Friday, January 31, 2014

Reading Goals for 2014

In my childhood, reading was the favored activity. From dawn to dusk any free time I had found me nose deep in a book. For several years I could read one a day. As my free time grew less and the books became more challenging (i.e. non-fiction) I went through one a week, give or take. And of course I learned about having multiple books stacked next to the bed all of which I was reading.
However, the past two years of motherhood, marriage, and generally living life left me with a shorter stack of books, and taking a lot longer to work through them. Last year I overwhelmed myself with a long list of books to be read in 2013, along with deadlines for finishing them. By mid-year I was frustrated whenever I sat down to read, and unable to focus on a once-loved activity. So I stopped reading my books and just read to my wee ones. Hardly stimulating material.

Throughout last autumn I learned a lot about how to say "no" to the world outside. This left me with a great deal of time that had hitherto been filled by church, extended family, Facebook, Pinterest, etc. And I found I could read again. Not the way I used too; after all I have a home to care for and children to invest in. I found I could read about two books a month. So in early January I made a list of books I would like to read. Books we have been given, books recommended, books that have sat on our shelves untouched, books borrowed. I organized by subject/genre, then picked three for January and three for February. And that is about as far as I have planned. I picked books that felt relevant to the needs of the hour. As the month draws to a close, I am trying to remember that it is not about finishing the final chapters of each book in a late night cram. It is about learning when to say "no"; to reading, to events, to outings, to the Internet. The needs of my life are my husband, two toddlers, and pregnancy. I can't do every good activity, clean every room, read every good book I hear of. But I am happy with how my reading is going so far. It is nice to pick up a book and read a page or two. Right now, it is not about finishing a check list. It is about choosing the best things over the good ones.

So did I read in January?

This has been a slow read, and more of a reference book. I am about half way through. It was passed on to me a while back by my sister-in-law. I picked it as a stimulator for ideas on managing my little family as we move out of the baby years. The author has a great deal of helpful thoughts. It is the small things that I that give me "Aha!" moments. Since I have a natural bent to organization, and was raised by an organized mother, the book feels like a repeat of things I already know. But I would recommend it to those who are looking for help in managing their homes.

Nearly at the end of this and I think I might need to read it all over again. This book was a gift last spring, but was so timely for right now as I re-evaluate a my stage of life.
I also have been reading Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice as part of a large blog community.
Jane Austen and Motherhood is the reflective theme. It is fun to re-read this classic as a wife and mother. Whole new set of thoughts than when I was unmarried. The plan is to read through all six Austen novels this year. It is nice to have some familiar fiction to pick up now and then.

Those were the books I set out to read. A couple of bonuses came from a trip to the library.
This cookbook is now on my wish list. In the past month I learned a huge amount about making sourdough, a super simple pretzel recipe (Ethan loved making those) and successfully made croissants.
I picked up an audio copy of Wind in the Willows from the library, borrowed a beautifully illustrated version from my parents, and Ethan and I have enjoyed the adventures of Mole, Rat, Mr. Toad, and Badger over the past month. It was pleasant way to replace Netflix, and I hope I can find more stories to enjoy with my wee ones.
Along the lines of learning to say "no": The Art of Simple: To Don't Do, is a very encouraging article. I hope you are all settling well into whatever goals you made for 2014.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Some Things I Let My Children Watch

As a follow-up to this post I thought I might share some of the media I have chosen to let my kids watch and why. Ethan took a while to learn how to sit through movies, and Saoirse is slow to learn too. But I did make Netflix a daily babysitter during the past holiday season. Now I am trying to cut back on my children's TV time. We don't actually own a television so the solution was quite simple. Move the laptop from the living area to the master bedroom. This made it more inaccessible to me, and for Ethan became an "out of sight, out of mind." Still, there are times when I really appreciate the work time that Netflix gives me. So I pull the computer out and pull up my list of chosen shows.

Since my children are so young, I have a lot of control of what they watch. I pick the shows and one of my standards is: do I want to hear this? I will admit Thomas the Train drives me nuts, so does Daniel Tiger. So my children remain unfamiliar with the otherwise beloved characters.

 Topping the list of shows I can tolerate in the background is Curious George.

