Sunday, December 20, 2009

Christmas Menu

Now to get the grocery list together for the Christmas day meal. Not only do I have to keep it gluten free but I also need to be mindful that my husband is a vegetarian. Oh, we'll have a turkey, one won by Sparky at the 4-H turkey shoot, but I'll make sure to have enough vegetarian fair for Rob. Fortunately, he eats fish and eggs (from our own free-range chickens). I would probably opt for salmon or smoked whitefish as our main dish if it were not for the prize turkey.

Here's the menu:

Shrimp Cocktail
Christmas Tree Cheese Log and crackers

Lynette's Salad
Raspberry Vinaigrette

Side Dishes
Winter Root Pudding
Wild Rice Pilaf with Water Chestnuts

Main Course
Roast Turkey

White Chocolate Cheesecake

Gluten-Free Christmas Baking

I'm getting my shopping list together for Christmas baking. In choosing what will go on the Wittmann goody list, I need to keep my child with celiac disease in mind. The following Christmas recipes are all gluten free and totally yumcious:

Popcorn Snowman
Meringue Cookies
Peanut Butter Cookies
Fudge Wreath
Cream Cheese Mints
English Toffee

It's different from the days when I would bake hundreds upon hundreds of cookies but no less delicious. And I don't find myself covered in flour at day's end.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Sea to Shining Sea at Google Books

My nine-year old was having trouble finding an answer in her Sea to Shining Sea textbook and so she brought the book to me. I couldn't find the answer anywhere in the book. So, I did what I always do -- I googled the question. Lo and behold, I not only found the answer but I found it straight from the horse's mouth. The teacher's edition for Sea to Shining Sea (Ignatius) is online for free!

You'll find it here:
From Sea to Shining Sea the Story of America Teacher's Edition

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Hey There Obama (Drink the Kool Aid)

I love this YouTube. You got to watch and then pass it on! The singer is a friend of ours and he did a great job along with all the other folks who wrote and produced the video. Wouldn't it be cool if they got their views up to 500,000! Do want you can to help them attain that goal.

Now, be prepared to laugh (or cry) ...

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

PSN5: Discovering Mary

I started reading David Mill's newest book on the way home from St. Louis recently. I'm excited about getting it posted on the Pope St. Nicholas V list as it's a good one for public libraries. It offers Catholic teaching but in the kind of non-sectarian style libraries like. It’s more an explanation than an apologetic, though I think the explanation itself is apologetic, at least to those who have ears to hear.

It’s also a good book for homeschool theology studies as David was careful to present the data in a way that gives a Catholic student the necessary foundation for more advanced doctrine and devotion. The Q & A format makes it easy to read and understand, and by golly the facts are just fun to know.

To read past library recommendations, or to join the email list, visit: Pope Saint Nicholas V.

Check to see if this title is already in your library's catalog. If it is, put a hold on it and check it out. If not, fill out a patron request form right away. This can usually be done online at your library's website.

Title: Discovering Mary: Answers to Questions about the Mother of God
Author: David Mills
Publisher: Servant Press
Date Published: October 2009
ISBN-10: 0867169273
ISBN-14: 978-0867169270
Price: 12.99, paperback (9.35 Amazon)
Mike Aquilina
Big C Catholics

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Yumcious Cool Whip Frosting

This is the easiest frosting recipe and yummy too! My friend Colleen gave it to me 15 or so years ago and I still make it from time to time, including today for Teen Daughter 2's Sweet 16.

1 c. milk
1 (8 oz.) Cool Whip
1 small pkg. pudding

Mix the milk and pudding well, fold in the Cool Whip, and frost cake.


I'm not a big frosting person. In fact, I've been known to eat my cake and leave the frosting behind. But I really like this one! The only thing is that you need to put leftovers in the fridge instead of out on the counter.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Have You Missed Me?

While in St. Louis for Thanksgiving, my mother, who does not have internet and no clue as to how one surfs the internet, scolded me, "How come you haven't been writing in that blog thingy!!!" Apparently, my sister Chrissy likes to keep up on my life via Blogger and she complained to my mother that I haven't written in a zillion years. Plus, being the good daughter she is, Chrissy will call Mom and read my posts to her when I write something remotely interesting.

I explained to my mother that my life is busy. You know that whole homeschool mom thing and now business owner on top of it. Running Homeschool Connections leaves just enough time for the kids and not enough for blogging. "Besides," I defended myself, "Chrissy can get Facebook if she wants to follow me." I only got a blank stare with that one. Did I mention my mom doesn't have internet?

I left things at that, traveled home to Michigan, got back to my life and ignored my poor pitiful blog. And then the phone call came. It was Mom. "I have a favor to ask as your mother." I knew I was in trouble. Whenever you mother starts a sentence like that you start thinking, "Please let it be a little favor, please," because, as you all know, you can't say "No" to your mom when she says that. If you do, then you'll get the Catholic-mother-guilt-trip. You know the one, "Oh, that's okay. I don't mind really. It's not like I gave up my whole life just to birth you or anything. I wouldn't want you to go out of your way for me. I should be more selfless as your mother and the person who gave you the gift of life. So don't worry about it. It's okay." I know this is true because I use the Catholic-mother-guilt-trip on my own children and it works like a charm.

Where was I? Oh yes, "I have a favor to ask as your mother. Write in your blog thingy just once a week. That's all I'm asking. Just once a week. It would make your sister so happy."

So, here I am writing. My sister better be reading this. Though I'm not so sure about the prospect of her calling my mom and reading it to her. Thankfully, she's 500 miles away and can't threaten to ground me for my bad tone of voice (I got in trouble for that a lot. That and eye rolling.)

I hereby promise to write in my blog thingy once a week. At least until my sister gets that Facebook thingy.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Free Shipping from Catholic Heritage Curricula

I love Catholic Heritage Curricula. I started ordering from them back in the day when they were known as Catholic Heritage Games. Right now they're offering free shipping on orders over $50. So, if you need to place an order for the spring semester, now is the time.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Survey: Your Input on Catholic College Information

I need your input. Remember a few days ago I mentioned Catholic College Month? Well, the response has been terrific. I've been notified by a large number of good Catholic colleges and universities over the past few days who would like to participate.

Here's how you can help: I need to know what topics and what colleges you want to hear about. Please take a couple of minutes to complete this survey: Catholic College Webinars. There are only four questions to complete, but I can't tell you how much that would help everyone involved in this ever growing project. Please tell all your friends!

Thank you!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

PSN5: The Rosary

When I received this little book in the mail I thought to myself, "Sigh. Yet another book on the rosary." I know that sounds terrible, but in my defense I do have a whole shelf full of rosary books. However, it was written by fellow blogger Karen Edmisten, and being a fan I gave it a read. And I'm glad I did. It was fresh and I loved it.

Not only did I love it, but my teen daughter loved it. During a long drive one afternoon, just the two of us with her driving, she asked me to read it aloud to her. As side note I have to interject here that I love homeschooling. I don't know many, if any, non-homeschooled students who would ask their mom to please, please read a book on the rosary to them.

Anyway, back to my mini review, Karen not only taught my daughter and me about the history and the beauty of the rosary but she touched our emotion. I found myself at moments, when Karen talks of her fallen past, with tears welling up in my eyes. Being a recovering heathen myself, I was quite moved by Karen's discovery of the Church and the rosary after years of atheism.

