Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Gently Learn About the Early 20th Century with Bessie's Pillow {A Historical Fiction Review}

If you and yours enjoy reading historical fiction together, you might like to check out Bessie's Pillow by Strong Learning, Inc.



Our family just finished reading this story of a Lithuanian Jewish immigrant the other day as we snuggled under blankets dealing with our heat being out and one family member recovering from a surgery.  It seemed rather apropos to read about the hardships - and blessings - of past-era immigrants while dealing with out own mini-trials.  In fact, doing so gave an extra layer of meaning to us as we paused to chat about how "real life" goes and what kinds of ups and downs Bessie and her family experienced and how much more challenging the lives of the immigrants in the tenement houses she helped had been.

Bessie's Pillow proved to be a living book that folded much gentle learning, a portion of sorrow, a bit of humor, and a lot of "real life" into its 247 pages of historical fiction  about an 18-year-old Jewish immigrant who came to America in 1906 to escape persecution and proved herself resilient, successful, and compassionate as she made a new life for herself.  As the story begins, Boshka Markman (who later takes the Americanized name of Bessie) is entrusted with a pillow to pass onto a fellow immigrant already in America.  The pillow contains the words "may this pillow bring you peace" on it, and, indeed, as Bessie's story continues, much peace is needed.  Personal, national,  and international trials in the early 20th century affect Bessie, sometimes threatening to steal all peace.  However, stamina, resilience, and blessings come in good measure, too.
 
Told mostly in chronological order, with some brief flashbacks set off in italic typeface,
Bessie's Pillow has short chapters and a a compelling storyline, which often kept me reading aloud longer to my children than I expected.

The softcover book also includes
20+ pages of printed Bessie's America information after the 247 page storyThis section highlights:
 
  • immigration
  • famous people
  • food and recipes
  • health
  • music and dancing
  • news
  • parks and beaches
  • influential Presidents during Bessie's lifetime
  • radio
  • social movements
  • vaudeville and Yiddish theater

It is mirrored by a more extensive online version with links to audio clips, video clips, and so much more.  One could easily get lost hopping bunny trails throughout
Bessie's America online or could use it in a more organized fashion as a comprehensive jumping off point for a complete unit study or research paper.Indeed, between the well-told historical fiction story, printed Bessie's America, and online version, Strong Learning, Inc. has taken an outstanding living history book and turned it into a springboard for a full-on period history study.   

Historical fiction lovers, Charlotte Mason-inspired families, unit-study aficionados, traditional learners, and more will likely appreciate what Bessie's Pillow has to offer.  I know I, as an eclectic homeschooling mama with kids that love history and reading together, am delighted to have this book in our collection now.  I've so enjoyed reading it to my children  and hopping a few bunny trails, and we will likely revisit it down the road, too.


Bessie's Pillow

My Children's Takes


My youngest, at six, is younger than the audience
Bessie's Pillow is intended for, but with older siblings, he has gotten used to listening in to more mature materials.  In deference to his age, I did reword a few small bits in the book when reading it aloud, but, truly there was very little I could not read "as is" and plenty that my youngest learned and asked about.  Among those things, he told me after finishing the book:
 
I learned about bah mitzvahs and the food Jewish people eat - kosher.  I also learned Attleboro was once the jewelry capital.  I wish there was more humor.  I like humor.

Throughout our readings of the story, my youngest sometimes paused to ask me to explain what a word meant or what some historical or cultural detail was about.  He also stopped us to exclaim when he realized Bessie's brother moved to a town our friend's live in and where we have visited a shrine (Attleboro).

As far as the humor comment goes: it is true.  My youngest likes humor.  What is also true is his ready giggles and belly laughs rang out during parts of our read together time with
Bessie's Pillow.  The story contained real life sorrow and real life laughable moments.  He just wished for more of the latter.
 My oldest learned some things, too.

I learned about the horrors of Russia and Germany around World War I and II.  It was interesting that people were forced to fight in the front lines just because of their religion, and, it was horrible that they set the whole part of the city where the Jews lived on fire during the war, killing hundreds or thousands of Jews.
I thought it was awesome that during that time America was so far ahead of Lithuania.  That was crazy.  It was like Bessie walked from one century to another.  Suddenly, there were all these things she did not recognize, like towering buildings and other modern inventions.
Before, I knew about modern immigrants, but not about this time in history.  I thought Bessie was privileged compared to other immigrants.  They were all starving to death and sick, and she was able to go shopping with friends, eat well, have tons of toys for her kids, have a truck and a car,...  She was charitable.  She gave toys and food to others and loaned money to people.  Some immigrants, like the ones Bessie met on the boat, were mean.  Others were hardworking.

