Monday, September 30, 2013

My Favorite Picture Books: Building Our House

Building Our House by Jonathan Bean

I posted before on another book by Jonathan Bean, At Night, which is still probably my favorite of his books, but this one is a close second and worthy of a Favorite Picture Books post.

In this book, Mr. Bean illustrates for us the building of a home based on the building of his own childhood home. (He provides a few pictures in the back of the real house which delighted Second Daughter, who then knew it was a "real story.")

Kansas Dad would probably love to build a house himself (if he could manage to get a sabbatical from the university). I have doubts about my own sanity during such a process, but I love the idea of it, so I love reading this book with the children and imagining the process. A building site is an eternal source of interest for children. Watching them (in the book) all work together to create a safe and warm retreat for the family is wonderful. It's also charming the way the family grows at the same time the house is growing.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Book Discussion: Chapter 10 of Unconditional Parenting

The quotes in this post are all from the tenth (and last!!) chapter of Unconditional Parenting: Moving from Rewards and Punishments to Love and Reason by Alfie Kohn: The Child's Perspective.
It's important...that we don't spend more energy trying to get kids to be polite and well behaved than on trying to help them become genuinely compassionate and committed to doing the right thing. We need to focus on our children's moral development.
As I've mentioned before, my goal is not to have children who are quiet and respectful at Mass or when they are interacting with others. My goal is to raise children who understand how to love and serve others as Christ wills for them, which should then naturally lead to the former. According to Mr. Kohn, if I spend all my time telling them to be quiet at Mass (for example), they may learn to be quiet at Mass, but not why they should be quiet, or that they should be focusing on the love of God or the great gift of the Eucharist, or the lesson in the Gospel reading, or the joy in worshiping as the Body of Christ with others in our community, or all the other blessings and benefits of Mass.
But shouldn't our goal be for the children to refrain from doing certain things not because we've forbidden them, but just because they're wrong?

Mr. Kohn gives four main recommendations for promoting moral growth, which he says follows closely the unconditional parenting principals outlined in chapter 7. (These are the recommendations as I understood them, not actual quotes.)
  1. Care about your children and make sure they know it. Show your unconditional love, no matter their actions.
  2. Act in a moral way in your own life and be courageous is speaking through difficult ethical decisions with your children, especially as they mature.
  3. Let them practice. Give your children opportunities to behave in moral ways, which of course means giving them the real opportunity to make mistakes and help them in addressing those mistakes.
  4. Talk with them. Take advantage of opportunities in daily life to explain why behavior is acceptable or unacceptable.
Mr. Kohn says:
For parents, there are two basic alternatives to the use of power: love and reason. The ideal is to provide some blend of the two, one drawing from the heart and the other from the head.
He dwells on this point.
To support moral development, our message can't be simply that hitting is bad--or that sharing is good. What counts is helping kids to understand why these things are true. When you don't explain why, the default reason not to hit is that you'll be punished if you do.
By patiently laying out reasons, we accomplish two things at once. First, we let kids know what's important to us and why. Second, we engage their mind, helping them to reflect on--indeed, to wrestle with--moral questions.
You don't have to be a theologian or ethicist to have these discussions with your children. I should know. We have a theologian in the house (who also teaches masters-level ethics courses), but our conversations are not full of complicated arguments, philosophy, or college-level vocabulary. They are conversations about their lives and those of the children in the books we read. (I was reminded of this post by Brandy.) One of the really nice things about having young children, those who will still be in our home for years to come, is that I can leave a conversation incomplete. I can ask, "What do you think about that?" and it's alright if my child is not sure what they think. I don't have to tell them the answer. We can leave it at wondering, because I know the same or a similar situation will come up again. (This lingering does not usually apply to an incident in which said child has done something in appropriate which needs to be immediately addressed.)
If we want them to become moral people, as opposed to people who merely do what they're told, then they have to be given the chance to construct such concepts as fairness or courage for themselves. They have to be able to reinvent them in light of their own experiences and questions, to figure out (with our help) what kind of person one ought to be.
I include the quote above because I think this is a dangerous line. I want my children to discover who they ought to be, but it's a matter of discovering who God wants them to be, not just inventing themselves. It's not clear to me if Mr. Kohn believes one person's idea of "fairness" might be different than another's, but I have a definite idea of "fairness" that I want my children to understand. In our case, therefore, I want them to develop an understanding of "fairness," but to do so toward a virtue as understood by the Church. God has blessed us with a Church that allows great flexibility in how we live virtuous lives, but there are heresies and immorality that cannot be included in a "reinvented" virtue.

Overall, I think this is the book's weakest chapter. When Mr. Kohn tries to place actions in context, he seems to be saying that we judge whether an action is wrong based on how it makes others feel rather than on natural law or the teachings of the Church (of course, because he's not Catholic, or even, I think, Christian). There are some things that are difficult to understand that we are taught by the Church are wrong. There are things God teaches we should not do because he knows what will cause harm to our souls in ways we may not understand. Not to say we should not reason through these kinds of teachings; I'm simply trying to establish that there are actions that are immoral because God, the Bible, or the Church teaches us that they are so even if we don't understand why and even if they don't seem to hurt anyone.

To look only for injury we can perceive when determining the morality of an action, we risk accommodating immoral acts simply because we cannot perceive harm. Thinking only of feelings might lead us astray in our moral development as we seek to ease discomfort or anger by acquiescing in morally inappropriate ways. A friend may be really sad that she doesn't have a doll, but the answer isn't to steal one for her.

I think that's all I want to say about Unconditional Parenting right now. I'm sure it's far more than most people cared to read!

