A blog where families who love and live the Catholic Faith can share, encourage and support each other.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Dad's 4-word dessert recipe

By Anthony English

When Mozart was a boy he heard Allegri's Miserere once and was able to write down the entire piece from memory. When I was a boy, my dad made an exotic and novel rice dessert for us, and I (after some decades of reflection) was able to cook that very dessert and write down the recipe in four words.
Although my culinary skills don't always receive high praise, it occurred to me that perhaps it would be nice for my wife to have a night off cooking, and for my eight-year-old son to have a night on, with my assistance. We chose Saturday night. But the highlight wasn't the main meal. It was the dessert. More on that in a moment.

 A hand in the cooking

 One of the many benefits of cooking with your children is that you can look like an expert. It is time together, a lot of fun, and a chance for the usual cook to have time out of the kitchen (provided you set up barriers and sentries at the kitchen door). Another advantage is that the children are more likely to eat some food they've had a hand in (so to speak). And of course it's not doing the children any harm if they come into adulthood equipped with at least some rudimentary survival skills.
I recall that my own dad occasionally used to cook a two-ingredient rice dish for "sweets". It was a great novelty for us children when we heard we were having rice and currants. There were no recipes passed down from generation to generation, so when it came to explaining to my own son how to cook this exquisite delicacy, I had to wing it a little. As my son is an apprentice cook, with an apprentice chef to guide him, I had to make it simple. So here it is:

  1. Boil rice.
  2. Add currants.
Now I have to admit that that first instruction requires some skill to carry out, but it's not all that hard. And once the rice is boiled, even the most culinarily challenged should be able to cope with instruction number two. If you're scandalised at the simplicity of such a recipe, you can add another step, to make it look more professional:

3. Serve.

So my son and I made Dad's rice and currants dessert and served it hot. It was a real hit, probably as much for the novelty as anything. There are all sorts of variations you could add, but we started just with these two ingredients. It's a simple introduction to cooking for someone starting out.
At the end of a successful and simple dessert, everyone generally agreed that importing my son and me as guest chefs was a good idea. The children loved the rice and currants, and speculated on the difference between currants, sultanas and raisins without the help of Professor Google. The kitchen eventually got cleaned up [wise use of the passive voice here - Ed.] and best of all, my son asked me "what are we going to cook next Saturday?"

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Patron Saint for the Absent-Minded

By Anthony English, (written in 2005, but worth enjoying again)

Those of us who have a propensity to absent-mindedness occasionally find it leads to little inconveniences. There’s nothing wrong with being a bit detached from some of the practical details of life (I like to call it the “professor syndrome”) but it does lead to a little bit of forgetfulness and, let’s admit, losing things. Losing things means losing time, and that calls for action.

It’s a funny thing when you lose something. A thorough search of the house is rarely the way you find it, and if you do end up locating it, it’s always in the very last place you look. (Why is it always like that?) Sometimes, though, it just isn’t there. Obviously, supernatural help is usually more likely to lead to success. There are two approaches here: one is the ascetic, the other is more mystical.

The ascetic approach to lost items can be summed up in one word: detachment. Convince yourself that whatever it is you lost is really not that important. Perhaps it can be replaced, but maybe the world will still turn without it. If, on the other hand, the missing object is the sort of thing you wished you’d grabbed as you escaped from your burning house, then a more mystical approach is for you.

When you can’t find something which you really, truly need, you can call on God’s helper. Saint Anthony of Padua is the patron saint of finding lost things. That traces back to a time he lost a treasured hand-written commentary on the psalms. One of the novices had left the monastery, tired of the religious life, and taken the book with him. Saint Anthony prayed fervently for the salvation of the novice thief, who returned repentant, begging for readmission to the order.

Being absent-minded myself and being named after Saint Anthony means I tend to call on him often. The results can be amazing. Over the last couple of days, my son Thomas (not yet three years old) and his Dad have been praying for two things which have gone missing. One was a little toy caravan, the other a security card for work. (In case you were wondering, Thomas was looking for the caravan). We asked Saint Anthony with our favourite prayer:

Great Saint Anthony,
Pillar of grace,
Put the [missing item]
Back in its place.

