Thursday, September 30, 2010

BEST read-aloud in a long time ...

... well, TWO actually! 
There are times when you go to the library, take a chance on a book, and it becomes a family classic!  Well, this happened to us and we had such fun with Howard Whitehouse's
The Strictest School in the World: Being the Tale of a Clever Girl, a Rubber Boy and a Collection of Flying Machines, Mostly BrokenThe title alone gives you a clue to the luscious use of language in this book about young people, wonderful (and horrible) adults, and flight.  The writing is replete with picture-sentences that sparked giggles and out-right belly-laughs.  The bad people are REALLY bad and the good people are REALLY good.  I love that! Oh, and scattered throughout the novel are whimsical drawings of the characters and events by Bill Slavin.  Set in Victorian England, this book is great for history, science (especially the physics of flight), and literature.

We were thrilled to find that Whitehouse and Slavin teamed-up and wrote a second book for the Mad Misadventures of Emmaline and Rubberbones which is a sequel that equals, if not betters, the first book!  The Faceless Fiend: Being the Tale of a Criminal Mastermind, His Masked Minions and a Princess with a Butter Knife, Involving Explosives and a Certain Amount of Pushing and Shoving picks up where the first one left off.  But this time, the children are "homeschooled/unschooled" (well, ok they have a tutor, but trust me, it's more unschooling than anything!).  And they have a few more good guy characters and some really BAD bad-guy characters. 

These are classic family read-aloud fun. 

And, guess what ... although our library doesn't have it (which means I'll have to BUY it), there is a THIRD installment of these crazy adventures: 
The Island of Mad Scientists: Being an Excursion to the Wilds of Scotland, Involving Many Marvels of Experimental Invention, Pirates, a Heroic Cat, a Mechanical Man, and a Monkey.  Yes, I AM ordering that today ... with two day-shipping ... we should have it in time for Monday school ....  


Just had to post this ...

... if only so I commit it to memory.

You feel a gigantic faith. He who gives you that faith, will give you the means. -- St. Josemaria Escriva, The Way #577 

... and a pretty picture of a lace design I just finished ... because it makes me smile ...

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Feast Day: Feast of the Archangels Michael, Raphael and Gabriel

Today, we celebrate the angels who didn't follow Lucifer, the angels who did God's will.  These are the big three:  Michael, the Defender, was the leader of the army of God during the uprising of Lucifer. Raphael, the Healer, travelled with Tobit and protected him. Gabriel, the Messenger of God, informed Mary that she would bear the Savior.

From the Catechism of the Catholic Church comes this explanation (the numbers indicate the paragraph in the Catechism itself):
St. Augustine says: "'Angel' is the name of their office, not of their nature. If you seek the name of their nature, it is ‘spirit'; if you seek the name of their office, it is ‘angel': from what they are, ‘spirit,' from what they do, ‘angel.'" With their whole beings the angels are servants and messengers of God. Because they "always behold the face of my Father who is in heaven" they are the "mighty ones who do his word, hearkening to the voice of his word."
330 :
As purely spiritual creatures angels have intelligence and will: they are personal and immortal creatures, surpassing in perfection all visible creatures, as the splendor of their glory bears witness.
Angels have been present since creation and throughout the history of salvation, announcing this salvation from afar or near and serving the accomplishment of the divine plan: they closed the earthly paradise; protected Lot; saved Hagar and her child; stayed Abraham's hand; communicated the law by their ministry; led the People of God; announced births and callings; and assisted the prophets, just to cite a few examples. Finally, the angel Gabriel announced the birth of the Precursor and that of Jesus himself.
We daily pray the St. Michael prayer:
St. Michael, the Archangel
defend us in battle.
Be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the Devil.
May God rebuke him, we humbly pray
And do thou, o Prince of the Heavenly Host,
cast into Hell Satan and all the evil spirits
who prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls.
For those who are curious as to what we'll EAT to celebrate this feast:
  • Salad greens
  • Angel Hair Pasta (with spinach/garlic/cheese sauce)
  • Cocoa-chip cloud cookies (recipe below)
Cocoa-chip Cloud Cookies (adapted from a Martha Stewart recipe)

4 egg whites (warmed in the shell by submerging in warm water)
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp cream of tartar
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup cocoa
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 225.

