Monday, November 30, 2015

First Son's Favorite Book: What If?

What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions by Randall Munroe

I've been thinking about First Son's birthday post. (He'll soon be twelve.) I realized I have never written on the blog about his favorite book of the year. In What If?, the author devises thought experiments that nearly always end in the destruction of the earth and often the universe. First Son was first drawn in by the hilarious illustrations, but soon was reading the text in depth once, twice, three times, and finally enough times to memorize portions of it. We've checked it out so often from the library, I think we had it more than half the year.

First Son selected the chapter on whether you could light up the moon as much as the sun by shining lasers on it from earth as the basis for a speech to his friends. Despite excessive giggling (from the speech teacher's prospective), he conveyed the chapter to his friends well enough for them to understand it. They enjoyed it as much as he did!

I've already recommended this book to a few friends for their sixth and seventh grade boys, but Kansas Dad is the one who originally picked this book out at the library. He shared it with First Son only after reading it himself.

Star Wars, dinosaurs, space flight, baseball, ridiculous cartoons, nuclear power plants: It's all here. I'll never think of this book without remembering First Son giggling so hard he can barely read it out loud to us. Shhh...we bought Thing Explainer: Complicated Stuff in Simple Words for his birthday, though it's hard to believe he'll like it more than What If?.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Challenges and Encouragement: The Education of Catholic Girls

The Education of Catholic Girls by Janet Erskine Stuart

Originally written in 1912 (with an imprimatur), this book speaks to the educators and parents of Catholic girls, though much of the content applies to all Christian students, male and female. There are chapters on religion and character, Catholic philosophy, lessons and play, mathematics, natural science, English, modern languages, history, art, manners, and higher education of women.

The sections focused on mathematics and science are the ones most likely to seem outrageous to modern readers. As a woman with a degree in cell biology and genetics, I believe the author's discouragement of women and girls studying such subjects is incorrect. Men and women all contribute to the glory of God and many women may do so in math, science, and engineering. Yet finding a balance between the blessings of intellectual abilities and what it means to be a woman, how that might shape our families and our lives (because there are differences between men and women), is a challenging struggle. One of the most important reasons she presents for her hesitation in young women pursuing higher education is that "an atmosphere for the higher education of girls has not yet been created in the universities." I believe universities still lack such an atmosphere. Many women who successfully maneuver through sciences do so by bravely sacrificing their respectability as scientists to serve their families or reluctantly sacrifice service to their families (or a family at all) in order to compete in what is still a field dominated by men and a set of expectations nearly unchanged since the publication of this book.

Let us admit the author is incorrect in some of her assumptions regarding the intellectual capabilities of girls and continue reading regardless.

