Monday, April 30, 2012

What I Loved About Last Week (29th Ed.)

1. Early this week, I went in to get Second Son out of his crib in the morning and found him in the downward dog position.

2. Second Son says "Star Wars."

The real reason I got out the camera was to record First Daughter reciting the poem she memorized.

Second Daughter insisted on doing something for the camera, too. Here she is singing the Hail Mary.

I panned down so you could see what she selected to wear that day. You can't see it, but there's another skirt under the dress as well.

3. We had our last basketball session this week. First Son and First Daughter have been playing two hours a week at a wonderful "camp" where they show a few of the basics, get the kids running and playing and just generally have fun without making anything too competitive. My kids love it and I survived the extra stress of one more thing on my plate.

4. We also had our last Catechesis class followed by a family picnic. It was a beautiful evening and the children loved running around with all their friends on the playground and in the sunshine. Kansas Dad packed a wonderful dinner. The kids were thrilled to eat Cheetos, a very rare and special treat. Second Son dumped the water bottle all down his front (twice). Here he is with the paper towel he was using to dry himself off.

5. We had one last outing with our story hour friends for the year, a wonderful morning playing on a playground and enjoying strawberry popsicles.

6. Usually, there is a story hour graduation for the children going on to kindergarten. This year, for a variety of reasons, we didn't have one. We wanted to celebrate First Daughter, though, because she had been eagerly anticipating her turn in the graduation, so she chose a dinner and frozen yogurt outing.

Second Son licking up the marinara sauce

7. It was also the last week for soccer games. The weather was again beautiful and the kids received medals.

Ready for the final games

8. It was also the last week for CCD classes on Sunday morning. First Son finished a wonderful year with his first confession and first Communion. Kansas Dad also teaches on Sunday mornings. Now we have a glorious summer of relaxing for an extra hour on Sundays before going to Mass.

9. We had our spring choir concert over the weekend. Second Daughter chose to sit with Grammy rather than sing this time, but the older two did a great job. First Daughter was especially exuberant in her shaker shaking.

10. Second Son now points his finger and says "No, no" whenever someone points a camera in his direction. It's really cute, but also frustrating because it's now nearly impossible to get a picture of him doing anything else.

10. A very dear and generous friend has volunteered to watch our children two consecutive days this coming week so we can attend a memorial service and a parish dinner.

It was a very busy week! I'm thinking it would be nice to take a day or two off, but we have just a few more weeks of school and I am anxious to finish up our lessons. If all goes as planned, we'll be done with math by the end of this week! (Math takes longer than any other subject. Not the lessons so much...all the other stuff.)

Friday, April 27, 2012

Homeschool Review: My Catholic Speller, Level A

My Catholic Speller, Level A, is a part of the program provided by Catholic Heritage Curricula. It is the recommended book for second grade.

I was interested in a spelling program for First Son because he would refuse to spell anything on his own. If I suggested he sound out a word or just do the best he could, he would literally collapse into tears. (Is that too embarrassing for me to admit on the blog about a first grade-aged boy?) I was frustrated at his lack of confidence more than his lack of spelling skills and I thought a simple spelling book would help address his needs.

I seriously considered All About Spelling and Sequential Spelling but they both looked rather teacher-intensive. I was looking for something we could add that wouldn't increase my burden very much since spelling seemed like an "extra" for second grade (nice but not necessary). I ended up selecting the CHC book because I thought the inclusion of religious themes might increase First Son's interest. He was anxious for a spelling book of his own and was excited to start it. For a few weeks at the beginning of the year, spelling was his favorite subject.

Each lesson presents 15 spelling words, mainly grouped around a spelling theme (like "ways to make long /a/"). There's relatively little instruction included in the lesson. Some lessons have a brief paragraph about the words. My son loved completing the two pages of exercises which usually included matching spelling words with pictures or writing the words that followed a particular rule. I liked how the exercises all required writing the word. I also liked how Catholic words were included here and there, like "penance" and "Mass." There are 34 lessons in the book which includes review lessons on a regular basis. An answer key is included the back, but usually it was easier to read the lesson and answer it myself than to flip to the end and check his work. (First Son did discover the answers at the back, but didn't ever try to copy them instead of answering on his own.)

