Thursday, October 29, 2009

Reading Through the Year of Grace

In Katherine's words, "A humble beginning."
I have to tell you, I have been exploding with excitement over this project, but decided it was easier to just wait until there was something to show for it before mentioning it! I was thrilled when a few weeks ago Katherine contacted me about a project which involved cataloguing books and creating a monthly and seasonal reading list for Orthodox families. Since then, we have been busily inputting data to create a list of books organized by month.

As of now, we have compiled a list of books from our own experiences. This list contains a month by month list of books focused on the life of a single saint. We are also compiling a list organizing those books which contain multiple lives, and that will be added as it is finished. We are also in the process of creating a section for the feasts of the Church Year, and as we compile each list, we are also making note of the historical date and geography of each. The next part of this project involves both a chronological and a geographical list which may be used as a help in planning history and geography studies. It is our vision to share a series of printable lists appropriate for each of the Cycles of Grace notebooks.

This is a work in progress, and we both appreciate your prayers as we continue to expand this list. We are now going to set about searching through the catalogs of Orthodox publishers in search of books not yet listed. If you have a favorite title on the life of a single saint, please leave a comment so we may add it to this list.
We have chosen to include select titles that are not published by Orthodox sources. Katherine explains this best:
"We made the decision to include a small amount of carefully selected, well-written and beautifully illustrated children's literature on the lives of the saints of the Orthodox Church, even if they were written or published by a non-Orthodox source. As a parent, you will have to make the decision as to whether or not you wish to include these books in your family's home library. Whether to only choose books written from the perspective of an Orthodox mindset or to expand one's library to include books written by other Christians or secular authors is the decision of the parent. "
As to reviewing these titles, or categorizing by reading level, that is beyond our scope. Our hope is that each parent will be assisted in making decisions through the reviews of the publishers, by using the links provided with this list. Katherine has carefully linked as many books as possible to Orthodox publishers, in hopes of supporting their efforts to produce more quality literature for Orthodox families. In some cases, when an Orthodox publisher could not be found, a link to Amazon was included. If you know an Orthodox source for purchasing any of the books linked to Amazon, please leave a comment. We also greatly appreciate the kind correction of any errors or omissions in the project.
I am providing a permanent link in my sidebar, where you will find the pages for Reading Through the Year of Grace. Our hope is as each month approaches, we can simply look over the list, and pull the appropriate books to include in our daily readings. Considering the time of year, this list could make a wonderful Christmas wish list - to be passed along to grandparents and godparents to help add to your personal libraries. I intend to print each list off, highlighting the books I own, and file them at the front of the appropriate Cycles of Grace notebook.

Please keep us in your prayers, that God may help us be faithful in this and in all things.

Reading Through the Year of Grace

This list is a work in progress.

