Archive for December 2009

December 2009 Reading List

December 31, 2009

1.  The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel:  This book follows Lee Strobel, a journalist, as he interviews some of the top Biblical scholars and others, to answer his questions about the veracity of the “Jesus story” from historical, archaeological, and even psychological aspects.  It’s a really interesting book.  I found the section about the validity of the New Testament as historical documents particularly illuminating.  My only concern was that rather than talking to those who take the anti-Christian perspective he just kind of quotes them to the defenders.  I suppose, though, that actually interviewing them would have changed the concept of the book.  The book was written after his conversion but is based on his doubts before his conversion.

2.  The Shadow of the Bear by Regina Doman:  This is a retelling of the fairy tale “Snow White and Rose Red” set in modern times with a Catholic bent.  It’s an entertaining enough read, although not quite as original as Gail Carson Levine’s various retold fairy tales.  I plan to read the sequels, though.

3.  The Exploits and Adventures of Miss Alethea Darcy by Elizabeth Aston:  I grabbed this Pride & Prejudice “sequel” off my shelf for a quick reread.  It follows Darcy’s and Elizabeth’s youngest daughter as she escapes from a disastrous marriage.  I love these books, although I think I found a continuity error in this one with one of her later books.

4.  Serenity: Those Left Behind by Joss Whedon, Brett Matthews, & Will Conrad:  I’m not really a fan of “graphic novels”.  I tend to find them unfulfilling.  However, this is the format that Joss Whedon has chosen to tell the continuing sagas of some of his beloved television shows.  So, being a fan of Firefly I decided to check this out.  I think they totally captured the characters.

5.  Serenity, Volume 2:  Better Days by Joss Whedon, Brett Matthews, and & Will Conrad:  Ditto.

6.  The Midwife’s Tale by Gretchen Moran Laskas:  This is a fictional story of an Appalachian’s woman experiences as a young midwife in the early part of the 20th century.  Her personal and professional story are both intriguing and sad as she loves a man who doesn’t love her and she must make tough moral decisions.  Parts of it reminded me of stories from my mother’s side of the family, who came from a similar area.

End of Year Wrap-Up

*I read 90 books in 2009

*I averaged 7.5 books per month.

*The largest number of books I read in one month was 11 (June).

*The least number of books I read in one month was 4 (September).

*I read more books during the first six months of the year (52) than the second six months (38).

*I’ve been debating whether I want to continue keeping track of my reading habits into 2010, but I think I would like to see how next year stacks up to this year.

*I must admit when I first started that I thought I might break 100; I was only ten away.  Maybe next year.


Santa Secrets

December 26, 2009

These are some of the things that we know about Santa at our house:

  1. Santa Claus is really St. Nicholas.
  2. Santa Claus is friends with God (hence the whole saint thing), and God is the one who gives him his info about who has been naughty or nice.
  3. Santa has a magic key that he uses if a house doesn’t have a chimney.
  4. Santa has the technology to temporarily disable security systems.
  5. Santa is very quiet and sneaky in his work.
  6. Santa will not come until all the children are asleep, and he is sure that none of the adults will disturb him.
  7. Santa doesn’t always gives us everything we ask for because a) he knows it’s not really that good, b) he knows our parents don’t really want us to have it, c) he knows that someone already bought it for us, and/or d) he has a lot of kids to take care of and he just can’t give everybody everything.
  8. Santa respects the right of parents to prefer that he not come to their house.
  9. Santa is fat because he gets so many cookies to eat every Christmas.
  10. Santa has helpers who dress up like him to help out at malls and on television appearances, but you never know which ones are the helpers and which one is the real Santa.
  11. Santa is very smart, and sometimes he brings stuff that we need or that he thought we might really like even though we never told him.

It seems like we learn something new about Santa Claus every year. 😉

7 Quick Takes (v. 11)

December 11, 2009

1.  I’ve decided that 18 months is the greatest age for kids.  They are still little and chubby and cute.  They are starting to talk and discover how to say new words each day with their little “baby talk”, but they haven’t learned how to be smart asses yet.  They haven’t quite hit the picky stage that starts around age 2.  They can’t really be deliberately disobedient.  They still tend to need a daily nap.  And while they are starting to show their unique personality they haven’t reached the point of needing to assert it at every opportunity.

