Sunday, December 3, 2017

STREAM - Creation and Chocolate

STREAM - a little type of activity we do at our co-op class, incorporating {Science - Technology - Religion and Reading - Engineering - Art - Math} that you might like to enjoy with your children at home, in a classroom, or even at Vacation Bible School. I am not a STEM professional - my background is in English, Drama, and Debate - but that just proves that even you can do STEM if I can do it!  Consequently, please let me know how you improve the activities, as many combined minds often produce better ideas.

You could use the Children's Bible Reader, but the temple connected to our co-op has a set of lovely creation icons in the narthex, so we took a little field trip to observe those. I didn't get photographs, but here is a similar series.

We pointed out the water in the beginning of creation. And the earth. I explained that God made things to be in the states of solid, liquid, and gas when he created the earth, and that is what we are going to learn about today.


Solids are hard, you can knock on them with your hand. Knock on the desk - is it a solid? Yes!

Liquids are runny and can pour. If we walked over to that water fountain and pressed the button, would the water pour out of the nozzle? That's right!

Gases are teeny tiny particles that float about and we can't always see them, but sometimes we can. Did you see your breath outside this morning when you walked to your car? That was a gas.

Let's practice. I'll show you a picture and you can put it in the right category: Solid, Liquid, or Gas.

Image result for helium balloon

The air inside a balloon?

The green cutting board?

The waterfall behind us?

The garden stone?

best humidifierSteam that comes out of the humidifier?

The children caught on pretty quickly, which was good because I was ready to get to the fun part of the lesson. You must have been wondering what any of this had to do with chocolate.

First, I sent them to wash their hands before we made cake pops balls. Then I brought out a package of melting chocolate and asked them if that was a solid, liquid, or gas? They knew it was a solid. We even knocked on it to feel how hard it was. But wait! Let's put it in the microwave for a minute or two! It helps to have an assistant for this. While the assistant melted the chocolate, which handily came in a microwavable container, I explained that we were going to make cake balls and we would start by crumbling up an entire cooked cake into a huge metal bowl and then mix those crumbs with some icing.

My high school Debate Team once made these to sell at lunchtime for a fundraiser, and I can tell you that these two flavor combinations were the favorites: 1) red velvet cake with cream cheese icing and 2) funfetti cake with vanilla icing. 

Since I had only three darlings doing the mixing, it worked for all them to have their gooey hands in the wide bowl at once. Then we rolled them into balls and placed them on paper plates. I do apologize for not having pictures of this, but my hands were pretty gooey too, too gooey to hold a camera. It was a requirement that I get in there and model how to do it, you know. They need to see it done - a great pedagogical truth for any subject, if only I would remember it all the time!

About this time, my assistant came back and showed us the melted chocolate. What is it now, children? Solid, liquid, or gas? As we spooned it up and watched it pour out, they all knew it was now in a liquid state. At this point, we glaringly separated ourselves from the professionals and just went for it, in several different methods, trying our best to coat each ball in chocolate. As we were trying very hard to do this, I remembered that it helps if you freeze the balls for an hour before trying to coat them in chocolate. Perhaps I should have re-read the instructions before doing the lesson - hmmmm. Also, I thought we had popsicle sticks in the craft cabinet but we did not! If we did, we would have inserted them into the balls and used them to facilitate dipping. Oh well, it mostly still worked for us.  I, for one, am proud of children's work that looks like children made it, as opposed to adults making it.

More importantly for you, if I can do STREAM activities or any arts and crafts projects - even with normal (for me) daily set-backs and teacher mistakes in planning - you can do it too!

We set aside our edible art until after lunch, to share with the rest of the students. We could not sell these junior varsity cake balls for a fundraiser, but we did make memories and the children loved the messy process. And that's what we are after in the long run, that the children learn to love science and God's wonderful universe.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Blessed Feast!

Entrance of the Theotokos in the Temple

During the procession, the girls of our parish represent
the Virgins that welcome the Virgin Mary into the Temple.

When I asked our priest what I should share with the little Handmaidens Tea Party, he summed it up this way: The Virgin Mary entered the temple, in order to prepare to become the temple, and now prays for us to become temples of God. So there are three temples, actually.


1. Jewish Temple to which Joachim and Anna brought the Virgin Mary
2. The Theotokos becomes the temple of God when Jesus enters her womb
3. Our hearts can be temples, dwelling places of God

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Nativity Fast Menu

Here is a Weekly Guide that lends itself to variation.


