Posted in Book Lovers Community

Stories We Shared

This gorgeous family reading journal from Douglas Kaine McKelvey is landing on doorsteps all over the country this week. Created during the “Wishes of the Fish King” Kickstarter campaign, Doug and illustrator Jamin Still took an idea from our book club and infused it with magic and wisdom. As the “Wishes of the Fish King” rewards land, this journal is sitting in many of those goodie boxes.

A full review of the journal is forthcoming. In the meantime, Doug gave us permission to put pictures from the journal here so that people could get a feel for it. There is a copy for each of my children waiting under the Christmas tree!

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Posted in Book Lovers Community

Creed in Slow Motion

“Authors Note: The sermons of which this book is composed were delivered to the girls at the Assumption Convent (now at Exton, Rutland) when they were being evacuated to Aldenham Park, Bridgnorth, during the late war.”

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In 1855, the bishops of England had suggested to John Henry Newman that he should translate the Vulgate Bible into English. Because Newman was never able to produce a translation, the Bishops asked Fr. Ronald Knox, almost a century later, to take up that translation work. In 1939, Reverend Ronald Knox resigned his chaplaincy to the Catholic students at Oxford University and retreated to the country estate of friends so that he could work in quiet seclusion. Not long after his arrival, the Second World War forced the boarding school of Assumption Convent in Kensington to evacuate to the estate. “One can imagine Knox’s consternation as he watched his scholarly sanctuary invaded by a pack of schoolgirls and all his translation apparatus crowded into one small room. For the duration of the war he lived in a community of fifty-five students, fifteen nuns, and several lay staff.”

I: I Believe in God

“More and more, the longer I stay here, and the longer some of you stay here, do I find it difficult to preach to you. At Oxford, where the ordinary undergraduate lasted only three years, it was quite simple, because at the end of three years I started preaching the same sermons again….I am going to start this year by launching out on a course, and a course which will see us through more than a month of Sundays. I’m going to give an exposition, clause by clause, of the Apostle’s Creed.”

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A friend of G.K. Chesterton, Knox was a sincere and charming chaplain. In the introduction, the editors inform us that Knox’s friendly conversational style and his true affection for the teenage girls earned him a special place in the hearts of his flock. If the editors are correct, the girls would routinely cut their weekend family visits short, foregoing movies and ice cream, so as not to miss his weekly chapel. Throughout these sermons, he is personable and delightfully aware of how to speak into the hearts of giddy school girls and their adult caretakers. As I read, I appreciated his style but even more than that, I appreciated what his style could do for teenagers today. I think that this book is a good fit for any mature age, but is particularly winning for young adults.

“…what religion is: a tremendous adventure which makes even this very deceptive and transitory world worth living in, because it is shot through with the glory of God and the love of Jesus Christ.” (p. 133)

Reverend Knox was ordained in the Anglican tradition in 1912. Through the writings of G.K. Chesterton and others, he converted to Roman Catholicism in 1917 and was ordained a Catholic priest in 1919. He teased and goaded Chesterton during the years between 1917 and 1922. How was it possible that Chesterton could bring Knox to Rome when Chesterton was still unconverted? Not surprisingly, Knox was a key influence and sympathetic friend during Chesterton’s long conversion process.

The Creed In Slow Motion is, as Knox explained, “an exposition, clause by clause, of the Apostle’s Creed.” Creedal Christians will have different reactions to Knox’s sermons. His style is absolutely appealing, his comments are informative, and his sincerity is convincing. The first portion of the creed is pretty commonly understood by Christians in a wide variety of traditions.

