Sunday, February 28, 2016

All the Books We Got for Christmas (Books. Lists. Love.)

The kids got a lot of new books this past Christmas, but you don't see me complaining.  It was my pleasure to write this fairly random, fairly long, and fairly awesome book list!  

Russ and I usually get each kiddo a new book or two (that they're expected to share ;) ) and everyone got new books from my parents this year.  Needless to say, we've all really been enjoying our new reading material these past few months!

So I get to do a major mega-force book review... because they actually all turned out great and there wasn't a dud in the batch!

Starting with a new-to-us treasure for the youngest...

(And these are affiliate links, so if you click through and buy something, thank you!)

How have we not had this until now??  I think the first I heard of it might have been from my friend, Mary.  And she's got good taste, so I should have known this book would be a delight!  I'm a stickler for good illustrations and non-cheesy text.  And this book measures up.  And it rhymes!  I usually avoid rhyming books because it's hard to get rhymes without sounding weird.  But this book does it!  It's filled with animal sounds, big trucks, little trucks, goopy mud, and all the things that boys and girls love.  It's a winner!

Sleep Like a Tiger

This book.  Think Bedtime for Frances, but not.  Like Frances, the little girl in this book has no interest in going to bed and engages her parents in all sorts of conversations to avoid bedtime.  But unlike Frances' push-over parents, the wise parents in this book successfully get their daughter in bed.  And she falls asleep :)  

I love the illustrations in this book.  They are beautiful and quirky (like the people are on wheels...).  Beautiful and quirky - it's one of my favorite combos for illustrations <3

Adventures With Barefoot Critters

Oh, goodness!!!  I just want to plaster the pictures of these sweet little woodland critters all over my house!!  They are so adorable I can hardly restrain myself from cuddling the book ;)  These furry forest friends enjoy adventures together all year long under the auspices of alphabet-themed activities. (But this really isn't an alphabet book, so don't base your opinion of it one way or another on that.)  Clare and I love this book... the illustrations make everything else about it lovely.  My only complaint, and it's a big enough one that I have to mention it... there's a triceratops friend.  ???????  I know!  I don't get it either.  The woodland squirrel, the woodland deer, the woodland fox, rabbit, and raccoon -- they totally make sense.  But the woodland triceratops is a little confusing to my brain.  Just had to mention it.  As is, the book gets 5 stars.  If they had left out the triceratops, it would have gotten 75,000 stars.  

Roses in the Snow: a Tale of St. Elizabeth of Hungary

We haven't had any books about St. Elizabeth of Hungary and I've had my eye on this book for a while.  The full page illustrations are bright and beautiful.  The girls have really enjoyed reading it over and over, as it's delightfully told from the perspective of a little girl listening to the tales her grandmother tells of St. Elizabeth.  They love the story of loaves of bread miraculously turning to roses, and I'm guessing we may have a bread-and-rose-toting St. Elizabeth among our All Saint's Day costumes year :) 

The Queen and the Cross: the Story of Saint Helen

I was so glad my parents gave this to us to add to our collection!  Ruth's middle name is Elaine, a derivative of Helen, so I've been wanting to make a point to learn more about St. Helen and to intentionally celebrate her feast day.  This is the story of her devotion to the cross and her search for the true cross on Calvary.   

Beauty and the Beast



Pop-Up Books


WOW!  All I can say is wow!  Ok, not really.  I'm going to say more...
These books are truly a treasure.  Not only are they lovely retellings of the classic fairy tales, but they are amazing feats of art and engineering.  Each large page is an intricate pop-up illustration - the hideous beast lurching toward you, a magical horse drawn carriage seeming to float on air.  Each page also contains much smaller "books" with... if you can believe it... mini pop-ups that are just as elaborate and beautiful!  The kids, of course, love these books, and even I have been caught opening and closing the pages, peering at the paper constructions and murmuring, "how do they do that??"   These books are a bit pricey, and they're definitely delicate enough that young readers should be supervised (or very mature in handling books) so that the pop-up mechanisms remain in tast.  But you must check these out!  (Other titles include Peter Pan, The Little Mermaid, The Wizzard of OzThe Snow Queen, and The Jungle Book)