Previous posts on Unconditional Parenting

Thoughts on the Introduction
Discussion of quotes from chapter 1
Discussion of quotes from chapter 2
Discussion of quotes from chapter 3
Discussion of quotes from chapter 4
Discussion of quotes from chapter 5
Discussion of quotes from chapter 6
Discussion of quotes from chapter 7
Discussion of quotes from chapter 8
Discussion of quotes from chapter 9

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Homeschool Review: Poetry in 2012-2013

I know, it's already the new school year, but I have a few odds and ends from last year I'd still like to record on the blog.

I've already written about our memorization last year (First Son's third grade poetry memory work and First Daughter's kindergarten memory work), but in addition to our memory work, we read together from a book of poetry once a week, just to enjoy poetry. Here are the poetry books we used in 2012-2013.

Eric Carle's Animals Animals
is simply a delight. When the book I had planned for beginning our year was unavailable, I turned to this perennial favorite in our home for a few weeks.

The Bill Martin Jr Big Book of Poetry was my initial choice for our school year. When it was already checked out from the library, I looked around a little online and found a used copy at a good price. I could have waited for the library copy, but I do like to buy one nice book of poetry a year for our homeschool and this was a wonderful addition to our home library. The poetry selections delighted all my children (from two to nine) and the illustrations are equally delightful. Many different illustrators contributed to this book and First Son enjoyed guessing the illustrators based on the style. I think Stephen Kellogg is his favorite. There are selections of poems of animals, the world of nature, seasons, people and places, school time, and (of course) Mother Goose. (I also recommend Tomie dePaola's Mother Goose.)

During Advent, we read from Bright Star Shining: Poems for Christmas and The Oxford Treasury of Christmas Poems. These are nice little collections I found at our library. We enjoy some of the poems more than others, so I usually browse through them, reading here and there rather than all the way through.

Off to the Sweet Shores of Africa: And Other Talking Drum Rhymes by Uzo Unobagha, illustrated by Julia Cairns, is a book I picked up at a Scholastic book fair years ago. I'm a little ambivalent about Scholastic as a publisher, but I do love this little book of poetry and so do the children. The illustrations are delightful. There's a helpful glossary at the back with pronunciations for the less well-known words.

My America: A Poetry Atlas of the United States selected by Lee Bennett Hopkins, illustrated by Stephen Alcorn, includes poems selected for each region of the United States (Northeast, District of Columbia, Southeast, Great Lakes, Plains, Mountain States, Southwest, and Pacific Coast). I selected it to complement First Son's study of Kansas and the state abbreviations and capitals. (He did this in third grade because I did it in third grade and for no better reason.) Each region includes brief facts about the states like the capital, motto, state bird, and more, but the real treasure, of course, is the poetry. Not every state has a poem in its name, but the selections include poetry for children that attempt to invoke the geography and aura of the area's states. A variety of forms and meters are included. Many of them are quite wonderful. Never underestimate the attraction of a poem about a state, home, river, or mountain a child knows and loves.

Julie Andrews' Treasury for All Seasons: Poems and Songs to Celebrate the Year selected by Julie Andrews and Emma Walton Hamilton, with paintings by Marjorie Priceman. This book is divided into chapters for each month with a few additions like Birthdays and New Babies. The illustrations are wonderful. My children love looking through the book. But I didn't love all the poetry selections. There was one, Experiment, that encouraging we "take an example from Eve." I hadn't previewed the poems, so I read it aloud to the children and then told them I did not think that was a good idea. So, beautiful pictures, some wonderful poems, but I recommend reviewing them ahead of time.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Homeschool Book Review: The Children's Homer

by Padraic Colum

It's been many years since I read any Homer. This book was an eloquent reminder of Homer's genius. Mater Amabilis recommends this book in Level 2 (Mythology under Literature) though I intend to increase the frequency from once to twice a week near the end of the year so we can finish before the summer. It seemed cruel to leave First Son wondering for a whole summer!

First Son has already been introduced to the Iliad and the Odyssey, most recently in Classic Myths to Read Aloud (reviewed here on the blog), but this book-length retelling is much deeper. I was delighted with the choice of language which includes words like "thee" and "thy," as well as the courage to include some of the conversations that relate more of the culture and beauty of the original than merely the plot.

First Son has read and narrated the first four chapters for me so far this year (in fourth grade) and hasn't seemed to struggle at all with the language or understanding. He does have trouble with the names, so I try to pronounce those as well as I can for him during the narrations. (Ideally, I suppose I'd do so before his reading, but I haven't been that organized.)

I think I could read this aloud to my family, including my girls who are almost seven and five, but they would probably struggle more with the language and following the story. I think it's just right for First Son.

Despite the title, I would also highly recommend this book to any parent or adult that is looking for an introduction to Homer.

I purchased my copy from Sacred Heart Books and Gifts. (I don't receive anything if you follow the link to Sacred Heart; I do receive a small commission if you follow the link to Amazon and make a purchase.)

Saturday, September 21, 2013

The Catholic Company Book Review: Bambinelli Sunday

Bambinelli Sunday: A Christmas Blessing
Written by Amy Welborn
Illustrated by Ann Kissane Engelhart

I was really excited to request this book from The Catholic Company for review. We have used a number of Amy Welborn's books in our homeschool for saint studies and First Communion preparation. Because I read a picture book a day every Advent, I am always seeking out new Christmas books.

