Mid-Month Updates

No Children Left In Ditch.

We made it to Naples and back with exactly the same number and kind of children with which we set out.  Thank you St. John Bosco, whom I did ask for assistance from time to time.  St. Augustine, by the way, is completely awesome.

UPDATED to clarify: Both the saint and the city in Florida are awesome.  Where they each rank within the category of People, Places, and Things Called “St. Augustine” I leave to the reader’s discretion.

Bookstore Management Tip:  Consider not charging admission to your retail venue.

At Castillo de San Marcos, you have to buy admission before you get into the fort, where the bookstore is located.  (This did not stop me from buying books, but not everyone feels the same way about books as I do.  Also, we were going to see the fort anyway.)

In contrast, the Pirate Museum has its gift shop built into its entryway.  Which is handy for parents who do not want to pay admission to the museum, but feel pretty lucky to get off with just looking at the Pirate Merchandise and buying one small pirate book for the trip home.

On the other hand, if early-modern marauders attempt a raid on the seashell-identification books at San Marcos, there are three lines of defense to keep them at bay.

Digital Devices = Road Trip Fever

What with recorded books, DVD’s, and iPods, twenty hours in the car was really quite peaceful.  Causing me to come up with the ridiculous, husband-exasperating plan of going to the national March for Life next week.  Friends with ulterior motives are aiding and abetting.  So I think we’ll go.

And look at this:  Pro-Life Feminist Hot Chocolate. It’s a super-bonus . . . and I get a glimpse of the reportedly lovely and delightful Helen Alvaré, and the kids get hot chocolate?  See, if that doesn’t convince you of the worthiness of the pro-life cause, I don’t know what does.

A Missal.

I’m beside myself with excitement, because MTF slipped a shiny new super-gorgeous Daily Roman Missal in with the other review book I was expecting (Introduction to Catholicism).  You’ll recall I had to glue the old one’s cover back together.  But I’ve been virtuously resisting shelling out for a new edition, even though every time I hear the elegant, poetic lines of the new Mass translation, I’m dying to get my own copy.

The new book is about twenty-time awesomer than I had guessed, because the new edition is beefed up with a pile of handy tables and indexes and bits of mini-catechism. So soon very soon I’ll have a post up at AC reviewing the new Missal, and explaining why exactly my old one needed to be glued back together, because I always, always, shove it into my bag on the way to religious ed, because if you have that one book, you can teach the Catholic faith to anybody at all, ever, no matter what weird scheduling surprises come your way when you arrive at class.


I did not make a single pun on the word Missal in those previous paragraphs.  We’ll just mark that down on in the big white space where my virtues are tallied.  I am the picture of self-restraint.  The St. Therese of resisting bad puns.  Or something.


The irony is not lost on me. I wrote this great column on winter snow-n-ice appropriate science activities for CatholicMom.com, then promptly spent a week lounging on the beaches of the Gulf of Mexico.  And swimming.  Outdoors.

This photo taken a different, icier year. And yes, the power was out. For a week. I did not like it. I prefer the beach.

So here’s my experiment: I’m going to write a column for NE (due this week, runs next week), and I think the topic is “Things You Can Do To Evangelize When You Think You Can’t Evangelize”.  Will this cause me to suddenly have many opportunities to evangelize?

You Might Be An Accountant If . . .

You’re goofing off browsing the Mid-Atlantic Congress catechetical conference page (which you are not planning to attend), and you notice all these financial management sessions:

Are you not dying to attend?  I am.  Seriously.  Has anyone sat in on any presentations from these speakers (John Eriksen, Peter Denio, or Dennis Corcoran), and have an opinion on how good the workshops will be?  For all Darwin doubts the use of an MBA, I begin to think that pastoral associates are the one class of people who might could benefit from such a course of study.  Some reputable seminary ought to make a joint MA/MBA program.

Oh That Homeschooling Book

I printed out the whole giant nasty sprawling draft, stuck it in a binder, and it’s waiting for me attack it with my tin of magic markers. So I’m making progress. Slowly.


Castello San Marcos:By National Park Service (http://www.nps.gov) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Busy not blogging. And blogging.

