Saturday, March 6, 2010

Fearing Silence

Once again Ann's words, rich with what the Holy Spirit needs me to hear, have brought me to tears. She writes eloquently, as always, on my word, my reflection for this year, causing me to wonder what layers of fear I must still peel away to get at true silence, that interior silence which can fill my days if only I let Him into the depths, the darkest recesses, and just breathe.

Please head over and read her post, When You Are Afraid of Silence...

Friday, March 5, 2010

Teaching from the Heart

The mother's heart is the child's schoolroom.

Henry Ward Beecher

Thanks to Gae for sharing this wonderful quote, reaffirming my belief that my children belong intimately close to this mother's heart for their school days.

Emotional Energy

You know how you take on a responsibility that is not a lot of work, but just the commitment wears you down? Or you are a part of a group that is struggling through some conflict where the decisions and outcome are not really up to you, but you still constantly debate in your head how it should be resolved? Maybe two friends or family members are having difficulties, and you can do nothing for them (except pray). Nevertheless, their struggles weigh on your mind?

A wise friend once taught me that this is called investing emotional energy.

Now, it seems to me that this is mostly an investment for women and rarely for men (I figured this out based on the blank stares I get from men when trying to explain the concept!). Our emotions were created to be more sensitive to pretty much everything. We think about the given situation all day long. Every other aspect of our lives can be colored by this one portal of energy. It drains us of mental capacity and rational reactions. Our emotional investment is intangible and invisible, but it still uses up our energy, for better or for worse.

Investing emotional energy into people and groups can be a good thing. It can preserve friendships and relationships. It can help people in conflict or struggles with sound advice. We need one another and should sacrifice such energy for the sake of others, like the beautiful Marie Bellet song says:

Didn't anyone ever tell you
That we were made to need each other?
Didn't anyone ever tell you
That its no use to run for cover?
And love requires sacrifice.
And everybody pays the price.
Didn't anyone ever tell you?

But, this wise friend also taught me that when the situation takes so much emotional energy that it sucks the life out of you or keeps you from enjoying your days and keeping your priorities straight, it is time to refocus. It is time to "let go and let God" - that familiar adage that takes such effort but sounds so simple. We have to give our burden to the Lord. "For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." (Mt. 11:30)

This letting go might mean backing out of the responsibility. (I can count on one hand the number of times I have had the courage to do this.) It might mean stepping away from people or groups for a while or forever. You may even have to become a silent observer of whatever chaos surrounds you. No matter what, it means making a decision to reduce the energy we invest.

Today, for me, it is about being prepared for any outcome and trusting God to do what is best for my sanctity and that of my family's. I have caught myself on the verge of investing too much, being concerned too much, and I will step back and seek peace instead. After all, even if we humans mess it all up, His mercy will endure!

For His mercy endures forever

I remember hearing once upon a time that these are the closing words for the Sacrament of Penance. Most priests, apparently, skip that part (among others, but I won't go there). The priest is supposed to say after the final Sign of the Cross, "Give thanks to the Lord for He is good." The penitent then responds, "For His mercy endures forever."

To me, this is a tiny symptom of our big problem with trust and peace. We cannot rest in God's gentle, loving arms anymore. The world moves too fast. Everything is too loud. There is not enough silence for us to hear His mercy. We do not stop to recognize it, but it is real.

When I taught a sixth grade CCD class after having our first child, we used the wonderful Image of God series from Ignatius Press. That year's theme is "God's Merciful Love," and we focused on Old Testament stories that demonstrate God's mercy. I think there were three girls in the class out of a dozen or so students! So, I was constantly praying for His mercy to be upon me while teaching those boys, and the simple understanding that indeed "His mercy endures forever" has stuck with me ever since and carried me through several tough times.

Yesterday, during our lessons from The Story of the World, we discussed Exodus from a historical perspective, and I was again reminded of God's endless mercy. His care for the Israelites was amazing. My daughter is fascinated by the ten plagues, and I am, too. The God who so obviously demonstrated His loving care for His chosen people thousands of years ago is the same God who stands by me and you today.

Given that, how can we despair about our culture or our country or our children or our Church? How can we not trust in His steadfast love, which will never ever fail us? As I prepare for our Little Flowers meeting today on Wisdom, I am reminded again that the best place to gain wisdom about God's mercy is, of course, in Scripture. Need some reassurance? God's own Word can be pretty convincing!

