The Lenten wreath went up this afternoon, and putting away Christmas decorations now. The bitter cold and snow made it hard to part with the tree throughout the month, so I left it up extra long this year. But Lent has come, so it’s definitely time.
Several times I’ve made my own version of St. Brigid’s bread on Ash Wednesday, since the Irish saint’s feast is early February. My only change is that I used half whole wheat flour, and half oat flour (made by pouring oatmeal in the blender and pureeing for about two minutes) simply because I think it tastes good that way. I don’t think this is the recipe I used in the past, since it was a little drier than I remember, but it still made a very nice ‘fasting bread’ for this week.
Mourning the tragic events in Florida this week. Words fail each and every time this world faces such an activity of depravity. Miserere Domine.
Listening to this Gregorian hymn for the start of Lent. Translation here.
As I grew up, my family made bread a central part of Ash Wednesday meals. As a child, the tradition was a reminder of the special meaning of the day, and my siblings and I anticipated the trip to the local bakery to select a few special kinds. We heatedly debated between honey wheat, cinnamon, and sourdough loaves, which would accompany potato soup, macaroni and cheese, or perhaps baked fish that evening. Years later, I fondly adopt this practice as my own.
Now the hunger felt after a small and simple meal of bread and butter recalls a fitting verse for the beginning of Lent:
“Man must not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of God” Mt 4:4
“Bread” comes in many forms. The normal diet of my age group includes fare from major food groups such as movie star fashion and physique, Pinterest-style homes, and Facebook-perfect social life. Each promises to satisfy the cravings of the heart, but this is always false advertising. Like seconds of a favorite dessert, each extra helping leaves me feeling like I’ve indulged without anything to show for it.
Thus this season, where fasting and ‘giving up’ something occupying too much time in life gives an opportunity. It leaves an empty space-it’s easy to feel it when I find myself staring at the cupboard before realizing it’s a day of fasting, or stop myself about to impulsively scroll a favorite entertaining, but time wasting online site. This Lent, I’m praying that God will allow me to become conscious of that emptiness, the void I usually try to fill with empty calories instead of real nourishing spiritual food. The emptiness that only feels full when it’s filled with temporal things, but shows itself again when the brief pleasure of buying, or tasting, or any other experience is over. I’m praying that I will have the grace to simply give this vacancy to God, and allow Him to fill it as He will.
The spoils of a 50% off sale at a local nursery that now inhabit my windowsill. I had been hoping to expand my indoor garden for a while, so I responded eagerly to the billboard outside advertising the sale. While I planned on bringing home one or two, somehow I brought home four. Hey, discounts that deep only come around in January, right? Carpe diem!
I love the furry rhizomes that slip over the edge of the plant’s pot, and give the Rabbit Foot Fern a name almost as charming as the foliage. Maria has a different idea, however, and has dubbed this my “tarantula plant.”
I’m on the countdown to a trip out to visit my family’s new home. I’ll also get to meet my youngest sister, born about three months ago at the beginning of November, just three weeks after the family transplanted from Midwest to the hometown of the California gold rush.
My feathered friend Gamgee, who came all the way from Virginia on Delta airlines last October to be my friend. A true people parrot, there’s no shenanigan he won’t devise in order to get some attention from me. He’s just getting in some new brighter plumage on his face, and will be shedding his duller baby feathers over the next few months.
This morning, I wanted to take off my coat and shout, ‘spring!!!’ That’s what 30 degrees with sun feels like after shivering through -5 degree mornings.
I am off to a terrible start with my New Year’s resolution to post at least four times a month. Life lately has not been overly busy, but it has been disorienting to say the least.
I rigidly controlled my routine through college, as the structure was the scaffolding preventing me from tumbling from the cliffs of textbooks into the whirlpool of homework. Now, I have to let go of that expectation to embrace a rotating work life.
Antipodes: the parts of the earth diametrically opposite, the exact opposite or contrary
Night shift, day shift. Routine, flexibility. Order, chaos. Hospitals never close, so much of my time is spent in the rocky transition period between polar schedules. Sometimes every gear in circadian rhythm protests loudly, preferring to run like clockwork.
I’ve never realized how much energy is saved by having routines. I’ve never had to debate whether I should wake up in the morning, but deciding when to start the day when “morning” is 7pm is exhausting. The first few months of this schedule I felt I walked on alternating sides of a fault line between nightlife and daytime, with seismic activity during each transition.
Now I’m beginning to have a set of routines around my new needs, and have begun getting up an extra half hour before starting out to enjoy the morning, making sure it includes coffee and Gregorian chant. And I know just how much of the day I can use ahead of an all night jaunt, and it often includes a trip to the gym to get some extra energy to start off.
