Saint Nicholas of Myra

Today is December 6.  Many people around the world celebrate December 6 as St. Nicholas Day.  

I don't ever remember not knowing that December 6 is Saint Nicholas Day.  I knew that our American Santa Claus has its roots in the very real St. Nicholas of Myra.  Growing up we didn't have a fireplace, so my sister and I didn't hang traditional stockings or put out our shoes on December 6th.  We did, however, lay out our own socks on December 24th.  Real socks. Not Christmas Stockings. That means they were little girl socks so not very big.  My other always put an orange in them and sometimes chocolate.  I didn't realize at the time that oranges and chocolate were very traditional St. Nicholas gifts.

Are you familiar with the stories and legends surrounding St. Nicholas of Myra?  St. Nicholas of Myra was a real historical figure though not much is known about him.  One story is about how he gave coins to a poor widower for daughters' dowries.  Another story is based on church history and the council of Nicaea.

If you are familiar with or love early Church history you may already be familiar with the story of how St. Nicholas slapped Arius at the council of Nicea. If you are unfamiliar with the First Council of Nicaea, it was the first Ecumenical Council of the Christian Church convened by Constantine to resolve the controversy caused by Arius who taught that Christ was a created being. Arius was condemned and exiled. The Nicaea Council declared that the Son was of the same essence as the Father, but Arianism wasn't fully resolved until the First Council of Constantinople in 381 (The Second Ecumenical Council) when the council declared the doctrine of the Trinity.  At this council, it was declared that the Holy Spirit is equal to the Father and the Son.

But back to St. Nicholas and Arius at the First Council of Nicaea.  It is said that St. Nicholas was so agitated and outraged that he slapped Arius.  Nicholas was thrown in jail. I like Ms. Riggle's telling of the tale of St. Nicholas and Arius. She also talks about  St. Nicholas's restoration and presents evidence for and against whether or not the story is true.

Whether all the stories are true or merely embellishments, the man was real and these stories teach us that we should care for the poor and stand up for Christ's Truth.

Christmas Stockings for St. Nicholas Day

Supergirl loves St. Nicholas Day. Today we'll check the stockings and she'll find some "gold coins."  She might even find an orange or two.  We'll also take time today to read The Saint Nicholas Day Snow by Charlotte Riggle

Happy St. Nicholas Day!


Preparing our hearts for December (November Monthly Challenge Link up)

The Homeschool Review Crew hosts a Monthly Challenge with a theme for each week of the month.  The theme for the last week of November is Preparing our Hearts for December.

It made me think of Advent which is more preparing our hearts IN December but then I realized that Thanksgiving helps my family's hearts to prepare for preparing our hearts in December.

We celebrate Advent.  Advent is the preparation for the feast of the Nativity of Christ or Christmas. 

So how does Thanksgiving, an American holiday celebrating the Pilgrims coming to the New World, prepare hearts for Advent?

Thanksgiving is about giving thanks!

Well for me it is because I do not view Thanksgiving as just about the Pilgrims.  The Pilgrims had a feast because they had gratitude.  They were grateful for surviving.  They gave thanks to God.  

It is that same vein of gratitude, the gratefulness to God for all things, that girds my family's celebration of Thanksgiving. 2020 has been an especially tough year. It is difficult to set aside our grief and pain and yet the Apostle Paul writes "Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus."1 Thessalonians 5:18.

My circumstances in 2020 in no way compares to the trials the Pilgrims endured. I have not endured a bitterly cold winter. I have had plenty to eat, and a roof over my head. I have grocery stores and during the summer fruit and vegetable stands. Yes, we've had a death in the family.  Yes, we've been in isolation.  Yes, Covid-19 has affected and impacted our lives but God has used and continues to use people and circumstances working in them and through them to care for us and meet our needs.

Being grateful to God opens our hearts.  It prepares our hearts to seek a deeper relationship with Him and it leads my family into a desire to set aside the world to examine our hearts and to re-focus on why we need a Savior. 

One way to prepare our hearts for December is to create the advent chain that we use.  Each chain has a Bible reading.  These readings are from both the Old and the New Testament and point to our need for a Savior and God's plan to "save His people from their sins." (Matt 1:21).  We create the Advent Chain in November to prepare our hearts for preparing in December.

