WWRW: February Reads


Silence, by 20th century Japanese Catholic novelist Shusaku Endo.


Silence is a novel about a Portuguese priest, Fr. Sebastian Rodrigues, who attempts a dangerous mission to Japan in 1638, in the midst of severe persecution of Christians. He has heard a rumor that his former superior has apostasized and is now working for the Japanese government.

Fr. Rodrigues is smuggled onto the island by a former Japanese Christian who has apostasized but says he wants to return to the church. This man is obsessed with the idea that if only he had lived in an easier time, he would have lived and died a good Christian.

The Japanese figured out pretty quickly that public executions of priests simply made heroes out of the martyrs, and that torture worked a whole lot better for stamping out the faith, especially torturing the faithful in order to get priests to apostasize. It’s even worse than it sounds.

This book is simply written and a page-turner. Haunting is the best word I can think of to describe it. Martyrdom hangs over the characters at every turn. In this time where Christian blogs and periodicals are talking more and more about the need for Christians to be ready for the culture to turn against us, Silence is a must-read.

(Here’s an excellent reflection on Silence with historical background.)

No Greater Love, by Mother Teresa

Product Image

According to Endo, one of the questions he attempts to answer in Silence is how can Christianity take root in an Eastern culture? After close to two thousand years of missionary efforts in Asia,  Christianity is still a minority religion in most Eastern countries.

Mother Teresa answers that question in her own way in this collection of spiritual writings and talks. She says,

In India, I was asked by some government people, “Don’t you want to make us all Christians?” I said, “Naturally, I would like to give the treasure I have to you, but I cannot. I can only pray for you to receive it.”

Whose Body? by Dorothy Sayers

I’m a big Agatha Christie fan, and I’m afraid I just don’t like Dorothy Sayers as much. I think Miss Marple could beat Lord Peter to a clue every time. Still worth reading though.

All-of-a-Kind Family, by Sydney Taylor

I’m trying to find some upbeat early 20th century children’s literature to counteract all the tragedies we are learning about in history, and this book is definitely cheery.

A Jewish family of 5 girls in Manhattan at the turn of the 20th century. I’ve mentioned this book before, and I think it gives a great window into Jewish culture. I’m fascinated by the ways they keep the various feasts and Sabbath. It’s interesting to me to see how the family unit is the primary place of worship, not the synagogue, and the family meal is where the faith is celebrated. My kids liked picking out the ways the Sabbath dinner and Passover dinner prefigure the Mass.


Linking up with Jessica @ Housewifespice


7QT: Seafood, Pope Francis, & Lent


1. During our Ash Wednesday dinner of baked salmon, rice, and asparagus, William turned to me and said, “This tastes really good. Is it okay to eat this on Ash Wednesday?” Compliments aside, I felt a little guilty. Salmon is kind of a luxury for us, and I was enjoying it too!

Then this today from Pope Francis: Don’t let meatless Fridays be an excuse to splurge on a seafood feast. So maybe I shouldn’t consider salmon a penitential food anymore (unless they’re salmon patties).

During the Lent I was in RCIA and deciding to join the Church, I was working for a logistics company. On Ash Wednesday that year I learned that most of my co-workers were Catholic, because they all made a big deal out of ordering Filet-O-Fish sandwiches instead of their usual Big Macs at lunch.

Fresh from an evangelical college, I would never have guessed that those folks were Christians, seeing as how everything else was “F-ing this” and “F-ing that!”

I like that the Church has so many material practices that stick with us and draw us back if we start to slip away. But I also like that Pope Francis doesn’t want to let me get away with just following the letter of the law.

2. I love all the activities that we can do for Lent. I try to push myself in Advent and Lent to do some kids’ crafts and baking that I wouldn’t normally make time for. But it’s so easy (for me) to make it too complicated. This piece from Better than Eden captures the essence of what I really want to strive for.

That said…here comes another “a few ideas for Lent” kind of post.