In a medium bowl, beat egg whites, salt, cream of tartar, and vanilla until soft peaks form (15 minutes or more with my wimpy mixer). Gradually add sugar (1 tbls at a time) and cocoa, alternating till all is mixed in. Continue to beat until meringue is stiff and glossy, about 10 minutes more. Gently fold in chocolate chips.

Drop by spoon (or 1/4 cup full) onto parchment-lined baking sheets. Bake until dry and just golden (1 to 1-1/2 hours). Let cool completely on baking sheet.


Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Help for Homeschoolers (and others, too!)

I just got a note from Maureen over at Homeschool Connections:
  • Mary Ellen Barrett is presenting a free webinar tomorrow night (Wed, 8/29) on homeschooling with toddlers.  The title of the webinar sounds really fun:  Toddler School; How To Prevent Disruption And Destruction And Keep The Wee Ones Engaged.  It's almost full, but if you're interested, here's where you'd sign up
  • Ana Braga-Henebry is doing two webinars -- one in October on writing Catholic plays and another in November on organization in the homeschool
  • Nancy Carpentier Brown is doing a webinar in January on Frances Chesterton
  • ** Alicia vanHecke is doing one in February on preparing our children to engage the culture
For further information about these free parenting webinars (or to find out about class offerings and other online resources) check out Homeschool Connections.

** edited 09/28 ... to reflect the correct subject of Alicia vanHecke's webinar!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Birthdays: my 49th year ends!

Wow, what a weekend!  My dear family believes in doing it right for my birthday and always does at least a "birthday weekned" if not a full "octave"! 

This year was especially poignant -- not just because it marked the end of my 49th year, but it also marked the welcoming of a new member to the family:  Max, the mini-schnauzer -- he's only 8 weeks + 2 days old and is a little shy ...

but String Bean already has him playing nicely!
I am SO blessed with my family and friends ... many of whom sent wishes all summed up in the Byzantine song, "God grant her many years".  My children and dh gave me many wonderful things, including the cards and table decor shown below (if you look closely, you'll see BamBam's gift:  a Steve Young football card!)

I am so amazingly blessed!  THANK you to all, near and far, for the good wishes, prayers and love ...
you mean so much to me and mine!

Friday, September 24, 2010

Review: The Old Mass and the New

I am a Catholic of the post-Vatican 2 generation.  I was born just before the Council convened and made my First Communion just as the changes were occuring.  When I was little, there were still Communion rails in some churches ... still some who celebrated the Mass ad orientem ... still some parishes who encouraged the traditions of the Church.  Some.

But I am a product of a very liberal catechesis.  After all, I grew up in San Francisco and, although I attended Catholic schools all the way through undergrad, most were pretty liberal and embracing the new way of doing things.  Not that all the "new" ways were bad ...

Personally, I have never understood the desire by many to return to the "old Mass" ... to don mantillas and attempt to follow along while the priest has his back to the congregation and occasionally an altar server moves from right to left and back again.  I just don't get it, but I understand that it is completely valid for others to celebrate the Liturgy in this way.  I just don't get it.

Which is why I jumped at the chance to review The Old Mass and the New: explaining the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum of Pope Benedict XVI by Bishop Marc Aillet.  This book was originally published in France shortly after Pope Benedict's promulgation of his motu proprio in 2007; the version I read has just been translated/published by Ignatius Press.  I wanted to try to understand why the Church is seeking to reform the liturgy.  There are things I don't like about the Mass, but isn't it basically the Mass wherever I go?

Bishop Aillet, who is the bishop of Bayonne, France and has successfully brought both the Old and New Mass into his diocese, proves in his volume the reason behind the liturgical reform and how best for Catholics to keep the good and toss the bad.  The Old Mass and the New: explaining the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum of Pope Benedict XVI is a wonderful reference for Catholics to better understand the WHY of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

It's not a large volume -- only some 126 pages (and that includes the text of Summorum Pontificum as well as all the end notes, etc) -- but it packs a punch!  In this book, I came to understand better the errors made in the execution of the Second Vatican Council's directives for how to encourage greater participation in the Mass while retaining the good, the true and the beautiful.  This book explains that it is much more than a matter of wearing a mantilla to Mass or celebrating the Mass in the vernacular vs Latin.  This is not the point that the Holy Father was trying to make in his motu proprio NOR was it the point of what the Magisterium was trying to do in "throwing wide the doors" of the Church in what has become known as the Second Vatican Council.