In Italy, there is a holiday tradition to bring the baby Jesus from the creche to be blessed by the Pope on the third Sunday of Advent. The story of Alessandro, young and left with his grandparents for an extended stay while his parents work, is told around that tradition. Alessandro is having trouble finding the joy in the season and fitting in with the neighbor children when his grandfather suggests he make his own infant Jesus to take to Rome for the blessing.

I love the descriptions of the tradition of Bambinelli Sunday. The very first pages, when the tradition is described, and the street of Naples filled with shops of Nativity scenes, are quite lovely. The book is at its best when describing how Alessandro shapes and paints his own Jesus. Altogether, though, I was a little disappointed with the book. At one point, Alessandro takes one of his grandfather's figurines to be blessed (after his own is broken), which is stealing. Later he gives the figurine away. While I suppose this is to show us his growth in generosity, I can't set aside the fact that it was not his figurine to give away.

We're supposed to see Alessandro growing in faith and charity, but as he never apologizes for any of his mistakes and is only happy when he gets what he wants, I don't see how the book actually shows that. I'm a little ambivalent about sharing the book with my children. I wouldn't say it's a bad book, but with so many other wonderful Advent and Christmas books, I'm not sure it will end up on my list.

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an objective review. On an unrelated note, I noticed these new Shining Light dolls while I was getting the links for this review. They look adorable. I'd love to give these to our young goddaughters for Christmas! (I don't get anything if you click any link to The Catholic Company.)

This review was written as part of the Catholic book reviewer program from The Catholic Company. Visit The Catholic Company to find more information on Bambinelli Sunday: A Christmas Blessing. The Catholic Company is the best resource for all your seasonal needs such as First Communion gifts as well as ideas and gifts for the special papal Year of Faith

Friday, September 20, 2013

Book Review: Poetic Knowledge

I think I first learned about this book on Brandy's blog about five years ago, but Kansas Dad has been encouraging me to read it for at least a year. Until recently, I knew I didn't have the mental energy to tackle a book like this. During the day there were too many kids and crises and after they went to bed I couldn't think coherently about anything. Then, when I finally did begin to read it, I got horribly bogged down in the second chapter, which is a lot of philosophy. A lot of philosophy. I married a philosopher turned theologian, but I am a microbiologist by training, so I was a bit overwhelmed.

I am every so thankful I persevered through that second chapter, because it was all fascinating after that!

If you haven't read the book, you're probably wondering, "What is poetic knowledge?" (If not, you might want to skip this whole post.)
First of all, poetic knowledge is not necessarily a knowledge of poetry but rather a poetic (a sensory-emotional) experience of reality…Poetic experience indicates an encounter with reality that is nonanalytical, something that is perceived as beautiful, awful (awefull), spontaneous, mysterious. It is true that poetic experience has that same surprise of metaphor found in poetry, but also found in common experience, when the mind, through the senses and emotions, sees in delight, or even in terror, the significance of what is really there. (pp. 5-6)
Poetic knowledge, then, is not something that can be experienced through a book or through a lecture. It is an experience in which a person sees, hears, touches or feels something. I was still thinking about Poetic Knowledge as I was reading Schoolhouse in the Parlor aloud to the children and was struck by this passage in which Bonnie and Debby have been awakened in the middle of the night by their father who takes them outside to see the aurora borealis:
Time and again, over and over, over and over, the vast sky was filled with the rolling and folding of the yellow-green curtains of light, tipped with fieriest red fire, as if a mighty wind were blowing. And below, on the still, snowbound earth stood the Fairchilds, wrapped in blankets, watching, watching. (p. 61)
No one was telling the children what the phenomenon was called, what caused it, how long it had been studied, what the technical terms would be...They were all simply experiencing it, together. For the expert, or the person studying to become a specialist, there's plenty of time to learn all the technicalities, but this first moment is one in which to wonder, to cultivate the curiosity and desire to learn more.

I thought it was interesting when Mr. Taylor spoke of wonder and fear because the first response of both Bonnie and Debby is one of profound fear. One of them even wonders if the world is ending. (She is quickly soothed by her parents.)
Aristotle...recognizes that there is a poetic impulse to know in all men, an experience he calls “wonder,” that initiates all learning…First of all, wonder is an emotion of fear, a fear produced by the consciousness of ignorance, which, because it is man’s natural desire (good) to know, such ignorance is perceived as a kind of abrupt intrusion on the normal state of things, that is, as a kind of evil. Something is seen, heard, felt, and we do not know what it is, or why it is now present to us….the traditional idea of wonder expressed by Aristotle operates within the ordinary, simply “things as they are.” (pp. 24-25; from the infamous second chapter)
I haven't read much philosophy, but I have heard quite a lot about wonder in my course for Catechesis of the Good Shepherd. In The Religious Potential of the Child, of which I have only read bits and pieces, Sofia Cavalletti said:
The nature of wonder is not a force that pushes us passively from behind; it is situated ahead of us and attracts us with irresistible force toward the object of our astonishment; it makes us advance toward it, filled with enchantment. (p. 138)
If I understand any of this correctly, Mr. Taylor and Ms. Cavalletti are both speaking of those moments in our life when we feel our hearts rise within us, when our stomachs drop, when we are startled out of our complacency by amazement and awe. For Bonnie and Debby, it was while shivering in the cold, watching ripples of light in the sky. It could just as easily be stroking the cheek of a newborn child, painting with finger paints, watching a summer thunderstorm, gazing at sunlight reflected on water, seeing a sublime work of art, digging in the dirt, building bridges with sticks and stones across a stream, or stomping in rain puddles.
Poetic experience leading to poetic knowledge is concerned “with bringing men into engagement with what is true. What is important is engagement with reality, not simply the discerning of reality." (p. 73, Mr. Taylor is quoting Andrew Louth from Discerning the Mystery.)
For me as a homeschooling mother, this quote means that we must allow our children to interact with real things. We cannot merely sit inside and read about everything (as much as I might prefer that, and certainly even though it would be easier). We must go outside to learn about nature. We must gaze at the sky to learn about astronomy. We must build with sticks and stones and dirt and sand to learn about engineering. Even more, we must begin with the real things. We must begin with looking at a real tree before children can possibly begin to learn what the parts of a tree are, what the purpose of a tree is, how a tree interacts with its environment, and how a tree is important to our environment. This is not because they could not learn the words to explain those other things, but because they would not be able to place that knowledge in a context with the real world.

