Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Gentle Reminders

Speaking of signs strategically placed to offer gentle reminders throughout the day...

Look what showed up in our bathroom yesterday...

I was aghast.  Who among us would write something so uncouth???  It was no doubt done in a thoughtless fit of exasperation.  (I'm just guessing about the circumstances, of course.)  

Thankfully, I kept my wits about me and was able to replace this crazed-person-with-a-giant-marker poster
with something a little less boorish and ill-mannered.  Here is the slightly more tasteful replacement...

While definitely more polite, and even a little pretty, the fact that I have to have this manner of sign in my bathroom at all, is moderately disturbing.  It remains to be seen what the long term effects of such a sign will be.  

Perhaps the best result of all was that to create this little beauty, I finally openend up my Heidi Grace Designs alphabet punch-outs (which I can't even link to b/c I can't find them anywhere on the web).  They're one of those things that I bought ages ago, but they're so cute I never wanted to use them and spoil the newness.  Am I the only person who does that???  I finally caught on to it about a year ago when I realized I had some awesome Wilton cookie sheets that I hadn't used for YEARS because I didn't want them to look... used.  I'm mental, I know.  Now that I've identified this problem (and it's only one of ever so many) I try to remember that it's totally pointless to have nice things if you never take them out and use them.  It's materialism at its worst - it's *gasp* hoarding.  

So, the moral of today's story is:

It's not ok to hide new things away because they're too nice and new to use.  
Find something around your house today that you bought to use but you never use. 
Get it out and use it!  It'll make you feel happy!
(unless I really am the only person that does this...  In that case, never mind.  Proceed.)

Monday, March 25, 2013

Is It Getting Fruity in Here?

sub-heading:  Musings That Prove I Am Not a Theology Scholar

For reasons I can't quite sort out, I have never been a full-out fan of the Holy Spirit.  It sounds pretty bad, but let me explain.  I've always felt pretty solid about God the Father and God the Son, but some how, years ago, I got it into my head that the Holy Spirit was a part of our Faith that was more for Catholics that gathered in open fields to sing Kumbaya.  He's a spirit, the breath of God, a mystical bond between the Father and Son, the love that flows between them... it all just sounded a little too peace, love, and happiness for me and I just couldn't get into it.  It wasn't as if I totally dismissed the Holy Spirit in a worthy-of-excommunication sort of way, it was more like I kept him at arm's length.

Fast forward many years to me married with children.  Raising children is the thing in my life that makes me frantic and flustered and fed-up, makes me question everything about myself, doubt myself to the extreme, give in to the worst parts of my personality, and mess up big time.  Before I had children I never yelled, stomped my foot, rolled my eyes at another human being, or pondered things like, "will taking away the Twizzlers as a reward for toilet success during Holy Week emphasize the sacrificial beauty of uniting our sufferings to Christ's, or will it be the direct cause of toddler toilet-use regression and motherly frustration??"  Amidst all the frustration and chaos (mostly of my own fabrication) in my life, I never thought much about the Holy Spirit until one Sunday morning (two years ago, maybe?) when we were on our way to Mass and the kids had been especially rambunctious all morning.  I recall praying a somewhat desperate prayer in the van, "There is nothing more I can do.  Please, please, please Holy Spirit, descend upon these children and manifest yourself within them all through Mass - Peace and Fear of the Lord would be good manifestations.  Thank you, and Amen.  p.s. - Please, please please.  Amen."  (because the week before had been one of those Masses where we entered as a family and left as a three ring circus, and I could see it all again in my mind's eye.)  I don't really remember the specs on the kids at that Mass, but I do recall my own demeanor - I felt cheerful and patient with my family, faithful and focused on the service. I also recall praising and thanking the Spirit afterwards, and smiling all morning long.  Something had happened at that Mass, and we hadn't even sung Kumbaya.  