St. Seraphim of Sarov January 2
The Life of St. Seraphim of Sarov by Maria Naumenko
St. Seraphim's Beatitudes by Priest Daniel Marshall
St. Genevieve of Paris January 3
The Life of Our Holy Mother Among the Saints, Saint Genevieve of Paris by Mary Xenia Fagan
St. Macrina the Elder January 14
Keeper of the Light: St. Macrina the Elder, Grandmother of Saints by Bev Cooke
St. Nina of Georgia January 14
The Life of St. Nina, Equal-to-the-Apostles by St. Nectarios Press
St. Anthony the GreatJanuary 17
St. Anthony the Great: Angel of the Desert by Thomas Arnis
St. Brigid of Kildaire February 1
Brigid's Cloak: An Ancient Irish Story by Bryce Milligan
The Life of Saint Brigid, Abbess of Kildare by Jane G. Meyer
St. Brigid's Cloak by Reg Keating
St. Scholastica February 10
The Holy Twins: Benedict and Scholastica by Tomie de Paola
The Holy Twins: Benedict and Scholastica by Kathleen Norris
St. Gerasimos March 4
St. Gerasimos and the Lion by Georgia Kalogerakis
St. Ciaran of Clonmacnoise March 5
Saint Ciaran, the Tale of a Saint of Ireland by Gary D. Schmidt
St. Benedict of Nursia March 14
The Holy Twins: Benedict and Scholastica by Tomie de Paola
The Holy Twins: Benedict and Scholastica by Kathleen Norris
St. Patrick of IrelandMarch 17
The Life of St. Patrick: Enlightener of Ireland by Zachary Lynch
Patrick: Patron Saint of Ireland by Tomie de Paola
Patrick: Saint of Ireland by Joyce Denham
St. Innocent of Alaska March 31
From Earth to Heaven: The Apostolic Adventures of St. Innocent of Alaska by Andrew Wermuth
St. Innocent of Alaska by Sarah Cowie
St. George the Trophy-bearer April 23
The Life of the Great Martyr St. George by Georgia Hronas
St. Christopher of Lycia May 9
Christopher the Holy Giant by Tomie de Paola
The Legend of Saint Christopher by Margaret Hodges
Saint Christopher by Dionysius and Egle-Ekaterine Potamitis
Saints Cyril and Methodius May 11
A Gift for Ivanko by Lesia Savedchuk
St. Brendan the Navigator May 16
Brendan the Navigator by Jean Fritz
Saint Brendan and the Voyage Before Columbus by Mike McGrew
Saints Constantine and Helen May 21
St. Helen Finds the Cross of Jesus by Michelle Georgiou
Victor Constantinius Maximus Augustus: The Life of Saint Constantine and His Mother, Saint Helena by Euphemia Briere
St. Kevin of Glendalough June 3
The Blackbird's Nest: Saint Kevin of Ireland by Jenny Schroedel
St. Columba of Iona June 9
Across a Dark and Wild Sea by Don Brown
St. Maria Skobtsova June 20
Silent as a Stone: Mother Maria of Paris and the Trash Can Rescue by Jim Frost
St. John Maximovitch July 2
The Life of Saint John, Wonderworker of Shanghai and San Francisco by Maria Naumenko
Saint John and Goolya by Tamara N. Zaherk
Relics of St. Sergius of Radonezh July 5
The Life of St. Sergius, Wonderworker of Radonezh by Maria Naumenko
The Wonderful Life of Russia's Saint Sergius of Radonezh by Alvin Alexsi Currier
St. Valentinus the Presbyter July 6
Saint Valentine by Robert Sabuda
St. Elizabeth the New Martyr July 18
Ella's Story: The Duchess Who Became a Saint by Maria Tobias
Relics of St. Seraphim of Sarov July 19
St. Seraphim's Beatitudes
by Priest Daniel Marshall
Glorification of St. Herman of Alaska August 9
Father Herman: Alaska's Saint by F.A. Golder
North Star St. Herman of Alaska by Dorrie Papdemetriou
Saint Herman of Alaska by S.A. Smith
St. Cosmas of Aitolia August 24
To Plant a Cross by Angeline Eliakopoulos
Relics of St. Dionysius of ZakynthosAugust 24
Saint Dionysius of Zakynthos by Dionysius and Egle-Ekaterine Potamitis
St. Simeon the StyliteSeptember 1
Saint Simeon the Stylite by Stacy Christensen
The Prophet Moses September 4
Baby Moses by Mother Melania
Moses Flight from Egypt by Mother Melania
Exodus by Brian Wildsmith
Kursk Root Icon September 8
The Wonderworking Kursk Root Icon of the Mother of God: A Short History for Young People by Maria Naumenko
St. Euphrosynos the Cook September 11
The Boy, A Kitchen and His Cave by Catherine K. Contopoulos
St. Eustathios Placidas September 20
Saint Eustathios Placidas: His Life, Longsuffering and Martyrdomby Saint John the Forerunner Monastery
The Prophet Jonah September 21/22
The Book of Jonah by Niko Chochelli
Jonah's Journey to the Deep by Mother Melania
St. Sergius of Radonezh September 25
The Life of Saint Sergius Wonderworker of Radonezh by Maria Naumenko
The Wonderful Life of Russia's Saint Sergius of Radonezh by Alvin Alexsi Currier
St. WenceslasSeptember 28
Good King Wenceslas by John M. Neale
St. Innocent of Alaska October 6
From Earth to Heaven: The Apostolic Adventures of St. Innocent of Alaska by Andrew Wermuth
St. Innocent of Alaska by Sarah Cowie
St. Kendeas of CyprusOctober 6
Under the Grapevine: A Miracle of St. Kendeas of Cyprus by Chrissi Hart
St. LukeOctober 18
The Hermit, the Icon and the Emperor by Chrissi Hart
St. John of Kronstadt October 19
The Life of Righteous Father John Wonderworker of Kronstadt by Maria Naumenko
St. Demetrius of Thessaloniki October 26
O God of Demetrios: Story of St. Demetrios by Angeline Eliakopoulos
Relics of St. George the Trophy-bearer November 3
The Life of the Great Martyr George by Georgia Hronas
St. Nectarios of Aegina November 9
Saint Nectarios of Aegina for Children by Euphemia Briere
St. Martin of Tours November 11/12
The Life of St. Martin by Verena Smith
St. Katherine of Alexandria November 24/25
The Life and Sufferings of Saint Catherine the Great Martyr St. Nectarios Press
Saint Catherineby Dionysius and Egle-Ekaterine Potamitis
Kursk Root Icon November 27
The Wonderworking Kursk Root Icon of the Mother of God: A Short History for Young People by Maria Naumenko
St. Andrew the First-Called November 30
The Cross on the Hill by Lesia Savedchuk
St. Philaret the Almsgiver December 1
The Life of St. Philaret the Almsgiver by Holy Transfiguration Monastery
St. Nicholas of Myra December 6
The Legend of Saint Nicholasby Demi
The Life and Miracles of Saint Nicholas, the Wonderworker by Count Michael Tolstoy
The Life of Saint Nicholas the Wonderworker by St. Nectarios Press
The Miracle of Saint Nicholas by Gloria Whelan
St. Herman of Alaska December 13
Father Herman: Alaska's Saint by F.A. Golder
North Star: St. Herman of Alaska by Dorrie Papademetriou
Saint Herman of Alaska by S.A. Smith
St. Lucia of Sicily December 13
Lucia, Saint of Light by Katherine Bolger Hyde
The Prophet Daniel December 17
Daniel in the Lion's Den by St. Nectarios Press
The Three Holy Youths December 17
The Three Children in the Furnace by Susan Crowder
St. Dionysios of Zakynthos December 17
Saint Dionysios of Zakynthos by Dionysius and Egle-Ekaterine Potamitis
The Patriarch Abraham and the Righteous Sarah Sunday of the Forefathers
Abraham and Sarah by Susan Crowder
Queen Esther Sunday of the Forefathers
The Story of Queen Esther by Jenny Koralek
Queen Esther by Tomie de Paola
The Righteous Noah Sunday of the Forefathers
The Ark by Arthur Geisart
The Great Flood by Susan Crowder
Noah and the Ark of Salvation by Mother Melania
Noah's Ark by Peter Spier
Repose of St. John of Kronstadt December 20
The Life of Righteous Father John Wonderworker of Kronstadt by Maria Naumenko

