Saturday, July 31, 2010

Second Daughter's Baby Book

Years ago now (literally), I asked for suggestions on baby books. A good friend offered to send me a Word document to make my own. I am so pleased at the result I plan to use the same format for Second Son's album. Here's Second Daughter's baby book, started and completed a few weeks ago (at least it was before she was two).

I picked a fun (recycled!) album from a local superstore (the chic one). I played around with the file from my friend, changing fonts, page order and pictures.

Using a binder and writing everything up in Word was fantastic:
  • I could just leave out something I didn't record on the blog (like the first time Second Daughter rolled from her tummy to her back).
  • I added pictures when I wanted, based on my favorites of Second Daughter, rather than what some baby book author thought I might have photographed.
  • I was able to insert pages for pictures First Son colored for her or cards she received.
  • I could be as elaborate as I liked (even using some scrap booking materials I picked up on sale), but also very simple.
  • I could add as many pages as I wanted, though it's really not very long. I can even insert pages for her second birthday. (In fact, I have every intention of doing that, including some adorable drawings from her cousins.)
I don't make scrap books. I might enjoy it, but I have too much else I enjoy. Usually with pictures I just order prints online once a month and slip them into plain albums with a few comments on dates or where we were. I liked having a little more flexibility for the baby book. Second Daughter is thrilled with the result. She loves to flip through the pages and announce who all the people are in the pictures. As an added bonus, if she tears any of the sheet protectors, I can just slip the original pages into new ones!

You could, of course, make a photo book on any number of online photo sites. This method is less expensive, though, and has the benefit of easily adding extras like the picture from First Son and the bracelets from the birth.

The Catholic Company Review: Parenting with Grace

Parenting with Grace, 2nd edition: The Catholic Parents' Guide to Raising Almost Perfect Kids by Gregory Popcak and Lisa Popcak

As I read this book, it occurred to me that I don't read many parenting books. Usually I read books describing some current research or trends or books on education and apply what seems reasonable to my parenting. While I haven't read much for comparison, I was impressed by the ideas and philosophy of the Gregory and Lisa Popcak.

In the introduction to the first part, the Popcaks maintain that Catholic parenting should look different than even non-Catholic Christian parenting. I was not convinced. Obviously, non-Catholic Christian parents aren't taking their children to Eucharistic Adoration, but it seemed to me the parenting the Popcaks describe could be used by non-Catholic Christians.

Later in the introduction, the authors introduced attachment parenting as the ideal. I felt like the Popcaks were overstating their case a bit, blaming all sorts of problems in our society on the fact that in America and Europe, parents put their babies in cribs and choose formula over nursing and other such parenting practices. It's not that I disagreed with their main points, or even that I thought they were necessarily wrong. I just felt like their attitude would be more likely to encourage someone of a different mindset to toss the book aside rather than read more about a different way to parent. They also admit parents can raise relatively good kids without following all of their advice.

Soon, though, I became intrigued by the philosophy of parenting in the book. The Popcaks draw extensively from the idea of "self-donation" introduced by Pope John Paul II in his Theology of the Body.
In a nutshell, Pope John Paul II taught that each and every person was designed by God to use every gift He gave them -- especially their bodies -- to work for the good of other people.
Later, they expand on self-donation more, as it's probably the single most important concept in the book:
It is a supremely responsive love, empowering those who practice it to use their bodies, minds, and spirits to respond with justice and compassion to the deepest God-given needs of others. Self-donation is the kind of love that mirrors the self-gift Jesus Christ gave us, through His Incarnation and through His Passion, Death and Resurrection. Further, it is the love that lies at the heart of both Catholic social justice and Catholic family life...Ultimately it is about "finding ourselves" by doing the work God created human beings to do -- the work of responsible, active love.
What I especially appreciated about the Popcaks' application of self-donation to parenting was that it wasn't about giving up everything for the children. Instead, the goal is to model self-donation for them, just as Christ and the Church model it, and to encourage our children to practice self-donation as well so that they learn the skills and virtues of the faith within the family, eventually extending to the parish, community and society. They've developed a complete system of parenting around the idea of self-donation and the goals of instilling the virtues of love and responsibility in our children.
[W]e believe the primary mission of every Catholic parent is to raise children who will grow up perfectly, in the sense that they know how to love and be loved, both by others and by the God who made them.
I also liked the chapter on how developing a loving personal relationship with each child in the family (with specific suggestions on how to do that) enables us to discipline our children (as in disciple, not punish) in the most effective manner.
Put simply, everything in parenting depends upon your kids knowing you love them and teaching them how to love you in return. Your success as a parent depends on creating the kind of attachment at every age and stage that makes your children want to look more like you than they do their peers. This is what "discipline" means. Without that level of attachment, all the best discipline strategies in the world will fail to give you the results you want--the results God and His Church demand.
This statement makes perfect sense to me. As a parent, it seems clear that just telling our children how to behave isn't going to give them the skills they need. They need to trust that we want what is best for them, that we love them no matter what they do (though we want them to be always striving to be more who Christ wants them to be), and that they can trust us more than their peers.

The last two chapters in the first part describe some corrective measures parents can take to address particular problems or goals. In part II, they describe five different phases of childhood and what self-donative parenting may look like in each one. In part III, they address some general topics like developing a child's faith, dealing with sibling rivalry or teaching about stewardship. Parts II and III depend heavily on what is presented in the first part, so don't skip it!

I haven't actually changed any parenting practices based on this book, but I've asked Kansas Dad to read it on his week's vacation coming up. I'd love to integrate some of their ideas, starting with a family mission statement. I believe some parents would feel overwhelmed by the Popcaks' recommendations. Even I'm not sure I'm ready to jump in with everything and we already practice some of what they deem the most important like co-sleeping and extended nursing. I think, though, that they'd suggest parents start with one or two new things and build on the family's strengthened relationships over time.

