Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Merry Christmas!

The time comes every year when I realize I'm just not going to blog for a while, and here it is.

We're off celebrating, wrapping and baking, unwrapping and eating, talking and playing and generally enjoying ourselves. We hope you are doing the same.

May you and your family have a blessed and merry Christmas and a happy New Year!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

History & Culture: Exploration, Expansion and the Civil War

Mike Fink, a tall tale retold and illustrated by Steven Kellogg. We love these tall tales. First Son particularly liked reading about wrestling with the grizzlies and then seeing them later at the zoo. We also readPaul Bunyan and Pecos Bill later on.

The Bear That Heard Crying by Natalie Kinsey-Warnock and Helen Kinsey, illustrated by Ted Rand. I could not believe how enthralled First Son and First Daughter were by this story. It's based on a true story (of one of the first author's ancestor) of a three year old girl who was befriended and protected by a black bear when lost in the woods. It could be terrifying (and they do talk of the neighbors believing the girl was killed by the bear), but little Sarah is just a bit hungry and misses her family. We were able to talk about what life was like in 1783 (no flashlights!) and I love the description of the celebration at the end. The illustrations are wonderful, especially the one of Mr. Patch carrying little Sarah, safe and sound. It's an amazing story, but if you happen to live where black bears range, you might want to caution your children that snuggling up to a black bear is not recommended.

Sally Ann Thunder Ann Whirlwind Crockett is another tall tale from Steven Kellogg. First Son and First Daughter both enjoyed this one. It's full of fun. First Son may even like this one more than the one on Paul Bunyan. We also watched our first YouTube video (for school). The kids weren't as interested as I thought they'd be.

Sequoyah: The Cherokee Man Who Gave His People Writing by James Rumford is the wonderfully written biography of an amazing man, one of only a handful to invent a writing system. I love reading, "People took trips so they could have the fun of writing letters and sending them back home." Sequoyah perseveres through adversity and ridicule to give his people a great gift. The written word becomes a source of strength and pride for all the Cherokee, as it should be. It is, of course, written in both English and Cherokee and the full Cherokee syllabary appears at the end. Everyone should read this book.

Apples to Oregon: Being the (Slightly) True Narrative of How a Brave Pioneer Father Brought Apples, Peaches, Pears, Plums, Grapes, and Cherries (and Children) Across the Plains by Deborah Hopkinson and Nancy Carpenter. This book is another tall tale and quite enjoyable, for all ages. It's full of alliteration, puns, and imaginative language. The heroine, Delicious, and her brothers and sisters protect the plants throughout the journey. Her father has his head in the clouds, but is a visionary. Though it's only based on a true story in the loosest sense, there was a family that brought fruit trees to Oregon and made a fine living with their orchard. Second Daughter loves this story because she knows apples and can say "apple" and there are plenty of them in the illustrations. First Son's favorite part is when Delicious figures her boot went flying right up to the moon.

Ox-Cart Man by Donald Hall and illustrated by Barbara Cooney. This is one of my favorite books of all time. It begins with a father's journey to the port to sell all that his family made during the year, shows the few precious items he buys and his walk back home. Then we watch them as they create more in the coming year. It's pretty much perfect and I hope you have the pleasure of reading it.

Going West by Jean Van Leeuwen, illustrated by Thomas B. Allen. I have selected quite a few books by this author and really enjoyed this one. It tells of a family traveling west by wagon to carve out their own farm. It shows some of the hardships endured (fear, loneliness, illness, hunger) but softened a little (just like the illustrations), always with some hope.

Boom Town by Sonia Levitin, illustrated by Cat Bowman Smith. I just happened across this book at the library and was so glad I brought it home to preview. Amanda has a craving for pie when she's faced with the boredom of cabin life while her father is panning for gold in California. Her mother is too busy, but tells her to go ahead if she thinks she can. It takes a few tries, but everyone enjoys the pie. Her father sells some for profit at the camps and Amanda's business takes off. Before long, she's convincing all sorts of people to set up shop in their boom town and recruits her whole family to help with her pie business. It's a light-hearted tale and all the kids enjoyed it (especially Second Daughter who was keeping her eye out for apples on every page).

