Friday, August 29, 2014

Poetry Friday: Mike Aquilina's Terms and Conditions

Mike Aquilina has written about 5,237 books.

We-e-ellll, that may be a wee bit of an exaggeration, but he is admirably prolific. And he doesn't merely crank out information, he writes books that enlighten, inspire, entertain, and educate. Consistently. His output amazes me.

And not only does he consistently publish excellent non-fiction, he's a poet, too.

As in:

"I'll do the 'expert on the Fathers of the Church' thing on Monday, knock off an exploration of ancient Christian symbols on Wednesday, and come Friday I'll pen a charming collection of essays on family life. Saturday? A villanelle, I think."

Except he would never say any of that stuff because he's incredibly humble.

Terms and Conditions: Assorted Poems, 1985-2014Mike's recently published collection, is a treat. Formal forms abound (the title poem is a villanelle, the opening is "Sonnet in Spray Paint") but there is nothing stuffily distant about the work in any way. The content invites us to feast on the meat and wine of family, of spousal love (his poems to and for his wife are especially beautiful), faith and existence, and the everyday business of life, work, and poetry.*

I'm struggling about which poem to highlight, so I think I'll just share a few of my favorite lines:

from "The Poem of the Act of the Mind:"

Nearness is a thing the mind decrees
belying all statistics and the facts.
It scans the far horizons, and it sees
two scattered stars and instantly contracts
a billion miles to make a lion's mane.

from "Pilgrimage":

You are my map, you make a way
I could not know unless you stay. 

from "To Be, or Not":

I toil and spin to seem to have a heart
half-worth your love. To seem is twice the art. 

And if you click over to Dappled Things, you can read "Telecommunications."

I'd better stop there or I'll want to quote the whole book and Mike will have to sue me for copyright infringement. Trust me. You want this book.

Terms and Conditions is available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or you can order it through your local indie bookstore.


Be sure to check out the Poetry Friday round up at Check It Out


*Poetry being, of course, an everyday thing for some of us.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Grateful: Deathbed Conversions won 3rd place in the ACP's Excellence in Publishing Awards

I tweeted and Facebooked this but I know that not everyone tweets or FBs, so I wanted to share the lovely news here, too.

The Association of Catholic Publishers (ACP) announced on Monday that Deathbed Conversions won third place in the biography category of the Excellence in Publishing Awards. I'm thrilled and humbled. Thanks so much to the ACP for the honor. (Of course, the honor and praise really go to God: He worked the conversions ... I simply had the fun of writing about them.)

The press release from the ACP is here.

Thank you, again, to the ACP, and thank you so very much to all of my readers.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

My "Late" Reader, the Reading Tutor

Betsy has started college* and will soon begin her dream job. Her work-study assignment is (drum roll, please): reading tutor in an elementary school. This is a rich and lovely thing indeed, as this is the girl who was my "late" reader.

I never labeled her "late" -- I am not fond of labels. I did realize that she was learning to read in a way that was very different from how Anne-with-an-e had picked up on it. I realized that God had indeed tricked me into homeschooling and that now I had to actually become a creative teacher. (I realized I needed to deliver a satisfying rant to God before I could get back to business. I delivered the rant.) I worried, I researched, I asked friends.

One day, I heard Betsy label herself. "Anne is the reader. I'm not really the reader in our family." My heart sank. I didn't want any of my children to give up on reading before they'd had a chance to embrace it. I resolved to keep reading aloud to her as often as I could (not that I would ever stop reading aloud....) and I simply kept plugging away, exposing her to various ways of learning, waiting for the quintessential click.

The click came.

Here's a post I wrote a few years ago, about Betsy's reading journey:

On Learning to Read, Part II 
(this post originally ran in 2009):

Last week, I talked about how Anne-with-an-learned to read. I came away from my experience with Anne thinking that "teaching reading" was a snap. The only thing required of me was to read to my child, talk, talk, talk, and point out a few phonetic anomalies.