The early chapters focused on faith, specifically the Catholic faith. Many faith-filled and well-meaning materials for children are, in fact, childish. Mother Janet rejects simplifications. (I think Charlotte Mason would agree.)
The best security is to have nothing to unlearn, to know that what one knows is a very small part of what can be known, but that as far as it goes it is true and genuine, and cannot be outgrown, that it will stand both the wear of time and the test of growing power of thought, and that those who have taught these beliefs will never have to retract or be ashamed of them, or own that they were passed off, though inadequate, upon the minds of children.
For this reason, I love the Faith and Life books for catechism for our homeschool. They are not exciting and lack a story or narrative (other than the narrative of creation), but they are clear and precise at every level. There are no simplifications or glossings in even the earliest books that must be clarified later on.
The habit of work is another necessity in any life worth living, and this is only learnt by refraining again and again from what is pleasant for the sake of what is precious.
Another aspect of this book was the encouragement to develop our own characters, knowing that as educators our very persons and daily actions are more important than any "subject" we teach.
We labour to produce character, we must have it. We look for courage and uprightness, we must bring them with us. We want honest work, we have to give proof of it ourselves.
I declared this year the Year of Nature Study in our homeschool and therefore took careful notice of the sections on nature study. Week after week, we go out for a nature walk and week after week, I am doubtful we have learned anything of value. Perhaps we have...
The object of informal nature study is to put children directly in touch with the beautiful and wonderful things which are within their reach. Its lesson-book is everywhere, its time is every time, its spirit is wonder and delight.
Our walks are certainly "informal." A friend and I have a small co-op for nature study, among other things. I commented to her our nature walks are more Last Child in the Woods than Handbook of Nature Study, but at least we're there.
How little we should know if we only admitted first-hand knowledge, but the stories of wonder from those who have seen urge us on to see for ourselves; and so we swing backwards and forwards, from the world outside to the books, to find out more, from the books to the world outside to see for ourselves.
Repeatedly this year we have read something and then encountered something similar or related in our nature walks. Rivers and Oceans (which is outrageously expensive so use this link instead) and Rocks, Rivers and the Changing Earth come to mind.
One must know the whole round of the year in the country to catch the spirit of any season and perceive whence it comes and whither it goes.
We have also been visiting a few of the same places to acquaint ourselves with them through all the seasons.
The outcome of these considerations is that the love of nature is a great source of happiness for children, happiness of the best kind in taking possession of a world that seems to be in many ways designed especially for them. It brings their minds to a place where many ways meet; to the confines of science, for they want to know the reasons of things; to the confines of art, for what they can understand they will strive to interpret and express; to the confines of worship, for a child's soul, hushed in wonder, is very near to God.
The author's thoughts on recitation and memorization struck me as well. I wrote about our own poetry memorization years ago, and have continued to ponder its worth. Mother Janet believed there is a value to recited poetry aloud (even when not memorized) because the sound of his or her own voice saying beautiful words outside his or her normal vocabulary expands the student's repertoire. In her experience, recitation leads to a desire for memorization. Memorization then leads to a love of reading and the formation of a literary taste. She cautions, however, to choose pieces wisely.
But it is a matter of importance to choose recitations so that nothing should be learnt which must be thrown away, nothing which is not worth remembering for life. It is a pity to make children acquire what they will soon despise when they might learn something that they will grow up to and prize as long as they live.
Reading aloud is eloquently supported.
Their first acquaintance with beautiful things is best established by reading aloud to them, and this need not be limited entirely to what they can understand at the time. Even if we read something that is beyond them, they have listened to the cadences, they have heard the song without the words, the words will come to them later.
A final quote:
A "finished education" is an illusion or else a lasting disappointment; the very word implies a condition of mind which is opposed to any further development, a condition of self-satisfaction.
Overall, I felt challenged and encouraged as an educator, of boys and girls, by reading this book.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Our Own Family's 2015 Advent Chain

Earlier this month, I shared an easy Advent activity chain for young families. I created that one with the families of my Catechesis of the Good Shepherd class in mind - simple, light-filled activities for those with 3-5 year old children. I wanted to create something a little different for my own family, partly because my children usually make the chains for the younger families and I wanted a few surprised, but also because they are eager for a bit more depth this Advent. (My oldest will turn twelve during Advent this year.)

Advent should include Scripture, which could be added to the activity chain, but we already have a Jesse Tree.

Advent should include the music of the season, but we already have a Spotify playlist of Advent music. (You can read about our playlist here, but if you want something very simple, choose the lovely Advent at Ephesus.)

Advent should include small sacrifices, but I've decided to try preparing a manger as suggested at Like Mother, Like Daughter. If there's one thing we have a lot of in Kansas in November, it's dried grass.

So our family activity chain includes prayer (the joyful mysteries and some specific pray intentions), decorating for the season of Advent (we'll switch the Christmas decorations around Christmas Day, however it fits our schedule), the feasts of the season (often the same as on the previous activity chain), and listening to some Advent stories. You can find The Juggler of Our Lady free many places line. One is here. He's Coming! is a CD by the Altar Gang.

Here's the link to the Excel file in Google docs, if you're interested.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Second Daughter's First Copywork Sentence

"Beatrix Potter was born in London."

Proof she can write a whole sentence.

Divide What You Have and Be Thankful for the Opportunity to Share: Don Camillo and His Flock

Don Camillo and His Flock by Giovanni Guareschi, translated by Frances Frenaye

This is the second book in English full of stories surrounding the huge Italian parish priest, Don Camillo. I wrote about the first book, The Little World of Don Camillo, here.

The stories in this book reveal Don Camillo's great love for the people of his village: a boy he rushes by motorcade to a hospital in the big city, a girl he protects from careless relatives, a boy he rescues from a dreary and suffocating life in a city school (to name a few). He is not afraid to be the loud and lonely voice of reason. Not that he is always in the right. Christ speaks still from his cross to remind Don Camillo of his failings.
"Christian charity doesn't mean giving the crumbs from your table to the poor; it means dividing with them something that you need yourself. When Saint Martin divided his cloak with a beggar, that was Christian charity. And even when you share your last crust of bread with a beggar, you mustn't act as if you were throwing a bone to a dog. You must give humbly and thank him for allowing you to have a part in his hunger. Today you simply played the part of an altruist and the crumbs you distributed were from someone else's table, not your own. You had no merit. And instead of being humble, you had poison in your heart."
Profound words for today's world.

