Thursday, February 28, 2013

Book Review: The Blue Castle

The Blue Castle by L. M. Montgomery

L. M. Montgomery is best known for her Anne of Green Gables books. My favorite of these is Rila of Ingleside. If you never made it that far in the series, make the effort. You can even read the Kindle version for free.

This post, however, is about The Blue Castle, which is far and away my favorite Montgomery book. Valancy Stirling lives a dreary life, unloved even by her mother, until the day she learns a fatal heart condition leaves her only a year to live. Realizing she has never lived, she embarks on a personal journey. She is no longer afraid. After shocking all her family by suddenly saying what she's been thinking all her 29 years, she leaves them completely dumbfounded when she hires herself out to care for a dying disgraced young woman. While there, she comes to know Barney Snaith as more than the resident ne'er-do-well.

Is it predictable? Absolutely. Even the twist at the end is entirely expected. Would many people today be disappointed that Valancy's courageous struggle to be independent of her family includes a desire for marriage? Probably, but we must remember it was first published in 1926. Many of Valancy's actions were quite unladylike at that time.

In high school and college, I read this book about once a year. I even tried to convince Kansas Dad to name one of our children Valancy. (He refused.) I read it one day recently (a day in which I spent a great many hours in a waiting room) and found it as lovely as ever.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

My Favorite Picture Books: Snowflake Bentley

by Jacqueline Briggs Martin, illustrated by Mary Azarian

As I write this, we are snowbound with what might be the greatest snowfall I've ever seen in my time in Kansas. It seemed an appropriate morning to fill my teacup and write a review of this book.

Wilson Bentley, a native of Vermont, was fascinated by both photography and snowflakes. This biography emphasizes his perseverance, experimentation, dedication, and appreciation of the natural world. In the sidebars of many of the pages, the author gives facts about his life.

I love how his parents supported his dreams. His mother and a set of encyclopedias were his teachers. She provided him with a microscope. Later, though they could not quite understand his dream, his parents spent their savings to buy a camera with a microscope. Can you imagine what the neighbors thought when they learned the camera cost as much as a herd of ten cows? Yet what a blessing it was to their son!

When the people of Vermont scoffed at his dream of photographing snowflakes, he was undeterred.
Willie said the photographs would be his gift to the world.
And he was right. You can still find books of his photographs in print, like this one.

I love this book despite the illustrations, rather than because of them, but they are friendly and inviting. My favorite shows Wilson trudging away through a snowstorm on the page on which he passes away, perfectly matching the text and tone of the page.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Book Review: Quo Vadis

Quo Vadis by Henryk Sienkiewicz

This novel tells the story of a young couple that falls in love in Rome, during the time of Nero. With their story as the main thread, it explores the decadent life of the Augustans and Caesar in Rome and the drastically different life proposed by the early Christians. It can be slow at times for modern readers as many of the arguments against the faith of Christ are proposed by philosophers of Rome within the text. For the same reason, it is a powerful record of the revolutionary ideas within the Christian faith, ideas that led early Christians to be nearly incomprehensible to the Romans, and yet indescribably attractive for many.

Peter and Paul are both important characters in the book. Peter's legendary encounter with Christ as he flees Rome is the source of the title. It means "Where are you going?" Peter asks the question of Christ who replies that he is going to Rome to be crucified (again). Peter immediately turns around to face his own eventual execution. It is, of course, a question we should all ask ourselves.

As a warning, this book is only for mature readers. The scenes of  Roman life include all of its immorality. Also, after the great fire, the torture and slaughter of Christians in the Games is described in detail. I found myself weeping as I read those parts and even had to stop a few times. The martyrs of the early Church should not be forgotten, but their deaths were indeed horrible.

I read the version linked above, translated by W. S. Kuniczak, available at our library, but I noticed there is a translation available to read for free on the Kindle.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Home on the Range Protein Power Balls

I had never heard of power balls until a friend of mine posted her recipe for energy balls. I was intrigued, and after we'd tried them, I was determined to fine-tune the perfect power ball recipe for the Range, one made of ingredients we keep on hand and love so I could make them (nearly) anytime I wanted one.

Everyone on the Range loves these snacks. They take me quite a while to make unless I can get one or more of the kids to help shape the balls (really First Daughter is the only one who's ever interested at all), but they are worth it. They're delicious and a filling snack.

They are almost too delicious because one power ball is enough of a snack, but it's hard to eat just one.