We started looking, without success, then Mum announced she’d lost a cooking appliance. (This appliance wasn’t something large and obvious, like an oven. Anyway, after recent kitchen renovations things are still popping up, like the toaster.) Once I started looking again, I found first the appliance, then the caravan straight afterwards. As for the security card I felt a kind of supernatural hint “I wonder if it’s near that book.” I hadn’t even thought of looking there before. We found the three items all within five minutes. It was wonderful! Thomas and I went to thank Saint Anthony for his intercession, once we found his statue.

Photo Help by Simon Howden/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Perception and Reality

By Sarah

I have a book (unrelated to homeschooling) entitled Perception and Reality. Watching an old video recording of my older, now adult, children when they were very young reminded me of that. One's perception of the age of one's children isn't necessarily closely related to reality: it is more closely related to the stage one's family is at. Last week I was at home with only our three youngest children (aged four, eight and ten), and it was an interesting experience. When our oldest child was just six, as in the video recording, we thought he was really pretty grown up – well, he was the oldest! We expected a high level of self-control, contribution to family jobs, obedience and attention to siblings' needs. We spent a lot of time supervising, correcting and intervening. Moving on twenty years (our oldest turned twenty-six this month!) and I realise that his youngest siblings have had quite a different experience of childhood.
In some ways the youngest children are more 'grown up' at the same ages than the older ones were: they watch films I would never have permitted the older one to watch at the same age, they wear clothes the older children would not have thought to want to wear, and they go to bed later! But in many ways much less is in fact expected of them. They do not automatically assume responsibility for household jobs the way the older ones perforce had to, since there were no older siblings around to do it for them. I realise I have not been as demanding of details with the younger ones, largely because I have been so occupied helping the older children through the ups and downs of adolescence; I have intervened less in their interactions with one another, and they have spent a lot more time playing unsupervised. I think they also spend more time out of my sight and hearing than the older ones did, reflecting what is in some ways a much greater degree of independence. There are advantages and disadvantages to whatever position one has in the family, just as there are with so many things.
Another way in which the older ones received much more of my time was in basic instruction: catechism and manners. Because you have told the older ones repeatedly to eg. look directly at people when you speak to them, you feel that you have been teaching such things to your children since forever, so presumably they all must know it. Unfortunately, they don't. At least, not always. Some things get passed on painlessly from older to younger without adults intervening – how to tie shoelaces or ride a two-wheeler, for example – but some things don't, such as the difference between the Incarnation and the Immaculate Conception. I have to constantly remember that the younger ones also need to be taught what you assume is basic knowledge (and therefore must surely necessarily already be known!).
Of course, when the older ones are growing up the younger ones take up a fair bit of physical time, as babies and young children do. By the time the younger ones are getting to the same stage, there are usually fewer babies about, but as parents we are older, and in my case much less energetic. When the older ones were in primary and early secondary years we did lots of 'theme work', requiring a good deal of time, thought, energy and input from me; a lot of fun, and a very effective means of teaching. I am too tired now to do that most of the time, so the younger ones do a lot more book work. But they also have a lot more formal extra-curricular activities such as music lessons. Either has advantages; but it does affect the way in which I teach, and therefore in a way the kind of relationship I have with the children.
We are all at different stages of family life, and sometimes it is good to remind ourselves of this fact. Rules and expectations differ anyway from family to family; but they can also be influenced by the stage of family life we are experiencing. I found it very useful to spend a week with only my younger children, and realise the gaps and deficiencies. When the children are all young, it is easy to have a compact, cosy, protected family unit, with all undesirable influences filtered out and a high level of control, but you cannot continue this as the older children grow without imposing an undesirable rigidity and exclusiveness. Older children bring back to the family home influences and experiences you could easily prevent them from having endured as littlies, but from which you cannot then easily protect their younger siblings – and perhaps that is not always a bad thing. By the time the littlies are going through their own agonies you have a lot of experience to call upon in helping them. Often you get it wrong the first time, but then you have better insight the next time. Often you seem to have failed; but you can't give up – the younger ones are still there, still needing you. Raising a family is a complex, changeful and challenging task, which requires full time attention; but I can think of nothing more rewarding.
*Photo Family by Healingdream/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Getting up for God and Smiling

By Father James Tierney

Each morning, try Getting up for God, and each day, try Smiling at people. This twofold programme suits any time of the year, especially Lent. It is part of Our Lord's Law of Love. What could be simpler?

