Monday, December 28, 2009

Simple Paper Wreath Ornament

One of the drawbacks of homeschooling for a not-so-crafty person like myself is that all the cute holiday activities and crafts that go with school have to be organized, supervised, and cleaned-up by MOM.  And since I'm "Mom" around here, we don't do a lot of those kinds of activities.

However, I am occasionally inspired.  So, armed with a memory from my own public school childhood and a couple of crafty blog posts fresh in my mind, we made a Christmas craft this year!


The Simple Paper Wreath Ornament!

1. Download snowflake wreath design from Print the wreath on the bottom half of 8.5x11 green cardstock. You might have to adjust the size of the wreath.
2. Fold paper in half with wreath on surface (see upper right in 1st picture). Cut around wreath being careful to cut both halves and leave a piece of the fold at the top.  Cut out inner circle of the wreath on the top half.  (See bottom right with girl's photo inserted).  Punch 2 holes in the top near the fold.
3.  Decorate your wreath! We used washable glitter glue.  It added a bit of 3 dimension, sparkle and fun.  These sort of squirt out the glitter glue when squeezed.  Let them dry for several hours.  How long will really depend on how thick your glitter glue is.  We let ours dry overnight just to be safe.

4.  Once they are dry, glue a photo on the inside so that your smiling face is looking out of the wreath.  Let the glue dry.
5.  Cut several inches of ribbon.  Insert the ribbon through the holes and tie a knot.  Now your ornament is ready to hang!

I'd love to see what you make with these instructions!!

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas 2009!!

Merry Christmas!

This year we've enjoyed a slow and lazy Christmas.  Our family opened part of our gifts Christmas Eve.  We started this tradition a couple of years ago as a way to help us focus more on Jesus and less on our presents.  (We don't do Santa but that's a whole other post.)  We'll finish opening gifts Monday morning with Joel's parents (who arrive late Sunday night).

We really had a non-traditional celebration this year!  Domino's "catered" Christmas Eve supper and Christmas Day lunch.  Joel scrambled eggs and toasted bagels for Christmas breakfast.  And I whipped up a batch of Creamy Chicken Enchiladas for Christmas dinner.  Who needs a pecan pie and fudge to have a "real" Christmas?

Even though we were a little off the beaten path for our meals, we did follow our tradition of giving each boy a tool.  Sam received a tape measure; Will received a level and hex wrenches; and Ben received a set of crescent wrenches.  Don't they look ready to help Daddy?

All in all, it was a restful and happy day together as a family.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Preparing for Christmas 2009

Here's what we've been doing to prepare for Christmas 2009.

I made this wreath (my first EVER) at MOPs in early December.
It's hanging on the door leading from the breezeway into my kitchen.

We also decorated our Christmas tree
the weekend after Thanksgiving.  A rare thing for us!

Nativity ornaments on our Christmas tree
remind us of the reason we celebrate.

Ornaments for past Christmas Celebrations
remind us people and places we have loved.

Ornaments to remind us of our fun Maine 2009 vacation
and a fun Christmas activity from the past.

We attended the Home School Co-op Drama Classes program.  Ben and Ellie are singing a cute song with other kids from the 5 and Under Class.
Will is pretending to be a bird in a skit about the Parable of the Sower.

Joel and the kids hung up Christmas lights for the first time ever!
This is 3 strands of lights that go up a flag pole at the corner of our garage, along the roof of the garage and breezeway, and down the corner where
the breezeway connects to the house.

One night we put the kids in their pajamas and drove around looking
at Christmas lights.  The kids were very confused about driving
around aimlessly!  We found TWO houses with lights set to music!!
I hope it was the beginning of a fun tradition.

We've read a lot of Christmas books.
Watched The Grinch (original version), Frosty the Snowman,
and The Muppets Christmas Carol.