Then came Betsy. Different child, different brain, different wiring. A brand, new experience. I no longer felt like the SuperMom of Homeschooling. Was I doing something wrong?


Betsy, who is every ounce as sharp as Anne-with-an-e, just processed things differently. Initially, though she loved having me read to her and enjoyed our family read-aloud times as much as Anne did, she was not inclined to watch the page and see what the words looked like. At one point, I noticed that rather than watching the page as I read, as Anne had, Betsy watched me, watched my mouth move as I read. Betsy wanted to hear the story, experience it, be a part of it. She was more auditory and kinesthetic than Anne had been, and so reading came to her in a different way.

With Betsy, I took the more traditional route of phonics rules and reinforcement, but I taught it with games:

  • I made simple board games ("Read the word and move ahead three spaces.")
  • I had her tell me a story -- she narrated it to me orally, I wrote it down, then had her copy it onto pages which she then illustrated. She then read her composition ("Jat's Bat" -- I still remember that the cover she made was decorated with glitter) to me again and again.
  • We found Cynthia Rylant's Mr. Putter and Tabby series and Betsy loved it (and so did I.) We read those repeatedly, too, until she was reading them on her own.

This mixed bag of approaches worked, and Betsy began to read, and to love independent reading as much as Anne did. She just had to arrive by a different route, and I had to tune in to what would help her get there.

Today, they are both excellent readers and I don't think anyone would know which of them read "early" and which read "late" (and I'm glad that they didn't have to deal with such labels, which really aren't helpful and can be detrimental.) Though an "early reader" might make things easier on a teacher, the age at which a child reads isn't really important to the child or to her overall journey. She will read when she's ready, and when she's offered the right opportunities to be ready.


Betsy became (and still is) one of the most voracious readers I've ever known. She is also the writer of her own books these days, too. The Jat's Bat legacy lives on. 


*Cue the Hyperventilation-of-Disbelief

Sunday, August 24, 2014

What Would I Tweet If I Didn't Have Offspring?


Betsy: "Ramona, remember that video we made once? You were wearing that frilly white dress and getting married to Pooh Bear? But you kept running away."

Ramona: "I was only three!"

Betsy: "Obviously, though, you didn't want to marry Pooh Bear."

Ramona: "What did Pooh Bear have to offer me?"


Anne-with-an-e and I were reminiscing about her days of orthodontia. The poor girl endured four years of braces and various, accompanying tortures. 

"There should've been a rewards program -- I deserved some kind of Orthodontic Rewards Card," she said. 


"Hey, Mom, aren't you going to tweet something about me?" asked Betsy. 

"Say something witty and I will," I replied. 

"'It is better to be without wits than to apply them as you do!'" she quoted at me. 

(Quoting Jane Austen and delivering a well-placed shot fits the bill. Well done, you!) 


Friday, August 22, 2014

Poetry Friday

This one felt just right for this week of hours -- hours with Ramona, sisters off to college, old ways, new ways. Hours of planning, hours of remembering, hours looking ahead. Hours of excitement and memory, anticipation and wondering. Hours we've lived and hours not yet known. Good stuff, all of it. 

And thanks to for leading me to Hazel Hall.

by Hazel Hall

I have known hours built like cities,
House on grey house, with streets between
That lead to straggling roads and trail off,
Forgotten in a field of green;

Hours made like mountains lifting
White crests out of the fog and rain,
And woven of forbidden music—
Hours eternal in their pain.

Life is a tapestry of hours
Forever mellowing in tone,
Where all things blend, even the longing
For hours I have never known.


Irene Latham is pinch-hitting (pinch-hosting?) Poetry Friday today at Live Your Poem.

* "Hours" is in the public domain.

Photo courtesy of artirme at FreeImages

Thursday, August 21, 2014

World War II With Ramona

Ramona and I have been talking about what we want to read and study this year, and one thing we've settled on is World War II. Anne-with-an-e was twelve and Betsy was about ten when we first studied World War II. Now that Ramona is twelve (gulp), I think it's a great time to dive in to the time period with her, too.

