Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Just Do It

No, I am not trying to get Tiger's lost endorsements. Just been thinking a lot lately about "getting things done." Seems this time of year is one where people start thinking about the things they have not accomplished, the things they hope to accomplish in the new year, the things they never seem to get to. I know I do. I look around at the unfinished projects, the missed opportunities, the things I never got around to doing. Is that you? Do you wonder why you can't ever get anything done? Do you feel like there are so many things you want to do, but you "just don't have the time" ? Often people ask me how I do the things I do. I am never quite sure how to answer that question, I just do them. I see this question asked of many people, and I have even found myself asking it of others when they seem to be accomplishing so much more than myself. In the past year I have read several books that seem to hit this issue, and here are some of the bits of advice I have found to be helpful for when I feel frustrated about not being able to "get it all done". First, don't be concerned with what another is doing. Do that which God sets before you. Second, do the important things first, or as Covey puts it "Put first things first". Don't fret over the time, don't wish you had more - we all have the same amount, it is all about how we use it. "There is never enough time to do everything, but there is always enough time to do the important" (Coniaris p17). We can spend an hour watching TV, surfing the internet or reading a book (guilty of all three :). Third, look to the moment, be in the present. There are many daily (seemingly bothersome) things to which we must attend. These are not things that get in the way of life, those moments ARE our life. I love the way Kathleen Norris words it. "The often heard lament, 'I have so little time,' gives lie to the delusion that the daily is of little significance" (p 16). The daily chores we do are a part of the life we have been given. Their purpose is to provide us with that which we need to regain the true image of Christ within us. We are to take those moments and transform them into moments that glorify God, that He might transform us through them. Finally, JUST DO IT. There are so many lost hours in each day; hours we spend procrastinating, talking about what needs to be done, thinking about what we should be doing, planning what we should do. Now, I am all for planning :). I think lists are a helpful way to keep you on track. I love my notebooks, they give me a sense of direction. But, if I find I am spending more time planning or organizing than doing, I have failed as strongly as if I had done nothing. If it is important, stop and JUST DO IT. If it is important to hold your baby, stop what you are doing and JUST DO IT. If it is important to spend time with your spouse or children, stop what you are doing and JUST DO IT. If it is important to talk to or do something for someone in need, stop what you are doing and JUST DO IT. If it is important to pray, stop whatever you are doing and JUST DO IT.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Want to see what I got for Christmas?

a gift from the queen's godfather (I think he got tired of me always asking him so many liturgical questions :)

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Theophany and the Winter Menu

okay, I admit, I actually counted the number of non-fasting days between now and the start of Lent. 35. Thirty-five days to fit in all the family favorites my kids have been clamoring for me to cook. I like to have a fairly fixed menu during fasts, but in other seasons, I prefer to keep my meal planning a little more flexible. That said, I hate to have a lot of meat sitting around as Lent approaches, or spend a lot of time coming up with dinner ideas. So, last week I did a brainstorm session and created a list of favorite dishes (and a few just plain easy ones :). I came up with a list of 20 meals. Then I took my recipes and created 2 grocery lists. One listed all the meat necessary for these dishes. The other had all of the non-perishables. After checking my freezer and pantry to mark off any items already here, I went to S*m's and got my meat, and hit the grocery store for the rest. I spent a few hours last week preparing the dishes that could be made ahead and frozen, which means I now have about 12 meals in the freezer (now that's a good feeling!). I can now take my menu planning a week at a time. I know the dishes I will serve over the next month and a half, but each week I will look at the calendar, take into account the things going on that week, and plan our meals. A much simpler grocery list can then be made, containing mostly perishable foods. There are a few other dishes I would like to add to this list - I still have way too many butternut squash in my kitchen, so I will probably add a few other dishes here and there, but for now, here is my list. Not all the recipes are linked yet, but will be added over the next week.
beef chimichangas
venison chili
baked ziti

honey apple pork chops
honey vanilla pork tenderloin
pork chops with apricot glaze

chicken pot pie
Annie’s Chicken Casserole
Chicken quesadillas
Schoolhouse Chicken Soup
BBQ Crock Pot Chicken
Pasta Carbonara
Pot Roast
Marinated Venison Steak
Beef Fajitas
Venison Stew
Honey Mustard Salmon
Fried Tilapia

