Friday, December 23, 2011

This Blog is on Vacation

It's that time of year again. I was really hoping to get First Son's birthday post written and posted before I took a break, but now it's nearly Christmas and it will just have to wait. I will be back to blogging in two or three weeks.

I wish you all a blessed and wonderful Christmas and New Year's Eve. May God grant you peace and joy in the coming year!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Adding It Up

With my most recent Amazon earnings (Thank you! Thank you to all who have purchased through one of my links!), I bought Double Shutter, a game a friend gave her daughter last year. The plan was to play with First Son so he would have a reason to use his addition facts.

He played a little but wasn't overly impressed (probably something about all those new Legos).

First Daughter, though, turns out to be a bit of a shark at the game. She beat me soundly and only needed a little help when she rolled a nine or higher.

The game is surprisingly addictive. I also think it might be a good travel game. It's not particularly small, but you play right in the tin or box so everything is contained.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Book Review: The Life You Save May Be Your Own

The Life You Save May Be Your Own: An American Pilgrimage by Paul Elie

In this ambitious and long book, Mr. Elie attempts to integrate the lives of four important American Catholics: Dorothy Day, Thomas Merton, Walker Percy and Flannery O'Connor.
This book, though, will take a slightly different approach, setting out to tell their four stories as one, albeit one with four points of origin and points of view. It is, or is meant to be, the narrative of a pilgrimage, a journey in which art, life, and religious faith converge; it is a story of readers and writers--of four individuals who glimpsed a way of life in their reading and evoked it in their writing, so as to make their readers yearn to go and do likewise.
When I began this book, these four people were little more than names to me. I'd only read one thing written by any of them (Love in the Ruins by Walker Percy, which I didn't remember reading until halfway through this book and which I didn't understand when I did read it). Now I have the beginning of an understanding of these four Catholics who lived and wrote and changed lives in the recent past. Mr. Elie is a book editor and his knowledge of these writers and the meaning and importance of what they wrote is an important part of the value of this book.

Unfortunately, because it follows four individuals in four places with four very different lives, the flow of the book is disjointed. Every few pages (or paragraphs), the author moves from one person to another. In some ways that made it easy to read in short spaces between the calls and needs of children, but it also made it difficult to keep in mind which person was the current focus. Mr. Elie seemed to do a reasonably job of showing how each of the lives could be seen as a pilgrimage, but I'm not entirely convinced he couldn't have done a similar job with four different books, perhaps as a series. Then again, there are a few exchanges by letter (for example, between Thomas Merton and Dorothy Day) that are easier to put into context when telling the stories together.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Quote: The Life You Save Might Be Your Own

Thomas Merton, quoted in The Life You Save May Be Your Own by Paul Elie:
I am coming to think that God (may He be praised in His great mystery) loves and helps best those who are so beat and have so much nothing when they come to die that it is almost as if they had persevered in nothing but had gradually lost everything, piece by piece, until there was nothing left but God.

Monday, December 19, 2011

The Catholic Company Review: My Storytime Bible

My Storytime Bible by Renita Boyle, illustrated by Melanie Florian

I was so excited to receive this book. I wanted to love it. I have loved many of the books published by Pauline Kids and have come to expect excellence from them. (Adventures of Saint Paul, Saints and their Stories, and the Saints for Young Readers for Every Day volumes one and two come to mind.) 

But I did not.

The illustrations are delightful; colorful and sweet.

The text, however, leaves much to be desired.

Each story is preceded by a sentence or two attempting to place the story in context for a young child living today. Sometimes the sentences seem mistaken. For example, before the story of Samuel they say, "If you have ever wondered what God wants to say to you, then you know how Samuel felt when God woke him up." When Samuel first heard his name, he had no idea God was calling him. When he did realize it was God, he did not have to wonder what God wanted to say to him because he clearly heard his voice, something that is much less common for children today.

Though written as prose, some of the stories have some phrases that rhyme (not all, mind you, just some). Here's a quote from the story of David's anointing (which lacks an actual anointing):
God chose David, the very youngest instead. He took care of sheep, played the harp, and loved God with all his heart.
"One day David will be king. He loves me more than anything," God said.
Good looks aren't everything.
As you can see, the stories often end with a sentence that appears to sum everything up neatly for the child to accept.

