Nicola Pisano – Nativity Panel in the Baptistry in Pisa.

Day 1 in Our Advent in Art Series, Nicola Pisano

Day 1 in a 25 day exploration of the nativity in Western art.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory.   John 1:14

Welcome to Day 1.

I know that for many Christians, Easter is the time of year to contemplate the sacrifice Christ made to save us, but, personally, the season of advent has always been more meaningful. The concept of the incarnation: God taking on flesh and coming as an infant with the purpose of sacrificing Himself to redeem his creation–it’s just more than I can put into words.

Yet, throughout the history of Christianity, artists have attempted to make visible the miracle of the nativity. Over the next 25 days we will be exploring 500 years of nativity art. I’ve chosen works that are significant within the history of art as well as personal favorites. Narrowing down my choices was difficult.

My hope contemplating these masterpieces will not only increase your knowledge of art but  reawaken in you the wonder and beauty of the incarnation.

The first work we will be considering is a panel from a pulpit designed and sculpted by Nicola Pisano completed in 1260. A bit of background is necessary to put this work into it’s historical context. Pisano lived and worked in Pisa, Italy in the 13th century. He was both an architect and a sculptor.

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Advent in Art

A 25 day journey exploring the nativity in Western art

Series of articles exploring the nativity in Western art.I’m excited to invite you to participate in Advent in Art

Reawaken the wonder and beauty of the Christmas story as we explore 25 masterpieces.

For the first 25 days in December we will explore 500 years of art dedicated to the nativity. Rich with imagery, the story of the incarnation is made visible. Artists have gifted us with paintings and sculptures that draw us into the wonder of the Christmas story and the beauty of God’s love for His creation.

I’ve included at the end of this post a list of the artists that will be included in this series. If you would like to get the link to begin the journey on Dec. 1 just subscribe to my email list or go to the Start Here page and click on the Advent in Art banner.

The tour is free, and I hope, a welcome addition to your celebration of the Advent season.

Here is what you have to look forward to….

Advent in Art – Day 1 Nicola Pisano
Advent in Art – Day 2 Mosaic from the Chora Church
Advent in Art – Day 3 Giotto,
Advent in Art – Day 4 Duccio
Advent in Art – Day 5 Martini
Advent in Art – Day 6 Book of Hours
Advent in Art – Day 7 Fra Angelico
Advent in Art – Day 8 Campin
Advent in Art – Day 9 Donatello
Advent in Art – Day 10 Van Der Weyden
Advent in Art – Day 11 Van Eyck
Advent in Art – Day 12 Lippi
Advent in Art – Day 13 Van Der Goes
Advent in Art – Day 14 Botticelli
Advent in Art – Day 15 Durer
Advent in Art – Day 16 Giorgione
Advent in Art – Day 17 Michelangelo
Advent in Art – Day 18 Grunewald
Advent in Art – Day 19 Titian
Advent in Art – Day 20 El Greco
Advent in Art – Day 21 Bruegel
Advent in Art – Day 22 Caravaggio
Advent in Art – Day 23 Tintoretto
Advent in Art – Day 24 Rembrandt
Advent in Art – Day 25 Murillo


Tips from a formerly disorganized mom to a functionally organized.

Practical help to end the overwhelm

Practical tips when you feel overwhelmedPeople who know me might be laughing right now. I am a go with the flow type mom, and messes are part of the flow. However, without some serious organization, homeschooling and 4 sons meant overwhelm. (Yes, four sons, the cutie in the photo is a granddaughter, a new adventure.)

Since, organization can be a struggle for me, I’ve worked hard to come up with simple solutions. These are boy tested, and worked for us. I found the more elaborate a system, the less likely I was to keep it up.  Okay, let’s get functionally organized.

The classic organization advice is to have a place for everything. Great advice, however, things always seemed to migrate. What’s up with that?  We’ve probably all tried to put everything in it’s place…but often that seems to not be quite the ticket. So a few additions to that excellent advice.

Eliminate the clutter. Recently, we’ve been doing some pretty radical culling out of our belongings and I realize just how overdue we were. I’ve also been reading up on minimalism. I’m working toward a more simplified life, and have found a great deal of wisdom in letting go of so many material things.