The Patchwork Path: A Quilt Map to Freedom by Bettye Stroud, illustrated by Erin Susanne Bennett. With this book, we started to read about slavery in the United States. In a similar vein, we also read Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt by Deborah Hopkinson with paintings by James Ransome. They both tell of young girls who follow a quilt patter to freedom, but I like Clara's story better. She sews the quilt herself, designing it to depict the surrounding countryside as described surreptitiously by fellow slaves who had been away from the plantation. I also liked the illustrations better. Incidentally, we own Follow the Drinking Gourd, but I liked these better so we didn't read that as part of our official history and culture time.

Abe Lincoln's Hat by Martha Brenner, illustrated by Donald Cook. Like most early readers, this book can be a little hard to read (all those short sentences), but it's full of funny anecdotes about Lincoln while also covering a few meaningful moments of his life and presidency. We all enjoyed it.

Birdie's Lighthouse by Deborah Hopkinson, illustrated by Kimberly Bulcken Root. I wasn't sure First Son would be interested in this book, which is the diary of a young girl braving the elements to keep a lighthouse shining in 1885 when her father falls ill. I think the illustrations of the ships sailing through the storms that won him over. It's one of my favorite of our history books and I highly recommend it.

Three Names by Patricia MacLachlan, pictures by Alexander Pertzoff, is a book that could easily fit into a later month since no specific dates or national events are mentioned. It tells of a narrator's great-grandfather's life on the prairie, riding in the wagon to school with his sister and his dog. Nothing tremendous happens, just little vignettes of life in a one-room schoolhouse through the year.

Just a Few Words, Mr. Lincoln by Jean Fritz, illustrated by Charles Robinson, is another early reader (written at the second or third grade level). It addresses some of the more serious aspects of Lincoln's life and responsibilities like slavery and the Civil War, especially focused on Gettysburg. Using simple language, the book conveys the horror of the battle and the nation's sorrow without scaring the little ones. It's well worth reading. I even read the Gettysburg Address to the kids (which is reprinted at the end). I don't think they understood it, but I love hearing it aloud.

In January, we'll be reading about Reconstruction, Urbanization, and Industrialization (1865 to 1889). I'd be happy to hear any suggestions for January. I'm also interested in suggestions for WWI, the Jazz Age, WWII and anything later. (It turns out there are a large number of wonderful books set during the Great Depression.)

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Catholic Company Review: St. Damien of Molokai - Apostle of the Exiled

St. Damien of Molokai - Apostle of the Exiled by Margaret Bunson & Matthew Bunson

This book provides an detailed description of St. Damien's work in Hawai'i and on Molokai amongst the abandoned and isolated patients with Hansen's Disease (leprosy). It provides ample background on the history of Hawai'i and the tensions with Caucasian immigrants that prompted the Hawai'i royalty to first oust the Catholics (though they were allowed to return) and later to isolate people with the disease at a remote settlement.

Personally, I'm not quite sure I liked this book as much as I had hoped. The authors included quite a few full-length quotes from history in appendices (and some lengthy quotes in the text as well), but very little directly from St. Damien's letters. I wish there had been more. When they wrote of his feelings and struggles on the island, I would have liked to see his own words.

The history provided is extensive, but it seemed a little disjointed to me. I had trouble making all the connections I felt like the authors wanted me to make. They spoke at great length of the bias against Catholics on the islands and it was hard to believe. Not to say it wasn't true; it just seemed overwhelming to me.

The story of St. Damien is astounding. I loved reading about the sacrifices he made and the love and dedication he showed to the patients. Though we are blessed to live in a time when this particular disease is no longer a threat, there are still a great many people who are suffering and alone. St. Damien is an example to all of us.

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 St. Damien of Molokai - Apostle of the Exiled. Learn more about joining the reviewer program here.

Our Banner Day

The girls and I took First Son to his well-child check-up today. He's very healthy, in the 80s for weight percentile and 90s for height percentile. The PA did suggest we take him for a real eye exam, but we were expecting that eventually. Then, right at the end, he asked us to stop in the lab for a quick blood draw, just a few drops from his finger. First Son wasn't excited about it, but down we went and they took us right in.