Monday, November 23, 2015

For the Man (or Woman) who Appreciates a Good Drink: Drinking with the Saints

Drinking with the Saints: The Sinner's Guide to a Holy Happy Hour by Micheal P. Foley

I saw this book online somewhere just after it was published last May and sent a link to Kansas Dad with a note that perhaps we should buy it. He wrote back that he was only disappointed he hadn't written it. A few months later, I used some of the Amazon commissions I earned from the blog (thank you!) to buy it for him for Father's Day. Since then we've had lots of fun perusing it. We've made a few of the drinks, but I'm afraid we have gotten a little enamored with the sangria recipe and have therefore made it on more than its share of occasions. Our dinner parties are not elaborate affairs (kids eat at the table and grown-ups tend to stand in our kitchen because we don't have enough chairs), but we do like to serve tasty drinks.

The book is ordered by feast day with entries for major feasts, or just good excuses to fill a glass. The last section contains entries for the liturgical year (Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Pre-Lent, Pentecost, and even, believe it or not, a section on Lent). Some of the recommendations are as simple as a kind of wine. Others are recipes for mixed drinks. For example, for the feast of St. Kateri Tekakwitha (on July 14th), there is a recipe for a Turtle because she was from the Turtle Clan of the Mohawks (Canadian whiskey and Benedictine) or a White Lily (Cointreau, Daiquiri rum, gin, absinthe). The author includes information on the feast day or the saint as well as suggested toasts, all entertaining enough to be an enjoyable read even for someone who isn't likely to mix any drinks.

Sometimes it's hard to find just the right gift. This book could be the perfect gift for a Catholic family who likes to entertain (perhaps as a hostess gift). If you have some extra spending money, pair it with some alcohol or an interesting set of glasses. I think if you scroll through this post about the book over at Like Mother, Like Daughter, you'll find a suggestion for a newlywed couple as well. It really seems to be just the right combination of joyful and useful.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Spiders and Eggsacks and Frogs, Oh My!

We had a terrarium of pillbugs. Then they died and it sat empty on the counter for a few days when Kansas Dad thought, "Let's catch a spider." So he did. Second Daughter cried at first, weeping for the bugs it would have to eat. The next day, she decided she loved it and it was her spider because Daddy caught it on her birthday.

So we had a rabid wolf spider, soon in a habitat furnished with dessicated carcasses of crickets and grasshoppers.

Despite her initial hesitation, she wept for a day when we discovered he had died a few weeks later. First Son promised to catch her another, and did! He found this one outside. The kids were certain it was getting bigger and sure enough, she appeared one morning with a large egg sack.

 Mom was not nearly as excited as the children. We watched her carry it around for a few weeks before Kansas Dad caught a replacement, so we let Mama Spider loose in the yard with her egg sack before anything hatched out of it. (Now you have solid proof I am not the perfect homeschooling mom because I did not allow my children to observe hundreds of wolf spiders hatching on my kitchen counter.)

We have since switched to a new spider. Apparently, we are going to just keep rotating through all the spiders that invade our house. I told the kids they should start a guidebook of Range spiders with drawings and notes but so far none have taken on the project. With winter approaching, we may need a spider break due to lack of a food source. (I am not purchasing food for a spider we would have squished a few months ago.)

Just because it's cute, here's a picture of a tiny frog Kansas Dad found outside over the summer. The pictures you find on the computer months later...

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Oh Where Is My Hairbrush?

The Wet Brush Detangling Shower Brush is one of my favorite things, but it's also one of my daughters' favorite things. This brush is amazing. My sister-in-law introduced me to one last year and I bought one immediately with some Christmas money. Seriously miraculous. You know, when I can find it. I spend a shockingly large amount of time wandering the house singing this song.

I'm thinking St. Nicholas needs to bring a couple more of these to our house on his feast day. I notice it comes in a two pack that would be just perfect...

Amazon affiliate links above.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

A Catholic Activity Chain for Advent 2015

Advent begins on November 29th. If you spend much time online, you've probably already seen lots of crafts and activities families are planning. Hopefully you're not feeling overwhelmed!

For the past few years, we've made Advent chains with activities for each day. You can see some pictures of the chain on this post from 2013. I've made an updated list of activities for 2015. As before, it's designed to be simple for a family with young children and very little preparation. I often print extra copies to share with other families. My kids cut all the strips and activities out and attach the activities to the strips with some double-sided tape or a glue-stick. I include a little paragraph to explain how to put the chain together:

Find the strip for December 24th. Tape or staple it into a loop. Find the strip with the next date on it (December 23rd) and run it through the loop you just made. Tape or staple it. Continue with all of the strips until you reach November 30th. You’ll end up with a chain of loops – one for each day of Advent. Each day, tear off the strip on the end for the day’s date and do the activity together. 
If you aren't Catholic, you may want to modify a few of the activities before printing it out.

