Monday, November 28, 2011

Cyber Monday Top Pick: April Cornell

Well, my order has already been placed, and if you are looking for great deals on sweet little girls dresses that harken to days gone by, then look no further than the April Cornell Cyber Monday Sale with prices 30-60% off!  This is the one sale of the year that I look forward to, and the deals are not to be missed.  My top picks?  The basic petticoat dress is a staple - layer it under dresses that are getting too short, use it as a night gown for a girl's sleep over, or my personal favorite, the perfect late night Pascha dress, simple, comfortable and easy to bleach!  No kidding, we have it ranging in size from 12 months to 10 years, and all have seen lots of wear.  The new favorite for this year - this dress, a gift from Grandma for Christmas  :)  And yes, I bought something for me, a dress I have had my eye on all season - so happy to get it at such a deal!  (Sale prices don't show until you put something in your cart, but most dresses are half off, even the clearance dresses - we stocked up for next summer at an average of $12 per dress)

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Counting Blessings while awaiting the coming of the Great Light

Autumn thanksgiving is about light, because there is something beyond incredible about the light this time of year.

225. the warm golden light that fills my kitchen each early autumn morning, making it a joy to come in and make breakfast

226.  the glow of a single golden leaf, fallen on the skylight above the bath tub, it radiated light
227. the light of home, the coppery golden hues of the church dome rising tall above the turning leaves

228. light reflecting onto the holy waters of baptism, as friends await their turn to literally be immersed into the light of the image of Christ in his mothers arms
229. lampadas swinging in their little alcoves, lighting the way to the divine edible Light offered each Sunday
230. soft flickering light of 30 little candles, young virgins all gathering to walk with His most Holy Mother as She, the true Holy of Holies is brought into the temple.

231. The soft light of the sun, working its way through the dark mist on this Thanksgiving morning. 
We too are a people who walk in darkness, a darkness that is this culture, which holds up all which is dark and consuming, telling us we can only be happy by consuming more, until it all consumes us.  May we all walk this season awaiting the coming of the Light, and never forget that the rest is just a distraction. 

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Reading Through the Nativity Updated

Here is a list of some of the books we have used over the years to open throughout the Nativity Fast.  It is not comprehensive (my books are already wrapped, and I am sure I as we open them I will find a few I forgot), but it contains most of our families top picks.  Some of these books are out of print, but most are still available used.  I have offered a few details as I saw fit, and this collection represents 12 years of gathering books.  While it is occasionally a joy to add a new book here or there, if it is worthy and beautiful, both in language and in illustrations, we are very content with the current selection, and it offers more than enough reading for the season without becoming a burden.  We also have a selection of books related to saints of the season, I will add those in a later post.  If you have a favorite that is not listed below, please leave a comment with the title to share with others.

St Nicholas Books

*The Legend of St Nicholas – Demi – beautiful illuminated illustrations
The Real Santa Claus – Marianna Mayer
The Real St. Nicholas – Louis Carus – collection of stories from around the world, large volume your family will read aloud from for years
*The Saint Who Became Santa Claus – Evelyn Bence – great explanation of how Santa Claus came to be – short story book (oop, but can get a cheap used copy)
Saint Nicholas, The Real Story of the Christmas Legend – Julie Stiegmeyer – good story – St Nicholas portrayed in more Catholic looking vestments
The Miracle of St Nicholas – Gloria Whelan – Orthodox Russian Christmas miracle story - this book brings me to tears every year
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