Each night we've read part of the Christmas story from the Bible, a Children's Bible or One Wintry Night for our Jesse Tree readings.  The kids have taken turns adding an ornament to our tree each night.  I printed the Jesse Tree ornaments (the paper dove in the picture) from the internet last year.  Hopefully I'll have something better for next Christmas.
That's what we've done to prepare for Christmas.  
What have you been doing?

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Living with RA: The Difference Enbrel Makes for Me

*** This post is part of my Living with Rheumatoid Arthritis series.

Do you remember my "Can't Do" checklist?
  • Unscrew a grape juice bottle for the first time.
  • Unscrew a pickle jar lid that had previously been opened.
  • Peel a potato with a knife.
  • Quickly descend a flight of stairs.
  • Stay awake passed 8 PM.
  • Open my mouth wide enough to bite into a hamburger.
  • Get up off the floor by myself.
  • Squat down to talk to a child.
  • Kneel on the floor.
Enbrel helped change all of that.  Nine years after I formed that mental list I can now do everything on it, except peel a potato with a knife.  Unfortunately, Enbrel CAN'T reverse permanent damage that already exists.

In fact, my current rheumatologist and I have joked that I do so well on the medication that I should be a "poster child" for Enbrel.  And now I am!!  :)

So, what can I do now?
  • Sit on the floor and play games with my daughter.
  • Push my four year old son on the swing.
  • Zip up my 1 year old's pajamas.
  • Cut apples into quarters with a knife every day for lunch.
  • Brush my daughter's hair into ponytails.
  • Take hikes with my family into the New Hampshire mountains.
The list of "Can Do" is endless.  The main thing is that I can do all the normal ordinary "Mom Stuff" that most moms do without thinking.

Enbrel helps me be the Mom (and Wife) I want to be.

And that is priceless.

But it isn't without risks.  The pamphlet enclosed with each month's supply (see right) details the risks of this relatively new medication:
"serious infections including TB; nervous system problems, such as multiple sclerosis, seizures, or inflammation of the nerves of the eyes; rare reports of serious blood problems (some fatal); heart failure, including new heart failure or worsening of heart failure you already have; allergic reactions; immune reactions, including a lupus-like syndrome and lymphoma (a type of cancer)."
Never mind just having to give myself a shot once a week!!

For me this is a matter of what WILL happen versus what MIGHT happen.  I MIGHT have one of those terrible side effects.  But without Enbrel (or a similar medication) I WILL have deformed hands in a matter of a few years.  I WILL have no energy to play with my children.  I WILL be unable to kneel, or squat or sit on the floor.

And so I choose to take the risk.

Disclaimer: I am not a doctor nor do I pretend to be one on TV. This post is intended to tell my experiences NOT to serve as medical advice. If your symptoms sound similar, please consult a physician.

Disclaimer: I have not been asked by a pharmaceutical company or any related organizations to write these posts. I have not been compensated for these posts in anyway (including money, medication, or medical treatments).

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

My Man

This is my favorite picture from our recent Snow Day.

Monday, December 21, 2009

December 2009 Snow Storm in Rhode Island

You could also title this post "How I spent my Sunday."

Sunday morning we woke up to this in the backyard: 
and thirteen inches in the front yard.

Will helped Daddy clean off the truck... 
Daddy used his electric snow shovel...

Ellie and I made a Snow Cowboy...

Then she insisted on a "Frosty the Snowman."  The snow was dry and fluffy so we couldn't make a proper snowman.

I got to clean up this...

Which was OK since I quickly followed the cleaning with some of this...

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Living with RA: 2nd Diagnosis

*** This post is part of my Living with Rheumatoid Arthritis series.

The hill before me looked insurmountable.  The gradual slope and half-mile walk from the subway station to the hotel should have been easy for my 25 year old body.  But exhaustion, fatigue, and pain threatened to overwhelm me.

Joel and I were returning to our hotel after spending the day exploring the Jurong Bird Park in Singapore.  We had enjoyed seeing vibrantly colored Toucans and other gorgeous birds in a lush, tropical zoo-like environment.

