Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christ is Born! Glorify Him!

Who can say it better than St. John the golden -mouthed!

I behold a new and wondrous mystery! My ears resound to the Shepherd's song, piping no soft melody, but chanting full forth a heavenly hymn.
The Angels sing!
The Archangels blend their voices in harmony!
The Cherubim hymn their joyful praise!
The Seraphim exalt His glory!
All join to praise this holy feast, beholding the Godhead here on earth, and man in heaven. He who is above, now for our redemption dwells here below; and he that was lowly is by divine mercy raised.
Bethlehem this day resembles heaven; hearing from the stars the singing of angelic voices; and in place of the sun, enfolds within itself on every side the Sun of Justice.
And ask not how: for where God wills, the order of nature yields. For He willed, he had the power, He descended, He redeemed; all things move in obedience to God.
This day He Who Is, is Born; and He Who Is becomes what He was not. For when He was God, He became man; yet not departing from the Godhead that is His. Nor yet by any loss of divinity became He man, nor through increase became he God from man; but being the Word He became flesh, His nature, because of impassibility, remaining unchanged.
And so the kings have come, and they have seen the heavenly King that has come upon the earth, not bringing with Him Angels, nor Archangels, nor Thrones, nor Dominations, nor Powers, nor Principalities, but, treading a new and solitary path, He has come forth from a spotless womb.
Yet He has not forsaken His angels, nor left them deprived of His care, nor because of His Incarnation has he departed from the Godhead.
And behold, Kings have come, that they might adore the heavenly King of glory;
Soldiers, that they might serve the Leader of the Hosts of Heaven;
Women, that they might adore Him Who was born of a woman so that He might change the pains of child-birth into joy;
Virgins, to the Son of the Virgin, beholding with joy, that He Who is the Giver of milk, Who has decreed that the fountains of the breast pour forth in ready streams, receives from a Virgin Mother the food of infancy;
Infants, that they may adore Him Who became a little child, so that out of the mouth of infants and sucklings, He might perfect praise;
Children, to the Child Who raised up martyrs through the rage of Herod;
Men, to Him Who became man, that He might heal the miseries of His servants;
Shepherds, to the Good Shepherd Who has laid down His life for His sheep;
Priests, to Him Who has become a High Priest according to the order of Melchisedech;
Servants, to Him Who took upon Himself the form of a servant that He might bless our servitude with the reward of freedom;Fishermen, to Him Who from amongst fishermen chose catchers of men;
Publicans, to Him Who from amongst them named a chosen Evangelist;
Sinful women, to Him Who exposed His feet to the tears of the repentant;
And that I may embrace them all together, all sinners have come, that they may look upon the Lamb of God Who taketh away the sins of the world.
Since therefore all rejoice, I too desire to rejoice. I too wish to share the choral dance, to celebrate the festival. But I take my part, not plucking the harp, not shaking the Thyrsian staff, not with the music of pipes, nor holding a torch, but holding in my arms the cradle of Christ. For this is all my hope, this my life, this my salvation, this my pipe, my harp. And bearing it I come, and having from its power received the gift of speech, I too, with the angels, sing: Glory to God in the Highest;and with the shepherds: and on earth peace to men of good will.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Review: Living Memory by Andrew Campbell

I received my copy of Living Memory yesterday, and after much perusing last night I wanted to share my thoughts. A brief disclaimer, I am an LCC groupie - so is would take a lot for Plaid Dad to write anything I hated - but that aside, I will give my honest opinions about the book :). It is a very large and comprehensive volume, with the goal of providing a full selection of memory work for the classical student. There is a brief introductory section with a defense of memorization, a summary of common memory techniques (including a brief mention of the ancient technique of loci), advice on how to structure memory time and an explanation of how to create your own memory binder. The volume is then broken down into subject areas. Those areas include Latin, Greek, Arithmetic, Grammar, Literature, Religion, Geography, World History, US History and the Natural Sciences. Within each subject area are contained memory selections organized by difficulty, proceeding from the simplest to the most difficult selections. For example, within the Latin section one will find latin numbers, proverbs, poetry, prayers, hymns, and finally excerpts from Ceasar, Cicero and Ovid.

The biggest advantage to owning this book is that it is all there. It is a one stop book for referencing memory work throughout homeschooling. Anything that reduces the time I spend online looking for a poem or speech is a positive for me. Another great benefit is the broad range of selections. I particularly appreciate Dr. Campbell's inclusion of prayers from the Orthodox Church alongside prayers of the Catholic and Protestant faiths. The grammar section is nicely done, with an original catechism which when memorized takes the student through a very thorough understanding of grammar. Finally, as evidenced by the generous selection of well chosen poems, the quality of the selections is very high. There is no fluff or twaddle in this volume, only the best of the best.

Drawbacks: Those who are looking for a book divided into grade levels telling you exactly when to assign these pieces will be disappointed. However, if you are following Latin Centered Curriculum, he offers many suggestions in there for when to memorize certain pieces. If you are not planning to study any Greek or Latin, a large portion of this book will be useless. Also, the Religion section makes up a generous portion of the book. This is under the assumption that anyone following the classical model will be studying the Christian religion as a part of that, whether they are Christian or not. For those who do not wish to expose their children to christian hymns, prayers and scripture, there will be a good portion of this book that will be unusable.

It is designed to be a "workbook", or practical guide, not a theory book. If you are looking to really understand the how and why - you will want to do further reading and research. If you are looking to this book to convince you of the value of learning these things, you will be disappointed. If you are looking for a pick up and go anthology of high quality memory work, then this book is perfect.

If you are interested in looking deeper into the theory and philosophy behind this book the following reading is suggested:

article on memorization
Memorize the Faith

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Just wanted to share a link with everyone - if you are reading the Lion the Witch and The Wardrobe - don't forget to order your Turkish Delight to enjoy with each reading. I do not recommend the rose flavored, unless you like eating perfume, but we found the lemon and strawberry flavors to be "delightful!"

Friday, December 12, 2008

Anniversary Celebration

I promised pictures from the big November event, so here they are! This November my parents celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary. For the past year my sister and I have been planning a grand surprise party to honor them. My parents were not married in the Orthodox Church, and many converts choose to have their marriage blessed by the church. My parents had mentioned doing this, but my mom said it was too much to try to plan. We talked with my dad, and decided to surprise mom with not just a party, but a marriage blessing.