It's not that all the stories are terrible, they just aren't as good as the real thing, or even a less-silly version of the real thing. Here's a quote from The Good Shepherd:
"Heaven has a happy day," said Jesus, "when anyone chooses to live God's way.
"I am the Good Shepherd," Jesus said. "I know all my sheep by name.
"No matter where they wander, I love them just the same. I will give my life to save them, no matter what the cost. If you want to follow me, you must love the people who are lost."
God loves everyone--no matter what they're like.
Reading the story of the Good Shepherd and contemplating it, I'm not sure that last line sums it up very well. Not that it's not true, but isn't it a greater truth for a child that God loves you? That no matter what wrong you have done, or think you have done, God is always seeking you? That God will follow you wherever you have sinned and carry you back to his goodness, if only you will let him?

Most of the stories are acceptable. Some are just too sing-song for my taste. I don't think I will be reading this much with my children, though I might a little just because I like the illustrations so much.

This review was written as part of the Catholic book reviewer program from The Catholic Company. I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Visit The Catholic Company to find more information on My Storytime Bible. They are also a great source for a Catechism of the Catholic Church or a Catholic Bible.

What I Loved About Last Week (14 Ed.)

1. Early this week, Grammy treated us to the movies: The Muppet Movie. It was surprisingly good. The 8 year old, 5 year old and 3 year old loved it. The one year old loved running up the aisle and diving into rows near the front, hiding from me. Luckily there were only a few other people there and they seemed very forgiving. (He was quiet, but it had to be distracting.) I've never gotten that much exercise watching a movie before.

After the movie, we did some charity shopping. The girls went with Grammy and picked some gifts for a little girl whose name I picked. The boys went with me and Kansas Dad. The girls did a great job focusing on their goal, but First Son was terribly distracted by the Lego aisle. He only makes it to a store two or three times a year, so I'm not sure he realized there was such a thing as the Lego aisle. It was cute and I didn't chastise him too much; he did help pick a few things and he didn't ask us to buy anything for him. (He has a substantial amount of money now that his birthday has passed, but he's not allowed to spend it until after Christmas since he'd just buy many of the things he's going to receive as a gift.)

2. Second Son has two new teeth! They're just peeking through, his second two on the top. Everyone say a quick prayer that means he'll be a nicer toddler over the holidays than he has been this week. (Now he has eight teeth, which seems a bit low for 17 months, but we'll hope that just gives him less time to get cavities, right?)

3. We finally set up our Christmas tree. I had intended to have it up before the third Sunday of Advent. The older two were so excited to get out the ornaments. They each remembered some of them, asking for them before I even found them in the box. We hung all our homemade ornaments as well. I love those!

4. I received my first teacher gift. One of our families brought something for each of the Catechesis teachers. It's funny because I don't even think of myself as one of the "teachers" since the other two ladies present nearly all of the lessons. What's the policy on thank you notes for thank you gifts: required, acceptable or too much? One girl in Catechesis wrote me a thank you note and another colored a picture for me, too. How cool is that?

5. Story hour Christmas party - watching a Christmas bear version of Duck Duck Goose. Second Son running around the gym.

6.  We started handing out our annual Christmas ornaments, though I can't tell you what we made this year - yet. Some of the recipients read the blog. We made a lot this year so there are plenty to go around for all the family members, teachers and pastors. The more years we do this, the more I love them. I'm already considering some ideas for next year. For the first time this year, we had enough for each child to pick one to keep for our tree. I think we'll try to do that every year. I wrote their names on them and they can take them when they grow up and have their own trees (though then mine will be very sad, won't it?); at the very least, it relieved some of the unhappiness we had last year when First Son wanted to keep all of his ornaments.

7. Kansas Dad and I went to a party on Friday night without kids! Thanks to Grammy for giving up her Friday night for us. The kids, of course, would rather have her than us any night, especially when frozen pizza is involved, so they were thrilled.

8. We made a peanut butter cookie man for Kansas Dad's birthday. He he! I received this Gingerbread Boy Kit a few years ago. No one here on the Range cares that much for gingerbread, but we love this pan. I made our favorite peanut butter cookie dough and pressed about two-thirds of it into the pan then baked it up. Delicious! The kids love decorating it. (They often ask when we're going to make a cookie-man, but since it involves eating a lot of cookie, it's a special treat.)

9. The Nutcracker - I loved it. The kids had differing reactions. Though it took a whole afternoon during a busy month, I hope very much we can make this performance an annual tradition.

