Friday, December 30, 2016

Christmas Cookie Marathon

This year I am NOT pregnant during Christmas season! That is huge, because this being our 8th Christmas season as a married couple, I have been pregnant or adjusting to having a newborn for 4 out of those 8 years! Each time I am either postpartum or very pregnant, I try to lower my standards and not overdo it with holiday preparations. However, this year I am very fondly remembering my exhausted third-trimester pregnant self last year, and even though I am still definitely exhausted (the little guy still does not sleep through the night), I do have a little more energy this Christmas season.

I made a list of Christmas cookies that I would like to make this year, and I am giving myself some lee-way here because I just do not know if it will all get done, but this is the list of what I'd like to make: 

-Sour Cream Sugar Cookies (these are so tasty!) - These I actually already made earlier today. They are in the freezer waiting for us to frost and decorate them a little closer to Christmas.
-Kahlua Balls (for the adults only) - a recipe a friend gave me
-Rum Balls (again, for the adults)
-Chocolate Thumbprints - These are SO good! They are my favorite out of all of these.
-Angeletti (from the Good Housekeeping Holiday Cookbook) - This will be a new recipe this year...
-Chocolate Almond Clusters (from the GH Holiday Cookbook) - a new recipe this year for me, but I can't possibly imagine chocolate and almonds mixed together not tasting good!

I will let you know how it goes!

A Whole Decade

Today is a very special day for my husband and I because it is 10 years since we began dating! It has been a much more eventful decade than I could have EVER imagined! In ten years, we:
-Dated for 2
-Got engaged on Christmas Day 2009
-Planned a Chicago wedding from New York
-Got married
-Moved to Chicago (for him it was moving back to Chicago)
-Had an ordination to the diaconate
-Moved again
-Had our first baby
-Flew to Serbia for 2 weeks for a family wedding (SUCH a great experience!)
-Celebrated my college graduation (6 years after I began my college career)
-Welcomed Baby #2 into the world
-Moved once again
-Welcomed Baby #3
-Celebrated an ordination to the Priesthood
-Moved AGAIN, to our first parish ever
-Had Baby #4

The blessings and excitement just keep on coming. God has been beyond good to us in our time together so far, and it is exciting and overwhelming to think back to all that we have gone through together so far. I have no doubt that the next 10 years of our lives together will be exciting (and probably still overwhelming :)) as well!

Monday, December 19, 2016

St. Nicholas Day

It has been absolutely freezing here this past week, so St. Nicholas knew just what the kids needed. He changed their shoes out for warm woolen slippers. Oh, what a surprise! They kept them on ALL day...that was a big deal for my little ones who usually run around barefoot all year round.

Happy feast of St. Nicholas to you all!

Sunday, November 27, 2016

'Twas a Lovely Thanksgiving...

We had another wonderful Thanksgiving this year! We stayed local and spent it with my husband's cousin's family. I split the cooking with
Marija and we had a great time! There's nothing like cooking with another Mama in a beautiful, big kitchen,  with ZERO kiddos underfoot, thanks to the big cousins who kept the little ones busy. What an enjoyable experience!

Check out Marija's beautiful Thanksgiving table!

Monday, November 21, 2016

Teaching Children a New Chore

I loved this when I read it earlier today! I already made my post-it!

"There are five classic steps for teaching a new chore to children:
1. Tell them
2. Show them
3. Do it with them
4. Supervised practice
5. Independent practice

I would encourage you to put these things on a sticky note and place it above your kitchen sink for a season until you have the steps down.
Do not expect children to do a chore well when you have only done the first two steps with them. It can take a short or long time to get from Step One to Step Five, depending on the child and the specific chore.
Make it a fun time by gathering all the kids for the telling and showing steps, then use the timer to see how fast each person can do the new task. Celebrate with a treat!"

Taken from Large Family Logistics: The Art and Science of Managing the Large Family

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Fall Comforts...

Today was a rare Saturday that my husband had no commitments until the evening service. For lunch, I made a huge pot of chicken soup with lots and lots of the thinnest egg noodles that exist at the store, and some hot, homemade southern biscuits to go with it. It was a lunch that no one complained about, so a really rare treat for Mama!