I've uploaded an Excel file of the 2015 Advent Activity Chain to Google docs. You should be able to view or download it here.

May you have a blessed Advent!

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

October 2015 Book Reports

Consider This: Charlotte Mason and the Classical Tradition by Karen Glass - Read my review. (library copy)

Little Men: Life At Plumfield with Jo's Boys by Louisa May Alcott was a pre-read for First Son, who will read this book independently this year (sixth grade). It's a sweet little book, but I was disapointed to find it more didactic (and therefore less enjoyable) than I remembered from my youth. Now I'm a little leary of reading Little Women again lest it fail to live up to its memory. (A Little Princess and The Secret Garden both seemed even better than I remembered, so at least I have them.) (library copy)

The Little World of Don Camillo by Giovanni Guareschi, translated by Una Vincenzo Troubridge - Read my review. (library copy)

The Story of the Amulet by E. Nesbit is the third and last book in the trilogy begun by Five Children and It. We found it a satisfying end to the tale. (listened to this recording on Librivox)

Turkey for Christmas by Marguerite De Angeli is a quiet sweet story of the little sacrifices we make for those we love, especially at Christmas. I've added it to our rotation of family read alouds for Advent and think my girls will enjoy it. (library copy)

The Wild Muir: Twenty-Two of John Muir's Greatest Adventures selected by Lee Stetson - Read my review. (library copy)

Books in Progress (and date started)

Links to Amazon are affiliate links. As an affiliate with Amazon, I receive a small commission if you follow one of my links, add something to your cart, and complete the purchase (in that order). My homeschooling budget is always grateful for any purchases. 

Links to RC History are affiliate links.

Links to Sacred Heart Books and Gifts are not affiliate links.

These reports are my honest opinions. 

Monday, November 16, 2015

First Daughter's Birthday Post: Nine Years Old!

First Daughter turned nine a few months ago. Now our children are 11, 9, 7, and 5 until December, which I think is fun.

Her birthday party was a little delayed because Kansas Dad was teaching and I signed us up for a field trip on her birthday weekend. She decided on a literary themed party and asked her friends to come dressed as favorite book characters. First Daughter was Laura from Little House on the Prairie. We started the party trying to guess all the characters. (Believe it or not, we had two girls dressed as Violet from The Boxcar Children.) We also played charades with book titles. I made little "books of books" for them to decorate and take home with pages to fill out on favorite books, quotes, books to read, things like that.

Favorite books: all the Little House books, the Harry Potter books (she was Ginny Weasley for Halloween), Molly's Pilgrim, Secret of the Night Ponies, and pretty much anything I read aloud.

Her gift from us was a bow and arrow. Kansas Dad found a compound bow in pink (like this one), therefore easily distinguished from her brother's bow. Now they go out and practice together. (I'm comfortable with the bows, but am adamant all other children present stand behind the archer.)

First Daughter broke her arm roller-skating early in the summer. She was out of all the action (swimming, roller-skating, bike-riding) for months! She struggled, because she loves to be outside and active. She had just successfully earned her yellow belt in taekwondo and had to stop practicing that as well.

It was a bad break, but she was a trooper through the whole ordeal. The doctors and nurses all marveled at her bubbly attitude and threshold for pain. (At one point, Kansas Dad even wondered if there might be nerve damage because she was so uncomplaining. When they assured them her nerves were fine, he started to think about Wolverine...) An adult would have needed surgery, but she managed well with a couple of different casts. In the end, she was wearing a waterproof brace, which meant we could sneak in some end-of-summer swimming. Hooray!

I discovered it was nearly impossible to keep her long hair clean and brushed with her broken arm. I convinced her to let Grammy take her to a salon to have it cut so it would be more manageable. I promised her it would grow back.

Here she is with her cute new haircut, her cute new glasses, and her arm as good as new!

After shedding the brace, we visited a state park for a last swim of the season.

Favorite games: Munchkin*, Agricola, Bohnanza, Scrambled States of America game, and Dixit.

She infuriates me sometimes when she refuses to understand idioms, but I understand she gets it honestly. Kansas Dad does the same thing; he's just better at judging whether I'm in the right mood for such things.