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Nick Lodge's Bread Pudding

I began cake decorating when I was 8, when my best friend and I entered a school contest for a school spirit decorated cake. Our cake won, and that started it all. When I was 12 I decorated my brother's birthday cake, which led my mom to decide I should attend a Wilton Cake Decorating class. She went along just to make sure they took me seriously (I mean, I was 12 :). After that I began making cakes for friends and family (sold my first cake for $10 - a $5 profit :). Over the years I bought books and learned as many new techniques as I could. When I was 19 I made my first wedding cake, and began looking more seriously at improving my skills. I was published in American Cake Decorating Magazine several times (even made the cover of this issue), and worked with several caterers in my area providing cakes for weddings. I played around with gumpaste, but lacked the techniques and understanding of the medium to go much further. Then, when I was 23, my parents gave me the amazing birthday gift of a trip to the International Sugar Art School in Atlanta run by master decorator Nicholas Lodge. What an amazing time! I have since taken several classes under Nick, and while I don't do a lot of decorating these days, the experience was priceless. One of the wonderful things about class is the atmosphere. It is a fun, friendly space, and he is a wonderful teacher. Each day, the students look forward to what is advertised in the brochure as "a light lunch". His business partner Scott cooks while the students work, and the smells often carry over into the workroom. During my visits there I enjoyed some amazing food - and at the top of that list was a simple bread pudding recipe ("light lunch" huh :). He graciously shared the recipe with us, and while I have not made it very often, this year I decided to pull it out. My kids had bread pudding at Mt. Vernon in October and loved it, so I am thinking it would be a wonderful treat for Christmas week.

Monday, December 21, 2009

52 Books

Well, unless I do nothing but read for the next two weeks, I won't quite make the 52 book mark, but wow, I am feeling like I far from failed! I used to read constantly, several books a week. In the past 5 years that has changed so much that I doubt I have even read 52 books in 5 years. So, while I don't expect to hit the mark, having a goal was very motivating - and while I would not recommend all of the books I read this year (a few were rather disappointing), I gained so much from a number of them. My top picks for the year have to be: for some serious reading - Genesis, Creation and Early Man (Fr. Seraphim Rose has such a way of writing that is so simple and straightforward, considering the many heavy topics he wrote on during his life time!). For fun reading: Hitchhiker's Guide - now, I have read these before, back in highschool, but they were so much more fun to read this time around. Warning: I have a twisted sense of humor - groomed by my father who raised me on a steady diet of British humor and sci fi (Dr. Who, Monty Python, Keeping Up Appearances, Fawlty Towers), so take that into consideration in my recommendation. For parents - I loved Better Late Than Early and Weapons of Mass Instruction, and finally, for personal improvement - Seven Habits. So, those were some of my favorites, I would love to hear what your favorite read of the year has been.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Crocodile Hunter Earned His Blue Belt on Saturday!

St. Barbara's Day Bonfire

A few weeks late, but here are a few photos from this year's St. Barbara's Day celebration. We combined it with our Keepers and Contenders meeting, since we scheduled a lesson for fire safety this December. The kids went to the fire station on Thursday, then on Friday the kids learned how to start a bonfire.

And after enjoying bowls of veggie chili, a reading of the life of St. Barbara, and some s'mores, the kids went through 150 sparklers (I am not exaggerating - though these photos don't show it, there were over 40 kids running around my yard)

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Christmas Morning

After a bit of rest (one thing I give my kids credit for - they will usually sleep in until 8 after a late night liturgy!), time to begin the feasting again. We are blessed to have both sets of grandparents living in town, and we alternate each year where we spend Christmas day. When it is my mother's turn, we head to their house for eggs benedict - the traditional breakfast of Christmas morning since I was a baby :) This year it is the in laws turn, so we will be having a late lunch with them, which leaves breakfast in my hands. So, how do I begin Christmas morning? With a mimosa, of course :)
Followed by those wonderful soft boiled eggs and toast, and my personal favorite, bacon!

