Monday, October 17, 2016
Monday, October 10, 2016
Wednesday, October 5, 2016
By Maureen Wittmann
Husbands and children, listen up. The homeschool mom in your life could use a little extra attention. No, she needs a lot of extra attention. Let's go out of our way to make her day special. Whether it's her birthday, wedding anniversary, Christmas, or "just because we love you day", get thinking about what you can do to brighten her life and let her know how much she means to you.
Following is a long, long list of ideas to get you started. Gifts range from free (scroll all the way down) to pricey. So no matter your budget you can do this. The only other thing you need is time and desire.
In choosing gifts for the Homeschool Mom in your life, mix it up a bit. First, choose something nice and personal. More than likely she needs to be refreshed. Next, throw in a cool homeschool-related gift. A gift that will make homeschooling more fun and easier. This is especially important if she's been feeling some burnout. Let's get that homeschool fire going again! Finally, a nice kitchen or homemaking gadget is often a good idea, choosing something that will save her time and energy.
Click on hyperlinks if you need ordering information or reviews.
GIFTS JUST FOR HER
Spiritually-Uplifting Book - Something to raise her heart to heaven and refresh her soul. Titles such as:
- The Handbook for Catholic Moms
- The Catholic Mom’s Prayer Companion
- Word by Word: Slowing Down with the Hail Mary
A Novel - A book she can curl up with in bed and escape from the world for a little while. A few ideas for you:
Jewelry with Meaning - Jewelry is always a good gift. Here are some ideas for jewelry that has extra meaning for a mother:
- Floating Locket - These are all the rage right now. I have one with the birthstones of my children and it is quite lovely.
- Charm Bracelet - Collect charms over time that have a special connection to your family.
- Religious Jewelry - Find something pretty that is also spiritually uplifting. Try searching Etsy for other hand crafted religious jewelry.
A Chapel Veil - You can find a wide selection of beautifully handmade (and to-order) veils at Veils by Lily. Lovely!
Scented Candles - Most moms enjoy scented candles. For some reason they bring a little peace after a busy homeschool day and help create a relaxing atmosphere. Especially if you combine it with praying your family rosary!
HOMESCHOOL RELATED GIFTS
Fashionable Book Bag - This cute bag is a cross between personal gift and homeschool need. Mom can be fashionable while toting around books, tablet, diapers, and what have you.
Laptop Satchel - I love mine, which often doubles as my purse.
Wicker Baskets - Who doesn't love baskets?! They're a great way to keep things organized and neat while making our homes pretty. A large basket for collecting books and a small basket for remotes or game controls will make a nice gift.
Homeschool Equipment - These tend to be larger ticket items. However, they're also very good to own and make homeschooling easier on Mom.
- Copier / Scanner - Number one necessity in the equipment category. Make sure the printer doubles as a scanner. This comes in handy if you take online classes as well as for record-keeping tasks. Make sure you purchase one that is compatible with your computer and can be hooked up wirelessly.
- Laminator - What homeschool mom doesn't covet her own laminating machine?!
- Comb Binder - I've used my comb binder off and on over the years. I originally purchased it for business purposes but soon discovered it's pretty helpful for homeschooling too. I can create books from the children's writings and art work. This is great way to create keepsakes for your children or to give away as gifts to grandparents.
- Electric Pencil Sharpener - Necessary time saver.
- Label Maker - This is on my own wish list. Click on the link and check out all the neat things you can do with this label maker.
Storage Bins with Shelves - This is a cute way to store and keep track of toys and/or craft materials. And, it keeps things looking neat and tidy too.
- Theme parks
- YMCA or other family-friendly gym
- Amazon Prime - Free 2-day shipping, photo storage, music, and more: Try Amazon Prime 30-Day Free Trial
- Audible - Downloadable audio books. Great for car schooling or personal enjoyment: Try Audible and Get Two Free Audiobooks
- Netflix or Hulu - If she would like to be able to stream movies.
- Costco or other warehouse club - Saves money if you buy in bulk.
Local Gift Cards - Maybe Mom loves the movies, has a favorite restaurant, or could use a day of pampering:
- Spa Day
- Catholic Heritage Curricula
- Emmanuel Books
- Homeschool Connections - Email Maureen at email@example.com.
- Seton Media
Homeschool Books - Does she need a little encouragement in her homeschool? Here are just a few to get you started:
- Teaching from Rest: A Homeschooler's Guide to Unshakable Peace
- Why Should I Learn This?
- Catholic Homeschool Companion
Classroom Supplies - Create a gift basket with all those little supplies that we can never seem to find: sharpies; gel pens; highlighters; Post-It Notes; scissors; etc. (See "Wicker Basket" above.)
