Saturday, November 22, 2014

Discipline and Delight for Advent: A Look Back Before Looking Forward

We are but a week away from Advent 2014 and I have just found a post I began writing on November 30, 2013. Oh my! 

As I reread my thoughts on Advent 2013: Discipline and Delight as We Await the Light of the World I could not help but to inwardly chastise myself.  Looking around at my my messy home and busy calendar right now leads me to think that Advent 2013 and subsequent days unfolded here with less discipline and delight than I felt I was being called to focus upon. 

However, I also smile as I reflect further, flipping through pictures from last December.  Advent 2013 had its own merits and beauty and did, in some ways, continue to prepare us for our Lord's coming - past, present and future.  See..

Advent 2013 Plans for Discipline and Delight as We Await the Light of the World (Which Were Not Fully Realized) 

Nina was delighted on Christmas morning 2013, putting baby Jesus in one of our nativity sets.

For the past two weeks, I have been praying and thinking about our family’s Advent plans for this year. Sitting down with our 2011 Alphabet of Plans for a Literature-Based Family Advent Rich in Sensory Input and Special Activities and our 2012 Literature-Rich Advent Alphabet of Faith, Others, then Selves Including Ideas for Montessori, Workboxing, Sensory, Motor Skills and Traditional Activities made me smile with memories. However, it did not stir my heart this year... nor bring my Advent 2013 planning any closer to its conclusion. 

In fact, every time I sat down to write out our Advent 2013 plans, I got side-tracked. Day-to-day duties, children’s needs, distracting health concerns... These things and more worked against me wrapping up our family Advent planning prior to Thanksgiving as I had hoped to do. 

Now I know why.

I needed Thanksgiving to unfold so that I would recognize that an ABC Advent may not be the “right” framework for us this year. In fact, it might not even be the best starting point. 

The middle of a Thanksgiving that was filled with so much literal thanks giving...

I needed to listen to the homily at Mass on Thanksgiving morning while my husband graciously stayed home to take care of two awake children and one sleeping one. Yes, I needed too get a fuller message of “Give!”
Making ornaments for others and sharing love and service through our annual Advent chain was a part of our Advent 2013, but there certainly could have been more giving.

I also needed to look up at the stained glass image of Jesus above the altar. To understand, “Focus on me. Focus on beauty.”
Time in Adoration, at Mass, with devotionals and engaging the children in impromptu Nativity Story play helped focus us on the Lord last Advent.

I needed to cry with unexpected, grateful silent tears after sharing in the Eucharist. To be grateful to be His child and to be the mother of my own children

How could I not be so grateful for my silly children as they celebrated the new liturgical year?

I needed to come home to see my husband and children playing with a toy that the kids had been begging me to bring upstairs for them, but that I had not wanted to be “bothered” with due to its many small pieces. Yes, I needed to recognize that we are blessed with abundant “stuff” and those blessings become exponentially magnified when we take the time to share enjoyment with that stuff together. Too often, I busy my children with one thing so I can go do another. My presence should be their present more often

They may not remember simple sled rides when they grow up, but I sue hope they remember Mom enjoying everyday time with them!

Still further, I needed to click through a number of years worth of snapshots looking for a good one for my niece’s birthday card, but instead bumping into many forgotten images of Mike, mine and our children’s past. Images that made me cry – with thanksgiving and with sorrow. Thanksgiving for challenges overcome and blessings enjoyed. Sorrow at photos that evidenced how purposefully and fully I began our homeschooling adventures and how distracted I have become at times since then. It is time to dispel distraction and to sharpen focus once more. 
Jack loved working with me on these Montessori-inspired phonics sound boxes I made him last Advent.  Why did we not continue to learn with such materials?  Distractions! 

Still further, I needed to bake up the cod that my children had requested and that my husband had run out to get... to pack that cod with asked-for corn, squash, GFCF pumpkin pie filling and organic cranberry sauce into a laundry basket to bring to our extended family’s Thanksgiving table. Happy to accommodate our children and to provide them with healthy options for eating, grateful to be able to tailor simple things to their needs and desires.
Someone liked his turkey leg, too!

