Thursday, December 30, 2010

Review: Olivia's Gift

Following on the success of Olivia and the Little Way, Nancy Carabio Belanger has written an even better sequel:  Olivia's Gift.  This sequel does a great job in showing Olivia a little older (she's now 12) and a little wiser ... but still having the issues almost-teenage-girls have in life:  wanting to fit in, be popular, seem cool.  On a month-long visit to the beach, Olivia and her best friend Hayley learn the tough lessons:  envy, covetousness, lying and trying to fit in just don't work!  Also, that appearances can be deceiving and that that who we think are cool are often more un-cool when we really look at them.

The girls are assisted in ferreting out these truths by Olivia's parents and grandma; but more interestingly, Olivia discovers these truths through her relationship with St. Therese of Lisieux and her prayer life.

This novel is a great read for tweens/teen girls who are going through these same issues.  Belanger does a fantastic job of teaching without preaching, of getting her message of the Truth and the Catholic faith (scattering St. Therese quotes throughout) across to the reader without making the story goofy or far-fetched.

It is such a pleasure to read a book like this ... especially having an almost-11-yo daughter who will be dealing with these issues of peer pressure and fitting in in the next few years!  [An added bonus:  String Bean has a particular affection for St. Therese already, so this book will really delight her!].  Thank you, Ms. Belanger!

I received this book from the author in order to evaluate its orthodoxy for the Catholic Writers Guild.  The above review is my honest reaction to this work of Catholic literature.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Review: The Virtues by Pope Benedict XVI

First, let me just say that I love Pope Benedict's writings.   They seem so much more accessible than the amazing writings of JPtheGreat (of whom I am an ENORMOUS fan and actually met one day in Rome!).  Pope Benedict, who is a career academician really knows how to write to his audience.  I was thrilled when Catholic Company had The Virtues as a reviewable item -- I quickly requested that one and here's my review:

The Virtues is an edited compilation of Pope Benedict's writings that mention the seven virtues of faith, hope, charity (love), prudence, justice, fortitude, temperance.  This is a great meditation book ... a book I'd pull out daily to read a snippet, spending almost a month (there is an average of 20 quotes per virtue) on each virtue. 

The quote include excerpts from Pope Benedict's encyclicals, homilies, specific-themed talks, and other chances he has had to teach the faithful about these virtues.

The first section of the book covers the theological virtues of faith, hope and charity:  first with a definition (from the Catholic Catechism) of each and then with their own quotes from Benedict's writings.  The theological virtues are those that are enfused from God -- the virtues that you will not see in the animal kingdom but only within the human species.  Then, the book moves on to the cardinal virtues (those that are "natural" virtues whether or not you believe in God): prudence, justice, fortitude, temperance -- again with an overview definition from the Catechism, but then moving on to specifics as mentioned in Pope Benedict's writings/talks.

This is a treasure trove of teachable moments for all who are trying to teach the Catholic Faith -- whether you're a mom/dad, a homeschooler or a Catholic school teacher, this book is for you!  We chose the virtue of charity/love as our theme for 2011 and this book fits perfectly into my need to teach/explain this theological virtue to my own kids!  This really is a wonderful meditative book, not heavy, but very attainable, that discusses these seven virtues ... definitely a book that will be well-used, well-read in our house!

Disclaimer:  This review was written as part of the Catholic book reviewer program from The Catholic Company. Visit The Catholic Company to find more information on The Virtues . They are also a great source for serenity prayer and baptism gifts.

Novenas: when prayers are answered ....

... sometimes God really needs to give me a "thwack" upside the head!  Back on November 30th, I began a St. Andrew Novena -- 15 times per day I said the following prayers, each day from November 30th till December 25th.  I made it easier to remember by printing the below prayer card which I'd designed, printing it out, and putting it right next to my computer -- throughout the day, I would pray this prayer, mentioning my intention, and thinking about the words (especially that Jesus was born, not just in a dirty, messy stable, but at midnight in freezing cold!).

Anyway, a dear online friend mentioned today that she had rec'd her request in a wonderful way ... and I duly remarked on how wonderful that was and kept on keeping on ... until tonight.  I then realized that I too received my request ... and God is so very good!

May all your needs be filled by our good and gracious God!  Thanks be to God for giving us not just His love (which is amazing) but also other humans who have given it all to Him and now help all of us who ask!  Thank you St. Andrew for your intercessions and thank you, God, for your great love!