The instructions at the beginning of the book gave a recommended weekly schedule. I opted for spelling four days a week. One the first day, we'd read through the words and complete the exercises in the book. On the second day, First Son would copy all the words for the week onto his handwriting paper. One the third day, we'd have a quiz for the words and then he'd write the ones he missed in a sentence. On the fourth day, we'd have another quiz and he'd write the ones he missed five times. Then I'd add any missed words to next week's lesson. Some weeks he did very well, but he often missed words and then would miss them again on the review weeks. The boy still cannot seem to spell "because."

Overall, I think this method of spelling instruction (lists and quizzes) did not work for First Son. He hated the quizzes because he knew he'd have to write the words if he missed them. He also didn't seem to learn the words very well. I found that the quiz and test two days a week meant I was spending more time than I had hoped on spelling anyway, which fewer results than with another program. We made it through 27 of the lessons before I decided to just set it aside for the year.

Next year, we'll be giving Sequential Spelling 1 a try. In general, I think I would prefer something that provided spelling rules, but now that I've read Uncovering the Logic of English, I'll be able to provide those myself as we go along in a conversational way. If I can, I'll follow Ms. Eide's advice and see if First Son can discover some of them himself as we go along.

I did not receive anything from CHC for this objective review. I am not an affiliate and will not receive anything if you follow the link to CHC and make an order. I am an affiliate with Amazon and do receive a small commission if you follow a link there and make a purchase.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

My Favorite Picture Books: Saint George and the Dragon

Saint George and the Dragon, a golden legend adapted by Margaret Hodges from Edmund Spenser's Faerie Queene and illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman

We read this book every year on the feast day of St. George, April 23rd. St. George is one of First Son's favorite saints mainly because of this book. My children are enthralled every time we read the story. The battle is a ferocious one with many a fear that it has been lost, but St. George finds refreshment and healing to persevere to the end.

The language is lofty and beautiful; the illustrations draw us in. This year, I was interrupted as I was reading it. When I suggested First Son continue while I was away, he refused, saying instead he wanted more time to look at the pictures. There's quite a bit of text for each page, but the illustrations are so deep, the children are completely engrossed.

Brandy, who is not Catholic, loves this book just as much as we do.

Monday, April 23, 2012

What I Loved About Last Week (28th Ed.)

1. This article about Father Kapaun, a Servant of God from Kansas.

2. First Son begged me to read the third part of Jason and the Argonauts in Classic Myths to Read Aloud. (I refused. I've found it's good for him to have at least a few lessons he can happily anticipate in the coming week.) I was particularly happy about his response to the myth because it seemed every other lesson that day went badly. And we even skipped math!

3. Big Truck Night, even if Second Son cried the whole time.

4. Playing with friends at the church playground on a beautiful afternoon with a surprise visit by Kansas Dad.

5. My last Catechesis training class of the year - It's been great, but I'm ready for a break.

6. The thank you note we received from First Son in the mail. His PSR teacher had all the students write one - what a wonderful idea!

 It's hard to read in the picture, so here's what it says:
Dear Mom and Dad
I wanted to thank you for... giving me a rosary, and a crusefix. I also wanted to thank you for helping me prepere for first confeshon. I relley want to thank you for prepereing me for first comiunoun.
Love [First Son]
7. First Daughter's donut. I don't know why, but she colored it, cut it out, and proudly presented it to Kansas Dad.

8. Next week is week number 32 in our homeschool year. We're in the final four weeks!

Next week is a big one! We've got our last soccer practices, our final day of basketball camp, our final choir rehearsal before the concert, our final Catechesis class followed by a family picnic, our last story hour, our last two soccer games, our last Sunday School class and our choir concert. Sometime in there I'd like to make some loaves of cranberry nut bread to present to all the wonderful people who have been leading all those activities and we must bake two dozen cookies for the concert. And those pesky homeschooling lessons, too. Whew. I'm tired just thinking about it, but I'm looking forward to feeling overwhelmed by free time when all these activities are finished!

Sunday, April 22, 2012

The Catholic Company Review: After Miscarriage

After Miscarriage: A Catholic Woman's Companion to Healing and Hope by Karen Edmisten

Let me begin by saying I have never knowingly experienced a miscarriage. I have lost nephews and nieces to miscarriage and stillbirth and a few months ago, it seemed we were inundated with loved ones and friends who were grieving babies who would never be born. When I saw this book offered for review, I requested it, hoping I would learn a little about how to best respond to my dear friends and sisters in Christ.