I did think some of the phrases they used sounded a little...silly. Perhaps they are phrases from their radio program (which I haven't really heard) that, to me, just didn't seem to translate well to the written word. Also, they often referenced their own books or pastoral counseling service. They refer to books by other authors and list other resources as well, but it seemed like they mentioned their own books at least once in every chapter. Of course, I haven't read those other books; they may indeed be fantastic resources.

As often as the authors call on Catholic practices and tradition, I think non-Catholic Christian parents could glean a lot of insight from this book and I'd encourage any parent to read it. Gregory and Lisa Popcak have a wonderful respect for the family and how the time we spend together shapes parents and children, and helps us to become the people God wants us to be. I could write so much more, but I want to limit this review to one post and Kansas Dad would tell me it's already too long.
Family life is itself a prayer. Founded on the graces of marriage, family life is first and foremost an exercise in opening yourselves up more fully to God and perfecting each other in His love. While things such as formal prayer times, Eucharistic Adoration, retreats, and other spiritual exercises, and church activities are important -- even essential -- parts of the full-course meal that is the Christian life, the meat of the married Christian's meal is being an exceptional mate and parent. If Christianity is not at work in your home, it is not truly at work in your life.
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 Parenting with Grace. Learn more about joining the reviewer program here.

Now It's Official

Second Son has taken his place in the sidebar.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Our Picture and Sound Cards

I started our box of picture and sound cards last year and then set it aside when I realized how few of the Montessori activities we'd be using. I tackled it again this summer, though. I finished them up a while before Second Son was born but didn't get around to actually publishing the post.

The idea is to use pictures from magazines or greeting cards to illustrate the sounds of each letter. I happened to have a huge stack of magazines I was cleaning out and went through them to pick out some good pictures first. The big expensive magazines definitely had better pictures for a project like this. You won't be surprised that some sounds were much easier to complete with six or eight pictures than others.

I found some of the best pictures in seed catalogs. The most expensive sellers had the most beautiful pictures of all. So our box has lots of fruits, vegetables and flowers in it. (I did try to stick with ones the kids might actually know.)

I also used an old child's dictionary my mom found at Goodwill. It was already missing a few pages so I cut out some of the best pictures to use.

In the end, I had to resort to searching online for pictures for the last few letters. Most of the sites were not incredibly helpful (showing only pictures I had already found on my own), but I did think the Children's Picture Dictionary had some cute pictures. This Online Photographic Dictionary had some nice ones as well. Sometimes, too, if I knew what word I wanted to use, I would just search Wikipedia. (I would copy the picture to a Word document, print it out, then tape it to an index card. The ones I made last summer were pasted with rubber cement, but since that's apparently toxic to pregnant women and their babies, I switched to a glue stick or double-stick tape for the ones I finished up this summer.)

For letters like x, Teaching Montessori in the Home: The Pre-School Years says to choose words that actually have an "eks" sound, rather than the ones where x sounds like z, using pictures of things with x in the middle or end of the word rather than the beginning. I also picked a few things that start with x with a z sound. It seems right to teach that sound for the letter as well, though I'll probably focus on the "eks" sound first.

I have a few more Montessori projects I finished up the night before Second Son was born. Those posts will come eventually.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

My Small Successes XXIX

It's been a huge week of small successes here on the Range, but today we're going to talk about our big successes!

1. I had a baby boy!

2. Did I mention he was a big guy?

3. He's had his first check-up and weighed in at 9 pounds 12 ounces. I'm pretty sure he's already gaining weight back. The nursing is going very well. The older kids love having my parents here. My grandmother has been holding Second Son as often as I'll let her and just loves snuggling him. The baptism is scheduled for next week.

A special thanks to those who read my successes last week and offered prayers and words of encouragement. Second Son was born the very next day and, though it seemed rough at the time (doesn't it always?), we were blessed with a safe delivery and a wonderful healthy baby!

Head over to Faith and Family to read more small successes!

Monday, July 26, 2010

The Promised Pictures

I was planning on writing something for this post, but find I'm a bit tired of typing with one hand. I want to get some pictures posted here before he gets even bigger, so the thoughtful contemplative commentary will wait. Here's Second Son!

Hopefully I'll have a few moments soon to replace my baby ticker with a picture of his sweet snuggly baby face. I also have lots of posts planned that haven't been finished; these things must wait while nursing a ten pound baby pretty much consumes my days.

Not that I'm complaining.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Perfect Timing!

Second Son was born today!

He emerged not only on his due date, but at the same time as we would have been at the doctor's office for our previously scheduled appointment (though we were at the birthing center).

The details:
2:02 pm
10 pounds, 1 ounce
21 inches

The older kids already adore him. They each had multiple turns holding him, even Second Daughter. She yelled "I do! I do!" anytime anyone said "Do you want to hold him?" No matter who they were addressing.

We're doing well. He's sleeping and I will be soon. Pictures to come after we go home tomorrow or Sunday.

A Few Ways to Know You're Nine Months Pregnant

In celebration of reaching forty weeks, again, here are a few ways you know you're nine months pregnant:
  • You decide the sheet on the top bunk is clean enough on linen-laundry day.
  • You sometimes have to walk to the far bathroom in the middle of the night (once, twice, or three times) to ease the ache in your hips before laying back down again.
  • You begin to dig into the stash of prepared dinners (or take advantage of the offers of ready dinners from very kind and generous friends) because otherwise the kids already running around the house would be eating cold cereal for breakfast and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch and dinner.
  • Only a few of the maternity clothes fit anymore. The good news is, with so few clothes, the laundry is always getting done or there wouldn't be anything to wear to the hospital.
  • Every morning, you think "Maybe today." That night, you think "Maybe tonight." In the morning, you think "Maybe today..."
  • Everywhere you go, people ask when you're due. Every. Single. Person. Who talks to you. And you have to cheerfully answer, "Today" or "Yesterday" or "Last Tuesday." You begin to wish people would just say "You look wonderful!" Or maybe..."Let me get you some ice cream!"
  • As you reach into the cupboard for a cup, the baby belly tips things over on the counter.
  • You begin every phone call with a cheerful "No baby yet!"
  • You begin to contemplate whether it would be easier to get out of bed and lay down again than it is to roll over.
  • You are out with the kids on one last play date and realize you can't find your two year old. Just as your heart starts to pound and you feel the panic creeping in, you bend over and discover her standing right in front of you. Hidden by the baby belly.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Jesus Loves Them

I've been trying to get a little video of Second Daughter singing "Jesus Loves Me" to share (and to remember her sweet little voice). I thought I'd have a chance a few days ago, but the other kids were drawn in by the camera and kept straying between the camera and Second Daughter. I finally just gave in and invited them to join us.

