Friday, December 28, 2012

Book Review: Heidi

Heidi by Johanna Spyri

Kansas Dad was shocked to discover I hadn't ever read Heidi. (Kansas Dad still hasn't read it, just for the record.) I'm a little shocked, too. I consider often how I lacked a proper guide when reading as a young girl, someone to present to me the very best literature for children.

I enjoyed Heidi immensely. It is certainly on my list of best books I read in 2012 and I hope to read it aloud to the children soon, though our list is growing much faster than I can read out loud.

One of my favorite moments reminded me of Unconditional Parenting. Peter, jealous of Heidi's affection for and attention to Clara, does something quite wrong. For weeks following, he is tortured by his guilty conscious and his child-like terror of being arrested for his crime. When he is finally discovered, grandmama responds in a most loving way, explaining exactly why he was feeling so distraught. Then, that he might remember Heidi's friends with favor, she offers him his heart's desire.
Peter lifted his head at this, and stared open-eyed at grandmama. Up to the last minute, he had been expecting something dreadful to happen, and now he might have anything that he wanted. His mind seemed all of a whirl.
"I mean what I say," went on grandmama. "You shall choose what you would like to have as a remembrance from the Frankfurt visitors, and as a token that they will not think any more of the wrong thing you did."
Peter certainly deserved punishment, but grandmama responded instead with love and did much to conquer Peter's jealousy. Perhaps punishment would have increased his anger and resentment, harming his soul and relationship with God even if it wasn't reflected in more unpleasant behavior.

The plot is predictable (or perhaps we all just know the story too well, even if we haven't read the book). The language may seem stilted to today's ears. But the book is also wonderful.
Then at last the grandmother spoke, "Heidi, read me one of the hymns! I can feel I can do nothing for the remainder of my life but thank the Father in Heaven for all the mercies he has shown us!"
Grandmother speaks a great truth in these lines, the last of the book, one that should be true for us all.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Book Review: The Story of the Other Wise Man

In this tale, Artaban searched the scrolls and skies and realized, along with Melchior, Balthasar, and Caspar, that a great King may soon be born. He watches for the star and then sets out on a long journey to meet his friends on a quest to worship and adore the new King. Once for each of the jewels he has gathered as gifts for the King, he is called aside to assist a person in need. Each time, he relinquishes one of the precious jewels. 
It seemed almost as if he had forgotten his quest. But once I saw him for a moment as he stood alone at sunrise, waiting at the gate of a Roman prison. He had taken from a secret resting-place in his bosom the pearl, the last of his jewels. As he looked at it, a mellower luster, a soft and iridescent light, full of shifting gleams of azure and rose, trembled upon its surface. It seemed to have absorbed some reflection of the colors of the lost sapphire and ruby. So the profound, secret purpose of a noble life draws into itself the memories of past joy and past sorrow. All that has helped it, all that has hindered it, is transfused by a subtle magic into its very essence. It becomes more luminous and precious the longer it is carried close to the warmth of the beating heart.
This last jewel, the pearl, is a ransom for a young girl in Jerusalem at the moment of Jesus' death on the cross. As Artaban faces death in the aftermath of an earthquake (presumably as Jesus died), after what he believes is the failure of his quest, he sees the King and learns something about a life of service and love for fellow men.

If you follow the link, you'll see there are many versions of this book available. The one we've read is from our library with drawings by J. R. Flanagan, including eight color plates and line drawings within the text. I appreciate the extravagance and beauty of color plates. These are quite good, but I'm not certain I'd choose this version merely for the plates. I'm curious about the other hardcover versions and whether they have illustrations at all, but I'm afraid I don't have the opportunity to see any of them. Shockingly, this version is the only one our library has and they keep it in the extension building. It's such a shame that no one else can find this wonderful book by browsing the shelves.

There is a picture book version of this story: The Other Wise Man, adapted by Pamela Kennedy and illustrated by Robert Barrett. I checked this book out of the library and think it was fine for what it is. Much of the rich beautiful language is omitted so it would be easier to read to young children, but I decided our family would read the original. We will grow into it over time. I did read the first chapter over two or three days as it is the most dense and most difficult to follow with all the references to the Magian's religion. Kansas Dad heard a bit of the first chapter and was a little shocked at some of Artaban's words and thoughts, but I explained that it was about the Wise Men and so Christianity was still to come. He also heard the last chapter as I read it aloud and thought it ended well.