She talks. She chatters. She sings. She hums. She moans. She whispers. She bursts. She is almost constantly moving and constantly making noise. The only time she is still and quiet is if she's reading a book. Even then, she's often reading aloud to one of us some passage that strikes her fancy (and likely giggling so much we can barely understand her).

She told me ages ago she couldn't read signs very well, but I thought maybe she was just trying to be silly (a common occurrence). I finally took her for an exam when she complained that she couldn't read a clock. Sure enough, she needed glasses. She picked pink ones, and the super cheap ones because she's like that. (I imagine she figured she liked them well enough. I'm not sure they are very comfortable for her, though; I think I'll encourage her to upgrade a bit next year.)

Favorite foods: yogurt with fruit, chicken enchiladas, stir fry, rice, apples, pears, dumplings, egg rolls, and strawberry ice cream.

She's very helpful in the kitchen. She can make two kinds of bread, just about any muffin, and tomato soup.

First day of school - 3rd grade
First Daughter is in third grade this year. She is reading almost everything independently. I work with her on grammar and spelling (tackled in the same lesson), dictation (twice a week), memory work (because you have to recite it to someone), some science experiments and demonstrations (yeah, adults are good here), and Greek myths. She could really read the myths herself, but it's called Classic Myths to Read Aloud, so I thought I might as well.

Favorite lessons: piano, maps, and independent reading.

She insisted on doing written narrations, so I allow one a week. Her oral narrations are...let's say "thorough."

She takes piano lessons and is learning a version of Angels We Have Heard on High for the Christmas season.

Of all the children, she is the most likely to get up early and start her lessons.

Intrepid First Daughter
She loves being with other people. Once a week we spend a day on piano, Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, and nature study with two other families. I'm certain it's her favorite day of the week. (Packing a lunch is another great bonus. When you're homeschooled, a packed lunch is always a treat.)

She started her orthodontics this month and already has an appliance for her upper jaw. It's uncomfortable and she finds it hard to believe the next 18 months will go quickly.

She wants to do everything her big brother does, bemoaning the necessity of being in the Level 2 Catechesis class, the 3rd grade class on Sundays instead of helping in the nursery, and sitting in the pews rather than serving Mass.  She and First Son are usually together, though he is almost three years older. She does love to play Playmobil with Second Daughter, though, and sometimes bemoans the fact that she must choose between them if they both want to play with her.

First Communion in March
Last year, she was the only girl in her CCD class which she handled gracefully. This year a girl has joined her class, so she's no longer alone amongst boys.

May God bless you in the coming year, First Daughter!

* Please note that Munchkin, while a favorite game in our house, is not right for every family. Many of the cards are inappropriate (and have therefore been modified by the grown-ups here).

As always, links to Amazon are affiliate links. I receive a small commission if you follow the link, add something to your cart, and purchase it within whatever time frame Amazon specifies. My family appreciates every little bit.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Just Playing Games: Math Games Our Family Enjoys

Second Daughter has always loved games. I love the idea of playing games with my children, but I don't really love playing games. Incorporating them into our school day meant I felt more justified in letting the dishes or the laundry sit a few minutes (or an hour) longer. My checklist (play a math game with Second Daughter) made me accountable for devoting some of our lesson time to something she would enjoy as much as I enjoy reading aloud to her.

This year, I purchased Counting and Number Bonds: Math Games for Early Learners (Math You Can Play Book 1) and Addition and Subtraction: Math Games for Elementary Students (Math You Can Play Book 2) which I'm using with both Second Daughter and Second Son, but I've also continued our habit of playing a "math" game from our shelves once a week. I thought I'd share a few of our favorites. Once I started paying attention, I realized math concepts are hidden in many games. Second Daughter has also successfully argued for many of her favorite games based on counting and comparing skills. (Munchkin* comes to mind.)

Count Your Chickens - Second Son received this game as a gift and I love it. It's beautifully made, a cooperative game (everyone wins!), and is all about counting. I highly recommend it for the very young. If you can avoid losing the little chicks, this game would last through lots of young children learning to count.

Sum Swamp - I purchased this game when I first decided Second Daughter's kindergarten year would include math games. I wanted one on addition and this one had great reviews. Personally, I found it a bit repetitive, but there is no doubt that Second Daughter loved it. She and a friend played it about once a week for the entire school year. I think the swampy animals were a big attraction.

Blink -  I also purchased this card game. It's one of my favorites, but I almost always win. We started coming up with handicaps so it would be more of a contest.

Rat-A-Tat-Cat - We've enjoyed this game so much, I've given it as gifts to others. Comparing numbers, addition, memory, and strategy. This game is easier for younger players to win than Blink, too. My little ones love the silly illustrations on the cards.