First Son was so excited to see the video, he wouldn't let the girls actually finish the song. That's probably for the best since my ancient computer almost died three times while uploading the video to YouTube. I'm not sure it could have handled anything larger. Hopefully you can still hear her little voice.

Second Daughter, by the way, is covered in chocolate yogurt. We let the girls choose a few flavors themselves at the store. Neither of them liked eating the chocolate yogurt, but Second Daughter loved smearing it all over her arms, hands and high chair tray.

Two Is Terrific!

Second Daughter turned two earlier this week. We celebrated on Sunday, starting with a chocolate chip pancake as big as her head (a tradition Kansas Dad started a few years ago). She usually eats her pancakes, but instead she dug out the chocolate chips and handed me the crumbled pieces of pancake that remained saying, "My no like dis part."

After mass, we had lunch with Grammy and Paw Paw, and presents, cake and ice cream!

Here are the kids before lunch posing with their presents. First Son and First Daughter decorated the wrapping paper for Second Daughter's presents from us. First Son drew a train. First Daughter drew a camel and a box with pants (but only one leg).

Kansas Dad helped Second Daughter blow out her candles. First Daughter and I made the cake earlier. She had expressed a desire for confetti cake, so we added sprinkles to a box mix. (I just didn't feel up to making a real cake.) The cake turned out fine, though none of the kids are big cake fans. They mostly ate the sprinkles and the ice cream. Paw Paw also kept Second Daughter well supplied with candy from the dish on the table. Just one of the many reasons he's one of her favorite people!

I know a lot of people fear the "terrible twos," but I absolutely adore this age. Of course it can be frustrating. Second Daughter can express her desires very well, but sometimes I don't think she always knows what she wants, so there are often tears.

There's no other time of such great discoveries, though. She is learning so much about the world and her little part in it. We are learning so much about the thoughts floating through her mind. She repeats all the phrases of our daily lives and reflects back to us who we are as a family in a way only a two-year-old can.

She's just as likely to belt out "Stinky Stinky Diaper Change" (to the tune of "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star") as she is "Jesus Loves Me." (Luckily, only the latter has been performed at church.)

She "makes toffee" just like Daddy by stirring whatever is in her cup with her spoon (which makes for some interesting concoctions, depending on what she had just been eating with her spoon).

She will often stomp around and yell "bad day" just like her brother (which is especially cute since she doesn't always seem to know what "bad day" means), not that we encourage that behavior in First Son. He's still learning to control his emotions. (Aren't we all?)

She adores her babies. She often carries one or two or three, calling them "baby, boy baby and boy baby." They are usually unclothed (which she'll do immediately after asking for help in dressing them). She will often change their diapers. She loves to hold them close and bounce or rock them, usually singing "Rock-a-Bye-Baby."

She follows her older brother and sister in their pretend play, carrying a toy of the same ilk they have temporarily adopted (a stuffed dog, a Veggie pirate, whatever) saying "Dait for me!" And most of the time, they do wait for her.

"My do it!" is heard over and over again.

She likes to dress herself, with varying levels of success. She often finds it easier to put on her big sister's clothes.

She loves shoes. The kids aren't very good about leaving them by the door on a regular basis, but even if they do, there's a good chance Second Daughter will run off with them. First Daughter's are the best for this purpose as they are very easy to put on, but still stay on most of the time.

She loves books. Nearly any unhappiness can be dispelled with an offer to read a story, which she'll pick nearly at random from the bookshelf. She doesn't mind if you just talk about the pictures; it's all about the snuggle time.

She'll often interrupt story-time, yelling "Dait for me! My told!" She'll run to her bedroom and pull her blanket from the crib and return with it draped over her shoulders. Never mind that it's 100 degrees outside (and can't be under 80 in the house).

Oh, Second Daughter, I am so pleased to share this time with you!

My Small Successes XXVIII

I have had a week of finishing lots of little things, so these really are my Small Successes.

1. Kansas Dad and I had a pre-baby date. Grammy watched the kids for a whole afternoon while we ran errands and went out for a lovely dinner without any kids at all. Since I don't like to leave a nursing baby, it'll be a long time before we have an adults-only outing again. (Other than laboring at the hospital, but I'm not sure that counts in quite the same way.) We looked at cribs and did end up ordering one, too. It may not be necessary, but it will ease my mind a little. We also picked up a few things I needed to finish up the last two big Montessori activities I wanted to make...Maybe I'll get to that before baby arrives.

2. Yesterday, Kansas Dad dug out the baby swing and I washed the cover yesterday. Hooray! The girls have been playing with it almost constantly. Hopefully they'll get it out of their system before we want to use it for baby.

3. We pulled out the pool and let the kids play! Twice! And I have a picture to prove it! (Kansas Dad found it, blew it up, and filled it, both times. I sat on the porch and watched, from the shade.)

I love the girls' swimsuits! They're two pieces so First Daughter can use the restroom by herself (unlike the one-piece we have) and the shirts are so bright they were incredibly easy to find in the crowd at the zoo.

4. I also put all those pictures from last week in albums, including an extra two pictures I decided to add to Second Daughter's baby book.