2.  One of the local radio stations (93.7) switches exclusively to Christmas music throughout the month of December (never mind that the Christmas season is supposed to last through Epiphany at least but that’s a Pet Peeve post for another day).  I’ve been muting the television and putting on the radio more at home, and it’s been a lifesaver in the van since our CD player broke.

3.  I noticed that my OB office has lightened up about fish and seafood consumption since the last time they gave me dietary information with my second pregnancy.  I think they realized that they were scaring pregnant women away from eating fish when the benefits of doing so outweigh the risks for most women unless they’re catching their own out of dubious waters.  Of course, I’m not sure if these lightened restrictions means that I should be plowing through 10 ounces of tuna fish salad in two days.

4.  Lately, I’ve been watching Regis & Kelly in the mornings while I eat my breakfast.  Every morning they have this contest where a person they call can win a resort vacation if she answers their question correctly.  Every time they play it, though, I can’t help thinking that I would probably intentionally miss the question if given the opportunity.  First of all, I doubt that a resort vacation would cover a family of five (almost six), and we couldn’t afford to pay for extra tickets and such.  And we don’t leave our kids with anyone for more than one night (and that anyone is only their granny).  I also get extremely stressed out at the mere thought of trying to herd everybody on to planes and on a big vacation.  We haven’t even made it back to Kentucky for a visit since 2006.  So, I think I would intentionally miss the question and be quite content with a $500 gift certificate from Bed, Bath, & Beyond or some equivalent store…unless they would give you the money value of the trip and not make you actually go on it.

5.  I am always amazed when my kids are amazed that I am right about something.  “Wow, Mom, snow really is cold;  I really do need to put on my mittens.”  Sometimes I think that they think that I’m this big stupid ogre whose sole purpose in life is to ruin their good times, make them do things they don’t want to do, and be at their beck and call.

6.  Winter has definitely hit here in the Chicago area.  We had an amazingly mild fall.  We weren’t exactly running around in shorts in t-shirts, but when the first major snow fall doesn’t hit until December instead of early November (or even October) I consider that mild.  I didn’t even pull out my long johns until last week.  So now I start each day by turning on the fireplace and heating up the oven.   The portable heater is getting more use.  I’m lotioning everyone up after baths to forestall winter eczema.  I make sure I have all the caps and mittens stuffed in my pockets before we go out.  Daddy and I are being mean and making the big girls keep their coats on in the van.  I just need to hide the nightgowns, so they won’t have the temptation to wear those at night.  And after seeing how dry and snug the girls looked in their snowpants the other day, I’m thinking of investing in some for myself.

7.  Monday I go for my “First Prenatal Check-up”.  Now they call your real first visit the “Confirmation Visit”, because it’s not included in the global billing.  But Monday I get to have all my blood work done.  I can’t wait.  Not!  I always bruise terribly no matter how gently they stick the needle in.  It’s probably slightly due to the pregnancy-induced thrombocytopenia I usually develop.  This gives me the privilege of getting blood draws a lot close to the end of my pregnancy, during labor, and after delivery.  The during labor blood draws are my personal favorites.  But on the plus side, this time I’m in with the midwife that delivered Katie.  And I am going by myself…peace and quiet.  Although, I will miss the CD player in the van since I often jammed out to my Buffy Once More With Feeling soundtrack on these rare occassions of being alone.

Fall 2009 Wrap-Up

December 8, 2009

Next week is the last week of the Fall semester.  Who knew 17 weeks could pass so quickly?  It will be nice to go to a lighter schedule as we recharge and prepare for the spring.  So, what have we learned this semester?