Finally, we will be serving cheesecake pancakes (another fabulous Cuisine at Home recipe!) which are a breakfast tradition in this house - served on non-fasting mornings when Daddy is off. The kids have been looking forward to these for weeks, because no matter how you slice it, a vegan pancake is still a vegan pancake!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Soft Boiled Eggs and Divine Love

As mentioned in the previous post, I have been working on our family Christmas menu. After a late night, and lots of goodies, Christmas morning is a simpler affair. For the past few years I have made a breakfast "strudel", a puff pastry filled with ham, eggs, hash browns, onion, green pepper and Parmesan cheese. It is a favorite recipe from Cuisine at Home, and I like it because it can be made ahead. However, my kids are making some new requests this year, so the morning menu has gone through a bit of tweaking. For starters, my kids love soft-boiled eggs and "soldiers". Now, before I go any further, I need to explain a bit of my culinary heritage. My grandmother was Scottish by birth and raised in England. My grandfather was the son of a Lebanese immigrant, stationed in Blackpool, England during World War II. The end result, my mother was born in England, and at the age of two traveled to the US with my grandmother on the Queen Mary along with many other war brides brought back by President Truman. I remember my grandmother telling me stories about how my grandaddy got in good with her family by bringing them extra sugar rations (he was a cook). And as a British immigrant, after 50 years of living in America, you didn't dare insult my grandma by suggesting there was still a hint of a British accent. So, I have a nice mix of middle-eastern and English cooking that has made its way into my life. This is the reason that tabbouleh is a traditional Thanksgiving dish in my home, old fashioned chicken rice soup should always have a dash of cinnamon, and Cornish meat pasties were a childhood favorite. It is also the reason I have a deep fondness for soft-boiled eggs. There is something very English about soft-boiled eggs; the little egg cups, the timer, the tap,tap,tap as you carefully "knock off the head", the golden yellow yolk as it spills out the sides when a piece of toast is plunged deep into the egg, and the final scrape of the spoon inside the egg, hard enough to get every last bit of white out, but not so hard as to break the eggshell. I spent years trying to find proper egg cups, and have now managed to put together a respectable collection. The best part of soft-boiled eggs though was the toast. Proper English toast must be toasted, lightly buttered, then sliced into thin strips, ready for dipping into that yummy egg yolk. It is a treat that was saved for an overnight visit to Grandma's house, and it was a treat that defies explanation. So, it is with great joy that I watch my children, two of whom never got the chance to meet my Grandmother, as they enjoy this experience; to relive those moments through them as they tap, tap, tap on their egg, as they smile with delight dipping those strips of toast into the yolk, and as they scrape out that last bit of white. Funny how food has such an emotional tie for us, and yet, it makes perfect sense. After all, the first sin was choosing food over God, and God in His wisdom has provided us with ultimate communion with Him through food. Metropolitan Anthony Bloom in his book Beginning to Pray states that all food is divine love made edible. There is something very meaningful about a meal made with love, and the importance of those little traditions that we so often don't even recognize as traditions. I did not start this post with the intention of ending it this way, it was supposed to be a practical post with recipes and a little bit about me. Instead, it has become a story I am happy to share, because in sharing it helps me remember, even that which seems so mundane, the boiling of an egg, can make a lifelong impact if done with love. Guess I will save the recipes for the next post.

Christmas Cooking

This week it is time to start planning for the feast of the Nativity. While the preparations are far less involved than those for Pascha, there are still menus to be planned, grocery lists to be written, and shopping to do. The Nativity liturgy in our church is celebrated at around 10pm, which means we usually arrive home after midnight. There are many special traditions we have that go along with this evening, starting with the arrival home. The kids go check the Nativity set, to see the arrival of baby Jesus. We then move to the tree, where they each open one present, a set of special Christmas pajamas (so mommy can enjoy color coordinated photos on Christmas morning :). Then after everyone has donned their new Christmas pajamas, we move to the kitchen. The table has been set, and the feasting begins. Over the years we have slowly found our favorite snacks (that mommy can make ahead and reheat easily :) for this breaking of the fast, and every year my kids look forward to the same special treats. So, here are the recipes that have made the cut over the years.

boiled custard - this recipe comes from my Dad's mother, and has been a family tradition for as long as I can remember. My kids enjoy it served cold in a tea cup with a candy cane for dipping!
mmm, sausage puff pastry, quick to reheat, and so good!

cheesy phyllo triangles, again, pop in the oven for a few minutes and enjoy!

and the ultimate treat - one I only cook for Cheesefare, Pascha, Thanksgiving and Christmas -sweet cream cheese stuffed dessert crepes, served with homemade hot fudge and whipping cream

Stay tuned for the rest, Christmas morning breakfast!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Letters of Grace update