So there I am, with a nervous 6 year old, holding the toddler while the 3 year old hovers. The four winter coats and bag of books are still piled in the cramped waiting area. I feel very disorganized. The phlebotomist is great, gentle and quick, but First Son is shivering by the time she's putting drops of blood in the vial. I think she only needs about seven drops, but he's getting more upset. First Daughter starts to pale, then sway a little. I hustle her out to sit on a chair in the waiting room and turn back to First Son as he starts to whimper while she's putting on the bandage. The whole thing took about three minutes, but he's still working himself up.

In the waiting room, I'm trying to keep control of three kids, two of whom are upset. First Daughter is now complaining that her finger hurts. First Son is crying and saying he can't use a fork or eat pretzels in the car or turn the pages of his book while I'm trying to get his winter coat on. Second Daughter keeps trying to wander back into the back room to see more blood. First Daughter looks a little green.

I finally get all three coats on and try to herd them toward the restroom. In the hallway, First Son suddenly yells (still crying) that he can't see. He hits the wall and then bumps into me with wide eyes, screaming "I can't see! Help me!" I have a moment of absolute fear before I catch my breath and remind myself losing a few drops of blood will not make a person blind. I have no doubt he really couldn't see for a few seconds there, but I calmed him down a bit and drew him into the bathroom where he could sit on the floor and rest.

He can see again, but now he says he needs to throw up. He refuses to go near anything in the bathroom he could be sick in, begging for a bowl, even as I'm trying to explain I don't have a bowl because we're not at home. Someone comes in and comments that he must be in trouble, as if I'd hit him or something. Not helping.

We finally get a semblance of control and I herd the kids back into the hallway and past the elevators again. First Daughter sits down right in front of the buttons and as I turn to find Second Daughter who is wandering toward the doors that lead into parking lot, she gets sick. That's right. Apparently, her sensitive gag reflex is accompanied by a weak stomach that can't handle seeing blood. I throw down my bags, in front of a crowd of people trying to get to the elevators, apologizing as I dig out some wipes to hold in front of her as she continues to get sick. Right into my hands. Nice.

So there I am, on the first floor of a medical building full of doctor's offices, pretty much blocking the elevator button that everyone needs as well as a good portion of the hallway itself. My toddler is wandering toward the exit. My six year old is crying. My three year old has thrown up, some of which I'm holding. I spend a few minutes waiting to make sure there isn't more coming and trying to call Second Daughter back. She comes to me, but has no interested in following her brother to the wall, out of the way, and wanders again toward the door.

Finally, a very kind woman offers her aid and I ask her to bring some paper towels. We get the floor and First Daughter cleaned up. She needs new pants, but those are in the van. We finally start out of the building again. Once in the van, everyone in clean pants and buckled, munching pretzels, I'm in the front seat thanking God I made it back to the van without getting sick myself. (First Daughter inherited her weak stomach and gag reflex from me.)

We make it home without further incident. Luckily, I didn't have a chance to put the sheets Second Daughter coughed up on in the wash this morning in the rush to get out the door, so I can throw the pants right in with them.

Half an hour to nap and quiet time...

Monday, December 14, 2009

It's a Major Award! I Won It!

There's my name in black and white! I won a gift certificate to Adoremus Books. Oh, the things I could pick! This or this or one of these, which the kids would love, but I've also been thinking about these for a long time...

I think I had better wait until January when I have more time to focus. I already spent my evening hour browsing the site instead of going through the pictures of three days of celebrations for First Son's birthday. Oops...more than an hour...

Thank you Faith & Family!

Ornaments of Christmas Past

For those interested few, here are some pictures of the ornaments we've made in the past.

Book Review: Elizabeti's Doll

We've been reading Elizabeti's Doll by Stephanie Stuve-Bodeen and illustrated by Christy Hale. I love this little story of Elizabeti's desire for a baby of her own and her creative problem-solving. The kids enjoy it, too. First Daughter's been asking to carry her new baby around just like Elizabeti.

Apparently there are a few other books featuring Elizabeti, but I haven't read them. Are they as sweet?

Friday, December 11, 2009

Now He Is Six

Happy Birthday, First Son!

Christmas So Far

After a short delay (since I like putting up the tree the day after Thanksgiving), the kids and I installed and decorated the tree. In fact, they did all the decorating! It's a little lopsided, but I love how excited they were.

