Friday, August 29, 2014

Adventures in Homeschooling - The First Week

Thank you to any of you who might have offered a prayer for the success of our homeschooling year. Our first week went relatively well. One of the advantages of having been at this so long is that the kids know the routine. Each day I put a list on our kitchen island of what they need to do for the day. Monday, the boys got up and grudgingly got to work.

I had Monday be an "easy" day focusing on Math, English, Writing, and Reading to get back into the swing of things. Tuesday started the full load. I already scrapped one of the curriculum items I had purchased - not that the book was bad - it just didn't suit us and I knew it was going to cause nothing but aggravation. I already put it up for sale on eBay - someone can benefit from it. One of the beauties of homeschooling it being able to make those type of adjustments. We are still covering the subject, but will be using books from the library.

One of the funniest moments of the week came on Wednesday when David suddenly realized he was an 8th grader. I mean, I think he was aware of the fact before that, but all of a sudden it hit him - that he was in 8th grade, a big kid by any definition, high school right around the corner. I really didn't know what to say. I'm sure the shock of the realization that he is in high school will be even greater next year! 

But for right now, 7th and 8th grade is where we are at. Hopefully the year will go well. One day at a time, we'll get through it! Stay tuned for further updates.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Book Review: Redeeming Administration

With summer vacations winding down and the world getting back to the business of school and work, it is the perfect time to read Redeeming Administration: 12 Spiritual Habits for Catholic Leaders. Author Ann Garrido serves as a program director at the Aquinas Institute of Theology in St. Lewis. Having been in an administrative role for many years, she brings a unique and much-needed perspective to the topic of Catholic leadership. 

At first glance, it would seem that this book would have a very limited audience, but that is not the case. Even those of us whose administrative domain consists of only one’s family can gain much from reading these pages. In addition to improving our own outlook and spiritual lives, we can also gain a greater appreciation for and understanding of those who work in administrative capacities. As Garrido readily admits, “administrative tasks are often considered odious” and for those not in administration, those in that role are often viewed with suspicion. It’s tough to be the ones who have to make the hard, sometimes unpopular, decisions!

Garrido has provided one habit for each month for administrators to focus on. These include: breadth of vision, generativity, trust, agape, integrity, humility, courage, reflection, humor, forgiveness, embrace death, hope, and a bonus topic of learning to make peace with time. For each of these chapters, she also provides a holy administrator as an example of this habit in practice. Saints such as Angela Merici, Gregory the Great, Martha, Ambrose, Thomas More, and Rose Philippine Duchesne are featured. It was also wonderful to learn about the lives of some lesser-known saints such as Bruno, Joseph Mukasa Balikuddembe, and Mary MacKillop. Each of these holy role models has something to teach us about leadership and spirituality. Each chapter also includes questions for reflection and prayer. 

Garrido says that being an administrator is a job full of interruptions and that she needed to find meaning in her work or she needed to quit. This book developed from her reflections. The word administer actually comes from Latin and means “to minister”, so Redeeming Administration: 12 Spiritual Habits for Catholic Leaders is for anyone who leads as a means of serving others. Pick up a copy for your favorite bishop, pastor, and principal, and while you are at it, you might want to pick up a copy for yourself. There is much wisdom and practical advice within its pages.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Adventures in Homeschooling: On the Last Day of a Golden Summer . . .

On the Last Day of a Golden Summer . . . For whatever reason, that line from Pooh's Grand Adventure - The Search for Christopher Robin always comes to me the day before school is about to begin. While some homeschoolers hit the books throughout the summer, we've always taken a long break - almost a full three months. We all need the rest and relaxation that summer brings. Yet, lots of learning goes on even in that down time. I like to say that we are unschoolers in the summer.

Just for fun this year, I thought I'd keep track of the various things summer brought, educationally speaking.

Field Trips: We didn't take any vacations this summer, but we did hit a few relatively local attractions such as the Springfield Armory, the Mutton and Mead Medieval Festival, Forest Park Zoo, the CT Science Center, the Springfield Museums, and Ocean Beach.

Camps: David went to a one-week video game design camp and Isaac went to drama camp.