You can adjust this recipe in many ways, but you want to try to keep your liquid ingredients balanced well with dry ingredients. Otherwise, they won't hold together very well.

I always use my kitchen scale to weigh the ingredients. Once you've weighed peanut butter instead of measuring it with a cup, you'll never want to go back. I'll try to give non-weight measurements, but it's been a long time since I made them that way. If you try it and it doesn't work, let me know.

Home on the Range Power Balls

15 oz peanut butter (1 1/2 cups)
1 oz coconut oil (about 1 1/3 tbsp)
9 oz honey (3/4 cup)
12 1/4 oz oatmeal, whatever kind you have on hand (3 1/2 cups)
2 oz wheat germ (1/2 cup)
2 1/2 oz ground flaxseed (1/2 cup)
2 generous scoops of protein powder (we've tried chocolate and vanilla and prefer the chocolate)
3 3/4 oz chopped pecans (1 cup)
3 oz chocolate chips (1/2 cup) - mini chocolate chips work really well for these

1. Mix the peanut butter, coconut oil, and honey in a mixer.

2. Add the oats and mix again.

3. Add the wheat germ, ground flaxseed, protein powder, chopped pecans, and chocolate chips. Mix again.

4. Shape into balls. (I like to use my muffin scoop to measure the mixture, then press and roll into into a ball.) Place on a cookie sheet lined with wax paper and chill until solidified.

Store in the fridge or chilled or they'll fall to pieces (though they'll still be delicious).

With my muffin scoop, I usually get around 40 power balls. Your calorie count and grams of protein will vary based on your ingredients and the size of your snack, but you can enter your recipe on Calorie Count to get an estimate.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

My Favorite Books of 2012

I have updated the Amazon widget on the sidebar of my blog to show my favorite books of those I read in 2012, but I know quite a few of you don't actually go to my blog to read the posts so I thought I would share them here.

In order I read them, here they are, with links to the review or report in which I wrote a bit about them.

Raising Financially Fit Kids by Joline Godfrey (book review)

Gentle Ben by Walt Morey (book report)

A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller, Jr. (book report)

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

The Gammage Cup: A Novel of the Minnipins and The Whisper of Glocken: A Novel of the Minnipins by Carol Kendall (book report)

The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins includes The Hunger Games (Book 1)Catching Fire (Book 2), and Mockingjay (Book 3)
(book review)

Shades of Gray by Carolyn Reeder (book report)

Blue Willow by Doris Gates (book report)

Twelve Greeks and Romans Who Changed the World by Carl J. Richard (book report)

Michelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling by Ross King (book report)

Wool - Omnibus Edition by Hugh Howey (book report)

Little Britches: Father and I Were Ranchers by Ralph Moody (book report)

The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress by Robert A. Heinlein (book report)

The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick (book report)

Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather (book review)

The Queen of Water by Laura Resau and Maria Virginia Farinango (book review)

The Story of the Other Wise Man by Henry Van Dyke (book review)

Unconditional Parenting: Moving from Rewards and Punishments to Love and Reason by Alfie Kohn (thoughts on the introduction)

Heidi by Johanna Spyri (book review)

If I could choose one and only one for the whole year, it would be Death Comes for the Archbishop.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

My Favorite Picture Books: At Night

At Night by Jonathan Bean

Almost nothing happens in this story. A young girl can't sleep until she drags her pillow and blankets up to her roof. That's it.

But it's so lovely.

Her family lives in the city. Their roof is a place of family, with a clothesline, a table, a garden full of growing plants (flowering and fruiting). I can easily imagine Second Daughter quietly sneaking all of her bedding up to a rooftop garden to snuggle in her own world in the dark of night.

The illustrations of the roof and city are wonderful, but I most love the illustrations of the river and trees and sky. 
She lay in her bed on her house in the city, in the night, under the sky.
She thought about the wide world all around her and smiled.
Aren't those two lines delightful? They're spread over three perfectly illustrated pages.

In the end, as she's sleeping peacefully, her mother sits beside her in the night. That moment is so precious. Her hand is resting on the girl, protectively, but she is gazing up at the moon as if she's discovered something lovely for herself in her little girl's search.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

The Range Finally Gets a Jesse Tree

There's nothing like celebrating Lent by writing about Advent. I've started most of my Advent posts, though, so I don't want to waste the time invested already by just deleting them.

