by David Brin started out really well. I was most interested in how the main characters actions seemed to be bringing about the kind of world he sought despite his recognition of it, but the last third took a different direction and I think the book suffered because of it. Apparently, it's a movie, too, but I haven't seen it. (library copy)

Kiln People also by David Brin was much more interesting. In addition to being fun and exciting, it raises questions about what it means to be human. I might have read more by the author after this book, but I had the chance to hear him speak and found him so obnoxious I decided against it. (library copy)

My Sister the Saints by Colleen Carroll Campbell (review copy from Blogging for Books)

UnDivided by Neal Shusterman (library copy)

These Beautiful Bones by Emily Stimpson (Kansas Dad's university library copy)

Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift is a book I had never read, and now I have. Some of it was fun and much of it was...long. But now I know what a yahoo is. (purchased copy)

The Reading Promise: My Father and the Books We Shared by Alice Ozma was the inspiration for one of the Read-Aloud Revival podcasts at Amongst Lovely Things. I loved the podcast and immediately requested the book. The book is a memoir of her childhood so it is about more than just the reading she and her father did together or even the direct effect of the reading promise on her life. It was a sweet memoir, but I thought the best parts were the ones that most concerned the reading. (library copy)

The Johnstown Flood by David McCullough is a book I couldn't put down. I literally read it in a couple of days, mostly in a few hours of straight reading in the evenings. It's fast-paced and fascinating. I didn't know much about the flood before I read the book but was constantly comparing it to recent events, how people survive and overcome tragedy, how corporations behave (in good and bad ways), and how people are held responsible. Most of all, I thought of how we should all pay attention to credibility and expertise of the "experts" who are telling us everything is fine (or not so fine). Kansas Dad thought it looked depressing, and it was sad in parts, but I felt in some way that the people who spoke with the author wanted to tell their tales and want them to be remembered. The author has some problems with other books, but as far as I can tell this book is reliable. (library copy)

Books in Progress (and date started)
Links to Amazon are affiliate links. Other links are not affiliate links.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Book Review: Draw-a-Saurus

Draw-a-Saurus by James Silvani

First Son saw this book over my shoulder as I was glancing through books available at Blogging for Books and excitedly asked for it.

Mr. Silvani gives detailed instructions on drawing many different kinds of dinosaurs, using the fossil evidence to shape and color them. There are chapters on theropods, sauropods, armored dinosaurs, ornithopods, and other prehistoric creations. He includes chapters on fine tuning, interpretations, and environments as well. This book includes standard scientific information on dinosaurs and would probably not be appropriate for a family that does not believe in evolution over millions of years.

There's information on dinosaurs throughout, the most valuable of which is related directly to the final details of a dinosaur drawing: the skin or feathers. Any young dinosaur enthusiast may know more about dinosaurs, but may not have considered how that knowledge would impact a drawing.

By far the best part of the book are the little jokes scattered throughout. First Son, who is almost 11, laughed and giggled the whole way through. He especially likes the interjections by the "editor."

First Son immediately put the book to use, sketching dinosaurs using the techniques in the book. He's made many a dinosaur drawing (here are some done when he was six), but these did seem to be more an attempt to draw realistic dinosaurs. He also took the book to a friend's house and they enjoyed drawing together (after giggling some more at the jokes).

I received this book for free from Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review. The opinions above are my own.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Book Review: These Beautiful Bones

These Beautiful Bones: An Everyday Theology of the Body by Emily Stimpson

Kansas Dad read this book a few months ago and immediately suggested I read it. The first few chapters seek to introduce St. John Paul II's theology of the body. Many years ago, I read The Theology of the Body Human Love in the Divine Plan and understood only a small part of it. Ms. Stimpson's explanations are clear without skimming the surface so much as to be inaccurate or too generalized.

The whole point of the book is to fill a gap in the literature about theology of the body. So far, most of the books, speeches, and resources have focused on what theology of the body means for the intimate physical interactions between men and women, but Ms. Stimpson points out that we must also consider what theology of the body tells us about the choices we make in every area of our lives.

Society today teaches us that our bodies are not part of us, but just something we use to experience pleasure, but the Catholic church teaches that we are not just spirit, but body and spirit. St. John Paul II reminds us that our bodies are the method for our interaction with the world and with other people.
Every look we give and every action we take in some way communicates the inmost mystery of our being to those around us.
Rather than quote whole paragraphs of the first two chapters here (many are worth quoting), I'll encourage you to read them yourself. At the end, she says:
Working in harmony with the whole of Catholic tradition (big "T" as well as little "t"), the theology of the body points the way towards new life. It shows us how, even in the midst of a culture that denies the meaning and dignity of the body, we can live lives that anticipate the fullness of redemption.
So now the question for us becomes, what does that life look like?
Then Ms. Stimpson applies theology of the body to the daily issues of work, spiritual parenthood, manners, clothing, food, prayer, and social media. Each receives its own chapter and postscript, any of which could be read in isolation or any order.

I found something enlightening in each chapter. Here's a bit from the one on labor:
More than what work we do, it's how we do our work that matters. It's how we talk to our patients, talk to our secretary, and talk to the quiet old man who sweeps the halls at night--acknowledging them and caring for them as persons, not case numbers or job titles. It's also how we treat those who work for us and with us--with kindness, compassion, and justice, as men not we make every minute of our workday a silent witness to the God we love.
This was such a great reminder to me that my work as a mother and teacher to my children is important, but so is the attitude I have with them. If I check off every lesson on our schedule but spend the entire day yelling at my children (not that I've ever done that, of course), I have failed in my work.

