Back to Learning Notes – Week of February 14

Join us in the Guilt Free Learning Notes Linkup at The Wine-Dark Sea.

It’s been a while since I’ve managed to write these up properly. For a long stretch, the learning was haphazard and frustrating, and full of fighting and refusals, and I just hated documenting the strife. It was awful. And there is what feels like a continuous run of festivities from Christmas till the beginning of Lent. But learning is finally happening again.


So I’m starting a day early in this week’s learning notes because something really incredible happened. The day before, David had been working on that week’s spelling lesson in the workbook and when I checked the segment he had done, it was completely illegible. Worse than it’s usual illegibility. When I asked him what he was trying to do with his writing, he announced that he was using cursive.

I told him that we would start real cursive today, if he would just do that day’s work in print, which he did. Here is his very first page of ‘a’s.

I’ve seen (and graded) some of Himself’s high school student’s work in years past. This is at least as good as their worst handwriting. And he is enjoying himself immensely.

Otherwise, it was a holiday. It’s Valentine’s Day, a patronal feast for Himself and Raphael (St. Cyril), and Tree was visiting. We ate homemade Turkish food and played board game, and generally enjoyed ourselves.


A day of rest. David really appreciates these days of rest. You’d think I sent him into a coal mine for the rest of the week. Legos were played with, and I think a game of Rampage as well.


Himself and I both had the day off for President’s Day, although we did school as usual. We picked Story of the World back up and reread the chapter on the Middle Kingdom of Egypt. David learned the cursive ‘b’ and how to link ‘a’ to ‘b’ and ‘b’ to ‘a’. We struggled mightily against David’s mental block in regards to place value, finally resulting in going to Kinkos and printing/laminating this enormous number grid. David was pleased with the new acquisition, and I hope his enjoyment of it helps overcome everyone’s bad temper over the whole business.

We also stopped at Hobby Lobby and acquired handkerchiefs in every liturgical color to use as table clothes in our oratory.

I also sat David down and talked about Lent with him. He apparently forgot everything he learned about Lent from last year. Sometimes teaching this kid makes me feel like I’m banging my head into the wall. But we talked about what Lent is for, and why we make sacrifices of fasting and prayer and almsgiving. About why we abstain from meat on Fridays, and Mommy and Daddy fast on Ash Wednesday. I helped him make his penance chart for this year, and told him he was in charge of making sure the oratory had the correct color of table cloth.


This was a full day of work for me. David was sent off with some more place value math homework, which he failed to do in his math notebook. Instead he did it on his laminated chart, and all the markings got rubbed off in the transit home. *sigh* He also practiced his cursive ‘a’s and ‘b’s.

Not much learning when we got home though. I made pancakes and sausage, and a galette des rois (which oozed frangipane, but was delicious). And we all went to bed early. Luxury!


Ash Wednesday was a challenge. Our Mass choices are 6:30am, 8:30am, and 7pm. With all the construction in our area, traffic is highly unpredictable. And within another year or so, David will also have a Mass obligation. Right now, Mike and I can always go separately during our work day, if we need to. But going is only going to get more difficult as the boys grow up. So, while Ash Wednesday isn’t an obligation, we used it as a trial run for going to the 6:30am Mass as a family. It worked pretty well, but it was rough.

It was another full day of work for me, but I gave David the day off school work.


Thursday was a great day. We used the new number grid with pennies, dimes, and dollars to do place value work and started cracking that block. He really can’t move on much in Khan Academy until he cracks this, so it’s important.. I read aloud from Story of the World (and David remembered what I read about!). We also looked at some maps of Egypt’s Middle Kingdom, playing with our new geography curriculum. David learned cursive ‘c’ and ‘d’. We read the Sugar Snow chapter in Little House in the Big Woods, and agreed to have our own sugar off sometime soon. (We don’t have sugar maples, but you can boil real maple syrup down into maple sugar.) A spelling lesson took place. Naps were had. And dinner was made on time.


Another great school day, we did both the grocery store and managed a full day of school. A spelling lesson, more place value work with money on the number grid. Another chapter (with retention!) from Story of the World. More maps of Egypt. Cursive ‘e’. And the first paragraph of the *CCC.

*I have been looking for a good children’s catechism, and I just can’t find a good one. In the meantime, we’ve started having monastic style reading aloud during dinner for Lent, and David has been listening. And asking questions. Intelligent questions. So instead I’ve started reading him selections from the catechism itself. It’s still not as good as a children’s catechism would be, but it’s what I’ve got.


I had another FTCM, but we’d had such good school days all week that I let David have the day off.