10. While I was doing the dishes this week, the girls stripped the Christmas tree of all its ornaments. When I asked, dejectedly, what they thought they were doing, they replied they were playing "earthquake." It was really funny. But also a bit distressing. We've already broken two ornaments this year and all the more fragile ornaments I'd put near the top are now scattered about, many low enough for Second Son to reach. (I made the girls put them all back, so now the tree is decidedly bottom-heavy.)

11. Ok, this is such a little thing, but I bought the third wise man for my Nativity set. I've been watching for it for years and it's always been outrageously expensive, but I found one on ebay and just bought it. I felt weird about it all day, which just goes to show how infrequently I buy something for myself. Now I can consider my set complete and I'm foolishly happy about it.

12. Kansas Dad's birthday was last weekend and I think he had a good one. I'm not one to get all gushy on the blog, but there's no doubt in my mind that Kansas Dad is the best thing to ever happen to me (outside of Jesus-was-born-died-and-rose-again-for-me, of course). I thank God for him every day and wish him much love and many blessings in the coming year.

We're celebrating Christmas with Kansas Dad's parents tonight to accommodate holiday travels. There are lessons to do, cookies to bake, presents to wrap and all sorts of other things like an eye doctor appointment and First Son's baptism anniversary.

(Sorry for the lack of pictures this week; I don't want to take the time to get any off the camera.)

Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Range Kids Meet Ballet

Today, Grammy treated me, First Daughter and First Son to The Nutcracker. I think I was in fourth grade the last time I saw a ballet (and it was The Nutcracker). The kids had seen it on video (an actual recording of the ballet) and read a book or two about it but seeing it live is very different.

First Daughter was remarkably engaged during the performance. She's only five but her attention rarely wandered. First Son, on the other hand, was ready to leave at intermission. (Really, and was upset when we said we had to stay.)

To top it off, just as the professional New York ballerina was performing brilliantly as the Sugar Plum Fairy, First Son turned joyously to me and whispered loudly in my ear, "This is the music from the Ford commercial!"

I kid you not.

I will say this; he was quiet, he was attentive and he did not complain (much). But I think First Son would be content if he didn't see another ballet for a decade.

After the performance, we were lucky enough to go backstage with the mother of two of the principles (is that right?) who graciously and beautifully posed with First Daughter for a picture. (Grammy has connections.)

On the way home First Daughter said she wanted to be in the ballet someday. Sigh. At least somebody appreciated a bit of culture today.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Our 2011 Advent Books, Week 4

Merry Christmas Mom and Dad by Mercer Mayer is my favorite Little Critter book. It's silly but we read it every year and the children love it.

The Huron Carol by Frances Tyrrell is an English translation of the Huron carol Father Jean de Brebeuf wrote as a missionary in the 1600s. I love the authentic illustrations and the opportunity to discuss missionaries and love for those who do not know Christ during the Advent season, though I understand some people are distressed of the retelling of the Nativity story in another culture's traditions. Reading this book also gives us an opportunity to talk about how Mary, Joseph and Jesus were not white like we are white and that God created all people, Christ is present in all people, no matter the color or culture. We supplement with a couple of CDs (Christmas with Chanticleer and The Huron Carol sung by Alan Mills - I'm sure there are others, but these are the ones I liked from our library.)

The Story of Christmas by Vivian French is a board book with wonderful vibrant illustrations for the little ones.

The Twelve Days of Christmas by Gennady Spirin. I'm not sure why, but the kids love this song. I love Spirin's illustrations.

The Friendly Beasts illustrated by Tomie dePaola is a sweet carol wonderfully illustrated.

All for the Newborn Baby by Phyllis Root is one of my favorite Christmas books. It's so beautifully illustrated. The children still need to grow into this one a bit, but we read it every year anyway. It's a shame it's out of print, but I received a perfect copy from PaperBackSwap.)

The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry, illustrated by Lisbeth Zwerger. We read this every year and every year I have problems with it. Seriously, if Kansas Dad sold a family heirloom to buy me some hair combs I'd be pretty upset. Her hair will grow back, but his heirloom is gone forever. But it's a classic and it does model a loving and giving attitude. The illustrations in this version are particularly good.

Christmas in the Barn by Margaret Wise Brown. We have the version illustrated by Diane Goode, which is fine (the kids actually love it), but I'm partial to the illustrations of Barbara Cooney. Maybe your library has a copy because it's sadly out of print.

The First Christmas by Sophy Williams is a "changing picture book" where you open up the pages and the illustrations change. I found this on sale after Christmas last year and think the children will love it.