I've tried a Jesse Tree in the past and have always been disappointed by the response of the children, but I felt like I needed one more thing for Advent and a Jesse Tree seemed perfect. This devotion is such a beautiful way to include Scripture in our Advent plans. Also, the Jesse Tree aids us in preparing our hearts and waiting for the Messiah in a way reminiscent of the way the Hebrew people waited for the Messiah. Ideally, we would also remember we are still waiting--for Christ's second coming.

I used the Jesse Tree from Advent, Christmas Epiphany in the Domestic Church. (You can find it for a reasonable cost at Sacred Heart Books and Gifts.) I like this version which focuses more on the "waiting" aspect of Advent rather than just the lineage of Jesus. It also does not include the O Antiphons, which I wanted to do separately.

I made two copies of each page of Jesse Tree ornaments (photocopies are permitted with purchase of the book). I colored them with colored pencils so I had two colored copies of each ornament. I cut them out and glued one set to some Christmas paper I had left over from last year's Advent drawer project. (Pink and purple would have been better but I didn't want to buy anything and already had this paper.)

Then I created a little book of the readings. I copied the NRSV text from an online Bible and pasted each day's reading into a new page of a Word document. I added a little purple rectangle at the top right corner for the second set of the ornaments I colored. I put them all in sheet protectors (because I love sheet protectors) and made a binder for our Jesse Tree readings. I took this picture when I had glued the ornaments to the page but before I had found a binder for them. Most of the readings fit on one page. I always put them in the sheet protectors so you could read the entire reading without turning a page. If it needed two pages, I put them facing each other. I've uploaded a PDF file of the readings to a Google drive and you should be able to access it here and download it for your own use. If I recall, there are a few formatting blips, but it still works.

It would be nice to read each night from an actual Bible, but this book is much easier for daily prayer time with young children. I grab the book and we're ready to go. The kids can look through the ornaments for the matching one for the day.

We don't have an actual Jesse Tree. One of these days Kansas Dad will make one for me, but I have to figure out a good place to put it so I'm not in a hurry. In the meantime, we taped them to the side of the bookcase (high enough to keep them away from the two year old; they're destructive by nature, you know).

I think the Jesse Tree in 2012 here on the Range was a success. I was a little sad to notice that First Son did not seem as interested in the picture books each day, even the new ones, but he was always focused for our Jesse Tree readings. I felt a little like the Holy Spirit led me to put all the pieces of the Jesse Tree together this year because First Son needed a little more depth to our Advent. 

You can find a lot more wonderful ideas in Catherine and Peter Fournier's books or on their website:

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Book Discussion: Chapter 3 of Unconditional Parenting

The quotes in this post are all from the third chapter of Unconditional Parenting: Moving from Rewards and Punishments to Love and Reason by Alfie Kohn: Too Much Control.

This is in italics in the original text:
The dominant problem with parenting in our society isn't permissiveness, but the fear of permissiveness. We're so worried about spoiling kids that we often end up overcontrolling them.
I don't know if I'd say this is the dominant problem with parenting in our society. It is, however, one of my largest blocks to using something like unconditional parenting in our family. I am afraid the kids would run wild and destroy the tiny bit of calm we attain every now and then.

According to Mr. Kohn:
On balance, the kids who do what they're told are likely to be those whose parents don't rely on power and instead have developed a warm and secure relationship with them. They have parents who treat them with respect, minimize the use of control, and make a point of offering reasons and explanations for what they ask.
I'm not sure this has always been my experience. I know some awesome parents who seem to have the whole respect, reasons, and explanations things nailed down, but their children do not necessarily do everything they're asked as soon as they're asked. I know other parents who seem much more controlling (at least to me) and their children seem to be wonderfully behaved, respectful, and helpful.