Dad went all out, renting a tux, and one of my closest childhood friends loaned his Ferrari for the ride to the church.

Here are my two girls, along with their little niece, my sister's little girl. I made the girl's dresses from silk dupioni, and they all thought they were princesses! They got to go down the aisle and throw rose petals (though my niece preferred the "dump the basket upside down method" of distributing petals :)

A marriage blessing in the church is not very different from the wedding service, so my mom walked down the aisle just like a new bride.

The highlight of the Orthodox marriage - the crowning - the "newlyweds" are given crowns to symbolize their victory in marriage, and their martyrdom to each other. The crowns are joined by a ribbon and are kept as a special reminder of the commitment of marriage. When one of the couple dies, the ribbon is cut and the person is buried with his crown.

Here is one of the tables - we printed up menus, sewed table overlays, used 120 votive candles, and a 50 cup bag of freeze dried rose petals, not to mention 200 fresh roses, 30 white dendrobium orchids and a dozen white hydrangea. Everything was done in black, red (my mom's favorite color) and white - even the guests all came dressed in coordinating colors.

Here is one of the taller table arrangements (they were set on 3 foot high candle stands on the tables). Thank you to Lisa and Brian - I could have never done all the arrangements by myself!

I created a replica of my parents wedding cake - and we displayed my mom's bridal portrait.

My Dad's longest friend (see, I almost typed oldest, but I figured he might not appreciate how that sounded :) Mike and Dianne both were in my parent's wedding - my dad and Mike have been friends (and neighbors) since they were 5!

A peek at the kitchen - I had so many wonderful people helping put the food together. My sister and I cooked for 3 days straight, then had a crew help us pull it all together that afternoon. Here are the lobster tacos in progress.

We decorated the central buffet table with magnolia leaves, roses and rose petals - and framed photos from their wedding.

The photos were done by Dn. Michael Hyatt, who did a spectacular job. It was such a beautiful evening, and it was so wonderful to be able to do something so very special for my parents. May God grant them Many Years!!

Winter Fun?

Dashing through the snow,
On a one man broken sled
over the hills I go
crashing into trees!
I woke up with stitches in my head
Can someone help me please?

Composed spontaneously by the crocodile hunter as he stumbled in the door with tears running down his face and blood dripping from the gash in his forehead. We are still evaluating the stitches part of it - hopefully that is just drama on his part. See, homeschoolers are always learning - even an injury is inspiration for poetry (though we may need to work on his rhyme a bit!)

UPDATE: four stitches - and a great battle scar for the Christmas card pictures!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

A Family Tradition

"..she noticed that there was something crunching under her feet. 'I wonder is that more moth-balls?' she thought, stooping down to feel it with her hands. But instead of feeling the hard, smooth wood of the floor of the wardrobe, she felt something soft and powdery and extremely cold. 'This is very queer,' she said, and went on a step or two further....Something cold and soft was falling on her. A moment later she found that she was standing in the middle of a wood at night-time with snow under her feet and snowflakes falling through the air."

So much for global warming, all I can say is this southern gal can't remember the last time we had a good snow before Christmas ! It inspired me to do something I have been planning to do for weeks, and just have not gotten around to. Growing up, one of the sweetest memories I have is of my father reading to us. And of all the books he read, there is no doubt, the Chronicles of Narnia were my favorite. Whether it is just my mind playing tricks or not, it always seems that we started reading them in the winter. My father read the whole series at least four times to us as we grew up, starting when I was about 3 or 4, then re-reading them as each of us reached that age. I started that tradition when my first child turned 3, and we spent the year reading the whole series through. My third child is 4 now, and I have been promising to start reading them once again. Well, the snow started falling hard and fast this afternoon, and after a treacherous drive home in the dark with huge snowflakes swirling at my windshield (and a constant stream of Lord Have Mercies under my breath) we snuggled up next to the wood burning stove in the kitchen, and I once again was blessed with the joy of introducing another child to the wonderous land of Narnia. There is something truly magical about the first real snow of the year (around here just having a first snow of the year is magical!), but having a first snow before Christmas, and marking it by stepping through the wardrobe with Lucy, well, there is not much that can top that! Other than perhaps playing in the snow at 9:00 pm when good little children should be tucked into bed, which is what my kids are getting ready to do as I type. Now, the only thing that could make this night more perfect is if there is enough fresh top snow to make snow cream!

Sunday, December 7, 2008

St. Barbara's Day Bonfire

This post is a bit late - I was hoping for a few good photos to include - but they are all smoke filled and blurry! This is the first time I have done one of these, but my old parish used to have a lovely St. Barbara's Day celebration, so this year I decided to make it happen here! Next year I will be better prepared, but things turned out okay. We had a huge bonfire - St. Barbara is often commemorated with a bonfire since when she was martyred at the hands of her father, he was struck down by lightning. We had boiled wheat, a traditional Orthodox food often used to commemorate the departed, and I served vegetarian chili, spiced tea, and s'mores. We read the story of St. Barbara, and the kids had a blast running around playing with sparklers. Since the eve of her feast day fell on Wednesday this year, we started early in the afternoon, and headed to Vespers at 7:00. It was so meaningful to celebrate together, then go to church and get to hear all the hymns and readings about her (though I am not sure our priest appreciated the smoke smell that clung to all of our clothing!). We ran out of time to plant wheat - but next year we will do that!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Lost and Found

