Monday, March 13, 2017

First Son's Birthday Post: Thirteen Years Old

First Son turned thirteen last December so I'm only three months late getting this post written.

All First Son wanted for his birthday was an afternoon of video games with his friends, so he invited a handful of boys and developed a method for scheduling the limited Wii remotes. We served pizza, chicken nuggets, french fries, chocolate chip cookie bars, and various candies. Amazingly we still had some food left; I don't think the rest of the boys eat quite as much as First Son.

His most amusing birthday gift was from a friend who found a ceramic sweet potato candy dish at a thrift store. (First Son and his friend have a weird "potato" thing.) He filled it with candy, wrapped it in aluminum foil and told him it was a baked potato. Without unwrapping the foil, First Son cheered and started to put it in the kitchen for later. His friend had to laughingly tell him he should actually open it.

First Son must love this t-shirt. He wore it for his birthday party (also his actual birthday) and his baptismal anniversary.

For his baptismal anniversary, First Son really wanted a dinner of the 8 Polish Foods of Christmas. Kansas Dad took on the challenge and received a round of applause from all the children for his efforts!

First Son likes to eat everything. One day a week, our parish hosts dinner for the middle school and high school kids. We feed him before he goes, he eats his meal, and then he usually finishes someone else's meal or has seconds (or both!). He especially likes potatoes (of course), ham and potato chowder, pierogi, and chicken enchiladas. He likes raw celery, too. We have friends who bring celery just for him and their younger daughter laughs and jumps up and down because she's so excited to share it with him.

We have a lot of pictures of First Son making funny faces.

His favorite movies - Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (the only two Harry Potter movies he's seen), The Return of the Jedi  (the original VHS version), The Force Awakens, Guardians of the Galaxy, and The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (the only Narnia movie we've seen).

His favorite books - Far Side comics, the Chronicles of Prydain, the Harry Potter books, and The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

favorite games - Munchkin (some language may be offensive), Donkey Kong Country Tropical Freeze, chess, Star Wars Trivial PursuitKing of Tokyo (the new version seems to be just as good and less expensive)

He also received a Kindle Fire for Christmas that he loves.

Recently, First Son began collecting Pokemon cards and building his own decks to play with friends. Kansas Dad was hoping to avoid the Pokemon craze, but it is fun to watch him and his friends poring over cards and battling each other with their decks. It seems like one of the less dangerous ways teenagers could spend their time.

He doesn't really like lessons in general, but he often enjoyed his science experiment days. This picture is from one of his favorites. He set alcohol on fire.

favorite lessons -  math, independent reading, logic (Mind Benders puzzle books)

I let the kids try out for the homeschool play this year and First Son earned the role of the Mayor in The Pied Piper, the role with the most lines. He's done very well memorizing the lines and making them funny when they are supposed to be funny. He's still working on his stage presence, but we have a little more time before the play.

He's still taking taekwondo classes. He's a blue belt red strip. (He probably could have tested for his red belt before now but we've been busy the past few belt testing weekends.) He went to his first tournament last fall and earned two first place trophies - one for his form and one in sparring.

Every Sunday, First Son volunteers in the parish nursery so parents of little ones can attend our adult education class (taught by Kansas Dad and a few other men of the parish). He loves his time in the nursery and delights the children with his silly antics.

Sometime between Thanksgiving and New Year's, First Son grew taller than me.

Sometime between New Year's and the first week of February (when we were in Illinois for my grandmother's 90th birthday party), he grew taller than Kansas Dad.

We recently bought him new shoes. Size 11.

First Son isn't afraid to follow Kansas Dad on any trail. He doesn't complain, doesn't waver, just puts one foot in front of the other all the way to the top.

First Son is growing into a fine young man. We know he's a teenager, but we're glad he still likes to be with us.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

January and February 2017 Book Reports

Between the Forest and the Hills by Ann Lawrence is set in a Roman British town at the time of the Empire's collapse. We listened to this in the van along with Kansas Dad and it was a particularly good choice for the whole family to enjoy: witty dialogue, easy humor from the squawking raven, brave and wise characters, all set in an interesting historical period. This book is one of the many wonderful books of historical fiction available from Bethlehem Books. (purchased audio book at Audible)

The Eagle of the Ninth by Rosemary Sutcliff is another novel of historical fiction set near the end of the Roman Empire's presence in Britain. This is one of First Son's books for volume 2 of Connecting with History (seventh grade). It's a tale of daring and mystery when the son of a missing Roman soldier ventures north of the wall to discover the fate of the missing Legion and recover (if possible) their Eagle. It's a good book for a middle school boy to read and contemplate the meaning of loyalty, friendship, slavery, and civilization. I haven't seen the movie, but according to the review at Common Sense Media, it's not as good as the book. (library copy)