Getting up for God begins with a bedside morning prayer.  Such a Morning Offering is best recited kneeling.  Some say it twice, first in bed, and then on their knees, because postures are  sacramentals.

Waking up and getting up!  These are sacred moments, `getting going' for the day, taking responsibility before God for our free choices, with a whole wide world awaking to its work. The natural `sacrament of the dawn' suits praying.  A new start in life!  It is unusual to make a midday offering of the next 24 hours.  Noon does not begin a natural slice of life.

The morning is `the natural time' for Holy Mass.  Participation in Mass is the completion of the Morning Offering, indeed, it is the supreme Morning Offering.  It gives fuller meaning to Getting up for God.

The offering up of "prayers, works, joys and sufferings" flow in and out of Mass.  Evening Mass does not fit this natural rhythm as well.  And a Holy Hour fits best before its climax in the Mass.

It is said that Pope John Paul II liked to watch the sunrise.  In Krakow, this would have been just before 4 a.m. in summer (or 5 a.m. on daylight saving time).

Strangely, the customary Morning Offerings do not appear in the prayer-appendix of the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.  But see the Catholic Family Catechism Disciples' Edition, pp. 8-9

Some folk, of course, are hemmed in by their duties.  Others seem too lazy to close down their day's doing and get themselves off to bed, and they make excuses for themselves to potter about.  Inevitably, they have trouble in Getting up for God in the morning.

It is maturity to defer one's doings according to a scale of priorities, and to call a halt the night before in favour of proper sleep, and time to pray in the morning.  Indeed, it is matter for a good Lent...

A disciplined body of men, like an army, a monastery or a seminary, has set times for rising and roosting.  The great spiritual guide, Dom Chautard, laid it down that the spiritual life required a fixed hour of rising.  See his The Soul of the Apostolate, which St Pius X made his bedtime book.  Of course, a growing changing organism like a family cannot have an army discipline, but it can still have `Getting up for God'.

Is it nature or nurture that some folk seem to do better at one end of the day or the other?  One thing is certain: noble motivation seems enough to get a Night Person up early in the morning.  And the Gigantic Bluff called Daylight Saving works for Night Persons simply by pretending that it is not an hour earlier.

The Anglicans used to poke gentle fun at their brethren who did not rise from "cosy bed" for early church on Sundays. With cheerful sarcasm they would quote Psalms 149:6, “Let the saints exult in glory, let them rejoice in their beds.” Alas, our Grail translation in The Liturgy of the Hours flattens this out: "Let the faithful rejoice in their glory, shout for joy and take their rest" -- which leaves no scope for irony.

Again, and from the same office of Morning Prayer, Sunday, week 1, the Grail, in Psalm 62[63]:7, has "On my bed I remember you.  On you I muse through the night."  However, the New Vulgate (the Church's official Bible, 1979), when translated, gives: "When I have remembered Thee upon my bed, I shall meditate on Thee in the mornings" -- which is traditional spirituality of retiring to rest with thoughts of God, with a view to making a morning meditation on them.


God so valued a smile that He planned fewer facial muscles for smiling than for scowling. Smiling signals good will.  It encourages others to smile back, and to show good will in turn.  It may enkindle in others the fire of love.  As St Thomas Aquinas pointed out, to love is `to will the good'.

Smiling exerts a secret power over those who smile.  It makes them more cheerful and helpful than they would have been if they did not make themselves smile.  Further, it helps cheer up other people, and inclines them to be helpful in their turn.

A Quaker variant, harder to master than a smile:-
"Before uttering a sentence the early Quakers are said to have asked themselves, `Is it true?  Is it kind?  Is it necessary?'  If at all dubious, they changed their minds and said nothing.  This, within limits, is what we all do but some people rebel against the convention, arguing that childlike   spontaneity is preferable to an eternal hypocrisy.  Why do we not give free expression to all that we think and feel?  Why cannot we be honest and say whatever comes into our heads?