My oldest tends to prefer stories with more real-time action, mystery, and adventure and less romance, skipped time portions, and real life drama than
Bessie's Pillow includes, so he also had these critiques:

There were a lot things in this book, I did not like.  Some things could not be changed, because they are just history, but I still do not like them.  I thought it was silly for Bessie to loan money during the height of the stock market, because it was too risky.  The kids should not have stuck his head through glass and got stuck - a really bad idea.  I also think it is a bad idea to hit someone like Bessie's girl did.  But, it is all real life, I guess.
Other things could be changed like not skipping so much time between chapters.  Also, they should call things by their names, like, instead of saying "little black beads say "a rosary", because that's what it is.

Overall, though my oldest listened attentively each time we read
Bessie's Pillow aloud and even was seen reading ahead at times, he honestly stated:

I would not recommend this story to some others, but my sister was crazy about it and my mom liked it, too.  I didn't want to read it as often as we did, because it took up our time and I wanted to read some other books, too.

Despite my son's partially "negative" review of
Bessie's Pillow, just the fact that he stayed sitting with the rest of us while we read this atypical-for him book, tells me the book has merit.  He laughed aloud during parts, asked questions and made oral connections during other parts, and, on the whole, remained engaged.  He also is right - his sister loved the story (which is yet another reason he could not give it more kudos, because, well, he's a boy, at that age, you know, the age when female protagonists are not as well-loved and anything little sister likes can become immediately suspect...)

As for my daughter, I think she would have listened to me read the entirety of
Bessie's Pillow in one sitting if I would have.  After reading a long stretch of the book as we finished it off, she had the following to say.  (Warning: Some spoilers included):

I liked the story a lot.   I had no idea that there was such things as the pogroms. 

The story was a tiny bit violent and sad at times, but that was needed to make it realistic, because life is not just a big happy thing.  It must have been hard for Bessie to lose two children, her husband, her mom and dad in a different country,...  I felt bad for Lou, too...

I really liked when Bessie grabbed a broom and made her kids' uncle leave.  It was also funny how one of boys got his head stuck in glass and when the food was on fire at a restaurant...

Bessie was a do-it-myself woman who didn't want to just sit around in rooms gossiping and cooking, so when her husband died, I liked that she was able to take over the business...

I like that there are pictures in the back of the story...

It was interesting to see that the immigrants came to America and, then, a little while later, there was the depression, and that the president signed a paper about limiting immigration.  That was kind of sad, but it's life...

I really liked the book.  I think kids who are a tiny bit older should read it - people who are not super sensitive...

When she says "a tiny bit older", she means than her little brother.  When she says "not super sensitive", she is 100% spot-on.  Although the author, Linda Bress Silbert (who is Bessie's granddaughter) writes in an easy-to-read, style without belaboring the violence and sorrow of the early 20th century, the fact remains that many diffucult things happened during this period. 

War.  Persecution.  Disease.  Poverty.  All of these things are woven into
Bessie's Pillow along with celebration, compassion, and resilience.  If you're looking for a piece of historical fiction that tugs at your heartstrings, gives an honest, well-balanced picture of life in the early 20th century, and will etch a woman of character and her family into your memory, Bessie's Pillow is it!  Also, as I already mentioned, if you'd like to go deeper -through bunny trails or formal research or unit studies, Bessie's America will help you do just that!

Learn More



Strong Learning, Inc. 
 
Enjoy learning about Bessie's America.

Find
Bessie's Pillow on Facebook and Twitter.
 
Bessie's Pillow {Strong Learning, Inc. Reviews}
Bessie's Pillow retails for $19.95.


Crew Disclaimer

Monday, March 20, 2017

Create a Masterpiece in Your Own Home at Your Own Pace {An Online Art Program Review}

Five Levels (plus a Beginners Level and Art in History track), multiple media, and over 50 projects at your fingertips  - that's what the Monthly Plan from Creating a Masterpiece offers artists of all ages.



As a mama who enjoys creating art with my children, but has little background in media and technique myself, I depend on the expertise of others to inspire and teach us.  When such expertise does not require my family to jump in our minivan to rush off to a class nor to budget for steep per-person fees, all the better.  So, I was delighted to be offered a chance to tap into the encouraging talent that Sharon Hofer offers with her online fine arts lessons for students of all ages.