Because of the errors in execution, we now have a Church divided -- those who embrace the Old Mass and those who embrace the New.  As Bishop Aillet describes:

The fact is that in the postconciliar Church we have witnessed a kind of dialectic opposition between the defenders of liturgical worship and the promoters of openness to the world.  Because the latter went so far as to reduce the Christian life to a mere social commitment, measured by a secular interpretation of the faith, the former reacted by taking refuge in a liturgy that was rigid to the pont of 'rubricism', with a danger of encouraging the faithful to protect themselves from the world... pg 39
A bunker mentality exists for the Old Mass proponets while the New Mass folks are merrily going about making what should be an expression of the mystery of the our Faith (and how we can live in the world but not "of" it), into a personal feelings expression of what each of us want it to be.  In other words, neither side is right; we have each gone too far to the right or the left.  This is not a question of either the Old or the New, it is a question of why we do what we do and how we do it.

With both sides so far left or right, we have lost the the sense of the mystery ... "the crisis in the liturgy is essentially the loss of the sense of the sacred" (pg 46).  Along with this loss of the sense of the sacred is the loss of the beauty ... the mistaken idea that by removing Chant or ancient music from the Mass we are allowing greater participation by the congregation. 

Bishop Aillet's book helped me to understand that the current Liturgical Reform movement is not a case of either the Old or the New ... but rather a situation of education.  We Catholics need to understand why we have what we have ... we need to re-kindle the beauty and mystery in the greatest celebration we can pariticpate in:  the sacrifice that Jesus made on the Cross.  By revisiting both liturgies ... by looking at what is good, true and beautiful in each, by seeking to return the sense of the sacred to each and every offering at the Altar, is what the Liturgical Reform is all about. 

The book includes the full text of the Summorum Pontificum as well as the cover letter Popy Benedict XVI sent to all the bishops to assist in the promulgation of his motu proprio.

This book is not a light read ... there were areas that I had to re-read or research to understand ... but this is all to the good.  This is a book that stays out of the subjective emotional arena and focuses on the objective reality of what the Sacrifice of the Mass should be.

I highly recommend this one -- whether you wear a mantilla or not!

Full disclosure:  I received this book as part of the Catholic Company's review program.  The thoughts above are my own personal critique of Bishop Aillet's book.  For further information or to order a copy of The Old Mass and the New, please check Catholic Company's site.  Also be sure to check out their great selection of Mary statues.

Feast Day: Our Lady of Ransom

Today is the feast of Our Lady of Ransom, also known as Mother of Mercy.  Established in the 1200s, this feast commemorates the apparition of Mary to St. Peter Nolasco, St. Raymond of Penafort and James, king of Aragon, asking them to found a religious order dedicated to freeing Christian captives from the Moors.

The order founded by King James of Aragon came to be called the Mercedarians, and is still active today.  Here's an excerpt from the page:

The Order of Our Lady of Ransom, called the Mercedarians, and founded by St. Peter Nolasco, ransomed 490,736 slaves between the years 1218 and 1632. St. Vincent de Paul, a slave himself, led his priests to save 1200 Christian captives in the short period between 1642 and 1660 at the staggering cost of 1,200,000 pounds of silver. An even greater achievement was the conversion of thousands in captivity, and steeling them against the sufferings of a cruel martyrdom for the faith.

Mary, Our Lady of Ransom and Mother of Mercy,
help us to work for the freedom of today's captives!
Our Lady of Ransom, please pray for us.

 HT:  Michele Q. at Family-Centered Learning for the mention in the Catholic Daily Planner of this little-known Marian Feast!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Feast Day: St. Pio of Pietrelcina

Maybe better known as Padre Pio, St. Pio is a modern saint.  An Italian of humble origin, Pio grew up during the turbulent times of world wars and domestic uprisings.  He received the stigmata for a short time in 1910 at the age of 23, one month after his ordination as a priest in the Capuchins.  In 1918, the visible signs of the stigmata, including the transverberation (wounding of the heart, a sign of complete union of love with God), were to remain with him for the next 50 years.

