Thursday, December 23, 2010

Dear Lili: Three Months

Dear Lili,

First of all, you're three months old today and I am not happy about it. Let me explain that, since of course I am happy that you're growing, nay thriving. I am not happy about it because you seem determined not to be a newborn any more. Three months is serious, is what your eyes are telling me. I can just hear you, in your babble, echoing one of your big sisters (Sweet Pea): "Mom, I'm big now. I really am."

This has been a fun month. You got to meet your new cousin (henceforth, for the purposes of this blog, to be known as "Roo"). We anticipate much fun and many humorous antics from Lili and Roo in the future.
Then there's all the Christmas stuff.

You've managed to contain your excitement pretty well. However, twinkle lights? Love. You are all about the sparkly, shiny lights and ornaments. I'm guessing you'll be into jewelry in a big way once you're older.

You had a horrible experience this month: somehow a hair got wrapped around two of the toes on your left foot. We cut the thread and rushed you to the doctor (did I mention there was about a foot of snow on the ground?). It wasn't a fun experience for any of us, but it turns out Mommy and Daddy had already rescued your toe and didn't know it. The doctor put you on an antibiotic and told us to put antibiotic cream on your toes. By the next day, it was already looking better. And no, we didn't take any pictures of it.

We didn't get any pictures of Daddy in the doctor's office either, although I wish we could have. It would prove that I'm not the only one that gets woozy when any of you girls gets hurt.

Anyway, despite that one scary episode, you've had a pretty good month. You love your sisters and you love to be right in the middle of them, watching them play. It won't be long before you can play too!

Until then, I hope we have lots more of this in our future:

'Cause it's pretty much my favorite thing to do. All twelve pounds of you are just as perfectly snugly and kissable as the day you were born.


Monday, December 20, 2010

Happy Birthday Polly!

Dear Polly,

You're nine years old today. I know, I can't believe it either. The last year of single digits!

These are qualities I already see in you at this young age: faith, grace, compassion, intelligence, humor and an excitement each morning for what the day might hold.

You've won the hearts of the dentists and nurses who are helping you with fixing up your mouth after that horrible day when we thought your tooth was gone forever. They love your attitude and, yes, I know you're nine but they all talk about how cute you are.

Because you are, Polly. You are absolutely one of my favorite people on this planet, and I could be wrong, but I think I would say that even if you weren't my daughter.

The day you were born was one of the best days of my life. I'm sorry your dad and I have had to learn how to be Dad and Mom at your expense sometimes. You've handled it well.

So, many happy returns of the day, my not-so-little one. You'll always be my baby, even when you're taller than I (and it looks like that day may come sooner rather than later, much to your joy).


A post script for anyone else that may read this confidential (yeah, right) letter to Polly: please continue to pray for Polly's tooth. She had another dentist appointment this morning and they're concerned about some things they saw. She has at least two more appointments in the next month, including an x-ray to check that spot again. Unfortunately, they have now made us aware of the possibility that she could still lose the tooth entirely. Not what we wanted to hear on her birthday but we are hoping and praying for the best!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The 12 Days of Christmas...Among Other Things

Favorite Reads - Christmas Storybooks

1. A Christmas Alphabet [Clothbound boxed edition]A Christmas Alphabet. Illustrated by twenty-seven vintage illustrations. We especially love the Jessie Wilcox Smith art. Ours is a well-loved discarded library copy. I originally bought it thinking I might use some of the pages to frame as art for the girls' room but they wouldn't let me take it apart!

2. The Christmas Day KittenThe Christmas Day Kitten by James Herriot.Once again, ours is a former library copy but the paperback copies of this are quite affordable. The girls love this story and ask for it often. So sweet and the illustrations are so rich it almost makes me want a cat. Almost.

3. Peter Spier's ChristmasPeter Spier's Christmas! We just discovered this one this year at the library. Wordless, with amazingly detailed pictures that invite you to create your own story.

4. The Church Mice at Christmas by Graham Oakley. A bit long for a picture book but very enjoyable story and more amazingly detailed pictures make it worth the effort. These books are hard to find but it's well worth checking your library.

5. BABOUSHKA AND THE THREE KINGS ADAPTED FROM A RUSSIAN FOLK TALEBaboushka and the Three Kings by Ruth Robbins. This is a Russian folk tale that Polly read for history last year. Includes music at the back, just in case you're inclined to sing the tale. Another version of the story that we found at our library: Babushka by Charles Mikolaycak. The girls prefer these illustrations to the stylized ones in the Robbins version.

