Friday, January 29, 2010

Front Door Fridays

This morning my friend Michele took my four children to see a play at the Raue Performing Arts Center in Crystal Lake. In return, I watch her youngest, Dylan. We've been doing this a couple of times a year for the past two or three years, and in that time, Dylan and I have become buds.

Last year, Isaac stayed with us because he had to go to kindergarten. He and Dylan had a great time playing until the bus came. So when I told Isaac the plans this morning, he said to me, "I'd much rather stay here and play with Dylan than go to a play."

He did go to the play, and right now Dylan is digging through the boys' room, seeing what he can find - an accordian, the guitar, a princess wand that belongs to the girls. "What's this doing in Isaac's room?" he just asked me.

Good question, bud.
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Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Good-bye, Good-bye to everything!

The wonderful thing about having a toddler in my house once a week are the delightful things she says and does when she's here.

Kaylee is constantly keeping us in stitches. (One of her favorite past times is to sing to herself and dance in front of the full-length mirror in the girls' room- too funny!)

Yesterday, she found me in the kitchen and said, "Hi, Shel!" I picked her up, and said, "Hi, Kaylee!" She looked at me very seriously, then put out her tiny hand and stroked my hair and said, "Pretty hair."

How sweet is that? It's so fun to see the world through her eyes, and remember what my children were like at that stage.

One thing every toddler loves to do is say "Good-bye" to everything and everyone, so when I read this poem from A Child's Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson yesterday to my two younger children, I thought immediately of Kaylee, and my own children at her age.

The toddler stage is exhausting - I remember it well, having had four children in five years. My aunt told me to enjoy the moments because they grow up so quickly. And it's so true! When Kaylee is here, I'm amazed at how grown-up my own children are, and like every mother, wonder "Where has the time gone?"

Farewell to the Farm

The coach is at the door at last;
The eager children, mounting fast
And kissing hands, in chorus sing:
Good-bye, good-bye, to everything!

To house and garden, field and lawn,
The meadow-gates we swang upon,
To pump and stable, tree and swing,
Good-bye, good-bye, to everything!

Ad fare you well for evermore,
O ladder at the hayloft door,
O hayloft where the cobwebs cling,
Good-bye, good-bye, to everything!

Crack goes the whip, and off we go;
The trees and houses smaller grow;
Last, round the woody turn we swing:
Good-bye, good-bye to everything!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Percy Jackson & The Olympians

My nephew is obsessed with the “Percy Jackson & the Olympians” series. He has read them all, and has sparked my son’s interest in reading these books. I like to know what my kids are reading, so when The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan came in at the library, I grabbed it to read it first. (Mean, I know, but Nathaniel had schoolwork to do!)

I found it a little difficult to get into the book. There were so many unexplained events, so many questions that I thought took a long time to get answered. But, like the Alex Rider series, these books are action-packed.

Unlike Alex Rider, Percy Jackson is fantasy, in case you didn’t figure that out from the title of the series. The series is based on the idea that the Greek gods were real, are still alive and working today, and still running around messing around with humans and having children who are demigods, or half-bloods, or heroes (used interchangeably in the book).

Percy has to figure out how to live in the ‘real’ world while fighting monsters from the mythical world. He has some good friends, mentors and a magical pen, which turns into a sword he can use to fight the monsters. In The Lightning Thief, Percy is required to go on a quest, fighting all sorts of monsters, gods, and traps along the way.

Nathaniel told me this morning, “That book is really scary.” And it is, so I would not recommend it for grade-school children – especially those who are afraid that monsters live in their closets or under their bed.

But for boys old enough to handle the action, The Lightning Thief will capture, and hold, their attention and imagination. Nathaniel can't wait to read the rest of the series... especially since he's already done with the Alex Rider books.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Jumping through Fires

Jumping through Fires is an interesting title, isn’t it? The subtitle makes it even more interesting: The Gripping Story of One Man’s Escape from Revolution to Redemption. Then, lower on the cover, under the author’s name (David Nasser), is written: An Iranian Exile and Former Muslim.

Well, how on earth could I not grab this book off the library shelf? I had to.

is a compelling author, telling the story of his family’s escape from the Iranian Revolution in the late 1970’s. It’s a scary story,especially since it's told from the perspective of a nine-year-old boy. He then tells of the difficulties of adjusting to American life - the story of Iranian immigrants coming to America at the worst possible moment.

This book is honest and forthright. Nasser tells us not only about the difficulties, the moves, the inability to fit in at school, but also about his mistakes, his choices, and the consequences of those choices.