For the past month or so, every week - and sometimes several times a week - my children and I have sat down to learn from Sharon's online lessons, creating artworks in watercolor, oil pastels, and pencil so far.


Sometimes, Daddy has been able to join us, too!

Our First Project


We started with a Beginners Level project that my children picked called African Sunset.  This project, like all the Beginners Level projects, could be completed in one sitting of about 45 minutes to an hour long and contains:

  • video lessons (which are easy to follow along with)
  • a complete supply list (which we adapted to what we had on hand, knowing that if we used high quality "correct" materials as  Sharon suggests, we'd get more masterly looking masterpieces, but agreeing we would just use what we have for now)
  • written tips (which were concise, helpful and easy to scroll down to)
  • still images of lesson highlights (which we scrolled to more than once - so helpful!)
  • a downloadable high-resolution image, supply list pdf, and link to purchase supplies
  • multiple images of more advanced applications/reference art created by Sharon's other students

The instructions Sharon offered during the project video segments were clear, and my family was able to follow along, sometimes pausing the video lesson on our computer.



Most of our family met with success and had fun with this project.


Admittedly, though, we all had a little trouble getting the knack of the blown trees with this project, and one of our children - who is quite self-critical - was more "emotional" than confident as the project wound down.  I do not fault Sharon's online teaching for this, though, and, in fact, consider the overall experience for that child a success despite the small outbursts that occurred.




Why? Personalities are personalities, and, even though said child had some unpleasant reactions during the lesson project, inspiration happened.



Yes, said child remained at the table when everyone else was done with their artwork (above) in order to continue creating her own art.  To me, THAT is success.

Our Second Project


The next project my children selected was a mixed media one called Candlelight, which we also experienced as a family.


For it, we used pencils, oil pastels, and watercolors.
  Here are our results:





Our Third Project


For our third project, we decided to "skip ahead" from the Beginners Level to test out a Level 1 project in pencil called Sunflower.


As with most Level 1 and above projects, the Sunflower project was a multi-lesson one.  It had six lessons, with the first few on beginning skills like contour drawing. (Most Level 1 to 5 projects have between three and seven lessons.)



Each of the different lessons of the project were set up much the same as the Beginners Level projects - with video segments, tips, reference art, etc. - and were meant to be completed in one sitting, with the entire project created over a number of sittings.  A "lesson skills" video on value was also included.



My children and I, followed along with the lessons for the project in order. 


However, on some days, we completed just a portion of a lesson, while on others, we complete a full lesson lesson or even two lessons in a row.  To me, this sort of flexibility is a key element to why Creating a Masterpiece is excellent for homeschooling families like mine.  For - I cannot speak for every homeschooling family, but I can say that for mine,  - sometimes, there is less than an hour a day to dedicate to artistic pursuits and, sometimes, there is more. 


Schedules, moods, other commitments, and just "life" demand flexibility, which
Creating a Masterpiece offered.  Some days, like when our heat was out, life got in the way of art (since hands got too cold to create), while other days, I happily was able to reply "Yes!" to please of "Can we do more? Can we?" For me, being able to stop part way through a project and easily pick up another time is important.



Considering our typical drawing skills, I'd say
Creating a Masterpiece is an effective program.  I don't think any of us would have gotten this close to sunflower-like drawings before.






Other Projects and One for You to Try FREE!

Obviously, there are still plenty more projects for us to enjoy with

the Creating a Masterpiece.  I know we plan do some more and only wish we had enough time in our upcoming schedule to try a all of them. 


I am excited to see what projects and media my children will ask for next. 


There sure is a lot to choose from in Sharon's collection of
Creating a Masterpiece projects. 

Media includes:

  • Acrylic Painting
  • Soft Pastels
  • Oil Pastels
  • Sculpture
  • Watercolor
  • Block Printing
  • Ink
  • Silk Dyeing
  • Pencil
  • Bombay Ink
  • Conte Crayon
  • Portraiture
  • Colored Pencil
  • Copper Tooling
  • Charcoal
  • Glass Mosaic
  • Watercolor Pencils
  • Gouache
  • Balsa Carving

If you'd like to TRY A PROJECT FREE, Sharon offers a free sample project.

My Children's Opinions



After finishing our Sunflower project, I asked each of my children for heir reviews of
Creating a Masterpiece


My oldest said:


I like Masterpiece, because it really helps me to have something to draw.  A lot of times, I just draw battle scenes or weaponry, because it is all I can think of, and this helps me to have new things to draw. 


