Summer Books & Films


While most of this summer’s learning was in the baby-care department, we did get some good books & movies in there.

I assigned four books each to both of the older boys.  I had ambitions of them writing a paragraph on each book, but we settled for one paragraph for the summer. It was an eventful summer, after all.

After these four, they could read whatever they wanted the rest of the summer. Ben and Marie just had to either read or listen to an audiobook of their choice every day. This worked fine because we only keep good books on the shelves!

Louis’s assigned books:

Misty of Chincoteague

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A classic about the wild ponies that roam an island off the coast of Virginia

Stormy, Misty’s Foal

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More about Misty and the wild ponies

On the Banks of Plum Creek

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My favorite Little House book

Beezus and Ramona

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A book about girls, but pretty easy for any older sibling to relate to…

William’s summer reading:

The Westing Game

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The only mystery to ever win a Newbery Medal and a favorite book from my childhood

The Boys’ Body Book: Everything You Need for Growing Up You

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Cartoons and lighthearted text about puberty. I picked it up at a used book sale because I recognized the title from a health curriculum of Sonlight, Christian homeschool book distributer. So I was surprised to find a PC “families come in all shapes and sizes and gender of parents” comment in it. Since we had just talked with W. about the SCOTUS decision a few days before, I decided to let it slide and figured either he wouldn’t notice it or if he did, would recognize it as part of that trend. Anyway, something to note.

Make Way for Sam Houston

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We’ve really enjoyed Jean Fritz’s picture books about American history, and it looks like she’s written chapter books too.

The Forest: A Dramatic Portrait of Life in the American Wild

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I like reading Roger Caras’s nature books too–they are not just for kids.

Summer Movie Nights

We introduced the kids to musicals this summer and watched most of the classics, except for My Fair Lady which isn’t on Amazon Prime! We did listen to the soundtrack though.

We’d read several novels set during World War II this year, and of course The Sound of Music was part of the musicals track, so even the younger kids now have some sense of what that time was about. Recently we watched Little Boy, a new film about an 8 year-old boy whose father leaves for the war.

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“Little Boy” (who is very short) decides to take Jesus’ words about the power of faith the size of a mustard seed literally, and he wants to put that faith into action to end the war and bring his father home.

A kind priest advises Little Boy to grow his faith by befriending a Japanese-American man recently released from an internment camp and shunned by the rest of their California town. Little Boy and Hashimoto (who seems to be an atheist) form an unlikely friendship that leads to a deeper understanding of faith in both of them.

The movie was rated PG-13 for some intense battle scenes and one beat-em-up scene. We watched this film with the kids and removed Teddy from the room during the battle scenes.  The violence felt incongruent with the rest of the film, which was otherwise family-friendly.

There were some moments where the film got a little strange, especially around the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, which had the code name “Little Boy.” But overall, the film gently questioned our tendency to assume that the right prayers or actions are formulas for making God do whatever we want. And it did that without becoming either overly simplistic or completely ironic.

(I received a copy of this film in exchange for this review. No other compensation was given.)

Now on to homeschool planning…


Coming Out of Confinement


I like the old-fashioned idea of confinement before and after birth.  I’m not good for much the last six weeks of pregnancy or the first six weeks postpartum anyway, and it makes so much sense for healing and getting breastfeeding established. It was actually somewhat possible for the first time for me thanks to N’s light summer schedule.

We had such a generous meal train going too that between leftovers, a few frozen meals, and one pizza delivery I didn’t have to cook at all for the first six weeks except for sauteing a few of William’s homegrown vegetables.  William who is now 12 years old and as tall as me!


In between burping the baby and changing her diaper, N. installed a creek and pond in our backyard this summer.

Genny was baptized in a very beautiful ceremony.


William was the altar boy–very special!


Teddy finally got over his cough and was able to hold Genny.


He wasn’t quite sure what to do at first.


But then he figured it out.