On the other hand, this thought makes sense to me. If a child has grown up hearing reasons for requests and understands, truly believes, that a parent would not request something unless it were for the good of the child and the family, then wouldn't he or she be more likely to respond favorably to requests?
In a second study, the two-year-olds who were most likely to comply with a specific request turned out to be those whose parents "were very clear about what they wanted, but in addition to listening to their children's objections, they also accommodated them in ways that conveyed respect for the children's autonomy and individuality."
I looked this study up in the endnotes and references. I was really tempted to read it, but it seems a copy of the paper would cost $12. My two-year-old's compliance seems based more on his mood than anything I do or say. Frankly, my four-year-old's compliance seems even more unpredictable.
One reason that a heavy-handed, do-what-I-say approach tends not to work very well is that, in the final analysis, we really can't control our kids--at least, not in the ways that's simply impossible to force a child to go to sleep, or stop crying, or listen, or respect us...Particularly with infants, and then again with adolescents, the goal of control ultimately proves to be an illusion.
We cannot control our children. I have very wise friends who taught their children that they can only control their own bodies, not those of their brothers. I have shared this insight with my own children often. I also admit that I cannot make them do something. In particular, I have honestly told First Daughter I cannot make First Son learn something. I can present material, give him the opportunity to make it his own, insist that he talk with me about it in a conversation or narration, but he must learn for himself. (On the worst days, I repeat this to myself.)
Of course, terms like excessive and too much raise the question of whether there's an ideal amount of control. My response is that the attempt to figure out what's good for kids is a qualitative inquiry more than a quantitative one. Depending on how we define control, it may make more sense to look for alternatives to it than just to offer less of it. Children need structure in their lives, for example--and some need more than others--but that's not the same as saying they just need a moderate amount of control. How can we tell the difference? There are certainly some gray areas here, but as a rule, reasonable structures are imposed only when necessary, in a flexible manner, without undue restrictiveness, and, when possible, with the participation of the child. (my emphasis)
I'm not sure I'm convinced no control is better than a little control. He seems to make the argument that a lot of control is bad, even a bit more than some control is bad, so it's probably best not to enforce any control at all.

The more I think about it, though, and the more I consider this book as I live our daily life, the more I see how we can alter our daily schedule and plans to avoid the need for me, as the parent, to be as controlling as I used to think a parent should be. When I find a situation unacceptable, instead of thinking it through myself and imposing a solution for the problem I see, I've started asking the children what they think we should do. We begin with the premise that what is happening can't continue and go from there. In some things we haven't been as successful as I might like, but overall I can see how this kind of parenting can create an atmosphere of working together as a family to create the life we want.

Does that mean First Son doesn't have to do his lessons? Absolutely not, but perhaps he has greater flexibility in what lessons we do and when we do them. This attitude is not all that different from what I've done in the past. After all, if a book caused great distress, it probably wasn't a living book and I would find a replacement, but there is a slight difference in that I'm attempting to involve First Son more, even though he's still young. As much as possible, perhaps, he should begin to shape his own education.

I've also started allowing the daily conversation of why we do lessons at all, and even why we're doing particular lessons. First Son already knows why, but talking about it whenever he brings it up helps me to focus on the long-term and short-term goals, helping him to think about discovering God's will for him rather than focusing only on what he wants to do all day. Battling our desires (whether it be playing video games, checking our friends on Facebook, or sneaking into the bathroom to finish the last three chapters of a book) is a lifelong process. I'm starting to wonder if the daily conversation is actually valuable, rather than viewing it as an attempt to avoid lessons.
The goal is empowerment rather than conformity, and the methods are respectful rather than coercive.
By talking about the reasons for a request, we can reveal a path to virtue in a way that's more flexible than merely focusing on obedience for its own sake. Obedience can be a virtue, of course, in the right circumstances, but there are other virtues as well: perseverance, fortitude, honesty, wisdom, just to name a few.
There may be times when some control, in the usual sense, is unavoidable, and here the trick is indeed to avoid overdoing it. But we need to think in terms of an approach to parenting that's fundamentally different from control, rather than just trying to find a happy medium between "too controlling" and "not controlling enough."
I think Mr. Kohn might address it in a later chapter, but one of the metaphors that has really stuck with me after finishing the book is the idea that parenting should not be a battle: us against them, and if they don't do what we say we are failing as parents. Rather, we should be working together, side by side with our children, to guide them into becoming the people God created them to be. We don't know exactly who that is. Only they can discover it. We can offer plenty of guidance, advice, knowledge, hope, and support, all of which is more powerful if our children perceive us beside them rather than against them.

Previous posts on Unconditional Parenting

Thoughts on the Introduction
Discussion of quotes from chapter 1
Discussion of quotes from chapter 2

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

My Favorite Picture Books: The Year at Maple Hill Farm

The Year At Maple Hill Farm by Alice and Martin Provensen

In this book, we see animals and life changing through a year on a farm. We learn a little about farming, a little about the seasons, a little about the months of the year, and a little about animals. There's not a plot or story, really, just short descriptions for each month. Many of the spreads have multiple illustrations. On other months, there are large two page spreads full of details.