Cool Classroom Equipment - A quality microscope (plus slide set) is one of my prize possessions. It has come in pretty handy over the years - not just for me but for the co-ops and friends I've lent it out to when a need arose. I'd love to also own a top-notch telescope, and I'm certain your Homeschool Mom would too.
One-Year Subscription to Unlimited Access - This is a game changer that will free up Mom's time and give her a big hand up in the family homeschool: Unlimited Access to 273 recorded homeschool courses for grades six through twelve, all taught with a Catholic ethos. Woot!
HOMEMAKING RELATED GIFTS
Kitchen Appliances - Is there a kitchen appliance or gadget she's been wanting? Choose something she'd use often and that will save time in the kitchen.
- Instant Pot - This single appliance has changed the way I prepare meals. I never thought I'd find something that I loved more than my Crock Pot, but I did, and this is it.
- Crock Pot - Or Hamilton Beach or other slow cooker. This is a must-have in a homeschooling household. Set it on low in the morning and dinner is ready by the time you put the books and science experiments away. Just make sure you get one with a lid that can be latched down -- this makes taking it to the Homeschool Pot Luck easy peasy.
- Bread Maker - Another big time saver. Enjoy homemade bread with little effort. I would use mine to mix and prepare the dough but bake the final product in the oven. Just don't try gluten-free yeast bread in it. Most bread makers can't handle the heavy GF dough.
- Kitchenaid Mixer - My husband bought my Kitchenaid for me for Christmas. It is quite pricey and he had to save for a number of years, but it was worth it.
- The NutraBullet - I use mine exclusively for smoothies. Super easy clean up and it holds up. I got mine for next to nothing at a Christmas sale so there are deals to be found if you shop around.
- Vitamix - Another pricey appliance we had to save up in order to buy. If you buy it refurbished, you can save a good amount.
- Handheld vacuum - I don't know what it is about these things but put one in the hands of a child and a lot of vacuuming gets done.
- Spot remover - Homeschooling is hard on a house. Our children live and school in the same place, so a lot of messes happen! My sister swears by this Bissell and it's on my own wish list.
- The Shark - Light weight and works great.
Last but not least ... the best gifts are often the ones that are free, the ones made with your precious time, talent, and love.
Homemade Card - Every mom loves a homemade card. Get out the crayons and the card stock, and get creative.
Make Dinner and Do Housework - (This is my favorite gift ... in case my kids are reading this!) Do it without being asked and without making a fuss. Do it silently, when she's not even looking.
Bake Her Favorite Dessert - Not your favorite, her favorite. You may have to ask her what it is since it's likely she always makes your favorite dessert and not hers. Oh, and don't forget to clean up the kitchen when you're done baking.
Wash and Detail Her Car/Van - Inside and out! Do a meticulous job, vacuuming every crumb. It'll feel so good to get in the car next time and you'll be on her good list for a long time!
Lastly .... A Coupon Book - This is perhaps the very best gift Dad or children can give to that special Homeschool Mom in their life: Personalized Coupons (click for a free template). You can never fail with coupon books that will be exchanged for your time. You can have a coupon that exchanges for an hour of tutoring a struggling child, making dinner, taking the kids out while Mom plans the semester, back massage, foot rub, cleaning the bathroom, free hugs ... use your imagination. What does your mom/wife need most?!
If I've missed any brilliant ideas, let us all know in the comments.
NOTE: Some, but not all, links above are affiliate links.
Monday, October 3, 2016
Note: This article originally appeared at CatholicMom.com March 9, 2015. Visit the Catholic Mom website where you'll find a treasure trove of articles to lift you up in your faith as well as help you in your everyday vocation as wife and mother.
Friday, September 30, 2016
Wednesday, September 28, 2016
Henry Russell, Ph.D.
J.R.R. Tolkien wrote to Father Robert Murray, SJ, “The Lord of the Rings is of course a fundamentally religious and Catholic work; unconsciously so at first, but consciously in the revision.”1
In response to the poet W.B. Auden’s review of The Return of the King, Tolkien noted, “In the LOTR the conflict is not basically about ‘freedom’, though that is naturally involved. It is about God, and his sole right to divine .”2
Since these two quotations, from among many similar ones, reveal Tolkien’s deepest intentions, then why should it be at all necessary to write of why Christians should learn Tolkien in the third millennium? One reason is silly: The author wrote some provocative words about detesting allegory, which have been taken far too seriously. When examined clearly, all Tolkien meant was that he hated bad allegory—or at least obvious allegory, like John Bunyan’s great Pilgrim’s Progress. But the Catechism of the Catholic Church (paragraphs 115-130)3 makes it clear that allegory is fundamental to all of being. Tolkien might as usefully have hated the law of gravity. A somewhat better reason is that Tolkien wanted to write a tale that had a complete and fully realized vividness on its own terms, without reference to even the greatest of books, the Bible. He also knew this kind of tale might fascinate even those who claimed to hate the greatest of books, as more and more moderns who have never read the Bible pretend to do.
