Sunday, November 30, 2008

Celebrity Status

I sat Second Daughter up for some pictures and she attracted a crowd. Like any good celebrity, she allowed some photos with her fans.

Is He Trying to Tell Me Something?

I let First Son take one picture with the camera today. He wandered the living room for five minutes (as we're scrambling to get ready for church, of course) and finally selected this scene:

A vacuum cleaner attachment First Daughter had kidnapped and then abandoned.

What does that mean?


First Daughter drew these faces this morning!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008


My father-in-law once shared with me part of a sermon he heard. The pastor had said something like "Show me what you do and I will tell you your priorities." I have been dwelling on these words this week, avoiding the computer a bit. You may have noticed fewer pictures and posts on the blog. With the holidays approaching, including two family birthdays, I began to feel the stress of things that must be done (and I'm not even hosting any holiday meals!). I also read this wonderful plan for DecemberTerm and suddenly remembered all my grand plans to make grand plans of an educational nature for the kids (and me) for this fall, reading lessons being the only result.

I wasted some time making excuses and then wasted some more time disparaging myself (and some time going back and forth between the two), but of course neither of those strategies do anyone any good at all. So now I'm developing a plan for that will work with an extended trip to my parents in another state (and those two birthdays).

Here are my thoughts:

  • A Jesse tree. I thought about this last year, but in the throes of vicious morning all-the-time sickness, I didn't think about it for very long. This year I'm considering something small that will travel easily: a tree I'll draw on some card stock and then draw in ornaments as we do the readings each day. I can use the description and drawings in Advent, Christmas Epiphany in the Domestic Church.
  • An Advent wreath. We bought one last year that we never used because First Son continued to be adamantly opposed to lit candles. I'm thinking we might give it a try this year.
  • The feast of St. Nicholas on December 6th. We missed it last year, but we're definitely going to read about this saint and put out our shoes for a little treat. I'll be using the book above for some background, but you can also find lots of ideas here, if you're so inclined.
  • Every year we've made ornaments with the kids. I have an idea for this year (don't want to give it away) and already have all the supplies. I just need to get it started and then have the kids finish them up.
  • Gingerbread house. I just love the idea of tackling something complicated in my kitchen that could potentially be so much fun! I had considered and then decided against it earlier because of the trip to my parent's house. (How would we take it? What would it be like when we returned?) Now, I'm thinking of asking my mom if we can try it there. I figure we could let the kids decorate the front of a house if we can't get it to stay together and they'll be just as thrilled. (Mom, if you're reading this, what do you think?)

As for education, I stand by my decision to avoid formal handwriting and math right now. First Son just isn't interested and I don't want to push him, and this year is still a preschool year. I am considering a more formal read-aloud time. We read all sorts of books all day long, but I did mean to start a chapter book as a family read-aloud and we might do that in January.

Lest you think I've been only berating myself for days, I did take some time to tackle small projects that have been literally lying around the house. There's more to do, of course, but it's good to get some of them out from underfoot.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Just a Few Christmas Books

Brandy asked for Christmas reading suggestions. At first I was going to just comment on her post, but then my list got a little out of control, so I thought I should post it here instead. I'm actually just beginning to read through a substantial number of Christmas books, so I expect my list of favorites to grow very quickly from these. I've mentioned before our efforts to subdue our book collections, which is true, but I still find myself indulging in lots of children's books. I suppose there are worse faults.

Bethlehem: Revised Standard Version Of The Holy Bible, Catholic Edition is my absolute favorite Christmas book. The words are taken directly from the Bible and are stunningly illustrated by Fiona French in the style of stained glass windows. I intend to read it to the kids over and over again this Advent.

A Christmas Story is illustrated by Brian Wildsmith, one of my favorite illustrators. I just love how gold shimmers throughout his books. (I also really like his Easter book.)

All for the Newborn Baby is another stunning book and a sweet lullaby.

A Gift from Saint Francis: The First Creche tells of St. Francis's organization of the first live Nativity scene and is a wonderful way to talk about how "seeing" the scene can be a blessing from God. I'm very sad it's out of print.

Brigid's Cloak: An Ancient Irish Story Just wonderful!

The Miracle of Saint Nicholas This is not a book about Santa Claus; it's not even about the feast of St. Nicholas. With the prayers of a young boy, a village pulls their church's treasures out of hiding and celebrates mass on Christmas day.