Since then, I think I've been warming up to the Third Person of the Trinity, and hope I'm  forgiven for some of my previous misunderstandings.  The more I prayed to the Spirit, the more I realized it was repeatedly for help.  He has power, and I needed some of it, especially if I was going to survive motherhood.   I would hear myself snap at one of my children, and think to myself, "I need to be more patient and gentle.  Next time I will be."  I was doing an awful lot of telling myself I would do things differently, but then I would fail again.  Pondering the Holy Spirit, I recalled, "He has fruits to bestow, doesn't he??"  Ohhhhhhhhhhh... perhaps instead of believing I have the capability of becoming more patient, gentle, kind, or joyful with the simple flip of a mental switch, I should be asking for these things in prayer.  (you can see that I'm still very young spiritually that I'm just catching on to these things...)

I recently put a list of the fruits of the Spirit on a card above my sink - this seems to be the hub of my daily activity, and therefore the perfect place for the reminder.  I need these fruits.  I need to pray for them more.  I long to be more fruity, er, I mean, fruitful.  Having the visual reminder right there has allowed me to identify my missed opportunities for "fruitful behavior" during the day, to recognize my mistakes and to pinpoint particular fruits that must be cultivated.  I'm definitely not attempting to be more fruitful on my own, here.  I whole-heartedly desire the Spirit's divine aid - plant the seeds, so to speak, provide me with opportunities to practice, nudge me in the the right direction, empower me to change, fuel my desire to change my heart, my attitude, my words, my actions, grant that they may be fruitful - that is, full of Your fruits.  

I need the Holy Spirit in my life.  I'm not looking for flighty or fanciful, or swaying in harmony to songs of "peace, love, and happiness" (though that is good summer-time bonfire fun.)  I'm speaking here of power and assistance.  Because a lot of the time, especially as regards raising children, I often feel like, "There's nothing more I can do," and the Spirit speaks to me (through a list above my sink)... "Check out this list right here.  I've got the power and I've got your back, and we're working on these together."

Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your 
faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love.
Send forth your spirit and they shall be created.  
And you shall renew the face of the earth.

Come Holy Spirit, grant me your fruits so that I may be a more fruitful wife and mother - a woman of joy, self-control, gentleness, generosity, patience, peace.  May your ultimate fruit be my transformed heart - a heart which does all for the greater glory of God.  Amen.


The fruits of the Spirit are perfections that the Holy Spirit
forms in us as the first fruits of eternal glory.
CCC 1832

Friday, March 22, 2013

We Unleashed Shackleton on Them

Isn't it just the best fun when you've been waiting and waiting and you finally get to share one of your passions with your kids?  

Over ten years ago, I went with a friend (hello, dear Maria Tortilla, if you ever read this!) to the IMAX theater in Cincinnati to see the documentary, Shackleton's Antarctic Adventure, about the 1914 Antarctic Expedition of Ernest Shackleton.   ***  Ultra short  expedition overview: Shortly after the start of WWI, explorer Ernest Shackleton led 27 men to Antarctica to be the first to walk across the continent.  Before reaching the continent, his ship, Endurance, got trapped in ice and was eventually destroyed.  They were completely cut off from the world (it was just a few years before cell phones and satellite signals...right?) - no one knew where they were, no one knew they were in trouble, no one was coming to rescue them.  The men spent over a year trapped, floating on the ice, in three life boats, and on a small rocky island, living through the harshest conditions and surviving despite the fact that nobody could really survive that. Just when you thought it couldn't get much worse, it does, and even when Shackleton finally reached an island with other human life on it he still had to hike over previously uncharted mountains to reach help.  And then when you think everyone will finally be rescued, they really aren't... and there I will leave you in suspense.  ***

Ernest Shackleton
So I saw the movie and I was hooked.  Hooked, I tell you.  From that point on, I think I saw the IMAX movie a few more times, and I listened to the book Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Voyage, by Alfred Lansing, as I commuted twice a week to graduate school.  Some time after my husband and I were married we were on a watching documentaries kick and I remembered Shackleton.  A documentary later, my husband was on board with my obsession.  Now between one of the many documentaries or the dramatization with Kenneth Branagh, we watch something Shackleton-related at least once a year.  Because it doesn't matter how well you know the story, it is still unbelievable, and yet it really happened.   It's one of the most phenomenal tributes to the capacity of the human will and the triumph of the human spirit - I sound like the back of a DVD, but you read and watch for yourself and see if you can talk about it without sounding similar!  I mean it - I callenge you!

