Purpose of this Blog...

You may have noticed that not all books are equal in capturing children's imaginations and in cultivating those innocent, tender souls. My goal is to help you find the ones that do!
(Painting by Mary Cassatt: "Mrs Cassatt Reading to her Grandchildren" -1888)

Friday, September 28, 2012

The Litany of Laundry (and other ordinary things)


Housework or "home-making" can seem tedious: the daily ritual of chores that once completed, only needs to be done again and again.  For parents, "making a home" is the never-ending work of meeting the needs of others.

Making beds.
Cleaning bathrooms.

"When considered in terms of their enormous life-giving importance, the feeding and clothing of a family and maintaining of a household can be undertaken in the contemplative spirit. They become, like prayer and worship, acts of love that transform us and, in turn, the larger world around us."
-Kathleen Norris, The Quotidian Mysteries

Just as the sun comes up every morning and sets every evening, housework, too, is repetitious and has to be done over and over, but it certainly does not need to necessarily equate monotonous or futile drudgery.

Mother and Daughter Wash Day, 1870 [source]

No matter how busy our schedules are, many of these daily tasks, "quotidian mysteries", can be enjoyable and fulfilling.  Haven't we all experienced the satisfying feeling of walking into an orderly room, with the bed made and clothes put away? And who doesn't look forward to the aroma of freshly baked bread? Or the crisp feel of clean sheets, just brought in from the clothesline (okay, maybe towels, warm and soft - straight from the dryer - are more your style)?

Housekeeping may seem mundane, but it's not simple!  Industrialization did not eliminate or reduce "women's work", it vastly increased the productivity of women working at home. Doing the important things (providing healthy meals and a clean - not immaculate - home, reading aloud to your children), and not being constantly led to the point of distraction by the urgent things (telephone calls, emails, unplanned interruptions, etc.) can be challenging.  Sometimes the important and urgent intersect.  We need to take time management seriously and set priorities for the different seasons of our family life.

Another challenge with keeping house can be one's expectations.  Pinterest is fun and helpful (I even have a practical "Quotidian: Daily Care of Home and Family" Board), but this current fad can also be a source of distraction and unrealistic expectations - which can lead to procrastination.  Margaret Kim Peterson, in her book Keeping House, notes:
"There has surely always been a gap between the way people keep their houses and the way they would like ideally to keep them.  But many of us, I suspect, are demoralized by the task of keeping house in part because we know that our houses, no matter how well kept, will never look like the palaces in the dream house publications.  And so we give up, preferring unattainable ideals to less than perfect realities."

Realistic?  No - Architectural Digest Home Library [source].

Her answer to avoiding this temptation?  Humility and gratitude for what we have, and willingness to create in our homes and habits "enough order and tidiness to promote convenience and peace and hospitality."

What's got me thinking about all this?  My soon-to-be-born grandchild and a new, old-fashioned restaurant...

I've enjoyed watching my daughter, Mary, wash and meticulously fold all the newborn baby boy clothes her sister-in-law recently passed down her.  I could hardly wait to present Mary with my baby-smell-in-a-box-secret:  Ivory Snow.  She's been gleefully doing laundry ever since, busily nesting while she awaits the arrival of her little one.

Speaking of waiting, after eight weeks of being on bed rest to avoid pre-term labor, my daughter is up and around now (and due in two weeks)!  Yesterday we went out (we made our beds first, of course) for a visit to her hospital and an enjoyable late morning breakfast at a new restaurant/bakery I've been excited to take her to: Le Pain Quotidien (literally "Daily Bread").

Le Pain Quotidien, Newport Beach
Amazing, right?  We had a frittata and fruit, too.
Mommy Mary and Baby Peter are doing great!

Kids can learn a lot about the joys of hospitality and home-making from books: Laura and Mary were constantly helping Ma and Pa with chores and cooking in the Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder. And I love this picnic scene from The Wind in the Willows --

“... he got out the luncheon-basket and packed a simple meal, in which, remembering the stranger's origin and preferences, he took care to include a yard of long French bread, a sausage out of which the garlic sang, some cheese which lay down and cried, and a long-necked straw-covered flask wherein lay bottled sunshine shed and garnered on far Southern slopes.” ― Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows

Books about Housekeeping and Laundry:
The Quotidian Mysteries, by Kathleen Norris (for Moms)

The Tale of Miss Tiggy-Winkle, by Beatrix Potter (for kids)

We Help Mommy, illustrated by Eloise Wilkin (Little Golden Book)

Knuffle Bunny, by Mo Willems (lost bunny at a laundromat!)

