Nothing smells like "home" more than somethin' in the oven. There's no way around it, baking is utterly lovely. Please send your submissions to the Loveliness of Baking Fair to Cheryl as soon as you can! The fair is Monday February 26th! I can almost smell it from here.
Lent began with a call to prayer--a jangling, jarring, unmistakable wake up call. At three o'clock in the morning, the phone rang. Since there were three cordless phones in the bedroom at the time, the phones rang--and they did so with authority. My husband answered and I could tell he was fumbling for words. I whispered the seven digit phone number into the darkness. Mike relayed it and doublechecked for accuracy. He talked a little more and assured himself that the caller would indeed use the number provided. A little more quiet talking. He hung up. Wrong number.
Our phone number is one digit off a local mental health hotline. Every once in awhile, we get a very serious "wrong number" phone call. And it's always in the middle of the night. I suppose we should have changed the number the first time it happened, but we figured it was an isolated incident. Now, we regard those dialing mistakes as opportunities for guardian angels to arrange for prayer vigils. We know how to keep the caller on the phone long enough to be certain he understands what the number really is and to be as certain as possible he'll make the second call. Before I hang up, I always tell the caller that I will be praying for him or her. On one occasion, the lady on the other end asked to pray with me. When it's the middle of the night and someone calls out of the blue and asks to pray, believe me, you sit up and you pray.
Whenever a phone awakens me in the middle of the night, even if it's not a hotline call, the adrenaline rush prevents me from going back to sleep easily. In the case of hotline calls, it's impossible not to wonder about the caller, about the outcome. Usually, I don't go back to sleep at all. I just stay awake and pray. And for the next few days, every time the call comes to mind (and it is often), I pray some more. An odd coincidence of numbers has resulted in an unexpected ministry.
There are so many calls to prayer in our lives, if only we hear them. Surely, the sound of sirens is such a call. In the lives of mothers, the cry of a baby or even the whine of a toddler is a cue to beg divine intervention. Nearly eight years ago, when my son Stephen was a newborn, a baby was born in California. He was a fragile little boy, desperately ill. And every single time my healthy bundle awakened me in the middle of the night, my prayers were offered first for Aidan in California. It was my first experience asking the intercession of St. Therese. Aidan received a successful liver transplant on the Little Flower's feast day that year. And I made a nighttime prayer partner for life. Therese and I still begin those nighttime vigils with a prayer for Aidan and now we offer those interrupted nights for all sorts of prayer concerns.
Whether it's the tinny ringtones of three phones or the quiet murmurs of my current baby, I am grateful for the reminder--the monastery bells in my domestic church. It's a privilege to join the company of monks and cloistered nuns around the world who have given their lives to pray. My life is an active one; I am certainly not a contemplative. But in the dark of the night, often accompanied by the sweet sounds of a nursing baby, my prayers are joined with those of the universal church and the communion of saints as we beg for God's grace for the sick and the suffering.
In the comments section, you asked about the eggnog. Since I can't seem to comment on my own blog lately, I'll answer here. This recipe evolved from the Mexican hot chocolate recipe:
4 cups milk
2 cups heavy cream (often, I just use milk)
3/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
3 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
In a heavy saucepan, heat the milk and cream on low until hot but not bubbling. When the milk mixture is hot add the sugar, and the cinnamon. In a small bowl beat the eggs and vanilla. Add a tablespoon of the milk mixture to the eggs and beat well. Slowly stir the egg mixture into the rest of the milk. Whisk the egg nog briskly for 3 minutes, then serve immediately.
Note: Nicholas often requests his with a teaspoon of instant coffee in the blender for extra foam.
Makes 8 servings, the way it's written but can easily be made in smaller servings, for say, one very persistent child.
I was packing copies of Real Learning to mail this afternoon and I asked Nicky to hand me two more books to sign. He said, "Why do you keep sending these books to everyone? Just because you like it, doesn't mean everyone wants to read it..."
The 4Real Message Boards will be closed for the first ten days of Lent and all of Holy Week. The only exception is the prayer forum which will remain open always. I pray that the silence is fruitful.
O Lord and Ruler of Life,
take from me the spirit of idleness, despair, cupidity, and empty talking.
Yea, O Lord grant that I may see my own sins and not judge my brother.
For thou art blessed forever and ever. Amen.
Stephen: Nick,for Lent, why don't you give up making Mom make you homemade eggnog every morning?
Nicky: Okay, I can do that but only if I can have an ice cream milkshake for breakfast instead.
Me: I don't think so...
Stephen: Why don't you give up sleeping in Mom's bed?
Nicky: Stop it! You're making me sad. Why can't I just give up baths or something?