Nativity Books

*Who is Coming to our House?  - Joseph Slate – great repetitive rhyme book – excellent for younger ones (though my 10yo loves it too!) tells story of the animals in the stable preparing for Mary and Joseph to arrive
The Miraculous Child – Alvin Alexsi Currier – Orthodox tale of a Russian Christmas miracle, great story, language a bit stilted in English
The Legend of the Candy Cane – Lori Walburg (fun story, though debated historically)
*Long Was the Winter Road They Traveled – J. Patrick Lewis – beautiful illustrations, told in rhyme
*The Very First Christmas – Paul L Maier – excellent book, accurate and detailed explanation of the nativity narrative, told by a mom answering questions from 8yo son – one of our very favorites
The Little Boy's Christmas Gift - John Speirs - the illustrations are breathtaking, as many join the journey to visit the newborn king, including a small boy with nothing to give him
The Donkey and The Golden Light - John Speirs - Beautiful story of a donkey who not only witnesses the birth of Christ, but then is also the one who carries Christ into Jerusalem and witnesses his death and resurrection
Silent Night – Margaret Hodges – beautiful history of how this hymn came to be
What Can I Give Him – Debi Gliori – good for young children – based on Rossetti poem
What is It The That the Christmas Tree is Telling Us? – Orthodox – translated stories about the Christmas tree – English is a bit awkward
The Story of the Nativity – Orthodox – again, translation a bit awkward
Tonight You Are My Baby - Jeannine Norris - no mother will be able to read this one without tears, so be forewarned, a very moving look at Christ's birth through the eyes of a mother who knows what is to come (I'm tearing up just typing about it)
Father and Son - Geraldine McCaughrean  - this is the father version of the above book, and also a sure bet for tears on the part of the reader - a look at the Nativity through the eyes of Joseph, who wonders how he can teach this child about the world when he was the One who created it
The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey - Susan Wojciechowski - thanks to Mat. Emily for introducing this one to us last year, and the movie is wonderful as well!

* family favorites

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

New Recipe for the Nativity Fast

Here is a soup we enjoyed this afternoon; perfect seasonal ingredients, warm and filling on a chilly fall day.  It has been adapted from a recipe included in the new Taste & See Cookbook.

Brazilian Black Bean and Pumpkin Soup

3 c black beans, cooked (or 1 can)
6 c vegetable broth (or water)
1-2 chopped onions
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 (15 oz) can pumpkin puree, or use fresh pumkin puree
1 (14 oz) can diced tomatoes with juice
1 t cumin (or more to your taste)
salt and pepper to taste
juice of 1 lemon, and zest
chives or scallions, thinly sliced - as garnish if desired

Since it was Tuesday, I sauteed the onion and garlic in oil first, but the recipe calls to just dump it all in a pot, so on a strict fasting day, just skip the saute!  When the onions softened, I added the tomatoes, broth, beans, pumpkin and seasonings.  Bring to a boil and let it simmer until the flavors are nicely mixed (we were in a hurry, so I served it pretty quickly, am curious to see how it tastes after sitting a while.)  The pumpkin gave the broth a sweet flavor which the kids enjoyed.  It was a mild tasting soup, and I think if you like a bit of a kick, you could add more cumin, or perhaps curry or garam masala for a different twist.  The recipe also says you can puree part or all of the soup.  I skipped that as well for time purposes, but will puree a portion of it next time.  This was so easy, as I had leftover black beans from yesterday, and have lots of pumpkin around here right now.  I am thinking this would also work really well with butternut squash in place of the pumpkin, and I have a dozen of those waiting around to be stored!  I think this recipe will have to go into my Nativity Fast rotation for sure.

Monday, November 21, 2011

The most pure Temple of the Savior;
The precious Chamber and Virgin;
The sacred Treasure of the glory of God,

Is presented today to the house of the Lord.

She brings with her the grace of the Spirit,
Therefore, the angels of God praise her:

"Truly this woman is the abode of heaven."

 Happy Feast of the Entrance of the Theotokos in the temple!
for details on how our church celebrates this feast you can check out the Festal Celebrations page
and if your church holds a Presentation Tea, please leave a link in the comments, I would love to see pictures!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Welcome Home

We added to the family on Friday night - here are pictures of my newest little god-daughter

She and I will share a patron saint (can you see the icon of Anna behind us?)
She was baptized and chrismated along with her two big sisters and mother.  (Dad was chrismated long ago, and has found his way back and brought his beautiful family home with him.)