I also like the paintings.  They are pretty nice.  Of the two we did so far, I prefer the candle, because I always love how when you paint watercolor on oil pastel, the oil pastel resits the watercolor.  I really like that.

My favorite project so far was either the teapot or the shell exercises.  I can't decide.  I liked them, because I really like drawing and they were some of the first drawing ones we did.  I did not like the duck as much, because you had to draw it with one stroke, never taking you had off the paper.  So, I did my own study, too.


The sunflowers was nice, too, but it took us day-ay-ay-ays.  I prefer projects the just take one sitting.  I know other artists take days, but I am different.

I have to echo my oldest's initial reason for liking the lessons - that they give him more to draw than battles and weapons. 


I so love seeing him expand his repertoire.  Plus, as much as he might prefer the one-sitting lessons, I am delighted that he stay engaged for the longer-term Sunflower project.  He is my quick-draw, do-it-fast-and-move-on child, so it was satisfying to see him focus over time.


My youngest said:

I like it, but I don't like that the sunflower takes so long to make.  (In the end, the sunflower) was okay.

What he did not mention was the laughter he had when creating art with us and the total focus on instruction that he sometimes maintained.

He also did not mention how, on first day we watched sunflower instructions, he drew the sunflower like a quick daisy picture on purpose, but as lessons continued, he erased what he'd drawn (on his own) and began anew, wanting to do a more "masterly" job.  I loved seeing that (second-go) initiative.



My youngest also said:

On the candle, it was a little hard to make the center, but it was okay.  I liked drawing the candle more than painting over it.

Then, he remembered:

I made a UFO in the sunset picture.  Also, the trees were kind of hard to make.  I also made a thing next to my tree to blast the UFO off.



I want to do more projects...

I'd say that
Creating a Masterpiece has been a success with him so far, then, even if he doesn't exude in commentary about it.  His concentration and effort during art time spoke for itself.



Then, there is my daughter.  She is a tough one to please with things like this, for she loves to create, but is overly critical of herself and her skills and often emotionally charged.  I had hoped using Creating a Masterpiece would help her experience a feeling of success, but, obviously, by her words, it did not always do this. 

It made me sad to hear my daughter day:



It was okay, but it was hard.  It made me feel like I was bad artist.  Other people's art is so good. 

It also made me ask how and why Creating a Masterpiece made her feel badly, because, honestly, the rest of us found Sharon's video lessons encouraging and our skills, when using them, growing.  My daughter, however, sadly compared her own work to Sharon's, the posted art examples, and the rest of ours and believed she was coming up short.  All too often, no matter what her siblings or I said - or what Sharon said on the videos - my daughter lacked confidence.  (She even asked me not to take pictures of her doing the art.)


All that said, even if my daughter's confidence did not grow during the lessons, she persisted with them, and, obviously, despite her lack of confidence in her own skills, was inspired to create more. 

As my daughter asserted herself:
After each time I made art with it, I did my own art, so I didn't feel upset.

In the lessons, I learned a little about techniques. I went over shading...  After, I did my own things.

So, even though my daughter's experience was not all bright smiles an success while using Creating a Masterpiece so far, I still count her experience a success.  I also believe that, over time, my daughter's confidence will grow to match - or even surpass - her creativity.  Having Creating a Masterpiece on hand to teach skills to encourage her - and us all  - to experiment with media will certainly help with that!  
I Wholeheartedly Recommend Creating a Masterpiece

Creating a Masterpiece

Four out of five folks in my home had a wholly positive experience with
Creating a Masterpiece, and the fifth shared a couple laughs, strengthened some skills, and was inspired to create, too.  So, I'd say the program is a success here.  I am happy that we have this homeschool art curriculum available and would recommend it to other families.  Step-by-step instructions for creating masterpieces with a variety of media at different levels in the convenience of your own home at ideal-for-you times make this online art program a family win!

Learn More

Creating a Masterpiece


Children (and adults!) of all ages enjoy
Creating a MasterpieceCurrently, prices for this online art program from $39.99 per month for family access to 144+ lessons to $349 for the year.  You can also purchase one level's worth of lessons from $119 on up.  (One level typically includes about 8 or 9 projects.)


If you'd like to learn more, find
Creating a Masterpiece on Facebook, check out how Sharon teaches, or TRY A PROJECT FREE.