5. And (last one, I promise) my doctor is back from his vacation this morning. He's also on call this weekend, so there is now a very good chance he's actually going to be around to deliver the baby. I would have preferred to already be delivered, but we must look at the bright side, right? Baby and I are 40 weeks tomorrow, so the end really is coming (or rather, the beginning).

Head over to Faith and Family to read more Small Successes!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Making Our Masterpiece Folders

A few days ago, I posted my review of How to Use Child-Size Masterpieces. Here's how I fared making the folders.

I recently hit one of the mega-stores and bought red, blue and green folders for the first three steps of the Child-Size Masterpieces. I didn't even try to hit a sale, just bought the cheapest pocket folders they had, and still spent only about $5 on all the folders (with lots of extras for those postcards I'll be purchasing later in the year). I couldn't find the colored stickers she suggests (small dots of specific colors) so I splurged and bought myself a small rainbow set of Sharpie markers, planning to color the folder dots myself. (I could have used markers we had at home, but I was really looking for a reason to justify the Sharpie purchase anyway; they were already in the cart. I love Sharpie markers.)

The instructions for making the folders tell you to purchase regular size folders and trim them to 8" x 6", which was actually not difficult at all. It was a little more annoying to make them pocket folders again. When you trim them, of course, you cut the sides off, so you have to seal up the edges again. The instructions say to staple them, so I tried that at first. It was difficult to get them stapled properly, though that probably has more to do with my chinzy fifteen-year-old baby stapler than the task itself, though I also don't really like using staples on things the kids will be handling. I think there's the possibility of them cutting themselves on a staple that doesn't bend properly. More importantly, the staples might come loose and babies are very likely to pick up such things and eat them. It might not be a problem, but eating staples just seems like a bad idea.

So for the least set (the green ones), I decided to try taping them instead. I think it worked perfectly. I used the big clear packing tape, which we always have on hand.

I put some address labels (cut in half) on the insides and colored the dots on there so the marker would show well, rather than directly on the colored folders.

You might notice the green folders have four pockets. To create those, you need twice as many folders and then attach them together. I opted to use double-stick tape, which worked very well. Almost too well. I learned after the first one to be very careful about putting it together only when I was sure I had them lined up as I'd like. I also added a bit of packing tape on the edge to keep the kids (cough, Second Daughter) from pulling them apart.

I figured someone must sell the 8" x 6" size, but the only place I really found them was at Parent Child Press, the publisher of the books, for $1.50 each (here are the red ones, but they have all the colors). That's about ten times what I paid, even without a big sale; a lot more expensive. I was also surprised that the packages they sell are just packages of the books and the folders. You'd still have to cut all the cards out yourself and glue the cover cards on the folders. (I used double-stick tape for that, too.)

All in all, I think it took me about an hour to make the folders and put the cards for the first three steps inside. I had already cut them from the books and can't remember how long that took. (I cut them out while watching something from Netflix.) I probably could have finished quicker if I hadn't been at the table helping First Son and First Daughter with their dot-to-dots and color-by-numbers. (They love those things.)

It's also definitely the kind of project an older child could do. First Son probably could have managed it, but they wouldn't have looked quite as nice (not that mine are perfect).

I didn't mention it in the review, but I do intend to move to a more Charlotte Mason style approach to art appreciation eventually. I think First Son's more inclined to enjoy a Montessori approach right now which will involve manipulation of the cards. We'll see!

No Baby Yet

But I was reading this article at Faith & Family and reminding myself baby will come soon.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Easy Graduated Shapes

Another Montessori activity suggested in Teaching Montessori in the Home: The Pre-School Years is working with graduated shapes. There aren't any templates for these in the back and I couldn't find anything online, so I spent about fifteen minutes in Word and created some myself. Just in case anyone else is searching and wants to use my fancy document, I'm posting it here. (Always happy to save someone else fifteen minutes of time!)
Graduated Shapes

I just used the shapes in Word and decreased them by 25% each time. I think the particular shapes used depend on what you want your child to know the best. I chose oval, hexagon, diamond, triangle, square, circle and rectangle. I printed it out on card stock (a different color for each shape) and cut it out. Done! (I considered laminating them, but they were so easy to make I decided not to bother. If something happens, I can always print them again and ask First Son to cut them out for me.)

First Son did work with graduated shapes in his kindergarten math curriculum (and so First Daughter did as well). We'll see if they are interested in them for next year, but if not, I'm sure Second Daughter will be soon.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Making Some Early Sensorial Exercises

I thought I'd post a few pictures of the even-easier-to-make sensorial exercises for our Montessori preschool next year. It's been nice having something to keep me occupied while I wait for baby to finish growing.

First, we have a fabric "basket." In the past few months, I've started saving bits of fabric for our craft area. I had thought we would use them for something fun like clothes on paper bag puppets or collages, but so far the kids haven't been interested in using fabric much. I went through the box and cut "squares" from some of the materials I thought would feel interesting. I think this exercise will be most useful if I put the squares in something like a bag that will hide its color so First Daughter will be forced to really feel it. For now, though, I'm storing them all in that little holiday box I picked up for about a penny last holiday season.

One of the things that's really fun about using bits of fabric like this is remembering where the material came from. The white in the back is extra material from my wedding dress. The blue in front of it is from the material used to make the bridesmaid dresses. The blue striped material and the pink next to it were both from favorite outfits the girls wore when they were babies. I saved big chunks of them after I couldn't get them stain-free.

Here are pictures of the mystery bags my mom made for us last summer. We picked up the material from the scrap bin at the local hobby shop. She very nicely made the ties for me, but sewing a little bag is so simple even I could have done it. (I'm very thankful she did, though.) I can use these with the fabric squares above, but also with just about anything from around the house. We'll put some items in there and see if the kids can guess what they are feeling. Seriously, how is that not fun? I can't believe I forgot about these last year.