Psalms 136

O give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures for ever.

O give thanks to the God of gods, for his steadfast love endures for ever.

O give thanks to the Lord of lords, for his steadfast love endures for ever;

to him who alone does great wonders, for his steadfast love endures for ever;

to him who by understanding made the heavens, for his steadfast love endures for ever;

to him who spread out the earth upon the waters, for his steadfast love endures for ever;

to him who made the great lights, for his steadfast love endures for ever;

the sun to rule over the day, for his steadfast love endures for ever;

the moon and stars to rule over the night, for his steadfast love endures for ever;

to him who smote the first-born of Egypt, for his steadfast love endures for ever;

and brought Israel out from among them, for his steadfast love endures for ever;

with a strong hand and an outstretched arm, for his steadfast love endures for ever;

to him who divided the Red Sea in sunder, for his steadfast love endures for ever;

and made Israel pass through the midst of it, for his steadfast love endures for ever;

Ut overthrew Pharaoh and his host in the Red Sea, for his steadfast love endures for ever;

to him who led his people through the wilderness, for his steadfast love endures for ever;

to him who smote great kings, for his steadfast love endures for ever;

and slew famous kings, for his steadfast love endures for ever;

Sihon, king of the Amorites, for his steadfast love endures for ever;

and Og, king of Bashan, for his steadfast love endures for ever;

and gave their land as a heritage, for his steadfast love endures for ever;

a heritage to Israel his servant, for his steadfast love endures for ever.

It is he who remembered us in our low estate, for his steadfast love endures for ever;

and rescued us from our foes, for his steadfast love endures for ever;

he who gives food to all flesh, for his steadfast love endures for ever.

Give thanks to the God of heaven, for his steadfast love endures for ever.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Another List for Advanced Readers

It has been more challenging to find books for my daughter to devour than last year! She is in second grade and now about seven and a half. She just tested (informally) at a fourth grade comprehension level but is still reading for pleasure above that. Below are the books she has read with my approval so far this academic year.

I have several books about books and have spent many hours researching online and reading, trying to find books that are appropriate to her maturity and reading level. In general, for this age I seek out books that:

  • paint a positive picture of family life

  • avoid witches, spells, and such

  • do not contain violent crimes or excessive or unpunished mischief

  • include quality friendships

  • have virtuous main characters

  • are not terribly scary or suspenseful

  • protect her innocence with regards to romance

  • are truly well-written and not too formulaic

How do I determine if a book meets these requirements? One of the first things I look at is when a book was first published. If it was before 1950, chances are it meets most of the above requirements and merits a library request. Next, I check the subject matter by reading online summaries, continuing to read until I feel I can rule it out or need to hold it in my hands to decide.

If it still looks okay, I request it from the library and read the dust jacket. Sometimes I can tell right away if it is an appropriate choice or not; sometimes I read the first and last chapters and one from the middle to make a decision. If it is a series, I am now sure to review each title independently after some tricky conversations about silly superstitions (sidewalk cracks, ladders, etc...). And, as you will see, once I find a good author, I snatch up whatever he/she has written!

Once I have done these things, I then hope and pray I have made the right decisions and that God will help me iron out any mistakes. I have chosen not to pre-read every title she reads, but I do ask her about what she has read to see what sticks in her mind. Plus, when I hear her say things that I did not teach, I ask about where she heard or read it. That helps me get an idea what does stick with her and which books teach valuable things.

Without further ado, here is the list. All were read independently and not required reading; I have not included our shared reading or read-alouds. Perhaps it will help you find some new titles for your voracious reader! Keep in mind you need to do your own evaluation to determine if these suit your needs, as they do not necessarily meet every single one of my above requirements. Some of the titles for our academic studies, in particular, were chosen to carefully teach about some difficult times in history like the Holocaust and the Civil Rights Movement, and may not suit your child.

Please add titles of your own in the comments, as well! I'll try to post what else she reads this year in May or July (June being baby month!).