Then, as I departed for the extended family Thanksgiving, I needed to glance at the rooms of my home with an “ugh”, unable to overlook what disarray the house was in before I departed for a family feast at my parent’s house, which my mother has always kept in homey order. Yes, I needed be honest with myself: The need to prepare our home is ever-present

When messes like this blanket for from Advent 2013 happen, I am okay with that.  It's the disaster the rest of my house is that makes me continue to recognize the need to prepare our home.

I also needed to spend time together with extended family. To share boisterous conversation and feasting balanced by a quiet game of checkers with my son and some special one-on-one time with a niece that I don’t see often anymore. Yes, I needed to have the afternoon and evening reiterate a message I have heard more and more often lately – Pause! Pause is good. Breathing in space is vital

I am so thankful I made room in our schedule for pause some days last Advent and that weatehr brought more.  Moments like this when Nina beamed as we tracked animal prints were so simple, yet so powerfully joy-filled!

Finally, I needed to sit, quietly, after putting away leftovers and tidying up a bit at home, reflecting, praying and letting the blessings of the day – and the messages of it – sink in: 

Discipline. Delight. Giving. Purpose. Prayer. Pause. Balance. One-on-one time. Preparing our home. Opening our hearts. Listening to our Lord and being moved to better accept and express love. 

These things are what this year’s Advent must include for our family this year..."

How is the Spirit working in you to direct your Advent this year?  I do believe I am being called once again toward Discipline and Delight.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Visit Our Mysteries of History Fair Project!

This week brought so much fun and learning that there was little time for blogging!  Among other things, we were out and about at field trips, meet ups, classes and a Mysteries of History fair!

When the children first heard about the fair a couple months ago, they picked their topics right away.

Nina decided on "Who was Dr. Joseph Warren's informant?"

Luke chose, "Who shot the "shot hear 'round the world'?"

And Jack chose to help his siblings.

Thus it was that our living room exploded with piles of library books and audios, and we found ourselves traveling to Lexington and Concord one lovely fall day.

Through the weeks, the children immersed themselves in all things Revolutionary, including D.I.Y costumes!  (Luke's and Nina's D.I.Y costumes, that is.  Jack went for the easy knight costume.)

Then, about a week ago, they began to put their display together, asking for my help with parts of it, but designing most of it on their own.

Luke's panel included a super-sized flap book with some of the theories about who might have shot the shot heard around the world.

Nina's side included a pull-out book of some of the historical figures connected to Dr. Joseph Warren.  She proudly explained who each of these figures was to those who asked her.

All three children designed their own games -- a project fair tradition that began with our first homeschool fair, an Endangered Species one.

When we played Luke's at home, we realized it was a bit more complicated than it seemed and may need a Version 2.

But that did not stop Jack and I from enjoying it at the fair.  Some others played it, too.

Jack's game was more straightforward.  

We enjoyed it before, during and after the fair.

We had a lot of fun with Nina's too!

Besides the tri-fold board and games, the kids' display included a few of the books we'd used as resources and models made by Luke and Jack to help explain what happened at North Bridge at the start of the Revolution.

Nina made a small booklet about spies and laid out some photos of our Concord and Lexington family field trip

Luke had wanted to make flapjacks, but I was out of corn flour.  Nina then recalled that the Colonial people enjoyed popcorn, so she and Jack popped some up to share.  That popcorn was such a hit that only a few kernels remained minutes into the fair.

Two things that did not disappear the entire night were proud smiles and loads of sharing.

By the time the children dashed up for their participation certificates, they had learned a bit about the Bermuda Triangle, the Bridgewater Triangle, the Lost City of Atlantis, Area 51, Roswell, Big Foot, the Loch Ness Monster, Mysteries of the Mona Lisa, Stonehenge, Lizzie Borden, the Mary Celeste and more.

Meanwhile, I was again impressed by how children from preschool age to high school age created and shared such a wide variety of unique projects and, then, interacted with one another with enthusiasm and respect.  Homeschool fairs bring so much fruit!

Want to host your own fair?

Feel free to use the 8 Easy Steps I shared at Upside Down Homeschooling in late October.

We have a Cultures Past and Present Fair and an Art Fair coming up later this year.  We've done an Endangered Species one, a History one, a Nature Explorers one and a Geography one.  What fairs have your enjoyed?

Sunday, November 16, 2014

When Siblings Serve at Mass...

