October 2008

5th week of the month means I get to make up a topic.  As promised, this month I’m putting together my sidebar of links to reputable catholic vendors.  Short list for now, but I’ll fill in more as we go on.  Though I’m un-sticking the bleg, feel free to recommend links whenever you like.  (This goes not only for the catholic vendors project, but for any other sites you think fit with the content of this or the other blog.)  Fortunately for me, starting small means less linking-work for me to do today.

So what have we got to start with?

Rosary Mania:  Two longtime internet friends both have rosary-making businesses, and a third will make you a box to put it in.

Alexis at Divine Rosaries is a new mom with a regular job in addition to baby-tending and rosary making.  She told me, “I pretty much only do custom orders right now, but I am still taking them.”    My friends who have ordered in the past from her have been very happy — jewelry-quality work appropriate for heirloom type gifts, think wedding, major anniversary, first communion, confirmation, etc.  Plan ahead because custom work takes time.

Jenni at www.preciousprayer.com explained last month, “I don’t have any rosaries listed on it right now because they are all in storage and I can’t get to them, but they will be back up soon.”  She’s in the process of moving – currently is moved but still unpacking.  Her business website is very spare; take a look at Jenni’s blog: http://groftzoo.blogspot.com/ to get an idea of who she is and all that.  Super nice person.  And she is planning to have the website re-stocked in time to order for Christmas.

And for a box to store to your rosary, of course you need to call The Rosary Box Maker.  One of Jim Curley’s six-bazillion interesting projects he seems to have going on at any time, say when he isn’t raising pigs, running a catholic publishing house (see below), overseeing a local non-profit,   patent consulting . . . SuperHusband worked with him years ago, and reports that the over-achieving is a chronic condition.  (With which I can sympathize.  So many hobbies, so little time.)

Other Catholic Paraphernalia: Nelson Woodcraft has expanded into all different types of catholic stuff; I’ve seen an example of one of their wood items, and it was good.  You can find their products carried by a wide variety of catholic retailers, including the two listed below.

Bookstores: I want more.  Here’s what I’ve got so far:

St. Francis Catholic Shop Is a friendly local catholic bookstore in Columbia, SC.  The owners also have a little blog.  I would like more entries like this.  If you have a real live catholic bookstore in your town, please recommend for the sidebar.  On-the-ground catholic bookstores provide an invaluable service, and deserve your support. Remember they can special order for you, too, so just because it isn’t in stock, doesn’t mean they can’t get it in stock.

Not everyone, of course, lives in a town with a real live catholic book store.  And if you are one of the unfortunates, The Catholic Company is ready to rescue you from perdition.  They also have an affiliate program whereby you can earn a 10% commission on any sales generated through your website.  And of course they have the lovely book-reviewer program (still accepting new reviewers), whereby I find myself reading books that are better for me than what I would choose on my own.

Oh and a cute story: Chris Cash, the reviewer-supervisor-guy, e-mailed me saying:

Not feeling like I should post something on your blog saying “Hey, Catholic Company is reputable”, but just hoping that you will make sure to include us on your own experience.

To which I answered: Uh, you were the one who gave me the idea.  So yeah, they get a listing.  (Note: No one else on this post has been sending me free stuff.  They got listed anyway.  But extra points for Catholic Company.)

And of course, you can always go straight to the publisher:

Requiem Press – A small publisher specializing in the kind of titles you just can’t get from bigger houses.  Eclectic mix on the surface, but with an underlying theme: solidly catholic, thoughtful, edifying.  I need to start reviewing a few of these.  Will see what I can get my hands on.

Ignatius Press– a powerhouse of the catholic publishing world, I’ve gotten in the habit of browsing through my local public library’s religion section just looking for the trademark spine on IP books, because I know they’ll be good.  Publishes the Faith & Life curriculum, with which we’ve been happy. (F&L is very old school, but I like old school).

St. Catherine of Sienna Press where you can order a copy of Bishop Baker’s fun and historically-interesting novel Cacique, which I highly recommend.  Good gift for you favorite catholic history buff who also likes action-adventure books.


