Wednesday, July 30, 2014

5 Easy How-To's and Activities from Upside Down Homeschooling

Have you heard of Upside Down Homeschooling?  It's a faith-based multi-author site run by heather Bowen which I write for once a month, usually sharing how-to's and quick-and-easy ideas, such as:

Prepare for Fall: Host an Activity Bag Swap This Summer


 Top 3 Places to Look for Free Summer Fun and Learning


6 Sensory Smart Ideas for Celebrating St. Joseph


 My New Favorite Way to Use Learning Cards


Of course, if you have requests or suggestions about things you'd like me to share about here or at Upside Down Homeschooling, just ask!

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Can You Enjoy Faith Formation through Food?

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Yesterday, we celebrated our third annual St. Anne Name Day "Tea".

As I looked back at photos from our first Name Day tea...

and our second...

...I realized that the spread of food and variety of activities we have included in our tradition of celebrating Name Days has become increasingly simplified.

That's okay by me.  No every celebration has to be an elaborate one.

What's even more okay by me is the fact that yesterday my children made fabulous symbolic connections with the simple spread of food I did manage to lay out for our al fresco St. Anne celebration.

Edible Symbolism

After praying over our "tea", the children dug in, of course, to their favorite treat first:  coconut milk ice cream!  As they did so, I asked them why they thought I might have chosen to include such a food on the menu (outside of the fact that they love it).

Why, because it is sweet, as is the love God has for us and the love he had for St. Anne.

And so our conversation unfolded, with the children's ideas and mine developing into symbolic connections between our teatime menu, St. Anne and our faith.

Highlights of that chat follow...

Why strawberries and zucchini?

Well, what is on the outside of strawberries?


These remind us of the gospel that we have heard about seed in rocky places, sandy soil and fertile soil.   St. Anne's heart was fertile ground.  Faith grew and she was blessed with St. Mary.  St. Mary, in turn, was blessed with Jesus.  And Jesus blesses us all.

Plus, those berries are red and St. Anne is traditionally depicted in red and green.

And why the zucchini?

Well, sure, it is green.  But does anyone know where we got it?

Nope.  Not from a store.  Rather, it was gifted to us through the generosity of a friend sharing her garden surplus.  So, in essence, we are being physically nourished by kindness that was extended to us by another, much like our Lord's kindness in offering himself nourishes us spiritually.

And do you know that zucchini grow like crazy at this time of year?  

It most certainly does.  So much so that people cannot wait to share their abundance sometimes.  

Isn't God's love like that?  Shouldn't we be thrilled when it grows in us and we can share our blessings with others, much like St. Anne shared the blessing of St. Mary with the world and St. Mary, in turn, shared the blessing of her son, Jesus, who was a gift from our Father...

And what about the GFCF crackers, hummus and guacamole?

Yes, the crackers and hummus are earth-colored and Jesus came to earth to be with us.... Yes, the guacamole is green, a traditional color of St. Anne.  Any other ideas?

I had wanted to get round crackers, but the store was out of them.  What do round crackers sometimes remind us of?  

The Eucharist!  That's right.  The Bread of... Life!

Yes, Jesus is the Bread of Life and St. Anne is his grandmother.

And what are raspberries?

Yes, red... and sweet...  and, absolutely:  They are a fruit!  To remind us of the Fruit if of the Spirit!  St. Anne was faithful and patient and...  so full of the Fruits of the Spirit!

And how about that spinach?  

Sure, it is baby spinach and St. Anne had baby Mary.  

It is also a super nutritious green.  Greens eaten every day can work to keep us healthy and to protect our bodies.

What keeps us healthy and protects us spiritually?  

The Eucharist!  Prayer!  Absolutely.  And St. Anne surely prayed, trusting God.  Her prayers were answered when she conceived Mary...

Thus it was that a simple spread of food prompted an extended chat about various aspects of our faith and of the story of St. Anne.

Our celebration this year was layered with Faith Formation through food... and a bit of fun thrown in, too.

Such as Nina decorating my space at the table with beads and fake flowers since, as she let me know, it was my special Name Day and I should have a special place.

Also, the children coloring after I read them the story of St. Anne from Story Library of the Saints. 

Plus, of course, there was prayer!

In fact, I admit that I got a bit teary eyed as I read a variety of prayers aloud while the children continued to color.  For some reason, the words below just overwhelmed me, in a good way:

Parents' Prayer to St. Anne
We call upon you, dear St. Anne, for help in bringing up our family in good and godly ways. Teach us to trust God our Father as we rear the precious heritage entrusted to us. May His will prevail in our lives and His providence defend us. These blessings we ask for all families in our neighborhood, our country, and our world. Amen 

The succinct phrases of the prayer encapsulated so much of what's been in my heart and in my head lately.  

