December 2008

(this being the traditional week for ‘site maintenance’) . . . the hands  (mine) are asking for a little kinder treatment.  In an effort to pull a few straws off the camels’ backs, am going to put this blog and Riparians on hold — along with a few other real-life low-priority items.  Archery, stuff like that.

Next post when it comes out will be the review of Dark Night of the Soul, save a possible PSA if something else happens that might.  No particular deadline in mind, and not sure when I’ll resume the regular posting schedule.  Meanwhile visit the links, get to work on your New Year’s Resolutions, take up a hobby — I’m sure you’ll think of something.  I’ll be back to writing here as soon as practical to do so.

Take care & Happy New Year!


Put a few Christmas cards in the mail this week, more might yet go out.  For the rest of you, well, I have this lovely blog where you can find out what we’ve been up to lately . . .

Latin Watch: The boy understands case.  Oh is the mother happy.  She braced herself for puzzled looks — we are not, it should be noted, the type of homeschoolers who do voluminous ‘grammar’ exercises from an early age.  There was a little concern.  But, no worries, the child gets it.  And, fortunately, so does the mother.  SuperHusband meanwhile is still more in the pre-Latin phase (where Mr. Boy & I have also spent plenty of our time) — he has been shown the book and the website, and may yet start studying someday.  Meanwhile I am thankful for a program that provides useful vocabulary from the get-go.  For example in lesson 1 we learned: “Dinner is ready”.  (Cena parata est, fyi.)  There’s Latin you can use.

SCA: SuperHusband has really taken to this business of putting on armor and bashing people with sticks.  Can’t say I blame him.  St. Nick Grandpa came through with new arrows for all who needed them.  Headed to an event in January.  So far, this has been a good activity for us.  Easy to get carried away, but I think we’re doing alright in the business of benefiting from the leisure and educational opportunities, without getting our priorities out of order.  ‘Tis a concern when you discover something fun and entirely open-ended.

Real Priorities: SuperHusband and Mr. Boy are planning to spend the Saturday after Christmas helping out with a local group that does repairs on the homes of elderly and disabled.  Evangelization, too, and youth-adult mentoring all wrapped up in the package. Good activity for a guy who just likes to fix things, and we finally have a child ready to participate.  Yay.

Also ’tis the time of year for our annual Donation Madness.  Easier for us to keep track of charitable giving if we do it all at once, once a year.  We do it at year-end mostly so that it isn’t a very long time from when we make the donation and we we report it for tax purposes.  Plus there’s  the natural tax-year deadline, always helpful for us procastinating sorts.   (We do support our churches throughout the year, regular & special collections.  But this is all the things we do once-a-year, either because there is a annual-membership format to the organization, or because we just aren’t smart enough to keep track of smaller gifts given more frequently.)

Spiritual discernment around our house:

Aria: Mom, what’s that thing — not Advent — you know, where you give up something?

Me: Lent?

Aria: Yeah, Lent.  This year, please don’t give up coffee for Lent.

<<insert mother wondering why this could be — too grumpy without? too lazy without?>>

Me: Why not?

Aria: Because I like making coffee for you in the morning.

Okay darling, if you insist . . .

Ailment watch – Ignorance Really is Bliss.  After a peak of interesting-ness about a week ago, ailment subsides into a truly ho-hum state of ‘things-aren’t-quite-right-but-nothing-entertaining-to-show-for-it.  Very good.  Am directing my obsessive powers towards trying to follow the orders of the sadistic helpful new PT — be wary, very wary, of a healthcare provider who has just started a new exercise program himself.  It’s all good, but in an uncomfortably self-discovering kind of way.

But here’s the realization for the month: When you have an ailment of unknown prognosis, the tendency is to want to know what is going to happen.  How, exactly, is this thing going to turn out?  Especially if you are the type who stays up all night to finish a novel, or can’t turn off the PBS drama on Sunday night that you should not, should not have started watching at 9pm because it runs not one hour but two . . . If you are that type of person, well, you like to find out how the story ends.