Ethan's absolute favorite show is Curious George. And he has learned a lot from the busy monkey, impressing his father with knowledge about car washes and rockets, as well as special dance steps (quick, quick, slow). I appreciate the shows upbeat nature and the encouraging of helpfulness and admiration of what is right under your nose. Fostering a love of animals, interest in nature, eagerness to learn, and exposure to a variety of interests, i.e. the symphony, gymnastics, magnets, are all regular parts of this darling show. I have no idea how many times Ethan has seen every single episode, but he sure does like it!
 Another favorite show is Justin Time. The shows focus on history and cultural geography is really neat. The main character's imagination takes him from ancient China, Egypt, and Greece to building skyscrapers in New York, visiting the Eiffel tower, and traveling through various parts of the North American continent. As a history buff, I love introducing my son to the past through this simple, yet exciting show. Ethan's developed an interest in Vikings and sailing in general from this show.

You can't have a fireman in the house and not watch firefighter shows. Fireman Sam is a courageous hero and helpful neighbor. I love watching Ethan get excited about danger and hear him yell advice to the characters in this British series.
Although Saoirse has yet to develop any particular interests, I enjoy the Tinker Bell movies and hope she will too. Not quite the same fairy as J.M. Barrie originally created, she is none the less a delightful character. She often learns things the hard way, but is ever ready to admit her mistakes. The realm of tiny creatures holds great enchantment and fascination to me, and I have a feeling Saoirse will readily enter into the charm of fairy houses and grass dolls when she gets a little older.
The list would be incomplete if Winnie-the-Pooh were absent. Call me nostalgic and old-fashioned, but I enjoy the classic tales of A.A. Milne very much. I recall my own childish imaginings of The Hundred Acre Wood and how I wished to roam it. I should like to think my children are beginning their own imaginings in this classic setting.
So this is what I have given my children to watch. The is filled with simple, wholesome education. Shows that hopefully teach them about the excitement in the world around them. I want to have curious children, I want them to travel around the world and through time, I want them to be brave and ready to help others, I want them to love the beautiful Creation we are surrounded by. I think I have chosen the right shows to encourage their growing minds.


Friday, January 24, 2014

Frozen: How We Choose What Let Our Children Watch

Sometimes it is hard to choose what to watch. Children's films can have a powerful influence on their little minds. Sometimes it is nice to just watch a movie without thinking about it's potential damage to attitudes.

Most recently we have met Princess Anna and Queen Elsa from the Nordic lands of Frozen.
Personally, I loved the film. I loved the Norwegian designs, the mountains, the fjord. It seems to be in my blood,. and I know it is my heritage. So I was naturally drawn to it. The dirndl style dresses, thick braids, and beautiful fjord scenery were pulled me in, while the lovable and gallant snowman Olaf made certain I thoroughly enjoyed the film. On the surface, it was a delightful film and made a late night date with my husband very pleasant. I intend to own a copy of the film and I hope that Saoirse will grow up wanting watch the two sisters and play princess.

My husband and I often discuss our household movie standards. We each grew up in homeschooling families with vastly different perspectives. We have known those who avoid movie theaters, those who ban Disney, talking animals, sci-fi, romances, people who watch TV shows, and those who favor documentaries, etc, etc. As Christians we do want to be conscious of what we watch and how often. Yet we are tired of the everlasting debate and fuss that seems to accompany so many discussions. Unless you watch no movies at all, there seems to be no way to avoid some inconsistency in your standards.

There are certain groups who would have us watch every movie with a list of questions, usually theological in nature. Others want to analyze teaching moments, pausing the film for family discussion. Certainly there are times for this. But my children are toddlers! I am not going to pause Winnie-the-Pooh to tell my son that the bear stuffed with fluff has stress issues that he seeks to relieve with sweets. From a psychological and theological stand point we border on the ridiculous by our constant stress over what they might learn.

And let's not forget the left-wing feminist, speaking out against the Disney model for doe-eyed, slender-waisted princesses. Goodness, we wouldn't want girls to think that being pretty is even remotely possible!
And boys can never learn to be chivalrous, and girls cannot expect such things! How poorly Disney prepares us for reality!

What a lot of nonsense!

So how do we decide if a certain movie is allowed or not? Honestly, we have not fully resolved that issue yet. But so far we do believe that it is a personal preference matter. The Bible has nothing specific to address our reading, television, or movies. The general guidelines that Roman and I use come from these two verses:
Philippians 4:8
Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything is worthy of praise, dwell on these things.