So, with all that said, I've decided to recommend Karen's book on the Pope St. Nicholas V list. I think it belongs not only on your bookshelf but on the library's shelf as well. It is a short easy read yet packed full of vital information -- perfect for today's reader.

To read past library recommendations, or to join the email list, visit: Pope Saint Nicholas V.

Check to see if this title is already in your library's catalog. If it is, put a hold on it and check it out. If not, fill out a patron request form right away. This can usually be done online at your library's website.

Title: The Rosary: Keeping Company With Jesus and Mary
Author: Karen Edmisten
Publisher: Saint Anthony Messenger Press
Date Published: May 2009
ISBN-10: 0867168757
ISBN-14: 978-0867168754
Price: 8.99, softcover
Conversion Diary
Danielle Bean
Nancy Carpentier Brown
Links to many, many more positive reviews can be found at Karen's blog.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Relevant Interview

I have an interview later today on Relevant Radio to talk homeschooling and to take questions. They're giving me a whole hour from 2:00 to 3:00 PM Eastern. I hope you all will tune in and maybe even call in with a question or two.

If Relevant Radio isn't in your town, you can listen online.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Catholic College Month Coming Up In October

One of the things I'm working on at Homeschool Connections (and keeping me from blogging) has been Catholic College Month. We're going to dedicate the month of October to free webinars to help Catholic parents and students with that ever scary topic of college. Well, scary for me at least. But I'm sure I'll be comfortable with it by the time I get to child five or six. Or, perhaps, after I attend all these wonderful free webinars!

I'm really excited to tell you that the very first college to sign up is Franciscan University in Steubenville. As you all know, I'm a bit partial to Steuby since my oldest son is an FUS student (Studying in Austria this year).

We also have Katherine O'Brien scheduled to give a webinar on navigating the financial waters. Now, this is THE scary topic for me but after talking to Katherine I understand the process better and am relieved to know there are people out there like her to help me. If you don't know Katherine, she owns a company called Celtic College Consultants in addition to being a Catholic homeschool mom. Very cool!

We have a number of Catholic colleges lining up to participate in Catholic College Month but we don't have dates set in stone yet. Until then, here are links and information on the FUS and Katherine webinars:

How to Pay for College Without Going Broke
Monday, Oct. 5, 2009, 8:30 PM Eastern
Presented by: Katherine O'Brien of Celtic College Consultants

Franciscan University of Steubenville Catholic? Absolutely! Typical? Not Even Close!
Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2009, 3:00 PM Eastern
Presented by
Margaret Weber and Joel Recznik of the Admissions Dept.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

What's the Best Preschool or Kindergarten Curriculum

"I need your help. I'm at my wits end looking for just the right curriculum for my girls!"

"How old are they?"

"3 and 5."

I can't tell you how many times I've had this discussion with new homeschoolers. The best homeschool wisdom I ever heard was from my friend Becky when she told me 15 or so years ago, "I don't do kindergarten."

Since those early years, I've grown more and more fond of the Better Late than Early philosophy. As a homeschooler, I do not strive to imitate school. Instead I strive to instill a love of learning in my children that will live well into their adult years.

With that in mind, I try to keep learning as natural as possible in those early years. My experience has been that putting a 3 or 4 year old down at a table with formal lessons backfires in the long run. Oh, they may learn to read at an early age but are you killing their natural desire to explore and learn on their own? I think so.

It's been a lot of years since I read the Moores' book on this subject but, if I recall correctly, studies show that early learning does not translate into academic success later on. They maintain that it is better to wait until 8 or even 10 to begin formal studies. It is enough that they are in a loving and supportive home.

That doesn't mean that you chuck education and watch TV all day. Instead, I think, it means creating an educational yet inviting environment in your home. In those preschool and kindergarten years we just play and explore leaving formal schooling for later. We focus on the joy of discovery.

For example, instead of formal reading lessons I might naturally introduce letter sounds when sitting on the floor building blocks with my littles. "Oh, look! An "M" that says mmm like Mommy." Or we might count/add/subtract blocks in place of a math book. Instead of a science program, walks in the woods or park and observing animal and plant life.

I read aloud a lot so that when we do get around to formal phonics lessons, they are so in love with the written word that they are excited about reading lessons so they can read their own books. Think Charlotte Mason and living books.

I try to make learning an enjoyable and natural process. For preschool that means lots of play at our house. And kids do learn a lot at play. They learn to share, follow rules, logic, small & large motor skills and more.

Does it work? There have been times over the years when I've wondered whether my pedagogical approach was too off the wall. But now that I have adult children, I doubt it far less. Look at my oldest son. I didn't begin formal science lessons with him until high school. Up until then science was real books, exploring, nature studies, etc. Yet, he scored a perfect ACT score in science. A 36 out of 36. He is definitely an example of a Better Late than Early child. He did not take off reading until he was 10. And yet again he did great on his ACT -- a 35 out of 36 in reading.

So, if you're totally stressing over just the right curriculum for your 6-year old, take a deep breath, grab a ball and head out to the park to play with her.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Prayer Request

Please pray for Kelly's son Fulton:
We received some bad news recently when our youngest son Fulton was diagnosed with Spinal Muscular Atrophy. The last couple months have been filled with doctor visits, home visits, etc. Plus, I've been trying to keep up with all the normal summer activities for the rest of the kids so 'being busy' is an understatement. If you can, please say a prayer (especially for the intercession of Arch. Fulton Sheen) for our son. While there is much research going on with SMA, I have more faith in a miracle than in medicine in curing him at this point.
Wouldn't it be swell to see Fulton the little boy cured and Fulton the archbishop attain sainthood? So, let's all pray together!

Monday, August 17, 2009

Prayer Update from Mary Ellen

Here is an email from Mary Ellen. For those who are not aware, Ryan had seizure disorder. This is what may have caused his death. Please continue to pray for the Barrett family as well as all the families in their local homeschool group, the rescue workers, the media, and all those touched by this beautiful boy.
Ryan was a light in our lives and now that he is forever at the feet
of Christ his light will shine even brighter for us.

I know it?s been difficult for everyone, getting information
piecemeal. Here are some details, please feel free to share them or
any part of this email.

Ryan was playing in a little stream a few yard from the campsite.
His father and the others knew where he was and he was in view.
Other kids were near him but after a bit they spread out. They were
all very excited to be in the campsite, they had only just arrived.
When they called the kids for prayers Ryan didn?t come and after a
very short time the rangers were called and then the state police
and fire marshals. They searched with dogs (my poor Ryan so
terrified of them). Dave called me at 11:30pm and then every hour
until our dear friend, who was scheduled to go up there Sat with his
four boys, drove me up at 4:30am. I arrived there at about 8:00 and
they were searching with a helicopter and infrared radar as well as
divers. He was found at about 10:30. In the five minutes between
the other kids being there and his being called Ryan had a grand mal
seizure and slipped into the stream, his body was found a few feet
away in a drain in a culvert. It is believed the seizure is what
killed him although we don?t have confirmation of that yet. When
Dave and I saw him, he looked very peaceful and that was of great
comfort to us.