Over and over I read about how we should keep our children's crosses on them always, when they sleep, when they play, when they bathe. Well, that doesn't work with my four year old. All I can say is - right now, I owe a lot of bread to St. Phanourios! The queen first lost her baptismal cross six or eight months ago. I said prayers to St. Phanourios, and we searched the house, but as she is in the habit of removing it at random, I gave up hope of ever finding it. Then, two months ago, I was looking for something in my purse, turned it upside down, and out dropped her cross. Now, I promise you, I searched that purse many times in the preceding months, and never found it. I was so thankful, but honestly, I forgot to bake bread. Then, just 3 weeks after finding it, suddenly it was gone again. This time, I knew she had taken it off at home, and had an approximate time frame, so I had hope of finding it, and sure enough after a prayer to St. Phanourios and a good search through her room, we found it in the floor in a corner - she had taken it off after church and just dropped it on the floor. After that close call, the cross went into my jewelry drawer and I did not let her wear it for a few weeks. I also forgot to make bread. Last week she asked to wear it, and promised not to take it off herself. I relented, and she successfully wore it all week. On Friday after Thanksgiving our niece was here playing, and the girls went outside, played in the creek, jumped in piles of leaves and played dress up all day. The queen came in at one point to have me help her with her bike helmet, and there was the cross staring at me from around her neck. That little voice we rarely listen to and really should told me to take it off, but I was busy and did not want to bother with putting it away, so I left it around her neck. Sure enough, 2 hours later she came running to me - Mom, my cross is gone! I promise I didn't take it off, it fell off! Sure enough, the chain and loop were still around her neck - but no cross. Believe me, I will listen to the little voice next time! I was so upset, I made everyone stop and help search for the cross. The ground they covered that day was immense, and I just knew the cross was sitting at the bottom of a pile of fall leaves. I cried over it, and whispered a half-hearted prayer to St. Phanourios. Then, on Sunday the little princess came home from church and asked me did I know there was a saint to pray to when you lost something? I laughed and said I did. Her Sunday School teacher had lost something the previous week, and shared her experience of prayers to St. Phanourios. The little princess asked me if I had prayed to the saint, I said yes, many times! At that moment, I said another little prayer. Monday morning, while cleaning the little princess' bedroom, I was trying to close her closet doors (they are bi-fold and run on a track that does not always work well). The doors kept sticking, and I kept forcing. Finally, I leaned down to see if there was something caught in the track - there at the bottom of the track was the cross! So, thank you to St. Phanourios, for guiding me each time to the cross. Now I am off to bake bread!

Friday, November 28, 2008

what is wrong with our country ...

This news article gives a good glimpse at the human condition today - and what is important to most Americans. A good deal on electronics is valued over human life any day.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

I am thankful

I am thankful to have a family that lives close together, so we can spend holidays together.
I am thankful for the four beautiful children God has given me.
I am thankful for a husband who provides for us, and works hard so I can stay home with our children.
I am thankful for the beautiful home God has blessed us with, and all the opportunities and possibilities it holds.
I am thankful that my husband finally shot himself a "good" deer - after 40+ hours of hunting this week!
I am thankful for deep fried turkey :)
I am thankful for the true friends I have, who ignore my many faults and are there to help when I need it.
I am thankful for my parents, who led me in my faith as a child, and in their search for truth led me to the true church.
I am thankful for my priest, who cares for our parish every day in ways that few know or understand.
I am thankful for those like my brother-in-law, who selflessly serve this great country and protect our freedom.
In the words of my son - I am thankful for everything!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

The Nativity Fast

I have once again been reworking my fasting menu, so I am posting our cycle of meals for those who might be interested. It is easier to me to have a fixed plan to follow, which removes the last minute decision making and therefore much of the stress of cooking during a long fast. I have listed two options for most days, and plan to alternate the dishes every other week. Other ways I keep it simple - soup stock is made ahead and frozen, the burritos are made ahead and frozen, and I purchase all non-perishable items in one big grocery trip before the fast begins. Then I can just make my list of produce items each week, making our grocery trips much quicker. Since most of these recipes involve beans, canned goods or frozen foods, it is easy to do the majority of the shopping ahead.

Sunday: lentil burgers/lentils and rice
Monday: taco soup/hay stacks
Tuesday: fish or shrimp with rice and veggies/ stir fried shrimp or tofu & vegetables
Wednesday: spaghetti and salad
Thursday: burritos/ Lenten cabbage rolls
Friday - vegetable soup/tomato soup/bean soup
Saturday: spring rolls/pancakes

Tuesday is the night I have the most time to cook, and it is also the night my husband is most likely to be home for dinner, so that night has my most "elaborate" dishes. The other "fancy" dish I traditionally have done is spring rolls on Saturday nights. This year after looking over a friend's fasting meal plan I decided we would also try doing fasting pancakes as a treat on Saturdays. And of course, I stock up on the all important back up meal when things go crazy, which also serves as "the babysitter meal", the one I make for the kids when we go out - frozen breaded popcorn shrimp.
Breakfast tends to be oatmeal or cereal for the kids and eggs for the baby, and oatmeal or toast for me. Lunches usually consist of peanut butter and jelly (or banana :) sandwiches, hummus, fruit, raw vegetables, leftovers and soups.
For great recipes and ideas on fasting, be sure to check out Erin's blog dedicated to fasting.

"Thus if there is such value and grace in fasting that it makes us into habitations of God, then ought we to greet it with great rejoicing and gladness, and not despond because of the meagerness of the food, knowing that when our Lord Jesus Christ blessed the five loaves in the wilderness He fed five thousand people with bread and water. He could, if He so desired, command all sorts of manifestations to appear; but He gave us an example of restraint, so that we might be concerned only for that which is necessary."
St. Theodore the Studite

Thursday, November 20, 2008

St. Nicholas Day

Since someone asked about ideas for St. Nicholas - I will go ahead and post that first. Our family tradition is quite simple. On December 5th our church typically has liturgy for St. Nicholas (though it varies, some years it is that evening, on others it is on the morning of the 6th). After liturgy that night, the children take their shoes and place them outside our front door. The younger ones like to add a little hay in their shoes for St. Nicholas' horse. That evening we read stories about St. Nicholas, focusing on the character trait of giving unselfishly. The kids then go around the house and find several items they are willing to give up. We put these items in a bag and leave it on the front porch, so St. Nicholas can take it to children who are not as fortunate. Then they crawl into bed to await the arrival of St. Nicholas. In the morning, the bag of toys is gone, and inside their shoes, they find a small sack of chocolate coins (just like St. Nicholas left for the daughters' dowries) and a little gift. The gift is usually a book or some small trinket - when possible it has something to do with St. Nicholas or the season of Advent. Since part of the point of this exercise is to eliminate some junk from the house, I try to not then add to the junk the next morning! Finally, St. Nicholas leaves a letter for each child, telling the children how he has seen them grow in their faith that year, and mentioning any particular positive character traits they may have been developing. We save the letters to go into a scrapbook so they can go back and read them later. We do not put gifts in their stocking for St. Nicholas Day, because we have another tradition for our stockings that comes from my husband's family. I'll share that one a little later!