I Corinthians 10:31
Whether then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.

Our children are young, they delight in very simple things and they understand things from a far more innocently open perspective than our cluttered adult minds. They are still sinners yes, but not experienced ones. I watch how they are influenced by books, movies, and shows. I want them to pursue excellence, beauty, honor, love, and above all the glory of God. If they can learn to be gallant like Olaf, loyal like Anna, hard-working like Kristoff, and create beauty like Elsa, then I will let them watch Frozen. And right now, if they just run around singing "Do you want to build a snowman?" that is fine too. Because it brought them some joy! We will save the cultural despondency for a more mature time of life. Right now I have to go change two smelly bottoms.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Books for a Little Girl

She is always pulling books off the shelf and looking through them.
I can leave her in the crib with a stack of books and she will be content for ages reading to her dollies.

Her favorite books are the Eric Carle books.
Brown Bear, Brown Bear What Do You See?
Polar Bear, Polar Bear, What Do You Hear?
Her other favorite is a recently acquired copy of Corduroy, the lovable bear with the missing button. She does not sit still for me to read the story. She staggers up to under the weight of the giant board book, ready to turn the pages and babble out a tale on my lap.
I wish I knew the story she has so imaginatively created.

This is some of the books our family received for Christmas.
And with a gift card I bought the If You Give a Mouse a Cookie bookset from Costco, along with a copy of The Wizard of Oz. When I went to pay for it Saoirse was busy turning the pages, babbling away, much to the delight of the older folks in line behind us. The saga of voracious readers and library aficionados continues...

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Boyish Fancy

Ethan really enjoys books. One of the most delightful moments of shopping came as we approached the book section of Costco and he yelled, "Boooooks!" and reached way over the side of the cart toward the glossy covers. But he can be rather specific about his story choices. So here are some of his favorites:


He is decidedly boy in his book tastes. Steam engines, trucks, rockets, fire trucks, and tractors make up the bulk of his reading. Animal noises and counting books are also considered fun reads.

And I am a fan of Little Golden Books. I think they look nice on the shelf and also hold appeal to young children. So I hope to accumulate a fair amount.
It is good to see my son enjoy books. He even enjoys a children's encyclopedia, the pages with airplane diagrams, rocket launches, and ships full sail are his favorite. All I have to do is make up a story about Captain Ethan (Cap'n Me) and he is very content.
Of course, his first choice is to play outside. Always.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Building Your Vocabulary: A Thesaurus

I wrote my first poem when I was nine. It was a standard, and very simple, rhyme about the moon. I still have it, and it inspires me, a lot actually. As I continued to write poems my big challenge was always finding new ways to describe the familiar. Enter the Merriam-Webster Thesaurus.
This is my favorite tool for finding new words to fit within my poetry. Rhyming dictionaries are nice, but using a thesaurus helps me take an idea from one word and find a dozen new words that enhance it. A dictionary is good for learning a few new words. A thesaurus helps elevate your vocabulary starting with words you already know. Say you want to describe something as pretty. Your options are: beautiful, charming, cute, elegant, graceful, handsome, pleasant, appealing, comely, dainty, darling, delicate, foxy, tasteful, and pulchritudinous. Words are powerful; those who know how to use the power of words have greater opportunity to influence the world around them. What tools do you use for building your vocabulary?

Visit to learn more words each day.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014


Fighting pirates

There is a task I sorta hate,
    And also kinda love.
        I do it when it's really late
           With many sighs and shrugs.
Sometimes it feels like clutter
   Involved in procreation.
      I want to take a giant tractor
          To the toy-weed infestation.
Then I find the Duplo boat
    That he so proudly showed me,
        So maybe it did not quite float;
            It still made our day happy.
There tucked into a random corner
     The doll she loves so much.
          The yarn eyes scold the scorner
               My inner neat freak who would fuss.
The cars and trains under my table
     Have given me a banged-up head,
         My back aches from being unable
              To reach for books behind the bed.
But in the brightly colored clash
    Of teddy bears and dinosaurs
         I see the smiles and feet that dance.
             These toys bring joy to all our hearts.

~Caitlin Mallery

Visit here to read more stories of mothers in the trenches.