Wow, so much planning, so little time! We have been working hard to smooth out the rough edges of the Letters of Grace curriculum, and as with any curriculum, tweaking is required. Mary has spent the past two weeks test driving the curriculum (yes, I am jealous, yes we would like to be working on it too, but no way is that happening before the New Year! :) The results, lots of fun, and some changes. So, check out what Katherine has to say to see some of the improvements to our plans, as we try to make this a very practical and parent friendly program. And no, we are not trying to torture you with sneak peeks, it is just our desire to share our excitement as we work, and the wish to have many of you out there praying and supporting us in our efforts. It can be hard to stay motivated with such a large project, having so many of you express excitement spurs us on each day to continue to make this the best curriculum possible!!! So, thank you for your prayers, thank you for your support, and have patience with us as we get things ready to share with all of you!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Fun with Letters of Grace

Want to peek at the Letters of Grace curriculum in action? Go see what fun Mary's kids had last week with the letter A. We will be starting in a few weeks, and look forward to sharing our own pictures as this curriculum becomes fully fleshed out.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Face of a Martyr

MOSCOW — The Rev. Daniil Sysoyev, a priest in the Russian Orthodox Church who was known for promoting missionary work among Muslims, was shot and killed in his parish church ...
A letter from his wife:
May God Dear brothers and sisters, thank you for your support and prayers. This is the pain which cannot be expressed in words. This is the pain experienced by those who stood at the Cross of the Saviour. This is the joy which cannot be expressed in words, this is the joy experienced by those who came to the empty Tomb.
O death, where is thy sting?
Fr Daniel had already foreseen his death several years before it happened. He had always wanted to be worthy of a martyr's crown. Those who shot him wanted, as usual, to spit in the face of the Church, as once before they spat in the face of Christ. They have not achieved their goal, because it is impossible to spit in the face of the Church. Fr Daniel went up to his Golgotha in the very church which he had built, the church to which he gave up all his time and all his strength. They killed him like the prophet of old – between the temple and the altar and he was indeed found worthy of a martyr's calling. He died for Christ, Whom he served with all his strength.Very often he would say to me that he was frightened of not having enough time, time to do everything. He was in a hurry. Sometimes, as a human-being he exaggerated, he got things wrong, he tripped up and made mistakes, but he made no mistake about the main thing, his life was entirely dedicated to HIM.I did not understand why he was in a hurry. The last three years he was busy serving, never taking days off or taking holidays. I moaned, just now and again I wanted simple happiness, that my husband and my children's father would be with my children and me. But another path had been prepared for him.He used to say that they would kill him. I would ask him who would look after us. Me and the three children. He would answer that he would put us in safe hands. ‘I‘ll give you to the Mother of God. She'll take care of you'.These words were forgotten too soon. He told us which vestments to bury him in. Then I joked that there was no need to speak about that, we still did not know who would bury who. He said that I would bury him. Once our conversation turned to funerals, I don't remember the details but I did say that I had never been to a priest's funeral. And he answered that it did not matter because I would be at his funeral.Now I remember many words which have gained a meaning. Now my doubts have dissolved, the misunderstandings have gone.We did not say goodbye in this life, we did not ask each other forgiveness, we did not embrace one another. It was just another day: in the morning he went to the liturgy and I did not see him again. Why didn't I go to the church that day to meet him? I had thought of it, but I decided I had better get the evening meal ready and put the children to bed. It was because of the children that I did not go there. There was a hand that did not let me go. But the evening before I had gone to the church and met him. I had felt as if dark clouds were gathering over us. And in the last few days I had tried to spend more time with him. Over the last week I had thought only about death and about life after death. I couldn't get my head around either the first or the second. That day my head was spinning with the words: ‘Death is standing right behind you'. The last week everything was so hard, as if a huge load had been emptied out on top of me.I am not broken. He is supporting me, I feel as if he is standing by me. Then we said so many affectionate words, which we had never said to each other in our whole life before. Only now do I understand how much we loved each other.The memorial service for the forty days of Fr Daniel takes place on the eve of his namesday and the patronal feast of the future church, 29 December, and 30 December is the feast of the holy prophet Daniel. According to the prophecy of an elder, the church would be built but Fr Daniel would not serve in it. The second part of the prophecy has already been fulfilled.

Matushka Julia Sysoieva (Translated by Fr. Andrew Phillips)

Monday, December 7, 2009

Commentary on America

Need I say more?

Book Give Away

Hop over to evlogia before Dec 10th and leave a comment to be entered into our first book give away for the Letters of Grace curriculum!
Please use the link to our Amazon store for your purchasing, which results in Amazon credit we will be using to continue to offer book giveaways in the future!

