Monday, April 28, 2014

Around the World Tea Party: Botswana

I still have a few Around the World Tea parties to show you, even though it feels like it all happened months ago now. This tea party took us to Botswana in southern Africa. I really wanted to do a Botswana tea party because I used to work with a non-profit that did most of its research in the country. When my supervisors would visit Botswana, they would often bring me back goodies like handwoven baskets and cloths, so I already had all the makings for a great tea party. 

Since there were no Five in a Row books set in southern Africa, I had to take my inspiration elsewhere. Jan Brett has several beautiful books set in Botswana and its neighbor Namibia. So we used Honey, Honey Lion and The Three Little Dassies as our books for this week. Homeschool Share had a great unit study for Honey, Honey Lion. If you've never checked out Jan Brett's website, you should. She has amazing free resources for all of her books. For this one, she had a full set of coloring sheets of African animals to make a mural.
We also read The Great Cake Mystery: Precious Ramotswe's Very First Case by Alexander McCall Smith. I am a huge fan of McCall Smith's mystery series The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, which is set in Botswana. As part of my former job, I  had the opportunity to work at  book-signing event with McCall Smith. The other administrative assistants and I were huddled in a corner, clutching our copies of the book, and generally being nervous around a famous author, when Alexander McCall Smith walked right over and started chatting with us and signed our books. He was such a lovely guy; he has forever endeared himself to me. So it was fun to share his mystery for younger readers with the kids. Of course, if you have read The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, you will recognize what a large part fruitcake plays in the book. So we had to make our own Botswana fruitcake and we had to have red bush tea. We also made an Africa peanut stew and Condensed Milk biscuits. We made the common American blunder of thinking these would be light and fluffy biscuits as a side for our stew, and instead they were sweet, crunchy cookies, but they were tasty!
The girls loved their costumes. They picked out colorful sundresses from the thrift store, and I retrofitted them with a few knots and stitches. My mom sent Trixie a dress with African animals for her birthday, which was perfect. As one of our activities, we made pattern beaded necklaces to wear with them. I also found a tutorial for doing African headwraps. which you can see in the top picture.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Why We Need the Epic Story of Easter

We are created within a Great Story. The Bible. The Bible is not a rulebook or a how-to book. It’s a Story. The true Story of the God who loves his children and comes to rescue them.
We are saved not by a rulebook. We are saved by a Story.
There’s nothing more powerful than a story. Watch what happens to a child—when you say those four magical words “Once upon a time.” Or, “In the Beginning was the Word.”-Sally Lloyd Jones in an interview with the International Arts Movement
We have been spending this Lent season with The Jesus Storybook Bible by Sally Lloyd Jones, as we have the past few years. We have loved this story Bible so much that we literally wore the cover off of our first copy, which was then replaced by two more copies and the audio cds. This year, Brent began at the beginning and has been reading a chapter each night bringing us now into the Holy Week stories.

Easter and Lent can be a challenging time with kids. Christmas is so easy with its Fisher Price nativity sets, chocolate advent calendars and singing songs that rejoice in  tidings of Great Joy! Then in Lent, we purge our house of candy, we ask our kids to give up desserts.

In Holy Week, we, as parents, are faced with the prospect of telling our children a story that gets very, very bad before it gets good. In it are many themes we would normally edit out of bedtime reading: suffering, betrayal, violence, execution, and a sealed-up tomb. All those stories of the beautiful baby born among the cattle and the sheep, joyously heralded by choirs of angels, and it ends here on the cross
 in the darkness, with the earth shaking, and the sound of weeping in our ears. It's so tempting to gloss over it and jump to the good stuff: the celebration of the resurrection.