Finally, here are the very simple color circles I made for Second Daughter. I used a sour cream lid to trace identical circles on a few pieces of construction paper and then cut two or three together. (I always save our plastic containers because they're so great for glue and paint when we're having craft time.) I put some address labels on and wrote the color names. I punched holes in them and put them on a ring, because we had one. She can't play with this by herself because it can't handle her kind of playing, but she needs someone to talk to her about the colors anyway. Luckily, that "someone" could be First Son while I work with First Daughter on something else. Or wash the dishes. Or help First Daughter wash the dishes.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Book Review: How to Use Child-Sized Masterpieces for Art Appreciation

How to Use Child Size MasterpiecesHow to Use Child Size Masterpieces by Aline Wolf

You might be surprised to learn I decided to use this for our homeschool next year before I had actually read the book. Well, I did. You'll be even more surprised when I tell you it took me about thirty minutes to read through the whole book (though I just skimmed some of the information at the end).

After reading it, though, I am excited to try these exercises out with the kids. (The kids are really excited, too, after seeing me put all the cards in folders.) We'll be working through the first three steps: matching identical paintings, pairing companion paintings, and grouping four paintings by one artist. As she describes the approach, children are pulled deeper into the paintings, learning to pay closer attention to details and style in order to complete the exercises. Later steps involving schools of art and timelines build on those skills to increase knowledge of art history. She even mentions using groups of art work as an addition to history, culture or geography lessons. We'll work through at our own pace and see how it goes before investing in steps 4 through 8.

Ms. Wolf describes her simple approach to art appreciation, giving detailed instructions so you can easily create your own folders using whatever postcards you have at your local museum or that you might chose online. You most certainly do not have to buy any of the prepared groupings of cards (like Child Size Masterpieces of Steps 1, 2, 3 - Matching, Pairing, and Sorting - Level 1 Easy). Personally, I'm really glad we have the first three books because it's a little easier to see how it all works with some examples to move around myself. Using her descriptions, I'll also be selecting some postcards from our local art museum to augment our collection and make it more personal for the kids. (I'm hoping it will also make them more interested in the actual pieces in the art museum. We took them recently and they were definitely not interested!)

If you want to use the prepared groupings, you should plan on purchasing at least the first three books (Child Size Masterpieces of Steps 1, 2, 3 - Matching, Pairing, and Sorting - Level 1 Easy, Child Size Masterpieces for Steps 1, 2, 3: Matching, Pairing and Sorting - Level 2 Intermediate and Child-Size Masterpieces for Steps 1, 2, 3 of Matching pairing and sortingy, Level 3--Advanced). The books provide groups of postcards for the three steps at each level, but the instructions in the book seem to indicate you'll want to introduce the exercises to children with all three levels for Step 1, then all three levels for Step 2, and finally all three levels for Step 3. It seems like it would have been a better idea to group all of Step 1 together so people could give it a try that way, with only one book. I can understand being hesitant to purchase all of these resources to start a new program. I luckily only had to purchase one and used a gift card for that.

I do think you want this book if you are interested in using the Child Size Masterpieces. You may be able to muddle through without it, but it seems to provide all the important information on using the postcards with Ms. Wolf's approach. I read a few reviews online of people who thought it was too complicated. They seemed to think you could just throw some postcards together and go through them with your children. I'm sure you could, however, I think the system is actually fairly simple once you see the cards in action. I also think a more thoughtful approach in art appreciation can build the same kind of appreciation I'm hoping to develop with our music appreciation plans. Ms. Wolf provides the kind of detailed instructions I've found in other Montessori materials which often seem unnecessary, but work perfectly when modeling activities with children.

We'll see how these work in the fall, of course. I'll try to remember to post more on it once we're using them.

Originally, I was going to store the postcards in plastic bags because that's what I had and the folders seemed unnecessary. (A lot of other reviewers of the program said they just used bags or regular folders.) I didn't want to bother cutting down and stapling folders for postcards, but I was inspired after reading the book. The more I thought about it, the more I liked the idea of the kids being able to get the folders out themselves and go through the exercises. Having separate pockets and the identification of the colored dots makes it very simple for them to complete the activity and return everything to its place so it's ready for next time.

I'll write a separate post with a few tips on making the folders, in case anyone is interested.

Well-Timed Recovery

First Daughter: I want Sprite to drink.

Mama: Sprite is only for when you're feeling sick.

First Daughter: I'm feeling a little sick right now.

Mama: Well, if you're feeling sick, you can't help Mommy make cupcakes for the birthday party tomorrow.

First Daughter: I'm only feeling a little sick. I'll feel all better right before it's time to make the cupcakes.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Coming this Fall: The Family Rosary

I doubt we're alone in having failed to build a habit of saying the rosary as a family. I have high hopes of changing that come fall. Last year, we sometimes said a decade of the rosary on Friday mornings, but I think it will work better as part of our evening routine, especially if we say it in the living room with Kansas Dad when he's not teaching.

October is the month of the rosary, so my goal is to start our new habit by the first full week of October. In the beginning, we'll say just one decade each evening, but eventually I'd like to increase that to a full rosary. I'm just not so sure how the little ones will handle that. Just last week, another reader at  Faith & Family linked to a wonderful post at Pondered in My Heart that complemented what I had already been considering.

I've printed out the Rosary cards Kimberlee recommended on card stock (the same place I found Stations of the Cross cards, which I've also printed for use next Lent). I trimmed them a bit. Kimberlee put paper on the front for each group of mysteries, but I decided to be a little easier on myself (because cutting paper is so demanding). I colored a little square on the backs of the cards and wrote the number of the mystery in the square. These are in the pile of things to laminate for next year. I've found having pictures for the kids can be a great asset when trying to keep them still and focused, so I think these cards will be especially useful for First Son and First Daughter.