Resources for St. Nicholas Day Ideas

The St. Nicholas Center - a site with stories, crafts and ideas for creating your own traditions
Paidea Classics - a made in USA source for chocolate coins - they even say St. Nicholas on them!
The Real St. Nicholas - a collection of stories about St. Nicholas
St. Nicholas Life - an Orthodox source for the life of St. Nicholas

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Advent Traditions

I am going to post parts of a talk I gave at our church women's retreat a few years back on celebrating Advent with your children. While some of this is a bit late, there are many things you can still implement, and you can use this Advent to prepare certain projects for next year.

1. Make the 15th an event. (I realize this one is a bit late, but perhaps something to think about for next year - you know the rule, "live first, blog later!") Unlike the beginning of Great Lent, which is marked by several weeks of preparation and a week full of services, the beginning of Advent has no special service, and can get lost in the chaos of school and Thanksgiving Day preparations. So take this day to establish a family routine for the rest of the season. If you do not have a family altar already, set one up - an area where your family can come together for prayers, lighting candles and Advent readings. If you have a piece of furniture, shelf or table, drape it with a special cloth. I have purchased table runners which we change out according to the liturgical seasons, so the colors match the altar cloth and priests vestments of the Church. Wal M*rt is a great source for cheap table runners in lots of colors, especially this time of year. Place your Advent wreath here, prayer book, Bible and list of readings for the season.

2. The 15th is also the day in our house when I pull out the Christmas tree (well trees really, we have 3!) and set up the lights, and the kids all help decorate the tree. Then it is ready for all of our Advent books to be tucked underneath (due to allergies we use artifical trees, which makes it possible to decorate this early - and for me, to enjoy the beauty of Christmas for 2 months is something I look forward to every year - our tree does not come down until Theophany). Another idea for the tree if you don't care to deal with it before Thanksgiving, is to follow Erin's lead and set it up on December 13th in honor of St. Herman. This would be perfect timing for those who use a real tree.

3. Keep certain things special just for Advent. Many years ago the crocodile hunter's godmother sent him one of the Playm*bil Nativity sets. That has been such a treasure to my kids, and last year I got a second one for the little princess. The set is boxed up, and does not come down until November 15th. The kids get so excited about playing with it, as I begin taking decorations out they all start asking, can you get the Nativity set out for us? They often spend most of the next few days with just that toy. Again, it goes back in the box on January 6th in spite of protests to leave it out just a little longer, so they can look forward to it again next Advent. As I already posted, we do the same with Nativity books, and I follow this rule with Christmas music and a few classic Christmas movies on DVD I allow them to watch. The air of anticipation this creates is amazing, and it makes these things all the more special for those two months. It also means that they tend to spend much of their free time reading those stories, or playing with the Nativity set, a wonderful way to help the kids remain focused on the Church and Christ's birth in a world where most kids can think of nothing but what "Santa" will bring them.

Well, there are a few ideas to get you started. Hopefully they will inspire you to create things in your home that are not only "hidden art", but will become treasured memories for your children and help them to walk daily in the life of the Church. I will follow with more on the Jesse tree and Advent calendar ideas, and our special St. Nicholas traditions.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Advent Books

Over the next week I want to post some of my favorite Advent ideas, and thought I would start with the tradition we started four or five years ago in our house, and has become a favorite. Over the years, I have collected various Christmas books. One year I decided that instead of simply reading them throughout the Advent season, I needed to make them a little more special. First, all of our Advent books and St. Nicholas books are packed up with the Christmas decorations. They are only taken out for Advent. This makes it a real treat for the kids when I pull them out. Now, instead of simply bringing them all out on November the 15th for the kids to read, I spend the days leading up to the 15th wrapping all of the books. I usually look for very inexpensive wrapping paper after Christmas (my current favorite is a red and white stripe candy cane looking paper), pack it up with my decorations along with a roll or two of tape, and then it is ready and waiting the following November. I don't do anything fancy, just wrap them up (no bows or tags or anything). We put our tree up on the 15th, and all the wrapped books go under the tree. Then, each day during Advent, the kids take turns choosing a book to open and I read it aloud that evening. Now, we do not have enough books for all 40 days of Advent, but since things come up and there are nights we don't get a chance to read, it all works out pretty well. Each year, I buy one or two new books and add them to the pile. The result is, the kids can't wait to open a book each night and find an old favorite, or maybe a new story. We have about 20 books now, so I know that we can roughly read one every other day, so we will alternate opening a new book with rereading one of the previously opened books. All the books stay under the tree, and the kids are free to come and read them during the day, but they are not to take them from the room. Then, when Theophany arrives, all the books are packed up for the next year. It is fun to see them develop favorites, and try to guess which package holds their favorite book, and the excitement when they open a book they may have forgotten about. If you are starting with only a few books, you could wait to start opening them until closer to the Nativity, or you could adjust it to just one per week until your collection grows.
Here is a list of some of our favorites. Most of them are Nativity stories or about St. Nicholas, but I do include a few traditional favorites I loved as a child.

Who is Coming to Our House - Joseph Slate - this is a great repetitive rhyme book, excellent for younger ones (though my 9 year old still loves to hear it too!). It tells the story of the animals in the stable preparing for Mary and Joseph to arrive. It is also available as a board book.

Long Was the Winter Road They Traveled - J. Patrick Lewis - this book is beautifully illustrated, and is also told in rhyme

The Very First Christmas - Paul L Maier - this is a great detailed explanation of the Nativity story, told by a mom answering questions from her 8yo son. It was a gift from my son's godmother, and is one of our favorites. It is very accurate and in line with the teachings of the Orthodox Church.

The Little Boy's Christmas Gift - John Spiers - illustrations inspired by the art of the Brueghels, the story of a poor boys offering to the Christ child (thanks to Erin for suggesting this one!)