Last, but definitely not least, our favorite:

6. The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey with CD: Gift EditionThe Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey. By Susan Wojciechowski, illustrated by P.J. Lynch. This picture is different from ours but I hope it's the same other than that. This book is so beautiful. The story just about makes me cry and I very rarely feel that way about a book! The art is deep and rich. Lovely!

This post contains Amazon Associate links. Any action taken with these links could result in compensation for me. Opinions are my own and I encourage you to check your library or Paperback Swap first - these books are worth it! 

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Favorite Reads - Christmas Treasuries

1. The Family Read-aloud Christmas TreasuryThe Family Read-Aloud Christmas Treasury Selected by Alice Low. We bought our copy of this at a library sale when Polly was young. Contains such favorite stories as Ramona and the Three Wise Persons by Beverly Cleary, The Elves and the Shoemaker, Uncle Wiggily's Christmas and Emmet Otter's Jug Band Christmas. Lots of poems too, including our favorite Trouble With Pies by David McCord. The girls enjoy the childishly fun pictures (this is illustrated by Marc Brown who also does the Arthur books).

2. The Anne of Green Gables Christmas TreasuryThe Anne of Green Gables Christmas Treasury by Carolyn Strom Collins & Christina Wyss Eriksson. Beautifully illustrated and just as fun as the first Anne of Green Gables Treasury. Designed for older children with ideas for decorations, gifts, games and a dinner (including a recipe for Mrs. Lynde's Plum Pudding!).

3. A Child's Christmas Treasury. Compiled by Mark Daniel. Beautiful art work alongside poems, songs, and selections from classic stories.

Not a treasury but I'll mention it here anyway:

4. Child's Christmas in Wales, AA Child's Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas. Illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman. I love the illustrations in this version, both full color and black and white. A bit long to read at one sitting, but enjoyable nonetheless.

This post contains Amazon Associate links. Any action taken with these links could result in compensation for me. Opinions are my own and I encourage you to check your library or paperback swap first - these books are worth it!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

A Lost Art and Why It Matters

Last night was our Christmas program for our kids' ministry at church. The program usually consists of a few songs (instrumentals by the kids and singing as a choir) and a short reading. This year Prince Charming adapted some excerpts from The Jesus Storybook Bible (a book we highly recommend, by the way) to be read aloud to the congregation.

Due to our experience of the past few years, we knew we wanted only three readers. The sad reason for this is most kids are just not capable of reading aloud. I don't say that to judge them but I do find their education wanting in this respect. We tried to avoid having one of our girls do the reading (not wanting the evening to be turned into a Polly & Tigger Christmas Extravaganza) but one of our best readers (a 6th grade student) had a conflict and couldn't come, so Polly got called up.

Polly is in Fourth Grade. She is only 8 (until Monday, when my baby will be -gasp- nine). And I'm not saying this to brag, but the girl can read. Tigger just turned 6 and her reading skills are not quite as good as her sister's...yet. She's getting there. The really crazy thing is Tigger's reading aloud skills are almost as good as most of the fifth and sixth graders in our Wednesday night ministry.

I'm not kidding. When I coached the kids who wanted to try for our reading jobs this year, I had to tell sixth graders such obvious (to me) tips like:

"A period means you stop. Take a breath."
"A comma means you pause."
"A question mark means your voice should raise a bit at the end of the sentence."
"An exclamation point means you should sound excited!"
"Don't rush. We need to hear the words."
"Only read what's written." (For a child who continually made the same grammatical mistake even though the paper in front of her was grammatically correct.)

So, how can the apparently lost skill of reading aloud be taught? Here's what I think helps:

1. Read aloud to our children. With expression. With excitement for what will happen next in the story. I'm not saying you have to do all the voices, but if you feel up to it, it's fun! Prince Charming and I both read to the girls. Sometimes I'm reading a chapter book to the older two and he reads storybooks to the younger two. Sometimes we switch. We haven't quite graduated to the entire family listening to one read aloud yet but we want to do that too.

2. Books on c.d. Our girls have several books on c.d. and cassette that they listen to, along with the Focus on the Family Radio Theatre version of The Chronicles of Narnia. They have listened over and over again to these since our family has "quiet time" every day when they must be in their beds but can listen to these c.d.s. This also enables them to listen to stories that are slightly above their reading level. (For instance, Polly was well acquainted with Anne of Green Gables because of a book on c.d. long before she could attempt to read the book herself.)