One of the aspects of this book I love the most, in addition to Artaban's wonderful service to a God he seeks but does not yet know, is that it covers the whole of Jesus' life. Though we never see him as a child or a man, the ending in Jerusalem shows better why Jesus was born and lived than most Christmas stories.

May you have a blessed Christmas!

Saturday, December 22, 2012

What I Loved About the Last Two Weeks (55th Ed.)

1. The kids sang at the Mass for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. They did a wonderful job, especially with a Magnifcat in Latin and in rounds. Our children's choir director is fantastic! (And just happens to be a dear friend, so I admit to bias.)

2. First Son's birthday party was a few weekends ago. We had a Ninjago party with some good friends.

3. A few days after the party, we celebrated First Son's actual birthday with chocolate angel food cake. Our parish priest came for dinner, too, which is always a treat.

4. We ate some tasty cinnamon swirl bread for the Feast of St. Lucy.

5. Kansas Dad picked out a Christmas tree for us. We decorated it the day before Gaudete Sunday. Second Son is so funny with it. Every once in a while he walks into the living room and yells, "Christmas tree! We have a Christmas tree!" All the kids take ornaments down and hang them around the room, on the train tracks, or just step on them. We've lost a few already, but I didn't put the most precious ones on this year (having a two year old and all) so hopefully there won't be any really terrible tragedies. At least no one has pulled the whole tree down. Yet.

6. First Daughter made her first cheesecake. I told her she could choose one recipe from her cookbook as an Advent treat (making it more than eating it) and she chose raspberry cheesecake. Given the price of raspberries, it was incredibly expensive, but she made almost all of it herself and it was delicious.

7. I finally made homemade thin mints. They've been in my binder for years. Kansas Dad had expressed interest in them before, so I made them as a surprise for his birthday. The girls helped me dip them in chocolate. (It took twice as much as the recipe said; we did about half in dark chocolate and half in semi-sweet chocolate. Both are tasty.) They weren't quite as thin as they should have been, but still tasty. I still had candy canes left from last Christmas so I smashed one up and we sprinkled bits on some of them.

Second Son only liked the chocolate coating.
8. First Daughter and Grammy went to see The Nutcracker, just the two of them. (First Son went last year and was ready to leave at intermission, so we decided he could take a year off. Second Daughter isn't quite ready to sit still that long; maybe next year.)

With the carolers before the ballet
9. Kansas Dad celebrated a birthday. We served the thin mints and gave him a stuffed aardvark. Aardvarks are a running joke with Kansas Dad and the kids. When he joked we should get one and make them our family mascot, I thought to myself it would make a perfect birthday gift. We don't usually actually buy anything for each other, so I think he was a little surprised, even though he'd said it just a week before his birthday. He and the kids are still debating the aardvark's name. (I wanted to get a picture, but I kept forgetting every night until after we exercised and then he didn't want a picture. Maybe next week.)

10. It snowed! We had our first snow of the winter. It was just a smattering, but Kansas Dad took all the kids out to play. Second Son didn't last very long, but it was fun because he's too young to remember the snow from last year. The kids were disappointed when it started to melt later that day; I think they all want to move to Minnesota.

11. First Son's baptismal anniversary was yesterday. We celebrated with pierogies, inspired by The 8 Polish Foods of Christmas on A Very Veggie Christmas (a wonderful Christmas CD).

12. If all goes as planned, I'm off today for a whole day without kids or responsibilities!

Friday, December 21, 2012

Book Discussion: Unconditional Parenting

Kansas Dad read Unconditional Parenting: Moving from Rewards and Punishments to Love and Reason by Alfie Kohn first and suggested I read it. I'm not sure why it wasn't on my list already since I read Punished by Rewards: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A's, Praise, and Other Bribes years ago and was intrigued. (You can read what I wrote about it here.)

I've read the whole book now but I'm still mulling it over in my head. I've made notes on each of the chapters and thought I would write a little bit about them on the blog to see if I can figure out what I think about it all. This post is just the beginning, with a few quotes from the introduction. There are ten chapters, but I'm not certain I'll post about all of them.

Essentially, Mr. Kohn is suggesting we consider seriously the use of rewards and punishments in our parenting. He uses the phrase unconditional parenting to describe a type of parenting vastly different from what you may encounter in typical parenting magazines or books. Frankly, it might be vastly different from anything you see in your neighborhood. Even after reading the book, I find it a little difficult to define this parenting style. It begins with the desire to fulfill a child's needs and a refusal to make those needs subservient to eliciting a particular behavior from the child.

