Thursday, March 24, 2011

More Blessings

86. longer days, sun stretching and slowing down time
87. going to sleep with all the windows open
88. train whistle in the night, reminder of nights spent at Grandma's as a child
89. waking up to the cheerful sound of returning song birds outside the open window
90. fields of purple wildflowers, slowing to appreciate their beauty as a flower, not a weed

91. walks to the lake
92. watercoloring outside, with lake water for mixing paints
93. diving ducks, seriously, these guys were so cute, but too far off to get a decent photo!
94. healthy children, as so many around me are watching their little ones suffer this Lent

Cycles Of Grace: Fasting Menu Notebook

I don't think I ever fully explained how I set up my fasting menus and notebook, so last weekend as I was making sure everything was in order for shopping, I thought it would be a good time to share how I organize and update my menu.  For some, the idea of a set menu is stressful, boring or just a little too OCD (words some of my friends would probably use for me as well :).  I have found them to be helpful, especially during seasons of fasting.  There are seasons when I just cook what I want, usually in the summer months when creativity is stretched by not knowing what will be ready to pick in the garden, or what vegetables will arrive in my CSA box that week!  Those are the times when I enjoy the fun of cooking as creating.  During a fast, we eat to live, to sustain, and hopefully to train our passions, so it just makes sense for me to remove the stress of daily decision making with a set menu.  There are many ways to do that.   I have friends who have a menu that rotates through a 3 week cycle for Lent, others who eat the same thing every week; so there can be flexibility within a menu plan.  For Lent, I have a set framework of breakfast and lunch dishes, with dinner meals I alternate.  In setting up my menu, I selected dishes I knew most of my family enjoyed (there is always one who likes to throw a wrench in things - she eats lots of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches :).  I scheduled them by choosing easier or make ahead dishes on nights we have services, and planned our favorites on the nights I know my husband can usually get home in time for dinner.  I picked a few special dishes that are more labor intensive for the weekend when fasting guidelines relax some and I have more time to enjoy cooking.  Once the menu was set, I typed it out and created a weekly grocery list.  If there are large amounts of non-perishables, I often do one large grocery trip for those before the fast, then eliminate them from my shopping list.  That allows me to cut down on the time I spend in the store.  Since most of the items I am shopping for will be found in produce and the bakery, I can avoid shopping the rest of the store - a bonus when you are dragging four kids through the store, and they are drooling over the donuts, sausage and cheese!  Finally, when I have my menu and grocery list printed, I select the recipes for all of the dishes I will be cooking during that season.  I have a small 3-ring binder just for fasting periods which has tabs marked with the days of the week.  Using page protectors, I file the recipes behind the appropriate tabs.  I file the menu and copies of the grocery list at the front of the binder, and keep a small selection of fasting recipes in the back such as a St. Phanourios Cake recipe.  I really like having everything in one place - my notebook stays in the kitchen, and I don't find myself having to hunt down a recipe or figure out what to fix!  It was a big project the first time I put a menu together, and I spent several hours searching for recipes and making a plan, but the payoff now is huge.  Each new season, I look back over the menu.  I might change a recipe or two, but rarely more than that.  I can have everything ready in my binder in very little time, and I have the confidence that I will not be caught unprepared.  Of course, I also realize that life happens, and there are times when the plans are ignored or shuffled around, but simply having a plan allows me to be more flexible within the framework of the plan.  Whether you have a set menu or not, a little planning ahead can certainly make each week's cooking a little less stressful.  If you work away from home during the day, just knowing what you will be fixing, and knowing that you have all of the ingredients can make the evening meal less of a burden as well, not to mention save money since you are far less likely to grab take out or decide to eat dinner out.


Wednesday, March 23, 2011

3rd Annual St. Emmelia Homeschooling Conference

If you are thinking about going, but can't quite make up your mind - COME JOIN US!  There will be some wonderful speakers including Barbara Shukin of the History Portfolio series,  Fr. Andrew Damick, Fr. Noah Bushelli, and if you have not heard Andrew Kern speak (or if you have, then you will know what I mean), the trip is worth it just for that!
Check out the topics for yourself and know that this is a truly affordable conference, where else can you get a weekend of fabulous fasting meals for only $86!  I hope you will consider joining us for a weekend of fun activities for the kids, learning, and encouragement from other Orthodox homeschool families. 