It soon became obvious to me that our boys were old enough to appreciate the story and you couldn't hold us back anymore.  We unleashed Shackleton on them and as Aaron said the other day, "this is the most exciting story ever, Mom!  I can't wait until we get to the end."  Can't wait, indeed.  I'm thrilled that they are enthralled as my husband and  I (but honestly, I don't see how any human being could hear this story and not be utterly spellbound.)  I can't wait to continue our Endurance education and I anticipate many years of Shackleton-related enjoyment for our family - because it's just the best when you've been waiting and waiting and finally they're old enough, and you get to share one of your passions with your kids!

I feel so strongly that this is a fabulous story for people everywhere to know about that I am gifting you this list of resources for you to check out.  Did all the work for you, that I did.

Here's what we used for our Shackleton study:  
(note, our boys are 5 and 6 1/ 2 now, so I chose books that I thought were "good" and also were appropriate for their age level.  There is tons of literature on Shackleton's expedition; this obviously isn't all there is out there, and there very well may be better choices for other age groups.)

* I started with a very brief into to the story and we mapped out England to Buenos Aires to South Georgia Island on the globe.  We chatted about what Antarctica is like, what animals live there, and we checked out the trans-continental route that Shackleton was hoping to take. 

Spirit of Endurance by Jennifer Armstrong 

This was the first book we read.  I thought it was a good choice because it combines artfully done illustrations with photographs from the expedition photographer, Frank Hurley.  
(children's book)

*The Endurance: Shackleton's Perilous Expedition in Antarctica
by Meredith Hooper

This book has some nice maps in the front cover and in the back of the book there is a fine timeline - hits all the expedition highlights and is enhanced with some of Hurley's photographs.
(children's book)

Trapped by the Ice by Michael McCurdy

Another good picture book for children.
Although it is not written as a journal, it has that feel - nearly each page is dated for an easy at-a-glace assessment of the passage of time during the expedition.
(children's book)

Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Voyage  by Alfred Lansing

My oldest son is listening to this book on CD.
The author himself, interviewed surviving members of the expedition to complete this book in the 50's.

While listening, Aaron's enjoyed looking through, South with Endurance - the complete photographs of Frank Hurley.  This is an amazing collection!

*Shackleton's Antarctic Adventure (the IMAX movie narrated by Kevin Spacey)
I guess this is the movie to look for if you've got littler kids.  It's the only one ours have watched so far.  I think it might be the better option for littles because it has more "video" footage - some of  Hurley's actual "moving pictures" and some respectably done re-enactments.  The film maker also seemed sensitive to the fact that young families would be seeing this in theaters, so the movie takes it easy on some of the hardships that were faced (like it skips mentioning that they had to kill their dogs and avoids the description of surgeries performed in the rugged wilderness)  The movie also has an interesting bit at the end about three present-day world-class climbers who traced Shackleton's hike across South Georgia Island.  It's a pretty engaging "extra."

********  The Endurance (narrated by Liam Neeson) - THIS IS OUR FAVORITE MOVIE and the one that I recommend for adults and older children who can sit through the type of documentary with historian-sitting-in-upholstered-chair-with-books-behind-him interviews and the like.  (I am planning on letting the boys watch this, just haven't gotten to it yet.)   It's so well done, and no doubt, will leave you interested in learning more.  See this movie.  ok?

If you're into primary sources....

