Monday, December 29, 2014

Some things to consider

For a few months now I haven't been able to read as much as I normally do (early pregnancy will do that to you). But, thankfully, I've recently begun to be able to start back in again. I got my hands on a copy of Consider This by Karen Glass, and I also won a copy of The Liberal Arts Tradition by Kevin Clark and Ravi Scott Jain from Kortney's giveaway (thank you Kortney!) 

I haven't finished with them yet, but I've begun to see something with these readings that I hadn't been able to see before, so this post is an attempt to clarify and refine my thoughts. 

I think I was first attracted to classical education because of the fact that the main goal of educating in this way is to cultivate virtue in the student. What mother doesn't want virtuous kids? My thought process went something like this - if I want my children to be virtuous, and educating them classically will cultivate virtue, then classical education is what we need to be doing here. 

Classical education is great. I think it is a good thing. Virtue is a good thing. Right thinking and right action is always a good thing. 

But these good things are not the end. There is something I've been missing that all the good things in the world cannot make up for and cannot replace. And this missing something is the one "good thing" that I myself cannot give to anyone, not even to my own children. 

All the right thinking, all the right acting, all the virtue in the world becomes futile if this missing piece is not there. 

Relationship. Not with family, not with parents, not with children, not with my neighbor. No, relationship with God must be first and foremost before virtue can take its rightful place. 

Because what does virtue matter really, if I act in a virtuous manner from the wrong motivation? If I behave in a moral way because "it's the right thing to do" or because I'm trying to follow the rules or keep up appearances or, or, or... There are many many reasons to follow the correct moral code, and in so doing a person will appear to be full of virtue. But without the direct, personal relationship with Jesus Christ, none of it matters. 

Like St. Paul says, 
if I have not love, it profits me nothing. 
Relationship with Christ is the only genuine way to come to virtue. When we love Him and cultivate that relationship, we are moved to behave in a virtuous manner out of love for Him. We will desire to pray, and to fast and to give alms, because we love Him and those things will bring us ever closer to Him. We behave in such a way as to please Him to the best of our ability because we want to do everything for Him. If we have a deep and real relationship with Christ, it doesn't matter anymore what others think or whether or not they approve of our actions. Only His approval matters and we seek it diligently.

But relationship with anyone, and most especially with God, cannot be given by me to my children. It must be individual and personal. It is not up to me to save my children. Even though their salvation, of all the good things in the world, is the one thing I desire more than any other, it is also the one thing I can never give them. I thank God that He loves my children more than I can love them. He desires their salvation even more than I do.

So I can do my best to educate my children classically. I can try my hardest to help them on the path to right thinking and right action. I can model for them and behave as the kind of person I want them to become, and I should continue to do those things because they all help to shape and aim their loves. I can sow and cultivate and tend the fields, but I need to remember that the harvest depends on God. And that means that my most important resource is prayer.

Not only does prayer for my children help them by my asking God to have mercy on them, but it also changes me - my relationship with Him becomes deeper and stronger. My relationship with Christ can become an example for my children to follow and to imitate. If I choose the one thing needful first and foremost, then I can release the burden I thought I had to take on my shoulders. It was never my burden to bear but, like the problem-solver that I am, I thought it was mine. I thought it was mine, and so I took it on myself and began trying to figure out which path to take, which formula to follow, which plan to execute in order to successfully complete what I thought I was supposed to do.

But, thank God, it is not my burden. My only task, as it were, is to see to it that I am the best example I can be for my children and to leave the rest to God. His love is boundless and His power infinite. He will do what I cannot in a better way than I can even conceive of, and I can rest in Him, knowing that my job is to use wisely the tools I've been given, and He will see to the outcome.

Glory to God!


Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Wednesdays with Words :: Today the Beginningless Doth Begin

Finally remembering Wednesdays with Words in time to post something! Here are two of my very favorite of our Nativity hymns. These words are what I contemplate as we prepare for this blessed feast:

Today Christ is born in Bethlehem of the Virgin.  
Today the Beginningless doth begin, and the Word becometh incarnate.  
The powers of heaven rejoice and earth is glad with mankind.  
The Magi do offer presents, and the shepherds with wonder declaim.  
As for us, we shout ceaselessly, crying, 
Glory to God in the highest, and on earth pace, good-will toward men.

~Second Orthros Doxasticon of the Nativity

Today is born of a virgin He who holds the whole creation in His hand. 
He whose essence none can touch is bound in swaddling clothes as a mortal man. 
God, who in the beginning fashioned the heavens, lies in a manger. 
He who rained manna on his people in the wilderness is fed on milk from His mother’s breast. 
The bridegroom of the Church summons the wise men; the Son of the virgin accepts their gifts. 
We worship Thy birth, O Christ! 
We worship Thy birth, O Christ! 
We worship Thy birth, O Christ! 
Show us also Thy holy Theophany. 

~Eve of the Nativity, sticheron at the Ninth Royal Hour

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

And one more....

This will be the last sample from the cd I've been talking about. My brother said he wanted to hear this one, so this is for him.

Who is so great a god as our God? Thou art the God Who workest wonders. 

(The cd is available for purchase. If you are interested in buying a copy you may contact Bonnie Harmon ( The proceeds will go to benefit the founding of the St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco Orthodox School.) 

My Most Gracious Queen

Another song from the Songs of Comfort cd.

This one is a hymn to the Mary, the Theotokos. I am always a little hesitant to write much about her here. Not because I think she's unimportant, but rather because she is so important that I feel as though my words are totally inadequate to be able to help my non-Orthodox readers to understand.

She was not just any young girl, chosen by God to bear His Son without any input on her part. Rather, Gabriel announced God's intention and her assent forever changed the course of history. She is the great example of what it really means to be a follower of Christ and now because of her faithfulness she holds a place of great honor in the Church. She is more than just a holy woman - she was the one who bore God in her own body.