“…you are to say the Credo as an expression of your own individual point of view, giving it the full homage of your intellect, prepared to explain it to other people; if necessary, to argue it with other people.” (p. 3)

XII. Dead and Buried

Here is where things get sticky. Many Reformed and Bible Christians are likely to approach the rest of the book with varying degrees of incredulity, frustration, confusion, and doubt. I understand and respect that. I think that Knox does as well. Having been an Anglican Protestant, he has a particular sensitivity to the nuances of Roman Catholic understanding of these clauses. Knox is convinced of the truth of these claims. As a convert, he wrestled these points out before coming into the church. Therefore, his explanations are grounded in his careful discernment. He converted because the Holy Spirit moved him into belief on these points, and as a caretaker of young souls, he felt bound to help his students understand and be able to articulate their belief in these statements of faith. Knox’s preaching is clear and orthodox Catholic teaching and excellent catechesis. If you are not Catholic but desire to understand what and why Catholics believe about Purgatory, Old Testament Jews, saints, the 7 Sacraments, why Catholics are not “sola scriptura,” and aspects of Mary, this is an excellent place to start.

Conclusion

The vast majority of traditional Christians subscribe to some kind of creedal Christianity. One of the great miracles of Christianity is that, despite the chaos that Satan has caused inside our churches, and the separation that has been affected between our traditions, the Gospel remains paramount and universal to all of us. With only nuanced differences, most traditional Christians submit to the authority of the Gospel expressed not only in the text but in the distillation of that text found in the Nicene and Apostles creeds. While this book properly expresses the Catholic point of view on this universal creed, it is a beautiful exposition on the way that all Christians try to orient their entire lives toward God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.

“May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to think in harmony with one another, in keeping with Christ Jesus, that with one accord you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” – Romans 15:5

Note: I strongly recommend this particular printing of this book. Friends have acquired the kindle version and other printings, both of which lacked the notes and introduction. This is a very nice printing.

Apostle’s Creed

I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth; and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord: Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary; suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried. He descended into hell; the third day He rose again from the dead; He ascended into heaven, is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence He shall come to judge the living and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Holy Catholic Church, the communion of Saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting. Amen.

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Posted in Book Lovers Community

Apple Recipes

In this article, I wrote about why we can apples. I have had some friends ask me which recipes we use and how we do it. I am a self-taught canner. I am not an expert. I am just a modern mom who is trying to connect with old-fashioned good sense. That said, I will gladly share what we do in the hopes that it will help others.

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First, I consider the Ball Blue Book as the gold standard in canning safety. Over time, we have learned where we could trust other recipes. For newbies, however, I want to stress the importance of getting and working your way through the Ball Blue Book.

Second, we have a glass top stove. In traditional canning, this is a big no-no. There are some well founded concerns about the unevenness of heating on glass stoves and this can cause a bad seal in your canned goods. To be safe, we use a propane burner in the garage or on our patio, with our canning kettle.

Third, having the right materials really is a big deal. If you plan to can acidic things like tomatoes, you have to have plastic tools like these. You just do. Something about the acidic reaction to the metal… I don’t know specifically what the reaction is, I am not a food chemistry guru, but I trust the people who know these things.

Now, the recipes and our technique:

Applesauce

Applesauce is one of the easiest things to can, except for the hours and hours of labor involved in getting to the canning stage. Using this recipe as our guide, we understood that applesauce is very simple: somewhere in the process you need to remove cores and skins, you need to season, and you may need to add honey or sugar. If you get your blend of apples right, you may not need any sweetener at all. Which order you do things in is entirely dependent on the tools you have. For purposes of this article, I am going to focus on the most inexpensive tools that beginners may be more apt to have on hand already.

  1. After picking my apples in a ratio of about 50% Cortland and 50% a blend of sweeter apples, I used my fun tool to core, peel and slice them. After that, all I had to do was chop them into smaller pieces so that they would break down faster in my pot.
  2. I added about an inch of water to my dutch oven and filled it with apples.  About 25  apples fit in the pot I use.  I didn’t worry about waiting for all of them to be cored and peeled before starting the heat. I got a batch going and kept adding to it.

