Category Archives: Parenting

Ethan and Peter

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Awhile ago we came here, soon after we moved back to Bakersfield, to do a hike with homeschoolers. Today, I decided to go back in search of green grass growing after the rains. When we bought our house on this side of town years ago, it was a wet year and the hills all around our development were green and rolling. It seemed like a whole other country and definitely not Bakersfield. The last few years have left things parched, dead, hot. This fall the rains returned and I am remembering why this area sold us.

We found ourselves next to the river with rounded boulders, the long green grass I was hoping for growing up in tufts between them, the fog rolling in just as golden hour brought the promised honey hues. It was magical and ethereal, like something out of a fairy tale. However, earlier this week my kids had a meltdown because we went to a park and *gasp* there was no playground equipment. It took them 20 minutes to get over themselves and realize that they could be having a whole lot more fun with the other homeschoolers playing tag. So after that experience, I did not exactly expect them to enjoy today’s outing.  And yet there they were leaping from rock to rock, making up a story about being wolf hunters and not wanting to leave even though it started to get cold and we had a birthday cake to bake.

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Today my Ethan is five. It doesn’t seem real or possible and yet here it is. This month is also his youngest sibling’s fourth month on earth.

Ethan has so many fun little quirks. I call him my little engineer. He always wants to know how things work, take them apart and put them back together. He is very sensitive and will wear shirts with tags inside out and hates pants most days (the colder weather is breaking him of this because he really hates being cold more than any other discomfort). His skin is sensitive and prone to outbreaks. His emotions are sensitive too, but in a less explosive way than his next in line brother. He is definitely a giggler though and often laughs his way through life. He goes through periods of loving to dress up. He wore his Beast (of Beauty fame) costume three days in a row this week. He even wore it to his sister’s ballet lessons. A few months ago he wore his Flynn Rider costume in much the same fashion. Yesterday it was traditional Korean birthday clothes. I made him change and wash his face for the photo shoot because I’m mom like that. He is a collector and today was no different, we brought home several clam shells and bottle caps. The usual hunt for the perfect stick was also on.

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Peter has rolls upon rolls that I could kiss all day long. They are so puffy and soft like clouds upon clouds. He is very vocal and he is starting to make a noise that sounds something like “Mama.” Or at least that’s what I think. He has the stub of a tooth and as such his cheeks and chin are chapped from the drooling. He’s still easy and sweet. He’s full of smiles and as delightful as babies can possibly be. He sleeps well and tags along on our day to day with ease.

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Meeting Peter

My sister brought my “big” kids back yesterday. I mean I know they are not really all that big or old, but I feel like all of them just aged 10 years in those three days. Jillian is practically a teenager. Henry is especially not the baby anymore. I’ve called him “baby” for the last three years! He’s looking very much like Stephen’s mini-me too. He was SO excited about his new brother.

Andrea has been trying to work on becoming a professional photographer over the last year in addition to her regular, very demanding job as a correctional officer. I don’t know how she does it along with being wife and mother. She brought her camera with her last night and then gave me the raw unedited photos right away. Photographers never do that, unless they are your sister.

My sister and her husband didn’t even tell the kids I’d had the baby or show them pictures over the weekend. So this was their first news of and genuine reactions to Peter.

With not much in the way of editing software myself, I just made them all black and whites for now. Here are some of my favorites. So glad we have these precious images of this moment!

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Peter is here!

We’ve been on edge since I was 36 weeks along as to whether this guy was going to make an appearance with all kinds of false alarms! We went from California law says the baby can’t be born until 37 weeks anxiousness to California law says this baby has to be born by 42 weeks anxiousness and we made it just in time last night (41 weeks and 6 days) at 9:26pm. Peter Zachariah, my fourth baby born at home, is 8lbs 10oz and 22in long.

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Of course it’s me so there’s a long story to go with this photo. Before you get started, it is a homebirth story and that means there are going to be some frustrations expressed with medical practice and the law as well as some gory details you might not want to read about if you have a weak stomach or you are eating. Proceed if you are into that sort of thing.

Last year California passed a new law that while in some ways was good for and gave more formal recognition to the practice of midwifery, it was very restrictive in other ways.

Even after three prior homebirths I found myself in this strange position of having to prove for most of my pregnancy, where I encountered the same issues as the other three, that I really was healthy enough to do this again. The day I finally could prove this to the medical establishment, I was so relieved to finally continue care with our midwife that had helped deliver two of our three babies.

So I had been having 1-3 hour spurts of patterned contractions on and off since 36 weeks. It was frustrating every time they fizzled.

I remember we were out for tacos with my friend Heather’s family and other friends and I looked and seemed then to be very done, but as Heather joked that night, “California passed a law so the babies better take notice.” The goal was to take it easy that week and make it until at least Saturday, August 2 when I would be 37 weeks, the minimum gestational age under the new law I mentioned.

And then I kept on being pregnant.

As more and more physically uncomfortable I began to grow and in some ways impatient, I also knew that my body and the baby knew what they were doing. We were checking out healthy at our appointments. I was enjoying my visits with my midwife as usual because talking about birth stuff with her is always fun. I made some sarcastic remarks here and there about wanting to be done, but I wasn’t going to try and hurry things along unnecessarily. A few dietary old wives tales were about the extent of any actions on my part.

Then my due date came and went and next thing I knew I was 41 weeks along. Unable to lighten the baby carrying load that night, I decided at 10pm after a shower that it would be a good time to chop 9in off my hair instead.