Padre Pio was an amazing priest, confessor and spiritual director.  His story is wonderfully told in the docudrama, Padre Pio: the Miracle Man ... a DVD in Italian with subtitles (but don't let that scare you away as you get so caught up in the story, you  forget they're not speaking English!).  Pio is amazingly acted by Sergio Castelitto (Miraz in Prince Caspian).  Another excellent movie, and well worth the time to watch is Padre Pio: Between Heaven and Earth -- this was an Italian made-for-TV movie that drew ana amazing 12 million Italian viewers when it aired.

A short but excellent book to read about this Capuchin is Padre Pio by Fabrizio Contessa written just after his beatification in 1999.  JptheGreat declared him a saint in 2002.

[NOTE: Please be aware that the movies and book linked above are quite graphic when portraying the stigmata -- bleeding hands and feet -- and the battles Pio fought with the Devil.  These images may not be suitable for young children. ]

A final word from St. Pio of Pietrelcina:
"Always humble yourself lovingly before God and man, because God speaks to those who are truly humble of heart, and enriches them with His gifts."
For his feast day, we are baking Traditional Tuscan Biscotti a la Padre Pio ... a batch of cookies we'll bring to social after morning Mass today and save one or two for dad for this evening!  Here's the recipe:
Traditional Tuscan Biscotti a la Padre Pio

• 3/4 cup sugar
• 2 cups flour
• 1/4 cup whole wheat flour
• 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
• 1/2 tsp cinnamon
• 1 1/2 cups whole unblanched almonds
• 4 eggs
• 1/2 cup butter, melted and cooled
• 2 tsp vanilla
• 1/2 cup chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350F.

In a mixing bowl, combine flours, sugar, baking powder and cinnamon. Add almonds and chocolate chips. In another small bowl, whisk together the eggs and vanilla; add the cooled melted butter. Fold egg mixture into the dry ingredient mixture. Stir until dough is stiff. Turn out dough onto a floured surface and split in two. Roll each piece into a log around the same length as your baking sheet.

Place the logs on the baking sheet and flatten slightly. Make sure to leave plenty of room between them. Bake for 25 minutes.

Remove from the oven, and let cool. Using a sharp chopping knife, slice each log into 1/3" slices diagonally (a little messy around the almonds!). Place (cut side down) on the baking sheet. Bake for another 15-20 minutes at 350, until crispy.

These are amazing with a cup of strong Italian coffee!


Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Review: A Leader's Heart

I love books.  I love books that are thought-provoking.  I love books that let me journal.  So when I got the chance to review John Maxwell's  devotional-journal that promised to nurture "a leader's heart" ... I jumped at the chance.  A Leader's Heart: 365-Day Devotional Journal by John Maxwell has just been re-published by Thomas Nelson Publishers under their "Countryman" imprint.

Unfortunately, this story has a sad ending:  I just can't like this book.  I think it's trying too hard to do everything -- a journal, a "devotional", a self-help book to grow leaders -- and ends up being nothing. 

I honestly tried hard to like it.  I browsed through it.  I read it.  I held it in my hands and smelled it.  I honestly tried.  But still no success.

First, the binding is all wrong.  It's a sewn-in binding for a book that is supposed to be used daily for writing thoughts.  A better choice would have been a looser binding (comb, spiral) OR wider margins with bigger lines for truly writing in.  A sewn-in binding would be great if the book didn't encourage the reader to write in the lines.  This just doesn't work for me.

Second, the book mixes scripture passages with quotes from Maxwell's previous volumes on leadership.  One or the other, but not both, would have worked better for me.  This would have worked if Maxwell had than added the question to either a scripture quote or a Maxwell quote (I also had a problem with the use of quotes from Maxwell's Leadership Bible but that's a personal pet peeve -- there is only one Bible).  Maybe there could have been a separate section with one or the other pithy quote.  But they're not pithy quotes -- their two-ton heavy with meaning.  On a daily basis, this might get a bit over the top.