And we had walked.  And walked.  And walked.  And walked.

As we climbed the gentle hill to our hotel at the end of the day, my internal dialogue went like this:
"Come on, you can do it."  "But I'm so tired!" "Just a little further."  "If I could just sit down."  "You can sit in the hotel.  If you sit now you'll just have to get up and walk some more."  "I can't do this."  "Just take one more step."  "One more step." "You can do one more step."  "One more step." "One more step."  "One more step."

And so I "one more stepped" my way up the hill and to our hotel room.  I have never been so completely exhausted in all my life.  At the time, I blamed jet lag and the previous week spent snorkeling, hiking and sightseeing in Malaysia.

But a year later we would return to Malaysia for another week long vacation and my energy level would be vastly different.

What changed between the two trips?  My second arthritis diagnosis and a new medication.

Around the time of our first vacation to Malaysia and Singapore (I can't remember if it was before or after our trip), I visited a rheumatologist.

Upon entering the exam room, the doctor introduced herself and quickly examined my hands and wrists.  Then she explained that she had seen me walking down the hallway, saw the nodules on my wrists and my inflamed joints and knew then that I had Rheumatoid arthritis.

A thorough exam and blood work confirmed her diagnosis of Rheumatoid arthritis.  She went on to explain that it isn't curable but the symptoms sometimes lessen on their own (called remission) and/or can be helped with medication.  She said the cause for the disease is unknown but that some people (usually fair skinned Caucasian women) seem to have an increased susceptibility to the disease, though it is NOT genetic.

She also explained that a new medication had just been approved for treatment in newly diagnosed patients with moderate to severe RA.  And I fit the category!   So she started me on this new medication, Enbrel.

That was in June 2000.  Nine years later I'm still taking Enbrel.  I won't claim all the pain and fatigue are gone, because they aren't.  But they are manageable and small hills no longer look insurmountable to me.

Instead, they look like challenges.  Challenges that I know I can conquer one step at a time.

Disclaimer:  I am not a doctor nor do I pretend to be one on TV.  This post is intended to tell my experiences NOT to serve as medical advice.  If your symptoms sound similar, please consult a physician.

Disclaimer: I have not been asked by a pharmaceutical company or any related organizations to write these posts. I have not been compensated for these posts in anyway (including money, medication, or medical treatments). 

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Living with RA: Getting Worse AFTER My 1st Diagnosis

*** This post is part of my Living with Rheumatoid Arthritis series.

The alarm clock went off, signaling the beginning of another day. I slowly climbed out of bed and shuffled down the hall of our second floor apartment to the bathroom. There, I turned the shower on as hot as I could tolerate and let the water wash over my inflamed joints. The heat usually helped take away some of the stiffness.

4 different medications and two and a half years had passed since my first (unspecified) diagnosis of arthritis. I couldn't deny to myself that my disease was worse. A growing list of things I could no longer do made that clear:
  • Unscrew a grape juice bottle for the first time.
  • Unscrew a pickle jar lid that had previously been opened.
  • Peel a potato with a knife.
  • Quickly descend a flight of stairs.
  • Stay awake passed 8 PM.
  • Open my mouth wide enough to bite into a hamburger.
  • Get up off the floor by myself.
  • Squat down to talk to a child.
  • Kneel on the floor.
By this time Joel and I had been married for 3 years and I wanted to start having children. But I was afraid. Questions filled my mind:
  • How could I care for a baby all day alone when I couldn't screw on the lid of a bottle?
  • How I would I tie a toddler's shoe or zip up a coat when I couldn't kneel or squat?
  • How would I keep up with an energetic preschooler when I was sleeping 8-10 hours a night and napping 2-3 hours in the afternoon and still felt exhausted?
In the spring of 2000, relief for my pain and answers for my questions came about in the oddest way.