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The other day, I went to clean our Dry Erase Peel & Stick Whiteboard Dry-Erase Board and found this:

I smiled, guessing it had been Nina who had sketched the simple drawing of the Mass, and went to find her to ask if it was okay if I erased it.  

When I found her, she was fetching water and crackers for Jack, who was doing this:

Jack was setting up an altar with our miniature Mass kit from Our Father's House and a bowl he had purchased at a neighbor's yard sale this summer.  He, then, proceeded to alternate between playing altar boy and priest.

Meanwhile, Nina alternated between chatting with me and playing choir member/parishioner.  She told me that she loves serving at Mass by singing at Mass and wants to continue to serve our church "in any way possible" as she grows.

I have no doubt -- and every prayer -- that Ninaa will.

In fact, I pray that each of my children will joyfully serve our local parish community in their own ways right through adulthood and, that, our entire family will grow in service to the larger Church as well.

Already, I see those prayers being answered. Undoubtedly, each time Luke serves on the altar and Nina in the choir, the desire to serve in a specific way grows in Jack's heart, too.

We are learning here that when siblings serve at Mass, blessings unfold.

As a side note, I'd like to add that we love, love, love our miniature Mass Kit!  It was a purchase we had to save for and I am glad that we did.  It' beautiful and our children use it regularly.

Since we bought our realistic looking kit, however, another Mass Kit for children has come onto the market.  It is a soft version that I think would be wonderful for small children to use at home or as a quiet bag at Mass.

May your family be blessed as each person within it answers specific calls to service.  Let's pray for one another to hear and heed calls to use our personal gifts and desires to serve the Church.

If you leave a link to a faith formation idea or a reflection relevant to raising young children in the faith in a comment here or on our Training Happy Hearts Facebook page, I will pin it on the Training Happy Hearts: A Call to Faith Formation in Young Children Pinterest board

2014 Catholic Bloggers Link-Up Blitz

Friday, November 14, 2014

Get This Game for Home, School, Clubs, Camps and More {Snake Oil Party Potion Review}

As a home educator, tutor, drama teacher former camp counselor and former middle school teacher, I love, love, LOVE games that induce laughter while also encouraging academic and life skills.  Snake Oil – Party Potion by Out of the Box Games is just such a game!  When we were offered a chance to review it, I knew it would be fun, but did not realize it would be adaptable to as many learning goals as it is.  What a happy surprise.

What is Snake Oil?

Out of the Box Games Review

If you're talking about the original "snake oil", as the Snake Oil – Party Potion Rules insert explains, you are talking about an actual product used by Chinese laborers on the Transcontinental Railroad in 1860's which was made from water and snake oil and rubbed on sore muscles.

If you were talking about "snake oil" a few decades later, you might be referring to a phrase that came about when, after becoming popular with American co-workers to the Chinese, Snake Oil was commercializedSome changes to the original formula were made and, in 1917, a sample of Clark Stanley's Snake Oil Liniment was tested by the U.S. government and found to contain no actual snake oil.  Out of this discovery came the practice of calling falsely labeled products and products that swindlers sold "Snake Oil",  Likewise, the swindlers that sold "Snake Oil" were called "Snake Oil Salesman".

Fast forward to 2014 and beyond.  If you say "Snake Oil" now, you may just be referring to a game inspired by the concept of Snake Oil Salesmen -- a fun card game where players make pitches about zany products to one another in an effort to get customers to pick them.   

The Snake Oil – Party Potion game has won awards from Dr. Toy, Old Schoolhouse, The Toy Man and Mensa, among others.  It comes in a small box and contains:

  • 112 word cards to inspire crazy products and pitches
  • 14 customer cards that have one type of customer listed on each side of them, totaling 28 creative customer options
  • a plastic card holder that keeps things organized during play and storage of the game
  • a rules insert with traditional playing rules, a Snake Oil Live game playing variation and a brief explanation of "The True History of Snake Oil"

Plus, of course, the game comes with potential for oodles of creativity and laughter.  In fact, the disclaimer on the package states in extraordinarily small fine print:
"We make no medical claims about the health benefits of the game Snake Oil, however we have observed that everyone laughs while playing the game and everyone under the sun knows that laughter is good for you, so add a little healthy magic to your life with a daily dose of Snake Oil!" 

I cannot say that we added Snake Oil to our lives daily, but I can attest that when we did, we experienced laughter as wonderful medicine indeed!