1. At the beginning of each week, make a big batch of salad that keeps well for easy lunches. Kale salads (savory or sweet) and cabbage salads (Mexican Coleslaw, Oriental) keep well. 

2. Also make a big batch of soup (save the pasta and rice to add by the day, if your soup has those ingredients).

3. Try to make double ingredients on one day that you'll use some of tomorrow. (Quinoa casserole one night and Quinoa Pizza Balls for lunch the next day; or rice with stew one night with leftovers as stir fry later in the week)

Lunch - Baked Fish & veggies (tahini sauce or garlic lemon or OJ soy ginger)
Supper - Pizza (veggies and Daiya shreds; or baked with olive oil then add hummus, tomato, cucumber; or cashew "cheese" topped with roasted veggies)

Breakfast - Baked Oatmeal
Lunch - Soup and/or Salad (Lentil, Fasolada, Kale and White Bean)
Supper - Mexican (Wet Burritos, Butternut & Black Bean Enchiladas, Fiesta Quinoa Casserole, Beans and Rice) 

Breakfast - Toast
Lunch - Soup and/or Salad
Supper - Nuts or Beans (Thai Tofu and Broccoli w/ Peanut Sauce;  Kenyan Greens and Peanut Sauce; Tofu Spinach Pies, Not-Meat Loaf, Patties or Balls (Quinoa Pizza Balls, Tuna Potato, Sushi Rice & Veggie, Chickpea Fritters, delicious Chickpea "Meat"balls, Falafel Burgers)

Breakfast - Muffins
Lunch - Loaf/Patties/Balls or Soup Leftovers (have you tried Alton Brown's Winter Vegetable Soup? It's delicious!)
Supper - Shrimp (Creole with Rice, Garlic & Lemon with Pasta, Stir-Fry)

Breakfast - Oatmeal or Maltomeal
Lunch - PBJ or Mexican (Tostadas or Burritos with refried beans, caramelized onion, tomato, lettuce, corn)
Supper - Canned Fish (Salmon Potato Patties & fried cabbage; Tuna Noodle Casserole)

Breakfast - Toast or Pancakes
Lunch - M'Jeddrah (make extra caramelized onions on Thursday and use them today); veggies
Supper - Italian (Tomato Soup and Grilled "Cheese"; Pasta and Sauce; Caponata; Eggplant)

Breakfast - Potatoes Plus (Breakfast Burritos, hash browns and scrambled tofu)
Lunch - Leftovers or Freezer-to-Oven (Fish Sticks, Shrimp Poppers, Dollar Tree Spring Rolls, Boca Burgers, Waffles)
Supper - Crockpot Stew for after Vespers (Meatless Stew over Rice; Mushroom Stew w/ Potatoes)

Monday, November 13, 2017

How to Make Toast

With the Nativity Fast coming up, along with the inevitable and painful lack of breakfast cereal and milk that might mean for you, I thought I'd chat about toast.

Of course, you could always poor orange juice or Gatorade in your Cheerios. We did that for several years with my son who was allergic to dairy. Or you could use your favorite nut milk, though the cost of those is significantly more than dairy milk. I do buy some for my coffee - which maybe shows my selfishness that I'm willing to buy a little for me but hate to buy enough to supply the whole family with a Life cereal habit. Let's be serious, though, and this is one reason why I've been moving away from cereal and towards other forms of breakfast even when we are not fasting: what child eats only the serving size of cereal? My children easily double or triple a serving, making the box of cereal last maybe two days, so even if it was on sale, it feels like money slipping down the drain.

So we are going to save money and eat a little toast sometimes. We'll also eat baked oatmeal, breakfast cookies, and muffins; but let's not forget toast, because one doesn't have to prep it the night before. Hypothetically, everyone in your family might not mind eating plain toast every morning for weeks. If it had butter on it, that's one thing, but it's not the thing we are doing just now. Plain toast would certainly be simple and within the spirit of the fast, and even monastic, maybe. Actually, that might be your child's dream breakfast scenario, and if so, you can joyfully quit reading here. My children, at least some of them, would tire of plain toast if it wasn't on the side of some scrambled eggs. We -  those of us feeding a family with various growth stages, tastes, and needs - must live with the reality we've got when menu planning. It would be nice to plan in some options that can leave our littles feeling content after breakfast. A slice of white bread toast will not do that.

First, since you are not getting the protein you would have procured in a glass of milk, it would be nice if your bread had protein. Also, fiber would help fill up your crew, so they are not asking for more toast an hour later. I'm sure you know some good brands, but if you do find yourself at the store looking, try to choose a loaf with at least 4 grams of protein and 4 grams of fiber per slice.