Some new books for Lent

3. Nathaniel is reading Pinocchio to the kids before bed. The book is darker than the film (so he says–I haven’t read it) and is much more a warning about the effects of keeping bad company.

File:C. COLLODI, Le avventure di Pinocchio (prefazione di Attilio Momigliano, lineografie di B. Albi Bachini di anni 15, Editrice La Tifernate, Libreria G. PACI, Unione Arti grafiche, 1944-1948) edizione rossa.jpg

Image from Wikimedia Commons

4. And, after hearing the “double, bubble, toil and trouble” bit on a poetry CD, the kids really want me to read Macbeth to them. (Actually they want to watch a movie of it–umm, NO.)  But I could read/summarize/censor it for them. It’s another great literary warning about the cumulative effects of sin, right?

File:The Three Witches from Shakespeares Macbeth by Daniel Gardner, 1775.jpg

The Three Witches from Shakespeare’s Macbeth,

by Daniel Gardner

5. Last year we purchased an Easter candle making kit from Illuminated Ink, which was very lovely


but perhaps not worth the $20 price tag. In years past we have just bought a large white candle from Dollar Tree and poked 5 cloves into it in the shape of a cross, and we will probably do that again this year.

6. Here’s a meatless recipe I’m going to try out this week (although I’ll probably skip the heavy cream): Penne with Spinach, Gorgonzola, & Walnuts. I used to make one like this with linguini from my Betty Crocker cookbook. I think the kids might be ready to try gorgonzola if I don’t tell them beforehand.

Another simple meal we like is just Broccoli, Penne, Red Pepper Flakes, and tons of garlic.

7. God’s Lenten gift to me: Teddy seems to be almost completely potty-trained…notwithstanding the last accident chronicled in yesterday’s post. He just turned 2 1/2 this week, and we’ve been at it with limited success for 2 months. That’s so much longer than it took the other kids, BUT they were all older–all around their 3rd birthday. So, yes, it is much more work with a younger child, but there is still a net gain in the diaper budget category!

Have a great weekend, and don’t forget to visit the always awesome 7 quick takes host Kelly!

seven quick takes friday 2

See Me Homeschool


Since I write looong, wordy learning notes posts each week, I thought it would be fun to do something different for once, and the See Me Homeschool link-up hosted by Ordinary Lovely and California to Korea is just the thing.

And, I’m going to link up with Melanie too!

Here’s a day in our homeschool, all in pictures–no words. (I do have to give credit where credit is due for the craft, however, since that’s something I’d never come up with on my own!).

IMG_2106 IMG_2107 IMG_2109 IMG_2111 IMG_2103IMG_2112

IMG_2115 IMG_2118 IMG_2120 IMG_2124 IMG_2126 IMG_2130 IMG_2131 IMG_2133 IMG_2134







IMG_2165IMG_2168IMG_2170IMG_2172    IMG_2175 IMG_2179 IMG_2180

Now if you could only hear the soundtrack…

Lenten Spiritual Growth for Kids


How will not eating candy during Lent make me less reckless? one of my kids asked last night as they were all either finishing up the last of their Valentine’s candy stash or packing it away for Lent.

A few nights ago N. asked each of the four big kids to identify one of their strengths and one of their weaknesses to work on for Lent. The strength needed to be a virtue that came easily for them, not a talent like running fast or writing well.

We did this at the dinner table, and everyone got a chance to name what they thought the others’ virtues are. Without identifying each child, I’ll say the virtues they came up with for each other were diligence, friendship, quick obedience, and thoughtfulness.

We talked about how your temperament makes some virtues come easily, but when you are aware of your strengths you can try to practice them consciously out of love rather than just automatically because of your personality.

Then the vices–this was done privately with Dad. The vices you tend towards are usually the flip side of your personality. Our kids came up with hitting, yelling, recklessness, and tattling.