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Too young for Shakespeare? Never! Well, okay, maybe some explanations are necessary for the youngest, since the kids listened to an audio performance of MacBeth on the way to DC last week, and the Queen is now going around the house chanting "Double, double, toilet trouble."

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Rules for Dressing as a Saint

For those of you who participate in some form of dressing up as a saint celebration instead of a Halloween celebration - you will find this list hysterical! I ran across it and could not stop laughing, so I am copying the "rules" here, along with a link to the original site.

Repentant sinners, such as harlots of the desert, will be represented only in their repentant state.
No harlot costumes.
St. Mary of Egypt will be completely covered by St. Zossimas' cloak, and the young lady depicting her will be fully clothed underneath it.
Flesh-colored body stockings are NOT acceptable.
St. Lazarus should be able to get in and out of his mummy costume without assistance from the teachers.
Martyrs should be depicted for their holy deaths, and not for the shock value of their wounds.
No more than three fake gory wounds per martyr.
No flayed-alive martyrs.
St. Nicholas should not wear a Santa Claus suit.
St. John Chrysostom did not have gold-capped teeth.
St. John the Forerunner must be depicted live, and not as a severed head on a tray.
All weapons must be fake and harmless, including swords.
No live horses.

(I especially love the bits about Santa Claus and the specific numbering of wounds permitted!)
Just finished listening to this lecture, and I cannot recommend it enough. It is a fascinating look at research on the effects of music on the brain. While some of the studies may seem obvious, others will definitely make you think twice about exposing your children to certain rhythm patterns. Pudewa (of the Institute for Excellence in Writing) discusses the actual physical changes our body goes through in reaction to syncopated beats which act on the body and heart as an attack, going against the natural rhythms of heart and blood flow. When you hear of the studies in which mice exposed to syncopated and disharmonious music resulted in the mice becoming so violent they actually began killing each other, it certainly makes one think about the violence that occurs among children in the news every day.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

I want to share this wonderful post with those of you interested in understanding more about iconography. This is a great explanation of the issue of perspective so often misundertood and misrepresented in textbooks and art classes.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Book of Numbers

Here is another look at our Kindergarten book of numbers
Illustrations include sun & moon, eyes, ears, hands, feet, disembodied arms and legs :), and Christ, representing His two natures man and God. Another idea for 2 would be Adam and Eve, we just ran out of room!
Three includes an icon of the 3 angels symbolizing the Trinity, the crosses at Golgotha, the myrrhbearers at the tomb, and

the three wise men.