“The same things that the Book of the Gospels explains by means of words, the iconographer shows by means of his works.”
St. Basil the Great
For as long as we've been a "Real Learning" household, religious education has taken place largely within the context of the liturgical year. The cycle of feasting and fasting, the celebration of the life of the Lord, the joy of the communion of saints--all have richly blessed our life as a family and all have richly educated our children in the truths of the faith.
My children are sensitive to the changing colors and the changing seasons of the life of the Church. For Advent--one of the purple seasons--we have a multitude of well-established traditions in our family. Advent is full and rich and somewhat predictable. The children know we go from St. Nicholas to Our Lady of Guadalupe, to St. Lucy and so on until we arrive at the Christmas Vigil. It's a lovely, tradition-filled, rhythmic season.
We have far fewer traditions for Lent, far fewer markers along the journey. I have several atrium presentations and each year, we wonder together over the days leading to the Passion.
But I was looking for something more--something visible and tangible and steeped in tradition. Two of my children have Orthodox godparents. Every year that I can remember, the Orthodox Pascha has fallen on a different date than the Roman Catholic Easter. This year, the calendars line up. And this year, Katherine has blessed us with a beautiful look inside the Eastern church. A perfect rabbit trail! I can use those those beautiful ancient Lenten traditions and the icons that go with them and together with my children, we can learn about the history of the early church and the life of our Lord.
We played a little catch up. Using Katherine's essays on the five Sundays leading up to the Lent, we looked anew at Zaccheus. See, there he is up in that tree.
Those essays are no longer available, but similar essays appear in Great Lent. We studied the icon of Zaccheus and then colored one of our own. Each of the older children wrote a narration of the story and then a meditation of their own for their liturgical year notebooks.
And so it followed for each of the five Sundays leading up to Lent.Each icon is lesson unto itself, a lesson that deepens every time we look at it. But this isn't the lesson of a catechism book, nor is it a work of art. The lessons in the icons sow the seeds of prayer. The idea here isn't so much to illuminate our minds, as to touch our souls. We learned a great deal about the stories or the saints depicted to be sure, but the knowledge isn't for knowledge's sake--it's to bring us deeper into the icon and so into a deeper union with the mystical truths that are there.
We've read before the story of the Publican and the Pharisee, of the Prodigal Son, of the Last Judgment, but this year, we learned to look at those stories anew with the icons as our windows. In true rabbit trail-, real learning-style, we are going to continue our studies throughout Lent. The icons will be our curriculum. We'll look at the creation of man and his expulsion from Eden, the road to calvary, the ladder of divine ascent, all from a contemplative perspective. Just as we approach the works in the atrium, using physical objects and figures with a reverence and a sense of wonder, we will look to the icons in a spirit of prayer.
I ordered a few books to help our study:
How to Pray with Icons is a little book I ordered from Seton Home Study. There are colorful icons as well as explanations of gospel events and brief prayers. The emphasis is not on art--indeed, I will use something entirely different for picture study to emphasize this to my children--but on icons as windows into heaven.
The Story of Icons is a truly beautiful book that takes the study much deeper than the book above. It's a natural for those of us who want to more after first experiencing this gateway to heaven.
Of course, one of the first books I turned to when I began planning this study was Brother Joseph The Painter of Icons. Brother Joseph is truly a living book on iconographpy, because adults and children alike read it and are drawn into to the story of the creation of icons.
I also ordered The Icon Book and several other icon coloring books. I think that in coloring these icons, even my very oldest children will gain an appreciation for the truths they tell. With the coloring books, I did splurge and buy some new colored pencils. Crayons just won't do these justice.
Duplicate sets of Icon flash cards make a nice matching game and give the children even more to look at and contemplate. Paidea Classics offers icon ornament kits for Sundays during Lent and Holy Week.
I see the introduction of icons into my home to be as exciting as the introduction of the atrium materials for the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd. There are striking similarities. Both are tangible, touchable, visual methods of wondering with a child about God. Neither of them get between God and the child. Both of them encourage the child to go again and again to the same "presentation" and to come away with a deeper personal meaning each time. Finally, both have as much potential to impress a truth upon the "teacher" as they do to impress the child.
The dictated or written narration of the story told with an icon, together with a meditation or prayer written by the child is more than enough "academic religious education" and these pages become priceless personal notebooks.
Usually, a rabbit trail in my house includes reading for me. I have found that my own passion for (or at least interest in) a subject makes a big difference in how well it is received by my children. We are all learning together. So, Michael and I will begin with the icons and then delve a little deeper into the early church as well. I've linked all my lenten reading on the sidebar to the right. Incidentally, Mike Aquilina has a blog that offers daily food for thought from the early church fathers.