I loved her chapter on manners, too. It reminded me a lot of The Hidden Power of Kindness. Being kind is such a small thing that often people think we are too busy for it or that it doesn't really matter compared to the big things, but it does. Ms. Stimpson clearly shows how our love for Christ is only as deep as how well we treat others. Our manners:
keep us doing the right thing--honoring others, honoring Christ, and recognizing our own dignity--even when we don't feel like it. And it's doing the right thing, even when we don't feel like it, which is the ordinary path to holiness.
Being kind, always, is extremely difficult, but it also seems remarkably simple. St. Therese summed it up as her "Little Way" and it's really a way that's open to everybody. I don't have to sell everything I own and move to Mexico as a missionary to follow Christ. I don't have to give a lot of money to the Church or to the poor. If I am only kind and anticipate the needs of others, I am serving Christ is a very real way.

If you have ever felt like you should learn more about the theology of the body, but couldn't muster enough effort to actually do so, this is the book you should read. If you've read some about the theology of the body and want to groan a little at the thought of reading more, this is the book for you. It's engaging, immediately applicable, and manages to be completely different from almost all the other theology of the body books without misrepresenting theology of the body (or the Church as a whole).

As an added bonus, the cover is delightful.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Book Review: UnDivided (and a Small Commentary on Young Adult Dystopian Fiction)

UnDivided by Neal Shusterman

This is the fourth (and final) book of the Unwind series and it's a fantastic ending to one of the best young adult dystopian series in recent years, if not longer.

Lest you think I say that lightly, let me remind you that I have read The Hunger Games Trilogy, the Divergent Series, the Matched Trilogy, the Legend Trilogy, the Tankborn trilogy, at least one other trilogy not even worth the time to look up its name and link here, and the beginnings of a few series still in progress. Many of them were enjoyable (not the third Divergent book, as I wrote in another post), but I was troubled by a recurrent theme: cynicism. In all these books, young people recognized injustice or even outright evil in their worlds and attempted to right the wrongs. That's what young people should do, even the real ones. In book after book, series after series, the young adults in question seem to learn that even among those fighting for "right," there are none who are hold fast to their integrity if it means losing the battle. You'll see, for example, atrocities on both sides not just among a few people here and there, but in the upper echelons of any group in power or seeking to be in power.

I'm making some generalizations here and some of these series are more permeated by this idea than others, but I kept saying to myself, "There are people of integrity in the world! It is possible to fight injustice without merely inflicting it on someone else!"

I feel this is an important aspect of young adult fiction not only because there are people of integrity, but because we are already living in the time of God's kingdom on earth and we are called to be a part of that transformation which means standing for Truth and Love without falling into the same sins as those we are fighting. Ideally, we wouldn't be "fighting" at all, but rather leading. In some ways, dystopian fiction is a genre that is perfect for young people precisely because it can accentuate some subtle (but present) flaw to extreme proportions and then allow young idealistic people to battle those flaws, all in ways not possible in contemporary realistic fiction (which also happens to often be quite depressing; there's more room for joyous success in dystopia).

Then I read the Unwind series. From the very beginning, I was excited by the big ideas presented in the books. The questions raised regarding abortion, faith, the value of a person, what it means to be human, the commercialization of medical procedures, and so much more, are fascinating and strikingly relevant. In the books, a tragic civil war broke out in the United States over abortion. In the end, a compromise made abortion illegal, but allows parents to "unwind" teenagers in a medical procedure that takes every piece of the young person apart so they can be used to heal, cure, or replace parts in other people. The technology is later advanced further, resulting in the ability to put pieces of people together to create life (just like Frankenstein without the need to pilfer cemeteries for dead bodies). Of course it's ridiculous to think such a thing could happen, and yet the scenario provides an interesting way to contemplate humanity. Personally, I think it provides a fertile ground for discussions about abortion, all the more so because the reviews on Amazon (which I glanced at before writing this post) often neglect to mention it at all.

To return to my point above, do characters on the "right" side of the debate in the Unwind series show integrity? I think they do, absolutely. There are plenty of people who seem to be on the "right" side who end up to be only looking out for their own interests and there are plenty of people fighting for reason and hope who make mistakes, some of them tragic and devastating, but there are a great many people who sacrifice whole-heartedly. There are also many people who yearn for a better way, who take small risks when offered an opportunity and indicate a desire to do even more, if only they could muster up enough courage and had the right leaders.

In each of these books, there is a great hope, a hint that a society can recognize mistakes and rectify them. (A few people, and then more, begin to think, "My God...what have we done?)

Most importantly, there is hope for forgiveness.

I fully intend to read these books with my children when they are older. There are plenty of mature themes in the books (mainly of violence and abuse) so they are definitely for older teens. I also think the Catholic church is not portrayed at all as it would really be if something like unwinding were to become a reality, which I believe is more due to ignorance of Catholic beliefs than an anti-Catholic bias by the author. That portrayal gives even more to discuss with young Catholics (and probably other Christian denominations as well).

I hope I have written enough to make you rush out to your library or bookstore and read these books but not so much to give away any spoilers!

Friday, October 24, 2014

First Son's Interesting Copywork

This year, I have been letting First Son choose his own copywork. He can choose from Scripture, a book of saint quotations, a selection of Shakespeare quotations, or his memory work binder (poems and such). He can choose something from his school books, too, but that I have to approve in advance. Everything else is up to him.

Today, I was reviewing his work and found this quote from St. Monica:
Guard your tongue when your husband is angry.
It's illustrated, too, with an angry husband.

I can't decide if it's a funny joke or some sort of warning.

Let's go with joke.