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Another part of the law was that at 41 weeks my midwife had to send me for post-dates testing. Since I hit 41 weeks over Labor Day weekend, it granted me a slight reprieve. I was not looking forward to going in and being lectured by an OB about the “need” to be induced. I had dealt with this before and both times it was not a pleasant experience. So I actually started to have some pretty serious anxiety about it Monday night which resulted in a piddly four hours of terrible sleep.

Tuesday morning after several tries with our insurance automated phone system totaling about an hour and a half, I finally got a real live representative on the phone. As I started to explain my situation, I heard a dial tone and I was calling from my home phone at that. I was beyond frustrated and by now my three small children really needed my attention as they ran through our house banging and blowing musical instruments as loudly as possible. More phone time was not an option. My plan was to make another attempt after schoolwork and lunch, but then my faithful pal “morning” sickness showed up, we had ballet and I had a midwife appointment.

Getting down to the wire of the maximum gestational age under the new law, my midwife and I started to make plans at our appointment. The next morning I would try to make an appointment for post-dates testing with my insurance again and try the good old castor oil induction.

My second attempt at making an appointment seemed to go slightly better. The first rep I talked to was shocked that I still wanted a homebirth at 41 weeks, but I told her that I wanted to get the tests done so that I could make an informed decision about how to proceed. The second rep she transferred me to was very understanding and chatty. She asked about my previous homebirths and said she totally got it. There were no appointments available, but she said she would put in a message to a nurse.

No one called me back the whole day and the castor oil induction attempt was almost immediately rejected by my still sensitive stomach from the afternoon and evening before of “morning” sickness.

Thursday morning I called again and was told they would send another message to the nurse. I asked my sister to come pick up my kids hoping that not having to worry about them would maybe do the trick.

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With still no luck going through our insurance, my midwife advised me to go to the hospital, explain the situation and get my testing done there. Hospitals make me super anxious. I’ve never really had a horrible hospital experience, but I was talking with a friend about it the other day and I think part of it is just the level of stress the staff is undergoing often is palpable (even if they are nice to you), as well as the spiritual significance of death and life in that place, add to that intercom paging (especially when things are getting more intense), beeps, heart monitors, the often very low temp maintained by the air conditioning system, etc. and it is just hard to relax there.

I had Stephen with me though and we went that night after he got off work. I was somewhat mentally prepped for it not to be an enjoyable experience, but I am happy to report that it was actually pretty great. We walked into the labor and delivery ward and I was immediately registered and taken care of with very little fuss. At the end of our time there, the on call doctor from our insurance OB group was gracious in the way he handled sharing his professional opinion (that I should stay and be induced because their policy is 41 weeks and 3 days) while also being understanding of my being an informed patient, the appeal of homebirth, and that while there are increased risks associated with going late, the tests showed it was very unlikely that any of those would happen. He even joked about epidurals. He stripped my membranes to help things along and sent me home saying that our insurance would contact me in the morning to schedule my 42 week induction.

The next morning bright and early they did call and wanted me to come in to the OB clinic for an appointment and more testing as well as paperwork for my induction. At that point I was just feeling slightly defeated and passive about the whole thing (I thought I would never go into labor!), so I agreed. My husband was not happy, saying another appointment was overkill.

We went in. The doctor that had an opening that morning was not exactly happy about my still being pregnant and my plans, but we got through it with an “agree to disagree” ending, another NST and check of my amniotic fluid, and an induction appointment for 7am the next morning.

With two clean bills of health from the medical establishment (which wasn’t really news) to satisfy state law, we could move forward with our next set of plans. My midwife came over, started an IV of antibiotics and broke my water at 3pm.

Nothing really happened right away, but after two hours I started having some contractions that were increasing in intensity. I went from chatty and joking to irritated and slightly snapping at Stephen about movement next to me, lighting, sounds and being touched within an hour. My midwife needed to start some more antibiotics at 6:30, but I have small veins that roll and she didn’t want to keep poking me and blowing veins. So she called another midwife with a background as an EMT to come start an IV. I wanted in the tub and tried there for a bit, but then wanted out and on my bed. By the time the other midwife got here at 8:50 and was trying to start a new IV, I was semi pushing. After IV attempt one I just really didn’t want to be poked again and knew that I was going to be pushing this baby out really soon making the antibiotics somewhat mute. I could not get comfortable on the bed and decided to go back to the tub.

I was kind of in a table position on my knees with the side of the tub and started pushing. It felt better in there, but obviously still uncomfortable because it’s labor and you are pushing a tiny human out of you. I don’t really think I pushed a ton, maybe 5-6 times and he was out. My position was awkward in the tub though so I was the only person that could reach down and pull him up and out of the water. I felt so shaky and was afraid I wouldn’t be able to hold myself up with my legs alone, but I did it. I saw that he really was a boy just like the halfway point ultrasound said, but we slightly doubted because he was so active making a clear picture tough for the tech and because my pregnancy symptoms were so much like Jilly’s. I was eased back into a sitting position where I stayed for a bit until the placenta came out as they were draining the tub.

With the other three I gave birth on our bed so the midwives were changing out bed pads and towels the whole time and I was lying back instead of sitting up so I didn’t really see anything. So I was kind of shocked about how much blood there was in addition to the shock of just giving birth and feeling slightly weak and shaky from that.