What I’ve been up to so far this Advent:

1. Acquired a cold just strong enough to plant me in front of the PC and get some writing done for a change.  I’d complain, except it’s really not that bad. For me.  My family wishes I’d start making dinner again.  I think.

2. Posted my book review of the Didache series of textbooks up at AmazingCatechists.com.  These are awesome books, and the new parish editions bring serious theology to high school and adult faith formation.  Long-needed.  Don’t cry to me you don’t have priests, but refuse to teach theology.  How exactly is a boy supposed to fall in love with a something he’s never met?

3. Guessed at my login information for the Happy Catholic Bookshelf enough times that I finally broke in.  And put up my review of Walking Dickens LondonVerdict: I still don’t like Dickens all that much, but the guide book is awesome.  Of course I had to put a reference to Rerum Novarum in the review.  Only logical.

4. I cleaned out my inbox.  If I still owe you an e-mail about something, you’d better tell me.  Because I’m under the mistaken impression I’m all caught up.

5. Planted the potatoes that were sprouting in the cardboard box in the living room.  Ditto for some garlic in the bottom of the fridge.

6.  I’ve written about 5,000 words on the homeschooling manuscript. Also pre-wrote my January CatholicMom.com homeschooling column, because once you get school on the brain, and a cup of coffee, these things just pop out.

7.  I got all vice-presidential over at the Catholic Writers Guild.  Being VP is almost exactly like being the blog manager, except that instead of plaguing the officers all month long with bad ideas and unhelpful suggestions, you also get to do it during the monthly officer’s conference call.  I think someone nominated me because the existing officers were already practiced at telling me, “No!  Quiet! Sit!  No Biscuit!” so it makes their job easier.  So mostly as VP I amuse people with my ridiculous ideas, and about 1 time in 10, I think one up that someone makes me go do.  And then I regret it, and don’t think up any more ideas for at least 10 minutes.

Also, I goofed off on the internet more than I had planned.   It happens.  I was sick.

Book Recommendation : 5000 Years of Slavery

I have been frustrated in trying to find a good book about slavery.  Most in our library focus entirely on the history of slavery in the United States, with perhaps a brief mention in passing of the existence of slavery in other times and places.  I find this limited treatment of the topic leads to some problematic misunderstandings — in many ways perpetuating the same racism that enabled American slavery and the subsequent post-emancipation civil rights abuses.

So I was glad to discover this book:

This is an introductory treatment, very readable and with lots of pictures, but it is not for young children.  What I like:

  • Separate chapters on slavery in the ancient world, pre-colonial Europe, Africa from ancient times to present, in the Americas among indigenous tribes and states, in Asia, and in the modern world internationally.
  • Precise scope.  Serfdom, for example, is mentioned only when the conditions truly amounted to slavery — mere garden-variety medieval serfdom is passed over in favor of actual slavery in the era.  In the same way, contemporary slavery is restricted to true slavery — forced labor with no option of departure — rather than degenerating into a diatribe against poor wages and lousy working conditions.  (Those are serious problems, but they are not slavery.)
  • Honest who-did-what-when reporting.  No bizarre cultural biases or weird anti-European narratives.
  • Factual but not voyeuristic accounts.  The realities of rape, starvation, torture, and the like are all mentioned where the historical record shows they happened, but there is no morbid dwelling on gruesome details.

What it amounts to is a book you can take seriously.  Good starting point, though it certainly left me wanting to learn more.  Highly recommended.


Kolbe update, week 5

We just started week 5, thought I’d give a little report on how things are going.  Re-cap: This is our first year using Kolbe.  6th and 4th grader are enrolled, and mostly following the plan with a couple substitutions.  2nd grader and kindergartener continue to do the home-grown, relaxed-schooling thing.

Overall Impression: Very happy with the decision.  On a day like today (evil dictator felled by an evil-er cold), wow it is SO MUCH BETTER having the plans ready-to-go.  Oh I know, it is so easy to make your own course plans.  Oh, I know, it only takes a few minutes to type them up each week.  But wow, being able to growl at a child and say, “Where are you in your homework?” is even easier.