Frankly, the only thing I don't like about this book is that it's no longer in print in a hardcover edition. We received a paperback version as a gift and are loving it to pieces. Literally.

Alice and Martin Provensen have other wonderful books as well. Be sure to look for them at your library.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

The Catholic Company Review: My First Book of Saints

by Kathleen M. Muldoon and Susan Helen Wallace, FSP
with illustrations by Tom Kinarney and Patricia R. Mattozzi

In this new hardcover edition, Pauline Kids has pulled together all of the saints in the six volumes of their Little Books of Saints. I used the first two volumes of these when First Son was in kindergarten and will now use this new book for Second Daughter next year for kindergarten part one. (I think I'm going to spread her kindergarten year over two years.)

I love these little saint stories. They are very brief, just a few sentences on each saint, with a full page illustration. At the end, is a small prayer that connects the saint with the reader, like "Saint Damien, please show me how to be helpful to my family and friends."

For interested folks like First Son, a small box gives the years the saint lived, where the saint was born, and when we celebrate the feast day.

Many of the Blesseds are now Saints (like St. Kateri Tekakwitha and St. Damien of Molokai) and the new edition reflects the canonizations. (Some Blesseds are also included in the books.)

The hardcover edition would be perfect to give as a baptism gift or (perhaps even better) as a small gift for a "new" big brother or big sister at the baptism of a new baby. I think they are perfect for children in the three to five age range and am very pleased to have this book to share with my little ones.

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 First Book of Saints. The Catholic Company is the best resource for gifts for every Sacrament celebration, such as First Communion gifts and Baptism gifts, as well as a great selection of limited-time Year of Faith gifts and resources.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Lent on the Range: 2013

Lent starts early this year - Ash Wednesday is February 13th. That's next Wednesday, just in case you hadn't thought about it yet.

Here's a link to my post about last year's plans.

We're going to follow nearly the same plan, with a few modifications because this year, instead of working four hours a week, I'll be working twelve to fifteen hours a week. Sadly, I cannot give up my job for Lent, and I've already pared down our lessons to accommodate the increased hours, so some of of Lenten activities must be modified a little.

I updated our calendar with new dates for this year. I also moved a few fasting ideas around and removed alms from Saturdays. We only did them during the school week. Last year we kept forgetting even then, but now First Son and First Daughter are old enough to handle the alms counting nearly independently, so I decided to leave it as it is and see how it goes.

Kansas Dad requested we add a decade of the Rosary once a week. We've never successfully said the Rosary (or a decade of it) on a regular basis, so it's a bit of a reach goal, but it's a good goal.
   2013 Lent Calendar to Share by Kansas Mom 

Last year we rolled a die to choose a prayer for our prayer for intentions. This year, Kansas Dad has suggested we actually do night prayer with the children during Lent. We'll offer our Marian prayer each night for the intention in the calendar.

For our prayer garden, I'm going to set out the box of flowers and encourage the children to say a prayer at our prayer shelf whenever the Holy Spirit calls them, and then place their own flower on the garden. Hopefully by Easter, we'll have a beautiful garden!

Last year on Fridays, I said the Stations of the Cross with the children, but I'm not sure I'll have time for that this year because I work on Fridays. (At least once, we will attend Stations of the Cross at our parish.) I'm going to ask First Son to say them with First Daughter without me if we run out of time and we'll see how it goes. (Do you sense a pattern here? We're having a "we'll see how it goes" kind of Lent this year.)

The alms jars are going to continue just as we did them last year. The children will earn beans for sacrifices and then swap them for pennies for the alms jar.

We'll be reading nearly all the same books this year, but I'm going to substitute More Catholic Tales for Boys and Girls for Catholic Tales for Boys and Girls. In the Easter season, we're going to read The Young Life of Sister Faustina.

The only really new thing we're going to do this year is the Lent Faith Folder from Emmanuel Books. Sometime between now and Wednesday, I need to purchase it, download it, and then figure out how we're going to work through it together this Lent. First Son did their First Communion folder with his Sunday School class last year and it was fantastic, so I am excited for the Lent one.

I've promised the children ice cream sundaes for dinner for Mardi Gras.