Lucy's Christmas by Donald Hall is another of my favorites. I love reading about Lucy's preparations for Christmas and her delightful family. Donald Hall is a wonderful storyteller (one who brought us the delight that is Ox-Cart Man). The illustrations are fine in the Lucy book, though not quite as good as Cooney's.

The Night Before Christmas illustrated by Anita Lobel. We read this because it's a classic poem I want my children to know and we're reading it on Christmas Eve even though Santa doesn't come to our house. (St. Nicholas comes on his feast day.)

Christmas Story by Brian Wildsmith is another of my favorites. His illustrations are brilliant and intriguing. There's always something new to notice. I waited for a long time, but I have a lovely copy courtesy of a kind member of PaperBackSwap.

Bethlehem illustrated by Fiona French shows her wonderful stained glass window illustrations set against the King James Version words of the Nativity story. It's a joy to read every year.

I've noticed, as I write up our Advent lists to share, that I've received quite a few wonderful out-of-print books from PaperBackSwap. I've been a member since March 2008 and am just beginning to reach the front of the line for some much-wished-for books (by myself and others). I've heard from some people that none of the books they want are available and I always encourage them to use the Wish List and be patient. There may be books I never receive (and many I purchase myself because I just can't wait) but there's no doubt in my mind that PaperBackSwap has been an asset to our family and our homeschool. (I do receive an extra book credit if you click my link and sign up for the club, but this is an honest recommendation. Pinky promise. Commercial over.)

I also wanted to share a wonderful list of (mostly) new Christmas books! I found quite a few to check out for next year. I sense our tradition evolving into a two-picture-books-a-day Advent activity.

Advent 2011
Week 1
Week 2
Week 3

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Make Your Own Lego Army (of Crayons)

Behold, the oncoming army of Lego minifigure crayons!

I made these fun crayons using a Lego minifigure ice cube mold I originally found on Amazon, but actually ordered directly from Lego. I found it strangely addictive to mix the wax in different colors.

They were very easy, if a little time consuming.

1. Separate your old broken crayons by color. They shouldn't be identical, but you want general schemes. Otherwise, everything will be brown.

2. Peel the crayons. My kids were only slightly helpful here. Mostly I did it and broke my poor useless nails doing so.

3. Use your  awesome kitchen scale to add 45 grams of crayon to a microwave safe measuring cup. This is about 1 5/8 ounces.

4. Melt the wax in the microwave. I found it took between 5 and 7 minutes, depending on how often I stirred it. My need to estimate here probably also has something to do with the fact that the only button that works reliably on my microwave is the 3.

5. Pour carefully into the mold.

6. Let it sit for a few minutes to harden a bit, then transfer to the freezer for about ten minutes.

7. Pop out to the astonished and excited eyes of your children.

We handed these out in the goody bags for First Son's birthday party. If you're near me in real life and want to host your own Lego party, I'll gladly lend you the mold. Then you, too, can make Lego minifigure crayons for the cost of running your microwave and peeling some crayons.

Monday, December 12, 2011

What I Loved About Last Week (13 Ed.)

1. St. Nicholas's Feast Day cookies - I made the Speculatius (German Spice Cookies) from the recipe at the St. Nicholas Center. The dough smelled wonderful. I was worried about kneading that last cup of flour in by hand, but it was soft and pleasant. I could have kneaded it much longer than was necessary. We had fun cutting out cookies. I still haven't purchased a St. Nicholas cookie cutter, but we had a star, a snowflake, a Christmas tree, a dove, a camel, a horse (donkey), a cow, a sheep and a stocking. The children never choose just one or two, but must use all of the available options. It made at least five dozen cookies and we gave as many away as I could. They tasted delicious!

2. St. Nicholas's Feast Day - the stockings! I love how excited the children were. This year, they each received egg shakers, a few chocolate coins, Reese's Christmas trees, their age in real dollar coins and a small gift. First Son received a Laurie Berkner Band CD and the girls each received a small necklace I found at a local salon. I love giving them small fun gifts on the feast of St. Nicholas. We always give faith-related gifts at baptism anniversaries and Epiphany. St. Nicholas is a little less serious. Second Son loved the egg shakers and they complemented the Laurie Berkner CD well for a silly dance before breakfast (after which everyone had some chocolate or a cookie).

3.  Our first snow! On the morning of St. Nicholas's Feast Day, we let the kids run around outside a bit. Second Son was fascinated and loved being outside, but he hated being cold. For a while, he cried if Kansas Dad brought him in and cried if he took him out. Ah well. He was happy for a while and will hopefully enjoy the next snowfall even more.

