Friday, September 28, 2007

Starting Homeschooling

Sorry I've been on hiatus, but we just started homeschooling again. I'm with the Classical Conversations program, and our group just started this past Tuesday. So - given that right now, I am busier than I have ever been in my entire life - I put off starting school till the group program started.

So I spent last week organizing homeschool material that will hopefully be moved into the new addition sometime next month. But right now I am fortunate to be able to fit everything into a computer armoire, due to my husband's generosity in buying it for me when it was on sale two years ago. The armoire hides the messy avalanche that schoolwork had become over the summer, but now the avalanche is eradicated and safely filed and labeled in our file box system.

Everything else is organized in four wooden magazine files from IKEA (which sadly, don't fit binders, their one flaw), two metal bins which slide onto shelves below, and in a desk organizer, which is not the Truly Useful Object it pretends to be, but is painted red and (to me) looks beautiful.

One selling point for me of Classical Conversations was the sparse amount of material it involves. Working on the one-room-schoolhouse model (which is the model of the typical homeschooler with multiple ages in one "classroom"), all the curriculum is gathered in one 200 page book (in the red folder). The Essentials of the English Language program, for my older students, fits into one thick binder, and this year I had the inspiration to gather spare looseleaf, page protectors, spelling lists, reference guides, and anything else I had trouble laying my hands on quickly last year into one large Homeschool Binder.

For fun, I copied blocks of Morris prints off the Internet and used some demo Arts and Crafts fonts from Fontcraft to create some fun and beautiful covers for the clunky plastic binders. See below:

Wanting to share my fun idea, I'll see if I can figure out how to upload more generic versions as PDF files and attach them to this post.

So -- the school year begins! (Better late than never!) Happy schooling everyone!

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Catherine Fournier's House: Mirror on the Wall

Here's another photo and commentary from Catholic writer Catherine Fournier:

One of the nice things about moving into a new house after living for a long time (in our case 18 years) in one spot, is that you discover new things about your furniture and decorations. Suddenly, in a different arrangement or in a different light, that chair or dresser you took for granted takes on a whole new beauty.

This mirror was my mother-in-law's; she inherited it from her parents. Initially, I didn't find its ornate, elaborate style terribly appealing, but a mirror is a mirror and it was useful in our bedroom. As you can see, it's not very exciting hung against a plain white wall (though the cutie in the reflection is quite nice!) I only kept it when we were moving because it was a family-piece and may well have been one of the first "beautiful" objects her parents bought after spending years struggling as Ukrainain settlers in Manitoba.

But in our new house, with its much more interesting colour scheme, this mirror suddenly comes to life! The cut glass and mirrored flowers just pop right out. "Bun" seems happy perched on top too. This example confirms my research that the decorating style of the era when this house was built (and the mirror was made) tended towards strong, dark colours, even though the rooms and windows were much smaller than is considered normal today. You'd think it would be depressing, but I'm finding that a small room with a window or two, wide woodwork, maybe a cupboard door or an angled ceiling, means that the walls are broken up and the dark colour isn't overpowering at all. It's comforting. And comforting is what you want in a bedroom.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Help Save Oliver Hill Farm!

A few months ago in June I blogged about visiting Molly and Bill McGovern and their delightful little family farmette, Oliver Hill. This weekend I received a plea for emergency help from Molly. They were able to buy the farm because they purchased a sub-prime loan: at the time, this was their only option. Last year, they lost their baby son Oliver to SIDS, and then Bill lost his job as a result of all the time he took off to take care of his family during the crisis.

Not to be kept down, Bill started his own business as a home health care aide, Oliver Hill Home Health Care. As an aside, he is thriving in the business: he's a big teddy bear of a man with years of emergency medicine experience. He specializes in helping older men with their health needs in their homes: for those of us who know Bill, this job is a perfect fit for his warm, compassionate personality, and his clients and their families have nothing but praise for his work. Molly has been holding classes in sewing and in the fiber arts for young girls in the area now that family life is settling down after the tragedy of losing their young son.

That's the good news: now for the bad news.

Even though the McGoverns have duly made every mortgage payment on their farm, they are in danger of losing the farm in two weeks, because the company that owns their mortgage is going under, and is demanding full repayment of the loan. If they can't pay the loan in full by October 1st, McGoverns will be out on the street -- in two weeks.

So Molly decided to swallow her pride and ask her fellow Catholics for help in paying off their mortgage. You can click here to see her letter at her blog,

The loan is only for $53,000. While that's a big chunk of change for any one person to handle, it's definitely an amount that could be raised if many people make small donations.

Molly and Bill have set up a PayPal account (okay, I have it working now) to handle donations to help save Oliver Hill farm. Enter the email address to donate. If you are able to even make a small donation of $10 or $20, I know it will help them. Placing her complete trust in God, Molly hopes that they will be able to use any overpayment of the loan to help other families who are in the same situation: as Steve Wood recently warned on his August 23rd radio show, the sub-prime loan industry is in the process of collapsing, taking many struggling families with it.