And so her prayers are powerful. She is the Queen of Heaven, and the greatest intercessor on behalf of all Christians. We look to her to pray for us, knowing that her prayers are truly heard because she is the very Mother of God.

Here are the words of the hymn:

My Most Gracious Queen, my hope, O Theotokos;
Who receivest the orphaned and art the intercessor for the stranger;
The joy of those in sorrow, Protectress of the wronged.
See my distress, see my affliction.
Help me for I am helpless, feed me for I am a stranger and pilgrim.
You know my offense; forgive and resolve it as you will,
For I know no other help but you; no other intercessor,
No gracious comforter, only you O Theotokos,
To guard and protect me, for ages of ages. Amen. 

(The cd is available for purchase. If you are interested in buying a copy you may contact Bonnie Harmon ( The proceeds will go to benefit the founding of the St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco Orthodox School.) 

Monday, December 15, 2014

Songs of Comfort

For those of my readers who do not know, I have always been very involved with the music in my church. Singing brings me great joy and I have been blessed to have the even greater joy of being able to use my voice for the glory of God by singing in my own parish.

With a friend of mine I recently recorded an album of some of our favorite hymns. We chose the theme of songs of comfort, but that theme didn't really narrow the choices down because it seems that all our hymns are comforting! However, we did our best to choose some well known favorites as well as some that perhaps have not been recorded before.

I am sharing a sample from the album here, and I may possibly post one or two more in the near future. This one is taken from Saturday night Vespers and is comprised of the verses of several psalms, but it begins with Psalm 140 (141). It ends with a hymn to the Theotokos, which I've included below since the words might not be familiar:

Glory to Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, both now, and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.

Let us praise Mary the Virgin, glory of all the world and doorway to heaven, who, begotten of man, gave birth to the Lord, and who, adornment of the faithful, is hymned by the angelic hosts. For she has been shown to be heaven and the temple of the Godhead. She is the one who, breaking down the wall of enmity, ushered in peace and threw open the Kingdom. With her as the anchor of our faith, we have a defender in the Lord to whom she gave birth. Take courage, therefore, people of God, take courage, for he, the Almighty, will defeat your enemies.

I hope you enjoy it!

(The cd is available for purchase. If you are interested in buying a copy you may contact Bonnie Harmon ( The proceeds will go to benefit the founding of the St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco Orthodox School.)

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Homeschooling :: Finding Beauty in Math

When I first began this journey called homeschooling, I didn't really give much thought to specific subjects. I figured that early grades would be easy and that I had enough of a grasp of basic facts to be getting on with in the beginning. Anyway, by the time I reached more difficult subjects I was sure that I would be able to find resources that could help me along and fill any gaps in my knowledge.

What I did not realize though, was that by researching the myriad of available curriculum I would come to understand not only how very limited my own knowledge was, but also that I would want to learn all the things that I had missed.

I had always known that there were gaps in my own education. I used to read about all the things that Laura knew how to do when she took her exams in Little Town on the Prairie, and I wondered why no one had ever taught me any of those things. In the course of changing schools a couple times when my family moved I knew that my fellow students had covered topics that I had not and I always hoped that no one would find out that there were so many things I didn't know.

I especially hoped that these gaps would go unnoticed in math. I was able, by some miracle, to progress all the way to calculus in high school, but by the time I got there I was utterly and completely lost. I "passed" the class only because I was exempted from the final exam since I'd opted to take the AP Calculus test. I decided that I hated math and that I would do everything in my power to never have to think about it again.

Then I had children and decided that I wanted to teach them.

And then I learned something amazing:

Math is a beautiful thing. 

In fact it is breathtaking.

Whenever I find myself being asked questions about homeschooling by people who are genuinely interested, I always find myself most excited to share all the wonderful resources I have found to help teach math.

I pull out my cuisenaire rods and show them how we play with them and what they can do. I tell them about how we play games and have fun with numbers and mathematical concepts, not because we have to, but because we enjoy it.

I share my excitement over the fact that when a number is squared, it makes.... a square! You may laugh at me, but I cannot even begin to tell you what a big smile that knowledge puts on my face.

Did you know that multiplication and division are just faster ways to add and subtract?

Did you know that 5+2 can never equal anything but 7? (Really, take a minute to think about that. 5+2 can NEVER be anything other than 7)

Did you know that you can make a curve using only straight lines?

Did you know that numbers can have theological meaning?

Did you know that music is the incarnation of MATH???? Just think of Bach. I am rendered speechless.

And don't even get me started on Euclid. The exercise my brain has received from his Elements has stretched and strengthened my mind by leaps and bounds.

All I ever had was a vague and abstract understanding of algorithms and formulas. I had no concrete basis to build on and that is why I felt like I was in the middle of a fog that just kept getting thicker with no way out.

All these things may be obvious to the rest of you. And if they are, I think that's wonderful. I wish they had always been obvious to me. Then again, maybe I don't wish that. Because if I had always known, perhaps the wonder of all this would have been lost on me and I would not now be able to communicate these things so enthusiastically to my children.


The resources I'm listing below are really only the tip of the iceberg. There is so much available, this is just a sample of what I've found and loved and have been able to use thus far (keep in mind that my children are still young and we have not reached advanced math topics yet):

cuisenaire rods
Education Unboxed (a fantastic site that shows how versatile cuisenaire rods really are)
Let's Play Math  (a great little book that highlights so many possibilities of how to have fun with math and is also full of ideas for games, books and other resources)
Beauty for Truth's Sake (a thought-provoking book that discusses the deep significance of mathematics)

And here are some curriculum resources that I've tried and loved:

Ray's Arithmetic (this is also available for free online)
The Verbal Math Lesson
Primary Challenge Math

Monday, November 17, 2014

Thoughts on the Best Use of my Time

I've been thinking lately about time. About how my own time is precious to me. About how little time I feel like I have every day and yet how the hours and minutes can sometimes stretch into what feels like an eternity.

