Looking back at 2012

The 2013 Schoolhouse Review Crew Blog Cruise is starting back with a 2012 in Review theme.  2012 is coming to a close and I am not sorry to see it go.  Here at my house we dubbed it the year of things that broke.

I no longer recall the exact order of items only that through out the year things kept falling apart, breaking down or just simply not working anymore, including me!

We had a broken dishwasher and a broken kitchen sink. At some point, but thankfully not at the same time, we also had problems with both the washer and the dryer.  Those were earlier in the year.  I do remember the dishwasher and the kitchen sink being worked on around Easter. 

We were all in the family room enjoying a movie or something when the futon suddenly decided that it had had enough.  After 15 years it just collapsed.  With all of us sitting on it!  That was not fun.  It was funny later but it was no fun finding myself sitting on the floor!

In July  we began to have serious “car trouble”.   One day on the way home from church the van just “killed”. It stopped. We noticed that it stopped when we were too long at a stop light or stop sign or in a traffic jam.  Honeybear did an oil change, cleaned some of this and that and got it to run better.  Then a couple of weeks later, on Sunday, coming home from church the transmission starting going out.

Since we were blessed with a van (the one having trouble) and a car (really ancient, only seats 5, uncomfortably)we decided to just park the van in the driveway, make do with the car and save money for repairs.  We hoped and we prayed that it would be an easy fix.  It wasn’t.  In the end we LOST money.  We had to pay for the labor to assess the non-fixability of the van.  We did get paid by one of those “cash for cars” type of parts places but it wasn’t enough to cover the labor costs. 

So we settled down to being a one car that we don’t all fit into family and began to save money to buy a new van in the future.  Like after tax time in 2013. 

Remember, I said this was the year of things that broke.  On a Saturday evening, driving home, (from guess where?  did you say church?  You’re right!)the warning lights on the dashboard came on and we lost power steering.  Honeybear thought we broke a belt (that’s a fairly easy fix!).  We made it to the auto parts store but the belts were fine.  The car however, was not repairable.  We made it home and cried.  We were now a no vehicle family. 

Here is what I put in our Christmas Letter when I shared about the Year of Things that Broke:

Through it all though, we’ve had the opportunity to witness God’s hand in providing for our every need. We’ve found the “blessings in disguise” and have learned not to take things like dishwashers and transportation for granted. I won’t be complaining (or least not as loudly) about being a 1 vehicle family because for nearly a week we were a zero vehicle family. Much thanks and appreciation for those who helped us through that trying time.

Though I’m not sorry to see 2012 end (hopefully that will mean an end to the end of things?) I have to say that 2012 has not been all bad.  Our family had an opportunity to witness a miracle of God and to be used by Him.  Baby Gabriel was born at 22 weeks 6 days gestation.  After 5 months in the NICU his parents got to bring him home!  I am awed and amazed and thrilled to have played a tiny part (I helped with meals). 

2012 brought changes for the Schoolhouse Review Crew.  I have named the 4th Year (2011-2012) the Year of Transition.  I am looking forward to a wonderful year of reviewing great products in 2013.


On Tuesday, the Looking Back Blog Cruise will be live on the Schoolhouse Review Crew Blog.  Be sure to stop by to see what my fellow crew members have to say!


New Year’s Eve: A Junk Food Tradition

Tomorrow night is New Year’s Eve.  Growing up, my mom always made her cheeseball and she would serve other snack food like cheese, salami, and crackers. I don’t remember if we had a real dinner or not.

When my husband and I got married we began the “junk food instead of dinner” tradition on New Year’s Eve.   It didn’t really start though until our 2nd New Year’s.  We had homemade buffalo wings.  I had just learned how to make them!  The following year we added homemade egg rolls to the menu.  We haven’t done those for a long time.  They are fabulous but hard work and four girls in less than 4 years meant giving up some of the harder items.

This year’s menu includes a NEW item.  We were introduced to Mexican Dip on Christmas Day and liked it so much that we’re adding it to our Junk Food Tradition.  Other menu items include the now required buffalo wings, home made chex mix,  my mother’s cheeseball (made by my daughter using my mom’s recipe).  We’ll have some jalapeno poppers and maybe some pizza rolls as well.  For dessert we’ll have fudge and decorated sugar cookies. 


mmm, Chex Mix cooling!


Do you have any special traditions for the holidays?  Any special things that you do for New Year’s Eve? I’d love to hear what you do!

Happy New Year!


Looking for Christ in Christmas

As I type this, I feel as though my heart is just going to burst.  15 years ago my husband and I began a journey to find more meaning in our walk with Christ.  We wanted Christmas to be truly focused on Christ. 