St. Anne, pray for us!

Seeking More St. Anne Celebration Ideas?

Please find links and details about other options for plant-strong celebratory fare, handmade decorations and easy activities at Our First Annual St. Anne's Liturgical Tea.
Put together an easy St. Anne costume by switching out the blue cloth for a green one in a costume like Nina put together for an All Saints' Day party last year.
Or, don a do one up with two large tee shirts and a tablecloth, plus a girl dollie, like Nina wore to a party a couple years ago.

What other ideas do you have for celebrating St. Anne or enjoying faith formation through food?
Please feel free to share about them in comment here or on our Training Happy Hearts Facebook page.  If you leave a link to an idea, I will pin it on the Training Happy Hearts: A Call to Faith Formation in Young Children Pinterest board

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Saturday, July 26, 2014

Get Out and Get Mothing This Week!

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Okay, admit it, you do not know what "mothing" is...

I did not either until the other night when the kids and I enjoyed a local "Moth Ball" in celebration of National Moth Week (an observance that we also did not know existed until a few weeks earlier!) 

A Moth Ball?

That's right.  We enjoyed accepting an open invitation to the public to join the Southeastern Massachusetts Pine Barrens Alliance for an evening of Mothing and moth fun.

For us, that evneing started with the kids making moth costumes...

viewing moth caterpillars...

and discovering other critters.

It, then, progressed with joining others for a lovely ramble along the Eel River to the Russell Mill Pond...

where we discovered aphids on flower stems and other creatures.

Then, it was time for for the Moth Costume Parade...

where Jack hopped along trying to fly like a moth in the lead, and  Luke won a prize!

Finally, it got dark enough for an outdoor slideshow presentation where Stephanie Schmidt, a Wildlife Biologist, explained about local Lepdoptera...

 to an enraptured Luke and all the other guests...

Meanwhile some of the children became captured by moths and other critters that came to join the ball...


And the night concluded with viewing some very cool moth caterpillars...

and simply enjoying our first experience "Mothing"!


So, what exactly is "mothing"?  

Basically, it is the art of attracting and discovering samples of the 110,000+ species of moths that fly about this world.

Done casually, or scientifically with defined protocols, mothing provides an interesting mix of outdoor fun, science and, well, bugs.  Plus, as we discovered at the Moth Ball, it is an activity that appeals to a wide range of ages!  Young and old alike seem to thrill at the mission of attracting, discovering and observing moths up close.

Why Moths?

Why not?  Moths are easy to attract and learn about.

In fact, there are only about 1,000 species of butterflies in North America, yet over 11,000 species of moths.  And, worldwide, where scientists have categorized some 28,000 butterfly species, they have discovered over110,000 moth species.  It follows, then, that with so many moths out there, it would be difficult not to succeed at finding some during a "mothing" adventure!  And who does not like success?

Beautiful success is even better!  

Yes, moths are often under-appreciated, yet incredible.  For while some are common, others are amazing!  From teeny tiny critters to relatively huge ones, each with their own, often spectacular, design, moths can be beautiful to observe.

Known to many folks as pests, the truth is moths are also incredibly helpful pollinators and magnificently designed creatures.  Truly, I cannot say that I had ever really paused to notice the beauty of the different patterns on moths until the other night at the Moth Ball.  And, now, all I can only say is, "Wow!  Moths are yet another testimony to an amazingly creative master designer of beauty."

Don't believe me?  Think all moths are rather common and dull, check out these pictures folks have been capturing all around the world.  Gorgeous!

Mothing Methods

At the Moth Ball, we experienced the Black Light Method, which is basically aiming ablack light near a white sheet to attract moths into resting ont he sheet for observation.

Then, when we got home, we took advantage of our front porch light and screen door.  Yep, the good old Porch Light Method.

In future weeks, we may try the Bait and Wait Method I heard about at the Moth Ball, too.  Basically, this includes mixing up a paste of things like bananas, stale beer and brown sugar with add-ins, such as watermelon, maple syrup, honey, or vanilla, and letting it ferment for a few days.  Then, painting it on trees and waiting for moths that don't like light to gather (which you can then observe with a flashlight with a red cellophane cap).

ID and Other Resources

If you'd like to identify the moths you discover, you could ask a local Lepidopterist or Moth-er as Jack did.  Or, try using a book by one of our favorite nature authors for kids, Jim Arnosky's Crinkleroot's Guide to Knowing Butterflies and Moths.  Or, turn to other Moth Identification Books and online resources, such as What's that Bug,  the Bug Guide

If you're curious about what makes moths and butterflies different, observation can be a great way to begin answering your questions and websites and books, of course, can fill in the rest.