And I've thinking about how so often I want to use the time that I have in such a way as to feed my own wants (wants which are usually perceived as needs), and I get frustrated and upset when something interrupts me. I moan and complain about how I don't have enough time to myself and all the good things that I want to accomplish have to get pushed aside because there just isn't enough time in the day.

I hear the message being pushed relentlessly that we mothers need to prioritize time for ourselves to regroup and find ways to energize. I am confronted with the truth that I don't have anything left to give if I don't make time to care for myself. It is a truth indeed. But what if the reality of caring for myself looks different from the way I thought it should?

What if the people before me and the tasks I have been given are meant to be my sustenance?

What if putting one foot in front of the other with a cheerful heart will take me straight down the road to Paradise?

What if denying myself is the key to truly caring for myself?

Self-denial is not really an acceptable thing in this culture. It seems crazy and very counter-intuitive, especially in the context of self-care. But are we, as Christians, not called to die to self so that we can live in Christ?

In one of my favorite books it says,
If you cannot get rid of your own greatness, neither can you lay yourself open for real greatness. If you cling to your own freedom, you cannot share in true freedom, where only ONE will reins. 
If I truly want to do God's will, how can I then complain when He reveals it to me? If I want to cultivate virtue in myself, why do I then feel sorry for myself when the opportunity for practice arrives?

The truth is I usually do not want God's will - instead I want my will. I feel sorry for myself when I have to give up what I want. Self-pity gets in the way of the countless opportunities for growth that appear before me daily.

But do I really have cause to feel sorry for myself when I am desperately ill and my Physician has prescribed a treatment that will cure me forever?

Yes, physical nourishment is important; so is nourishment of the mind and spirit. But does God not provide all these things more richly for me than I could ever do for myself? Maybe it's time I started to trust in His providence more than in my own ideas.

Maybe it's time to stop focusing so much on the things that I think I need (i.e. what I want) and start focusing on how God provides for my true needs in a much deeper way than I could ever provide for myself.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Wednesdays with Words :: On Love

Linking up with Dawn for Wednesdays with Words.

Some words on Love from the poet Kahlil Gibran.

When love beckons to you, follow him,
Though his ways are hard and steep.
And when his wings enfold you yield to him,
Though the sword hidden among his pinions may wound you.
And when he speaks to you believe in him,
Though his voice may shatter your dreams as the north wind lays waste the garden.


When you love you should not say, "God is in my heart," but rather, "I am in the heart of God."


...if you love and must needs have desires, let these be your desires:
To melt and be like a running brook that sings its melody to the night.
To know the pain of too much tenderness.
To be wounded by your own understanding of love;
And to bleed willingly and joyfully.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Wednesdays with Words:: The Ultimate School of Our Humanity

Linking up with Dawn for Wednesdays with Words.

"... to thank the Giver, the Origin, is to arrive at the ultimate truth of things, the truth that is sought in logical thought, the truth of what things are; for in their deepest nature things are expressions of the love that moves the stars."

"The word 'Eucharist' means 'thanksgiving,' and the sacrifice of praise that is the.... Divine Liturgy is nothing less than the joining together of man and God in the perfect act of giving and thanksgiving."

"Liturgy is the consummation of education and the ultimate school of our humanity."

From Beauty in the Word by Stratford Caldecott.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Homeschooling :: Rumination and Reflection

All my life I have been a reader. There is nothing more appealing to me than curling up in a comfy chair with a good book and some good food and losing myself in a story. I read quickly and I read often, which means I have read many many books in my lifetime. No one would argue that reading many books is a bad thing, but there is one thing about reading that I've learned since I began homeschooling my children: not everything has to be read quickly. As Sir Francis Bacon put it,
Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested... 
 I've always been the swallowing type, regardless of what book I was reading. But I'm really coming to appreciate how much richer my life becomes when I take the time to "chew and digest" those books which call for it.

It started with The Hobbit. I was so very excited to share this book with my son, who was about 6 at the time. We read it together, and enjoyed it. There were questions asked and discussions had and the next thing I knew I was explaining some background history which gave more depth to the story. He was curious to know more. I thought about trying to read The Lord of the Rings with him, but hesitated because I thought perhaps he might be too young. Eventually my eagerness to share the story won out over my hesitation and we began.

The journey was magical. We read the entire trilogy twice through, along with The Silmarillion. We lived and breathed Middle Earth for two years.

Pictures were drawn. In fact several homemade books containing various drawings of characters and scenes were put together. Characters were taken on and impersonated. Favorite chapters were acted out again and again. In-depth conversations were had about characters and their choices; about vice and virtue, love and sacrifice. Connections were made between LoTR and other stories whose influences were felt (like Norse myths and Beowulf).

We memorized poetry by Tolkien simply for the pure pleasure of keeping his beautiful words in our hearts. We copied out those words in our notebooks to have a record of what we loved most.

This was not done with any planning on my part nor with any reference to school, but what I observed as we spent time soaking in this beautiful story has affected the way I now approach the books we read.

The time to reflect and ruminate on the story, the time to think well and deeply about what we take in through our reading, makes for a truly rich and rewarding experience. There is so much to learn and so much to discover and the breadth of content one person can know is truly astonishing. But the fact is that no one person can ever know all that there is to know. So when we learn new things, why not take the time to really understand and really make them our own knowledge, rather than passing facts, floating about unrelated to anything else.

