Hello, and welcome!
I’m Sofia, John’s wife.
Life fundamentally begins and ends in the home. Over the years, I have been privileged to do the hard but beautiful work of making a home for our family together with John. I have loved collaborating with John on the Bethany Weekends, the Woman of the Household course, and other LifeCraft projects examining what a home is for; how to develop friendships in it, how to welcome friends into it, and how to better integrate our work lives and home lives. It’s been a long-time desire to put together resources for you sharing books, music, and household activities that have played a role in the Cuddeback home. Sofia’s Corner is the space where I will do just that! I have put together three of my favorite areas: Reading in the Home, Singing in the Home, and Celebrating in the Home, and will be sharing things with you there as time allows. I hope you enjoy!
Reading in the Home
See my favorite picture books to read aloud with children!
This is a list of my favorite books to read aloud with our children. Of course, this list is not exhaustive; there are many other wonderful books out there. These are the ones we have loved!
Good Reads for Adults
All of the books are like personal friends of mine that I love and I want you to love them too (or in any case get to know and appreciate them)!
Jane Austen Discussion Questions
I think everyone should read Jane Austen and believe that with the right effort, everyone who reads her will at least come to appreciate, if not love her. I am currently working on discussion questions for each of Jane’s major novels. These will be available in the LifeCraft membership section, where you can also find course content, like Man of the Household and Woman of the Household.
Join John in our new LifeCraft read aloud series as he narrates tales from Ruth Sawyer’s great book This Way to Christmas. Listen on Spotify by clicking the link below!
Singing in the Home
A few words of introduction…
Why I love singing:
I started to play the violin when I was six, but my mother sang to me from the cradle. I never had formal voice training but one of my most distinct memories is sitting in a little, plastic wading pool filled with sand with my mother (I must have been tiny if we were both in there!) and my mother showing me how to find my head voice and the Italian aria “Caro mio ben.”
My mother had a beautiful voice, like her own mother and her mother’s father. She was a Juilliard graduate and filled our home with music. I loved to stand next to her at church and hear her voice. It was like soft velvet to the soul.
My father also had a beautiful voice. But he had no pitch. Standing next to him at church was painful. Growing up between them both taught me a few very important things. From my mother I learned the deeply formative power of beautiful music, how to play it, how to sing it. From my father I learned that the desire to express one’s heart through song belongs to everyone, even those who can’t keep pitch aka “can’t sing.”
I also learned from my father that even people who can’t sing on pitch can learn how to sing.
All ten of the children in our family learned to play classical instruments by the Suzuki method from a very young age so our house was NEVER empty of music. Someone was always practicing, the listening tracks were always playing and when they weren’t, the classical radio station was playing. After being surrounded by so much music for so many years, my father began to sing on pitch.
I remember standing next to him at church as a teenager and realizing that he wasn’t throwing me off any more.
I never got to take formal voice lessons. But I always hear my mother’s beautiful voice in my head and I keep turning around what she taught me in that sandbox, like a child with a treasured object in her hands. And I still remember all the words to “Caro mio ben.”
How I would like to share it with you:
But most importantly, I would like to share with you tips and tools on how to bring singing into your home. I will post folks songs and rounds that anyone can sing and are an easy introduction to singing, along with audio recordings of those songs to help you learn them. These recordings aren’t intended to be listening recordings (sound brushed, with accompaniment etc), but rather work recordings (ie just me singing the melody line in my living room, probably with background noise) to help you learn to sing them yourself.
All of these things will take some time for me to put together as there are so many demands on my time right now. But I thought the perfect place to make a simple start is with some Christmas carols. Then as I have time, I will share whatever else I can to help you bring singing into your home.
Carol resources are now available:
Celebrating in the Home
To Listen and Reflect:
A recent lecture I gave on true human joy: what it is and how to find it.
Start Singing Today.
Enjoy a free download with audio files and a printable songbook to help you learn classic carols. Our download also includes an introduction, “Why Christmas Carols?” to bringing carols into your home.
Why Christmas Carols?
I LOVE Christmas carols; I would sing them all year.
Historically, Christmas carols were just one of a part of many different songs celebrating the seasons and feasts of the year. These songs were celebrating religious sentiment but were sung by the laity in non-liturgical contexts. These were songs, in contrast to liturgical chant, that were designed to be sung while holding hands and dancing in a circle; that’s why so many carols have a lilting, dance rhythm.
