Friday, November 28, 2008

what is wrong with our country ...

This news article gives a good glimpse at the human condition today - and what is important to most Americans. A good deal on electronics is valued over human life any day.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

I am thankful

I am thankful to have a family that lives close together, so we can spend holidays together.
I am thankful for the four beautiful children God has given me.
I am thankful for a husband who provides for us, and works hard so I can stay home with our children.
I am thankful for the beautiful home God has blessed us with, and all the opportunities and possibilities it holds.
I am thankful that my husband finally shot himself a "good" deer - after 40+ hours of hunting this week!
I am thankful for deep fried turkey :)
I am thankful for the true friends I have, who ignore my many faults and are there to help when I need it.
I am thankful for my parents, who led me in my faith as a child, and in their search for truth led me to the true church.
I am thankful for my priest, who cares for our parish every day in ways that few know or understand.
I am thankful for those like my brother-in-law, who selflessly serve this great country and protect our freedom.
In the words of my son - I am thankful for everything!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

The Nativity Fast

I have once again been reworking my fasting menu, so I am posting our cycle of meals for those who might be interested. It is easier to me to have a fixed plan to follow, which removes the last minute decision making and therefore much of the stress of cooking during a long fast. I have listed two options for most days, and plan to alternate the dishes every other week. Other ways I keep it simple - soup stock is made ahead and frozen, the burritos are made ahead and frozen, and I purchase all non-perishable items in one big grocery trip before the fast begins. Then I can just make my list of produce items each week, making our grocery trips much quicker. Since most of these recipes involve beans, canned goods or frozen foods, it is easy to do the majority of the shopping ahead.

Sunday: lentil burgers/lentils and rice
Monday: taco soup/hay stacks
Tuesday: fish or shrimp with rice and veggies/ stir fried shrimp or tofu & vegetables
Wednesday: spaghetti and salad
Thursday: burritos/ Lenten cabbage rolls
Friday - vegetable soup/tomato soup/bean soup
Saturday: spring rolls/pancakes

Tuesday is the night I have the most time to cook, and it is also the night my husband is most likely to be home for dinner, so that night has my most "elaborate" dishes. The other "fancy" dish I traditionally have done is spring rolls on Saturday nights. This year after looking over a friend's fasting meal plan I decided we would also try doing fasting pancakes as a treat on Saturdays. And of course, I stock up on the all important back up meal when things go crazy, which also serves as "the babysitter meal", the one I make for the kids when we go out - frozen breaded popcorn shrimp.
Breakfast tends to be oatmeal or cereal for the kids and eggs for the baby, and oatmeal or toast for me. Lunches usually consist of peanut butter and jelly (or banana :) sandwiches, hummus, fruit, raw vegetables, leftovers and soups.
For great recipes and ideas on fasting, be sure to check out Erin's blog dedicated to fasting.

"Thus if there is such value and grace in fasting that it makes us into habitations of God, then ought we to greet it with great rejoicing and gladness, and not despond because of the meagerness of the food, knowing that when our Lord Jesus Christ blessed the five loaves in the wilderness He fed five thousand people with bread and water. He could, if He so desired, command all sorts of manifestations to appear; but He gave us an example of restraint, so that we might be concerned only for that which is necessary."
St. Theodore the Studite

Thursday, November 20, 2008

St. Nicholas Day

Since someone asked about ideas for St. Nicholas - I will go ahead and post that first. Our family tradition is quite simple. On December 5th our church typically has liturgy for St. Nicholas (though it varies, some years it is that evening, on others it is on the morning of the 6th). After liturgy that night, the children take their shoes and place them outside our front door. The younger ones like to add a little hay in their shoes for St. Nicholas' horse. That evening we read stories about St. Nicholas, focusing on the character trait of giving unselfishly. The kids then go around the house and find several items they are willing to give up. We put these items in a bag and leave it on the front porch, so St. Nicholas can take it to children who are not as fortunate. Then they crawl into bed to await the arrival of St. Nicholas. In the morning, the bag of toys is gone, and inside their shoes, they find a small sack of chocolate coins (just like St. Nicholas left for the daughters' dowries) and a little gift. The gift is usually a book or some small trinket - when possible it has something to do with St. Nicholas or the season of Advent. Since part of the point of this exercise is to eliminate some junk from the house, I try to not then add to the junk the next morning! Finally, St. Nicholas leaves a letter for each child, telling the children how he has seen them grow in their faith that year, and mentioning any particular positive character traits they may have been developing. We save the letters to go into a scrapbook so they can go back and read them later. We do not put gifts in their stocking for St. Nicholas Day, because we have another tradition for our stockings that comes from my husband's family. I'll share that one a little later!

