Friday, March 28, 2014

A very special visit

Last week, we had the absolute honor and blessing of having a visit from two holy relics in our home in one night - the kamilavka (priest's hat) of St. John of Krondstadt, and the Kursk-Root Icon. This was a huge coincidence, but the biggest blessing to our family.

The kamilavka of St. John is usually kept at St. Seraphim's Russian Orthodox Church in Sea Cliff, NY, (my home parish), but my husband was able to borrow it for the period of Great Lent and has been taking it to local Serbian Orthodox churches each week so the faithful can venerate it. Many Serbians are Russophiles, and have enjoyed having the kamilavka visit their parish. For several nights, we kept it in our home as well, and the other nights it has resided at the Bishop's residence.

The Kursk-Root icon has made its way to the Midwestern diocese this Great Lent and has been taken around by its guardian, by Bishop Peter, and by another priest as well. Fortunately for our family, the priest who is the official guardian of the icon happens to be family to us as well. He stayed at our house for a few nights and one of the nights, the Icon was here as well. My husband, the baby and I all slept in the same room as the Icon, and in the morning, very early might I add, we woke up the kids to venerate and see the Icon off with us. It was a tremendous blessing for us!

The Kursk-Root Icon is extremely special to me for several reasons. 1) I grew up in the parish of St. Seraphim of Sarov in Sea Cliff, NY. Many people know that St. Seraphim, as a boy, had a terrible fall and was extremely ill following that. He was healed when the Kursk-Root icon (yes, it is that old indeed!) came for a visit to his town and he venerated it. It is so deep and so inspiring to think that the saint whom I have grown close to prayed in front of this very icon a long time ago! 2) In 2008, I was blessed to go on a trip to Russia with a group of young people from ROCOR (the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia). The 'home base' of our group for this trip was in Kursk itself, and we made several visits to the monastery where the icon was actually found! It was an incredible trip. Here are a few photos from my trip...these were all taken at the "Korennaya Pustin'", the monastery that is built around the place where the Icon was found.

This tree was planted by Metropolitan Lavr when he visited the monastery after the Reunification of the Russian Orthodox Church and ROCOR in May of 2007

After the Icon was found, this holy spring began coming out of the ground in the spot where the Icon was is a huge spring today and covers a lot of the territory of the monastery!

A picture of our group from ROCOR just outside the monastery walls

Here is the Troparion to the Kursk-Root Icon of the Mother of God.

Having obtained thee as an unassailable rampart and wellspring of miracles, O Most Pure Mother of God, thy servants quell the assaults of enemies. Wherefore, we pray to thee: Grant peace to our land, and to our souls great mercy.

If you'd like to view and read the Akathist to Her, please click here. 

Below is some history about St. John of Kronstadt, since I didn't speak about him much. He's a beautiful saint, and so many Russians view him as a favorite of theirs. 

Information taken from the OCA website. 

"St John of Kronstadt was born in the village of Sura in Archangel province on October 19, 1829, and was called John in honor of St John of Rila (August 18). His parents were very poor but were very devoted to the Church. Even though he was poor, as a young boy John learned to feel compassion for others in their misfortune. His neighbors frequently asked him to pray for them, as they noticed this special grace-endowed gift in him. When John was ten, his parents were able to raise some money and send him to the local school which was attached to the church. At first, the boy had an extremely difficult time with his studies. He worked for days on end, but still failed to keep up.