But hey, new personality traits can be made to develop at any time.  Given an ailment that could be anything from curious-and-entirely-benign, or could one day grow to be Much Much Worse, *you don’t want to know what happens*.   Because as long as you are still in the phase of ‘is thing gonna get worse?’ it, er, hasn’t gotten worse.  Which is nice.  Call it a case of ‘The Suspense is Thrilling Me’.  I’m all for it.

December Holiday Observances:

Our Lady got the short end of the stick for Immaculate Conception — minimum required observance, I’m sorry to say.  And the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe was overshadowed a bit by an early observance of St. Lucy’s Day, on account of a slumber party that was going to take our little coffee-maker away from us on the real date.  The Blessed Mother made up for our lapses the following Sunday, a certain toddler being afflicted with a mild but tangibly-contagious cold, such that Mr. Boy & I ended up at the 2pm Spanish Mass due to parental-church-relay.  First time for both of us; I didn’t have any trouble following along — thanks to the handy bilingual missalette in the pews — though the boy did.  But just a fabulous event, as the church was observing the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe in spectacular style.  Will plan to attend again next year, and stay for the party after.

In other holiday news: St. Nicolas got kind of glossed over as well.  But children decorated the tree and such this morning, and parents have a few gifts queued for tomorrow, as we gear up for twelve days of feasting and the endless supply of presents from our many generous relatives.   Festivities start tonight, and finish with the annual three-kings day pageantry — re-enactment with burning of frankincense, singing of popular carol on the topic, etc.  Christmas decorations will linger until the Feast of the Presentation.  Happy happy.


That’s all the news for this installment.  Have a good Christmas yourself!

Started a new link category in the sidebar today, which may be useful to readers here, and is particularly useful to me: my list of homeschooling links that I actually use.  Basically, I put my most-needed bookmarks on my blogs, and that way I am not dependent on any particular computer to get where I want to go.  Handy, eh?  Everyone should have a blog for just that purpose.

As always, there’s a touch of cross-over between the two blogs. Every time I think I have a handle on what belongs here and what belongs there, I get things muddied again.  One of these years I’ll get it sorted.  But for now, if it made it to the homeschooling links section, it is because I want everything I need for school in one place.  Will build as more truly useful sites come to my attention, but for today we have:

Two spots on the Math-U-See website.  We use Math-U-See and are happy with it, but I am not the sort of curriculum chauvinist who swears my program is the only one or the best one.  One of these years I’ll write a review about what I like, and what reservations others may have.  In the meantime, anyone can use the online drill page.  Check off which math facts you want to practice, and a little quiz pops up.  If you get the answer right, you move to a new question.  If you get it wrong, a pop-up window tells you so (and provides the correct answer), and then you move on.

A little trickier for users of other programs (or no program at all) is the worksheet generator.  Worksheets are organized by book (Hint: Alpha is the first book – pre-k, kindergarten or first-grade level, depending on your child), and then you choose which chapters within the book you wish to drill. The concepts are listed in the drop-down menu, so non-MUS-users can figure out how to get the desired worksheet, but it may take a little effort to get the hang of the system.  Handy: you can choose to print an answer key (convenient) or not (save paper if not required).   Also you can choose how many problems per page, according to what your child needs.  I have had sucess using the zoom/enlarge feature on my browser (Firefox) to print the pages with larger-print for my handwriting-challenged student.

I mentioned we’ve been using the Oxford Latin Course for studying Latin this year.  So far I am happy with it, though we need to make more progress before I can give a credible review.  We chose it because we can borrow it from our local public library.   Even better: there’s the free Internet Workbook, courtesy of Robert W. Cape, Jr. at Austin College. (Send this man a thank you note.)   Very handy.  Makes up for the weaknesses in the book, and obviously put together by someone who understands the reality of the semi-motivated student.  Let’s just say that hangman and word searches are much more fun than flash cards, and work as well or better.