We'll start with all the great historical fiction I read to Anne and Betsy:

* Novels:

Twenty and Ten
Number the Stars 
The Borrowed House
When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit (and a second post on that book)
The Winged Watchman
Snow Treasure
Escape from Warsaw
The Little Riders
My Friend the Enemy

* Picture Books:

Boxes for Katje
Always Remember Me
The Orphans of Normandy
Home of the Brave 
So Far From the Sea
The Bracelet
Baseball Saved Us
The Greatest Skating Race
The Yellow Star
One Thousand Tracings

* Here's a link to a post that addresses "How We Handle World War II."

It includes some more book ideas, such as Welcome to Molly's WorldTomie de Paola's I'm Still ScaredThe Young Life of Pope John Paul II and Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl.

That's just the beginning. I need to comb my archives for more books and ideas.

Looks like we have a full year ahead of us.

Monday, August 18, 2014

A quote from St. Jane Frances de Chantal on her feast day

"If we patiently accept through love all that God allows to happen, then we will begin to taste even here on earth something of the delights the saints experience in heaven. But for this we must serve God willingly and lovingly, seeking to obey the Divine Will rather than to follow our own inclinations and desires. For the perfection of love demands that we desire for ourselves only whatever God wills. Let us implore the good God unceasingly to grant us this grace!"

~~ St. Jane Frances de Chantal

And one from her spiritual director, St. Francis de Sales:

"It is far better to do a few things well than undertake many good works and leave them half-done."

A Review: Momnipotent

Just reviewed Danielle Bean's newest, Momnipotent, over at Amazon. Here's what I said: 

Danielle Bean speaks to the hearts and souls of so many women. We know we're not perfect, and Danielle cheerfully acknowledges that she isn't either. That's what makes her such an appealing messenger. We all have an "I was a mean, scary-face mommy that day" story and when she recounts hers, we can laugh, tear up, nod. Conversely, when she shares the things about motherhood that are stunning and amazing, when she points us toward ideals and ways to strive toward them (with reason, balance, and charity always) we nod again, and are grateful.
"It is not good for man to be alone," God said in Genesis. It's not good for moms to be alone either. In these pages, you'll be reminded that you are not flying solo.

I particularly enjoyed the way she opened each chapter with both a strength and a counterpoint -- the weakness that can result from a rigid pursuit or practice of that strength.

Real, funny, touching and encouraging.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Poetry Friday: What We Need

"What We Need" by David Budbill is too short (copyright issues, you know!) for me to post even a snippet of it without permission, so I'll send you straight over to The Writer's Almanac.

It's what you need today.


Heidi Mordhorst has the Poetry Friday round up at My Juicy Little Universe. 

The Doctor, Vincent, and Me

I'm late (as I am for everything. I need to have a Late to the Party category for the blog) jumping on the Dr. Who bandwagon. Or rather, Tardis-Wagon. Band-Tardis?

I finally started watching. I'm on Season 5, Eleventh Doctor, Matt Smith. I really struggled through the first/Eccleston season (okay, I know it's not the first season of all time and relative dimension but you know what I mean) and I only persevered because my daughters assured me that soon all would be well and better than well.


It took me awhile because at first I was just so irritated by cheesy effects and slimy monsters. The Daleks drove me batty and I wasn't having much fun with the Cybermen either. Goo and metal? That's all you've got, Universe?

But somewhere around the intersection of David Tennant and Rose, at the corner of Martha and Donna, something clicked. I stopped saying, "Are you sure this will get better? I mean, yeah, I liked that one about Rose and her father, and 'The Empty Child' haunted and touched, but...." and I began to sheepishly murmur, "I think I kind of completely love this show." Sometimes I'd add, "Except when it's slimy. Can we have more time travel, please?" Then River Song would show up, totally out of time-sync, and I'm all, "That's what I'm talkin' about."

I'm still moving slowly through it, as I watch only when I'm working out. (Clearly, I don't work out enough.) At any rate, yesterday I watched "Vincent and the Doctor." Yes, I knew I was being emotionally manipulated ...