That’s all I’m putting up this month.  Will see what else I can find over the months ahead — leave a comment anywhere on this blog if you have a recommendation.  I won’t wait until the next 5th Wednesday to post it, the odd link or two can go up any week.


Gosh, I’m dreading this update because I can’t really remember what we’ve been doing for the last month.  Let me think . . .

Went to the SCA Demo.  Myself & 4 kids, SuperHusband’s ‘day off’ (in which he rescued and entertained a colleague visiting from overseas).  Got to the demo city on time, spent another hour and three stops for directions trying to find the actual event.  Note to self: Always check the directions.  Committed assorted Faux Pas with the nobility, and tipped over the apple cart, literally.  Luckily it had only children in it (mine), no apples harmed.   Discovered the joy of the demo for the new person: Nobody knows who you are.  Plain clothes visitors think you know what you’re doing, SCA people think you must be with some other group.  Kids did get to do some archery — Mr. Boy showed out quite well, Aria renewed her interest.

–> She & I need to do some serious practicing.  Local group is sponsoring an overnight event next month, which we are all planning to attend.  Should be fun.  Also we’ve gotten on the medieval cooking circuit with same group, 2 littles & I had a fabulous meal last month, this month we’re all hosting.  Tomorrow there will be quite a lot of cleaning of house.

She says she’s not much of a hiker. It’s because she hangs out with all the wrong people.  Aria (with SuperHusband and Mr. Boy) hiked a 10-mile loop, 2,000 feet of elevation gain, approx 4.5 hours of hike time, another 1.5 of assorted stops – lunch, photo breaks, play in creek, etc.  Pretty respectable, in my book, for the average first grader.  Probably one more camping trip for big kids this year, not counting the SCA event, and then perhaps a backpacking trip this winter for Mr. Boy.

Couple Weekend! SuperHusband & I got away, no children, for a camping weekend of our own.  Delighted in the adult conversation (annual meeting that weekend for the non-profit campground where we keep our camper during the season and are members), to the point that I didn’t get to do any reading.   That just doesn’t happen on a camping trip.  I always read.  Left me scrambling to finish reading The Fathers in time to get my review up, but I managed.  Lovely weather, lovely time alone with the spouse, good event.  Children had a fabulous time at the saintly Miss W.’s in our absence.

When we aren’t out on field trips . . .

Mr. Boy is finishing up Tripods, I need to pick out the next literature selection.  In science, the topic is plants & animals [for all grades].  Remind me to post a note about a beautiful library book I read with the Bun.  Working through American History this year, so far we’re up to the Revolutionary War and about to move forward, you saw the link to three library books I reviewed at Riparians the other week.

Latin, well, we move slowly.  But we only have to make it to Chapter 8 and we get to read the siege of Troy.  The mother is having a lot of fun, the boy is re-thinking his decision to study this language, what with learning a language being actual work.  One of those things you’d like to have done, not necessarily like to be doing.

Note to our Pen Pals: We have not forgotten you.  Have patience with us.

Religious Ed: I’m a regular catechist now, for my ever-beloved 5th Grade.  I just love 5th graders.  Was subbing, and then one of the regular catechists had a job transfer to another city, so I got her position.  Just in time, as my co-teacher, from whom I am learning a ton, is going to be out a significant part of next month.  Aria is enjoying first grade in the parish program, Mr. Boy is doing his work at home this year, long story, nothing sordid, (and I need to get on the stick with formal lessons, though you know me it isn’t like he doesn’t get his share of ad hoc instruction), but  participating in some of the parish events.  He went to altar server training, and I need to send in his application to become an altar server — he is nervous but wants to give it a try if he can get more practice first.

A note for parish priests: You rock.  Won’t embarrass anyone by naming names and places, but the parish priest up near the campground deserves an award.  Between his reverence and his homilies, he’s got the SuperHusband, not a catholic, hooked.  The man regrets it if he ends up having to go to some other church service instead of Father M.’s.  Tells all the other non-catholics at the campground that they really ought to make the drive into town to hear Sat pm Mass.  (I agree.)  Just saying it, because I imagine you don’t always know what a gift you are, even to total strangers from out of town.   Keep up the good work.