Well, the kids are just ecstatic to finally own these!  (Thanks, Papa and Grandma!)  They were books we regularly had out of the library, so to own them, even though they are readily available at the public library, means they must really be good!  They are :)  These totally ridiculous books about Mr. and Mrs. Wastson and their porcine wonder Mercy, are as silly as they sound.  They're great for kids that are just on the cusp of graduating to first chapter books.  They illustrations are a bit over the top for my liking, but I'm willing to overlook them to enjoy the comical characters and absurd story lines that elicit belly laughs from my kids :) 

Isn't this cover gorgeous?!?  The whole book is eye-catching!  And informative!  I'm really going out on a limb here -- but if you have curious kids I think this book is be a must-have for your home library.  It has something for every science-loving kid - earth science, geology, weather, flora, fauna.  The hand drawn illustrations are beautifully done, but are also done in such a way that they inspire my kids to exercise their own nature-drawing muscles.  (This is not to say the illustrations are child-like, but they are beautiful in their simplicity.  A child can look at them and think, oh!  I bet I could draw a lovely daisy like that!)  A good portion of the text is hand-lettered, which helps to give it the feel of a nature journal as opposed to an informative text.  My older boys have really enjoyed looking through this beautiful and detailed book and they've been doing quite a bit more of they own nature drawing as a result <3  I highly recommend this book as well as its companion Farm Anatomy: the Curious Parts and Pieces of Country Life.

Small Adventures Journal: A Little Field Guide for Big Discoveries in Nature

We gave Dominic this book to accompany the previous one.  It's a sweet little nature journal, perfect for budding naturalists because it gently guides you through different kinds of nature walks and exploration.  On one occasion you're encouraged to look for the smallest things, on another you're encouraged to look for the biggest, or to examine the sky, etc... and then to draw what you observe.  It really is a little treasure of a book!

My First Book of Knots

We gave this book to Dominic (along with this game) at the suggestion of a friend.  Everyone's been enjoying the game, and Dominic and my dad have had some fun working on different knots from the book.  One day, out of the middle of nowhere, Dominic asked me, "Mom, do you know how to tie a sheepshank?"   So at least he's picking up some of the lingo ;)


These books are kind of self explanatory, right?  They both include lots of ideas and projects for boys that like to play with and whittle sticks.  Your boys like to do that, right?  Mine do.  They often take our kitchen knives outside to whittle the bark off of twigs.  Dominic got a proper pocket knife to go with these books so now he can practice his woodworking skills and I can not lose my mind trying to track down our knives around the backyard....


We are an Ernest Shackleton loving family.  It wasn't intentional, but it turned out to be a Shackleton-heavy Christmas.  The boys got these two books to add to the collection of picture books we have about Shack's antarctic adventure.  Shackleton's Journey is perfect for kids that can process more information than in a children's picture book, and can sit still for more in depth readings, but aren't reading chapter books on their own yet.   This book is a great read-aloud.  It's jam packed with info, but it's the illustrations that really shine.   Really, you must check it out!

Shackleton: Antarctic Odyssey  was fun for Aaron, as it's written like a graphic novel -- except it's not a novel.  It's real life.  And it's a total nail-biter.  It's a great story to to use to prove that history makes for some amazing stories :)

I said it was a very Shackleton-y Christmas.  I got the DVD documentary The Endurance for Russ, as well as this Shackleton's voyage t-shirt.  Nerds.

Not into documentaries?  You could read the book by Alfred Lansing or listen to it on Audible!

Living History Library books from Bethlehem Books

Ok, to be fair, we haven't read any of these books yet, but I'm looking forward to digging into them with the boys.   The titles we bought were Red Falcons of Tremoine If All the Swords in England: A Story of Thomas Becket , and  Big John's Secret.  I'm guessing that I'll have some sort of review or another once we read them ;) ;) 

 Believe it or not, there actually were more books, but I'm saving them for another post, because even book lovers can get long-book-list burnout :)

Have you or your kiddos read anything great lately?? 