The internet workbook is designed specifically for use with the Oxford Latin Course text.  If you are using some other program, there are a few generic links on the main page, so worth a few minutes to look if you like.  But for the most part the materials are specific to the grammar, vocabulary and history being taught by the the OLC.

Finally, had to put up a link to my workhorse of a planning tool, the World Book’s Typical Course of Study outline.  It was either that or keep having to re-google it every year.  I’m always losing the bookmark in some kind of computer overhaul in between school years.  I don’t guess there are a lot of readers who will use this as much as I do.  If you use a pre-planned program from someone else (Mother of Divine Grace, Kolbe, Seton, CHC, etc.), or assemble pre-packaged programs from various providers on a subject-by-subject basis, this site will be more a curiosity than anything.  If you are the consumate unschooler, probably better just to stay away.  But as a person who does do my own planning, and who has for a goal to stay more or less apace with the public schools, this is a useful little outline.  Just enough information to give us a the skeleton of a scope and sequence, but in a concise, very usuable format.  It is not the only curriculum-planning tool I use, but it is the one I go back to year after year, and have found it quite handy.

That’s all for now.  As with all my link categories, recommendations are welcome.  Think I’m gonna put together another category for curriculum providers one of these months.   Standard disclaimer about my highly unpredictable blog-maintenance habits.

Oh and hey, next Wednesday is Christmas Eve! Woohoo.  I guess Castle News will be kind of like your own little Christmas newsletter from us.  Since, er, it’s the only one being published this year.  Have a great week, and if you aren’t back before then, Merry Christmas.

My friend Jean writes:

My Uncle Paul was laid off about a year ago and started this company while looking for another job.  He is a devout Catholic and it is a tithing company.

My uncle started a company selling candles dedicated to saints.  They are a great way to focus the family on the life of a saint.  And high quality candles.  Could be a great Christmas gift for your Catholic friends and family.

Thanks for looking!


Added it to the sidebar.  Also finally got Aquinas & More added.  Also adding another link here in a minute, based on a follow-up to the first conversation:

I know the wife of the host of the Saint Cast podcast (a neurosurgeon who practices at Christian’s hospital). I’ll send this link to him and maybe he will mention it on the podcast.

The latter may end up in ‘reference sites’ on the other blog, I don’t know.  I’ll stick it here for now, since here is where I am.


Just put a link up to Dr. Boli’s Celebrated Magazine in the humor section of the Riparians sidebar.   (Thank you to Happy Catholic for the link.)  Readers strongly cautioned that adding this site to your internet reading list will not help your house get any cleaner.

The SuperFather-in-Law arrived from out of town last Thursday evening.  Real pleasure to have him down — the SuperHusband had seen him recently, but the kids and I hadn’t seen him since his last visit a couple years ago.  Lives too far for me to pile kids in a car and drive up; his HVAC business has been too busy (and short a bookkeeper) to take time off for traveling until now.

Friday we went for a walk as a family — lovely weather — and later in the afternoon grandpa did various activities with big kids.  Archery, pottering around the workshop, out for a few errands.  I realized sometime in the mid-afternoon — when we determined that we could not go down to the school playground to throw the new atlatl darts, because school was in session (but could borrow our neighbor’s yard, since he was at work) — that homeschooling was allowing our kids to spend time with their grandfather they otherwise wouldn’t have had.

Saturday evening, the fabulous wonderful babysitter came and kept little girls while adults and big kids toured some historic homes downtown.  At one point in the tour the interpretive historian tells the kids rather dramatically, “And the children who lived here would not have gone to school, like children do today.  They would have been educated at home.”  No response from castle children.  Probably thinking something like, “And your point is . . .?”  Historian rephrases and repeats, trying to get through to the underage audience.  Mr. Boy finally manages a “Yeah.” Historian moves on to some other topic.