Digging deep and allowing time for the learning to sink in permanently is not always easy to do when there is pressure to cover so much so quickly. It's hard to slow down and meditate on things when we live in a world where information is presented in quick short bursts and where there is always something else vying for our attention. But even though it's hard, the rewards that come from slowing down and digging deep are worth every bit of the effort it takes.

Not all books need to be approached in this way. After all there are still those books which only need be tasted or swallowed, but my goal as we continue on this educational path is to take the time to stop and live awhile with those books that call for such action.


If you'd like to explore these ideas a bit further a good place to start would be with Dr. Christopher Perrin's talks on multum non multa (much not many), and festina lente (make haste slowly) which are well explained in the videos linked.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Wednesdays with Words :: Spending life as we will

Linking up with Dawn for Wednesdays with Words.

A passage taken from The Two Towers in which the Lady Eowyn is speaking to Aragorn, after her uncle's restortation to health, asking him if she might come with him:

"Too often have I heard of duty," she cried. "But am I not of the House of Eorl, a shield-maiden and not a dry nurse? I have waited on faltering feet long enough. Since they falter no longer, it seems, may I not now spend my life as I will?"
"Few may do that with honour," he answered. 
 How very often I seek to spend my life as I will and not as God asks me to. Honour is not to be found in the pursuit of my own will, nor is freedom found there. Only through obedience to His will and through laying down my own desires can true freedom in Christ be found. I almost wrote "submission to His will", but submission implies a giving up and a surrender, whereas obedience is a cooperation and a type of synergy - a working together that proceeds from my free choice to follow Him rather than myself.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

The Art of Repentance

I was recently asked to write a guest post for the 31 Days of Playing with Art over at Jennifer Dow's blog - Expanding Wisdom. I was asked to write about the art of process, but after I began I found the word repentance to be more fitting for what I was trying to express. You can read the post here. Be sure to follow the rest of the series throughout the month of October. It will be a good one.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Wednesdays with Words :: Way of the Ascetics

Linking up with Dawn for Wednesdays with Words.

Today's quote is taken from Tito Colliander's Way of the Ascetics, one of the most influential books in my life thus far. 

Hereafter you will consider that everything that happens to you, both great and small, is sent by God to help you in your warfare [i.e spiritual warfare]. He alone knows what is necessary for you and what you need at the moment: adversity and prosperity, temptation and fall. Nothing happens accidentally or in such a way that you cannot learn from it; you must understand this at once, for this is how your trust grows in the Lord whom you have chosen to follow. 

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Homeschooling :: Building Culture

If you've spent much time in the homeschooling world chances are you've probably encountered Charlotte Mason's famous saying,
Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life. 
The idea of education being a way of life is, without a doubt, one of the most important aspects of our home environment. One of my main goals as a home educator is to provide my children with an outlook on life that is full of wonder and awe at the beauty and bounty which God has provided for us. Last time I shared a bit about how this looks in our home with regards to the natural world around us, but today I am going to look at the wonder that comes from recognizing beauty that is not necessarily physical. In other words what I am concerned with here is the transmission of culture.

The acquisition of culture implies a developing of taste for, and an ability to judge, what is good and what is not. As a Christian what I am most concerned about passing on to my children is the ability to discern what things are True, Good and Beautiful. All things true, all things good, and all things beautiful point us to the person of Jesus Christ, whose life we Christians long to share.

And so it is important for me to be deliberate about the stories, music, art and traditions to which I expose my children. My husband and I must consider carefully what we allow to enter our home and what we choose to leave outside.

This deliberate choosing is not the same as fearfully sheltering our children from all the bad that is out there; rather it is a conscious effort to instill the good in their hearts so that there is no room for the bad. We cannot shelter them from everything all the time (nor should we), but we can do our best to ensure that when unwanted influences make an appearance there is no room for them to take hold.

There are a multitude of ways to accomplish this. Here I will only touch on one aspect of it which directly impacts our school days. We call it Morning Basket.

I first heard of the idea of a morning basket from Jen, who blogs at Wildflowers and Marbles. She describes beautifully how she pulls together beautiful and meaningful books, poems, art, histories, prayers and other things into an organized system which is intended to deliberately build the culture in her home and to expose her family to all things good, true and beautiful. You can read Jen's lovely posts about her Morning Basket here, here and here. Having been inspired by these posts here is what I have put together for our own Morning Basket time:

:: We always begin with prayer. We use the morning prayers laid out in the Children's Garden of the Theotokos, which include the Trisagion prayers as well as a hymn corresponding to the day of the week and ending with Rejoice, O Virgin.

:: We turn over the date on our wall calendar and then read the life of the saint(s) commemorated that day from The Prologue of Ohrid. (The link is to the Prologue online, but if you prefer to have a hard copy I encourage you to invest in the two volumes). 

:: We then read from the Bible. During Advent and Lent we have special readings that correspond with our Jesse Tree and our Path to Pascha, but during regular times we work our way through little by little. We have used both The Children's Bible Reader and A Sacred History for Children. We are currently using the Golden Children's Bible.

:: We use this time to do our memory work. We have memorized psalms and other passages from scripture as well as poems and even some Shakespeare. I keep our memory work in a binder organized based on this system. We memorize all these things as a family rather than having individual memory work. The youngest kids absorb a great deal from just listening to the older ones and we have some interesting and thoughtful discussions that spin off of our collective memory work.

:: I have recently begun to use this time together to introduce and sometimes practice handicrafts. We are currently learning how to sew and I have some fun ideas for upcoming crafts as well. My purpose here is to equip them so that they can create and build things on their own and take joy in working with their hands. The ability to make things opens up a whole range of possibilities in one's life.