Misoso by Verna Aardema

Aesop’s Fables by Aesop

The Brownie and the Princess by Louisa May Alcott

Andersen’s Fairy Tales by Hans Christian Andersen

The Arabian Nights by Anonymous

The Complete Book of the Flower Fairies by Cicely Mary Barker

The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum (not nearly as scary as the movie)

The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall (I deliberately skipped the sequel)

All Alone by Claire Bishop

First Travel Guide to the Moon by Rhoda Blumberg

Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Brink

His Majesty, Queen Hatshepsut by Dorothy Carter

Sadako and the 1000 Paper Cranes by Eleanor Coerr

Miracle on 34th Street by Valentine Davies

Bright April by Marguerite de Angeli

Summer Pony by Jean Doty

Winter Pony by Jean Doty (there are a ton of great horse books out there, but she isn't interested)

Davey’s Blue-Eyed Frog by Patricia Easton

Mandy by Julie Edwards

The Melendy Quartet by Elizabeth Enright
The Saturdays
The Four-Story Mistake
Then There Were Five
Spiderweb for Two

Thimble Summer by Elizabeth Enright

The Moffat series by Eleanor Estes
The Moffats
The Middle Moffat
Rufus M
The Moffat Museum

Ginger Pye by Eleanor Estes

Miranda the Great by Eleanor Estes

Pinky Pye by Eleanor Estes

The Glass Slipper by Eleanor Farjeon

Hitty by Rachel Field

Understood Betsy by Dorothy Fisher

The Doll’s House by Rumer Godden

Miss Happiness and Miss Flower by Rumer Godden

The Rocking Horse Secret by Rumer Godden

Rebecca American Girl Series by Jacqueline Greene
Meet Rebecca
Ana and Rebecca
Candlelight for Rebecca
Rebecca and the Movies
Rebecca to the Rescue
Changes for Rebecca

Grimm’s Tales for Young and Old by Jacob Grimm

Raggedy Ann Stories by Johnny Gruelle

The Book of Fairy Poetry by Michael Hague

Love You, Soldier by Amy Hest

Anne Frank by Johanna Hurwitz

English Fairy Tales by Joseph Jacobs

The Canada Geese Quilt by Natalie Kinsey-Warnock

The Night the Bells Rang
by Natalie Kinsey-Warnock

Pearl Harbor is Burning by Kathleen Kudlinski

The Blue Fairy Book by Andrew Lang

The Red Fairy Book by Andrew Lang (I am guessing we'll soon pick up more of these)

Journey to America by Sonia Levitin

Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren

In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson by Bette Lord

Little House: The Rose Years series by Roger MacBride
Little House on Rocky Ridge
Little Farm in the Ozarks
In the Land of the Big Red Apple
On the Other Side of the Hill
Little Town in the Ozarks
New Dawn on Rocky Ridge
On the Banks of the Bayou
(not at library)
Bachelor Girl (not at library)
***I looked for the Little House: Martha Years, Charlotte Years, and Caroline Years series but could not find them at the library and could not afford to purchase them.

Sarah Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan

Dare to Dream by Angela Medearis

Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery (currently reading; sequels soon)

The Borrowers series by Mary Norton
The Borrowers
The Borrowers Afield
The Borrowers Afloat
The Borrowers Aloft
Poor Stainless
The Borrowers Avenged

Bedknob and Broomsticks by Mary Norton

Magic Tree House series by Mary Osborne (only if topic applied to our studies)
Dingoes at Dinnertime
Dinosaurs Before Dark
Hour of the Olympics
Midnight at the Moon
Mummies in the Morning

Papa’s Angels by Collin Paxton

The Littles by John Peterson

Pollyanna by Eleanor Porter (again, I avoided the sequel on purpose)

The T.F. Letters by Karen Ray

Upstairs Room by Johanna Reiss

Tut Tut by Jon Scieszka

Down in the Piney Woods by Ethel Smothers

The Gold Cadillac by Mildred Taylor

Praying in the Presence of Our Lord for Children by F.J. Thomas

Hide and Seek by Ida Vos

Anna Is Still Here by Ida Vos

Stuart Little by E.B. White

Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm by Kate Wiggin

Miraculous Medal by Mary Windeatt

Abu Ali by Dorothy Woerkom

The Swiss Family Robinson by Johann Wyss

Sit Still!