I also put flowers on the hobby store list, ten red roses and one white rose. We have lots of baskets around, but I may just use piles or something. I think moving the roses around will be wonderful for Second Daughter. (I briefly considered trying to remember my crochet skills to make the roses, but decided that could be a task for next year.)

I still needed a few resources, though, since we're just starting out as a family and Kansas Dad and I have never had a habit of saying the rosary ourselves. I copied the mystery pages from Marian Devotions in the Domestic Church onto card stock, double-siding them so each group of mysteries is on a single page. We'll laminate these and read them aloud before beginning the decade.

Finally, I printed out this complete description on how to pray the Rosary all on one page, on card stock of course. We'll also laminate this so it can handle daily use a bit better. I think it will work well to take turns reading with First Son. Sometimes he can announce the mysteries for us and sometimes he can use this page to start the prayers.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Book Review: Home Education

Home Education (Charlotte Mason's Homeschooling Series)Home Education (Charlotte Mason's Homeschooling Series) by Charlotte Mason

I don't really intend to review this book in detail. If you are interested in homeschooling and the Charlotte Mason methods, you'll want to read it yourself. Even if you're not homeschooling, I think parents of young children (under nine) would be interested in reading it. You can even read it online for free here.

I've written a bit about this book on the blog already and originally intended to write more discussions, but then I got pregnant and decided it was enough just to finish reading it. (Which I finally have!!)  You can see what I've written and quoted here. Considering my first post on it was in June 2009, I'm wondering if I should be a little embarrassed at how long it took to read the book. (In my defense, I wanted to underline and make notes in the book, which meant I needed a pencil, a tool that is still a danger when in the hands of Second Daughter as my windowsills can attest, so I had to keep the book in my bedroom where I was usually sleeping, not reading.)

A search online will bring up thousands of hits (maybe tens of thousands) on Charlotte Mason and her philosophy. Personally, I've enjoyed reading what Brandy had to say at Afterthoughts. She just finished reading Home Education herself (for the second time) and was much more coherent and reliable in her updates than I was.

My Hands Are Not Full

"My, you have your hands full!"

I hear this a lot right now. As far as I can tell, everyone who says it does so in a friendly manner. I think they're just making conversation. But I have a confession: I hate it. I hate that statement. I'm not really sure what about it bothers me so much.

I think the biggest thing is that everyone should have their hands full. I don't mean everyone should have three (or four) kids. No...I just think everyone should have things to do. Find a career that inspires you, volunteer, bake for the neighbors, pray, contemplate, do something. I admit I wasn't very good at this before I had children. I spent too much time watching TV or playing video games or something. Now I'm a little better about filling our days with learning and serving, though we're still a work in progress. Not that we shouldn't all have time to relax and reflect on our lives, but most of our time should be spent doing something.

I also know a lot of people without kids who are much busier than I am. I have a friend in who volunteers just about every day of the week after working all day. She also keeps a regular schedule as an EMT. She is amazing, and definitely has her hands full, but she's always looking for other ways to be involved.

Secondly, my hands don't feel full. I feel like we have a comfortable life and I'm able to find time for a few extras. Sometimes I can share a meal or muffins with another family. Though someday we'll do more, Kansas Dad teaches at our parish. We have everything we need and if every once in a while we want a break, Grammy has always been willing to help us out. We have friends who may seem like they have much easier lives (perhaps because they have fewer kids), but they are really much more stressed. They feel like their hands are full, and I have no reason to doubt they are.

Maybe I feel like people are making an assumption about how much we can handle. Maybe I think they're commenting on my kids' behavior, as if they were out of control. Maybe I think they're commenting on our family's size (though four is not really so many in our neck of the woods). Maybe I think of some of the other amazing moms I know who have many more kids, or volunteer more, or both, and feel a bit inadequate.

But you want to know know what I really think it is? Right now, in these few weeks, I feel like my hands aren't full at all. Second Daughter sometimes asks to be held, but she's really just as likely to be running around. We usually take a diaper bag, but I leave it in the van. Very often now, I'm not carrying anything at all with my hands. My womb is full, but my hands are empty. And I'd much rather it were the other way around!

My Small Successes XXVII

I've discovered it's a lot easier for me to participate in Small Successes if I type up my successes as they happen so it's all ready to post on Thursday. I wonder if that should count as a small success?

1. Last Friday I took the kids to the zoo so they could be sprayed by the fire truck. Grammy came along and we met another family there so it was a great success, even if I had to wade in to carry Second Daughter away when it was time to go. Then, on Saturday, we took a guest to the children's museum while her dad taught Kansas Dad's class. I took tons of pictures, went through them on the computer and put in an order to take advantage of an online deal on prints to get all of June's pictures and some of the July ones. (This will be even more of a success if I manage to get them in the album before baby is born...or four months old.)

2. I mopped the kitchen floor on Monday. I did not have the urge to mop the floor (no nesting instinct that day!) and hadn't planned on mopping the floor...until I dropped a bottle of apple juice and realized someone would have to mop. So the real success here is that I mopped so Kansas Dad wouldn't have to mop.

3. I've finished our preliminary planning for next school year! You can see all our resources here. I wanted to have about six weeks' worth of lessons planned so I could pick it up and just start when the baby is old enough. I haven't put in any dates because I don't know when baby will be born or when I'll feel ready. I may even start with partial days, covering some of the main subjects and starting some of the extras later on. I'm pretty excited about my 28 pages of lessons, though. I also went to the store and picked up the few school supplies we really needed to get started (some binders, pencils, and loose-leaf paper).

Head over to Faith & Family to read more Small Successes and rejoice if your floor is clean...or was at one point over the past week.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Book Review: Catherine of Siena

Catherine of SienaCatherine of Siena by Sigrid Undset

I've read a bit by Sigrid Undset (and recommend the Master of Hestviken series especially) and read on various blogs that this book was wonderful so I requested it from inter-library loan. Most of Ms. Undset's books are historical fiction; this one is non-fiction.