What Can I Give Him? - Debi Gliori - sweet and simple, based on a poem by Rosseti, this is a great one to read to little ones (a gift from the little princess' godfather - Erin's hubby :)

Silent Night - Margaret Hodges - moving story of how this hymn came to be

The Miraculous Child - Alvin Alexsi Currier - Orthodox tale of a Russian Christmas miracle

The Saint Who Became Santa Claus - Evelyn Bence - great explanation of how Santa Claus came to be

The Legend of St. Nicholas - Demi - love this artist, beautiful illuminated illustrations and lots of stories of the life of St. Nicholas

The Miracle of St. Nicholas - Gloria Whelan - very moving tale of a Russian village that has not celebrated liturgy in 60 years, and how a little boy's questions lead to a miracle celebration

The Baker's Dozen - Aaron Shepard - a legend of a St. Nicholas miracle, the story of how 13 came to mean a baker's dozen

Saint Nicholas - Julie Stiegmeyer - again, great stories of the real St. Nicholas

The Nutcracker Ballet - any well illustrated version

The Night Before Christmas - Clement Clarke Moore

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

thank you

"The only authentic response to life - the good bits and the not-so-good - is gratitude."
Bread & Water, Wine & Oil - Archimandrite Meletios Weber
So thank you, thank you, thank you - to all of you who helped me this past week. Sunday was definitely one of "the good bits" - and I cannot express to all of you how much it meant to have so many do so much to create the perfect evening. I am always so humbled when I see so many willing to give their time and talents for someone else, and I know very well that I could never have done it on my own. And for those of you who don't know what I am talking about, I will post pictures as soon as I get them and fill you in!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Quit reading blogs and go vote! Unless you are one of those people who still does not know who you are going to vote for, or why you are voting for your candidate. In that case, STAY HOME and let the rest of us preserve freedom for our country.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

First Deer!

Spoiled for life. Here is the crocodile hunter (deer hunter this week :) after his first deer hunt. It reminds me of the first time his Grandpa took him fishing - he was about 4 years old and cast his rod, and caught a fish on his first cast. From then on, the expectations were a bit high~he assumed that you were supposed to get a fish with every cast. Well, here he is, his first afternoon out with Dad deer hunting, and he came home with this! Guess I will be cooking venison in the weeks to come :)

Friday, October 24, 2008

The Queen's Birthday Party

Right now, the queen is completely obsessed with the Beatrix Potter stories, so of course the birthday theme was Peter Rabbit. Above is a photo of the guest's goody bags - this year around Easter T*rget had Peter Rabbit books, candies and fun treats in the $1 section, so I stocked up.

Here is the table set up - I went a little crazy with the rabbit food theme - we had salad, berries and cream (just like Flopsy, Mopsy and Cottontail!), blanched asparagus, tea sandwiches, scones and devonshire cream, and those cute little champagne grapes. We served lemonade in pretty tea cups. For flowers I used some potted plants and herbs I already had, a few bunches of inexpensive glads, and best of all, several bunches of Swiss Chard in vases.

And here is the cake - complete with sugar pansies and garden fence, sugar vegetables and butterflies, and a sugar Peter peeking out of the watering can. I don't have a good picture of the girls in their dresses, but I made them all three little dresses out of the Beatrix Potter fabric. The queen loved it, and thought it was the best birthday EVER! (of course, she only has last year to compare to, since I am pretty sure she doesn't remember the first two!)

Sunday, October 19, 2008

A peek at what I have been up to!

The past few weeks I have been busy preparing for the marriage of my brother-in-law to my god-daughter. It was a small wedding with only family in attendance. It was a lovely wedding, and I was honored to spend many hours in the past few weeks helping with the plans. Standing up beside them, looking over at my husband through the service, it brought tears to my eyes as I remembered the day nearly 15 years ago that he and I were married.

Here is the wedding cake I made for them. In my previous life (ie "BC"-before children) I was a cake decorator :)

And here is "the queen" who served as a flower girl. She is modeling the bride's veil! Now that the wedding is past, I should be posting more - I have had a bit of a computer vacation over the past few weeks. But school is back in full swing Monday and I look forward to sharing our latest plans!

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Booklist - How many have YOU read?

A Booklist from Angelina's blog

The Big Read reckons that the average adult has only read 6 of the top 100 books they’ve printed.
The Rules:
1) Look at the list and put one * by those you have read.
2) Put a % by those you intend to read.
3) Put two ** by the books you LOVE.
4) Put # by the books you HATE.
5) Post.