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Bed Making

I have found that in order to teach kids how to do chores and also how to maintain tidiness on their own, Mama really needs to stay on top of them until the task is ingrained in them forever. Well, while I'd love to say I have had success with teaching my kids how to do various different chores, this is definitely a work in progress and something I'm working on daily. I forget some days, too. One thing I have worked on through the last few months though, is not letting the kids come downstairs in the morning until their bed has been made. I recently noticed that hard work is slowly paying off, because our 4 year old has gotten really good at making her bed ALL on her own in a beautiful manner!

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

What I'm Knitting

I finished knitting my Mara Shawl recently (I'll update and post a photo of it asap), and am now working on a "strawberries and cream" dress for my older daughter to wear through the fall, winter and spring. It'll be a short-sleeved garment which we can layer on top of a white t-shirt or blouse throughout the colder months. I am knitting it to be pretty long so that he can wear it next year, too. This is my first in-the-round article of clothing that I have ever knit, and also the first thing I've made with sleeves so it has been interesting and another learning experience. I'm loving the simplicity of this knit and it is definitely something I'd knit again in the future.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Election Times...

This whole election is really getting to me whenever I scroll through news or Facebook, so I am trying not to do either too much. This leads me to think, though:

The election does not seem so stressful or so worth obssesing over when thinking about the following quote from the Psalter: "Put not your trust in princes or in sons of men, for in them there is no salvation." Of course, we have to vote for one person in the end because the country must have a President. So we think, whose values are more similar to Orthodox values and the values we are supposed to try and live by? That is the one who should get our vote. It makes things seem so much simpler this way. Either way, we need to put our trust in God, and not in anyone before Him, for He is the one who can help us to save ourselves for eternity.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Words of Wisdom from Saint Paisios

I have been accompanying my morning coffee each day with a few pages from a book called Elder Paisios of Mount Athos, Spiritual Counsels: With Pain and Love for Contemporary Man. This is the first in a series of five books of this newly-canonized saint. We picked up all of the books in Jordanville this summer. I picked up the first one that very same day as I waited for my husband while he visited an old friend, and I was immediately blown away. This book is full of nothing but gems of wisdom. It truly is life-changing for me. Even if our mornings are crazy, if I can sneak in a minute or two of reading time, it helps set the day off on a better note. 

I wanted to share a snippet from what I read this morning. 

-Geronda (Elder), is logic of any help when a spiritual person is confronting temptation? 
-In such cases, we should do what is humanly possible, and where something is not in our power, we should leave it to God. There are some people who rely on their minds in everything they do, like those who want to pray the Jesus Prayer only with their minds. They try so hard to concentrate they get a headache. If I were to approach the problems that I face daily in this way, do you think that I would be able to manage? I just do what is humanly possible and leave the rest to God. I say to myself, "God will show me, He will enlighten me and I will know what to do." You hear many people complain, "How will I get this done, and how will I manage to finish this or that..." The smallest problem gives them a headache. If we try to solve problems using nothing but our logic, we will get dizzy. We must place God at the forefront of every one of our actions. We should do nothing without first putting our trust in God. Otherwise, we will agonize and tire our minds, and we will feel psychologically miserable."

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

A Girl's Fall Wardrobe

This has been my year of trying hard to simplify our life in all ways. One of the ways i am working hardest for this is by limiting clothing and picking out only what we really need. I've given away bags upon bags of clothing as it is and we still have so much more to get rid of.

As I looked into our fall/winter wardrobes for this year, I only had ton think about the older two kids because the younger ones get hand-me-downs. This makes it so much easier! Boys are kind of easy if you ask me, and I had so many hand-me-downs from friends for our boy for this season! All I had to buy him were 2 pairs of sweatpants and some new shirts for everyday use.

For our older daughter, I decided to get her a mix and match wardrobe season. She loves to pick her own outfits and does so every day, and to avoid mismatching, I made sure everything goes with everything else. In addition, i want to keep it simple and her drawers not packed full, so hence the few items.

Here is what I came up with. So maybe a few things won't go together very well, but it won't be the end of the world. I am hoping that these plus a pair of jeans, some tights, and a warm sweater or two which I still need to get, can get her through until the spring. We try to wear things a few times before washing them. There are a few items missing from this photo which are being carried over from her last year's fall and winter clothes.

Monday, September 19, 2016

A New Tradition: Poetry Tea Time

It is so exciting to find ideas for homeschooling online! Bringing them to life though is sometimes overwhelming and difficult. I have tried to be very selective in what I do bring in to our little school so far because I am trying to prevent burn out for myself. Also though, there is time in the future for many ideas to become a reality.