They got me out of the tub and onto the floor by the tub, but I didn’t feel like I could walk all the way back to our bed right away. When I stood up it just felt like my lungs and everything were falling without that baby holding them up and squashing them. So they checked me out there first.

They got me back to the bed and I initially felt pretty good. I was in way less pain than I expected to be in both with nursing and dealing with afterbirth pains.

Stephen made me some toast so I could take some Advil. I took one bite and I suddenly did not want it in my mouth and thought I might throw up and that’s when things got a little tense. I did throw up. I started not feeling good at all and the midwives were concerned about my uterus contracting. It was contracted, but not down far enough. They started an IV. I was bleeding a bit more than they liked. I was feeling really out of it too. It maybe seemed more scary to me, but they both kept assuring me that I was going to be OK and that if they were really concerned they’d have emergency personnel come. They gave me medicine in the IV and then decided they needed to check for clots. It was really painful, but once they got them out the bleeding was much more controlled. Things calmed down. I started to perk up and joke again.

Once I was more stable they examined our baby, Stephen cut the cord, I had more IV fluid, they cleaned me and our room and bathroom up. They gave Peter a 10/10 on his Apgar and decided based on their examination that his gestational age was actually 41 weeks. They reminded me that I went through a bit of trauma and that I needed to stay in bed this week before heading out so we could go to sleep in the first hours of Saturday (our 11th anniversary!)

So that’s my plan. I think this is really the first time I don’t feel like getting up the next day, actually. Pretty content to rest and snuggle our very sweet and cute boy.

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*** Sorry if I sound like such a Debbie Downer about laws and medical practice. I’m just not sure if I would feel as tired or had the immediate post-partum experience I did if my body had just been allowed to do things more naturally when it was ready.

**** For those interested in the reasoning behind the names:

St. Peter the Aleut was an Orthodox martyr right here in California. We have a children’s book version of his life which all of our kids, but especially big brother Henry love. In this last year of helping to start up a mission parish for the Orthodox Church in America, one of the things that made it possible was the closing of St. Peter the Aleut mission in Lake Havisu because they gave us several liturgical items.

Yesterday was the feast day for the Prophet Zachariah.

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How we made Garden of the Theotokos work for us

One week ago we finished all of the school work I hoped to accomplish for the year.

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One of my goals for the year was to get a better feel for the Liturgical year and incorporate more of the saints and feasts into our family and school life. Despite mixed reviews from friends and other Orthodox homeschoolers I decided to give Children’s Garden of the Theotokos a try for the year anyway.

Like most things I’ve tried with homeschooling so far, I found myself not necessarily in love with or using everything laid out in the curriculum. However, I loved the overall concept of the curriculum and found myself using it as a springboard for incorporating other saints and feasts that we were interested in. After sharing some of my experience with a few friends, I decided to write and show pictures of what we did here in case any other Orthodox homeschoolers out there are looking for ideas.

I really liked the artwork and the stories of saints written for children in particular. We did not incorporate the music, circle time, or role playing into our school. I also thought the work during Holy Week was a little on the heavy side, but it was the only thing we did that week and as such was doable for us. I thought the Nativity vowel poems and the Christmas Feast projects were a little redundant. I liked the idea of keeping the artwork together in the Waldorf notebooks. There were only a couple problems with these: not enough pages in the Lent to Pentecost book and there were several projects (like the Nativity vowel poems) and feast days that did not have have a notebook or a place to be. We wound up starting a liturgical year journal in a composition notebook for these. This is also where we started putting some of the additional feasts that I decided we should cover.

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So, with the included Waldorf books (three), the Book of Days, and the liturgical year journal we wound up having five books for the whole year that covered our Garden of the Theotokos stuff. This year, I have already decided I just want it all in one place. I found some spiral bound sketch books (unlined medium weight paper) at Target and spent some time on the computer designing a cover for it that I just glued over the existing cover. I liked this idea of stuff contained in a book so much that we’re using it for science and history next year too.

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When I was doing my lesson planning last summer, I had looked at the liturgical year calendar to line up this curriculum, but I also looked for Saints or Feasts I thought were significant such as names I was slightly familiar with, that I thought we should at least talk a little bit about or do more. For some of these I was able to find children’s books from various Orthodox publishers or if they were well known enough (like St. Patrick) there were lots crafts or activities to be found on Pinterest. Some were also from our classic Old and New Testament Bible stories so I could always go to our copy of The Child’s Story Bible for those. If there was not necessarily a craft or artwork I could think of, I would look on the Orthodox Church in America’s Department of Christian Education Line Drawing Resources for a coloring page or find an icon of the person or the event and print it out and along with the words to one of the hymns about it so we could copy a line of it for handwriting practice.

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For some feasts we did something for it, but it didn’t necessarily work to put it in the book, like St. Sebastian which was one of our Kindness Kids activities during Nativity:

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St. Basil and the Vasilopita:

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Theophany when we went to Santa Maria and the beach:

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Overall, I really liked this curriculum with my adjustments for what I knew would work and didn’t feel awkward to me and we’ll be using it again in much the same way this year. I’ll probably start having Jillian do copy work instead of tracing for handwriting practice and some more advanced artwork. Ethan will do what Jillian did this year.

