Friday, November 29, 2013

Much Loved - Honoring Favorite Toys from Childhood

Photographer Mark Nixon has recently compiled Much Loved a new collection of photographs and biographies of much loved stuffed animals from childhood. You can view a sample of these favorite friends on his website:

Some stuffed animals and dolls, like the Velveteen Rabbit, become more than mere playthings. In their own way, though they may lose their outward beauty, they become real. These are the toys that this book captures. In honor of that, I thought I'd share the stories of three beloved friends from my own life.

This is my doll, Alise. She is about 40 years old. She was originally my older sister's doll. My parents gave her to her on her 9th birthday (I would be born 6 months later). When I was two, my mom put her in my crib to keep me company. I promptly pulled some of the hair out of her head and pulled out all her eyelashes. Needless to say, when my sister came home, she was not amused, but from that day forward Alise became my doll.

She was more than doll, though. She was part of the family, the little sister I didn't have. She went everywhere with me that I could possibly bring her and I slept with her until I was eleven. When I broke my arm when I was eight, my Dad made a sling for her as well. We periodically bought her new clothes and shoes and replaced her eyelashes and reinserted her arms and legs when they would fall out. I loved her with all of my heart. She's too fragile to be played with by a child anymore, but I still have her and plan to keep her as long as I live!

This is Teddy, David's (age 12 1/2) bear. Teddy shares his birthday with Isaac, who recently turned eleven. My parents brought him with them when they came to see me in the hospital. Isaac's newborn photo has him holding this bear, but David who was a year-and-a-half soon claimed him as his own, and has loved him ever since.

But, lest you worry that Isaac was deprived of a stuffed friend, this is Blue, perhaps the most loved bear of them all. Blue came in an Easter Basket from his Grandma when he was maybe two or three years old and the two became fast friends. I can't even tell you how many surgeries this poor bear has been through. I replaced his eyes and nose and gave him a new mouth and a neck brace because there was literally no more fabric to hold his neck together.

Do you (or your child) have a favorite toy that has become "real?" If so, I invite you to share your story in the blog comments. Who knows why certain toys become the best of friends, while others sit on a shelf, but I am so thankful for these three who brought so much joy to my and my children's lives. 


Monday, November 25, 2013

Book Review: The Giving Quilt

I've been a fan of Jennifer Chiaverini's novels for a long time and The Giving Quilt from the Elm Creek Quilts Series (Penguin Group, 2012) lives up to the quality I've come to expect and enjoy. While this is a Thanksgiving-themed novel, it is appropriate to read any time of year.

The ladies of Elm Creek Manor are hosting Quiltsgiving  - a time for quilters to gather and make quilts to donate to Project Linus, a national organization dedicated to providing for children in need through the gift of blankets, quilts, and afghans. The novel focuses on the individual stories of several of the attendees and what has brought them to Quiltsgiving. Pauline is a member of an exclusive quilting group where she no longer feels welcome. Linnea is a librarian fighting to keep her library open in tough economic times. Michaela is a college student whose dreams of becoming a cheerleading coach seem to have bitten the dust. Jocelyn is a young widow, mother, and teacher, struggling to rebuild her life after the sudden death of her husband, and Karen who is facing her fears and embarrassment, returning to Elm Creek Manor after failing to garner a position as a quilt teacher there a few years before. As these women become friends, share their stories, and work on their quilts, they will each make some self-discoveries and grow in the process.

This is an uplifting, enjoyable read - perfect for anyone who enjoys quilting or positive-themed women's fiction.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

November 29th - National Day of Listening - Share Your Story

Here is a great idea for Black Friday! The Thanksgiving Holiday often gives us the opportunity to see people we might not otherwise be in contact with throughout the year. It provides a great chance to record some family stories that might otherwise be lost. You can record your stories and share them online at National Day of Listening, but even if you don't want to share them publicly it is a wonderful idea to preserve these stories for future generations. Here is a list of great questions to get the conversation started:  (These would also make great prompts for journal entries if you are more a writing rather than recording type person).

Are you Shopping on Amazon this Christmas Season?