Ryan received last rites at the campsite, two priests against all
odds showed up in the middle of the woods at exactly the right time
to administer the sacrament. Only Ryan could have arranged that.

It was reported that Ryan wandered off and some reports were quite
cruel in their tone. It just is not true. We did a brief interview
with Newsday to try to correct that and have since had my brother
dealing with turning away all of the news agencies. They have been
like barbarians at the gate.

In the last 48 hours we have been so blessed by all of the prayers
and love that we have received. My friend Chris has completely taken
over and has made it possible for us to not have to think. The
Knights of Columbus and Squires have also been incredible. I know
all of the people on IHM and MO have been contacting Chris and
lining up to help and we are just so grateful.

The pain that David and I are in is too unbearable to speak about. I
ask for your prayers for us and our children. Katie and Erin in
particular are old enough to understand and are completely
devastated. Every time I look at them my heart breaks all over
again. The little ones are sad and confused, not really understanding.

We are very mindful of how sad this is going to be for all off
Ryan?s friends in IHM. For many it will be there first experience
with losing a friend and Dave and I are offering up some of our
sorrow for their comfort. They have lost a dear friend but gained a
mighty intercessor.

In the coming weeks we will read all of the emails and posts and do
our best to respond to everyone, in the meantime please be assured
of our gratitude and love for you all.

Mary Ellen

Addendum: Here is the Newsday article. Please read it -- Ryan evangelizes the world through his life's desire through a reporter's pen. Beautiful.

Friday, August 14, 2009

URGENT Prayer Request

Please, please pray for our dear Mary Ellen Barrett and her family. Her son Ryan is missing. Check Mary Ellen's blog for details and updates.

From Alice:
Dear friends,

I am heartbroken to tell you that Ryan Barrett drowned.

I am so very, very sorry to give the worst possible news.

With all my love and prayers,
For those of you who do not know Mary Ellen, Ryan was 14-years old. ME often wrote about him and his autism.

Please continue to storm the heavens with prayer for this family.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Catholic Planners for the School Year

Have you ordered your 2009/2010 planners yet? August is here and so I'm breaking mine in right now. Personally, I love Michele Quigley's Catholic planners for moms, dads, and students at Family Centered Press. I order one for each family member old enough to organize their own schedule. If you're in need of a planner yet for this school year, make sure to order one right away as they're pretty popular and Michele runs out pretty quickly.

Also from Michele:
Family Centered Life (blog)
Time Management for Moms (free recorded webinar)
Mater Amabilis (free CM curriculum)

If you prefer a planner for the calendar year, Michele will have those available next month.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Tonsils and Failure to Thrive

I have now dealt with failure to thrive issues with two children and the solutions to each of them have been completely different.

Sparky, now 11, was diagnosed with celiac disease at 19 months. Once we put him on a gluten-free diet he put on weight. However, he did not get any taller. Some months later we learned that he had pituitarian dwarfism. I know it sounds awful, but it's easily treatable -- he gets a growth hormone shot each night.

Fast forward a good number of years and I now have a 7-year old who has dropped from the 50% for height to the 5% over the past four years. He doesn't have celiac and he doesn't have hormone issues. What he has is great big, gigantic tonsils. Yep, humongus tonsils can keep your kid from growing.

His tonsils are so big they cause him to snore like a big grizzly bear. Ever since he was a little baby. I'd mention it to the doctor but he never thought much about it. At least until the kid started dropping off the growth chart.

Anyway, the snoring keeps him from sleeping and if you don't get enough REM sleep then you don't grow. It can also cause learning delays which may explain why the child struggles with his phonics lessons. Also, I'm told it may solve his picky eating problem. Whoda ever thunk? Apparently, it's uncomfortable to eat with tonsils that almost touch each other. We're even told that his voice will change and he'll probably lose his baby voice.

Gosh, it almost seems that removing tonsils can solve anything and everything. I wonder if it'll solve the bickering-with-his-brothers problem. Hey, I can hope!

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Free NASA Goodies for Homeschoolers

Last week Domenico Ruggiero gave an awesome webinar on his work at NASA. It was a wonderful learning experience for my family. The great news is that the webinar was recorded and you can watch it yourself at: One Small Step for Parents, One Giant Leap for Homeschool Kids: Insights from a NASA Engineer.

If you have a child with the least bit interest in aerospace, astronomy or engineering, you absolutely should not miss this one.

PLUS, Domenico arranged with NASA to give away all kinds of neat NASA goodies -- posters, decals, rulers, and more. To receive these giveaways drop Domenico an email. He'll email back a form so you can choose what you would like to receive. But don't wait! The deadline is August 19, 2009.

Friday, August 07, 2009

PSN5: In His Image

To read past library recommendations, or to join the email list, visit: Pope Saint Nicholas V.

Check to see if this title is already in your library's catalog. If it is, put a hold on it and check it out. If not, fill out a patron request form right away. This can usually be done online at your library's website.

: In His Image: Nurturing Creativity in the Heart of Your Home
Author: Mary Gildersleeve
Publisher: Hillside Education
Date Published: June 2009
ISBN-10: 0979846986
ISBN-14: 978-0979846984
Price: 14.99 paperback

Elizabeth Foss's Foreword

Product Description:
Nurturing creativity in our children and in ourselves is a critical need today. We all know that research has shown that art and music are good for fostering healthy brain development, but they are good for our souls, too. Through creativity, we imitate the Divine Creator and practice the skills needed to battle the despair produced by a pre-made, manufactured, cookie-cutter world. Made in the image of God, there is a creative desire placed in all of us. Nurturing this desire in our children is not only thoroughly satisfying, but an essential part of our parenting duty. By instilling in our children a love for the good, the true, and the beautiful, we can help to reshape our world for the good of all.

About the Author:
Mary C. Gildersleeve, a lifelong crafter, nurtures creativity in everyone she meets. She and her husband Rick home educate their youngest three children. A hand-knits designer, she has written two books on knitting, Glory of America Knits (Ecce Homo Press) and Great Yarns for the Close-Knit Family: Over two-dozen original hand-knit designs inspired by one dozen fantastic family read-alouds (Hillside Education). She also writes the Handcrafts in the Homeschool column for the Catholic homeschool quarterly, mater et magistra.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Where in the World is Maureen?

I got a concerned voice mail from my sister in California. She's worried about me. I haven't written in my blog forever. Am I okay? Are the kids okay? How is she supposed to keep up with my life if I'm not updating the blog everyday?

Well, I'm okay and the kids are okay. Life is just insanely busy right now. And that's not an exaggeration. There is the Homeschool Connections business, the kids' shooting sports events, 4-H Fair, summer school, and getting my oldest ready for his semester in Austria. All on top of the everyday mom duties of laundry, cooking, and reading aloud.

So, if you've been wondering where I am too, please be assured I'm still here albeit a bit frazzled. I'll do my best to get back on the blogging track but I can't make any promises.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Need Advice for a Mom Pulling Kids Out of School

Dear Readers,

I received this email today:
I've been following some leads and landed on your blog, looking for an article or two with advice for new homeschoolers. A woman pulling her children out of school with 7th and 4th grades is in need of something to read...but doesn't have time to read books on the subject. She needs something condensed.
Do you have a talk script that she could read?