Books about Baking Bread:
Sun Bread, by Elisa Kleven. Winter's gray chill has set in and everyone misses the sun-especially the baker. So she decides to bring some warmth to the town by making sun bread. And as the bread bakes, rising hot and delicious, everyone comes out to share in its goodness. Everyone, including the sun itself. With a lilting, rhyming text, colorful illustrations, and a recipe for baking your own sun bread
The Woman and the Wheat, by Jane Meyer.  An excellent choice for teaching children about the mystery of the bread that becomes food from heaven, in Holy Communion.  And Jane has an excellent blog about baking - see my past post about her books and website/blog, here.

You might also enjoy my past post about cooking/food/books:  The Secret Ingredient: Learning (& Fun!)

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

A Schoolboy Who Became a Saint

Today in the Orthodox Church is the feast day of St. Sergius of Radonezh. Back when I home schooled our three children, I was inspired by the childhood of this saint, who grew up in 14th-Century Russian and was then known as "Bartholomew".  At the age of 23, Bartholomew became a monk and took the name "Sergius", but as a young boy, Bartholomew had trouble learning to read. We would read his story at the beginning of the school year.

St. Sergius's Illumination: "Vision to the Youth Bartholomew",
by Russian artist Mikhail Nesterov

...Sergius was born of noble, Orthodox, devout parents. His father was named Cyril and his mother Mary. They found favour with God; they were honourable in the sight of God and man, and abounded in those virtues which are well-pleasing unto God. Cyril had three sons, Stephen, Bartholomew, and Peter, whom he brought up in strict piety and purity.

Stephen and Peter quickly learned to read and write, but the second boy did not so easily learn to write, and worked slowly and inattentively; his master taught him with care, but the boy could not put his mind to his studies, nor understand, nor do the same as his companions who were studying with him. As a result he suffered from the many reproaches of his parents, and still more from the punishments of his teacher and the ridicule of his companions. 

The boy often prayed to God in secret and with many tears: "O Lord, give me understanding of this learning. Teach me, Lord, enlighten and instruct me." His reverence for God prompted him to pray that he might receive knowledge from God and not from men.

One day his father sent him to seek for a lost foal. On his way he met a monk, a venerable elder, a stranger, a priest, with the appearance of an angel. This stranger was standing beneath an oak tree, praying devoutly and with much shedding of tears. The boy, seeing him, humbly made a low obeisance, and awaited the end of his prayers.

The venerable monk, when he had ended his prayers, glanced at the boy and, conscious that he beheld the chosen vessel of the Holy Spirit, he called him to his side, blessed him, bestowed on him a kiss in the name of Christ, and asked: "What art thou seeking, or what dost thou want, child?"

The boy answered, "My soul desires above all things to understand the Holy Scriptures. I have to study reading and writing, and I am sorely vexed that I cannot learn these things. Will you, holy Father, pray to God for me, that he will give me understanding of book-learning? "The monk raised his hands and his eyes toward heaven, sighed, prayed to God, then said, "Amen."

Taking out from his satchel, as it were some treasure, with three fingers, he handed to the boy what appeared to be a little bit of white wheaten bread prosphora [the bread offered for Communion], saying to him: "Take this in thy mouth, child, and eat; this is given thee as a sign of God's grace and for the understanding of Holy Scriptures. Though the gift appears but small, the taste thereof is very sweet."

The boy opened his mouth and ate, tasting a sweetness as of honey, wherefore he said, "Is it not written, How sweet are thy words to my palate, more than honey to my lips, and my soul doth cherish them exceedingly?" The monk answered and said, "If thou believest, child, more than this will be revealed to thee; and do not vex thyself about reading and writing; thou wilt find that from this day forth the Lord will give thee learning above that of thy brothers and others of thine own age."

Having thus informed him of divine favour, the monk prepared to proceed on his way. But the boy flung himself, with his face to the ground, at the feet of the monk, and besought him to come and visit his parents, saying, "My parents dearly love persons such as you are, Father." The monk, astonished at his faith, accompanied him to his parents' house.

At the sight of the stranger, Cyril and Mary came out to meet him, and bowed low before him. The monk blessed them, and they offered him food, but before accepting any food, the monk went into the chapel, taking with him the boy whose consecration had been signified even before birth, and began a recitation of the Canonical Hours, telling the boy to read the Psalms.

The boy said, "I do not know them, Father." The monk replied, "I told thee that from today the Lord would give thee knowledge in reading and writing; read the Word of God, nothing doubting." Whereupon, to the astonishment of all present, the boy, receiving the monk's blessing, began to recite in excellent rhythm; and from that hour he could read.

His parents and brothers praised God, and after accompanying the monk to the house, placed food before him. Having eaten, and bestowed a blessing on the parents, the monk was anxious to proceed on his way. But the parents pleaded, "Reverend Father, hurry not away, but stay and comfort us and calm our fears. Our humble son, whom you bless and praise, is to us an object of marvel. While he was yet in his mother's womb three times he uttered a cry in church during holy Liturgy. Wherefore we fear and doubt of what is to be, and what he is to do."