It’s the story of his journey of faith, of alienating his parents, of doing really stupid things and learning from his mistakes. It’s the story of falling in love with an American girl, of carefully rebuilding a relationship with his parents.

It sounds rather unexciting when I write about it. But in Nasser’s words, it’s worth reading.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

The Boy from Baby House 10

The Boy from Baby House 10 by Alan Philips and John Lahutsky is a captivating read. Once I started reading it, I could hardly put it down. I think the only thing that kept me from crying throughout the entire book was its subtitle, From the Nightmare of a Russian Orphanage to a New Life in America. I knew it had a happy ending. But many times in the book, I wondered HOW?

It's the story of John Lahutsky (his American name), and the people in his life who fought for him to have a life. We first meet Vanya when he is four years old and in a Russian orphanage. The situation is horrifying – it’s amazing that Vanya can even speak because the women who care for him hardly interact with him. I cannot help but admire Vanya’s unquenchable spirit which fights against all odds to be noticed, to interact with adults and children around him.

It’s this spirit which attracts the attention of some adults from outside the baby house, women who work tirelessly to rescue him from his classification as an “imbecile” because of his slight physical disabilities. His journey is a long one, and includes a horrifying, though mercifully short, stay in an adult mental asylum when he was six.

As John says in the Preface, “I am told I may be the only child to have survived the worst type of institution n the Russian children’s gulag and gone on to live a normal life in America. These institutions created by Stalin continue to devour children to this day.” (emphasis mine)

It is heartbreaking, this devouring of children. As you read this story, you’ll agree that is the only way to describe it. The people who fought the Russian bureaucracy on Vanya's behalf are heroes in my mind.

I was struck by something Philips wrote about halfway through the book, and its implication. “This was the monstrous logic of the Soviet state childcare system. The Communists had downgraded the family, decreeing that the state should take over the care of children who were destined never to grow into able-bodies workers, which in reality meant hiding them away and depriving them of contact with their families, education, and medical treatment.” (emphasis mine)

This is the logical conclusion of current theory that states parents are not qualified to parent their children. The logical conclusion that child-rearing is better left to “professionals.”

The Boy from Baby House 10 is a powerful testament that such thinking is destructive – it destroys parents, siblings, and children... thereby destroying society.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Front Door Friday

Today, as I thought about what was going on in my life that was photo-worthy, I couldn't think of much. Then my friend Dawn, and her two children, Ezra & Lucy, walked through the door.

(They actually came through the garage door instead of the front door, but details like that don't really matter, right?)

Dawn and Ezra and Lucy come to my house almost every week, usually on Fridays. I used to take my crew to her house regularly, but since I am car-less (another story for another post), Dawn comes to me now. Ezra and Isaac play, the girls keep Lucy sort-of occupied and Dawn and I have a cup of tea, talk together and pray together (in between the constant interruptions of six children).

It's a highlight of my week!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010


I wish I had a picture of my parent's "rag bucket" to go along with today's poem. It was a tall, narrow, semi-translucent plastic barrel stuffed full with old t-shirts, underwear and other scraps of clothing which had outlived their usefulness as coverings for our bodies. It is still, I believe, stored in my dad's basement workshop. When we made big messes as children, we were sent to fetch a rag to clean it up.

It was always a bit scary as a child. I would run barefoot into the cold, sparse room of my dad's, with it's rough concrete floor and single light bulb the switch turned on. The sub-pump is in that room, and sometimes it would kick on when I was there searching for a rag quick! and scare the beejeebers out of me.

I'm reading this poem by Valerie Worth tomorrow to my older two children in school. I'm amazed at her ability to create art based on little things we see or use every day without even thinking about it. Who knew that just by reading a few poems out loud to my children every week for school I could develop an appreciation for poetry? Sonlight did - and I'm grateful that they included all the small poems and fourteen more in their Core 5 curriculum.

Stuffed away into
An old pillowcase,

Dragged forth again
In crumpled clods,

Torn to wash windows
Or tie up tomato plants,

Thrown out at last -
Poor sad gray wads

That once were faithful
Flannel pajamas,

Favorite pink-
Flowered underpants.

Click here to read other poetry selections and include one of your own.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Front Door Friday

The veiw of my front door this week includes my oldest son, anxiously awaiting his ride to church for his weekend with his best buds. A weekend of boys, snow, camp, no sleep...

Certainly a weekend to remember!

The Noticer

The cover of Andy Andrews' book, The Noticer: Sometimes, all a person needs is a little perspective, has a quote from Nancy Lopez, LPGA Hall of Famer. She says, "This is the best book I have ever read in my life."