4. Our visit to a local park as part of our "rivers and oceans" study, though we just keep visiting a creek. The older three kids don't care much of the walking through the woods, but they had a good time playing in a bit of snow. Second Son had a fantastic time. He would have wandered those woods for hours.  Second Daughter made it exactly nine minutes (I was counting) before claiming she was too tired to go on and collapsing on the path.

4. First Son's birthday party. He enjoyed it and that's really all that matters. We had a Lego party with a few fun games and my first attempt at a cake decorating. First Son thought it looked like Lego pieces and, luckily, his opinion is the only one that mattered. My favorite moment of the party: when Second Daughter (yes, the three year old) threw her minifigure right into the "boat" from two huge 8-year-old-big-brother steps away.

5. First Son's First Reconciliation - it was a sweet little ceremony with a few good comments from our parish priest. First Son came right back to his pew afterward and prayed. He sat quietly while the other children and all the parents said their confessions. I was very impressed as I watched him gaze at the statue of Jesus. I refrained from asking him what he was thinking about, more than a little afraid he would say "Legos."

6. Frozen yogurt to celebrate! It's freezing outside, but frozen yogurt sprinkled with candy is a fun treat. The high schoolers working were sweet to Second Son who ran around like a funny guy. They also had an actual creche in the corner, which is a bit unusual.

Next week is another big one for us: a special movie date with Grammy, a cookie decorating party, the story hour Christmas party, our monthly faith formation class, our first performance of the Nutcracker (in the audience, of course!) and Kansas Dad's birthday. Before this time next week, we'll be starting the O Antiphons. Are you ready?

Sunday, December 11, 2011

More than Money

UPDATE: CFCA is now Unbound.

Last year, I wrote about our experiences with CFCA's Hope for a Family. I wanted to write again about it as we near the end of 2011, encouraging each of my readers to prayerfully consider reaching out to a family in need through CFCA or a similar organization.

For a year, we have been exchanging letters with our sponsored friend and her family in Nicaragua. First Daughter in particular has developed a great love for our friend. She speaks of her often and nearly always insists on including a hand-drawn picture when we send our monthly letter. It is as much a blessing for me to see my daughter caring deeply for someone so far away, someone she has never met, as it is for our friend to be sponsored.

I am deeply impressed with the CFCA staff and volunteers in the Nicaragua project in which our friend participates. We have received letters once a month which include not only a translation, but the original letter in Spanish with illustrations. The sketches are beautiful. Some people may fear being sponsored will cause a person to become jaded, to feel entitled to the money alone, but those drawings remind me each month how the CFCA program is different because it's about more than money. It's about developing a relationship with our sponsored friend who helps to teach us about the life of giving and loving to which Jesus calls us.

There is much pain and poverty in the world. I often feel there's nothing I can do but to pray, but CFCA offers a way to reach one person, one family, to really connect with someone. I cannot encourage others enough to find an organization to support that allows a similar connection. Learn more about sponsoring a child here.

*********** The text below is copied from the CFCA website. ************

We sponsor a child through Christian Foundation for Children and Aging, an organization that creates relationships between sponsors in the United States and children, youth and aging persons in 22 developing countries. Through its Hope for a Family program, our contributions provide life-changing benefits such as education, nutrition, clothing and medical care for our sponsored friend. Through letter writing we are able to learn about our sponsored friend's life and offer our encouragement and prayers.

Grounded in the Gospel call to serve the poor, CFCA works with people of all faith traditions. CFCA is highly rated by Charity Navigator and the American Institute of Philanthropy.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Book Review: One Thousand Gifts

One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp

In this book, Ms. Voskamp wonders at the beginning of this book if there could be something, some way, to greater joy in life? She finds eucharisteo, "he gave thanks" in the original Greek and meditates on it, sharing her thoughts and impressions with the reader in a style that is almost stream of consciousness.

First, you must be prepared, the first chapter is extremely difficult to read. In fact, I had to set it aside twice, taking months to get through that first chapter. Ms. Voskamp shares tragedy from her own life and that of her brother-in-law's to prepare us for this story. She is trying to experience the joy she believes is at the heart of a Christian life but struggles against the sorrows of life.
That has always been the goal of the fullest life--joy. And my life knew exactly how elusive that slippery three-letter work, joy, can be....I could tell how my whole being responded to that one word. I longed for more life, for more holy joy.
First we are thankful, then we receive, perceive, realize the miracle.