The Lepidopterist Society, I just discovered, has kits and resources for kids.

Plus, there are wonderful links, a downloadable coloring book and more at the National Moth Week Kids' Page.

Thank you to the Southeastern Massachusetts Pine Barrens Alliance for hosting such a fun event and introducing us to Mothing!  All of us -- young and older -- enjoyed it!

Have you discovered the fun of mothing?

Friday, July 25, 2014

Are You Ready to Flourish? {A Review}

Do you want to thrive and to live from a framework of abundance instead of being subject to the "tyranny of the urgent" and the burnout of imbalance?

(Note:  This post may contain affiliate links.  Dee disclosure here.)

I most certainly do!  And that is why I happily accepted the opportunity to read the Apologia Educational Ministries book
Flourish: Balance for Homeschool Moms by Mary Jo Tate in exchange for an honest review.  For, although I knew I'd have to push some tasks off my plate in order to find reading time this summer, I also felt that by doing so I might discover a few more tips and strategies for ensuring my plate is nourishing me regardless of what is piled onto it.

I was not let down in my expectation.

Who is Mary Jo Tate?

Mary Jo Tate is not only the woman who has gifted others with her book, Flourish: Balance for Homeschool Moms, but she is also a homeschooler, a radio show host, an international editor, a book coach, a homeshool co-op teacher, a blogger and a single mom of four sons.


Just reading Mary Jo Tate's short list of accomplishments inspires me to think, "Now this woman speaks from a place of expertise and experience!"  It also makes me wonder, "How does she do it all?!"  For, undoubtedly, balancing all the roles in Mary Jo Tate's life that I just mentioned is an incredible feat in and of itself, but also managing the rest of life which is included in her official bios?  Why, that must be impossible!  No one can do everything and stay balanced!

In truth, Mary Jo Tate does not do it all either. Yet she does stay balanced (usually!).  For she has learned, as she shares in Flourish, that:
  • one must "find peace in the space between the ideal and reality" .

  • there can be "'No Whining.'  The irreducible facts (of life) are just that -- facts.  Pity parties are simply counterproductive, and they sap your energy."

  •  life is full of choices and that in saying yes to one choice you say no to others.

She has also, of course, made a practice of using self-discipline in order to delight in the choices she makes.  One of these choices, thankfully, was to key into a question many folks ask her, in order to bless her own family and others through writing Flourish: Balance for Homeschool Moms. 

What is Flourish: Balance for Homeschool Moms?

Flourish is a book that is already getting a little dog-eared in my hands as I have been carrying it around to read at opportune moments wen my children are engaged in other things or I have wait-time at appointments. 

It is also a book that contained enough wisdom, wonderful quotes and practical strategies that I gave up taking notes on it and broke my usual "rule" of "no writing in books" in order to mark up passages that spoke to me.

But, that is what it is to me.

What might it be for you?

  • A read that can offer you breath.  A sigh knowing else gets it - maybe not exactly - but enough to speak from a place from a place similar to yours.  Or, better still, a place just beyond yours, where the light and delight of balance feeds a flourishing life.

  • A resource that offers practicality.  Among other things in this 288 page book aimed at moms are customizable planning forms, step-by-step exercises and special chapters target for families with home businesses and for single moms, but useful for all no matter what your roles in life are as even these "specialized" chapters contain ideas and strategies that can help those that are not single or working.

  • A mentor's manual.  Mary Jo Tate gives forward.  In Flourish: Balance for Homeschool Moms, she wraps some of the best of what she has learned and succeeded with and offers it to her readers, much like I imagine that she might do if she were giving counsel to a personal client, to a young colleague or to a friend in need.  In doing so, she wraps the gift of her expertise up with real stories from her own life and a host of excellent and inspiring quotes from other sources and offers it to readers as a source of encouragement:  I found ways to flourish.  You can, too.

Am I Flourishing Yet?

When I began reading Flourish: Balance for Homeschool Moms, I was surrounded by household clutter, discouraged by a long list of to-do's, trying to find time to do some contract work and often on the go with homeschooling activities.  

As I finish my first-reading of it, the clutter remains, but small parts of it have been chipped away at.  The list of to-do's is being re-evaluated from a standpoint of priorities.  Time for contract work is blocked off on my calendar.  Fun and learning adventures with my children continue to take us out of our home for long hours each day, and, most of the time, during those hours, I do not feel weighed down or distracted by what piles I know I pushed off my plate in order to be out.

For, yes, those piles DO exist (literal and figurative piles), but, yes, I also feel encouraged about how to get through them.