That's high praise for this little book. One with which I cannot agree.

Don't get me wrong, The Noticer is interesting. And the message about perspective is important. However, I would compare it to an aerial view of a landscape. An interesting view, but you miss a lot of details.

The Noticer is a parable told somewhat in first person about a man who shows up, talks to people about their lives to give them some perspective on their seemingly impossible problems. One conversation with Jones changes their lives forever.

One chapter I read was a quick overview, with a few changes, of Dr. Gary Chapman's book The Five Love Languages. Another focused on taking control of your thoughts, while another focused on being thankful.

Each chapter covered a different difficulty, with a very quick lesson on perspective and a few practical tips on how to apply that lesson. It's very easy to read, and very easy to forget.

Overall, The Noticer is worth reading. It will give you some ideas for seeing your life from a different perspective. However, you'll need to read some other books to deal with issues in depth if you want to make that change permanent.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010


I cannot believe I've been thinking about Poetry Wednesday all week - which poem would I choose? Can I find one I like in our school poetry books? Should I try to be super-poetry-woman and actually check out a book of poems from the library?

Then, I nearly forgot to post my poem today!

(In case you're wondering, I will never, ever claim the title "super-poetry-woman" although I might, eventually, actually check a poetry book out from the library. And, I did find a poem I like from our school poetry books. So here it is:)

My grandmother's
Glass front door
Held a fancy pattern
Of panes, their
Heavy edges cut
On a slant: when
Sun shone through,
They scattered
Some eighty little
Flakes of rainbows
Into the room,
Walking the walls,
Glowing like fallen
Flowers on the floor;
Why don't they
Make front doors that
Way any more?

This poem expresses best why I chose the front door I did when we replaced our front door. I love the fallen flowers on my floor when the sun shines in... but I couldn't capture them in a picture.

I love my front door. It's the simple things in life, really.

Click here to read other selections for poetry Wednesday and to add your own selection.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010


My oldest son brought me Stormbreaker by Anthony Horowitz after a recent library trip.

"Mom," he said. "Would you please read this book and let me know if it's OK for me to read?"

I greatly appreciated his asking.

And honestly, I enjoyed the book.

Basically, Stormbreaker is James Bond for preteen and teenage boys... without all the swearing and sex.

It's rather unbelievable, but I think that's what makes it so fun. What 14-year-old boy wouldn't love to be able to train as a spy, hunt down the bad guy, and parachute out of a plane in order to save the day?

Alex Rider, the main character, makes it a point to try to avoid killing anyone. However, plenty of people around him are killed, including his only living relative, and his life is in danger frequently. If you have a child sensitive to being left alone or violence, then this book is not for him.

I told my son, who's 11, that he would enjoy reading it, but asked that he not share it with his little sister. She just turned 10, but I don't think she's quite ready for the action in this book.

He ended up reading it in one day - on a long car ride over the holiday. What did he think of it?

"I liked Stormbreaker because of the gadgets. Those are pretty cool," Nathaniel told me. "The story has good action, excitement and lots of suspense. I would definitely recommend it to other boys."

Since then, he has quickly read through the other Alex Rider mysteries - I think there are six in all. He tells me that in a couple of them, there are some swear words. If that concerns or offends you, you might want to pre-read them for your boys.

Monday, January 11, 2010

have a little faith: a true story

My sister-in-law told me that her book club was reading have a little faith by Mitch Albom, of Tuesdays with Morrie fame. I have to admit that I haven't read Tuesdays (I know I should), but I spotted have a little faith on the library shelf and snatched it up to read it over the holiday.

I have to tell you that I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I appreciate Albom's transparency in his spiritual journey, and the similarities and differences between the two men of faith with whom he interacts are intriguing.

Interestingly, Albom organized the book into seasons of the year - which correspond to the seasons in his friendship with these two men. One is his rabbi, who springs a rather unusual request on him one day. The other is a pastor in a rundown urban church in Detroit. It seems these men would have nothing in common with each other except a relationship with Albom.

You'll have to read the book to find out what else they have in common.

I can't help but mention that Albom writes from the post-modern viewpoint of "I'm OK, you're OK" - basically that as long as you have faith and quit running from God, then you'll find enrichment and fulfillment. Personally, I believe there is an absolute truth to which we will all be held accountable.

Overall, have a little faith is a heart-warming story worth reading.

Friday, January 08, 2010

Front Door Friday

Here is what's happening outside my front door this Friday. Well, through my front door, because I decided that it was too cold to actually open my front door. As you can see - lots and lots and lots of snow.