November Monthly Challenge


Beautiful Christmas -- coloring book review

Thank you Ancient Faith Publishing for providing the coloring book Beautiful Christmas for review.

Coloring is not just a great way to practice fine motor skills but it is also a wonderful tool for exercising your brain. When you color you develop planning skills and build your creativity muscles. My special needs daughter is developmentally delayed both cognitively and physically. While chronologically outside the intended age range of 5-12 this coloring book was perfect for where she is developmentally.

From the back the cover:
Beautiful Christmas is a 64-page coloring book for children aged 5-12. As they color Christ in the cave or the shepherds glorifying God with the angels, they are cultivating their own sensibility to beauty while learning to recognize some of the meaningful symbols, elements, and motifs of the Church. May this small book bless those children who color and create within its pages.
I love the wide variety of coloring pages.  Some pictures have larger coloring spaces making it easier for those who are younger or have less developed fine motor skills and need a bigger space to practice staying in the lines.  Others are more detailed with smaller spaces and delicate designs that require more patience and fine motor skill to complete.  This is also great for children who can color an easy page one day and then work on a more difficult page another just as we sometimes read easier books just for fun and then at other times read more challenging books that cause us to grow.

Along with variations in the coloring spaces and details, we discovered icon coloring pages, coloring pages for St. Nicholas, St. Lucia, and Gabriel as well as some wonderful general Christmas pictures such as Christmas trees.  These pages were tucked in with Orthodox Christmas scenes such as Mary and Joseph setting out on the journey to Bethlehem, the animals in the cave, the wise men, and even the flight into Egypt.

Many of the coloring pages are captioned.  The captions sparked discussions.  "Mama we sing that at Christmas!"

In addition, there are several mazes throughout the book.  My daughter loves mazes.  I love that these are included because they also help exercise the brain and strengthen fine motor skills, eye tracking, and planning! 

When Supergirl was looking through the coloring book she got excited when she saw St. Nicholas.  She pointed at his picture. I expected her to choose to color St. Nicholas first but she chose Mary riding on the donkey for her first picture and the angel coming to Joseph in a dream as her second.

The quality of the coloring book is excellent! It has a very sturdy cover.  My complaint though is that the binding makes it difficult for the book to lay flat for coloring.  I just bent it back to loosen the binding to help it lay more flat.  This made it easier for Supergirl to color the pages on the left.

I asked Supergirl what she thought, and she said: "It is different."  I also asked her what it made her think of and she said, "Christmas Eve." 

We are enjoying the coloring book.  This is an excellent choice for a Christmas gift that reminds children of why we celebrate this wonderful holiday.  Check it out the Beautiful Christmas coloring book at the Ancient Faith Publishing Store!


Free Online Piano Lessons with SimplyMusic {Crew Review}

Recently the Homeschool Review Crew had the opportunity to check out the Music & Creativity - Foundation Course from Simply Music. This course is free so every member of your family, with their own email address, could create their own Simply Music account.  With their own accounts, they can move through the program at their own speed and keep track of where they left off. If you have thought about piano lessons for yourself or your children but are unsure if it would be worth the time and investment you'll want to check out this free online piano course.

As part of the Leadership Team for the Homeschool Review Crew, I do not typically write reviews.  I volunteered to write this review. Originally I was thinking I would have family members use this program and tell me their thoughts and I would just tell you about the program.   I set up an account for myself and then I encouraged my family to set up their own accounts. Honeybear, Turtlegirl, and BooBear all set up accounts.  After working through several lessons myself, I really want Tailborbear to set up an account and give this a try.

While my family did poke around a bit and give me some of their thoughts,  I decided to take this review in a different direction because I started really using the program and fell in love.  I did watch videos and mark complete to get feel for the whole program but what I saw just blew me away so I started using the program for real while still "moving ahead to watch videos" for purposes of the review.

Background Information about the Program

There is a six-minute video overview of the Music & Creativity Program from Simply Music right on the home page.  Scroll down to find it and if you click on the watch on YouTube you will be able to watch using full screen.  Neil Moore, founder of Simply Music organization and creator of the MAC Program introduces himself and the program.  I encourage you to watch the video to hear it for yourself but I'm going to share a key point that sets this program apart.