"The answer is that we are not good enough.  If all our thoughts were charitable, kindly, intelligent and pure, there would be no objection to our expressing them.  There are people, no doubt, of saintly character and childlike innocence whose thoughts are always fit to share.  But few of us answer to that description.  Our unguarded remarks, if we uttered them, would be selfish, unsympathetic, irreverent, indecent or harsh...

"The chief character in Max Beerbohm's Happy Hypocrite wears the mask of a saint but ends up becoming one.  Few of us could claim to have done that but we are all a little more saintly for pretending to be better than we are.  At least to some extent, the affectation ends as fact."  (These three paragraphs are from Mrs Parkinson's Law by C. Northcote Parkinson.)

This tribute vice pays to virtue is not always hypocrisy.  Indeed, hypocrisy has now become the tribute virtue pays to vice. Some folk pretend to be worse than they are out of human respect for what worldly people will think of them. This makes the world a worse place than it is, and hinders its improvement.

Curmudgeons rarely smile.  Let us not be curmudgeons.  Try smiling, and Getting up for God.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

More Than Just a Taxi

By Andy Elvis

I cannot say that I have a direct input into the education of our children. As a working father the time I spend away from the home means that teaching formal subject matter is impractical. You see, I am time challenged, and when I have the available time during the week, the children have already finished their school day. In actual fact the last thing that they want to hear is me banging on about geography after dinner – believe me I’ve tried! Sedimentation and Continental Drift might be very exciting subject matter, but they’re not likely to stimulate anyone’s interest at 7.00 o’clock.

Now before everybody writes me off as being a failure at homeschooling, I do have other uses, other than as a wallet and a taxi. These are manifested as less formal influences on our children’s education. My role is first and foremost to be support for my long suffering wife, on whose shoulders the daily rigours of education fall and who is chiefly responsible for dragging our children up.

In addition to being the backstop (or principal of the school!) my position is more subtle and could best be described as education by example, even down to showing how not to do something. Yes, even I make mistakes, hard though it is to believe. So what are these education-by-stealth methods I hear you ask? Without resorting to some esoteric, psycho-babble explanation, the key ingredients would be involvement, interaction and fun.

Some years ago I was laid up from work with a broken leg, all my own fault I might add. During this enforced holiday I became interested in cooking and it is a hobby which I still like to indulge. Whilst I do not aspire to become a cordon bleu chef, there are practical educational and life skills that can be taught to children. When I was a child, long, long ago, my mother’s principle aims with her sons were that we could look after ourselves, meaning that we could cook, sew, wash and iron clothes. These are all still important life skills whatever level of education our children strive to obtain.

My observations have been that children, even from a young age, want to help in the kitchen, and they are all capable of being ‘sous-chefs’. There is no reason why a 3 year old cannot stand on a chair and chop mushrooms with a dinner knife. This time together in the kitchen allows the children to talk and ask questions about what we are doing and why we are doing certain things. Cooking involves measuring computation, nutrition, co-ordination, organization and, importantly, patience. A good measure of fun will ensure that rather than having to press-gang children to help in the kitchen, there is a willing source of volunteers. Youngsters in  particular also quickly work out that there are more tangible benefits to helping in the kitchen, like leftover cake mixture. As the children grow older they can be tasked with preparing meals for the whole family on a regular basis, taking the load off equally time challenged mothers.

The example I have just given could just as easily be applied to shopping, where our younger children view a trip to do the weekly shopping as a treat, especially if they are allowed to push the trolley. This is not a ready made recipe for disaster, as a child behind a loaded trolley can be easily guided from the front by a patient parent, in this case father. You will also be amazed at how quickly a supermarket aisle empties when other shoppers can only see a trolley being pushed by a pair of hands and feet.

As a family we have been fortunate to have assisted with a number of fund-raising dinners for our parish, in  particular the annual St. Patrick’s Day Dinner. This involves serving meals to over 150 ravenous pensioner diners, requiring teamwork and a large dose of good humour. By putting an effort into showing my older children how to do things, they can now work largely unsupervised, allowing me to assume the position of the “Fat Controller”, this  being to point a lot, while they get on with the job at hand.

These are just a couple of examples of how we have involved our children in what would seem fairly mundane activities, but they also show the kind of opportunities that present themselves to not only become more involved with our children, but to reinforce and add another dimension to their education.