There is a third, less compelling, reason. In the first fifty years of the twentieth century, the enemies of Christ used to appeal to reason in foolish attacks on Him. In practice, the word reason was anemically narrowed to mean that an “educated” person should feel obliged to state as fact only what could be proven by scientific experimentation. This obligation rather narrows serious intellectual debate, since science has nothing meaningful it can prove about justice, love, beauty, God, or most of the things that make life worth living. One was not supposed to start with God, since He did not allow Himself to be seen, touched, or tasted in a petri dish. Miracle was viewed as gauche precisely because it is about the impossible. Science, remember, demands permission to deal only with the naturally possible. Yet, some people then expect men to talk about nothing else but what science can prove! It is as if humans and dogs should all agree to say nothing that cannot be expressed by barking.
Christians, for complex reasons that may never have made any sense, in large measure acceded to these demands to speak of the supernatural in mostly natural terms. To paraphrase what Flannery O’Connor wrote in her short story Greenleaf, gentlemen of this time believed that the name of Jesus, like sex, was fit to be discussed only in the privacy of the bedroom. Great scholar-writers like C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien seem to have followed these rules rather scrupulously in their teaching and scholarship. Lewis did rebel with gusto, however, in his fictional works, ranging from The Pilgrim’s Regress and The Letters to The Chronicles of Narnia to The Redemption Trilogy (Out of the Silent Planet, , and That Hideous Strength). Tolkien, on the other hand, tried to keep to the old gentleman’s agreement to a large extent, even in his fiction. To fill his world with spirit and the miraculous, he decided to resort to the vehicles of fairy tales and cultures full of warriors and wizards, tales that he knew flourished in medieval Catholic soil, but most of his readers did not. Perhaps this was a fault. If so, it was a happy one.
Since the 1960s, the enemies of Christ have more and more overtly abandoned any belief in reason; it always was the province of those who believe in stable cosmic ordering (that is, a universe with a God). Reason only makes sense when God ensures there are indeed laws and rules to the game. Once a person swallows the camel of atheism, the gnat of reason will soon follow downward into humanity’s vast well of self-regard. It is ironic then that the best answer to those who believe in no reason is precisely the supernatural and the miraculous. It is thus time for criticism to show just how (even to his own surprise) Tolkien’s Catholicism insisted on welling up and creating the internal combustion of his immortal works.
If we begin with Tolkien’s simplest work, The Hobbit (originally written to amuse his own children), we find an astonishingly original work with profound moral themes lurking beneath its “children’s book” surface. Just five out of ten and more of these themes include the following: 1) The desire in the completely comfortable and materially satisfied person for a better self and a greater world. This desire, which shocks Bilbo Baggins when he discovers it in himself, is the intimation of heaven that exists in the most spiritually dull modernist. 2) The fact that what seems the far, far past continues powerfully to shape the present. This is true, whether what emerges from the past are great contributions of the Elves or the continued traces of their greater and forgotten wars with Sauron, behind the struggles of Bilbo’s own day. For us, of course, such powerful ideas range from the great revelations of God to the contributions of Plato and the Founding Fathers of the United States. The war is the same war as in Tolkien: the constant battle between those who worship God and those who follow Satan.
3) The way evil beings habitually make a strong pretense of concern for justice and fairness, and how the long-continuance in evil habits brings inevitable degradation. Here, we think of the sly words of the dragon and his own complacent stupidity about his invincibility.
4) Perhaps most important to Tolkien was the discovery of his own belief in Providence and man’s need for fortitude to cooperate with it. The Hobbit constantly returns to the theme of how events, big or little, fair or foul appearing, all seem to help direct Bilbo’s paths to good, if he only keeps up his courage. After all is done, Gandalf chides the great Halfling, “You don’t really suppose, do you, that all your adventures and escapes were managed by mere luck?” And in the end, as a wiser Hobbit, Bilbo thanks goodness, not himself.
5) It was while writing this book, I believe, that Tolkien discovered how deeply he believed in the necessity for an earthly king, someone who can be the standard bearer for a whole society or for the world of moral values. In The Hobbit, he gradually made Thorin , with all his defects, the first kind of king. Gandalf the Grey became the second kind. While we may look in vain for Thorin’s courage and goodness of heart in the political rule of our own time, the great pontificates of John Paul II and Benedict XVI certainly have been true portraits of the moral sovereign.