Book suggestions for these numbers:
The Fierce Bad Rabbit (2 rabbits, opposites)
The Tale of Tom Kitten (three kittens and the trouble they get into)
Three in One: A Picture of God (one of my favorite books from my childhood!)

Friday, October 16, 2009

R is for Resurrection

Manuscript copywork book
(this will be added to weekly - the newest pages are at the end)

What we will be reading:
Golden Children's Bible
Orthodox Children's Bible Reader

Lesson Plans for Letter R
Monday - introduce letter with card, read story of the resurrection, take narration, color icon
Tuesday - practice making the sound and thinking of things that start with that sound, explore letter bag,
Wednesday - practice shape of letter using play-doh and textured tracing cards, read the story of the Fall, practice sounding out new words from reader
Thursday - color flower fairy alphabet, review words in reader, copywork page "R"
Friday - Copywork page - new words from reader

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Orthodox Mothers

Mary and I set up a Webring account called Orthodox Mothers in the hope of finding a way for us to better connect and encourage one another. You can find the navigation bar for the Orthodox Mothers webring on the upper right sidebar of evlogia and St. Theophan Academy. Click join to add your blog to the community. After approval you will receive an email with a code to paste on your blog. At that point you will be a member of the ring and we will be able to navigate easily from one Orthodox mother's blog to the next. Kind of like going door to door in a virtual sort of way. And by the way, this webring is for all Orthodox mothers who blog. So whether you are expecting your first child or your first grandchild, please join us as we share together the beautiful Life that is our Faith.

Monday, October 12, 2009

On Halloween

I did not touch this topic last year, as it is such a controversial subject among believers. There are those who feel strongly both ways. I would ask that whatever your opinion, you at least take the time to consider the following. How do we make the decision to participate or to not participate? The same way we make all decisions as Orthodox Christians, by looking at what the Bible, the Church Fathers and the Canons say.

"...Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things." Phillipians 4:8

So, if that is what we are to hold up and think about, the lovely, the gracious, the worthy of praise, how does Halloween measure up? There is nothing lovely about glorifying death. In fact, that is the exact opposite of what the Church is about. We celebrate life. We are weeks from entering into a time of honoring the incarnation of our Savior. We should be turning our hearts and minds to the fact that God humbled himself by becoming fully man in order to destroy death. Think about that just a minute. The One True God, all powerful, all knowing, all honorable. Put on flesh. Lived on this earth. Suffered temptation from Satan. Endured mockery, pain, death. Entered Hell. CRUSHED DEATH. FOR US. Why would we want to celebrate that which he endured so much to destroy?

So, no, it is not just all in good fun. It is not just a harmless night for our children to dress up and get free candy. IT IS A NIGHT THAT HOLDS UP ALL WE REJECT. IT IS A NIGHT FOR SATAN. So, my question is "why?" Why would we WANT to participate? Because it is fun? Because it is uncomfortable to keep our kids home from school that day? Because someone might make fun of us or our children? Because we don't want our kids to "miss out"?

Each morning as we read the lives of men and women who gave their lives rather than eat food sacrificed to idols, children who died rather than bow to anyone other than God, how can we ask those questions? I think of the mothers who encouraged their children to martyrdom, they weren't worried their kids would be made fun of - they were worried their children might not attain eternal communion with God. They didn't try to protect their children from embarrassment, they exhorted them to stand strong against the world, a world that hated them and their God. This world still hates us, and it hates our God. So, give your children the strength to stand against evil, teach them to be martyrs!

“Abstain from all appearance of evil” 1 Thessalonians 5:22

If you are interested in reading what others have to say on this topic - here is a selection of links to articles that say far better than I what our duty is as Orthodox Christians in this world. If you have never given this issue thought, or if you are unsure about what is right, I challenge you to take the time to read at least one of these articles.

