Big Changes Coming to Mustard Seed Training!


Hello, loyal friends! It’s been 10 years since I started Farrell Ink! Wow!

In the past decade, I have encountered thousands of adult education students and teachers working hard to advance their career and educational goals. I saw administrators, teachers, and students become advocates for themselves to improve HSE exams, career prep curricula, and adult education programs.

Reading Out Loud

As a teacher myself, I enjoyed researching solutions to some of our stickiest educational issues, and sharing them on this blog! This website has been the core of my digital presence for the past decade, so I plan to leave my existing posts as a reference for adult learners and educators.

However, my new business, Mustard Seed Training, is going in a different direction and I need to switch web platforms to accommodate.

All posts will stay up, but by next year, this site will revert to a basic, free WordPress blog.

In addition to my career in adult literacy, for the past 10 years I have also been volunteering as a catechist, i.e. teaching religious education. It started with formation in a Montessori-based method called Catechesis of the Good Shepherd (CGS). This method teaches adults how listen to God with children.

So… what is Catechesis of the Good Shepherd (CGS)?

Catechesis = Latin for “the process of forming disciples of Christ”

CGS was developed in Italy by Sofia Cavaletti and Gianna Gobbi over many years of teaching and observing children. It is based on the Montessori method with a multi-level classroom environment called the “Atrium.” Cavaletti and Gobbi identified key scripture verses, prayers, and elements of worship that connect with children’s spirituality at various developmental stages, and then created hands-on materials that allow children to “work” at their own pace.

Though it all started in an Italian, Roman Catholic setting 50 years ago, the method has been translated to languages and cultures around the world. It has also been adapted to various Christian denominations, as it highlights the key elements of faith that we share even though some of our practices are different.

My favorite part is the way the Montessori method in general emphasizes empathy and social-emotional learning, which builds a strong moral foundation for life.

I hope you see why I love it so much!

Mustard Seed Training formed two years ago to serve fellow CGS catechists and turn a ministry into a career. However, it has taken me this long to figure out: What does that look like, specifically?

At a formation this past summer, the National Association for CGS shared two big needs of fellow catechists: crafting custom wooden materials, and adult faith formation.

What are the materials needed for CGS?

Um, it varies… based on the catechist and location.

CGS is not like other curricula. It’s not a kit you can buy in a store or implement by reading a teacher’s guide.

It requires physical work and mental decisions on the part of the catechist about what objects are most essential and available in their context. It is intentionally this way, to force adults to develop themselves and their space in preparation for encountering the child.

The method is also extremely adaptable to various budget and size restrictions. You can put together a DIY program with found objects and donations, or you can buy individual sets for hundreds of dollars. Even with the cost of buying materials, over the long term this approach actually saves money over the annual textbook or app subscription costs.

Let’s take, for example, the Good Shepherd parable which young children find so attractive. Here is one version of the Good Shepherd materials:


The children love when the shepherd finds the lost sheep and carries it home on his shoulders, rejoicing. Children will repeat this activity over and over again with great focus and joy. As they deepen their abstract thinking, they are able to enter in to some of the more challenging questions posed by the parable:

  • Who is the Good Shepherd?
  • Why did the sheep get lost?
  • Could this parable be talking about me?

The method involves dozens of such standardized activities for children ranging from 3-12 years old. Many catechists are continuing experimentation and observation with 0-3 year olds and 12-18 year olds. My long-term goal is to extend this into standardized materials for adults, particularly those new to a parish community (called RCIA or “Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults”).

When I moved from Cleveland to Jefferson, Ohio, I helped my new parish get started with this method for 3-6 year olds. During the process, I got to use some of my woodworking skills (thank you, shop class!) to create materials we needed. Thinking I would save time, I also ordered some materials online, and experienced long wait lists from the few woodworkers who serve this growing national market.

Being in process of creating materials for my own local program, I realized that I am fortunate enough to already have the tools and skills to serve other catechists who need materials. So basically, I’m going to become a carpenter!

Where can you find me?

I’ll be building my new online blog/shop at (currently redirects here)

Please join my “Catechists’ Corner” Facebook group or follow my Facebook page.

I’ll start off by recommending high quality materials that can be used for CGS and are readily available on Amazon. For example, you can find beeswax candles for a model altar, lovely writing paper for prayer cards, or a shepherd reacting to an angel by Fontanini.