Writing about his life he once recalled an evening when everyone had already gone to bed. “I could not sleep, and I still failed to understand anything I was taught. I still read poorly and could not remember anything I was told. I became so depressed I fell to my knees and began to pray. I don’t know whether I had spent a long time in that position or not, but suddenly something shook my whole being. It was as if a veil had fallen from my eyes, and my mind had been opened, and I remembered clearly my teacher of that day and his lesson. I also recalled the topic and the examples he had given. I felt so light and joyous inside.” After this experience he did so well he became one of the first in his class to be chosen to go to seminary, and after seminary to the Theological Academy in St Petersburg (a great honor at that time).
Throughout his studies, John thought about the importance of forgiveness, meekness, and love, and came to believe that these were the very center and power of Christianity, and that only one path—the path of humble love—leads to God and the triumph of His righteousness. He also thought a great deal about the Savior’s death on the Cross at Golgotha, and pitied those who did not know Jesus Christ. He wished to preach to them about His death and Resurrection. He dreamed about becoming a missionary to distant China, but saw that there was a great deal of work for a genuine pastor of Christ’s flock both in his own city and the surrounding towns.
When John graduated from the Academy he met Elizabeth Nesvitsky who lived in the town of Kronstadt. They dated, he proposed, and they were married. After his studies, John still desired to learn more about his faith and his Church.
It was in this frame of mind that he prepared to be a priest and to enter public ministry. He was ordained a deacon on December 10, 1885, and then priest on December 12. He was assigned to St Andrew’s Cathedral in the city of Kronstadt. He said, “I made myself a rule to be as sincere as possible in my work, and of strictly watching myself and my inner life.”
Fr John wanted most of all to earn the love of the people in his care, because only a loving attitude could provide the firm support and help he needed as he faced the difficult work of the priesthood. His constant thought was how he would come before the Last Judgment and have to give an account, not only for his own deeds, but also the deeds of his flock, for whose education and salvation he was responsible. To him no one was a stranger; everyone who came to him for help became a friend and relative. He would tell people “The Church is the best heavenly friend of every sincere Christian.” He conducted divine services daily and offered the prayers of the faithful. He called all who rarely receive Holy Communion to prepare themselves and live their lives in a Christian way so that they could receive more often. Listening to Fr John, many people changed their lifestyle, repented sincerely, and joyfully received Holy Communion on a regular basis.
At that time the government exiled murderers, thieves and other criminals to Kronstadt. Life was horrible for the exiles. Even children of exiles would become thieves and criminals. He would go to their dugouts, hovels and shacks to visit with them. Not satisfied with staying for five or ten minutes to administer some rite and then leave, Fr John believed he was coming to visit a priceless soul, his brothers and sisters. He would stay for hours, talking, encouraging, comforting, crying, and rejoicing together with them.
From the beginning he also concerned himself with the material needs of the poor. He would shop for food, go to the pharmacy for prescriptions, to the doctor for help, many times giving the poor his last few coins. The inhabitants of Kronstadt would see him returning home barefoot and without his cassock. Often parishioners would bring shoes to his wife, saying to her, “Your husband has given away his shoes to someone, and will come home barefoot.” He would also write articles for the newspaper exhorting the people of Kronstadt to “support the poor morally and materially.” These appeals touched the hearts of many and Fr John organized many charitable efforts. Realizing that his individual charity was insufficient for aiding the needy, he founded the Orthodox Christian House Parish Trusteeship of St Andrew the First-Called. This brotherhood coordinated many charitable efforts throughout the city and helped many needy people.
In 1857, he began teaching in the local city schools. He would tell people, “If children cannot listen to the Gospel, it is only because it is taught like any other subject, with boredom and indifference. Such teaching defeats the purpose of the Gospel. It fails because it forces students only to read words and memorize them instead of making them live in their lives.” To Fr John there were no incapable students. He taught in such a way that poor pupils as well as good ones were able to understand. His attention was aimed not so much at forcing students to memorize as to fill their souls with the joy of living according to Christian values, sharing with them the holy thoughts which filled his soul.
When speaking to other priests about their vocation he would say, “You are a representative of the faith of the Church, O priest; you are a representative of Christ the Lord Himself. You should be a model of meekness, purity, courage, perseverance, patience, and lofty spirit. You are doing the work of God and must not let anything discourage you.”
St John has performed more miracles than almost any other saint, with the possible exception of St Nicholas. Through his prayers he healed the sick, gave hope to the hopeless, and brought sinners to repentance.
Fr John labored endlessly in his work for the Lord preaching, teaching, and helping those in need. Having spent his entire life serving God and His people, Fr John fell ill and died on December 20, 1908. Almost immediately, people from near and far began to make pilgrimages to the monastery where he was buried. Even today millions of Orthodox Christians in Russia and around the world pray to him to intercede for them as he had always done from his childhood.
St John was glorified by the Russian Orthodox Church on June 8, 1990."