Edited to add: I have some Pinterest boards going that have craft and art ideas for various feasts and saints:

Let the little children come to me

Days to feast and fast

Martinmas

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Children have a way of sanctifying everything

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Once, after a Saturday of the Souls service while we were all sitting around eating kollyva (wheat or rice cooked with honey and mixed with raisins, figs, nuts, sesame, etc. that is blessed in church on these Saturdays. The kollyva reminds us of the Lord’s words, “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” John 12:24. The kollyva symbolizes the future resurrection of all the dead.), a priest told us of the practice in monasteries of having to do a certain number of prostrations for every grain that hits the floor, even accidentally. Then he added, “But don’t worry about the kids, kids are always doing prostrations,” as ours rolled around and did summersaults all over the church hall in between bites of kollyva.

“Then they brought little children to Him, that He might touch them; but the disciples rebuked those who brought them. But when Jesus saw it, He was greatly displeased and said to them, “Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God. Assuredly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it.” And He took them up in His arms, laid His hands on them, and blessed them.” Mark 10:13-16

As a parent and a Christian, it’s hard not to go through our days and activities without thinking about these verses in the Gospel of St. Mark. I think about them a lot lately.

We received Disney season passes this year as a Christmas present. This last trip my kids sang the Paschal hymns throughout the Magic Kingdom. Stephen said it was like they were going around sanctifying the whole place. That so much of Orthodoxy, he said he is finding, is about loving people (and loving kids especially) and if you can’t love them, then you are probably going to have trouble loving God too.

Then yesterday I found sidewalk chalk crosses all over the backyard. More reminders to seek God everywhere and always.

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One of our favorite Orthodox children’s books right now is The Boy, a Kitchen, and His Cave by Catherine K. Contopoulos about the life of St. Euphrosynos the Cook. Just after the climax of the story where the abbot of the monastery has met Euphrosynos in paradise and received a branch of an apple tree, there is this:

That Dawn at matins, the Abbot brought the apple branch with him and excitedly described his vision of Euphrosynos to the other monks.

“Dear brothers, I prayed last night for answers following our great discussion. And The Lord has answered my prayers.”

“What could that peasant boy possibly teach us?” said one monk, with some indignation.

“Brother, that simple peasant boy who cooks our meals and cleans our kitchen lives his life in the true spirit of Christ. He is content with all that is before him. He sees plenty in everything, even when he has nothing. He appreciates all the small things of his day–how well his spoon ladles our soup, the sweetness of a carrot. And he praises The Lord at every turn!”

“Yes, it’s true,” said the monk who had slipped on Euphrosynos’ soapy water. “Even when he spilled water from his bucket and made a mess, he thanked God for teaching him a new lesson. I was so annoyed with his carelessness, yet he was able to transform the mishap into a gift from above.”

“You see, brothers,” said the Abbot. “Our cook asks for nothing more than what is given to him. Everything in his life, each new day, is a chance to participate in the Kingdom of Heaven. Is this not what Jesus meant–that God’s Kingdom is in our midst on earth?”

“I am convinced,” continued the Abbot, “that God has blessed us by bringing Euphrosynos here to us. It is we who must learn from Euphrosynos, brothers! God’s love knows no distinction of rank. Who are we to decide what or who is holy in God’s eyes?”

I don’t want to say my kids are on a level with St. Euphrosynos, or that they are not because both would be a judgement I’m not fit to render. However, like St. Euphrosynos, they and so many other kids do remind me of this favorite quote that has been an e-mail signature of mine for some time now,

“We’re always frowning, always pouting; we don’t feel like singing or doing anything else. We should follow the example of the birds. They’re always joyful whereas we’re always bothered by something.”
— Elder Thaddeus of Vitovnica

I want to be like my kids, the Paschal Troparion joyfully on my lips throughout my day, like Henry that sings the Vespers hymn Oh Gladsome Light to send himself to sleep, like Jillian singing The Angel Cried as she climbs a tree in some of our very best friends’ front yard, or telling me that the saints in icons look sad when she’s angry, or our boys that turn anything that jingles into a censor to bless our house and all the people in it several times a day, or a sweet two-year-old that says, “Mama, I picked a big clover for you: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”

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Excerpts

Bits and pieces. A digest of things.

The week and week after my brother in law died, was such an odd and disjointed experience for me. As he lay in the ICU, his body shutting down after the injuries from his car accident, my sister by his side, we had homeschool park day and the next day we were celebrating Jillian and her best friend’s birthday. I didn’t know how to feel.

A total accidental capture that summed it up:

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When we were down there the day after he died, I felt mostly in the way. The kids needed to be able to play after long car ride. We went to the park near the hospital and hotel a lot while we were there. I lived on Starbucks coffee and their Protein Bistro boxes almost the entire time. Again I felt disjointed. How do I interact with my kids in the midst of all this?

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We all went to dinner one night. Ethan refused to eat his broccoli that he specifically ordered. My cousin Jeremy told him that he eats his broccoli and that is why he has big muscles. You should have seen how fast Ethan wolfed down that broccoli. Afterwards Jeremy said, “I can see that your muscles are definitely bigger.” Ethan was flexing and pointing to his muscles the whole night.

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——

Jillian has been in a funk lately. She even told me that she wanted to quit ballet. Then after I made her go anyway (we’ve already paid for this month’s lessons and I believe in finishing things out), she watched some of the big girls and saw all the Nutcracker costumes waiting for alterations and her mind changed. Some girls really want those big lead roles like Clara or the Sugar Plum Fairy.

“Mama, I want to get bigger and do a good job in ballet class and then I can be a Bon-Bon in Nutcracker. That’s what I’m going to do.”