In unconditional parenting, parents don't do things to a child (like send him to a time-out or physically move his hand to grab a toy and drop it into a toy box). Instead, it means working with a child to solve problems.
[C]onventional approaches to parenting such as punishments (including "time-outs"), rewards (including positive reinforcement), and other forms of control teach children that they are loved only when they please us or impress us.
After reading the whole book, I have to admit, I like the ideas. If I were to imagine myself as the perfect parent, this book has described exactly how I'd like to talk with my children and the way I'd like to build a relationship with them. Repeatedly, I found myself recalling Parenting with Grace and, though they don't mention this book at all, I think they'd agree with many of the suggestions.
Are my everyday practices likely to help my children grow into the kind of people I'd like them to be? Will the things I just said to my child at the supermarket contribute in some small way to her becoming happy and balanced and independent and fulfilled and so on--or is it possible (gulp) that the way I tend to handle such situations makes those outcomes less likely? If so, what should I be doing instead?
This quote is one of the reasons this book captured my attention. In the past, I've sometimes wondered if my behavior as we rush the kids out the door to go to Mass hindered my ability to receive the blessings of the Mass itself. Now I also wonder if it hinders the ability of the children to receive those blessings. Perhaps it's better to be a few minutes late and to arrive without having yelled at the older ones or physically wrestled a smaller one into clothes she doesn't want to wear. Is she in a state of mind to listen and learn, to feel loved by Jesus in the Eucharist? Or is she spending the entire Mass fretting about her clothes or wondering why Mama yelled?

I used to think I wanted my children to be quiet at church, for them to pay attention. Now I'm wondering if my real goes isn't that they learn to love the Mass. How should my behavior at Mass with them be different to address this loftier goal? How should my expectations of them change now and as they grow to meet that goal?

After relating an incident where a fellow passenger on an airplane complimented the parents of a child who was quiet by saying he was good:
Consider for a moment the key word in that sentence. Good is an adjective often laden with moral significance. It can be a synonym for ethical or honorable or compassionate. However, where children are concerned, the word is just as likely to mean nothing more than quiet--or, perhaps, not a pain in the butt to me. Overhearing that comment in the plane, I had a little ding! moment of my own. I realized that this is what many people in our society seem to want most from children: not that they are caring or creative or curious, but simply that they are well behaved. A "good" child--from infancy to adolescence--is one who isn't too much trouble to us grown-ups.
Alfie Kohn has no illusions that this kind of parenting is easy. One of my fears is that this kind of parenting is impossible. Thinking about it more, I am reminded again of Parenting with Grace. The "Grace" in the title doesn't mean parenting in a graceful way, calm and composed. It means parenting with the Grace of God. Though Mr. Kohn doesn't seem to be a religious person, I'm not sure I could possible succeed even a little in unconditional parenting without the grace of God.
There are times when my best strategies fall flat, when my patience runs out, when I just want my kids to do what I tell them. It's hard to keep the big picture in mind when one of my children is shrieking in a restaurant. For that matter, it's sometimes hard to remember the kind of people we want to be when we're in the middle of a hectic day, or when we feel the pull of less noble impulses. It's hard, but it's still worthwhile.
There is the great question this book has raised in my mind: Am I the kind of person I want to be when I am with my children? Am I the kind of person I want them to be?

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Quote: Unconditional Parenting

Alfie Kohn in Unconditional Parenting:
I didn't understand that sometimes when your kids scream so loudly that the neighbors are ready to call the Department of Child Services, it's because you've served the wrong shape of pasta for dinner.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

My Favorite Picture Books: The Little Drummer Boy

The Little Drummer Boy, illustrated by Ezra Jack Keats

There are many versions of this book floating around and I suppose many of them are wonderful, but to me nothing can compare to this particular edition. I have always enjoyed the illustrations of Ezra Jack Keats and the watery brilliance of his artwork for The Little Drummer Boy has to be among his best.

I admit I am biased, though. I remember this book at my grandmother's house and even managed to inherit her old paperback copy. I was hesitant to leave it with the children, though, so a year or so ago I picked up a board book edition. (I tried to link to the board book at Amazon; it's always tricky when there are lots of different illustrated versions of the same text.)

It's such a sweet song of giving to Christ whatever we can, of using our gifts in his service. The children always love to sing it and sometimes even play instruments along with it.