How do you play Snake Oil?

Since a picture, or video in this particular case, is worth 1,000 words, here's one that explains how to play:


For those who have slow connections or prefer words, in a nutshell, to play by the rule insert, simply gather at least three people to play.  Pick one person to be the first customer; everybody else becomes salespeople.  Salespeople get six Snake Oil cards with a word on each.   The customer draws a customer card and chooses which of the two customer types on the card to be.  

After learning who the customer is (Olympic athlete, doctor, mad scientist, dog, etc.), the salespeople choose two of their cards and use their creativity and wit to pitch a product that the customer can’t live without.  After hearing each salesperson's pitch, the customer chooses one product and the customer who pitched it wins the round.

A new customer is picked and another round ensues!

Who is the the game for?

Official game literature says Snake Oil – Party Potion is designed for 3-6 players who are eight years old and older, that it takes five minutes to learn; and that game play lasts 20-30 minutes.  In my experience, with adaptations and accommodations, two to countless players,with children as young as four, can enjoy playing Snake Oil – Party Potion, for a few minutes or to an hour.

Played traditionally, Snake Oil – Party Potion brings families together with imagination and laughter.  The game  can also be fabulous in schools, drama classes, speech clubs, camps and the like as a fun way to practice skills.

Teachers will find several educational variations and Common Core connections for the game on the Out of the Box website.   Among these variations is one called "Step Right Up", which I can picture being a hit at one of my future drama classes and wish I'd had on hand when I used to coach a speech club and do ice breakers at a camp.

With no Snake Oil Salesmanship in play, I can definitely see how different variations of Snake Oil – Party Potion can encourage:

  • creativity
  • public speaking skills
  • empathetic persuasion skills
  • oral presentation skills
  • comparing, contrasting and evaluating skills
  • improvisation skills
  • social skills
  • problem solving
  • teamwork
  • listening skills
  • vocabulary building

It is truly an enjoyable, adaptable game!

Our Experience

When Snake Oil – Party Potion arrived, my children were eager to play it.  So, my two oldest and I broke the game out of the box, read the directions and began playing quite quickly, with me helping my daughter to read her cards.

Hearing our laughter, our youngest wanted to join in.  I helped him read his cards.  He chose which ones to make products to pitch with, and with great fun the game continued.

Daddy, too, heard the laughter and came over to take some snapshots of the kids and me playingThen, despite the fact that Daddy is not typically a game lover, the children asked him to join us.  He obliged and became quite the comical salesman! 

Our children enjoyed playing Snake Oil – Party Potion with Mom and Dad so much that between showers, before bed, they asked to play it more.  Then, they begged to take the game to Grammy and Grampy's the following day.  Of course, we did, and we've been enjoying playing the game on occasion ever since - laughing each time we play!

Is there anything not to like about Snake Oil?

Out of the Box Games Review

Snake Oil – Party Potion is a game that goes from box to laughter-inducing play in minutes.  It encourages a wide array of academic and life skillsIt can be played in a variety of ways with a wide range of ranges.  Plus, it is just plain fun.  So, at first glance there is absolutely nothing at all not to like about the game.

However, as I played with my children, I did find two Snake Oil cards that I chose to remove from the deck, because I felt they were unnecessary (Snot, and Butt).  Plus, I was surprised to see that a Mensa Select game included a card with a spelling error on it.  (Satellite was spelled "Satelite".)   Along the same lines, I wondered why Out of the Box Games chose to include a card with the word "Ax" on it spelled as "Axe".  For, while "ax" can be spelled correctly as "ax" or "axe", there are so many other words that would work in Snake Oil – Party Potion that would not bring spelling/reading confusion to children, as this word did to mine.  (We used that confusion as an opening for explaining how correct spellings for certain words can vary, which is a worthwhile learning point, but not one I expected to pause a game to make.)

My easy fix for these small issues was simply to take four of the 112 word cards out of the deck which did not affect play at all.  In fact, every time we played Snake Oil – Party Potion we laughed heartily at one another's sales pitches while also painlessly practicing both academic and life skills.  That makes Snake Oil – Party Potion a keeper for me! 

I can use the game at home, while tutoring, with drama students and at homeschool co-ops.  If I ever go back to teaching in a traditional classroom or working at  a camp, I can take it there, too!

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