Gingerbread Baby, illustrated by Jan Brett is (not surprisingly) beautifully illustrated and a lot of fun. First Son particularly loves the peek into the gingerbread house at the end.

The Legend of the Poinsettia and The Night of Las Posadas are just two of Tomie dePaola's many worthy books. (I do avoid his Strega Nona books; I've always felt a little strange about reading my children a book about a friendly witch even if she doesn't use magic at Christmastime.)

The Little Drummer Boy I have this book in a small paperback version rescued from my own childhood and I love it. Keats is a masterful illustrator and of course the song itself is a wonderful reminder of how we should gladly bring the gifts we have been given back to Christ's service.

Christmas in the Barn This is, I think, my favorite of the Margaret Wise Brown Christmas books. I haven't actually seen this new version. The one at our library is illustrated by Barbara Cooney, one of my favorite illustrators, so it is my preferred version.

The Huron Carol Father Jean de Brebeuf was a missionary serving the Huron Indians in the 1600s. This carol is his retelling of Christ's birth, beautifully illustrated by Frances Tyrrell. I especially appreciate the music and verses printed at the end, along with a note on Father Brefeuf.

We also have a book of lots of carols along with brief descriptions and histories for each of them. First Son in particular enjoys this book and asks us to sing them for him. Being the abysmal singer I am (I apologize if you ever sit near me at church), I prefer to put on a CD that has the song for him, but I do what I can.

Just in case you were wondering, we read Christmas books year-round, though I am going to try to read them more during Advent and the Christmas season than we usually do.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Loving God and Others

I was thrilled to receive this book for my second review for The Catholic Company. I was eager to learn more about Mother Teresa and to make a connection with my own life.

I know it's taken a long time for me to write this review. Partly that was due to the chaos that was our life when it arrived. (Chaos seems to be a theme around here. The first review took forever because the book arrived the day Second Daughter was born. This one arrived right after we closed on the house. Hopefully my life settles down a bit now. Oh wait...maybe after the holidays.) A large part of the delay, however, was how much time I spent reading the book. I found myself rereading sections because they were so thought-provoking. I needed to make sure I was concentrating on what I was reading (a difficult task with a preschooler, a toddler and an infant, even when they're asleep because then I'm just as exhausted).

Early on, Father Langford encourages us not just to admire Mother Teresa, but to learn from her and apply those lessons in our own lives, right where we are. As he says, no one in the world is exactly positioned to meet the people we meet each day. There's no need to go off to India, or even an inner city. There are people yearning for light all around us. For me, this was great encouragement, not just to really see the people around me and meet their needs, but to take the time to become more like Christ, just as Mother Teresa did. It's so easy to think it's too hard or too time consuming. Father Langford provides concrete steps, including some guided meditations, to help us on our journey.

This is not really a book about Mother Teresa. It's a book describing her encounter with Jesus and how that transformed her life. Father Langford has really done a tremendous job translating that transformation for us.

She has shown us that, as the burning desert yearns for water, God yearns for us. And the God who thirsts for us is not hard to find, since he dwells in our soul as his temple, and comes in the palpable disguise of our suffering neighbor, making it easy for us to find the unsearchable God, and to come face-to-face with Christ. For whatever we do in love, we know that "we do it to him." Our smallest acts of love reveal, for all the world to see, the mystery, the reality of God's thirst for man, and of man's thirst for God.

Small acts of love abound here on the Range--opportunities to clothe the naked, feed the hungry and clean up after others. That's all part of the daily grind for a mother with young children. If I pay attention, there is much holiness to be found in serving my children.

I especially loved Father Langford's comment that Mother Teresa strove always for those she served to see the face of Christ rather than her own. I often think of myself as a representative for all Christians, that I should be aware those around me are indeed judging all Christians based on my behavior and so I should be ever-vigilant. Her desire was much more, a desire to be so open to Christ and His love, that He could be seen in everything she did. Can you imagine how extraordinary it would be if my children could see Christ in my face as I cared for their needs? That would be much to pray for, indeed.

This review was written as part of The Catholic Company product reviewer program. I have not received any payment for this review, but I did receive a free copy of the book Mother Teresa's Secret Fire by Joseph Langford.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

What's a Mother to Do?