:: We read stories together. The possibilities here are endless. We read and narrate Aesop's fables, and we spent last year enjoying The Arabian Nights. Sometimes we enjoy short stories from The Book of Virtues.  We also enjoy reading Shakespeare plays. (Up to this point I have only read children's versions, but they have asked me to read "the real thing", so we have begun!)

:: We read history books, nature study books, and we work on geography.

:: We paint during this time and we also practice drawing. I do this along with the kids and they enjoy watching me as well as working on their own drawings.

:: We also use this time to do picture study and composer study. We focus on one artist and one composer per term and we read about their lives and take time to look at and listen to some of their most famous works.

(The last five items listed are not done every single day. I rotate those subjects throughout the week and we usually end up hitting each of them at least once in a week.)

As each year comes around I look at what we have done, what has worked and what I would like to change. I plan it out as carefully as I can, but I also do my best to remain flexible and adjust as we are in the midst of it all if I need to. Some days are idyllic, other days are very rough. But we press on.

One of the most inspiring things I've read that has encouraged me to prioritize this time in our days is Cindy Rollins' series of posts on Morning Time. As a mother who has been through homeschooling in all its stages and seasons her perspective is invaluable and very inspiring. Please do take the time to read what she has written if this topic interests you at all. (Start here and look at the archives to the right of the page to find each of the 31 days).

There is so much that can be said about this family culture building. I'm afraid I've barely even touched the surface and I'll probably never really be able to do it justice. Nevertheless, even though my words are inadequate, this part of our day is forming and shaping our lives in profound ways and education in this home is truly becoming an atmosphere, a discipline and a life. 

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Wednesdays with Words :: Charlotte Mason on courage

Linking up with Dawn for Wednesdays with Words.

From Charlotte Mason's fourth volume, Ourselves:

Anxious fuss in the small emergencies of life, such as travelling, household mischances, pressure of work, is a form of panic fear, the fear that all may not go well, or that something may be forgotten and left undone. 
All undue concern about things and arrangements is unworthy of us. It is only persons that matter....
 But we do ourselves injustice by being anxious. We have been sent into life fortified, some more so, some less, with a Courage which should enable us to take the present without any fearful looking forward. 

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Wednesdays with Words :: Dry Spells

Linking up with Dawn for Wednesdays with Words.

I picked up a little prayer book from my church bookstore on Sunday. It's called The Ascetic Lives of Mothers by Annalisa Boyd. It's a beautiful book full of prayers that are especially pertinent when faced with the many challenges of motherhood. I especially loved this paragraph from the introduction (the bolded is my emphasis):
Have I always been faithful in prayer? No. I have gone through spells where prayer felt almost like torture. It was dry and forced. But forced does not equate to unfruitful. Many times it is in the desert where we are most strengthened, and much good fruit is produced on the other end of those dry times - in spite of, or perhaps because of, the struggle. 

I immediately thought of Saint Mary of Egypt, who lived for forty-seven years in the desert. Forty-seven years. And the first seventeen years were spent in severe and constant struggle with her passions.

Then there were Saints Joachim and Anna, parents of the Virgin Mary, the Most Holy Theotokos (Theotokos means God-bearer). They were married for fifty years before their prayers for a child were answered. Fifty years of faithful prayer and trust in God. And the struggle and pain they experienced because of their barrenness was rewarded with the incredible honor of being able to be called the Grandparents of God.

God is faithful and He answers prayer. But perhaps sometimes we would do well to remember that the transformation which occurs when we pray and wait on Him can be a part of the answer.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Homeschooling :: Delighting in Nature

When I was growing up I would have been the first to admit that I hated going outside. My brother would spend all day playing in the yard and when he would come inside I would disgustedly inform him that he "smelled like outside". I wanted to curl up in a chair and read books all day. I loved to read about being outside, but I did not want to be the one out there experiencing the heat or the cold or wind or rain. No one could have convinced me that I would ever find myself, twenty years later, not only actively encouraging my own children to go outside as much as possible, but actually wanting to be outside myself!

When I first read Charlotte Mason's Home Education (you can read it online here thanks to Ambleside Online) I was very intrigued by the concept of Nature Study. I was made aware suddenly that there is much more to spending time outside than just getting out of the house. The benefits are manifold and rich and I have become absolutely convinced that not only is spending time outside a good thing; it is an essential part of the kind of education I want for my children.

Rather than wax philosophical like I usually do, I will simply share how this has developed in our family.

It started with a book (of course). I found a little book while browsing at the library that had pictures of fall leaves and the names of the trees that went with them. I had never been able to identify any trees, except perhaps maple and oak. So I read this little book to my kids and then we took a walk. Lo and behold, almost every single type of tree listed in that book was in our neighborhood! I was very excited. We brought leaves home and checked back with the book and identified them. From that moment I was hooked. This naturalist stuff was actually fun!

I had read about nature journaling somewhere, and I decided that it was something we ought to do. So I bought a small sketchbook and told the kids that this was to be our family nature notebook. We would use it to draw and write about the things we encountered outside. It was mostly me drawing, and at the time when we started it I was still the only one who could write so I did that too.

At first I tried to force it. I told the kids that they had to tell me about something they saw outside and we tried to make it happen once a week. That didn't go over too well. I was frustrated. But I decided that I could at least keep the notebook for myself and maybe try again with the kids at another time. So I let it go.

I bought small field guides on plants, trees and flowers. I observed and learned the names of things myself simply because I wanted to. I did also want to be able to pass the knowledge on to my kids, and when the occasion arose I would be sure to tell them the proper names for what they noticed and looked at, but I still didn't try to make them learn any of it purposefully.

I became a bird watcher. At first I could only identify robins because I had read about "robin red-breast" in books. But I noticed that there were quite a few other kinds of birds flying about that I couldn't name. So I got another field guide. Then one day in the spring I heard a beautiful bird-song. I kept hearing it over and over and it was so sweet and cheerful that I had to find out what it was. I got out a pair of binoculars we had been given and tried to find it. Eventually I did (it was a robin).