Because of severe TMJ, my dentist sent me to an oral surgeon. The oral surgeon just happened to be knowledgeable about the different kinds of arthritis. After examining my jaw and seeing the joints in my hands, he suspected I had Rheumatoid arthritis, NOT osteoarthritis, the most common form and what athletes and seniors get.

He scolded me about not seeing a rheumatologist (a specialist in the field of arthritis and related diseases). He also explained that I probably had RA, which affected my immune system and needed very different treatment than osteoarthritis. He even went so far as to call my primary care doctor and tell him I needed to see a rheumatologist!

On the next visit to my P.C., he handed me a referral to a rheumatologist in my area.  And that was that.

Once again I had hope that the pain and fatigue would go away and that my "Can't Do" list would become a memory of the past.

Disclaimer:  I am not a doctor nor do I pretend to be one on TV.  This post is intended to tell my experiences NOT to serve as medical advice.  If your symptoms sound similar, please consult a physician.

Disclaimer: I have not been asked by a pharmaceutical company or any related organizations to write these posts. I have not been compensated for these posts in anyway (including money, medication, or medical treatments). 

Sunday, December 6, 2009

25% Off at Hearts at Home!!!

 Everyone loves a good sale, Right? We'll let me tell you about a great one:

It’s a Hearts at Home

Black Friday after Black Friday Sale Dec. 7-11

Did you sleep in on Black Friday? Did you drag yourself out of bed, but still miss out on some awesome deals because you were standing in line too long at one store? Do you still have shopping to do, but dread the crowds, traffic, and cost? Let Hearts at Home help!

Their Black Friday sale has been extended to the week of December 7-11. Shop in the convenience of your own home and receive an unprecedented 25% off all of Hearts books and merchandise. They have great gifts for everyone in your family.

Find gifts for friends, teachers, bible study leaders, bus drivers, and everyone else on your list. You may even find something for yourself. This is a great time to stock up on all those Hearts at Home books you’ve been wanting to read.

Let your family know how much you would love a Hearts at Home gift certificate so you can use it for your Hearts at Home conference registration and/or Mom’s Night Out tickets.

Go to, choose your gifts, and enter code “HEARTGIFT” upon checkout. You will receive 25% off your total purchase (before tax and shipping).

I also want to fill you in on a couple of other great opportunities!
Be sure to check out Jill Savage's blog this month (she is the founder and CEO of Hearts at Home). She is doing one giveaway A DAY through Christmas.

And, if you stop by the Hearts at Home blog December 8 - 11, you will have an opportunity to win a Heart's at Home prayer journal. The prayer journal is a brand new resource from Hearts at Home.

Merry Christmas from Hearts at Home!

Disclosure:  This post was provided in its entirety from Hearts at Home.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Decorating for Christmas 2009

There was a time when our Christmas tree went up a week before Christmas and came down, well, whenever I got around to it. But now we have children.

Children who have wanted to play Christmas music and put up lights since the beginning of November!! (I refused until the day after Thanksgiving. I'm a purist about that.)

So, for what MUST be a record at our house, Joel and the kids carried up our Christmas tubs Sunday afternoon, we turned on the Christmas CDs and started decorating our tree.

Yes, I realize it's kind of a sad, little display. I promise I have a 6 foot(ish) tree stored in the basement.

But I ask that you keep in mind the smallness of my living room and the smallness of my Sammy Boy.  He's only a year but he walks. And can climb one step.

I'm afraid a full size tree sitting on the floor would be our undoing!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Living with RA: The Beginning

*** This post is part of my Living with Rheumatoid Arthritis series.

It was August in Arkansas. And that meant heat and humidity. The air conditioner in the living room hummed day and night attempting to cool the small house to comfortable levels. Each morning I slowly rolled out of bed and gingerly walked to the living room where the temperature and humidity were at least tolerable.