I'm going to share my favorite two bread recipes. One is nutrient dense for the parents and one is just filling for the kids.

1. El Seed
If you have time and already buy these sorts of ingredients in bulk anyway (hello, my friends making a gluten-free menu), then this recipe from My New Roots is super; literally, almost all the ingredients are super foods. Take a look:

photo courtesy of Sarah Britton at

1 cup / 135g sunflower seeds
½ cup / 90g flax seeds
½ cup / 65g hazelnuts or almonds
1 ½ cups / 145g rolled oats
2 Tbsp. chia seeds
4 Tbsp. psyllium seed husks (3 Tbsp. if using psyllium husk powder)
1 tsp. fine grain sea salt (add ½ tsp. if using coarse salt)
1 Tbsp. maple syrup (for sugar-free diets, use a pinch of stevia)
3 Tbsp. melted coconut oil or ghee
1 ½ cups / 350ml water

I change the directions a little. I replace the nuts with pepitas because we have a nut allergy at our house. This makes it totally Seed Bread. The same person with the nut allergy also does not prefer the chunks in the bread, so I grind all the dry ingredients in a food processor before mixing in the wet.  The result is bread that looks less artistic and more like normal bread. Also, friends, I buy the generic version of Metamucil. Yep. Look at the two ingredients: psyllium seed husk powder and sugar. Just don't buy the orange flavor! Also, omit the maple syrup because the powder comes with a little sugar. After mixing and baking the bread, let it cool then slice it and place in a freezer bag. It makes great toast right out of the freezer and here are the nutrition facts in case you are curious:

6 grams of protein
5 grams of fiber
2 grams of sugar
12 grams of healthy fat (0 cholesterol!)
8% of iron for the day

178 calories per slice

I'm just going to put this our there: my kids don't like this bread. But my husband and I do. My mother likes it so much that she said that from here on out, for every birthday or Christmas present, she wants a loaf of this bread. However, I still must feed the kids, so I buy them cheap bagels and whole wheat bread from Aldi, force them to include some sort of protein, and trust their child-like metabolisms and prayer.

photo courtesy of
2. Bucket Bread

The children's favorite bread is what we call Bucket Bread, from Artisan Bread in Five, because I ask my 10 year-old or 14 year-old to keep a bucket mixed up for me. No kneading. Super quick. It is worth it to watch this video about how to take a handful of dough out of the bowl and form it for baking.

I've mentioned this bread before. The bucket lives in the fridge and whenever we want a loaf (say, wouldn't that soup be more tasty with some warm fresh bread?) I scoop a blob of it onto a pan and bake. Also, we use it for pizza dough and focaccia, and that website has about 50 other ways you could use it. If you leave the scraps of dough in the bucket after using the last bit, and mix the new ingredients right in there with the old, you'll develop a slight sour-dough tang that makes it a little more complex and less flat and white-bready.  Basically, once your kids are old enough to mix this for you - I keep a laminated copy of the recipe right in the pantry next to the flour - and they realize that they will have to eat the store-bought 100% whole wheat bread if they don't mix it up for you, the bucket can stay full all the time.

And you can use the leftover bread for toast. 


You know how to make toast and top it with what your family likes.
Here are some obvious choices:
    peanut butter & bananas
    cinnamon toast
    avocado with Tony's

    photo courtesy of

      Here are some not-as-obvious toppings:

last night's veggies

with hummus

refried beans and salsa

chopped nuts mixed into cinnamon toast topping

sweet potato spread (puréed with honey, oil, vanilla, salt, OJ)

sweet seed mix (sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, raisins, chopped apples)

vegan mayo* mixed with onion powder, chopped olives, and pecans
beany cheese spread (from Fasting as a Family)

I don't have a picture of the Beany Cheese Spread on toast, but here it is in a tortilla.
You'll have to use your imagination.

You get the idea. To increase the variety for your toast, try to keep some options on hand, options that have protein especially. Please let me know if you have some good ideas, because I am always on the lookout for more!

*I don't get any affiliate Amazon money when I put up these links, but maybe I should set that up!

Friday, November 10, 2017

STREAM - The Ravens of Farne

STREAM - a little type of activity we do at our co-op class, incorporating {Science - Technology - Religion and Reading - Engineering - Art - Math} that you might like to enjoy with your children at home, in a classroom, or even at Vacation Bible School. I am not a STEM professional - my background is in English, Drama, and Debate - but that just proves that even you can do STEM if I can do it!  Consequently, please let me know how you improve the activities, as many combined minds often produce better ideas.