Battleship - strategy and grids. First Son received this game as a gift years ago and we are all still playing it. At first, Second Daughter couldn't get through a whole game, but she's gained endurance over the past year or so.

Qwirkle - shape recognition, sets, and strategy. Second Daughter likes this game best if we work together to make as many qwirkles as possible.

Skippity - I received this game as a gift a few years ago. Mostly I like all the bright colors, but I'm certain there's math in there somewhere. I also like how it balances the players well, so children have a shot at winning even if an adult doesn't ignore the best moves.

Blokus - This game is probably my favorite of our "math" games. The bright colors and shapes are so inviting, the game pieces usually end up being used in individual play after the game is over. The last time we played, Second Daughter swept the game off the table and returned an hour or so later with this perfect square.

There are lots of other games with hidden (or obvious) math like Double Shutter, Connect 4, Monopoly Junior, and Trouble (which we have in multiple versions and which Second Daughter insists on calling "Pop the Bubble"), but the ones above are the ones we play and enjoy the most. Do you have any favorites to recommend? (A friend of mine has already suggested Perfection.)

* Please note Munchkin is not for all families. We've covered up the most egregious words on cards, but some families would probably rather just skip it altogether.

Links to Amazon are affiliate links. If you click on one, put something in your cart, and purchase it within Amazon's specified time frame, I receive a small commission. Our family appreciates every little bit. Every link in the post is for something I purchased or something we received as a birthday or Christmas gift.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Cardinals Outside the Window

In the spring, we had a pair of cardinals nest just outside our kitchen window. The children could sit at the table and look down into the nest. It was fantastic, and the source of many prayers from Kansas Mom and Dad that the neighbor cats wouldn't disrupt the nest.

Second Daughter documented the saga in her book entitled, appropriately if predictably, Cardinals.

In the beginning, there was a male cardinal and a female cardinal.

They fell in love and the female showed off her beautiful eggs.

The eggs hatched. The cardinals diligently fed the hungry chicks.

Then the chicks grew up and went their merry way.

The End

Monday, November 9, 2015

Camping Mishaps You, too, Could Survive (and Lots of Fun You, too, Could Have)

In October, we took a fall camping trip to Roaring River State Park in Missouri.

On the winding highway between our rural Kansas home and the rural Missouri state park, we were trapped behind a gravel truck that dropped a monster of a rock on our windsheild about five minutes before it turned off the highway. The cost of the trip immediately doubled as that windshield was a complete loss. Thankfully, things improved after that.

Kansas Dad's parents and brother and sister-in-law joined us for part of the trip as well. It's no Great Sand Dunes, but we enjoyed ourselves.

Kansas Dad and Missouri Uncle supervised the fishing. We saw lots of fish, but didn't catch any.

There were plenty of hiking options. We found three trails perfect for our family and probably could have done more with more time.

For some reason, I love pictures of my family hiking off into the woods.

The hatchery fascinated the children, too, so we spent some time there feeding the fish and marveling at the sizes and numbers.

Second Son is about a foot from where we saw a monstrous snapping turtle. This little waterfall was just over the bank from our camp site.

I kept hoping the kids would learn something about geology.

But they mostly wanted to play in the water.

"Don't worry, Mom. We won't get wet..."

Don't worry, kids. There's a laundry room.

It was actually a lovely trip, with lots of time for the kids to just revel in natural settings. Then one of the kids got sick in the tent on the last night. While not enjoyable, we survived the ordeal and learned you can handle just about anything camping. (We also learned to pack Chlorox wipes which are worth purchasing for camping even though we don't use them at home.)

Oh, and we were all reminded why Kansas Dad is my hero. Real husbands crawl out of snug warm sleeping bags in near-freezing weather at 1:30 am to clean up vomit in a tent, not that you should mention it at your wedding.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Beauty and Adventure: The Wild Muir

The Wild Muir: Twenty-Two of John Muir's Greatest Adventures
selected by Lee Stetson

Kansas Dad and I have been entertaining the idea of a camping trip in the western United States. Though I told myself I was not going to change our planned history, geography, or science studies for the year just because we might take a vacation in the spring....well, I couldn't help myself. I started looking through our library catalog for books I could read aloud to all four children (11, 9, 7, and 5) that would spark their interest in the natural world, especially the nature of the western United States, and would give them some small glimpse into the greater experience, something to anticipate. I remembered Brandy's post about a book on John Muir and finally requested our library purchase a copy because it seemed better than anything they had.

