The tradition of living the liturgical year in the home through family crafts, rituals, and feasts experienced a renaissance with the publication of this book by Maria Augustra Trapp, the heroine of the movie "The Sound of Music". Today it is out of print and remaining copies are rare and expensive. Fortunately, Jennifer Gregory Miller of FamilyFeastandFeria.com is offering this book in a giveaway to subscribers. Jennifer has done a great service to keeping the family liturgical living tradition alive through her blog at CatholicCulture.org. We use her resources regularly. Take a look here!
Our contribution to SimpleHomeschool.com's annual "Day in the Life" Series:
February 29, 2016- Leap Day!
"Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof." -Matthew 6:34 (KJV)
8am- I fade in and out of consciousness throughout the morning, hearing my husband Tony leave for a walk, return, and then the wonderful sound of dishes being cleaned from last night's birthday party for our now three-year-old, Valentina, whom I'm attempting to put back to sleep. When I can treat my seasonal allergies and get some coffee before the toddler wakes up, the morning is that much less stressful.
9:15- Thanks again to my husband, who is usually out the door earlier than today, I'm drinking coffee, eating an egg, and writing this in my journal (unfortunately still in pajamas). The 10 and 8 year olds are playing with pretend toy cars in the bedroom, a gift from yesterday's party. In the not-so-distant past I used to insist on everyone eating the same food at the same time for breakfast but in order to cope with morning temper tantrums (mine included), I've relaxed the expectations and have given all of us some "transition time". I blow my nose for the hundredth time and put tea bags on my swollen eyes for one minute as Tony leaves for the day.
10am- Chaos momentarily erupts when everyone suddenly needs the house's one bathroom at the same time and the toddler wakes up. When the squabblers get settled at the kitchen table with food in front of them everyone calms down and we manage to say the Morning Offering together. The nearly 11 year old, Maya, eats oatmeal, the 8 year old, ZouZou, eats leftover white cake, and Valentina eats leftover carrot cake, eggs, and tea. Maya, who takes after her father with her culinary skills, made both the white and the carrot cake for her sister's birthday party (they were delicious!).
During breakfast, we read and discuss our Calendar Class selections about the Four Cycles of Life in the Day (our version of Morning Time; will post about this separately). I try, rather unsuccessfully, to avoid being annoyed by a buzzing noise in the background from a fishing game toy that has appeared at the table.
11am- My attempts to avoid nagging the kids to get themselves ready for the day fail as I find myself barking orders like a drill sergeant. With the promise of listening to an audiobook chapter, they finally comply. Suddenly it begins to hail, and the kids rush to the door to observe and collect a hailstone sample, storing it in the freezer to show to their Dad tonight. The toddler screams to go outside to play in the "snow", so we have to have an impromptu science lesson to explain the difference between hail and snow. We are living in Italy right now so the appearance of hail on this last day of February- Leap Day!- is a rare occurrence. Thankfully, she is convinced that it is not pleasant to play under the hail and the kids return to playing pretend with the cars.
Normally around this time the big kids begin their academic work in their assignment journals and workbooks but as these supplies were left at their Dad's workplace in a backpack, I allow them to continue playing pretend together. It's a shame that the one day I chronicle for other homeschooling moms doesn't include a description of the kids' academic work, but at least it reflects the unpredictability of our days.
For the first time Maya and ZouZou allow Valentina to join their game, albeit after much shouting, and I recognize that this is one of those precious, fleeting moments of their childhood together. I write this all down, then return to the never-ending housework.
Within the hour the big kids drift to the audiobook and their laundry sorting and folding chores. In Italy the dryers are not very effective, if you're lucky enough to have one at all, so tending to drying racks full of clothes is an unavoidable part of our daily routine. Valentina returns to her fishing game and making messes around the house. Frequent interventions are necessary.
12 Noon- I listen to half of an interview with Julie Bogart on the podcast of amongstlovelythings.com while washing breakfast dishes and preparing lunch. I'm delighted to hear about her Poetry Tea Time practice, which sounds similar to our monthly Minor Feast practice of celebrating and reviewing our monthly studies themes with a little party (more on that soon, too).