Now here’s where giving up candy (or whatever) comes in. We told them that giving up candy doesn’t automatically help you improve your behavior. BUT, since it’s much easier to give up food than it is to give up sin, disciplining yourself to not eat candy on certain days helps to strengthen your willpower, which you need to overcome vices that have become bad habits.

ALSO, you can use giving up candy as an opportunity to pray for help in becoming a better person. Every time you would normally eat a piece of candy, say a prayer to God to help you stop your habitual sin.

It always warms my heart when very young children offer to make little sacrifices for Lent, like offering their allowance or candy to give to the poor. But once they’ve reached the age of reason, kids are ready to use the practice of sacrifice to exercise their spiritual muscles and grow in holiness.

I hope everyone has a very blessed Lent!

Learning Notes for Week of February 9


Monday, February 9

A rare morning where I woke up and realized I had several errands and phone calls that had to be completed that morning. I almost never take off school to do such things, but I’d forgotten a couple really important things on Saturday and that was that.

Louis was away all day at N.’s school doing another trial day. So, it doesn’t matter who’s missing, it’s always easier to do an errand with one less child.

We were supposed to go to a co-op activity, but we missed that and showed up in time for William and me to go to confession with our homeschool group and then William to altar serve at noon Mass at our parish.

We had a doctor’s appointment after that and got home late in the afternoon and worn out!

Tuesday, February 10

Mass, then back to co-op, but having done my teaching time, I can now drop the three middle kids off for the rest of year. William did a math test at my friends’ house while we had our Bible study, and after that he played with Teddy and gave him lunch. This morning is a sweet time for him to have a chance to take care of Teddy.

We had a birthday party for one of the kids after co-op, and again got home in the afternoon, all worn out.

In the car, we finished the Arabian Nights and started All-of-a-Kind Family, by Sydney Taylor. This book is like Little House in the Big City–about a Jewish family with 5 daughters in Manhattan at the turn of the 20th century. It’s an engaging story, but the family, especially Mama, is a little too perfect.

The kids did their reading/listening to literature time and then started making valentines for a party coming up on Friday. They each were supposed to bring 60!!  And we were planning to make most of them.


Wednesday, February 10

This was a hard day. William and Louis took the entire morning to complete their math assignments, and I realized too late they just had too much to do.

I also notice we have a pattern of having hard days on Wednesdays. We are most of us introverts here and after church all day on Sunday, and co-op activities most Mondays and Tuesdays, it’s no wonder we are cranky on Wednesdays.

The bright spots today were reading from the Old Testament and A Letter to Mrs. Roosevelt. Also, Ben finished the first level of All About Spelling. Now all three of them are in Level 2, and I am going to start doing their spelling altogether. It’s the only way I can fit it in every day.

William started working on some questions from his Story of the World chapter on the Irish Potato Famine. I knew the English were nasty to the Irish, but I didn’t know how nasty. I didn’t know the English made the Irish load up their good crops on ships bound for England even though the Irish were starving. William was pretty mad about this too.

Thursday, February 12

I changed our morning format a bit today, and it helped everyone wake up and work more diligently (me too). After Mass, we started altogether in our school room with our Latin hymn and I resurrected the states & capitols song we were learning at the beginning of the year. We’ve only memorized through Nevada, so we can pick this back up again.

Then I took everyone but William out into the dining room so we wouldn’t be so distracting to him. Teddy got some math manipulatives to play with in his high chair and I did math and handwriting with the three middle kids at the table. I assigned less math to Louis, and he was happy about that. Ben and Marie finished their workbook (Singapore 1A) and are set to start 1B next week. We’re halfway through the school year now, so that’s about right. William also hit the halfway mark in his math book.

Handwriting and copywork and then everyone had to go outside for a break. I read the newspaper for a few minutes.

Spelling with the three kids together, and then each one read to me while the others played with Teddy or played outside. William was still working slowly through math, but as he consistently gets an A on his tests every 10 lessons I will cut his assignment a little more.