I couldn't possibly stick to five (or seven, or eight) picture books for Christmas. Here's a link to my original "five" favorite picture books and a link to another favorite from last week. I do plan to post our picture books for Advent 2012, but there's so much to do this time of year! You can find all of last year's books here.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Our 2012 Christmas Ornament

Every year the children and I make an ornament during the Advent season. I wrote back in 2009 about our tradition and how much I enjoy it. In the past, I've avoided posting on the ornaments until after Christmas so they can be surprise for the recipients who happen to read the blog...but that usually means I'm posting about Christmas ornaments during Lent or Easter, so this year I decided to post right now before I get distracted. If you think you're on our ornament list and you want to be surprised, close your eyes! (I suppose it would be easier to simply not read this post.)

This year, I gave the children a few choices (all of which required only materials we had on hand) and they selected this Christmas tree. I was afraid it would not be very exciting, but of course Second Daughter figured out a way to glamor them up for us. We made this during our usual art time, so I didn't feel like I was adding anything to our schedule.

The instructions said to use four pieces of card stock (green for the front and back, different colors for the ornaments in the middle). I didn't have a lot of card stock, so we used mostly thin construction paper. It was still difficult for the children to punch the holes through three sheets of paper. First Son (8) could do it. First Daughter (6) could but she got tired at the end. Second Daughter (4) couldn't at all. (Second Son was napping; he was most helpful that way.)

I would make the trees for Second Daughter and then she added the "real" ornaments, culled from whatever struck her fancy in the craft box.

She likes to add glitter to things by trimming our sparkly pipe cleaners. It's effective, but a little messy.
Second Daughter adding sparkle
First Daughter struggling to hole punch
I think it would have been better if I had used card stock or painted cardboard, traced my Christmas tree ornament for them, then let them decorate it however they liked.

No matter how much we might struggle during the ornament creation, they always seem to work in the end. We have lots of ornaments to share with our family and friends! I printed out little pictures of the kids with our names and the year. I like to do that for myself so I can see their little faces and remember when we made each one, but I also think it's nice for teachers who might otherwise not quite remember us.

We generally give our ornaments to aunts and uncles, grandparents, godparents, the families for whom we are godparents, teachers or other volunteers, parish priests, and anyone else who strikes our fancy until we run out. We always keep at least one for our own tree and I dearly love the little collection we have.

You can read my past posts on our ornaments:
- Our 2011 ornament
- Our 2010 ornament (These were one of my favorites!)
- Our 2009 ornament

Find all my Advent and Christmas ideas on my Pinterest board. I pin anything that strikes my fancy, so it's more than just ornament ideas.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

First Son Is Nine

This past week, First Son celebrated a birthday - his last single digit birthday.

Ah, he's nine!
First Son recently discovered chess. He plays with his dad nearly every night and has been poring over some books I requested from the library. He also likes to play checkers and dominoes.

He wanted a Ninjago party. I'm not much on themes, but we had some candy sushi and ninja frosted cupcakes. The sushi was easy and for once my cake decorating skills were up to the task.

He loves LEGOs. He requested almost nothing else for his birthday or Christmas. Right now, the Ninjago ones are at the top of the list.

He's tall for his age and sometimes seems to tower over his friends.

He reads to the girls nearly every day, especially to First Daughter. I always set aside some books for him to read to her. I think it's adorable and, truthfully, I think he enjoys the books as much as she does.

He asked me last week how old you are when St. Nicholas stops filling your stocking. I told him I thought St. Nicholas fills stockings until you go to college.

He told me last week I could solve all my problems if he had a Nintendo DS. He said he'd just sit on the couch and play all day, not making any trouble at all. Only a boy could think that argument would be persuasive. (Or, rather, it was very persuasive, but in the opposite way it was intended.)

He does not like to go outside. (I understand him completely, preferring to read about going outside myself to actually venturing out of doors.) I often insist he go out for a certain amount of time or that he run around the house a prescribed number of times. Recently, he and First Daughter have been playing some sort of baseball learned mainly from Calvin and Hobbes. I'm just happy he's happily outside.

On his birthday proper, our parish priest came for dinner. It was not exactly part of the festivities; it just worked out to be a good day for him to come. First Son was thrilled and all the children had a wonderful time. We had a chocolate angel food cake with a few more candles. (He had to do some multiplication to get to nine!)

He loved listening to Caddie Woodlawn and Schoolhouse in the Woods. He's reading The Last Battle now. I think we'll move on to the Little House books next. He still doesn't pick up chapter books to read on his own, but he moves through them without problems when I ask so I'm not worried. He can be entirely engrossed in a book and on more than one occasion, I have caught him trying to read while he changes his clothes. He is his mother's son.