Sunday, December 6, 2009

The Woman and the Wheat

Written by Jane Meyer, author of The Man and the Vine and The Life of St. Brigid, Abbess of Kildare, this books follows the journey of the prosphora bread from wheat berry to Eucharist. Written in the same lyrical style as The Man and the Vine, this book will make you want to run through a field of wheat singing hymns to God! Her words have such a beautiful rhythm, and Ned Gannon's illustrations are so warm and rich, it is a book that you will not tire of reading to your children over and over again. Here is a taste of the beautiful picture Meyer paints with her words:

With the Amen said, the heavens
swooshed to earth and a sweet, sweet
voice rang true. And the angels flew
and the saints sang too,
and the holy bells rang and a holy wind
rushed through the room.
Then the woman of the wheat came
near to the cup and she bowed her head
down low. She opened wide and the love
filled her mouth and she thought of the
wheat, and she thought of the love. She
kissed the cup and she prayed a prayer,
and the joy grew loud in her soul.
And the joy grew loud in her soul.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Hh is for History

Because the systematic introduction to the seventy phonograms of the English language is likely to take more than one year to master, we have extended the third level of the curriculum by incorporating three separate cycles of history and geography topics. While we shy away from assigning grade levels to the learning levels of Letters of Grace, the skill levels mastered in the third level of the curriculum roughly correspond to second, third and fourth grade. Of course, this is not to say that a precocious six-year old could not be placed in Level Three or that an eleven or twelve-year old struggling with spelling wouldn't benefit from the extensive study of the written sounds. But regardless of the age a parent elects to assign for each of the curriculum levels, we were careful to offer an abundance of subject matter to pique a child's interest for many years.

The first cycle of Level Three history is focused on the study of the United States. Letter-themed topics offer the child a weekly introduction to key historic figures and events. Cc is for Christopher Columbus, Rr is for Revere's Ride and Zz is for Ground Zero are examples of the themes the child will encounter each week. A beautifully written and illustrated children's book on the topic has been selected for each week of learning, along with ideas in the Learning Notes section for narrations and creating notebook pages.

The second and third cycles of Level Three thoroughly cover the geography of the United States. State by state, in chronological order of its admittance to the Union, the geography and history of each is studied through the Sleeping Bear Press state books. The authors of these widely-available and beautifully illustrated picture books offer a child an alphabetical tour through each of the fifty states as well as our nation's capital. Covering historical figures and events, geographical landmarks and the unique culture of each state, the books are written with two tiers of information. A younger sibling interested in sitting for a read-aloud will enjoy the simple rhyming prose, while the older child will be engaged by the in-depth information on the sidebars of the text. The Letters of Grace Learning Notes will include ideas for narration, notebook pages and a printable state fact sheet for the child to fill in after reading each book.

Ll is for Language is the next stop on our tour. We're happy to answer any questions in the Q&A post scheduled for the end of the Letters of Grace tour, so feel free to leave them in the comment box or send them via email.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Dd is for Discovery

We end our week of learning with a focus on science and nature. In Letters of Grace we have included three levels of discovery activities tied into the letter theme of each week. By the time a child has cycled through the three levels of Letters of Grace, seventy-eight different science-themed topics will have been encountered. Sprouting beans into plants, observing ants by setting up a feeding station, learning about states of matter by melting broken crayons into crayon cookies or using your backyard to measure just how big a dinosaur really is. By using materials that are familiar to the child, the goal is to spark the child's interest in the natural world.

We were careful to choose activities that are both age-approrpriate and realistic for use in the home. Simple household supplies and your backyard are the required resources for most of the activities. For those odds and ends that need to be located? All items have been listed by category on the weekly supply list.

Along with the discovery activity, a related book has been assigned for each week. The titles are included in the weekly reading list. With your reading list, supply list and activity page tucked neatly inside your planning notebook, you and your child are ready to discover.

