Friday, November 24, 2017

A Simple and Easy Advent Activity Chain for 2017

Advent is about a week away! I love Advent and all the traditions we've slowly built up over the years. The Advent activity chain is a nice and easy way to start with little ones, as long as you have one with activities that fit well with your daily life.

For years now, our family has made our own Advent activity chain. As our children grew, the activities grew and changed a bit with them. This year, we may make a chain without activities at all (gasp!).

I've also continued to make one designed for families with lots of little children. We put them all together and then gave them to our godchildren or children in my Catechesis class or the neighbors - whoever we thought might like a bit of Advent planned and ready to go.

Early on, I would print them out and make them, but now, First Daughter does it! She cuts all the activity pages into rectangles, slices pink and purple construction paper, and tapes one activity one each slice. We then deliver them to local families with little ones. They're easier to deliver in stacks of flat rectangles; it's pretty simple for the families to link the chains themselves. We include a little paragraph to explain, just in case. I don't know if everyone loves them, but I've heard from a few mothers that it's nice to have something so simple and easy for little ones.
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.
We always use pink for the third week of Advent and purple for the rest of the links, but you could also alternate pink and purple, or use all purple. Or just use whatever construction paper you have lying around.

An old picture of a chain long used up
I've uploaded this year's activities as a PDF on my Google drive. Feel free to print it out to make an Advent activity chain for your own family or as a gift for someone else.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Finding Your Passion, Responsibly: Ballet Shoes

by Noel Streatfeild

This is one of the books recommended by Mater Amabilis™™ Level 1A (second and third grade) which we had never read. (So we're getting to it on the second year of the third child, though I wish we hadn't waited so long.) I hadn't pre-read it, but another homeschooling family read it last year and recommended it as well. The kids and I absolutely loved it. I wondered how three girls growing up learning dance and acting would interest all of them, especially the 13-year-old boy, but I think the Shakespeare helped.

Pauline, Petrova, and Posy help support a home filled with lovely boarders. I was a little sad reading about Petrova's close relationship with the only man in the home, Mr. Simpson, who lives there with his wife. He indulges Petrova's fascination with motorcars and airplanes, letting her work in his commercial garage and sometimes even taking her to fields where they go up in planes. It's so thoughtful and innocent and nothing like that would be possible today. I certainly wouldn't let my ten-year-old girl go off with a man every Sunday.

There are two more books which I probably won't read aloud, but which I expect First Daughter at least to read voraciously as soon as they come home from the library next week.

Please note, the author's name really is spelled "Streatfeild."

Monday, November 20, 2017

School Week Highlights: Week 12

We finished our first term! Not that it makes much of a difference, but it's nice to be a third of the way through. If I were a better homeschooling mom, my eighth grader would have done exams this week, but I told myself it was alright to wait until high school to introduce exam week.

I took no pictures this week. At least I've taken some this month, unlike February.

We went to adoration.

We celebrated my father-in-law's birthday with a mid-week dinner in town. First Daughter and Second Daughter both made soap carvings for him.

Kansas Dad taught the older kids in our monthly coop this week: a lesson on the Bible. It went very well.

We had a half day on Friday so we could do our Saturday cleaning on Friday. A lovely new family in our homeschool group came for dinner. It was the feast of St. Elizabeth of Hungary. First Daughter made a Hungarian coffee cake which Second Daughter decorated like a crown. She also made this cinnamon bread shaped like a rose that turned out beautifully. They were both delicious! But I didn't take any pictures.

Next week is Thanksgiving, which means it's a perfect time to take a little break. We'll do some school here and there but not too much.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Modern History for the Eighth Grader: The Century for Young People

The Century for Young People
by Peter Jennings and Todd Brewster

This book is recommended in the Level 4 history program at Mater Amabilis™. We used it for the first twelve weeks (which we're finishing this week) for an overview of American History in the twentieth century, reading about one chapter a week. I posted my plans using this book on the Mater Amabilis™ facebook page, for those that are interested.

Published in 1999, the main text of the book gives a relatively quick overview of events of the twentieth century, mentioning major events to establish a narrative. Sprinkled throughout the text are attractive photographs and first-person accounts of some of the events.

Some of the first-person accounts describe disturbing events, like those during times of war. Milt Hinton, who was part of the Great Migration, described a lynching he saw before he was eight years old:
I was on my way home from school, and I saw a black man who'd been hung up on a tree. A bunch of white men were standing around him--they had poured gasoline on him and set him on fire, and now they were shooting at his body.
The later chapters begin to introduce more controversial topics, like pro-life debates in chapter 10. Unsurprisingly, the debate is described as one of "reproductive rights" and "antiabortion" rather than pro-life. This debate is mixed in with other feminist arguments. It's not entirely balanced, but I didn't find anything offensive and my son is well-acquainted with this issue thanks to our parish's active pro-life ministries.

