Saturday, January 29, 2011

Johnny Tremain

Johnny Tremain, by Esther Forbes is a fantastic book! I cannot believe, that as much as I read as a youth, I missed this treasure! I have read it aloud with my daughter in the past, and now  I am reading it aloud with my two sons. We own all three copies and each of us holds one to follow along. We take turns reading aloud, usually about two pages each. Homeschoolers often have good reading comprehension, but their pronunciation of large words is not always accurate because many words aren't commonly heard in everyday language. By following along, each with his own book as we read, the words are seen and heard and the story is shared among us.We laugh at the funny parts and are pulled into the drama of the exciting, and tragic portions.
This book has some wonderful characters. Johnny is an arrogant hothead who is a natural born leader until he is severely injured in a cruel intentional stunt. After meeting Rab, a very calm and cool guy who befriends him, he becomes involved in the behind the scenes planning of the American Revolution. He meets the famous men of Boston like Samuel Adams, John Hancock and Paul Revere and participates in the Boston Tea Party. Throughout  the book he learns a lot about pride and emotional passions, and grows into a better young man because of his experiences.
There are many fine books written for young people that I want to share with my boys. Their days of homeschooling will probably be coming to a close at some point, maybe sooner than later. I intend to make it a high priority to continue on with these read-alouds this year. They are an extremely pleasant way for us to spend time together and so far we are having a wonderful time sharing this tale.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Fronier Culture Museum

The last field trip that I organized for our Homeschool group before I got let go for wearing everybody out, took place on a very sunny, early November day. We drove to Staunton to visit the Frontier Culture Museum.This is another one of  my favorite kinds of attractions- Living History. This museum interprets the everyday life of early settlers of the Shenandoah Valley.

Their newest exhibit is a replica of the African Village that they believe was the home of many of the enslaved people who helped to settle this Valley. Our guide said that he had actually been to Africa and saw these huts before they built them out of mud here.
The African people grew yams, which were like atomic "'sweet potatoes". The kids took turns digging up and mounding a hill for their  yams.
This museum is spread out over a great many acres. At one point, everyone walked as if they had been rounded up and taken from their village to a ship. There was no disrespect meant at all. It was a way to have the kids think about what that might have felt like to live through that.
This place has about 6 different "farms" and homes set up. One is a representation of how the German immigrants lived , another the Irish.They have one American Farm from 1820 and another from later in the nineteenth century.
 This is a "schoolteacher" about to lead us up to the one-room schoolhouse on the hill behind him.
We sat on benches with slates. The girls on one side,
and the boys on the other. He lectured on what a typical school day was like and even gave the kids a few problems to do!
One of the best parts of our tour was the American farm where we discussed the foods the early Valley settlers ate and how they obtained, stored and cooked them. This sweet lady had a fire going and allowed the kids to make donuts.
 This cast iron frying pan on three legs sat over hot banked coals to heat up the lard for cooking.

In the room behind the fireplace was this beautiful quilt on a very large frame.
Upstairs was the bedroom with quilted bedding and a pullout trundle bed.
The fall foliage was still in evidence as we picnicked on the grounds before driving home.
  These pictures were in my camera when I dropped it on the pavement, voiding my warranty. I thought long and hard before buying another one, asking myself if I really needed one. I decided that for the amount of enjoyment I had received from the last one, it would be worth spending the money on another!