Mr. Moore calls this a breakthrough program. Based on what I have read (so far) in the FREE eBook, Music and the Art of Long-Term Relationships, by Neil Moore, I agree this is a breakthrough in thinking and approach to teaching music. It is different than anything I have experienced as a student or as a parent of a music student. I think it is important that we understand why Simply Music's MAC Program is set up the way it is. It is their overall focus to "contribute to causing breakthroughs in creativity for humanity." Their fundamental premise is that "everyone, without exception, is deeply, naturally and profoundly musical."

In the book Mr. Moore lists four goals that the Simply Music Organization has:
  • Experience music as a natural self-expression
  • Play a huge repertoire, covering a wide array of musical styles and genres. We want our students to be able to sit down anywhere, at any time, and play lots of music.
  • Develop the ability to self-generate, meaning they can progress on their own. They are equipped to teach themselves, including having the ability to read music, and then set the page aside, carrying the song with them in their mind, heart, and hands.
  • Have a highly positive, self-affirming experience throughout the process.
I will share the quote from the book about the overriding goal in a bit when I talk about my thoughts ane experiences with the program.  Here is a diagram from the eBook (page 28) that lays out the overriding goal with the 4 goals I've listed above.

With the Music and Creativity Program - Foundation Course Simply Music lays the foundation. While you won't learn how to read music with this course, you will experience music as natural self-expression.  You'll begin to build a repertoire and learn skills that will allow you to continue to build that repertoire. This course lays the foundation for growing the ability to self-generate and I have been having a highly positive, self-affirming experience so far!

How It Works

Mr. Moore's approach is very different.  He has a learn-by-playing approach that gets students playing real songs from the start. Mr. Moore calls it a "playing-based method."  This method allows you to see music in terms of shapes and patterns.

In the video portions of the lessons, Mr. Moore breaks down the songs into the shapes and patterns that you need in order to play the song.  For example, in Lesson 6 we learn more chords.  In this screenshot, we see Mr. Moore's hand as he teaches us how to build the shape of the chord with the first, third and fifth fingers.

Lesson Set Up

It is easy to look at the table of contents and see 19 Lessons and a Quick Start Lesson and think "oh I can finish this course in about 20 weeks.  I can do one lesson a week."   But that isn't how it works.  To quote Neil Moore:  "How long will it take?  As long as it takes."

Some lessons are going to take longer.  If you have some experience with the piano you may find that you move more quickly.  One of the reasons that some lessons will take longer than others is the content of the lessons.  Some lessons have multiple videos to watch as you can see from this screenshot:

Other lessons only have one video:

As you can see from both screenshots the resources you need for that lesson are available right there on the page.  I liked being able to get to the music tracks or resources from the lesson page instead of having to download them to my computer and then transfer to my tablet.

There are different types of lessons.  Some lessons teach a learning strategy, while others teach a song.  There are lessons that build on each other for learning improvisation and accompaniment.

The first learning strategy lesson is Lesson 2 where we are taught the strategy of learning slowly in slow doses and "controlling the event."    Mr. Moore refers to these strategies several times.  He defines a learning strategy as an approach you would apply to any piece of music you are learning.  It isn't specific only to the piece you are working on at the moment.  So working slowly and in small doses is a strategy that we can apply to all the songs we are learning and it helps to minimize the number of errors and mistakes we will make.

Mr. Moore is quick to point out that making a mistake is not a problem and that we're going to make them.  But breaking down learning the song into small doses and going slowly as we process the skill we will have faster success.  Controlling the event is making sure we understand the process and that we tell ourselves which fingers play and in which order they play.

The "control the events" part of the learning strategy brings an auditory component to the learning as we explain out loud to ourselves exactly what each hand is going to do.   In this screenshot Mr. Moore explains that we are going to say out loud exactly what we want the left hand to do and exactly what we want the right hand to do:

Another learning strategy teaches the difference between "what to play" and "how to play" and how separating those ideas helps the brain to focus and makes learning faster.  The final learning strategy teaches you how to use the sustain pedal.

