WWRW: April Reads

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Ben and Louis have been devouring Magic Tree House books. They both read through almost one a day.

Blizzard of the Blue Moon

Marie is constantly perusing her stack of reptile and amphibian field guides.

The three of them still read aloud to me every day from some book that is at an easier level than whatever they are trying to read on their own.

Louis just finished reading aloud Wagon Wheels, a true story about three boys ages 12, 8, and 3 whose widowed father leaves them to fend for themselves in a dugout while he goes farther west to build a new home for them. Then the boys travel alone across the prairie for a month once he sends word that he’s ready for them.

Wagon Wheels

This book could offer some perspective on the insane stories in the news lately about CPS picking up kids left to play alone at the park for a few hours.

William has been reading Holes, by Louis Sachar, which he’s not been very excited about.

I remember people in college telling me it was one of the best children’s books ever, but I’ve been reading it too and it’s not that amazing. I switched William to the audio version, and he’s liking it better.

He’s also started Number the Stars, about the Danish resistance in World War II.

Number the Stars

N. and the kids finished Pinocchio and just started on another WWII novel The Winged Watchman, which looks promising.

As for myself, I’ve been reading

Mr. Blue

I’d never heard of this little 1928 classic before my book club read it, but it’s wonderful. J. Blue is, it would seem, a Catholic version of Jay Gatsby, a carefree eccentric with a singular mission in life: to proclaim the glory of God. There are many parallels with Gatsby’s life and end, and I wish I’d had this book around to read after I first read Gatsby, which I have always found horribly bleak.

The author, Myles Connolly, went on to become a Hollywood screenwriter and great friend of Frank Capra, who credited Connolly with inspiring him to make his most memorable films.

Also the matchless Flannery

A good man is hard to find, and other stories.

I want to read straight through all her works, but I have to take it slow–I usually need some recovery time between one violent end after another.

Linking up with Housewifespice and all the good books!

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Learning Notes for April

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Here’s what we have been up to this month…

Math

William should finish his textbook by early June, which is my goal. Louis should finish earlier, and then we’ll work on multiplication and division facts in the summer. Ben and Marie might finish their workbook by June, and they need subtraction facts practice this summer.

Schoolhouse Rock songs have been helping Louis with multiplication facts,

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as well as entertaining Teddy

as have these Lego models of the facts.

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‘Tis the Science Season

A great field trip to the Arboretum (Papa was with us)

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A challenging trip to the Zoo (Papa was not with us)

This was one of those grand plans that didn’t turn out exactly as I’d hoped, but not all was lost. I want to teach the kids the basics of scientific classification this year. On a previous zoo trip, Louis, Ben, and Marie each chose an animal to write a paragraph about (snakes, all of them!), and William chose a plant (bluebonnets). This trip I wanted to see if we could find the scientific name of the animals.

First thing in the morning, I introduced the Linnaean classification system (Kingdom/ Phylum/ Class, etc). A good acrostic for remembering it is Kings Play Chess On Fine Glass Sets.

The system was a bit beyond 1st grade level, so while William and Louis tried to figure how to classify bears and wolves and people and cats, Ben and Marie made nature journal entries about animals they’ve caught recently. Marie’s entry was about the Texas Spiny Lizard she caught at Grandma’s over spring break.

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The zoo has a little shop where the kids earn points by bringing in specimens or nature journals and then can spend their points on items in the Swap Shop.

By this time I was confident we’d missed rush hour traffic, so we set off on our journey. It usually takes us about 20 minutes to get to the zoo on a weekday morning. This day it took one hour with lots of standstill traffic and a CD playing gloomy Hans Christian Andersen fairy tales that were depressing all of us.

Then, there were no parking spots available. Another 15 minutes of circling lots and somebody got carsick. That poor child wanted to go home, but even he couldn’t stomach the thought of getting back on the highway. So we cleaned out the car, washed out clothes in a bathroom, and started on our one-mile trek from a faraway parking lot to the zoo.

By the time we finally arrived, we just had time to eat lunch in front of the meerkats (Teddy’s request), go through the reptile house, and head to the Swap Shop, which was closed for painting!