Once those binoculars came out it was all over. The kids were enchanted and they all wanted turns to look at birds close up. Since that time we have spent hours watching birds, reading about them, identifying them. We keep a running list of all the interesting birds we see. This year alone we have seen close to fifty different types of birds that included several hawks, orioles, swallows, woodpeckers, finches, meadowlarks, jays, hummingbirds, bluebirds, herons and even a bald eagle! Not to mention the more common birds that we see every day like starlings, blackbirds and sparrows.

We watch for interesting bugs. My husband found a praying-mantis one day and brought it home for us to see. We kept it for a couple days and then let it go outside. That was last fall. Not even a week ago we saw a praying mantis on one of our windows and everyone is convinced that it's the same one. Another time a katydid got in the house. It was just sitting quietly on the wall near the ceiling and one of my daughters saw it and pointed it out. I carefully caught it and we spent some time looking at it and then released it. We have caught spiders, flies, ladybugs, lightning bugs, and ants.

None of this is planned or scheduled. It happens in the course of our life, lived out day by day. Sometimes we spend days learning about a new plant or animal or insect, other times we might go a week or two without any significant discovery. But the learning is still taking place and the effect of this lifestyle is visible.

We find ourselves learning and observing in the most unexpected places and at the most interesting times. Once we went to the zoo and, as we were walking through to the next area we'd planned to see, we had to walk across a bridge. On the bank of the creek running underneath the bridge we spotted a turkey vulture who had just stolen a fish from another bird greedily devouring the fish. We stopped for a good twenty minutes just to watch and my son got out the notebook and drew what he was seeing. Of all the things we saw at the zoo that day nothing was discussed so much as that turkey vulture.

Another time we were coming out of swimming lessons when we saw a new (to us) bird on the grass at the edge of the parking lot. We pulled over to the side and took a minute to sketch the bird so we could remember what it looked like when we got home. Nothing else was talked about all the way home. Everyone had a guess as to what they thought it was. It turned out to be a killdeer.

We spend lots of time talking about the weather and the way it changes from season to season. We read about nature, we talk about it and we live it. It has become an interest in our lives that exists independently of any curriculum or school plans. My life has become richer for it and I can see the effect on the lives of my family as well.

One of the highlights of all this interest in nature study has been that I have been able to watch my children's powers of observation and attention grow. They noticed things that I do not. They delight in discovering things that are new to them and delight even more in sharing them with others. They have begun to take ownership of our nature journal and I find it coming out at unexpected times so that they can make entries about the interesting things they find. Connections are made between things that are alike and things that are different. They compare and contrast, they think carefully about why God might have made things the way they are and not another way. They ask questions, they seek answers and they delight in creation.

I think that's the best part - this delight in creation. The love of all that God has made leads one to God Himself. As Coleridge put it,

He prayeth best, who loveth best
All things both great and small;
For the dear God who loveth us,
He made and loveth all.


A few resources that I have found helpful:

Handbook of Nature Study (the book)
Handbook of Nature Study (website)
The Private Eye
All the Birds of North America
National Audubon Society First Field Guides (we currently only have the bird one, but I plan to collect the rest)
The Living Page
The Nature Connection
James Herriot's Treasury for Children
Clara Dillingham Pearson's Among the People books
Find the Constellations

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Glory to God

Glory to God.....

.... for fruits from my garden

.... for lots of good books to read

.... for windy fall days

.... for kids who are getting along today

Glory to God for all things! 

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Wednesdays with Words :: Anna Karenina

Linking up with Dawn for Wednesdays with Words. I recently finished reading Anna Karenina. (If you haven't read it and don't like spoilers, better just skip directly to the quote.) I'm not sure how I feel about it. Sad is the first word that comes to mind. And yet there was happiness in it as well. I was disappointed in the ending, but it wasn't unexpected. Anna is such a love-able character, and I so wanted her to repent of her actions, but she chose not to. Tolstoy presented it as though she had no choice, but there is always choice, no matter how painful the right choice might be. I was happily surprised by her husband, Alexey Alexandrovitch. I knew how deep his sorrow was, but I didn't expect him to forgive the way he did. My quote today is from him:

I must explain my feelings, the feelings that have guided me and will guide me, so that you may not be in error regarding me. You know I had resolved on a divorce, and had even begun to take proceedings. I won't conceal from you that in beginning this I was in uncertainty, I was in misery; I will confess that I was pursued by a desire to revenge myself on you and on her....
... But I saw her and forgave her. And the happiness of forgiveness has revealed to me my duty. I forgive completely. I would offer the other cheek. I would give my cloak if my coat be taken. I pray to God only not to take from me the bliss of forgiveness!

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Homeschooling :: First things first

When I was drowning in babies and everything revolved around surviving from day to day, I learned an important lesson about priorities. Baby sleeping was always a tenuous proposition, even when it seemed like there was nothing that could wake them. I could never tell how long I had until Baby was going to wake up; it could be a few minutes, it could be a couple hours. So, when the baby was actually sleeping, I would ask myself
"If I can only do ONE thing without the baby right now, what does it need to be?" 
If that one thing was accomplished I immediately asked the question again. Some days I was able to get many things done, other days I wasn't even able to accomplish my one thing.

Even though I do not currently live in what I call "survival mode" all the time anymore, I still sometimes ask myself that question as I go throughout the day.