Thanks for the help!
God bless,

What advice would you offer?

Monday, July 20, 2009

PSN5: Olivia and the Little Way

To read past library recommendations, or to join the email list, visit: Pope Saint Nicholas V.

Check to see if this title is already in your library's catalog. If it is, put a hold on it and check it out. If not, fill out a patron request form right away. This can usually be done online at your library's website.

Title: Olivia and the Little Way
Author: Nancy Carabio Belanger
Illustrator: Sandra Casali LewAllen
Publisher: Harvey House
Date Published: October 2008
ISBN-10: 0923568921
ISBN-13: 978-0923568924
Price: 10.95

Catholic Exchange

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Radio Interview

The EWTN interview will run at 7:15 AM Eastern on Monday. It's only 10 minutes so don't blink!

Vegetarian Grilling

I got a gas grill. That's big news around here. I've been without a grill for eons which is a long time when you love cooking outside. Every birthday, Mother's Day and Christmas, a new gas grill has been at the top of my wish list. My husband hesitated to make the purchase because, well, because he's a vegetarian.

Yep, the veggie guy was worried that the carnivores who also live here would take over all the meals if we got a new grill. He saw the grill as nothing more than a vessel for delivering slabs of meat to the masses.

I assured him, over and over again, that the grill can also be a vessel for delicious, yumcious vegetarian cooking. He didn't believe me but he finally got the grill for me anyway. And, being the great husband he is, he didn't go out and buy some junky grill from the local Wal-Mart, he special ordered a well made grill sure to last a lifetime. In return, I set out to prove his meat thesis wrong.

The grill was delivered 2 weeks ago and I've used it 12 out of the past 14 days. Sunday brunch even found it's way off the grill.

I had some old standby recipes but I decided to take things up a notch. I searched the internet and found loads of great veggie recipes for the grill. Rob has been more than happy to be proved wrong. Every night has been a treat for him and he couldn't be more thrilled.

Oh, it hasn't been complete vegetarian heaven here as hot dogs, hamburgers, and steaks have been grilled too but they stay on the left side of the grill and the vegetables and fish stay on the right side. (Lucky for me Rob isn't a vegan -- he eats fish which is great on the grill.)

So, if you would like to liven up your grill and add some vegetarian recipes to your cookbook here are a few to try:

  • Pizza. Yep, pizza! Grilled pizza has been easily the biggest hit with the kids. Just roll out the dough nice and thin. Brush olive oil all over your preheated grill. Lay the dough on the grill for a few minutes and flip over with 2 spatulas. Then add your sauce and toppings. Close the lid to help the cheese melt.
  • Sweet potatoes. This was a big hit with Rob. I peeled the sweet potatoes and then sliced them long ways in 1/4 inch slices. I marinated them in real maple syrup and a smidge of cinnamon in the fridge a few hours. Then I placed the sweet potatoes and sauce in aluminum foil with a little dab of butter on top. I wrapped up the whole thing and poked with fork so steam could escape. I put on the grill until the sweet potatoes were a little soft. Then I put them directly on the grill for just a minute or so to give them a nice crisp outside and those lovely grill marks. Totally delish!
  • Portabella mushrooms. Cover in olive oil and grill. Then put them on buns and serve with the same condiments as you use on hamburgers. Rob doesn't mind the fake hamburgers, but I do. No, I'm not a vegetarian, but it seems to me that if you're not going to eat meat then you shouldn't eat fake meat either. It just doesn't seem right to me.
  • Onions. These are favorites of mine. You can serve them on the grilled portebellas, fake burgers, or best of all imo real burgers (organic, free range of course). I slice them really thick and grill like burgers. There is an art to flipping them without them falling apart. If you're not adventurous enough to give it a try, that's okay. Just slice them how you like, mix them with a little olive oil and fold them up in aluminum foil.
  • Pineapple. My kids look at me like I was off my rocker when they saw me bringing a pineapple out to the deck. But they soon learned I was crazy like a fox. I sprinkled cinnamon sugar all over nice thick slices and grilled away. These are Rob's second new favorite grilling dish. You gotta give this a try if you haven't already. They're good enough for dessert.
  • Salmon. Rob eats fish but he finds salmon to be too heavy and too much like meat so he wasn't as excited about this dish, but it was a hit with the kids who tried it. I marinated it in soy sauce, olive oil, lime juice, white wine, garlic and pepper before grilling.
  • Potatoes. This was one of our brunch dishes. I quartered the potatoes, onions, and red pepper. I tossed with fresh herbs and olive oil. I put it all in a veggie basket and grilled away. Another huge hit. Yes, you could recreate this in your oven under the broiler but that isn't nearly as fun as cooking and eating outside on the back deck on nice cool summer morning.
  • Veggies and pasta. I simply sliced some zuchini, yellow squash, and sweet peppers in half, olied them, and grilled until just soft. I then sliced them and served them atop Fetticini Alfredo.
  • Corn on the cob. Okay, I know. Everyone already does this. But I had never grilled corn on the cob before. I never had enough room for corn and other dishes so I always boiled the corn in the house. Now that I've grilled it, I'll never go back. I left the husks on and soaked the ears in water for an hour or so. I pulled off the access silk from the ends so they wouldn't burn. Then I just made sure to turn the ears often.
This is just a sampling of what we've been enjoying here at Chez Wittmann. I hope that even if you don't have a vegetarian husband, the next time you fire up the barbecue pit or gas grill you give veggies a special place on your grill.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Exciting Stuff at Homeschool Connections

Walter and I have been busy, busy. Walter got the brand new Homeschool Connections website up and running yesterday. It's still under construction but go check it out anyway and let me know what you think about the design. I'd love to hear your feedback. It looks a little bit like my Catholic Treasury website. Walter will have all the content loaded up within the week so you'll want to check back to see all the neat stuff Homeschool Connections has to offer, from free webinars to online classes.

Until then, I'd like to share the 2009 fall classes with you:
These are all high school classes. We have enlisted a middle school teacher who will offer classes for us in the spring and possibly late fall.

If you'd like to get on our newsletter instead of checking the website regularly, there is a sign up box in the top right hand corner of this blog. That will keep you up to date on free webinars, courses, and money-saving coupons. Between now and September, newsletters will go be going out every Monday. However, that will lighten up greatly once the fall semester starts.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

EWTN Radio and Kids at Mass

I had an interview this morning with Brian Patrick on EWTN Radio. It was live in Cincinnati and recorded for the global audience later. I don't know yet when it will run, but I'll post it here when I find out.

The interview was based on an article I wrote for Catholic Exchange: Mass Control. It's a Top-10 list of ways to keep the kids not only under control during church time but helping them to learn to love the beauty of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

I originally wrote the article a good number of years ago and CE decided to rerun it this week. It's kind of funny for me to go back and read it as my family is at such a different stage now. I no longer have wee children. My youngest is 7, so visits to the cry room are no longer a necessity. In fact, it was really good for me to reread that article because I can now see the fruits of putting those 10 tips into practice over the past 2 decades. I can honestly say that I have children who are reverent at Mass and understand the liturgy. Though, trust me, there have been times when I wondered if this day would ever come.