Summer Reading Program: They both volunteered two hours a week at our local library to help with the summer reading program as well as each read 100 hours for the summer reading program (a goal that they set for themselves - the program ended at the beginning of August; they've read much more.). David also went to a photography workshop that was being held at the library where they used long-exposure photography to photograph glow sticks. Both boys went to a robotics demonstration put on by WPI. And, we got to see some awesome shows put on by Tanglewood Marionettes where we also learned about puppetry.

Physical Fitness:  We spent a lot of time outside this summer. The weather has been wonderful and we were able to take advantage of almost every day swimming and/or playing at the park. The boys even got to try kayaking at a friend's cabin!

Reading this, it seems like we must have been busy all the time, but that really wasn't the case. The boys had friends over often, we got together with our homeschool group, Amy and I played outside quite a bit in the yard. It really was a relaxing, golden summer.

I'm dreading the start of "school" tomorrow, even while being thankful that I don't have to get everyone up and out of the house tomorrow to get to a physical school. I don't know what this year will bring. David suggested we could just skip school for this year, but while I might be willing to take an full unschool approach if they ever felt compelled to do any math or writing in their free time, that isn't the case. They need the structure, even while I respect the fact that they do the bulk of their learning outside the classroom. And so, the curriculum is bought and I have a general idea of where I would like the year to take us, and like or not, our new adventure begins tomorrow morning.

If you have the chance, please say a "Hail Mary" for us to have a good year - productive and full of positive learning experiences.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Behind the Scenes at Downton Abbey

Behind the Scenes at Downton Abbey

by Emma Rowley
HarperCollins Publishers, 2013

I know I'm not the only person eagerly awaiting the next season of Downton Abbey. While Behind the Scenes at Downton Abbey was written to usher in Season 4, it is every bit as relevant gearing up for Season 5. This book is a delight for any Downton fan, offering a look at all that goes into bringing this program to life.

It discusses what goes into writing the scripts, the beauty of Highclere Castle (where some of the footage is shot), the other sets and locations, the hair and makeup, the clothing design, the work that goes into choosing and creating the props (including the food!), and what life is like for the actors and actresses when they are working on the show.

I learned so much reading this book. I had never even thought about many of these details that have to happen for the show to be as beautiful and historically realistic as it is. For example, when a letter is opened, someone has actually written several copies of the same letter so that it can be opened again and again for each take! The work that goes into the costumes and hair is truly amazing. So many people work incredibly hard to make Downton come to life. This book is interesting from a historical, an artistic, and a cinematic perspective. If you are a Downton fan, you will definitely want to read this book.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Welcoming People Into the Catholic Church

Pope Francis has been very adamant about maintaining that the Catholic Church is a hospital for sinners. We are all sinners in need of God's mercy. We are all in need of repentance. We all have room for improvement.

All too often the Catholic Church has been seen as unwelcoming, and so those in need of spiritual nourishment seek it elsewhere. We need to change that impression. The Catholic Church is for everyone. No, you might not be able to receive Communion without some additional education/sacraments and/or life changes, but you are always welcome to come sit in the pews and to participate in the liturgy. You are welcome to come and pray and bring your needs to God. You are welcome to speak with a priest or pastoral minister and receive some spiritual guidance and support. We in the Church are a family and all are welcome.

My parish published this in the bulletin this week. It is a message I wish more Catholic Churches (and  Catholics) would take to heart:

No matter what your present status in the Catholic Church,
No matter what your current family or marital situation,
No matter what your current personal history, age, background, or race,
No matter what your own self-image,
You are invited, welcomed, accepted, loved and respected here at Holy Name Parish.
We are here to welcome and serve you.
Together we are called to conversion in Christ. 

Monday, August 18, 2014

Momnipotent: The Not-So-Perfect Woman's Guide to Catholic Motherhood by Danielle Bean's next book club adventure is focused on the book Momnipotent: The Not-So-Perfect Woman's Guide to Catholic Motherhood by Danielle Bean.

Bean, well-known as the editor of Catholic Digest and writer of several popular books, is also the homeschooling mom of a large family. She wrote Momnipotent for "unhappy, struggling moms. It is also for those of us who, in moments of restlessness, boredom, or the frustration of seeing other women who appear to 'have it all,' wonder if what we are doing now can legitimately be considered a life's work."

Bean offers encouragement to mothers, beginning with acknowledging our feminine genius as explained by Pope St. John Paul II. She discusses our beauty - both inside and out, our emotions, our desire to be perfect, our tendency to sometimes smother, to give too much, and to try to do too much. She explores our tendency to compare our lives with others, our inner strength, and our need to learn to trust God and others. Bean also offers True and False quizzes with suggestions on what you should do depending on your answers.

