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

Monday, April 8, 2013


On the fourth Sunday of Lent we celebrate St. John Climacus, who wrote The Ladder of Divine Ascent.  This is quite a hefty work, which even adults find intimidating.  However, it offers a useful guide for leading a Christian life and attaining salvation that is well within the reach of children.  I offer here some ideas for teaching about St. John and what he taught about reaching Heaven.

Brief Life of St. John compiled from and Holy Spirit Interactive Kids Zone:

    St. John was born around the year 570.  When he was sixteen, he went to the Monastery of St. Katherine at Mount Sinai submitting to Abba Martyrius as his instructor.  Four years later, St John was tonsured as a monk.  He later spent forty solitary years in the desert "laboring in silence, fasting, prayer, and tears of penitence."  St John knew the importance of moderation and humility in all things.  He said of himself, “I do not fast excessively, nor do I give myself over to intense all-night vigil, nor lay upon the ground, but I restrain myself..., and the Lord soon saved me.”  Word of his holiness spread, and many came to him for spiritual guidance and help.  When he was seventy-five, he was chosen as abbot (igumen) of the monastery.  St John governed the holy monastery for four years. Toward the end of his life, the Lord granted him the gifts of clairvoyance and wonderworking. 
    The abbot of Raithu asked him to write down the rules by which he lived.  St John felt that the task was beyond his ability, but out of obedience he wrote The Ladder of Divine Ascent for monks who wished to attain spiritual perfection.  It would be “a ladder fixed on the earth” (Gen. 28:12), leading people to the gates of Heaven.  The thirty steps of spiritual perfection correspond to the thirty years of the Lord’s age.  The Ladder begins with the renunciation of the world, proceeds gradually from strength to strength on the path of perfection, and ends with God, Who is love.

Read The Monk Who Grew Prayer for a perspective on life as a monk/hermit.

Preparation for Liturgy:
Look at the icon of the Ladder of Divine Ascent and discuss what is happening and what it means.
    Troparion — Tone 1: Dweller of the desert and angel in the body, / you were shown to be a wonder-worker, our God-bearing Father John. / You received heavenly gifts through fasting, vigil, and prayer: / healing the sick and the souls of those drawn to you by faith. / Glory to Him who gave you strength! / Glory to Him who granted you a crown! / Glory to Him who through you grants healing to all!
    Kontakion — Tone 4: The Lord truly set you on the heights of abstinence, / to be a guiding star, showing the way to the universe, / O our Father and Teacher John.
Gospel Mark 9:17–31:
    Key Points: 
  • Faith (through God all things are possible), 
  • Necessity of prayer and fasting, 
  • When we are struggling, we can pray as the father did "Lord I believe, help my unbelief."

Craft Project: Ladder of Divine Ascent
This simple ladder, similar to the icon, is a reminder of some of the virtues St. John mentions that will help us in our journey to salvation.  The devils are reminders of the temptations and passions we must struggle against.  I provide eleven virtues and seven devils in the template.  You can use the book or ask your children for other suggestions to add more, if desired.

Construction paper, cardboard, or poster board
2 Ribbons, twine, or twigs
Black construction paper (optional)
Glue (or glue sticks)
Cotton balls
Glitter or glitter glue

1. Print template and cut out virtues.
2. Cut devils from template or black construction paper (an adult or older child will probably need to cut these out).  If using construction paper, cut out vices and glue onto devils.
3. Glue ribbon parallel to each other about 1.5 inches apart from top to bottom.
4. Glue the rungs of the ladder to the background paper. Start with prayer at the bottom, and end with love at the top.  The others can go anywhere in between.
5. Decorate the background as desired (we painted on gold glitter glue for an icon feel).
6. Glue cotton balls sprinkled with more glitter at the top of the ladder to represent Heaven.
7. Glue the devils anywhere on the page, but preferably near the bottom.

Ask your child questions:
Which virtues does he think he practices well?
Which could he use more practice in?
What vices tempt him the most?
What virtues might he use to resist those temptations?

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.
            It appealed more to my younger daughter than my older one.  After we finished it the first time, she asked to read it again, and then said, "Let's read it again and again and again."  What better endorsement could you ask?!  She was captivated by the story and by Masha Lobastov's lovely illustrations.  On our first reading, she stopped me to point out the beautiful rainbow in front of which the narrator, an old man, plays in a fountain like a boy.  She also loved the illustration of the boy with Jesus and the saints at the end of the story.  She, especially, felt a connection to the young, girl saint.  At 4 years old, she was happy just hearing the surface story of an old man nurturing a dry, dead land and turning it into a flourishing garden.
            My older daughter was able to grasp the deeper meaning in the story.  Her favorite part was when the Man kept knocking until the old man got annoyed and let him in.  When the old man finally wanted to let the Man in but couldn't find the key, the Man showed him the key.  My daughter commented, "I could even help him find the key.  The key is love."  We discussed what sorts of things cause our hearts to be like deserts– lacking love–, and what we need to do, like the old man, to make our hearts fertile and fruitful.  On each reading we stopped at the page with the old man playing in the fountain.  So, I took the opportunity to ask why it's significant that he should act like a boy.  We were able to explore the Bible story of the children coming to Jesus, and to be reminded that we must all try to hold on to the purity and innocent love of childhood.
            Finally, this book was a powerful reminder to me.  There are times when I feel like I'm lost in a desert, a sheep who can't find the flock.  And I sometimes wonder if the good shepherd is searching for me.  Even thought it is sometimes hard to hear the Man knocking at the gate, how comforting it is, even as an adult, to be reminded that our God is always reaching out to us if only we can find the key to let him in.
            We are nearing Great Lent, and as I contemplate the journey I will be making to Pascha with my family, I know that The Hidden Garden will certainly be part of that journey this year.  We will read it again and again, as my younger daughter requested, to nourish and sustain us on our spiritual journey.