I just finished reading this book and it has brought a dilemma I've considered before to the fore front. Dr. Waltner-Toews's premise (and it's a good one) is that that rise of agribusiness has made our food supply less safe than they would have us believe. He proposes a return to locally grown food (organic if possible) and we're inclined to agree.

So what's the problem? Well, recently we've cut our food budget significantly (or at least we're trying to cut our food budget). For a while we ate all organic and locally grown foods and our budget exploded to over $800 a month! Well, that just wasn't sustainable when we knew I was going to quit working eventually. This realization was part of the push to move out here to the Range where we can grow our own food. Until our garden is up and running (and actually producing at a family of five level), we're left with the supermarket and a slashed budget. So, I'm one of those shoppers (or Kansas Dad is, with my list) seeking out food for the lowest possible price. Dr. Waltner-Toews points out that the search for the lowest price here in North America leads to much devastation (on people and land) in other countries.

The battleground of agribusiness is in our shopping cart. Do I focus on the lowest price for our food, giving us some greater cash flow to build up our own farm? Do I avoid pesticides now for the benefit of our family and those families growing the food (if I can trust the labels, of course) or do I allow pesticides (and GMOs, oh my!) now in the hopes we'll avoid them later when we grow our own? How much should I pay to ease the environmental burden in other states and countries?

I just don't know. Right at this moment, we're leaning more on the cheap side as we're paying for much needed repairs on this house and land. Later on, we'll want to invest in our own garden. It's harsh to think we might do that at the expense of others, but it's seems to lead to less damage in the long run as we're able to feed ourselves more in the future.

It's a dilemma.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Still Here

It's been a quiet week around here. I haven't taken many pictures, so I don't have those to share.

Second Daughter is learning to move stuff to her mouth. First Son's reading lessons are moving along very well. First Daughter is...well, she is herself. She just didn't want to take a nap yesterday. After nearly an hour and a half of listening to her play, sing and yell in her crib, I finally asked her if she was going to take a nap.

"Maybe next time," she said. I feel that way about a lot of things I sit down to do now. Maybe later. Maybe tomorrow.

Right now, though, I really need to write out a grocery list for Kansas Dad's trip to town tomorrow. I might even try to come up with some recipes for the week.

So maybe I'll write something more interesting next time.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Good News

First Daughter had a return visit to the dentist this morning to check up on that tooth she knocked loose. She was not too keen on participating, but opened up without too much hassle and without any crying or gnashing of teeth. She was particularly thrilled with her Tigger toothbrush.

We finally stopped by the library in town. It's distinctly possible we own more books than they do (certainly so in children's books), but there's a story hour on Thursday mornings that has me excited for the kids. The librarian and the other ladies I met there were very welcoming.

Our water softener has been chugging away for a week now, without incident. I had planned a funny post about how our water is half rock (coming in at a staggering 28.6 GPG) and with a reference to a certain scene in A Christmas Story, but I'm too tired. Suffice it to say, the dishwasher works and I thanked God for it on Sunday morning.

Standing Our Ground

It has been an exhausting weekend for us here on the Range. With the onset of colder weather, we have been struggling to repel a veritable onslaught of unwelcome visitors. (There were at least two or three of them.)

Convinced my clutter was giving them hiding places, I have been tackling the stacks of boxes of children's clothing. I'm up to 2T. I also took preemptive action with some of our as yet untouched cupboards, consolidating bags of supplies into plastic or glass containers. (Somehow, I managed to hit enough sales recently to have more than 20 pounds of sugar in the cupboard. Hmmm...guess that's not going on the list for a while!)

Kansas Dad, of course, has been taking more direct action with just about every kind of trap you can buy and trying to close up all the little holes he could find (which should have the additional benefit of decreasing our heating bill). In the wee hours of the morning, he actually hunted one down, cornered it and clubbed it to death. It's not so often in today's world a man can physically club a "wild" animal to death to protect his family. I am being absolutely serious when I say he is my hero.

We've been staying up late, cleaning everything over and over, washing our hands hundreds of times a day and generally being displeased as we could hear them here and there. I'm hopeful the worst is over, though we are considering building a cat shelter this week so we can have our own little army. (Curse that cat allergy Kansas Dad developed!)