  3. I brought everything to a boil, then reduced the heat to a simmer to let the apples break down for about an hour.

  4. After an hour, all I needed to help the apples into a mashed state was my potato masher.

  5. After the apples were broken down to my preferred texture, I put them through a strainer to strain off the excess water. (Save the cooking water. There are other uses for it.) This step is time consuming and not absolutely necessary. I think it is worth it.

  6. Because I want to can in big batches, but my apples cannot get cold while they wait for the canning bath, I transferred this batch to my Nesco which was set to about 150 or 200 degrees to hold the apples. If you don’t have a Nesco, a crock pot will work on “warm,” as will a pot on the back of your stove. The apples don’t have to be kept at a certain temperature, but they do have to be kept warm to prevent any bacterial growth.

  7. In the Nesco, I stirred in a couple of tablespoons of honey and a heaping tablespoon of cinnamon.

  8. I repeated the above process for as many batches as my Nesco could hold (it holds three, plus I can another batch from the stove).

  9. To process, I followed the canning instructions in this recipe exactly.

Now the discouraging reality: all of that work – 4 batches of about 25 apples each – rendered a mere 12 quarts of applesauce. Tiny Jars.

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Applebutter

Doubling this recipe, I learned that apple butter is best when it is cooked very slowly over low heat all day long.

  1. After picking my 24 apples in a ratio of about 50% Cortland and 50% a blend of sweeter apples, I used my fun tool to core, peel and slice them. After that, all I had to do was chop them into smaller pieces so that they would break down faster in my pot.

  2. In my crockpot, I combined my apples with 1 cup of water, ½ cup of brown sugar, ½ cup of local honey and 2 heaping tablespoons of cinnamon (I omitted the nutmeg because I don’t like it).

  3. I set my crockpot to warm and let it work for at least 8 hours.

  4. After about 8 hours, I used an immersion blender to puree the apples. If you do not have an immersion blender, a regular blender or baby food mill will also work.

  5. Depending on how much time I have, how sweet I want the apple butter to be, and how moist the apple butter is, I may take it from this step straight to canning, or I might let it work a little longer in the crock pot. Really, it is all about preference here.  
  6. To process, I followed the canning instructions in this recipe exactly.

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Posted in Book Lovers Community

The World of Ben-Hur

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“To the people of his hometown, Jesus was always a carpenter, the son of a carpenter, a man who worked with saws and planes. We have some of the same problems, except in reverse. We’ve always known Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God. We can’t see him as an ordinary craftsman who made things with his hands and sold them to customers… Ben-Hur helps us imagine Jesus the man, the strangely ordinary carpenter who did and said such extraordinary things.” – Mike Aquilina, The World of Ben-Hur

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Mike Aquilina is a Catholic historian and scholar of apostolic history. I discovered him when the t.v. series AD: The Continuing Story was preparing to air. Aquilina had consulted with Roma Downey and Mark Burnett and had composed a beautiful Bible study supplement that families could use while watching the series. While the series was not perfect, I am convinced that it served a good purpose and has the capacity to do much good in drawing people into an understanding of the apostolic age. Aquilina’s Viewer’s Guide does a gorgeous job of providing biblical, historical, and cultural context to the story as a whole. I hope to review the series and his book in the near future.

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When the Ben-Hur film was being promoted I noticed that the ink was barely dry on a new support guide penned by Aquilina. The World of Ben-Hur is, in my mind, a gold mine of background and context that can support any reader or viewer of any of the Ben-Hur offerings. Diane and I are working on a detailed review of Lew Wallace’s novel, the Charlton Heston film, and the new film (spoiler: we hate the new film for complex reasons). In the interim, I wanted to get this review up so that readers and viewers could make full use of this excellent resource if they are movie-going or planning to read the novel.

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When Aquilina wrote this 160+ page guide, he had not seen the new movie. Even though the cover on the book is the movie poster for the new film, the content inside is well grounded in Wallace’s novel.