**1 Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen
**2 The Lord of the Rings - J.R.R. Tolkien
**3 Jane Eyre - Charlotte Brontë
*4 Harry Potter series - J.K. Rowling (read the first 3 - decided that was enough)
*5 To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee
**6 The Bible
#7 Wuthering Heights - Emily Brontë
**8 1984 - George Orwell
9 His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman
*10 Great Expectations - Charles Dickens
*11 Little Women - Louisa May Alcott
*12 Tess of the D’Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy
#13 Catch 22 - Joseph Heller
*14 Complete Works of Shakespeare (most, not all)
*15 Rebecca - Daphne du Maurier
**16 The Hobbit - J.R.R. Tolkien
17 Birdsong - Sebastian Faulks
#18 Catcher in the Rye - J.D. Salinger
19 The Time Traveller’s Wife - Audrey Niffenegger
20 Middlemarch - George Eliot
**21 Gone With The Wind - Margaret Mitchell (one of my favorites)
*22 The Great Gatsby - F. Scott Fitzgerald
23 Bleak House - Charles Dickens
24 War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy
**25 The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams -
26 Brideshead Revisited - Evelyn Waugh -
**27 Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky
*28 Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck
*29 Alice in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll
**30 The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame
%31 Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy
#32 David Copperfield - Charles Dickens
**33 Chronicles of Narnia- C.S. Lewis
**34 Emma - Jane Austen
35 Persuasion - Jane Austen
**36 The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe - C.S. Lewis (read this at least 6 times :)
37 The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini
38 Captain Corelli’s Mandolin - Louis de Bernières -
39 Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden
**40 Winnie the Pooh - A.A. Milne
**41 Animal Farm - George Orwell
42 The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown
43 One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
44 A Prayer for Owen Meaney - John Irving
45 The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins -
*46 Anne of Green Gables - L.M. Montgomery
*47 Far From The Madding Crowd - Thomas Hardy
48 The Handmaid’s Tale - Margaret Atwood
**49 Lord of the Flies - William Golding (this one always fascinated me!)
50 Atonement - Ian McEwan
51 Life of Pi - Yann Martel
52 Dune - Frank Herbert
53 Cold Comfort Farm - Stella Gibbons
**54 Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen
55 A Suitable Boy - Vikram Seth
56 The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon
**57 A Tale Of Two Cities - Charles Dickens
**58 Brave New World - Aldous Huxley
59 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time - Mark Haddon
60 Love In The Time Of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
**61 Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck
62 Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov
63 The Secret History - Donna Tartt
64 The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold
**65 Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas
66 On The Road - Jack Kerouac
###67 Jude the Obscure - Thomas Hardy (this was torture in college lit class)
68 Bridget Jones’s Diary - Helen Fielding
69 Midnight’s Children - Salman Rushdie
70 Moby Dick - Herman Melville
*71 Oliver Twist - Charles Dickens
72 Dracula - Bram Stoker
**73 The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett
74 Notes From A Small Island - Bill Bryson
75 Ulysses - James Joyce
76 The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath (parts)
77 Swallows and Amazons - Arthur Ransome
78Germinal - Émile Zola
79 Vanity Fair - William Makepeace Thackeray
80 Possession - A.S. Byatt
*81 A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens
82 Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell
83 The Color Purple - Alice Walker
84 The Remains of the Day - Kazuo Ishiguro
85 Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert
86 A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry
**87 Charlotte’s Web - E.B. White
88 The Five People You Meet In Heaven - Mitch Albom
**89 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
90 The Faraway Tree Collection - Enid Blyton
*91 Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad
#92 The Little Prince - Antoine De Saint-Exupery
93 The Wasp Factory - Iain Banks
94 Watership Down - Richard Adams
95 A Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole
96 A Town Like Alice - Nevil Shute
**97 The Three Musketeers - Alexandre Dumas
**98 Hamlet - William Shakespeare
**99 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Roald Dahl
**100 Les Miserables - Victor Hugo

I was surprised by how many I had not heard of on this list. I can say I definitely beat the average of 6 though!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Saturday, September 20, 2008

A Peek at our Day

Here is a look at our days as they are currently shaping up. I love schedules, and it helps to have some routines in place, though we are not following a strict MOTH style schedule these days. With constantly changing baby nap times, a husband who gets home anywhere from 6:30 (rarely) to 7:30-8 (more common) etc, I have become very fluid with our days, but try to have a "skeleton" plan that we flesh out as each day requires. The times serve as pegs for the day, moments that we are working on building routines around.

8:00 chores, breakfast
walk outside
9:30 prayers, recitation, calendar
the Queen's "lessons" (see my preschool post)
history read aloud
10:30 naptime for baby
Main Lessons: math, Latin, language arts
12:30 lunch - composer study
read alouds
science reading
2:00 the Queen's story time (Peter Rabbit is a must for a smooth transition to naptime :)
2:30 the Queen's nap -
projects (mine and the kids!)
outdoor play
poetry teatime or picture study
6:00 chores, supper preparations
7:00 daddy home & dinner (my ideal :)
8:30 bedtime

Monday afternoons we have piano lessons (instructor comes to our home) and my sister in law will be bringing her kids over for Atelier art lessons starting next week.
Wednesday afternoons include a trip to the farm to pick up our CSA box, and Vespers.
Thursday afternoons we have gymnastics - this is the day I usually run all my errands.
Tuesdays and Fridays are left VERY flexible, because those are the days my husband might be off (his day off varies).
So that is what I aim for each day. Often things go crazy, and life happens, but that is part of the fun and I am learning to "go with the flow" (something my husband has been trying to teach me for 15 years - I am a slow learner).

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Chrismation Gown

Wanted to share a few pictures of one of my big projects this year - my newest baby nephew was chrismated and baptized into the Orthodox Church in August, and I made his gown. It is the first boy gown I have made (my husband refused to allow our little boy to wear a gown). It was a lot of fun to do a gown where the focus was on the handwork instead of the lace!

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Why I Home Educate

I began this post over a month ago, and have come back to it over and over again, trying to write it in a way that expresses what I feel, and sounds neither arrogant nor condemning. Please forgive me if I have failed.

Why do I homeschool?

I have pondered this question often, perhaps even more so recently as I look hard at my life and my goals for my children. Of all the questions I get about homeschooling, this is the one they never ask. Perhaps they don't want to know. Perhaps they think I will make them feel guilty. Perhaps they already know the answer, or think they know the answer. When I look at my choice, I often think about how quick some are to "evangelize" the world about homeschooling; feeling compelled to personally convince everyone around them they have made the right choice, or to convince others they should make the same choice themselves. That is not a desire I have ever really had. I do not feel the need to "preach" to anyone about homeschooling, and I think most of my non-homeschool friends would agree (at least I hope they would agree!) that I do not make it my business to convince anyone who does not have the desire. I will defend my decision without hesitation when called upon to do so. I will answer questions about homeschooling, I will give advice if asked, but it is not my place to convince someone else that my decision is right for them also. So again, I ask myself, why have we chosen to educate our children at home?

The answer is easy, and yet so very complicated.

I home educate because it is the right thing to do. I say that not with condemnation or judgment - just conviction that for my children it is the right thing to do. There are many other explanations I can give - but ultimately for me, it is a matter of feeling as if God has put me in a place where my purpose right now is to train up my children in the way they should go. I feel that I cannot effectively do that when someone else (who does not share my faith, values and beliefs) spends more time with my children than I do.

So, why do I homeschool?

I want our children to learn to walk in the Orthodox faith and become saints.

I want them to see that nothing in life comes before their love and dedication to God and His Church.

I want them to see that all learning is for God's glory, all learning exists for GOD.

I want them to learn to read so they can read the Holy Scripture and the lives of those who have walked before us and given their lives in the pursuit of eternal life.

I want them to learn grammar and spelling, logic and rhetoric, so they are able to become effective speakers and writers, and defend their faith to those who persecute them. That they, like St. Katherine, may baffle and win over even the great philosophers with the simple truth of God.