I think that sums up our Lenten plans. Hopefully it is a blessed time for us and for your family as well.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

More Thoughts on Memorization

For those of you who don't follow Brandy's blog (and why not?) and haven't seen her Musings this week, she's posted two links to articles about memorization, specifically of poetry: A Lost Eloquence and Why We Should Memorize. They are both more poetic (pun intended) than my own little post on the memorization of poetry.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

My Favorite Picture Books: And Then It's Spring

And Then It's Spring by Julie Fogliana with illustrations by Erin E. Stead

This is one of the very few books I came across in a bookstore before seeing it at the library or online. I was immediately attracted to the title and the cover. The book delivered wonderfully. It's a quiet simple tale in which nothing much happens. We wait. The seeds are planted and we wait, surveying the brown countryside, hoping the seeds will sprout, that spring will really come.

The boys stays busy as he waits. He stomps in rain puddles. He plants other seeds, hangs a bird feeder, hangs a tire swing. Always, though, he returns to check on his seeds. In one cutaway, we see the earth beneath the seeds, teeming with life awaiting spring. On my favorite spread, the boy imagines bears tearing up his garden (because bears can't read the signs).

A number of other people have remarked that this is a book about patience, and I suppose it is, but for me the overwhelming thought as I read it was "wonder." The text inspires us to wonder: How can brown be "a hopeful, very possible sort of brown?" How can brown have "a greenish hum that you can only hear if you put your ear to the ground and close your eyes?"

Perhaps, later this year, I'll see my children lying with their ears to the ground, their eyes closed, breathing softly to listen for the hum.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Book Review: When Helping Hurts

by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert

For those that don't want to read this long post, the short version is: Highly recommended.

This book has been recommended a number of times by a man I know and admire greatly for his integrity, his great love for the Lord, and for his unfailing ability to recognize the good (Christ) in anyone. He is on the board for the Lwala Community Alliance.

This book is written directly to evangelical Christians within a church who are seeking a way to fulfill God's call to feed the poor. Because of the specific audience, there were many times when I wondered if a Catholic perspective might be a little different. Within the history of the Catholic Church, there are a great many saints who have served the poor in personal ways, including those like St. Francis (and the Franciscans as an order) who willingly and lovingly embrace material poverty partially at least to address their existing spiritual poverty. Not that I think Catholic North Americans don't make the same mistakes and erroneous assumptions that are outlined in the book, just that the history and culture of the Catholic Church might be used as additional sources of strength in understanding them. (Kansas Dad assures me there are lots of books and thoughts within Catholic social teaching that would address these issues, but I haven't had a chance to read any of them yet.)

We must also understand that the goal is not merely to redistribute resources (food, clothing, money) to those that are materially poor.
The goal is not to make the materially poor all over the world into middle-to-upper-class North Americans, a group characterized  by high rates of divorce, sexual addiction, substance abuse, and mental illness. Nor is the goal to make sure that the materially poor have enough money...Rather, the goal is to restore people to a full expression of humanness, to being what God created us all to be, people who glorify God by living in right relationship with God, with self, with others, and with the rest of creation.
Early in the book, the authors say we must begin with an understanding that we are often as poor spiritually as the material poor are poor materially.
Because every one of us is suffering from brokenness in our foundational relationships, all of us need "poverty alleviation," just in different ways. Our relationship to the materially poor should be one in which we recognize that both of us are broken and that both of us need the blessing of reconciliation. Our perspective should be less about how we are going to fix the materially poor and more about how we can walk together, asking God to fix both of us.
The authors continue:
The goal is to see people restored to being what God created them to be: people who understand that they are created in the image of God with the gifts, abilities, and capacity to make decisions and to effect change in the world around them; and people who steward their lives, communities, resources, and relationships in order to bring glory to God. These things tend to happen in highly relational, process-focused ministries more than in impersonal, product-focused ministries.
The book returns to this goal over and over again. It seems a valuable idea to review this goal before we provide any service or money. The authors remind us that North Americans are product-oriented. We want to see results; we want to see a project started and crossed off the list. Our rush to an end often blinds us to the true end: restoring people to what God created them to be.