I have taught and nannied many groups over the year, coming in contact with students from all educational backgrounds. I’ve taught a homeschooled science day camp three years in a row, and ballet classes four five year with a mix of student backgrounds. I’ve nannied for children who attend private and public schools, as well as for many homeschool families. Throughout these visits, several consistent themes emerged in what set the homeschooled children apart from their peers.
The differences can be subtle, yet they are distinct enough that I am usually able to guess a child doesn’t attend traditional school. Here are a few of the differences I noticed in taking both homeschool and public school students on field trips.
- Homeschooled children spent much more time in the moment. I spent an hour putting together a picnic lunch, we unpacked it and at beside the small waterfall at the center of our city. Had I done this for my siblings, or any of the homeschooled children I’d spent time with before, they would have loved every minute of this. I’m used to watching children explore the area and make the most of new surroundings. Usually, they would choreograph movie scenes on the rocking landscapes, look for new shells or insects, or collect sticks and build a miniature fortress. Instead, these children finished their lunch and promptly wanted to return home to their previously planned activities for the day.
- Homeschooled kids asked more questions. Walks with a homeschool group turn into an interrogative session quickly. Usually, research and discussion on the topics continue long past the conclusion of the field trip.
- Children in traditional school seemed habituated to field trips in and new experiences in comparison with those I grew up around. I noticed how they were used to being served field trips in an almost prepackaged format, being funneled through in a group with little time for personal decisions on where to linger and learn. I took a family of public schooled children to the zoo, and was astonished at the way they simply walked through the exhibits. They never paused to read any of the signs or watch how the animals were behaving.
- Children who are homeschooled are used to being in mixed age groups. One effect of this is I notice that on trips they often spend a lot of time teaching the younger students what they know as they walk along. Since they are comfortable with many age ranges, can strike up a conversation with a peer their age, much older, or younger. Even a conversation with an adult is not daunting.
Outside My Window… frigid air coming in at -20 degrees below 0.
I am thinking… very fuzzily, having just gotten off of three consecutive overnight shifts at the hospital.
I am thankful for… modern heating.
From the kitchen… Not much, as it has been a very busy week. I have been keeping a steady supply of fresh cranberry sauce on hand, as I found out last year how quick and easy it is to make. Cranberries are also full of vitamins and other healthy compounds.
One of my favorite things… Lights glowing around the room. Christmas lights, an artificial candle, and small lamps bring some cozy warmth to the evening.
I am wearing… sweaters and scarves. The heavy ones, which I just went hunting for at the back of my closet.
I am reading… Some reflections from Mother Theresa from her private letters. A very interesting study of the meaning of Faith, and the differences in emotional and supernatural experiences.
Teresa of Avila spoke of God’s courting of the soul through many different methods. Sometimes, he does this through allowing His Grace to be near and felt, and the experience of joy is very pleasant to the senses. This felt prayer can be the only way we allow ourselves to approach our God in this world of constant pleasure and stimulation. Many of the saints have experienced an even deeper call from God when, after showing a soul the sweetness of His love, He withdraws this consolation. John of the Cross wrote that this pulls the creature to look past the earthly sensations and be aware of their complete and total need for God.
Mother Theresa wrote very honestly about this, and her words show the real meaning of complete faith, in good times and bad. A faith that illuminate not only the dark cities of India, but also the world as the nun gave witness to Christ before both the humblest dying on the streets and in the glow of the spotlights amidst world leaders.
Reading, Writing, Arithmetic. Necessary, but falling short of what is needed for a true education. Some things cannot be taught, but must be learned through experience. Compassion, life perspective, and an awareness of one’s place in the world. This also helps bring a roundness and maturity to students that is exceptionally helpful in college scholarship interviews. For this reason, these activities might be better begun at the end of the sophomore or beginning of junior year.
Use a High School Summer to Create a Homeschool Capstone Course
A summer filled with these experiences will prepare a student for college-and beyond. A journal of expereinces, reactions, and new impressions should be kept. This not only provides the students a chance for self reflection, but also helps bring out important themes that will be prime material for college scholarship essays and interviews.
High School as the Beginning of A Life of the Works of Mercy
Several opportunities exposed me to new worlds I never knew existed. Experiences were an amazing way to begin to learn and practice the works of mercy. Our calling to live the Gospel is one that must be nurtured and allowed to be developed through His Grace throughout life. These locations are a beautiful way to start. I began to venture into these areas of service at the close of my freshman year of college. All I could think was why did I not start this mission sooner?