Because this is a free course I think it is worth the time to check it out just for those learning strategies!

Using the Program:

I highly recommend starting by watching the video on the home page that gives an overview of the program and then start reading the Music and the Art of Long-Term Relationships.  The program has you begin with the Quickstart lesson but during the video, it says to skip that lesson if you want more of the background.  To skip you'll need to mark it complete.  If you skip the improvising Eliza in the Quickstart you'll want to come back to it after Lesson 3 and before Lesson 4 where you build in that first improvisation.

I watched most of the video lessons so I could write this review but then I went back to the beginning to actually use the program.  I was thrilled with the idea of doing improvisation on the black keys.  I have been playing around using only the black keys for a couple of decades but never thought of it as improvisation because I found an arrangement I really loved and never really varied from that concept.  Oh and by "found" I mean by playing around with keys and liking what I did.   In the video, Mr. Moore showed me that I could do more.  I am actually looking forward to doing more improvisation.

I confess I did skip ahead a little bit and took what I watched from Lesson 6 about chords and have tried to add some of that into my own black key improvisation.  It has rekindled my love of music and makes me feel that maybe just maybe I can be creative with music.

I am forcing myself through Lesson 3 which is learning Dreams Come True.  I have mastered the RH and I think I've mastered the left hand but I need to continue working on putting them together so that I can get to the fun part of playing it with instrumental track provided by Simply Music.  I really want to try the idea of listening to the instrumental with earbuds on a device and plugging headphones into the digital piano and wearing the headphones over the earbuds to get a full sound immersion.

Having peeked ahead I love that I'll be learning more about Jazz and Blues and more about accompaniment.

Final Thoughts:

This quote from Neil Moore spoke to me.  In many of the videos, he mentions having music as a lifelong companion.  On page 26 of the Music and the Art of Long-Term Relationships ebook, Mr. Moore states:

This specific, overriding objective is far more important than a goal that focuses on a certain standard of musicianship. For me, whether a student emerges as agreat player, a good player or an average player isn’t nearly as important as whether a student develops to a stage where they can have music as a lifelong companion.

One of my regrets is that I didn't make music more of a priority for myself.  I was frustrated with self-teaching books and I couldn't afford lessons for myself.  I wanted my children to have lessons so we made that a priority. I feel I have pushed music aside and neglected a huge part of myself.  I have rediscovered my love of the piano and of music. I feel that Mr. Moore is giving me the ability and the freedom to play for myself for the simply joy of music.  When my mother would say "Tess plays the piano."  I felt the need to correct them and say "no, really I play with the piano."  I feel like I have permission now to "play with the piano.'' I have tools now that were missing.

This program isn't for everybody though.  Some folks like Turtlegirl may find it difficult to change from a more traditional approach to this play-based approach. Turtlegirl was looking for something more theory-based to help her with composing music.

If you are a classically trained player like my BooBear you may find it very difficult to wrap your brain around this approach.  She struggled with it.  She has this to say about the program based on her background and experience:

I am more a fan of highly technical and theory-based training as that worked best with my brain and personality. But I could see for those who rebel against highly structured training this might be a good fit. I think there is some value in both. Improv can encourage creativity but also studies have shown that the theory and technical aspects of music can have huge impacts on brain development.

I, on the other hand,  have enjoyed this so much that I am seriously considering purchasing the next course which is the Foundation Enhancement Course which builds on what you learn in the Foundation course.

Several members of the Crew and Leadership took the time to explore Simply Music's Music & Creativity - Foundation CourseI encourage you to visit the Homeschool Review Crew Blog to find links to those reviews and read more reviews.  My review is long but I didn' cover everything so do go read those reviews! I also encourage you to check out the MAC Program for yourself especially if you have ever wanted to be able to play the piano and felt you couldn't.  This program will show you that you can!