Monday, March 21, 2011

You know that the beginning is the most important part of any work, especially in the case of a young and tender thing; for that is the time at which the character is being formed and the desired impression is more readily taken... Shall we just carelessly allow children to hear any casual tales which may be devised by casual persons, and to receive into their minds ideas for the most part the very opposite of those which we should wish them to have when they are grown up?
        We cannot..... Anything received into the mind at that age is likely to become indelible and unalterable; and therefore it is most important that the tales which the young first hear should be models of virtuous thoughts...
  Then will our youth dwell in a land of health, amid fair sights and sounds, and receive the good in everything; and beauty, the effluence of fair works, shall flow into the eye and ear, like a health-giving breeze from a purer region, and insensibly draw the soul from the earliest years into likeness and sympathy with the beauty of reason.
    There can be no nobler training than that.
                                 Plato's Republic

Friday, March 18, 2011

History Studies

thousands of little metallic squares....

posterboard, pen and overhead projector to create outline....

glue sticks and much patience...


Not exactly the Hagia Sophia, but a satisfying project all the same!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Look Who Arrived Today

26 little chicks, just 3 days old and hungry for food!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Life of St. Paul of Thebes

In the third century, when St. Anthony the Great was living in the deserts of Egypt, one day the thought came to him that he was the most holy man of the desert, having given his life to prayer longer than any other.  It was then that he had a vision, and it was revealed by the Holy Spirit that there was another who had dedicated his life to prayer in the desert many years before Anthony.  With nothing but the guidance of the Holy Spirit, St. Anthony began to walk out into the desert, searching for this man.  For three days he walked, and on the third day, a small cave appeared ahead of him.  Upon reaching the cave, St. Paul, wearing a garment woven of palm leaves, greeted him by name, and asked him to come and sit talk with him.  While the two talked, a raven appeared, bearing a loaf of bread.  St. Paul marvelled, saying, "for 70 years a raven has provided me with half a loaf of bread each day, today the Lord has provided for both me and my guest."   St. Paul, orphaned at the age of 16, had fled the persecutions of the Roman Emperor and come to the desert to pray.  He and Anthony talked all day, and as the day drew to a close, Paul asked Anthony to go and retrieve the tunic that had been presented to Bishop Athanasius, that Paul's body might be wrapped in it and laid to rest, for he knew his time was near.  Anthony, saddened at the thought of losing this man he had only just met, dared not argue at Paul's request, recognizing the impossible knowledge of this man to be from God.  Anthony journeyed back to his monastery without rest, retrieved the cloak, and without stopping to explain to his fellow monastic brothers, made the journey back to St. Paul.  As he travelled, he witnessed the soul of Paul arising to heaven.  When he arrived, he found his beloved friend kneeling.  Thinking he was in prayer, St. Anthony joined him, until many hours later when he realized his soul had indeed departed yet his body remained a servant of God.  Anthony, hoping to fulfill St. Paul's wish for burial, looked around, and realized the ground was far to hard for him to dig a grave.  He knelt by the body of St. Paul and resigned himself to remaining there until someone came, or Anthony himself perished from the vigil.  It was then that two lions approached.  The lions began to claw at the earth, digging a grave for the saint.  When the hole was dug, Anthony reverently wrapped the body of Paul in the cloak, and buried him.
Thanks to each of you who were brave enough to offer a guess :)  Only two people had the correct answer, the winner of the Children's Bible Reader is Jelena.  Congratulations!  Leave me a comment with your email and I will contact you about shipping your book.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Just Another (Thankful) Monday

72. child wrapped tokens of love, gifts from the heart
73. birthday wishes from family and friends
74. avocado sandwiches
75. first Presanctified Liturgy, food and fellowship with others
76. long awaited package (as in, over a year on a waiting list, but well worth the wait) from Canada arriving during Clean Week
77. pussy willows
78. bare feet in sandals after months of boots
79. hands in the dirt, ripping out weeds to reveal small shoots of life returning from last year, when the choking weeds are gone, new life springs forth in abundance
80. washing dishes to Celtic Woman, nothing like a rousing rendition of Spanish Lady to put a spring in the step!
81. glass of wine on the weekend, relaxation of the fast to spur the spirit onward
82.  ICONS
a gift of the church I was so quick to reject in the beginning, and now cannot imagine turning away from the wisdom of the Church in this great gift
83. prayer in community, albeit from a distance (there is still time to join, so jump in!)
84. my priest, who serves each day in humility, and bears the weight of my soul

85. cleansing, healing, lightening confession - blessed sacrament of the church

Friday, March 11, 2011

Can You Guess?