Creating Beautiful Art at Home {Creating A Masterpiece Reviews}

Also see what one hundred Schoolhouse Review families created using
Creating a Masterpiece.  


If you're looking to gain skills and confidence with different media while creating masterpieces with your family, I wholeheartedly recommend Creating a Masterpiece!

Crew Disclaimer

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Enjoy a St. Joseph Table with Friends

Some years life is busy, but a St. Joseph feast day celebration with friends comes together anyway. 

That's just what happened for us last year. 

Life was a bit crazy for me and mine, but through the grace of God and a collective effort from friends, we were able to enjoy a lovely St. Joseph table and celebration at a friend's home.

Our Feast Table


Our table was not set in the traditional 3-tier style, but plenty of tradition and symbolism were displayed upon it.




{Disclosure: Some links which follow are affiliate ones.}

We used a white tablecloth, a statue of Joseph, candles, and flowers, as are traditional.  We also included images of Joseph from two favorite inexpensive books -
Prayers to My Favorite Saints and Prayers to the Saints - and some prayers cards. 

Wine (and grape juice) helped us remember the Miracle at Cana, while olives, dried figs, and olive oil brought to mind the vineyards of Sicily.


White lilies were a symbol of Joseph.  Gluten-free bread rolls were going to be made into symbolic shapes, but ended up being just "as is".  Pasta Milanese with Mudrica "sawdust" for Joseph was also served.


Gluten-Free pasta and bread was use for traditional pasta with honey.  Greens and vegetables were served as was fruit, which is also traditionally on a Joseph's table or altar.


A St. Joseph peg doll from a saint peg doll swap we had done earlier in the year also adorned the table, along with the book
Good Saint Joseph, which we read during craft time.  Almonds were strewn on the table, too, since the almond tree is characteristic among the flora of the Mediterranean, where the tradition of the St. Joseph table originated.



GFCF tortillas were cut into symbolic shapes by the children. 



A simplified version of traditional  pupa cu l'ova, or bread baked with Easter eggs, reminded us that Easter neared.


My family's traditional "flowering staff of Joseph" was laid out, surrounded by images cut from the FREE printable Joseph memory Match playing cards Jessica shared at Shower of Roses.



Fava beans  -a sustaining food fir families of Sicily which is now considered "lucky" were also served, as were fish (in place of the 12 whole fish that are meant to represent the apostles or the miracle of the loaves and fishes) and grapes (to remind us of Sicily).

There were other dishes on the table that our children enjoy eating, too.  Truly, for a rather last-minute celebration, our potluck style created quite a feast!

 
A Little Learning



We kicked off our evening with a quick, opening prayer and chat about St. Joseph.  I drew the children's attention to the images of St. Joseph in the books on the table -  Prayers to My Favorite Saints and Prayers to the Saints - and asked if they could find any symbolism in them.  I also asked them to tell me what they knew, in general, about St. Joseph, and used a FREE printable about St. Joseph, Husband of Mary from the Institute for Christian Formation to teach the children more about St. Joseph and the tradition of St. Joseph tables. 


Some Prayer



Before eating, we asked the father of our host family to lead us all in blessing our St. Joseph table ...


...and praying the Litany of St. Joseph using a free printable from St. Joseph's Church.


We also, of course, prayed grace, and I read the St. Joseph prayer from Prayers to My Favorite Saints and Prayers to the Saints.


Then, it was time to "finally" eat.  The children were so eager to dig in!

A Bit of Crafting and Storytelling




After food, the children enjoyed playing inside and out while the grown ups cleared the table...


Then, the children created "stained glass" crafts...


To do so, children chose images of St. Joseph to color and cut out.  Then, they cut out holes on another paper and put metallic paper or tissue paper behind holes before gluing the St. Joseph images on to make the "stained glass" windows.


While the children crafted, I read portions of Good Saint Joseph to the children and summarized other parts, occasionally drawing the children's attention to images in the book or asking them to narrate to me what they knew about parts of St. Joseph's life.

A Few Gifts
 


The night wound down with little gifts for the children.  A friend had brought St. Joseph stained glass sticker suncatchers for each family as well as St. Joseph prayer cards and medals for each child.

Our Inspiration


We drew inspiration for our celebration from:


Plus, our own past celebrations and ideas, including:



http://traininghappyhearts.blogspot.com/2016/03/celebrating-st-joseph-feast-day.html





However you observe St. Joseph's day, may your day be blessed and beautiful.
 
St. Joseph, pray for us.

This post was shared at the 40 Days of Seeking Him Link up

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