If one can find such treasures in what Tolkien started as a children’s book, what might we find in his magnum opus, The Lord of the Rings? How majestic is the author’s intent when he tells us, “It is about God, and his sole right to divine .”4 Who could write a book with a better purpose? What literary men have had such a vision beside Homer, Virgil, Dante, Shakespeare, and Lewis? Again, we will begin to see just why Christians should indeed read Tolkien, if we take five out of some fourteen clear patterns which I have traced elsewhere in LOTR.
First and most obvious is the ever-present theme of the importance of self-sacrifice for good—and not merely the good of one’s own beloved self, family, or country, either. Each of the hobbits, the elves, Aragorn, the men of Rohan and of Gondor, the , and Gandalf all exhibit a kind of unselfish giving of all they have, just as Christ taught all humans to do, even unto sacrificial death for the good of others one has never seen. This sacrifice may take the form of Crusade, as with Gondor and Rohan, or it may be the quiet self-immolation of Frodo and Sam.
Second, an intimately related theme is that of resurrection: Gandalf, Aragorn, Frodo, Sam, Merry, and all tread the paths of death and darkness only to be returned to life again. Each in his or her own way reminds the reader that the immortality of the Elves is the base line of Middle Earth.
Third, the Ring of Sauron, itself, made as a vile imitation of rings that sustain and nourish life, is one of Tolkien’s greatest creations, a perfect symbol for the fallen creature’s desire to be as God. Yet, always, that God-play turns from sustaining life to creating foul parodies of true creation—parodies which the wielder of the Ring desires to master in every detail, and which can only hate and fear their demonic master. It is a desire that infects every creature that comes near the Ring (except Tom of course), just as each sinful human both desires to rebel against true authority and set himself up as his own lawless God over others.
Fourth, a great counter-symbol of Tolkien’s is the mysterious quality of , the way-bread of the Elves. It tastes like dust and choking ashes in the mouths of the wicked, burning Gollum to his soul, but when taken as the only food by Frodo and Sam, it seems enough to sustain their whole journey against the dark Lord, as the Holy Eucharist has sustained numerous saints for many years. In the end, this Eucharistic gift is all that is powerful enough to sustain the hobbits in the epicenter of the kingdom of evil.
And, finally, it is well to consider the whole existence of the Elves in Tolkien. The author says that the journey from to Gondor is really the journey from the insularity of England to Rome. Yet Gondor is not only the habitation of men; the Elves were the ancient co-founders with men of the and kingdoms. Most of what is best in them comes from the Elves. The wisdom, the merriment, the sheer indefectibility of the Elves, combined with their role as innovators and conservers of all that is beautiful, good, kind, and useful makes them, to the meditative mind, a type of the Christian Church itself. They made the culture of Middle-earth just as the Catholic Church made the culture of the West. And if, at times, the Elves seem more like angels than men, we must remember that men are both spirit and flesh, so they are like us and unlike.
Many homeschools will never ask their children to read The Silmarillion or The History of Middle-Earth (assembled by Tolkien’s son Christopher), volumes which elaborate the vast history Tolkien conceived of as being behind The Lord of the Rings. Yet, it is good to know that here, Tolkien created an analogue to the Biblical creation story—one that, like Milton’s Paradise Lost, went freely beyond the sources. Tolkien’s story is the same saga of the glory of God (), the love of the Angels, the Fall of Satan, and the spreading of evil through Middle-earth. It is, therefore, also a story of God’s work to recall and redeem His creation, a story that, like pursuit of the House of Israel, is deeply beautiful and tragic, involving not just one fall, but also the falling of created beings over and over. It is in these works, where Tolkien creates his own mythology, that he is seen to be truly closest to the great sources of Greek tragedy and Biblical comedy in which we see all the depths of life reflected.
Tolkien wrote tales that were designed not to sound specifically Christian, but were structured to the very bone on the principles and wisdom of Christian teachings. It remains good and helpful that they can thus call homeward those who are ready only for the four cardinal virtues, for honor, and for the sheer intuition of Goodness behind the universe. But it is more important than ever that Christians see the power and the glory of the kinds of literature that their faith has inspired. As the forces of evil are incessantly heard in the media of the disappearing word, it is high time for Christians to claim their own in the pantheon of words that will last as long as the English language can still be read.
Dr. Russell offers several online courses for middle and high school students that are based on books by J. R. R. Tolkien. These courses can be found at www.homeschoolconnections.com.