Tuesday, February 24, 2015

A favorite Lenten snack...

I wanted to share one of my favorite Lenten snacks. These Pita Chips from Trader Joe's are only lightly salted, and also way less fattening than regular potato chips, so I looooove them! They are pretty much guilt-free, and if you want to watch your white flour intake, they have multi-grain ones, too. I usually switch between regular and multi-grain.

The salsa is Black Bean & Corn Salsa from Whole Foods. I have tried just about every single black bean & corn salsa out there, and this is the ONLY one I'll eat!

Monday, February 23, 2015

Our Paschal Countdown

I wanted to share our way of couting down to Pascha this year (which is actually the same as last year).

My children are young. My son, the oldest, is recently 4, my oldest daughter will be 3 in May, and my youngest is 13.5 months old. So when I made up our Paschal countdown, I was keeping in mind that I do not want to do anything too complicated or confusing for them. As a bonus, I wanted to keep it simple for a tired and often forgetful Mama like myself!

We began this last year, and this will probably be the last year I'll do it this way, since next year we'll have an almost-kindergartener who will be ready for something a little more complicated. 

But for now...

I took a basket and I filled it with 49 plastic Easter eggs (which cost less than $5!), one for each day of this fasting season (including Holy Week). It is so simple, but yet draws the kids in so well because it is so colorful. Each morning, after prayer, we are taking out one egg because we are one day closer to Pascha. I remind the kids with each egg that we remove, that we are doing this to count down to the Feast of Feasts, and that as our basket gets more and more empty, we will be closer and closer to Pascha. Then, on the Paschal night, I tell them, we will take our now empty basket and fill it with kulich and cheese pascha and hard-boiled eggs and take it to church to be blessed. I get so excited each time I talk about Pascha night! 

The best part is that the kids remember doing this last year, so they are double excited this year.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

On the Brink of Great Lent

Here we are, the eve of the most special time of year - Great Lent. Today is Forgiveness Sunday, and also the day we prepare for tomorrow's beginning of Great Lent.

My preparation tonight consists of flipping my music to church music only. I have prepared my reading. The refrigerator is starting to look empty and ready for an abundance of fruits and vegetables (to come tomorrow). But most importantly, the soul... My soul feels in need of and ready for this time of prayer, repentance and spiritual labor. I cannot wait to attempt to empty myself of worldly things and take in the words of the Holy Fathers, listen to the beautiful words of spiritual music, read the Scriptures and focus on and remember what is truly important.

I am currently listening to the Forgiveness vespers service at the Sretensky monastery in Moscow...you can listen to any of their services (at any time) on their website.... They have the most beautiful singing! Once you are on their page, scroll down the page and you'll see on the right hand side a place to play their most recent church service. You can also play other services that they have recorded in the past if you click around a bit.

Getting back to Great Lent...

I've finalized my Lenten reading choices, and here they are.

The Psalter (actually, I have joined a Psalter Group for this Lent like I did for the Christmas fast...Being accountable for my reading each day makes it even more likely that I get to my reading each day)

This book, The Art of Salvation, is on its way in the mail to me, and should be arriving tomorrow. I cannot wait to read it, because I have heard it is incredible.

The Missionary Letters of Saint Nikolai Velimirovich. Except, I am reading Part 3 instead of Part 1 (the order of reading these does not really matter, and I couldn't find Parts 1 and 2 right now amongst our boxes).

The Spiritual Life by St. Theophan the Recluse. I have been actually reading this book for quite a while now, reading one chapter each day. The chapters are rather short, and are actually letters that St. Theophan wrote to one of his spiritual children. Each chapter finds me thinking "wow!"

Actually, I should mention that though this may seem like a lot of books, they are all actually either consisted of letters or extremely short chapters, so they make for a quick read during my morning cup of coffee. I am going to read ONE chapter/letter a day in each of these books. For the Psalter, I'll be reading one Psalm a day.

In addition to these books, I have a lenten tradition of my own that I'll be continuing. Pravoslavie.ru has a daily reading for each day of Great Lent, and I really look forward to this readings each day. They always pertain to that particular day of Great Lent, and even though the readings are the same each year I am always learning something new from them.

The last thing I will be doing for myself this Great Lent is using this new Orthodox Lenten Study workbook which I recently downloaded from Orthodox Mom. She created this very handy spiritual reading/writing guide that I am excited to test out! There are readings for each day of Lent, complete with a little writing section per each day. If you'd like to download it, it is available for purchase for $6 on her website (click on Orthodox Mom above to navigate to the site).

Happy Fasting to you all!

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

On Prayer

This morning, I was reading my daily reading from St. Theophan the Recluse, and this part on prayer was so appropriately timed, not only for my life (when is it ever not beneficial to learn more about prayer?) but also because Great Lent, the time of prayer, is around the corner and beginning on Monday.

"For diminishing the straying of thought during prayer, it is necessary to make an effort to pray with warm feeling. To do this, it is necessary to warm the soul before prayer with meditation and with bows. Learn to pray with your own prayer. For example, the essence of evening prayer is to thank God for the day and for everything that one has met in the course of it, both good and bad. For the wrong which has been done, one must repent and ask forgiveness, promising to make amends the following day; then one prays to God for protection during sleep. Say all of this to God from  your mind and from your heart. The essence of morning prayer is to thank God for sleep and revitalizing, and to ask Him to help to do things throughout the day for His glory. Again, say this to Him with all your heart and mind. While you are at it, both in the morning and the evening, make known your vital needs to the Lord, both inner needs and outer ones, speaking to Him like a child: "See, Lord, my illness and weakness! Help me and heal me!" All this and similar things you may say to God in your own words, without using your prayer book. Maybe this will be better. Try this, and if it works, you may put aside your prayer book altogether; if it does not work, however, then you should pray with your prayer book, or else you may be left entirely without prayer."