Here are the Troparion and Kontakion (there are actually 2 Troparions) to St. John.
Troparion — Tone 1
As a zealous advocate of the Orthodox faith, / As a caring Solicitor for the land of Russia, / Faithful to the rules and image of a pastor, / Preaching repentance and life in Christ, / An awesome servant and administer of God’s sacraments, / A daring intercessor for people’s sake, / O Good and righteous Father John, / Healer and wonderful miracle-worker, / The praise of the town of Kronstadt / And decoration of our Church, / Beseech the All-Merciful God / To reconcile the world and to save our souls!

Troparion — Tone 4

With the apostles your message has gone out to the ends of the world, / And with the confessors you suffered for Christ! / You are like the hierarchs through your preaching of the word; / With the righteous you are radiant with the grace of God. / The Lord has exalted your humility above the heavens / And given us your name as a source of miracles. / O wonder-worker, living in Christ for ever, / Have mercy on those beset by troubles; / And hear us when we cry out in faith, O our beloved shepherd John!

Kontakion — Tone 3

This day the pastor of Kronstadt / Appears before the throne of God / Praying fervently on behalf of the faithful / To the chief pastor Christ, who has promised: / “I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it!”

Fitted Sheets

I have been a housewife/homemaker for almost five years now, and this whole time, I am embarrassed to admit, I have not been able to properly fold a fitted sheet. I have a book on homemaking by Martha Stewart in which she explains how to do it, but I am one of those people who has to see something in order to properly do it.

Needless to say, my fitted sheets have always been "folded" into a crumpled ball, which has made my linen closet look messy.

Yesterday, I decided I'd had it and realized I could probably find a YouTube clip on how to properly fold a fitted sheet. So, thanks to a little Martha Stewart and her friends, finally, my sheets look at least presentable now... See? (I know, they need work, but I was really proud of making them look even like this!)

In case you're like me and also need to learn how to fold a fitted sheet, here is the video I used! I love that you can rewind and repeat as many times as you need until you've got it!

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Motherhood: A Balancing Act

Today I felt overwhelmed by all the many things I have on my to-do list which never get crossed off. I feel really ambitious some days, and then it frustrates me when I have nothing to show for myself at the end of a day, a week or a month. Today my overwhelm got the point where I felt completely distracted and unfocused on my housework and the kids. Luckily, my husband was home and urged me to go out and get my eyebrows done quickly, which I have been trying to do all week. I grabbed a book in case I'd have to wait (and secretly, I hoped there would be a wait!) and slipped out the door.

As I sat waiting, I pulled out my book - A Mother's Book of Secrets. I was incredibly surprised to find that the chapter I had my bookmark on was called "A Balancing Act." The chapter was all about feeling overwhelmed like I have been...It was refreshing to remember that I am not the only Mama who struggles with that.

So tonight, I'd like to share some tips from this chapter which I am hoping to incorporate into my life starting Monday. I found this idea which you'll read about below, to be genius!

"Begin by drawing three lines at the top of your daily planner page or just on a blank piece of paper if you don't do planners. Write one thing on the first line that you are going to do for yourself that day. It may be just reading the introduction of the book you've been dying to get to for the past month. It could be making time to exercise for fifteen minutes or writing a letter you've been procrastinating so you can get it off your mind.

On the second line, write just one thing that you want (not need) to do for someone in your family -- it could be for a child, a spouse, or your mother. Just some little thing that will make a difference, like complimenting a child on a job well done, calling your mom to see if she's OK, or telling your husband how much you love him for sacrificing something he wanted to do with the family.

On the third line, write something you want to do (not need to do) in 'your world.' If your work is at home, that could be cleaning out the junk drawer that drives you crazy every time you open it. If you're at an office, you could send a note to a someone to tell them how much you appreciate them. Your world that day may be serving a friend or neighbor. Just choose one thing!

Determine that even if doing what you have written on those three lines is the only thing you accomplish that day, your day has been a success! You'll feel a little more balanced because even though those three little things probably won't take as much time to accomplish as the things that you have to do, you will love accomplishing just three things that you really want to do rather than feeling controlled by the things you have to do. Doing those three things every day is also important because they usually have to do with relationships - with yourself, your family, and your work. They are things that keep you thinking about the most important things in your life."