Review: Sir Rowan and the Camerian Conquest

The sixth, and final, book in the Knights of Arrethtrae series by Chuck Black is probably the best of the series.  Sir Rowan and the Camerian Conquest takes on the task of showing the fatal consequences of pride and the subtle, slow manner that Satan conquers us through our belief in ourselves over all else.

Rowan starts out life as an orphan on the streets of Cameria.  He only wants one thing:  to learn to sword fight and join in the grand tournaments -- this is truly success in the Arrethtrae kingdom.  The idea of "more crowds. More cheering.  More glory and gold" is his total focus.  And he finally gets his chance when he meets Sir Aldwyn, a Knight of the Prince, who agrees to teach him the art of sword-play and the message of the Prince.  Rowan proves an amazing student who soon surpasses his teacher and begins to win ... win big ... win the praise and adulation of the crowds.  Problems arise, though, when Rowan forgets Who gave him this talent, forgets about sharing the message of the Prince, and instead assumes all the glory to himself.  Rowan falls heavily into the sin of pride. 

And boy, does he have to pay the price to redeem himself before it's too late.

Black's book is an excellent allegory for the end-times, Christ's coming back to separate the wheat from the chaff, the believers from the non-believers.  On which side will Rowan find himself?  The message of this book is cloaked in a well-written, action-packed story that will teach without tiring ... will be remembered long in the minds of readers as they begin to see around themselves the false praise of the crowd and remember the message of the Prince!

Definitely recommend this book, and all the books, in the series for all tweens/teen readers.  NOTE:  you do NOT have to read the books in sequence or even all of them to understand the message -- each of the volumes is its own story from start to finish with a different theme surrounding a good Christian life.

Here are all six of the titles in the Knights of Arretthrae series -- all suitable for tween/teen boys (and girls!):
1.  Sir Kendrick and the Castle of Bel Lione
2.  Sir Bentley and Holbrook Court
3.  Sir Dalton and the Shadow Heart
4.  Lady Carliss and the Waters of Moorue
5. Sir Quinlan and the Swords of Valor (review here)
6.  Sir Rowan and the Camerian Conquest

DISCLAIMER:  I received Sir Rowan and the Camerian Conquest as part of the Blogging for Books program.  The review above is my honest reaction to the book -- yes, it is that good!

Post Christmas review ....

... just how did we do?

Dh:  relaxed and watched football (both college bowl and NFL) games ... enjoying the family and food (and even Max, who was his constant companion).  He also got a beautiful hand-knit cap from me for which he got lots of use since, altho we didn't get but a dusting of snow, it was COOOOOOLLLLLLDDDD (the winds were about 45mph coming off the Lake) around here.

While dh and Max watched football (and the kids came in and out), I relaxed by doing a 500-piece jigsaw all by myself.  Isn't this a lovely puzzle .... I rec'd it from a lovely friend!  It was so relaxing working away while the football games were playing in the background ... altho I kept getting confused on when it was a good thing or a bad thing since they kept switching from game to game!  I even put aside knitting to do the puzzle -- which took a few football-games' worth of time but is so very pretty.
The kids, too, had a wonderful Christmas ... all getting what they wanted and having lots of time to play and enjoy and share with each other.  [And only one calamity:  a toy BamBam rec'd from St. Nick was "kaput" an hour after he opened it ... it is being sent back today and dh took JP to get a "real one" after morning Mass!] We're also re-thinking the whole idea of giving a digital camera to LegoManiac -- granted St. Nick brought it but WE'RE the ones of whom he keeps taking less-than-attractive candids! But StringBean loves her dollhouse kits (she got two) so much she even cleaned off her desk in her room so she can start to work today on building the smaller of the two:  the Primrose and then move on to the Laurel!

We wish you all a VERY MERRY CHRISTMAS SEASON .... which we'll celebrate till January 9, the Baptism of the Lord.  So .... off to party!


Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas from our house to yours ....

check out all my knitting designs at:  By Hand, With Heart ... hand-knit designs

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Unit Study: Dickens and Weeks 2 and 3

Last week we read the second Christmas novel penned by Dickens:  The Chimes: A Goblin Story of Some Bells that Rang an Old Year Out and a New One In.  This is a beautiful ghost story, with echoes of his A Christmas Carol, with the themes of love and family and charity.  It's a particularly interesting read for those of us who don't see government programs for the poor as the solution -- Dickens would definitely be in our camp.  This is really a good read and the enjoyed it and understood the point!  Dickens' writing is so fun to read aloud.

