Came across this quote of St. John Chrysostom in Elissa Bjeletich’s great book, Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home and had to copy it out by hand. I think I will take it as my mantra for this school year.
(The four younger kids decided on an art project this summer- their goal is to fill this long living room wall full of drawings and paintings by the time Grandma and Grandpa visit in late August. Here they are hard at work and planning the next steps.)
My social media feeds are full of back-to-school pictures and first day of homeschool pictures and everything in between. Is it just me, or is the school year seeming to start earlier and earlier? It used to start after Labor Day ‘back in the day’. Not that I have anything to say about it, really, as we went through the summer this year on a relaxed schedule. Ha!
We usually don’t even begin to think about the new school year until after the Feast of Dormition, which is tomorrow, August 15. As it stands, I don’t think we’ll roll into true blue full school days until after Labor Day; we like to layer in a few subjects in at a time and have a gentle transition into full days. For us that will look like wrapping up our summer subjects by Labor Day and then adding in a few more activities that first week after Labor Day.
This year is a bit different for us. One of our older children decided to return to a more formal school setting, so they started on August 8.
This year we are only adding in two new curriculum choices. Both were more for my sanity than for any other reason. We are using Teaching Textbooks for all of the children’s Math this year after a successful roll-out with some of my older students last year. Teaching individual math lessons across six grades was really becoming difficult for me- it was such a HUGE chunk of our learning day and I am happy to be handing most of the heavy lifting off to the video lessons. They’ll still get individual tutoring from me as needed, of course, but I won’t have to teach so many lessons. Frankly, it made my brain hurt having to jump back and forth from Algebra and back to basic arithmetic and back again. Mathematics has never been my gifting anyways, so- fhew. Most of my kids also like to play on Prodigy, which is pretty hefty in mathematics, too.
We are switching from Story of the World history, which we have used consistently for the last five or six years, to The Good and the Beautiful’s History, Year 1. Part of it is just that we’ve used SOTW for so long that I feel like we’ve explored all that is available in that vein. And, while I love SOTW’s global focus, you really almost need a separate US History curriculum or extensive supplementation to each US Chapter to stay abreast of testing requirements. More work and thinking it through that took time away from actually teaching them. As I looked into Good and Beautiful’s set-up, I was pleased with the mix of both Global and US History, and that the curriculum is more heartily broken down between each age/grade group (elementary/middle/high) for assignments- SOTW is heavy on Elementary assignments and very, very brief on higher grades, so I had to come up with my own assignments for my older kids, as well. It was just getting to be too much. One of our struggles as Orthodox Christians in finding history curriculums has been the tendency of ‘Christian’ history books to skew towards Western and Reformation history, leaving out, well, half the globe, and most of the development of our faith, which predates the Reformation. I’ve found that both SOTW and The Good and Beautiful do a good job of keeping a more global, holistic, and well-rounded focus without disparaging or ignoring many peoples and faiths’ contribution to the story of History.
We have been somewhat light in the science department over the years, choosing primarily to focus on nature study in the younger grades. My older kids have enjoyed the Tiner Science that Memoria Press puts out for middle school and Apologia for High School, but my current spread of kids this year is sort of in-between the two options and a bit old for just nature study. We’ve chosen to do the Exploring Creation with Chemistry and Physics by Apologia this year. Two of my students will use the regular companion notebook and two will use the Junior notebook. Again, this is for my sanity. Trying to track across so many grades was getting very nutty for me and I like that we’ll be doing it together again, which is what we’ve always liked to do. My high school student will be doing Apologia Biology.
We are keeping our Good and the Beautiful Language Arts and Handwriting programs, which we’ve really enjoyed this last year. Outside of math, this is where I spend the most time one on one with each child, and G&B makes it easy to hop tracks with each kid and keep track of where we are. I love how comprehensive it is. The kids like the mix of subjects within the program- it rarely gets boring and it is colorful and engaging without being overboard. I like how straightforward the handwriting program is without much extra fluff.