Applying this to more traditional education (all those age-segregated classrooms), children should begin studying ecology and biology by going outside and experiencing nature. I think most teachers would welcome that sort of education, but it gets complicated when there are principals and consent forms and bells ringing for the next class and (yes, I'm going to say it) end-of-the-year standardized tests that will be asking only for the vocabulary and not whether children really know what a tree is.

I don't think Mr. Taylor is right about everything. For example, he seems to encourage teaching a child to read merely by reading to him or her. Eventually, the child will learn simply by imitating. I am obviously supportive of reading aloud to children from a variety of books in nearly every kind of situation (skimming through the blog for about five minutes will tell you that much), and I believe choosing the right kind of books is essential to encouraging a love of reading, but I think it's naive to think every child could learn to read with nothing else, let alone learn to read well.

Overall, though, I loved this book. When visiting Boston earlier this year, I discussed home education and public education with two dear friends. I remember talking about the non-profit organization for which I worked, a non-profit that supports career academies in public high schools. This is a good organization working to make the lives of students better, to guide them toward good jobs and maybe even college. I knew that and believed they did good work but I also knew I would not want that education for my own children. I wanted something more, something that, perhaps, is outrageously complicated and practically impossible on the grand scale of public education in our country. The education described in this book is the kind of education I want for them all -- one in which the person of the child is honored and taught to become whoever they are meant to be, without regard for future earnings or the names of the parts of a flower -- and the defense of this kind of education (in the book) is much better than anything I could articulate myself at the time.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Mud, and Lots of It

These pictures are from late July, but I can't resist sharing them even if it was a few months ago.

I love the hand print!

We didn't get a picture of First Daughter as she came in, but she was just as muddy as the younger two.

Needless to say, they all went straight to the bath or shower and their clothes went through the washing machine twice on their own and a third time with other clothes before I thought they were clean enough.

But the kids had a fantastic time. If I'm lucky, they'll remember it for the rest of their lives.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Advent 2012 on the Range

 Now that school is underway, I finally had a chance to gather all my Advent 2012 posts and information in one place for the blog. Perhaps you can find some inspiration here for your own Advent plans for this year.

The kids made Advent rings to count down the days at story hour and I convinced them to leave them up as decorations for the month. They made our kitchen a bit more festive. We won't be going to story hour this year, so perhaps we'll make our own in pink and purple.

I cut back quite a bit on our regular classes during Advent and the Christmas season. Oh, we still do math and spelling and enough to keep us reasonably busy, but I like to give myself a bit of breathing room so I can spend an afternoon making Christmas cookies without yelling at the children the whole time. (Though last year, I didn't get to the cut-out cookies so Kansas Dad made them with the children. They were delicious.)

1. Our Annual Ornament - We made Christmas tree ornaments this year. I've been collecting matchboxes for over a year now, so maybe we'll find something to make this year that will use those.
2. Our Magnet Nativity and Advent wreath - I put the little pieces of this Nativity set in my set of Christmas drawers. Each day the children take turns opening the drawer and putting up the day's magnet. I bought our magnet nativity set years ago at a local Christian bookstore and am afraid it might not be up to the task next year. Every year we seem to lose one or two under the fridge or freezer or somewhere. I'm pretty sure it's this Fontanini Nativity Magnet Advent Calendar, but I know I didn't pay that much. The magnet nativity has been a big favorite around here, so I might need to replace it if we lose too many pieces. I was very happy to use my "new" Advent wreath for a second year.

3. Our Advent Activity Chain Calendar - I purchased this from a friend of mine who bought a bunch and sold them as a fundraiser for a local convent. It's a nice little series of activities, most simple and reasonable for a family of little ones. The year before last year, we had activities I planned in advance and put on a slip of paper in my Christmas drawers. This year (2012) was a good year for me to use a prepared set like this one. I think it was from Autom. It's not on their website anymore, probably because it was designed specifically for Advent 2012.

I think next year, I'd like to do something a little differently. I think I might make a list of activities (bake cookies, drive to a friend's house and sing Christmas carols, drink hot chocolate, and other things). If I planned ahead on days we'd have time for a special activity, they could choose themselves what they'd like to do.

4. Advent Reading

For the second time, thanks to the advice of the Mater Amabilis site, we read through The Life of Mary and The Way to Bethlehem by Inos Biffi, illustrated by Franco Vignazia. I love the illustrations in these books. We read them slowly, spreading them out over all of Advent with only four or six pages a day. As a note to concerned parents, there is a page for the Holy Innocents which always seems a little violent to me. It doesn't seem to bother the children too much, but I never finish a day on one of the sad pages. We've read these the last two years, so in 2013, I'm planning to read Stations of the Nativity with the girls instead. First Son will be reading Stories of the Child Jesus from Many Lands independently (recommended by Mater Amabilis for Level 2).