Monday, Father-in-Law heads home mid-morning, and SuperHusband volunteers to keep little girls while Mr. Boy & I go to the noon mass.  (Recap: SH is not catholic.  Not an HDO for him.)   We quick put on shoes and scramble into the car, kind of fun venturing off in the middle of weekday like this, just me and the boy, partners in faith.  See lots of familiar faces at mass, mostly retired, a few parents of some of the CCD kids, and one other homeschooling family.  (They blend in better, their youngest is in eigth grade.)  One or two mothers with preschoolers.

Got me thinking (yes, I should have been paying better attention at Mass) how fortunate I was to be there with my child, instead of my kids being off at school (even a catholic one) and me celebrating this feast alone.


None of this is exactly a reason to homeschool.   Parents who school-school their children also find ways to worship together, to try out new hobbies, to visit family.  All the same, I think it is one of the benefits of homeschooling, to be able to spend our days with our children, to order our school days around our life rather than our life around our school days, and to be, like my kids faced with the disappointed historian, convinced that this is perfectly normal, perfectly unsurprising.

Beginning to look a lot like Advent . . . kids are getting the hang of the holiday decorating program now, and were the prime motivators Sunday afternoon.  SuperHusband pulled the pretend Christmas tree down from the attic (total retrieval and setup time: 10 minutes), while children strewed assorted purple decorative items about the house.  Mr. Boy is now on board with the “don’t decorate the tree yet, it’s only advent” program, woohoo, indoctrination campaign sucess.

Been wanting to post a photo of our Advent ‘wreath’ for a few years now.  SuperHusband has been playing around with the camera lately, and he willingly agreed to my request for a little moodily-lit tackiness.  For your viewing pleasure:

And while we’re at it, my birthday present is now in bloom!  Again, courtesy of the SuperHusband, our very own Venus Fly Trap blossoms:

I had no idea we’d get such pretty flowers.  The rest of the plant, of course, is still just as horrid-looking as you have learned to expect.  Little green jaws of death reaching skyward, waiting for a third-grade ally* to deliver its prey . . . looks, er, lovely, there on the windowsill over the kitchen sink, right next to my little pots of struggling basil cuttings and a miniature orthodox icon of Jesus healing the sick.


In other catholic notes . . .

Been on a writing jag lately.  It started back when I said I was going to clean out the house, and therefore cut back my internet time.  (Ahem, no comments on my recent continued breaking of those rules. I know, I know.) Combine a newly-idle brain with legendary procrastinating powers, and, hey, look, I didn’t say I couldn’t use the computer for my own personal writing . . . incorrigible.  Hence the sudden slowdown in reading, and this after the friendly catholic company guy changed my book-reviewing pace to every 30 days from every 45.

Anyhow, here is what I realized in the process: when you are writing fiction, it is hard to think about God.  Because during all those lovely contemplative moments doing dishes or changing diapers, the brain is in the story, composing the next scene, thinking about the characters, playing with the dialog, building the world.  It was a rather disconcerting realization.

I of course am good at justifying my every misturn, and so I think of explanations for why this might be okay.  I tell myself that if when I am praying the rosary I accidentally find myself praying for my fictional characters, well of course I know I need to move my mind back to reality, but all the same it does suggest my writing is picking up an appropriate amount of catholicness.  I don’t know.  Haven’t been working on anything that will publishable any time soon, so will have to wait for feedback on how off-base I am.

Meanwhile, here’s what St. John of the Cross has to say about people like me:

Thus, under the influence of sloth they neglect the way of perfection — which is the denial of their will and pleasure for God–for the gratification of their own will, which they serve rather than the will of God.

Many of these will have it that God should will that which they will, and are afflicted when they must will that which He wills, reluctantly submitting their own to the divine will.  The result is that they frequently imagine that what is not according to their will is also not according to the will of God; and, on the other hand, when they are pleased, they believe that God is pleased.  They measure Him by themselves, and not themselves by Him . . .

From The Dark Night of the Soul.  A proper review coming sometime in the future. Happy Advent.


*I am pleased to report that my kitchen has few enough insects that, yes, we must hand-feed our flytrap.