At our Orthodox homeschool co-op, we always have a lesson on the life of a saint.  Since we are studying Zoology 1: Flying Creatures this year, we attempt to select saints whose lives are in some way connected with flying creatures.  Above you will find elements from the life of the saint we studied last week.  Can you name the saint?  Leave your guess in the comments*, and I will randomly draw from the correct answers.  Winner will be selected on March 15th .
The winner will receive a copy of The Orthodox Children's Bible Reader. 

*comments will be temporarily moderated and published after the deadline :)
**non-USA entries are welcome!!!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Clean Eating

Lent is certainly a season for less, a time for letting go, of cleaning heart, soul and body.  Clean Week ushers in a week of beautiful services, that our heart and soul may begin to prepare the way for the journey to Pascha.  Hearts are light, having been cleansed through the rite of forgiveness, as we let go of the hurt, resentment and anger we hold towards others, and humbly receive forgiveness.  Now the body must also be made light, since "the body which is burdened with meat is afflicted with diseases.  A moderate way of living makes the body healthier and stronger and cuts off the root of evil.  The stream of meat meals darkens the light of the spirit.  One can hardly have virtue if one enjoys meat meals and feasts." (St. Basil the Great.)   So, the kitchen is cleaned and the counters are cleared of clutter.  Sunday evening the girls and I made a trip to the grocery store, filling our cart with fruits, nuts, fresh vegetables and breads.  We will not cook this week.  We will eat simple foods, with simple preparation, that our hearts and minds may be on God, not on cooking or scrubbing of pots.  We will eat less, that we may pray more.  We will consume less that we may turn to God and recognize our dependence upon Him to provide for us.  We will let go of fleshly wants that we may embrace heavenly ones.  And we will give thanks for the bounty of less that is before us, realizing that even our less is so much more than many who live always with less.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Counting my Moments of Grace

57. prayers for those departed, hearts full of memories
58. the first daffodil blooms
59. flowers from my husband, for no reason

60. my god-daughter gives birth to her first little one, new baby cousin is here!
61. the scent of a newborn
62. cheese
63. doing dishes with my son
64. (mostly) potty-trained toddler
65. sunset on the way home from gymnastics lessons, God paints the sky

66. old memories, making way for the growing pains of our ever expanding church

67. gold transforming to purple
68. liturgy that goes on in the ancient way, even when the power is out
69. forgiveness
70. "for behold, I make all things new", daily renewal in Christ

Sunday, March 6, 2011

For a word mispoken, for a thought against another, for my ignorance or indifference to your feelings, for my pride, vainglory and self love
  Forgive me a sinner.

Friday, March 4, 2011

I'm feeling the urge to embrace my inner 50's hostess.  If only yellow looked this good on me!  Are you ready for spring clothes?  I know I am.  Thank you to Orthodox Mom for pointing me in the direction of Shabby Apple clothing a few years ago (I did embrace my inner Jackie - see right, as well as several other favorites).  Anyone else have any great sites to recommend for attractive clothing that passes the "appropriate for liturgy" test? 

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

All the little details

As Lent races toward me, thoughts tend to turn to the practical.  How can I make sure that this Lent, services are the priority?  How can I make sure that I can be both Mary and Martha, working towards inner calm while still getting the cooking, housecleaning and laundry completed?  Being a planner, I find it helpful to have a plan!  I know the first few years with children, I sort of floated through Lent, missing many services because I had little ones, no family nearby and a husband who was working 100 hours a week and was rarely able to attend with me.  I certainly didn't think much about planning ahead for Lent.  As a result, my focus was often wrong.  I was concentrating on sewing the beautiful dress for my first little girl, frantically stitching on buttons moments before we walked out the door for the Pascal Liturgy, or I was focusing on the end of the fast and all of the food I needed to purchase. 