–> Without ready-made, day-by-day plans, two big kids would definitely still be on the relaxed-schooling plan, which I really love for the little guys, but is not the ideal choice for our older kids.  Way too many disruptions in the school year so far (exhibit A: evil dictator with evil cold), no way I could have held together a formal curriculum if it relied 100% on my willpower alone.

Some comments on specific subjects:

Latin: Mr. Boy is doing the first year of New Missal Latin.  I like it pretty well.  Like the kolbe-published supplemental resources.  Will say this: In my opinion, the teaching parent needs to either have a smattering of Latin under the belt, or be ready to learn-along.  Having already done the intro to classical Latin in previous years, these first few weeks have been largely review for Boy & myself, and yes that is very nice.  Now is not my time to be learning a new language.  No really.  Sometimes it is not that time.

(Remind me also I have some other comments on this particular Latin program and the pro’s and con’s.  For a post another day.)

Grammar:  No shock here, I’m one of ten people in the known universe who actually likes Voyages in English.  So far, no difficulties.  Definitely if you haven’t diagrammed sentences before, you want the intro to diagramming booklet as a supplement.

Composition: I failed to observe that there is a separate composition book for 6th grade in addition to the vocabulary and grammar books.  Kolbe plans call for one assignment a week from that book.  I’d already maxed out the book budget.  So I typed up 36 composition assignments for the Boy, and stuck those in his plan book.  Conveniently, 6th graders do not use the composition portion of VOE, so I borrowed from there.

Spelling / Vocabulary:  The kids hate this.  Lot of work.  I keep reminding them that a good PSAT / SAT score is worth cold hard cash.    They get that.  We’ve used Spelling Power in the past, and have good results with using that study method for studying the words missed on the pre-test.   The whole amount of Kolbe-assigned words is a lot, though.  And we’ve had a couple weeks with enough disruptions that I couldn’t keep up my end on this one through the whole week.  We just move on to the next week, rather than piling up.

Word Study:  Oh, yeah, and word study.  Gee these children get a LOT of language arts.  They tell me this one is easy (MCP Plaid).  It is also good for them.  Happy there.  Decided this was one workbook the kids could write their answers in, would be a royal pain to have to do the assignments on a separate page.

Geography:  Lovin’ the geography books.  Short, easy assignments, genuinely useful map skills.  Makes me happy.

Religion: Of course I like it (Faith & Life), I was already using it anyway.  This is the other activity book I let the kids write in.  Pretty happy with the addition of the St. J’s Balt. Catechisms as well, serious retro power going on there.  My DRE also likes the program.    She’s experimenting with one section of F&L for 8th grade CCD this year.  (Rest of us are using our same Loyola Press books from previous years.  Which are fine.  But I’d still make my kids do F&L at home.)

Science:  Not a demanding program, which works for me.  We skip the Monday “investigation” every week, so far there hasn’t been one worth the hassle.  Also, I have the workbooks but the course plans don’t call for them, and both kids have decided we are happier not doing them.  I’m good with having them do just the textbook reading and review questions, and they can unschool any other science they desire. I like that balance.  [Recall: Two real microscopes in my living room.  Engineer at the dinner table every night.  Unschooling science is a viable option.]

Literature:  Um, where are the study questions? Apparently they are in some other place than the course plans.  I guess a Kolbe booklet I was supposed to buy?   For the uninitiated: You acquire the book you are studying — White Fang and Misty of Chincoteague to start, for us — and then the course plans give you chapter reading assignments and a weekly short essay to write, book report at the end.  And those plans also mention these “study questions” and “vocabulary” and stuff.  But they aren’t in the plans.    And no, I can’t be bothered to go look back at the Kolbe catalog, nor to post a question on the Kolbe forums.  Because, um, my magic pen of you-don’t-have-to-do-this works great!  I just cross out assignments!  We love it!

–> As a result: I let the girl take her final exam open-book and open-dictionary (Misty only takes 5 weeks), since it would be requiring her to have memorized study questions she’d never seen.  Flipped around the final week course plans to have her do the exam first and write the book report second.

Math: Not using Saxon.  Nothing against it.  We’re just still happy with Math-U-See, didn’t see a reason to switch when that was already working. 