- Time spent in a nursing home, not just for a performance or a one day event. Instead, plan for enough time to get to know some of the residents. This can be accomplished by getting in touch with an activities director. Glancing at photos of the person in front of you, now decades older, when they were just your age. When I worked as a Certified Nurse Assistant, these snapshots of lives lining the elderly windowsill pressed deeply into my mind. A blink of an eye, and I would be where they are, dependent on others and staring eternity and my God as I surveyed my life behind me. Hospice centers also may be looking for volunteers
- Mission trip-the phrase brings to mind third world countries and Sahara climates. However, the truth is that there’s likely real projects in your own backyard. Contact schools that work with immigrants and the poor to see what needs and opportunities they have currently. Volunteering in a homeless shelter or a kitchen that provides free meals to those in need is also a good starting place. Working with those less fortunate in life is a chance not only to evaluate your own blessings, but also to learn to speak to those in completely different circumstances than you.
High School as the Beginning of Seeking and Facing Challenges and Growth
- Seek out immersion opportunities for the foreign language studied in High School. This could be through a city multicultural center, local festivals, or clubs. Ideally this would be an ongoing opportunity, since languages take years to master.. I watched my closest friend in college look for chances to practice in the international student dorm. By senior year she was a fluent speaker, and able to be the only one of the nursing students who could talk to a sick patient suffering from a disease causing complete paralysis, though with hopes of future recovery. Before this patient could even regain full use of his mouth to speak, we was smiling to hear his own native language spoken. My sister had similar opportunities speaking with members of the deaf community. My chosen language in high school, Latin, served me well through my medical studies. However, I do regret not having a foundation in a living language to spring off of into this new frontier.
Resuming life after college feels so much different than before. I spent most of my school days waiting for free time- often only available in forty minute bites. I yearned for the calm days when my time wouldn’t be so severely overcommitted. Occupations for idle moments were always simple to find in the summer. When the river murmurs gently along the bike trail, the weeds threaten to ambush the perennials, and the air smells of sweet must grass it isn’t hard to lose hours at a time. Now I have to glance around for things to do, especially since the younger children haven’t been around to play. California is a long way off.
(Wistful picture of summer in the garden with Claire)
Books have been the most difficult of my old occupations to rekindle. Hours of mandatory textbook reading seemingly used up the focusing abilities that I was known for at school.
Audiobooks have been the solution to this dilemma, as I find I have plenty of time to listen to stories while organizing or cooking. The reader’s voice breaks the stillness of apartment living, and is a good way to wind down in the evening. Car drives are much more peaceful with a narrators voice playing rather than mindlessly absorbing overplayed songs, fatiguing commercials, and the disturbing news pouring in from the radio world. It also helps facilitate other activities-if my hands aren’t holding the book, they are free to knit or sketch.
The first book I listened to was Tolkein’s Tales from the Perilous Realm, experimenting with the short story length as before committing to other books. Tolkein’s masterful works are like old friendship that become richer and deeper with each visit. I read the collection about two years ago, but this time I saw much more of the different layers Tolkien had woven into the text. Tolkien did not like to write obviously allegorical works, such as is found in his friend C. S. Lewis’ classic Lion, Witch, and the Wardrobe, but rather gently colors his writings with his love of the Catholic faith.
There are several stories in the collection, but Leaf by Niggle was my favorite. The first time I read the tale it perplexed me with the symbolism blended into the simple storyline. Now several years older, I empathize with the well intentioned but distracted artist. His heart yearns for a great accomplishment in his life-his beloved painting. This dream is contrasted with the reality that is neither spectacular nor tragic. Real Life just gets in the way, and he never is able to finish. His distractions from his goal are not his main mission, but most are kindnesses he finds himself doing for others, though not always willingly.
The painting, his life’s mission, is never finished. All too soon he is called to go on his Journey, representing the end of his life. His life’s works must then be judged, but he has not used it for anything meaningful. An unfavorable judgment seems imminent. One of his jurors, however, finds significance in the kinds he showed to others and the details and love he put into his one tiny portion of the painting, the leaves on his painted tree. The story showcases the redeeming nature of love of art and beauty, and the gentle sanctity found through service of one’s neighbor,
As the temperatures dive, preparations for the cold days ahead keep morale high as we undertake the plunge towards the winter solstice. Like a squirrel in September, I lay in my provisions for the cold. Boots replace sandals, winter coats emerge from the closet. I stopped at a local store solely on account of my frigid toes, and hunted down the warmest pair of wool socks I could find. (I’m close to believing that was the best decision I made all week, as my feet have been warm and cozy since then.)
A Norwegian once visited my school to advertise January term study abroad opportunities in his country. The first question he was asked was about the temperatures at the top of the globe in the middle of January. He replied merrily in his light Norwegian accent, “Oh, there is no bad weather, only insufficient dress.” He swung his arms open as he spoke, as if to illustrate how the arctic natives embraced the cold.
In fact, I later found out that several Nordic languages have a word to describes how they go through winter with a smile- it’s Koselig in Norwegian. I am told it is hard to translate- falling somewhere between cozy feelings, love, and contentment. It comes from family, hot food, and cherishing the small things of each moment. I heard is described by a Norwegian exchange student as “That Christmas time feeling, except for all winter long.”