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Monday, Monday

Mondays are long days here on the Range. Kansas Dad has a 12 hour day with three classes, the last a four hour one into the night. Though his schedule also allows two full days at home, on Mondays, the kids and I are left on our own for snacks, lunch, dinner and bedtime. It's easy for me to think "I just need to get through the day." Getting through the day, though, isn't what I want my days to be like.

A coworker of mine once said, "I'm too old to be wishing for the weekend." She was talking about finding enjoyment in every day, even sitting in front of her computer with a stack of paperwork...again. She recognized that our days on earth are numbered. No matter how many they are, each one is a gift.

I'm too blessed to be wishing for the day to end (as frustrating as administering to those blessings may be during the day). I want to be enjoying my day. Sometimes there will be struggles. Certainly with young ones around it will be exhausting, but these days are the point. This time we have together, right now, is important, precious, fleeting. I want to learn to find the joys in today despite the pile of laundry, the wails of a baby, the toddler who has stripped even her diaper and is streaking across the living room (for the third time today)...You've probably been there, too, so you know that feeling.

My prayer for tonight and the morrow is that God will give me the strength and the patience to focus on the fun of Simon Says, of reading together, of singing The Pirates Who Don't Do Anything for the twelfth time, even if Kansas Dad can't be around the share the joy and the burden for a few extra hours once a week.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Another One Bites the Dust

We've been listening to one make a nest behind our dishwasher all day. We can only hope it's the one that got lured into a trap Kansas Dad found tonight.

Tomorrow we're getting some of the most horrible weapons availble...sticky traps. Kansas Dad used them before and says they're not pretty, but very effective.

Swing Time for the First Time

Now that Second Daughter can sit on her own (sort of), I thought we'd give her a try at the swing. She seemed indifferent. She liked it when I made faces at her, but she likes it when I do that and she's not in a swing.

She likes her thumb, as you can see.

What He's Been Drawing

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Protection for Our Hearts

** This review was originally posted on a now hidden blog on January 16, 2006 **

A RETURN TO MODESTY: Discovering the Lost Virtue

It's easier to propose this book as a married woman and as a devout Catholic than if I'd suggested it ten years ago (unlikely as that would be since it was published in 1999), but I hope you don't discount it for that reason. This book is an insightful look at society today and how its standards for sex education and sex itself damage the very souls of women and girls. Essentially, she says that men and women are different, biologically and psychologically, in the way we view sex and its meanings. Modesty, particularly in women, is the natural, innate female response to that difference, and our culture has been battling it (partly unsuccessfully) since the 1960s.

You can read some excellent reviews of the book by clicking on the link above or by going to Eighth Day Books (where Kansas Dad first learned of it).

Instead, I'll quote a few sentences from the book I found memorable.

Women had a special vulnerability in the past, we are told, only because there was a risk of pregnancy. Now that we have the Pill, all vulnerability is abolished. But we seem to be learning that there is more to sexual vulnerability that the risk of pregnancy. (page 91)

Modesty is a reflex, arising naturally to help a woman protect her hopes and guide their fulfillment--specifically, this hope for one man. (page 94)

At least when there is a risk of pregnancy, there is a physical corollary to the emotional risk--so you are careful. And because the women had to be careful, the men were careful too. Our bodies naturally protected our hearts....I'm talking about the young woman who hopes for marriage and is essentially waiting for "the right guy"; I think for her the Pill is seductive and, I would go as far as to say, dangerous, holding out the promise of sex without consequences, and without any "irregularities." (pages 207-208)

Now, I'm not sure I agree with all of her assertions. It seems to me that there are other causes to the struggles of young women (anorexia, cutting, rape, stalking, etc.) than just a lack of modesty. I do think, however, she makes a strong case for a better world for our daughters, and ourselves, with a return to modesty. There's also a good chance Kansas Dad and I will decide to pull our kids out of sex education when the time comes (even if they are in Catholic schools). [A book read long before the thought of homeschooling surfaced.]

And don't forget to read the appendix. Trust me; some real gems only appear there.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Point for the Home Team

I was swapping laundry loads and returned to the living room with a basket of clean clothes to fold when Kansas Dad asked if I had heard a squeaking sound. No...I hadn't. We thought maybe it was me, even though it had come from the office. (Sound carries strangely in our house.)