Science - natural science with birds and maps
Technology - if you are really interested in this, add an internet search*
Religion and Reading - St. Cuthbert and The Ravens of Farne
Engineering - you could incorporate the physics of flight and skeletal structure
Art - drawing by shapes and lines
Math - order of numbers in the index
The Ravens of Farne,** by Donna Farley, is a lovely tale about a monk living as a hermit on an island and the cheeky but repentant birds that keep him company.

First, I read the story aloud to my Kindergarteners and First Graders. If I have time, I ask them to take turns telling it back to me.

Afterwards, I turn to a page with many kinds of birds and ask the children to point out a raven in the picture. Yes, you are right! I write the word Raven on the white board. Let's find out more about ravens using our Field Guide to the Birds of North America. It tells us about all the different birds.

I flip through the field guide, allowing the children to see how many different birds are inside the book. There are so many - how can we find the raven? We can use the INDEX, which is organized by your A,B,C's. Let's say them now to review. (This is a fun and easy addition, because when a person is learning something new and perhaps difficult, it is nice to have an easy success to fuel things along.) Ok, let's look in our index - yes, there is the A, with all the birds that begin with the letter A.

 And then the B's,

and so on all the way through until...

We found the R's! Can you run your finger down the page until you find "Raven"? Only the first grader was game for that challenge. She had a reference for the spelling, however, because I had written it on the board earlier. Most everyone can answer the next question as I point to the page. What number is that? That is our page number, and the pages are in order, so let's find it!

We search through, starting with the lower numbers and moving up until we've gone to far and must go back. This is actually great math practice, though I admit the Kindergarteners were getting fidgety until...

Yes, you found it! That's it!!!!!

I mention that there are two kinds of ravens in the Field Guide but don't go into detail. You would know how much bird science to include or not at this point. Are your students ready to talk about RANGE and MIGRATION? We were not there yet when I did this lesson, because we had not been preparing for that beforehand. However, we had been doing map songs during circle time, so we do a little map skill work. We have been singing the states of the United States, so they were ready to point to our state. 
I explain that the purple area is where the birds can be found, and we realize that ravens are not in our state. Oh well. The Ravens of Farne was a book about an English saint, after all, on an Island off the coast of England, which is way across the ocean in Europe. (Another circle-time song, the continents and oceans.)

Let's observe that Raven in the picture. What do you see? I let them tell me as many details as they can, which is both an easy way to experience a little success after the more difficult map reading and also a preparation for our next activity. If beforehand you the teacher have read the Field Guide, this will equip you to help the children with new vocabulary when they point out something by describing it, not knowing that there is a word for that. You're right, Sammy, that tail is a WEDGE shape.

You know, being forethoughtful you probably would have told the children at the beginning that we were going to read a book, learn more about the birds in the book, and finally draw the birds. I think I did that. I will next time, for sure. Thanks for the idea!

Not being able to find a step-by-step example of how to draw a raven, I took my little non-artistic self and made one up. I tried to use the principle that most objects can be built out of smaller shapes and lines. The photo above is for my own reference, as I drew the shapes on our white board and erased bits as we went. The children's pictures turned out remarkably well.

There you go. STREAM.

Science - natural science with birds and maps
Technology - if you are really interested in this, add an internet search*
Religion and Reading - St. Cuthbert and The Ravens of Farne
Engineering - you could incorporate the physics of flight and skeletal structure
Art - drawing by shapes and lines
Math - order of numbers in the index

*to expand the map part of the lesson or even to do a google (you may prefer to use kiddle, a safer search engine for kids) image search for "ravens in the wild"* to see more pictures.  Just don't scroll down too far, though, because then the images will be of football players instead of birds. In fact, the first time I searched for simply "ravens," google produced almost entirely football related results.

This could be a great time to start teaching your children how to go about internet searches, especially about not giving up when the first search doesn't work. I almost always end up revising my search phrase once or twice based on the results I get. Walking through this process with the children helps them learn to do the same. When I first started teaching high school I was surprised when the students would quit searching after one try and tell me, "there's nothing good on my topic." After that, I walked them through a search of my own using the over head projector and taught them a little Boolean Logic before going to the library or computer lab with them.

**In fact, speaking of older children, the picture book above is a small tale in a larger young adult novel that my son loves, Bearing the Saint.