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Blog? What Blog? (7 Quick Takes)

You practically forgot about me didn't you?!?  I admit, it's been a while since I've been here.  If have no good excuses either -- I just didn't feel like blogging.   But I missed the friendships and conversation here and kept thinking about things that maybe one day I'd write about. 

I'm not sure that I'll be cranking out all kinds of new posts now that I've dipped my toes back into the waters, we shall see...  

For now, my fingers could use a little exercise at the keyboard and I thought I'd hit you with a few quick takes on what I've been up to...


Not blogging.


Revamping our homeschool schedule and introducing some new materials.
This has been a really great change for us these past five or six weeks.
Last year James was still a morning napper and we were able to get our work done during his morning nap and then finish up the odds and ends during his afternoon nap.  
This year, no morning napper + only one independent reader = near total implosion of the homeschool.
I got sick of complaining to Russ that everyone needed more individual attention from me in the mornings when all our brains are fresh fresh fresh.  
Apparently Russ got sick of hearing me complain about it too ;)
He offered to keep the three younger kids out of the dining room from 7 - 8am three mornings a week so that I could get in a whole hour's worth of lessons with the boys before he even left for work in the morning!!!
Isn't he the best?!?
Our new routine is: Mondays and Wednesdays, we're up at 6 and Russ and I alternate going to 7am Mass (usually with one or two kids) while the other gets things ready for the big kids to leave the house for tutoring at 8.
Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays, we're up at 6, I have a cup of coffee, take a shower, and do lessons with the boys from 7 to 8 while I have a second cup of coffee.  (They alternate working with me and independently)  Then after Russ leaves for work at 8, I have another cup of coffee (surprise, surprise) and eat my breakfast while I do lessons with Ruth (and James is *hopefully* being supervised by the big boys since they get a break then.)

Here's what it looks like from where I sit and do my thang...

boys have already had breakfast and done morning chores, so after they're done here, they get a break for about 1 or 2 hours!

usually I finish all of Ruth's work with her in the morning (math, reading, and handwriting, as
well as the homework she has for the Study Center)

This new schedule is - to say the least - AWESOME!!  We get so much work done!  And my children get the one on one time they need with me.  It is truly amazing how much work you can do when you're not chasing a two year old around and up and down and over and out and behind and oops!  It's been three hours and we've still only done one math equation........
Now three days a week are crazy productive, important things like reading and spelling are not falling through the cracks like they had been,  and we all still get free time later in the day.  Win - Win - Win.

We've also started using some new books and program after a mid-year review of sorts.  The state of the homeschool was, um, shall we say, lacking.  So it was with much excitement and gusto that I started Aaron on not one, but TWO new grammar books, as well as Wordly Wise for vocabulary.  And Dominic is starting All About Reading this upcoming Monday as our final "push" to get him reading.

So, that wasn't really a quick take, but I really wanted to tell you about it because I think these changes have literally saved us from self destruction :)


This photo is a hint at what I've *really* been up to during my free time.
And it is the sweetest evidence of a "100 Easy Lessons" child in the home <3 <3 
And I've still be crocheting.  Obvi.  That's probably the main reason I don't blog much anymore.  If I could dictate blog posts into some sort of dictaphone-to-blog program while I crocheted, then maybe I could keep the cobwebs from collecting here.  But as it is, I've been busy working on some projects for (maybe) reopening my Etsy shop as well as pieces of Ruth's blanket...

I've got about 30 of these made... 12 left to go.

Life is decidedly better now that I have a pompom maker and can just put perfectly puffy balls of yarn on anything I want.

hats for three sweet new little baby girls :)

And speaking of yarn...

Here was a cute little ornament I made for my sister (and fellow crochet lover) for Christmas :)  I just love it!