In addition to recommending materials, I plan to make wooden sets as well. In the level 1 curriculum for 3-6 year olds, there are 24 standardized, unique-to-CGS wooden sets that you won’t find at WalMart or Amazon. The demand for CGS materials is only growing, and I am eager to pray over materials as I build them. It would be a blessing to turn my ministry into a career.

So what’s next?

Over the next few months, I plan to figure out sources for wood, create templates, develop a process for manufacturing and shipping, and build up some initial inventory. I’m also doing market research on which custom CGS materials are in highest demand. If you have an opinion on which materials YOU need, please let me know! I’m happy to take requests.

Thank you!! I greatly value your friendship, interest, and support for advancing adult education, and hope many of you will be interested in staying connected through this transition.

The Seed That Falls on Good Soil

Gardening is much more than a hobby for me and my family. It is a lifestyle, a way of making meaning in an unpredictable world.

Gardening requires a commitment to a physical location. It has taught me how to make difficult choices, and forces me to deal with the consequences of those choices, such as when and where to plant or harvest. Growing plants and animals to eat makes plain the interdependent web of life: for me to live, another living being must die. It continues to teach me to be patient and humble with forces outside of my control, and to capitalize on opportunities, particularly the weather.

Ten hens sleep huddled together in the grass
Sleepy hens are sleepy

Friday was one such good weather opportunity for me. The village’s Garden Club held their annual plant sale. The grass at Giddings Park was covered with hanging plants in neon pink, bright orange, sunny yellow, deep reds, and of course ferny greens. Lines of narrow trees stood ready for planting. I grabbed a flat of aromatic dill and basil, and a couple round planters with tall grasses, leafy vines, and some small white flowers.

Friday was a full day without rain, though the sun still wasn’t warm enough for a t-shirt. The thin grey clouds kept rolling past with brief glimpses of pale blue, and the birds were chirping their mating songs.

Earlier last week, we had a freeze, so planting is still a gamble. However, I had a small gap in my schedule: Wednesday I finished my school year contract as a part-time College & Career Advisor at a high school. Friday was an unexpected full day off, and I needed time outside to let the year unwind within me.

Looks like the pears survived the freeze

Gardening gives me time without media noise to allow me to meditate. Because Jesus used so many references to growing an planting, many scripture passages bubble to the surface as my hands get covered in dirt.

Friday I kept thinking about the parable of the seed and the sower. The seed was the Word of God.

  • As I dug stones from the newly tilled section of garden, I thought of the seed that fell on rock and was eaten by birds.
  • The seed that fell on sandy soil grew quickly but whithered in the sun, like our previous sandy yard near Lake Erie in Cleveland.
  • I pulled weeds from around my strawberry plants thinking of the seed that grew among thorns and was choked.
  • But the seed that grew on good soil produced abundantly.

We do not naturally have good soil in Ashtabula County. According to Carl Feather in “History of Ashtabula County,” the areas where we now drive past field after field of corn and soy beans and cows used to be a dense, dark pine forest. Over the past two centuries of farming and lawns, the clay soil that held pines so well now is a giant swamp. Jesus didn’t mention sowing seeds in clay, and neither do most contemporary gardening books. Clay is for pottery, not agriculture.

12 May 2017: Cut & come Zinnia, Howden Pumpkins, Watermelon
Maybe some compost & wood chips will help

So how do we create good soil for the seed to grow abundantly? Is there any hope for a garden full of clay, or sand, or rocks, or weeds? Each type of soil requires a different kind of care to be fruitful.

I think the same is true of humans, especially in stages when we are vulnerable. For example, I didn’t count, nor could I share, how many kids I talked to at the high school who have a legal guardian instead of a custodial parent. This situation became a routine conversation, particularly regarding financial aid (answer: if you’ve had a legal guardian at any point ages 13 or older, you do not need to submit any parental financial information on FAFSA). 

When teens don’t have responsible parents, who is there to weed out the choking influences? Or worse, what happens when parents are the ones mixing the weeds with the wheat?

12 May 2017: ducks, replanted beans, 1 more row carrots, 2 more rows spinach
I had to replant the beans, carrots, and spinach because the first planting did not grow

Many of those kids in tough situations manage to graduate, find jobs, and often go on to trades, college, and careers. In those success cases, someone provides nourishment for that young soil: perhaps grandparents, or a teacher, or a friend’s family.

Other times, a group of friends encourages risky and irresponsible behavior. This can even impact someone from a stable family. Driving under the influence, crime, skipping school, or violent conflict can choke out a promising future.