We offered him the choice of going to daily Mass and serving or having his pancake-as-big-as-your-head on his birthday. He chose to delay the pancake breakfast for one day so he could serve Mass. He loves to serve. When we sneak into his room to wake him early enough to eat breakfast, he practically leaps out of bed.

For the very first time, he ate the entire pancake in one setting. No one has ever done that before!

He also ate two eggs. (Fried, of course, only fried. He doesn't like his eggs scrambled or in omelets. He will condescend to eat them hard-boiled, but that's tricky with fresh eggs.)

For his birthday, Kansas Dad picked up a real bow and arrow set. Then he came home early from work to take him in the yard for some target practice.

He is at least halfway through multiplication on XtraMath.

He complains every single day when it's time to start lessons. I really thought by third grade we'd be past this behavior, but it continues.

Every so often, he'll complain at the beginning of a narration because he "remembers everything" and he does. Most of the time, narrations are still a struggle. It would be a lot easier to just give the boy some worksheets and tests.

He and First Daughter "go back and forth in their games." I think this means they take turns deciding what they're going to imagine. Yesterday, he and all three of his siblings created an elaborate story at odd times during the day involving the train set, the Noah's ark set, a bunch of dinosaurs, and at least one of the Nativity sets. I could never really figure out what was going on and I'm pretty sure Second Son was just pushing the trains around in a circle while the others imagined around him, but they were having fun and arguing was at a minimum (as long as no one touched any of the trains, which a certain two year old thinks belong to him and only to him).

First Son is great at playing with Second Son, by the way. He can always get a laugh and he's quite generous in letting Second Son look at and sometimes even touch his LEGOS and books.

Happy 9th birthday, First Son!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Book Review: The Queen of Water

by Laura Resau and Maria Virginia Farinango

This book for young adults is the fictionalized account of Maria Virginia, an indigenous Ecuadorian who is unwittingly sold into slavery by her parents at about six or seven years old. Her childhood is distressing but she is a remarkable girl who fights against all odds to overcome her circumstances.

The themes of this novel are for more mature audiences: slavery, racism, parents who make poor choices (though arguably out of ignorance), inappropriate touching, relationships with boys, and the growth of a child into adolescence amidst it all. They are all treated respectfully. Though we are often pointed to a particular point of view, there are also many instances of Virginia straddling different perspectives with confusion written with compassion for each.

While most young girls in our own country would rarely find themselves in Virginia's circumstances, I think her experience of profound isolation is one with which most adolescents would empathize readily. In particular, her relationship with her parents is strained but she realizes in the end that there is still something she can learn from them.

As a wonderful model for adolescence, Virginia finds her own way but does so by building relationships with supportive adults and loyal friends. She escapes her enslavement by reaching out for help and accepting it from her family. She seeks out someone in her town who will sign for her when she applies to secondary school and finds a supporting employer who provides a home away from home of safety and security.

This amazing woman is about the my age. As a mother, my heart broke over and over again for her and for her parents. I would unhesitatingly share this book with my daughters when they are older. (I would be careful mainly because of the justified fear Virginia feels toward the father of the family that controls her.)

It's not just a story about modern Ecuador, or a story about modern day slavery (in a world in which human trafficking has been discovered even in our own state), but a story of an emerging woman that will appeal to young women universally.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

My Favorite Picture Books: The Little Juggler

adapted from a French legend and illustrated by Barbara Cooney

I posted about my favorite Christmas picture books last week. Later, I read this treasure aloud to my family and realized I should have included it. I didn't think about it at first because I read it aloud to the family outside of our picture-book-a-day activity. Some of the pages have a lot of text for a picture book, but there are illustrations on each page, black and white alternating with color, and no page without any illustrations.

There are many versions of this tale: a juggler who performs for the Virgin Mary or the Christ child as his Christmas gift because he knows nothing else, though he does so in secret for fear of being cast out of his only home. It's a marvelous tale in which the smallest most meaningless talent is given gratefully and joyfully to the Lord, and appreciated.

This particular version is far and away my favorite. First of all, there are the ever-wonderful illustrations by Barbara Cooney. Her text is also excellent, leading us to care for the poor boy left on his own. Best of all, the young juggler does not die at the end; I can read this aloud to my little ones without fear they will be too distressed.