The next stop of the Letters of Grace curriculum tour is Hh is for History.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Aa is for Art

In the letters-of-grace the focus of the third day of learning is art. Whether leading the child towards that which is beautiful or directing the child through the steps of an art project, the goal of this day is to inspire creativity.
We begin the day with picture study centered around the development of virtue and the formation of habit. We have chosen for each week a famous work of art and connected the subject matter of the painting to a corresponding lesson in virtue or habit. Aa is for Attention, Bb is for Bravery, Cc is for Compassion are just the first examples of the topics covered in this aspect of the curriculum. The art work has been beautifully formatted in a printable version and will be available on the website along with the other printable resources for each week of plans. By simply rotating the art work each week on the family's refrigerator or a bulletin board, the young child will be exposed to a variety of famous art along with a constant reminder and opportunity for the formation of the will

The joy of creating with one's hands is another focus of day three. In Letters of Grace you will find three levels of creative projects, appropriate for each of the three levels of learning. We were careful to select art activities that use accessible supplies and can be produced easily by the child. The supplies for each week are listed on the printable weekly supply list along with any other supplies necessary for the week. The third level of Letters of Grace transitions from art projects to handcrafts. Resources for learning the creative hand skill of your child's choice will be included in the resources pages.

Dd is for Discovery is the next stop on the Letters of Grace tour. Please leave any questions in the comment box or send them via email. They will be answered in a single post after the tour is completed. The tour now has it's own page and is archived under the title Letters of Grace on the left side bar under Learning Through the Year of Grace. We are spending a great amount of time creating the resources for the curriculum, building and designing the website, organizing the Amazon bookstore and creating the message board. Please pray for us as we continue to add content to the new website and work on its design. We are so excited to share it with you.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Washington DC

I finally got around to getting the DC pix onto the computer, so here is a look at a few of the highlights (there were too many to name, we did some amazing things in just 4 days!)

We all shared a bowl of the famous peanut chesnut soup at Mt. Vernon, the crocodile hunter said it looked like bat barf - but everyone thought it tasted great!

Peeking out the windows of the Washington Monument, I always wanted to go to the top as a kid!

The fountains at the World War II Memorial - it was beautiful!

My personal favorite - the National Gallery of Art - we spent 5 hours there, and it was amazing to see in person so many works of art we have studied!

The little princess parked herself in front of Monet's Water Lilies - and sketched her own version in colored pencil. Here she is on the phone, telling Grandma what painting she is looking at - it is Grandma's favorite!

For some reason, riding the bus was a highlight - the girls loved getting on and off - and always wanted to sit in the back.

And of course, the subway - a new experience for these country kids :)

Monday, November 23, 2009

Thank God

"Because we honor justice and the common good, we will not comply with any edict that purports to compel our institutions to participate in abortions, embryo-destructive research, assisted suicide and euthanasia, or any other anti-life act; nor will we bend to any rule purporting to force us to bless immoral sexual partnerships, treat them as marriages or the equivalent, or refrain from proclaiming the truth, as we know it, about morality and immorality and marriage and the family. We will fully and ungrudgingly render to Caesar what is Caesar’s. But under no circumstances will we render to Caesar what is God’s."

Thank God someone in the church is finally willing to stand up and say that what is happening is wrong! Thank you, Bishop Basil, and may others hear your voice and stand up beside you.

If you want to stand up and make your voice heard - sign the Manhattan Declaration here.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Cc is for Cooking

Breaking bread. Taking the raw ingredients of God's good creation, using our gifts to create something greater than the individual parts, and sharing that creation to nourish our loved ones. Such is the gift of the family meal. In designing an early childhood curriculum centered on the life of the family, we made sure to incorporate those aspects of family life that serve to bind us together.
In the previous post we toured the first day of learning which begins the week with an emphasis on our Orthodox Faith. On the second day we turn our focus to the family table. Welcoming a young child's help in the kitchen benefits the child in many ways. Reading a recipe serves as a lesson in following directions. Abstract mathematical concepts become concrete when measuring ingredients. Motor skills mature through the tactile nature of food preparation. But most importantly, relationships are nourished.
In Letters of Grace you will find two letter-themed recipes selected for each weekly plan. In designing an Orthodox curriculum we could not ignore the fasting and festal seasons which affect every detail of our daily life, even down to the family menu. We wanted to avoid the situation in which a family would feel compelled to schedule the plans according to the liturgical year, avoiding using the plans during the four major fasting seasons. For this reason we opted to include a choice of two appropriate recipes for each lesson. In each week of plans you will find both a festal and fasting recipe, clearly explained and beautifully presented. The recipes have been formatted for download and printing and are intended to be added to the planning notebook.
Child-friendly, simple and delicious are the goals of every recipe. We have chosen main dish, snack and dessert recipes that are simple enough for a child to assist in its preparation. We hope these recipes will become family favorites and inspire culinary creativity in the children who participate in their preparation.
Please feel free to leave questions in the comment box or send them via email. Next stop on the Letters of Grace tour? Aa is for Art.