Oh, and it is! Lee Stetson, who immerses himself in the character of John Muir for performances at Yosemite National Park and elsewhere, has selected twenty-two adventures from John Muir's life as written by John Muir, and presented them in chronological order. In the introduction, Mr. Stetson claims the tales "reflect some of his [Muir's] best and most engaging writing."

Muir's writing is indeed exquisite. I wanted to copy entire pages of it into my commonplace book.
Most delightful it is to stand in the middle of Yosemite on still clear mornings after snow-storms and watch the throng of avalanches as they come down, rejoicing, to their places, whispering, thrilling like birds, or booming and roaring like thunder. The noble yellow pines stand hushed and motionless as if under a spell until the morning sunshine begins to sift through their laden spires; then the dense masses on the ends of the leafy branches begin to shift and fall, those from the upper branches striking the lower ones in succession, enveloping each tree in a hollow conical avalanche of fairy fineness; while the relieved branches spring up and wave with startling effect in the general stillness, as if each tree was moving of its own volition.
My favorite chapter tells of Muir's heroic actions to save a stranded fellow mountain climber. I especially loved the excerpt from the injured climber's own book, Alaska Days with John Muir.

I intend to read this book aloud to the children, even if we never make it to California or Muir's beloved Yosemite. Combining the dangerous with the beautiful creates a book that would appeal to a wide variety of ages and propensities, though I do wonder whether my own adventurous children might attempt some of Muir's feats.
No. I must wait until next summer. I would only approach the mountain now, and inspect it, creep about its flanks, learn what I could of its history, holding myself ready to flee on the approach of the first storm-cloud. But we little know until tried how much of the uncontrollable there is in us, urging across glaciers and torrents, and up dangerous heights, let the judgment forbid as it may.
We'll hope they are inspired more by the descriptions of the natural world than the exploits. 

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Courage, Sacrifice, Compassion, and Laughter: The Little World of Dom Camillo

The Little World of Don Camillo by Giovanni Guareschi

Don Camillo is a giant of a priest in a small town in Italy. Engaged in a semblance of open warfare with the local Communist leader, he finds solace and wisdom in conversations with Jesus on the crucifix in his church, a Jesus with a sense of humor.
"And wasn't I a greater minister of God than you are? And didn't I forgive those who nailed me to the Cross?"
"There's no use arguing with You!" Don Camillo exclaimed. "You are always right. May Your will be done. I will forgive, but don't forget those if these ruffians, encouraged by my silence, crack my skull open, it will be Your responsibility. I could quote You several passages from the Old Testament..."
Peppone, the Communist leader, antagonizes Don Camillo (really, it goes both ways). Once, when bemoaning a public speaker's voice blasted through a loudspeaker aimed directly at the church, Don Camillo asks, "Lord, why don't You drop a thunderbolt on all that rabble?"
"Don Camillo, let us remain within the law. If your method of driving the truth into the head of one who is in error is to shoot him down, what was the use of My crucifixion?"
More than once, Don Camillo's courageous faith places his life in danger but he always seems to escape fatal harm. Miraculously? His physical strength and courage often attract others to the faith.
Don Camillo set out on the return journey and when he reached the doorway of the church and turned around so that Christ might bestow a final blessing upon the distant river, he found standing before him: the small dog, Peppone, Peppone's men and every inhabitant of the village, not excluding the druggist, who was an atheist, but how felt that never in his life had he dreamed of a priest like Don Camillo, who could make even the Eternal Father quite tolerable.
Humorous stories of Don Camillo's antics are interspersed with more serious confrontations with sin and corruption. Through it all, Christ grounds Don Camillo, reminding him of his faith and responsibilities.
"The world has not come to an end yet," replied Christ serenely. "It has just begun and up There time is measured in millions of centuries. Don't lose your faith, Don Camillo. There is still plenty of time."
Near the end of the book, perched on a ladder as he repaired the cross, Don Camillo confesses his fear to Jesus. Christ asks, "Have you lost faith in your God, Don Camillo?"
"No, Lord, the soul belongs to God, but the body is of the earth. Faith is a great thing but my fear is physical. I may have faith, but if I go for ten days without drinking I'll be thirsty. Faith consists in enduring that thirst as a trial sent by God. Lord, I am willing to suffer a thousand fears like this one for love for You. But still I am afraid."
"Do You despise me, Lord?"
Christ responds:
"No, Don Camillo; if you were not afraid, what value would there be in your courage?"
Courage in the face of threats, sacrifice for the needs of the young and innocent, respect and compassion for enemies, all woven together with humor. 