What else?  Mystery Ailment – not a problem, holding steady or re-improving.  Very good.  Sunflower the cat: He’s got more than one home.  Useful — now that we know which other neigbhor is feeding him, we know who to tell to up the rations if we’ll be out of town.  He’s getting nice and chubby, good to see on previously too-skinny stray.  Dad, you can call anytime and explain the cryptic message in SuperHusband’s birthday card.  The suspense is, well, suspenseful.  Thank you.

And that’s all I can think of for now.  In a bit of a time crunch, so my apologies if this post is even less proof-read than usual.

So last spring my internet friend Saponaria at Worts & All was complaining (off the blog) about the activities that counted as “inexpensive” among her fellow local homeschoolers. She concluded, “If I am going to spend hundreds of dollars a month for fun homeschool things I might as well send them to school!”

I’ve been meaning, since that time, to post here my Saponaria-inspired list of truly inexpensive homeschooling activities:

Nature walks at the places that don’t charge admission. For us that’s one national park, a Nature Conservancy preserve, the downtown riverwalks, and assorted random patches of woods in the neigbhorhood. Our local state forest charges for parking but not pedestrian admission – if you live within walking distance it is free as well. Farther afield, some of our state park attractions are free (many are not), and there is a ton of hiking on state and federal lands that can be started from free parking areas along the sides of the roads.

Getting a membership to *one* local visiting-institution a year (zoo, art museum, historic foundation, aquarium, etc.), rather than having an annual pass to every attraction under the sun. Visit that particular attraction frequently during the Year of the Pass, and then focus on some other thing the next year. This is doubly inexpensive if you persuade a loving relative to give you the membership for Christmas. –> But, in my experience, even at member-rates the classes are expensive. So skip those. But, do go to the free special members-only after-hours events.

Going to the free local museums, and free-admission days at the places that usually charge. There are a lot of great little museums that are under-visited, and either charge nothing at all, or ask for the donation of your choice. When you’ve got children along, do you really need 320 hours of museum-visiting-pleasure under one roof?  Small places can be just the thing.

Going to free history events – such as battle re-enactments, SCA demonstrations, holiday-related special events at the local free museums, etc.

Going to the free library-sponsored programs. I don’t know how many story times, craft hours, astronomy nights and so forth we haven’t gone to because we just don’t have that much free time.

Attending free concerts. We tend to get them from the local churches — especially at the holidays, though a few churches run series throughout the year. Also they come as part of community-building events – things called ‘fun fest’ or ‘youth day’ or ‘<insert locally-made product here> celebration’.

Being in the right place at the right time, like when we got to watch the test-release of the dam’s spillway, or happened to be on the beach when the city was doing beach-renourishment. Company tours are a good one in this category, either the official ones (my favorite was Celestial Seasonings), the part-of-the-experience ones (my operations-management professor made us all go visit Krispy Kreme to see a production line in action), or the my-friend-is-showing-me-his-office ones.

Doing your own arts and crafts out of items taken from the recycle bin. Persuading grandparents to give duct and masking tape at birthdays and christmas makes it double-cheap.

Joining a children’s choir (a free one) for music training and performance practice. Likewise, being in the church Christmas pageant.  Lucky us, over the past couple years our churches have actually run free fine arts programs (one – theater, the other – instrumental music lessons). Another way to get inexpensive lessons is via barter. A friend trades carpooling for piano lessons.

Buy your own soccer ball, and invite your friends to come over and play.

Plant a garden from seeds and cuttings from your friends’ gardens, with homemade compost.

Learn a craft like knitting via library books, and one pair of knitting needles and a ball of clearance yarn. Give children a supply of thread (the little spools!) and needles and a rag bin, and let them sew whatever they want.

Give children one or two woodworking tools per birthday, and help them salvage scrap lumber.