As we progress through Lent, towards Holy Week, we will have personal encounters with visual reminders along the way.
We'll look carefully at the triumphant journey to Jerusalem, both with icons and with carefully chosen figures and felts.
On Holy Thursday, our thoughts will turn to the icon of the Last Supper, the Mystical Supper, and to the presentation of the work in the atrium that we call "The Good Shepherd and World Communion."
On Good Friday, we will ponder His passion. The children will enter into the work of the atrium and see Jesus as He is hung on the cross and then they will carefully, lovingly, take Him down and put Him in the tomb.
On Easter Sunday,they can rush to the tomb and roll the stone away! They can gaze in wonder for as long as they like at the Resurrection of Our Lord!
For children who are used to picture study and trained in the habit of attention, "really looking" at an icon is as natural as breathing. And for a child who has grown in an atrium and is well accustomed to wondering and pondering, the invitation to do so while studying an icon seems almost superfluous. They just do it. So often, our talking, and even our writing, is superfluous. The deepest truths, the truest connections are made in silence. As Saint Basil the Great wrote, “With a soundless voice the icons teach those who behold them.”
Many, many thanks to Katherine for her generous contribution of time and knowledge towards my education in designing this study for my family.
Katherine tagged me even though she's knows I'm three memes behind. But this one's easy, because I'm only going to answer places where I'm different from Katherine. I'm in pink.:
Coffee, tea or other beverage? Lattes, sigh...but I usually drink tea.
Are you a morning bird or a night owl?
Definitely a night owl. Totally morning and that's when I read a wealth of email from night owl friends. Works for me!
Do you have a favorite verse of Scripture? Yes, many and much of Psalm 63 immediately comes to mind:
O God, thou art my God, I seek thee, my soul thirsts for thee; my flesh faints for thee, as in a dry and weary land where no water is. So I have looked upon thee in the sanctuary, beholding thy power and glory. Because thy steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise thee. So I will bless thee as long as I live; I will lift up my hands and call on thy name. My soul is feasted as with marrow and fat, and my mouth praises thee with joyful lips, when I think of thee upon my bed, and meditate on thee in the watches of the night; for thou hast been my help, and in the shadow of thy wings I sing for joy. My soul clings to thee; thy right hand upholds me.
That one's good, and right now this one is running through my head incessantly. Can't give you chapter and verse but I can sing it ala Hide 'Em in Your Heart: Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and he shall direct your paths.
What is your favorite book of the Bible? Psalms
Which do you prefer, pen or pencil? Pen Especially the gel kind.
Laptop or desktop? Desktop (I love my iMac.) I love HER iMac. I hate my pc.
When you write do you print or use cursive? Usually print, sometimes a hybrid of both. Me too.
Do you plan your menus or do you just wing it? I try to plan ahead, but I've been known to wing it. ;) Me too.
How could I possibly choose? Pink. Lots of shades of it.
Favorite form of exercise? Is this a trick question? I used to exercise, before I spent nine months immobilized. Now I can't seem to make my body do anything. Maybe this is the week.
How do you wear your hair most days? Half up, half down. Yep. Me too.
Which do you prefer, baking or cooking? Cooking. Definitely cooking here.
In the house are you barefoot, in slippers or in shoes? Birkenstocks. Really ancient ones.
Do you wash dishes by hand or have a dishwasher? Dishwasher--his name is Patrick;-).
Do you have pets? 1 dog. A 110 pound yellow Lab named Baggins (definitely NOT the size of a Hobbit). And 2 Tabby cats. I could live without the cats. 1 dog. A 110 pound labradoodle named Frodo (I am totally not making this up!) No cats here.
What do you eat for breakfast? Granola (It goes with the Birks!). Mine is wheat free and I usually have an egg too.
What is your favorite magazine? I prefer books. Me too.
Please take a moment to re-read this and then you'll know why the news in the Bonny Glen today makes me sadder than sad. Won't you say a prayer for Melissa Wiley? Martha Morse and Charlotte Tucker are beloved characters in delightful books to many of us. But to Lissa, they are daughters of her heart. How difficult it must be to let them go.
One more thing, if you feel sad about this, if you are dismayed to learn how HarperCollins is dumbing down literature for children, don't leave the comment here. Please leave the comment on the Bonny Glen link above. I wonder what HarperCollins would think if we completely inundated Lissa's blog with outraged comments from thinking mothers with thinking children. I'd like nothing better. Now, go tell your friends! We need to direct the future of children's literature. If ever there was a time to comment on a post, it's now and it's there. I'll see you there.