History: Recall everyone’s doing Rome this year, which would ordinarily be the 5th grade course.  Very happy both with using the program as written for Mr. Boy, and subbing in History Pockets for the first two quarters for the girl.  Not much else to say.  The Kolbe-recommended course is very good.  And one of my children really needed to meet Ancient Rome in a perkier manner.

[But yes, I had to pick up a library book on the Aztecs, because HP fails to mention the, er, human sacrifice, those amazing wonderful ancient Aztecs were practicing during the European renaissance.  Yeah, I’m a western culture snob.  Facts are facts.  I vote for the no-live-beating-human-hearts-in-the-hands-of-the-priest every time.  Give me self-flagellating, slightly sore-backed penitents over flayed-alive sacrificial victims any day.]

Funny story though: We’re planning to go see our local Roman legion when they gather not so far from us in November.  Except the girls only want to go if they get to dress up.  So a certain growing 4th grader is going to be let loose with some discount linen between now and then.  Luckily the rest of us already own passable garb that still fits.

the child who is determined to hate Kolbe

Yesterday after I dropped the kids off for Grandma time, a little voice told me to visit the other crack dealer Educational Wonderland.  Sure enough, they had cool little wipe-off books of math facts games and drills for the little guys (yes, I gave my daughter math books for her birthday — she was thrilled), and these:

So today I was thumbing through the new history books, and a certain rising 4th grader comes along and picks one up. “Oh.  Those are the terrible KOLBE books.”  Disgust.  Horror.  How could your mother do this to you?!

“No, darling.  Those are the books I got for you to do instead of the Kolbe book.”

“Oooh!”  Picks up book again.  Actually looks at it.  “Hey, this looks fun!”

Yes dear.  After enough years of living with you, I begin to have a clue, thank you.

–>  I found this year that I really like having all four kids on the same subject.  Not necessarily the same books, just the same general topic.  So for the coming year, I signed up both big kids for Kolbe’s Ancient Rome study, which the boy has already started reading for fun, and the girl is determined to hate, on account of it being called Famous Men of Rome.

Emphasis on Men.  She is not interested in Men.  Plus it is Kolbe, and we all know that Kolbe is Evil.  Even though we have never ever tried it, and plus it looks eerily like what we already study.  But it is to be hated.

Anyhow the plan is for the boy to whiz through the set plan, which he will complain is too easy and plus he already read the book this summer and why does he have to do the dumb workbook, blah blah blah, and look, here’s an Osprey book, let’s read that instead, yes dear on your free time you may.  (And he will.)

The craft-loving 4th grader I’m going to let do the Pockets books first.  Q1 she gets to be the teacher and take the littles through Ancient Civilizations.  That’s only 7 pockets, so 7 weeks, and the last two weeks of the quarter she’ll do some timeline work and then write me a report, which will bring up the grade-level to more her age.  Q2, littles will work through some other ancient Rome / Greece items with me, and my Kolbe-hating darling will do the Ancient Rome Pockets book, which will fill the quarter.

Q3 & Q4 she will finally have to buckle down and be serious, and do Q1 &2 of Famous Men per the Kolbe course plans.  Which should be easier having had the intro in the fall.  If she wants she can read the rest of the book in her free time.  Yes, I will totally let a 4th grader master only half of the history of the Roman Empire.  She’ll see it again one day.  Plus she’ll have the motivation of trying to get a higher score on the test than her brother did.  Which will definitely motivate her.

Went ahead and wrote up next year’s plans for the littles, who are still on the library-book method (not Kolbe — I do too much subbing out at that age, we’d only go crazy).  For science, sticking to my ‘everyone studies the same thing’ approach, I went through the 4th grade science course plans from Kolbe, and assigned the littles to study each week whatever topic the 4th grader will be covering.  So that will be a double bonus, in that they can sit in on her science experiments, and she’ll have a bunch of easy library books sitting around that cover the same thing she is learning in her horrible no-good very bad science book.  (That I think she will like.)

–> If I weren’t worried about the good of various eternal souls, and plus having told the whole internet that lying is wrong, I’d just tell her it wasn’t the Kolbe book, and then she’d love it for sure.

[Mr. Boy will be happy to do science all on his own.  I didn’t try to rope him into the coordinating thing for that.]

