7 great read aloud novels for little boys

First graders at our boys' school came home last fall with a reading log and a simple directive: Read books, write down the titles, get points. So all of a sudden, reading became a COMPETITION and our eldest son said YES PLEASE. So Sean's nightly storytime with the boys morphed from picture books to novels because "I can get a lot more points for a chapter book." Yessirrrr.

So we tried Charlotte's Web, and ehhh... the boys just weren't too captured by it. But I know! It's Charlotte's Web! To which I say, I guess, they're boys. I wanted to find them books they'd look forward to listening to. This is a list of our successes, and I'm linking it up with 7 quick takes at This Ain't the Lyceum.

1. Frindle
Cute little book, weird name! Fifth-grader Nicholas has a burning question for his battleaxe of an English teacher, Mrs. Granger: How do words get their meaning? Who decides? While reading this I admit to being skeptical of its message--part of the plot hinges on students being willfully disobedient (though not rudely so) to school administrators. But a great twist at the end puts all that in perspective. Both boys enjoyed it though my 7 year old "got" it more.

2. The Mysterious Benedict Society
THE BEST. Especially the best if you've got a bit of an adorably nerdy boy, as I do. Four gifted children are selected through a series of tremendous tests to topple an unseen evil empire that's subtly influencing the nation.

That sounds heavy handed--I promise, it's not. I laugh at least two times on every page. Additionally, it's a true pleasure to read this one out loud (which isn't the case for every novel, even the good ones, I think). Bonus: It's the first in a five-book series.

3. A Wrinkle in Time
To answer the burning question: No, heck no, we will not be seeing the Oprah movie adaptation. I shudder at the thought. Madeline L'Engle was my favorite childhood author and I spent my summers reading Meet the Austins and Troubling a Star and A Ring of Endless Light.

But I first read every single book in the Wrinkle in Time series, envisioning how I would block out the pulse of IT if I were on Camatoz rescuing my father. Wonderful family themes of loyalty, the love of parents, and the bond of siblings.

4. The Hobbit
We finished reading The Hobbit to the boys months ago but Joseph still comes up to me and says "Want to hear a riddle, my precious?" Such a classic for young boys, and a great introduction to young readers/listeners to the world of Tolkein.

5. Redwall
War! Battle! RATS! Redwall Abbey stands as sanctuary for mouse, vole and hedgehog alike, but rat Cluney and his army of miscreants wants to eradicate the peace and take Redwall for their own. I confess to not know a whole lot about this one as Sean's done all the reading of it to the boys, but I do know two things:
- it's pretty long
- Sean has to water down/skim some passages about rat-on-mouse violence that can get a little bloody and morbidly descriptive. But still, lots of tense action and general boy amusement.

6.  The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
I know, I know, I'm not exactly breaking new ground here in the "great read alouds!" category. But nonetheless, it stands as a read aloud that both boys genuinely enjoyed, and led to wonderful conversations about Jesus, Aslan, and sacrificial love.

Plus, battles. Always the battles.

7. Encyclopedia Brown, Boy Detective
The 1963 classic! Each chapter can be read a stand-alone mystery that Encyclopedia solves with his ingenuity--and good listening skills. My 5 year old especially loves it and likes that he doesn't have to follow along with an intricate plot each night.

Sean just started the second Mysterious Benedict Society (And The Perilous Journey) with the boys, but we need to get a few more books lined up. I'd love to hear which books your own boys (or kids) loved hearing!


Q & A: coffee and donuts radio show

A few months ago my friend John, who works as the production manager at Mater Dei Radio out of Portland, had a crazy idea. He thought it'd be a fun thing to interview me, in my role as Occasional and Unreliable Blogger Extraordinaire at Domestic Apologist Dot Com, on the Morning Drive radio show for his station.

When he asked, I first confirmed he knew he was talking to me and not someone else infinitely more interesting, then said YES I'LL DO IT and hung up before he could change his mind.

We recorded two interviews for NFP Awareness Week, then one for preparing for Advent, and another one for family meal strategies.

Then, John, God love him, truly went round the bend and asked if I'd like to co-host a weekly radio program with him.

John's an incredibly kind person so I hope he didn't mind all the happy screams of "STOP IT" and "GET OUT" and "SHUT THE FRONT DOOR" that I excitedly hurled at him over the phone when he asked.

The rest, they say, is history, and Coffee & Donuts with John & Mary is off and running. I thought it might be helpful to do a little question and answer session about the show.

What's the name of the show again? 

Coffee & Donuts with John & Mary.

Do you serve coffee and donuts during the show?

No, it's a radio show. Listeners must bring their own coffee and pastries.

But what if I'm gluten free and can't eat donuts?

You've got me there. Drink a smoothie.

What do you talk about? 

Headline news, the good and bad of social media, Catholic tidbits, awesome new charities, budgeting strategies for families, Catholic events in the Portland area, interviews with modern musicians... things that you could talk about at, say, coffee and donuts after Mass. Get it? GET IT?????



When are you on? 

Friday nights at 7:30pm on KBVM 88.3FM in Portland, and replay on Sunday nights on the same channel at 7:30pm. And if we're really lucky, the station managers will let us fill that empty 3am slot on Wednesdays, too. Fingers crossed.