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—-

Henry is really and officially out of the Pack n’ Play and crib. After the first climb or so he was too scared to do it again and the Pack n’ Play still worked for the last six months. So my kid that was easy to put to sleep and pretty much stayed asleep has become our worst sleeper. Out and about at all hours of the night with his new found freedom and all his night time necessities including drink, stuffed animals, blanket and pillow that he tries to carry with him to his new desired destination dropping them every few feet. I’ve wound up with a really, really fat lip this week because of his thrashing head in bed with me.

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—–
J & J

There’s a four year old boy that has the biggest crush on my daughter.

A few months ago we all got together for a movie in the park and this happened:

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He told his mom that she’s pretty, but that Jillian is prettier. He thought Jillian put that flower headband on just for him.

Our first time at the park day for the other group we are joining, he comes running up to his mom to tell us that Jillian is here! Then a few minutes later and thereafter we kept getting updates about what she was doing. At one point he says, “Jillian keeps saying she boot-ree. I don’t know what that is.” “Oh, she’s gluten-free, it means she can’t have wheat like bread or crackers.”

The morning of her birthday party his mom said he was adamant that he get her a gift. His dad suggested something like cookies or goldfish since we said no gifts on the invitation. “No! She can’t have that! She’s gluten-free!” His dad was totally bewildered that his son even knew this about her. They settled on a pink plastic necklace.

When we got together last week to make corn husk dolls, Jillian was sure to wear the necklace.

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—–

We ate at Bob’s Big Boy one Saturday morning and while the experience was nothing to write home about, Jillian demanded that we take her picture to commemorate the occasion.

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—–

Putting a music stand at kid height may have been one of the most genius things ever. Jillian stood and sung like the big girls flipping through her Children’s Prayer Book as if it were one of the Vespers binders the entire service (has never happened before).

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—–

We have a lot of liturgical items around our house, including a processional cross in our garage. All of it is getting moved out this weekend as we start to share space with a local Anglican Church and our priest arrives. Yesterday Jillian noticed the cross in the garage and pointed it out to her cousin. I overheard their conversation in the back of the van.

J: See, Avory, that’s the cross with Christ that died on the cross. And we sing the Pascha Hymn, it goes “Christ is Risen from the dead, trampling down death by death and upon those in the tombs bestowing life.”
A: Oh, why he died?
J: He’s not dead anymore, when He died he went down into Hades and he brought out Adam and Eve because they disobeyed God and they were down there and they were the first ones He helped out of the tombs. It’s like the Pascha Hymn, I told you, “Christ is Risen from the dead, trampling down death by death and upon those in the tombs bestowing life.” Like that.

—–

Yesterday the boys were playing dress up in the morning while Jillian and I did reading and math. Henry is completely smitten with his lion costume and once it is on, he doesn’t want it off. Yesterday was no exception. Every attempt to get it off was met with wild and violent thrashing. I didn’t need another fat lip, this one is very nearly healed. We are involved in a new Christian homeschool group and we had park day and I know some people are super particular about Halloween. So I was nervous to take him to park day like that. It wound up being fine. On this particular day the battle I was willing to fight was another parent complaining about Halloween costumes than with my little lion.

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Cuddle bug.

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Sweet little love of a boy. So incredibly sensitive. My most emotional kid of the bunch.

Still needs naps some days. Still needs help getting to sleep (“I want you to lay with me” or “I want to lay in your bed next to you”) at closer to 4 than his official 3 years old. Late night climb into our bed snuggler too.

It will not always be like this: his sweet hand on my lap to help him fall asleep and know that I am close while I quietly knit in dimmed light.

A talk today with my husband about our parenting. How Orthodoxy is changing the way we view our kids and parent.

The huge difference not viewing them as “little sinners” makes when St. Augustine and the Western doctrines on original sin are not the barometer. How their acting out should not be seen as an affront and personally offensive. How that changes the way we love them, discipline them.

Our Orthodox curriculum has been perfect in this season because I feel like I’m an Orthodox preschooler/Kindergartener too. There have been so many little nuggets for me. When we were discussing the sixth day of creation this line hit me, “It is important for us to remember that God made every animal… When we hurt animals, it makes God feel very sad. He does not want any of his creatures to be hurt.”

The implications of that are huge! Take that a step further, we humans were not only made by God, but in His image. When that sinks in, really sinks in, how does that change how we treat one another, how we speak to one another, how we parent our children?

Maybe it doesn’t change anything. Maybe you are like me and 15 minutes after reading that you are speaking harshly to your Kindergartener because she doesn’t want to do the handwriting practice copy work part of the assignment that the above quote came from.

True story.

But maybe, just maybe, it is the first tiniest step to repentance, to change.

There have been many, many points in this parenting journey where I just wanted no one to touch me. Touch, any touch, hurt: Please no one else touch me for the rest of the day or I will have a big rage and tears filled breakdown.

I do know this, the trigger is usually my own selfishness. I want to accomplish something that 80% of the time is not even what I should be spending time on and I get frustrated because “no one” is giving me the space to do it.

That’s changing in me, if only just ever so slightly. I don’t know how. It’s miraculous really.

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So I’m going to soak up every minute of this sweet still-pudgy hand on my lap. It won’t be like this for long at all. I will miss it, this season of life, of this I am quite sure.

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Naming our homeschool

Awhile back, someone shared either on Facebook or Pinterest this piece about homeschooling from an Orthodox perspective. It was right around the time that one of our local veteran Orthodox friends had several of us Orthodox families either considering homeschooling or doing it already, up to her house to discuss homeschooling from an Orthodox perspective and had said much of the same things.