I want them to learn history so they may see God's hand over all, his love for his people and his wrath when they reject Him.

I want them to learn science and math so they may understand that we worship a God of order, not chaos; so they may stand in awe before the mind of God, so beyond our understanding.

I want them to experience the great masters of art and music, so they can see that we worship a God of beauty and harmony, and to strive toward that beauty and harmony in all areas of life.

I want them to read great literature so they may see how every story is just a part of the only story; so they may learn to discern truth and recognize when God is absent that truth becomes distorted.

There are many other reasons why I love homeschooling, but they are merely "benefits" to the job - extra perks I enjoy such as the freedom to allow my children to spend the day with Daddy when he is off on a week day, the ability to just stay home and not leave the house if I don't want to, the chance to see my children learn to read, the privilege of being the one to introduce them to the books and characters I hold so dear from my childhood, the opportunity to let my children pursue areas of learning which inspire them, the joy of letting my children spend hours outside exploring creation, the chance for them to be with each other and form friendships among themselves, the time to allow the older ones to be a part of the little ones lives as they grow, instead of being off at school all day, the luxury of just deciding to pick up and do something wonderful when the opportunity presents itself, and not be ruled by the school schedule.... I could go on, but then it might start sounding "preachy" - and I promised not to do that :)

So, while I recognize that some day circumstances may require that my children go to school, for now, when they are so young and impressionable, I will treasure the time God gives me with them, and do my best to live up to the job he has called me to do.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Review: Linguistic Development Through Poetry Memorization

I have been looking at this program for a while now, but could not decide if it was really worth it. It seems like the sort of think I could do myself, without buying a "program". Not sure why I finally caved - except I have a curriculum addiction that makes it hard to say no!
First, for anyone who has any doubts about the benefits of memory work, read this article here.
Now that you are convinced :) - go buy this program NOW!
Seriously though, I am very pleased with the purchase. The program consists of a spiral bound booklet with 4 levels of poems and a CD set with the poems recited by the author. Within the booklet is a very thorough discussion of not just why we should have our children memorize, but also why it is important they memorize poetry (good poetry, not that Shel Silverstein cr*p). The author (Andrew Pudewa) points out that in his years of teaching, the one thing children seem to be lacking the most is the ability to write well. He argues that "you can't get something out of a child's brain that isn't there to begin with." We cannot expect our children to write well if their head's are not full of examples of excellent writing. He proposes that poetry is a most effective method for "creating a large database in [the child's] brain of reliably correct and sophisticated language patterns." Poetry is easy to memorize, and full of higher vocabulary they may not be exposed to in every day reading. Poetry is full of imagery, beautiful language and sophisticated sentence structures. Children are going to fill their heads with something, so we can select what goes in, or we can allow them to go into default memorization mode where the brain stores the lyrics to every commercial jingle and pop song they hear (there are some good language patterns for you!).
Examples of poems chosen are At the Seaside (R.L. Stevenson), Trees (Kilmer), The Tiger (Blake) and The Hunting of the Dragon (Chesterton). The selections get longer and more sophisticated as you proceed through the levels, but there are plenty of simple and appealing poems in the early level that even Kindergartners can join in on the fun (the Queen has already memorized the first two poems with her brother and sister).
The only drawbacks I can see to this program are 1)cost ($65) and 2) the author's voice. Reason 2 is what made me hesitate for so long, as I have heard others complain that his voice is not what they expected and some found it too high-pitched. I would suggest you go watch this YouT*be video to see for yourself, but I found that it really was an overblown issue, and it has not bothered the kids at all. Reason 1 caused me to pause and consider only buying the book ($24), but I am so grateful I did not. It is well worth having all the poems already recorded (rather than me recording them myself), and it is a good chance for the kids to hear someone other than mom teach them! I downloaded the CD's to my i-P*d, and each morning we recite all the poems we are working on. The kids can listen to them when they want to review, and I don't have to do anything! For those with a bit of patience, it is possible to find a used set for cheaper on such boards at WTM. With four levels, I anticipate using this program for the next 3-4 years with the first two kids. The booklet also includes a series of charts to help you establish a pattern of reviewing the poems and to help each child track the poems they have memorized. In all, I think it is an excellent tool, and is quickly becoming a favorite activity in our household.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Preschool Ideas

I am not a big one for "planning" preschool themes, but Jen has inspired me, so I have decided to at least do a few things around a topic each month. I like the idea of having seasonal topics that relate well for science, so we are going to start with apples. The older ones will be included with some higher level books and drawing assignments in their nature notebooks. Here is what I am planning for September.

Christian Studies:
The Boy, A Kitchen, and His Cave
icon of St. Euphrosynos
Three in One: A Picture of God

Language Arts:
letter "a"
Flower Fairies Alphabet Coloring Book

counting apples
numbers 1-3
whole and half
Apple Fractions for older ones

growth cycle of apples
kinds of apples
where apples grow
apple blossoms
5 senses
How Do Apples Grow - good reader for little princess
Apples - higher level science for older ones

Geography, History, Literature:
How to Make an Apple Pie and See the World
Johnny Appleseed
The Apple & the Arrow - for olders
The Three Golden Apples - Hawthorne version Greek myth

color and fruit vocabulary
"me gusta" phrase usage

apple prints with apples
shading lessons for older ones

visit apple orchard (we actually just did this last week)
pick apples from our own apple trees
make apple pie & applesauce from our apples (maybe even apple ice cream?)
apple recipes to explore
here is another tasty sounding recipe - for apple bread

Well, I am sure I have missed some great ideas, so if you have any suggestions, hit me with them! And thanks Jen for motivating me! I am glad I finally decided to go with Amazon Prime - I can procrastinate on planning, find a great idea from someone else, and get the books here in just a few days :)

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Our School Plans - Revisited and Revised

We have had a slow start - but we are finally officially back to school! I wanted to repost our plans for the school year, since I have greatly revamped them after some soul searching conversations with a few homeschool friends whose opinions I hold in high regard :) The major change is, I am going back to keeping them both in the same history period. This is a little bit of a let down since I spent a good many hours creating a fun and exciting plan to study Ancients with the little princess - but oh well, I guess that can wait a year or so and then I will have it ready to go when we need it! I will post that plan next week for anyone who might find it useful. Ultimately, I do not think it is practical for me to try to keep up with so many history periods, especially when the other two reach school age. So here is a look at my revised school year.