Chapter 11 covers the years when HIV and AIDS appeared in the United States. Issues of homosexuality and gay rights appear.
For more than a decade, activists had been struggling for gay rights, and they had made considerable progress. But the arrival of AIDS brought a backlash against the gay community. Some conservative critics went so far as to claim that AIDS was God's revenge against "immoral" people. All the finger-pointing and name-calling often hid the sad fact that real people were dying, including babies who had gotten AIDS from their infected mothers.
There was a first-person account by a man who worked at GMHC (Gay Men's Health Crisis) who talked about prank calls to the hotline.
The level of ignorance and homophobia from some of the callers was just amazing. And the indifference was overwhelming. When I first started, prank callers would just say, "All you faggots should die! Click. Thank you for sharing. It was bad enough all these people were dying and there was nothing that we could do about it, and then you've got people hating you for being sick or for helping sick people. Of course, you wanted badly to be able to say, "Where's your compassion? Who do you think you are? What's wrong with loving someone?"
I talked a lot with my son about this chapter, more than I normally would, to discuss the devastation of AIDS, compassion for those suffering from diseases like this, and how that compassion is right even for those who do not follow Church teaching. For future children, I'm going to find a Catholic source to supplement the reading.

The last chapter covers a lot about technology. There's a first-person account by Stacy Horn, who pioneered online interactions in the early 1990s.
On the Internet, you get to know someone from the inside out first, whereas in the physical world it's from the outside in. Each way has its pluses and minuses. People are people, and they're no different online than they are anywhere else. We don't sit down at our computers and all of a sudden become unreal. If I say "I love you" to someone on the phone, does that make it not real? So if I say it on a computer, why would that make it not real?
I have to believe if this book were being published now, twenty years later and with a great deal more experience dealing with predators who groom their victims online, the editors would not have included this paragraph. We are now trying desperately to teach our children (and ourselves) that people are most assuredly not always themselves online, or at least find it easier to portray themselves in a particular way to manipulate others.

Also in this last chapter, the issues of Dr. Jack Kevorkian and the right-to-die movement are introduced. There's a personal story from a woman who's husband died of metastatic lung cancer, quickened by a morphine drop.
Whenever you read anything about death or dying, you inevitably read about Dr. Kevorkian and about physician-assisted suicide. That is just a red herring in the whole discussion of death and dying. It has little to do with ordinary illness and dying. 
I supplemented this chapter with the USCCB statement To Live Each Day with Dignity which provides an excellent overview of the Catholic Church's stance on assisted suicide.

After having completed the first twelve weeks of our history for Level 4, I think I'll modify it for my later children.  I'm going to spread it over the whole year and king of nestle the other units (World War I, World War II, the Fall of Communism, and Asia) within the studies. I think it will flow better.

I have a copy of The Century and might use that as a spine instead, but it would involve a lot more reading. My son read through part of 20th Century Day by Day each day, along with a reading from The Century for Young People. This book is a huge tome, but it's full of interesting bits of news covering a wide range of events in world events, science, technology, and the arts. I think it was one of his favorite parts of history. Reading the denser and longer text of The Century would probably mean giving up time devoted each day to 20th Century Day by Day and right now I'm not sure I'd do that.

Monday, November 13, 2017

School Week Highlights: Week 11

This was a book-heavy week. We did almost every assignment in every subject, which happens less often than not. It does make our highlight post a little less exciting.

- We went to adoration.

- We had a lovely nature study walk at a near-by park. We've been there many times but took a trail off the paved path for the first time.

What is this bug? How would we even find out? 
They were burrowing.

- First Son mastered division on xtramath and is done for the year!

- Second Son mastered second grade on Khan Academy and insists on starting the third grade work, though I have cut down on his computer time so he'll go more slowly.

- Though it is not a school highlight, I was tremendously pleased to finish stitching Second Daughter's Christmas stocking this past week. I had already finished First Daughter's in September, so now both are in the hands of an accomplished seamstress who will do all the actual sewing for me. With luck, they'll be back home before St. Nicholas comes!

Friday, November 10, 2017

How Explorers Created Our World: History's Greatest Voyages of Exploration

History's Greatest Voyages of Exploration (Great Courses)
by Professor Vejas Gabriel Liulevicius

This is one of the Great Courses, a series of recorded lectures. In this course, Professor Liulevicius describes explorers from antiquity to modern times and our quest to land a man on the moon in the 1960s.