If you are constantly having to re-organize your stuff, it might not be that your unorganized, it might just be you have too much stuff! Really, think it through. Being organized is great, but if you are just organizing to fit more and more stuff into your home, it’s time to back up and re-evaluate. Things take up space, financial resources, and time. Make sure the trade off is worth it.

If your children are overwhelmed by the thought of picking up their rooms, they probably have too much stuff in there. Do them a favor and help them sort out their favorites and donate the rest to a charity. A win win for everyone.

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Reduce Stress In Your Homeschool Day

A simple concept that can provide the key to less homeschool stress

Great perspective to approach homeschooling for the long haul.Homeschooling is stressful. There are time constraints, financial burdens, and parent burnout. However, the big source of  stress is fear that we are not doing enough to provide our children with the education they will need

When this fear snuck up on me, I found relief and hope in applying, what I call, the law of the farm.

Farmers have to plan for the long haul.  They plant in the spring, water and tend their crops all summer in hopes that, come fall, there will be a bountiful harvest.  Can you imagine a farmer foolish enough to think he could go out and plant in October and harvest in November?

The law of the farm applies to many areas of life.  Parenting is just one example. As parents we repeat ourselves, endlessly.  Teaching our children to say thank you, to wait their turn, to ‘use their words’ and to share. The pure repetition necessary to instill these lessons takes persistence and fortitude.

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Are parents really qualified to teach their children?

Research shows Homeschooling is a viable option despite parental education, income level, or race.

Yes, and here is the research to support that claim.I understand if you have your doubts. We have been taught to think that we need a special credential to teach our children and that if we teach something in the wrong order our children will be permanently damaged. As you will see in a minute, the research suggests that not only are parents qualified, but that they do an awesome job.

The reasons should be obvious…who is more concerned and tuned in to a child than his parents? Who knows his/her strengths and weaknesses better? Who is more interested in seeing that child succeed? What school can offer the individualized help that a parent can offer? Just the one on one tutoring nature of homeschooling gives it many advantages over a classroom situation.

Added to the fact that parents have far smaller ‘classes’ to teach, curriculum writers have realized that homeschoolers are a big market and have written curriculums with the parent/educator in mind. You don’t need a credential to use these materials, most come with step by step instructions. Understanding that parents will be doing the teaching, curriculum writers have made their products family friendly.

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Hate history?

Ditch the textbooks and make history come alive!


Great article on teaching students to LOVE history. No more boring dry textbooksDo you hate History? Did you watch the clock tick off each minute as your teacher droned on? Did you suffer through dry readings, memorize meaningless dates, and answer pointless review questions? Do you dread subjecting your child to the same boring process?

If so, I’m sorry. Believe me, it doesn’t have to be that way!

While in college I have a vivid memory of sitting in the library studying with some friends  for an upcoming test for World Civilization. We were reviewing English history during the 1500’s.  My friends were struggling with dates, names and seemingly unrelated events.

I wasn’t struggling. The reason… in high school I had read a series of historical novels set in the courts of England. Nothing boring or dry there. There had been romance, court intrigue, religious conflicts, betrayal, heroes and villains. I’d cried for Queen Catherine as she watched her marriage and family crumble because she couldn’t produce a male heir, and was horrified as her daughter, Bloody Mary, turned her reign into one marked by revenge, fanaticism and bloodshed.

I wrestled with the issues that caused England to break from the Catholic church and was fascinated by the complex and fragile allegiances that were formed to consolidate power. The characters I met were complicated individuals who were forced to make decisions that would affect whole countries, individuals often beset with self-doubt and questions. I found myself caught up in their dilemmas wondering what I would do, what they should do…and rarely finding a satisfactory answer.

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Why We Need to Rethink Rewards

Be careful of sabotaging your efforts to instill good habits with rewards.