2nd grader
Christian Studies:
Old Testament Children's Bible Reader (she will read these aloud to me or her little sisters)
various children's lives of the saints books
Let the Little Children Come to Me

Math on the Level - we are just beginning with this, and I am really liking it, so hopefully things will go smoothly, even though it does require more work from me.

English Studies
Yesterday's Classics - First and Second Readers - she is loving these
Explode the Code - book 4 and maybe 5 depending on her pace
The Sentence Family - I am teaching this at a once a month co-op - the first lesson went great and I think the kids will really enjoy it
Copywork - poems for poetry book
I have decided NOT to continue with SWR with her - instead we will focus on ETC and when she is ready move into Spelling Wisdom for copywork and spelling practice.

Colonization and American Revolution - books to be posted later :)

4th grader
Christian Studies
Golden Children's Bible
Memoria Press Christian Studies I
Forty Saints - lives of saints, memory verses and copywork included in this

Math on the Level - and Singapore if needed

Lively Latin

English Studies
Classical Writing - Aesop - we played around with this last year, but I finally feel ready to teach it properly so hopefully we will get through it early
The Sentence Family - with the co-op

Colonization to the American Revolution - Time Travelers series - these are so much fun!

My favorite purchase for this year so far is Developing Linguistic Patterns through Poetry Memorization (fancy name for a poetry memorization program :) I will post a review on this next - but suffice it to say, it is a big hit in our house right now.

I am in the process of selecting our artists and composers for the year, I will post those when I have decided for sure. We are learning art technique at our co-op using Visual Manna as the core, and I will continue doing Atelier with the kids and my nieces & nephew.

Also, a note about science. We are currently reading Among the Pond People, and for now I am going to stick with that. As the seasons change we will be doing some tree studies, and in the spring focus on plants and butterflies, but for now I am just enjoying reading aloud the stories and letting the kids illustrate them. We have also become more consistent with our nature notebooks and nature walks.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Friday, August 29, 2008

Need Opinions Please!

I have been planning to put some clothing I made online to sell. My delay has been I have been hesitant to commit to a name for the line. I want to get some input from those of you reading this blog. The clothing will include a line of pillowcase dresses made from vintage pillowcases, sweet little baby gowns also made from pillowcases, and the occasional appliqued dress or onsie. My idea was to call the line "Four Little Bunnies" after my four little kiddos - then call the different styles things like "Vintage Bunny by four little bunnies" or "Snuggle Bunny by four little bunnies". Mostly this is because I cannot commit to any one name (my choices have been snuggle bunnies, the vintage bunny, the carrot patch, four little bunnies). So, what do you all think? And, how would you spell "four little bunnies"? I thought about a play on the word four - using "for" as in "made for" little bunnies - or would you use the numeral 4 - or just stick with the word four? any opinions would be greatly appreciated, I would like to go ahead and register the site this week!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Our school room

I finally got it clean enough to take pictures :) We start school next week, so I have been in "get ready" mode all week. I must say, I love my house! We have been so very blessed with this home, it is as if it was made for me. After moving every four years, home number four is one I hope to stay in for quite some time. Our school area is what used to be an in-law suite, so I was able to devote two whole rooms to school without interfering with other areas of the house.

Here is the room as you enter from the hallway. We spend lots of time on the futon reading, and I love the easy access to the outside. The queen (4) can go out and play with water toys or other outdoor things, and still be right where I can see her. Under the table I store some of our math manipulatives and a box of the queen's "games," activity bags that are just for school time.

Here is the view from the opposite end of the room. The door leads into the office where the computer and my sewing desk are located (the castle on the table was a project crocodile hunter did for the middle ages). The deer is courtesy of my hunter husband (hey, in our other house it hung over the bed for a year, so this is not so bad, trust me!).

This is where we start our school day, at our prayer altar. I keep a book of icons and a Bible and a prayer book on top of the altar. The icons have mostly been selected by the kids, St. Theophan of course, as he is the patron saint of our school, and St. Seraphim of Sarov, and St. George. The bottom row is a series of creation icons. The bowl with the candle was a project the princess and I did as a treat. She decided we needed a place to put candles in sand, just like at church, so we went to one of those paint your own pottery places and she made this bowl for our school altar. The shelf contains the majority of our books for the school year and our notebooks. The baskets on either side contain fun books on our science and history themes.

Here is our picture study spot. I rotate the works of art every few weeks, and keep books that have to do with the time period or artist we are studying.

Here is a great shelf I bought at Mich*el's (a great buy with a 40% off coupon!). It has math books on tops, and then various things for the queen to use during school hours.

This is our meeting area for much of our morning work. We have calendar time, recitation and new memory work here. The shelf contains art books and supplies that they can use at the table.

Here is the view from the table area into the rest of the kitchen. Have I mentioned this is my dream house? This is NOT my main kitchen, but a secondary kitchen. This house has a large kitchen on the main level, then this smaller one which was set up for an in-law suite. These areas have become our schoolroom. It is wonderful to have access to a sink, and lots of counter space without dealing with dishes etc. And most of those cabinets are full of school books, art and craft supplies, and other school goodies (a few do have my cake decorating supplies, but each school year I inch a few more cake supplies out and a few more school supplies in :)

This is the little princess' desk. The basket to the right contains all of the books she needs to access every day (Explode the Code, her readers, her main history book etc) and her notebook.

This is the crocodile hunters desk, again with his main books in the basket next to him. The blue boxes on the hearth contain knitting supplies and a set of wooden figures for biblical stories.

Finally, here is a closer look at my low shelf. I love the window in this room, and in planning the curtains and shelving, my main concern was to not block the view or the light. So I found these nifty stackable shelves at T*rget and they are just the right height. The window sills are just below the top of the shelves! In these shelves we have our math manipulatives, some educational games, flashcards, globe and map puzzles and a basket with nature books. The show box on top is full of nature finds - a birds nest, a molted snake skin - all the wonderful treasures little boys love to find and bring home! Finally, the black storage boxes on the left (from Office M*x - I love the look of these boxes) hold each child's specific flashcards.