In this book, Karen Edmisten provides excerpts from her own journals, sharing her own thoughts and grief through multiple miscarriages. She also quotes many other women as well as a father from letters or blogs, showing the reader difference responses to the loss and sorrow. She quotes authors, poems, prayers, and Scripture. Each chapter also includes a "Did You Know?" section highlighting different resources or information that might be hard to find. There's also a helpful appendix at the end of the book of resources and organizations as well as an index of the "Did You Know?" topics.

The introduction is beautiful:
If tears are the means, moving forward in love is the end toward which we work. It is agonizing work indeed. But the torment of the cross eventually leads us to a resurrection: an ability to thank God for the gifts that are our children, whom we had to let go of much too soon, and to release them to our good and loving Lord.
Flipping through the book the day it arrived, I was surprised to find a good friend listed in the resources. She courageously agreed to share her experiences through her blog with Ms. Edmisten for the book. 
Sometimes I am surprised when I realize that I feel lonely, even in the midst of my children. I miss my little baby, and I miss that bonding I always feel in pregnancy. I had started praying for her even before I knew that I was pregnant. I prayed for her and bonded with her even before conception. Then gradually I began to notice the changes in my body because of her. Life within me. And I rejoiced in her.
This book is heart-breaking, but I think it holds great hope and solace for someone who may be suffering the loss of miscarriage or infertility. It is a small beautiful book, perfect for someone who can only bear to read a bit at a time. It is not full of promises of other children or other vocations, but an encouragement to mourn, to love, and to learn to praise God despite not understanding His plan. I am certain the author and all of her contributors are praying that it might be a blessing to many woman and families who are mourning.

This book is written for Catholics but I do think it might be comforting for non-Catholic Christians as well. I also found it helpful for myself in my desire to better understand how I might be a faithful friend to families who experience miscarriage or stillbirth.

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 objective review. Visit The Catholic Company to find more information on After Miscarriage. They are also a great source for a baptism gifts or first communion gifts.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Homeschool Review: Noeo Biology I

In first grade, we studied chemistry using Noeo's Chemistry I course, which I reviewed here. This year, in second grade, we've been studying biology using Noeo's Biology I course: Seeds, Scales, Feathers and Tails.

Noeo courses are designed to be a "balance between the classical method and the Charlotte Mason approach." The catalog includes three options each (chemistry, biology, and physics) for the early grammar stage (grades 1-3) and the late grammar or early logic stage (grades 4-6). They have two courses (Chemistry III and Physics III) for older students with Biology III on the way. Though the family that created the Noeo courses is Christian, the selected books for the course are secular.

In Biology I, the major topics include insects, animals, plants, the human body and weather. As with Chemistry I, experiment kits from The Young Scientists Club are included. (You can purchase these  from other sources, but they come in sets of threes, so it's advantageous to purchase them from Noeo and receive all of the kits necessary for the course without extraneous ones.)

The instructor's guide clearly outlines readings and experiments for each day for 36 weeks. Most of the days request a written narration. Often it also suggests words the student should define. I found the printable notebook pages a valuable addition to the course and did use them when we did written narrations. I usually settled for a short oral one so our biology notebook is a little thin. The instructor's guide is my favorite part of Noeo - everything is ready for the instructor, including a list of required materials for the week (for experiments, etc.) so the time necessary for preparation and planning is minimal.

The books were also fun and educational. We particularly enjoyed reading about John James Audobon in The Boy Who Drew Birds: A Story of John James Audubon by Jacqueline Davies. Melissa Sweet's illustrations wonderfully introduce children to a life filled with a love of nature, nature study and artistry. We also enjoyed Audubon's Birds of America Coloring Book from Dover. There are plenty of pages in this book for everyone in the whole family to choose a few to color. Many libraries carry Audubon's Birds Of America so you can use the original to color the book pages.

The One Small Square book series are all amazing (the ones in the course and any others I've come across). The illustrations are full of things to discover and we love poring over them.

My children also loved the Usborne First Encyclopedia of the Human Body. This book includes information on reproductive biology, but it is excluded from the syllabus with a note to cover it as they choose.

As with chemistry, I was unimpressed with the experiment kits. Sometimes they didn't work, often they didn't include anything substantial I didn't already have around the house and they usually didn't contain anything that would last for a second child through the course. I think a full complement of experiments and activities for a biology course could be selected from Janice VanCleave's The Human Body for Every Kid and Biology For Every Kid.

