Thursday, December 19, 2013

CTA's Holiday Train

This is a cheap holiday activity in Chicago that is sure to impress the kiddos.  For about a decade, the Chicago Transit Authority has had a special Christmas time tradition.  Every year 6 cars are decked out in festive Christmas garb and carry Santa and his elves throughout the city.  We've known about this tradition for a few years now, but it has always seemed to difficult to arrange to ride it.

This year, though, we finally did.  Because the train only runs for a limited time each day, it was proving difficult to find a time when we could all ride what with work, choir rehearsals, Sunday school retreats, etc... But after checking the schedules for weeks as they were released, I was able to pull all the family together last Friday night for a ride on the Santa Train.

DH takes the train home from work most evenings, so I arranged to pick up Humming Bird from a choir concert at 5:30 PM and meet DH at Penny's Noodles (just a couple of doors down from the Damen St. L station) for a family dinner.  We had a limited time because we had to be (back) on the platform by 6:45 to catch the Santa Train.  The staff at Penny's was great about getting us served quickly, and the food was tasty, too.  At 6:35 we walked back to the train, and Humming Bird was thrilled to be able to use her very own Ventra Pass to ride.
The train turned out to be slightly delayed, and it was super crowded because not only were families riding for fun, but rush hour commuters were also using it to get home (Saturday might be a better day to ride).  The train with its many Christmas lights could be seen approaching, and the girls were super excited.  Before jumping on, they glanced at Santa and I took a quick picture.  I got the girls on fairly easily, but DH was cut off by another passenger and almost didn't make it on.  However, I was an obnoxious customer, and stuck my arm out the doors despite the "Doors Closing" announcement.  I was not going to let my family activity get messed up... So, I grabbed DH's hand and pulled him into the train much to the chagrin of the elf standing at the door.  Deep breath... we were all on.
The girls were offered seats by another passenger and excitedly sat on the decorated seats.  Daddy and I stood, holding on to the candy cane poles.  There were Christmas carols playing and the aroma of cinnamon wafted through the car (not my favorite, but fortunately, I was coming down with a cold and couldn't really smell it).  We were in the back of the car , and a CTA conductor was standing by the back door.  He offered each of the girls a Holiday Train button, and he even gave them extras when they asked for ones to pass along to friends.  And DH talked to him about Santa Train logistics.
As people got off at various stops, they were able to make their way to a couple of elves who let them pick as many candy canes as they wanted.  I was quite pleased that they each took only two.  We rode the train all the way to its terminus at O'Hare, and we were able to get some more photos before catching a regular train back to the neighborhood.

 The ride home had its own specialness.  The train was much emptier and filled with more traditional CTA riders.  That included a homeless woman who asked for some money.  Not having any, we did offer some leftovers, and Hummingbird gave up one of her candy canes for "dessert."  It was also great to see the girls getting along so well.  Usually, they argue over who is going to sit by the window or some such nonsense, but this time they sat together smiling and talking agreeably.  
So, there may not be a whole lot to do on the train, but for $2.25 per adult (and $1.10 for kids over 7), it's an inexpensive holiday activity that brings together the whole family and everyone will enjoy it.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Dormition Craft with Video

The Dormition Craft can be found here.

The Sounding Blog Has Moved...

...and in the process posts over a year old have been trashed.

Ironically, I just received an email from someone looking for a post that had an old, inaccurate link.  I fixed the link yesterday and today that link is no good either.  So, over the next few days, I'm going to try to (re)post some of my older posts from The Sounding for anyone who still wants to do those crafts/activities.  I'll link all of them here as I do it for easy access.

In other news, Kindle versions of my bilingual counting books are on sale for the low, low cost $.99 for the next 6 days, and you don't even have to own a Kindle to read them!

Dormition Craft

Monday, October 21, 2013

Birthday Pinata

I'm not terribly fond of the idea of spending $20 for a pinata, but my kids seem to want one for every birthday party.  Hummingbird's party is coming up this weekend, and she has decided she wants a Candy theme.  She wanted a lollipop pinata, but I couldn't find a reasonable way to do it.  So, she agreed to a Nerds candy box as long as it could be rainbow colors.  So, I found a medium size box, printed out a Nerds logo, and started adding tissue paper this morning.  And voila! In about 2.5 hours I had a cute little pinata filled with candy and ready to be hung and beaten to pieces.  

I'm saving myself the usual effort of making the cake.  Instead, we'll be having Nutella pizza from Piece (a great neighborhood pizza place) with M&Ms spelling out "Happy Birthday" and other designs.  The food will all be junky -- candy and sweet relations, nothing healthy!  Definitely Hummingbird's dream!