Go to the playground.

Have a picnic someplace. Front yard is nice.

As I told S. after she inspired this list, the more I think about it, I wonder why we spend money at all.


Speaking of free . . . last week at Riparians I reviewed a handful of library books. Could have as easily gone here, except that I needed a history post for over there. Three good childrens’ books that would be helpful if you are studying the [American] revolutionary war. If you are looking for such a list, go take a look.

Sometime Friday, by the way, I’ll be putting up my review of The Fathers on that blog as well. Still have two more chapters to read between now and then, but here’s the preview: It’s good. Buy it.

I’m sitting with Aria on the front lawn, and she starts talking to me about something, I can’t remember what. She explains that (whatever it was), it “wasn’t that far.”

“Oh no? Not very far?” I answer, using the repeat-it-back-to-them method of keeping conversations going with six-year-olds.

“No, not far. Dad said it was about a penny of a mile.”

“A penny of a mile, eh?”

“Yeah. A penny of a mile. Not very far.”

“How about that. A penny of a mile.”

“Or maybe it was a nickel of a mile.”

“Oh, I see. A nickel of a mile. That’s a bit farther than a penny of a mile.”

Aria frowns. Something is not quite right with this conversation. “A quarter of a mile?” she guesses.

Ah, yes, a quarter of a mile. Accuracy trumps poetry. Oh well.


Saving Money with Shrinking Packaging?

This summer I told the SuperHusband that what I wanted for my birthday was a giant colander. He bought me a Venus fly trap instead. Oh well. Mr. Boy is having fun feeding it. But the reason I told the SuperHusband about my need is that he makes the best colanders – he takes a pair of matching (nesting) stainless steel mixing bowls, and neatly punches a set of holes in the bottom of one. Makes for a very useful and easy-to-clean combination of bowl and strainer.

But it appears that fly trap was just as well, because I don’t need the big colander after all. This because two boxes of pasta no longer makes two pounds of pasta – the food company has downsized packaging enough that two boxes of pasta fit in my current colander with no risk of spilling over. Of course, no more leftovers, either.


Pen Knife Mania

I’m a big G.K. Chesterton fan, and I hope that at least some of time this shows through favorably in my writing. But at the very least I can now report that we have tangible evidence of his influence here in the homeschool: knife-sharpened pencils.

I’m a convert. The truth is, it never even occurred to me that one could sharpen a pencil with a pocket knife. Not until I read GK complaining about the growing popularity of pencil sharpeners; he observed that the knife sharpened better and could be used for many other chores besides, whereas the pencil-sharpener didn’t sharpen pencils all that well, and would be absolutely useless for fixing lunch or cutting rope.

Wow. Never thought of it before. Tucked that bit of information away in the corner of my brain reserved for things-people-do-who-are-more-skilled-than-I.

Then the children got pocket knives. It was almost like the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup commercial: Over here we have a tin full dull and broken-tipped pencils, and over there, two freshly-armed big kids at loose ends. Put the two together, and, voilà!, sharpened pencils.

The real magic came, though, when I myself learned to knife-sharpen a pencil. At which point I realized how many other uses there were for a pocket knife, and furthermore discovered that the SuperHusband had a really nice little lightweight clips-to-your-beltloop knife that he wasn’t using any more, because he’d upgraded to some other really nice little lightweight clips-to-your-beltloop knife. Happiness.


Humor and the Sensory Learner

Four-year-olds are an inherently poetic bunch, but of all the children to date, the Bun wins the award. I wish I could even remember 90% of what she says; I am forever being struck by how simple and eloquent and achingly true are her observations, but I guess because the humor lies not in cleverness or confusion (as with the penny-of-a-mile above) but rather in her piercingly clear view of the world, the words tend to melt away and I cannot remember them. I should carry a notepad when I am alone with that child.

She is also, and I think the two are connected, the most sensory-oriented of our children. We visited a demonstration of a cotton gin this summer, and it was beyond her powers to resist taking home a little puff of freshly-ginned cotton. She knew it was wrong, knew she must keep her prize hidden, but could not, simply could not, resist the allure of holding something soft and fuzzy in her little hands, and pressing it up against her face, and giving it a name and a life. That’s the Bun.