My arms and fingers, swollen until I almost couldn't wear my shiny new wedding ring, remained numb for the first hour of each day. My ankles and feet barely squeezed into my sandals. Though only 22 years old, I moved as if I were 80. We (myself, my mom and my husband of 3 months) assumed that the swelling was a combination of birth control pills, heat, humidity and too many sodas. So, I stopped taking the pills, cut back on sodas and hoped cooler weather would make the swelling, numbness and pain go away.

We didn't know, then, that the weather, Pill and sodas were secondary causes. The primary cause of my mysterious ailment was Rheumatoid arthritis, a chronic disease in which the body's immune system attacks the lining in the joints. But I'm getting ahead of myself; a specific diagnosis wouldn't come for nearly 3 more years.

Later that fall, now 23 years old and living in Rhode Island, I visited a primary care doctor. He said that I had "arthritis," didn't specify which kind, and prescribed a medication to treat it.

Arthritis didn't seem all that bad. After all, my Grandma always talked about arthritis in her hand and my dad complained about it acting up in his knee when it rained. It didn't feel scary at all. I had a name for my illness and a medication to treat it.

I left the doctor's office feeling confident and relieved. I thought I would just take a little pill each day and my body would be back to normal.  That the inflammation in my hands would disappear and I would jump out of bed each morning.

Boy, was I wrong! But I'll tell that part of the story in my next post.

** Photo from 1998. Taken in Massachusetts.

Disclaimer:  I am not a doctor nor do I pretend to be one on TV.  This post is intended to tell my experiences NOT to serve as medical advice.  If your symptoms sound similar, please consult a physician.

Disclaimer: I have not been asked by a pharmaceutical company or any related organizations to write these posts. I have not been compensated for these posts in anyway (including money, medication, or medical treatments). 

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Thanking God for the Puddles

For almost four years I have routinely found myself on hands and knees scrubbing the floor with a towel after one of my children failed to make it to the toilet in time.  I'm sorry to say that usually I'm scowling, issuing words of reproach, and am anything but thankful for the situation.

But this weekend was different.

Maybe it was because we had recently celebrated Thanksgiving. Maybe it was because we had recently visited with friends who had to make a really hard choice for the benefit of their daughter. Maybe it was because we had recently received letters from the children we sponsor through Compassion.

Whatever the reason was, as I toweled up a puddle of pee, one more time, instead of reproaches I found myself saying thanksgivings.

Thank you, God, that my daughter can learn to be potty trained.
Thank you, God, that my daughter is healthy and can make pu on the floor as she plays.
Thank you, God, that I have towels to wipe up the mess from the hard wood floor.
Thank you, God, that I have a floor to wipe.
Thank you, God, that I have a house that's warm and comfortable for my family.
Thank you, God, that we have food and never go hungry.
Thank you, God, that we have indoor plumbing.

Thank you, God, for all the blessings you have given me that I take for granted every day.
"Let everything that has breath praise the LORD. 
Praise the LORD!"
                                                 - Psalm 150:6

Monday, November 30, 2009

What are we doing these days?

When we aren't training the littlest cowboy...

Or hunting pirates...

We're kicked backed reading or...

falling asleep trying to.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Living with Rheumatoid Arthritis

I mentioned briefly in my photo shoot post that I have Rheumatoid arthritis.  That may have surprised some of my regular readers since I haven't written about my life with RA on this blog.  I'm changing that now.

As a newly diagnosed patient in 2000, I scoured the web for information about Rheumatoid arthritis.  Other than the Arthritis Foundation, I didn't find much.  And other than in their forums, I didn't find ANY personal stories.

So, for my regular readers and any newly diagnosed RA patients who have stumbled across my blog, I am sharing my story now.

Rather than create another label for RA, I'm going to use this article as a list of all my disease related posts.  As they are published I will link to them from here.
If you have any questions feel free to comment or email me. 

Disclaimer: I am not a doctor nor do I pretend to be one on TV. This post is intended to tell my experiences NOT to serve as medical advice. If your symptoms sound similar, please consult a physician.