I had the privilege of hearing some really wonderful talks by Sarah Clarkson at the Storyformed Child Conference last weekend. She spoke about how essential stories are to shaping the soul of a child and in helping them to find out the heroes and heroines they were made to be. In her last talk, she introduced me to a word that J. R. R. Tolkien  invented "eucatastrophe." I googled it when I got home and found this quote from Tolkien's letters.
 "I coined the word 'eucatastrophe': the sudden happy turn in a story which pierces you with a joy that brings tears (which I argued it is the highest function of fairy-stories to produce). And I was there led to the view that it produces its peculiar effect because it is a sudden glimpse of Truth, your whole nature chained in material cause and effect, the chain of death, feels a sudden relief as if a major limb out of joint had suddenly snapped back. It perceives – if the story has literary 'truth' on the second plane (....) – that this is indeed how things really do work in the Great World for which our nature is made. And I concluded by saying that the Resurrection was the greatest 'eucatastrophe' possible in the greatest Fairy Story – and produces that essential emotion: Christian joy which produces tears because it is qualitatively so like sorrow, because it comes from those places where Joy and Sorrow are at one, reconciled, as selfishness and altruism are lost in Love."
So the best stories, the ones that ring with truth and that momentary glimpse of something bigger and beyond what we know, there is this moment of eucatastrophe: Frodo on Mt. Doom.
"I am glad you are here with me," said Frodo. "Here at the end of all things, Sam."
 "Yes, I am with you, Master," said Sam, laying Frodo's wounded hand gently to his breast. And you're with me. And the journey's finished. But after coming all that way, I don't want to give up yet. It's not like me, somehow, if you understand."
"Maybe not, Sam," said Frodo, "but it's like things are in the world. Hopes fail. An end comes. We have only a little time to wait now. We are lost in ruin and downfall, and there is no escape." J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King
Then the battle shifts. The eagles descend and sweep Frodo and Sam away to safety.

Our world is short on heroes these days. It is why we need stories like Frodo and Sam, and it is why we need the story of Good Friday and Easter even more. If we believe, as Tolkien believed, that the Gospel story is a story even more epic than the Lord of the Rings, and that the resurrection was the greatest eucatastophe possible, then our children need to hear it as such, and they need to know Jesus as the hero of that story. This is why I love The Jesus Storybook Bible so much, because it presents the Bible as this epic hero story.

To truly know Jesus as the hero, it will mean walking through the darkness of fear and death, holding our children's hands the way we do during the scary part of a movie, when we whisper, "Don't worry. This is not the end of the story. Everything is going to turn out okay. Better than okay." There is that moment when it seems that all is lost. It is finished.

And then the "happy turn in the story that pierces us with joy."

He is risen. He is risen, indeed!

Somehow the joy is even greater mingled with sorrow, the feasting even greater when we have gone without for so long, the light much brighter when we have walked through the darkness.

"Mary ran and ran, all the way to the city. ... And it seemed to her that morning, as she ran, almost as if the whole world had been made anew, almost as if the whole world was singing for joy --the trees, tiny sounds in the grass, the birds...her heart. Was God really making everything sad come untrue? Was he making even death come untrue?" Jesus Storybook Bible by Sally Lloyd Jones

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Spring Days and Little Animal Photo Books

Ah, spring is finally here after a long, very cold winter. Today we walked by the park, which was overflowing with kids in the early afternoon. I remarked, "The kids must have been let out early from school today." Ella replies, "Oh, do you think they let them out early because it's such a nice day?!" I tried to explain that schools don't get out for nice days, which she thought was pretty unbelievable considering how often homeschool gets out for nice days. I've been trying to shake myself out of the traditional school calendar this year because, frankly, July is no time to be on vacation in New England. I will gladly stay inside, out of the humidity and do our work then. Now spring and Fall, those are New England's months. Maybe I should reschedule the whole year so that any days between 65 and 75 degrees, we are off, and all other days we school. I am pretty certain that we would still make the required 180 days of school here.