For games, we'll be doing a peanut butter cup hunt in Easter egg fashion, and playing "poison candy bar" (hot potato, and winner gets the candy bar).

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Embarking on a New Adventure

Over the weekend we were at a friend's birthday party.  It was held in his uncle's lovely backyard, which included an abundant grape vine.  We came home with about 10 pounds of concord grapes, half of which I just spent the last 30 minutes washing.  So, I'm scouring the internet to find the easiest way to make GRAPE JELLY!  I have a large pressure cooker that I seem to recall having instructions for making jam.  I have some jars; I need to get some pectin.  I've found a few recipes/instructions that look promising, but it still seems like an intimidating task.

Nonetheless, I am not deterred.  I do suspect that some you out there have embarked upon this particular adventure, and I would love to hear your suggestions and advice before I begin.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Breaking Cliches: Analogy Fun

Fill in the blank without using a cliche.  Submit  your answers in the comments or link to your blog.  I'd love to see what others come up with.

I'm as nervous as _______________.
She's as sick as _________________.
It's as dry as ___________________.
It's as cold as __________________.
He sticks out like _______________.
I'm as happy as _________________.
It's as wet as ___________________.
My hair's as oily as ______________.

Some of our answers...

Be sure you've thought of your own before reading on...

Are you ready?

Here they are...

I'm as nervous as a fly in a hurricane.
I'm as nervous as an elephant who sees a mouse. (Hummingbird)
I'm as nervous as a long tail cat in a room full of rocking chairs. (courtesy of DH's grandfather)
She's as sick as a snake who ate a rotten rabbit.
It's as dry as a pond in a drought.
It's as cold as a Floridian at the South Pole.
He sticks out like Mick Jagger at a Back Street Boys (apply current hot boy band here) concert.
He sticks out like a crocodile at an alligator rally. (courtesy of The Family Guy)
I'm as happy as a bumble bee in  a clover patch.
I'm as happy as apple pie.
It's as wet as Frosty on a hot day.
My hair's as oily as an acne-prone teen.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Summer Art Week 3: In the Style of Paul Klee

This week we read about artist Paul Klee of Switzerland, again using Children's Book of Art.  Paul Klee was influenced by the Cubist movement, and was part of the Expressionist movement.  He was also a musician and described some of his art as "taking a line for a walk."   That is to say he would doodle to see what shapes appear.

To imitate his work, I provided the girls with various geometric shapes to trace (Bumble Bee was keen on this).  Hummingbird preferred to take her line for a walk, but she still produced a rather Cubist work.  I let them pick the medium and they chose markers for these.

Photos coming soon!

Monday, July 1, 2013

Week 2: In the Style of Friedensreich Hundertwasser

The Friedensreich Hundertwasser lesson is here.
The Sky by Hummingbird

A Ship in a Storm by Bumble Bee

For more information and his art online:
Hundertwasser Primary Facts

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

FedEx Not so Express

I'm waiting for new Pyrex lids to arrive, and I just checked my tracking late this evening because I remembered that they hadn't arrived. Below is my tracking for your enjoyment... I could have driven to Pennsylvania and picked these up more quickly.  Given that it took an entire day to get from MD to WV, I won't hope to expect my lids until Thursday, but once again I could drive to Wisconsin and get them myself...


Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Merida Update

My kids love Disney, so I do get Disney email newsletters even if I don't like everything about them.  When I got an email with the subject "Presenting Princess Merida: Strong, Fearless and Adventurous," I had to click through to see what they'd done with Merida.

To my delight I found the original Merida.  It's a pity they didn't revive the original princess styles all around, though.  Maybe that's the next petition.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

A Visiting Bishop

We had a bishop with us at church this morning.  I was quite taken with him because of this...

Khakis and Birkenstocks

Monday, May 13, 2013

Disney Merida Makeover

In case any of you don't frequent The Sounding or haven't already heard through other venues, I wanted to share with you this great post by Mat. Donna Farley.

I loved Brave when I saw, and it was the first Disney Princess movie that actually made me cry.  I think I was even as excited as my girls about how "cool" Merida is.  I guess I don't keep up with pop culture well enough, and I don't buy much of the Princess merchandise for the girls, so the new look of the princesses truly surprised me, and not in a pleasant way.

I highly recommend reading Mat. Donna's post and following the link at the bottom of her article to sign a petition to Disney.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Child Nutrition and Cooking (Updated)

I'm a bit disappointed in this class after the second week.  I had expected the second week of lectures to be more in depth, to teach me something new.  Sadly for me, the class is really just skimming the surface, touching on things that have been brought up by the "Food Movement" without even going as deep as some of its proponents.