First of all, her reading has really taken off.  I don’t know how much of it is due to the Explode the Code and how much is because she just hit that point where her brain was ready for it.  She still doesn’t enjoy reading for pleasure very much, but she is understanding more and more that reading is extremely useful, especially when it comes to her various gaming websites.  I do think the Explode the Code is refining her abilities, though.

In early October Bailey finished Singapore Math 1A and moved on to 1B.  She continues to stay about a quarter of a grade level ahead in Math.  For most chapters we glance at a few examples in the textbook and then move onto the workbook.  Sometimes we just skip the text book entirely, because Bailey just learns better from jumping in and doing it.  I have decided to buy the Home Instructor’s Guide when I order her 2A stuff, though, because I’m not always sure which things she needs to memorize and which things will be reviewed later.

When she finished her 1A books,  I took her to the library to administer the Singapore 1A Placement Test (available at their website) as a final exam of sorts.  She received 90%, and she really enjoyed working in the quiet study room without the usual distractions of home.  Besides assessing her progress, I think it helped introduce her to test-taking skills that she will need down the road.

As for logic, science, history, and Roots Up vocabulary cards, well, I went in thinking of these subjects more as little seeds that may take years to sprout.  Maybe at some random or unexpected time she’ll recall that microscope is related to the Greek word skopeo (meaning “to look at”) or if she hears “Et tu Brute” the name Julius Caesar might pop in her head.  At the very least, some of it may sound familiar when we go over it again down the road.

Our catechism lessons were a bust, but we did go over some of the different Church vessels, looking for a different one each week at Mass.  We also continued celebrating one or two saint feast days a week.  Now that we are in Advent we are lighting our wreath weekly and opening our candy calendars daily.  And I know there were some good impromptu discussions in there from time to time.  We’ll have to buckle down in the Spring, though, as she prepares to make her First Reconciliation and First Holy Eucharist and will have to pass the parish tests.  I have a few ideas about how to approach it, but I’m waiting until I meet with our DRE to get the specifics of what all she’s required to know.

And as usual, how do you measure the things that aren’t studied formally?  I know Bailey deepened her knowledge about football and baseball with the help of her dad.  She learned that a real friend doesn’t tell you that you can’t be friends with other people.  She learned how to use pedal breaks on a bicycle.  And there are lots of little things that she learned that I probably don’t even realize, for good and for bad.


Well, I didn’t have Piper on any sort of formal program, partly for philosophical reasons and partly for practical reasons.  I started to do Serendipity‘s Along the Alphabet Path with her in October, but she didn’t really seem into it.  And as early pregnancy kicked in it was too much for me to handle.  Most days Piper just played while Bailey did her schoolwork, but every once in a while she’d ask to do some schoolwork, too.  On those days she’d plow through 15 pages in a workbook before I finally made her stop.  I bought Singapore’s Essential Math Kindergarten thinking it would last her two years, but at this rate she may finish it before summer.  She also prefers to play Bailey’s Kindergarten and First Grade computer games rather than the Preschool ones.  She doesn’t get the least bit frustrated if something is too hard for her.  She just finishes the exercise the best she can and goes on to the ones that she can do.

KATIE (19 months)

Katie is learning to talk.  She started out with sentences like “I want” and “Give me some” and now  she’s adding words left and right.  Some are understandable and many aren’t.  And she’s learned to believe that she can do anything her big sisters can do:  climb, run, jump, dance, sing, tumble, tackle.  She only has to see them do it once and she’s right there with them before Mommy and Daddy can stop her.

ME (32)

Well, there’s the little personal things I learned like that my fertility returns at about 16 months postpartum.  But maybe that too much information.  I learned that having a dishwasher is really, really nice.  And I learned how to change a dishwasher shut-off valve.

I really learned a lot about Explode the Code (ETC) online and my daughter Bailey through her relationship with it.  At first Bailey really like ETC online because at first it covered stuff she already knew.  But as it became harder, she started going nuts.  After a few weeks, we realized that 7 was a reasonable number of exercises to expect her to complete in one day.  This was after we learned that ETC only counts exercises that receive a butterfly or paper airplane, the two highest grades, before she can get the REWARD button…except for the times when they count 3 bees or ladybugs as equivalent to a butterfly.  They are still working out their bugs, pun intended.