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Cleaning List for Great Lent

I cannot believe that we are just days away from Great Lent! It seems that every year, Great Lent creeps up on us, but this year especially, as it will be an early Pascha. 

I am always excited about the beginning of Great Lent, even though it always means extra temptations will arise. One of the things I am really trying to work on this year as we go into Great Lent, is prepare myself and give myself a list of things to work on so I can help myself stay on track throughout the Lenten period.

One of my favorite bloggers, Emily from Charming the Birds from the Trees, has always inspired me by her Lenten Cleaning lists. This year, I have looked at her list and taken her general idea, but adopted it to my own home. (Go to her blog and see her list, if you'd like). Every year her lists are very helpful, but what I love this year is her new idea of starting out on Cheesefare Week instead of on the first week of Great Lent. It is always challenging to throw myself into the Lenten period literally overnight, and trying to balance all aspects of home keeping, motherhood and spiritual life is hard for me personally. This idea of starting on Cheesefare Week is perfect for me, I think! It will be a nice way to transition into the first week of Great Lent. 

So, here is my plan. (This doesn't include much other than cleaning/organizing)...I'll share more about what we'll be up to during Great Lent in later posts.

Cheesefare Week
1.  Make sure that each room has an icon corner set up (especially the bedrooms)
2.  Update Lenten meal idea list, make meal plan for the first week of Lent, and make shopping list
3.  Shop for Lenten Staples (Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods)
4.  Prepare a few quiet-time activities for the kids for the first week (play-doh, stickers, crayons, paper)
5.  Dig into the Pascha tubs for plastic eggs and basket for our Countdown to Pascha Basket
6. Prepare music for Great Lent, finalize book selection for myself

Week One (Kitchen)
1.  Clean out fridge, freezer and pantry
2.  Clean out cabinets and drawers and get rid of ALL kitchen junk!
3.  Clean counters, appliances, and sink
4.  Wash out garbage can and scrub the floor
5.  Re-organize the kitchen command center/desk area

Week Two (Dining Room and Laundry Room)
1.  Dust the dining room
2.  Clean out unnecessary items from the buffet and china cabinet (re-organize as needed)
3. Have hubby hang up remaining wall decorations in dining room
4.  Laundry Room: Remove all old washing supplies and miscellaneous items/junk and clean shelves
5.  Re-organize the shelves above washer & dryer and replenish the supply of rags

Week Three (Playroom, Living Room, Entrance and Hallway)
1.  Sort through books, magazines, dvds, and cds
2.  Sort through puzzles, games, and toys
3.  Tidy art supplies and create a system for them
4.  Dust furniture and vacuum under cushions and under couch
5.  Organize coat closet
6. Hang wall decor as needed

Week Four (Bathrooms and Linen Closet)
1.  Clean out cabinets and drawers in bathrooms
2.  Purge bath toys and sort through bath soaps
3.  Clean tubs, showers, sinks, and toilets
4.  Wash bathroom floors
5.  Reorganize linen closet and towels

Week Five (Children's Rooms and Guest Room)
1.  Clean closets
2.  Go through books and toys
3.  Dust and make order throughout 
4.  Wash all bedding and curtains/flip mattresses
5.  Wash windows and floors, hang wall decor
Week Six (Master Bedroom)
1.  Clean out closets
2.  Tidy dresser, bedside tables, and chest of drawers
3.  Dust
4.  Wash all bedding and curtains/flip mattress  
5. Go through jewelry chest and miscellaneous items & re-organize

Great and Holy Week
1.  Paschal menu plan & shopping
2.  Clean car
3.  Wash glass doors and windows
4.  Tidy downstairs rooms
5.  Decorate the house for Pascha and spring 

Monday, February 2, 2015

New Routines...

It's February already! I can't believe it. This last month was so crazy, I'm glad to say goodbye to it.

We are slowly settling in more and more to our home. It's a great feeling! Along with the home organization and decor though, I have been trying to make new routines for the kids and I, too. I was nervous how things would go on days that Tata is home, because the kids tend to be a little more bouncy when he's around, but so far we have managed fine with keeping to a routine (especially because Fr. is busy blessing homes most days these days, so we don't see much of him, anyway).

I am really liking our new after-lunch routine. Once everyone has finished eating, I set the timer for 20 minutes and send the older kids to the couch (they each take a couch) for some quiet resting time. The rule is they can either sit quietly, read, or play with a quiet toy on the couch. No music, no noise, no talking. I turn off our morning music then, too (I love to keep Pandora playing classical or gypsy music all morning long), so it is quiet. While they rest, I clear the table from lunch and catch up with dishes. Normally, this does take me the whole 20 minutes. (Hopefully as they grow, I can change the time to longer lengths!) If I finish quickly in the kitchen, I join them on the couch and do a silent activity myself (reading, usually). If the timer goes off and the kids did a nice job staying on the couch (usually they do pretty well), I give them a little treat (like a hershey kiss) and then turn on the TV for a little while. While they watch TV, I have a cup of tea or a latte and catch up with my favorite blogs, email, etc. The TV time is limited, and I set a timer for that, as well (usually I let them watch for an hour. Usually, they watch a Serbian or Russian cartoon). Just as easily as they can watch TV all afternoon without a timer, I'd be able to sit on the computer all day, too, and I want to avoid that. :)

This rejuvenation time for me is crucial in order to have a successful and calm day with the kids. I find that the days that go off of routine, it's harder for me to stay patient in the afternoon, and the kids also have a more difficult time getting along and cooperating with our family rules. One of the major bonuses of couch time and silence (other than water running or clanking dishes), is that on some days one or both kids fall asleep for a nap!