Isn't this just brilliant??? I feel like God answered my prayer just by having me read a little of this book today! I have been struggling to come up with a good system in which to balance all my relationships and responsibilities, and this just seems like a perfect little daily exercise. I think I may actually do my planning the night before for each day, though. We'll see how it goes. I'll keep you posted.

I really recommend this book to all moms who have young children in their house still. It's written by a mother and her daughter and truly, they do share real secrets with their readers!

I hope to be back tomorrow and share a recipe or two.

Have a great weekend! We are half way through Great Lent already!!

Monday, March 17, 2014

Household Tip: Cleaning Shower Doors

The other day I was speedily trying to clean the upstairs of our house in preparation for an overnight guest. In our bathroom, we have glass shower doors, and for some reason, even though we do use a squeegee after each shower, a lot of scum had built up on the doors. I didn't know where to begin and what product to use to clean it off, so I ran a Google search. I found an incredibly easy way to clean the doors, and the best part was it didn't require buying a new product! All you need to do is mix equal parts of Dawn liquid soap with plain old vinegar. Grab a sponge, and get cleaning! I saw instant results, but I did end up using the scrubbing part of the sponge to help me get it all off. Once I was finished, I let the water run to get all the soap off. Lastly, I windexed the glass. The end result was gorgeous!!

Saturday, March 15, 2014

St. Seraphim Sarovsky

I grew up in a really tiny parish on Long Island, NY that is dedicated to St. Seraphim of Sarov, who is just about the favorite saint among most Russian Orthodox people. St. Seraphim really loved children especially and animals as well, and I have always felt close to him since I grew up in "his" parish. In 2008, I was really blessed to be part of a pilgrimage in Russia and on the actual feast day of St. Seraphim (August 1st on the old calendar), we went to Diveevo, where his relics are held. It was the most incredible experience to venerate his holy relics on the actual day of his commemoration in the Church. Needless to say, it was a huge blessing.

Today was a rough morning and there were various moments of upset in my little ones - a non-stop crying, really fussy baby - a two-yr-molar-teething toddler and a sleepy-but-not-sleeping older toddler. Right at the moment where I felt like raising the white flag, I told my kids to get on the couch and turned on Masha i Medved, a Russian cartoon about a bear and a little girl named Masha. My oldest (he's 3), said to me, "No Mama, I want to watch about St. Seraphim!" My heart melted into the hugest puddle... Not only do I love St. Seraphim, but also, we haven't let the kids watch TV all week, and it made me so happy that my son's first choice was not a secular cartoon, but a movie about a saint. He's been going around the house all week saying, "Христос Воскресе, Радость моя!" (Christ is Risen, my dear!) just like St. Seraphim would greet every person in his path.

If you are Russian speaking and would like to show this movie to your children, here is the link. Unfortunately, it is only 7 minutes long, but it's enough time to keep the kids busy while you put laundry away or get dressed for church!

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

On Motherhood

Motherhood is a great many things, and as all mamas know, sometimes it's just plain hard.

These last few days haven't been easy - my older kids have been overtired and crabby, and the baby has been going through a wonder week, making her more fussy than usual as well. Some days are just about survival - leaving all the housework and other type of 'work' for just making sure that you don't lose your cool and make sure you just meet the kids' needs. So, all week I've been in survival mode (not to mention eating many chocolate chip cookies) :-).

A few things to share today.

Speaking of survival mode... Today, the baby screamed all morning long. She'd fall asleep, I'd put her down, she'd wake up and scream again...etc. It was a long morning. Finally, she fell asleep for good and I fed the two older kids lunch and got them upstairs, in "bed." (I say in "bed" because my older son doesn't actually sleep these days but instead wreaks havoc in his room. It's better this way than for him to stay downstairs though, because then, I'd lose my sanity...just need that quiet few minutes to have a cup of tea in peace). So I got the kids in bed, and looked around at my messy kitchen wondering what the heck I'm going to eat for lunch. Just then, I saw someone come to the door. It was a fellow mom from church and she brought me a HUGE pot of Russian kasha with fried onions and mushrooms, just the way I love to eat it. I was so happy I could cry. I shoved 3 bowls into my mouth followed by a cup of tea and 2 chocolate chip cookies.
The point is...if you know a Mama who you know has a newborn and probably a crazy day every day, bring her a meal and she will really, really appreciate it and love you forever!!! I can't wait to repay her in some way or just do this for another Mama when I feel up to it.