As for the other books, I really don't have any complaints. There were all fine books, adequate for imparting some knowledge to my children in an age-appropriate way. I think, though, that the areas of animal life and the human body could easily have been covered with books from our home and local libraries just as well as with these purchased books. In particular, Steve Jenkins has a variety of books that would have worked well (and I love his books): Biggest, Strongest, Fastest, Actual Size, Living Color, and Almost Gone: The World's Rarest Animals come to mind, but there are many more. Personally, I would have preferred Jenkins's books to the Usborne pocket guide, but that book does cover a great amount of material in a single book (and my children enjoyed it). The human body is another topic libraries cover in great detail with children's books.

Overall, I think Biology I was sufficient and I appreciated not having to think about biology but simply follow the syllabus. In future years, I think I would prefer to select my own books and experiments, but for parents who are anxious about biology or putting together a syllabus, this course would be a good choice. I enjoyed Chemistry I much more, though I would say it was a little more difficult than Biology I (especially for a first grader).

Please note: I did not receive anything for my reviews of Noeo courses and will not receive anything if you follow the links to Noeo and make a purchase. I do receive a small commission if you follow a link to Amazon and make a purchase.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Book Review: Uncovering the Logic of English

Uncovering the Logic of English: A Common-Sense Solution to America's Literacy Crisis by Denise Eide

A few weeks ago, Brandy mentioned this book on her blog after listening to Denise Eide's recorded speeches here. I had some gift certificate money and was intrigued, so I bought it.

Ms. Eide presents a bleak picture of literacy in America today, directly linking the instructional methods used in our public schools with the struggles people have in reading. NCES (National Center for Education Statistics) is the source for much of her data and a reliable one. You can find much of it online yourself.  The most startling is her statement that "fully 48% of adults are not proficient in reading." (She references Why Our Children Can't Read and What We Can Do About It: A Scientific Revolution in Reading by Diane McGuinness for this statistic, which I haven't read.) A lack of literacy, of course, means things like lower earnings, lower quality of life, and increased risk of incarceration.

According to Ms. Eide, one of the reasons many people struggle with reading is the way they've been taught to read. Whole reading, "funny phonics" and incomplete phonics contribute to readers with incomplete educations. Some readers struggle even more when they discover "rules" they were taught only work some of the time in a language full of "exceptions."

Ms. Eide recommends a completely different way of teaching reading and spelling. Begin by teaching all of the sounds letters can make, including many that are often called "exceptions" in other phonics programs. For example, the letter S is often taught as /s/, which is indeed one of its sounds, but Ms. Eide points out that when plural words are included, S stands for the sound /z/ 70% of the time. Instead of telling students /z/ when they encounter it, let's teach them S can be /s/ or /z/ and then talk about instances when each is found. So simple! His then, is not a sight word, for example.

In this book, Ms. Eide presents 74 of the phonograms of the English language, more than many other phonics programs teach. She then discusses spelling rules for English words that help explain which phonogram to use for each sound. I won't go into great detail as you can listen to the recorded lectures above and check out the book yourself, but I was amazed to see clearly articulated rules for words and correct spellings I had never understood before. I have always been uncomfortable with my spelling, not because I was a bad speller, but because I was unsure of my spelling.

I was particularly intrigued with her book because of the pronunciation my son gives while he's reading aloud to me. He often mispronounces words, but I can tell he's pronouncing them as he was taught. Even when we finished his original reading lessons, I was a little dissatisfied which is why I sought something different for my daughter. (I found a more thorough approach, but I'm not sure it's perfect.)

Now I'm wondering how I can incorporate what I've learned from Ms. Eide in lessons for First Son and for First Daughter. An older child in middle school or high school could, I think, learn a great deal from going through this book. A younger one is going to need some assistance as this book isn't meant to be a series of lesson plans or even a complete description of her teaching strategies; it's quite simply a description of the phonograms and spelling rules that reveal how English does in fact make sense with lots of tables and charts that can be referenced when writing or reading (which I've already done).

I do think this book, at the very least, would be a helpful one for anyone who teaches reading, writing or spelling to one student or a classroom full of them.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

My Favorite Picture Books: Sequoyah

Sequoyah: The Cherokee Man Who Gave His People Writing by James Rumford

I discovered this book years ago when we read through American History in a year with picture books (a delightful course of study).

The author and illustrator tells the story of an amazing man, Sequoyah, about whom very little is really known. Weaving together myths and legends, he introduces Sequoyah through the stories that have been told about him over the years. Wonderfully, Ann Sixkiller Huckaby has provided a Cherokee translation of the words on each page.