Bailey would be just a little whiny as long as she was getting butterflies, but one mistake could demote her work to a ladybug and send her spiraling into insanity.  Sometimes she would spend twice as long whining and crying over four exercises than it would have taken her to do 12 exercises if she would have just calmed down and done the work.  She had this expectation for herself that she had to get perfect every time, partly because she believed that having to do two or three extra exercises would take hours (even though every exercise averages 2 minutes) and partly due to her perfectionist attitude.  She would then project this expectation on to me, even though I repeatedly told her that I didn’t care if she made mistakes because she could learn from them.  And when I would have to send her to time out she would go on about how I was punishing her for not getting butterflies when really I was punishing the way she would act when she didn’t get a butterfly.

It took me most of the semester for me to realize that part of the problem was with Bailey and part of the problem was with me and my expectations for ETC online.  Somehow I got it in my head that I could just set her up on the computer and walk away.  I thought it would teach her everything she needed to know to progress, and I could go do laundry or something.  But the tutorial portion of the program is short to non-existent, and Bailey in her rush would often skip the intros anyway.  So they would be asking her to spell using concepts and letter combinations with which she had absolutely no experience.  It was like asking her to be a mind reader.

There were some other issues she faced related to her own personal life experience and personality.  At no time in her life had she ever heard a sink referred to as a basin, so she was clueless about which “b” word described the picture of a sink.  There were more than a few similar incidents.  We learned that she tends to be an over-thinker like me.  For instance in one “Yes/No” exercise ETC asked “When you have a fever do you feel frozen?”  Well, when you have a fever your skin feels extra hot but you can have the internal sensation of feeling frozen.  I told her I thought the answer was no, but she has often messed up those types of exercises based on over-thinking rather than reading ability.  There were also some funny pronunciation issues, too.  She still sometimes wants to pronounce her “th” like an “f”; I think this is more about habit than speech impediment.  So we’ve had to clarify those things from time to time.

Mainly I forgot that ETC is a set of computerized workbook exercises and can not replace actual teaching.  So, I started keeping track of what she was set to do next so I could give her a little introduction.  And I stick around to help her with some of the trickier exercises when she asks for it.  I make her give her best guess about the answer first and tell her if she is right or wrong.  Sometimes I clarify words she’s struggling with just like if I was helping her read a book.  As long as she’s trying and not being lazy I don’t mind helping her a bit, and she’s not going as crazy.


Overall, I think our first formal semester has worked out well.    We’ll see how things shape up for the next one.  We’ll just keep progressing.

7 Quick Takes (v. 10)

December 4, 2009


1.  This is probably my third or fourth attempt at putting together 7 Quick Takes, v. 10.  Seems likes something always happensed:  things were so busy I couldn’t get the post finished, I couldn’t get it posted in time, or Jen canceled 7 Quick Takes for the week.  So here goes…

2  I’m at 12 weeks today, and I’m thinking that some of the extreme first semester exhaustion may be  waning.  I am very hungry; I don’t remember being this hungry this early with my other pregnancies.  I find that I need a fourth meal around 8:00, like a lunch type-meal but not a little snack.  I am also craving tons of fast food/restaurant food.  I can’t decide if this is because I wouldn’t have to cook it or because it would taste so much better than anything I can cook.

3.  It’s been one week since I moved the two big girls into the same bed (kicking our four-year-old out of our room and family bed).  I find that the key to success is really dealing with the younger one, Piper.  I need to put her to bed when she is tired but not over-tired, and once I can get her to sleep then I can move on with my night.  But that’s not always easy if she’s not really tired or if her big sister is in a mischievous mood and insists on touching her, making humming noises to disturb her, or generally being obnoxious.

4.  I’ve started going into homeschooling planning mode.  We only have two weeks left in our semester (we follow my husbands teaching schedule).  I don’t plan to completely quit for the Christmas Break, though, just go even lighter than usual.  I think it’s good for my oldest daughter to have a little bit of something to do every day.  It makes her appreciate her free time more.  But, I really need to start making plans for the Spring semester; my husband goes back to work on January 19th.