In a way, it has probably informed my choices in homeschooling to some degree. It is certainly a way to help me decide what needs to be put first and foremost in our school days and years.
"If I can only teach my children ONE thing, what does that need to be?"
If there is only one thing I want for my children it is to see them grow to love Christ above all. Above money, above career, above self, above life itself.  The only way I know how to teach that is the way I learned it myself - to live it. The Orthodox Faith is one of action, which means that in order for us to pass it down we have to live it. It has to be what forms and shapes us. As my blogging friend Gretchen Joanna shared on her blog recently, you have to "do faith until you have faith".

So in the education of my children, the first thing I must try to do is to live the faith by following the cycle of the liturgical year. We fast and we feast. We pray morning and evening, we go to Divine Liturgy on Sundays to partake of the Body and Blood of Christ. We read the Bible daily. We learn about the lives of the Saints, those holy men and women who have finished the race successfully. When a feast day falls on a weekday, we go to church instead of "doing school".

All these things come first. This is the foundation that our lives are built upon. Without living out the faith all other education is fruitless. So I put first things first and go from there.


Aside from physical practices such as daily prayers and attending church, the following are some resources that I have found helpful in passing on the faith to my children:

Books and cds:
A Sacred History for Children
A Child's Paradise of Saints
The Children's Bible Reader
The Prologue of Ohrid (2 volumes)
The Children's Garden of the Theotokos
Celebrate the Feasts
AVisual Catechism of the Orthodox Church

Many more books can be found at these websites:
Orthodox Christian Children
Paidea Classics

This is certainly not an exhaustive list, it's just those things that I've used and liked. Please share in the comments if you have anything you think I ought to add to this list of resources!

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Wednesdays with Words : Shakespeare

Linking up with Dawn for Wednesdays with Words. I am making an effort to read some Shakespeare regularly, so today's words are from his second Sonnet. 

When forty winters shall besiege thy brow
And dig deep trenches in thy beauty's field,
Thy youth's proud livery, so gazed on now,
Will be a tatter'd weed, of small worth held:
Then being ask'd where all thy beauty lies,
Where all the treasure of thy lusty days,
To say, within thine own deep-sunken eyes,
Were an all-eating shame and thriftless praise.
How much more praise deserved thy beauty's use,
If thou couldst answer 'This far child of mine
Shall sum my count and make my old excuse,'
Proving his beauty by succession thine!
    This were to be new made when thou art old,
    And see thy blood warm when thou feel'st it cold. 

Monday, September 1, 2014

Homeschooling :: Wherein I Begin to Think About Philosophy

Last time I talked about how one click of the mouse changed the course of our educational journey. After I read that thread and followed links and listened to a whole bunch of lectures I began to want to know more about educational philosophy. I felt like I needed a solid understanding of the big picture if I wanted to apply what I was learning to our real-life learning at home.

It's rather difficult to describe this stage in my journey. In fact it's not even over yet. I suspect it will never end, really. I have spent the majority of my free time during the past couple years reading books and listening to talks about education. Slowly I have been able to begin forming a picture of sorts that portrays the things I want for my children and the way to go about getting there. The following is an attempt to put that picture into words (I've also written about it here):

As Christians our purpose in educating our children must include the intent for them to learn to recognize and to perceive and to love the Beautiful Person of Jesus Christ.  Beauty, Goodness and Truth are inseparable, objective realities that can be found to some degree in everything if we can just perceive them.  Our students need to be taught to discern these things in order to be able to behold Christ, who is all in all.  Human reason needs to be founded in Christ in order to reach its full potential.  Without a foundation in Christ much is lost and one's full potential cannot be realized. 

 The primary goal of education in our home, therefore, is to pursue and cultivate virtue.  It is not collecting a wealth of facts and remembering them, but rather disciplining the body and the mind so that one can act based on what one knows to be objectively true.  David Hicks, in his book Norms and Nobility states that “[e]ducation does not mean teaching people what they do not know; it means teaching them to behave as they do not behave.”

 The content of the curriculum we use must enable our children to fulfill all the roles that life might give them, whether it is the role of parent, employer, employee, teacher, friend, etc.  They need to be able to fill each of these roles as a Christian.  The delight that we can take in our studies is delight in Christ Himself because the things studied all point to Him. This is why the trivium and the quadrivium are such powerful tools for education - because they each pour light on part of the mind of God so that we can "know" Him better. Our relationship can be deepened with each new idea and with the mastery of new concepts. If we aim for anything less than the deepening and evolution of this relationship then we don't get very far because the Holy Spirit, as the giver of knowledge, ought not to be separated from the knowledge that He has given.

On the practical side, this means that we will strive for a significant focus on language; both our own native English, as well as the ancient Latin and Greek languages, and we'll probably even throw some modern languages in there as well.  There will also be a strong focus on mathematics and the third focus will be on the perception of truth.  We want our children to be surrounded by beautiful things: good literature, beautiful art, beautiful music; and they should have the opportunity to experience these things through their senses. The goal is not to pump them full of information, but rather to teach them to contemplate and meditate on what they are learning.  They need to exercise the mind through memorizing and recalling facts to such an extent that the memorized content becomes a part of them and they are able to use that knowledge to create and express things in their own voices.

All of these things will help to form the persons our children will become as they mature and will ultimately shape their lives so that they can go beyond just getting a job and being successful by worldly standards. They can go on to become godly, Christ-like people whose lives shine as examples of holiness and be lights in an ever darkening world.   

There comes a point of course, where all the philosophy in the world still won't translate into results unless one begins to act on it. Nevertheless, I feel that it's very important to articulate one's goal, because the "why" ultimately informs the "how" and makes a great difference when it comes to the practical details of living one's philosophy.

I offer below a list of books, audio, and videos that I have found most helpful, with stars by my favorites. If anyone has something that they think I ought to add to my list do let me know!