Friday, July 10, 2009

How to Keep Homeschool Kids from Getting Overwhelmed

I received an email from a mom looking for help in inspiring her children and would like to share it with you here. I answered her email with my own ideas for help, but I'd love for some of my blog readers to jump in with advice.

Here is the email:
My husband and I have been homeschooling for a year now. We are really starting to see all the benefits in our children. The only thing we are having a little trouble with is deciding how much time on each subject. Our son is 12 and daughter is 9. They both do really well, but I see that a lot of times they see all the work they need to get accomplished and get overwhelmed and basically get in a bad mood or frankly they just sit there. Eventually they do it, but I know there has to be an easier way. Is it better to give them a subject and say,"I don't care how long this takes just get it done by the end of the day." Or is it better to set time aside for each subject and say, "Get as much as you can done"? I would really appreciate your help and guidance. Thank you for your time.
So, what is your advice? What is your experience? Please tell us in the comments.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

PSN5: Choosing Beauty

To read past library recommendations, or to join the email list, visit: Pope Saint Nicholas V.

Check to see if this title is already in your library's catalog. If it is, put a hold on it and check it out. If not, fill out a patron request form right away. This can usually be done online at your library's website.

Title: Choosing Beauty: A 30-Day Spiritual Makeover for Women
Author: Gina Loehr
Publisher: Servant Books
Date Published: June 2009
ISBN-10: 0867169214
ISBN-13: 978-0867169218
Price: 12.99 paperback (Amazon price: 11.04)


I couldn't find any reviews online. Please leave a comment if you know of any.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Homeschooling Science Webinar Tonight

Tonight is the night for Kris Corriera's Science at Home webinar. Join us tonight for a fun evening of live experiments and chatting.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Catholic Radio on Catholic Homeschooling

If you happen to read this before 9:25 AM Eastern and you enjoy Catholic radio, make sure to listen for Walter (my partner in crime at Homeschool Connections). Just go to Guadalupe Radio and then click on Listen and then click on North Texas. Make sure you go a few minutes early so you have time to get it all going.

How fun for Walter!

Friday, June 26, 2009

Save $30 Plus on High School

For those of you not on the Homeschool Connections email list, I thought you'd like to know that there is a $30 off coupon available to you, your friends, and your homeschool support group. It's only good until July 1, 2009, so you'll want to act fast. Here is the coupon code: mh22lw

In fact, there is a MacBeth class starting on Monday. It's only $60 for the class. With the coupon that makes it only $30. I guarantee you won't find a deal like this ever again -- a 4-week, Catholic Shakespeare course with a college professor who's taught at both Franciscan and Ava Maria!

Here's what the kids said about Dr. Russell's summer course (on Beowulf) that just ended:
"Thank you Dr. Russell!!!! I can't wait until next Monday for the MacBeth class!!!!"

"Dr. Russell had very interesting and insightful comments. I enjoyed the class very much."

"Excellent explanations and insights."

"I appreciate literature so much more now."
The students love these classes. So much so, that the students of the American government class started a Facebook fanpage for their instructor, Ed Rivet.

Here is a list of upcoming courses plus free webinars. (More fall classes to be scheduled within the week -- Theology, Anatomy, and Literature.)

Oh, one more thing. If you register early for fall classes you get a very nice discount.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Last Mass

Last January we learned that our former parish of 14 years would close on June 21, 2009. Even though we had already moved away 6 months earlier, we were heartbroken. The children especially took it hard. They truly mourned. Well, this last Sunday the day came when our mourning would take a very real form in the last celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass at Holy Cross Church.

The final Mass before the closing of a Catholic church is not like your everyday Mass. You do not simply go to church, grab a donut and head home.

The Church in it's infinite wisdom truly brings closure to the parishioners and as sad as it is, it is a beautiful Mass.

First, the bishop is to celebrate the final Mass. Bishop Boyea con-celebrated our final Mass with our pastor, Fr. Maurice. Also there were pastors from years past, the pastor of the new parish, pastors of other closeby churches, the provincial of the OFM's (it was a Franciscan parish), and the OFM vocation director.

At the end of the Mass, the bishop, priests, and servers moved about the church, praying before all of the holy places -- the baptismal font, the confessionals, the Stations of the Cross, the holy images, etc. Blessed objects (holy water, holy oils, processional cross, etc.) were given to parishioners to be carried to the new parish.

After the final blessing, the altar was stripped. This was an extremely emotional point for me. One by one, we processed up to the altar and kissed it. I cannot begin to describe the emotions that run through you in giving the altar that last reverence. All I could think about was how many times the Sacrifice of the Holy Mass was offered over the past 85 years at the altar. After kissing the altar each person walked outside to the front of the church. Because we processed one by one, you felt so alone at that moment. (The picture above is of my 9-year-old daughter after she kissed the altar and walked toward the back of the church.) But then you were greeted and embraced by the hundreds of parishioners waiting for you outside.

Once everyone had reverenced the altar and moved outdoors, the bishop, priests, servers, and those carrying the holy objects, also came outside. The doors were all opened wide at that point. But then, after more prayer and blessings, they were slammed shut and the bishop declared, "Holy Cross Church is officially closed." The loud gasps at that proclamation were almost overwhelming. The doors were tied with purple cloth.

Then began the procession to the new parish, St. Mary's Cathedral. Bishop Boyea and Father Maurice were in the lead car with the Blessed Sacrament with the rest of us following. At the cathedral the Blessed Sacrament was reverently placed into the tabernacle and the holy objects put into place. Words were spoken, blessings given, and many tears shed.

With death comes new life. After winter comes the spring. I am praying for all my brothers and sisters from Holy Cross that they will find new life at St. Mary's Cathedral.

Pictures from the Lansing State Journal (including the one above)
Article from the LSJ

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Win Free Stuff!!!

Lisa Hendey of wrote to me this morning:
I am working on a special project today at - we are hosting a "Blog Tour" for a great product called The Meal Box from Loyola Press. It's a terrific product, a box of 54 cards designed to prompt great family conversations around the dinner table. Today at the blog, I am hosting the authors for a daylong visit. The idea is that our readers will leave comments and questions for Tom and Bret - facilitating an online conversation. I hope you can join in the fun - please stop by the site at and chime in with a comment of your own. Everyone who posts a comment will be entered to win a copy of The Meal Box!
Looks cool. Tell all your friends!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Homeschool Online Classes: Fall 2009

If you all have been wondering where I've been, I've been busy scheduling fall courses for Homeschool Connections.

If you're busy planning your fall schedule then make sure to check out what HC has to offer so far:

Philosophy 101
Fundementals of Economics with Catholic Emphasis
Democracy, Government & Citizenship

These are sure to be great classes for your high school students. The philosophy class is taught by the chair of the philosophy department at Benedictine! Another Benedictine prof. will be teaching the economics class -- I so love that he'll be bringing papal enyclicals into the classroom! And then there is Ed -- our democracy teacher. Ed was so popular with his students last semester that they started a fan page on Facebook for him!

Still yet to be scheduled are courses on anatomy & physiology and . . . well, I'll surprise you.

Oh, one more thing, make sure to register right away to take advantage of the huge discount for early registration.

