Sunday, April 27, 2008


What a beautiful evening it was - the darkness, the soft glow of candles, the joyous shouts as normally sedate priests run up and down the church aisle shouting "Christ is Risen," each one trying to "one up" the last with the number of languages they can say it in! If you have never seen an Orthodox Paschal service, you cannot imagine the joy contained within one room, the sleepy but excited faces of children who are seeing it for the first time, the realization that this is why we have done what we have over the past 40 days, the long services, the fasting, the preparations - this is WHY. It is more than a remembrance, more than a commemoration, we are living the resurrection - we are for those few hours brought up into heaven to sing with the angels, to rejoice in the triumph of Christ over death, to revel in this defeat which frees us from the bonds of death, to taste of that glorious eternity to come. My words cannot possible do it justice, so I leave it to the "golden-mouthed" to express this joy. The following is the Paschal Homily written by St. John Chrysostom over 1600 years ago, and is read in every Orthodox church on Pascha.

If any man be devout and loveth God,
Let him enjoy this fair and radiant triumphal feast!
If any man be a wise servant,
Let him rejoicing enter into the joy of his Lord.
If any have laboured long in fasting,
Let him how receive his recompense.
If any have wrought from the first hour,
Let him today receive his just reward.
If any have come at the third hour,
Let him with thankfulness keep the feast.
If any have arrived at the sixth hour,
Let him have no misgivings;
Because he shall in nowise be deprived therefore.
If any have delayed until the ninth hour,
Let him draw near, fearing nothing.
And if any have tarried even until the eleventh hour,
Let him, also, be not alarmed at his tardiness.
For the Lord, who is jealous of his honour,
Will accept the last even as the first.
He giveth rest unto him who cometh at the eleventh hour,
Even as unto him who hath wrought from the first hour.
And He showeth mercy upon the last,
And careth for the first;
And to the one He giveth,
And upon the other He bestoweth gifts.
And He both accepteth the deeds,
And welcometh the intention,
And honoureth the acts and praises the offering.
Wherefore, enter ye all into the joy of your Lord;
Receive your reward,
Both the first, and likewise the second.
You rich and poor together, hold high festival!
You sober and you heedless, honour the day!
Rejoice today, both you who have fasted
And you who have disregarded the fast.
The table is full-laden; feast ye all sumptuously.
The calf is fatted; let no one go hungry away.
Enjoy ye all the feast of faith:
Receive ye all the riches of loving-kindness.
Let no one bewail his poverty,
For the universal Kingdom has been revealed.
Let no one weep for his iniquities,
For pardon has shown forth from the grave.
Let no one fear death,
For the Saviour's death has set us free.
He that was held prisoner of it has annihilated it.
By descending into Hell,
He made Hell captive.
He embittered it when it tasted of His flesh.
And Isaiah, foretelling this, did cry:
Hell, said he, was embittered
When it encountered Thee in the lower regions.
It was embittered, for it was abolished.
It was embittered, for it was mocked.
It was embittered, for it was slain.
It was embittered, for it was overthrown.
It was embittered, for it was fettered in chains.
It took a body, and met God face to face.
It took earth, and encountered Heaven.
It took that which was seen, and fell upon the unseen.

O Death, where is thy sting?
O Hell, where is thy victory?

Christ is risen, and thou art overthrown!
Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen!
Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice!
Christ is risen, and life reigns!
Christ is risen, and not one dead remains in the grave.
For Christ, being risen from the dead,
Is become the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep.

To Him be glory and dominion
Unto ages of ages.

(Edited 4/28 - for those of you who would like to see some video snippets of the services -a friend has posted some beautiful moments from her church here)

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Martha or Maxine?