1:30 pm- The kids come to the kitchen for a smorgasbord of vegetables, fruit, bread, and cheese (Daddy is the gourmet chef; with Mommy the kids get the basics!). We recite the Angelus prayer then we eat lunch, during which the kids catch me up on what's happening in the latest Harry Potter chapter and I read the rest of our Calendar Class selections for the day- a math problem, history or biography of the day, proverb or quotation, etc. Before leaving the table I ask Maya and ZouZou to read aloud to Valentina in English and Italian to practice their language arts and to help teach their sister. Because we live in Italy part of the year and because my husband is from Lebanon, we incorporate Italian and Arabic into our daily readings and memory work.
Maya and ZouZou are eager to find out what happens next to Harry Potter so I let them listen while doing their chores and then drawing in their art journals. More trash gets taken out, more laundry goes in the washing machine, and the toddler goes in the bath after she decorates herself with colored markers. I'm feeling worn out by now and it hasn't even been a full homeschool day since we had to skip the academic work. The relentless rain is keeping us house-bound when we could use some fresh air and exercise but at least we've got a talented narrator with a British accent to listen to all day if we do have to stay indoors.
3:45 pm- Tea Time! Coffee, carrot cake, and toddler cuddles help counteract the dark and dreary day. During this break I type up most of this blog post while Valentina gets to watch some of her favorite cartoons (currently Peppa Pig and Little Bear), and the big kids continue obsessively listening to the audiobook (and I get to listen in, too). At one point I notice that the ceiling is leaking again so I make a few calls and later on a workman stops by to check the roof that was only repaired last week, for the third time this season.
6 pm- Tony returns and whips up a simple but scrumptious dinner of sauteed spinach and chicken tenders. While he's doing this I encourage the kids to practice memorizing multiplication tables together. Lately I've gotten in the habit of taking a quick walk when Tony comes home so I can get out beyond the walls of the house alone for a brief while and gaze out over the beautiful cityscape of Rome. Tonight the rain is thundering down and there is lightening in the sky so there's no chance of escape. During dinner the kids summarize the plot and characters of Harry Potter for their Dad, who has never read the books. Tony plans to go out again to do some work at his other job but the heavy rain and fatigue convince him to stay home, so we all get to have some family time after dinner.
8 pm- Family Time: I've named this our "Family Hearth Ritual", and it consists of prayers, hymns, and stories in our three languages. Tonight we keep it short as the kids want to return to-- you guessed it-- their audiobook. I agree as they are near the end of the series now and the plot is increasingly scary and dark, so it's important for us to hear it in common and discuss it together. After our prayers and some playing with Daddy, I put the toddler to sleep and let the big kids listen until they are nearly asleep. My big kids ask for cuddles at bedtime, which is really the only time they do now, so it's a treat when Valentina is asleep and I'm able to spend time individually with Maya or ZouZou.
11:30 pm- As usual, I'm the last one awake as I type these words-- precious solitude and freedom for my fingers to be on the keyboard without interruption This is the first time I've ever chronicled a day in our lives and, although there really isn't time to stop and write everything down on an average day, I've enjoyed how this simple act of observation has helped me be more aware of the blessings, drawbacks, and privileges of our homeschooling life.
11:28 p.m. and the kitchen clock is ticking loudly, keeping time with the clock ticking in my head as the hands inch closer to midnight, the moment when I turn 40 years old (cue scary drumbeats).
Mindful of the adage "A Fool at Forty is a Fool Forever", I am increasingly anxious that I have now, at 11:32, just 28 minutes to wise up in order to avoid a foolish fate. Alas! Time is not on my side! I hastily console myself with the possibility that there is a grace period during the 40th year of life, during which time one can grow in wisdom and shed foolishness- a twelve month period of transformation, at the end of which one's status as either fool or sage is then fixed forever in the stars.
Of course, I knew before this moment- now 11:38 p.m. on the eve of the fateful fortieth- that this day would come. As early as the age of 18 my aspirations toward sage status became manifest, at least to myself, if not the general observer. Upon the family refrigerator I displayed an image of a future dream: a greeting card purchased at a local bric-a-brac shop with an illustration of a wizened old woman, shawl on shoulders, rocking in her old wooden rocker, gazing out at the mountain top view from the front porch of her humble log cabin. Though my adulthood lay entirely before me at the youthful age of 18, something in that image gave me a sense of déjà vù, or rather foresight. It was how I romantically envisioned myself at the end of a hopefully long life- a content sage, living simply in nature, in a place of solitude and serenity where others might visit for a bit of wise conversation.