Great article about being cautious about using rewards with children.Do you have some sort of reward system in place for chores?  Do you reward yourself when you lose a certain amount of weight or work out every day for a week? Do you pay your kids for good grades, or take them for ice cream if they read a certain number of books? When my boys were playing baseball, I knew a parent who paid their kids if they hit a home run. Perhaps you give your child a treat if they finish their veggies, or a reward when they finish their math.

Rewards are an odd thing. We’ve probably all used them at one time or another. You’ve probably read articles about using rewards to help establish new habits or change behavior.  The thing is, offering rewards can actually sabotage your efforts, and they should be used with caution and intention.

I’ve always been leery of rewards and have seen a great deal of negatives when rewards are overused. Let’s examine a few instances to see the danger.

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The Habit of Thought

What we think about when we are free to think about what we will - that is what we are or will soon become. ~ A.W. Tozer

Helping our children develop a healthy thought life should be a top priority.Whether parents with kids in school or homeschoolers, this area of the thought life of a child is central to life. I wrote the article for homeschoolers, but I find this area of life is something I still need to work at in my 50’s. We never outgrow the need to get better at managing our thoughts.

At the start of a new school year we focus on creating a workable schedule, buying the best curriculum, and writing up lesson plans. As the school year progresses, we discover that curriculum choices and schedules are only a small part of our challenge as teachers.

Rather than struggling with curriculum, most parent/teachers struggle with their student. At one point or another we all hear:

  • “But why do I need to know this?” (Be sure to read that in a super whiney voice to get the full effect.)
  • “I just can’t understand math.”
  • “I hate to read.”
  • “Why do we have to write evvverrrry day?”

Dealing with the whining and complaints can be exhausting and leave parents feeling like they are failing at the educational task. It would be a mistake to think that the issues inherent in this sort of grumbling will be solved by switching up the school day, or making learning more ‘fun’.

The underlying issue here is a failure on the part of the child to self-regulate, or to see what needs to be done, and to have the internal fortitude to get on with doing the work with a positive attitude. Developing that ‘internal fortitude’ or positive attitude toward work, is going to be far more important for your child’s long term success than any of the academic skills you are working on.

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Why Geography?

Raising globally aware children should be every parents goal.

Great article on the reasons for geographical awarenessWe live in a crazy and exciting time, the world is changing… daily. When I wrote up my Philosophy of Education, and looked to the future, one of the things I wanted to impart to my kids was a concern and interest about life outside of the United States.

With advances in travel, communication, commerce, and the internet, the world is literally, at our doorstep. As Steve and I sought to prepare our kids for the life God has for them, we felt a critical part would be helping them to develop a global perspective.

Now, I am very grateful I was born in this country, and have had the privilege of raising my children here. I think knowing our history, understanding our government, and expressing gratitude for our freedom is a vital part of our role as homeschoolers.

I also think it’s vitally important that our children know that we are only one part of a diverse and fascinating world. I was very concerned as the boys grew that they would be proud of their country and heritage, balanced and tempered by a concern and appreciation for other cultures and people. I wanted my children to be geographically as well as culturally aware.

We spent time pouring over globes and maps. We spent time reading stories about people living in other parts of the world. We learned the history of far away places, and learned about other religions. We tried ethnic foods and did projects on various countries. We talked about what daily life would be like if they lived somewhere else. My hope was that all of this would translate into responsible adults who had a concern for the world beyond their borders.

Now part of giving our kids a global perspective is very practical. Many jobs of the future will include an ‘international’ component.

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For the Children’s Sake (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2009)

Have you ever met someone and felt an instant connection? Conversations with that person resonated with your soul, and gave voice to thoughts that were somewhat vague before, but were clarified and sharpened by the friendship? That is the way I felt when I first read this book. This is a book for everyone who wants to be influential in the life of a child.

My journey as a parent and as a homeschooler was enriched and refocused often by this book. After my first reading I sought out copies of the original books by Charlotte Mason which further added to my vision.

If you want your children to have a rich education, to love to learn, to develop character and nurture a close walk with God, I can’t recommend this book enough. Some of the resources recommended are now dated, but the precepts presented are timeless and worthy of reflection.  Many resources modeled after the work of Charlotte Mason are now available for both teachers and parents.