This is a very down-to-earth book that will leave you nodding your head in agreement, laughing and crying. It offers support and good advice. It is a great book to read alone or with other mom friends.

I invite you to buy the book: Momnipotent: The Not-so Perfect Guide to Catholic Motherhood and, if you like, to take part in the Catholic Mom book club adventure (I'm one of the featured writers):

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Prayer To Our Lady of Good Remedy

To read about the Title of Mary, Our Lady of Good Remedy, please visit

O QUEEN OF HEAVEN AND EARTH, Most Holy Virgin, we venerate thee. Thou art the beloved Daughter of the Most High God, the chosen Mother of the Incarnate Word, the Immaculate Spouse of the Holy Spirit, the Sacred Vessel of the Most Holy Trinity.
O Mother of the Divine Redeemer, who under the title of Our Lady of Good Remedy comes to the aid of all who call upon thee, extend thy maternal protection to us. We depend on thee, Dear Mother, as helpless and needy children depend on a tender and caring mother.
Hail, Mary....
O LADY OF GOOD REMEDY, source of unfailing help, grant that we may draw from thy treasury of graces in our time of need.
Touch the hearts of sinners, that they may seek reconciliation and forgiveness. Bring comfort to the afflicted and the lonely; help the poor and the hopeless; aid the sick and the suffering. May they be healed in body and strengthened in spirit to endure their sufferings with patient resignation and Christian fortitude.

Hail, Mary....
DEAR LADY OF GOOD REMEDY, source of unfailing help, thy compassionate heart knows a remedy for every affliction and misery we encounter in life. Help me with thy prayers and intercession to find a remedy for my problems and needs, especially for... (Indicate your special intentions here).
On my part, O loving Mother, I pledge myself to a more intensely Christian lifestyle, to a more careful observance of the laws of God, to be more conscientious in fulfilling the obligations of my state in life, and to strive to be a source of healing in this broken world of ours.
Dear Lady of Good Remedy, be ever present to me, and through thy intercession, may I enjoy health of body and peace of mind, and grow stronger in the faith and in the love of thy Son, Jesus.
Hail, Mary.....
V. Pray for us, O Holy Mother of Good Remedy,
R. That we may deepen our dedication to thy Son, and make the world alive with His Spirit.


Tuesday, August 12, 2014

New Quilting Project - Sunflower Quilt

I love sunflowers and so I've decided to try to create a sunflower quilt. This is a departure from previous quilts I've done in that it is more of an art quilt and will use applique instead of patchwork. This is the plan I drew for myself. So far, I have the blue fabric for the field (a sheet) and the yellows and greens. I'm searching for some brown or black fabric for the sunflower centers. I also made patterns for the centers and petals. Six months to a year from now you should see the finished product. What I love about quilting is that even if it comes out poorly, it will still be a warm, usable blanket.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Book Review: The Secret Holocaust Diaries: The Untold Story of Nonna Bannister

The Secret Holocaust Diaries: The Untold Story of Nonna Bannister
by Nonna Bannister with Denise George and Carolyn Tomlin
Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers 2009

The Secret Holocaust Diaries: The Untold Story of Nonna Bannister was recommended to me by a friend who knows that I enjoy history. At first glance, one might think this is another holocaust book - what more could it have to offer that hasn't already been said? (Not that we should ever become complacent about the Holocaust - we have a moral duty to remember and teach our children and keep it from ever happening again.) However, this story offers a different perspective from the Jewish stories you may have read.

Nonna Bannister was Russian, living in the Ukraine. Her family had once been very close to the Russian czar. Her father was a well-educated translator and made sure his little girl was well-educated as well. Even as a very young girl, she knew six languages. This would prove very helpful to her - she would go on to write her story of the atrocities that happened to her during World War II in various languages so that if anyone found them, they most likely wouldn't be able to read the whole story. After the war, she came to America and kept the story of her past hidden from everyone, even her husband. However, as an old woman she took the time to transcribe her memories into English and finally showed her husband in the 1990s. He made them public after her death in 2004.