The book is the tale of a journey. She invites us to share in the journey, showing how a bold decision to name one thousand gifts carries her far from the simple idea of being thankful for the good and beautiful in every moment of our lives. Living a life with room for holy joy involves being thankful for the miracles that God may perform, and thankful when He does not. It means thanking and praising God for his own sake, because he is worthy of our praise and worship, without regard for our own hardships or even because of our own hardships.

She gives some wonderful writing in the book:
I don't really want more time; I just want enough time. Time to breathe deep and time to see real and time to laugh long, time to give You glory and rest deep and sing joy and just enough time in a day not to feel hounded, pressed, driven, or wild to get it all done--yesterday. In a world with cows to buy and fields to see and work to do, in the beep and blink of the twenty-first century, with its "live in the moment" buzz phrase that none of the whirl-weary seem to know how to do, who actually knows how to take time and live with soul and body and God all in sync? To have the time to grab the jacket off the hook and time to go out to all air and sky and green and time to wonder at all of them in all this light, this time refracting in prism.
I just want time to do my one life well.
Eventually, she writes:
What in the world, in all this world, is grace?
I can say it certain now: All is grace.
I see through the woods of the world: God is always good and I am always loved.
God is always good and I am always loved.
Everything is eucharisteo.
I already posted on my favorite chapter (empty to fill) and really feel it was the highlight of a wonderful, thought-provoking book. (It was chapter ten, by the way, despite the 8 in the post title.) Taking time to see the gifts God has bestowed should be a part of our daily life. Ms. Voskamp encourages us to find the gifts throughout the day, as we should. Our world is imperfect, thanks to Adam and Eve's sins, but it is still a good world. Concentrating on the gifts, at the very least, distracts us from the annoyances. On the best days, it brings us joy and helps us to feel close to God. My own reasons to be thankful are less poetic than the author's, but they are no less valid.

However...the writing can be as distracting as it is beautiful. Sometimes I found my thoughts drifting as I read because the language wandered. Kansas Dad tried to read a little of it and immediately tossed it aside, though the book was not in any way written for men.

Also, I found the last chapter a little disturbing. The author seems to use the language of physical intimacy to describe her relationship with Jesus. I don't think that's what Scripture intends. As a Catholic, I have the benefit of physically receiving Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament at each and every Mass. I think this final chapter would have been very different if Ms. Voskamp had experienced Holy Communion in the way Catholics do. She quotes and reads a great variety of authors, including Catholics, but she certainly doesn't understand the sacrament as we do.

Overall, I found this book enlightening and uplifting. I recommend it, though you may want to borrow a copy or read an excerpt first to see if you enjoy her style (or you could check out her blog). Feel free to skip the last chapter.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Our 2011 Advent Books, Week 3

The Last Straw by Frederick H. Thury is a wonderful story that delights us every year.

Father and Son: A Nativity Story by Geraldine McCaughrean considers Joseph's thoughts and feelings on the night Jesus was born. It's a new one for us. I'm not sure the children will find it engaging enough, but I thought it lovely.

Mary, Did You Know? by Mark Lowry. Apparently, this is a song, but I don't think I've heard it. The book is beautiful. I found a copy on sale sometime during the year so the children haven't seen it yet.

A Christmas Like Helen's by Natalie Kinsey-Warnock is another book I just love - a simple look at Christmas generations ago.

The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree by Gloria Houston, illustrated by Barbara Cooney (one of my absolute favorite illustrators) is one of my favorite books of all time. It makes me cry every time I read it, this beautiful story of love and sacrifice and a family's joy. Please find a copy! Mine is a perfect hardcover copy from PaperBackSwap. (God bless the crazy person who passed this on to me.)

Bear Stays Up for Christmas by Karma Wilson, because we must have some silly books.

The Night of Las Posadas by Tomie dePaola

The Little Drummer Boy, illustrated by Ezra Jack Keats, is one of the stories I remember from my youth. I inherited my grandmother's paperback copy which I trembled to read to the children. A friend told me last year that there was a board book release of the same book and I found it on sale during the year! Hooray! I love it. I love the illustrations.

The Christmas Story, illustrated by Gennady Spirin, a delight for the eyes.

I've noticed the children have far less interest in the Christmas books I've set out in our library pile than in the ones we are unwrapping, a bit of encouragement to wrap more next year. They certainly don't mind the days we unwrap and read two books this year.

Our 2011 Advent Books
Week 1
Week 2

Monday, December 5, 2011

What I Loved About Last Week (12 Ed.)

