Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Just Do It

No, I am not trying to get Tiger's lost endorsements. Just been thinking a lot lately about "getting things done." Seems this time of year is one where people start thinking about the things they have not accomplished, the things they hope to accomplish in the new year, the things they never seem to get to. I know I do. I look around at the unfinished projects, the missed opportunities, the things I never got around to doing. Is that you? Do you wonder why you can't ever get anything done? Do you feel like there are so many things you want to do, but you "just don't have the time" ? Often people ask me how I do the things I do. I am never quite sure how to answer that question, I just do them. I see this question asked of many people, and I have even found myself asking it of others when they seem to be accomplishing so much more than myself. In the past year I have read several books that seem to hit this issue, and here are some of the bits of advice I have found to be helpful for when I feel frustrated about not being able to "get it all done". First, don't be concerned with what another is doing. Do that which God sets before you. Second, do the important things first, or as Covey puts it "Put first things first". Don't fret over the time, don't wish you had more - we all have the same amount, it is all about how we use it. "There is never enough time to do everything, but there is always enough time to do the important" (Coniaris p17). We can spend an hour watching TV, surfing the internet or reading a book (guilty of all three :). Third, look to the moment, be in the present. There are many daily (seemingly bothersome) things to which we must attend. These are not things that get in the way of life, those moments ARE our life. I love the way Kathleen Norris words it. "The often heard lament, 'I have so little time,' gives lie to the delusion that the daily is of little significance" (p 16). The daily chores we do are a part of the life we have been given. Their purpose is to provide us with that which we need to regain the true image of Christ within us. We are to take those moments and transform them into moments that glorify God, that He might transform us through them. Finally, JUST DO IT. There are so many lost hours in each day; hours we spend procrastinating, talking about what needs to be done, thinking about what we should be doing, planning what we should do. Now, I am all for planning :). I think lists are a helpful way to keep you on track. I love my notebooks, they give me a sense of direction. But, if I find I am spending more time planning or organizing than doing, I have failed as strongly as if I had done nothing. If it is important, stop and JUST DO IT. If it is important to hold your baby, stop what you are doing and JUST DO IT. If it is important to spend time with your spouse or children, stop what you are doing and JUST DO IT. If it is important to talk to or do something for someone in need, stop what you are doing and JUST DO IT. If it is important to pray, stop whatever you are doing and JUST DO IT.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Want to see what I got for Christmas?

a gift from the queen's godfather (I think he got tired of me always asking him so many liturgical questions :)

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Theophany and the Winter Menu

okay, I admit, I actually counted the number of non-fasting days between now and the start of Lent. 35. Thirty-five days to fit in all the family favorites my kids have been clamoring for me to cook. I like to have a fairly fixed menu during fasts, but in other seasons, I prefer to keep my meal planning a little more flexible. That said, I hate to have a lot of meat sitting around as Lent approaches, or spend a lot of time coming up with dinner ideas. So, last week I did a brainstorm session and created a list of favorite dishes (and a few just plain easy ones :). I came up with a list of 20 meals. Then I took my recipes and created 2 grocery lists. One listed all the meat necessary for these dishes. The other had all of the non-perishables. After checking my freezer and pantry to mark off any items already here, I went to S*m's and got my meat, and hit the grocery store for the rest. I spent a few hours last week preparing the dishes that could be made ahead and frozen, which means I now have about 12 meals in the freezer (now that's a good feeling!). I can now take my menu planning a week at a time. I know the dishes I will serve over the next month and a half, but each week I will look at the calendar, take into account the things going on that week, and plan our meals. A much simpler grocery list can then be made, containing mostly perishable foods. There are a few other dishes I would like to add to this list - I still have way too many butternut squash in my kitchen, so I will probably add a few other dishes here and there, but for now, here is my list. Not all the recipes are linked yet, but will be added over the next week.
beef chimichangas
venison chili
baked ziti

honey apple pork chops
honey vanilla pork tenderloin
pork chops with apricot glaze

chicken pot pie
Annie’s Chicken Casserole
Chicken quesadillas
Schoolhouse Chicken Soup
BBQ Crock Pot Chicken
Pasta Carbonara
Pot Roast
Marinated Venison Steak
Beef Fajitas
Venison Stew
Honey Mustard Salmon
Fried Tilapia