The holy monk, after considering and becoming aware of that which was to be, exclaimed, "O blessed pair, O worthy couple, giving birth to such a child! Why do you fear where there is no place for fear? Rather rejoice and be glad, for the boy will be great before God and man, thanks to his life of godliness." Having thus spoken the monk left, pronouncing an obscure saying that their son would serve the Holy Trinity and would lead many to an understanding of the divine precepts. They accompanied him to the doorway of their house, when he became of a sudden invisible. Perplexed, they wondered if he had been an angel, sent to give the boy knowledge of reading.

After the departure of the monk, it became evident that the boy could read any book, and was altogether changed; he was submissive in all things to his parents, striving to fulfil their wishes, and never disobedient. Applying himself solely to glorifying God, and rejoicing therein, he attended assiduously in Gods church, being present daily at Matins, at the Liturgy, at Vespers. He studied holy scripts, and at all times, in every way, he disciplined his body and preserved himself in purity of body and soul.

[Taken from this website, where you can read the full story of this saint's humble life.]

Friday, September 21, 2012

The Celebration of an Unexpected Journey

It's the 75th Anniversary of the publication of a book that introduced the whole world to a furry-footed hobbit named Bilbo.  This book magically took us on a quest with Bilbo, Gandalf, and thirteen dwarfs to the Lonely Mountain, home of a sly dragon named Smaug...  

CHAPTER I - An Unexpected Party
"In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort."

The novel by Oxford professor JRR Tolkien was published on September 21, 1937, and has since sold 100 million copies and been translated into almost fifty languages.

Tomorrow, September 22, is "Hobbit Day" - a separate annual tradition - celebrating the birthdays of Bilbo Baggins and Frodo Baggins (who later shows up in Tolkien's trilogy, Lord of the Rings.) 

It would be a great day to have a "Second Breakfast"!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

"The Year of the Girl"

This year marks the centennial celebration of the Girl Scouts, and 2012 has been named "The Year of the Girl" (learn more at www.girlscouts.org/).  On March 12, 1912, the first Girl Scout Troop meeting was held, consisting of 18 girls led by Girl Scouts founder Juliette “Daisy” Gordon Low in her hometown of Savanna, Georgia.

Brownie Scouts Lea Griffin (left) and Brenda Holloman plant big kisses
on the cheeks of Mrs. Samuel Lawrence, the first Girl Scout, and niece of
Girl Scouts of America founder, Juliette Low.
Photo by Jim Bisson. Oct. 30, 1958. [source here]
"The young woman who was the first Girl Scout in the United States became so without either knowing it or accepting the honor.  In fact, when Aunt Juliette Low, who founded the first troop, in Savannah, GA in 1912, informed her niece that she, Daisy Gordon was enrolled as Scout No. 1, young Miss Gordon was "a little annoyed." [source: The Evening Independent 1940]

Since that time, Girls Scouts has grown to 3.7 million members and is the largest educational organization for girls in the world.  Generations of women and girls have enjoyed scouting over the years.

As a young girl in Memphis, TN, I joined the "Brownies" with my neighbor friend and her sister.  I remember my little hat and uniform, weekly meetings, making crafts, and learning about doing good deeds. One summer I got to go to a day camp - only the Girl Scouts spent the night - where we sang campfire songs like "Kookaburra" and "White Coral Bells".

My family moved away, and I never became a Girl Scout, but my Aunt Marna was involved in Girl Scouts for many years in Minnesota.  She recently reminisced, "When I was a child, Girl Scouts taught me some lifelong skills, including how to knit, how to be a team member, and how to camp. When I started to be a leader at the age of 16, I learned lots of leadership skills through the years. I also made lifelong friends." (She and her last co-leader were able to find 28 members of their troop and had a reunion this past August!)

If you've followed my blog very long, you may remember my post about Norman Rockwell and his first job - while still in his teens - as art director for BOY'S LIFE, the official publication of the Boy Scouts of America.

But are you aware that Rockwell also figured into the history of the Girl Scouts of America?
“Good Scouts (Portrait of a Girl Scout),” 1924, Norman Rockwell (1894-1978).
Cover illustration for “Life” magazine, November 6, 1924. 

Norman Rockwell Museum Digital Collections.
In 1977, Norman Rockwell was approached by the Franklin Mint to create a dozen designs for medallions depicting the ideals of the Girl Scouts of the United States of America on the occasion of the organization’s 65th anniversary. The artist, a long-time supporter of Scouting, created engaging scenes illustrating such tenets of the Girl Scout Law as “respectful,” “resourceful,” “be prepared,” and “on my honor.”