Sequoyah is a hero and Mr. Rumford presents his story as such. Despite hardships, disabilities, a lack of education, and persecution, Sequoyah develops a syllabary for the Cherokee language and with help, modifies it to symbols that can be printed for newspapers and signs. One page touches on the Trail of Tears and other struggles the Cherokee have faced, showing the great gift Sequoyah gave his people without overwhelming little ones with too much sorrow.

It is a picture book you should not miss.

Monday, April 16, 2012

What I Loved About Last Week (27th Ed.)

1. The kids and I shared a quiet Easter Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday without lessons in celebration of the holiday. (It was a bit of a shock coming back on Friday.)

2. We took a lovely field trip with our story hour friends to the art museum. The kids were shown a few portraits, heard a story, and then had a chance to make their own portraits. First Son and First Daughter did wonderfully. Second Daughter pasted the templates together along with a feather. (The museum guide was very accepting.)

3. Kansas Dad found this video and shared it with me. This boy is awesome.

4. The kids sang at a parish praise and healing service in celebration of Divine Mercy Sunday. They were sweet, if a little restless during the parts when they weren't singing.

5. We had a real tornado scare on Saturday night. Kansas Dad and I spent the evening watching TV and checking a flickering Internet before waking the kids and taking them to the storm shelter through a thunderstorm. It wasn't something I really loved about the week, though I am very grateful we had a clean and safe place to be and that the tornado did not actually come over us and that all of our friends were safe, but it did mean I didn't have a chance to write much this weekend, so this post is the abbreviated version of the week.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Homeschool Review: Catholic Tales for Boys and Girls

by Caryll Houselander, illustrated by Renee George

This book is recommended by Mater Amabilis for Level 1A as Lenten reading in second grade (followed by More Catholic Tales for Boys and Girls as Lenten reading in third grade). We read two stories each week from this book followed by a very brief discussion. First Son (8) and First Daughter (5) adored the stories in this book. They always asked for more when I was done reading for the day (which I refused) and First Son has asked if he could read it to himself now that we are done (which I encouraged).

Each of the stories in the book tells of a child who learns what it means to follow Christ or loves so dearly that he or she shows the love of Christ to another. They are indeed written for those of the Catholic faith, with a reverence for the Eucharist at the heart of many of the stories. Unlike many books of short stories, I could not name one I did not enjoy. A few were absolutely wonderful.

In The Cure's Guest, a group of children tease and taunt a village priest because "there was only the government school, where the schoolmaster taught the children to laugh at their priest, and the children thought they were great and fine to do it." Every week, the priest invites the children to his home, purchasing special treats for them. They never go, but the priest doesn't act any differently toward them. One day, two girls sneak to his home to peek in the window at the appointed time and discover a miracle. The Cure "had always seen the children as if they were as generous and beautiful as God meant them to be." That's how we should always see children, not that we should ignore their faults, but that we should correct their faults gently and with Christ's ideal for them always in mind.

In If I Were You, a young boy prays in the church, "If I were You, Jesus...I would make everyone happy. I would make them rich, I would make the sun to shine on the harvest fields, and I would convert the whole world." Jesus answers, "But your work, Louis!" Still, he gives Louis a crown and rich garments, then sends him out into the village. Louis is surprised by the fear and shame he faces, dressed as the Savior, until he approaches the woman who cleans the church. By this time he is achingly tired and famished.
[W]hen the old woman saw him, she opened her arms and folded him into them. For she had forgotten self. She had scrubbed the floor beside the Blessed Sacrament so often that she had forgotten everything but God's presence. She did not think of whether she was rich or poor, whether she was good or bad. She did not think whether the glory of God would bless or blind her. She opened her arms and folded him to her heart.
The last story, Franz the Server, is the tale of a boy who forgoes a fair, one he has eagerly anticipated for years, to serve at Holy Mass. In many ways, this story shows the power and glory of a Mass. I know First Son appreciated it much more because of his work this year as he prepared for his First Communion and even more so because of his work in the Atrium and the lessons of Catechesis of the Good Shepherd. He drew this picture while I read the story.

I am already eagerly anticipating Lent next year when we will read More Catholic Tales for Boys and Girls.