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Masterly Inactivity in Action

You can read about masterly inactivity, or you can come see the fruit of it in my front yard, which is strewn with recycling (aka trash) in various stages

Every time I ask if they are done with and they consent to clean it up, they discover a new play that simply must be played.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Second Son's Birthday Post: Five Years Old!

Just four days after Second Daughter's birthday, we had another birthday!

Second Son turned five years old and requested chicken enchiladas for his birthday dinner. (Did I mention there were chicken enchiladas for both birthday dinners and both baptismal anniversary dinners?)

Cake on his actual birthday was angel food cake. I was surprised because usually he only eats frosting, leaving the cake or cookie smeared and slimy. Angel food cake has no frosting (not the way I make it), but that's what he wanted.

We gave him Lord Business' Evil Lair. Kansas Dad found one on clearance in a local store months before his birthday and I stashed it in the closet. A few days before his birthday, he found it! He asked me, "Are there any birthday presents in your closet?" I said, "Oh, that's not for you." And he believed me! He was completely and totally surprised when he opened it on his birthday. Being five is awesome.

We had Baymax cupcakes at the Big Hero Six birthday party. He loves the soundtrack to this movie, requesting it on the few occasions when he may choose the background music. There's only one song with words, so it's a bit odd, I think. He can match the music to the scene.

Favorite foods: chicken enchiladas, sausage, Daddy's chocolate peanut butter cake, sherbert, vanilla yogurt, spaghetti without sauce, popcorn. He claims his favorite candy is suckers, but I think he's confused because he doesn't actually eat suckers that often. He really likes a variety of candy, I think.

Fudgesicle face
He learned more water skills last summer during his swimming lessons. If you ask him, he can swim underwater two or more body lengths (his body lengths). He doesn't know how to swim if he unexpectedly falls in, though, which we learned while visiting a pond in May. Good to remember.

Second Son loves weapons. Last Christmas, he received a toy sword, toy nunchucks, a Nerf gun (with extra bullets), and probably some other weapons, too. These came from an aunt and uncle, grandparents, and parents, so apparently the weapon-craze is well-established. Light sabers and swords are probably the most popular.

Favorite games: King of Tokyo (such a fun game, though with a steep learning curve; we have to read the cards to him), Twister, Monopoly Jr (there's a newer version now), Dixit.

He loves to play games with Second Daughter. If she's too busy, he'll play with Mr. Nobody. Mr. Nobody always loses.

Second Son does not believe in baths. He's convinced he can get clean enough with a handful (or a package) of baby wipes. He doesn't like shoes too much, either. So you can imagine what his feet look like in their natural state.

First day of school - prekindergarten
Second Son is in prekindergarten this year. I read at least one picture book to him every day (his selection from a basket-full). We also play math games (Counting & Number Bonds: Math Games for Early Learners),  focus on scissor skills (Let's Cut Paper!), counting (with a dot-to-dot book which he claims is his favorite lesson), and letter skills (so far just reading alphabet books and learning all the letter sounds courtesy of Doodling Dragons). Of course, he's also around for most of the other lessons, though he tends to wander off during read-alouds. He did enjoy The Complete Tales of Winnie-the-Pooh and James Herriot's Treasury for Children.

Because of his missing front teeth, Second Son says "sirsty" instead of "thirsty." Maybe this will be the year they finally come in again. (He's been without these teeth since just before his second birthday when he fell and knocked them to bits. They had to be removed.)

He has recently started teaching himself to write letters. He copies them from books. It's adorable!

Favorite books: Richard Scarry's Best Storybook Ever! (We have Kansas Dad's childhood copy of this book. Second Son loves to read about Schtoompah. He wanted to dress up like him, but we couldn't figure out how to put a tuba on Second Son's head.), Mouse Paint, LEGO NINJAGO: Character Encyclopedia, A Day in the Life of Murphy.

Mushroom Rock
Second Son was the only one to catch anything the last time we fished at his grandparent's pond - and he caught two!

Favorite things to do: color in a Minion coloring book, snuggle in bed with a book, play with Second Daughter (especially Ninjago), talk with his best friend, wrestle with Daddy.

Each night, as he's going to bed, Second Son's three special animals have to whisper their dreams in Kansas Dad's ear so he can tell them to Second Son. (Only on rare occasions am I allowed this privilege.) Mousy Mouse (a kangaroo rat purchased at Great Sand Dunes), Fluffy (a puppy that was First Son's years ago), and Teddy (a teddy bear that was a gift after Second Daughter's birth) have very strange dreams, according to Daddy.

May God bless you, Second Son!

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