I am also fortunate to have shared interests with my children, although these are not always the same interests with every child. In these cases we are all learning together, although I have found that the children do learn at a faster rate than I do. Singing is an example that comes to mind, where rather than just being “Dad’s Taxi” and ferrying said loved ones to and from our Local Church every Tuesday night, I share the same experiences as they do. Like all of us there are times when I could think of reasons to skip Choir Practice, particularly after a rough day at work, but I have a commitment not only to the Choir but also to my children, which they understand and acknowledge. This shared love of music has led several of the children to want to have music lessons, whether singing or with a musical instrument, and whether this will lead them to pursue a career in music has not been the issue. It is all about letting them explore their capabilities and interests within the resources that we have available.

There was a period in my life, not so long ago, where every Saturday morning would be spent at a local Swimming School, in the “Baby Class”. To the uninitiated, these involved getting into my swimming togs and standing waist-high in water, supporting various children and encouraging them to float, blow bubbles and put their heads into the water. It also meant learning the tunes to be sung whilst doing said actions, tunes which will remain with me to the grave. This may not sound like fun and to be honest there were times when having a root canal may have been preferable, but the joy on Sophie’s and Gemma-Rose’s faces made it all worth while. Watching their water confidence now puts all the encouragement and frustration into perspective.

As the children get older they develop their own interests and hobbies, and it is equally exciting to see these develop. Sure there are always going to be times when one of the children has ambition above their ability, but my role is support and trying to share some of my own experiences with them. My son Callum has developed an interest in mountain bikes, and this has involved the usual pile of unassembled bike parts and strewn tools in the garage as he gained an insight into mechanics. I have been able to help him with these projects and we have reached the stage where he knows more about bikes than I do, which is the natural order. It doesn’t mean however that I am now surplus to requirement as we can still discuss and plan what he wants to do in this area, such as being his ‘pit crew’ at bike races. Callum’s interest in bikes has also inspired the other children to want to ride, with the opportunity to teach them how to ride properly, bike maintenance, road safety and get some exercise. As the children gain confidence and the necessary skills they can then be trusted to ride unsupervised.

In my former own profession I was regularly  involved in graphic design, artwork and  publishing, skills which I have been able to utilise in preparing newsletters such as, well Keeping In Touch. What started out as idle curiosity on behalf of two of our children, Imogen and Callum, in how to construct a publication resulted in them volunteering to design and publish their own newsletters, such as “Black Jacks” (St. John Ambulance Cadets – Southern Highlands). This entails planning articles, researching or creating subject material, writing copy and layout, as well as achieving deadlines. These skills will hopefully stand them in good stead when they have to take their place in the workforce.

I don’t profess to be an expert at everything  and my children know this. But this is surely the point about homeschooling, where we can all learn and hopefully enjoy the experience. My ego can accept that my children will surpass me in probably all endeavours, and that I may have to play second fiddle to their greater ability. I can also accept that I may have to break some stereo-typical, gender boundaries to be involved in extra-curricular activities, shopping not being the most ‘manly’ of pursuits. But I want to be involved in their development at whatever level, and if that means sacrificing some of my leisure time investing in their pursuits rather than my own, then I can live with that.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Immersion in Quality Literature

By Erin @ Seven little Australians

My childhood home was a home of books; thousands of books, I don't recall many picture books, but we had shelves of quality novels mixed with twaddle. These surrounds encouraged my own love of reading.

Making the decision early on to home educate our children, I began reading about home education approaches and knew our learning would not be reliant on text books. When I first read of Charlotte Mason I was immediately drawn to her love of Living Books, I had found someone whose experience bore out my instinctive thoughts!  The past 17 years of parenting have been filled with reading, books are an integral part of our home and family culture.  We talk about characters and plots together, we read together, we laugh and cry over books together.  Well okay I'm the one who mostly cries (along with an unnamed child or two.) 