11:46-- How do we imagine our ends? Should we even try? Not many enjoy such a mental exercise, and yet it is the way of all flesh. Of course, only our Creator has full knowledge of both our beginnings and our ends, and circumstances entirely beyond our control determine both.
Appreciation of this inevitable truth compels one, or at least encourages one, toward an attitude of humility and gratitude, the opposite of what comes naturally through original sin- pride and the related desire for complete control over our lives. But recognition of a truth does not guarantee acceptance of it- that slow and potentially painful process requires active pursuit of the gift of Grace.
Is it a contradiction to pursue a freely given gift? In the case of Grace I think not, for its Giver clearly desires our cooperation, our will- freely exercised- to be aligned with His.
11:57-- So perhaps this is the ultimate foolishness and the ultimate wisdom- to live out the contradiction of Truth: to humble oneself is to be enriched, to give of oneself is to receive, to be called a fool by the world could have the Angels singing our praises as a sage.
Midnight-- The end of the first half of my life is in fact another beginning-- a new journey toward living as a clever fool, a silly sage, or a wise old woman atop a mountain, sharing lessons learned from life's riddles and wonders 'til she meets the Great Logical Contradiction and all is revealed.
"For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known."
-1 Corinthians 13:12
It has been well over a year since my last post and a bit over a year since our family began homeschooling full-time. You may assume there exists a connection between those two facts, and you would be correct. My fingers have barely touched the keyboard for any non-essential activities, which, truth must be told, includes blogging. I have, however, been blessed with a project that has kept me from being completely consumed with my homeschool plans-- I recently published a pocket-sized book of wisdom quotes by Pope Francis, out just in time for his Apostolic Journey to the U.S. You may find it here on Amazon (as an aside, it would be perfect gift basket filler at Christmas time!).
Another link worth sharing with you today is this description of the liberal arts and the "common" arts on afterthoughtsblog.net-- they are essentially the same two categories we use in our Kirkos Caravan curriculum of storytelling theater (the liberal arts or humanities) and homesteading (the common arts or survival skills and natural sciences). I hope you are enriched, as I was, by this blog post.
This year of non-posting on homeschooling has not been unproductive, but rather one of intense learning- mostly for me, the teacher! With only slight exaggeration for dramatic effect, the landscape we passed over this past year contained both valleys of desperation and heights of joy. But such is the intensity of the vocation of parenthood, and the daily reality of taking on the seemingly overwhelming task of providing a holistic education for three bouncy and strong-willed children. I have been guided and transformed as a teacher and mother this past year by many wise women-- Sheila Carroll, who introduced me to Charlotte Mason; Leonie Caldecott, whose essay "The Kitchen Table Classroom" is a must-read for parents; the very busy and productive Sarah Mackenzie of AmongstLovelyThings.com and the Read-Aloud Revival, who introduced me to all the resources at the CiRCE Institute; Cindy Rollins of Morning Time Moms and The Mason Jar podcast; Pam Barnhill, author of the new book "Morning Basket"; and local experienced homeschooling mom friends who have pointed me in the direction of The Schole Sisters and similar initiatives in our area, as well as the relatively new curriculum The Catholic Schoolhouse, which incorporates both classical and Charlotte Mason methods.
Last but not least, my friend Ashlee Cowles, a creative writer and classical educator, has created a promising and unique educational resource website and network for traveling families called Third Culture Caravan. She has kindly invited me to contribute to the page, which I enthusiastically intend to do! At this particular moment the website is experiencing a few glitches but you can access the content on the facebook page here.
These friends and mentors have reminded me of the appropriate adage that ROME WAS NOT BUILT IN A DAY! Neither were keen minds, nor deep souls, nor good habits. In a nutshell, the wisdom imparted to me from this collection of sages, (which I must now try to live out, not just contemplate) is that persistence and patience are the keys to success. My duty as a teaching parent is to show up every day, to give my best effort, and to hand over any anxiety regarding "success" or "failure" to the One who is the real teacher in the home, invisibly shaping us with our cooperation.