One idea I knew I wanted to incorporate into our year from the start was poetry tea time. First of all, who doesn't love to sit down with fancy little glass teacups and enjoy some down time during the day? Add in a baked good and we're golden. Secondly, poetry... I feel that poetry is a critical part of becoming a well-rounded, cultured person. But introducing children to poetry can be a challenge. Also, if they do not get excited about it from the start, it is so much harder for them to appreciate it later. I know first-hand from my own personal experience. I was never a huge fan of poetry growing up.

So for these reasons, I decided to make each first Thursday of the month our poetry tea time in the afternoon. The first tea we had was last month, and the next one is around the corner. Let me say, we had so much fun! We chose a tablecloth for our tea, and I put out some nice teacups, plus a white teapot. Everyone got a nice piece of cake with their tea. While the kids sipped and munched, I read them poems from Robert Louis Stevenson's A Child's Garden of Verses. This book is wonderful not only for its poetry but for the beautiful illustrations! The kids and I thoroughly enjoyed our first tea. I especially loved that a kindergarten boy could be excited about a tea party and about poetry. Boys can have class, too!

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Kindergarten: Our Curriculum

We have officially survived the first week of homeschool kindergarten! I have to say, Glory to God - I was so pleased with how this week went and the kids and I all had a lot of fun together. Here's hoping that our entire year goes by as smoothly!

I wanted to share a bit of our first week with you and also give a few details on our curriculum for this year. You can see the previous post for a recap of what our classroom looks like this year.

To begin our school year, we had a prayer service with Tata - what a huge perk of being a PK! (PK = priest's kid). He even sprinkled us all with holy water, as well as our school space.

We made a real celebration out of the first day of school! Unfortunately, the baby kept me up about 15 times the night before, so it was a rough start for me. Thanks to my hubby for stepping up to the plate and making breakfast for us all!

To celebrate the first day of school, I made a little cake as a special treat. The kids loved this! Definitely something to keep up for the rest of our first days of school.

Now, about our curriculum. Basically, I used several sources to put together our materials for this year. These were the Well-Trained Mind book and 102 Top Picks for Homeschool Curriculum. Both of these are wonderful and worthy of investment for a homeschool mama's library! (A new version of the Well-Trained Mind just came out, by the way). 

We are focusing on reading and writing (handwriting most specifically) for this year. We are throwing in math, too, as well as a little bit of science (once a week). We are also using the Morning Basket to start our days together and this has been proving to be a favorite time of day so far. 

Many resources can be found for putting together your own Morning Basket if you look on the internet. Since this is something new to me, and so is homeschooling in general, and because I am working with very young ages still, I wanted to keep the Morning Basket very simple for right now. I will write another post on our Morning Basket in a week or two, once I have tweaked it into exactly what I want at this time. I am still working on figuring out each resource for it. 

Here are the other books/curricula we are using this year:

Plaid Phonics Level A Workbook (basically, whatever sound we learn that day in Phonics Pathways, I find a worksheet in Plaid Phonics to go along with it and to reinforce that sound)

These were both suggestions in the Well-Trained Mind, and Phonics Pathways also was recommended in 102 Top Picks. We are taking it very slowly (one sound a day for now), and I have been pleased with it so far.



One day a week, we do a read-aloud from the series "Let's Read and Find Out Science 1", which I take out of the library.
Once we have gone through this series, we will see where things go. For now, I am trying to focus on learning reading and writing before we do anything fancy. 

-My First Classical Music Book - we do one song a week from this book/cd combo, and I play the song for them each day so that we can get better acquainted with it. This book is SO lovely! 
-The Artful Parent - I am using this absolutely wonderful book to help me come up with easy, simple art projects for the kids. I am trying to do one project a week, but the kids love art time so much that we end up doing simple painting or coloring every day 
-15 Minutes Outside - this book is wonderful for giving moms an idea of something to do with their kids outside each day for just 15 minutes - it helps me get creative rather than say "go play outside" every day a few times a day - this creates a bit of a bonding activity instead of the kids running off on their own without me (which is fine, too!)
-Piano lessons
-Swim lessons (once a week)

To guide myself in read alouds and make sure that I am using quality, classical literature for my little ones I am using Ambleside Online's recommendations for reading out loud this year. I am sure we will get through the list before the school year ends, and I have several other places to get ideas from later on for read alouds. 