Virginia's General by Albert Marrin is a biography of Robert E. Lee and an examination of the Civil War from the Confederate standpoint, though not always favorable to the Confederacy. First Son read this book for his American History. The chapters are well-written, but long, so First Son struggled a bit to read them. Originally he was assigned two chapters a day, but I decreased it to one a day. I appreciated greater insight into the Confederate side of the war and a favorable presentation of Lee, a distinguished man worthy of respect. (library copy)

The Innocence of Father Brown by G.K. Chesterton - link to my post. (free Kindle version)

Oh, Ranger! True Stories from our National Parks edited by Mark J. Saferstein is a collection of short essays by National Park Service rangers covering just about every aspect of life as a ranger. It's a great peek at life in national parks from historical sites to the wilderness of Alaska, but I found the writing varied in quality. The photography, however, is amazing throughout. (purchased used on Amazon)

The Chronicles of Prydain (5 volumes) by Lloyd Alexander - link to my post. (library copies, though I have since acquired three from other members at

Letters from Rifka by Karen Hesse is, I think, recommended in our Connecting with History curriculum even thought it's not available at their store. It's a series of letters written by a young Russian Jew who barely escapes with her family on a daring attempt to join her older brothers in the United States in 1919. It's a good historical fiction book to read alongside a study of immigration through Ellis Island. (library copy)

Transforming Your Life through the Eucharist by John A. Kane - link to my post. (purchased from the publisher, Sophia Institute Press)

The Wright Brothers by David McCullough  - link to my post. (borrowed from my dad)

The Road from Home: The Story of an Armenian Girl by David Kherdian is a fictionalized memoir of a young girl's experience of the genocide of Armenian Christians by the Turkish government and military during World War I. Mostly, the girl experiences the genocide in disease-ridden camps but there are scenes of terrible deaths and great fear, so it's not a book for young readers. I hadn't read of these events before and I think the book could be a good addition to a study of World War I to show that genocides are not the product only of Nazi Germany. It's a good book, too, to begin or continue discussions of harboring refugees from war-torn and unsafe lands. I hesitate, however, to recommend it whole-heartedly and share it with my children because I worry they will conflate the actions of Turkey in 1915 with Muslims in today's world. There's no doubt there are Muslim terrorists, but there are also Muslims in our own city who seem to be kind and generous people. With the news what it is today, I would probably wait a bit longer to share this book. (library copy)

Saint Herman of Alaska is a booklet published to celebrate the canonization of St. Herman by the Orthodox Church in America. It shows a glimpse of life for the brave missionaries of Russia who journeyed to Alaska to spread the Orthodox faith. You can read the first half of the book at the OCA website. The second half is the liturgical services, some of which you can hear on the site. There is an incident reported in the book of a martyr for the faith, someone who traveled down to California and was allegedly tortured and murdered by Jesuits. I can't say it's not true, but it's certainly not how the Jesuits behave today. (copy picked up at used book sale)

The Problem of Pain by C.S. Lewis is a short clear evangelical response to the problem of pain - that there is pain and evil in a world created by an omniscient omnipotent God. There's nothing I can say about the book that hasn't already been better written by another. I was glad to read it because it is so often referenced by others. (Kansas Dad's copy)

Books in Progress (and date started)
The italic print: 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).

Try Audible and Get Two Free Audiobooks - another affiliate link.

Any links to RC History and are affiliate links.

Other links (like those to Bethlehem Books) are not affiliate links.

These reports are my honest opinions.

Monday, March 6, 2017

First Daughter's Birthday Post: Ten (and a Half)

First Daughter turned ten last September, which makes this birthday post more of a half-birthday post; she's nearly ten and a half!

For her birthday, she wanted to go ice skating. So she and seven of her friends went ice skating for two hours. Then, because the weather was fantastic, we went to a park for some chocolate angel food cake (soy free, nut free, dairy free, for her friends). High winds kept blowing out her candles, but the girls enjoyed the cake and then (shockingly) run up and down the hill for a while before we headed home.

We celebrated her baptismal anniversary a few days late because we were in Illinois for my cousin's wedding. Sadly, we dropped a bowl that night. I later stepped on a piece of the glass and while hobbling around on my sore foot injured it. Eventually I needed physical therapy, but I'm better now.

Rocky Mountain National Park
First Daughter is intrepid. She loves to hike and climb along with First Son and Kansas Dad, never to be outdone. For her birthday, we gave her a pogo stick. For Christmas, she received taekwondo sparring gear from her grandparents (she's a green belt) and stilts from us and her other grandparents. She's currently saving for in-line skates because she's outgrown her roller skates (the source of her broken arm the summer she was nine, but let's not talk about that).