A little detour from the scheduling post, but I wanted to share what I was thinking about today. We are coming up on Pascha (Easter) this weekend, so blogging is not top on my list of things to do, but this struck me as worth sharing, especially as I prepare my family's Pascha basket and collect all of the special things that are needed for the services this week. A week or so ago someone forwarded me one of those emails that seem to cycle eternally through cyberspace. This one is titled "Martha or Maxine" and contrasts the solutions that Martha Stewart and Maxine the cartoon (you know, the slobby, grouchy old lady :) would give to common problems such as what to do with leftover wine. It is an amusing contrast, but it struck me today in a different way. I will freely admit that my leanings are to the "Martha" side of things (except for her solutions to headaches and leftover wine :), while most of my friends would consider the Martha solutions a waste of time. Granted, I don't usually take the time to wrap my celery in foil to help it keep better, but the point of the email was to imply the ridiculousness of Martha's way. My response to that is colored by the fact that I am currently reading The Hidden Art of Homemaking by Edith Schaeffer. I had not read this particular book before (though I have read others written by her) and thank you to Jennifer at Doing the Next Thing for sending me after it. Much of what she writes about is not new to me, but she communicates it most eloquently. The focus of this book is on the 'hidden art' in our lives. As creations made in the image of God - the ultimate Artist (just look around you and you will see the beauty of his creativity) we are all called to some expression of art or creativity. She insists that we all have it within us - not the ability to be famous for something, but the ability to creatively add beauty to our home and world - whether it is through a mural on the kids bedroom wall, a dress lovingly sewn for a daughter or simply a single flower in a vase at the table. So while many look at the infamous Martha as an annoying overachiever, I see beyond the perfectionist tendency her desire to take the everyday, the boring and sometimes even ugly moments of life and turn them into "art". And before you protest "I am just not that talented" or "I don't have time for silly stuff like that", take a minute and think about the difference it makes to sit down to a meal on real dishes compared to eating on a plastic plate (yes, it can be as simple as that, or putting your liquid soap into a pretty glass bottle instead of the ugly plastic one it comes in, or serving lemonade out of a china tea cup as an afternoon snack for the kids). How often do we offer the uninspiring to our family and children, and justify it by saying "oh, my kids would never notice that" or "my husband could care less" ? So, rather than get discouraged by perceived lack of "talent" or laugh off more 'artistic' solutions in life, perhaps remember that we are called to grow in the image of God, and one of the most visibly present facets of that image is reflected in the amazing beauty He created. As an Orthodox Christian whose life is focused on living the sacraments, this rings very true to me. As Matthew Gallatin puts it, we are called to dance with God(7/5/07), and learning to create simple moments of beauty can be a first step. I will leave you with a few thoughts from the book, a truly inspiring read.

"Children growing up in an atmosphere where beauty is considered an important part of daily life cannot help being inspired to develop their own original ideas in these areas, nor can they help being prepared to live aesthetically themselves." p.104

"The Christian should have more vividly expressed creativity in his daily life, and have more creative freedom ... 'Hidden Art' should be more important to one who knows and admits that he is made in God's image, than to those who do not." p.29 (emphasis is the author's)

Monday, April 14, 2008

My Favorite Subject: Scheduling Part 1

This seems to be the time of year when this topic gets hot - as everyone is trying to select next years books, plan lessons and decide what they can and cannot accomplish next year. So I am going to put down a few of my thoughts on how I schedule, since it is a topic I love (weird, I know). And really, I should say, this goes way beyond simply scheduling out school subjects. What I have learned is that my life needs a rhythm, and my kids need a rhythm, and so when I talk about routines, I am really talking about our daily life, not just our "school time." Of course, then we could get all philosophical about how really all time is "school time" and that LIFE is our school which makes the previous statements completely unnecessary, but we won't go there :)