Disclaimer: I have not been asked by a pharmaceutical company or any related organizations to write these posts. I have not been compensated for these posts in anyway (including money, medication, or medical treatments).

Monday, November 23, 2009

Moderating Comments

Dear Regular Readers,

I have been receiving spam comments on some of my old posts.  I have been going into each post, deleting the spam and closing comments on the individual posts.

Unfortunately the amount of spam is increasing and taking more time (and annoyance) to delete.

As a reader, I prefer to see my comments immediately, because of this I have never moderated my comments.  But the spammers have driven me to it.

For now I will set comments to be moderated.  I'm truly sorry about this.

Thanks for understanding!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Ben and Cows.

"Do cows pow you in the stomach?"
- Ben, 3 years old.

Picture from our trip to 
my parents farm in Arkansas, May 2007.

On fence is Will.  Ground is Ben.  And the grown-ups are my brother and sister-in-law.

I found this gem in my draft folder dated from last year.  I don't know why I never published it!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Little Women the Movie

I decided the 5 Minutes for Books book club on Louisa May Alcott was the perfect excuse to indulge in a "girl" movie. So I searched my library's on-line catalog to see if I could bring it home for free.

Low and behold I found not one version of "Little Women" but four (and brought home two)!

1. 1933 by Radio Pictures, produced by David O. Selznik. Starring Katharine Hepburn. Winner of the 1933 Oscar for Best Screenplay (Adaptation).

2. 1949 by MGM Pictures. Starring Elizabeth Taylor. Winner of the 1950 Oscar for Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Color.

3. 1978 NBC Universal. Winner of 1979 Outstanding Art Direction for a Series. Nominated for 1979 Golden Globe Best Motion Picture Made for TV.

4. 1994 Columbia Pictures. Nominated for 1995 Best Actress in a Leading Role - Winona Ryder.

I watched the 1978 NBC version first.

It's long. REALLY long. I didn't realize it was a mini-series, though that became apparent when I saw the breaks where commercials should have been. The case says it's 194 minutes long (almost 3.5 hours!). Truly over an hour too long.

I also found it hard to disconnect the actresses/actors from other roles they've played. For example:
Honestly, William Shatner as a German professor was just too much for me. Once he came on the screen I just couldn't get into the movie.

The movie as a whole really felt melodramatic to me. I'm all for drama but Beth's death lasted over 30 minutes. It was all a bit much for me.

My recommendation: Skip the 1978 Television movie.

Next I watched the 1949 MGM Version. I'm so glad I watched it last so that its story is what's in my mind!

Once again big-name actresses were used but this time I didn't have any mental connections with them. Other than Elizabeth Taylor, who I didn't really enjoy in this film but more because I don't enjoy the character of Amy.

One detail I found interesting is that the March home in this film is identical to Orchard House. So much so that William (6 years old) wandered in, watched for a few minutes and asked about the house being the one we toured.

Another detail is that they switched Amy and Beth in the age order. Apparently the girl that wanted to use for Beth was younger than Elizabeth Taylor so they just switched them. Annoying, but I can live with it.

Overall I enjoyed this version MUCH better than the 1978 one. But, I think that in both movies the producers/writers try to include too much of the first part of the book and not enough of the second part. Beth seems to take a long time to die but Jo's love for "her Professor" kind of springs out of nowhere.

Now I'm wondering if I should bring home the other 2 movies for comparision. Purely for research purposes of course. Not because I enjoy a girly movie every once in a while. {grinning}

My recommendation: Watch the 1949 version.

What do you think? Which Little Women Movie is your favorite?

*** This post is included in a series on Louisa May Alcott.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Little Women the Musical

As I searched my library catalog for the "Little Women" movie I stumbled across "Little Women the Musical."

I had no idea someone had made a musical of Louisa May Alcott's beloved book!

According to the blog, the Broadway production appears to have toured from about August 2005 to August 2006. I didn't take the time to read through the blog but it is full of pictures of the cast and crew.