3. Have children read aloud as soon as they've mastered the basics of reading. Tigger reads aloud to her sister Sweet Pea almost every night. This isn't something we've asked her to do, she just wanted to do it. Prince Charming and I were amazed the first time we peeked in their room and saw Sweet Pea hanging on Tigger's every word, since those two sisters are usually somewhat antagonistic toward each other. Apparently that's all forgotten at night when "reading time" starts. Everyone likes to read to an appreciative audience. Tigger started by reading to our borrowed dog, Onyx. (I guess Onyx was good training for what it would be like to read to an active, three-year-old little sister...)

I was proud of all our kids last night. They sang enthusiastically. They sounded sweet, if nervous, for the reading. They behaved well. And that's quite an achievement for 58 bustling youngsters.

But this is what worries me: learning about God requires reading. God gave us His word; the Bible is God's gift to us. What happens when these kids can't read? They have to take our word for what God says. And our goal ought to be for them to be like the Bereans and search the scriptures for themselves. So we'll keep coaching them on Wednesday nights. We'll have them memorize scripture. And we'll keep repeating, "A comma means you pause," when we have to. Because it matters.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

People, Plots and Prose: A Dickens of a Time

I finished my Charles Dickens personal challenge in the past week. (Feel like I should say, "Rejoice with me!" But that might be carrying the point too far.)

I intended to read all 15 published novels, including the last, unfinished one, in chronological order. I finished Pickwick Papers (the first novel) way back in September 16, 2009 and I finished the last (The Mystery of Edwin Drood) December 12, 2010. I did not read his short stories, published articles or non-fiction writing.

Prince Charming told a woman about this feat of reading the other day. She just looked at me. "Why?" The only (unsatisfactory) answer I could come up with was, "Because I thought I ought to."

So here I am, a self-confessed  Dickens, if not quite hater, then a "not getting the point-er". And I think I may finally get the point(s):

1. The People. Each book has memorable characters, from Sam in Pickwick to Mr. Grewgious in Edwin Drood. Many times the best written characters are not the eponymous ones (i.e. The Adventures of Oliver Twist or The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby).

2. The Humor. Some books seem wittier than others, but that could be due to changing times as much as anything else. Many times the wit is manifested in character names, for example: The Veneerings of Our Mutual Friend.

3. The Spot-on Observation of Life.  Quotes like the following illustrate what I mean:
" being quite impossible that any difference of opinion can take place among women without every woman who is within hearing taking active part in it..." - from The Life and Adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit
"[T]hroughout life, our worst weaknesses and meannesses are usually committed for the sake of the people whom we most despise." -from Great Expectations
Don't get me wrong, I am not yet a Dickens acolyte. There are several reasons for this, too:

1. The Plots. Specifically, the lack of them. Some books are worse than others in this respect (Pickwick Papers and The Old Curiosity Shop come instantly to mind). Some of the "twists" come across as cliche or obvious in our spoiled times but this is probably not always Dickens' fault, since he came before most of the literature that has turned certain plot twists into cliches.

2. The Wordiness. This is not Hemingway, to say the least. Dickens never used one word where three or four would also work (he would hate Twitter, I expect). There are at least two exceptions to this: Hard Times which is succinct and does not indulge in the multiple entwined story-lines Dickens often produced and The Mystery of Edwin Drood which is fast paced and immediately draws the reader in, which only increases regret over its not being complete.

3. The Sentimentality. I don't think Dickens ever met a death scene he didn't love. Also, in his earlier works his female characters are either Very Good or Absolutely Bad. This continues, to some extent, in most of the books but a few of his female characters do manage to escape this fate.

So, I am much more likely to pick up a Dickens' novel for enjoyment now. There are a couple I actually want to read again to see if I get a bit more from them now (Our Mutual Friend and Bleak House come readily to mind). And there are at least two I will never read again unless there's nothing else to read or someone convinces me I should (Pickwick Papers and The Old Curiosity Shop).

My only real question now is: what sort of reading challenge should I try now? I'm open to suggestions.

Friday, December 10, 2010

The Twelve Days of Christmas

Warning: This post contains Amazon Associate links. Any action taken with these links could result in compensation for me. Opinions are my own and I encourage you to check your library or paperback swap first - these books are worth it!
The Twelve Days of Christmas : A Pop-Up Celebration
There are several great versions of this, both musical and printed. Here are a few of our favorites (note: these are Amazon Associate links. Using these links may result in financial compensation for me):

The Twelve Days of Christmas: A Celebration and History. By Leigh Grant.Gorgeous illustrations, with extensive information at the back about each gift. Hard to find now (ours is a discarded library copy). This would be a great book to use in a homeschool unit study about Christmas. Hmm, we may need to do this next year. Unfortunately for my kids, unit studies are not really my thing but we could pull one off if I planned it right.