You can keep up to date on free webinars and course offerings at the Homeschool Connections blog. The newly redesigned webpage should be up within a month.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Catholic Homeschooling Conference: Pennsylvania

There are just so many great Catholic homeschooling conferences that it boggles the mind. I wish I could get to them all.

The Family Centered Learning Conference is one that is sure to be great. Two of my favorite people will be speaking there -- Rachel Watkins and MacBeth Derham. Rachel is just so much fun and MacBeth is nothing short of way-too cool! Of course, both wrote for The Catholic Homeschool Companion (only the coolest homeschoolers wrote for The Companion).

If you've ever wanted to visit beautiful Lancaster County, PA then get your camper packed up and ready to go for July 25, 2009.

And, to make it totally the coolest, it's cheap and there's a potluck picnic the night before.

So head over to Family Centered Learning right now get yourself registered!

(Special thank you to Michele Quigley for making this conference happen every year!)

Friday, June 12, 2009

Girls in Shooting Sports

My oldest daughters made the front page (above the fold no less) of our local newspaper today. I can't begin to express how proud I am of them. When the reporter visited our home, the girls were professional and answered each question with grace.

The article is about their upcoming national 4-H shooting invitational. You may recall my oldest son took first place in muzzleloader two years ago. Laura is aiming for Christian's title while Mary is shooting for first place in .22. To accomplish that, they've been practicing at various ranges 4 days a week.

The reporter did a nice job on the story, especially depicting the girls' personalities and their love of the sport. However, there are a couple of clarifications to be made. First, Mary and Laura are the only girls on the Michigan team, but there will be other girls from other states at the national invitational.

Another clarification is the reporter's use of the word "weapons." A hand can be a weapon. A box cutter, as we know all too well from 9-11, can be used as a weapon. However, we do not regularly refer to our hands or box cutters as weapons.

In 4-H, we use firearms or shooting sports equipment. We do not use weapons. Team members shoot at targets, never people. As in Boy Scouts, 4-H does not allow paintball or airsoft because those are games that include the shooting of humans. Team members also never shoot at targets that mimic the human shape.

It would be correct to refer to firearms as weapons in police work where one is dealing with criminals who do use them to cause harm and death. However, it is completely inappropriate in this case.

On a similar note, I once heard a judge say, "I've never had a 4-H kid brought up before me."

If you'd like to make a donation to Mary and Laura's shooting sports team email Ingham Sharpshooters Club for more information.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Time is running out. You need to get over to Homeschool Connections and register for summer school. Today would be good.

The Catholic Shakespeare: MacBeth with Henry Russell, Ph.D
The Space Trilogy and C. S. Lewis with Robert Gotcher, Ph.D
Catholic Living for Young People with Robert Gotcher, Ph.D.
Writing for College Preparatory with Robert Gotcher, Ph.D.
Short Stories by J. R. R. Tolkien with Robert Gotcher, Ph.D.
The Mass Explained for Young People with Robert Gotcher, Ph.D.

The classes are pretty reasonably priced but if, during these tough economic times, you can't afford it but your kids would greatly benefit then please email me privately. I have some partial scholarships set aside for those in need.

We Have Chicks!

We went to the feed store and picked out chicks. The kids loved, loved it. We came home with 12 which included 2 Buff Orpingtons, 3 New Hampshire Reds, and 7 Red Stars.

Right now they're in Rubbermaid tub under a heat lamp in the basement but they'll outgrow that pretty fast. When they're a few weeks old we'll probably move them to a pen outside. We can't put them in the coop with the grown hens until they're 6 or 8 weeks old or they'll be pecked to death. I think we're going to rig up some chicken wire to separate the coop into two rooms to keep the grown hens and chicks apart.

And then, in about 5 months, we'll have loads and loads of eggs.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Our First Chickens

Our friends the Parkers gave us a couple of chickens from their flock so we're already getting eggs. I knew we were officially country folk when I came around the corner of our long driveway and had to come to a stop as the chickens were taking their time walking up the drive. The children have of course already named them: Chicka Chicka Boom Boom and Golden Nettlebrand.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

The Summer of the Coops

A week ago today, four families converged upon my home to build a chicken coop for my family. It was an awesome day with lots of fellowship, good food, a little play, and a lot of hard work.

As the summer progresses, we will visit the homes of each of these families to help them build their own coops. We call it the Chicken Coop Co-op. I look forward to returning the favor for my friends. I'm also looking forward to lots of farm fresh eggs!

Homeschooling Multiples with Littles

Today we have a guest blogger, my friend Maria Rioux. Maria is responding to a question below about teaching multiple children with littles.

I'm really short on time ... I've written on this before, so I cheated and cut and pasted. I hope you find it helpful. :)
God bless, Maria

You can always love more, but there will always be only 24 hours to a single day. You have to be a good steward of your time. Take full advantage of your time. I read to the children while they eat breakfast and we often listen to a book on tape or the life of some composer during lunch or when we're in the car. Dinner time is especially good for discussions, but so are walks.

When possible, combine things. One thing that combines easily is vocabulary, creative writing, and penmanship. We use new vocabulary words or spelling words to write a story. These can be a whole lot of fun. One child once got rid of 4 words, using them appropriately, in a single sentence. Another child was writing his vocabulary story. One of his words was "azure" meaning "clear blue". His story went: "Out of the azure ..."

Children around the same age can study some things together. They can drill math facts, whatever someone is memorizing (poetry, articles of Faith, corporal works of mercy....), and read historical retellings. I let them ask each other questions but only ones the questioner could answer as well. They earn little candies or pennies this way...and lose them when they get it wrong.

Simplify your life. Organize all aspects of it so that minimal attention is required for those areas that are practically necessary but not objectively speaking all that noble. It takes us about 45 minutes to completely clean our home. Everything has a place and we don't waste time looking for stuff when we want to use it. Decluttering and general cleanliness is liberating as well as practically and spiritually profitable. It gives us time to devote to better things. It's tempting sometimes to hang on to things in case you will use them, but it isn't always all that spiritually healthy. (Exceptions to every rule granted....That's what makes a rule legit, right?) If you haven't used it in 6 months and it isn't seasonal, you probably don't need it. Find it a happy home and you won't have to dust it.

Teach cheerful obedience, perseverance, and submission to the will of God. If necessary, use words.

Develop in your children the habits necessary for them to think on their own. I'm not saying we want to reduce education to this, but it is a good and necessary part.

Teach polite and considerate behavior to all within reason. If the baby is nursing and you don't plan to wean for at least a year or two, this just got a whole lot easier. A baby back pack that's well padded is a biiiig help if you kinda think you might have been a mountaineer in an earlier life....and you don't mind if someone eats your hair or drools down your neck while they nap. Put a little towel around the back of your neck before you start and you'll look athletic and take care of that little unpleasantness at the same time.(G) If the baby goes for baby swings, get an electric one. That way when he really is tired and you've got him all cleaned up, fed, and drowsy, you can gently put him in there and you won't have to wind it up again with that incredibly loooooud mechanism which invariably wakes him up again. If all else fails, you can bring in a stroller and have an older child wheel the baby around to some soothing music until he falls asleep or, if you live in a safe area or have a big yard, someone responsible can take a 20 minute break to stroll the baby outside. That often helps them get to sleep. Babies who are fed and not sleepy are generally in a pretty good mood. Ours liked to be held ... most of the time .... and entertained a little, but it didn't take much to entertain them. When children are very little I tend to keep them with me (1-1 1/2) They usually play quite contentedly at my feet or in the area as long as I'm mildly appreciative.