I wander into the office, intent on Googling "baby spit up turns clothes blue in the wash" when I heard a squeak as I moved the chair...My imagination?

Then I saw some wires move. Um, not my imagination.

A mouse managed to snag his (or her) tail in a mouse trap and drag it into the office (practically under the nose of Kansas Dad who was working, very intently, on the futon) and under the computer desk. Being the good and worthy husband he is, Kansas Dad caught the trap and carried the dangling wiggling mouse (who looked kind of cute, but I wasn't relenting) out to the porch. The mouse has met his maker.

Now we just have to wait and see if it's the mouse that has been raiding our kitchen.

Boys Will Be Boys

** This review was originally published on another blog (now hidden) on October 28, 2006.

Why Gender Matters: What Parents and Teachers Need to Know about the Emerging Science of Sex Differences

Everyone should read this book. I was fascinated by the research Dr. Sax presents about the differences between boys and girls, and how their senses and brains develop differently. As always, I don't agree with everything in the book, but it's nice to have evidence of something I've always suspected - that boys and girls are different and need to be treated differently in some situations. Dr. Sax also provides exceptional end notes with additional information and websites in addition to references to studies in journals like Journal of Genetic Psychology, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Developmental Psychology, Child Development, and Nature. He also quotes from Hardwired to Connect, a book sponsored by Dartmouth Medical School (among others).

And, as have a number of other books I've read recently, this one tempts me with more reasons to homeschool, at least for a while.

My sleep deprivation (despite being better than expected at First Daughter's age [she was just a month old when I wrote this.]) prevents me from giving a more glowing review. Hopefully you'll believe me enough to give it a try and then will be tempted to continue by Dr. Sax's own evidence.

p.s. Tip #1: Girls hear better than boys, so a dad might not think he's yelling, but his daughter might hear him that way. And boys who seem to be distracted at school may need to sit closer to hear a soft-spoken teacher.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Avoiding Holiday Sweets

I have no self-control when it comes to candy in my cupboard. I can manage some self-control at the grocery store when my wallet is involved, which is why we usually don't have candy in the house at all. After Halloween, of course, candy is a given. In the past, my kids weren't all that interested in the candy. I convinced my husband to take most of it to his students (after pulling out the M&Ms for First Son and the peanut butter cups for us, of course). This year, though, the kids are much more interested so I didn't want to just send it all away. I didn't want to eat it all, either. We accidentally managed a solution that (I hope) satisfies everyone.

We bagged up the candy and wrote the child's name on the outside of the bag. The bags are stored in a high cupboard. (First Daughter still doesn't realize she could climb up to them and hopefully it doesn't entice her to try it.) After lunch and dinner (sometimes only if they ask), each child is allowed one piece from his or her bag.

I can't bring myself to eat any of it myself. It's in a bag, with a name on it. If I take a piece, it's like taking it right out of my son or daughter's mouth.

There are no toys the kids can claim in entirety (just a few bedtime security stuffed animals, but the kids generally share those happily enough). The food is communal. The banking account is communal. The Halloween candy is not, and I just might implement this policy for all future holiday candy (reserving rights to limit intake and eliminate massive overflows by shipping it off to the college students who can afford a few more calories in their day).

It worked for me!

Saturday, November 8, 2008


A video only a grandparent could love.

She was proud of herself.

Leaf Tornado

I forgot all about this crazy wind we found at a local museum last week until I uploaded the pictures from the camera tonight. The kids loved it!

Beware of False Prophets

** This review was originally published on October 24, 2005 on a previous blog. **

One Nation Under Gods: A History of the Mormon Church

This is the first book I've read about the Mormon Church and it was a wonderful introduction. Mr. Abanes does not provide an unbiased approach, but it does seem to be well-researched, with tons of notes and sources. (He also provides a list of other recommended reading and websites.) I'm sure those of the Mormon faith would argue Mr. Abanes is twisting the teachings to serve his own ends. No doubt he does, but there seem to be plenty of twisting before he gets to it. There are also some significant events in recent American history that cannot be fabricated (or erased, as they'd sometimes like to do).