"From the outermost border of heaven is His going forth, and His goal is the outermost part of heaven, and there shall no man hide himself from His heat." Psalm 18
Nicholas just turned six. I love this age; there are usually so many really wonderful questions and conversations. In Nicholas' case, he has to ponder something for a long time before he talks about it. And then he has to rehearse what he's going to say with himself. So, sometimes, at what might seem like an odd moment, he just bursts out with a question:
"Mommy, I think it's possible you can sin so much you never go to heaven, right?"
Nicholas, I want you to think about heaven like a warm hug. God is waiting to scoop you up and give you the most wonderful, warm hug you've ever had. Nicholas is a hugger--this is a good eternal reward.
When you sin, you turn yourself away from God, you move away from the warm hug. Sometimes, you commit little sins and you are just walking away. You can still feel God and He's still warm, but you're turned the other way and you're getting a little chilly. If you were to die, God would give you big hug and it might be a little uncomfortable at first but pretty soon you'd just be cozy.
If you commit great big sins and you're running away from God or so many little sins that you've walked a long, long way from Him, you will be very cold. Your soul will be so cold that it's colder than your hands if you play in the snow without mittens.
And what happens when you come in from the snow when your hands are that cold and you run them under very warm water? It hurts, doesn't it? The water isn't bad or mean. It's the same warm water you love, but it hurts because your hands are too cold.
God's love, his hug, isn't bad or mean. It's the same warm, perfect hug of all, but someone who has sinned and never turned back twoards God is so cold that the warm hug is very painful. He can never be happy in that hug. He can't hold his hands under the water and warm them up to be like God. Instead, he burns.
By now, I had the full attention of at least seven children. Stephen asked, "But what if you go to confession."
On your way to confession, you have decided you are sorry; you turn towards God. Right away he begins to warm you, to get you ready for the hug. When you confess, your sins are forgiven and the hug feels perfect. And sometimes, walking back towards God seems like a long, long journey and you want someone to hold your hand along the way. That's what the Blessed Mother, your guardian angel and all the saints you love will do. You can ask them to hold your hand while you turn and walk (or run) back towards the warm hug.
So, as we look towards Lent, we need to see how far we are from the great, big hug. We need to turn ourselves towards our Father and to remove those things that keep us from warming ourselves in his Love. When we fast, we do it to draw closer to God, to make ourselves aware that we need to be warmed by His love and that if we are not moving towards Him, we are growing colder.
Lenten fasting isn't about rules. It's about longing. It's about wanting that hug so much and being made aware of our need for it. Fast and abstinence won't look the same for everyone. There are no fasting police. Instead there are the fasting traditions of the ages from which we can learn: the roadmap for turning ourselves around to face God. And with that map, our hands firmly in the hands of the saints, we can walk to the glory of the great, warm hug. There is the great grace of the confessional, where we are the prodigal child who is scooped up in the joyful embrace of the father who was looking for him all along.
So, no, Nicholas, you cannot sin so much that you never go to heaven--just as long as you turn and go back towards the hug.
The "Honey-Do List" in this house is quite long. In the interest of preserving marital bliss, I won't share it with you here. Let's just say that "Honey" started a new job just before the baby arrived and he's been working and traveling enough for two men ever since. That is the segue to revealing that (drumroll, please): The Foss Family Christmas Tree still stands proudly in my family room on this seventh day of February!
There was a time in the life of my marriage when I would have actually written that "Honey Do" list and I would have oh-so-carelessly left it lying around. Or, I would have invited his mother to dinner, knowing that he wouldn't want her to see the tree in the corner. Or, I would have pouted and moped and complained about (1)the fact that he was gone and/or (2)the fact that the tree is annoying my sense of order. Neither #1 or #2 does me or anybody else much good. It's wasted energy and does nothing to contribute to the atmosphere around here. His mother isn't coming to dinner any time soon. And the last thing the poor, overworked man needs is another list of things to do.
There was later time in my life when I would have taken it down myself. But I have since learned that some jobs are better left to big, strong men (and I have the scars to prove it). Now, I have a couple of big strong, young men in my house.And both of them offered to take down the tree. But I know my Honey--he wants the tree in the box just so (and rightfully, I might add--trees last longer when they are handled with care and they are far easier to assemble when put away properly). And I know my young men--better not to let them touch the tree. Family harmony next advent is worth far more than freeing up space in that corner of the family room.
So, it stands in my family room, ornaments long since put away. And it reminds me every day of just how hard my husband is working to feed and clothe and shelter and educate this very large family. It stands there and very early in the morning when it's still dark and no one is looking, I turn on the lights and I say prayer for the man who wishes he were home more. I ask God to show us how He'd have us live, which choices He'd have us make. And I thank God for the Honey who chose that tree and who provided for it and for the house where it stands.