I have a basket of toys that are for during school time only. This keeps them interesting and special. Water generally adds to the fun so I set up a chair in front of the bathroom or kitchen sink and give the little guy the box of alligators, dinosaurs, whatever, to play with. He's nearby so I can watch him/listen for trouble, he knows the rules (no dumping water on the floor), and he's happy. I also have the little one join in whenever they can. For example, when we're playing an educational board game, he gets to roll the dice for everyone. When we're reading aloud, he listens with the rest of us (though he toddles around and does goofy stuff as well. This is probably a little drastic, but I let the little guys draw on my ankles and feet when we're having a read aloud. If you attack with soap right afterwards and don't let them use very dark colors, it washes off quite easily and satisfactorily. Our little guys liked to be part of things and would scribble happily with a pencil or color a favorite animal picture at the table with the others...for about 15 minutes. Every 15 minutes counts.

When we built our family room we decided to put a swing in there. Since Jean and I did the building, we knew what the joists would support. I wouldn't want an older child to swing on it, but anyone 10 and under can easily have fun regardless of the weather. When Adrienne was on chemo and could not be out in the sun, it gave her something fun and but not too taxing to do. Will loves it. He twists himself up and them lifts his legs off the floor and spins. It's not hard to put a swing up.

Sometimes I'll have older siblings play/read to the toddler. I stagger who plays with the baby so that no one has the job for more than 20 minutes. One side benefit of this is that all the children have developed close relationships with their siblings and each is both comfortable and competent to care for others. It fosters a kind of loving service and forgetfulness of self which is all to the good and hard enough to cultivate. Children are gifts in so many ways and bring out the best in each of us.

Someone always has some independent reading to do around here. Since our toddlers always looooved the shower/bath (and I have yet to meet one who doesn't) you fill the bath, make bubbles, get toys and plop him in there. Then you get the other child to sit with him in the bathroom while you work on whatever with whomever while the 2 year old plays and the older child watches out for him. I can always get a good 1/2 an hour of work in this way. After a bath, young children look like very sweet wrinkly raisins.

When things get rough and we have to work we pull out the secret weapon: Fluff. She doesn't sound impressive, but she gets the job done. Fluff is one of our outside cats that'd rather be an inside cat. She's very gentle and rarely scratches, though Will may drive her to desperate measures one of these days. If Fluff has lost her appeal, we have people take Will outside to play, again in shifts.

Sometimes we put on a video for Will. We almost never watch network TV, but we've got scads of videos. I like to put on the Animal Alphabet. It's a nature show with an animal for every letter and a song (and it really helps teach phonics). Any nature show will do, though. The library has wonderful ones. There's this really fun one called "Walking With Dinosaurs" (which also serves as fodder for our "How do they know that?!?" cannon) and it has a companion one about a little Allosaurus that grows up. He's called Big Al. I never imagined that I would have to comfort children distressed over the trials in the life of a computer-generated dinosaur. Then's there's the Magic Schoolbus, DK Animal Adventures, and all kinds of nature videos set to classical music. If that's all you did all day, it would obviously be a bad thing, but, used prudently, I see this as a good thing and a blessing to a very busy mom.

Computer games ... There are good ones and bad ones. If your child is having fun and learning worthy things while punching a keyboard, there's no need to feel bad about that. Just because Laura Ingalls never learned that way and had to lug around a slate everywhere doesn't mean that's what's best. There are wonderful and thoughtful computer games for math drills, reading practice, spelling...anything under the sun. The issue for me would be how much time do we spend on the computer and what do we spend that time working on? Around here it's a treat, reinforcing what we are working on in more concrete and personal ways.

We follow a schedule in terms of when we rise, eat, do schoolwork, and clean up pretty closely, though there are days when we pitch it completely, sleep in a bit, and wing it. We designed our own curriculum (a mix of Classical and CM methods) and have made it available online at no cost. If you'd like the link, write me and I'll send it to you along with a short description of how we implement it. We follow our syllabi pretty closely, though some things are not as necessary as others and these get the boot whenever we're over-loaded. These two things...ordering the day and having an academic plan for the year .... keep us feeling peaceful and also keep us honest. If we're behind, we know it.

Our homeschooling works best when I'm right there, not distracted by some other thing that needs doing, or worse, that I'd prefer to be doing, and when I do not allow myself to be duped into thinking that throwing in a quick load of laundry or something will help keep us on track over-all. I really need every minute in order to do justice to each child, and an interruption means someone will get shortchanged. Our kids love their school day when I work with them, and work both happily and hard with minimal encouragement. When I am not as available ... someone's math takes longer than expected, or Will needs a snuggle and a story, or the dog got into trouble, or the plumbing is a problem and I have to work on that ... little ones have a hard time maintaining focus and motivating themselves. They tend to daydream or grow disheartened by what seems like a lot of work at the moment. While I am not an integral part of every lesson, I am the support ... the reason, in part, why every child tackles whatever with gusto. I give them confidence, even when confidence isn't completely justified. If it is, in fact, beyond them, they know I am there to help. If I am not there, for whatever reason, even things which would require minimal gusto suddenly become overwhelming. Knowing that, my absence better be based upon a good and necessary reason.

Taking even 15 minutes to look over everyone's list for the day before we start helps me mentally prepare for the leaping from subject to subject, grade level to grade level, to come, which otherwise sometimes leaves me feeling frazzled and scattered. I have a hard time switching between math and art, with a quick question on catechism thrown in now and again or a dash to the potty with someone who thinks he _might_ make it. Though we try to structure the day so that everyone is working on the same sorts of things at the same time, no one ever does so at the same pace, so it isn't long before I'm juggling four different subject areas at the same time. That is tiring. It might be less tiring if I were an expert in each of these areas, but that is not the case.

I limit interruptions, but that's only workable with older children. Fat chance the toddler can do this or even should, though he can sit quietly on my lap for a minute while I finish up whatever. Children just beginning their schooling need loads of encouragement and I'm more lenient with them on interruptions as well. We work on it slowly, stressing charity. As excited as we are to see your beautiful "B", it'll have to wait just a second while so and so and I finish this problem. For older children (7 and up) I will look over your whatever, but only when it is done. I do appreciate the beauty of your work, but I do not want to see it by degrees, while I'm trying to teach your sister math....How do you like to learn math? You have to work on your own and then bring it to me when done ... not before...unless you have a question.

When a child gets out of line...lazes off or behaves inappropriately (this generally takes the form of not working well with your sibling on some joint project or daydreaming out the window while you're suppose to be focused on "X") I ask whether or not they'd do this if they attended a brick and mortar school. No. It would be embarrassing. It's never even a question. This annoys me. If it's that obvious, how come I have to suffer it? Do I know enough not to make okra for dinner?!!!? There's a parallel there, but it won't be apparent to okra lovers. Persons who love okra are the exception. No one knows what to do with them.