A celebration fitting for the season, shrimp and rice, crab ravigote, stuffed mushrooms, hummus and vegetables, fruit and punch, decorations all in the colors of the beautiful season of the Nativity Fast.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Saturday Morning Surprise

The crocodile hunter had finally given up hope that his precocious jungle fowl would return from her latest roaming.  She has a bad habit of wandering off into the woods and not returning at night to the safety of the barn.  She hasn't been seen in over a week, and we all figured a fox, coyote or one of the many local dogs had made a meal of her. Until this morning
Apparently she was simply fed up with the daily theft of her eggs, and like Jemima Puddle-duck, she wanted to sit!  And sit she must have, because this morning she proudly marched back to the barn with 7 little chicks in tow.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

On Fasting

Stint your stomach and you will certainly lock your mouth, because the tongue is strengthened by an abundance of food.  Struggle with all your might against the stomach and restrain it with all sobriety.  If you labor a little, the Lord will also soon work with you.
St. John Climacus

Monday, November 14, 2011

Living the Nativity Fast

The following is a compilation of information and resources I have come across over the years concerning the Nativity Fast.  The Nativity Fast, or Advent as it is often called, is one of the two great fasts of the year. The difference between it and great Lent, is of course, that during the Nativity fast we are anticipating a birth, so the atmosphere of this fast is one of happy anticipation. It can also be a difficult fast for the Orthodox, as the rest of the world is caught up in Christmas parties and celebrations full of the food and drink from which we fast. The following ideas are a collection of ways to commemorate the days of the fast without pre-celebrating the feast.
 Make the 15th an eventAdvent is different from Lent, where the  beginning is hard to miss, often the 15th comes and goes with little notice taken.  Make the 15th a special day by starting family traditions to begin the fast.
Ideas: set your Christmas tree up the night before after the kids have gone to bed. Then spend the rest of the week slowly decorating it. Begin one of the many activities outlined below to mark the days of Advent - a Jesse tree, Advent calendar, prayer chain, or Advent wreath

Reserve special items that only come out during the fast - (in our house, all Nativity related books, toys, music and movies are stored away until Nov 15th, then pulled out to enjoy during the season and packed up again on Jan 7th )

Daily reminders
Below is a list of activities that can be done daily to help mark the fast – select from among these the ones that appeal to you and your family without becoming overwhelming.

Establish a family time and altar  If you do not already have one, this is a great time to start the habit of evening family prayers together – prayers, readings, lighting candles etc – these become the focal point of the fast.   When you receive Christmas cards – place those on your altar and pray for those people that evening.  If you have a table or piece of furniture available or even just a shelf, drape with a red cloth and place icons, candles

Advent wreathcan just be votive holders with candles and some greenery laid around it – some people use colored candles to mark the Sundays, others just use beeswax candles.  One idea is to decorate the candles with an icon for each Sunday of the fast (these commemorations fluctuate from year to year)  Another beautiful option is the wreath made by Ann Voskamp's son Caleb, our family has truly enjoyed celebrating the seasons of the year with this beautifully crafted piece.

Jesse Tree a series of ornaments or symbols that begin with creation and track the story of our salvation through the Old Testament, ending with the birth of Christ.  There are many versions of this, and it may take time to create your own, but it can be a wonderful way to see the importance of the Incarnation in the scope of history.  There is also a lovely coloring page version of the Jesse Tree as an alternative (or to go along with) ornaments.

Advent Calendarhung in a prominent place where the children can see it on a daily basis – there are paper ones that can be purchased, or you can make your own.  It can be very simple – of felt with items pinned on or elaborate with sewn pockets

Christmas Storybooksin our house all of the books related to Christmas are wrapped up in inexpensive paper and placed under the tree on the 15th of November.  Each evening, the children select a book to open and we read it together.  A basket is placed by the tree to contain the opened books, which are then revisited throughout the season.  We don’t attempt to have 40 books, 20 or so have been more than enough to keep us busy, and the children get very excited each year when they open old favorites they haven’t seen since last Christmas!  It’s like getting a whole new library of books each year.