I recently listened to the original Broadway cast recording on CD. It made me want to go see a Broadway show!! I always enjoy a good musical.

Though I enjoyed the music on the CD, I found it difficult to follow the story. No dialogue is included so if you aren't familiar with the novel already you will be totally lost by song number 3.

From what I could gather, the musical begins with Jo in New York rejected. She then starts writing and flashbacks to the "good" years before she left home. During the flashback we hear several songs of her dramatic over-the-top early writings. Then we are brought back to her present and find her at home in Concord, Massachusetts.

In all honesty, I didn't enjoy this CD as a representation of "Little Women." Too much liberty was taken with the story for my liking. And the songs just don't fit with the personality of Jo March.

But, if your library happens to have a copy you can listen to for free then go for it! If nothing else, it'll make you dance around the house (or wish you could dance, depending on your dancing abilities).

Had you heard of Little Women the Musical before? Did you see it on tour?

*** This post is included in a series on Louisa May Alcott.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Happy Birthday, Jennifer!

Happy Birthday, Jennifer!!!

Because I am a slacker sister-in-law and NEVER get a card mailed in time for Jennifer's birthday, I'm writing this post to make up for yet another late card.

In August Stephen (my brother) and Jennifer came from Arkansas to visit us. We met Addi for the first time, they met Sam for the first time, we celebrated Ellie's 3rd birthday AND we went to the zoo.

It was a fun time!

Here we are trying to get 5 children and 4 adults to all look at the camera at the same time. Impossible! And yes, Ben has a scraped forehead and nose. He had a bicycle accident a few days before. Funny thing, he was wearing his helmet at the time.

Can anything be cuter than these two cheerleaders? I don't think so either!! :)

Happy birthday, Jenn!

We hope your day is filled with fun, food and family!! Maybe we can celebrate with you next year.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

"Louisa: The Life of Louisa May Alcott" by Yona Zeldis McDonough

On a recent trip to our local library I saw "Louisa: The Life of Louisa May Alcott" by Yona Zeldis McDonough on display. Knowing that the 5 Minutes for Books Louisa May Alcott book club was coming up, I dropped the book into my already stuffed book bag and brought it home.

This biography tells the life story of Louisa May beginning from her birth to her death. Several snapshots of her childhood are included such as weekly family pillow fights and being rescued from the Boston Commons frog pond by a black boy. Her myriad of jobs are also described; from teacher to housemaid to Civil War nurse and, finally, to author.

Along with the simple telling of Louisa's life the book includes some of her quotes, two of her earliest poems, facts about the Alcott family and a short bibliography. It's definitely not your typical children's picture book.

My children (1-6 years) are still a little young for this book but children (especially girls) in 4-8 grades would probably enjoy it. I can see it being a good introduction to the biography genre or a valuable resource after reading some of Miss Alcott's books.

While writing this review I read the website of the author Yona Zeldis McDonough. Under her biography section she had this to say:
"...when you are reader, you just need to read. Sometimes you read books that change your life, like OF MICE AND MEN, which I read--and adored-- when I was in sixth grade. Other times, you read the latest adventures of Betty and Veronica. You’ll read a three-day old newspaper or the back of the cereal box if that’s all that there is available, because readers just need to read."
I couldn't agree with her more!! "Louisa" is my first introduction to Ms. McDonough. I'm definitely interested in reading more of her books. I recommend you do the same.

*** This post is included in a series on Louisa May Alcott.

Friday, October 30, 2009

"Jack and Jill" by Louisa May Alcott

"Jack and Jill went up a hill to fetch a pail of water. Jack fell down and broke his crown and Jill came tumbling after."

So goes the old nursery rhyme and the main characters of "Jack and Jill" by Louisa May Alcott. The two children, friends in a small town, start the story sledding during Christmas vacation.

Unfortunately, they are a little too daring on the sled and each end up with an injury that keeps them out of school for months. The remainder of the story recounts their activities and the lessons they learn as they heal.