1. This week I pulled out an old exercise tape. This is one I originally used back in 2001 and have used off and on in all the years since. I never remember it being easy. Well, this week it was easy! Despite knowing the entire tape by heart, I was shocked when it ended. I guess all that time with the Wii Fit has been doing some good after all. (Not having lost significant weight or inches, I must take my successes where I find them.)

2. We met some good friends for a playdate at the zoo this week. It's been a while since we were there and it was very fun to see Second Son enjoying himself.

He doesn't have mittens! Maybe he'll get some for Christmas.

A very pretty picture of First Daughter

First Son pausing for a picture

Second Daughter in her furry coat

3. Peppermint marshmallows. Enough said.

4. A Small Miracle by Peter Collington. We read it this week and Oh! How I love it!

5. I love how much children love Advent. They are excited each day for our picture book, for the new magnet for our fridge Nativity, to light the candle on the Advent wreath at dinner, to prepare for the feast days. Second Daughter doesn't remember last Advent (being only two at the time) and the older two love to tell her exactly what to expect.

6. Etsy - I ordered something for the first time ever from Etsy. It was easy, the site was beautiful and I found the perfect gift.

7. Video of Second Son. I think this video is from May 2011, so he's about ten months old. I found it while going through my pictures.

8. Video of Second Son last week. We're not entirely sure what he's doing here, but we think he's shooting "guns." First Son has been playing "Hero Factory" which involves saving the world from bad guys who shoot some sort of weapon. Second Son wants to play along.

9. Dishwashers that work. Kansas Dad washed all the filters on our water softener. It took a while, but the cleansing finally worked its way to the dishwasher.

Take a deep breath. Next week we have St. Nicholas's Feast Day, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, First Son's birthday party, First Son's First Reconciliation, and First Son's actual birthday. Somewhere in all that we're going to have some lessons, too. I make no promises to post What I Love About Last Week on time next week, but I do promise there will be much to love!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Book Review: Sinner

Sinner: The Catholic Guy's Funny, Feeble Attempts to be a Faithful Catholic by Lino Rulli

Apparently, Mr. Rulli has a TV show and has worked in radio, but I'd never heard of him before selecting this book from The Catholic Company. I thought of my brother when I saw what a few others were saying about the book.

Mr. Rulli is not offering a deep theological treatise in this book. It's a series of vignettes, in no particular order, that contemplate contemporary life as a single Catholic man. He takes his Catholicism seriously but he doesn't take himself seriously. We hear stories of his youth, his college years and of his work in Catholic media. It's easy to imagine listening to him regale us as if we were sitting around a big table after eating a hearty meal, laughing and talking with friends.

I found the book funny without being offensive, though some of the stories touch on subjects of a mature nature. He doesn't go into any details, but it would be best to save this book for college age or older. (I think...I'm not really sure, perhaps mature high school students would be alright with it.)

I selected the book with my brother in mind and I think it would be perfect for him. If you have trouble finding gifts for your brother or brother-in-law, consider this one. (You know, since Christmas is coming up...)

This review was written as part of the Catholic book reviewer program from The Catholic Company. I received a copy of this book in exchange for an objective review. Visit The Catholic Company to find more information on Sinner. They are also a great source for a Catechism of the Catholic Church or a Catholic Bible.

As long as I'm linking to The Catholic Company, one of my favorite books, Easter illustrated by Fiona French, is less than $7 for a hardcover right now. The Easter Story by Brian Wildsmith is available in hardcover for only $8. These are very good prices for some wonderful beautiful books! (I'm not an affiliate with this site; I receive nothing if you follow these links or purchase these books. I just love them and want them in home where they will be read and treasured.)

Friday, December 2, 2011

Love Is...In the Marshmallows

Love is driving back to the store after dinner to buy unflavored gelatin so Mama can make peppermint marshmallows (a recipe that has been beckoning her elusively for over a year) to enjoy with our Advent activity tomorrow morning -- homemade hot chocolate.

Book Review: An Unreasonable Woman

An Unreasonable Woman: A True Story of Shrimpers, Politicos, Polluters, And the Fight for Seadrift, Texas by Diane Wilson

Ms. Wilson's book chronicles her transformation from shrimper-turned-fish-house-manager to environmental activist, all prompted by a single newspaper article in which she learned her home county in Texas was the most polluted in the country: "The article ranked Calhoun County first nationally for toxics to the land, and said we accounted for 54 percent of the state's total of a billion pounds..."