The Twelve Days of Christmas. By Louise Brierley. Lovely illustrations, simple text of the song.

The Twelve Days of Christmas.  By Robert Sabuda. A favorite! My girls love this book so much, I suspect we will have to buy another copy to replace our increasingly "well-loved" one.

And then, there are the musical versions. It seems like nearly every artist you can think of has recorded a version of this song. But here are a few favorites:

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Can't Talk Now

Very busy.
Tree decorating - check
Gingerbread making and eating - check
Downtown trip to Children's Theatre - check
Trip to see train display - check
Freezing faces off- check (OK, I exaggerate but it was cold downtown today!)

But today wouldn't be complete without telling my little sister (the one that is actually taller than I):

Happy Birthday!

Please note, from this point on you're catching up with me in age, as I intend to stay the same age on my next birthday. Someday we'll be 29 together. Won't that be fun?

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Christmas Is Coming

And that means music. Lots of music! One of my favorite albums in recent years (as opposed my old favorites Bing Crosby or Perry Como) is the1993 Harry Connick, Jr. album, When My Heart Finds Christmas. Here's one song from that album that deserves to be better known:

Previous posts about Christmas music can be found here (least favorite lyrics), here (two versions of a favorite song) and here (some favorite albums).

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Books of 2010 - November

First of all, can you believe it's December already? I can tell I'm getting older, because every year seems to go faster than the one before.

Second, I can't post this without mentioning that Prince Charming and I have a new nephew. He was born this morning, several states away, so we haven't seen or held him yet. That should happen tomorrow, I think. We can't wait - I don't know if I've mentioned it before or not but nephews are awesome. OK, I probably have mentioned it at least once a month since Fen arrived.

Third, lots of traveling and holidays and new babies are not situations conducive to reading. That said, here's the list:

101 Places Not to See Before You Die1.101 Places Not to See Before You Die. Non-fiction by Catherine Price. Because there are already too many books telling places I must see and this book eases the pressure. Also, it's very funny.

How to Unspoil Your Child Fast: A Speedy, Complete Guide to Contented Children and Happy Parents2.How To Unspoil Your Child Fast. Non-fiction by Richard Bromfield. Not that any of our children are particularly spoiled, per se, but it's good to have a reminder that we are on the right parenting path. Quick, helpful read.

3. 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think. Non-fiction by Laura Vanderkam. Prince Charming read this book first. (His review is here.) This is a very helpful antidote to some pernicious thinking patterns (If I only had more time; I don't know how she gets it all done, etc.) The practice of keeping track of how you spend all your hours for one week is eye opening. Or at least Prince Charming tells me it is. I haven't actually done it yet (I'm pretty sure it would be horribly convicting) but I've implemented several suggestions from this book and tried to be more "on purpose" with my time, just as we are with our money. Highly recommended!

4.Hitler's Holy Relics: A True Story of Nazi Plunder and the Race to Recover the Crown Jewels of the Holy Roman Empire Hitler's Holy Relics. Non-fiction by Sidney Kirkpatrick. This book is somewhat related to The Monuments Men book I read back in March. This book deals with a certain set of priceless antiques with a mystical hold on Hitler and the German people. Fascinating stuff here. Also, it must be said, slightly creepy. Special towers over places for Nazi ceremonies based on ancient pagan worship practices? Like I said, creepy.

5. Confessions of an Organized Homemaker. Non-fiction by Deniece Schofield. I've seen this book and author mentioned on other blogs but this is the only book by this author that our library had available. Good ideas. It's always embarrassing to list titles like this, lest you think we live in a pig sty. We don't, but our house isn't much bigger than one and we need all the tricks and hints we can get for decluttering and organizing.

6. Our Mutual Friend (Oxford World's Classics)Our Mutual Friend. Fiction by Charles Dickens. Yes, dear friends, I have at last finished all the Dickens books that he finished. I still plan to read The Mystery of Edwin Drood, but that's it (Dickens died before completing it). Our Mutual Friend has some good story lines and memorable characters but it could stand to be abridged and it wouldn't lose anything. The beginning is ponderous. The ending seems abrupt after reading so long. There's some genuine humor and wit. One senses a bit of wistfulness on Dickens' part concerning father-daughter relations (I believe he and his eldest daughter had something of a falling out) and there are the usual over-dramatic death scenes. Well worth reading, if only once. (Side note: I read a different edition than the one pictured above.)

Totals for November:
Non-fiction: 5
Fiction: 1
Dickens completed: 1 (with one unfinished novel to go)

This post contains Amazon Associate links. I may receive compensation if you choose to follow these links. As ever, all opinions concerning the aforementioned books are my own.