We also set our regular poetry book aside and read Advent and Christmas poetry instead. I like Bright Star Shining: Poems for Christmas but we've also read from The Oxford Treasury of Christmas Poems. I've recently picked up a few other Christmas anthologies, so I may choose from them in 2013.

I already wrote a post on our family read-alouds for Advent and a few I hope to read next year.

5. Jesse Tree - This year I finally made a Jesse Tree for our family. You can read about it here.

6. Advent Picture Book a Day - As in past years, we read a picture book a day during Advent. I posted earlier about the new books we read and the one we enjoyed the most. This post includes links to all my Advent picture books from past years as well.

7. O Antiphons - As in years past, we used the beautiful O Antiphons created by Jennifer Gregory Miller.

8. Advent Music

For the 2012-2013 school year, I invested in Making Music Praying Twice for my little ones. You can read more about it and my review here. One of the things I loved about having it was the seamless and easy transition to seasonal music. When Advent started, we switched to the new CD and book. Each of the plans for the season included an option for Advent and a Christmas song for Christmas season.

I know some households exclude all Christmas music until Christmas proper, but since we are often traveling then and less likely to spend time quietly listening to music, we still listen to Christmas songs during Advent. However, I decided we'd only listen to Advent music during our school days. I searched high and low on the Internet for lists of Advent songs, as opposed to Christmas ones. A friend introduced me to Spotify and it has been a wonderful addition to our homeschool (though I highly recommend subscribing to avoid commercials which are sometimes horribly inappropriate for children; I don't get anything if you sign up). I searched on Spotify for all the songs on my list and created a playlist for Advent. I think if I know you in real life and you use Spotify, I can share my playlist with you, but here's a list of the songs for anyone to peruse. (These are in alphabetical order by album. It helps to group the Latin hymns and the chants together. I have also removed some duplicates here; if I liked more than one version of the same song, I added it more than once.)

The Angel Gabriel from Heaven Came
The Lips of John
Angel Song
Lo He Comes with Clouds Descending
O Come, O Come, Emmanuel
Lo, How a Rose Ere Blooming
Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence
Savior of the Nations, Come
Advent Suite: Stand Still and Wait / Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus
On Jordan's Bank
A Child Shall Lead
Benedictus qui venit
Promised Messiah
The Seven Joys of Mary
Maria Walks Amid the Thorn
O Christmas Tree
O Come All Ye Faithful
Comfort, Comfort
Rorate coeli
O Come, Divine Messiah
Dominica primus Adventus ad Vesperas
Rorare Coeli De Super
Offertorium: Ave Maria
Communio: Gloriosa Dicta Sunt
Marianische Antiphon Im Advent: Alma Redemptoris
Introitus: Gaudete
Agnus Dei
O Sapientia
O Adonai
O Radix Jesse
O Clavis David
O Oriens
O Rex Gentium
O Emmanuel
Hymnus: Creator Alme Siderum
Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence
Veni Veni Emmanuel
In the Stillness
On Jordan's Bank
Plainchant: Ave Maria
Cornysh: Ave Maria, mater Dei
Taverner: Magnificat
Monteverdi: Stabat virgo Maria
Monteverdi: Maria, quid ploras
Titov: The angel cried out
Victoria: Regina caeli laetare
Victoria: Alma Redemptoris Mater
Anon: Plainchant: Ave maria stella
Titov: O thou joy of all the sorrowful
Palestrina: Ave regina caelorum
Josquin: Ave Maria a 6
Desprez: Salve Regina
Holy Is His Name
People, Look East
Venez, Divin Messie / O Come Divine Messiah
Coventry Carol / O Come, O Come Emmanuel
The People that Walked in Darkness
Gabriel's Message
A Virgin Unspotted
Savior of the Nations, Come

Often, as I searched for titles, I would add whole albums and then thin the songs we did not enjoy or that were not specifically for Advent. If you know of other songs, please let me know, because I intend to use the same playlist next year and can add to it.

9. Feast Days - Of course, we celebrated many of the December and Christmas feast days. Our children love St. Nicholas's feast day. I bought one of the St. Nicholas cookie cutters last year and used them to make really big cookies the girls decorated with some of their friends. We also celebrate the feast of the Immaculate Conception, First Son's birthday, the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe (enchiladas, of course), the feast of St. Lucy (I think we had cinnamon rolls), Kansas Dad's birthday, First Son's baptismal anniversary, Mary the Mother of God, and Epiphany. (I like to give the children each a small faith-related gift on Epiphany, usually a book or CD.) That's not counting Christmas!

You can find everything I've posted related to Advent and Christmas with the "Advent and Christmas" label. I also have a Pinterest board where you can see whatever has peaked my interest online.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Book Review: Fairchild Family Series

Fairchild Family Series by Rebecca Caudill

Two years ago, I read the first book in this series,  Happy Little Family, to the children. I had never read it before myself, but found it listed under optional extra reading on the Prep level Mater Amabilis page. Our library didn't have a copy so I bought one used on Amazon (sight-unseen, which is pretty unusual for me). It is the delightful tale of the five Fairchild children living in early 1900s Kentucky, told mainly from the point of view of the youngest child, Bonnie. One of my very favorite quotes is on the blog here.

Based on how well we enjoyed that book, I took advantage of a publisher's sale and bought the other three. I've just finished reading the last book aloud to the children and could not have asked for a better series to read with children.

In Schoolhouse in the Woods follows Bonnie through a year of school in the small school for the local families. Debby and Bonnie spend on summer going Up and Down the River (the third book), trying to make a little money but instead renewing friendships and gathering a collection of animals. When we went to the State Fair this year, the children all wanted to go to the poultry barn to see the bantam chickens, just like the ones Bonnie and Debby received. In the last book, big sister Althy teaches the rest of the children in their own little school (Schoolroom in the Parlor).