Please consider making a donation to them: and if you feel so moved, please spread the word.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Catherine Fournier's Upstairs Hall

My friend, Canadian writer Catherine Fournier, kindly allowed me to post some photos of the rennovation of their upstairs hall, with commentary. Thanks for sharing, Catherine!

Upstairs Hall

When I arrange a room and begin to decorate it, I think first about what the area will be used for, who will see it, then traffic patterns, then about ease of maintenance (keeping it clean and tidy.) I usually try to develop a theme for the colours, pictures and knick-knacks.

In the case of our upstairs hall, it started with finding a (safe) place for our statue of Mary; somewhere where she’d be properly and respectfully seen without being in danger of being knocked over, always a hazard in the large-footed & large-elbowed Fournier household. Once she was in place I realized that this transient zone –in my opinion you can be a little more overstated or emphatic in an area where people just pass through than in a room where people sit and stay – would work well as a “Marian devotions” area.
This left photo is what you see as you climb the steep stairs. I love the slow reveal. The statue came from the Nazareth Family Retreat centre – we brought it home to clean over the winter and then Nazareth closed, so Mary stayed with us. The picture is a copy of a 1969 Analog cover featuring an Anne McCaffrey story entitled “A Womanly Talent.” It was one of Peter’s favorite stories as a teen – imagine! A teen aged boy liking a story about a woman whose psi talent is creating psi talented children! I had if framed for him years ago and it always hangs somewhere in our home.

This view is to your right as you reach the top of the stairs. It’s fun to discover just how many pictures or items in a theme you’ve collected over the years. Here we see a Michael O’Brien print of the Assumption, a cross-stitch of the Memorare that I designed and Faustina stitched for me (the pattern is in “Marian Devotions in the Domestic Church,” a silk tapestry of OLPH that we found at Madonna House and contributed greatly to our family conversion (when we bought it we didn’t even know what “name of mary” it was!) and a silk painting of Our Lady of Japan, that we again found at Madonna House.

When we were in Rome we discovered a type of store that we called "The My-son-the-Priest" stores because they seemed to be full of all the beautiful, elaborate, wonderful liturgical type things that you would buy your son as an ordination present or similar occasion. One especially wonderful example of this kind of store was just off the square in front of Santa Maria Maggioria. (I'm pretty sure I haven't spelled that right...) Not only did it have vestaments, chalices and the like, it had a huge section of icons and statues (and off down a hallway, I spotted a cowed priest being made to try on endless black v-necked sweaters by a contingent of nuns, all fussing to find exactly the right sweater for him...) Anyway, I disgress, sorry about that, it was a fun afternoon.

The store had a glass cabinet full of different sizes of this Nativity set. They are carved in Africa of ebony, I'm not sure if you can see in this photo that the figures have African features. I was first enchanted and then thrilled to realise that not only could we afford the smallest set and we also still had space in our luggage to bring it home. The woven "hut" behind them is actually a woven grass basket that my father-in-law brought back as a souvenir from the Caribbean, set on its side. It seems to fit and Mary and Joseph certainly need somewhere to shelter! For years, I only brought this set out (with all the others) at Christmas time. But I like it so much and it's safe there and it fits the theme of the space, I think I'll leave it for a while.


Friday, September 07, 2007

Plastic Elimination Campaign: Kids' Swimming Pool

At times I feel like a snob for admitting it, but plastic things really upset my sense of beauty. I can tolerate it in the house at times (yes, I do own Tupperware!) but when it comes to plastic outside, the contrast between the artificialness of plastic riding toys, swingsets, etc. and the vibrancy and realness of the natural world is jarring. So whenever I can, I try to find ways to eliminate outdoor plastic fixtures.

I find that for babies, a galvanized metal tub makes a fun wading pool. While it's not really big enough to swim it, it definitely takes the edge off the last hot days of summer. And even bigger kids like to soak in it. I've found that one of these tubs (we just "upgraded" from a 30 gallon to a 45 gallon model this summer - $25 at the hardware store) and a good sprinkler is all the water fun my small children need.

And this fall, we can use it for bobbing for apples. :)

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Favorite Things: William Morris prints

Years ago my friend Joan introduced me to the art and work of William Morris, the ecclectic genius of the Arts and Crafts movement of the last 1800's. Although not Catholic, Morris was fascinated by the art that was birthed by Catholic culture, and used his considerable fortune to fund the production of paintings, books, fabric, wallpaper, furniture, and architecture that paid homage to medieval art. He sought with mixed success to raise the level of popular culture in his day and age, away from mass production and towards the appreciation of what he considered to be true culture.

Ironically, he never embraced the faith of the intensely Christian culture he sought to emulate, but spent his life a child of the wind, flying from one philosophy to another. I suspect that if he was saved in the end, it would be because that his heart was wiser than his head.

Above is one of his popular patterns, Briarwood Manor, one of my favorites. Different companies release new versions of the patterns in fashionable colors each year. If I could find this particular pattern, which contains my favorite shades of red and green, in curtains for my kitchen, (and if I could afford it!) I would be truly delighted.

May the soul of William Morris rest in peace.