Geeky Liturgical Living

Last week, Melanie wrote about the isolation of trying to live the liturgical year as a family unit, instead of as a member of a broader community. And I have a lot to say about that, but my thoughts are having trouble incorporating as a blog post. So instead, because I’m a huge nerd and this is the sort of thing I like, I’m going to follow Jen Fitz’s lead and make a rough sketch of our domestic liturgical year, as well as (briefly!) discussion the principles that went into forming it.

Sundays, year round: We avoid unnecessary work, this day, but with both of us working and neither of us very organized, frequently odd bits (like washing slacks or a quick run to the grocery store) will become necessary. This is the day for big breakfasts and dinners and, when I’m particularly well organized, desserts. Sometimes we have D&D in the afternoon to early evening, and thus its extra festive because there are people for dinner.

Holy Days of Obligation, year round: Because we both work, I tend to plan fairly well in advance for these. Planning for HDOs is one of my few organizational triumphs. It is hard to get everyone to Mass on these days, which makes having a festive dinner harder. I try to have a dessert made in advance, and while dinner is not always fancy, it is at least made fresh. No leftovers.

Fridays, year round: This has been the hardest one to develop. Himself, while having grown up Catholic, was only given to understand that Friday abstinence from meat was no longer required. I, going through RCIA, came away with the slightly more nuanced understanding that it would be nice if we substituted some other penance but still nothing was required. Needless to say, both of these were wrong, and after figuring this out, we set about to meatless Fridays. We all hate meatless Fridays, and there are weeks when we aren’t so good at it and do some individual penance instead. But typically, the main meal of Friday is meatless.

Advent: We do an Advent wreath with dinner. I have a really lovely Advent wreath, for which I lovingly and painstakingly pour real beeswax pillars each year, usually at the last minute. One year I will be on top of things enough to have poured my pillars before Candlemas, but it hasn’t happened yet.

We also clean during Advent. The first two weeks of Advent are spent in getting the house generally tidied and ready for the madness of decorating that hits us on Gaudete Sunday. Gaudete Sunday is when we acquire and decorate the tree and do the rest of the general house trimming, indoors and out. This is less a liturgical snobbiness than a practical necessity – if I want a live tree to last through the Christmas season, the earliest we can set it up is Gaudete Sunday.

There is also a lot of cooking that goes on in Advent. Things that I can make ahead of time, like candied citrus peel or marzipan, and baked goods that can be frozen will get made through Advent and put away until they’re called for.

Saint Nicholas Day: The boys put out the shoes (greedy little boogers put out their boots!) and St. Nick fills them with gold chocolate coins and candy canes. There are homemade specuulas, and we have bratwurst, hot German potato salad, and cabbage for dinner. This is a great dinner option for a feast day because it is easy. Easy enough to make on a work night, even. And everyone likes it.

Our Lady of Guadalupe: This feast day is not only special because Himself is Hispanic, or because it’s an American patronal feast, but it’s also the day Himself proposed. But a proper celebration to the day has only sprouted this past year and it’s not quite certain what it will grow into.

This year*, we made homemade tamales (it was a day I had off work). The tamales were not spectacular (I chickened out when pouring molten lard into the masa), but they were fun to make, and tamale making is an art I’m determined to resurrect. Mike’s grandmother used to make them, and the very last time she made them I took copious notes. Sadly, the masa preparada available to me in Houston is very different than the masa preparada available in the Valley, and that was a big factor in their unspectacularness. But I think it will be tamales every year now. Maybe not freshly made that day, but tamales are well known for their excellent freezing and reheating qualities.

*It was on a Friday this year, but given our threefold closeness to this feast day, I relaxed our meatless meal in favor of a different penance.

Saint Lucy Day: Another household patron, acquired around the time I had to wean David at 15 months to receive treatment for macular degeneration. The whole family suffers from extremely bad eyesight and various other comorbidities. I make lussekatter, and I’d like to add a novena but I keep forgetting when it ought to start.

Christmas: Sadly, this big feast has the least amount of traditions grown up around it. We bounce year to year between families – one gets Christmas, the other gets Thanksgiving and New Years. Since we bought a house near enough to my parents to go back and forth instead of staying, a few small things have grown up, but in the Valley we are at the mercy of other people’s schedules, right down to the opening of presents Christmas morning afternoon.

One solid tradition I’ve made in the last few years is making stollen – German Christmas bread. I’d made an Easter bread for years and I felt that Christmas deserved its own festive bread. So the last few days before Christmas, or before my trip to the valley, I make my stollen. It also freezes well, so if we will be in the Valley for Christmas, I will stash a loaf in the freezer for when we get back. I make it pretty continuously throughout the Christmas season, and I bring at least one loaf to work, to the joy of my German professor who things it’s everything stollen should be.