There are not many exciting adventures or trials to suffer; just natural every-day life. The children work, play, and learn together through the years. The illustrations by the author are just as lovely as the text.

These are perfect for reading aloud to all ages. I would have expected the young girls to like it best, but First Son in fourth grade enjoyed it just as much. It's hard for me to tell how difficult the reading level is, but I would guess it's close to that of the Little House books. I think First Daughter might be able to read it slowly and with help now, in first grade.

This series is easily among the best homeschool book purchases I have made and they'd be just as good for a non-homeschooling family.

I did not receive anything in exchange for this blog post. I bought the first book in the series used on Amazon. I purchased the remaining three from Bethlehem Books. They often have sales for 30-50% off their books, though sometimes the titles are limited. I highly recommend liking them on facebook or getting on their email list. I receive a small commission for purchases at Amazon through my links, but nothing for purchases directly from Bethlehem Books.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Fifteen Years with Kansas Dad, the Kansas Years

I’m reminiscing this week in honor of our anniversary. Read the first post here and the second post here.

I remember when my engagement ring broke and I lost my diamond. Kansas Dad had taken First Daughter, still an infant, to pick up First Son from his day care while I exercised, one of the first times since she was born. When I finished, I realized my diamond was missing and frantically searched the carpet between the couch and the television. I was in tears when he arrived home and then cried even more when I found my diamond, safely buckled into the car seat under First Daughter’s bum.

Somehow, we managed to both need to go to New York City the same week, him for the defense of his doctoral thesis and me for a business trip. We couldn’t manage to both be gone for any of it, so Kansas Dad flew there first while I stayed home with the two kids (and pregnant with Second Daughter) and we celebrated the successful defense over the phone (yay!). Then our planes passed each other somewhere in the sky as I flew to New York and he flew home. It might still be the longest we’ve been apart since we married (though perhaps my trip to Boston this summer surpassed it). First Daughter, who was nineteen months old, had to be picked up at day care one day while I was away and Kansas Dad needed to teach class. So he took her along. She wrote on the wall with dry-erase marker and delighted the students.

The first time we saw our first house, Kansas Dad was on crutches after a dislocated ankle and I was nine months pregnant. It was so muddy, our van almost got stuck in the driveway. We hobbled and limped around trailed by First Son and First Daughter who declared we should buy the house because it had a slide. I’m not sure how much the slide figured into it, but we did buy the house. This house has given us warmth and shelter for five years now and placed us within the best parish we have every known.

The year after Second Son was born was a difficult one. The children were all so young and I felt keenly my defects as a mother each day. Then one day while frantically dumping out a bag to pack the diaper bag for a visit to the pediatrician, anxious about being late and disorganized, I saw drop onto the bed the watch Kansas Dad had given me for my birthday a few months after we’d started dating, the watch that had been missing for years. I loved that watch; I remembered watching the sunset from my parents’ porch swing the night he gave it to me and what a perfect gift I thought it was. When that watch fell out of the bag, I almost believed an angel had found it for me and tucked it in there earlier in the morning so I’d find it and remember all over again what a wonderful life I had.

We’ve had one real tornado scare in our home. Oh, we’d gone to the storm shelter before but it was more a precaution than that we were worried a tornado would really come close. This time was different. We’d watched the storms for hours after the children went to bed and eventually realized we were really and truly in the path. I gathered up laptops and external hard drives and shoes for the kids and carried two bags out before we woke the kids. We dragged everyone through the storm and then watched YouTube videos (until we lost our Internet) while huddled in the dark, damp from our run through the storm. Second Son was so unhappy and shared his unhappiness with the other kids, groggy with sleep. It wasn’t a particularly fun night, but I felt so safe and protected in the storm shelter, surrounded by the most important people in my life.

Just a few weeks ago, we organized three different vacations in four locations for our family of six so Kansas Dad and I could spend a few days relaxing with each other in peace and quiet. Through the generosity of his parents, my parents, my brother and his wife, and his brother and his wife, we had a delightful anniversary trip (a little early). We went to the Illinois State Fair, where Kansas Dad examined every chicken and duck in the poultry barn. We ate our meals outside on the deck, walked through the woods, and played Agricola when it rained.

Everything in my life is better with Kansas Dad at my side and I look forward joyfully to all the years in our future.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Fifteen Years with Kansas Dad, the New York Years

I’m reminiscing this week in honor of our anniversary. Read the first post here.

Our first Thanksgiving in New York is one of my favorite Thanksgivings. My family all came to visit. Our little apartment was crowded with people I loved. My dear friend J and her boyfriend (now husband), S, came for the meal. S saved Thanksgiving by catching the turkey with his bare hands while Kansas Dad was turning it.

I remember the Easter Vigil when Kansas Dad joined the Church. I’d only been to one Vigil before, the one when my father joined and I was very young, so it all seemed new to me. The church glowed with light and I was incredibly happy to be Catholic.

I have so many wonderful memories of our time in New York: eating cannoli in our Bronx neighborhood, walking through Union Square Park, wandering Prospect Park in Brooklyn, the Indian restaurant we frequented in Park Slope, the night we went to the opera (one of the few times we enjoyed the “culture” in New York without a guest or two to justify the expense), and, perhaps my favorite of all, riding the Staten Island ferry there and back. It was such a treat to stand with you on the deck and watch Lady Liberty and the New York skyline drift by.