When I think back over the years books are entwined within many family moments; numerous memories are centered around the times spent reading books and different books in particular hold a place in our family's annuals.   We fondly remember the many mornings we spent reading our Saint stories until Morning Tea when my voice begged for mercy, pleading with the children that I could no longer go on.  St Pius X would have to be one of our very favourites from this time, we still talk and laugh about his humorous approach.  Then there was the day we began Caddie Woodlawn and the children begged I continue,  which I did all day until tea time, my voice was so hoarse.  The  series we read for pure fun that have become part of our family culture, Redwall and Ranger's Apprentice are two that come immediately to mind. One of my dearest memories was the winter Michelangelo was a newborn; we spent weeks huddled on the lounge under a doona,  reading the entire collection of Beatrix Potter.  To this day Beatrix Potter remains a family favourite.

When all the children were under 11 years it was far easier to maintain a family read aloud and read to all.  Now however our three oldest often prefer reading to themselves, sometimes they listen to snippets and reminisce or become interested, often they pick up the book I was reading and read quickly to themselves.  For too long I grieved for the earlier years, in an ideal situation I could still read to my teens but realistically our logistics just don't suit.  My reading time is now devoted to our 11 and 9 year olds and trying to read picture books to our youngest three.  All five oldest spend hours daily reading to themselves, if they are not outside after lunch then they will be found with book in hand reading.

As I'm currently updating our library catalogue I'm realising anew just how many wonderful books I have read to the older children and how many of these old friends I long to share with our middle children.  The simple reality is it is much harder with the age dynamics to spend large periods of time reading together.  What once came easy I now have to devise daily goals to ensure reading time happens. For our youngest I strive to read a minimum of three picture books daily, for our 11 and 9 year olds one chapter a day of two/three books; Faith, Literature, and History.

We have  read so many wonderful books, the children have been immersed in quality literature and I know this has been a rich blessing.  I hear it in the quality of their speech, in their vocabulary, in their instinctive knowledge of sentence syntax, and the crafting of their stories.  Rich literature has been an extremely worthwhile and valuable investment

Please visit Erin's blog Seven Little Australians Plus One

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Shakespeare: To Teach or Not to Teach, That is the Question.

By Sue Elvis
While we wait for new articles to flood in, I will share an updated version of an article I originally wrote for KIT

With her hands on her hips and her eyes flashing, Imogen swung round to face Callum: “Thou liest, thou shag-ear’d villain!”

The reply came swiftly”. What, you egg? Young fry of treachery.”

“Surely that’s not Shakespeare,” I interjected.

“Oh yes, it’s from Macbeth”, Callum assured me.

“Shag ear’d villain?” We all laughed and the angry feelings dissipated instantly. There is one very strict rule in our home: name-calling is not allowed…unless of course you use a quote from Shakespeare!

We are all probably familiar with Shakespeare from our school days. My own memories are not very favourable. I can remember the teacher announcing that we would be going on a school excursion to see a film version of Hamlet. My first thought was: I hope I will be able to understand what is going on. Words I would have associated with Shakespeare include boring, difficult and irrelevant. Despite my unhappy association with Shakespeare, I felt I should introduce my own children to this playwright. The idea that an education without Shakespeare is an incomplete education, had been drummed into me. I thought that we should at least give Shakespeare “a go”.

With my own children, Shakespeare is one of the highlights of the week. Whenever we are reading a play and I call a halt for the day, they start to wheedle, “A bit more Mum…please!!” I know you all think I’m exaggerating. But no, not even the promise of lunch will resign them to closing their books quietly. (This is all true. Just ask my children.) I am sure many of you have discovered the wonderful treasures of Shakespeare’s plays. But for those who are a bit hesitant at tackling what has sometimes been labelled boring and difficult, I will share a few of our experiences.

Why should we study Shakespeare (apart from the reason it looks impressive on our records)? Firstly, each play is highly entertaining. They are full of interesting and complex characters whose speeches are full of rich and diverse language. Children have a natural ability to memorise and Shakespeare’s plays are stuffed full of quotes worth remembering. I never ask our children to memorise particular lines; they naturally store away what strikes them as witty, clever, thought provoking etc. I am sure all of us are well acquainted with many Shakespearean quotes: “To be or not to be, that is the question” or “Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou, Romeo?” or “Alas, poor  Yorick! I knew him, Horatio”. Or even, “Get thee to a nunnery”. (Particularly useful for a Catholic daughter.) But these quotes are only the tip of the iceberg. There are hundreds of lesser-known but even more interesting lines. Every time we read a play, we discover something new. It’s a little like becoming increasingly familiar with a piece of music. Some Shakespearean quotes are so familiar that they are part of our everyday English usage.  A list of the more famous quotations from each play can be downloaded from the Internet.