What if I'm not listening to Mater Dei radio at those times?

Catch the full podcast online on our show page!

Last question: What makes you qualified to host a radio show?

Nothing. Absolutely nothing. SO TUNE IN!!!!!!

is the Eat to Live diet affordable and kid friendly? (part 2 - lunch and grocery shopping)

The first post in this riveting series covered the epic saga that is breakfast smoothies (based on the Eat to Live nutritarian diet) for a family of six. Read that here.

Next up: lunch! and GROCERY SHOPPING!

For my hubby's lunch, I try and bump up my dinner portions so that there are enough leftovers for him to take to work. Along with this, he takes (every day):
- an apple
- a banana
- an orange
- a bag of raw almonds
and he finds this to be pretty much enough food to get through the day without being hungry. Because, of course, the point of eating this way isn't to be hungry--it's to get rid of the addictions to salt, sugar, and fat laced with salt and sugar that have become the Standard American Diet (SAD, ha). The point is to protect the body against disease by eating nutrient-dense foods, all day, errry day. 

Great resource: the ANDI Food Scores. It ranks the nutrient-to-calorie ratio for a bunch of common  foods. For instance:

kale - 1000
spinach - 707
cauliflower - 315
tofu - 82
salmon - 34
avocado - 28
chicken breast - 24
cheddar cheese  - 11
cola - 1 

These numbers don't tell the whole, story, of course. But you know what tells the whole story? THE BOOK. Read the book. Buy the book. Library the book. Borrow my book!

Grocery shopping. I once wrote an ode to not grocery shopping every day. It was fabulous.

Then I took this nutrient-dense nosedive started grocery shopping nearly every day again.  

Why? Kale. Kale doesn't really last a week in the fridge. Mushrooms! We go through so many. Then we're out of bananas. Or we have 3 ripe bananas left and no green ones coming up to the plate. Then my soy milk stash is running low. And FRUIT, we're out of frozen berries again. This way of eating has me constantly buying and washing 9,000 different kinds of produce.

The crazy thing is, I like it. I feel good doing it. About a week before Sean came home and told me about Eat to Live, I looked in my kitchen cabinet and got depressed. My cupboards were stocked with chips, crackers, cookies and processed granola bars. Everything was a refined flour, doused in sugar. My kids' diet had bothered me for a while, but I had talked myself into believing it was fine, as long as they were eating something--after all, I was in the survival mode of motherhood, and I just didn't have the mental bandwidth to invest in making changes. 

But, now it's a little better here. I'm neither growing nor nursing a little human. I'm not moving to a new state nor juggling a job. I have the time to invest in my family's health. And I'm deeply grateful for it.

Every week for this family of six, I buy roughly: 
18 apples
18 bananas
1 bag of cuties
7 oranges
2 lbs mushrooms
1 lb broccoli
3 lb onions
3 heads of kale
3 heads romaine lettuce
1 head living butter lettuce
1 big box of spinach
3 lb frozen berries
3 lb frozen mixed fruit
1 bag baby carrots
2 cucumbers

Behold the Great Pantry Shelf o' Beans.

Beyond produce, we weekly use: 
2 containers unsalted chicken broth
4 boxes unsweetened soy milk
1-2 containers of firm tofu
12 cans of beans (either pinto, black, chickpea or kidney)
5 cans of corn
3 cans tomato paste
1 jar unsalted marinara sauce
1 container carrot juice
1 jar POM juice

Condiments I keep stocked for recipes: 
pure tahini
soy aminos
cashew butter
natural peanut butter
ground flax seeds
chia seeds
sesame seeds
raw almonds
artichoke hearts (in water) 
picked jalapenos 

Necessary no-salt spices: 
chili powder
onion powder
garlic powder
Costco organic no-salt seasoning
cayenne pepper
italian seasoning
bay leaves
Mrs. Dash

WHEW! Finally: Costco run weekly for bulk produce that lasts a while in the fridge (bell peppers, frozen fruits, bananas, apples) and monthly for BEANS. Oh the beans. Weekly run to Trader Joe's for the kids' cereals, cheapest soy milk, tahini and nut butters, cheap organic sprouted bread. Daily or every-other-day runs to local grocery or Walmart for assorted produce and herbs.

Next up: our favorite dinner recipes! 


book report - winter 2018

I started reading again! Huzzah. No idea how long it's going to last, so I'm reviewing while the book reviewing's good and linking it up for 7 quick takes with Kelly

Regina Doman
This one's not pictured in my stack, but only because I just passed it along today to a friend. Regina Doman is the publisher of (now defunct, I think, but wonderful) Chesterton Press, and we hosted a Catholic book fair at the boys' school last year with CP books. She also wrote Angel in the Waters, which I think is the best pro-life picture book around, plus a smattering of other successful books for teens and children. Our book club picked The Shadow of the Bear for February, and I'm looking forward to discussing it in a few weeks. It's the first in Doman's fairy tale novels series, which retell the classic Brothers Grimm fairy tales. In Doman's telling, teenage sisters Blanche (Snow White) and Rose (Rose Red) encounter Bear, a mysterious figure with a dark past. I haven't read much "young adult" genre books, so I don't know if they all are a little heavy-handed in their narration and themes, as I found this novel to be. But that didn't stop from immediately ordering the next book in her series once I finished it. On to Black as Night!