William and I reviewed his grammar section on nouns and looked up how to diagram the possessive case–nouns that act as adjectives. And he is wondering if there are more noun cases than the ones he has learned. A quick Google search reminded me that the possessive case is also called the genitive case, and that is a more accurate name (Mozart’s music means the music originated with Mozart not that Mozart owns the music). Of course genitive means origin, William points out–the book of Genesis.

At lunch we read from A Letter to Mrs. Roosevelt and they asked if a First Lady can make laws–so had a little discussion about her role and since it’s always good to try to find common ground, I mentioned Mrs. Obama’s initiatives to get kids to eat healthy, grow vegetables, and exercise. We can all agree on that.

After lunch I turned on a Charlie Brown DVD about the Wright Brothers. Everybody loved that. Then Teddy went down for a nap, and William and I watched his Latin lesson. This lesson answered his questions about more noun cases. What his grammar book calls the objective case his Latin book breaks into ablative, accusative, and dative. Thankfully he and I both find grammar extremely interesting. :-)

Also read this Saint Valentine bio by Ann Tompert in the evening.


Friday, February 13

Math facts and handwriting right after breakfast, then a homeschool Valentine’s party at the roller skating rink.

In the afternoon the kids watched the Charlie Brown Valentines movie and made valentines for each other.


William made cookies for his siblings.


Teddy loved his “valentimes.”


More homeschool days at Melanie’s!

Learning Notes for Week of February 2


This was a homeschooling-not-at-home kind of week. Linking up with Melanie whose blog makes me snow-jealous (a little).

Monday, February 2

Monthly co-op day. My 6th grade class’s topic was the work of mercy: shelter the homeless. Unfortunately most of the class was absent, but William and the other student sorted donations of household goods for families our church assists, and then we watched an old Reading Rainbow video about homelessness that includes this picture book:

Fly Away Home, by Eve Bunting

cover art It’s about a boy and his dad who live in an airport, and this whole underground community of homeless folks who live in the airport and carefully wander around the terminals all day hoping not to get caught by security. In the story, a bird gets caught inside one of the terminals and flies around in a panic for a few days before a door opens at just the right moment, and it flies home. The irony and symbolism come on pretty strong, but it’s a sensitive story about a sad topic.

I also had another book I almost used instead, but we didn’t have time for both.

Four Feet, Two Sandals, by Karen Lynn Williams

This book is about two girls in a refugee camp in Pakistan. When a truckload of donated clothing comes into the camp one day, everyone scrambles to grab whatever they can find. Each girl takes one sandal from the same pair. Eventually they become friends and take turns wearing the sandals, until one of them leaves for America. Another bittersweet story, but less close to home.

I wanted the kids to see that homeless people are not just panhandlers on street corners. Anyone without a safety net of family and friends or a stable community to live in could become homeless. But, I didn’t want to scare the kids and make them think they could become homeless. I think the class went okay, but I wasn’t sure if I hit the right balance.

For the first time ever Teddy was willing to go with the preschool class for most of co-op, and they and the other kids did some activities around Jesus’ miracle of calming the sea.

Playing with friends and reading in the afternoon–Louis is really into reading along with audio recordings of Encyclopedia Brown books, Marie listened to Little House on the Prairie and made a bunch of paper dolls, and William started reading The Twenty-One Balloons.

Tuesday, February 3

Mass with boys serving. Then my last class on India,

IMG_2083 which was about Mt. Everest, which is not in India (next door though). We read from these two books:

Tales from the Top of the World: Climbing Mount Everest with Pete Athans, by Sandra Athans

You Wouldn't Want to Climb Mount Everest!: A Deadly Journey to the Top of the World You Wouldn’t Want to Climb Mount Everest!: A Deadly Journey to the Top of the World, by Ian Graham

We learned lots of interesting facts and everyone wanted to find out if any kids had climbed Mt. Everest. In fact, two 13-year-olds have done it, an American boy and, more recently, a girl raised in poverty in India.