It is quite Catholic (though I'm not sure Cooney was) in that Barnaby dances in a little chapel before Mary and the Christ child. In some versions of the tale, Christ himself blesses the juggler, but in this one, Mary comes down to tend him surrounded by angels.

It's very sad that it's out of print. Even more distressing, our library has only one copy they keep stored at the extension building so no one could discover this treasure. I'm tempted to keep checking it out every once in a while even though I recently purchased a copy of my very own.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Product Reviews: Power 90 and P90X

Last year, about this time, Kansas Dad decided we were going to get serious about losing weight and eating healthier. He asked me if I would do P90X with him. Now, P90X was designed for people like Kansas Dad, someone who has been working out consistently, is pretty strong but wants to take workouts to a whole new level. Then there was me, someone who had happily used pregnancy and babies to avoid exercising for years. I had recently started working out a little with Wii Fit Plus and saw some benefits but nothing dramatic. I looked at the P90X fit test (a PDF you can easily find if you search online) and knew I couldn't possibly pass it.

"No problem," says Kansas Dad, "You can do Power 90 first."

Of course. Why didn't I think of that? Sigh.

I hesitate to talk about being healthy or losing weight too much on the blog because I don't think I'm particularly healthy and until I lose all the weight I need to lose and keep it off for a few years, I'm not sure I'm qualified to talk much about it. But writing about things on the blog is what I do and I did have some people ask me about P90X.

You can go to Amazon or to read a mountain of reviews on these products. I'll just mention a few things I think would be pertinent to someone like me - a mother with young children.

Power 90 - This is a great program if you are just getting started exercising or returning after a long break.
  • There are workouts six days a week, but they are a reasonable length and modifications for beginners or hose more advanced are offered throughout.
  • It's very basic, but effective. There aren't any fancy moves and would eventually get boring
  • Everything you need comes in the box. You don't have to make any additional purchases. We did buy a weight set in preparation for P90X and it was easier to use than the band that came in the box, but it was more like a luxury.
  • I did these workouts in the living room with all four kids watching. You do have to be careful not to kick a child or slam into them with a weight, but it's possible.
  • We followed the nutrition plan, which is essentially counting calories. It seemed reasonable.
  • I saw improvement in my strength, my cardiovascular fitness, and my weight.
P90X - This is an intense program and may not be a great fit for a mother with young children, but it is incredibly effective.
  • There are workouts six days a week (seven if you could the stretch video). Again, they alternative strength training with cardio workouts.
  • The workouts take at minimum an hour. The three strength training days take 75 minutes. The two cardio days take about an hour (as does the stretch video). The yoga video is 90 minutes (and by far the most difficult of all the videos). So you're looking at a big time commitment.
  • You'll need a lot of equipment. We prepared by saving ahead, but it was still a little overwhelming. (Now we're saving money because Kansas Dad cancelled his gym membership.)
  • The nutrition plan is very well done. It's basically counting calories but you do so by tracking servings of protein, carbs, fruit, oils, and so on. If you really follow the plan, though, it's incredibly expensive: lots of lean meats, fresh fruits and fresh vegetables (all expensive) and very few carbohydrates (very cheap). Our grocery bill was outrageous until later in the program when we could increase our carbs.
  • If you write down your reps each week, you'll see improvement week by week even if you don't see changes in weight or size. 
  • We did not buy any of the supplements.
Both of these programs are led by Tony Horton, who seems like a nice guy. He's always encouraging and sometimes silly. Even after months of listening to this guy on (nearly) a daily basis, I can still stand to hear him. We've been using other workouts (You Are Your Own Gym) but using some of the DVDs from P90X for warm ups, cool downs, and some of the cardiovascular workouts. Kansas Dad's been doing the Yoga one, too, but I've been avoiding it.

The program isn't designed for weight loss, but I think if you have weight to lose, you will. Kansas Dad looks fantastic. (I hope he's not too embarrassed to read that, but seriously, people have come up to him and asked what he's been doing! Some people even said he's inspired them to be healthier. How cool is that?)

Kansas Dad wants to start the 13 week program all over again. I'm a little overwhelmed at the thought of all that time, but there are lots of advantages to working out together so I'm hoping I can gather my energy and give it another try.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

What I Loved About Last Week (54th Ed.)

This post should be what I loved about the last two weeks, but most of the previous week I was sick followed by a weekend of stomach illness that spread through the whole family. Ugh.

So mostly we're just going to focus on the past week.