Tea Party for the Theotokos

The annual tea party for the Presentation of the Theotokos. Every year, all the little girls (ages 2-12) in our parish gather for a tea party in honor of the Theotokos. This year, 30 young ladies wearing their finest dined on muffins, jelly sandwiches and fruit, and "tea" poured by Father himself. Each girl brings a candle and takes part in a very special procession in the church, in memory of the girls who processed before the precious Mary at age three, as she made her way to the temple, to become the living Holy of Holies, the one human chosen to fully and physically contain God within her.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Ss is for Saint

Aa is for Andrew

The first day of the undated, weekly lesson plan begins with the theme Ss is for Saint. An Orthodox curriculum by necessity must be centered on our Faith and each week begins with the story of a saint whose name begins with the letter of the week. Careful attention was given to the selection of the saints for this curriculum. We could not ignore the need for a systematic introduction to phonics and for this reason, avoided long vowels and soft or blended consonant sounds in choosing the name of the saint for each week.
The lesson begins with the introduction of the letter of the week through original art work. Inspired by the illustrations found in Waldorf alphabet books such as Schrager's LMNOP and All the Letters from A to Z and Zonneveld's The Waldorf Alphabet Book, we have taken the concept of letter art and given it a Byzantine twist. The art will be available as a PDF and can either be viewed on the screen or printed for the child's learning notebook. A black line drawing of the weekly alphabet art will be available for the child to color and keep in the notebook as well.
After the saint and letter of the week are introduced, an Orthodox children's book on the life of the saint is scheduled to be read. These books will more than likely be the only book selections that are not readily available from the public library. We hope that the slow addition of Orthodox literature in the home library will give families a larger variety of books to read when using the resource Reading Through the Year of Grace.
Once our spiritual reading is finished, we will move on to phonics instruction. With three levels in mind, we have made every attempt to cover the many stages of development. At this point we are in the process of creating pre-writing sheets for the younger sibling who is interesting in following along, but not quite ready to begin formal learning. The goal is fine motor skill practice for the aspiring writer.
The first level of Letters of Grace assumes a child's initial introduction to the formation of letters. While short vowel and hard consonant sounds will be briefly introduced throughout the week, letter recognition and basic formation are the primary goals of Level One. Within the first level, you will find two sub-levels of letter formation instruction from which to choose. Both will be available for download and printing. As the pages are available as a PDF, the child will be offered an unlimited opportunity for practice.
The introductory series, My First Letters, was created for the child who is relatively new to working on fine motor writing skills and needs a large letter for formation practice. Both the lower and upper case letter of the week will be available for unlimited download and printing.

Some children will begin Level One with previous letter formation experience and the second sub-level of handwriting instruction was designed for the young child who needs further practice in formation. The model letters offer guided arrow instruction in letter formation and assure that the child is writing them properly.

The child working in Level One will benefit from two sets of Montessori-inspired three-part cards. The first set uses the Letters of Grace original artwork, while the second set offers an opportunity for the child to gain familiarity with the icon of each saint. These cards can be used in future years as well.

For the child working in the second level of Letters of Grace, you will find more opportunity for letter formation practice, along with an introduction to writing words. A second level of phonics is introduced in this level as long vowel sounds will be taught along side the introductory short vowels. Companion reading lessons using the Bob Books series along with additional spelling practice and introductory copywork sheets created for Letters of Grace will be introduced in a future post.

The third level of our curriculum includes an alphabetical introduction of the 70 phonograms. Having the opportunity to be slowly and gently familiarized with all of the sounds of the English language, we have used Orthodox vocabulary to present advanced phonics. Flashcards will be available for download along with ideas for using them. The copywork sentences make up a child's first Orthodox dictionary, as the model sentences define the Orthodox vocabulary used in the phonogram lessons. (More advanced reading lessons and custom spelling and copywork sheets using the I Can Read series, along with an introduction to basic grammar using Father Deacon James Hughes' The Sentence Family will be discussed in a future post.)