A little cutting and pasting of a mountain picture and we were finished. IMG_2084

Afternoon reading–we’re starting a new read-aloud, A Letter to Mrs. Roosevelt after Justin Morgan Had a Horse turned out to be too slow for now.

Marie had an AHG meeting that night.

IMG_2069 Wednesday, February 4

Everyone did a little math and copywork in the morning, and then we drove downtown for a Houston Symphony concert.

I had been dreading this field trip, even suggesting to N. that I substitute teach his class for a day if only he would take our kids to the symphony instead. We had some stressful trips to museums last year, and I swore off downtown field trips forever, until I forgot about that and bought these symphony tickets.

I was imaging the kids having to be perfectly silent for 50 minutes and me having to take Teddy out because he couldn’t be silent and climbing over tons of people to get to the exit and things like that.

It actually turned out to be one of the easiest field trips ever. The concert was for children, we sat in the several rows reserved for homeschoolers, there were hundreds of city school kids in the auditorium, and no one was silent. We had listened to some of the music last week, and Teddy remembered the songs and enjoyed it as much as anyone.

Now, not to be a crank, but the downside of this being a kids’ concert was that the symphony apparently felt the need to hit as many of the state academic standards as possible and the conductor kept throwing out ridiculous comments about how sound waves are made by the energy of the instruments and travel to our ears through the air.

So we could check off science in addition to music for that field trip.

Thursday, February 5

Mass with boys serving. And then Ultrasound day–IT’S A GIRL!!!

IMG_2082 Followed by a trip to the zoo.  Teddy hasn’t stopped asking when he can go back to see the meerkats, and his “wittle sister” too.

Friday, February 6

No surprise that after a week of running around town it was tough to sit down and do school work. But we tried anyway.

We read from the Old Testament about Jeroboam, whom God raised from servant to king of Israel by God. Then he promptly squandered his kingdom out of fear of losing power.

We did math and copywork, and refreshed our memories of our current Latin hymn and poems. We filled out February calendars and decorated them with stickers of presidents sent by Grandma.

IMG_2085 Those are Lenten ashes on Feb 18th there.

IMG_2081 Teddy loved hearing there was a president who shared his nickname.

Everyone read aloud, and I think William planted some more seeds too.

In the car, we finished listening to Gordon Korman’s Titanic trilogy and started a collection of Tales from the Arabian Nights.

I remember when the kids were preschool age and I was reading all about homeschooling how much I romanticized the “special classes and cultural field trips and science in the real world” aspect of homeschooling. Let me just say that that is an exhausting way to homeschool, and I can only do that all once in awhile!

WWRW: January Reads


So happy to have the What We’re Reading Wednesday link-up back!

My big read this past month was Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South. It had been ages since I’d read a Victorian novel and thankfully this one was for a book club I had to lead, so I had to plow through all 450 pages of it, busyness and all.

Product Details

North and South is like an Industrial Revolution version of Pride and Prejudice. Margaret Hale, a young lady from the south of England, moves to the northern industrial town of Milton (Manchester) when her father has a crisis of faith and has to abandon his post as a country parson. Although Margaret comes from an aristocratic family, her father’s career as a minister and now as a tutor has kept her family from ever being really wealthy and has given her a good dose of empathy for the downtrodden of the world.

One of the first people Margaret meets in Milton is Mr. John Thornton, her father’s foremost pupil and the owner of a thriving cotton mill. Mr. Thornton is fabulously wealthy, and his mother warns him that Margaret will be after his money in no time because Margaret comes from the South where “if all tales be true, rich husbands are reckoned prizes.”

Perhaps Mrs. Thornton has read Jane Austen, but not very closely, because Southern English ladies are actually very particular about where their husbands’ wealth comes from, and Margaret is disgusted by the cotton mills and the conspicuous consumption of its owners. Milton tradesmen are not gentlemen!