There are published memoirs from Shackleton and some of the other men on the expedition.  I just ordered Shackleton's memoir, Southfor my Kindle for ZERO dollars.
Also check out the book of Hurley's photographs I mentioned above, as well as the 1919 movie South: Ernest Shackleton and the Endurance Expeditionwhich I guess I would consider a primary source because it was directed by Hurley.  (Got it from the library, but haven't watched it yet.)

Here are some other resources that I have not seen but am interested in:

Shackleton's Voyage of Endurance  (a 2 hour NOVA documentary, but expensive to buy and our library only has it on VHS.  The reviews are great, though.)
On-line NOVA resource
Shackleton's Frozen Hell - a show airing on the Smithsonian Chanel at random days and times (next one is this Sunday!!)  (we don't have cable, but this might be reason to splurge!)  You can watch two clips at the site; looks good  - heavy on dramatic recreations.
These two readers (easy chapter books for kids?) -
 Ice Wreck
 Escape From the Ice

That should be enough to hold anyone over for a while.  We've been pretty busy lately, so we didn't do too much "enrichment" to go with all our reading.  The little things we did were use a measuring tape to visualize the size of the life boats and the kids drew their own pictures of the Endurance stuck in the ice.  If I was a  homeschool super-mom we probably would have done things like sleep outside on a snowy night using only ice cubes as blankets and wake up early to smoke our penguin meat over the open fire.  But I'm only a mediocre homeschool mom, so we read the books in our warm house while we ate pretzels (possibly the chocolate-covered variety, but you didn't hear it from me...)

*note* Ernest Shackleton, a man of ambition, adventure, and wanderlust, was (not surprisingly, but still not excusably) somewhat of an absent husband and father (kind of don't blame her for staying behind...).  Most of the resources I've mentioned don't dwell on it, but it is a fact, and you may want to preview materials before you hand them over to your kids.  However, I write with confidence that none of the children's books I mentioned address this so you can hand those over without reservation!  (If I recall, the Branagh movie has more of this storyline in it, and maybe something about a possible extramarital affair???  I haven't seen it in ages, and honesty, I don't even recommend it that highly when there are so many other fabulous resources out there.)


Thursday, March 21, 2013

The Equinox and a Birthday

Wednesday: the Vernal Equinox 
(a fancy way of saying the First Day of Spring)
A "Welcome Spring" cake with lots of dirt and mud and budding plants and worms.  Mouthwatering?

Thursday: Clare Turns One!

Gotta admit the Spring cake was a box mix, but this afternoon I risked losing a few knuckles
grating carrots for delicious homemade carrot cake.  (knuckles all still accounted for, and
the cake was awesome!)

Happy Birthday to our Clare Louise! 

feeling a little under the weather
just because it's your birthday doesn't mean you can't have a cold :(

A post script for my own benefit - we have had crazy delicious desserts Tues, Wed, and Thurs of this week.  Time to cool it because Sunday starts Holy Week!  
We are ready!  

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Extreme Makeover (Toy Edition)

Two friends of mine recently posted about d.i.y. projects invovling painting an upholstered chair (who knew it could be done?) and an amazing kitchen upgrade (which has left me longing for some new life in my own little kitchen).  

I feel the itch to share a project, even though I haven't project-ed anything lately.  Can you "blag" (that's my new mash-up word for "blog brag") about a d.i.y. project you did a year ago?  It's not like I've been working on this thing recently and readers have been waiting with baited breath the see the big reveal.  It is, however, the one year anniversary of the only kitchen renovation project we've ever done, and is the colaborative project in which my husband and I take the most pride.  Here it is...

Extreme Makeover

Entertainment Center - to - Play Kitchen

Craiglist.  $20.   No pressboard or composite here.  This is a crazy heavy, wooden beast.

Russ and I don't do "handy" so a good friend helped us get this far, thereby making this a not-quite-d.i.y. project.  