This is a friendly, easy to access, and trustworthy resource. The Lew Wallace novel has many layers to it and advances some really challenging questions. This guide tackles some of those serious cultural questions – like the multifaceted approach to slavery, the history of Roman customs, what the term “Christ” meant to the people of that time, and what the cultural consequences of Jesus’ new theology were. Aquilina has done a beautiful job of breaking these down for us in a way that supports our ability to draw even more out of the novel and movies. I happened to have been reading this at the same time that my husband and I were watching Risen and The Young Messiah, and it was very helpful for understanding the subtext of those films as well. Reading this resource guide is akin to sitting with a Bible scholar and getting the backstory on the most interesting aspects of the movie and novel. As someone who has been reading or watching Ben-Hur almost every year for 30 years, I think that this guide is essential.

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One of my favorite aspects about this resource is that it is set up in such a way that someone who is new to Ben-Hur could read the first four chapters and get grounded in the context and get inside the head of the author before they even begin the novel or the movies. By reading the first four chapters before experiencing Ben-Hur readers would gain a tour through the story landscape and see into some of the cultural nuances so that it feels familiar and less disorienting when they begin to read the novel.

Even if readers have some knowledge of Ben-Hur (like who marries whom, who dies, who wins the chariot race, etc.) I would still recommend saving the remaining 7 chapters until after they have seen or read Ben-Hur. Aquilina gives us an entire chapter on the Roman navy that is incredibly helpful in understanding why Wallace wrote the galley (war at sea) scenes as he did. This information is really interesting and helped to give me a more informed view of this aspect of the plot and cultural context, but it might very well be confusing to someone who has not yet read the novel or seen the movie.

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Veteran readers could probably read the entire book in two or three sittings with a cup of tea. I enjoyed the writing and learned many new things. I intend to use this with my children when they are old enough to read Lew Wallace’s novel.

 

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The First Olympics

In June of 1894, Pierre de Coubertin and his newly organized International Olympic Committee unanimously voted to schedule the first Olympics of the modern era to open in April of 1896 in Athens, Greece. Over the next two years, 13 countries would assemble teams of athletes to represent their nation in this peaceful international assembly of goodwill. For two weeks, every four years, the world would build something positive together.

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Actual American Olympic Team in Athens 1896

In May 1984, a beautiful t.v. movie mini-series about these first modern Olympics was released to coincide with the 1984 Summer Olympics. This series boasted a t.v. all-star cast (Angela Lansbury, David Ogden Stiers, Honor Blackman, Louis Jourdan, etc.), gorgeous sets and costumes, and really excellent family-friendly storytelling. Over several episodes, viewers were drawn into the triumphant and heroic story of the establishment of the modern Olympic games.

In the summer of 1984, I was eight years old and our young family was mesmerized by the Summer Olympics. Like families everywhere, we were glued to the television watching swimming, gymnastics, track and field, and diving. This mini-series allowed us to keep the excitement of the Olympics alive long after the games were over.

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Still from the film

Beautifully told through an optimistic and virtuous filter,  it is devoid of crass language, sexual content, and alcohol. Following the stories of the American athletes, the famous Australian Edwin Flack, and the Greek marathoner Spiridon Louis, families are transported back in time to a very special (and romantic) moment in history.

Chariots of Fire was released in 1981. Anne of Green Gables was released in 1985. The First Olympics has a feel very similar to both of those productions and captures many of the same wholesome notes.

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Actual Robert Garrett at the 1896 Olympic Games

There are so many things that we take for granted today when we think of the Olympics. We think of a universal calendar. We think of standardized weights and specs for the discus. We think of standard rules for the pole vault. But when the first modern Olympics took place, little was standard and everyone had some surprises. While many of the facts surrounding the Olympics are lost, the discus issue, for example, with Robert Garrett was clearly documented in many reliable sources. (In the interest of avoiding spoilers, I am being vague.)

This living history movie is a romanticized but compelling look inside the process of recruiting athletes and coaches, training and housing the team, fundraising for their passage to the games in Greece, and ultimately hosting a successful Olympic games.