Next. I have found an incredible Vegan Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe for Lent. It is so good. I can't stop eating these (which probably means I shouldn't make another batch, haha!) For all you chocolate lovers... Here's the link.

Next...Someone posted this on Facebook today and it is SO appropriate for the morning I had today, but it's also great for all moms to read....For every mom who feels envious of another mom's "season in life" right now. Don't be envious, and here's why!

Lastly...I've been struggling to come up with a daily routine for a while now, since the 3rd baby was born. I'm always too tired at the end of the day to work on my routine and I realized the other day that I'm probably just trying too hard. By the time I ever get to write down a perfect routine in a perfect spreadsheet format, my kids will probably all be in college.

So, I've started doing something a bit different and less complicated. I happen to have a great planner (an Erin Condren planner - check her out if you need one!) and I have not used it since the start of the year. Finally I have picked it up again and wrote down all the important appointments and dates we have going on for the next few weeks. Now, I also started sitting down with my nightly cup of tea and planning out my next day (kind of like what I did when I was teaching). It's really important for kids to have structure to their day, and I have been feeling guilty that I am not giving them any activities to do and am always just telling them to "play." My older son is 3 now and I have read and also have noticed that at 3, kids really need help coming up with what to do instead of just throwing them in their playroom telling them to 'play.' He's a  really smart kid  and if he isn't given a task to do, he starts acting rambunctious (climbing on furniture and jumping down, spilling water into drawers, trying to fix things in the house...). But I can't blame him, because he's just being a boy and he needs to feel occupied at all times. So in my planner, I've started jotting down activities for the next day. If I need help coming up with an activity, I look through several books on toddler activities, or on Pinterest. Some things are really simple though, like writing a birthday card for an aunt or uncle, playing hide-and-seek, things like that. It's hard in the moment sometimes to come up with a plan of what to do, and writing things down the night in advance has really helped me a lot this week. It's one simple way to make an already crazy day just a bit less chaotic.

In addition to writing down what I want to do with the kids, I've written down a few things I would like to accomplish that day, too. In between each activity with the kids, I try (if the baby allows) to get in 15 minutes here and there to work on one of my tasks. This makes things a bit less crazy, again. By the way - the timer can really be your best friend. I love to set my timer and pick a chore to do and work on it for just the time I've set on my timer. You'd be surprised what you can accomplish in just 15 or 20 minutes! I started doing this for almost everything - for reading my books, for cleaning, for hobbies, etc, because otherwise, it just feels like there's just not enough time for anything during the day.

Today's quote: "If you want to bring someone onto the right path, to teach and advise him, then you must humble yourself first and talk to the person with a lot of love. He will accept your advice, for he will feel that it is given with love. But when you want to have your way at all costs, then you will achieve nothing. That is how resistance builds up in the child." -Elder Thaddeus of Vitovnica

Thursday, March 6, 2014

A Lenten Recipe

It's been quiet around here (other than the normal, every day chaos, that is) this week, which is usual for the first week of Great Lent. Tonight, I'm sharing a quick, easy, oil-free Lenten recipe, perfect for even the strictest of fasting days (and really yummy, too!) This one is kid-friendly because it's creamy and the kids can't see what went into the soup ;-).

Lenten Creamy Vegetable Soup

1 bag of Normandy OR California blend vegetables (from the frozen aisle of the supermarket)
4 potatoes, peeled and cut into circles

Throw all the above vegetables into a pot and cover with water - just enough to cover the veggies. Bring to a boil and let it simmer until the vegetables are really soft. Add in salt, pepper, paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, and if you have, Vegeta (a European spice that we have around here). Using an immersion blender, puree the soup until creamy. If the soup is too thick, add water until you reach the desired consistency. (When it is not Lent, add in some half-n-half, yum!)