If you will be doing some Christmas shopping on Amazon, please consider clicking through this post or any Amazon link on this site. It enables me to earn a small commission on each purchase and helps support this blog. Thank you :)

Friday, November 22, 2013

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Homeschooling Gifted and Advanced Learners

Homeschooling Gifted and Advanced Learners
by Cindy West
Waco, TX: Prufrock Press, Inc., 2012

In many ways, the title of Cindy West’s new book, Homeschooling Gifted and Advanced Learners, is a misnomer. West does discuss the special needs and challenges of gifted students, but this book is much more than that – it is a how-to manual for homeschooling, and a how-to manual every homeschooling parent will be able to benefit from. 

West, a 15-year homeschool veteran with three children, provides an overview of homeschooling and the different approaches to the task of educating one’s children. She discusses choosing curriculum, meeting the needs of various grade levels in one home, organizing a homeschool day, keeping records, and planning for college.  And while this book is devoted to the needs of the gifted, West understands that these same children may struggle in one or more areas and suggests ways to help struggling learners in every subject.

 She also offers many lists of resources and ideas. One of the best lists is “100 Things to Do If I’m Bored” – every parent should photocopy and post this list in their homes to point to when the need arises! 

Homeschooling Gifted and Advanced Learners should be in the reading pile of every homeschooler searching for new ideas on how to have a better homeschool experience. 

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Quilt Block in Honor of St. Michael the Archangel

A reader wrote me and asked me to design six patron saint quilt blocks for her. The first is in honor of St. Michael the Archangel. To find out more or to download the pattern, please visit: Patron Saint Quilts: Quilt Block in Honor of St. Michael the Archangel.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Saying "Thank You" to the Sisters of St. Joseph

The November issue of The Catholic Mirror is largely about the Sisters of St. Joseph, a religious community that has served the Diocese of Springfield, MA for over a century. I was educated by these sisters in both high school and college and have been blessed to know several in my adult life. I was excited to see that several of those profiled are sisters that I have known.

Sr. Marlene Mucha was my Senior English Teacher in high school. I had her for two classes - English IV (British Literature) and Literary Explorations. She was also an adviser for the Literary Magazine which I was part of. She has been teaching at Holyoke Catholic High School since 1969 and I'm pretty sure she remembers every student who has walked through her doors. I know that they remember her. She is tough, but kind, and is always willing to go the extra mile, even working with me when I needed help. Much of my writing ability is due to her.

Sr. Kathleen Keating was the president of Elms College in my last two years as a student and then I had the pleasure to work under her for several years as an employee. While being called to her office always felt a bit like being called to the principal's office in school, she was an incredibly intelligent, compassionate woman who treated all employees with respect. And when I gave birth to David, she even gave me a baby gift!

Sr. Ruth Virginia Quinn is part of my parish. I knew her only as an older sister who volunteered in the rectory and with religious education. Turns out she does much more in the community and I was deeply touched by her story in the magazine.

Sr. Catherine Leary has been a pastoral minister for almost 20 years (taking a hiatus while she served on the leadership team of the SSJs). She greets everyone by name and with a smile and knows who is in need of prayers and support and makes that happen. Our parish is fortunate to have her.

These sisters and so many others like them have served our community with humility and grace and selflessness. For many years, they received no pay, which has left the aging community in severe financial difficulty. If your life was touched by a Sister of St. Joseph, please consider contributing to them.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Book Review: Pope Francis: I Believe in Mercy

by Regina Doman
Art by Sean Lam
Dexter, MI: Manga Hero, 2013

Known for their work on the Manga Hero edition of Habemus Papem which told of Pope Benedict XVI, the creative team of Regina Doman as writer and Sean Lam as artist has once again joined to tell a pope’s life story. This time the attention is on Pope Francis. Intended for teens and young adults, Pope Francis: I Believe in Mercy hits all the crucial points of Pope Francis’ life to date. 

It begins with Jorge Bergoglio as a twelve-year-old who thought he was in love with a young lady. When her father told him to leave her alone, he jokingly told her he would become a priest instead. But his true call wouldn’t come until years later. The manga tells of Bergoglio’s lung disease which resulted in the removal of part of his lung and a difficult recovery. It also shows his joining the Jesuits and his efforts to help priests during the political turmoil of Argentina. Pope Francis follows the future pope as he ministered to the people of Buenos Aires, reaching out to the poor and marginalized. In 1992, he became a bishop and as the Archbishop instructed him, the Diocese of Buenos Aires became his bride. When the Archbishop died in 1998, Bishop Bergoglio took over the role but eschewed all of the trappings that came with the office. The manga emphasizes his desire to live simply and minister to all. It concludes with his election to the papacy and the continuation of his simple way of life.