... but I didn't care one bit.

I began to love Vincent Van Gogh  -- when? I can't even remember exactly when it started. I love him the way I love coffee and breathing. He just is, has always been. He was the first artist who spoke to my heart on a level I couldn't articulate. My tattered copy of Dear Theo: The Autobiography of Vincent Van Gogh still lives on a bookshelf, having survived a number of book purges over the years. I have more books about Van Gogh than anyone needs. I didn't see his work in person until I was in my 40s, and I remember the moment vividly. The beauty I had detected in two dimensions -- on posters and in books -- leapt to life, blazing. The strokes, the texture, the color... I couldn't stop the tears. The painting wasn't even a favorite, and it was certainly a sedate one by all standards. Still.

(If you're late to everything, too, and haven't seen the episode, and don't want spoilers, stop reading now....)

Obviously I was fully primed for this episode to touch me and it did, hitting all the right chords -- exploring what is inexplicable about art and beauty, cocking its head to see how an artist experiences the world, eliciting sighs at the picture of lying in a field, holding hands with your best friend and Vincent, looking up at a starry sky, considering how we are connected.

Perhaps the most significant detail for me was the episode's monster. Sometimes, with Dr. Who, I think, do we have to have a monster? Can't we just time-travel today?

But ... an invisible monster that only Van Gogh could see? As a depression metaphor, it was a brilliant little detail that touched me as Van Gogh touches me: quietly, and with tears. It was the only kind of monster that would or should work with a Vincent episode, and it was the monster that, despite their attempts to cheer and assure him, The Doctor and Amy couldn't fully vanquish either.

I think I kind of completely love this show.

I have to go work out now.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

In Which I Am Once Again the Cook

photo thanks to freeimages

Atticus has gone back to school which means I am forced to head back to the kitchen.

Can you say, "Sad Woman"?*

Atticus is more the Chef variety of cook than I am. I am quite often the Get something on the table at the end of the day -- something which I hope approximates a meal variety of cook. And the dirty as few dishes as possible kind of cook. I do like to bake, but you can't have cookies or Lucia bread every night.

My first day back in the kitchen looked something like this:

"What can I make for dinner tonight?
Hmmm, lemme look in the freezer.
Oh! Atticus's leftover grilled chicken.
And, oooh! A couple pieces of his fried chicken.
Chicken salad, here we come.
Ah, look! His red sauce. I can make pasta soon!"

Yeah, we are living off his spoils this week, but soon I'll have to get serious and pull out some pots and pans.


*Of course I'm sad for other reasons, too, like missing my husband. It's not just the cooking and the never-having-to-think-about-what's-for-dinner. But today, I have chosen to kvetch about cooking, okay? So we'll leave the mushy part of missing-him out of it.

Friday, August 08, 2014

Poetry Friday: "I could never have dreamt that there were such goings-on in the world between the covers of books...."

This week really got away from me. I meant to blog all week, but we've been cleaning and decluttering and getting ready for a new school year. I bought a new bookcase, moved a bookcase to the basement, and we came up with a bunch of bags of books to haul away.

Not a poetry book among them. I guess I'm hanging on to all of the poetry. (And too many other books, too, apparently, because we still don't have enough shelf space.)

But I forgive and re-forgive myself for my book habits, because ... well, as Dylan Thomas said:

I could never have dreamt that there were such goings-on in the world between the covers of books, such sandstorms and ice blasts of words, such slashing of humbug, and humbug, too, such staggering peace, such enormous laughter, such and so many blinding bright lights breaking across the just-awaking wits and splashing all over the pages in a million bits and pieces all of which were words, words, words, and each of which was alive forever in its own delight and glory and oddity and light.


The Poetry Friday round up is at Mary Lee's A Year of Reading

Monday, August 04, 2014

And Then There's Math

I watched this TED talk awhile back, and then a friend of mine recently reminded me of it and I watched it again. I love this guy because he sums up my philosophy about how to approach math in our homeschool.