If you have never cooked or paid attention to all the news about food -- slow food, whole food, real food, edible food substances -- then you may learn something new in this class and find further resources to learn more.  If you generally keep up on all of this stuff, which I do, then you might get a few good recipes and a review outline.

On the other hand, it is free so it doesn't hurt to check it out still...

Six months ago or so, I discovered the wonderful world of online education.  Several of the large and prestigious universities in the US are offering free courses online for everyone.  I've been enjoying this new venue for "life-long learning." And yesterday was the beginning of a new Coursera class on child nutrition and cooking.

Childhood nutrition is at the front of my mind, and I am usually racking my brain for new ideas to get the kids, especially Hummingbird, to eat healthier foods.  Needless to say, I am very excited about this class.  The short lectures this week have already offered a couple of quick ideas to try at home.  Additionally, there are several optional lectures that look at everything from the big bad boogie man, "Big Agriculture" to breastfeeding and their effects on childhood obesity and malnutrition.  There are also weekly cooking assignments.  This first week's is to create a colorful vegetable feature dish with at least three vegetables.  I can't wait to try this.  I'll probably be thinking of ideas as I fall asleep tonight...

This is a free class and you need not invest a ton of time to get some benefits from it, only commit what you can.  So, I highly recommend it for anyone interested in childhood nutrition in general or specifically for your own kids.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Pascha Silhouettes

Christ is Risen!

This is turning out to be the best Pascha since 2004.  We had a small, but large miracle on Great and Holy Friday, which led to the most joyous Pascha we've had in years.  Plus, the liturgy last night proceeded nearly flawlessly, unlike last year's which was a tragedy of errors and storms.  Joy is in the air!  Christ has, indeed, risen victoriously!

Yesterday afternoon and today the girls and I worked on some Pascha silhouettes.  These were quite simple and fun to do.  You can find a template for the silhouette shapes here.

Bumble Bee's rainbow watercolor

My monochrome watercolor

Hummingbird's Oil Pastel

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Homeschool Resource

I don't actually homeschool my kids, but I do work with them a bunch at home, especially when trying to prepare them for testing to get into one of Chicago's excellent schools.

Last night I was looking for reading worksheets to use with Bumble Bee, and I found a website that promises to be an excellent resource.  There are worksheet and activities for use from pre-K through high school.  With the basic free membership you can download 9 worksheets a month at no cost.  There is also a pay option if you want unlimited worksheets.  I probably don't need that, but for anyone who does homeschooling that may be useful.

*I am in no way being compensated for this blog post.  I'm just excited about the resource.  Bumble Bee and our neighbor just made cute little mini-book.  They colored and then read them out loud and they were excited to do it.  This is great because I sometimes struggle with her not being willing to read with me.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Another Thought on Forgiveness This Lent

I just finished reading The Illumined Heart by Frederica Mathewes-Green.  I won't do an elaborate review because the book is an easy read that you could practically finish just as quickly as reading about it.  It is worth reading, too.  In particular there are some very apt sayings that we should all remember in our struggles to be good Christians.

I'll quote one of these.  In speaking about forgiveness she says, "We release the one who hurt us from his debt, seeing what a greater debt God has already given us.  To the best of our ability, we should try to resume a relationship and behave toward the person with love, since that is the kind of forgiveness God models toward us." (94)

How often people say, "I'll forgive you, but I can't forget," meaning we'll never actually be friends again.  Is this actually forgiveness?  I've always felt it isn't.  Indeed, when we pray the Lord's Prayer and say, "forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us," I always felt that there was something to this not only of forgiving, but the way in which we forgive.  If we forgive fully so God will forgive us.  If we merely say the words without feeling the forgiveness in our hearts, will we still be forgiven?

As I think of the struggles in my own life and those within my diocese these words from The Illumined Heart really strike home.  I think there is a lot of talk and a whole lot less actual forgiveness going on...  May God grant us all the strength to truly forgive as He does.

Friday, April 12, 2013

My Visit to Aristotle Greek School

Yesterday was my visit to the Aristle Greek School in Niles.  It went very well.  As Ms. Rita, the preschool coordinator, introduced me, she showed the children my picture from the back of the book.  She had shown the picture to the kids during the week before.  So, as she told them I was the author who was going to talk to them, one little boy said, "But she doesn't look like her [pointing to the picture]!"  Indeed, I've had a haircut since the photograph in the book was taken!  