When my first 2 children reached the ages of 18 months and 3 1/2 years, I was about to give up even being in church for services at all.  I am ever grateful for the kind father of older children who came to me one Lenten service as I was almost in tears.  He always stood near one of the exits, and as I turned in exhaustion to take my restless and noisy toddlers out of the liturgy I shrugged and whispered that I wasn't sure why I even bothered to come.  He hugged me, and took my 3 year old son in his arms and whispered, "because it is worth it."   He encouraged me to slow down, to keep trying, to not give up, and to "pray with my feet" as Mat. Anna says.   I realized that I needed to focus more on just being present, and make the most of that time.   As I had more children, and they now grow older, the struggle changes.  It seems like there is so much to do, as well as so many other activities going on in the spring - piano recitals, soccer games, karate tournaments, the need to swap out clothing for a new season, the pressure to begin thinking about the next school year.  Then, a few years ago, I really began to see how I had been looking at it all wrong.  I was always trying to figure out how to fit the services into our life - working around naps, feedings, work schedules, outside commitments etc.  I finally realized that until I made the church our first priority, there was always going to be a good reason why I couldn't make a service.  No question there are seasons in life when we are more fully able to enter into the life of the church, and others where we spend more time praying with our feet in the narthex or at home,  but often I look back and realize that many times I could have been more present, had my priorities been better organized.  For me, the way to flip that mind set was to become proactive, and schedule life differently.  Now, the first thing I do when I get our schedule of Lenten services is to copy them onto my calendar.  I admit, I am behind the times, I actually still have a giant paper desk calendar which hangs on my refrigerator  and I love it!  I also have a special schedule for Holy Week which I have shared in the past.  That page hangs on my refrigerator as well.  This schedule lists the services for the week, as well as all of those little things which are so easy to forget - flowers on Friday morning to decorate the bier, baskets full of rose petals on Friday night for the girls to spread around the tomb, bread and wine ready for Saturday morning.  Having one place where all of those things are gives me a great deal of peace. 

Another thing I find is that it is terribly easy to lose my temper in that 30 minutes before leaving for a service (it is just me, or is this the time children choose to lose shoes and coats, have a dirty a diaper or temper tantrum?)  How many times I find myself ready to yell at them to get in the car so we can go to church!  One way to help avoid that is a little planning as well.  I may take it to the extreme, but during Lent, I try to separate out the easy, seasonally appropriate church clothing for my kids and streamline their clothing.  They typically wear the same pair of boots (until we can break out the sandals!), and rotate through a handful of dresses throughout the week.  Before Lazarus Saturday arrives, I try to gather all of the kids clothes for Palm Sunday, Holy Friday, Pascha and Agape Vespers.  My dining room table becomes command central for Holy Week, where I gather baskets for egg hunts, clothes, flowers, everything I can to have it easy to find.  Knowing their clothes are all ironed and ready to go means I don't have to think about that during Holy Week.  It also means I am not frantically trying to run a load of laundry because someone doesn't have clean underwear!  Having young children means we always have distractions.  But it doesn't mean these distractions have to consume us.  With a little preparation, it is possible to avoid becoming consumed with the details by planning ahead for them as much as possible, and then, learning to be flexible when it doesn't all go smoothly (ah, if only I could get that lesson internalized).  The details, the material preparations, are important, but are NOT the one thing needful. 

Finally, a quote I put up last year, which I think says it all far better than I ever could.

"After the Easter service, the blessing of the eggs, meats , breads, cakes, etc., which are proper to this feast takes place in Orthodox parishes. The custom, in itself, is excellent. It associates the life of the home with the life of the Church. But one cannot protest too much against the deviation which it causes in certain Orthodox countries where many of the faithful are so absorbed with cleaning their houses, the decoration of eggs, the making of cakes, in short, with the material preparations for the feast, that they miss the services. Religion thus becomes an adopted national or familial custom which is no longer animated by the breath of the Spirit."
by a monk of the eastern church - The Year of Grace of the Lord  p.206

Do you have any ideas that help you make Lent and Holy Week a time of peace rather than one of stress and busyness?