Did Mary Jo Tate's book honestly push me into such a positive direction?

Yes.  Even as someone who has read many help-me-organize-and-thrive books in the past, I found gems of wisdom, tools for discernment and improvement, and most importantly to me, a balance of practical tips, encouragement and wise mentorship in   Flourish: Balance for Homeschool Moms.  Having read the book through once for review, I gleaned some new ideas and affirmed some thoughts I already held.  I also decided I am going to review the book more slowly again, using it in place of the in-person mentor that is not within my realm of reality again.  (Wish me luck!)

I would love now to take the time to list the many, many quotes and passages I highlighted in the book, but, honestly, I cannot.  For as Mary Jo Tate says, affirms, "Our families are our primary mission, but other things-- even good things-- can lure us away from taking care of them properly and tempt us to see our children as hindrances rather than blessings."  My reality is that I cannot control when my children wake up and have not yet set in place strategies that will allow me to continue working on blog posts after they have risen for the day and begun to seek my attention.  

As I wrap this post up, my children need me and I am choosing to go to them.  I do so with the confidence that I have shared enough about Flourish: Balance for Homeschool Moms that others who can be blessed through reading the book and applying its strategies and wisdom will have the inspiration and information they need to get started.

Flourish truly is an encouraging read that I am happy I made time for and absolutely planning to move through again.  I believe many homeschool moms (and dads!), WAHMs and others who seek to improve organization and time management can benefit from this homeschool resource.  In fact, I believe it is a book that can be a resource for a wider audience, too.  So, if you are ready to learn how to flourish (or to add a few thoughts and strategies to your already flourishing self), I encourage you to check out Mary Jo Tate's book.

Learn More
Flourish: Balance for Homeschool Moms is published by Apologia Educational Ministries.

You can find out more on Facebook and follow Mary Jo Tate on Twitter.

Also, please enjoy learning what others gleaned from the book by reading the wide variety of detailed reviews at School House Review Crew.

Click to read Crew Reviews

Crew Disclaimer

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Fun and Fruitful Faith-Based Read Aloud

For your convenience, in this post, we have provided affiliate links to Dragon Slayers: The Essential Training Guide for Young Dragon Fighters in this post.  If you choose to click through them to make any purchase, we may be blessed with a small percentage of your sale at no extra cost to you.  Thank you.

Today, I just had to share about a fabulous book that has become our breakfast read aloud over the past month:

We had ordered this book, sight unseen, as one of Luke's First Holy Communion gifts based on its reviews and the fact that all of our children have been into arms, armor, knights and medieval times this year.

Now that we've begun reading Dragon Slayers: The Essential Training Guide for Young Dragon Fighters together, I can attest that ordering the book was a fruitful decision.  

The book is written in an expressive, conversational style in the voice of an accomplished Dragon Slayer named Sir Wyrvern Pugilist.  The way Pugilist teaches about "dragons" and what spiritual armor will be necessary to slay them makes reading the book aloud just plain old fun.

Likewise, the way the author Joyce Denham weaves in Scriptural passages from "the Ancient Manual" (the Bible), encourages prayer to the "Mighty One" and teaches about spiritual warfare is masterful.  Difficult concepts become accessible, even entertaining.

Challenging language does, too.  For Dragon Slayers happens to be peppered with excellent vocabulary words (oft defined in parenthetical phrases).

The book also has a well-designed cover, eye-capturing (not scary!) illustrations by Roger Snure throughout and a multi-color layout.  

Plus, I discovered, there is a well-developed website dedicated to the book with extra free materials for young dragon fighters to dig into.  (And a Facebook page, too!)  So, when we finish the book, we can still enjoy more from Sir Wyrvern Pugilist on the related blog.  FUN!

But fruitful?  Really?  


Since beginning to read Dragon Slayers: The Essential Training Guide for Young Dragon Fighters with the children, I have found us referring back to the dragons and armor necessary for fighting them throughout our days.  There's just something about likening sins and obstacles to dragons that makes suggestions for fighting them stick.

There's also something about it all that inspires Luke!

I have been finding drawings of Luke's own interpretations od dragon fighting armor around the house.  (I love it!)

Truly, Dragon Slayers: The Essential Training Guide for Young Dragon Fighters was one of our favorite faith-based gift discoveries.  Engaging, fun and fruitful, we've been thoroughly enjoying it and growing in faith together, too.

What are some of your favorite faith-based gifts and read alouds?

Please feel free to share about them in comment here or on our Training Happy Hearts Facebook page.  If you leave a link to an idea, I will pin it on the Training Happy Hearts: A Call to Faith Formation in Young Children Pinterest board

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