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I blog about my Catholic faith, my prayer life, good books and good movies.

The Moviegoer: Hidden Figures

Abigail Benjamin

This Martin Luther King, Jr Holiday take everyone you love to see "Hidden Figures" starring West Virginian heroine, Katherine Johnson, and two African-American Colleagues at NASA in 1961. This movie is the perfect antidote to all Presidential Election Stress from 2016. The film describes the segregation and sexism that all women faced as Math geniuses in vivid detail. The movie trailer highlights the indignity of segregated bathrooms. Even more chilling to my nine-year-old daughter was how none of the white men in an elite NASA room would share a coffee pot with Katherine Johnson. While working on the complex geometry that would allow the astronauts to safely reenter the earth's atmosphere, she had to drink coffee from her own ancient coffee maker marked "Colored."

The performances are even among all three female leads. In the way home from the movie, my daughters and I had a hard time deciding on our favorites. Kudos to the screenwriter for amazing, yet realistic sounding dialogue. This is a movie I want to see often, so I can memorize all the "drop the mike" lines these smart women used in ordinary microaggression moments to fight sexism and racism. Hidden Figures is history without the boredom, and the discovery of inspiring new role-models without the lecture. Enjoy! Let's go make our own spectular splashes on world history!

Book Review: A Call To Mercy

Abigail Benjamin

On September 4, 2016, Pope Fracis will declare Mother Teresa to be a saint! My family will be eating naan bread and curry while we watch a replay of the Mass from Rome. I hope this weekend that we take the time to reintroduce ourselves to the quiet spirituality of this amazing Catholic women. Netflix has a fantastic movie called "The Letters" which the journey Mother Teresa took from being a contemplative nun to becoming a servant to the "poorest of the poor" in India.

For adults and teens, I highly recommend the book "A Call to Mercy: Hearts to Love, Hands to Serve" written by Mother Teresa herself. Wonderfully complied and organized by Father Brian Kolodiejchuk, MC, the postulator of Mother Teresa's cause for sainthood, this beautiful book of short quotations is a new release from Image Books. I found "A Call to Mercy" an accessible and encouraging read. I love that Mother Teresa's thought are categorized by the seven acts of mercy. Pope Francis has asked us to focus on the Year of Mercy. Mother's simple and pragmatic spirituality will kickstart the most harded procrastinator into greater works of mercy.

There are many spiritual books that I keep next to my bible. "A Call to Mercy" is a favorite spiritual book that I'm moving into my kitchen. Reading a few paragraphs feels like finding a bit of rest during a busy day. Mother Teresa's words something feel like I've received a warm hug from her and other times her words sting my conscience like a bee. However, I'm never uninspired by her spiritual outlook on life. I can't think of a better goal for myself during the Year of Mercy than to wear out the spine of "A Call to Mercy" by reading Mother Teresa's words in all kinds of moods and striving to put her clear ideas into my daily actions.

Find "A Call to Mercy: Hearts to Love, Hands to Serve" here or at your favorite Catholic bookstore.

At Ease Homeschooling

Abigail Benjamin

This August marks my eighth year as a homeschool teacher.  I'm starting a part-time environmental law practice the same year that I'll be teaching four different grades, along with a 4 year old who wants to be in the academic mix and a nutty 18 month old who has a knack for finding trouble the exact moment that an older sibling makes progress with multiplying fractions.

My life in West Virginia is certainly one of a kind. Yet my process of cultivating a peaceful academic evironment inside my home is something that is easy to replicate even if you live far from the Appalachian Trail. 

Abigail's Recipe for "At Ease Homeschooling" 

1. Invest In Yourself

I've got an active intellectual life that happens outside of teaching my children. I check out my own library books. I watch documentaries. I read fiction and the Washington Post. I write. I volunteer. Soon, I'll practice obscure areas of law for pay. Homeschooling is an act of mercy that is about as emotionally exhausting as picking up a nursing shift. It's really important to have my own places of nourishment and adult engagement during the school year.

2. Help Your Kid Design Their Own Curriculum

Kids who are curious and creative have a lot of ideas about what they want to learn, and how they want to learn. Taking the time to help them plan out their own education goals saves so much frustration during the school year. I have a future pastry chef who spent an entire year studying the history of food. Did you know Alexander the Great discovered sugar? I do, thanks to teaching 2nd grade for the third time.

Each kid is unique and quirky. I've got my favorite methods of teaching phonics and spelling. Yet I really had to be fearless in making sure that I was matching the right teaching method to the right kid. One of the best ways to encourage a growth in basic skills was allowing the kid direct their own path.

This year I've got some kids studying Japanese, the violin, a third year in Greek History, paper art, and wildlife management. I make sure that we're following a plan that is "legal" for the State. Basically that means, even though no one likes it, we do long division, spelling and lessons on passive voice. The "this is what we have to learn" is pretty light. I've learned to count reading Percy Jackson and Graphic Novels as legitimate Reading Lessons. I was totally shocked that my 5th Grader handled college level chemistry with interest as long as it was hands on science done inside a local stream. Often a change in setting can really spark focus and passion.

3. One Pencil and a Library Card Accomplish Much

I'm a big fan of simplicity. I tossed my shelves of references books and pre-packaged curriculum sets. My home looks like a house and not a school room. I do most of my kids school work with a pencil, the internet and a library card. We plot out our research questions. We check out our library books. We search the internet. They write the reports and I nag them about grammer rules and standardize their spelling. They rewrite the reports and I file both the rough draft and the final draft in a slim file for the official homeschool review. Then the books go back to the library. The big curriculum sets don't stand around taunting me.

For the first years, I spent a forture on Math U See and picked up those plastic pieces out of my vacuum bag. No more. Khan Academy is free and works for almost everyone. This year I bought one math book for a picky student, instead of 4 math books. Heaven.

4. Use Carrots, Not Threats

Is serious Christian gaming a thing yet? Because I'm raising six of them. My kids love Minecraft Story Mode and Mario Kart. We have a firm rule that you can't use an electronic devise until all school work is done, your chores are finished, and you've played outside. Finding the right "kid currency" knocked out 99% percent of our homework fights. 

Teaching is a life long process. Thanks to cultivating a calm and peaceful teaching method, I'm able to homeschool year round, even when I'm doing intensive things like suriving emergency pregnancy bedrest or studying hours for a bar exam. I'm so happy so many of my friends teach well. I'm so happy they teach with dedication. I wish more teachers taught "with ease" because suriving burn-out is an important transition from growing from a first-year teacher to veteran teacher. 

Abigai is a homeschool teacher of a 7th grader, 5th grader, 3rd grader, and kindergartener. She is officially registered as a Department of Environmental Protection, "Project WET" teacher. She has a B.A. in American Studies from Smith College and a J.D. from the University of Wisconsin Law School.