Friday, August 26, 2016

Our School Room

I am so very excited to present our finished school area! I have repurposed our playroom to house the school area, and I am very happy with how it has turned out so far.

Here are two views, one of each side of the "room".... the rug area is supposed to be a reading corner, but we had to house a few toys there as well. This reading nook isn't exactly what I want it to be yet, so I think I'll be playing with it a bit in the next few months.

One of the most exciting things about setting up this spot for our homeschooling year, was thinking back to my college days and dreaming of when I would set up my own classroom one day. Never did I think that this little dream of mine would come true in my own home!

We are scheduled to begin our homeschool year on Monday, God-willing my kindergartener and I are both healthy.

I will do a separate post next week on the curriculum we are using this year, as well as what my other kids are doing during school time.

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Away and Home...

We returned home today after 3 weeks away visiting family on the east coast and having our family vacation together. It was a whirlwind of a trip, and while it was sad to leave and say goodbye to my hometown and my dear family, it is also nice to be back home and thinking about what is ahead in the remaining months of this year.

Here is a little peek into our trip.

Some roadtrip knitting... a shawl in the making 
A sunset dinner with great company
Evenings on the beach
Holy Trinity Monastery in Jordanville, NY
Sunset in Sea Cliff, NY

Sunday, July 17, 2016

New Icons

During Great Lent this year, I chose to read Wounded by Love, by Elder Porphyrios. It was a read that made a huge difference in my life so far, particularly the sections on parenting and on prayer. I find myself thinking of St. Porphyrios and his words often these days. I have been really hoping to get an icon of him, and luckily for me, my husband went to a Greek festival today and brought me back two beautiful icons, both of newly canonized saints - one of St. Porphyrios and another of St. Paisios. I can't wait to find a perfect spot for them in our home! 

Friday, July 15, 2016

A Timeless Treasure...

A sweet parishioner recently gave us a Barnes & Noble gift card. I love going to that store and browsing the shelves on my own, without little distractions that show me every Disney book they can possibly find ;-)...  I'm all about the classics!

So the other day, I had some time to myself in the afternoon thanks to my husband, and so I wandered into Barnes & Noble with the gift card. After browsing the children's section for a while, I came to the Bargain Books and found this treasure. The clerk made sure for me that it is unabridged,  and also told me that I am getting the second-to-lastcopy in the whole country!!! I cannot wait to read this classic series with the kiddos one of these years!

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Williams-Sonoma haul...

We were at the mall today for a little walk on this gray day, and we popped into Williams-Sonoma, one of our favorite stores. Usually I am hesitant to hang out in there for long with all the kids in tow, but we ended up chancing upon a huge sale they had going on. It is an end-of-season clearance, with extra 20% off of the sale items. 

I stocked up on my favorite dish towels ever (and I mean ever!). Back when we were getting married, almost 7 years ago, I saw these towels at someone's house and decided to put them on my registry. My mom's cousin, Liza, got them for me for my bridal shower. (The ones she got me were white and green striped). I still have them today and other than slight fading after many washes, the towels are still good as new! They are so special to me because Liza ended up dying young, just before I had our first child. I will never throw those towels away! Since getting these WS towels though, I have tried many, many other kinds and I always find myself coming back for these. They are extremely absorbent and do not wrinkle a ton in the wash. Two wins right there if you ask me. I also find them to be eternally classy. I love mixing up the colors for different seasons! 

I also decided on a whim to try these wooden spoons out. I am always on the hunt for a perfect wooden spoon, and the shapes of these (and the uniformity of them) really appealed to me. I'll have to put some mineral oil on them before using them for the first time (as the clerk suggested). 

A finished knit...

I don't think I have posted about any finished knits before. I really love to knit so much, and it is really relaxing for me, but finding the time to do it is challenging. If I am lucky I get to knit in the evenings after the kids are asleep and my kitchen looks tidy again. Usually this is only after 9 PM and so I really do not get much done in an evening. I'm not on a time frame with most of my projects though, so that means I really can relax and wait patiently for the end of a project. 

A few days ago I completed a cream-colored throw for our home. It was my first successful attempt at a lacy pattern and I really am happy to have finished it and have it draping over our couch. I did make some mistakes, but I never really went back to fix them because in a lacy pattern it is not really noticeable when there is a mistake, to me. Anyway, here it is! 