The story of Pope Francis is interwoven with scenes of Jesus from Scripture. There are also passages from Pope Francis’ writings and homilies. 

Because of the subject matter included, especially in the dark days of Argentina, Pope Francis: I Believe in Mercy is definitely intended for teens and young adults rather than children. It may be helpful to have a previous acquaintance with the life story of Pope Francis as well – it is possible one might become confused in some parts without it (either that or one might read this, then go on to read more about him to learn more). Overall, however, Pope Francis: I Believe in Mercy is extremely well done and is a way to inspire young people to follow Jesus as Pope Francis has strived to do in his own life. 

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Some Classic Homeschool Reading - How Children Learn

It's almost embarrassing to admit that I have been homeschooling for six years and never read a book by John Holt. Considered the father of modern homeschooling, his thought has contributed much to the homeschooling movement and while he was primarily in favor of unschooling, everyone who homeschools today owes him a debt of gratitude for all the work he did to make homeschooling legal and accepted. And so, I recently set out to correct this deficit in my homeschooling education.

I started with How Children Learn . Originally written in 1964 and revised in 1983 (Holt died in 1985), it contains Holt's observations of children learning. He was a teacher who began to realize that there was something fundamentally wrong with the school system. He set out to watch young children and see how they picked up new information because young children learn an immense amount in their first few years of life, largely through observation and imitation. He then put forth the theory that children would continue to learn without traditional school if given the opportunity to do so.

Perhaps the key passage of the book is the following:

Timetables! We act as if children were railroad trains running on a schedule. The railroad man figures that is his train is going to get to Chicago at a certain time, then it must arrive on time at every stop along the route. If it is ten minutes late getting into a station, he begins to worry. In the same way, we say that if children are going to know so much when they go to college, then they have to know this at the end of this grade, and that at the end of that grade. If a child doesn't arrive at one of these intermediate stations when we think he should, we instantly assume he is going to be late at the finish. But children are not railroad trains. They don't learn at an even rate. They learn in spurts, and the more interested they are in what they are learning, the faster these spurts are likely to be. 

I can attest to this with my own children. Isaac (now 11) learned how to read young. One day when he was four he picked up a book and started reading. I did nothing to teach him. David (now 12 1/2) struggled with learning to read. Truly, he couldn't read fluently until he was about eight. I'm sure had he been in school, he would have really struggled. Now, there is absolutely no difference in their reading ability.

Neither one of them wanted to read books by themselves until they were about eight or nine. They liked to have me read to them. Their interest level was higher than their reading ability. It wasn't until it caught up that they began to devour books. While Isaac reads more quickly than David and can read a long book in a day, the two are both avid readers.

Another example - Isaac made his sixes backwards for years. I would point it out to him, but it didn't matter. Those sixes were still always backwards. Last year (2012) when we started school in September, he took out his math book and did his problems and wrote all his numbers correctly. In June he didn't, and to my knowledge, he had not written a number all summer, but something must have happened in his brain over the summer.  He just "got" it.

It can be hard and nervewracking waiting for those connections to happen, especially when the "educational experts" say that these skills should be learned at a certain age. And there are certainly special situations where there are true learning difficulties, but in many cases, what a child needs is the ability to learn at his or her own rate. We have eighteen years to get them ready for college (if that, in fact, is even their goal). There is time to allow for differences in developing brains. That is the key point of Holt's ideas.

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Would you like a Signed Copy of the Catholic Baby Name Book?

As you think about Christmas gift giving, please consider giving a signed copy of The Catholic Baby Name book to someone who is expecting or someone who simply enjoys learning about names and saints. The cost is $15 including shipping and I am happy to dedicate it to whomever you would like. If you would like a copy, please email me at Thank you!