First, I read the story to them.  Then, I answered the questions that the kids had prepared in advance.  The three-year-olds got a bit antsy and had to leave before I could answer the last question.  When we finished the main talk, I took pictures with each class and the kids who were buying books.  Then, the kindergarten class and I sat down to chat some more.  They had a few more questions and wanted to tell me all about their writing and illustrations.  It was fun all around!

Tribune Story

Friday, April 5, 2013

A New Hat: Public Speaking

I am venturing into new endeavors.  Next week, I will have my first professional public speaking engagement.  I am very excited to be doing a reading of Josiah and Julia Go to Church for the Pre-K and Kindergarten students at St. Haralambos Aristotle Greek School.  I will also be speaking to them about being an author.  I asked the teachers to have the children prepare a few questions in advance.  At this age attention spans can be short if they're not really interested, so I want to talk about those aspects of writing that interest them.  Some questions are quite apropos, such as "What other books are you going to write?"  Others are much more general interest: "What is your favorite color?"  I know this is a very important subject for kids.  I hope they don't dislike me when I tell them its BROWN!

Currently, if you have an event at which you'd like a children's book author to speak, initial arrangements can be made with the Orthodox Speakers Bureau.  I'm working on adding other topics for the near future, too.

Monday, April 1, 2013

The Hidden Garden: a Story of the Heart

My daughters and I were excited to learn that we would have the opportunity to preview Jane G. Meyer's latest book The Hidden Garden: a Story of the Heart. We read it four times the afternoon we received our copy of the book. My daughters are 8 and 4 years old, and I'm old enough not to tell my age, so we all took something different from it, but we also agreed it was a good book. This is a book that I feel privileged to have in our library. It is one that we will read over and over, that we will share with friends, and it is one that I hope one day many years from now to pull out and read for some grandchildren. It is a book that I predict will become an Orthodox children's classic.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Thoughts about Forgiveness on Forgiveness Sunday (published a week later)

I wrote this post a week ago but hesitated to publish it at the time because the news shared at liturgy was not "public" outside of two parishes.  The situation is slightly different now, and so it is time for me to share these thoughts.


It is late tonight.  I've been home from Forgiveness Vespers for a couple of hours now.  As I woke up this morning, I thought the day ahead would be one of forgiveness and a clean slate.  But as I sit here growing tired, I find that today was not what I expected it to be.

First, I heard a bit of bad news at the end of Liturgy today.  We were informed that Bishop Matthias is being asked to step down.  He was given until the end of the week to "decide" how to do it.  That is why I'm not actually publishing this tonight.  I don't want to overstep my authority, which is none, to make such an announcement.  This news has put a bad taste in my mouth for a few reasons.  The first of which is that during his leave of absence the Bishop has spent a fair bit of time at Holy Trinity.  He has made the effort to get to know more of the parishioners.  He has been kind and engaging with adults and kids alike.  He has shown NO signs of unacceptable behavior.  Follow this with the fact that he has done everything the Synod asked of him, including seeking treatment and submitting to a psychological evaluation to ensure that he's not a predator (and multiple parties have declared that he is not).  I certainly only have secondhand information, so perhaps I'm mistaken about things.  But it seems to me that he is now being unjustly persecuted for reasons that have nothing to do with the scandal that forced his leave of absence.  Indeed, from what I've heard the scandal is a handy excuse being used by those who do not want to follow the Traditions of the church to remove a bishop who wants to uphold Church teachings and Tradition.  The greatest irony of all of this is that the news that he will not be reinstated (dare I say it? that he will not be forgiven, despite his repentance and penance) comes to us on Forgiveness Sunday as we enter a period of repentance and forgiveness.  I understand that some people may not like him, and have quarrels with him.  I even had my own grudge for a time.  

However, despite all of that, as Christians we are asked to forgive one another.  Daily I pray, "...forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us..."  This is certainly a hard prayer to pray.  I'm not always the best at forgiving and moving on.  I do hold grudges.  And daily I am reminded how those grudges will hurt me in the end.  Not only do they harm our relationships with each other, but they pose a great risk for our own salvation.  

This past week has been a difficult one in our household.  We've been working on implementing a new discipline technique.  It started off great, but we've now hit the "pushing back hard to get a familiar reaction" stage.  There have been times when I have not wanted to forgive my own daughters.  In moments of frustration and anger, they have said things that hurt at the core of my being.  Shortly after, they would return in a calmer mood and apologize, but I didn't want to hear it.  It hurt, and I wasn't ready to forgive.  I did genuinely forgive them this evening.  Sadly, I know I'm going to have a few more occasions to forgive (or not forgive) them tomorrow, this week.