When it is a home year, we go to the Midnight Mass. This is as much a practical choice as an aesthetic choice – none of the rest of my family is Catholic, and thus it impacts the general family schedule the least.

Anniversary: Our wedding anniversary is January 3rd, and if we’re lucky, both of us have the day off from work and my parents will watch the boys and we betake ourselves to Saint Arnold’s Brewery for an extended lunch. But the brewery doesn’t have the nice lunch arrangements on weekends, so this year we went mattress shopping instead.

Fake Epiphany: My opinion on transferring Epiphany to the Sunday between January 2nd and January 8th is well established. But in the meantime, Fake Epiphany has developed its own special tradition, by virtue of it happening twice in a row, of it being the day/weekend when we drive to College Station and spend a day with Raphael’s godparents and exchange gifts with them. Fake Epiphany is of such importance that it even supersedes either of our anniversaries and real Epiphany should they happen to coincide.

Epiphany: We started doing a full on “bless the house” Catholic spectacle this year. We use the lovely house blessing ceremony from Family in Feast and Feria, but modified so that we chalk up over all the doors into the house – even the garage. And we process around the house in the dark to do this. With candles. Singing. And then we go through the house liberally splashing around the holy water. And it is fun.

There is also King Cake, but this year marked another of many failed king cakes I’ve attempted. It’s my baking Waterloo.

St. Valentine’s Day: I hate crowds, and I hate the heavy emphasis of romance and children being mutually exclusive. So we have a romantic family dinner and game night. We cook together, something very nice, the elaborateness of which depends on what day of the week the holiday falls upon. And we play board games, with a new one acquired for the occasion.

February 14th is also the feast of Sts. Cyril and Methodius, which means it’s also a patronal feast for Himself and Raphael.

Mardi Gras: We have pancakes and sausage and bacon for dinner.

Ash Wednesday: We go to Mass, sometimes separately, although we attempt for together. Everyone abstains, grown ups fast.

Lent: Other that what the Church requires, anything that we do is on an individual and variable from year to year basis. Because sticking with one penance all Lent is hard for littles, we come up with a list of six penances for David and he rolls a d6 every day to see what his daily sacrifice will be.

Food is generally simpler all Lent. I occasionally make pretzels. This year I would like to do Stations of the Cross regularly at home if we can’t make the parish’s.

Saint David’s Day: David’s feast day. We don’t have any particular observance to this day, although I know there’s something that goes on about wearing leeks in hats. David gets to pick dinner.

Saint Patrick’s Day: Beer cheese soup, with Guinness and white Irish cheddar. It’s vegetarian, so it’s good even on a Friday.

Saint Joseph’s Day: We have a Saint Joseph altar at home, and pasta. Last year we tried adding anchovies to the pasta sauce, but it wasn’t a hit.

Holy Week: I wrote extensively about Holy Week and Easter last year, but for a quick rundown, we don’t count on being able to make either the Mass of the Lord’s Supper or the Commemoration of the Lord’s Passion. It’s too variable with work and littles. If we can’t make the services, we have solemn Vespers at home. And we have Tenebrae on Friday and Saturday mornings. We save our stamina for the Vigil, which we also always go to, because I am a liturgy nerd and love the Vigil and my husband humors me. Also, a lot of cooking preparation goes on this week.

Easter: My goal is for Easter to be our biggest, most memorable family feast. There is a lot of food, including a roast leg of lamb and spanakopita and baptism cake baked in a lamb mold. And the feasting goes on throughout Easter, as long as I can keep up the cooking.

Ascension and Pentecost: I got nothing. This bugs me. I especially feel like there should be a bread for Pentecost, but it will take some thought. Maybe this year.

Nativity of Saint John the Baptist: This is something new for the coming year. We want to have a big bonfire on the vigil. Our current parish does not collect blessed palms to burn for ashes to bless on Ash Wednesday, and the sacramental clutter has reached a critical point. So a bonfire will give point for burning old, worn out sacramentals. Also, fire.

4th of July: We go to DeaCon and spend it playing board games.

Feast of the Archangels: I forget this one a lot, because there is always so much going on in late September. This is embarrassing because it’s both Himself’s and Raphael’s feast day. Last year we had risotto because it was a work day and risotto is easy enough, and I found half of a devil’s food cake mix and a tub of buttercream in the freezer and baked a small cake frosted with white. But last year I also read the story about Satan being cast out of heaven by St. Michael and landing in a tangle of blackberries, so I think in future years we will have pie or crisp.

Halloween: Costumes and candy. Costumes must be homemade and have a budgetary limit of $20, with exemptions for awesome ideas.