So we’ll see how that goes.  I’m hopeful.


I’m off tomorrow for ten days of Momcation, visiting the nieces who have the good sense to go to school.  Assuming my abandoned children don’t hack into the blog to show the world their atrocious grade-level spelling, expect blog silence here.  If you are desperate for goofing off in my absence, you can check my side bar links and tell me which ones have gone bad — I found one already, and no I haven’t fixed it yet.

Otherwise, enjoy the quiet.  That’s what I’ll be doing.  And have a blessed Memorial Day.

Timeline Update – zut.

Nuts.  I logged out of google so I could view the timeline as an anonymous viewer.  Which worked.  Then I downloaded the file to my PC as an excel document.  Formatting was a little weird.  I had to expand the first two rows row heights to make them show up properly.  Then mess with the page layout setting to get it ready to print nicely.

Hmmn and then I tried printing directly from the google file.  It would only ‘print’ into a PDF, not my printer.  (That could be a personal problem.)  And the PDF file doesn’t quite work, because the cell labels don’t overwrite blank cells, and the page breaks cut up my centuries.

So, er, it’s a great timeline spreadsheet. For anyone who knows how to work a spreadsheet well enough they could have made their own anyway.  Hint: Look at mine on google for ideas, then quick go make your own at home.

Did I mention I was so bored the other night I watched TV?

(No and I’m still not blogging.  This is all your imagination.)

My Timeline File.

No, I have not resumed blogging.  Pretend you don’t see me.

But I got a tip on how to post my timeline spreadsheet as a google doc.

Here is the link to c&p if need be:  https://spreadsheets.google.com/ccc?key=0Asn_1d0UfHx-dG5nTEJSYWpsQWF2SjV4bm5iVXpvLVE&hl=en

I will tell you that in the original Excel file on my PC, it worked great. Makes a classroom or hallway-sized timeline, to fill in with whatever it is you want to study.  Whether I successfully exported it to google, remains to be seen.   But it’s there if you need such a thing, so someone let me know if it works for you.

Jen.  <– still on typing ban.  Did I type this?  Shhh.


PS: I do not love google’s spreadsheet software.

PPS: I originally made this for my Religious Ed class.  But I chose the “Before Christ” and “Anno Domini” labels mostly because kids never seem to know what B.C. & A.D. stand for, so I thought posting it on the wall all year might help that.  You can of course (I hope Google lets you) save a copy of spreadsheet to your own computer, and then play with the labels and centuries all you want, per your preferences.

Review – St. Francis DVD

DVD Review: St. Francis (2002 – English version distributed by Ignatius Press).

I received this DVD as part of the Tiber River blogger-review program; when I realized that I absolutely could not stand the film, I e-mailed our longsuffering review-program director for guidance. He pointed out that his army of bloggers is hired to post honest reviews, not marketing copy. Well I hate posting bad reviews, but I’ve got my orders, so here goes:

First of all, you should know that the film is really very beautiful. Lovely medieval sets, sweeping vistas of Italian countryside, fun being had in the costuming department. I am not qualified to give you a historical-accuracy rating on those details, but certainly as a lay-viewer I felt happily immersed in turn-of-13th century Assisi. So I really wanted to like this film.

I tracked along with the director’s artistic-license version of St. Francis’s early life until we got to the battle between Assisi and Perugia. Which, in this version of events, is not merely a battle between two cities, with Francis as a would-be knight. Instead, we have a worker’s uprising in Assisi, with Francis as a proto-Marxist, encouraging his father’s employees to abandon the cloth-works and fight for freedom against their noble oppressors.

Mmn, I dunno.  The truth is I know very little about 12th and 13th century Italian city-states.

–> In researching some Francis-biographies to fact-check later scenes, I did find instances where a scene that played as melodrama in the film was in fact taken from the historical record. But I was unable to find anything corroborating the early-revolutionary take on the the Assisi-Perugia battle. If someone can point me the appropriate source, I would be most grateful.