* I did not receive anything in exchange for this review. I purchased the book myself.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

My Favorite Picture Books: Press Here

Press Here by Herve Tullet

This ingenious book has captured the love of my children, especially Second Daughter (who is three). It's an interactive book that encourages children to press the dots, rub the dots, clap, shake the book and tilt the book. The children see the dots change in response to their actions in surprising and delightful ways. Even my son, who is eight and completely understands that the next page will be the same regardless of whether he claps his hands, will press, rub and clap with the others. It's so delightful, no one can resist! Along the way, we have the opportunity to discuss colors, counting, soft and loud, left and right, light and dark, patterns and sizes in a natural way, one that truly flows from the text of the book. This book isn't going to teach children manners or courage in the face of adversity, but it's simply too fun to miss.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

New Headshot for Second Son

I had wanted to take new pictures of the kids for the sidebar (and our wall and my grandmother) on Easter Sunday, as we have done in years past. But Second Son was too grumpy before lunch and we took his good shirt off before we ate and them put him right to bed so those plans fell by the wayside. (Really, after staying up until 11:30 pm, that guy was grumpy all day.) We'll have to get all dressed up again in a week or two for pictures. I didn't find this awesome picture of Second Son to use in the sidebar in the meantime, though.

Moth in Disguise

Late in the day on Easter Sunday, we thought we spied a hummingbird. I was able to take a few pictures and quickly realized it was not a bird; it had antennae and yellow stripes on its back.

I think it's a Nessus Sphinx Moth (Amphion floridensis). It moved just like a hummingbird and was fun to watch.

Monday, April 9, 2012

What I Loved About Last Week (26th Ed.)

We had a crazy busy week last week with two doctor appointments, a speaking engagement for Kansas Dad one evening, an evening meeting for myself, the usual evening class, soccer practice for two kids, basketball, choir, Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, story hour (with snacks, two dozen hard-boiled eggs and show and tell), a rescheduled soccer game during the week...all during a little thing called Holy Week. I'm tired just writing about it.

1. Healthy children - In the past few weeks, we've had many opportunities to consider how blessed we are in the health of our children. First Son has probably only been sick, even with a cold, a handful of times. He went in this week to establish a file as a new patient with a new doctor and I had occasion to think again of his remarkable health.

2. Wonderful friends willing to juggle children with us. On evening last week we had four people who needed to be in three different places. With a bit of convoluted driving and passing children and soccer equipment between friends everyone was where they needed to be and I think only one person was late.

3. Our first irises bloomed on Holy Thursday. Last year the first one was on Easter. Oh, how I love our irises!

4. I took First Son and Second Daughter to Stations of the Cross on Good Friday. They did fairly well. Then we came home and read stories about the Passion and I let the children use the Resurrection Eggs to their great delight.

5. We took the children to the Easter Vigil. I joked to Kansas Dad that it's been seven years since we took any of our children to the Vigil (First Son was just an infant) and it might be seven more years. Father aimed for about an hour and a half, but the Mass was closer to two hours and fifteen minutes. Second Daughter napped through a lot of it but Second Son was awake the whole time. At the end he was so adorable. We were in the back of the church when he looked up brightly at me and asked, "Abba dabba abba dabba abba dabba bye bye?" He charmed me with his beautiful smile which clearly said, "Oh, I know you love me so much you're going to take me outside now to play." When I said, "No, sweetie, it's not quite time to leave yet," he responded by saying "Arggg!" and slapping his thighs. Then we repeated it five seconds later. When we got home, everyone tasted the Resurrection Cookies and marveled at the empty tombs before the younger three all cried for thirty minutes as we got them all ready for bed.

6. On Easter Sunday, we slept in, had a leisurely breakfast of Reeses's peanut butter eggs, Resurrection cookies and waffles. Then we went to church for the Easter egg hunt where Second Son won the prize (a little bubble maker toy). We had a lovely lunch with Grammy and Paw Paw and then the children had yet another Easter egg hunt in their yard. This is an annual tradition the children love, full of all the best candy. They also received a few select summer clothes, including Lego Star Wars pajamas for First Son. Second Son slept through the second egg hunt and had little interest in the eggs we left for him, but he was very happy to climb into the driver's seat on the sly as we were packing the van to leave.
Waiting for the church egg hunt

Second Son, happy at last

Friday, April 6, 2012

First Son's First Communion

A few weeks ago, First Son received his First Holy Communion. We've been preparing all year for this day and First Son was eagerly anticipating it. We all dressed up for the occasion in our Easter finery (a little early, I know) and tried to get a family picture. It was a little breezy and Second Son wasn't much in the mood, but First Son looks excited.