I think this book tells an important message, one that's hidden in nearly all "reliable" mainstream media and one we find hard to believe when reported in places less restrained: Most companies in this country, and the world, have little or no interest in being good citizens whether we're discussing employees, customers or the environment. We may think we believe that, but repeatedly companies and industries are given free rein or expected to police themselves. Again and again in the book, Ms. Wilson implies she has documentation (not referenced in end notes, of course, just stated as coming from various reports) of blatant disregard for the environmental and worker safety laws in the United States with the full or partial knowledge of those working in the EPA. It's horrifying, if it's true.

For what it's worth, I'm more inclined to believe her than the companies. Now you know my bias.

However...Ms. Wilson's writing style is difficult to wade through. I think it could have benefited from an editor willing and able to cut the excess and give the reader a book that retained her style without detracting from the story. In fact, I think this book had the potential to be amazing; instead, it's merely almost good.

Sometimes the phrasing was merely painful:
I was a cedar pole stuck in the mud alongside a riverbank, measuring the rise and fall of the bizarre happenings in the county, and the security man was a high-water mark. He was like a bad B movie where you have twenty-four hours to save the planet and nobody believes a word you say.
More often, the awkward sentences and rambling thoughts were confusing. I had trouble figuring out what was going on at all. Everything was smoother when the forward progress of the story suppressed the desire to be poetic.

For those that are interested, Ms. Wilson's legal battles and picketing escalated to activities like hunger strikes, attempting to sink her boat over toxic drainage and being carried bodily out of stockholder meetings. I did a little searching online and quickly realized she and I would not quite get along. In an interview in 2006 (KW is the interviewer):
KW: I want to note that many times in your book you talk about the embryos and eggs of the shrimp and other sea life and how effluents from Formosa and Alcoa are killing them. Do you have any thoughts on the term "pro-life" that is so heavily used by Republicans and how that idea might apply to the situation where you are?
Diane Wilson: I believe if the male of the species had babies there would be universal pro-choice. I think this idea of pro-life has more to do with control over the bodies and minds of women and is so hotly defended by the religious right because they consider the bodies of women and the body of the earth inherently evil. I don't think it is a coincidence that the killings at abortion clinics have sometimes been by Assembly of God (Pentecostal) members. I was raised Pentecostal so I've been a fly on that wall.
Not quite something you'd read here on the Range.

Despite the writing style of the book and views with which I disagree, I think Ms. Wilson's book could reveal to people (if they can manage to actually read it) the inequity of the battle in America to balance the risks of industry with the need to provide economic opportunities and meet consumer needs. All of life is about finding such a balance beginning within a family and progressing up through levels of society to a nation and the world. Currently the ability to have frank discussions to reach that balance is nonexistent. As long as companies hold the control they have in lobbying and the legal system, it's a long slow fight.

I find myself wondering now about the origins of the plastic in Legos, Playmobile sets and all those parts and pieces of the stuff of our lives. Sigh. Hopefully we're not contributing too much to the degradation of the world and the exploitation of workers and their families in Texas or a third-world country.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Our 2011 Advent Books, Week 2

Apparently I'm not going to post our Advent books on an actual schedule, just as I get around to them. Here are our picture-book-or-two-a-day for the second week of Advent.

Saint Francis and the Christmas Donkey by Robert Byrd. We've read this for many years now and my children love it every time.

Saint Nicholas: The Real Story of the Christmas Legend by Julie Stiegmeyer - I reviewed this in my post on St. Nicholas's feast day last year. I still love it.

The Miracle of St. Nicholas by Gloria Whelan is such a wonderful story about how faith can survive and be revived through the simple acts of a child.

The Christmas Knight by Jane Louise Curry is a new one for us this year. I'm not sure how I feel about mortgaging the farm to pay for Christmas parties, but I think First Son will enjoy the story.

The Legend of the Poinsettia by Tomie dePaola (Hooray for PaperBackSwap!)

The Lady of Guadalupe by Tomie dePaola (another PaperBackSwap aquisition) in celebration of the feast days of St. Juan Diego and Our Lady of Guadalupe. We're having tacos for dinner, too.

The Crippled Lamb by Max Lucado seems a bit forced to me, but my children always respond well to it. I do like how the lamb's adversity gives it the opportunity to be in the presence of the Lord. I think we can find ourselves in similar situations.

Our 2011 Advent Books
Week 1

Is it possible to read too many Christmas picture books? I don't think so!