I remember reading a review of a book  that explored the question: Was Shakespeare a secret Catholic? I never read the book so I cannot tell you much. However, Shakespeare lived in Protestant Elizabethan times when it was dangerous to be openly Catholic. The author of this particular book says that by examining Shakespeare’s plays, we can see that he was a true Catholic. Even without the benefit of such a book, Shakespeare’s plays have generated much discussion on moral and spiritual issues. His characters are a complex mix of vice and virtue. They have their weaknesses and strengths which come to light as we see them deal with the twists and turns of each play’s plot. Before we started reading Romeo and Juliet, we believed it to be the greatest love story ever told, a romance that ended in sorrow. Well, this play is a romantic tragedy but we learnt so much more as we read, discussed and re-read the play. At first, we dismissed the play as soppy but now we regard it as one of our favourites of all the Shakespearean plays with which we are familiar. There were plenty of issues to discuss: the meaning of true love, mortal sin and suicide, praying for the dead and forgiveness were only a few of our discussion topics. Currently, we are studying Hamlet and the issues of revenge, forgiveness, purgatory and confession have surfaced.

Many of Shakespeare’s plays are historical. When we read Julius Caesar, we also read Plutarch’s Lives which Shakespeare had used as a starting point for his drama. We did other research too to find out how accurate Shakespeare’s portrayal of Julius was.

You may be looking for the chance to discuss the vices and virtues of man and spiritual issues. Perhaps you’d like to find out more about characters in history, or experience the beauty of the English language. Maybe you just want to be entertained by a good story. These are some very good reasons why you should consider studying Shakespeare.

Now that I have convinced you that you should make Shakespeare part of your curriculum, where should you start? First, you will need to choose a play. (There are 37 to choose from!) The first Shakespeare play we ever read was Midsummer Night’s Dream. I vaguely recollected that this play was a comedy and I was hoping it would not require too much intellectual input from me to explain it. Well, it turned out to be a good choice: all the children loved it.

Once we have decided on a play, we all need a copy of the script. We have collected various second-hand editions of The Complete Works of Shakespeare which is an economic way to read all the plays. However, these volumes don’t have footnotes so for some of the plays, I have also bought a new single play edition (just for Mum). We have also discovered that all of Shakespeare’s plays are available on the Internet as free ebooks.

A good place to start a study of Shakespeare is a children’s version. Mary and Charles Lamb’s Tales from Shakespeare re-tells many of Shakespeare’s plays in more simple everyday language. This is perfect for younger children or as an introduction for older children. Similarly, E. Nesbit’s Beautiful Stories from Shakespeare can be used in the same way. Both books are available free online.Then there are the Leon Garfield’s audio CDs or Shakespeare BBC Animated Tales (available on Youtube).

Before we begin reading the play, I like to do a little research. Using the Internet, I find a scene-by-scene summary of the play which we can refer to as we are reading.

Time to begin. I read the summary of Act 1 Scene 1 aloud and then after a little discussion over who will be which character, we are off. We all know how rich the language of Shakespeare is. Sometimes, his use of words is so delightful. At other times, it is difficult to decipher just what he is trying to say. This is where a book with good footnotes comes into play. A Shakespearean glossary can also be a useful tool. I used to worry about understanding every word in every line, but this approach soon bogged us down and our reading would lose momentum. Now, we aim for a general understanding of each scene. We linger over any lines we especially like. At the end of each scene, we might change characters so that everyone has an equal chance at reading aloud.

When we reach the end of a play we all look forward to watching a  DVD version. We have located a number of plays in the classics section of our local video stores. Sometimes a number of different productions are available. You may want to check the viewing rating before choosing what to watch. Our favourite production so far is definitely Franco Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet. It is a beautiful film despite one inappropriate scene, and we never get tired of watching it.  I found out that the BBC has made films of all Shakespeare’s plays and we invested in the complete set which is a real treasure. Our library also has recordings of a number of plays on CD. It is important to give the children a chance to hear professional Shakespearean actors in order to hear the beauty of the language. It can be quite a contrast to our stumbling efforts!