Finally, on the practicality of the issue. I really do encourage you to keep your kids out of school on Friday when all of the parties will be happening. Avoid too much shopping with your children over the next few weeks. I try to limit the places we go during this time, since even a trip to the local drugstore is full of nightmarish images that can affect a young one in ways we often don't realize until much later. My daughter had years of nightmares from a grocery trip to Sam's where she turned a corner to be faced with a life-sized plastic witch. The night of October 31 has always been stressful for me, with young kids how do you avoid it? Our former parish used to have an Akathist to the patron saint of our church. What better place to be on this night, than in church, praying for the world. If your parish does not offer a service that evening, gather with a few friends (preferably in a home that is not in a suburban neighborhood if possible :) and say the prayers yourself.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Cycles of Grace: New Year to the Nativity Fast

After posting the Nativity binder, I decided I really should go ahead and finish up what I could on the New Year binder. At any rate, this binder is not as well stocked as some of my other ones - partly because there are fewer celebrations that require me to plan.
This binder contains all of my materials for the period from September 1 and the start of the church year through November 14.
It contains icon line drawings for coloring, handouts and paper icons,

sheet music printed from here
and the back pocket contains the Teaching Pics for this season.
An Overview of the Contents
Christmas Gift List
Christmas Card List
Checklist for Christmas
Grocery List for Nativity Fast
Simeon the Stylite
Moses the Prophet
Miracle of Colassai
Nativity of Theotokos
Elevation of the Cross
St. Sergius
St. Artemios
St. Raphael
Synaxis of the Angels
St. Philip - patron of our Metropolitan
Again, this is not everything in the notebook, just the main tab labels.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Cycles of Grace: Nativity Fast through Theophany

Well, September has come to a close, and as I mentioned in my previous post, I have turned my focus to preparing for the fast of the Nativity.
Taking a cue from Mary, I have been working on a series of binders to help me remain organized and focused on the church throughout the year. I am excited about this binder, since this tends to be a more chaotic time of year, and I think it will be helpful in so many ways. So, what is in this binder? Well, really right now it is a collection of all the items I have accumulated over the years but never had a proper place to put them. I used to have files in a cabinet to store reference materials for various feast days, but unless I thought about it, then went to the cabinet and pulled it out, I more often than not forgot about the many resources I have. So, I began by pulling out all of the resources I could find that fell into the period from November 15 through the feast of Theophany.

This included everything from sheet music for troparia, and programs for feast day celebrations of years past, to my ridiculously extensive collection of church bulletins with icons on the cover.

For at least 8 years I have compulsively saved multiple copies of the Sunday bulletin. I am finding they come in very handy in so many ways. Laminated, they allow for a far wider range of icons for my kids to see than we could ever afford mounted on wood. Un-laminated, they have been cut up and used for various projects (can't wait to share with you all my Holy Week Project where a number of those icons were extremely useful). I also had several files full of icon line drawings for coloring. I often forgot about them - but now they are all neatly slipped into page protectors and filed by the date of the feast in this binder. I am also trying to list all of the children's books I have for each saint, and individual stories that pertain to that saint from such books as Grandma's Stories.

Finally, I tucked all of the Teaching Pics that pertained to this time period into the back pocket of this binder.

While I have not yet added the tabs (got to get to the office supply store this week!), here is a look at the labels I will be adding. This does not cover every item in the binder, just the highlights so I can find what I need quickly.

(have included all the covers for each binder in this one download)
Presentation of the Theotokos (notes for the Presentation Tea Party)
St. Andrew
St. Barbara (plans for the bonfire - including checklist of supplies needed)
St. Nicholas (plans for the St. Nicholas play - along with a collection of crafts and ideas from past years St. Nicholas Celebrations)
St. Herman
St. Stephen
St. Basil (recipe for vasilopita)
Theophany (including menu ideas and plans for my Theophany party which we do instead of a Christmas party)
St. Anthony
St. Xenia
3 Holy Hierarchs
St. Brigid (crafts and ideas printed from festal celebrations)

I have not linked to all of these resources because it would take forever, and I will be posting about most of them slowly throughout the fast. Rather than try to collect all of those links now, I will add them gradually as I post about each event.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Cupcake Heaven

For the birthday girl - a cupcake dress made from a target t-shirt, some dreamy cupcake fabric, leftover corduroy and polka dot scraps from the stash make for a sweet applique - don't forget the cherry button on top!