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Nick Lodge's Bread Pudding

I began cake decorating when I was 8, when my best friend and I entered a school contest for a school spirit decorated cake. Our cake won, and that started it all. When I was 12 I decorated my brother's birthday cake, which led my mom to decide I should attend a Wilton Cake Decorating class. She went along just to make sure they took me seriously (I mean, I was 12 :). After that I began making cakes for friends and family (sold my first cake for $10 - a $5 profit :). Over the years I bought books and learned as many new techniques as I could. When I was 19 I made my first wedding cake, and began looking more seriously at improving my skills. I was published in American Cake Decorating Magazine several times (even made the cover of this issue), and worked with several caterers in my area providing cakes for weddings. I played around with gumpaste, but lacked the techniques and understanding of the medium to go much further. Then, when I was 23, my parents gave me the amazing birthday gift of a trip to the International Sugar Art School in Atlanta run by master decorator Nicholas Lodge. What an amazing time! I have since taken several classes under Nick, and while I don't do a lot of decorating these days, the experience was priceless. One of the wonderful things about class is the atmosphere. It is a fun, friendly space, and he is a wonderful teacher. Each day, the students look forward to what is advertised in the brochure as "a light lunch". His business partner Scott cooks while the students work, and the smells often carry over into the workroom. During my visits there I enjoyed some amazing food - and at the top of that list was a simple bread pudding recipe ("light lunch" huh :). He graciously shared the recipe with us, and while I have not made it very often, this year I decided to pull it out. My kids had bread pudding at Mt. Vernon in October and loved it, so I am thinking it would be a wonderful treat for Christmas week.

Monday, December 21, 2009

52 Books

Well, unless I do nothing but read for the next two weeks, I won't quite make the 52 book mark, but wow, I am feeling like I far from failed! I used to read constantly, several books a week. In the past 5 years that has changed so much that I doubt I have even read 52 books in 5 years. So, while I don't expect to hit the mark, having a goal was very motivating - and while I would not recommend all of the books I read this year (a few were rather disappointing), I gained so much from a number of them. My top picks for the year have to be: for some serious reading - Genesis, Creation and Early Man (Fr. Seraphim Rose has such a way of writing that is so simple and straightforward, considering the many heavy topics he wrote on during his life time!). For fun reading: Hitchhiker's Guide - now, I have read these before, back in highschool, but they were so much more fun to read this time around. Warning: I have a twisted sense of humor - groomed by my father who raised me on a steady diet of British humor and sci fi (Dr. Who, Monty Python, Keeping Up Appearances, Fawlty Towers), so take that into consideration in my recommendation. For parents - I loved Better Late Than Early and Weapons of Mass Instruction, and finally, for personal improvement - Seven Habits. So, those were some of my favorites, I would love to hear what your favorite read of the year has been.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Crocodile Hunter Earned His Blue Belt on Saturday!

St. Barbara's Day Bonfire

A few weeks late, but here are a few photos from this year's St. Barbara's Day celebration. We combined it with our Keepers and Contenders meeting, since we scheduled a lesson for fire safety this December. The kids went to the fire station on Thursday, then on Friday the kids learned how to start a bonfire.

And after enjoying bowls of veggie chili, a reading of the life of St. Barbara, and some s'mores, the kids went through 150 sparklers (I am not exaggerating - though these photos don't show it, there were over 40 kids running around my yard)

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Christmas Morning

After a bit of rest (one thing I give my kids credit for - they will usually sleep in until 8 after a late night liturgy!), time to begin the feasting again. We are blessed to have both sets of grandparents living in town, and we alternate each year where we spend Christmas day. When it is my mother's turn, we head to their house for eggs benedict - the traditional breakfast of Christmas morning since I was a baby :) This year it is the in laws turn, so we will be having a late lunch with them, which leaves breakfast in my hands. So, how do I begin Christmas morning? With a mimosa, of course :)
Followed by those wonderful soft boiled eggs and toast, and my personal favorite, bacon!