You could leave the study of your chosen play there, or you may like the challenge of acting all or part of it out. Probably one or two scenes will be adequate for budding first time Shakespearean actors. My children attempted to act out the play-within-the-play from Midsummer Night’s Dream. One of the children adapted the play making it less complicated and combining roles to correspond with the number of available actors. The result was hilarious.

If you are not already a Shakespeare fan, you may be thinking how difficult it all sounds. You could start small by perhaps reading the Lambs’ Tales from Shakespeare or listening to a Leon Garfield audio CD of the play. Then if all goes well, choose a play and start reading. Don’t worry about understanding everything the first time. Just aim for a taste of the play and return to it again and again. Each time you dip into a play you will become more and more familiar with the characters, the plot, the language and the themes presented. Start a Shakespeare DVD collection. Soon your children will be enjoying Shakespeare too and making his language part of their own. But whatever you do, never suggest that Shakespeare is boring or difficult. It’s not!

Please share my stories on my blog Sue Elvis Writes

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The Gospel according to Twitter

By Anthony English

Pope Benedict spoke recently about this blog. Well, not about this blog in particular, but about the Gospel in the digital era. It was the Holy Father's Message for the 45th World Communications Day and it was specifically about how the new technologies can promote or inhibit the Gospel.

It was pleasing to see Pope Benedict warning about the superficiality which can easily creep in to the transmission of the faith when we have to fit the message into a technological 2 second grab. Technology, helpful as it can be, can also cause us to water down or dumb down the message of Christ:
The task of witnessing to the Gospel in the digital era calls for everyone to be particularly attentive to the aspects of that message which can challenge some of the ways of thinking typical of the web. First of all, we must be aware that the truth which we long to share does not derive its worth from its “popularity” or from the amount of attention it receives. We must make it known in its integrity, instead of seeking to make it acceptable or diluting it. It must become daily nourishment and not a fleeting attraction.
There's something about these new media which tempts us to turn into observers and commentators, and for those of us for whom technology is our bread and butter, it's good to have a reminder that there's a world of truth and friendship outside first of all:
The truth of the Gospel is not something to be consumed or used superficially; rather it is a gift that calls for a free response. Even when it is proclaimed in the virtual space of the web, the Gospel demands to be incarnated in the real world and linked to the real faces of our brothers and sisters, those with whom we share our daily lives. Direct human relations always remain fundamental for the transmission of the faith!
Surely one of the great ironies of technology today is that family members in the same home can be "communicating" with the world outside and never speak to each other in any depth. One mother pointed out recently that we used to start the day with morning prayer and breakfast (maybe even together). Now it's replaced by logging in to check our messages.

You can find the pope's whole message for World Communications Day here.

* Photo by jscreationzs/FreeDigital.Photos.net

Monday, February 7, 2011

Treasures old and new

By Anthony English

This blog is not the planting of a new seed in fresh soil. It's more of a new clearing in a well-established garden.

For some years a few Australian Catholic families have tried to support each other in living and loving the Catholic faith. Most of us are either home schoolers or have been at some stage along the way. But Australian Catholic Families is not just for home schoolers. We cover all sorts of issues to do with Catholic families. To share and help each other, we need to keep up contact.

It's a challenge keeping in touch when growing families are geographically dispersed, so someone came up with the idea of a newsletter called Keeping in Touch (“KIT” to its friends, which now include you). That eventually moved from snail mail to a web page. Then someone came up with the excellent idea of turning it into a blog. Welcome to ACF.
As this blog grows, you may see some new posts from a few different people, and hopefully that itself will allow us all to keep in touch a bit better. But this garden of thoughts is not completely new. Past articles from KIT may spring up on topics which hopefully won't be too dated. Think of it as a tour of a new garden, only to find some pockets of ancient, or shall we say semi-mature trees.

We're here to share our stories, our difficulties, our thoughts and our humour, our wisdom (and maybe our follies) always aiming to do so in a spirit of charity and friendship, and above all, faithful to Jesus Christ and to the Catholic Church, His Bride.
Welcome to ACF. It's nice to have you visit our garden.