Third, maybe it's because I'm a Catholic reading a very Protestant author, but the impression I get from the Maxwell quotes is that everyone should be, must be a leader and that is how we would witness to the Kingdom.  But that's not what Jesus said.  Jesus would have us follow Him.  Jesus told us, "the last shall be first".  Jesus gave Peter the keys to the Kingdom and put the Church as the leader on earth.  Maxwell's leadership maxims are great for the corporate board room but not for life -- but Maxwell's volume leads me to believe that he wants us to replicate the dog-eat-dog, climb the corporate ladder to success kind of lifestyle in our daily lives and in our spiritual lives.  

I'm sorry, I just can't like this one. 

This book was obtained through Thomas Nelson's Book Sneeze program which requires that I post a review after reading the volume.  The critique above is my honest review of this work. 

Feast Day: St. Lawrence Ruiz, layman

I incorrectly posted this on 9/22, but the feast is actually celebrated on 9/28.  Sorry for any confusion my faux pas may have engendered.

St. Lawrence Ruiz is one of those saints I'd never heard of till about 3 years ago.  And then only because the school where dh teaches has a statue of St. Lawrence Ruiz in the halls.  Based on records, St. Lawrence wasn't very tall ... maybe 5'6" ... but his faith in God was HUGE! 

A layman, St. Lawrence left his family in the Phillipines when he was wrongly accused of murder.  To escape, he traveled from the Phillipines with Catholic Missionaries ... to help evangelize the Japanese of the 1600s.  When they landed in Japan, all the missionaries (including St. Lawrence) were slaughtered for their faith.  St. Lawrence's last words are quoted in the prayer card above: 
I am a Christian, and I shall die for God, and for him I would give many thousands of lives if I had them.
St. Lawrence, and all the Japanese martyrs, please pray that we may always have such a steadfast faith. 

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

You can never start too early ...

when planning for the high holy feast days form Christmas Eve through to Little Christmas (or Epiphany).  I start planning in September (it's easy to remember, my birthday is EXACTLY 3 months before Christmas Day!) and add and subtract ideas all the way to about half-way thru Advent.  Christmas is that important to me.

Some traditions we repeat every year ... some are new ... and some are traditions I used to do when I was little but have forgotten or lost track thereof.  One of these old traditions just came across my desk this morning:  a note from Catholic Company that they are beginning to take pre-orders for Oplatki!

What ... you've never heard of Oplatki

Well then, dear reader, you must NOT be Polish, Czech, Slovak or Lithuanian! Oplatki (also known as oplatke, oplatek, etc) is reminiscent of communion host -- a thin, wafer-like bread whose name means roughly, "angel bread".  This is traditionally only served at Christmas with family members sharing a wafer each on Christmas day (or, as we used to, throughout the Christmas season). 

My dad's aunt, a Religious Sister of Mercy in Chicago, used to send us the wafers each year. We always added a touch of honey to the wafer, but this may not be capital "T" tradititional.   Each wafer came in its own envelope and was stamped with a holy image for the Christmas season -- manger scene, the Holy Family, or star shining over the crib, etc.  After saying a brief prayer, Dad would take a bit of the wafer and then pass it on to the next ... and the next ... and so on around the table.  The sharing helps us remember that we are all one ... but we need to extend charity to each other. We need to serve and share with each other.

The Oplatki is a tradition I'm planning on resurrecting this year ... and sharing with family and friends to introduce them to this Old World tradition, still meaningful in the 21st century!

Such a deal I have for you ....

I've mentioned before just how much I love Sacred Heart Books and Gifts.  Linda and her husband do a phenomenal job of trying to keep prices reasonable on all their products (including not carrying things that won't discount).  SHB&G often has prices as good as, or better, than Amazons ... and these are former Catholic homeschoolers offering a service to any who are interested in all things Catholic.

I was particularly delighted to see this email: 
  • Effective immediately, Sacred Heart Books and Gifts is discounting Saxon Math products 30% off publisher's prices! This is NOT a sale! We are keeping it at this price point indefinitely in the hope that the many families who use Saxon Math will benefit.
  • All Vision Book biographies of individual saints are currently on sale at 30% off publisher's prices. Originally priced at $9.95, they are now offered at $6.95! These books make perfect stocking stuffers for independent readers!
So, head on over to Sacred Heart Books and Gifts ... and load up on books and resources for Christmas or next Spring or even next school year! And if you do order, tell Linda I say "hi"!