All Saints: Mass, of course. Last year our parish had a Saints procession into Mass, so more costumes. We have a nice dinner, with dessert.

All Souls: I don’t go to Mass this day anymore, unless I am sure it’s not going to be just a repeat of All Saints, replete with Father announcing he thinks most people go straight to heaven. It’s just too upsetting. I would like to start setting up an All Souls altar for the month of November, but it’s partly contingent on getting pictures printed.

Baptisms: For the actual event, I use a fairly set brunch menu of ham, hash browns, eggs, biscuits, fruit salad, baptism cake. For anniversaries, we try to have a smaller baptism cake and renewal of baptismal vows. These get shifted a lot because there always seems to be something going on and I’m not always organized enough for it.

Birthdays: The individual gets to choose what to have for dinner, but this doesn’t change very much. There is cake. Sometimes there is gaming. There had better be whiskey.

…and I think I’ll talk about principles in another post because this has gone on quite long enough.

Real Epiphany

Happy Real Epiphany!

In the US, Epiphany is routinely transferred to the Sunday between the 2nd and the 8th of January. And this breaks my CDO little heart. It just isn’t right. Gone are the twelve days of Christmas, to be replaced with a variable 9-14 days of Christmas. Maybe some years, it’s a relief not to have all those musicians, but what do we get from our true love on the 13th and 14th days??

I don’t think transferring Epiphany helps the faithful have greater exposure to its mysteries. Instead it says "this isn’t important enough to be a Holy Day of Obligation". And therefore it mustn’t be important at all. It deprives the Christmas season of it’s proper course and flow of time, because even Epiphany isn’t the end of this season. In some parishes, the Wise Men have been at the créche since Christmas. In others, they were there for less than 24 hours, set out for Saturday’s Vigil and the whole manger scene taken down by Sunday afternoon, because with Fake Epiphany, we’re done.

It’s like ending Easter with the Ascension (also violently transferred to a Sunday.)

At home, in spite of the inconvenience, we celebrate the party parts of Epiphany on Epiphany. This year I made my first-ever King Cake. I had to give it a cold rise overnight in the fridge, and get up early to bake it before I left for work, but I made it. This year we will chalk ALL the doors, and process around the outside of the house with candles and holy water. We will feast on jambalaya, and there are even some little presents for the littles. We’ll be up a little too late, maybe. But oh well. Epiphany only comes once a year. At the same time, I do wish we could celebrate liturgically on the same day as we have our party. I don’t like disconnecting the solemnness of the liturgy from the other festiveness.

HDOs are inherently inconvenient, (amplified by the inability of some parishes to schedule their holy day Masses at times lay people, with jobs and families, can attend) but I would a thousand times rather deal with the inconvenience of a HDO than the apathy of the transference. A little inconvenience of this sort is good for the soul.

Happy New Year!

So the new year is a few days old already. So what? Raphael and I spend the last two days of 2014 and the first two of days of 2015 with what I suspect was a mild case of the flu. This rather undermined my idea of a resolution of blogging each day.

So instead I have a new resolution. I hereby resolve not to let transient bad days and miscellanious interruptions completely derail me. I want to be more with it and on top of the things going on in my life. I had a good stretch of this running up to Christmas as I hustled to finish sweaters and sundry other projects. Living like that felt good. And the biggest factor in that is not letting myself get derailed.

Our anniversary was Saturday. I wasn’t feeling up to going to the brewery, and they don’t do the fantastic lunch thing on the weekend anyway. Instead I made an enormous batch of dutch cream waffles, and we abandoned the boys at my parent’s house to go and shop for a new mattress.

We weren’t planning on buying a new mattress, only to investigate different styles and figure out maybe what was comfortable. But we stumbled across a really great mattress on a great sale, so we stuck it on layaway and should have it by the end of February.

Then we found out a connection to our water heater had been leaking for an indeterminate amount of time into the upstairs hall light fixture because the upstairs circuit started determinately tripping. Instead of spending Fake Epiphany with David and Monique as we had planned, Himself stayed home to dry things out and repair the light, while I took the boys with me to visit. We had a nice visit and a nice dinner and some (apparently) rapturous slices of stollen and some wee pineapple empanadas and then came home.

And today, although Christmas isn’t really over yet, it’s back to the grind. Mouse breeding. Mouse genotyping. School work. Cleaning. Oh the cleaning.

…I wrote most of this post yesterday, then life happened. But I’m not letting myself get derailed, I shall post it anyway!

O Wisdom

O Wisdom, coming forth from the mouth of the Most High,
reaching from end to end,
mightily and sweetly ordering all things:
come and teach us the way of prudence.

Still knitting. Body of one sweater to go.


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