But since we have been trying to tuck some school in here between admiring croci, and listen to the toddler pound on the door and yell "Outside! Outside!", we have been enjoying this collection of books about little animals we found at Costco. A Big Treasury of Little Animals by Phoebe Dunn has six books about kids and their pet animals.  The stories are told in photographs instead of art. So since we often try to imitate the art of the books we are reading, we made our own little animal  photo books.
Each of the girls chose a main character for their story from their toys. Ella chose a Burmese Mountain Dog puppy. Mabel chose a piglet. Trixie used her bunny family. Then they thought of several scenes that would tell a story. They set them up and we took the pictures. Since Ella's story was a lot longer and more complicated, I will share part of Mabel's book here.
 I was surprised by how much they got the concept of setting up scenes and moving the action forward. In Mabel's story, a little orphan piglet is adopted and given a home.
I especially liked the way that both girls used different sized figures in the same scene to show that the animal was growing up.
When the pig was all grown-up, she met a boy pig, and they had a little piglet of their own.

After we had taken all the pictures, I loaded them on to our computer, and copied them into a Word document. Then the kids narrated their stories looking at the photos, and I typed it under the pictures. They were so thrilled to show Brent their books and he was quite impressed. Mabel said that making books with your toys was sooooo much better than drawing pictures. She wants to always make books like this.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Around the World Tea Party: Japan

In our continuing trip around the world with our Five in a Row studies, we visited Japan. We read A Pair of Red Clogs by Masako Matsuno, the story of a young Japanese girl who gets a new pair of clogs. When she cracks her new shoes, playing a game, she tries to get her mother to buy a new pair.

We read about Japan in the DK First Atlas and DK Children Just Like Me. Japan is known for so many beautiful, delicate things, but my girls were instantly drawn to a picture of Sumo wrestlers. They were Sumo wrestlers the rest of the week! We also tried our hand at origami. We made some fun Kimono doll bookmarks from Crayola. We made a cherry blossom using a branch and pink tissue paper. The girls really enjoyed the Five in a Row drawing lesson this week. We used tracing paper to trace the outline of the figures in the book and learn about drawing movement.
Want to know how to find international costumes for your children cheaply? Visit your local thrift store! I was really pleased with how our $2 Kimonos came out. We found various silky ladies blouses and dresses that overlapped at the top. I sewed in an extra snap at the top. Then for the belts, we used old silk ties. I wanted to put an extra piece of fabric around the middle, under the tie to make an obi, but the girls were satisfied this way. I lucked out with the three-year-old's costume when I found a kimono styled t-shirt. It already had a belt attached. So I sewed the shirt to make it smaller and the belt was long enough to go around.
For our tea party, Daddy came home from his trip to New York city with sushi! I also made a recipe from a Japanese cookbook called Chirashizushi or Scattered Sushi Rice. We also had Asian rice crackers, and pocky and mochi for dessert.

We used the kids' low play table and sat on cushions on the floor so it would feel more Japanese. This was definitely one of our favorite tea parties. 

Thursday, April 3, 2014

What to Read Next if you love Anne of Green Gables

If your kids are anything like mine, when they find a book they like, their first question is: are there any more of these?  Lucky for Anne fans, there are seven more in the series, but if you finish those and still want more, here are some other books with a similar feel.

Emily of New Moon series by L. M. Montgomery
L. M. Montgomery was a very prolific author, so you might want to check out more of her books. My favorite series after Anne was the Emily of New Moon series. Like Anne, Emily is an orphan and is sent to live with her stern aunt on a farm. Emily is also an imaginative writer who loves words. But despite these similarities, she's quite different from Anne: more rebellious and spunky. These books deal with some darker elements than the Anne books: Emily's father's death, Emily's friend Teddy's abusive mother, so maybe they are better read at an older age. I read them in middle school. There are, sadly, only three books in this series, but Emily is definitely a character worth knowing.

Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm by Kate Douglas Wiggin
This is a classic I missed reading as a child. I picked it up a few years ago to read as an adult and really enjoyed it. There are many similarities with Anne of Green Gables. It was published five years before Anne, so some people speculate that it inspired Anne. Rebecca comes from a large family on a farm. Her mother sends her to stay with her two aunts and the books follow her through her graduation from high school. While Wiggin does not do character development as well as L. M. Montgomery, I do love how Rebecca adapts to her new environment and brings beauty to the world around her.