First, let me share some of the wonderful resources that have helped me develop routines for our day. Managers of Their Homes (MOTH) is a great resource for anyone with multiple children who is trying to find sanity in scheduling. It is a complete system of how to prioritize duties, schedule children and their interactions with you and each other, and managing household duties while still having some time for yourself. MOTH can be intimidating, especially for those who are not into planning every moment of the day, but I love the giant planning schedule with colored blocks they have to help you plan what everyone will be doing throughout the day. Along the same lines as MOTH, but on a bit more relaxed scale, is a wonderful book A Mother's Rule of Life. Holly Pierlot was introduced to the concepts of MOTH at a time when she was in despair about her homeschool chaos. After struggling to find peace in her home, she wrote this book that really goes in depth into what she calls the 5 P's of our lives - Prayer, Person, Partner, Parent and Provider. This book is something of a spiritual journey, and I love her approach to a schedule, which revolves around first establishing the times of prayer for the day, then working all of our other roles around those moments. This has been a special blessing for me as our women's study group has been reading Beginning to Pray by Anthony Bloom.
Finally, the other book I really think all women and homeschool mothers especially should read is The Quotidian Mysteries. If you have ever felt depressed about not being able to "get it all done," or you feel sometimes that the daily chores of a stay-at-home mom are looked down on in the world today, this book will give you some wonderful encouragement. The term "quotidian" is from the Latin for everyday or daily, and in this little book author and poet Kathleen Norris speaks about her journey of realization that the "everyday" is what really matters, that here is where we find the things that God has given us to struggle with in order to turn our minds to Him. It is a quick read, and one I keep handy to give me a lift in those moments when I can't bear the thought of folding another load of laundry! What gave me the most peace from this book was the realization that I can never "get it all done." I am a "list" person, I like to check things off, finish them. The tasks I struggle with the most emotionally and spiritually are those that can never be finished (like the laundry :). So I have come to terms with the fact that I can never "catch up" or really finish my work, but rather this work has been given to me as a way to draw closer to God.
I will post again on more of the nitty-gritty of my own personal schedules, but I wanted to share these books first. They are the resources that slowly led me to develop the routines that are working for us and serve as an inspiration and encouragement to me as I stumble along trying to find my footing as a mother and homeschooler.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

A Saturday Night Treat

Thought I would share my Spring Roll Recipe, since it is our "nice" meal for Lent. Since wine and oil are permitted on Saturday and Sunday, I try to make these spring rolls most Saturdays during Lent. The kids like them, and they are nice enough to serve company (not that we ever have any :) The original recipe I copied long ago (14 years ago to be precise) from a cooking magazine I ran across at someone's house. The recipe has evolved over the years so that it is much changed from that original, and has become my own favorite Lenten meal.

1 head "purple"cabbage (in my house we call a purple cabbage a purple cabbage - none of that silly "red cabbage" nonsense! - same goes for redbud trees - 'round here they are "purplebuds")
1 zucchini
1 bunch green onions
1 small package sliced almonds
1 red bell pepper
sno peas
shrimp - I like to use the frozen precooked - just thaw and remove the tails
1 package phyllo dough - thawed
cooking sherry
olive oil
soy sauce
fresh ginger root

1. Chop all of the vegetables up and combine in a large bowl. Slice the shrimp into bite-sized chunks and add to vegetable mixture.

2. In a small saucepan on the stove - combine about 1/2 c sherry, 3-4 T soy sauce, 2T sugar, about 1-2 t fresh grated ginger root (I grate it straight into the pan, so you can sort of go by taste on this) and 1-2 t cornstarch (I start with 1 t, then add more if the sauce is not thick enough). Boil this mixture until it creates a thick sauce, then remove from heat and pour over the vegetable/shrimp mixture.

3. Using a 50/50 mixture of water and olive oil, brush a sheet of phyllo, the add a generous scoop of the vegetable mixture. Roll the spring rolls "envelope" style - over once, then fold sides in, then continue rolling. Place on a baking sheet that has been brushed with the oil/water mixture, then brush each roll with the oil/water. Bake in a 400 degree oven for 5-8 minutes. Watch them carefully, the phyllo can burn quickly. Basically you are just heating them - since the shrimp is already cooked. (I used to make them with raw shrimp, and the phyllo always burned before the shrimp was cooked through, so that is why I switched to the precooked shrimp).

Serve with fried rice and sweet and sour sauce (mix vinegar and your favorite jelly to make a quick and wonderful sweet and sour sauce).

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Composer Study

Since this blog is supposed to have something to do with school :) I thought I would share what we do for our music studies. My primary goals in this area are 1) to foster a love of great music and 2) to instill in them a familiarity with some of the greatest pieces of music. Similar to poetry, I have found that a Charlotte Mason approach works best for us in this area. I select three composers each year. I use the Ambleside lists as a guide in helping me select, but do not follow them exactly, since often I will base my choice on the interests of the kids. I try to have at least one good CD of that composer's music (I have found that My Father's World has a wonderful selection of composer CD's) and if possible a biography style CD. We especially love the Classical Kids CD's such as Beethoven Lives Upstairs. At the beginning of the year I will introduce the composer by reading a few things about his life (from The Story of the Orchestra or other resource), then I will introduce a specific piece by that composer. We listen to that piece of music every day at snack time (or lunch time if we do not have a snack). We will stay with the same piece of music for 2-3 weeks, then move on to a new piece by that same composer. I tell them the name of the piece, but we do not spend any time discussing it unless they ask a question. After we have covered 3-4 pieces by a composer, we move on the next composer. I have been amazed by how much they have internalized just by doing this, and best of all, they really enjoy it, and it has become a part of our life, instead of a school assignment. Now that we have covered a number of composers, I will sometimes ask them if they want to hear a particular one for lunch, and I am always amazed by how strongly they will lobby for their favorites!