Resources for St. Nicholas Day Ideas

The St. Nicholas Center - a site with stories, crafts and ideas for creating your own traditions
Paidea Classics - a made in USA source for chocolate coins - they even say St. Nicholas on them!
The Real St. Nicholas - a collection of stories about St. Nicholas
St. Nicholas Life - an Orthodox source for the life of St. Nicholas

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Advent Traditions

I am going to post parts of a talk I gave at our church women's retreat a few years back on celebrating Advent with your children. While some of this is a bit late, there are many things you can still implement, and you can use this Advent to prepare certain projects for next year.

1. Make the 15th an event. (I realize this one is a bit late, but perhaps something to think about for next year - you know the rule, "live first, blog later!") Unlike the beginning of Great Lent, which is marked by several weeks of preparation and a week full of services, the beginning of Advent has no special service, and can get lost in the chaos of school and Thanksgiving Day preparations. So take this day to establish a family routine for the rest of the season. If you do not have a family altar already, set one up - an area where your family can come together for prayers, lighting candles and Advent readings. If you have a piece of furniture, shelf or table, drape it with a special cloth. I have purchased table runners which we change out according to the liturgical seasons, so the colors match the altar cloth and priests vestments of the Church. Wal M*rt is a great source for cheap table runners in lots of colors, especially this time of year. Place your Advent wreath here, prayer book, Bible and list of readings for the season.

2. The 15th is also the day in our house when I pull out the Christmas tree (well trees really, we have 3!) and set up the lights, and the kids all help decorate the tree. Then it is ready for all of our Advent books to be tucked underneath (due to allergies we use artifical trees, which makes it possible to decorate this early - and for me, to enjoy the beauty of Christmas for 2 months is something I look forward to every year - our tree does not come down until Theophany). Another idea for the tree if you don't care to deal with it before Thanksgiving, is to follow Erin's lead and set it up on December 13th in honor of St. Herman. This would be perfect timing for those who use a real tree.

3. Keep certain things special just for Advent. Many years ago the crocodile hunter's godmother sent him one of the Playm*bil Nativity sets. That has been such a treasure to my kids, and last year I got a second one for the little princess. The set is boxed up, and does not come down until November 15th. The kids get so excited about playing with it, as I begin taking decorations out they all start asking, can you get the Nativity set out for us? They often spend most of the next few days with just that toy. Again, it goes back in the box on January 6th in spite of protests to leave it out just a little longer, so they can look forward to it again next Advent. As I already posted, we do the same with Nativity books, and I follow this rule with Christmas music and a few classic Christmas movies on DVD I allow them to watch. The air of anticipation this creates is amazing, and it makes these things all the more special for those two months. It also means that they tend to spend much of their free time reading those stories, or playing with the Nativity set, a wonderful way to help the kids remain focused on the Church and Christ's birth in a world where most kids can think of nothing but what "Santa" will bring them.

Well, there are a few ideas to get you started. Hopefully they will inspire you to create things in your home that are not only "hidden art", but will become treasured memories for your children and help them to walk daily in the life of the Church. I will follow with more on the Jesse tree and Advent calendar ideas, and our special St. Nicholas traditions.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Advent Books