There are 24 lectures of about thirty minutes each, so a total of about twelve hours. Each lecture is presented as a story in rich language not without bits of humor. The lectures focus on explorers everyone knows like Marco Polo but also some less-well-known figures like Xuanzang (at least not as well-known in the United States) and Ida Pfeiffer. Here are some of the explorers included:
  • Pythias the Greek
  • St. Brendan
  • Xuanzang
  • Leif Eriksson
  • Marco Polo and Sir John Mandeville
  • Ibn Battuta
  • Christopher Columbus 
  • Magellan
  • Conquistadors - This lecture mentions how Catholic missionaries in the Americas often struggled against those who enslaved and murdered indigenous populations in the Americas.
  • Henry Hudson
  • The Jesuits - There's only one sentence near the end of this lecture in which the professor indicates he doesn't subscribe to the faith of the Jesuits and (maybe) doesn't exactly approve of their evangelization efforts. Overall, this is a surprisingly favorable view of the Church and the Jesuits' efforts to protect and aid those they encountered on their missionary journeys.
  • Captain Cook
  • Alexander von Humboldt - The last five minutes of this lecture included a brief discussion of Humboldt's possible homosexuality. One of my daughter's asked a question about it, which I answered, and then we moved on. I don't think it added much to the lecture and you could easily just skip ahead a few sentences if you're prepared.
  • Lewis and Clark
  • Sir John Franklin
  • Ida Pfeiffer
  • Dr. Livingston and Mary Kingsley
  • A few at the end looking at the exploring extreme environments: Arctic, Antarctic, ocean depths, and space
Some of these are nice introductions to the corresponding descriptions in A Book of Discovery, providing some modern context and framing. (A Book of Discovery is recommended at Mater Amabilis™ ™for Level 3.) Shackleton's ill-fated expedition to cross Antarctica is also included, which is described so vividly in Endurance in Level 4.

The professor also makes the voyages relevant - how these explorations changed the world and helped create the one we live in today.

I listened to this course along with my children without listening to it ahead of time. As I mentioned above, there were really just a few sentences I wish I could have avoided. Though they weren't always entirely excited by the lectures, they mostly enjoyed them. First Son even remembered stories of Maui from an early lecture months later when we saw Moana. I didn't, but he did.

This is an excellent choice if you have an extra Audible credit or if you come across one of the Great Courses sale when you can get two courses for one credit.

I purchased this course using a credit, which I had received as a paying member of, an Amazon company. The links in this post are affiliate links, but the content is my honest opinion.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Faith and Vikings: Beorn the Proud

Beorn the Proud
by Madeleine Polland

This book is recommended in RC History's Connecting with History volume 2, which we finished in the first term this year. I read this aloud to the children based on their recommendation without reading it ahead of time and we all enjoyed it immensely.

There are some disturbing events in the book. Ness's village is attacked by Viking raiders and she is the only survivor, captured by a young Viking and kept as his slave. On the way home, the raiders stop at a remote monastery and again attack. Ness sees monks plummeting from high towers to their deaths.

Though distraught at the loss of her village and family and at her plight as a slave, Ness is always cognizant of the opportunity to lead Beorn, the Viking boy who captured her, to the Christian faith. Beorn makes no similar effort, but his actions and words often show the faith of the Vikings in pagan gods. Ness does not denigrate his beliefs, which I found a good example of evangelism for the children.
Sorry for the boy, she tried to think with sympathy of his pagan ways even if they horrified her, and to understand that they meant much to him. This was no time to try and tell him they were wrong.
Throughout the book, we encountered many aspects of Viking culture that expanded on what we read about in other books during the unit.

At one point, before leaving Ireland entirely behind, Ness has the chance to kill Beorn and escape. She stands above him with a knife but does not attack.
Ness was too confused to be angry. She had had the chance in one moment to dispose of her enemy and gain her freedom, and she had not been able to take it. She did not know whether she had lacked the courage for revenge or whether she had been given the grace to resist the temptation to kill. 
Beorn's father dies and he discovers a plot to kill the king. Escaping his home, they arrive in time to help thwart the attempt and save the king. Beorn's foolish pride endangers him and his people but he is blind to the threat. When Ness tries to reason with him, he attacks her faith, asking the kind of questions we all ask when tragedy befalls Christians.
I listened long enough to your talk of humility and your God of gentleness. He cares, you say, for those who serve Him! How has He cared for you? He has allowed you to lose your home and your family."
She can only answer, "You have not yet walked all your road!"

In the end, it is Ness's faith in her family and her Lord that save them all.