Pure Leaf’s vanilla black tea is my favorite this time of year, and I also enjoy candles-both artificial and real.Our local weather station is forecasting an extra cold winter this year, so I’m doing my best to get begin the season with a sufficient supply of Koselig.
Books for boys can be hard to find, especially for encouraging early reading. These books were all books that my brothers heard small sections from, and then went to go find the book by themselves.
Sam the Minute Man by Nathaniel Benchley
Buffalo Bill and the Pony Express by Eleanor Coerr
Slightly Higher Reading Level
Just So Stories by Rudyard Kipling
Five Children and It by Edith Nesbitt
Joseph not only read this book, but it’s sequel as well
Bare branches stretch skinny fingers to the sky, like hands outstretched to the sky reaching for the lush foliage they held just a week ago. One swift windstorm was sufficient to strip the trees of their royal robes of red, bronze, and yellow, and now they must stand in their poor man’s bark. The landscape is scarcely recognizable from the cheery golden sight a week ago. The forceful autumn gales have painted a winter scene along the city streets.
On the other side of town, a house encases a vacancy which a week ago ran over with a thick stew of life. In one corner elbows jostle till a fight ensues, and cacophonous voices spill into the hall. Another corner guards a muffled conversation, hushed till mirth wins out and unfettered laughter bubbles over. The sound of many stories woven one upon another. Now it is merely a shell, separated almost even from the memory of the people who called it home. The rooms stand bare, imagination struggles to replace everything the way it had been before.
A new chapter begins, a new season. For them, and me. They seek new adventures half a continent away – California will be their new home.
Books for boys can be hard to find, but when I asked the young men in our family which ones they couldn’t put down, they had plenty of answers. Here was the favorite stories about wilderness adventures and the outdoors. This category holds some of the boy’s most treasured tales
Middle School Outdoor Books for Boys
My Side of the Mountain
The brightest flowers from the garden are fading, so it’s time to gradually undertake garden cleanup. After locating the garden shears in the ever shifting garage whirlpool, I started cutting back the excess foliage this week while the sunny 65 degree days last. Of course, the weather decided to be contrary, so I haven’t been able to make nearly as much progress as I’d planned.
Late summer Rudebeckia flowers show some of my favorite autumn colors.
Though this year I put little time into managing the vegetable garden, there was a sizable crop this year. The raspberries that have had lackluster production for many years sent some runners into the old compost pile. In one season they became the most prolific species in the garden. Two ‘Big Boy’ tomatoes in bottomless 5 gallon buckets also produced way more tomatoes than we can eat. The only difficulty was the number of tomatoes that split open for the insects after summer rainstorms. I will have to be more proactive in picking ripe fruits before we receive four inches of rain.
Daniel, Dominic, and Joseph helped me make several new stepping stones this year.
Two out of the three grape plants planted way back in May of 2015 came into their own this year with the first notable crop of fruit. The surviving varieties were Edelweiss and Bluebell-hardy seeded grapes with lovely names.
Two large bowls were filled from the harvest. A friend showed me how to can the grapes for juice, and after a days work cleaning and canning we had ten pints to show for it!
The compost pile and the worm box also were major successes this year, and we’ve never processed as much material before. Four or five yard bags of leaves fueled the worm habitat over the winter, and with only slight attention (adding a bit of water and stirring about once a month) all had turned into ‘castings’ by spring- the most nutrient rich and microbially alive super fertilizer available naturally.
The tiny masters themselves:
The local coffee shop dedicated a box for me when I called to ask for their used grounds for directly around the plants:
I have a slightly strange fascination with decomposition. I’m not sure if it started during my presentation on fungi for the science fair in 6th grade, or later on when I started trying to figure out the best source of compost for growing vegetables. Either way, I’ve started several compost piles that had more fresh material than dried, and weren’t able to get an active composting process going.
This year, however, we had plenty of leaves to mix with the rest of the non-meat kitchen scraps, which made up about 1/3 pile. We mixed these with a few more bags of dried leaves. The resulting pile was about four feet in diameter, and two and a half feet high. The size meant that a lot more turning and watering were required to keep both air and water evenly dispersed throughout the mix. I usually enlisted John’s strength to help me with the heavy lifting, and pulled in more than a few of John’s friends when they were around. It was really interesting to watch the process, as for weeks on end nothing seemed to happen, but then one week I came out to turn it and found there was not a single recognizable scrap of food visible; all had broken down into a light soil.
A surprise pumpkin grew out of the compost pile (the final resting place of last year’s jack o’lanterns). The richness of the compost manifested itself in the size of the vines, which outpaced all other foliage in the vicinity.
The pumpkin stands almost a foot tall on the family porch, to the younger children’s delight.