The children are loving it - Fridays are our 'no-school' days, so they've been in and out all day, sledding with various friends who have come over. Fortunately, our house has a short, but steep hill in the backyard which provides hours of fun for them without requiring me to actually go outside myself. Yes, I love to look at snow. I don't even mind shoveling it. But I don't have the gear, or inclination, to actually play in it.

I will never claim the title "Fun Mommy," but I'm OK with that. (grin)

Happy Friday!

Thursday, January 07, 2010

The House of Sixty Fathers

Meindert Dejong is probably one of the best children's literature authors you may have never heard of. I had never heard of him before I started using Sonlight's homeschooling curriculum.

Over the past few years, we have read Wheel on the School, Shadrach, and Along Came a Dog in school, so when I saw this year included a Meindert Dejong book, I was excited.

The House of Sixty Fathers is an excellent book. It's set in China during World War II and the Japanese Invasion of China. The back of my copy says it's for children ages 10-14, and I would agree with that.

The main character, Tien Po, is separated from his parents during the war. This book is about his journey to find them and the unexpected help he gives and receives along the way. It is set during a war, so Tien Po witnesses some awful things younger children may not be ready to process.

We finished reading The House of Sixty Fathers this morning. Actually, Anna finished reading it because I couldn't. They thought I couldn't read because I was laughing too hard. Au contraire! I was crying too hard! But I won't tell you why and ruin the ending.

Throughout the entire book, we were trying to figure out why it was called The House of Sixty Fathers. We ventured many guesses, but didn't discover the answer until nearly the last chapter - and then it all made sense.

This is a great book to read aloud to your children if they are 10 or older, unless your child is especially sensitive to emotional distress of separation and fear. My older children and I really enjoyed it.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

The Gate of the Year

I feel like I've begun this year in a blur... between recovering from a big holiday trip, trying to get back into a routine, which was almost immediately broken by a medical procedure yesterday from which I'm still recovering, and then realizing I really, honestly, truly did commit to stepping way outside my comfort zone this year when all I really want to do is hibernate for the winter....

Did you follow all that? It's OK, I didn't either. However, I find much to relate to in this week's poem.

The Gate of the Year
M. Louise Haskins

And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year:
'Give me a light, that I may tread safely into the unknown!'
And he replied:
'Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God.
That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.'

So, I went forth, and finding the Hand of God, trod gladly into the night
And He led me toward the hills and the breaking of day in the lone East.

Here are other selections for Poetry Wednesday, or to post one of your own.

Monday, January 04, 2010

How to Be a Hepburn in a Hilton World

I was intrigued by the title of this little book How to Be a Hepburn in a Hilton World: The Art of Living with Style, Class, and Grace by Jordan Christy. I wasn't sure that anyone could write an entire book on the subject, but I was wrong.

I'm certainly not the target audience for this little book. It was written more for teens and twenty-somethings. However, I did enjoy it. Christy does a great job of giving good reasons for taking care of yourself without buying into the current culture obsession with thin and tiny. She also makes a great case for covering up - choosing clothes that leave something to the imagination instead of bearing all.

Christy covers all aspect of life - dress & style, words, working hard, being a nice person, how to interact with boys, even hair and makeup. She includes little quizzes in several chapters to help readers figure out their style, what colors look best on them, among other things. She offers many practical tips and sound reasoning behind her recommendations.

I enjoyed reading this book, and will seriously consider reading it with my daughters when they get older.

Friday, January 01, 2010


I picked up Loops: The Seven Keys to Small Business Success because I noticed it was co-written by Stephen Lundin, who also co-authored Fish! I absolutely loved Fish! It's a great business book that every small, medium or large business owner or manager should read.

Loops is a small book, and I knew it wouldn't take long to read. I suspected it would be written in the form of a parable, and I was right.

The story centers around a young man who's finishing his junior year in business school. He is given a summer assignment to study a successful businessman, and he decides to study his late father.

The story is a hook, a way to easily get the author's points across in a way that readers will enjoy. So don't expect great character development here, and parts of the story sound quite hokey. But don't let that stop you from reading this book.

In fact, if you're a small business owner, I'd encourage you to read this book with a group of like-minded people. It's a great book for discussion, with application points at the end of each chapter to help you make your business strong and successful. Plan to meet once a week or once a month, and plan on about ten meetings - one for Part One, one for each of the seven loops, and one for the conclusion.

Reading the chapters won't take much time, even if you're a slow reader, but what will make this book powerful is following up and applying the principles to your business.