I am excited to knit a different type of throw at some point, too. My next project is going to be a shawl, and I am going to use some of the famous MadelineTosh yarn for the first time for it! I am so excited!

Saturday, June 18, 2016


Well, here we are in the middle of June! Since my last post, we were so busy celebrating the Resurrection of Our Lord which included a spiritually eventful Bright Week, had a trip to New York with two of the kiddos, celebrated our big girl's 4th birthday, and flew to California for my brother's wedding. It has been a whirlwind for sure!

I wanted to share a few photos from the last few months real quick.

Some of our Easter eggs this year

My table setting for Pascha (for the adults). The kids had their own table which I sadly did not grab a photo of! The theme of their table was Peter Rabbit.

The table set and ready with appetizers 

My kids loved having a kulich picnic every day of Bright Week outside

The ever beautiful Sonoma County vineyards!

California Redwoods!!

The Holy Virgin Cathedral, Joy of All Who Sorrows in San Francisco (ROCOR) - in this church lie the relics of St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Preparing for Pascha: An Easy Project for Preschoolers and Toddlers

This morning I told the kids we would do some kind of fun pre-Paschal project. So I pulled out Pinterest and started surfing for a quick and easy project with minimal clean-up (so no painting). I have a lot to do before Pascha, but they need to be kept busy so that I can get things done. As I perused Pinterest, I got an idea of my own and decided to go for it.

Unfortunately, I did not take step-by-step photos for this, but I really do not think that is necessary because this is such a simple project. Basically, I decided to make little Easter baskets out of construction paper and fill them with goodies. We worked backwards, and first I drew shapes for each kid to cut out a kulich. Then, I made a topper for the kulich (they are most often glazed with a white glaze on top), and after they were cut out, the kids glued them onto their kulich and decorated them. Next, I made a little cheese paskha shape for each of them, and we glued and decorated those. Then I took a template of easter eggs from the internet (I have lost the link by now, figures!) and printed that out. I cut the eggs out while they decorated a bunch of them. Next, it was time to make the basket. I took a full piece of construction paper and used most of it to make them each a basket in the color of their choice. Then, after they glued their goodies onto the basket, I made them each a handle that they glued on. This was so easy and SO mess-free! Of course, this project is easy to extend into other ideas, and other mediums like paint, pastels, and more complicated versions for older children. Enjoy!

Friday, April 22, 2016

Here It Comes

And so it begins. The most eventful week of the Church year, and undoubtedly, the most exciting one!

I have been cramped for spare time lately, and in some late hour of the night tonight, the eve of Lazarus Saturday, I found myself in the mood to write a little post.

One of my favorite things about the services from Lazarus Saturday through to Pascha is that each Orthodox parish no matter in what jurisdiction, has their own routines and traditions for each day of these special holy days. This is sort of a time of reflection for me because I grew up in one parish my entire life all the way through to the beginning of our marriage. I really miss some things about growing up in a tight-knit, small parish, but since I left that little place, my eyes have opened up to new ideas and new ways. I have learned so much since we began our family and since we have been a part of several new parishes since then.

In preparation for Pascha, this week the kids and I completed our cheese pascha cooking. Tonight they will be going into the freezer for a few days to maintain freshness. This year I attempted a chocolate pascha for the first aunt guided me and said to use the same base as for a regular pascha, but add in cocoa and melted chocolate ("just eyeball it"). So I did...and the kids definitely approved!

The end result, out of the mold, looks much nicer than it does here...I promise!

Amidst preparation, it is so easy to forget about the spiritual cares some moments, and focus on the earthly, less significant things. I have been trying very hard to keep the focus less so on Easter baskets and decor around the house, and more on preparation of my soul and my children's souls for the Feast of Feasts. It is tricky some days, especially when browsing after-Easter clearance sales, but it is so necessary to remember what is really important. I want my babies to know the true meaning of Pascha. Tonight we discussed the events of Lazarus Saturday, and my son, whose name also happens to be Lazar, told my daughter, "When I die, I am also going to become a saint. Saint Lazarus the Rusisan." I got such a kick out of his comment, but also felt so proud that he truly believes he can be a saint. It is sometimes hard to comprehend that ANY human being can become a saint, truly, and this childly innocence of his really was enlightening to me.

The children have been so excited each day of Great Lent to not only paste the new squares onto their Lenten Journey charts, but also to count down how many days remain until Pascha. I love this! Making these posters was definitely worth it, and we will be doing them again in the future I am sure.