September is an appropriate time to pause and reflect on all this after the frenetic pace of a Michigan summer. A cold snap a few weeks ago have provoked the maple trees to begin turning color earlier than usual, a sure sign of transition toward the quieter, more studious days indoors ahead. But not quite yet-- September is beekeeping month, when the last harvest of the season is extracted (it also happens to be National Honey Month!). So for our homesteading focus this month the children will be apprenticing with our honey business partner to learn more about the art of working with bees, and for our storytelling theater, we'll be learning and performing "The Bee Tree" by Patricia Polacco, a prolific author and illustrator from Michigan.
On behalf of the Kirkos Caravan, I wish you a leisurely Labor Day and a sweet September!
Twenty years ago today the Wizard of Mecosta passed away on the Feast of St. Catherine of Siena. Today his grandson Joseph and I prayed at her tomb in the Domenican gothic church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva. The tomb may be touched by pilgrims only on this day each year so little Joseph and I joined the line and said a prayer for the wizard's soul while touching St. Catherine's stone likeness. Coincidentally, Santa Maria sopra Minerva was my Dad's favorite church in Rome, located next to the Albergo Minerva, which he stayed in when in Rome. He has written about his affection for the places in the scene captured in today's photo on the left in his autobiography, The Sword of Imagination. Circles upon circles...
To the north of Rome, in the city of Milan, Dad was the subject of much writing and reminiscing by Marco Respinti, journalist, blogger, and founder of the Centro Studi Russell Kirk. For those who read Italian, here and here are the links to those pieces.
Below is a re-post from my Remus and Rome blog two years ago, when we made a pilgrimage to Siena:
"April is the cruelest month, breeding Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing Memory and desire, stirring Dull roots with spring rain." So begins "The Burial of the Dead", the first section of T.S. Eliot's poem The Waste Land. The first line of that quote was permanently emblazoned into my memory eighteen years ago on April 29, the feast of St. Catherine of Siena, the morning my father died when I was eighteen years old. The next day, the final day of April, snow fell. Hope for the long-awaited return of Spring wilted, along with the budding lilacs that abound at Piety Hill, and I recalled those lines from Eliot my Dad often quoted. On this last day of April I'm noting the truth of Eliot's characterization of this cathartic month, and how growth towards wisdom and change for the better- though much hoped for- often comes at the cost of sacrificing complacent comfort, as Eliot describes in the next line:"Winter kept us warm, covering Earth in forgetful snow, feeding A little life with dried tubers."
My Dad's tombstone bears another quote from Eliot that became particularly relevant during this cathartic April: "The communication of the dead is tongued with fire beyond the language of the living."
From Eliot's poem "Little Gidding" in his work, The Four Quartets, the full sentence is this:
"And what the dead had no speech for, when living,
They can tell you, being dead: the communication
Of the dead is tongued with fire beyond the language of the living."
I've often wondered over that quote in the last eighteen years, but now it speaks more clearly to me with the accumulation of everyday allegories and minor miracles that provide me with evidence that the dead continue to communicate with the living in this mystical and invisible community we all belong to. Though I cannot claim to understand it fully, there is something to be said for Jung's theory of the collective unconscious that is not bound by constraints of past, present and future. Or, as Eliot more eloquently puts it:
"Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future
And time future contained in time past."
Once a young nephew innocently asked me at what point in history did miracles stop occurring. I should not have been surprised by the question as we live in a materialist age but it did cause me to stop and reflect that these everyday minor miracles are today mostly seen as somehow taboo and not discussed. But perhaps it was always this way; even famous mystics like St. Catherine of Siena were a cause of embarrassment at first, by her own parents no less, until her vocation could no longer be denied and she was given free reign to change history.
My father was fond of mystics like St. Catherine, and mystical writers like Eliot, Flannery O'Connor, and Chesterton. It is probably no wonder, then, that this month I have run into them at every turn, my father no doubt urging me to take up their books and read, in order to better guide me along the path of life.