Sunday, November 03, 2013

Patron Saint Quilts - Quilt Block in Honor of St. Rita

The 20th (and last) quilt block for my Patron Saint Quilt is done! This one is in honor of St. Rita, a patron saint of impossible cases. To find out more and download the free pattern, please visit: Quilt Block in Honor of St. Rita

A Thief in the Night

Today I attended the wake for my next door neighbor. He came home from work on Thursday, told his wife he wasn't feeling well, laid down on the couch and died. His twenty-year-old daughter frantically performed CPR, but there was nothing that could be done. He was only fifty-three years old.  He was an organ donor and his death helped four other people live. This offers some consolation to his family, but they are still in a terrible state of shock.

We humans all live with the reality that we will die. We do not know the day or the hour. Many have mused about what they would do if they knew that it was their last day, but the truth is, most of us will not know. The obituary page of the newspaper is filled with people who woke up in the morning with no idea that they would meet God that day.

We cannot live under a cloud of fear that death is looming around every corner, but we do need to always be ready. My neighbor had no opportunity to say goodbye to his family, but he was a kind and generous man and his love for them was evident every day. They have no need to wonder if he cared about them. We need to live lives filled with love and kindness - every day.

We also need to always be ready to meet God. It is easy to put off care of our spiritual lives, thinking we have plenty of time to get our spiritual house in order, to repent of our sins and make amends. The reality may be very different. Today is the day to make sure we are in a state of grace, and then we need to make sure we stay there. We need to put God first in our lives. What we do here on earth is important, but it is only a blink of an eye compared to the eternity that awaits. Make sure you are living in such a way that if that eternity began today, you'd be at peace.

Friday, November 01, 2013

All Soul's Day - Chaplet for the Faithfully Departed

November 2nd is All Soul's Day - a day which is especially set aside in the Church to remember all those in purgatory.

Chaplet for the Faithful Departed
O Lord, my Creator and Redeemer, I believe that in Your justice You have willed purgatory for those who pass into eternity before having completely atoned for their sins. And I believe that in Your mercy You accept suffrages, especially in the sacrifice of the Mass, for their comfort and liberation.

Enliven my faith and grant me sentiments of compassion towards these suffering brethren.

Eternal rest, grant to them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them.
May they rest in peace. Amen.

O Lord Jesus Christ, King of glory, through the intercession of Mary and all the saints, please free from purgatory the faithful departed. 

I pray you, O St. Michael, prince of the heavenly army, take them into the eternal light which was promised by God to Abraham and his descendants.

I offer You, Lord, sacrifices and prayers of praise. Accept them on behalf of those whom we commemorate this day. Admit them into the eternal light and joy.

Eternal rest, grant to them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them.
May they rest in peace. Amen.

O good Master Jesus, I entreat You for the sake of all to whom I am bound by motives of gratitude, justice, charity, and relationship: my parents, brothers and sisters, spiritual and material benefactors, the members of our Congregation and my relatives.

I recommend to You the forgotten persons, those who were more devoted to You, to the Blessed Virgin, persons who on earth had great responsibility: priests, the authorities, superiors, religious. Call them soon to eternal salvation.

Eternal rest, grant to them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them.
May they rest in peace. Amen.

I thank You, O Jesus divine Master, for having come down from heaven and redeemed the human race from so much evil with Your doctrine, sanctity and death. I pray You for the dead who are in purgatory because of the propagation of evil through the press, radio, television, and the motion picture industry.

I believe that they, once freed from their sufferings and admitted into eternal happiness, will pray for the modern world so that all the means given for the elevation of this present life may be used for the attainment of everlasting life.

Eternal rest, grant to them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them.
May they rest in peace. Amen.

O merciful Jesus, for the merits of Your sorrowful passion and for the love You have for me, I beseech You to forgive me the punishments I have merited for the present or future life by my many sins. 

Grant me the spirit of penance, delicacy of conscience, hatred for any deliberate venial sin, and the necessary dispositions to gain indulgences.

I bind myself to help the poor dead as much as I can, and You, O infinite Goodness, give me an ever-increasing fervor so that when it is time for me to leave this world, I shall be admitted at once to contemplate You forever in heaven.

Eternal rest, grant to them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them.
May they rest in peace. Amen.

Making the Most of <i>Menopause Moments</i>

  When I unexpectedly got in a review copy of Menopause Moments: A Journal for Nourishing Your Mind, Body and Spirit in Midlife , I must adm...