1. We made our Advent ornaments. I'm even contemplating attempting a picture with all four children for the label...

2. Advent has begun! We have a few new things this year and some treasured traditions.

3. Kansas Dad took good care of us when we were all sick. He went above and beyond.

4. Kansas Dad finished up a big work project last week. We're all glad the hard work is behind him and are hoping for some good results.

5. We celebrated the feast of St. Nicholas last Thursday. The kids were up early begging to pull the goodies out of their stockings.

happy Second Daughter
6. The three older children and I made plaster-of-Paris "fossils" with some shells. They turned out really well and I was only a little impatient with them. Hopefully we'll have time to paint them in the near future. (Painting isn't quite authentic, but it said in the book you could paint them, so of course we must.)

7. We are busy preparing for First Son's ninth birthday. His party is on Sunday and there are many goodies to make.

8. Second Son has been using the bathroom. He's always successful if I take him in, but it's not like his diapers are dry so we've got a ways to go.

9. One night last week, Kansas Dad took all four kids out to help him with the chickens. They were entertained for hours throwing straw around the chicken run, rolling in it, and even playing some sort of baseball game adapted from Calvin and Hobbes.

10. First Son and Kansas Dad have been playing chess nearly every night after the younger three go to bed. I don't like to play chess myself, but I love that First Son wants to play. (I've been playing a lot of dominoes with the kids this week. Second Daughter loves matching up the dots.)

11. The children are singing in the choir at mass today.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

My Favorite Picture Books: The Christmas Edition

Brandy at Afterthoughts issued my equivalent of a double-dog-dare with her list of Christmas picture books, asking for our five favorite Christmas picture books.

A Small Miracle, a wordless picture book by Peter Collington

This is probably my single favorite Christmas book. In it, a poor woman trudges to town with her accordion to earn some money to buy food during the Christmas season. Some listen, but few drop any coins in her box, so she must sell her treasured accordion. Leaving the shop, she is robbed by a thief. She chases him, but forgets her own troubles when the ruffian desecrates the Nativity scene in the church. She sets everything back up before walking home in the snow. Weak with hunger, she collapses on the way.

She's saved by a heavenly miracle, but you'll have to read the book to find out how.

Following closely behind A Small Miracle is The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree, illustrated by the ever lovely Barbara Cooney. I've written about this book before and Brady mentioned it in her post as well. I'm very excited to share this book with the girls this year. I think First Daughter in particular is going to love it. (It's been tucked away since last year so it will seem new to her again.) I'm not going to count this in my five because it's on Brandy's list and I've written about it before.

The Last Straw by Frederick Thury, illustrated by Vlasta van Kampen, is full of beautiful vibrant illustrations of a camel burdened by his great pride who learns a little humility on his way to the Christ child with the wise men. This is a perfect story to read for the Feast of the Epiphany on January 6th.

Christmas Day in the Morning by Pearl S. Buck and illustrated by Mark Buehner is on my list despite the illustrations. They're fine but not spectacular. The story, though, is a perfect Christmas story. A young man searching for the perfect Christmas gift for his father discovers the joy and love of self-sacrifice. It brings tears to my eyes every year and it's written without any unnecessary description of the moral, standing simply on the merits of the tale. Pearl S. Buck is a master and I'm grateful she shared this beautiful story with us.

I'm not sure if a list of my five favorite Christmas books can neglect the Nativity story itself, but I know no Advent would be complete without sharing a few with the children. We are reading a Nativity story each Sunday, though I purposefully went lightly on them the rest of the time. I wanted these stories to stand out for their beauty and goodness. Brandy already mentioned Pamela Dalton's The Story of Christmas, which is stunning. We read that one on the first Sunday of Advent.

I have two others that are my true favorites, though. The first is Fiona French's Bethlehem with the RSV for her text. Her stained glass illustrations are gorgeous. The bright colors always make me feel joyful. (It's also available in the King James translation: Bethlehem: With Words from the Authorized Version of the King James Bible.)

Last (but not least, of course) is A Christmas Story by Brian Wildsmith. Wildsmith's style is present as always, laced with glitters and shimmers. I could look at his pictures all day. (The link above is for a miniature version, but I have a large one.) You can purchase a new copy at Sacred Heart Books and Gifts.

I have one more I went to mention: All for the Newborn Baby by Phyllis Root, illustrated by Nicola Bayley. I'm not counting it, really, because my children simply do not love it as much as I do. Nothing much happens; it's just a beautiful lullaby from Mary to the infant Jesus. The illustrations are so lovely but in a more elegant way than most picture books.