Basically, you can throw in whatever else you'd like to the mix, but this combo is the favorite around here.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Great Lent, Day 2.

Happy Fasting to everyone!

Yesterday was a bit chaotic around here, so I didn't get the chance to write. Enjoying a moment of peace right now and wanted to tell you about our Paschal countdown this year (a Lenten calendar of our own sorts). Since our kids are small and this is also our first year doing something like this, I didn't want to do anything too complicated.

Here's what I did:

I took a large basket that I already had, and filled it with one plastic egg for each day of Great Lent and Holy Week, which in total was 48 eggs. (Pascha would be on the 49th day). Here's what our basket looks like:

Simple and quick to put together (and the eggs are cheap, too!)

Each morning, after morning prayers, the kids and I remove one egg from the basket. I put the egg away and I show them how many days of Lent have gone by (this morning, it was 2). I remind them each morning that once our basket is empty, it will be Pascha (Easter), and that will mean it's time to fill our basket with Paschal goodies! They love this and talk about it all day long, asking if it's time to remove another egg from the basket yet.

I wanted to give a quick update on the status of my kitchen (which I am feverishly working to finish organizing/deep cleaning this week). I have been trying to clear off the clutter from the top of the refrigerator for weeks now. Finally, I am happy to say that it's complete! To prevent myself and my husband from the temptation of putting anything up there anymore, I have put my cook books up there, as well as our Paschal basket (small hands will surely throw the eggs around the house if it's not kept up high!) and a bouquet of flowers. It makes me so much happier to look up there now!! Next, I'm going to work on my cluttered counter to the right of the refrigerator...another place that we're constantly dumping things on just because it's convenient.

Last, I wanted to share the books I am reading this Great Lent. The first two are ones I have read in the past years, but are so good I am re-reading them. These two are really good books to pick up each day of the year when you have a moment in the morning as you sip your coffee, or great pick-me-ups during a hard moment because they are full of inspirational, short quotes. If you are looking for just one to read, I very highty recommend Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives!

The books below are the new books I have chosen to read this year. I'm almost finished with Close to Home, actually, because I got a head start on it before Lent began. I'm really excited to read the next one because for a change, it's written about female monastics. I'm used to reading about male monasteries and monks. 

What are you reading this year?

Today's Quote: "No matter how much the waves of temptation rise up against your soul, always hasten to Christ. The Saviour will always come to your aid and will calm the waves. Believe that the Lord has providentially arranged such experiences for your soul's healing and do not reject them, seeking bodily peace and imaginary tranquility, for it is better to be shaken and yet to endure. If you will gain an insight from this, it will greatly lighten your struggle and you will gain more peace than if you do not." 
-St. Leo of Optina

Sunday, March 2, 2014

On Motherhood

My husband went to church tonight for Forgiveness vespers, which meant I got to put all 3 kids to bed without his help for the first time since the baby was born. At one point, for a good while (and of course for what seemed like an eternity), all three kids were screaming. There just wasn't enough Mama to go around. (The biggest problem was it was obvious they each needed their own time with me, instead of a group hug). I took a deep breath and did what I could, which in this case was make the rounds and go from one kid to the next. As I laid on the bed with my middle child (my older daughter), trying to get her to fall asleep, I heard the baby start screaming in the background and thought about how I wish I could give each of them what they need right away every time, though it's not always possible. This moment made me realize just how big and capable God is, and how little and incapable we are even though we tend to think we are capable of so much. He is the only One who can truly help all of His children with all of their problems at one time, and that's a beautiful thing.

Looking forward to tomorrow, the first day of Great Lent, a new beginning for every Orthodox Christian. 

I'll post an extra quote tomorrow since it's late and I don't have one at the moment.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Preparing for Great Lent

Growing up, I really dreaded the period of Great Lent because it seemed to drag on forever. Life always seemed to be "on hold" during this serious time, plus, I always felt extra tired from the fasting menu and I just couldn't wait for Pascha to come. In the last decade or so however, I have grown to love and even look forward to this period. I now get excited to put aside worldly cares, read spiritual books and prepare not only physically and mentally for Pascha, but most importantly, spiritually. Preparing as much as possible, in the proper way, makes Holy Week, Pascha, and Bright Week so much more meaningful.