Understood Betsy by Dorothy Canfield Fisher
A friend of mine recommended this book to me a few years ago. We started reading it out loud on a car trip, and Brent and I liked it so much, we had to stay up and finish reading it even though all the kids had dozed off. Spoiled and overprotected Betsy must leave her home in the city with her aunt and stay with her country cousins in Vermont. While she's there, her cousins help her to learn how to do things for herself, and it transforms her life. Fisher was a big proponent of Montessori education, and this could be seen as a novelization of her educational theories, but since she's also a great writer, the book doesn't get bogged down in it. Of course, I grew up in the country and so that might make me a bit biased in my opinion of the Putney cousins. I think they're awesome.

Betsy-Tacy by Maud Hart Lovelace
Okay, so this list is turning into a catalog of classic books I missed as a child, but would have loved. How did I not hear about Betsy-Tacy? I have no idea, but if your kids love old-fashioned stories of great friends who have various adventures around their neighborhood, these are the books for you. The books follow the lives of best friends Betsy and Tacy (and later Tib) all the way through high school and beyond. We read these aloud and the girls loved the first four books. They lost interest a bit when they entered high school, but I'm sure they will pick them up again when they are older and enjoy the whole series.

Is there a children's book you or your child has loved, and you would like to know what to read next? I hope to do more book lists like these, so leave a comment, and I will do my best to help you out!

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Anne of Green Gables Tea Party

The girls were extremely excited to throw an old-fashioned Anne of Green Gables tea party for their friends. We decorated with every embroidered doily we could find. The day before, we spent a few hours with the Anne of Green Gables cookbook, and whipped up some Ruby Tea Biscuits. We even made our own Raspberry cordial, which was amazingly delicious, and did not intoxicate anyone.
We made a cake and remembered to use vanilla, stead of liniment.
 But in true Anne-ish style, our tea party did not go off perfectly. For example I may have accidentally turned on the wrong burner when I went to heat the tea. I may have left the baking sheets on top of this burner, and the parchment paper lining the sheets may have briefly caught fire. But it was extinguished quickly with no one the wiser, I think.

Then there was the matter of the hats. We decided to make some fancy hats for the party. I used a paper plate for the bottom, and a paper bowl for the top. I glued them all together the night before and then let the kids decorate them with lace, ribbon, and silk flowers. The boys used old pieces of silk ties for their hat-bands. We stapled a piece of elastic beading string around the chin to keep them on. This is the point where I permanently lost one of my children to a full-blown tantrum because the elastic was either too tight or too loose or too something. She stayed in our pantry for the rest of the party. 
But, all of the other children at the party were all decked out in style. Some of them may have worn these hats for days, even to places one might not normally wear a paper plate hat, like Costco. And just as our guests were leaving, my wayward child did reappear to eat some cake and joyfully wear her hat for the rest of the day. It just wouldn't be an Anne tea party, without drama, right?

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

The Perils of Reading Anne of Green Gables

While I've been extolling the virtues of reading L. M. Montgomery books, I thought that I should warn you that your children may exhibit certain strange behaviors after being exposed to these books. Proceed with caution.

  • There is a distinct possibility that when you try to sweep the floor in your home, you will be referred to as "the hired woman who works for my auntie."
  • Your three-year-old who has always been obsessed with pulling your hair will still pull your hair, but will now say "Carrots!" when she does it.
  • Your children may begin to think that "orphanage runner" is a job category to which they should aspire, and you may even overhear them saying disturbing things like, "We're playing we're in an orphanage and Daddy is dead and you run the orphanage."
  • They may begin to insist on only wearing floor-length skirts and beg to grow their hair out and wear it in braids. You will then have to deal with your own issues that your children have begun to look like "homeschoolers."
  • Your children may become strangely obsessed with Mrs. Rachel Lynde, and run around the house, pretending to be Marilla and Rachel, leaping over "cow pens" and yelling, "I feel like a young child again!" Not even I can explain that one.