Friday, January 21, 2011

Good Reading

      I love to read. I enjoy many kinds of books including historical, multi-generational fiction, and  young peoples' books from the past, particularly the Newberry Award Winners. I have made it a point to read many of the classics and this will take a lifetime to achieve.When I was younger I  enjoyed what I now call "Bodice Rippers" -spicy  love novels. After becoming convicted  by the phrases "You are what you read" and "Garbage In, Garbage Out" I gave those up. At just about the same time, I discovered Catholic fiction.
        One of the first " Catholic " novels I read was Pierced With A Sword  by Bud McFarlane. That was a fantastic story about modern day people who are trying to live their faith and how they impact other people, each other and the culture. I read his next two books as they came out.  Conceived Without Sin  was about marriages as I recall and  House of Gold was a futuristic book about the collapse of society like we feared in Y2K. They were both great!
    I next got into the Michael O'Brien books which a friend of mine owned and lent to me one by one.I read his four novel apocalyptic series Father Elijah , Strangers and Sojourners, Eclipse of the Sun and Plague Journal.These were excellent. Suspenseful and all about the same family trying to live in the end times.
     Since my homeschooling days, I have had the opportunity to read a great many biographies of the saints. Most of these  are written for younger readers but I enjoyed every one of them.  Joan of Arc by Marc Twain, Citadel of God, a novel about St. Benedict, by Louis de Wohl were full length books written for adults and A Story of a Soul, essentially written by St. Therese were also great reads.I just finished the 400 page book Elizabeth Bayley Seton ( St. Elizabeth Ann Seton) the definitive biography written by Annabelle M. Melville. This book was extremely well researched and had 100 pages of footnotes!

       I just purchased Catherine of Siena which is  a novel based on the life of this 15th century saint. It is written by Sigrid Undset.This author is known to me because a few summers ago I read 8 of her books in a row and wished there had been more!  Undset  is a Norwegian convert to Catholicism. Kristen Lavransdatter is a three (thick!) book series about a family in the Middle ages.The Master of Hestviken is a four book series  about a different family at the same time period. All of those I checked out of the library and read by the pool and the lake.I look forward to her story about St. Catherine.

A new Catholic novelist on the scene is Brian J. Gail who wrote Fatherless, pictured above.I read this a few years ago. It is a very modern tale about high finance, advertising executives, sports stars and wayward teenagers all living in the fast lane and their holy parish priest who tries to shepherd them. I just found out that Gail wrote a new book called Motherless. I started that novel this week and it is actually even better written than his previous novel. This book continues on with the same characters. So far, one  is now president of a Women's Hospital and will be facing  ethical dilemmas like dealing with Stem-Cell research. Gail is now writing his third novel in this series, Childless which I am looking forward to.This writer would be very good for a man to read because he talks a lot about business and it is definitely from a man's point of view which is interesting.
      Of course there are so many Catholic books that aren't novels that are also great to read.This summer, I finally took the plunge and became acquainted with the writings of G.K. Chesterton by reading Dale Ahlquist's The Apostle of Common Sense .His book is filled with the quotes from many of his subject's writings.The title says it all but leaves out the fact that Chesterton is as funny as he is  sensible! Chesterton, of course, converted to Catholicism after reading C.S. Lewis and J.R.R.Tolkein. I enjoyed The Screwtape Letters but am not a fan of The Hobbit and The Lord of The Rings.I may give them another try sometime down the road!
        I do my reading in the evenings after dinner. There are usually a few kids reading their own books at the same time. We kick back on the couches and enjoy our own books in the quiet. I love to drink herbal tea  while I read and often have two cups. Sometimes  I put my book down on my lap and spend a few minutes thinking about some idea or concept that became clearer because of what I read. My favorite used book store in town has this quote by someone named Jessamyn West " Fiction reveals truth that reality obscures". I could never express it like that but this says it very well. If this is true, than it makes even more sense to spend my free time reading  not only the classics, but also Catholic novels. I have really found them to illuminate truth, goodness and beauty. They are great stories with memorable characters who are trying to live out their Faith in the time and place they are born into. Reading a good book is not  a waste of my time. On the contrary, it often enriches my faith and my life and is one of the most pleasant things I get to do!  


Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Week-End Getaway

       Larry and I usually celebrate our wedding anniversary by taking a whole day off. When the older kids were young, we used to leave them with Grandma and Grandpa who graciously cared for them so could enjoy our time worry- free. Now we are at the point where we have grown our own babysitters! This year, we celebrated our anniversary by attending the wedding of our daughter! We all joked about  trying to figure out the logistics of  a babysitting swap so that both couples could get away next October. I think we did solve that problem, however, because we chose to take our day off for our birthdays instead, which are a week apart. Our destination : Charlottesville, VA
        Last year, we went to Montpelier, in Madison, VA which is the home of James Madison who wrote the Constitution.This year, we visited Monticello, the home of Thomas Jefferson and the writer of the Declaration of Independence. We last saw this historic place over twenty years ago and I had really been wanting to go again. They have added a Visitor center, a gorgeous gift shop, shuttle buses and a walking trail that goes up the" little mountain" since we were last there. Included was a great museum highlighting the architecture of the building and a 21 screen full wall exhibit on how Jefferson's ideas on Liberty impacted not only the United States but the whole world.
       My biggest concern was to be able to enjoy our time together without wishing that we had brought the kids to share the sights with us. Happily, this turned out to be a non-issue! It was really nice to be able to be together and only concerned with what we wanted to do and see! It was a huge change to be Liz and Larry instead of Mom and Dad. The kids were all happy to see us get on the road and we were excited to take an overnight break.
       I thought that we would use our time in the car to talk over the kids but we didn't. We really just chatted about the scenery. We had a super barbeque lunch at a local restaurant in Sperryville where they smoke their own meats. Ribs, chicken and pulled pork with a side of delicious cole slaw and beans were a feast. We moseyed down the road to Charlottesville and stopped at the Outlet store of a famous Catalog company which sells items for the Plow and Hearth.It was so much fun to browse !!! We looked at everything and didn't buy a thing.
       Monticello was our next stop. We really enjoyed the tour of the house and the gardens. The weather was amazingly pleasant for January. It was about 42 degrees and sunny with no wind on both Saturday and Sunday. It was quite comfortable to be outside with a jacket on.This time of year there were no crowds at all.
Everything was still beautiful outside.
      It was very clear to see that Thomas Jefferson was a remarkable person in his attention to detail and meticulous record keeping. As they described him all I could think was that these days people would consider his behavior OCD like and would recommend medication! He was interested in so many fields; architecture, botany, history, music, art, french cuisine and he could read in many languages. He was only thirty-three when he wrote the Declaration of Independence. Monticello was built over many years while he was away up to 9 months of the year, serving his country. He gave incredibly specific directions on how to build it and they did. I can't even imagine trying to build an arch or dome or the trim work, the dumb waiter system and a clock that (up till recently) is still working two hundred years later.The whole place is beautifully proportioned.
         It was very interesting to note that the African- American people ,100 of them, who worked six days a week from sun-up until sun down are no longer called "slaves" but are now called "enslaved". There is a difference. I hadn't heard this term before but it provided me with food for thought. I deduced that "slave" is a noun. It connotes something which "is". Alternately, "enslaved" is an adjective which connotes a passive state of being but not necessarily a description of the essence of the "is".I found it to be very accurate and a more compassionate way of describing these mistreated human beings upon whose backs all these fancy lifestyles of this time period rest.
         On Sunday morning, we attended Mass at the Catholic Church on the University of Virginia campus.What an absolute treat! The music was great and we both sang every hymn as usual.The priest was a young, huge man from Poland and being a Dominican, preached a fantastic homily. We loved everything about the whole Mass. Something I had never seen before was when the Eucharistic Ministers came up to the altar, they all took some hand sanitizer from a pump and rubbed it into their hands at the same time! Not a bad idea!
         After Mass, we headed back up to the area of Monticello and saw the little outbuildings of Michie's Tavern. We enjoyed a metal work shop that had items in brass,copper,pewter and silver. We didn't buy anything but had fun looking at the candle holders and tankards, serving pieces and jewelery. Next we visited Ashlawn ( also called Highlands, originally), the home of James Monroe. This was a modest farm house with a few additions and many antique pieces of furniture that are from that time period. Our guide was an energetic woman with a vast knowledge of American history and a special appreciation for the role that James Monroe played in it. He and Jefferson were neighbors. We loved seeing the four peafowl there with their beautiful feathers.
       At this point, Larry's knees had taken all the tour lectures that they could handle. It was 5 o'clock and time to head for home. We decided to go home a different way and saw some great mountainous scenery on 64 west to Staunton. We had a delicious dinner at Texas Steakhouse and by God's grace, arrived home safely. All the kids had had a wonderful weekend. Our little weekend getaway was a blast and a great investment in our married life. I hope to enjoy the memories of it throughout the coming year.