As we mentioned in the planning post, please feel free to leave any questions in the comment box or send them via email. We are collecting them to answer in a post after the Letters of Grace tour is complete. Next stop on the tour? Cc is for Cooking.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Pp is for Planning

When beginning the work of designing a complete curriculum for the early years, Mary, Matushka Emily and I began by taking into consideration the context of family life, the loving atmosphere in which the child will be learning. The balancing act of juggling multiple curriculums can be daunting. Unless a curriculum is designed for the reality of the home environment, in relation to time and focused attention from the parent, the task can prove itself to be frustrating at best and at its worst, impossible.
For this reason we have laid out one cohesive curriculum, purposed to span multiple ages, from a precocious three-year old to a nine-year old in need of additional phonics instruction. Each aspect of Letters of Grace includes three distinct skill levels of learning concentrated on similarly themed subject matter. From simple letter recognition to advanced phonogram study and introductory grammar, the three-tiered approach accommodates a family with many young children as well as the entire early education of one child. Each time a child begins a new year of Letters of Grace, a unique learning experience will be encountered.
We begin each week with a clearly laid out plan. A color-coded, all-in-one page view will be available for download and printing for each week of the plans. No matter the number of children using the curriculum and regardless of the span of their ages, all of the plans for the week are neatly laid out on one sheet.
A page of lesson notes, offering more detailed explanations of the week's lessons, insights and helpful tips will accompany the lesson planning chart. The weekly pages will be completed with a weekly book list organized by suggested reading level and alphabetized by author, along with a weekly supply list. We hope these lists help the teaching parent to gather books and supplies ahead of time, alleviating the need for last minute list-making and frantic scrambling for resources.

All of the planning resources for Letters of Grace will be offered as PDFs. Since we cannot control the availability or longevity of outside web sources, the curriculum does not depend in any way on internet links. For this reason, Letters of Grace is unique. Countless hours have been spent attentively customizing the resources for each week of plans. Every activity, recipe and project has been carefully worded, mother-to-mother, and beautifully presented to be used within the context of a family's daily life.
Step-by-step instructions will be offered for setting up the parent's planning notebook as well as the child's learning notebook. A clearly labeled cover page with original artwork and a table of contents will be available for download and printing. The only thing necessary to purchase will be a 3-ring binder with a clear pocket cover and a set of alphabetical index dividers at your local office supply store. All planning pages and resources will be conveniently filed behind the alphabetical tabs. Once the notebooks are set up with the printed resources, there will be no pressing need to return to the computer to use the plans. With your notebook and library card, you're ready to go.
The next post in this series will begin a guided tour of the planning chart previewed here. We will begin with Ss is for Saint. In the meantime, please feel free to leave any questions in the comment box or send them via email. We plan to collect the questions and answer them in a single post after the tour of Letters of Grace is complete.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Letters of Grace

Introducing a Complete Orthodox Curriculum for the Early Years

Long ago there lived a young boy, about the age of seven, who struggled in learning to read and write. Despite the greatest of efforts, the work of learning letters bore him no fruit. Discouraged by the ridicule of his peers and the disappointment of his parents, with great pain of heart, the young boy retreated into the forest.
As he walked along a heavily wooded path, the sight of an elder praying beneath the massive oaks startled him. As he quietly approached the holy man, the elder turned to the young boy and immediately recognized that he was greatly troubled. Pouring out his pain over his lack of learning, the elder responded by offering him a gift of blessed bread, a sign of God's help, which he carefully pulled from a small pouch.
Take and eat it. This is given to you as a sign of God's grace and for understanding of the Scriptures.
By God's grace, he immediately learned to read and write with ease. All the days of his life, he used his ability to acquire knowledge as a means to acquire the grace of God. This young boy, Bartholomew, grew to be St. Sergius of Radonezh, the 14th century founder of the Holy Trinity-St. Sergius Lavra in Russia and the patron of our curriculum.

Over the next several days we will be sharing a series of posts on our new curriculum, Letters of Grace, a complete curriculum for young children between the ages of three and nine. These plans will constitute the material that will launch our new Learning Through the Year of Grace website, due to make its debut sometime in late spring to early summer. Please don't hesitate to ask questions.
The end of this project is in sight. It has been a labor of love. Beginning in January, our three families (Mary's, Emily's, and ours) will be giving it a trial run, testing the details of the plans with the tool of real life. Our goal is to offer a fully tested curriculum, intuitively organized and easily understood by the teaching parent and thoroughly enjoyable for the child and family. We hope you enjoy this tour of the work of our hands and ask that you pray for us as we work to contribute more towards Orthodox curriculum. And of course, all of the plans and printable resources will be available online free of charge.