Our morning basket will be a Read-Aloud (pulled from the Ambleside Online lists), Age of Fable/Bullfinch’s Mythology, Tending the Garden of Our Hearts and Saint of the Day, plus our history and science work. Their picture study is included in their individual Good and Beautiful Language lessons, so we will most likely only do Composer Study together. I haven’t quite decided on who we will study this year, but most likely I will pull from Ambleside Online suggestions. (Why re-invent the wheel when fabulous homeschool mamas have already done the work for you?) The kids also have individual Latin lessons, and we will begin German for two of the older students.
We all want to be more physically active this year but have not decided what that will fully look like yet. Two of our kids are in ballet, and we are thinking about a kickboxing class for the other three. Our formal school kid has PE at school, so that is covered.
I like that we have a well defined spine this year. We will always plug in extra things as we get curious about something, but I am very grateful that all of the main subjects are already planned out for me. More time for floating in the pool!
Life has been pretty on-the-go the last few days. How does August always manage to do that? I miss doing Wordfull Wednesday posts, but I’ve got some lovelies to share from Instagram instead. Go check out these wonderful artists and accounts!
RB: I always talk about options and substitutions. I’m trying to pass around the word quanto basta, which is basically this principle from Pellegrino Artusi in L’Arte di Mangiar Bene, a book that has been in print for 170 years in Italy. He uses in many of his recipes, as I have as well throughout Autentico, q.b. – quanto basta – meaning “as much as is enough,” “as much as is needed,” or “as much as you like”.
I was listening to the most recent Splendid Table episode on my way home from Paraklesis last night. It’s not something I would have really ‘sought out’ to listen to, but I find myself listening to it most Wednesdays as I drive home from Church. We don’t have a classical station anymore and most of the radio stations around here leave a lot to be desired. I’ve slowly become a fan. It also makes me ridiculously hungry for dinner, as I usually haven’t eaten when I’m listening! Ha.
This particular section of the episode fascinated me, as I had never heard of cold rice salads. But it was Rolando’s note on “quanto basta” that really got me thinking.
One of the interesting side effects of our forced gluten free lifestyle is that we truly know what food tastes like now. It would surprise you how bland your palate becomes if you’ve mostly been accustomed to the standard American diet. Even if only a third or a fourth of your overall diet is processed, the general thrust of what you eat is just so bland and has so many fillers in it, all robbing the food of its real taste.
We were fascinated by this as we began to cook mostly from scratch. Things suddenly had taste! And lots of it. Take spaghetti sauce out of the jar. We have to be careful because gluten fillers are often used as a thickening agent (sign #1 that you’ve taken too much out if you need help to thicken it!)- gluten is just literally everywhere in things you’d never imagine. Like toothpaste. And lotion. And cheap chocolate chips. Spaghetti sauce out of the jar is ‘good’. It works in a pinch. And I still use it sometimes. But, if like us, you have to make it from scratch until you find a ‘safe’ jarred version, it will blow your mind. It’s beautiful little explosions on the tongue. The garlic! The oregano! It just pops.
Anyways, quanto basta was so interesting to me because I actually knew what he was talking about, for once. It is a very real thing, and even more interesting, it is completely different for each cook. I used to watch my good friend, an eminent foodie, cooking. He would season and taste, season and taste, and he would mutter not enough. Taste. Heat. Stir. Season. Stir some more. Taste. Mutter. And then all of the sudden, boom. He would call it enough and move the dish along to its final stages. It was utterly mystifying to me! I was truly stymied watching him, because, how the heck do you write a recipe from that? I tasted the same stuff as he did and I could never tell the difference. I’d make it exactly how he did, and follow his instructions, and it would never come out right.
Understanding quanto basta has nothing to do with cooking or even recipes- it has so much more to do with your palate, your sense of taste and smell. You have to develop the palate before quanto basta ‘clicks’. You’ll know by the taste and smell of things if it’s where you want it to go, or if it has farther to go. You’ll also quickly know if you’ve over-seasoned or pushed it too far. You can smell it before you even taste it.