Everyone was feeling discouraged, so I splurged and got them all a treat, but even the soft pretzels were stale. Alas. The kids were also very annoyed that I wouldn’t let them climb loquat trees (which were roped off) to pick the ripe fruit. Amazingly no one (me) lost it!

To top the day off, when we arrived home, we found the spiny lizard had escaped her cage! Marie was devastated, having just spent all her money at the pet store buying a log for it to hide under. At least she drew the sketch before Spiky ran away.

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The kids have spent the rest of the month catching lizards and toads around the yard and expanding our garden. William has read more detailed information about the classification system, and especially plant classification.

Ben and Marie went camping with Marie’s AHG troop.

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Always the fascination with snakes

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Baby copperhead spotted off the hiking trail

Another AHG inspired science project…Marie’s Geology Badge required an erosion project. The kids dug a stream in the sandbox, turned on the hose, and watched erosion happen.

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And lots of activity in the spring garden…

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History

Our annual corny Titanic memorial on April 15, except that we had to delay it by about a week because some people kept losing dessert as a consequence for bad behavior.

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William has started reading about World War II. He seems especially interested in how the war affected the rise of communism.

The Arts

One morning we had a little window of time before we needed to head out to a class, so I brought out the art appreciation cards we hadn’t touched in a long while.

Teddy matched identical cards. Ben and Marie sorted cards by subject matter, and William and Louis sorted another stack by painter.

Then I had them each pick one to describe to me while I drew a sketch from their oral description. It made for an interesting exercise in communication as well as noticing details of the painting.

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Our parish had a talent show, and all the boys performed a poem or song. Marie was one of the youngest children who performed last year, so I didn’t feel like trying to make her do something this year. Maybe next time.

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This is getting long, so I’ll save our April books for the next What We’re Reading Wednesday.

Gotta pack it in now so we can all relax when this baby arrives–due date 8 weeks away!

Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker movement

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Mercy and truth have met each other: justice and peace have kissed. –Psalm 85:10

If ever there was a person in our times who lived this Bible verse to the fullest, it was Dorothy Day.

Raised in an agnostic household at the turn of the 20th century, Dorothy Day possessed an unusual spiritual awareness from her earliest years. She first sensed the awesome power of God at the age of 8, during the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. Somehow the rest of her family had evacuated the house together, and she was left alone, terrified in her bed as it rocked back and forth on the floor.

In the following days, the mature young girl was moved by the compassion that her neighbors, who had rarely interacted prior to the disaster, now showered upon one another as they shared what little they had and helped each other rebuild their lives.

As a teenager, she went to church by herself and was baptized an Episcopalian. She maintained her trust in the power of human compassion and as a college student became a Socialist. However, the disconnect between the noble ideals of the “revolution” and the debauched lives of her fellow comrades led to disillusionment. A divorce, an affair, and an illegal abortion devastated her. Finally, at the age of 30, Dorothy Day discovered the Catholic Church.

She had been living with a man, an atheist, with whom she had had a child. When Dorothy made the decision to have her daughter baptized in the Catholic faith, and then herself join the Church a few months later, it meant the end of that relationship, which had been for Dorothy a great source of love and happiness, and the end of her connection to the Communist party.

Alone in the world, a single mother on the eve of the Great Depression, Dorothy Day, a journalist by trade, began writing for Catholic periodicals and trying to integrate her new faith with her lifelong desire to make the world a better place for the common man.

In 1932, she met Peter Maurin, a French philosopher-laborer who shared her love for the faith and the poor, and with whom she founded the Catholic Worker movement, a lay organization dedicated to serving the poor through the works of mercy and making known the social teachings of the Church to the world, especially the working man, whom she knew was powerfully attracted to the false promise of class revolution.

She and Peter published the Catholic Worker newspaper, opened soup kitchens and homeless shelters across the country, and organized communal farms with the eventual goal of helping working class people move out of cities and onto self-sufficient family farms.

Throughout the rest of her long life, Dorothy argued that she was “not expecting Utopia here on this earth. But God meant things to be much easier than we have made them.”