Great deal on flowers - got a free bunch of pink flowers with purchase of the special pink M&M's to support breast cancer research. Following the inspiration of the queen of milk glass, I pulled out all the white dishes, milk glass vases and bowls for a pink and white sugar fest.

chocolate on chocolate, raspberry buttercream on chocolate, cream cheese on banana cake, raspberry buttercream on lemon cake, and my personal favorite, cream cheese on ginger spice cake (for the best buttercream recipe in the world, check out this book a staple for any cake decorator- her recipe for raspberry buttercream with have you eating it straight up like ice cream - I say that from experience)
In searching for fun cupcake ideas - I found instructions for making these "cupcake pops", are they not the cutest little things you ever saw! They were immensely popular with the sweet tooth crowd :)
And to send the guests home with a little treat - a goody bag using these instructions, filled with cake mix, sprinkles, icing, cupcake liners, and awesome hot pink spatulas for the little chefs.
Mmmmmm, too sweet!

Friday, October 2, 2009

Cycles of Grace

Over the past year, I have been in the process of developing some notebooks along the lines of the "Flylady" style - notebooks to organize my daily household duties, my outside responsibilities, the kids schooling, and cooking notebooks. As these notebooks evolved, I attempted to use many elements of the church in trying to put together a structure for my day, week, month and year that revolved around the seasons of the church. It has been a struggle for me - being a type-A planner personality, I like predictable routines and neat little boxes for everything. Unfortunately, life does not fit into neat little boxes, and in fact, the Orthodox life is so far from being a tidy little box it is laughable. The daily life is a life of defined structure yet absolute fluidity. It is not possible to set out a tidy little calendar that never changes, as the seasons of the church are constantly cycling, the same yet different every year. Trying to come up with routines seemed very complicated, since our life during Lent looks completely different from our life during the season of Pentecost. As I was struggling to work all of this out, Katherine returned to the blog world, and began sharing her plans for a set of binders under the title "Cycles of Grace" which I am shamelessly ripping off :) After looking at her plans, I fell in love with the concept of having a binder for each season of the church. So I am following her example in creating this set of notebooks (though mine will never look as pretty :)

Here is the list of my binders as I am planning them. They are all currently in various stages of completion, and I will post on each one individually as I am able, beginning with the Nativity Fast.

Feasting Binder
Fasting Binder
Household Management Binder
New Year to Nativity Fast - Sept 1 to Nov 14
Nativity Fast through Theophany - Nov 15 to the start of Lent
Lenten Triodion - moveable dates
Pascha to Pentecost - moveable dates
Apostles Fast through Dormition - moveable date to end of August

(like I said, even here, no neat little boxes - since many of the fasts and feasts of the church revolve around the date for Pascha)

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Preparing for Little Lent

I know it seems early to be thinking about it, but I have set a few goals this year in preparation for the coming Feast of the Nativity. In our commercial world, it can be very hard to immerse oneself in the spirit of the fast. For most, it is a time of parties, Santa Claus, Macy's Day parades, shopping and overindulgence. For the Church, it is a time of preparation to celebrate the incarnation of our Savior. It is considered a joyous fast, as it is in anticipation of Christ's Nativity, but it is a fast nonetheless. I find that this fast can be extremely trying, since the rest of the world is celebrating as we are preparing.

So, in order to avoid the pre-occupations of the world during this time, and to be able to celebrate all of the wonderful saints of this busy time, I have focused on getting things done ahead of time. I used to do this, back before I had kids, then the reality of four children slowly crept up on me and over the past few years I see how chaotic the Nativity Fast has become. So, here are the things I am doing this year to help me.

1) All gift shopping completed before November 15 (the beginning of the fast). This has been easier than I thought. I always keep a list of people for whom I need to purchase gifts, and over the past few weeks I have begun to slowly order items (love that internet shopping, especially right now when most stores are a halloween horror show). The only exception to this is there are a few homemade (food) items I give, which obviously cannot keep for 40 days :)

2) Christmas Cards finished before the fast - this year, my in-laws celebrated their 40th anniversary, and their gift request was a family portrait (that's 10 adults, 10 kids :). The picture is done (yay!) and in the next week the Queen will be creating our Christmas card (each year one of the kids illustrates an icon of the Nativity which I then photo copy as our Christmas card). I plan to go get the copies made as soon as she is finished and will be addressing envelopes on the long drive to DC in a few weeks.

3) Detailed lists of everything needed for the celebrations that occur during this time - the Presentation of the Theotokos, St. Barbara, St. Nicholas, St. Herman, and pre-purchase anything I can.

4) I am working diligiently to organize my Cycles of Grace binder for this period, which will hopefully be posted in the next few weeks.