The book follows Catherine's life very closely, building on the plethora of sources that exist. Apparently, many of Catherine's followers were devoted enough to her to record almost every encounter. I enjoyed reading about her youth and getting such a wonderful feel for her Siena. Her early life as a saint (after convincing her family to allow her to remain unmarried) was marked by near-constant prayer and elective deprivation. After a few years, Christ commanded her to begin spending more of her time serving her family and her community, sending her out on his missions of compassion and conversion.

To be honest, I found this section of the book the least interesting. It's not that Catherine's devotion to God or her struggles to pray for the conversions of others were not amazing. They were! It's just that there were so many of them, so well recorded! After a while, all the names seemed to run together a bit. I'm sure that says more about my dearth of spiritual strength than what I could have learned from Catherine's example.

I did think this quote interesting:
The intense remorse which Catherine always felt for her sins came of her knowledge of what complete Purity, complete Love, really is. When she accused herself passionately for having slighted God because she let herself be distracted for a moment to see a brother go past in the church; when she reproached herself bitterly for her untruthfulness because she had politely said Yes to some Dominicans who invited her to come and see a monastery, when she had no intention of doing so--then the sensitiveness of her conscience may seem exaggerated, so that one can scarcely help wondering, was Catherine really quite sincere when she sometimes called herself the worst of all sinners? Even Raimondo of Capua had to confess that he had on occasion been doubtful. But in the end he learned to understand that Catherine measured perfection and imperfection with a yardstick which ordinary people do not know. Only God is perfect--this she had been allowed to see in her visions--and everything which is not God is imperfection. When she spoke as though she believed that her sins were the cause of the misery of the Holy Church and the whole world, she meant it with deadly seriousness. Obviously she knew that hundreds of thousands of other souls were also sufficiently sinful to bring the same miseries over the whole world and the Church. But it was not for her to judge them--she could only judge herself.
I think this is a point well-made about the saints. While some saints have obvious times of sinfulness and conversion, most seem to live in a closeness to Christ that the rest of us dare not hope to attain, yet they claim to be the greatest sinners of all (starting with St. Paul). It's easy for us to dismiss their claims, but here Ms. Undset has explained it rather well. The closer we are to Christ, the more easily we can see the great distance that still divides us from the perfection of God. We can never be perfect and the smallest sin is still enough to separate us eternally from God if he would not breach the divide himself.

Eventually, the book moved on to chapters that focused on her work in the international world, writing to and visiting the Pope and other leaders, learning about Italy's history. During Catherine's lifetime, the Pope was living in Avignon instead of Rome (which caused great trouble in his relationship with the people of Italy). She struggled constantly to convince him to return, knowing (because Christ had revealed to her) that a great schism was developing. She constantly encouraged those in Siena and other cities of Italy to stay true to the Church despite their distress with the Pope himself.
For her it was no contradiction, beyond the fact that all human relationships are full of contradictions, that Christ had set a vicar over His faithful as long as they live on earth, and that He demands we should show His vicar honour and obedience, even though the vicar may be unworthy to fulfil his mission. No one can know whether the Holy Father has been a holy man until his death--and as it has been put in the hands of men to appoint a man as the Vicar of Christ, it is only to be expected that the voters will all too often vote from impure, mean or cunning motives, for a man who will become an evil to the Church of God on earth. God will nevertheless watch over His Church, raise and restore again what mankind may ruin or soil; it is necessary, for mystical reasons which the saints have partly seen and understood, that the offence should occur. But woe to that person through home the offence comes...
It seems like wise council for the Church today as well.

She did finally convince Pope Gregory that he must leave Avignon and return to Rome, despite all the powers and advice that denied it (even his own father).

Ms. Undset quotes and paraphrases the writings of St. Catherine in the last few chapters of the book. I haven't read her The Dialogue of St. Catherine of Siena (Tan Classics) so I can't say how well they are represented. I feel like the book was a good introduction to the life of St. Catherine, though. She certainly was one of the more astounding saints (though I suppose they are all astounding in their own way).
God speaks to His daughter of the presumption of judging one's neighbour, and explains to her how it is possible to work for the conversion of sinners, calling evil by its rightful name, but yet leave the judgment of them to God. He particularly warns Catherine against judging unworthy priests and monks. To wage war on the Church because its bad servants sin is itself a great sin. God who raised up His priests and clothed them in power and dignity will judge them Himself, and however wretched they may be they are still the ministers of the sacraments which nourish the life of grace in us.

The Purposes of Nesting

I've been thinking about the nesting instinct recently. (Surprised?) I still don't think it's hit me as hard as it hits some women, but I've had a few twinges. There was, of course, the incident with the toothbrush and the chest freezer. This morning I tacked some window sills and the toy kitchen with soap and water to try to get the pencil, pen, marker and crayon cleaned off. (I had mixed success and have renewed my vow to disallow markers and crayons in the living room.)

It occurs to me, once again, that having such things clean doesn't really make a difference in the health or safety of soon-to-be-born Fourth Baby. What exactly is the purpose of nesting? I suppose there might have been a time when people didn't keep their homes very clean at all, so a general sweep, dusting and washing really did make a difference. Though my house isn't as clean as I'd like on a regular basis (a deficiency I hope to tackle in the next year with the help of A Mother's Rule of Life: How to Bring Order to Your Home and Peace to Your Soul and a regular cleaning schedule), it's quite clean enough to ward off disease. I had a few other thoughts, though, that seem to make more sense in our current situation.

1. So Mom can look around a room without sighing and crying about the state of the walls while nursing a little one. (Not that she won't find a hundred other reasons to sigh and cry.)

2. So the kinds of tasks that aren't done on a regular basis (like polishing the hutch) can wait a few months after the baby is born before being tackled again.

3. To keep Mom's thoughts and body occupied with something besides the baby who has not yet decided it is time to be born.