The authors discuss systems, mainly in the context of enduring poverty in America's inner cities.
Worldviews affect the systems, and the systems affect the worldviews. (author's italics)
I don't want to start a big debate, but I think it's right to consider that political support for policies that will really help the poor and disenfranchised are important. I struggle with this thought myself and how far I should take it. Sometimes I wonder if insisting on the lowest price possible for an item is just as damaging to the materially poor of this country and around the world as any political policy or law. (Thinking along these lines quickly becomes overwhelming, ranging from the treatment of part-time employees to child labor in the chocolate industry to unsafe conditions for garment workers. I usually end up thinking we shouldn't buy anything at all, but that seems too extreme to really be the right answer.)

A big part of the book discusses the range of work we can do with the materially poor.
A helpful first step in thinking about working with the poor in any context is to discern whether the situation calls for relief, rehabilitation, or development.
Relief is the help we provide in a short term situation or immediate crisis (after an earthquake or when coming upon an injured person); it's things like money, clothing, shelter, and food. Rehabilitation "seeks to restore people and their communities to the positive elements of their precrisis conditions.
"Development" is a process of ongoing change that moves all the people involved--both the "helpers" and the "helped"--closer to being in right relationship with God, self, others, and the rest of creation.
There is a need for relief, even for those who will need it long-term ("the severely disabled; some of the elderly; very young, orphaned children; the mentally ill homeless population"), but right away it's interesting to note that relief is very rarely necessary. Personally and as a church, then, the majority of our resources (time, talent, and treasure) should be devoted to long-term endeavors and working to develop relationships, policies, and institutions that address rehabilitation and development rather than relief.

Then, there are some wonderful chapters that talk about the kind of resources we should devote to rehabilitation and development and the methods by which we should do so. Their arguments are thought-provoking and, I thought, convincing. Among other things, they believe we should not do anything the materially poor can do for themselves; we should require (and encourage) the community to participate in the entire process from design through implementation; and we should carefully consider the culture and traditions of the community. There's much more and I encourage you to read the book.
Remember, the goal is not to produce houses or other material goods but to pursue a process of walking with the materially poor so that they are better stewards of their lives and communities, including their own material needs.
 It's easier to provide relief (food, clothing, money) than development. Many believe handouts are the answer, because they're only looking at the material needs. Also, it's much easier to just give money or things than to build relationships. Finally, (p. 120)
it is easier to get donor money for relief than for development. "We fed a thousand people today" sounds better to donors than "We hung out and developed relationships with a dozen people today."
I spent a lot of time thinking about how our family allocates our charitable donations in response to this book. This particular quote struck me because, we are donors. This book is a challenge, then, for us to be the kind of donors that support the kind of work and organizations that build communities and really give people a path out of poverty.

From what I can tell, CFCA is doing exactly the kind of long-term development work outlined in this book. They strive to build a relationship between sponsors and sponsored families. Families work together to improve their communities, not just with funds from CFCA, but with assets within their own villages. The more I read this book, the more convinced I became that we should be giving more support to CFCA, that the work they are doing around the world is truly good stewardship of time, talent, and treasure that is participating in the work we all should be doing to bring God's kingdom to fruition on earth. Learn more about the Christian Foundation for Children and Aging.

There is also a fascinating chapter on short term missions and how valuable (or not) they are to the missionaries, how harmful they may be to the community, and how to make them as valuable as possible on both sides.

For those that do not have access to the book, you can learn more online at the book's online website, Helping without Hurting, and at The Chalmers Center for Economic Development at Covenant College.

January 2013 Book Reports

Silent Tears: A Journey of Hope in a Chinese Orphanage by Kay Bratt is based on excerpts from a journal the author kept while her family was living in China, mainly focused on her experiences as a volunteer at a Chinese orphanage. I was mainly interested in this book because my cousin adopted an adorable little girl from China a few years ago. From what I've seen elsewhere, her descriptions are accurate (and depressing). Unfortunately, her writing is merely adequate. Also, although she claims to love China, she never shows any great love for the people or culture of China in her writing. Because she lives in an enclave for ex-patriots, her main encounters with China is through the orphanage, which is probably China at its worst. (I don't have any recommendations for other books on orphanages in China, but if you can find a great love for China in the magnificent writings of Pearl S. Buck.) (Kindle edition, borrowed for free from the Kindle Owner's Lending Library)

Chronicle of a Death Foretold by Gabriel Garcia Marquez is the tale of a murder no one prevented. I read it in a day and highly recommend it. (library copy)