Mr. Thornton, on the other hand, pretty much falls head over heels in love with Margaret the moment he lays eyes on her. But he doesn’t make his feelings known, especially because she openly criticizes the way he runs his business practically every time they meet. Margaret has befriended some of the millworkers, one of whom is dying of a lung infection caused by years of inhaling bits of cotton in the air, and she is convinced that the strict separation of life between the mill owners and workers is unjust and inhumane.

Meanwhile, trouble is brewing at the mill as the workers prepare to strike for higher wages. Margaret is caught in the middle, and all the social issues that arise are where North and South veers off from an Austenesque comedy of manners. Gaskell isn’t anywhere near as perfect a writer as Austen, but she still manages to tell a pretty great love story.


As for reading with the kids, we are now into the early 20th century in our history cycle. I’m trying hard to find stories that are upbeat but with the Great War and the Great Depression right around the corner, it’s getting tough.

This picture book was a bright spot, however.

The Camping Trip that Changed America: Theodore Roosevelt, John Muir, and our National Parks, by Barb Rosenstock

This book tells the true story of the time President Roosevelt went camping in northern California with the naturalist John Muir. Muir convinced Roosevelt that what appeared to be an endless Western frontier was in fact very finite and would probably be destroyed in another decade of relentless industrialization.

President Roosevelt returned from sleeping under the sequoias and created dozens of national parks, nature preserves, and wildlife protection laws.

We’re also reading about another Roosevelt in this read-aloud,

A Letter to Mrs. Roosevelt, by C. Coco deYoung

A Letter to Mrs. Roosevelt

This book is also based on a true story about a child who asked for the First Lady’s help when her family is evicted from their home during the Great Depression.

An early 20th century study wouldn’t be complete without a Titanic story, at least not in our family. Our kids have been fascinated by it since we read the Magic Tree House book about the Titanic when they were pretty young. They’ve watched computer models of the sinking and made their own Lego models as well.

All that to say I wouldn’t let them listen to such a tragic story if they weren’t already pretty familiar with it. We are listening to Gordon Korman’s Titanic trilogy in the car. The main characters are four teenagers aboard the ship–two First Class young ladies, an English steward, and an Irish stowaway who all become unlikely friends during the voyage.

This is a young adult novel, not a children’s book. Despite the usual disaster that you already know is coming, these kids have to deal with other non-childish things like dangerous gangsters, a suspected killer, an alcoholic father, and an absent mother aboard the ship.

We are actually not quite finished with Book 3, but (spoiler alert!) we are at the lifeboat stage, and it does appear that all four teens are going to survive (barely!). I couldn’t get a paper copy of the book from my library, so I’ve been cautiously listening ready to turn it off if one of them is going to die (but it never seemed like it was going to be one of those really dark YA novels). Although all four of the teens experience loss during the story, it would be too much for my kids to get attached to main characters who don’t make it.

(UPDATE: Okay, I finally found a review with a complete spoiler in it, ie, who survives, and apparently one of the four teens is going to die. He’s been so kind and self-sacrificing throughout the book, though, that I don’t think it will be too dark. I think the kids will accept it.)

Highly recommended for older kids who can handle the inevitably sad ending!

Teddy has become adorably attached to these two board books by Emma Garcia,




He’s got them memorized, as do the rest of us, so I’m about to order this one.

Highly recommended for the toddler boy in your life.

And as a bonus I’m going to add WHWBW (that’s What Have We Been Watching, per Jessica).

North and South, of course

True to the spirit of the novel if not the actual plot details, this is a wonderful film. Richard Armitage (aka Thorin Oakenshield) doesn’t quite top Colin Firth as most tortured male romantic lead in a BBC film, but he comes close. Brendan Coyle of Downton Abbey is also perfect as the millworkers’ union leader.

and also on Amazon Instant Video,

Dickens’ Little Dorrit

Little Dorrit (2008) Poster

The screenwriter also wrote the BBC versions of Middlemarch and Pride & Prejudice. The title music will sweep you back to Downton Abbey because it’s the same composer, composing almost the same music. Such a good film though–made me wish I’d already read the book.

Happy reading and watching!