But I let that go until Francis showed up in prison. Now again, I could be missing sources in my fact-checking. But the accounts I have read (from contemporary-to-him and contemporary-to-me biographies), tell of Francis being taken prisoner in Perugia, where he spends a year until his father ransoms him. During which time there are some stories of him cheerfully encouraging the other captured knights, and befriending one particularly surly knight. It’s all very . . . Inquisition-Deficient.

So our director’s version was not what I was expecting: A fellow prisoner going to his death for heresy covertly passes Francis his contraband bible. Francis exclaims: “It’s in the vernacular!” Amazed by the possibility of reading the scriptures himself, he becomes a new man – and is eventually tortured and left for dead because he is caught reading the forbidden bible to another prisoner.

Did this happen in real life? Because I’m seeing nothing in any biography I read, including the Ignatius Press study guide that came with the film. Awaiting evidence to support these claims (I’m ready to be corrected!) this is why I’m giving the film a low orthodoxy-rating. There’s a necessary amount of could-have-happened pretending that goes with any dramatization of a historical figure; but these accusations, if fictional as I think they are, cross the line into slander. Not to mention gratuitous sadistic-voyeurism.

(There are not lingering torture scenes. We hear brief sound effects, see the set where the torture is going to take place — and see discarded bodies tossed into a pile. Francis’s father comes and claims his son’s body from that pile.)

From there we get one more set of just plain weird fake-biography. Francis comes home and succumbs to the long illness well-known to history. Now in the written versions of the saint’s life, we see a young man who struggles to work out his vocation for a time after his recovery. He attempts to become a knight again, but is turned away; he gives alms, but continues to live in the world and cavort with his friends, albeit more soberly than before. His charitable fundraising is halting and at times immature. It is a process. (And yes: there are records of temper-tantrums as part of that process.)

In the film, Francis wakes up from his illness, sneaks downstairs, and in one manic episode breaks into his father’s strong-chest and proceeds to throw money and treasures into the streets. It is a violent, mindless rage, made all the worse when the recipients pile-on the tossed-out gold in a melee of their own. Conversion-as-psychosis.

(Later one of his companions will convert with the same money-tossing-tantrum process, fist-fighting beggars inclusive.)

After that, the movie is mostly just sort of dumb. Members of the nobility and the church hierarchy are played obtuse, arrogant, and one-dimensional. Francis preaches a gospel devoid of any real mention of Jesus Christ. And there is almost zero action.

→ Now that last complaint is a question of taste. I like action. The real life of St. Francis is loaded with action. Our director prefers long dramatic scenes of moodiness. Lots of pained looks, the occasional gaze-of-wonder, and characters who eventually get to say “Now I understand!”. The part where Francis travels the world and builds up a religious order is summarized in a minute-long voice-over in between the early-life dramatic angst and the end-of-life dramatic angst.

So that wasn’t for me. But other people might find it beautiful and moving. Seriously. I’ve discovered most of my smart catholic friends prefer this stuff to my Hardy-Boys type taste. I’m under-artsy. So if you like literary drama, really you might find this film just your cup of tea.

And that’s my review. I watched it once with the English voice-over (not recommended) and made an attempt to view it again in the original Italian (strongly preferred), but didn’t have the patience for a second sitting. [Plus I didn’t want the kids seeing that torture scene again.] Given the egregious nature of the apparent historical errors, I was surprised Ignatius Press put their stamp on this film.

→ I made an honest attempt to check on the facts, but plainly admit I’m not an expert. I will happily retract this review and adjust my orthodoxy-rating if it turns out I overlooked some key historical evidence.  [So somebody please speak up and correct me!  I would really much rather this be a beautiful film that isn’t to my taste, but that I could still recommend to those who do like this style of cinema.]


torture, surgery update

Entirely unrelated tidbits:

The Coalition for Clarity has two historical quotes of interest posted here. The first is St. Augustine, writing at the end of the Roman Empire of course; the second is Pope Nicolas I, writing in 886.

So many times history books try to sum up an entire society by what happened most.  Peering into the detailed lives of individuals gives a more accurate picture.


And our other topic: For those who are looking here for an update: Aria is doing great, little finger is pinned back together and she’s a happy girl.  Especially since this whole event has been associated with the aquisition of new clothes.  Prayers for good results at the follow-up appointment Feb 8th much appreciated.