But we can paint and pick out hardware!  Here's what we ended up with after many fun nights of secretly working in the basement after the kids went to bed!

We gave our kiddos the kitchen as a present on the morning I was going to the hospital fit to burst with #4.  It was one year ago this evening that we finished it up and hauled it out to the playroom!  (So, it stands to reason that #4's birthday is tomorrow!  Time flies, my friend.  Time flies.)  

(Can't find a recent picture of play kitchen fun time... but one year later the fun times are still going strong.  I love the meals that come out of this kitchen and I rarely have to clean up after I eat!)  

oh, and ps - in case you're thinking of doing a sociology project or something, don't bother - the answer is "girls and boys are different."  Girls cook play food, boys cook play food and then play plumber when the disposal backs up  ;)

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

St. Joseph, Pray for Us!

Joseph, strengthen in our family
every bond of love which unites us --
the marriage bond,
the love of parent and child,
the bonds of mutual love between all.
Joseph, protect our family
from every danger from without
and from every threat
to peace, unity and harmony within.
Joseph, teach us to be
kind and loving towards one another,
careful for one another,
tolerant of one another,
forgiving towards one another.
Joseph, may contentment with our lot
and joy in each other
abound in our house,
as we seek faithfully to serve
and greatly to love God.
Joseph, be you yourself
  a father towards the family of ours,
    and pray Mary be a mother to us.   
                                                                                     (Brian Moore, S.J.)

I kind of missed St. Patrick's Day (threw me for a loop being on a Sunday) so I made sure we didn't pass over Good St. Joseph.  He deserves a little attention, no?

  Our family celebration this evening...  
(you can tell it was a really big deal because I used a table cloth... last time that happened, I think JPII was still Pope...)

Cookie tools of St. Joseph, everyone's favorite :)

 We prayed a litany of St. Joseph while eating dessert -
perhaps not the most reverent option, but we sure
had a totally captive audience.  

Thanks, Russ, for picking up the lilies (that I forgot) on your way home!
Here for your viewing pleasure - St. Joseph's sfinge, a traditional Italian dessert served on St. Joseph's Day.
I love them, my kids don't.  More for me and Russ and other friends I hung out with tonight!
 They are pretty looking, aren't they?
***  PRIZE ALERT *** You will win a prize of great honor (recognition by name, if desired, here in this post)
if you can tell me WHY these are a traditional dessert for the Feast of St. Joseph.
Because I just keep on making them, even though I have no idea why.

Happy Feast of St. Joseph.
God bless all you fathers!

A Picture Book Book List

I can't help myself.  
I LOVE books.
I especially love "good" children's books.  
I especially, especially love searching for new "good" books - the thrill of the hunt, the surge of adrenaline when you pounce, the smug satisfaction as you sit to enjoy your hard-won reward.

Ok, don't be scared off!  I'm not really a weirdo who actually channels this savage-like prehistoric hunter gatherer persona as I prowl through the library.  But I do tend to click many an afternoon away through blog book lists, library catalogs, and Amazon's "you may also like" recommendations. I just love reading to my children and have made it a much-enjoyed part of my mom mission to find good stuff to read with them. 

I recently wrote out my first ever book list - my personal Tomie DePaola favorites/recommendations for Catholic families.  Since then, I've had it in mind to make another list of favorite picture books - so of course I was ecstatic to come across this link-up at California to Korea.  (go check it out!)  I already love book lists, but to find a whole lot of lists linked together?!?! (insert angelic choirs singing!)

*Warning *  This list got pretty long pretty fast!  (I really struggle with brevity and tend toward long-windedness)  But I stand by all my recommendations!