Just in time for Lent! A review of The Wilderness Journal

Lent is fast approaching Today is Meatfare Sunday.  As a community, Orthodox Christians will not eat meat again after today until the fast is broken on Pascha.  But Lent is more than just not eating meat or dairy.  It's a time of preparation.  We renew our minds by focusing on the spiritual.  Along with fasting we pray more and do almsgiving.  Many of us turn to books to help us renew our minds and focus on the spiritual.  The Wilderness Journal: 365 Days with the Philokalia by Angela Doll Carlson is an excellent choice for preparing for Lent.

First let's talk about the Philokalia. The Philokalia is not a single continuous book with one author. It is is a mult-volume collection of texts from the 4th to the 14th centuries focusing on spiritual living. The writers are all spiritual masters in the Orthodox Christian Tradition.

The Wilderness Journal is a devotional tool we can use  to pursue Holiness by mediating on God, faith and Spiritual things.   Unlike the common Bible devotions available where you read a short passage from scripture and then the devotional author shares his or her thoughts on the passage, this book helps us to mediate on spiritual living by using passages from the first volume of the Philokalia.  Angela Doll Carlson invites you to come along with her as she shares her year long journey of reading and journalling the Philokalia.

From the back of the book:
 The Philokalia - a collection of the best writings from Orthodox spiritual masters across many centuries - is a treasure trove of direction for the spiritual life. But it can be overwhelming at first glance. Popular author and podcaster Angela Doll Carlson set herself the mission of reading through The Philokalia in a year and journaling about the thoughts it called up in her. The result is a thoughtful, inspiring daily devotional that introduces new readers to this great spiritual classic and helps us apply the wisdom of the ages to a layperson's life in the modern world.
The book opens with a short Explorer's Note letter.  Angela Doll Carson shares how her wilderness journal began and how it is "a view of [her] own wilderness, words from words, in dialogue with the text itself. Because our dialogue might differ from hers, we are encouraged to "consider keeping a wilderness journal of your own."    

The Wilderness Journal is divided into sections for each of the spiritual masters.  Each saint's section’s first day is an introduction. These introductions are not written by Angela Doll Carlson. Each one is written by a different author but all of them provide background information to help readers learn a little more about the spiritual master.

Each day, after the introduction, begins with a couple of sentences.  Some days there is only a one sentence such as Day 59 where we read "Cultivate great humility and courage, and you will escape the power of demons." Evagrios the Solitary, "on Prayer, p. 66 [ page 73] while others are more like a paragraph.  Most days however, begin with a 2 or 3 sentence quote from the Philokalia. All of the quotes are from the first volume.

There is one reading for each day so there are 365 readings. The beauty of this though is that they are numbered Day 1, Day 2 Day 3 etc. So you can start any day and if you are like me and skip a day or three here and there you can just pick up where you left off without being hounded by the date across the top not matching. There is a month listed in the upper right hand corner but it is smaller and in italics and I find it easy to ignore it and focus on the large bold Day 68 for example.

We read quotes from these spiritual masters:

  • Isaiah the Solitary
  • Evagrios the Solitary
  • John Cassian
  • Mark the Ascetic
  • Hesychios the Priest
  • Neilos the Ascetic
  • Diadochos of Photiki
  • John Karpathos

I have found that I get the most out of each day's readings when I take the time to read and re-read the quoted Philokalia text and think about what it means to me before reading what Ms Doll Carlson had to say about it. Sometimes she takes in a direction that I would have never thought and yet it makes sense.

This isn't an easy book to read but it is thought provoking. The readings are short but don’t let that fool you in to thinking they are not rich, deep, and thought provoking. Angela Doll Carlson is a talented writer who paints pictures with her words. She shares her journey through the wildness and invites us to travel with her. I find myself not just thinking about what the Spiritual Master had to say, but about how Ms Doll Carlson frames the application for our modern world.

Book Details:
  • Author: Angela Doll Carlson 
  •  Format: Paperback 
  •  Dimensions: 5.5 X 8.5 inches 
  •  Page Length: approx. 400 pages 
  •  Publisher: Ancient Faith Publishing 
  •  ISBN: 9781944967512 
  •  Retail Price: $18.95

I recommend this book as an introduction to Philokalia. Angie Doll Carlson has made these gems accessible for those like me who find the Philokalia intimidating and overwhelming.

I received this book from Ancient Faith Publishing in exchange my honest review.