But, all good things like meal deliveries and excuses to do nothing come to an end.  Genevieve was six weeks old Saturday, and I celebrated by taking her and three of her sibs on our first full-cart grocery store trip.  Fun!

I was on the same shopping track as one of my neighbors, who kept telling me I was doing a great job every time we passed carts. I must have looked like I needed some encouragement.  No, it’s not easier to go grocery shopping with your sixth newborn than with other babies.  It took almost 2 hours, and both Teddy and Genny were crying as I was checking out.

I wasn’t too stressed about it though–maybe that’s the part that gets easier.  All bad things come to an end too.

Speaking of ends, N’s summer is about over, and it’s almost time for my busy life to start up again.

I’ve cleaned out my homeschool shelves and made a books budget for the year.  My first attempt at a homeschool schedule for next year had me in tears though. Ah, hormones.

I started rounding up recipes too, although my first attempt at a meal plan had me almost in tears again. Just have to take a deep breath and remind myself that mediocre but healthy is absolutely fine. As is some mediocre and not so healthy!

So normal life stress is creeping back in, but right now at least I still have time to sit still and witness the wonder of this amazing person experiencing the world for the first time.


End of School Year Learning Notes


IMG_2413 We finished the school year by the end of May and then had a couple weeks of “summer school” before Baby G arrived and put a stop to all that.

I did have a chance to make my records before the birth and was happy to see we accomplished our goals for the year, despite slowing way down in the fall when I had morning sickness.  William progressed in writing, his focus for the year, and Louis, Ben, and Marie all became independent readers.

The main subject that suffered due to the pregnancy was me reading aloud to the kids, since I konked out at 1:30pm just about every day.  But all of them becoming real readers, as well as a bunch of audiobooks, made up for that loss. Nathaniel also started reading more to them in the evenings, so we may have actually come out ahead there!

Next year we will be enrolling with Mother of Divine Grace School, for the main subjects at least, and I am hoping having a curriculum advisor will help me to keep my goals realistic, for William’s middle school (and eventually high school) years especially.

One thing I hope enrollment will not do is stress me out about completing everything on the curriculum list. I haven’t had great success with purchasing lesson plans for multiple grades because I get overwhelmed with the impossibility of doing it all. Subjects such as art and music appreciation especially seem to get done in chunks along with field trips rather than every week according a lesson plan that is different for each child.

For example, we had a nice two weeks with N. home before the baby came.  We took two trips to the art museum, made sketches of paintings in the galleries, and painted stacks of watercolors.

IMG_2467 IMG_2468 IMG_2469 IMG_2477 IMG_2509 In May, the kids read Moonlight on the Magic Flute, the Magic Tree House book about Mozart.

Moonlight on the Magic Flute A few weeks later, we went to see an outdoor performance of The Magic Flute sung in English.  After that, the kids got excited about learning to play recorders and even tried out my old flute and N’s clarinet.

Then on our second art museum trip, we went to an exhibit on the Habsburg dynasty.

Velazquez, Infanta Maria Theresa

This lady was the star of the Habsburgs, and the kids knew who she was from the Magic Tree House book (Mozart’s patronness).

William had learned about the end of the Habsburg dynasty in World War I from The Story of the World, and so it turned out to be a perfect but totally unplanned capstone to the school year.

And two days later, we were viewing another type of masterpiece.


Introducing Baby Genny


All this silence on the blogfront has been for a good reason.


Genevieve Mary joined our family on

Saturday, June 20 at 3:07am,

IMG_25237 pounds, 11 ounces,


and 20 inches.


Everyone is in love.

We had a bit of a rough start with a virus making its way through the entire family her first two weeks of life.  Even Baby Genny got it and spent a couple days back in the hospital.

But we’re all settled in now


and getting to know this lovely little girl.

WWRW: April Reads


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!


Learning Notes for April


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


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,


as well as entertaining Teddy

as have these Lego models of the facts.


‘Tis the Science Season

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



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.


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.


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.


Always the fascination with snakes


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…




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.


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.


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.




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


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.


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.