So last night girls were sent to bed, and Aria comes out sometime later to inform us: “She’s going into your bathroom, rubbing mint toothpaste on her hands, and bringing it back to bed.” I thanked my informant – usually I am exasperated by bedtime tattle-tales, but this news I deemed worthy of breaking curfew.

I went first to the bathroom, and examined the evidence there. Exhibit A: open tube of mom’s toothpaste sitting out on the counter. Mom does not leave her toothpaste open, nor out on the edge of the counter.  Investigation proceeds to the girls’ bedroom. Exhibit B: The Bun, curled tightly up in bed, back to the world, determined to keep her hands from inspection. And Exhibit C, firmly extracted from hiding: two very sticky but fresh-and-minty palms.

I managed to keep a straight face as I ordered the Bun to go wash her hands. Reported my findings to the SuperHusband. Somewhere along the way the dam broke. Despite the obvious seriousness of toothpaste infractions, none of us six-and-overs could contain our amusement any longer. And then the indignant Bundle, crying to me, heartbroken, “Everybody’s laughing at me!”

And I, sympathetic but resolute, “I’m sorry darling, but if you put toothpaste on your hands, people are going to laugh at you.”

She herself did crack a slight smile at the humor of it, though she quickly returned to a vigorous display of Hurt Feelings.


This morning in preparing for dance class, she tucks a tube of scented chapstick into her elastic headband, to have it on hand in case of need. More amused onlookers. More hurt feelings. And me, again, “I’m sorry dear, but if you are going to put a tube of chapstick in your hair, people are going to think it is funny.”

Ever practical, she found some other place to store her supply of fragrant goo.  I confirmed she was carrying concealed (she is by nature an honest child, despite the way her passions drive her to a life of crime), and made it clear to the carpool mother that the chapstick may need to be confiscated if it gets out of hand. Or rather, onto hand.

Finally got fed up with having to sit at the computer to get the news, renewed my long-lapsed subscription to the WSJ.  That still leaves the local paper to check on-line — I want to get local news, but I’m not ready for quite that much mulch.

Am going to take a computer break in general, btw.  Will subscribe to a couple key kick-in-the-pants-sermons type blogs, and will keep posting here and at Riparians, as well as checking e-mail.  But if you see me at your blog, kindlly tell me to go clean my house.  Which is what I am supposed to be doing with my newly-liberated time.

Jim Curley asked the other day:

Do we fool ourselves on the popularity or greatness of our ideas simply because we surround ourselves with those who agree with us, i.e. blogs, books, and discuss things with people who common interests, ideals, values, politics, religion, etc.?

I’ve never been afraid to answer a rhetorical question, and there’s at least a little bit of evidence it wasn’t meant to be one, so I’ll bite.

On fooling ourselves about the greatness of ideas: Certainly very easy to do so.  I think in this respect dialogue is tremendously helpful, when you can it.  How to get it?  Cultivate both the habit of assuming the opponent has good reasons for his beliefs, and also the skill helping other people clarify and express their own opinions.   This assumes that you yourself are capable of logical thinking.  And then of course you have to show kindness and consideration in your discussion, something I have not always managed to do.

On fooling ourselves about the popularity of ideas: Well, if you are catholic, this is pretty easy to avoid, if you make yourself read the newspaper (a secular one) once in a while.  Or, say, turn on the television.  In this respect, I think those who make the news are at the greatest disadvantage — I have often heard something expressed in the media (that would usually be NPR, sometimes my local paper), or by a politician, supposedly describing ‘what Americans think’, that bore no resemblance to the opinions of the Americans I knew.   When you are the one who is speaking via one-way communication, it is quite easy to remain oblivious to your silent opposition.


So, when to retreat, and when to engage?