In my experience, Great Lent takes on a whole new meaning for mothers. Gone (temporarily) is the chance to stand in church on the first week, listen attentively to the Great Canon, and let the feeling of serious prayer soak in. Children tugging at a Mama's skirt, asking if the service is over yet, racing through the church or squabbling with a sibling - dealing with each of these situations becomes the mother's prayer year-round, but especially during Great Lent, when temptations seem to be at their highest. It can sometimes seem pointless to even be at the services because our children are distracting others (and us) from prayer, embarrassing us, and making it impossible for us Mamas to get anything out of the service. It is a frustrating and trying service each time. But really, we can and should take this opportunity to challenge ourselves and not to let our babies get to us. Instead, we should let them guide us and help us become just a little tiny bit better during this holy period. If we can cross ourselves each time we're having a difficult moment, God will help us get through each temptation and show our kids what the proper Lenten attitude should be.

Having said that, this is the first year that my husband and I are going to be responsible in preparing two toddlers for Pascha. The little one is just two months old so she is going to be a little young to do anything other than be present at services. I have been thinking of age-appropriate ways to help an almost-2 year old and a 3-year old participate in the fast and prepare for the Feast of Feasts. I'm not very experienced at this yet, but I have managed to come up with a few little ideas, many of which I have seen from other mothers and am adapting to my own style.

Here's what I'm planning on doing this year with the kids:

1) Make a Paschal countdown. I will take a basket and fill it with  46 plastic eggs (40 days of Lent + 6 days of Holy Week), and each morning after prayer, I will have the kids remove one egg from the basket. The emptier our basket gets, the closer we'll be to Pascha. (Originally I planned that we'd add a labelled egg each day to the basket, but then I realized it might be difficult to explain to the kids how to know that Pascha is approaching. They're still too little for a "count-up.")

2) I have selected one Paschal song (new to me as well!) that I will work on teaching the older two kids. On Pascha, we can hopefully perform it to family and friends (maybe even to the Bishop if they are brave enough). I'm also going to teach Lazar (hopefully) a poem about Pascha. In addition, I would like to teach them the Russian and Serbian melodies of Hristos Voskrese (this should not be too hard because singing comes easy to these two).

3) Lately with my pregnancy and now a newborn in the house, the kids have been watching more tv than I ever hoped they'd watch (only an hour a day, but still too much for my liking). Even though they do not quite understand what it means to "fast" yet, I would feel better cutting down their tv time to perhaps just weekends, if possible.

Things I'd like to do personally:

1) Read, read and read (spiritual reading, that is). I have been reading more than usual lately thanks to my nursing sessions which require me to sit in one spot and not get up...but still, there are the distractions of a cellphone, tv, etc and I would like to cut all of that out and use my nursing sessions strictly for reading. I'd like to ideally get in some extra reading time at night when the kids are asleep as well.

2) Go to confession and Communion each weekend. (Self-explanatory).

3) Take on a new, non-screen-related hobby. I'm choosing sewing! I've had a machine for over a year now, and have yet to use it simply due to fear of failure. I really need a good old-fashioned niche, and hopefully sewing can fill that void for me. (plus, what could be more fun than being able to sew new things for my babies?)

4) CLEAN our house!!! I'm going to deep-clean the house as best I can, taking on one room at a time. With 3 little ones under foot, it isn't going to be an easy task but I am hoping to create small windows of time each morning and evening for this job. One thing this includes me doing is going through all our clothes and getting rid of what we do not need. We have way too much of everything!

5) Cut out secular music and TV for the period of Lent. (This is something I have always done and really enjoy, actually.)

Today's Quote: "Are you fighting against your passions? Fight, fight, and be good soldiers of Christ! Do not give in to evil and do not be carried away by the weakness of the flesh. During the time of temptation, flee to the Physician, crying out with the Holy Church, our mother: 'O God, number me with the thief, the harlot, and the publican (i.e. with the repentant), and save me!'" -St. Anatoly of Optina