The summer before First Son was born, just before our fifth anniversary, we vacationed for two weeks in Italy and France. I had never been. It was delightful: gelato, bisteca florintine, St. Peter’s and the Scavi, all the museums and art I’d only seen in books, and that gem of a museum in Lyon on printing where Kansas Dad had to read the signs to me because I didn’t know French. We bought a rosary at the Vatican gift shop, carefully selected for the baby to be born in a few months.

I remember when First Son was born. Exhausted, I looked at Kansas Dad as he choked out, “It’s a boy! We have a son!” There were tears in his eyes and for a brief moment, the lights and noise and movement in the room around us faded and I could see only him. I loved him almost unbearably in the moment. The memories of the births of each of our children are dear to me, but this first was one of the most powerful moments of my life.

I remember watching Kansas Dad carry First Son around our tiny Brooklyn apartment when he was just a few days old. He was swaddled tightly and he was crooning into his ear, reading some theology textbook aloud to him, studying and soothing at the same time. I could never have known how wonderful a father he would be when we married, but I thanked God for my whole life then.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The Catholic Company Book Review: The Catholic Prayer Book

The Catholic Prayer Book
Compiled by Msgr. Michael Buckley; Edited by Tony Castle

This is a wonderful little prayer book. The cover feels nice and the pages are light-weight but not too delicate.

Included are many well-known prayers, prayers from the Roman Missal, and a few select modern prayers the editors believe will stand the test of time. The prayers are organized in sections: prayers to the Holy Trinity, prayers regarding the sacraments, daily prayers, family prayers, prayers for special needs, prayer to Mary (including the Rosary), prayers to angels and saints, and prayers for the Holy Souls.

I haven't read every prayer in the book. After all, it's meant to be used over a lifetime, not read in a few weeks.
The manner in which each person uses The Catholic Prayer Book will be unique as he or she grows in the life of the Spirit. That the reader will come to love and treasure this book as an instrument that leads to a fuller life with God: This is its function and my prayer for you. (Micheal Buckley)
I have flipped through every section, finding many prayers I recognize and new ones as well. There were quite a few in the section on family prayers I think we'll incorporate into our morning or evening prayers over the years, as the children grow. I do wish it had a prayer or a blessing for the anniversary of a baptism, but that was the only thing I sought that I did not find.

There are some Christian prayers that are not specifically Catholic.
The Church is spiritually one. In this it reflects the unity of the Trinity. But we live, in fact, in a fragmented Church and world. We believe that the Spirit pours out his gifts on all those in the Church who confess Jesus as Lord to the glory of the Father. The Catholic Prayer Book, therefore, in acknowledging this diversity of spiritual gifts of the Spirit to all members of Christ's Church, incorporates in its pages many prayers of Christian denominations other than Catholic.
The brief section, "How to Use this Prayer Book," contains some succinct advice for anyone wondering how to pray.
Prayer is not a matter of talking a great deal but of loving a great deal. It is thinking about God while loving him and loving him while thinking about him. Silence, for the Christian, is not just the absence of speech but the stillness of soul in which our true self is united with its Creator and Father. We become silent in awe and wonder, as we contemplate God within us. It is an experience too rich and sensitive for words.
This is the perfect prayer book to pack for a trip, to take to Adoration, for someone with a tiny apartment (or dorm room), and especially for someone who will be somewhere without access to the Internet because it lists so many important and common Catholic prayers. It is worthy of gift-giving for important occasions like confirmations and graduations.

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

This review was written as part of the Catholic book reviewer program from The Catholic Company. Visit The Catholic Company to find more information on The Catholic Prayer Book. The Catholic Company is the best resource for all your seasonal needs such as First Communion gifts as well as ideas and gifts for the special papal Year of Faith.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Fifteen Years with Kansas Dad, the Early Years

This week, Kansas Dad and I will celebrate our fifteenth anniversary. Over the past few months, I’ve been thinking a lot about our time together and have enjoyed reminiscing about the experiences we’ve had so far. In the next three posts, I’m going to share fifteen memories (with some flexibility). These are not necessarily the most important moments of our life together or the most meaningful. Rather, they are the moments I remember thinking, “This is my life and it is a good one. How blessed I am!”

Oh, our honeymoon! We needed a new one a few days before the wedding and ended up in California with a rental car but no place to stay. We wandered north and south of San Francisco, even staying with Kansas Dad’s aunt and uncle for a few nights, but it was wonderful I remember one day, leaning against the railing at a lighthouse. We had been hoping to spot some whales, but the drizzle and fog obscured everything. I remember the smell of the sea and the feel of the mist and raindrops on my face…and my husband at my side.

We got a cat shortly after we were married because I wanted one and was devastated when Kansas Dad turned out to be allergic. Then, being prepared for a pet, we felt bereft and decided impulsively to get a dog, a beagle. We drove three hours to pick him up. He was fat and dirty, but we’d driven so far we took him home. The very first day, he ate part of the entertainment center, chewed through the television’s cord, pulled down all of my dresses and rolled on them (requiring a hefty dry cleaning bill). It was only the first of many stories about “Things Sherlock Ate or Otherwise Destroyed,” but he was a good dog.

Just before our first anniversary, I started a new job and came home in the middle of the first day feeling ill. Eventually diagnosed with pneumonia, I missed the rest of the week and we debated canceling our anniversary trip to Maine, but drove up anyway. We stayed in one room of a huge house along the coast, sharing a bathroom. One day, we visited a near-by state park where I dozed on the beach while he walked the dunes. It was peaceful and calm and I felt like a convalescent on the coast of an English novel.