Finally, we will be serving cheesecake pancakes (another fabulous Cuisine at Home recipe!) which are a breakfast tradition in this house - served on non-fasting mornings when Daddy is off. The kids have been looking forward to these for weeks, because no matter how you slice it, a vegan pancake is still a vegan pancake!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Soft Boiled Eggs and Divine Love

As mentioned in the previous post, I have been working on our family Christmas menu. After a late night, and lots of goodies, Christmas morning is a simpler affair. For the past few years I have made a breakfast "strudel", a puff pastry filled with ham, eggs, hash browns, onion, green pepper and Parmesan cheese. It is a favorite recipe from Cuisine at Home, and I like it because it can be made ahead. However, my kids are making some new requests this year, so the morning menu has gone through a bit of tweaking. For starters, my kids love soft-boiled eggs and "soldiers". Now, before I go any further, I need to explain a bit of my culinary heritage. My grandmother was Scottish by birth and raised in England. My grandfather was the son of a Lebanese immigrant, stationed in Blackpool, England during World War II. The end result, my mother was born in England, and at the age of two traveled to the US with my grandmother on the Queen Mary along with many other war brides brought back by President Truman. I remember my grandmother telling me stories about how my grandaddy got in good with her family by bringing them extra sugar rations (he was a cook). And as a British immigrant, after 50 years of living in America, you didn't dare insult my grandma by suggesting there was still a hint of a British accent. So, I have a nice mix of middle-eastern and English cooking that has made its way into my life. This is the reason that tabbouleh is a traditional Thanksgiving dish in my home, old fashioned chicken rice soup should always have a dash of cinnamon, and Cornish meat pasties were a childhood favorite. It is also the reason I have a deep fondness for soft-boiled eggs. There is something very English about soft-boiled eggs; the little egg cups, the timer, the tap,tap,tap as you carefully "knock off the head", the golden yellow yolk as it spills out the sides when a piece of toast is plunged deep into the egg, and the final scrape of the spoon inside the egg, hard enough to get every last bit of white out, but not so hard as to break the eggshell. I spent years trying to find proper egg cups, and have now managed to put together a respectable collection. The best part of soft-boiled eggs though was the toast. Proper English toast must be toasted, lightly buttered, then sliced into thin strips, ready for dipping into that yummy egg yolk. It is a treat that was saved for an overnight visit to Grandma's house, and it was a treat that defies explanation. So, it is with great joy that I watch my children, two of whom never got the chance to meet my Grandmother, as they enjoy this experience; to relive those moments through them as they tap, tap, tap on their egg, as they smile with delight dipping those strips of toast into the yolk, and as they scrape out that last bit of white. Funny how food has such an emotional tie for us, and yet, it makes perfect sense. After all, the first sin was choosing food over God, and God in His wisdom has provided us with ultimate communion with Him through food. Metropolitan Anthony Bloom in his book Beginning to Pray states that all food is divine love made edible. There is something very meaningful about a meal made with love, and the importance of those little traditions that we so often don't even recognize as traditions. I did not start this post with the intention of ending it this way, it was supposed to be a practical post with recipes and a little bit about me. Instead, it has become a story I am happy to share, because in sharing it helps me remember, even that which seems so mundane, the boiling of an egg, can make a lifelong impact if done with love. Guess I will save the recipes for the next post.

Christmas Cooking

This week it is time to start planning for the feast of the Nativity. While the preparations are far less involved than those for Pascha, there are still menus to be planned, grocery lists to be written, and shopping to do. The Nativity liturgy in our church is celebrated at around 10pm, which means we usually arrive home after midnight. There are many special traditions we have that go along with this evening, starting with the arrival home. The kids go check the Nativity set, to see the arrival of baby Jesus. We then move to the tree, where they each open one present, a set of special Christmas pajamas (so mommy can enjoy color coordinated photos on Christmas morning :). Then after everyone has donned their new Christmas pajamas, we move to the kitchen. The table has been set, and the feasting begins. Over the years we have slowly found our favorite snacks (that mommy can make ahead and reheat easily :) for this breaking of the fast, and every year my kids look forward to the same special treats. So, here are the recipes that have made the cut over the years.

