“All, everything I understand, I understand only because I love.” -Leo Tolstoy

A former student, and now a friend and colleague of mine, Catherine, is serving in Los Angeles through Teach for America. Catherine is the most open, light, and caring of people. She herself was one of those students you looked forward to seeing because of how instantly she could change the tone in the room for the better. She shared with everyone today that people tell her how she “can’t save all” of her students but how, even on the roughest days, she continues to “care too much and want[s] to [save them].” If I were still part of the hiring committee for our high school, I would have voted to hire her in a heartbeat.

That “caring too much” is something I look for in people. I look for that quality of loving to the point of being willing to suffer for it. Willing to keep our hearts supple and spongy and open, even though sometimes it hurts. I don’t mean romantic love here. I am thinking about love for humanity, for the Universe. “Caring too much” is the ability to continue to be soft even when we have multiple chances and reasons to turn bitter or jaded.

Coincidentally, and even serendipitously, my friend, former teacher, and colleague Mark shared a thought from C.S. Lewis today: “Try to exclude the possibility of suffering and you find that you have excluded life itself.” We only suffer, I think, when we are soft enough to do so. We are only soft enough to suffer when we have ideals and people we love far beyond ourselves. Light and dark. I believe that if we are committed to waiting for light to come, it does, no matter in what labyrinth we may find ourselves. It may be that we connect with such light only through a willingness and supplication to travel through the maze without hiding ourselves in dead ends (bitterness, snarkiness, indifference, or worse).

Certainly the past two months have been difficult for humanity. Whether it is mass tragedy here or in another country, or solitary and lonely sufferings, everyday I see something else in the news. Sometimes it all makes a person wonder… What are we doing?

Yet as my friend Ms. Bier (so designated because I have several friends who all happen to share a first name) wrote to me recently:

Every time I’m brought up short by examples of how people suck I generally am able to take comfort in how awesome people who respond can be.”

And maybe that’s the whole of it right there. How we respond. What we choose to do when we’re hurting. How we choose to help. How we continue to choose Love. How we decide that, come what may, we will always care too much—because there is no other choice we can make and still be vital and truly alive.

Tolstoy is right.

We’re reading Another Celebrated Dancing Bear this week for our Five in a Row ELA curriculum. I truly cannot rave enough about this language arts program. Each book has a set of thematic lesson plans that integrate all disciplines, so not only are we doing ELA, but also we’re constantly incorporating math, science, art, and history. Another Celebrated Dancing Bear takes us to Russia. Both of the kiddos love our FIAR books, and Eric is getting some solid learning under him along with Katie. The lessons do not shy away from meaty ELA either: we’ve studied writer’s tools such as simile, personification, onomatopoeia, and alliteration this year. We’re expected to know and explain the main plot features of a story, and we’ve also delved into characterization. We keep everything we do in a composition book that I made into a “passport” at the beginning of the year. It is like a modified lapbook, essentially. Each reading selection has taken us to different countries, states, and even fictional places. Homeschoolshare.com (which is free) has printables for all of the FIAR books (so far as I can see) to use with the lesson plans in the teacher’s manual.

So off to Russia it was. We got a start on the book late last week and even worked on it a bit this weekend, anticipating a full morning traded for dentist visits today. Among other things, we decided to make a Russian feast for dinner last night. When I was in college, one of the most accidentally amazing meals I had was at a deli on the way to the craft store in my final year. It was a Russian deli. On a whim, I pulled off into the strip mall and ordered borscht and piroshki. Delicious. I have always loved beets, but in borscht they are a revelation.

For eleven years now I have wanted to make my own borscht but, even though I let the kiddos go wild with glitter and paint on an almost daily basis, I hesitate to cook with plant matter that stains. I usually buy pomegranate seeds (which Eric devours) instead of seeding them myself—although as of today, that’s about to change. Canned beets have nothing on fresh beets, especially roasted, and yet here I have been, hesitating. No more. We made our own homemade borscht last night and there’s no return. It is so sweet and filling and healthy and savory-good—and it has exactly one tablespoon of fat. I know, what?? Score one for the veggies.

Of course, we also broke with our mostly-plant-based diet and made real piroshki last night. Although we do still eat white meats, we haven’t been eating beef (with a couple exceptions). I could probably switch out the beef for something lighter, but for the first time I wanted it to be authentic.

kiddos piroshki

Katie and Eric make piroshki

eric piroshki

A Russian feast: ruby red borscht and piroshki

This officially beats the Russian cheese bread (a bit pungent, even for me, lover of goat cheese) I made while in the middle of Crime and Punishment one summer. I love to cook food that either is mentioned or is thematically appropriate with the books I am reading. Now we can do it all together and it is part of our lessons—a perk of homeschooling? I jest, I jest…er, kind of.

Otherwise, our dental exams went well today. Katie had her first set of pictures, and her teeth are great…no cavities. Two adult molars are in, with the other two expected soon. Dr. P showed Katie where, on her x-rays, we could see her adult teeth beginning to push up her bottom baby teeth. Great teaching moment. I didn’t have any cavities either, thank goodness. I’ve only ever had one (in 7th grade), but I still get nice and borderline phobic on x-ray day. You’d think that having two children without pain meds would be far more intense than having a cavity filled—a thought I try to keep in mind when my stomach has wild butterflies. Still, the mind cannot always be rational. There is nothing like the flood of relief when Dr. P views my films and gives the blessing for another year. Katie did especially well with her cleaning this time and really got a full treatment. Sealants and Eric’s first visit will be in August!

Hope everyone had a good Monday!