May you all have a spiritually fulfilling Holy Week with as few temptations as possible as we prepare to greet the Feast of Feasts, the Resurrection of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ! I hope to be back with some photos of Holy Week from the past and present one of these days.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Words of Wisdom...

"How pitiful I am; and how pitiful is my daily repentance, for it has no firm foundation. Every day I lay a foundation for the building, and again with my own hands I demolish it."

These are words I found in A Spiritual Psalter, (not to be confused with the Psalter), which comes from the works of St. Ephraim the Syrian. These words really stuck to me today when I came across them for the first time. It felt almost like a brick hit me in the face because it was a reiteration: I AM in charge of my own salvation. Obviously, this is not news to me but I think these words are really powerful because of the analogy that they are making. "...with my own hands I demolish it." It seems so easy, yet it is so hard to use that foundation to keep on building higher and higher. I love that I read these words when I did, on the 4th Saturday of Great Lent... I should probably tape them to my refrigerator so that they are a daily reminder for the remaining weeks of the lenten period leading up to Pascha.

As a little note, I received this little book as a gift at a bridal shower a year or two ago, and I only picked it up to read a few days ago when I was decluttering my books. I am crazy about this book because every single word is so meaningful, and as a bonus, nothing is hard to comprehend in it. As I have come to understand, this book was complied by St. Theophan the Recluse, using the teachings of St. Ephraim. It was compiled in a setup very similar to the Psalter.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Postpartum Exercise

In the past two months my body has taken a smooth start to recovering from birth, and I have been able to tuck away my maternity clothes into their long-empty bins in the basement. It sure feels good to wear non-maternity clothes again! However, it doesn't always feel great when I am barely zipping my pants up or just barely getting a shirt buttoned up. I know this is all normal and this all feels so very "been there done that." But that doesn't mean that I do not need to work hard to make the zipping and buttoning easier. 

My brother is getting married in just two short months (so excited!) in California. I have bought a gorgeous dress for the occasion and even though I am happy with the size of the dress, and it does fit, I could still stand to lose an inch or two of belly to fit into it just perfectly. I also have some gorgeous spring and summer clothing that are calling my name, but don't fit just quite yet.

We have a family YMCA membership and we use it regularly to sign the kids up for swim lessons (we are really into it - we sign them up for each session possible throughout the year - hoping to take a break for the summer, though). The membership does allow for regular gym use for my husband and I, but as a busy, nursing mama with a priest husband whose schedule is pretty unpredictable, going to the gym feels more like a dream than a reality. So I have tried to figure out the best way to work out from home. This was honestly never really effective for me in the past, but this time - I have hit the jackpot! I came across a mama named Lindsay Brin who has a YouTube channel (and many DVD's) called MomsIntoFitness. She has so many helpful videos! I have recently started doing her 10-minute beginner HIIT video. It literally takes TEN minutes of my day - I think EVERYone can spare 10 minutes a day for exercise. I love that this workout is high intensity, and as you get stronger and better at the workout, you just keep upping your level of intensity (because suddenly you are able to do more repetitions than you could before, in the allotted time). So basically, in the workout, you are on for 40 seconds, and you recover for 20 seconds (walking in place, for example), and repeat, for 10 minutes. The exercises are really easy to catch on to because Lindsay is really good at showing you exactly what to do. 

Each night after the kids are in bed, before I sit down on the couch to relax, I do my 10 minute workout. I feel GREAT afterwards, and especially the next morning!

Here is the workout I am talking about. Check out the rest of her channel, too!

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Third Saturday of Great Lent

...And just like that, we are halfway through Great Lent prior to Holy Week. My kids love counting each day of the Lenten journey. As every year, Great Lent is flying by, and as we reach the halfway point, it leaves me in a state of reflection and questioning of myself: Am I trying hard enough to change for the better? Am I reading something spiritual each day? Am I praying more than I do outside of Great Lent? Am I going to Holy Communion often, and if so, am I trying to keep my behavior holy afterwards? Even though it can seem a struggle to keep to all of these little (or rather not-so-little) goals, it is encouraging to know that there is still time to change, still time to try harder...

Today we spent our day in preparation for tomorrow - the Sunday of the Veneration of the Holy Cross. I had high hopes of planning out several activities for today last night. But as usual, motherhood got the best of me and I was exhausted, so I went to sleep with zero plans other than our usual Russian letter of the week to work on. I woke up this morning though, realizing that I have to decorate the cross for church, and at that same moment I realized that that is the perfect activity to do with the kids.