We began to study and search. We only wanted those customs that pointed to Christ.  We came to the conclusion that Christmas was pagan and that the best way to honor Him would be to STOP celebrating Christmas.

This left such a hole in my heart.  I loved Christmas. Christmas was always about the birth of Christ. It wasn’t that we denied the virgin birth.  It wasn’t that we didn’t acknowledge that the Word of God became flesh and dwelt among mankind.  It’s that we thought it was wrong to have Christmas trees and wreaths and all those other “pagan” items.

In our defense we were just trying to serve Him with glad and grateful hearts.  He gave us a miracle in Supergirl and we wanted to honor the God of the universe for His love towards us.

As each year passed, my heart would grow heavy at Christmas.  I missed it.  It didn’t get easier.  I began to have doubts.  If Christmas was very wrong why did so many CHRISTIANS celebrate it?  But the breaking point came when I realized just how much “paganism” surrounds me everyday.  If I threw out everything and anything that even remotely resembled something that may or may not be pagan, I wouldn’t really have anything left.  I would not be able to communicate with others about dates.  I wouldn’t be able to name months or days of the weeks.  I wouldn’t be able to wear my wedding ring!

We decided to try a “secular” Christmas (yes you may roll your eyes now)  We realized that Christmas time was an excellent time to demonstrate love towards family and friends and to strangers!  We “got over” some of the pagan phobia and bought a Christmas tree in 2004. 

In 2009, we experienced our First Orthodox Christmas.  Oh.my.word.!!!  If only we had known back then!  We finally found what we were looking for! Here we found the fullness of the faith.  Here we found that Christ was celebrated.   The gift giving, the decorations, the fabulous food, they all flowed out of hearts that understood that Christ had to born.  Christ had to have a human nature.  Christ had to become man so that we might become like God.

Today my heart sings.  There is no longer an achy hole in my heart.  It is filled with the joy of celebrating the Feast of the Nativity of Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. My house is filled with Christmas hymns and carols that speak of this wonderful God who became man so that He could redeem this lost and fallen world.

Christ Is Born
Glorify Him!

The girls on Christmas Morning after church.


Christmas Is NOT over just yet.

I know for many many people Christmas seems to begin on the evening of Thanksgiving and ends on the evening of Christmas.  If I started celebrating Christmas that early, I’d be way past done with it, too!

What amazes me though is that so many people seem to think that the 12 days of Christmas begin 12 days before December 25 and end on December 25.  Nope.  Lots of people do Christmas countdowns (we do!) but the actual 12 days of Christmas begins on December 25 and ends on January 5 and Theophany (Epiphany) is on January 6th.

When I was growing up we put the Christmas tree up a week to 10 days before Christmas and it stayed up at least until the Saturday after New Year’s Day.  We didn’t exactly celebrate for 12 days but there was the acknowledgement that this wonderful feast was longer than just 1 day and that it didn’t begin until December 25.  (Though I will point out that liturgically it begins at Vespers, the evening service, on December 24 because liturgical days begin at sun down)

When my husband was active duty military, he often experienced MORE time off at Christmas.  And we now have a tradition in our family that daddy takes off from Dec 24 until at least January 2nd.   This becomes family time.  Being able to stretch out the holiday keeps the stress levels down.

We’ve been blessed for the last several Christmases to be able to spend time on Christmas day with family (some relatives, some church family).   Because Christmas doesn’t have to all be squeezed into one day and my husband is home  we can do our own little just us Christmas. 

So what does it look like for us to celebrate for 12 days?  What does celebrating for 12 days mean? Well it doesn’t mean fancy dinners every day or opening presents every day.  Though we’ve been known to have a couple of nicer meat rich dinners (traditionally Orthodox Christians abstain from meat, dairy and wine during advent, so we tend to make sure we have lots of stuff like cream cheese, whipped cream, beef and pork around here.  Oh and butter.  REAL butter Open-mouthed smile )

Having 12 days means we don’t stress out if all the cookies aren’t baked before December 25.  It means that we listen to Christmas music while we hang out and munch on Christmas goodies.  It means hanging out in comfortable clothes, or jammies.  (I’m typing this up in my jammies.  It’s late afternoon and I still haven’t got dressed.) 

It means taking time to remember and reflect that only one human being was ever born to die:  Jesus Christ.   Death is part of the curse.  By being born to die, the little baby, the incarnate Word of God will trample down death by death.  Christ is born!  Glorify Him!

(For some interesting reading about the 12 Days of Christmas you can check out this 12 Days of Christmas article.)


On the Eve of the Feast of Nativity

I love the Royal Hours service that is given on the morning of Christmas Eve.  In our parish the youth are the choir.  This is from last year.  I’m looking forward to hearing them this morning.