More than anything, our efforts must be joint ones. We are all here to accomplish God's will, not to be tyrannical. A young child should have enough trust in the judgement of his parents to support the decisions they make for his well-being. It wouldn't hurt to explain why we do what we do, but it shouldn't be necessary. Unquestioning, cheerful obedience is so undervalued in our society. It's as if to
require this is to attack the human dignity of another. It would be helpful to go through some biblical accounts of unquestioning obedience and how pleasing it is to God. I also like the story told by Liz Elliot of a missionary family out in Africa. The little 5 year old is playing under a tree. His father comes out on the porch and tells his little boy to come to him. The little guy does. When he gets away from the tree, the father runs up, grabs him tight and runs back to the house. They look back and see a poisonous snake hanging down in the branches above where the boy had been playing. The father took the opportunity to explain the value of unquestioning obedience. The boy did not say, "Just a sec ... I'm almost done with the castle wall...." , "Why? What do you want?" or anything like that, and it probably saved his life. (To be honest, our children would have died, unless I was holding out an ice cream.) Children, even after the age of reason, aren't all that reasonable nor that objective. In addition, they have almost no experience. If you're working at persuasion here, you've already lost a significant amount of your rightful authority. We teach our children about trust when we require them to do what they do not fully understand or appreciate. Isn't that what God asks of us throughout our lives? I have several very strong opinions about what would be the best plan for my life right now, but I know better than to hold on to them. I realize that this is not God's plan for me, and His plan is good. It's definitely way better than anything I could dream up, regardless of how unlikely that seems to me when I'm being emotional about things. It's when you start relaxing and enjoying yourselves that things really begin to click. It is such a privilege to have the opportunity to wonder along with our children, and to delight in them (I don't think I'll ever appreciate the gift of children as I should, but homeschooling sure gives you opportunities!). Homeschooling can be daunting. It's a big job. It's a job for which you are particularly well-qualified as no one knows your children better nor cares for them more.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Catholic Homeschool Conference: NY, NJ, CT

Hey! Do you live in New Jersey? Perhaps Connecticut? What about New York? Well, if you live in any of these three states, have I got some news for you! The first ever Sacred Heart Home School Conference is coming your way on June 20th!

The conference is sponsored by HEART. What is HEART? It stands for Homeschoolers Educational Alliance of Roman Catholics in the Tri-State Area. Wow, that's a mouthful.

Help HEART get the word out and tell all your friends in the tri-state area (NY, CT, & NJ) about the Sacred Heart conference at St. John the Evangelist parish in Orange, NJ. Archbishop John Meyers will be celebrating the closing Mass. They're really excited in New York about that!

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Review: Angels of God

Today we have a guest blogger. David Mills reviews Mike Aqulina's Angels of God:

By Mike Aquilina
Servant Books, 2009
(123 pages, $12.99, paperback)

A lot of people like angels these days, especially sweet girly ones. They like them, one suspects, because they are spiritual beings who aren’t God. God tells you to do things, angels do things for you and they look cute on t-shirts and coffee mugs.

Mike Aquilina’s new book, Angels of God, explains why angels are good news for us, though they may not be the kind of good news we want. The job of the guardian angel, for example, is “to get his charge to judgment, prepared as well as possible,” and that preparation may really hurt.

But accepting the angels’ aid and following their example will make us happier in this life and bring us to heaven. And so, Aquilina notes, “Our fellowship with them is not an ornament on our religion; it’s a life skill.”

Angels of God begins by describing the angels of the Bible and how the Church has drawn out the biblical teaching in its understanding of the orders of angels and the work of guardian angels, and of the angels’ place in the Mass. It then describes the three angels whose names we know — Michael, Gabriel, and Rafael — before discussing briefly the right response to the fallen angels. It closes with instruction on how we should “walk in the company of angels.” The book includes a short appendix of prayers to and poems about the angels.

Aquilina, a prolific author who lives in the diocese and is often seen on EWTN, gives an exceptionally clear and accessible introduction to the subject, but that is not all. He shows us that the world is a much happier place when you remember the angels, not least the one looking over your shoulder, and it is a safer place when you remember the fallen angels who wish you harm. The study of the angels is a very practical doctrine.

How is it practical? Let me give just two examples. First, it helps us better understand the Bible. Many of us tend to blank out all the times the angels are included — and they are included a lot — as if they were merely decorative. But they’re not.

For example, how many of us have shot through “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” with no thought at all about who is it doing God’s will in heaven? With at most the vague thought that we are asking that things be better here on earth?

Actually thinking of all the hosts of angels serving God in perfect love and freedom, each doing his part, like a vast chorus (angels do sing a lot), gives us an inspiring vision of what the Church should be and how each of us should be living before the Lord. It changes the way you say that prayer. At least it did for me.

And there’s more. Playing off the mistake that “heaven” refers to outer space and not “the realm of the spirits,” Aquilina notes that “We’re praying not that we might be more predictable, like planet and asteroids, but that we might be as morally sure and true as the angels are.” Thinking about the angels gives us a more precise idea of what we’re asking for.

Second, knowing about the fallen angels and their powers helps us understand the necessity of the Catholic life. Aquilina doesn’t spend much time on “spiritual warfare,” pointing out that too great an interest in the demonic is just as dangerous as ignorance.

The danger isn’t primarily the dramatic demonic possession so loved by movie-makers. “Possession is most effective (I believe) as a distraction,” he writes. While people are worrying about being possessed, and paying too much attention to the fallen angels in general, “we’re neglecting the drab, ordinary temptations we face at home and at work. We give in to laziness, rudeness, impatience, lying, and passive lust. And then the enemy has his foot in the door.”

The Catholic’s response is simple: First, “Avoid occasions of sin.” This includes the occult. The boy on whom The Exorcist was based opened himself to the demonic through a Ouija board.

Second, remember that “Satan recoils from anything holy,” like making the sign of the Cross, using holy water, receiving Communion, reading Scripture, praying earnestly (“even if it’s only the childish rhyming prayers you remember from when you were young”), and confessing your sins.

Angels of God introduces the subject very well, but that is not its only value. By showing us how the angels serve God, and especially how some of them serve God by serving us, it encourages us to serve Him better, because we know we have friends in high places.

David Mills’ Discovering Mary: Answers to Questions About the Mother of God will be published in August. He and his family live in Pennsylvania.

This review originally appeared in the Pittsburgh Catholic.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Homeschooling Multiple Grade Levels

Dear readers, I received the following email today:
Hello Maureen,
I am a fellow Catholic homeschooler and fan of yours. I was hoping you could help with a solution I am looking for. We have 6 children ages 10, 9, 7, 6, 3, and 1. Next fall I will be teaching 4, possibly 5, grades as my 3 year old seems ready to learn reading and basic preschool. Most of my children are above average students. I do have a son in the 1st grade next year that seems to have a different learning style but that is for another letter. Here is my question ... I am looking for material that I can use to teach all of the kids at the same time. Mostly in history, science, religion, and I am open to others as well. I feel like I have just been getting by the last few years with the material I have been using. I would like to add another depth to the education my children are receiving from me. We have been using CHC for the last 2 years and I do like many of their products but I need something more.
Thank you for your time,

Can you help me help her. It's always good to get ideas from a variety of homeschool moms. I'll add my two cents in the comments but first I want to give you all the opportunity to chime in with advice and experience.