12 May 2017: Early wonder beets, Colorful beets
Even after tilling and hoeing, I’m battling grass. We’ll see how much can grow here

But what is “success”? So often high schoolers imagine that a promising future means walking across a stage in cap and gown to collect a four-year college degree, having earned an athletic scholarship, and walking immediately into a high-demand career with a large salary. 

But in this parable of the seed and sower, Jesus was not promising a long life, nor an affluent one. The abdundant fruit He speaks about is not treasure on earth, but a place at the heavenly banquet. 

The fruits of the Kingdom of God are rich in qualities such as kindness, forbearance, and righteousness. 

The right “soil” in His parable does not always lead to material prosperity, but it does cultivate holiness. And that’s a different perspective than the one I advised this year as a College and Career Counselor, or even for my twelve years before that in adult literacy. I have enjoyed my jobs over the years because the goal was to help people get out poverty through educational attainment. But what about attaining the fruits of God’s kingdom?

The right “soil” in His parable does not always lead to material prosperity, but it does cultivate holiness.

12 May 2017: basil, lavender, Greek Oregano, Italian Oregano, dill
Sometimes the most desirable harvest has a short season.

“Live long and prosper” is the Vulcan blessing… it is not always the Way of the Gospel. I am trained as a Vulcan: to build skills that lead to productivity in a capitalist economy, which brings families out of poverty. But does that lead to richness of the soul? To healing and spiritual growth? Not always. Sometimes working for the Kingdom can mean choosing service over salary.

My entire career to this point has focused on preparing people for some future event: passing the GED Test, getting a job, going to college, teaching adults. But some people don’t get to the future event. A 13-year-old from the school district recently disappeared. When her body was found, some students organized a vigil at a nearby church. When life is unpredictable, when people never reach “success” on some future event, we reach for the eternal presence that binds together past, present, and future. We come together to remember that the Kingdom of God is not just some future event we are preparing for…it is at hand. God’s heavenly banquet is a Love we can live within every day.

Life has a purpose and promise beyond passing tests, having a job, and contributing to the economy. I know how to plant and nurture a physical seed, how to prepare for economic success, but what about a spiritual seed?

12 May 2017: early girl, Roma, chocolate cherry, Carolina gold, volunteer carrots?
Planting for the Farmer’s Market won’t make me wealthy, but it will cultivate community and good health.

How do I best nurture the seeds of spiritual growth for my current or future students? What role is the most effective approach for me to cultivate this deeper level of meaning, and relationship?

As you may know, while working part-time in the high school, I’ve also been on an entrepreneurial journey to bring some new ideas to life. I’m at a point in my discernment now where too many things are growing at once… I have to thin my plants, and say “no” to some good opportunities in order to let a few fully thrive.

One of the things I am cutting is Mustard Seed Books. I’ve led a few fun workshops, and created cute videos that will still be available online. But I’m not going to be promoting or developing it further at this point.

12 May 2017: bouquet dill, basil
There are too many seedlings here. I will need to thin out a few and choose one to grow.

You may also know that I closed Farrell Ink LLC as a business last year. While I have continued to offer some trainings connected to GED/HiSET/TASC Test Prep, I’m not pursuing new relationships or venues on those topics.

An empty office awaits its next inhabitant. I am moving on.

In entrepreneur-world, they would call this a pivot: from secular adult basic education to religious adult education. I have been working on a new project called Mustard Seed Training to foster adult literacy in religious education programs. 

But what shape should it take? Should I create a new non-profit? Should I start fundraising to hire staff and make content? I’ve decided not to because…

I have been offered and accepted a position as Director of Religious Education at a local Roman Catholic Parish, starting in July.  

This position will also allow me to continue some relationships I developed with youth and staff at the high school. The large and diverse community needs curriculum developed for RCIA and other programs. They currently offer CCD (summer school) in both English and Spanish. Hopefully, this community will prove to be good soil to plant the seedling of Mustard Seed Training. I will continue using this blog and my online course site to post the materials I develop. But the focus of my blog will shift from adult literacy to religious education as new programs develop.

I hope you will stay with me on this journey! If you are a person of faith, I would appreciate your prayers. But if we part ways here, I am grateful for all you’ve brought into my life, and wish you wholeness, hope, and joy today and every day.

Four baby turkeys in grass
May you be a joyful as young turkeys foraging for bugs.

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