Thursday, November 2, 2017


STREAM - a little type of activity we do at our co-op class, incorporating {Science - Technology - Religion and Reading - Engineering - Art - Math} that you might like to enjoy with your children at home, in a classroom, or even at Vacation Bible School. I am not a STEM professional - my background is in English, Drama, and Debate - but that just proves that even you can do STEM if I can do it!  Consequently, please let me know how you improve the activities, as many combined minds often produce better ideas.

What is STREAM?

Religion & Reading

My purpose is for my children to approach science and math because those subjects allow us to wonder at the amazing and beautiful absolute truths built into God's creation, because those subjects help us understand our surroundings, because those subjects give them pleasure and enable them to achieve what God puts into their hearts to achieve.

Thanks be to God that the STEM initiative has trained many teachers to be able to offer more to their students and that more students - who perhaps did not have access to engineering and technology in their classrooms - are now more able to get it. Thanks be to God also for art and beauty, for goodness and truth.  If we highly train an army of scientists who can rule the world, but do not nurture their sense of what is good and true, we could train a villainous army indeed. Why not combine more than the original four STEM subjects and study things from a holistic viewpoint when possible?

A local magnet school does this and calls it STEAM, because they add Art. My local library also offers STEAM (STEM + Art) projects for students grades 3-5. I'm not the only one who sees a wisdom in incorporating STEM into a larger feast of learning.

Therefore it was with sparked interested that I noticed the phrase STREAM on the website of a local Roman Catholic private school.  I appreciate that God is incorporated into the study, since He is the originator of the subject matter. I also like that Art is incorporated, since real beauty is the outward manifestation of spiritual truth. I personally added the extra "R" of reading, because I find that stories convey truths in a way that stick with children.

So where does this leave you?

If you have children in a public or private school, thank God for the good things they are getting and consider if you want to add any STREAM activities into your rainy days or summer fun.

If you teach in a classroom, thank God for the chance to work out your salvation serving kids and consider if you can or even want to integrate Art, Science, and Religion.

If you home school your children, thank God for the good things they are getting and consider if you want to add any STREAM activities into your days.

Why am I even thinking about all of this? Quite by accident. I was asked - despite my complete lack of experience in the subject! - to teach the Kindergarten/1st Grade Art and Science class at our Orthodox Homeschool Co-op.  At first I was going to do science one week, then art one week, but I felt more comfortable mixing them together. As the weeks have gone by, it has occurred to me that - at least for Kindergarten and First Grade - it is not too hard to create STREAM activities, or at least lessons that incorporate Science, Religion, Reading, and Art.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Professional Development for the Homeschool Teacher

Our local school district is out today and Tuesday for Fall Break and on Wednesday for the teachers' Professional Development. 

Image result for Norton Garden shreveport

Since they had the day off, we took a day off our homeschool studies so we could meet some dear friends for a picnic lunch and romp around a 44 acre artistic public garden in our area.

Image result for Norton Garden shreveport

What can homeschool teachers do for professional development, free professional development? Two wonderful resources can help you.

First, The National Conference on Orthodox Christian Schools had a conference in August of 2017 and Ancient Faith Radio has the speakers available as podcasts. Even though these are meant for brick and mortar private schools, they seem helpful for any teacher.

Do any of these topics interest you?

Bryan Smith
Abbot Damascene 

Pres. Ana Coman 

Dr. Philip Mamalakis 

Dr. Philip Mamalakis 

Fr. Panayiotis Hasiakos 

Pres. Nikolia Hasiakos and Katerina Rallis 

Michael Odiotti 

Second, Hillsdale College offers free online courses.* You can listen to just one lecture, or you can officially register, listen to all of them, read the extra reading assignments, take quizzes, and receive a certificate at the end. I have almost worked my way through "A Proper Understanding of K-12 Education." Though it is not from an Orthodox Christian perspective, many of the lectures are based in classical thought, with a respect for tradition. Each lecture is followed by a Q&A which often answers questions I had during the lecture. I really liked the "Fundamentals of Writing" lecture, but here are all of them:

Teaching Education at Hillsdale College   (Introduces the rest of the course. It talks about how the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 states, “Religion, morality, and knowledge, being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged.”)

Proper Understanding of Education  (Contrasts Greek and Roman education, Early Christian education, and Modern Progressive education.)

The Progressive Influence on Modern Education (Helps you understand the motivating factors behind many modern philosophies and ways of doing school. If you've always been homeschooling, I'm not sure it would matter to you, but for me - who taught public high school for 10 years - it helped me see why some practices are in place, or rather why they are constantly being replaced in many school systems. Then I could contrast that with how I wanted to organize my own "school.")

The Fundamentals of Writing (Very, very good!)