St. Nicholas visited the Range on the night before his feast day (December 6th). It's hard to tell, but the stockings are full.

The kids had fun emptying the stockings. St. Nicholas brought dollar coins (six for First Son, three for First Daughter and one for Second Daughter), some candy and snack treats we never buy ourselves, and measuring tapes for the older two, crayons for the littlest one.

A few days ago we made some Christmas cookies. I have a special love of sugar cookies, really for the cookie cutters. I had some new ones this year: a star and a snowflake. The kids picked what they wanted and I made a lot of snowflakes when they got tired. Decorating, of course, is the best part. First Son did all the work himself on his - putting on the icing and the sprinkles. First Daughter decorated one and started eating it right away! We had to explain she needed to decorate all of them and could eat one after dinner (well, finish the one she started). I had to watch her very closely and pretty much clean her hands after every cookie because she kept tasting the icing. I can't believe I forgot to get a picture of all the cookies when we were done. I have to remember to double the recipe next time.

For those that are wondering, the basic sugar cookie recipe in The All-American Cookie Book is by far the best I've used. I improve the recipe only slightly by using peppermint extract instead of the almond or vanilla. I love the subtle minty taste. I used the icing recipe in the book for the first time and liked it.

Query XIV

Has anyone outside the Nestle test kitchen ever made five dozen cookies with their chocolate chip cookie recipe? I thought I was being very careful today and still ended up with only three and a half dozen.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Book Reviews: On the Farm and The Cat Came Back

We have all been enjoying On the Farm by David Elliott. The poems are short, celebrating a happy family farm. Holly Meade's woodcuts are vibrant. Second Daughter in particular loves this book. She makes all the animals sounds and anticipates the next one. She carries this book around, begging anyone to read it to her over and over again.

But then there's The Cat Came Back by Fred Penner. I think his updated lyrics are enjoyable enough. They seem less ghastly than the ones I vaguely remember from my elementary school days. The real problem is the illustrations by Renee Reichert. In theory they are clever, but I find the style very unpleasant. The kids like them well enough and Second Daughter has no problems with it at all.

She usually plops down in a lap with both of these and I am beginning to dread reading the second one. There are a few books like this for me, where the text is fine (or even wonderful) but the illustrations grate at me. Usually I just don't read the book to the kids, but these didn't seem so bad at first. Now the sight of Mr. Johnson is a little scary to me.

Anyone know of other versions of this book and song? Are there books you feel this way about? Is it just me?

Query XIII

What do I do with a baby who insists on removing her socks over and over again?

I mean, it's pretty chilly in the house. We keep the thermostat in the low 60s. Even Kansas Dad wears socks (and sometimes shoes) in the kitchen.

But the baby (yes, I know she's almost 17 months old) seems oblivious. Does that mean her feet aren't cold? Or do I really need to replace the socks every ten minutes?

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

A Busy Month

December is a busy time here on the Range. In addition to Christmas, we have First Son's birthday, Kansas Dad's birthday and two other extended family birthdays (plus one in early January). Kansas Dad is facing the end of a semester and preparations for the next (always a stressful time) and we're often preparing to travel for the holidays. It's very easy for me to tell myself we're just going to do the minimum. I'm coming to believe that's a mistake.

“Merry Christmas” is more than a variation on “Hello.” It is a way of wishing the person’s Christmas celebration may be successful. “May you be swept up into the joy of the Incarnation.”

Read more of the wonderful article at Faith & Family.

Perhaps I will feel inspired enough to make some sugar cookies today.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Have a Minute?

There are lots of giveaways this week at Faith & Family. I read the blog there every day and find so many wonderful ideas, suggestions and lots of support from other moms. It's a great Catholic community and I'm pleased to have a link to them in my sidebar.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Friday, December 4, 2009

Another Month Already?

Is it just me or did November disappear?

We enjoyed our time with Mozart, listening mainly to the two discs from Essential Mozart: 32 Of His Greatest Masterpieces. Eventually we'll be listening to Beethoven for December, but I was late requesting our CD (something about planning a crazy Thanksgiving week) so we'll be picking it up tomorrow. (Shocking that we don't own any Beethoven, isn't it?)