It finally helped me to articulate some of what I was thinking and feeling at the time about school and what our goals overall would be. While I had initially wanted to homeschool for purely academic reasons, I began to see my goals as much bigger than just a good education as our paramount concern.

The quote in that article from St. Anthony, really articulated some of the problems I see with just valuing academic instruction above all else.

I’ve known for quite some time now that we plan to use the private school exemption rather than teaming up with one of the local private or charter schools that I do not see eye-to-eye on matters of education or faith. In doing so we have to come up with a name for our school among other things. I knew I wanted to name our school for one of the saints.

With that quote as a guide, many of the traditional scholarly saints one might think of just were not clicking with me. So I asked our good friend that has been with us on our entire journey to Orthodoxy, first as a seminarian and now as a priest, if he had any suggestions for saints to consider since he had been so helpful in suggestions for each of our family members’ individual saints.

Of course the answer was obvious: St. Anthony the Great.

I kind of felt a little stupid even for asking him.

And that, dear friends, is how St. Anthony’s Academy got a name.

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People are generally called intelligent through a wrong use of this word. The intelligent are not those who have studied the sayings and writings of the wise men of old, but those whose soul is intelligent, who can judge what is good and what evil; they avoid what is evil and harms the soul and intelligently care for and practice what is good and profits the soul, greatly thanking God. It is these alone who should properly be called intelligent. — Saint Anthony the Great Early Fathers from the Philokalia, Faber & Faber, 1973, page 21

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Gearing up for the 2013-2014 school year

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A couple months ago the moderator of our homeschool social group announced she was stepping down from that role because she would be starting a Classical Conversations (CC) community here. Since my overall long term plan has been to do a classical approach to homeschooling, I was intrigued. I soon found myself connected to a few other locals of the same mindset and plans for this community were racing forward. I looked over a few things like the CC website and catalog and read some snippets in there from the founder and others that have used CC. What I read seemed to fit with my overall plan, but I admit that at the time with everything going on, I did not have the brain space to devote to a really thorough investigation.

From what I saw it seemed close enough to my goals that I thought it would be good to do for at least a year, for the motivation and accountability alone. Because I’m crazy, and a people pleaser to the core, I also agreed to be the tutor for the 4/5 class that Bean will be in.

This last year, in part to my evolving philosophy on schooling and education in the younger years, has kind of been more on the unschooling side of homeschool spectrum than I want to be. If I don’t have a structure laid out for me, chances are I won’t do it depending on the season of my life. This past year (or more) season has been one that lends itself to other preoccupations. Which, honestly, at my kids’ age is TOTALLY fine. Spend an afternoon with one of my kids, you will see that their learning capabilities have in no way been harmed because tough stuff has happened around here that deserved priority.

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Anyway, starting last week and progressing forward until the beginning of August, our family is getting somewhat of a break from the busy season. It was the first week that aside from one ballet class (that we are LOVING at our new studio), I’d had zero commitments, classes, play dates, or big weekend plans in AGES.

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Naturally, the reading bug hit me. I devoured The Well Trained Mind in just a few days. I tried reading The Well Trained Mind (TWTM) once before and I think because I was pregnant my brain was complete mush (pregnancy brain is VERY real) and could not comprehend the material. I tried to read some of my favorite Jane Austen novels at the same time and encountered the same problem. I found TWTM to be completely overwhelming. Of course I had nothing to worry about as this step-by-step curriculum plan and model begins very gradually in Kindergarten with basic skills and then REALLY starts in first grade. There was no rush.

Still even without TWTM in my brain, my eventual plan was a Classical education and every time I panicked or felt overwhelmed I’d call up my sister-in-law and discuss curriculum options with her. This time my feeling upon reading TWTM was one of relief and freedom. It really is laid out step by step and so easily and clearly. I actually felt the need to apologize for all those panic conversations with my sister-in-law in the past because it was almost like this “Doh!” moment for me as everything we had talked about before was laid out so clearly in the book.

This last week or more Stephen says I’ve gone beast mode on homeschooling. I bought a stack of (pretty) composition notebooks and started laying out all of our curriculum for the year (more on that later). I read some articles about homeschooling from an Orthodox perspective, picked a saint and a guiding quote for our school. I Blurb booked pictures from our last two years of school and then balked at the $50/book price tag (I guess my year books were around that price back in the day and if I think of it like that it is not so bad).

I also started trying to “get” Classical Conversations (I still don’t know that I completely get it), bought some art and science books for it, and started reading The Core by the CC founder. I’ve spent a couple days now reading reviews of the program on blogs and message boards to try and help me put into words how I was feeling, but having trouble expressing.

My initial impression that I got from the Classical Conversations website and catalog was that it was more of a complete program. However, once my Foundations guide (the main text of the program) arrived, I felt very confused and wondered if I was missing something because it all looked like a bunch of outlines to me. After reading the founder’s book, reading reviews and talking to my sister-in-law, I don’t think my initial impression was a correct one (though some families believe and promote that view of CC).

An analogy in my own life I have come up with best expresses how I feel about The Well Trained Mind and Classical Conversations. We have nearly converted to Orthodoxy at this point and I have had friends of various faith persuasions throughout my life. Many of these groups use the name Christian, but believe sometimes wildly different things. Many use similar or the same words that actually mean very different things to each group’s adherents. That’s how I feel about TWTM vs CC. I will add one more thought and that is, I believe there is a difference between learning something and memorizing. I still feel pretty confused by the seemingly random groupings of memory work laid out for each week with no context. My child is a “why” kind of child (like her mother) and I can see myself needing to explain A LOT of stuff to her with this program, some of which may or may not line up with our other curriculum. In this, I’m glad I did decide to tutor because I will be prepared to answer those whys.