I'm trying to keep my list to things that you don't typically find on every other book list.  (For example, we really do like Goodnight Moon, Blueberries for Sal, Dr. Seuss, and Eric Carle, but you can get that stuff on lots of other lists.)  This is primarily a list of unexpected finds.  It's also a list of books that suit my three oldest children - age 3 to nearly-7 - so I guess the average age for this book list is 4 1/2 ish??? I don't really pay attention to recommended ages too much because my 3 year old is used to "big kid" books, and the older boys are happy to sit for picture books during the day and wait for their Narnia (or other "big big kid" books) fix in the evening.  (hmmm, that's actually a mark of a good children's book - it can hold the attention of all ages, and is even pleasant for the adults to read!)  Finally, this is a list of books that we read exclusively for fun.  I've chosen not to include the (equally fabulous) picture books we read for lessons (art, music, religion, history, science, etc...) - because then I've got some awesome reads stored up for future lists!

I tried to link to Amazon so you could take a peak inside before you rushed out to the library :)  
So, in no particular order...

Library Lion, by Michelle Knudsen
"One day, a lion came into the library.  He walked right past
the circulation desk and up into the stacks..."  Your kids will be hooked!
He becomes a much-loved and very helpful regular at the library,
until one day when he breaks the library rules.

Mike Fink by Steven Kellog
We like most of Kellog's Tall Tales, but this was the book that first got us hooked!

Dinosaur Beach, by Liza Donnelly
A dinosaur-loving kid gets to meet some of the prehistoric sea-dwellers he
 knows so much about!  This book is funny.
(more for younger kids, ages 2-4?)

Erandi's Braids, by Antonio Hernandez Madrigal

Humphrey The Lost Whale, by Wendy Tokuda and Richard Hall
(true story!)
Gila Monsters Meet You at the Airport, by Marjorie Weinman Sharmat
(I love to stockpile the old Reading Rainbow books!)

The Bears on Hemlock Mountain, by Alice Dalgliesh


Beaver Pond, Moose Pond, by Jim Arnosky
(we love tons of Arnosky books, but this is one of the favorites.
Tip - some Arnosky books can be used as easy "readers."  Example, my first grader
can independently read Rabbits and Raindrops and Watching Foxes.  Tip on the tip -
have your first grader read these books to the littler kids as a "Science Lesson."  It works!)

Tiki Tiki Tembo, by Arlene Mosel

Ox Cart Man, by Donald Hall

Miss Rumphius, by Barbara Cooney

These next three are all true stories... really great stories, especially because they're true!

Baby in a Basket, by Gloria Rand
a mother and her two children are leaving Alaska for a warmer climate,
the carriage is overturned and the baby goes missing in a blizzard.
*caution* it's pretty intense and scary when the baby is missing, but... they find her!
The Glorious Flight, by Alice and Martin Provensen
account of the first flight across the English Chanel

Marven of the Great North Woods,  by Kathryn Lasky
about  boy who is sent away from the city to avoid the Influenza of 1918,
goes to live at a logging camp and learns the ways of the lumberjacks

These books, all by Brian Wildsmith
(an author/illustrator we love! - I mean we REALLY love his illustrations.  They're brilliant.)
Python's Party
The Owl and the Woodpecker
ABC's, Amazing Animal Alphabet, Zoo Animals, Animal Gallery
also check out his lives of Jesus, Mary, and St. Francis, and his various Easter and Christmas stories  - all very beautiful!

These books, all by Dahlov Ipcar
(another author/illustrator we've glommed onto)
Lobsterman (a delightful story which also teaches a great deal about lobster fishing)
One Horse Farm
Cat At Night
Hardscrabble Harvest (I personally find the rhyming text lacking here, but love the illustrations)

Everything on my previously published Tomie DePaola book list :)  of course!

Ok, this is crazy... I could go on and on.  Thanks for all the other recommendations I got from the links at California to Korea!  We've already been able to order and read some of them!  (I LOVE libraries!)
Hope you get to check out some of my faves curl up on the couch soon for some old fashioned cozy book time!  There's nothing like a great book recommendation - I love to peruse other's lists, and I'm happy to share mine!

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