The Trees Kneel at Christmas by Maud Hart Lovelace is the story of the two children in a Lebanese family set in Brooklyn in 1950, right in Park Slope, the wonderful neighborhood Kansas Dad and I called home when we lived in New York City. Afify and her brother, Hanna, set out on Christmas Eve to see if the trees kneel just as they do in Lebanon, to honor the Christ child's birth. It's full of wonderful details about life in New York for Lebanese immigrants, a heart-warming tale of faith. I didn't pre-read it in time to share it with the children last Christmas, but we'll read it during Advent next year. (We also didn't get to The Christmas Carol, so we're going to start with that and then read this one.) Do pre-read it as there are references to Mary and the Mass that seemed explicitly Catholic to me. Also there are quite a few adults who smoke, which isn't something we find often in contemporary children's literature. (library copy)

Theories of Childhood: An Introduction to Dewey, Montessori, Erikson, Piaget and Vygotsky by Carol Garhart Mooney is a brief introduction to these five child development theorists and how those theories would impact classroom and educational practices. She either assumes everything they theorize is accurate or doesn't touch on the less accepted ideas. I'd like to read more about Montessori and I consider what I am learning in my Catechesis of the Good Shepherd classes and as I continue to implement and learn about Charlotte Mason's philosophy of education. This was the shortest book at the library on the topic and I found it a nice introduction, useful for childcare providers, early childhood educators, and parents. (library copy)

The Woman Who Died A Lot: A Thursday Next Novel by Jasper Fforde is the newest Thursday Next novel. I just love reading the Thursday Next books for the pure entertainment value. I thought the end of this one was wrapped up a little too quickly after how the plot was sluggish through earlier parts of the book and got the sense that much of the book was merely setting up his next Thursday Next book. That being said, I thought there could be some interesting discussions about the portrayal of religion and the value of human life and family relationships. I wish Kansas Dad could have read it along with me, but he still hasn't had time to read the last Thursday Next book. (Don't let anyone tell you being a college professor is a relaxing job, though I'm sure the four kids don't increase his free time.) (library copy)

A Family of Poems: My Favorite Poetry for Children selected by Caroline Kennedy with fabulous paintings by Jon J. Muth just might be my new favorite book of poetry. For the past few years, I've purchased an anthology for each school year. If I continue the tradition, this will be the choice for next year. I imagine Ms. Kennedy and I would disagree on many things, but her poetry selections are delightful. There are fun selections for the children along with more challenging ones which will only appeal more as the children grow. As the very best collections should, it includes Daddy Fell into the Pond. The illustrations are simply perfect. (library copy)

Our Only May Amelia by Jennifer L. Holm is the first person tale written in the vernacular. It tells the tale of a 12 year old girl living with her large boy-filled family as pioneers in the Pacific Northwest. I suppose it was alright, but I didn't think it was great and was a little disappointed at how her grandmother treated her. (purchased at a library sale, but I think I'll pass it on to someone else)

Adam of the Road by Elizabeth Janet Gray is altogether a different story. The book is set in the last thirteenth century in England. Adam is the young son of a minstrel and loves his life on the open road. On one eventful day, he loses both his dog and his father. Alone, he searches for them. It's a tale full of adventure, friendship, courage, loyalty, wisdom, prudence, and a host of other virtues. It's full of wonderful glimpses of medieval life in the most natural way, as all the best historical fiction is. Highly recommended. I intend to read it to the children even though we're a little bit past this time in our history studies. (purchased copy, and worth every penny)

The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy by Jeanne Birdsall just wasn't very good. It's not terrible, though I don't like how the girls keep secrets from their father. The plot and writing seemed forced. If my kids asked to read it, I'd let them, but I don't intend to give it to them otherwise. (library copy)

The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling is truly delightful and I can't believe I'd never read it before. That's a travesty I don't intend to inflict on my children. I'm going to read it aloud to them soon, hopefully before the end of the school year. We had listened to a wonderful audio version of Rikki-Tikki-Tavi, so my children will recognize that story. (free Kindle edition)

Holding Jesus by Alfred McBride (a review for The Catholic Company)

Books in Progress (and date started)

Friday, February 1, 2013

Quote: The Cloister Walk

Kathleen Norris in The Cloister Walk:
To eat in a monastery refectory is an exercise in humility; daily, one is reminded to put communal necessity before individual preference. While consumer culture speaks only to preferences, treating even whims as needs to be granted (and the sooner the better), monastics sense that this pandering to delusions of self-importance weakens the true self, and diminishes our ability to distinguish desires from needs. It's a price they're not willing to pay.