Norms and Nobility*
Beauty for Truth's Sake*
Beauty in the Word**
The Abolition of Man 
The Living Page**
Leisure the Basis of Culture*
Poetic Knowledge
The Seven Laws of Teaching
The Art of Teaching
Free-Range Learning
Project Based Homeschooling

Mimetic Teaching and the Cultivation of Virtue *
Assessment that Blesses
Eight Essential Principles of Classical Education
Multum non Multa 
Repetitio Mater Memoriae
Teaching from a State of Rest*

I also participated in an online study of Charlotte Mason's Twenty Principles, which was incredibly helpful for me as I tried to put words to my impressions. I have already written a bit about some reactions I've had to Charlotte Mason in most of the posts on this page. 

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Homeschooling :: Beginnings

I have often toyed with the idea of writing about homeschooling. After all, it takes up a huge amount of my time and my thoughts and has become a formative piece of my life. But I never really felt like I had anything to share. There are so many others who have already discussed homeschooling in ways that capture the essence of what we strive for more perfectly than I could ever hope to.

However, I was recently reminded by my sister-in-law that even though there's nothing that hasn't been said before, no one has heard it from me yet. So I am setting out to write about homeschooling as it exists in our home. There will more than likely be quite a few posts, since I've found, after thinking about it, that I actually do have a lot I'd like to share. I do not offer these posts as advice, nor do I pretend to know what I'm doing (this is definitely a learn-as-you-go sort of project!). I am just sharing our journey.


In the beginning, when my eldest child was only a baby, I had a dear friend who was studying to become a teacher in a Montessori school. She was passionate about Montessori philosophy and gave me a few books to read on the topic. I read them eagerly and was amazed to discover that very young children are, in fact, capable of much more than I had ever thought to give them credit for. I thought about trying to send my son to a Montessori school, but it turned out not to even be an option, so my next idea was to keep him at home. At least at home I could try my best to provide a Montessori-like environment and I would end up with a kid who was able to develop in the way that was most appropriate for him and which would allow him to flourish. (At least, that's what I told myself. The fact was I was very eager to show the world how smart my kid was and since Montessori methods promised good results, and since all the homeschoolers I knew were very smart, I decided I wanted that).

So I began to research homeschooling. I went to the library and checked out every single book I could find on the topic. The book I remember most clearly, and which started me down the path I'm on, was Cathy Duffy's 100 Top Picks for Homeschool Curriculum. I read it cover to cover and took the quiz about my preferred educational style. The results said that Classical and Charlotte Mason were most in line with what I wanted. I had never heard of either one. So I wrote down the books recommended for more information on those two methods and went back to the library.

I read The Well-Trained Mind by Jesse Wise and Susan Wise Bauer first (which book henceforth will be referred to as WTM). And I loved it. Here was everything I needed all laid out nice and neat and furthermore it would produce really smart kids (by this time I had had another baby). I also read Charlotte Mason's Home Education  and liked it very much, but at the time it was sort of overshadowed by WTM so I don't really remember much of my first impression.

I'm not sure I can lay out the next series of events in a logical sequence. I had another baby and was testing the waters with the beginnings of pre-school activities (I'll talk about what we did for pre-K for another post most likely). During this time I joined the WTM forums and I gleaned an unbelievable amount of information there. I became familiar with all sorts of different curricula and really just had a blast reading about the experiences of other homeschoolers as they puzzled out curriculum choices and shared their opinions about various programs and ideas being tried in their own families.

It was there, at the WTM forums, that the path twisted in a way that I would never have anticipated. By this time I was pregnant with my fourth baby. And one day, while browsing the forum, I stumbled across a thread begun by someone whose username I recognized because I'd bought some books from her via the Orthodox Christian Classical HSers yahoo group. So I opened the thread and I'm not being overly dramatic when I say that one click of the mouse changed the course of my life.

The title of the thread was totally meaningless to me because it mentioned the CiRCE institute, which I had never even heard of. There was talk about how one can provide an education along the lines of what Andrew Kern speaks about. Here was something else I was clueless about - who on earth was Andrew Kern? Someone shared a link to one of his talks, titled Analytical Learning, and my mind was blown.

Blown away. At one point while I was listening I cried. I cried because he was talking about what, deep down, was the ONLY thing I really wanted for my children: to hear the words "Well done" spoken to my own children at the final judgement. And I realized that if that's what I wanted, then I needed to assess every. single. thing I did from there on out in the light of that goal. My guiding question became "Does [whatever I'm currently doing] bring me closer to my goal or does it move me away from it?"

(I'll talk more about where this question has taken us in upcoming posts. I can't promise that these posts will be regular or frequent, but I will do what I can.)

Wednesdays with Words : The Art of Teaching

Linking up with Dawn for Wednesdays with Words.

I recently finished reading The Art of Teaching by Gilbert Highet.  This particular passage really caught my attention. 

Do we use the words "inherit" and "heredity" to cover up our feeling that parents ought to think very carefully about how and what to teach their children, although most of them do not? Do we wish to imply that it will be all right without planning, that what we wish our children to learn will get into them somehow, through their pores perhaps? If so, we are wrong. We know that the world is full of people who are unhappy because they are vague and confused. Yet we often miss the priceless chance of teaching our own children something sure and reliable. The commonest answer to this charge is that we don't know ourselves what is sure and reliable. But that is not true. By the time we have reached the age of thirty-five or forty,  and our children are becoming old enough to be taught the difficult questions, we have found answers which satisfy us as a working basis. Good. Let us teach them to our children. They will criticize them, attack them, and discard them, for a time at least. Good. We have done our duty. We have given them a basis to work on for themselves. They can accuse us of teaching them wrongly (although not usually deliberately of cheating them), and of trying to thrust our opinions down their throats (however gently we teach them, they will say that); but they cannot say we neglected them, wasting forty years of our experience and fifteen years of their lives.