Many other people have fleshed this out in more detail (just Google “Classical Conversations versus Well Trained Mind” or look up the posts tagged Classical Conversations on TWTM forums if you want a fuller picture). As someone that has yet to attend a practicum I am not sure my assessment is completely accurate or fair. It’s just how I feel from the outside looking in.

That said, from what I’ve read and what I was already planning to do this year anyway, I still think CC can compliment our goals. Memorization is good training for the brain even if we don’t completely know the context of what we are memorizing. So, I’m planning to look at the memory work as another subject we are tackling this year. Further, I think the fine arts and science will be great fun. I love the idea of doing these messy things in a group setting and having specific time carved out for them because I am sometimes reluctant to do messy projects at home (I did bust out the Playdoh for the first time in months this week and it wasn’t quite as messy as I often work it up to be in my anxious head). Lastly, this may seem a little absurd from a “classical” education standpoint, but I think the social aspect of the program will be a really valuable aspect for our kids especially in a season where we are kind of in limbo as far as a church community, have grown slightly apart from friends at our last community we had in this city prior to our move four years ago and obviously not as close knit with those from our previous city due to the distance.

Well, that was quite a lengthy tangent on classical education styles that I did not intend when I sat down to write tonight, but it was good to work through those thoughts in writing after trying to grapple with them the last week or so. So, on to this year’s plans!

I said I would talk about my notebooks later. So I guess I will start there. Prior to having kids when I was an editor of two community newspapers, I fell in love with a planner/agenda that was intended for moms. It gave full pages to every day of the week, had spaces for grocery lists, meal plans and all these other things I was trying to juggle at the time. It also did not have time slots for the days so you could list out things that needed to be accomplished each day in addition to actual appointments. As an editor, this was perfect because most days were not necessarily filled up with constant appointments and meetings, but rather lists of stories I needed to proof, pictures I might need to capture and people I needed to call. After awhile though, I started to feel like it was maybe just a little ridiculous to spend THAT much on a planner, even if it did come in cute covers. There were also a lot of wasted pages and sections that were for things I did not find useful. By the time I figured this out, I was pregnant with Bean, quitting my job and not really needing a planner anymore.

I’ve had an iPhone4 for a couple years now, but I’ve increasingly found that even if “there’s an app for that” for everything from menu planning to grocery lists, note taking, daily planning and to-do lists, I still prefer to at least initially write it out with pen and paper. So when I found my motivation this week and sat down with our curriculum I decided to use composition notebooks to map out our school year keeping some of the elements I loved from my old favorite planners, ditching the ones I did not find useful and incorporating things I need that would not be on one of those agendas like important days on the church calendar.

So today looks like this for example:
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And a day from our first week of school looks like this:
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Since we are still new (and unofficial) to Orthodoxy, I knew that this year one of the things I wanted to make a priority was learning about important days in the life of the Church as well as the traditions that are typical to those days so that we could begin to incorporate some of that into our family life. I tried to do that a little bit this last year from a hodge podge of Orthodox education sources, but I wanted something more coherent.

At one point I was even trying to find some sort of Orthodox encompassing curriculum (there isn’t one, but Protestant ones abound) and stumbled on the Children’s Garden of the Theotokos. I got some mixed reviews (dare I say negative?) from Orthodox homeschool friends, but having experience with picking and choosing already with Five in a Row, I decided I would go ahead with it anyway because it was the only thing geared toward children with resources conveniently in one package. At some point far down the road, I would love to come up (or be involved) with something comprehensive for Orthodox homeschoolers of a variety of age groups (bucket list).

One of the things I did during “homeschool beast mode,” was to look over this curriculum. I love all the art projects and many of the explanations and stories. I will not likely be using her ideas for circle time and other things that seem more suited to a corporate atmosphere such as a Sunday School class. Overall I think it will be a good and gentle way to begin creatively setting aside time to honor the heroes of the faith and important feast days in the church. I’m excited to learn and create together on this one.

Since all of the Garden of the Theotokos curriculum is tied to the church calendar, one of my first tasks after laying out the year in my composition books, was to figure out the important dates on the calendar like the beginning if the Nativity Fast, Lent, Pascha and others. Then I was able to write in lesson titles from the two Garden of the Theotokos project books: Seasons of Grace and Treasury of Feasts. They had to have two because there is no way for them to put them in a chronological order that would be correct every year since some important dates like Pascha move every year and others, like Christmas, are fixed every year.

I am still planning to finish out Five in a Row (vol. 2 & 3) next year, though as I said above, I tend to pick and choose on the discussion topics and activities we do to correspond with each book. I think we have loved every book on this list and I think it is still worth it. So my next task in my notebooks was to lay out for myself the order of the books and deciding which days it would be best to read them and do a discussion or activity from the curriculum.