All of man’s misfortune comes from one thing, which is not knowing how to sit quietly in a room. ~ Blaise Pascal

True 300 years ago. True today.

Previously, I said I would write more on this quote. It is quite convicting if I think about how often in a week I sit in pure silence. Now, part of that is not my fault, of course! I have two busy children who are both chatterboxes like Mom!
Yet, I resist waking up before them as if it were torture. I hurry through my bedtime prayers and spiritual reading before my eyes collapse. My prayer during our family quiet time is even quick, because there is just. so. much. to. do!
I used to find such solace in my weekly Holy Hour, but I have not made the time for that since the tumult of my late summer. I guess it is time to go back if I can. Five minutes here and ten minutes there is no longer enough for this hungry soul.

Whether I find the time to get to Adoration or not, clearly I have identified times that I could indeed "sit quietly in a room" for a bit longer. When I get even a taste of it, I want more. I commented to my husband recently that it irritates me that at every pause in the spoken words of the Mass, the organist (who plays beautifully) fills those pauses with music, taking away our opportunity for forced silence.
That must be it. Unless it is forced upon us, our weakness and our bad habits of noise prevail. Indeed, needing noise is the result of habit. So it must follow that we can retrain ourselves to a new good habit, one of silence. After all, sisters in the convent require Sacred Silence, and many eat their meals in silence, creating the pauses that allow the Lord to enter their hearts. How much more do we, surrounded by iPods and cable TV need those pauses?
Silence. The word the Lord whispered to me to remember. It is good for me. I will find it.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Old Draft Posted --- The Reading-4-Levels-Above-Grade-Level Book List

Note - Oh, dear! I just found this post that never got published from last June! I was about to prepare one for second grade to respond to a friend's request for ideas. So, I thought I'd better get this one out first.

If you need ideas for a young girl who is reading several levels beyond her grade level, check out my list of what my daughter read in first grade! I left it in date order for my reference but wanted to be sure to alert you that it is a NEW post (or rather an old draft that never got published)!

Check it out!


What a weight upon our shoulders! Mothers have the responsibility to guide our children to Christ, not to mention seek Him ourselves. There are so many decisions we make within a given day that cause us to end up one step closer or one step further away from that ultimate goal. Some choices are big; some are small. All are important.

I have been recently reflecting on how action is key to allowing God to work. For, even when we mess up, we can turn back to Him and start anew. If we delay action indefinitely, however, we are frozen in indecision. Please, Lord, help me be decisive and to think of you in both the big and small choices!

While I feel I am facing some pretty big decisions in the next few months which are weighing heavily on me at this time, for a little fun, these are examples of some of the small decisions I have faced today:

Do I get out of bed or sleep five more minutes?

Do I keep my Lenten fast and walk past the computer without sitting down this morning?

Do I offer the children pancakes for breakfast or just cereal?

Do I help the preschooler brush his teeth or insist he do it himself?

Do I pick up the stray sock or call the child to do it?

Do I take a shower now or wait until lunch and start schoolwork now?

Do I yell from the shower for the children to stop arguing?

Do I start morning prayers or get up and do something I forgot first?

Do I redirect the dawdling child or just take away the math book?

Do I ask the beginning reader to read a whole Bob book or just half today?

Do I accept the scrawled writing on the Catechism lesson or require it be rewritten?

Do I snuggle next to the child who wiggles or ask her to get off the couch?

Do I listen to the whiny request, ignore it, or prompt for a nicer tone?

Do I work on my book notes while they snack or sit with them?

Do I stop reading aloud to answer a dozen questions or keep plugging along?

Do I repeat that it is potty time or get up and take the preschooler to the bathroom?

Do I allow another narration today even though it was not part of the plan?

Do I let the picky eater choose another food or remind him of being grateful?

Do I say yes to getting the playdough out for ten minutes or do I say no?

Do I read a story to both children or just the little one?

Do I go straight to email or take the time for some Scripture reading?

Do I share something personal to encourage others or not?

Do I read the gossip story disguised as news or keep clicking?

Do I read the prayer someone posted or move on?

Do I publish that post about how to resolve differences of opinion or write a different one?

(It gives me some comfort that out of all 25 of these, I think I only messed up on six of them; that's a 76%, not great, but at least passing!)