Youth in the Choir 2011


The songs of the day for this service speak from Joseph’s point of view.  He moves from disbelief and anger at Mary for “doing this to him” to Joseph declaring that he is convinced that Mary will give birth to God.

Tone 8
Joseph said to the virgin:
What has happened to you, O Mary?
I am troubled; what can I say to you?
Doubt clouds my mind; depart from me!
What has happened to you, O Mary?
Instead of honor, you bring me shame.
Instead of joy, you fill me with grief
Men who praised me will blame me.
I cannot bear condemnation from every side.
I received you, a pure virgin in the sight of the Lord.
What is this I now see?

The Kontakion (short hymn honor a saint or event) for the day is in tone 3. We’ll sing this repeatedly this morning:

Today the virgin comes to the cave
Where she will give birth to the Eternal Word.
Hear the glad tidings and rejoice O universe!
With the angels and shepherds glorify Him who reveals Himself:
The Eternal God, a little child!

I love Christmas Eve (both the day and the evening).  I love the building anticipation and the bubbling joy of my children.  Yes we’re excited for good food and presents but those things are merely outward manifestations of the anticipation of the birth of the Redeemer who will save His people from their sins.


O is for Ordinary

Here we are just two days before Christmas,  We’re at letter O for the Blogging Through The Alphabet.  Being so close to Christmas it would make sense to do something like O is for Ornaments and I could very easily do a whole post about ornaments.  But I found a bunch of “ordinary” pictures.  Pictures of us doing boring ordinary things.  Here are just a few.




Sleeping.  Something we do everyday.  Not necessarily daily on the couch though. Smile






Yard work. Another ordinary activity. This was taken in the spring after the major ice storm of January 2012







School work.  Boring.  But it’s something ordinary that we do nearly everyday.







More school work.  Doing school with the cat on the lap is a pretty ordinary event for us.









I wish that goofing off during school wasn’t an ordinary activity.  I wish that it didn’t happen so frequently with so much regularity.





It’s the ordinary moments of life that truly make life special.

Blogging Through the Alphabet

Linking this up to Ben and Me for the Letter O!


Christmas Preparations

This week we’ve set aside school to focus on preparing for the Christmas Season celebrations.  As I’ve mentioned before, we celebrate the 12 days.  Christmas Eve becomes ripe with anticipation and December 25th marks the Feast of the Nativity of Lord and Savior.  That feasting will continue through Jan 6th.  Ok ok.  There’ll be a short break from the feasting on January 5th for the preparation for the great feast of Theophany.

It’s easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle of these preparations.  I’ve got Christmas crafts/gifts to complete, cookies to bake, menus to plan, and cleaning to do.  I also have to get the Christmas cards sent, and the presents wrapped.

This week I’m making an effort to include a slow-down-and-enjoy-the-season memory making activity each day.  I don’t want the holidays to be so busy that we’re stressed out. 

And I don’t want us to be so busy with preparations and cleaning that we forgot *why* we are celebrating.  From the last line of one of the Kontakion (in Tone 3) “Since for our sake The eternal God was born as a little child.”  (Kontakion are short hymns for saints or events.  This one is appointed for Christmas).

To remind us of the reasons for celebrating we’re listening to Christmas carols, rich in theology, about God becoming man and dwelling around us.  It is so much more than an anniversary of a birth; it is the celebration of the greatest gift ever given.  God gave himself to us so that we might be reconciled with him.  That is the celebration I am preparing for.



I know today is NOT 12-12-12.  That awesome cool date was LAST week.  (Wednesday to be specific) Though I wanted to post, I just couldn’t squeeze it in that day because I was working fast and furiously trying to get home school records in order for my oldest to get her college application in before the December deadline.

Because I just knew I wasn’t going to get my wonderful 12-12-12 post done I quickly grabbed the children and snapped a picture so I would have a RECORD of some type of this momentously cool date.



I really wanted a picture that captured the moment and the above picture was taken at 12 minutes after 12 O’clock on 12-12-12 or it was taken at 12:12 on 12/12/12.   What were you doing at 12:12 on 12-12-12?

Oh and yes the oldest did get her college application finished.  I did get a transcript made and a senior year course schedule.  Now we wait and see if she if’s accepted.


N is for Nativity

The “Christmas Season” is upon us.  I put “Christmas Season” is quotation marks because Christmas begins on December 25 and ends on January 5th, the eve of Theophany.   We celebrate the 12 days of Christmas here.

Right now as I type this we’re deep into Advent.  Advent means “coming”.  Advent is the time of preparing for the coming of the Lord.  We’re waiting and preparing for Emmanuel.   In the Orthodox Church it is known as “little lent”.   Great Lent is the time of preparation for the joyous Resurrection of Our Lord and Savior.