It can be hard to forgive, whether we're forgiving a stranger, a friend, our children, or a bishop.  It is really hard to forgive someone who hurts, to let go of the hurt, to move on.  It is REALLY hard for us.  It is also really good for us.  It is a necessary tool for rebuilding relationships with the people around us, and with God.  He, of course, is waiting and ready to forgive us for everything, but He asks us to do the same.

I guess this is all to say that I go to bed a little sad tonight because we as a Church are falling short of the ideal for which Christ has asked us to strive.  I know I shouldn't be surprised --we always fall short--, but I can't help hoping we'll hit the goal.

I pray that God may soften hard hearts, and that Bishop Matthias may be allowed to continue to shepherd His flock in the Midwest, for as St. John Chrysostom said, "Since the remembrance of wrongs is clearly contrary to love and harmful to it... Let us flee, brethren, the evil passion of remembering wrongs, lest it hinder our freedom of access before God."

Please forgive me if I have offended you, and may God forgive us all.

useful link

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Blueberry Muffins

I am always on the lookout for a good blueberry muffin recipe, especially one that I can use during Lent.  Muffins are my favorite Lenten breakfast.  Blueberry muffins, however, generally don't turn out well when they are vegan.  I've tried and failed many times.

Today, though, I tried a new recipe.  Bumble Bee wanted banana muffins (our go-to muffin), but I had a bunch of blueberries I wanted to use up before they could go bad.  A quick Google search brought me to a new recipe at the Speckled Palate.  It seemed promising, but I was missing applesauce and didn't want quite so much sugar.  So, I tweaked it just a bit, and with Bumble Bee's assistance, I made a nice batch of blueberry muffins.  I also generally like just to throw everything in and mix, so my step-by-step was a little different, too, but  I don't think my lazy style hurt.

I will admit these aren't strictly Lenten because they do require a smidgen of oil, but if you don't mind that or can wait for an oil & wine day, they're worth the effort.  Even with about a third of the sugar called for in the original, they were still nicely sweetened.

  • 1 medium mashed banana
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1½ teaspoons baking powder
  • ¼  teaspoon sea salt
  • 2 cups fresh blueberries
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons white vinegar + 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • ½ cup original flavored soymilk
  • water as needed
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Coat the blueberries in 1 tablespoon of flour. Set aside.
  3. Stir together salt, sugar, oil, bananas, and vanilla. 
  4. Stir in soymilk, baking powder, baking soda and vinegar. (Bumble Bee enjoyed watching it all froth as I added the vinegar.
  5. Add flour stirring until just mixed.
  6. Add water as needed to make the batter more pourable (I found it to be too doughy with the original liquid content).
  7. Fold in blueberries.
  8. Bake for 10 minutes or until golden brown.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Positive Discipline

For two months I've been taking a class on Positive Discipline. I was a little skeptical when I started, but this class is already having a positive impact on our family.  To read more about it check out my article on The Sounding.

If you'd like more information or tools click here to visit Positive Discipline or check out the blog.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Worldview: Power Politics of GMOs Destroying Our Well-Being

So it's been quite awhile since I've said anything on here.  I've been meaning to write a review of an awesome pizza place here in Chicago, and I will be doing that later this week.  What has finally motivated me enough to tap away at the keyboard is a podcast that I listened to earlier today.

Yesterday afternoon my husband had asked me if I had listened to the day's episode of Worldview on WBEZ.  I hadn't, and he told me that I really needed to listen because it touched on all of the things that make my blood boil.  He was certainly right.  For years now I have been flabbergasted and angry that big agro is allowed to create genetically modified seeds, patent them, and then nail small farmers to the wall and contaminate organic farms.

Well, it is well worth listening to Jerome McDonnell's interview with Dr. Vandana Shiva.  As much as this topics riles me up and makes me want to yell at the management of Monsanto and other big agro businesses, I have a bit of hope that with people like Dr. Shiva speaking out and working to stop them, we may eventually effect a change that will bring us more in line with nature and healthier lives.  If you're not convinced to give up 45 minutes of your time to listen, envision eating food that has been sprayed with agent orange... because we almost certainly are.

Now if you're ready for your blood to boil but have a little hope, too, take a listen. 

Then, you might follow up with this segment on eating organic.

When you're done check out Slow Foods. Even if you don't drop everything to become an activist, Slow Foods will keep you up to date on legislation that is being pushed through congress on this issue.  They even make it easy to contact your representatives and make your voice heard.