Again, though, it’s taken four years of me cooking this way (and learning basic cooking skills like saute-ing) for my palate to get to the point that I can do this from muscle memory…and a bajillion mistakes along the way. In cooking, you learn so much more from the mistakes than when you actually get it right. It takes patience. I never, ever, wanted to be a cook. I’m not a foodie. Cooking dinner for my family will always be a sacrifice for me because it is just not something I like to do. All that said- it has been so worth it to truly learn the cooking arts. It makes the sacrifice easier, I guess you could say. It reduces the time I have to spend in the kitchen. It has reduced the guesswork and the flops and mistakes that used to put me in tears because dinner was late and everyone was growling and tired. It has reduced the visits from the pizza guy. It also makes it so much easier to create something from nothing when the pantry and refrigerator get sketchy.
I just love the idea of “as much as is needed”. I am seeing so many connections, not just in cooking, but life in general. The only way you’ll know quanto basta in your cooking- and in life? Pay attention. Stay in the moment. Taste and see.
“Things take the time they take.
How many roads did St. Augustine follow before he became St. Augustine?”
― Mary Oliver
I got to thinking this morning while refreshing our master closet that while Mary may have been talking about the existential realities of the soul, this poem is also quite true about the work and art of making a home. It always takes so much longer for me to find a comfortable rhythm in a new season, a new place, a new home, than I ever think we’d need. Until the rhythm is found, everything feels off. Often overwhelming. I struggle to master the balance of the needs of the home, the needs of homeschooling, the needs of family until I find it. And then…it just clicks. Things run so much smoother after that.
I can’t write a “do these five things for happy homemaking” post because it just does not exist. No two homes are the same. No two families are the same. You could have the exact same house, structurally, and two families will live in and use that house completely differently. Different rooms and appliances will need cleaning at different times based on who uses them. And the seasons families go through are profoundly different too.
So much of what makes a house a home isn’t even quantifiable in a measurable sense. It’s the way light is set about a living room, the cozy blankets tucked waiting, the books lining the bookshelves, the soft classical playing, that invite rest for a family. It’s not the things themselves: the lamp, the blanket, the couch. It’s the sum of it all, and more.
When I focus on the sanctifying aspect of home keeping, it makes it easier for me to focus on the whole of it. Each day, take it up, work hard at it, let it go. Ora et labora. Work and pray. Threads of a larger tapestry that I may never see in this lifetime. How many roads did St. Augustine follow? So it is with sweeping the floor, and I don’t think the venerable saint would disagree with me.
It has been almost a year now that we moved in to this house, and it’s only this month that I finally feel like I am getting a grasp on a workable rhythm. A year. It’s a bit staggering looking backwards at it. But I didn’t see the year before me, I just kept trying. And now I have come out the other side of it. It’s a lesson I need to carry into and remember in other areas of my life.
I’ve really liked Amanda Watters’ blog, Homesong, for a while now, and her weekly cleaning rhythm printable has been a guiding light for me for a few years. She came out with an editable one, and I’ve slowly been adjusting mine over this last year. I think the thing to note about any sort of home care rhythm is that it should make things easier, not harder. It should get to a point that a reasonable amount of chores are done each day, and no one day is loaded up with so much that you can’t think about anything else. That’s not helpful. (It’s also why I could never understand why people will wait until Saturday to do all of the chores. No wonder they hate Saturday! Ten minutes here and there each day, and Saturday is all yours, no chores required.)
If a rhythm is really working, it will almost become invisible, without any real thought applied to it. It just becomes the thing you do to a point that you don’t have to actively think, okay, now it is time to water the plants. You just walk and do it because your brain has become so used to it. And when that happens, your brain has so much time for other things! More time to read. To homeschool. To paint. Whatever it is that truly brings you joy, you’ll have time for it. Does it take work to get there? Yes. And probably more time and diligence than you think. But once you invest the time, the payoffs are enormous.