Our December morning song is a favorite Christmas carol, Adeste Fideles.

If anyone's looking for the review of our history and culture books for November, I've combined them with our December books so I'll try to post them all before Christmas. We've only got a couple of weeks of lessons left before the holidays.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

An Ornamental Tradition

Brandy has started an interesting discussion on the place for crafts. You can read some here, here and here. I had already started this post when she started writing, but I like how home-made Christmas ornaments fit into the realm of lasting treasures, unlike so many of the other things my kids love to make and I hate to throw away (but can't imagine where I'd store).

From the beginning, I always wanted to make Christmas ornaments with my kids every year and give them as gifts to grandparents, aunts and uncles. First Son was born two weeks before Christmas and I thought giving birth was quite enough so we didn't try anything the first year. (In fact, I'm pretty sure it was past New Year's Day before Kansas Dad and I were functioning at a level beyond basic survival.)

In 2004, I was only a little more adventurous. We bought three kits like this one. Even with Kansas Dad and I working together, it was a bit difficult to get First Son to cooperate. We finally had to settle for footprints, which just barely fit on the ornament. We saved one and gave one to each of the grandparents. I admit I love this ornament, but I'm a little afraid every year we'll break it and I'll cry.

In 2005, I was sick and tired (being pregnant with First Daughter). First Son was just two and I wasn't feeling well enough to tackle a complicated ornament, so we just ordered some cute ones from Snapfish with his picture and called it done. (Someday, Kansas Dad hopes to have an area for woodworking and would be happy to help the kids make the annual ornament, but that's still at least a few years in the future.)

Finally, in 2006, I came across a suggested ornament in Wondertime that seemed perfect for early-preschooler First Son. They were really easy. We learned that the smaller cookie cutters worked the best and that even at three, First Son had a limited attention span for the task. (I also preferred the smaller pieces of glitter.) After the first one, I smeared the glue on myself and just let him shake the glitter bag. Even so, he wasn't too interested at the end. (It would be much easier now with two of them to split the task.) I printed out pictures of the kids and wrote on the back the year, then hole-punched them and slipped them on the ribbon before tying it up.

Then, 2007 rolled around...and I was once again sick and tired (thanks to Second Daughter). First Son, First Daughter and a full-time job added to my exhaustion. I couldn't think long enough to come up with something fun. So I bought some felt ornaments and let First Son color them when he was home sick one day. It wasn't very creative, but it did entertain him long enough for me to still get some work done that day.

Last year, the kids and I copied an ornament a younger cousin of mine had made with her mom many years ago. I took old puzzle pieces and glued them together upside-down in the shape of Christmas trees. It was much more complicated to get them to stick together than I anticipated, though I probably could have used something more substantial as the glue. (I've since learned Aleene's Tacky Glue is hard to beat for craft projects like this.) I also painted them myself (and used all our green poster paint in the process). Then, I let the kids decorate them with stickers of ornaments and such. I liked how these ornaments turned out, but even spreading them out over a few days the kids were tired of putting on the stickers. Of course, now I would feel more confident giving them the painting portion which they would love. I wish I had a picture of them to share. I didn't follow any specific instructions, but these instructions look great. I wish I had thought of using buttons for the ornaments, though I'm pretty sure I wouldn't have trusted the kids using the tacky glue themselves last year. You can find lots of ideas for other shapes here.

I've already got the idea for this year. I can't tell you, though, because people who will be receiving the ornaments sometimes read the blog. Hopefully I'll remember to take some pictures and let you know how it goes. This is the one real holiday tradition we've started with the children and it's one I see growing so much as they gain skills and confidence in the craftsmanship. In the next few years, I will probably try to pick two different ornaments so First Son can attempt something more complicated. I think it's also important that we keep one of the ornaments for ourselves each year. I love hanging them on our tree and remembering the little hands that made them.

By the way, in case you're wondering about the relative quiet here on the Range, Second Daughter has been sick. Just a cold and a cough, but it's the kind that has this Mama propped nearly upright in bed all night with a toddler on her chest. Kansas Dad picked up a humidifier for our room that made a big difference last night. Sometimes she would consent to sleep next to me. It's not too fun but hopefully it won't last too much longer.