In the preface, Carolyn Tomlin and Denise George, who took on the task of compiling and editing the book write, "Nonna's account provides a rare glimpse into the life of a girl who was born to a wealthy family in the Ukraine, experienced great suffering in Stalin's Soviet Union, and eventually lost her family and her own freedom at the hands of Nazi Germany. It is a story with unusual significance as one of the few firsthand accounts of a girl from a once-privileged family, who fell into the ranks of the Ostarbeiter - the primarily Ukranian "Eastern laborers" transported to Germany during the war as slave labor under Adolf Hitler's regime. The fact that she not only survived such turmoil and tragedy but also moved on through faith in God to forgive those who took away so much makes her story all the more remarkable."

The Catholic Church also plays a positive role in Nonna's survival. She worked in a Catholic hospital where the nuns gave her a new name in order to keep her safe and cared for her for two years after she became ill.

This is a powerful story, offering a new perspective on the horrors of the Holocaust. I learned much reading this book. Not only for adults, it would be a great book for high school age students to read to learn more about this period of history.

Friday, August 08, 2014

Illuminating the Word - The Saint John's Bible

From the Knights of Columbus Museum website:

Opening on June 2 and continuing through October 2014 at the Knights of Columbus Museum, Illuminating the Word: The Saint John’s Bible showcases the first handwritten and hand-illustrated Bible to be commissioned by a Benedictine monastery in 500 years.

Illuminating the Word presents 68 original pages from all seven volumes of The Saint John’s Bible along with tools, sketches, materials and rare books.
Beginning in 1996, the community of Saint John’s Abbey and University started planning and working on The Saint John’s Bible. The work of creating the Bible was directed by a committee of theologians, artists and scholars known as the Committee on Illumination and Text. The actual pages were created by a team of 23 professional scribes, artists and assistants in a scriptorium in Wales, under the artistic direction of renowned Western calligrapher Donald Jackson.

This unique undertaking combines a centuries-old tradition of craftsmanship with the latest capabilities of computer technology and electronic communication. The words are handwritten on vellum (calfskin) using hand-cut quills fashioned from turkey, swan or goose feathers, and ancient inks hand-ground from natural minerals and stones such as lapis lazuli, malachite and vermillion. The pages are illuminated with the brilliance of 24-karat gold leaf, silver leaf and platinum. The complete work includes 1,127 handwritten pages and more than 160 major artworks.

This exhibition is made possible through the collaborative efforts with the Hill Museum & Manuscript Library (HMML) at Saint John’s Abbey and University in Collegeville, Minn.

You can view a virtual tour at

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Star Wars Workbooks for Pre-K through 2nd Grade

I was at a bookstore recently and came across these Star Wars Workbooks for grades Pre-K through 2nd grade. How I wish they were around a few years ago when my young men were obsessed with Star Wars (Yes, I have read the Star Wars Dictionaries on various alien species, vehicles, etc. out loud for hours at a time - need I say more?)!

Seriously, though, made by the same people responsible for Brain Quest, these books aren't fluff. They offer solid writing and math practice utilizing a subject matter young boys are often interested in. If you have a reluctant student who enjoys Star Wars or are simply looking to add more fun to your homeschool program, these are worth checking out. Honestly, if they had a middle school version, I would buy it!

Monday, August 04, 2014

Moments of Beauty from Historic Deerfield

My travels took me to Historic Deerfield this past weekend where I took the following photos.

Old Burial Ground - Eternal Rest Grant Unto Them, O Lord. 

Sunday, August 03, 2014

Helping to End Sex Trafficking

Human Trafficking is one of those things I've heard about, but sadly haven't paid much attention to. The August 2014 issue of St. Anthony Messenger featured an article by Theresa Flores, a middle-class woman now working as a social worker who got caught up in prostitution as a teenager. Unfortunately, the article isn't available to the public online, but this is the core of her story:

A young man from high school, a fellow Catholic, asked to give her a ride home. On the way there, he stopped at his house. He invited her into his home, drugged, and raped her, taking pictures of the whole thing. The next day, he told her that the pictures would be distributed publicly, including to her parents. unless she worked then off by having sex with others. The pictures were never returned and she ended up being a sex slave for two years. "She endured constant harassment and threats of bodily harm, both to herself and her family if she didn't comply."

She wasn't able to escape until her family moved away. They never knew what was going on. Theresa has started an organization to help end sex trafficking and to educate others on how quickly young people can be sucked into this nightmare. Please visit to learn more.

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...