I don’t think any aspect of life should go unquestioned (though certainly some questions are more pressing than others).   That said, there is a time and place for retreating to safe surroundings as well.  I’ll use the example of religion to hopefully explain what I think is a prudent course:

You have to learn apologetics.  End of story.   Apologetics being learned not only by studying, but also by practice.  And to practice, you need people who do not share your faith.

–> You just can’t hide yourself behind ‘well, I take it on faith’ and leave it that, and only that, and expect your faith to hold.  Sooner or later it is going to be questioned, and I have seen countless Catholics abandon their faith in the face of an unexpected ill-wind, because until that point they had never really learned what it was they believed or why they believed it.  Lack of intellectual sport earlier in life led to a mind incapable of dealing with a demanding faith.  And Christianity is most certainly a demanding faith.

[On this note, I’d like to go ahead and link Darwin Catholic’s classic post, Please Apostacize over Something Big.  I don’t think I’ve linked it before, and it is a point we don’t hear as often as we ought.]

Likewise, the only way to evangelize is to be, one way or another, engaged with the world.  It doesn’t do to hide the light of Christ under the basket, and it is just as hidden if you are sitting under the basket with it.  That said, sometimes sitting under the basket does make people wonder what you’re up to . . . here’s the Holy Father quoting St. Athanasius, who wrote The Life of St. Anthony, thus using the life of a hermit to evangelize the world:

“The fact that his fame has been blazoned everywhere, that all regard him with wonder, and that those who have never seen him long for him, is clear proof of his virtue and God’s love of his soul.  For not from writings, nor from worldly wisdom, nor through any art, was Anthony renowned, but solely from his piety toward God.  That this was the gift of God no one will deny.

For from whence into Spain and into Gaul, how into Rome and Africa, was the man heard of who dwelt hidden in a mountain, unless it was God who makes his own known everywhere, who also promised this to Anthony at the beginning? For even if they work secretly, even if they wish to remain in obscurity, yet the Lord shows them as lamps to lighten all, that those who hear may thus know that the precepts of God are able to make men prosper and thus be zealous in the path of virtue.

[As found in The Fathers pp 66-67, Quoting The Life of Anthony, 93, 5-6.]

Why hide? Human weakness.  We kid ourselves if we think we are not influenced by our surroundings.  Even when we know a proposition is wrong, we can be worn down by repetition into gradually accepting it.  And often the push is very subtle — not an outright attack on the faith, but a gentle offering of this or that enticement which is not always and everywhere wrong, but may, if it reaches us at our point of vulnerability, be too much for us all the same.

By way of example, I’m debating right now whether to re-subscribe to the Wall Street Journal.  Great paper, started reading it in high school and still absolutely love it.  Dad sent me a check for my birthday with the instructions to use it for something for myself, so the money is there.  But here’s my concern: I’m materialistic enough already.  I don’t need every brilliant product waved in front of my face — I spend enough on wine, gadgets and home improvement as it is, without reading the Weekend Journal every Friday.

And although I know very well that the profit-motive is not the end all be all of human existence  – gosh, I have a whole other blog started up in part on that point — I do not entirely trust myself to remain level-headed in the face of the onslaught.  One thing I love about the Journal is that the christian worldview often gets press, especially on the editorial page; but just as often, or more so, I think, the business news is written from the perspective that profits really are the only bottom line.  I know this isn’t true, I ought to be able to filter that underlying assumption out when I read. But a brain is meant to learn, meant to pick up on subtle cues.  I expect I would find myself changing not only for the better (more informed, more on top of my profession), but also for the worse.  There is a balance that must be carefully walked.

We need to know ourselves, and know our own strength.  In the world of polemics, those who retreat from the wider world are often accused of ‘sheltering themselves’ or ‘not willing to engage in debate’.   Nonsense.  No matter how far we retreat, life will always find us.   Tossing out the ‘too-sheltered’ card is akin to blaming someone for not running the Ironman, on account of how they really do need to get a little exercise.  We are not all elite triathletes.  Some of us will do quite well just getting out for a brisk walk with our intellectual and spiritual opponents, and then going home to rest and tend house.