boiled custard - this recipe comes from my Dad's mother, and has been a family tradition for as long as I can remember. My kids enjoy it served cold in a tea cup with a candy cane for dipping!
mmm, sausage puff pastry, quick to reheat, and so good!

cheesy phyllo triangles, again, pop in the oven for a few minutes and enjoy!

and the ultimate treat - one I only cook for Cheesefare, Pascha, Thanksgiving and Christmas -sweet cream cheese stuffed dessert crepes, served with homemade hot fudge and whipping cream

Stay tuned for the rest, Christmas morning breakfast!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Letters of Grace update

Wow, so much planning, so little time! We have been working hard to smooth out the rough edges of the Letters of Grace curriculum, and as with any curriculum, tweaking is required. Mary has spent the past two weeks test driving the curriculum (yes, I am jealous, yes we would like to be working on it too, but no way is that happening before the New Year! :) The results, lots of fun, and some changes. So, check out what Katherine has to say to see some of the improvements to our plans, as we try to make this a very practical and parent friendly program. And no, we are not trying to torture you with sneak peeks, it is just our desire to share our excitement as we work, and the wish to have many of you out there praying and supporting us in our efforts. It can be hard to stay motivated with such a large project, having so many of you express excitement spurs us on each day to continue to make this the best curriculum possible!!! So, thank you for your prayers, thank you for your support, and have patience with us as we get things ready to share with all of you!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Fun with Letters of Grace

Want to peek at the Letters of Grace curriculum in action? Go see what fun Mary's kids had last week with the letter A. We will be starting in a few weeks, and look forward to sharing our own pictures as this curriculum becomes fully fleshed out.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Face of a Martyr

MOSCOW — The Rev. Daniil Sysoyev, a priest in the Russian Orthodox Church who was known for promoting missionary work among Muslims, was shot and killed in his parish church ...
A letter from his wife:
May God Dear brothers and sisters, thank you for your support and prayers. This is the pain which cannot be expressed in words. This is the pain experienced by those who stood at the Cross of the Saviour. This is the joy which cannot be expressed in words, this is the joy experienced by those who came to the empty Tomb.
O death, where is thy sting?
Fr Daniel had already foreseen his death several years before it happened. He had always wanted to be worthy of a martyr's crown. Those who shot him wanted, as usual, to spit in the face of the Church, as once before they spat in the face of Christ. They have not achieved their goal, because it is impossible to spit in the face of the Church. Fr Daniel went up to his Golgotha in the very church which he had built, the church to which he gave up all his time and all his strength. They killed him like the prophet of old – between the temple and the altar and he was indeed found worthy of a martyr's calling. He died for Christ, Whom he served with all his strength.Very often he would say to me that he was frightened of not having enough time, time to do everything. He was in a hurry. Sometimes, as a human-being he exaggerated, he got things wrong, he tripped up and made mistakes, but he made no mistake about the main thing, his life was entirely dedicated to HIM.I did not understand why he was in a hurry. The last three years he was busy serving, never taking days off or taking holidays. I moaned, just now and again I wanted simple happiness, that my husband and my children's father would be with my children and me. But another path had been prepared for him.He used to say that they would kill him. I would ask him who would look after us. Me and the three children. He would answer that he would put us in safe hands. ‘I‘ll give you to the Mother of God. She'll take care of you'.These words were forgotten too soon. He told us which vestments to bury him in. Then I joked that there was no need to speak about that, we still did not know who would bury who. He said that I would bury him. Once our conversation turned to funerals, I don't remember the details but I did say that I had never been to a priest's funeral. And he answered that it did not matter because I would be at his funeral.Now I remember many words which have gained a meaning. Now my doubts have dissolved, the misunderstandings have gone.We did not say goodbye in this life, we did not ask each other forgiveness, we did not embrace one another. It was just another day: in the morning he went to the liturgy and I did not see him again. Why didn't I go to the church that day to meet him? I had thought of it, but I decided I had better get the evening meal ready and put the children to bed. It was because of the children that I did not go there. There was a hand that did not let me go. But the evening before I had gone to the church and met him. I had felt as if dark clouds were gathering over us. And in the last few days I had tried to spend more time with him. Over the last week I had thought only about death and about life after death. I couldn't get my head around either the first or the second. That day my head was spinning with the words: ‘Death is standing right behind you'. The last week everything was so hard, as if a huge load had been emptied out on top of me.I am not broken. He is supporting me, I feel as if he is standing by me. Then we said so many affectionate words, which we had never said to each other in our whole life before. Only now do I understand how much we loved each other.The memorial service for the forty days of Fr Daniel takes place on the eve of his namesday and the patronal feast of the future church, 29 December, and 30 December is the feast of the holy prophet Daniel. According to the prophecy of an elder, the church would be built but Fr Daniel would not serve in it. The second part of the prophecy has already been fulfilled.