Was it our second anniversary when we stayed in Plymouth? Kansas Dad surprised me with a whale-watching cruise. The camera was broken, so we have only the memories of that amazing trip, when we saw every kind of marine wildlife possible. Remember how the humpback and her calf appeared so close to the side of the boat that we rocked a bit? The guide warned us any other whale-watching cruise would be a disappointment after that one, but I still hope to one day take the children on one.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

August 2013 Book Reports

Lorna Doone by Richard Blackmore is a very long book, but I enjoyed the voice of the narrator immensely. (read from both a library copy and the free Kindle edition)

The Last Dragonslayer by Jasper Fforde is a new series by one of my favorite authors written for young adults. It's not a difficult read. First Son may even be able to read it now, but the jokes would be most enjoyable for someone who understands a little about commercialism and advertising. (library copy)

Breathe by Sarah Crossan is the first of a planned trilogy exploring a dystopian world in which a corporation "saved" humanity by providing an enclosed city of air to breathe when the world's trees are decimated and the oxygen level drops too low outside of the bubble. The premise is a little far-fetched, but the idea of commercializing something everyone should have as a right is a good one to discuss with young adults (the audience for the series), as is the inevitable class distinctions that arise in such a situation. I inted to read the rest of the series for my own enjoyment. My kids wouldn't be old enough for these books for a while. (library copy)

Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool is the story of Abilene, a young girl sent to live in Manifest, KS, during the Great Depression by her father who is struggling to make a living. While there, an unusual neighbor begins to tell her the tale of the town during World War I that eventually draws together all of the people she loves. It's a wonderful book to use with children when studying the Great Depression or World War I or just because you want to read a great book set in Kansas written by a Kansas author. First Son will definitely read this book, though I'm not sure if I'll assign it next year as independent reading (fifth grade) or if I'll assign it sometime when it fits with our history studies. (library copy)

The Wretched of Muirwood by Jeff Wheeler is, I believe, the first of a trilogy. It's written for young adults and I downloaded it to my Kindle to read on vacation. I wanted something light and fun and this fit the bill. If you want to share it with your children, pre-read it first, as there are lots of quotes from non-Christians presented in a way that might be confusing. Personally, I think this presents a great opportunity to talk with our young adults about the bits and pieces of the Truth they'll find in other religions that are nevertheless incomplete. (borrowed for free from the Kindle Owners' Lending Library)

The Tempest (Shakespeare Made Easy) by William Shakespeare is the first play we'll be studying this year in fourth grade. I wanted to read it myself in preparation. I think I read it before, in eighth grade, but I didn't remember much of it. I'd forgotten how much fun it is to read Shakespeare. I didn't read all of the "modern version," only in the parts when I wanted to check my understanding. It seemed like a good basic explanation. First Son will not be reading this version. We'll be reading Lamb and Nesbit and some excerpts of the original. (purchased copy from Sacred Heart Books and Gifts)

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe explores the changes within an African community when Europeans arrive, centered on the story of a warrior whose entire life was built around the way the world was without the means to adjust. It's powerful, thought-provoking, and wonderfully written. (library copy)

St. Dominic and the Rosary by Catherine Beebe is one of the Vision Books. It's a nice biography of St. Dominic for young readers. I was particularly pleased with the relatively balanced presentation of the Inquisition. First Son selected this book for his independent reading in fourth grade when I gave him the choice of any of the Vision Books available at Sacred Heart. He's reading it now and enjoying it. I do not ask him to narrate from his independent reading, though sometimes we discuss it. (purchased copy from Sacred Heart Books and Gifts)

Matched, Crossed, and Reached by Ally Condie are the three books of a trilogy that explores a dystopian world in which the government makes all the choices - what to eat, what to learn, and even who to marry. It's written for young adults and I think could be the start of a great discussion on choice and safety. Do we lose anything if a committee chooses One Hundred Poems for everyone to learn and study, destroying the remainder? Would it be better to use an algorithm to choose spouses? As in the Hunger Games trilogy, revolutionary forces are not the ideal answer. These books are primarily a love story and though only kisses are exchanged, it's best to pre-read. (library copies)

Books in Progress (and date started)

Friday, September 6, 2013

My Favorite Picture Books: Bear Snores On

Bear Snores On by Karma Wilson, illustrated by Jane Chapman

A gathering of small animals in the bear's cave seems like a dangerous place to have a party. When the bear awakes, there's always a moment when a young child fears the worst but is quickly soothed by the next page.

There are quite a few bear books now, but this one is my absolute favorite. I still enjoy reading it aloud.
An itty-bitty mouse,
pitter-pat, tip-toe,
creep-crawls in the cave
from the fluff-cold snow.
This book is educational, too. When listening recently to On the Banks of Plum Creek, Second Daughter recognized the badger that blocks Laura's path to the swimming hole just from the illustrations in these books.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

First Day of School

About two weeks ago, we started our school year. It's going incredibly well. So far, First Son and I both love fourth grade.
First Son - fourth grade
First Daughter - first grade
Second Daughter - kindergarten, or last year of preschool (depending on how the year goes)
Second Son - 3 years old and ready for Trouble
Our first day started with prayer, followed immediately by a visit to the orthodontist where First Son received his braces.

Two hours into the school year - First Son with braces!
Then, because it seemed a waste to go home and read some books, we went out to lunch and then to the zoo. It was the first time I'd taken the children out to eat all by myself. I was a little stressed, but overall it went just fine.

Group picture for the first day of school
No first day of school out and about would be complete without frozen yogurt, so we stopped for some (with all the toppings) on the way home!

Here's to a great year!