I'll let you read the book because I could not possibly do it justice to summarize, but I will say I was saddened to learn of the faith that has captured so many unsuspecting people. I think everyone should read this book as protection against becoming Mormon and as a spur to pray for those that are trapped within the false teachings of the Latter Day Saints. It's a bit long, but reads very easily with most of the heavy substantiation in the end notes. I even found the appendices fascinating.

Just in case anyone finds this while searching for resources in leaving the Mormon Church, Mr. Abanes recommends a few sites like this one.

Special thanks to J and H for recommending this book.

Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them. Matt. 7:15-20 KJV

Friday, November 7, 2008


Just in case you were can substitute plain yogurt (made at home in my crockpot using this post) for the buttermilk in the cornbread recipe in my whole wheat cookbook.

And, when you realize you don't have ANY eggs and need can substitute a mashed banana (one half for each egg) for a cornbread that's beautiful with just a hint of banana.

It was great with our ham and bean soup (which I modified by adding garlic, chili powder, cumin and oregano) and was delicious this morning warmed up and doused with syrup.

Just in case you're ever halfway through a cornbread recipe and realize you don't have buttermilk or eggs.

So Much Makes Sense Now

** Yet another repeat review, this one from May 25, 2005. **

What's Going on in There? : How the Brain and Mind Develop in the First Five Years of Life

This tremendous book describes in detail the development of the brain from conception through preschool, and even includes some insights into later years. The first section concentrates on prenatal development. Then Dr. Eliot explains the development of touch, balance and motion, smell, taste, vision, hearing, motor development, social-emotional growth, memory, language, and intelligence (a chapter devoted to each). Two more chapters at the end look at differences in gender (and nature / nurture) and a summary of the book and how it impacts parenting in the final chapter.

I loved the balanced view presented by the author. She explains the known research (and what's still unknown) on the effects of mother's actions, including what she eats and drinks, on the developing baby. I've read pregnancy books (and magazines) that seemed to tell pregnant women every thought in their head and every calorie in their diet should be focused entirely on the baby - which always seemed a little extreme to me. In later chapters, she also supports a balanced view of how parents can use the facts of development presented in the book to raise their children in the best way possible. Her tone in the following excerpt from the last chapter is echoed throughout the book, especially in the little insights we receive about her own children.

There may actually be one or two parents in the world like this [perfect] ... Then again, you have to wonder what children learn from parents whose only focus in life is their offspring. The fact is that children pick up much more than mere cognitive skills from their parents and other caregivers. They also learn how to work, share, love, nurture, juggle, and enjoy life.

The book references studies and articles from peer-reviewed journals like JAMA, New England Journal of Medicine, Child Development, and Science, to name a few. The bibliography is extensive and it was easy to find the reference I wanted whenever I checked the end notes. The index also seemed in-depth, but I didn't get to check it out too much because the book completely fell apart. Yes, you read that correctly; the book fell into pieces. I'd recommend buying it in hardcover or at least getting it from the library in hardcover. (I did call the publisher to complain and they were kind enough to send another copy, but I'm afraid to read it because then it will fall apart as well.) [Note: It's possible they've improved the book's structural integrity sometime in the past three years.]

If you're a parent, a grandparent, an aunt, an uncle, a godparent, a caregiver, or anyone who ever sees or speaks to a child, you should read this book. It's presented in a clear and approachable way for those interested in the details of nerves, axons and neurotransmitters, and for those who are just interested in what to expect of children as they grow.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

The Importance of Gratitude

** This is another repeat review, originally posted on May 7, 2007 on a previous blog. It's one Kansas Dad and I still talk about occasionally, so well worth your time. **

The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less

This book was another of Kansas Dad's finds. It's a fascinating look at why having more choices can actually make people more unhappy. It touched on everything from choosing a career to choosing a pair of jeans. (I've always had a problem myself with the toothpaste aisle. Why in the world do we need so many options?)

The first ten chapters presented a convincing set of studies and reports that having too many options does indeed make an individual unhappy, and has contributed to increasing levels of depression and stress in American society. I thought it was interesting to see how religion, faith and family values can help people deal with this particular kind of stress by limiting options to those that are morally acceptable (obviously more useful for those big life choices than the toothpaste aisle).