This post is my honest opinion. I purchased this book, probably from the publisher during one of their frequent sales. The links to RC History are affiliate links.

Monday, November 6, 2017

School Week Highlights: Week 10

This week turned out to be a bit of a fall break for us, with outside activities combined with a sick mama.

- We went to adoration.

- We took the kids to a Trunk or Treat at Kansas Dad's university. It was cold, but we enjoyed visiting with some of the students. Second Son was dressed as a baker and insisted he needed to carry a basket of goodies to give away himself. He shared cookies, muffins, and little loaves of bread with some of the students and one of the priests. That was fun!

- On Halloween, First Son attended a candy poker party with some of his friends. He had a great time, though I think he ate most of his winnings.

Kylo Ren
- The other three went to Grammy's house for dinner and then went trick-or-treating in her neighborhood.
baker, Moana, cat
- Wednesday was the great feast of All Saints, so we took the day off school. We visited and played with friends for a few hours. In the afternoon, I took First Son shoe shopping. He needed bigger church shoes (from size 11 to size 13). We bought the same pair he had last time, just in a bigger size. We'll have to look online soon as they didn't have anything bigger than a 13.

- Second Daughter got shoes, too. She was crying every time we told her to put on something besides sandals or rain boots, so we looked through all the clearance shoes to find some she found acceptable. We also found some furry boots on super-clearance Second Daughter really wanted. She agreed to share the cost with me because she didn't really need them.

- I also finished filling out Second Son's winter wardrobe. Since he's already put a hole in one pair of pants, I bought him an extra pair. And socks for First Daughter. The theme of the trip was basically "What do we need so these kids stop complaining they don't have X when it's time to get dressed and go outside?" We were successful in most of the essentials and the kids didn't complain too much.

- We had our nature study on the other side of town this week. It was cold and drizzly, so we only visited the inside exhibits but the kids still drew in their nature journals.

drawing a squirrel
- One evening this week, we enjoyed a lovely dinner at a nice restaurant with Kansas Dad's parents and his aunt and uncle visiting from California. The children were well-behaved and even participated nicely in some of the conversation.

- We went to see a children's production of White Christmas.

- We went to a Poetry Tea at a local library. I insisted all my children recite a poem they had memorized. Second Son (7) bounded right up on stage first of anyone there: The Little Turtle by Vachel Lindsay. Later he also recited Ants by Mary Ann Hoberman (recorded by First Daughter five years ago). First Daughter (11) happily recited two poems: O Captain! My Captain! by Walt Whitman and Concord Hymn by Ralph Waldo Emerson. Second Daughter was more reluctant, but once she mastered her nervousness and recited the first poem (Daffadowndilly by A. A. Milne), she returned for more (There Once Was a Puffin by Florence Page Jacques). I tried to convince First Son to recite Paul Revere's Ride but he seemed to think that would be showing off, so he chose instead The Road Goes Ever On from The Lord of the Rings, Book I, Chapter 1. It was wonderful to have an opportunity to actually recite some of the poetry we've memorized and this was forgiving audience of relatively few children and their grown-ups. (I did threaten them with lessons when we got home if they refused to recite.) The librarian also had lots of books of poetry lying around the tables and we enjoyed perusing them. I hope they have another one.

- Second Son had his last soccer game of the fall season. It was cold and drizzly and I won't be sorry to take a break, but he will miss it.

Friday, November 3, 2017

Homeschool Record: Our 2015-2016 Poetry

We read from a book of poetry about once a week just for beauty and enjoyment as part of our cultural studies loop.

Just for the blog record, here are the books of poetry we read during the 2015-2016 school year (6th grade, 3rd grade, 1st grade, pre-kindergarten).

The Dragons are Singing Tonight by Jack Prelutsky, pictures by Peter Sis - This is a whole book of poems in the voice of different dragons. Some are silly or clever. The children enjoyed them all. The illustrations were adequate for the poems, though I prefer other illustrators to Sis. (library copy)

The Oxford Illustrated Book of American Children's Poems edited by Donald Hall - This is a wonderful anthology covering nearly all of America's historical periods. The illustrations vary, matched with contemporary poems. (library copy)

Is It Far to Zanzibar? Poems about Tanzania  by Nikki Grimes, illustrated by Betsy Lewin - A delightful collection of poetry sharing life in the African country of Tanzania with wonderful illustrations.  This is a great book to include if you're Reading Around the World and want to cover Africa. (library copy)

Carnival of the Animals with new verses by Jack Prelutsky, illustrated by Mary GrandPre - We were revisiting poetry by Jack Prelutsky because my children enjoy his poems tremendously. This particular book is fun because it celebrates the Carnival of the Animals with new lyrics. It includes a CD of the music by Camille Saint-Saens. (library copy)