In addition to taekwondo, First Daughter played soccer last fall and this spring. She and Second Daughter can be on the same team. They travel a bit, but not too far. First Daughter likes to play goalie. She's quick and cheerful on the field.

She's been a bit disappointed that both taekwondo tournaments were at the same time as soccer games. However, she probably won't play soccer this coming fall and we'll get her to that tournament.

Her cooking skills are improving greatly. Kansas Dad is teaching her "breakfast." So far, she's mastered bacon, fried eggs, and scrambled eggs. (She can also make coffee for her dad and tea for her mom.) She's still working on sausage (which we have less often) and pancakes. She's still great at making a batch of muffins, various breads, and cakes. She often makes quick things for lunch and loves to help make dinner (when she's not off at taekwondo or soccer). She makes popcorn, too.

Really, First Daughter is by far the most helpful of our children. She's at a helpful age, but her personality is also one of generosity and cheerfulness that make asking her for assistance almost too easy. Sometimes I remind myself to ask the older brother instead, but even then she may stop what she's doing and bounce into the kitchen demanding the honor of the extra chore.

sneaky girl added her initial to the bread she baked for us
Many of her favorite foods are the same as last year: Kansas Dad's chocolate peanut butter layer cake, chicken enchiladas, chicken noodle soup, yogurt, fruit, and dumplings.

Her favorite games are Agricola, Settlers of Catan, Star Wars Monopoly, Taboo, and Labyrinth. She bought a Kindle Fire with her birthday money and loves it, too.

More than anything, she loves to read. If you can't find her, she's snuggled up somewhere with a pile of books. She still reads the Little House on the Prairie books and the Harry Potter books over and over again. She's just started reading the Anne of Green Gables series and Little Women. She reads anything and everything, though. I have a whole shelf of books from Bethlehem Books and Hillside Education which she'll peruse and read multiple times. She recently read the Mitchells series in a single day, when she was feeling too sick to do her lessons. Unlike some other children, she's as excited or more excited to read a book after I've read it aloud.

First Daughter has become quite the accomplished sewer. She is the house seamstress, repairing all seams and reattaching buttons, even on Kansas Dad's work clothes. She made some lovely sewn ornaments at Christmas, too.
First Daughter as Rey (Second Daughter as Hedwig)
She's also ingenious in gathering random pieces from around the house and the dress-up bin. She cobbled together a bunch of things for her Rey costume at Halloween including an old broomstick covered in black masking tape (one roll has lasted through years of costume uses), toy motorcycle goggles (Second Son's), an old work bag of mine covered in a brown pillowcase (black and brown pillowcases from the thrift store are versatile costume items), a baby doll wrap, and a ragged brown tunic we received at a Jedi birthday party about five years ago that still gets regular use for all sorts of imaginary adventures.

heart dissection
Her favorite school subjects are math (specifically geometry), history, and geography. She loves coloring in the maps for the Holling books. Of all the children, she's the most likely to start her lessons promptly, work her way through them diligently, and finish them every single day. She does get frustrated when things aren't easy for her, but I do think she's getting better about asking for help. Her "worst" school fault is failing to stop at the assigned page. I've lost count of the number of times she's admitted to finishing a book in a single day that was going to be assigned over weeks and weeks.

Her favorite saints are St. Therese of Liseux, St. Bernadette, St. Maria Goretti, and St. Joan of Arc. She dressed as St. Maria Goretti for All Saints last year. Again, she pulled together all she needed from our costume bin except for the lilies and the palms. We picked those up at a floral sale at Hobby Lobby.

Her favorite songs are The Lord of the Dance, Whatsoever You Do to the Least of My People, and Matchmaker, Matchmaker. She loves to sing at Children's Adoration, especially in the Easter and Christmas seasons when they sing all those joyous songs. She often chooses to sing the Hail Mary in Latin for her evening prayer.

Recently, First Daughter volunteered as a mother's helper at a neighbor's house. She goes about once a week for a few hours to do whatever is most helpful. She loves her time there (with five children from 7 down to 2 months) and is learning a lot about babies and toddlers and preschoolers and cleaning and cooking.

This time has been a blessing for First Daughter and (I hope) for the family she visits each week. I wish someone had done something like this for me and I highly recommend sharing your preteens (girls, especially) with mothers of young children.

Someday we will look back and remember our chattering giggling bouncing ten-year-old First Daughter with nostalgia. May she remain as joyful as she is now!