I read Dorothy’s book On Pilgrimage, a journal of her life through the year 1948, when I was first looking into the Catholic faith. Her beautiful writing, her love of literature, and the integration of her intellectual, spiritual, and activist life was very appealing to me as a young person, and it’s still one of my favorite books.

So I was thrilled to see On Pilgrimage turn up on the reading list for my book club, and I spent all of Lent rereading that book and several others about her life.

On Pilgrimage, by Dorothy Day

Dorothy Day’s personal reflections on her faith, the spiritual foundation of her movement, and the beauty of family life as she experienced it as a grandmother awaiting the birth of her daughter’s third child.

This modern edition includes a long biographical introduction by Mark and Louise Zwick, directors of the Houston Catholic Worker.

Dorothy Day: A Radical Devotion, by Robert Coles

A biography by a psychiatrist who volunteered at Catholic Worker houses towards the end of Dorothy’s life. Much of the book is transcripts of long interviews Dr. Coles recorded with Dorothy about her motivations and her spiritual struggles. I listened to this book on audio, read by a woman, and it often felt like I was actually listening to recordings of Dorothy herself. Her honesty about the struggle between the ideal of love of neighbor and the reality of the difficulty of loving the actual neighbor in front of you was very powerful.

Dorothy Day: A Catholic Life of Action, by Maura Shaw

A good biography for children, with lots of photographs. I included it in William’s unit on the Great Depression. He was excited to see our copy of the Houston Catholic Worker newspaper arrive in the mail while he was reading this book.

The Duty of Delight: The Diaries of Dorothy Day, ed. by Robert Ellsburg

I skimmed through this very long volume and looked up topics in the index that particularly interested me. I especially appreciated reading the journal entries of the last few years of her life. She kept writing in her journal until just a week or so before she died in 1980.

There are incidents recorded in the journals that she never spoke about publicly, such as her lifelong correspondence with her atheist former lover, the father of her daughter. He asked Dorothy if she would care for his current lover when the woman was dying of cancer. Dorothy agreed, assisted in her hospice care, and the woman asked to be baptized on her deathbed.

The Life You Save May Be Your Own: An American Pilgrimage, by Paul Elie

This book advertised itself as the story of the friendship of four influential American Catholic writers–Dorothy Day, Flannery O’Connor, Thomas Merton, and Walker Percy. From the book jacket, I got the impression that these four writers were something of an American Inklings writing group.

Well, they weren’t, so this book was a bit of a disappointment (actually a very long, verbose disappointment!). Each of the writers knew of the others but by no means did the four of them “ardently read one another’s books” or carry on a vigorous correspondence as the book’s jacket copy proclaims.

Dorothy said she was “too old” to understand Walker Percy and didn’t make any comment on Flannery O’Connor that I could find. She did exchange letters with Thomas Merton in the 1960s, and certainly she was famous enough that the three other writers knew who she was. Percy and O’Connor met once, briefly, but it didn’t sound like she particularly liked his novels either. O’Connor was intrigued by Merton, but overall I have to say there was false advertising on the back of this book.

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Here are a few favorite quotes from On Pilgrimage:

On the difficulty of finding time to pray while helping her daughter care for two toddlers:

Men always–I am sure from my experience in the past–wonder what women do with their time. My son-in-law is too polite to say so, but I am sure he thinks, “Two women to two children and one house!” But the work never ends…

On the way to town Becky got sick and vomited all over herself and me and the car, which means more washing and cleaning. She had insisted on helping with the bread-baking and eaten large hunks of whole-wheat dough, apples, topped by milk, potatoes, and baked cabbage for lunch.

Home just in time for supper, and more dishes and bottles and undressings and so on. Not to speak of their innumerable rescues from imminent danger all through the day from the time they wake until the time they sleep.

How to lift the heart to God, our first beginning and last end, except to say with the soldier about to go into battle–“Lord, I’ll have no time to think of Thee but do Thou think of me.”

On leaving her daughter after the birth of her baby:

So now tomorrow I start off again ‘on pilgrimage,’ for we have here no abiding city. Much as we may want to strike our roots in, we are doomed to disappointment and unhappiness unless we preserve our detachment. It is the paradox of the Christian life, to hate father and mother, sister and brother and children on the one hand, if they stand between us and God, and on the other to follow the teaching of St. Paul: “If any man have not care of his own, and especially those of his house, he hath denied the faith and is worse than an infidel,” not to be solicitous for the things of the world, and yet to do everything with love, for the love of God.