2. Scoop
Evelyn Waugh
A hilarious case of mistaken identity played out on a foreign stage against the backdrop of (possible) war and British journalistic sensationalism. I understood about 85% of it and had to look up at least 85 words in the dictionary. 

3. Helena
Evelyn Waugh
Oh, ohhhh, a book that surprises--without resorting to cheap thrills or page-turning plot twists to cover weak writing--is a rare thing indeed. I confess that I knew nothing much about neither St. Helena nor the book, not even that it was a fictional account of St. Helena's life and her quest for finding the true Cross of Christ in the Holy Land. I knew one deeply important fact, though: Helena was the only of his books that Waugh read aloud to his children. And that's all I needed to know, really. Beautiful. 

Christopher Beha
A friend recommended this and I have to circle back with him. It took me three or four tries to get into it, but once I did, I finished it in two days. Quite a world apart from Waugh, Beha's book is set in modern-day New York and follows characters through the mire of the writing process, the dying process, and religious conversion. Not a book for everyone, but for those fascinated by those three topics (*raises hand*) and those not troubled by a little language and a few mild bedroom scenes, it's a trip of a book. I liked this review of it.  

And in the cookbook category, I checked out from the library:

5. Danielle Walker's Celebrations

6. Against All Grain: Delectable Paleo Recipes to Eat Well and Feel Great 

7. I'm also leafing through Angela Liddon's blog-to-book cookbook, Oh She Glows Every Day: Quick and Simple Plant Based Recipes.

These books have gorgeous photography on nearly every page (and all three are well over 200 pages long) and lovely food styling. I'm pretty sure the food is probably delicious, too. But most of these recipes, though plant or paleo-based, still contain added salt and oil, which I'm doing my best to avoid during dinner this Lent.

And, as beautiful as they are, I feel like they're more suited toward being display pieces in pretty kitchens that have white subway tile backsplashes. #notmykitchen 

Amazingly enough, my little Eat to Live cookbook--checked out from the library and now full of so many water stains, flecks of carrot peel and spilled chili powder, I'm embarrassed to say--which has about eight pictures TOTAL in it... When I need a dinner plan, that's what I open. Last night we made enchiladas with this avocado salsa on it that I found at Walmart, and MAAAAAN. Delish. 

Next up on the reading list (as I wait with baited breath for Black as Night to get here) is Barbara Pym's Glass of Blessings, recommended on the Catholic World Report annual book roundup, either from this year or last. 


Lent as a carrot (and not just a stick)

I posted this video to the blog facebook page today, talking about sleep--and why we choose as adults, over and over, to not get enough of it.

I had been praying the last few days for a personal Lenten requirement that felt right, something that targeted an out-of-balance part of my life, and righted it. Something that imposed a "pinch" (to quote Colleen!), but a needed pinch.

Fr. Schmitz outlines in the video (watch it! It's a scant 7 minutes long!) that as kids, we had adults do two very important things for us:
1. tell us when and what to eat
2. put us to bed.

Adults. We're notoriously bad at doing both--see example here of my family essentially having to re-learn what to eat.

But he goes deeper into it. Going to bed is an acknowledgment that today is done--and when I wake up, I wake up to a new day of work. Of stress and chores. Of frustrations. If I can just hold on to a few more minutes tonight, if I can just stretch the luxury of tonight out a little bit longer, with its lack of obligations... I postpone the work of tomorrow.

Going to bed, he says, is an act of faith. It's placing all my dread of what tomorrow will bring into God's hands.

I'm in a little golden phase (and praying it stays this way for a tiny bit longer) of all my kids sleeping, and sleeping more or less soundly, for about nine or ten hours straight, with the baby waking at least once, and the toddler waking every other night with a bad dream. Just a month ago, it wasn't like this. It was a bedtime battle with the baby, hours of weird night terrors for the toddler, and everyone being sick with colds. I would get up with a little one, settle them down, and then resentfully head back to bed and pick up my phone out of sheer stupid defiance of sleep. "It's not like I'm going to be here for long," I'd think, climbing back into bed for the ninth time in an hour.

Gah. Bad times. But now that that phase has passed, I found myself on my phone STILL in the wee hours, somehow justifying it by telling myself I was relishing the fact that I was in bed, undisturbed.

With the approach of Lent, I almost fell into the trap of picking a penance for penance's sake--maybe I'll make the kids give up TV (which is my quiet time)! Maybe I'll make myself wash the floors every night! (ugh.) Maybe I'll give up music... maybe?

None of those felt right--because they were sticks for the sake of sticks. Watching that little reflection on sleep made it click for me. Lent and the penance we choose can be as inconvenient AND as beneficial as we make it. Penance can be a carrot.

Every night, for 40 nights. Lights out at 9:30pm. My head on the pillow. No glowing screen. Boom.