Matushka Julia Sysoieva (Translated by Fr. Andrew Phillips)

Monday, December 7, 2009

Commentary on America

Need I say more?

Book Give Away

Hop over to evlogia before Dec 10th and leave a comment to be entered into our first book give away for the Letters of Grace curriculum!
Please use the link to our Amazon store for your purchasing, which results in Amazon credit we will be using to continue to offer book giveaways in the future!

Sunday, December 6, 2009

The Woman and the Wheat

Written by Jane Meyer, author of The Man and the Vine and The Life of St. Brigid, Abbess of Kildare, this books follows the journey of the prosphora bread from wheat berry to Eucharist. Written in the same lyrical style as The Man and the Vine, this book will make you want to run through a field of wheat singing hymns to God! Her words have such a beautiful rhythm, and Ned Gannon's illustrations are so warm and rich, it is a book that you will not tire of reading to your children over and over again. Here is a taste of the beautiful picture Meyer paints with her words:

With the Amen said, the heavens
swooshed to earth and a sweet, sweet
voice rang true. And the angels flew
and the saints sang too,
and the holy bells rang and a holy wind
rushed through the room.
Then the woman of the wheat came
near to the cup and she bowed her head
down low. She opened wide and the love
filled her mouth and she thought of the
wheat, and she thought of the love. She
kissed the cup and she prayed a prayer,
and the joy grew loud in her soul.
And the joy grew loud in her soul.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Hh is for History

Because the systematic introduction to the seventy phonograms of the English language is likely to take more than one year to master, we have extended the third level of the curriculum by incorporating three separate cycles of history and geography topics. While we shy away from assigning grade levels to the learning levels of Letters of Grace, the skill levels mastered in the third level of the curriculum roughly correspond to second, third and fourth grade. Of course, this is not to say that a precocious six-year old could not be placed in Level Three or that an eleven or twelve-year old struggling with spelling wouldn't benefit from the extensive study of the written sounds. But regardless of the age a parent elects to assign for each of the curriculum levels, we were careful to offer an abundance of subject matter to pique a child's interest for many years.

The first cycle of Level Three history is focused on the study of the United States. Letter-themed topics offer the child a weekly introduction to key historic figures and events. Cc is for Christopher Columbus, Rr is for Revere's Ride and Zz is for Ground Zero are examples of the themes the child will encounter each week. A beautifully written and illustrated children's book on the topic has been selected for each week of learning, along with ideas in the Learning Notes section for narrations and creating notebook pages.

The second and third cycles of Level Three thoroughly cover the geography of the United States. State by state, in chronological order of its admittance to the Union, the geography and history of each is studied through the Sleeping Bear Press state books. The authors of these widely-available and beautifully illustrated picture books offer a child an alphabetical tour through each of the fifty states as well as our nation's capital. Covering historical figures and events, geographical landmarks and the unique culture of each state, the books are written with two tiers of information. A younger sibling interested in sitting for a read-aloud will enjoy the simple rhyming prose, while the older child will be engaged by the in-depth information on the sidebars of the text. The Letters of Grace Learning Notes will include ideas for narration, notebook pages and a printable state fact sheet for the child to fill in after reading each book.

Ll is for Language is the next stop on our tour. We're happy to answer any questions in the Q&A post scheduled for the end of the Letters of Grace tour, so feel free to leave them in the comment box or send them via email.