I found this book fascinating to read after I toured Miss Alcott's home, Orchard House. Three things in this story really struck me: the children learn moral lessons and improve their characters by the end of the story; the mothers decide to home school the children even when they are healed; the children write and perform plays and skits while making their own entertainment.

I've mentioned before that I prefer old children's books. The children in these books usually mature due to natural consequences of their "adventures." I SO prefer this to modern stories with whiny, smart-mouthed kids! Apparently Miss Alcott (and her father) also believed children should develop moral characters along with their academic work.

The knowledge that Miss Alcott's father was a teacher who promoted educational philosophies unheard of in his day helped me understand her motivation at having the mothers in this story choose to home school. She used the two mothers as a means of promoting some of her father's ideas. As a home school mom, I was especially intrigued by the description of their lessons which sound a lot like Charlotte Mason's philosophy!

I also learned at the Orchard House that Miss Alcott and her sisters often wrote and performed skits to entertain their parents and guests. It appears that Miss Alcott often drew on her own childhood for writing material. As I recall the sisters of Little Women also performed homemade plays.

I thoroughly enjoyed this fun little story. I'm sure boys and girls of all ages would like reading about the trials and successes of Jack and Jill as they heal from their injuries and the poor character qualities that caused them.

*** This post is included in a series on Louisa May Alcott.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Orchard House: Home of Louisa May Alcott

After living in New England for 12 years, I finally decided this was the year to see Orchard House, the family home of Louisa May Alcott.

So when my Mom visited in August we packed up the family and drove to Concord, Massachusetts. I had no idea how much American and literary history is packed in that small town!!

Guided tours are available of the Orchard House for a fee. Of course we handed over our Mom's money and joined a tour. In hindsight, I should have suggested Joel and the kids play outside or in the grassy field across the street. Will was very interested in the tour but little hands are inclined to touch and that was specifically forbidden. I would have enjoyed the tour more if I hadn't been concerned with someone knocking over a priceless antique!

Even with the distraction of 4 small children I managed to learn a few things from the tour:
  • Orchard House is where Miss Alcott wrote her popular book "Little Women." Today the house is owned by a not-for-profit corporation who operates a museum about the Alcott family. In fact, part of the tour includes Miss Alcott's bedroom (upper right windows) where you can see the original desk where she wrote her books (picture taking is not allowed inside so I can't show it to you).

  • Louisa and her sisters would write short plays and then perform them for guests. They even had a curtain across a doorway that would be drawn while they ran up the backstairs to change costumes for the next act.

  • Bronson Alcott (Louisa's father) was a teacher. He believed everyone, including girls, should be well educated. Many of his ideas were not popular at the time but are taken for granted today.

  • Louisa's sister was encouraged to draw and paint anywhere - including the walls of the house. Many of the walls are covered with her drawings.
I couldn't help laughing to myself when the guide drew our attention to an "Order of Indoor Duties" that Mrs. Alcott had written and posted on the wall. She had times for specific chores, school work, walks, and meals. The guide seemed to think this was an oddity as did the rest of the tour group. It made complete sense to me!

I'm glad I can now say I've visited the home of Louisa May Alcott, author of "Little Women." Have you visited Orchard House? If not, put it on your list of things to do in New England!

*** This post is included in a series on Louisa May Alcott.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Louisa May Alcott Series

I have long been a fan of Louisa May Alcott. In fact, I can't remember when I first read her popular novel "Little Women", though I'm sure it was in high school over 16 years ago. (Wow! When did I get old enough to say that?!) "Little Men" and "Jo's Boys" were also quickly read.

Because I'm a fan of Louisa May Alcott, or more accurately "Little Women," I'm excited to join 5 Minutes for Books November book club! On November 3 participants will be linking their reviews of any book by Miss Alcott. It should be fun to read about her lesser known works!

In anticipation of November 3, I have published 5 posts:
I hope you enjoy them!
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