Feast Day: St. Matthew, Apostle

I love these portraits of St. Matthew that show a very old man listening (in rapt attention) to a very young, child-like, Angel ... tradition has it that this is how St. Matthew was able to write his gospel.  I also have always liked that Jesus called Matthew ... a tax collector and despised by his people ... and Matthew changed his life and followed the Lord!  How cool is that?

Today, we made individual chocolate, to-die-for, cakes in order that we could send one in to our favorite priest named Matthew!  Happy feast day, dear Fr. Z.

St. Matthew, pray that we may too realize the incorruptible treasures of heaven over the seduction of earthly possessions.  St. Matthew, pray for us!


Friday, September 17, 2010

Out and About on a Friday

This was one of our "outside" days .... and the gorgeous weather helped make it even nicer.  First, down to Orange for a drawing class for Lego Maniac and String Bean.  BamBam and I enjoyed walking around the historic town ... and enjoying "to die for" cinnamon rolls at "Not Just Desserts" while waiting for the kiddoes. 

Then, it was off to Montpelier to celebrate Constitution Day and enjoy the afternoon with some wonderful homeschool families (incl one who was celebrating his birthday a few days early). 
After almost two hours of the boys running ... and running ... and running and the girls and moms chatting away, we headed over to visit our newest family member -- Max.  Max is 7 weeks old today and will be coming home a week from Sunday.  We're all (except maybe dh) really excited ...

Isn't just sweet?  And he's the second smallest in the litter and just a charmer! 

Hope your day was just as wonderfully active! 

Feast Day: St. Robert Bellarmine

Today is the feast of St. Robert Bellarmine, a Jesuit scholar (when that really meant something!) who was also a spiritual advisor to St. Aloysius Gonzaga (another Jesuit and patron of my alma mater) and counseled St. Francis de Sales. He taught at the Roman College where he was Chair of Theology (and later, Rector) and wrote many great theological works including several catechisms; he became the Provincial for the Jesuit order, and later was named Cardinal.  He fought heresies and doctrinal errors and is the patron saint of catechists (which is cool as dh started his catechism course for the post-confirmation students last night).

I LOVE his quote about charity ... something I need to have tattooed on my arm!

St. Robert Bellarmine, patron saint of catechists, pray for all of us who teach the Faith ... that we may always teach through our actions as well as our words ... and that we may always remember that charity is that with which no man is lost, and without which no man may be saved! 

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Philosophy: Rule of Six revisited!

Back in 2006, I hosted a blog carnival of folks' ideas on a Rule of 6 ... a guide to six things that need to be included everyday in our homes ... a guide to prioritizing our days ... a way to ensure that we nurture the soul as well as the mind.

Although I've changed the logo a bit since 2006 .... the list is still unchanged.

What is your "rule of six"?  And has it changed over the past four years?

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Feast Day: Our Lady of Sorrows

Today is the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows ... when we take time to stand at the foot of the cross with the Blessed Mother and thank her for her YES to God ... a yes that saved the world.  The seven sorrows of Mary include:
  1. the prophecy of Simeon the flight into Egypt
  2. the loss of the Child Jesus in the Jerusalem
  3. the meeting of Our Lord on the way to Calvary
  4. the standing at the foot of the Cross
  5. the taking down of Our Lord from the Cross
  6. the burial of Our Lord
Evelyn Vitz at Continual Feast has a wonderful Bittersweet Chocolate Cake (gluten free, yet!) recipe for this day, which we're going to try (I'll keep you posted!).  We'll also be doing a little activity today to help us remember the Seven Sorrows: a neat project from That Resource Site

This feast celebrates and shows that Mary was steadfast ... never forgetting her faith in God's love and mercy ... even through these horrific times.

Please God, may I always remain steadfast in my faith, no matter the trials and tribulations!  Holy Mother, pray for me and mine that we may always walk the path of sorrows that lead to the path of True Joy!