4. To empty the house of unnecessary clutter so there's room for the baby crib, co-sleeper, baby swing, bouncy seat, play-yard, diaper pail, second changing table, and other such paraphanalia baby seems to require. (It's a good thing we don't own all of those things as my minimal nesting hasn't included any de-cluttering worthy of mention.)

5. So Mom can go to the hospital to have baby in relative peace, without despairing of the state of her home when her mother or mother-in-law is watching the older children.

Anyone else have suggestions?

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

She'll Love Being a Big Sister, Right?

Yesterday, as I picked Second Daughter up after her nap and changed her diaper, I told her, "You are getting to be a very big girl!"

She responded, "No, I need my mommy."

Chocolate-Chocolate Chip Zucchini Muffins on the Range

It's zucchini time again! We don't have much growing in our garden this year since Kansas Dad has been swamped with work and trying to tackle the outbuilding, but I thought I'd share this recipe we've been enjoying since last fall.

My quest for yummy chocolate zucchini muffins started with the yummiest chocolate-chocolate chip zucchini cake recipe ever from King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking: Delicious Recipes Using Nutritious Whole Grains (King Arthur Flour Cookbooks). (I really really love this cookbook!) It's so good I made it for Second Daughter's birthday party last year. It is not, however, as healthy as I'd like something to be for every day eating. I was on the look-out for a tasty but reasonably healthy zucchini muffin or quick bread recipe I could put into our rotation (along with banana bread and pumpkin bread).

It seemed like everything I found, though, was either too healthy or too yummy. Here are a few of the other recipes I read or tried before getting started:
So I decided to experiment a little myself using ingredients we always have on hand.

Because I have a kitchen scale (which I also love), my recipe is mostly in ounces, but I've used the conversion tables in my Whole Grain Baking cookbook to give you an idea of the measurements in cups. (Kitchen scales are more accurate than measuring cups and create fewer dirty dishes, so you really can't go wrong. Plus, you can use it to measure the yield from your strawberry patch.)

I have made these a number of times with zucchini frozen and thawed in the fridge and it works great. When I do that, I always drain some of the water that seeps out from the zucchini, but not too much or the muffins will be too dry.

Remember, you can make this recipe with any kind of summer squash.

Range Chocolate-Chocolate Chip Zucchini Muffins or Bread

Dry ingredients:
  • 1 oz cocoa (1/3 cup)
  • 3 3/4 ounces ground flaxseed (3/4 cup)**
  • 7 3/4 ounces whole wheat flour (just shy of 2 cups, I'd recommend 1 3/4 cup)
  • 5 ounces all-purpose flour (just over 1 cup, I'd recommend using 1 1/4 cup)
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 oz wheat or oat bran (about 1/2 cup, I tried using more and we didn't like it at all. You can also just leave it out.)
Wet ingredients:
  • 3 eggs
  • 5 1/2 oz brown sugar (about 3/4 cup, packed)
  • 7 oz white sugar (1 cup)
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
And the extras:
  • 20 oz shredded zucchini or summer squash (about 2 1/2 cups)
  • 6 oz chocolate chips (1 cup)
The directions:
  1. Whisk the dry ingredients in a bowl.
  2. Use a mixer to blend all the wet ingredients.
  3. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients.
  4. Stir in the zucchini and the chocolate chips. (Ideally; I usually just dump them into the mixer and let it beat up the chocolate chips a little rather than stir it myself.)
  5. Bake at 350 degrees F for 20-25 minutes (24 muffins of 1/4 cup each) or for 40-45 minutes for 2 loaves. Between the chocolate chips and the cocoa, it can be really hard to tell when they're done. I don't bother testing so much anymore and just take them out when they've been done in the past (23 minutes for the muffins). (I've only made loaves once, and Kansas Dad took them out for me. They worked just fine, but I forgot to ask him to write down how long they baked. Guess I'll have to try them again!)

** If you don't have have ground flaxseed, you can substitute an additional 1/4 cup vegetable oil in the wet ingredients. I highly recommend you give ground flaxseed a try, though. I think it adds a delicious nutty taste to baked goods and it's healthier than vegetable oil. I think.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Quote: Home Education

From Part VI (The Will--The Conscience--The Divine Life in the Child) in Home Education (Charlotte Mason's Homeschooling Series):
There are those, no doubt, who have not even arrived at wishing, but most of us desire to do well; what we want to know is, how to make ourselves do what we desire. And here is the line which divides the effective from the non-effective people, the great from the small, the good from the well-intentioned and respectable; it is in proportion as a man has self-controlling, self-compelling power that he is able to do, even of his own pleasure; that he can depend upon himself, and be sure of his own action in emergencies.
It is by force of will that a man can 'change his thoughts,' transfer his attention from one subject of thought to another, and that, with a shock of mental force of which he is distinctly conscious. And this is enough to save a man and to make a man, this power of making himself think only of those things which he has beforehand decided that it is good to think upon.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Our Friend Moe

A month or so ago, Kansas Dad brought in a caterpillar he found in the strawberry patch and set it up in a jar for the kids to watch. We've had a great time with it. The kids named it Moe and First Son accurately predicted the molting. It had been in a cocoon for a while and Kansas Dad and I were a little afraid it hadn't survived, but this little guy emerged today.

I think it's a salt marsh moth (see here or here for more information). I used my book to identify it (Butterflies & Moths (Smithsonian Handbooks), but there are so many species and most of them aren't even in the book that it's difficult to be certain.) I'm not sure if it's male or female since we didn't see it open its wings. It left the jar, though, and is off flying around the Range. Hopefully its progeny won't destroy too many strawberries next year. (Kansas Dad fed a number of its ilk to the chickens.)

Raising this caterpillar was completely free (since we had the jar already) and a fantastic experience for the kids. We're definitely going to do it again and I'll document it better. I'm hoping I can convince First Son to draw the different stages, too. This year, I was just happy to let it sit on the counter and watch while Kansas Dad put in new leaves every day.