Earthshake: Poems from the Ground Up by Lisa Westberg Peters, pictures by Cathie Felstead - I loved this quirky book of geology poems, illustrated with bold colors and swirls. (library copy)

Goodnight Songs by Margaret Wise Brown is a book of twelve quiet poems illustrated by twelve different respected children's book illustrators like Jonathan Bean and Melissa Sweet. Tom Proutt and Emily Gary set each of the poems to music, available on the included CD. My children listened to the poems when I read them, enjoying the illustrations, but the younger ones loved the CD. They even asked me to add a couple of the songs to their playlist on Spotify. (library copy)

The Children's Own Longfellow, poems by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, which I wrote about here. (library copy, but now we have our own copy from

America the Beautiful in the Words of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow - an older book with photographs of different American scenes to illustrated some of Longfellow's poetry. The kids were not as interested in this book. (library copy, one which they no longer have)

The Cuckoo's Haiku: and Other Birding Poems by Micheal J. Rosen, illustrated by Stan Fellows, provides about seven poems about different birds for each of the seasons. I am not a good judge of haiku, but the illustrations are lovely examples of nature study journals. I loved this book of poems. (library copy)

My America: A Poetry Atlas of the United States collected by Lee Bennett Hopkins - We finished the year with this book as a complement to First Daughter's third grade state study. We didn't quite finish it and picked it back up in the fall. I like this collection of poems that highlights a few characteristics of the areas of the United States. We've checked it out from the library numerous times, but now we have our own copy thanks to

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

October 2017 Book Reports

Henry V (No Fear Shakespeare) by William Shakespeare and the people of SparkNotes - link to my post (purchased copy)

Calico Bush by Rachel Field is a book about Marguerite, a French girl bound out to a family that moves to the coast of Maine during the French and Indian War. Marguerite is a Roman Catholic, and derided for being so by the family, but I think this merely serves to show a common prejudice of the time. First Daughter will be reading this in her American History course as independent reading, mostly for fun. (library copy)

The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo is a fairy tale of sorts. A carefully crafted and much loved china rabbit is separated from his owner. Through trials of his own and of those he encounters, he learns to love. In the end, he's reunited with his original family, a finer rabbit for his travels. I think Second Daughter might appreciate this book as a break from her Little House reading, which is coming along slowly. (library copy)

Augustine Came to Kent by Barbara Willard was one of our world history read-alouds this year, chronicling a young boy's journey with Father Augustine who was sent to England by Pope Gregory. The children enjoyed it greatly. It provides an excellent picture of life in England at the time of his arrival and the kinds of struggles all missionaries face. (purchased copy)

King of the Golden River by John Ruskin is a fairy tale. Three brothers embark on a quest. The older two are greedy and unkind; their journeys end appropriately. The youngest shows sacrifices his own comfort and success, which leads to his reward. (free Kindle version)

Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Voyage by Alfred Lansing - link to my post (purchased used copy)

Siblings Without Rivalry: How to Help Your Children Live Together so You Can Live too by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish - This is a follow-up book to How to Talk so Kids Will Listen and Listen so Kids Will Talk, a book I've read twice and have found incredibly useful in all kinds of relationships. I found some useful advice in this book, though I've also found it difficult to implement it. It might be easier if I focused on one skill at a time. Still, I'm glad I read it and hopefully I'll be able to adjust some of my behavior to help my children interact with each other. (I did not care for the comparison of a new sibling to a new spouse, but that can be overlooked.) (library copy)

John Paul II: A Personal Portrait of the Pope and the Man by Ray Flynn - link to my post (purchased used copy)

The Loved One by Evelyn Waugh is a weird book depicting a whole cast of characters from the deplorable to the callous to the ignorant. Waugh's sharp wit attacks everyone. Sometimes it's quite funny (in a deliciously nasty kind of way) but sometimes it's just sad. This was a book I picked for our book club, but we haven't had a chance to discuss it yet (inter-library loan copy)

Love in a Fearful Land: A Guatemalan Story by Henri Nouwen - This book tells of Nouwen's journey to Santiago Atitlan three years after the murder of Blessed Stanley Rother. It followed the biography nicely by providing a picture of life at the parish a few years after Bl. Stanley's death. It's a memoir of a trip and therefore intertwines Nouwen's life and feelings with those of the people of the parish and their new pastor. (library 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). I like to use the little I earn on the blog to purchase birthday and Christmas gifts (usually books). Thanks! Try Audible - another affiliate link.

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.