It was Flannery O'Connor, in fact, who first taught me to view everyday life through an allegorical lens. Though she never traveled far from home, she captured profound, disturbing, and humorous truths about human nature in the rural setting of the South. Rural Michigan was my father's favorite setting for his own tales as well, and he found as much allegorical material in the lives and deaths of our multi-generational local farming families as he did in the cultural and artistic wealth of Rome.
As an eighteen-year-old, I knew little of St. Catherine of Siena. Eighteen years later, as Providence would have it, I found myself on a pilgrimage bus to her home to attend a Mass on the vigil of her feast day. Afterward, I explored Siena's stunningly beautiful cathedral where St. Catherine was baptized. Just before leaving, I happened to notice a handwritten sign next to the chapel of "Madonna of the Vow" that informed visitors that the chapel was reserved for Masses for the dead. Having promised my mother that I would obtain something special for her in Siena, I fulfilled that vow by entering the sacristy and arranging for a Mass to be said for my father on October 19, his birthday.
On the three hour bus ride on the way back to Rome my head was throbbing from the amount of visual, intellectual, and spiritual richness I had just absorbed in that one church alone. But that was not to be the end of the "messages from the other side", as I discovered today. This morning I put a CD by Mars Hill Audio (Journal 73) into the stereo to play without looking at the subject, to distract me from the tediousness of cleaning. I was amused, and only slightly surprised, to hear that the topic was Flannery O'Connor. Without exaggeration, every interviewee seemed to be speaking directly to something on my heart.
Here's one example from author Susan Srigley: "I think that for her (Flannery O'Connor), what the artist is trying to do is to look at that intersection between time and eternity- where time and eternity meet- and what human beings do in the midst of that intersection." Host Ken Myers continues, "Artists like Flannery O'Connor insist on seeing the spiritual reality in the physical fact."
These are the type of minor miracles that have made up the month of April, not so cruel this year.
"We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time."
-T.S. Eliot, "Little Gidding" in The Four Quartets
While St. Patrick's Day in Italy may not be the big event that it is in the States, tomorrow's feast of St. Joseph makes up for it. Here is a recommended page with some background and traditions for celebrating this beloved saint and namesake of our little Joseph. The feast of St. Joseph is also Father's Day in Italy, as he is the patron saint of fathers and protector of the Holy Family.
The Kirkos Caravan will celebrate ZouZou's name day with cupcakes bearing the letters of his name and Father's Day with time spent relaxing together telling stories about St. Joseph (Daddy doesn't have a sweet tooth!).
"Buon Onomastico" to all those with the name Joseph, Giuseppe, Jozef, Youssef, ZouZou, etc. of the world! You bear the name of an infinitely virtuous man who was the earliest influence on Jesus next to the woman who bore him, Mary.
"Carnelevarium" is Latin for "removal of meat" and is the origin of the English word "carnival" or "carnevale" in Italian. As with so many other religious feasts, the carnival tradition arose from practical necessity during the changing of the seasons and from overlapping cultural customs over the centuries. It marks the end of the winter season in the Kirkos Caravan calendar, as it is immediately followed by the Liturgical season of Lent, which means "spring" (more on that in the next post).
"Fat Tuesday", or "Martedi Grasso" in Italian, was the last day to consume all the foods that were off-limits during the forty days of Lent. Without refrigerators to preserve these foods during that time, parties were held in homes and among neighbors and special recipes and traditions arose in different regions of the Catholic world (pancakes, frappe, castagnole...the list goes on).
Masquerade balls and costume parades, like the spectacular tradition that is still going strong in Venice and several other cities and towns in Italy, reflect a continuation of Roman pagan festivals around the vernal equinox in which the established order was turned on its head. Agricultural societies (which were virtually every society up to the Industrial Revolution) recognized a natural symbolism in this revelry that was not lost on Christians (more on this until the next post!). On a practical level, the impending season of sobriety, Lent, gave rise to a last rush of revelry that over time grew to be a tradition. Catholic Customs and Traditions by Greg Dues is a resourceful guide to this and other traditions associated with the Liturgical calendar.