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1896 Olympic Stadium

At 3 hours and 57 minutes, our family watched this in one hour segments across four Sunday nights during the long cold winter. There is one scene that turns out very wholesomely, but may cause conservative parents initial concern: when the boys are preparing for the first public exposition with local fans, they misunderstand and think that they must compete as the ancient Greeks did – in the nude. The camera angle is such that we see next to nothing and the coaches rush them back into the bath houses to put on clothing. We do have one quick rear view.

Posted in Book Lovers Community

Listening to Readers

I am not an expert. I am not even trained for early childhood education. I make no claims of expertise. I am just a mom who is a voracious reader and who will do anything reasonable under the sun to make sure that her kids have the right relationship with reading. A reading relationship built on love, excitement, confidence, and good phonetic foundation. What little I do know about reading is this: phonics is almost essential for long-term reading potential.

The trouble is that I didn’t learn phonics or grammar very well as a child and I caught most of the goodness just through reading, reading, reading. That is both a blessing and a curse. The blessing it is that I read widely, deeply, and reasonably well. The curse is that I have a lot of bad habits and very little understanding of how to share what I know. How in the world could I teach my children to read!? Unlike Diane, I don’t “get it”.

When my oldest was coming into the age of reading possibilities, I knew that I needed a phonics program but I didn’t know what. Like everybody I know, I bought a copy of Teach Your Child To Read in 100 Easy Lessons. In addition to 100 Easy Lessons, I bought four box kits of the Bob Books readers, the Mott Media old fashioned McGuffey readers, and I downloaded the free “Progressive Phonics” books. It took Michael a long time to learn to read – longer than most homeschool moms are comfortable with, but with a solid phonics foundation, it became very intuitive once it clicked.

My second reader learned differently. For Greta, Bob Books and the Mott Media McGuffey readers were magic. She did very well learning the basics of phonics. I supplemented again with some LeapFrog phonics videos and Between The Lions because she likes knowing the phonics rules and both of those programs teach them really well.

Unlike her brother, it was easy to learn but never became intuitive. Greta must learn things through repetition and she needs someone or something to patiently practice with her. I am not patient and I have several children to homeschool. This was proving very hard for me and for her. Then it hit me. Many of the classic story readers like Frog and Toad or any of the Arnold Lobel classics also have audiobook companions. Greta did not need me to practice with her, she just needed something easy to control that would remind her of sounds when she was stuck.

This summer, I purchased a stack of Level 2 Readers from children’s classics like the Frog and Toad books, Owl At Home, Grasshopper On The Road, and Uncle Elephant. I got what she liked. That was the magic, if she had liked Frances or Uncle Wiggly, I would have bought those. And then, I bought the audiobooks to go with them. (She has since moved on to the Beatrix Potter collection and the Thornton Burgess books – also paired with audiobooks.)

Every day, for at least half an hour (during her prescribed reading time), she sits with the Audible app on a Kindle Fire and plays whichever story she is working on. She also sits with the printed reader and reads the page to herself. Then, she plays that page worth of narration to test her performance. After listening (and following with her eyes), she goes back and rereads the page, correcting her errors. She repeats this process page by page in the reader. Usually it takes her about three days to really get a book learned.

Initially, I was worried that she was just memorizing the words, which would defeat the point of teaching phonics. I did not want her to memorize the stories, I wanted her to recognize the words and be confident about which sounds they make and what they mean. After a week or so, I tested her ability. I gave her other books at a similar level to read aloud to me. Without question, her vocabulary was growing and her ability to sound out words was improving. For her learning style, having an audiobook to practice with has saved us so many tears!

This is one of my favorite things about homeschooling. My first and second readers have totally different learning styles. While it is a lot of discerning work for me to figure out what they need, the principles remain the same: phonics, patience, and relationship. In each case, the principle of phonetic reading remained the standard foundation. In each case I had to show my child patience while we discerned their path through the learning-to-read process. And finally, in each case the principle of nurturing their love of the written word had to govern any choices we made.

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