So, it only seemed natural on one very cold winter evening, when Honey was still at work long after dinner was done, to turn to those beautiful children and ask them to help me make that tree everything it was meant to be.
We took the pink paper hearts on which we'd written all the things and people we love and rested them firmly on the "God" doily and we hung them on the Daddy Valentine Tree! Martha Stewart, you can have your efficiency calendar that tells us all when to take down the Christmas tree. Mine just became the Tree of Love in this house full of life!
Over fifteen years ago, when Michael was preschool-aged, we participated with two other moms in an at-home preschool co-op. We used the Joy School curriculum written by RIchard and Linda Eyre. (Yes, I know they're Mormon--we just used the curriculum, we didn't convert.) Part of the curriculum was the inclusion of darling little songs to help teach the lessons and all the lessons were virtue based.
In one lesson, we introduced family rules. And the song went "Peace, pegs, asking, order, obedience! These are our family rules." I can still sing that song today and I often do.
I want to zero in on "pegs" today. Pegs are set times of the day around which other activities were organized. For the Eyres, there was a real pegboard and when the duties ascribed to a certain peg were finished, the child put the peg in the board. For us, those pegs are "food times." And in my house, children expect to be fed at the same time every day. So, even though I really don't keep a strict schedule of the time between the pegs, the pegs happen at the same time every day. With each peg, there is prayer. This provides order in our days. And all the rest takes on a certain cadence.
My alarm is set to play a rosary CD. I try to stay in bed and nurse for a decade or two. IThen, do a quick read through of message boards and Bloglines, while still nursing. I get the baby dressed and then, I wake Mary Beth to hold the baby while I spend twenty minutes exercising and then take a shower.
First peg: A morning offering is prayed before breakfast. Breakfast is at 8 o'clock. I bring my husband breakfast in bed and we have some time to talk. The children have certain chores and duties which are "after breakfast" jobs. Those are completed and then we move to the schoolroom. A decade of the rosary can set the tone. I keep an eye on the clock and make sure to get everyone outside for a stretch and fresh air before the next peg: Lunch.
Lunch is always at noon, with the Angelus. After lunch, we have another chore each and we settle into an after-lunch routine. It looks different depending on the child. Little ones get downtime with a Signing Time video. Primary age boys go back outside for a bit. Bigger kids go back upstairs. I go to my room with the baby to nurse her to sleep and pray the rosary. After the video, the little boys come back in and we are all in the room again for whatever unit we're studying together. When it's warmer, this will be outdoor time for everyone. Then, it's on to the next peg: tea time.
Tea time is more food, a drink, praying the collect and whatever novena is our current plea, and a book (chosen usually from the Five in a Row crate). Sometimes, the tea and the book are keyed to the liturgical year. I read; they eat; and then we do a major clean up. Hopefully, the house is in order before my children are launched in a dozen directions to various activities.
The evening is all about baths and stories and settling in. After stories, everyone (but the biggest boys) settles into bed and I hear bedtime prayers. The girls listen to a rosary CD as they fall asleep and the sweetness of those roses waft throughout the upstairs. I fold mountains of laundry. I nurse the baby one last time and I fall asleep praying.
In the jingle, "pegs" is bound by peace, asking, and order. "Asking " is simply never doing anything outside the routine or going anywhere without asking first. Peace and order are built on pegs and asking. I find that when the pegs are in place, there is peace and order, at least relatively so. There are nine children in this house most days. They need to know what to expect next. Surely, every day, something will come up. Something will be different. But the default is orderly; the expectation is for peace. And prayer is the peg we upon which we hang it.
When he was three, Stephen insisted he was Superman. Furthermore, we were all in on the game and he assigned superhero names to everyone. For weeks, he insisted we call each other by these names and we call him only "Superman." Even when our super-names began to fade, Stephen still insisted on Superman. And so it happened that everyone around us called him Superman--friends and neighbors, cousins and godfathers. He became Superman. Over time, as the game faded and was replaced by other games of make believe, the name lingered in its shortened form: Super.
Now, on a soccer field on Saturday morning or a basketball court on Saturday afternoon, you can hear other children shouting, "Pass it here, Super!" In the parish hall on Sundays, someone is sure to ask "Chocolate or sprinkles on your donut, Super?" And it's not just the kids; the grownups do it, too. I met in lady in the bleachers last week who didn't even know what my son's name really is.
Today, he turns eight! Happy Birthday, Stephen. We think you're super!