The best chapter, in my opinion, was the eleventh chapter. Here, Mr. Schwartz gives some concrete ways to decrease the disadvantages while still enjoying the benefits of all the choices we have today. The eleven steps he gives are all directly related to the evidence presented in the preceding chapters, but I will try to sum it up in one quick paragraph:

Take some time to consider what's important in life. Pay attention to those choices and don't worry about the others. Go with what's "good enough" more often than finding the absolute best. Once you've made a decision don't give yourself the option to go back and choose something else. Be thankful for what you have. Don't waste time and energy on regret. Be aware that whatever you choose, eventually it won't bring as much pleasure as it did at first. Keep expectations within reason. Don't concentrate so much on what others are doing or buying. Embrace limits and constraints that eliminate choices for us.

If you're interested in how these strategies can combat the depressing effect of too many choices, read the book. I think it's one choice you won't regret. (small groan)

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Reading Is 42 (The Answer to Everything)

** I recently went through an old blog of mine to find a book I remembered reading and realized this new blog is much more organized. I've decided to copy reviews of the books I found the most useful here so I can find them again. My memory isn't what it used to be. Please bear with me as they are posted. I know many of you probably read them on the original blog.

This particular review was first published on April 4, 2005, for the previous edition. I have no doubt the current one is just as good. **

The Read-Aloud Handbook: Sixth Edition

I read this book a few months ago and found it engaging and persuasive. Perhaps reading to your kids isn't the answer to everything, but it does seem to be an intrinsic good. There wasn't any doubt Kansas Dad and I would read to First Son [and now two more!] all the time, since we're both such bibliophiles ourselves, but it's nice to see confirmation of our beliefs in printed form. Mr. Trelease presents intriguing studies to provide support for his thesis that reading aloud with a parent can make a profound and lasting difference in a child's life. Most importantly (from what I remember), is that a ritual of reading aloud together inspires a love of reading because being with Mom or Dad, cuddled up with a book, is such an overwhelmingly positive experience. A desire to learn and a confidence with the written word follow naturally.

One of the best features of this book is the list of suggested books, complete with summaries and recommended ages. I used it to create First Son's enormous Wish List, most of which is too old for him, but I'm excited to read with him when he's ready. I also found many of the favorites of my youth in its pages, which brought fond memories that probably influenced how I feel about the book.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Baby to Toddler: Toys that Stick

Today is a themed edition of Works for Me Wednesday. We're not having a big Christmas for the kids this year I wasn't sure I was going to participate. I couldn't help, though, paying a little bit more attention to the toys that were out and about in recent days and realized we do have a few toys that have really stood the test of time that can be quite inexpensive: a sorter, a stacker and a set of cups.

This is the Sorting Box from Brio, a fancy wooden version of a standard sorting toy. My kids love this kind of toy. We have an older version of the Fisher-Price Brilliant Basics Baby's First Blocks. The sorter blocks can be stacked, dumped into and out of the bucket, sorted into the bucket by shape, sorted by color, and on and on. In fact, my two year old has been playing with these every day recently.

This Cachempil Maman Poule from Djeco is $30, but isn't it fabulous? My kids have the Fisher-Price Rock-A-Stack which is only $7. This deceptively simple toy encourages hand-eye coordination in more ways than one. My kids love to watch me spin the rings on the floor (and give it a try themselves).

Last, but not least, we love stacking cups like these Stack Up Cups. Our stacking cups pretty much stay in the bathtub. They are absolutely perfect for scooping, pouring and other fun water play. Our set even has some small holes in each cup so water showers or seeps out. Unlike many bath toys, they are incredibly easy to keep clean - just throw them in your dishwater!

All of these toys are simple and straightforward and yet allow lots of free play.

Another favorite holiday and birthday gift idea for us is a collection of art supplies. My mom has done this for all the grandchildren for a few years. Everyone gets some paper, markers, scissors, whatever she can find in the quantity she needs at a good price. They love free drawing and we mothers love restocking our art cabinets.

Last, but not least, I love the idea of gift memberships to local attractions. We have some wonderful museums and zoos nearby. A family membership allows us to enjoy them for an entire year as often as we like (and with the ability to go just for a few hours, which is key with young kids). I read once (I wish I remembered where) that a homeschooling mom bought a membership for a different venue every year and let her kids really get to know it as part of their homeschooling. I thought that sounded like a fabulous idea!

These are a few of the gifts that work for us!