The Mass was lovely. First Son read the petitions and did a wonderful job, after a little jab from his parents to go up when it was time to read. He was first in line to receive. Kansas Dad and I were able to stand on either side of him and receive communion at the same time. Our parish, our priest and the PSR teacher for second grade obviously love and care about all of the children in our parish family.

I don't usually include pictures of other children on the blog, but I just love this one of First Son and one of his best friends. Believe me, they rarely look this well-behaved when they're together.

Father was gracious enough to pose for a few pictures with First Son.

You can tell he was as excited about the day as the children were.

Then we celebrated with a quiet lunch at home with some friends. Second Son's godmother prepared the cake. Isn't it lovely? First Son was much impressed.

My cake skills leave much to be desired, but cookies are another matter. I made his favorite home-made Oreos and he was happy to eat cake and cookies. (You can tell I made giant-sized cookies.)

It will be a very special Easter for our family this year. I love that First Communion was during Lent so First Son will be able to receive communion. We're contemplating the adventurous idea of taking all the children to the Easter Vigil...

Thursday, April 5, 2012

March 2012 Book Report

Gentle Ben by Walt Morey is a delightful book about a boy and his pet...his pet bear. Set in Alaska in modern times, it is full of beautiful descriptions of the landscape and Alaskan life. I think it's a shame I never read this myself as a child and I fully intend to read it aloud next year or have First Son do so. (There are a few parts that may disturb the girls who will be 6 and 4 next year, but they are brief and not terribly upsetting.) (purchased copy)

Litany of the Long Sun:  Nightside the Long Sun and Lake of the Long Sun (Book of the Long Sun, Books 1 and 2) by Gene Wolfe. The first book was for our science fiction and theology class. It's really more of the first quarter of a single book, ending more due to lack of space than end of story, so I couldn't stop myself from reading on. And I've already requested the last two books of this particular series from the library. There's certainly a lot of religion portrayed in the novels so there was much to discuss. I'm anxious to see how Patera Silk fares in the remaining novels. (library copy)

Epiphany of the Long Sun:  Calde of the Long Sun and Exodus from the Long Sun (Book of the Long Sun, Books 3 and 4) by Gene Wolfe. I couldn't wait and had to read these two books that follow the two above. As the story moves on, it becomes more disjointed. Everything happens quickly. Immediately after reading, I felt a little dissatisfied with the story, thinking I must have missed something in the reading. After thinking about it a bit, and trying to find answers to my questions online, I realized the gaps are part of the story. Knowing what I do after the fourth book, I'd like to go back to read all of them again. I'll probably read some of Gene Wolf's other books first, though. This is certainly a series that would be appropriate and enjoyable for a mature teenager. (library copies)

Dune (Dune Chronicles, Book 1) and Dune Messiah (Dune Chronicles, Book 2) by Frank Herbert. I had read these nearly a decade ago, but was anxious to read them again and discuss them with Kansas Dad. (I missed the class while my parents were visiting.) I think it's interesting to consider what prescience (knowing what will happen or what might happen) changes how we would live our lives. It's not clear it would be for the better. If you are interested in science fiction and haven't read the Dune novels, make some time for them. (library copies)

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The Catholic Company Review: Seek First the Kingdom

Seek First the Kingdom: Challenging the Culture by Living Our Catholic Faith by Cardinal Donald Wuerl

In this book, Cardinal Wuerl explains how our faith should be lived in the world. What does it mean to be Catholic outside of Mass? Does it make a difference in how we behave at work, at school, in the voting booth?

Of course, Cardinal Wuerl says it emphatically does make a difference, or at least it should.
When we live up to what we have received from God, we become like sacraments ourselves. The more the kingdom breaks through, the more we make our earth into heaven. We ourselves live like angels when we live our sacramental life to the fullest. St. John Chrysostom points out that this is the joy of heaven, and we can anticipate it right now.
In order for us to live this way -- to manifest the kingdom -- we must live an integrated life. We must take the kingdom with us wherever we go. Our lives must be signs of the kingdom, visible to all who stand outside the realm established by Jesus Christ. We cannot isolate certain hours of our day and set them apart from our life in Christ. God is present everywhere, and to be a Christian is to recognize his dominion in every place, at every hour.
The first half of the book explains what Christ's Kingdom is and how it is manifested in the world, how we as Catholic Christians can live His Kingdom here on earth. Later, Cardinal Wuerl addresses specific realms like government, medicine, education, the priesthood, and so on.