The preface to the Oxford Book of Carols describes them like this: “The typical carol gives voice to the common emotions of healthy people in a language that can be understood and music that can be shared by all. Because it is popular it is therefore genial as well as simple; it dances because it is so Christian, echoing St. Paul’s conception of the fruits of the Spirit in its challenge to be merry -’Love and joy come to you’. Indeed, to take life with real seriousness is to take it joyfully, for seriousness is only sad when it is superficial.” I love thinking about how these carols were the overflow of the spiritual life nurtured by the liturgy in the Church overflowing into the streets and fields!
There were carols for every season: winter, Advent, the Nativity, feast after the Nativity, the New Year, spring, summer solstice, Passiontide, Easter and others. The Oxford Book of Carols records many of them, but Christmas carols are the ones that have endured the most. They are perfect for jump-starting singing in the home for a couple of reasons:
- The tunes are simple but melodious so they are satisfying without being taxing. They are designed to be learned aurally, without sheet music, so they are perfect for simple and quick learning for the average and beginner singer.
- The words are SO simply, yet profoundly, catechetical. Who of us cannot stand to be brought to a deeper understanding of the most important realities?! They penetrate and form us in an almost imperceptible way on the deepest level (maybe because they involve so many of the senses.)
- There needs to be a context for singing in the home. Introducing singing in the home without a context runs the risk of your family thinking that you are trying to turn the family into a musical, with music bursting out at random moments for no good reason. Everyone loves Christmas carols and Christmas is the obvious and natural context to break into singing them.
We have put together a printable songbook with some (a very few of the myriads) Christmas carols for you to sing with your family. John wanted me to stick to the tried and true, but I just couldn’t resist including some of my absolute favorites which are less known. Maybe with the booklet and the recordings we can start bringing some of these lovely carols back into circulation. 🙂
I have made teaching recordings of each carol, i.e. something to help you learn the tunes if they are not familiar to you. These are au natural and you might hear some domestic background noises on the recordings, like Raphael trying to make me laugh while I was recording. I am also just getting over a respiratory something so there are definitely some skids in quality, but I am going with it in the interest of getting the recordings out to you in time to practice them for Christmas.
Although the booklet has all the lyrics, there are no PDFs of the sheet music because of copyright issues. I also really wanted to record harmonies for you to learn but that was also a copyright issue, so I have included harmony recordings for songs to which we have made up simple harmonies and are therefore ours to share. A tip for learning harmonies—just listen to the recordings and learn them as though they are just a different melody for the same text. Then if everyone starts together and stays on the same speed you should make beautiful music together! Be brave; try it! The worst that can happen is that it doesn’t work and you can all sing the melody together.
Have a Christmas Read-Aloud
Here are some of our favorite books to read-aloud together at Christmas!
Make an easy Advent wreath!
From the earliest days, the Advent wreath has been an important tradition in John’s and my marriage. Gather supplies and follow along to make your own beautiful Advent wreath.
Advent Calendar Project
As we begin the liturgical preparation period of advent, it can often be difficult to balance the practical preparations for celebrating Christmas and preparing our hearts to celebrate Christ’s birth. This year, Sofia designed a color-in advent calendar as a checklist for practical preparation and something the whole family can work on together.
How to use the color-in advent calendar
1. Number each box in the grid, with the last box as the 24th
2. Make a numbered list of tasks to complete in preparation for Christmas (these can either be spiritual preparations, practical tasks, or both!)
3. Hang on the wall, preferably in a central location where all the family can use it
4. When a task has been completed, color in the box with the corresponding number.
5. Work together as a family to fill in the whole calendar before Christmas!
Tips from Sofia:
-Use the template as is for an 8×11 advent Calendar or you can blow it up to a larger size. We made ours a 24×36 and hung it in a central location for all to use.
-Instead of numbering the grid and making a corresponding numbered task list, you can put a post-it note with the task in each square that can be removed when you color the square. We like the numbered list because it gives us great satisfaction to see a record of the tasks we have conquered!
-Reduce the template to the size of your journal and make it a personal task/coloring page for your private Advent goals!