We also learned more about the history of Christmas, with a particular emphasis on the Victorian/Dickensian celebrations.  We watched Christmas Unwrapped: The History of Christmas , which is an interesting DVD that describes the history of Christmas since pre-Christian days through to today.  This video includes descriptions of the major influences on current practices (especially important for our study:  Prince Albert's bringing the tree from Germany, Christmas Cards in Britain and Dickens' influence on "traditional" celebrations.) Note: this is a very secular look with only a nodding reference to Christ!

Another resource we used was the book, The Man Who Invented Christmas, by Les Standiford. I read the book for background information but then read-aloud the end of Chapter 14 and all of Chapter 15 which describes Dickens' influence on Victorian Christmas from food to decorations and activities.  The book quickly points out that Dickens was anti-organized religion so his books and writings don't include any reference to the theological side of Christmas but rather the spirit of the holidays -- charity and love for all.

The 28th chapter of Dickens' Pickwick Papers gives a wonderful description of the reveling of a wealthy folks over a Christmas weekend.  Pickwick and his friends jump right into the revelries with dancing and eating and drinking Christmas wishes at midnight!

This week we read the third Charles Dickens Christmas novel: The Cricket on the Hearth: A Fairy Tale of Home.  The Dickens version is NOT to be confused with "the original TV classic" done in 1967 and using the voices of Danny Thomas, Marlo Thomas and Roddy McDowall.  The video (which we borrowed from the library and wasted an hour watching) is also called "Cricket on the Hearth" but has very little to do with the original story.  If you can, get the book!

One thing we've been doing while I read these books to the children is having them working on Christmas crafts:  individual nativity sets (started on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, with our baby Jesus figures blessed at Mass on the 3rd Sunday of Advent -- I'll post pictures of the finished sets), ornaments and Christmas gifts for family and friends.  The crafting element has been a wonderfully fulfilling time for the kids this year -- I think  they're just the right ages to really enjoy the hand-work and their items are beautiful.

Next week we'll be reading The Battle of Life: A Love Story and finish Dickens' Christmas novels during Christmas week by reading The Haunted Man and the Ghost's Bargain: A Fancy for Christmas Time.

Enjoy your last week of Advent!  We sure are having a wonderfully creative and active Advent ...


Thursday, December 16, 2010

On being newly neutered ...

Max this morning (19weeks, 5 days)
We took Max (now just about 5 months old) to be neutered yesterday.  I don't know who it was harder on:  Max, the kids or me!  He gave such a pitiful look as he was led back to the kennel.  And when we went to pick him up last night ... we could hear him whining as I spoke to the attendant! 

The poor little guy!

We nursed him thru last night:  the crate has been moved into the boys' room (String Bean had him in with her for a little while a few weeks ago, but girls have so much stuff for puppies to get into while the boys just have to remember to pick up their socks!) ... Lego Maniac read The Long Patrol to Max and I, while I cradled Max to sleep ... Yes, we are a little over-the-top with this little guy!

Max woke this morning, around 5:30, still a bit less-active-than-usual but sweet and settled and loving!

For those who are local:  we took Max to the Kincheloe Clinic, a place specifically set up to encourage neutering/spaying of domestic animals and we had a GREAT experience with the folks there.  The two ladies who took care of Max were loving and cuddled him ... but were still professional.  We were able to pick him up in the evening ... and were told exactly what to do, given medicine for pain and Amoxicilin, and allowed to come get him out of the kennel ourselves (where the poor mite was shaking and so happy to see us!).  We also got Max micro-chipped at the same time as the neutering so he's all set now.  I can't recommend Kincheloe enough if you need to have your dog/cat spayed/neutered or just need typical shots or micro-chipping! [You do have to bring cash and make an appointment, but the cost and service are well worth it.  These folks WANT to help your pet!]


Book Series for Boys ... part 2

Yesterday, I posted a review of a new book series my 11yo son and I have found ... the review was about the 5th book in the series, The Knights of Arrethtrae, told the story of two young men and the choices they make which lead them on quite divergent paths.

Some have asked for the series in order so that they may get them for their own sons (altho each book's story is self-contained):
  1. Sir Kendrick and the Castle of Bel Lione -- I'll be reviewing this one later this week
  2. Sir Bentley and Holbrook Court
  3. Sir Dalton and the Shadow Heart
  4. Lady Carliss and the Waters of Moorue
  5. Sir Quinlan and the Swords of Valor -- review here
  6. Sir Rowan and the Camerian Conquest
NOTE:  these books are from a Christian author; the sentiments included in the books may not reflect a wholly Catholic world-view.  The message is one of evangelizing the world about the King and His Son.  EXCELLENT reading for boys!