Prayer chain this can be used for one of several activities. Cut strips and staple into a chain.  Can track alms giving during Advent, use it as a prayer list of people to pray for each day (add someone new each day) or use it to count your blessings, writing something you are thankful for each day of the fast.  Hang your chain somewhere visible in the house and watch it grow through the fast.

Almgivingin the spirit of St. Nicholas, try to find some way to involve your children in activities of giving – visit one of the shut ins in the church, let them send notes and Christmas cards to the shut ins of the region,

Christmas tree Traditionally – Christmas eve (not very practical for most.  My family decorates the tree on the 15th as our way of marking the start of the season (artificial of course) – if you use a live tree, St. Nicholas day (Dec 6) or St. Herman’s feast day (Dec. 13th) are great days to mark with decorating the tree.

Nativity Sets

Wooden set children can handle and play with

Playmobil makes a wonderful set that makes for hours of play

Family set - one idea is to not place out all figures – make a star path with 40 stars from the manger across a table or shelf.  Mary moves one star closer each day – as she passes each star, it can be moved up onto a blue backdrop behind the nativity set until you have a full sky.  Alternative to using stars is to make a stone path (shown above).

The week before Christmas, place a new figure each day, let your kids come home from the Christmas liturgy to find the baby Jesus in the manger.

3. Mark the milestones of the fast –
Participate in the liturgies and activities offered by the church.
One way to mark these days, print off paper icons (from the internet) and put them into picture frame Christmas ornaments, hang each saint on the tree on his or her feast day
          Presentation of Theotokos – Nov 21st
          St. Katherine – Nov 25th
          St. Andrew – Nov 30th
          St. Nicholas – Dec 6th
          St. Barbara – Dec 4th
          St. Herman – Dec 13th
          St. Lucia – Dec 13th
          St. Stephen – Dec 27th
Icon coloring books – our favorites -  Potamitis Publishing
Read the lives of the saints (can be a bedtime activity or a part of the family altar time) we should spend at least as much time sharing these stories with our kids as we do sharing fairy tales and other books

4.    Celebrate Christmas!
Special meal after liturgy – helps to emphasize breaking of fast with young ones – special foods saved for this night
Place Jesus in the manger, ready to be found when the children come
home from liturgy

One of the wonderful things about being Orthodox is avoiding the post holiday blues – do you remember the feeling you had as a child on the 26th of December, or even as an adult?  Everything is over, the presents are opened and there seems to be nothing left to look forward to but a long dreary winter.

12 days of Christmas – stockings with 12 small gifts to be opened each day of Christmas
January 1 – St. Basil’s Day – make vasilopita!
Theophany table – change cloth drape to gold, remove wreath, set out 11 votives and Christ candle
Theophany – special bottles for them to bring for the service to be filled with Holy Water , I bought a cheap bottle painting kit from Target/Hobby Lobby
House Blessing – a good motivation to get the house cleaned and ready to start the year!
Nativity Links
Jesse Tree ornaments

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Short Reflection before Advent

- People's lives are sheer misery because they do not simplify things.  Most of the conveniences we have cause difficulties.  Those who live in the world often suffocate from abundance.  They have filled their lives with gadgets and devices but this only makes it more difficult to enjoy.  If we don't simplify things, one convenience will result into numerous difficulties and we will end up miserable.
When we were little, we used to cut off the spool at the end and put a wedge in it, turning it into a nice and enjoyable game for ourselves.
- Geronda, what helps the most when one is trying to grasp the joy of austerity?
- It helps if you can grasp the deeper meaning of life But seek ye first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.  Simplicity begins from there, so does every proper approach to life.

Elder Paisios - With Pain and Love for Contemporary Man

Friday, November 11, 2011

I'm hooked

115 lbs of apples

Fuji, Cameo, and the delightful Ida Red, to which I owe the amazing pink hue of the juice.....

and apple jelly... can you believe that color? I am in awe.  And the best part, added to my pantry, next to the 20 pints of applesauce and 15 of apple butter, I can say that the home canned jars now far outnumber the store bought  :) 

Note:  the best resource for canning information I have found - Pick Your Own - no nonsense recipes for everything from applesauce to tomato sauce and everything in between