Over the next week I want to post some of my favorite Advent ideas, and thought I would start with the tradition we started four or five years ago in our house, and has become a favorite. Over the years, I have collected various Christmas books. One year I decided that instead of simply reading them throughout the Advent season, I needed to make them a little more special. First, all of our Advent books and St. Nicholas books are packed up with the Christmas decorations. They are only taken out for Advent. This makes it a real treat for the kids when I pull them out. Now, instead of simply bringing them all out on November the 15th for the kids to read, I spend the days leading up to the 15th wrapping all of the books. I usually look for very inexpensive wrapping paper after Christmas (my current favorite is a red and white stripe candy cane looking paper), pack it up with my decorations along with a roll or two of tape, and then it is ready and waiting the following November. I don't do anything fancy, just wrap them up (no bows or tags or anything). We put our tree up on the 15th, and all the wrapped books go under the tree. Then, each day during Advent, the kids take turns choosing a book to open and I read it aloud that evening. Now, we do not have enough books for all 40 days of Advent, but since things come up and there are nights we don't get a chance to read, it all works out pretty well. Each year, I buy one or two new books and add them to the pile. The result is, the kids can't wait to open a book each night and find an old favorite, or maybe a new story. We have about 20 books now, so I know that we can roughly read one every other day, so we will alternate opening a new book with rereading one of the previously opened books. All the books stay under the tree, and the kids are free to come and read them during the day, but they are not to take them from the room. Then, when Theophany arrives, all the books are packed up for the next year. It is fun to see them develop favorites, and try to guess which package holds their favorite book, and the excitement when they open a book they may have forgotten about. If you are starting with only a few books, you could wait to start opening them until closer to the Nativity, or you could adjust it to just one per week until your collection grows.
Here is a list of some of our favorites. Most of them are Nativity stories or about St. Nicholas, but I do include a few traditional favorites I loved as a child.

Who is Coming to Our House - Joseph Slate - this is a great repetitive rhyme book, excellent for younger ones (though my 9 year old still loves to hear it too!). It tells the story of the animals in the stable preparing for Mary and Joseph to arrive. It is also available as a board book.

Long Was the Winter Road They Traveled - J. Patrick Lewis - this book is beautifully illustrated, and is also told in rhyme

The Very First Christmas - Paul L Maier - this is a great detailed explanation of the Nativity story, told by a mom answering questions from her 8yo son. It was a gift from my son's godmother, and is one of our favorites. It is very accurate and in line with the teachings of the Orthodox Church.

The Little Boy's Christmas Gift - John Spiers - illustrations inspired by the art of the Brueghels, the story of a poor boys offering to the Christ child (thanks to Erin for suggesting this one!)

What Can I Give Him? - Debi Gliori - sweet and simple, based on a poem by Rosseti, this is a great one to read to little ones (a gift from the little princess' godfather - Erin's hubby :)

Silent Night - Margaret Hodges - moving story of how this hymn came to be

The Miraculous Child - Alvin Alexsi Currier - Orthodox tale of a Russian Christmas miracle

The Saint Who Became Santa Claus - Evelyn Bence - great explanation of how Santa Claus came to be

The Legend of St. Nicholas - Demi - love this artist, beautiful illuminated illustrations and lots of stories of the life of St. Nicholas

The Miracle of St. Nicholas - Gloria Whelan - very moving tale of a Russian village that has not celebrated liturgy in 60 years, and how a little boy's questions lead to a miracle celebration

The Baker's Dozen - Aaron Shepard - a legend of a St. Nicholas miracle, the story of how 13 came to mean a baker's dozen

Saint Nicholas - Julie Stiegmeyer - again, great stories of the real St. Nicholas

The Nutcracker Ballet - any well illustrated version

The Night Before Christmas - Clement Clarke Moore

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

thank you

"The only authentic response to life - the good bits and the not-so-good - is gratitude."
Bread & Water, Wine & Oil - Archimandrite Meletios Weber
So thank you, thank you, thank you - to all of you who helped me this past week. Sunday was definitely one of "the good bits" - and I cannot express to all of you how much it meant to have so many do so much to create the perfect evening. I am always so humbled when I see so many willing to give their time and talents for someone else, and I know very well that I could never have done it on my own. And for those of you who don't know what I am talking about, I will post pictures as soon as I get them and fill you in!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Quit reading blogs and go vote! Unless you are one of those people who still does not know who you are going to vote for, or why you are voting for your candidate. In that case, STAY HOME and let the rest of us preserve freedom for our country.