As explained on the Ringmistress' other blog, romeandremus.blogspot.it, the Roman city coffer's were empty this year for Carnevale funding after extravagant productions in years past and the current economic situation in Italy and the many other countries around the world. However, at the last minute a less expensive public initiative was organized: "Fori in Maschera". The Via dei Fori Imperiali, which runs through (and over) the Roman Forum, was closed to traffic so that it could be filled with costumed pedestrians and street performers. Alas, due to non-festive obligations such as work and homework, the Kirkos Caravan only arrived at the tail end of these festivities and caught just a few photos of the masquerading stragglers.
The previous evening we did celebrate the season in a traditional way, however, by going to the theater to see an unique production of "Pinocchio", that classic Italian tale about a puppet, human nature, and redemption. Author and University of Virginia professor Vigen Guroian has spoken and written about the symbolism of Pinocchio at the Kirk Center- beautiful commentary that I will have to share with you in a separate post.
The carnevale season is a time not just to dress up in costumes and masks but also to see live performances of professional masked and costumed performers--puppet shows, Commedia dell' Arte, and wandering minstrels all magically appear throughout the city at this time of year. The Pinocchio show we took in was at the Teatro Ghione near the Vatican. A famous Italian actor, Pino Ammendola, played the part of a father recounting the story of Pinocchio to his son as a bedtime story with the surprise ending that the father himself had been the wooden puppet redeemed by the Blue Fairy and transformed into a human being (thereby making it possible for him to later become the father whose son was hearing the story for the first time). Magical Maya will debut as the Blue Fairy in her Italian school's production of Pinocchio later this year, so the outing was undertaken not only for entertainment, but also for a bit of Kirkos Caravan research!
Finally, in a last-ditch effort to squeeze out every last drop of the Carnevale Romano season before Lent, we went to a parish party at Regina Pacis church in our neighborhood. After surviving that sugar-fueled chaos, the Kirkos Caravan welcomes the sober season of Lent with welcome arms. May the journey toward renewal, Easter, and Spring begin!
Our almond-eyed chubber charmer turns one year old today! We are celebrating the 365 days of love and joy she has added to our lives with a visit to Santa Maria Regina Pacis (Our Lady Queen of Peace) and a family dinner in a nearby restaurant called Il Focolare (The Hearth).
I recently discovered this lovely tradition of a birthday blessing from another mom that we'll bestow on Valentina today before the cake and candles singing:
“Many happy returns to the day of thy birth, many seasons of joy be given, and may our dear Father prepare you on earth for a beautiful birthday in Heaven.” Then we clap and chant 1…2…3…etc, up to the celebrant’s age."
Below is a look back at her first week of life in snowy Michigan last year.
Non mi piaci, o freddo inverno,
che ci tieni qua in prigione,
dove il giorno sembra eterno:
fuggi, perfida stagione!
Senza i fiori e la verzura
sembra morta la natura.
Piu non canta il vago uccello,
trema e soffre il poverello.
Ma la mamma sa le fole
e ci chiama attorno e se
con le magiche parole:
-Una volta c'era un re....
Poi ritornano il Natale,
la Befana, il Carnevale;
ognuno d'essi reca un dono:
freddo inverno, ti perdono!
-A. Cuman Pertile
Buon Onomastico! That means "Happy Name Day" in Italian and today we heard it frequently when celebrating wee Valentina's first "onomastico" in Rome. In honor of her namesake, we took her to light a candle in front of the skull of St. Valentine in the church of Santa Maria in Cosmedin. It may sound macabre, but paying visits to holy relics is quite commonplace in Rome- in fact, it is one of the reasons Rome is such a pilgrimage destination. Santa Maria in Cosmedin (which means "ornamented" or "adorned with beauty") is a Greek Melkite Catholic church built atop an intact tiny temple of Herucles. Despite its impressive history and beauty, the church is best known for a huge stone face on a wall of its portico dubbed "The Mouth of Truth". Made popular by the film "Roman Holiday", tourists line up to tentatively put their hand inside its open mouth. According to a medieval legend, liars get their hands bitten off. We bought a tiny replica to test our children's honesty when necessary...
Here is a post on the Roman origins of the Feast of St. Valentine from my blog Rome and Remus in 2012, before Valentina was even a glimmer in her father's eye.