I see I've selected a number of out-of-print books. I apologize. Of these seven books, one I must request from the library each year, one I purchased new in paperback, one I purchased used, and four I received from the good people at (I do receive a credit if you sign up and post ten books if you follow this link, but I wanted you to know that this can be a good resource just in case you haven't already discovered it.)

I failed to limit my list to five books. I concede defeat on the double-dog-dare.

May you and your family have a blessed Advent and a joyful Christmas!

Monday, December 3, 2012

November 2012 Book Reports

Seventeenth Swap by Eloise McGraw is the story of a young babysitter, Eric, who decides to buy a pair of outrageous red cowboy boots for his even younger charge, a boy in a wheelchair. To do so, Eric begins a series of swaps to trade up for the money he needs, making new friends and finding new opportunities as he does so. It's a nice enough story, but there's not much development of the relationship between Eric and the boy he babysits. Also, I'm ambivalent of Eric's realization a pronounced flaw in his father's character. Of course, parents are not perfect, but I don't see a need to read aloud a book that emphasizes that fact with my little children (8, 6, 4, and 2). If First Son wanted to read this book I would let him, but I'm not going to read it aloud. (library copy)

A Catholic Family Advent: Prayers and Activities by Susan Hines-Brigger (a review for The Catholic Company)

The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress by Robert A. Heinlein is one of Kansas Dad's books. I found it on the shelf and managed to read it before he did. In the book, a penal colony on the moon becomes a permanent home for generations of men and women for whom physiological changes preclude ever returning to Earth. Run by a demanding corporation, the narrator and a few friends orchestrate a revolt with the help of a sentient computer. Heinlein is able to discuss and present his views on revolution, 1960s culture, and government in the course of the story. It was exciting, entertaining, and thought-provoking. Recommended. (purchased copy)

The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick is what historical fiction should be, punctuated by innovative use of photographs, movie stills, and black and white narrative illustrations. The whole book gives the impression of a classic silent movie (purposefully). I've heard there's a movie version coming out soon (or recently out?) and I don't know anything about that, but I loved this book and am putting it on First Son's independent reading list for third grade. (library copy)

Breakdown by Katherine Amt Hanna is the story of a man making his peace with an alternative world in which a virus destroys all the computers and a plague kills huge swaths of the populations. Chris loses his wife and infant daughter to the plague. In the six years after their deaths, he wanders dangerous roads and works his way back to England where he tries to make peace with his family and friends. It's a enjoyable book despite a few weaknesses. I spent a whole day reading it. (Kindle version borrowed for free from the Kindle lending library)

The Children of the New Forest by Frederick Marryat is the only book I've ever read that takes place when Cromwell was in power. It's an older book and reads much like a Swiss Family Robinson in an English forest - four children loyal to the King escape certain death to make their living as children of a forester. The boys hunt and garden. The girls cook and clean. (The girls barely feature in the book.) I found only one really disparaging reference to Catholics, though there is a disturbing portrayal of a gypsy they "capture" in a pit and then seem to domesticate. I decided rather quickly not to read it aloud to the children but finished it just to see what would happen to the family. (free Kindle version)

Simplicity Parenting by Kim John Payne and Lisa M. Ross (inter-library loan)

Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather (library copy)

The Strange Case of Origami Yoda by Tom Angleberger is a pretty entertaining book that follows the story of a group of sixth graders fascinated by the origami Yoda made by a member of their group who starts giving advice. The variety of voices in the book (presented as a series of case files written by different children at the school) and the drawings on the pages are fun. I decided against sharing it with First Son, though, mainly because he's only in third grade. A great number of the interactions in the book focused on boy/girl relationships (of which he has none that are not youthful friendships). The kids also call each other bad names all the time (things like loser and stupid). First Son has heard all those words and even used them occassionally, but they seemed to be everywhere in the book. (library copy)

Books in Progress (and date started)

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Some Days Are Like This

I had a long list of things to do today in preparation for Advent and the feast of St. Nicholas later this week.

I stayed up late last night working on our Jesse Tree, baking a cake for Kansas Dad to take to school today and (later) listening helplessly as Kansas Dad was violently ill.

This morning, Second Son has been getting sick here and there all over the living room. Kansas Dad still feels punk and has a tenure application to finish. (It's due Monday; pray for him!)

So I guess I'll muddle through the day and get done what I can.

Now that I think about it, that's how a great many of our days go.