I love advent.  I love the idea of preparing my heart to receive this great gift from God: the gift of Himself: God made flesh.  One thing that we’ve done in the past is an advent chain.  This chain has 40 links and each link contains a bible passage that points to the coming of the Lord.   Weeks are noted by alternating red and green rings.  Feast days are noted by purple links and the Feast of the Nativity of Our Lord and Savior is white.

This year we are not doing the advent chain and I really miss it.   I miss the intentional focus of remembering what the Nativity means.  Yes we celebrate the birth of Christ but it isn’t just a “birth day”.    It has deep theological meaning.   Jesus Christ, the 2nd person of the Trinity, came down from heaven and became man.  Became ManThose words are so important to our salvation.  If God had not become man, man could not be redeemed.   The fall of Adam and Eve affected every area of Creation.   The Creator must become creation.   “He became man, so that we might become like God.”

The Feast of the Nativity is just over a week away.  I still have much to do.  I need to get my photo cards addressed and mailed out. (yes Photo Cards.  me.  Photos.  I broke down and we did a family picture and created photo Christmas cards.)  I still have gifts to make and gifts to wrap and I might even have a gift or two to purchase.  I have cookies to bake and menus to plan. Groceries to buy.

I am so glad that Christmas lasts 12 days because there is just so much to do and to celebrate.   I am also glad that I still have a few more days to prepare my heart and ponder the mysteries of the coming of Emmanuel.



This post is linked to the Blogging Through The Alphabet meme hosted by Marcy at Ben and Me. This week we're blogging about N.

Blogging Through the Alphabet

This post is also linked up to 40 Days of Seeking Him Advent Season 2012. This meme is hosted by Day by Day in Our World and A House Upon the Rock.


M is for Music

For many years my girls have been taking piano lessons.  That means that I grew very accustomed to hearing the (digital) piano played frequently throughout the day.  I’ve even found that I would dream about the piano playing or have a piece of music running through my mind.

I don’t always enjoy listening to the scales and technique practice, nor do I find it pleasurable to hear them first begin a new and more difficult piece but love hearing the progress they’ve made over the years and it brings a smile to my face when one of them chooses to try her hand at improvising or composing.

Playing the piano

Several weeks ago our believed digital Piano, a Technic, began to die.  First it was one broken  key.  A pain but sort of workable.  Then all the D’s and F flats above middle c only wanted to work part time.  It became a gamble; would they have sound this morning or not.  If that wasn’t bad enough, several more keys decided to be uncooperative.  If you pressed ONE key, you got the sound of a chord.  At this point BooBear gave up practicing songs and the other girls ignored the Technic altogether.

BooBear is the only one of the big three still taking lessons.  Her future is wrapped up in the piano.  She wants to teach piano.  She plans to get a music degree in piano performance and hopes to open her own studio some day. 

It is during these last couple of weeks with the house filled with silence that I have come to realize how important music is to my family.  We may not all express this importance in the same way nor with the same style but the loss of the piano wasn’t just a blow to my oldest and her college plans, it left a hole in the heart of the family. It ripped at my soul to not hear daily music.  Yes, I put restrictions on WHEN the piano could be played.  It is rather difficult to conduct a phonics lesson when you have to compete with Chopin or Mozart or Bach or even just scales!

With 2012 being “the year that everything broke”, we just really didn’t have the money to replace that instrument.  We prayed.  And then we prayed some more.   I discovered that there was a warehouse full of used discount pianos.  I felt sure this was the answer!  We made a trip (an hour and a half one way) to look at pianos.  We found one that might work and that would be within our very tiny and tight budget.  I told the salesperson we needed an “emergency” piano.  I explained the situation and that we needed to find something as soon as possible because recital season is beginning and scholarship auditions are right around the corner.   He promised to have the technician look over the piano thoroughly, tune it, and he would work a deal for us.  Give him a week, he said.  12 days later I called him.  He was so sorry but the technician had been so busy and pianos that are actually sold get priority.  He would try and squeeze it in that afternoon and call me in the later afternoon or early evening.

He never called.  Fortunately, we had looked at a Casio digital piano at Costco.  It wasn’t what we were looking for and was a bit more than we wanted to pay but it would be available NOW and we could take the time to save up some money and finally buy a real piano sometime in the future.  When the phone call never came we gave up on the real piano, the “emergency” piano, and the next day (yesterday) we headed to Costco.

The sound quality is excellent, but we don’t really need all the bells and whistles.  It has a stand, 88 weighted keys, and a sustain pedal.  It plays and sounds like a real piano.  But best of all, and most importantly, today has been filled with the sound of music as the girls each took turns to practice again.



Blogging Through the Alphabet

This post is linked up to Marcy’s Blogging Through the Alphabet meme.  This week we’re blogging about the letter M.