So we began our day with their Russian work (the letter "O"), while I prepared an icon to show them. (Btw, these books put out by the Greeks are incredibly useful!!! I am hoping to expand my collection of them soon).

We had a little discussion about the Sunday of the Holy Cross and talked about the meaning of the cross, and why we venerate it right now especially. This icon served as a great quick visual for our little chat.

We also worked on a few preparations for Pascha. I am working on teaching the kids a poem for Palm Sunday, as well as several Russian Pascha carols. We have one in our repertoire from last year that we are reviewing, and I have chosen two new ones as well. Thanks to YouTube, we can hear the songs and sing along with them. I have high hopes of finding a well-priced used piano for us soon...

This evening as we listened to a live stream of tonight's vigil, we tackled the job of decorating the cross. This is a fairly new job for me because I have only been a priest's wife for short of two years. I have had to do this a few times now though, so I was a little more prepared. I wanted the kids to participate in this project to make the Veneration of the Cross more real to them... and also in hopes that they will someday be able to do this on their own for our parish. I love when children participate in decorating the icons or the Holy Shroud on Holy Friday, and it is something I have memories of doing as a kid, too.

Here is our final result.

Before Thy cross, we bow down and worship O Master, and Thy Holy Resurrection we glorify...

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Visitors and more...

Today we said goodbye to round 2 of visitors in the last month. My aunt and grandmother were with us for a week, and before that, my other grandmother was here for two weeks. It is so strange to have a guest-free home again! All of our visitors helped so much in the kitchen that I feel like I have barely done any cooking lately (I am not complaining!!) My freezer is now well-stocked with kotleti for the kids, pelmeni, pirozhki, and borscht, thanks to Yiayia (what we call my mom's mom ever since the kids were really little) and my aunt. Yum!

Yiayia was here when Great Lent began. During that first week, I took advantage of the extra set of hands in the house and made my kulichi. I am SO relieved to have them finished already! They are tucked away in the basement freezer and ready to be decorated on Holy Saturday. Next up will be cheese pascha, but I am holding off on that for a bit still because I am hunting for a new recipe to try.

Last year my husband and I decided to make it a goal to make a family pilgrimage to a monastery a few times each year. Even though we are a clergy family, we do not get to do as many family church trips as I would like, because we often split up and I stay home with the kids while my husband goes to a church that is a longer distance from home. Well, we had a marathon day of visiting monasteries with my aunt and grandmother the other day. We went to three in one day! The first stop was St. Sava monastery in Libertyville, followed by New Gracanica monastery just a few miles away. There, we had a moleben (prayer service) for our entire family, which was so nice. My aunt and I sang the responses together, which was really nice for the both of us (she is my godmother so there is nothing like singing in church to bond us). The last stop was in Kenosha, Wisconsin at the Greek Orthodox Monastery of the Mother of God. This monastery is incredible. It is not only the biggest of the three we visited, but it is also the most strict and most populated (by monastics) of the three. There are blocked off sections which are not open to visitors, and several churches here, too. We did not stay for very long, but we did visit the bookstore, got some Lenten cookies (they are so good!) and stayed for a few minutes of their evening service. Unfortunately, I did not remember to snap a photo at the Greek monastery, but here is a photo of the ever-so-beautiful New Gracanica church.

I have been on a knitting kick since Great Lent started, and am constantly itching to get to my needles. It's not easy to find the time to get to my knitting, especially with four little ones underfoot, but I savor the times I do get to knit a bit, even it is for only 15 minutes. Currently I have a few projects on my needles, and I am frantically trying to get them finished so that I can have a reason to buy new yarn and start something new. Here is a peek at a throw I am working on. It is probably going to be a gift, even though my husband is trying to convince me to keep it for our home. :-)

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Great Lent

That time is upon us again: the time of quiet reflection (as quiet as it can be with little ones running around), extra prayer, spiritual reading, fasting and preparation of our soul for the Feast of Feasts. I love this time of Great Lent each year, even though it does always come with extra temptations. I read recently how temptations are like a gift because they help us grow, and I am trying to remember that this year as we walk on this path once again. One week down already!