Good Advice

This was copied from Erin's blog (and she took it from Fr. Thomas' talks on Ancient Faith Radio)- I thought it was too good not to share:

55 Maxims for Christian Living
by Fr. Thomas Hopko
1. Be always with Christ.
2. Pray as you can, not as you want.
3. Have a keepable rule of prayer that you do by discipline.
4. Say the Lord’s Prayer several times a day.
5. Have a short prayer that you constantly repeat when your mind is not occupied with other things.
6. Make some prostrations when you pray.
7. Eat good foods in moderation.
8. Keep the Church’s fasting rules.
9. Spend some time in silence every day.
10. Do acts of mercy in secret.
11. Go to liturgical services regularly
12. Go to confession and communion regularly.
13. Do not engage intrusive thoughts and feelings. Cut them off at the start.
14. Reveal all your thoughts and feelings regularly to a trusted person.
15. Read the scriptures regularly.
16. Read good books a little at a time.
17. Cultivate communion with the saints.
18. Be an ordinary person.
19. Be polite with everyone.
20. Maintain cleanliness and order in your home.
21. Have a healthy, wholesome hobby.
22. Exercise regularly.
23. Live a day, and a part of a day, at a time.
24. Be totally honest, first of all, with yourself.
25. Be faithful in little things.
26. Do your work, and then forget it.
27. Do the most difficult and painful things first.
28. Face reality.
29. Be grateful in all things.
30. Be cheerful.
31. Be simple, hidden, quiet and small.
32. Never bring attention to yourself.
33. Listen when people talk to you.
34. Be awake and be attentive.
35. Think and talk about things no more than necessary.
36. When we speak, speak simply, clearly, firmly and directly.
37. Flee imagination, analysis, figuring things out.
38. Flee carnal, sexual things at their first appearance.
39. Don’t complain, mumble, murmur or whine.
40. Don’t compare yourself with anyone.
41. Don’t seek or expect praise or pity from anyone.
42. We don’t judge anyone for anything.
43. Don’t try to convince anyone of anything.
44. Don’t defend or justify yourself.
45. Be defined and bound by God alone.
46. Accept criticism gratefully but test it critically.
47. Give advice to others only when asked or obligated to do so.
48. Do nothing for anyone that they can and should do for themselves.
49. Have a daily schedule of activities, avoiding whim and caprice.
50. Be merciful with yourself and with others.
51. Have no expectations except to be fiercely tempted to your last breath.
52. Focus exclusively on God and light, not on sin and darkness.
53. Endure the trial of yourself and your own faults and sins peacefully, serenely, because you know that God’s mercy is greater than your wretchedness.
54. When we fall, get up immediately and start over.
55. Get help when you need it, without fear and without shame.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Amazing History Timeline

I went to Sam's yesterday and found a resource I am so excited about. Someone on the Well Trained Mind message board had posted about it weeks ago, but I could not find it back then. It is a fabulous history timeline. Adams Synchronological Chart or Map of History is amazing! It is listed online for $90 but I found it at my local Sams for under $25. It is a bound timeline that unfolds accordion style (I think it is about 21 feet long!) and it charts history, synchronizing what is going on in the various parts of the world beginning with creation and continuing on through the 1870's when it was first published. My son has already spent a good deal of time pouring over it, and I am loving it too. It is especially great to see connections like the lives of Adam, Methuselah and Noah visually. Yes, I knew many of them lived for 900+ years, but to see that visually is amazing. It allows me to really envision Adam giving a firsthand account of the history of creation, the fall and other events down through the centuries. In fact, I love it so much, I am considering getting a second copy so I can cut one out and post it on the wall, and leave the other one bound in the book! What a great treasure this is for those studying chronological history and trying to make all the connections.