This Saturday, September 22, 2012 the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, MA, will celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Girl Scouts with a special centennial celebration to be held at the Museum from 1 to 4 p.m. (Look HERE for more information. To learn more about Scout guided visits and workshops held year-round at Norman Rockwell Museum, visit www.nrm.org/visit/scouts.)

(click the images to link to Amazon for details)

Wednesday, September 19, 2012


"Autumn has caught us in our summer wear." 
- Philip Larkin, British poet (1922-1986)

Here in sunny Southern California, there are not yet many signs of the coming fall, but I have seen a growing number of black crows, getting ready for the pecans to fall from my backyard neighbor's huge tree.  And of course, Halloween merchandise is showing up everywhere.

Cover illustration for by Randolph Caldecott's Sing a Song for Sixpence (1880) - public domain.

This Saturday, September 22, marks the First Day of Autumn.  I noticed this shocking fact when I opened my pocket datebook yesterday, with the approaching equinox staring me in the face (equinox comes from the Latin words for "equal night." The fall and spring equinoxes are the only days of the year in which the Sun crosses the celestial equator.)

When our kids were growing up, we liked to celebrate fall and fun on Halloween, without too much fright.  I've heard many families express the same desire, so I'm constantly on the look-out for fun versus frightening Halloween ideas for my blog (click HERE to see some of my past pumpkin posts).  This year, I'm really liking black birds, versus bats (stay tuned for a fun party idea coming up in October!)

Birds on a wire? Find these cute paper clips HERE.
(Comes with 8 blackbird clips on a 36" cord)

Here's a cute product I recently came across...a teacher used it on a bulletin board with fun photos, literary quotes, and fall poetry.

Reminds me of the well-known English nursery rhyme, Sing A Song Of Sixpence:

Sing a song of sixpence,
A pocket full of rye.
Four and twenty blackbirds,
Baked in a pie.

My book recommendation for today?  A "haunting" quirky fable about crows and a snake:
The Crows of Pearblossom, by Aldous Huxley (yes, the author of Brave New World wrote a children's book)...how two silly crows - with the help of a wise owl - solve the problem of a hungry snake devouring their eggs is a tale of cleverness triumphing over greed.

Born in England and educated at Balliol College, Huxley relocated to Southern California with his family in 1937.  He wrote The Crows of Pearblossom for his niece, Olivia, in 1944 as a Christmas gift.  In 1967 it was published in a small-format edition (now out of print), illustrated by Barbara Cooney.

I ordered the new 2011 edition because I couldn't resist Sophie Blackall's wonderful illustrations!  Read a great overview/history of this picture book, HERE, and the NYTimes review "Aldous Huxley's Brave New Storybook", HERE.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Celebrate Baby Peter's Un-Birth-Day With Us!

Last night my daughter, her husband, and I celebrated what marked her 34th week of pregnancy and my unborn grandson Peter's Un-Birth-Day.

The doctor said if my daughter reached 34 weeks without going into labor, we could throw a party.  You see, Baby Peter's expected birth date isn't until October 13th, and we are thrilled that he is staying put; my daughter has been on full bed rest for about six weeks.

In honor of this auspicious occasion, I took my daughter a custard fruit tart, topped with "34" (aren't the candles cute??), as well as some very delicious Vanilla Rooibos Chai Tea (caffeine-free, for no contractions!).

Baby Peter got a little blue sleeper with elephants, that says "I ♥ Mommy", along with the book, Letters to Anyone and Everyone.  Someday I know Peter will love this book, written by Dutch author Toon Tellegen, with whimsical illustrations by Jessica Ahlberg (daughter of Allan and Janet Ahlberg).

I'm taking advantage of yesterday's event to blog about this adorable book, since my posts have been few and far between lately - I've been busy helping my girl!!

Letters to Anyone and Everyone is basically a collection of letters written back and forth between all the animals in the forest - think Winnie the Pooh meets The Jolly Postman (yes, those Ahlbergs again).  My daughter loves elephants (did you spot Dumbo up there?), and I thought this cute little collection of stories was just right.

The first two letters in the story are between Elephant and Snail.  They are discussing dancing.  Since that's what Baby Peter does in his mother's womb all day, I thought it appropriate to highlight...

Of course, this post wouldn't be complete without a letter from me to my grandson:

Dear Baby Peter, 
Thank you for staying put these last few weeks - if you could wait until at least week 37 to show up, that would be even better! Who knows, maybe you'll even get to 40?!!

I'm so proud of your Mommy and Daddy, and how hard they are working to get everything ready for your arrival (it's a good thing Mommy can use her computer and make phone calls from the couch!)  

We can hardly wait to meet you and see you dance (especially me and your other Grandma, but the Grandpas and your parents are pretty excited too).  I hope you like this song.

Your grandma