On returning to New York City after a stay in the country:

It is always a terrible thing to come back to Mott Street. To come back in a driving rain, to men crouched on the stairs, huddled in doorways, without overcoats because they sold them perhaps the week before when it was warm, to satisfy hunger or thirst–who knows? Those without love would say, “It serves them right, drinking up their clothes.” God help us if we got just what we deserved!

Find more great book recommendations at Jessica’s.

Book Review: Seven Revolutions: How Christianity Changed the World

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Seven Revolutions: How Christianity Changed the World and Can Change it Again describes seven ways the early Church countered Roman pagan culture and thus changed the world for the better.

The first Christians promoted the dignity of all human beings, in direct opposition to the Roman practices of contraception, abortion, and infanticide. They argued for the dignity of each member of the family in a culture that regarded a wife and children as the absolute property of the pater familias.

The Christians presented marriage as a holy union in a time when the Roman government was facing a crisis of a declining marriage and birth rate. Despite numerous incentives to marry, in a time of prosperity, most men figured they would just pay the extra taxes associated with childlessness and continue a life of promiscuity. Interestingly, the early Church Father Clement of Alexandria noted that the childless in Rome often adored their pets, and the same people who left their infants to die of exposure paid for lavish tombs for the pets.

The early Church preached countercultural ideas about the dignity of manual labor and the importance of service performed out of love for God, for neighbor, or for one’s social inferior. Pagan culture devalued manual labor and designated it to slaves, who were of course property to be disposed of at will. The love of God and neighbor was revolutionary in a culture that could only conceive of performing actions for the gods or others out of duty, or in hopes for something in return.

Lastly, Christians shocked the Romans by their utter lack of fear of death. The martyrs bravely faced execution, but just as surprising to the pagans was that the surviving Christians showed no fear around dead bodies. Most Romans were very superstitious and afraid of ghosts and generally cremated corpses as soon as possible after death. Christians, on the other hand, held elaborate funeral services for their beloved dead and even collected and honored the bones of the early martyrs. For Christians, the human body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, and the communion of saints means that we have a real connection with those who have gone before us to be with God.

In each of these areas, the Church established the moral standard that exists today in modern discussions of human rights. The authors also point out ways in which Western society has become similar to pagan Rome, and suggest some ideas for countering that action, such as building community at the parish church level, pro-life activism and the traditional works of mercy, and refusing to participate in the culture of “celebrity and humiliation,” such as gossip magazines and reality TV.

This is an easy-to-read, succinct call to action for Christians. My only criticism is that Roman culture was described with some pretty sweeping generalizations. The strongest parts were those that were supported by quotations from contemporary pagan or Christian authors. Other sections contained footnotes to historical works, but I would have liked to read more quotes from primary sources.

A complimentary copy of this book was provided by Blogging for Books in exchange for this review.

Learning Notes for March

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Well, there went the month of March. I’ll try to catch up a bit here with some pictures and learning notes.

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The weather changed from this

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to this.

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We did our share of school work,

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celebrated Pi Day,

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and during a stretch of sick days transitioned into reading chapter books silently (highlight of the month for me).

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We had a fun spring break at the ranch,

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Somehow William missed out on getting photographed this month, probably because he has been so busy planting flowers and vegetables in our yard.

This month he learned about the Great Depression, memorized a psalm, and read a biography of a (hopefully soon-to-be) Depression-era saint, Dorothy Day, along with a tall stack of gardening books.

The Complete Guide to Edible Wild Plants

Altogether we finished Macbeth, almost finished Pinocchio, and have started A Life of Our Lord for Children, which is a lovely summary of the Gospels.

Life of Our Lord for Children, A

Holy Week is here, so we’ll hit the books for a few more days and then keep the feast.

See more learning notes at Melanie’s.

WWRW: February Reads

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

Silence

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

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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.

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Linking up with Jessica @ Housewifespice

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