I found this book well-written, clearly calling Christians to act in a manner molded to our faith but with many aids and examples in how to do so with love. There was little in it new to me or our family, but we also live with Kansas Dad, a theologian who teaches ethics classes on a regular basis at a local Catholic university. I think it could be an excellent book for someone new to the faith or someone who questions how faith should shape our behavior outside of "church activities." It may also be useful for people who intuitively live their faith in all they do but have a difficult time articulating to friends or colleagues why their faith is so integral to their daily lives.

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 return for an honest review. Visit The Catholic Company to find more information on Seek First the Kingdom: Challenging the Culture. They are also a great source for a baptism gifts or first communion gifts.

My Favorite Picture Books: The Easter Story and Easter

I wanted to post about an Easter book this week. Because I couldn't choose between these two wonderfully illustrated picture books, we have two favorites this week. (That will help make up for missing one last week.)

The Easter Story written and illustrated by Brian Wildsmith

Brian Wildsmith is one of my favorite illustrators. The book is a big size and the illustrations fill the pages with vivid colors. The story is told from the point of view of the little donkey that carried Jesus into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. I believe Wildsmith's artwork encourages children to consider the divinity of Jesus. For the Ascension, he shows Jesus rising ephemerally into the heavens surrounding by rays of gold and vibrant angels.

If you like The Easter Story, here's another of my favorite picture books by Brian Wildsmith, Exodus.

Easter illustrated by Fiona French.

The text of this picture book is adapted from a variety of translations of the Bible. It also begins with Palm Sunday and ends with the Ascension. I love French's illustrations, which are done in the style of stained glass windows. They are full of color and action. The illustrations of Jesus on the cross and after the crucifixion may be a bit more distressing for young children than any in Brian Wildsmith's book above, but I don't think they are too harsh for Holy Week.

We'll be reading both of these books in the days leading up to Easter and after Easter as we celebrate.

Monday, April 2, 2012

What I Loved About the Last Two Weeks (25th Ed.)

Did you notice I didn't post last week? At all? My parents were in town and we took a bit of a spring break. I had intended to schedule some posts, but it wasn't as high a priority as mopping my kitchen floor so it didn't get done. So prepare yourself for an eventful post.

1. Second Son has taken to knocking on doors, especially my bedroom door. He'll yell, "Mommy? Dello!" (That's hello.)

2. At the end of our exercise videos, the people on the TV will give each other high-fives. Second Son insists on joining in, giving high-fives to everyone in the room. If First Son or the girls ignores him, he follows them around making annoying noises until they give in.

3. Second Son and Kansas Dad have a little game they play. Second Son will point to himself and say, "Dada!" Then he laughs hysterically when Kansas Dad says "No!" Now, he's extending the game to books, pointing to animals and saying, "Dada!" while laughing.

4. A beautiful Saturday for three soccer games and lunch with friends - outside!

5. Celebrating First Son's First Communion with one of his best friends with a "quiet" lunch -- as quiet as it can get with fourteen kids, four adults, a great big dog and a yard full of poultry.

6. A super-clean bathroom, thanks to Kansas Dad. He worked really hard on cleaning the master bathroom for me before my parents and sister came to town.

7. On a quiet night when half the household was at soccer practice and the little ones were playing outside with their grandma, I listened to the second part of Denise Eide's lecture (both parts available to download for free here) while washing dishes and cleaning the kitchen. I am intrigued enough to teach First Daughter cursive next year instead of print for handwriting. I think our reading book (The Ordinary Parent's Guide to Teaching Reading) does a better job along these lines than the book I used with First Son, but I might modify it based on what I heard. Certainly it deserves more thought. (Thanks Brandy!)

8. I took Second Daughter to the Catholic bookstore and picked up a few Easter presents for the kids. She was very good and even picked out a small book to buy with her own money.

9. We spent a lovely few hours with my parents and sister at the local botanical gardens. They have a new children's garden that was wonderful and all the tulips were blooming. The kids had a great time, dimmed not at all by the special treat of ice cream after lunch.

10. Kansas Dad and I spent a quiet evening at a nice dinner without the kids (who were home feasting on frozen pizza with the grandparents) and then spent a relaxing hour at the bookstore.

11. A surprise day off from school. We had very few lessons during the week but I had planned on some for Friday after my parents left. I was tired and swamped with laundry, though, so opted to take a rare day off. The kids were a little confused, but they didn't complain!

12. Second Son's silliness

13. The joy of a box