5.  I actually enjoy planning out a semester.  It’s a lot of work, but it’s kind of like putting together a puzzle.  The mental stimulation of planning is one of the appealing things of homeschooling to me as the teaching parent.  And I like that I do it in semester blocks.  It keeps the process from being over-whelming and also keeps the actual curriculum flexible based on the changing needs of our family.  And then I get to do it at least three times a year (fall, spring, and summer semesters).

6.  My grade school class is having a reunion this weekend back home in Louisville.  It’s times like this when it sucks living so far away.  It’s one of those strange things, though, because when I graduated from grade school I couldn’t stand most of those people.  I went on to attend high school with many of the girls, and as the years pass it’s become easier to put things in perspective as I realize that we were all hormonal little shits taking our insecurities out on each other.  Even though I won’t be there Saturday night it’s cool that we are able to share portions of our lives on Facebook, which would have been unimaginable when we graduated in 1991.

7.  Happy New Year by the way.  The Catholic liturgical calendar rolled over on November 29th with the First Sunday of Advent.  I love Advent:  the purple decorations and vestments, the lighting of the Advent Wreath, and the music that is only played at this time of the year.    I’ll leave you with one of my favorites of the Advent season.

November 2009 Reading List

December 1, 2009

1.  Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen:  And the award for the biggest bitch goes to……  That’s a real toss up in this classic Austen novel.  I had forgotten how many unlikable characters there are:  Fanny Dashwood, Mrs. Ferrars, and Lucy Steele.  And while Elinor is obviously held up as the model sister in contrast to Marianne, the rash and impudent one, I couldn’t help pondering how in some ways Marianne is the more honest of the two.  She just kind of tells it like it is and has a low threshold for the assinine, which I admire.

2.  The Midwife by Jennifer Worth:  This is an amazing memoir of a young midwife in 1950’s England who worked under the direction of Anglican nuns in slums and poor Cockney neighborhoods.  My only gripe was that it was way too short.  I wanted to know more about the author’s experiences before, after, and during.

3. Discipline That Lasts a  Lifetime by Ray Guarendi:  I thought this was a really good little book about disciplining kids.  He makes a lot of good points about consistency while still being realistic.  I am seriously thinking about using some of his “writing as punishment” ideas.

4.  Buffy the Vampire Slayer:  Portal Through Time by Alice Henderson:  Everyone needs a little fluff from time to time.  This was a quick grab from the teen section at the library that fulfilled its purpose of being entertaining without straining my brain at all.

5.  The DaVinci Deception by Mark Shea:  I was looking for a different book by Mark Shea and came across this and figured what the heck.  I knew The DaVince Code was full of crap all ready, but I felt like seeing it all spelled out.  I think my particular favorite is when Dan Brown asserts that the name “Mona Lisa” is an anagram for the whole mystery devised by Leonardo DaVavinci, when the painting wasn’t even called that until years after his death.

6.  Avalon High by Meg Cabot:  Have I mentioned before how much fun I have reading Meg Cabot’s books?  They are just fun.

7.  Catholicism for Dummies by Rev. John Trigilio, Jr. and Rev. Kenneth Brighenti:  This is a great little reference book about Catholicism that’s not quite as overwhelming as the Catechism.  I am assuming that the authors doctorates are in theology rather than biblical archaeology, though, since they hold to the tradition that Matthew was the first Gospel written when most scholars agree that Mark was most likely written first and used as a template for Matthew.  There are many passages that I thought beautifully explained aspects of the Catholic faith that are often misunderstood.  And I’m glad that we decided to pick up a copy of our own.

*I started to read Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith, but I just couldn’t get into it.  It wasn’t due to any sort of  snobbiness or complaint that Grahame-Smith “ruined the book”.  I think it’s a neat and fun concept.  I think what it boiled down to was that I was just not in the mood to read Pride and Prejudice in any form.