James turned 2 last month!  I could just go on and on about how much I love that kid (his singing!!  ohh!!! <3 <3 <3) and about how much of a handful he is (his modern art with diaper cream and baby powder)... but quick takes, I know.  

James thoroughly enjoyed his cake with sprinkles!   And he even got some new toy cars that I "wrapped" by taking them out of their packaging and then putting them back into the brown Amazon box in which they arrived.  It was very... celebratory.  In a kind of distracted mom urban industrial sort of way.

He's still not a talker, by any means, but more and more we know what he's saying, even if everyone else thinks he just said asldkfasldhfjopinrckjsdnfdsfsmcuh.

Man, I love that kid!

This was the first time that we've had a two year old and didn't also have a newborn or a newborn-coming-soon.   It feels... different.  Like maybe he was the last newborn and maybe there won't be any more two year old birthday parties here.  Obviously I don't know for sure.  Some days I'm sad about the prospect of no more babies to come.  And some days I'm loving that prospect.   But mostly James keeps me running so that there's little time for melancholic introspection on any subject, and of course we're open to life and we're planning to keep on loving the family we've got, so it's all good.  (That's the best way to wrap up a topic when there's plenty more to say about it but this is not the time and you just need to shut it down.  It's all good.)


Dominic made his First Holy Communion and started altar serving!!!

The story starts back in early December when we had our pastor and parish seminarian over for dinner.  During the course of the dinner, Father invited Dominic to start altar serving even though he hadn't received his First Communion yet.  So the the Sunday before Christmas, Dominic went to speak to Father after Mass.  Both the priest and I thought he was going to ask about when he could start serving, and instead he said, "Excuse me.  When can I make my First Communion?"  Our pastor said, "How about next week?"  And so he did!  

It truly was blessed circumstances!
(You can read about why I've been so happy that my children have (thus far) received their First Holy Communion at the regular Sunday morning Mass we attend here)

And he's since been altar serving <3


I said that the school changes were the biggest changes around here lately.  Not so, actually.  Russ started a new job the Monday after Christmas.  It's been a huge change.  We had been praying about a change for him for well over two years, and when this new opportunity worked out (when many others hadn't) we thought it was the right move.  It's been a rocky transition, and while we feel certain that we didn't make any changes lightly, it's hard to see that this was the right one while we're trying to navigate what it means for our family.  There really have been so many changes, and most of them don't feel like good changes or "worth it" changes as this point.  If you have a spare prayer to offer for Russ' peace in his new position, I'd truly appreciate it.  I know he would too.  I think the fact that we, along with many other friends and family members, have been praying for this situation for so long, keeps us believing that we made the right decision and now we just have to have faith (and patience!) that it will improve.

I sure do love and appreciate this guy :)
(so do the kids <3)


And finally, a few words about Lent.  Here is my motto for the year:

Who needs a hair shirt when you can wear jeans? (Lent 2016)

One of my Lenten penances this year is to wear jeans at least once a week.*  
 Sheer torture.  
If you know me in real life, and have seen me recently and I was wearing jeans, believe me, I was in appropriate Lenten agony.  I just hid it.  Because I didn't want to be like one of the pharisees and their phylacteries.  Or the fasting hypocrites and their disfigured faces.  Or whatever.  You know.
On Ash Wednesday the reading was "Rend your hearts, not your garments."  Basically, God was talking to me, because if there's anything I want to do to a pair of jeans, it's rend them.

*I'm doing some other things like, prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.  So, don't worry ;)

*   *   *   *   *   *

Friends, I've missed you!  I hope you had a wonderful and fun-filled January.  
And I pray your have a blessed and transformative Lent.
Hopefully, I'll be back here again soon.  But if you're on Instagram, that might be the best place to stay in touch with me.  Quick and easy Instagram really lends itself to my busy life these days -- and I'm grateful to have that outlet to continue sharing little bits of this blessed and lovely life <3  

Check out what other Quick Takers are chatting about this week over at This Ain't the Lyceum.

Oh, yeah!  And I got to participate in a spiritual reading recommendations post that Kelly shared!  Check that out too!
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