I had a hard time with math, in part due to some pretty lousy teachers (just because you love math does not mean you love teaching) and because I had a hard time thinking more abstractly in my head. So based on that I thought a more hands on approach to math would be more helpful. Initially I was leaning towards the Right Start curriculum, but people in my local homeschool group kept raving about Math•U•See. I had a chance to head over to their website a few months ago and it seemed very similar and hands-on like the other program. It was also much less expensive. Based on that I decided to go with it and after reading The Well Trained Mind, I am even more satisfied with my decision as it is discussed thoroughly in there and recommended. Initially, since I normally do errands on Mondays and Tuesdays will be our CC Community day, I though we would just do it three days a week. However, everything I’ve read says a little math every day is best for retention and learning so we will plan to do one worksheet a day in the fall to start out with and see how it goes.

My original plan for handwriting curriculum was Handwriting Without Tears, but after reading The Well Trained Mind and checking out their other recommendations, I decided to go with the Zaner-Bloser curriculum instead. Cost was my main factor and Bean is already practicing some handwriting in various preschool workbooks she begs me to do all the time. Handwriting Without Tears seems especially geared towards kids having trouble picking up the skill and I don’t think that will be her. I may consider it in the future especially since our youngest is looking to be a lefty.

One of the main goals of the Kindergarten level is learning to read. I’ve had All About Reading Level 1 since sometime last year when Bean really wanted to start learning how to read. We made it through a few lessons, but it became clear to me at that point she was not ready, not retaining the information and having a huge problem connecting and blending the sounds together. We have tried to pick up All About Reading a couple times since our initial foray, but have tabled it again for the same reasons. She desperately wants to read now and has several books memorized which she says she is reading and I’ve had a hard time explaining the difference between reciting and reading to her (sounds like a theme from above). I’m planning to try it again this fall and in the meantime we are pointing out the phonetic sounds to her whenever we can.

So that about covers it for next year. The boys, including my nephew, will be able to sit in on any of it that they want to or their attention span allows. Sprout is so used to doing everything big sister does that he begs to do school too and he’s already mastered some letter and phonic associations, more than her, so we will see. I just really don’t want to push him, but I don’t want him to feel left out either.

Summary
Religious Studies: Children’s Garden of the Theotokos
Literature: Five in a Row
Math: Math•U•See
Handwriting: Zaner-Bloser
Reading: All About Reading
Science: Classical Conversations
Art: Classical Conversations
Memory Work: Classical Conversations

And since I have not shared much in the way of new/old abode, here are some pictures of and from our school and playroom (which used to be our living room before we moved):

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Oh Henry.

The words come more quickly every day. Full sentences of them. Then suddenly it feels like it is all going by too fast and I am desperate to push pause so I can grasp and hold on to the fleeting moments of him being the baby.

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The “are you” questions every day. Every question starts with it.

“Are you eating, Mama?”

“Are you socks on, Mama?”

“Are you got your glasses on, Mama?”

How everything is a “need” for him, I” neeeeeed it!”

The way he walks around with books open saying the only part of The Lord’s Prayer he remembers, over and over, assuming every book is a prayer book, “Our Father, our Father, our Father.” Or how he sings all day long little songs and hymns that are mostly unrecognizable, but then a piece of a melody starts to sound familiar to me or a little gibberish sounds like words. Then if you ask, “What are you singing, Henry?” He enthusiastically answers back, “Tokos,” which means Theotokos in Henry speak. When we do our night time prayers before bed asking St. Alexander to intercede on his behalf and he repeats, “my soul” at the end.

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The way two boys feed off each other, their energy rising to maniac levels which usually results in something or someone getting hurt or destroyed. Something we never experienced with just Jillian or Jillian and Ethan.

The way he still naps, but protests it and diaper changes.

“I not go nap-nap!”

“I not stinky!” Often shouting this through the entire diaper change at the top of his lungs.

How he exclaims, “There is! I find it!” When he discovers something regardless of whether it was in plain site and didn’t really need finding or even when I pull out cereal in the morning.

Always climbing on everything and falling off too with the head wounds/scars to prove it.

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Wondering where everyone is or what people are doing all the time.

“Where Papa go?”
“He went to work”
“Where Papa go?”
“I told you he’s at work.”
“Where Papa go?”
“Henry I’m not going to keep answering, Papa is at work.”
“Where Papa go?”

“Mama! Where Papa go?”

“Mama! WHERE PAPA GO?”

“Mama! NOT! FUNNY!”

How he emulates Stephen every morning after he leaves.

“Bye-bye! I going work! Bye-bye!”

How he’s always asking for chocolate.

“Chocowat, Mama. Want chocowat, Mama. I need it.”

Or the morning he asked for it before church and I said, “No silly! You can’t have chocolate in the morning for breakfast!” And he looked at me with this, “Can you blame me?” look on his face and said, “Well…” And I started cracking up so loud, completely caught off guard by his ability to be so funny.

His love for peek-a-boo which is sometimes replaced with “Hi!” instead.

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“Where Henry? Are you Henry? There I is! Hi!”

His fierce independence. “Henry do it! I hold it! I do it!” How I have to give him options to make him think he’s in control like at swim lessons, “You can sit in my lap or on the bench next to me.” “On the bench! Henry do it!”

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How this shirt is just so true and how much he loves this shirt asking every morning for his “trouble” shirt.

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How finally with my third I have my water baby, one that will stand in the waves at the beach with me, who demands through a water logged face to jump from the edge of the pool into my arms as many times as I will let him.

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How he’s still the “foodie baby,” but is increasingly picky, just no where near as picky as the other two and always wanting something to eat with nothing to show for it on his long and lean frame inherited from Papa. “I hungwee, Mama! Want yia-yos (Cheerios). I hungwee! I firsty!”

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