This year, I am reading a few books during the lenten period. Since I am nursing a very little one, I chose two books to begin with, in hopes that I will speed through them in the first few weeks and choose new ones for the rest of Great Lent. My first choices are Season of Repentance: Lenten Homilies of St. John of Kronstadt, and Elder Anthony of Optina (which is from a series of books).
The third book is more of a resource-type book/cookbook. I have read through it already thanks to my nursing sessions, and even attempted one of the recipes earlier today (lentil tacos - so yummy!)

Next I wanted to give you an update of what the kids and I are up to this Great Lent in terms of a Paschal countdown. For the last few years, we had a basket full of plastic Easter eggs and each day we removed one egg from the basket. Once our basket was empty it was Pascha, and it was time to fill our basket with Paschal goodies. This was a wonderful way to get kids to get a light understanding of Great Lent and Pascha. But this year, I wanted to do something a little bit more to their level. So after searching Pinterest for ideas and also using an idea that another Mama did last yaer, I made our own little version of a Paschal countdown for this year.

Here's what our countdowns look like. They are titled, "The Journey to Pascha".

It is by no means beautiful or a piece of art, but I love that its slight sloppiness on my part, plus the kids' artwork, represents our every day right now. None of our days are perfect or even close to perfect, and that is a constant reminder to me in this countdown.

Here's how it works. I made a "path" and I marked enough x's on it for each day of Great Lent, plus Holy Week (up until Holy Saturday). The point of the x's was to give my kids a guide because they are still young. Now, each morning of Great Lent I give the kids a square that I have cut out, representing a new day of Lent, one day closer to Pascha. They each glue their new "day" on to their path (onto the next 'x'). Above the day, I write the number for what day of Lent we are on. Each Sunday is a yellow square, and I will make Annunciation and Palm Sunday a different color, too once we get there. Throughout our day, I watch for good behavior (standing well during prayers, helping a sibling out, etc) and if I notice some really great behavior, I give that kid a sticker. They put that sticker on their square for the day. I have told them that for every 10 stickers, they can have a bubble bath (this is really exciting to them because usually they have showers and not baths).

So far, this has worked really nicely. Some days we are not home much so the day has no stickers, and other days are just rough with no earned stickers. But overall, I am enjoying the concept of them counting the days to Pascha and trying to gain rewards for good behavior as we all do during Great Lent especially.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Living along...

Well, after taking a little break from the blog, I am back! It has been quite busy over here since the new year rolled in. I'm happy to announce that we had a beautiful, healthy baby boy on January 28th, and he is already almost a month old as we near the start of March. He has been a gem of a baby so far, and the most low-maintenance of them all up until this point.

Our pre-school year has been going extremely well and we recently reached the halfway point in the year. Now we have about 15 weeks to go until it is officially our summer break. I am busy planning our Kindergarten year and I am SO very excited about it! I have been using Cathy Duffy's book, 102 Top Picks for Homeschool Curriculum to decide on the curriculum we will be using next year. I'll share my choices a bit later on, closer to the fall. Right now, I have a list prepared of what I'd like to use, and in the next few months I am going to slowly buy the resources that we will need for our year. That way, I can spread out the cost (even though none of the options I have chosen are that expensive), but also will give me a head start on planning out our year. I have loved that this year's program, Sonlight, has a very easy-to-use guide and plan for each day that required zero effort for preparation on my part. It makes me a tad nervous to think about not having it easily broken down for me in this way when using my own curriculum choices, but I am up for the challenge of making things my own. I am really excited about Kindergarten, and so is my little guy!

Around the house lately, I have been busy "Kon Mari"-ing our things. If you're not familiar with this method, check out the book it is described in here. This book is not as long as I expected it to be for being one about de-cluttering your entire life, basically, but I have been so pleasantly surprised so far by the simplicity of the method. It is very time-consuming though, especially because the first step in each section of organizing requires discarding what you do not need. The first section that Marie Kondo has you tidy is your clothing. But in my case, it's clothing for all of us (I leave my husband's things alone though). So I began with my own clothing, and this has been a whole 5 days now of cleaning out my closet. I have gotten rid of SO much and I feel so wonderful about it!! I am excited about my "new" wardrobe of favorite pieces that I have always loved, and basics. Next I am going to go through all of the childrens' clothing, mainly the stored clothes that are kept in tubs in the basement. The point is to get rid of everything you do not love. I am a little bit loose on this with the kids' clothes because kids get clothes dirty and all that, so I am not really applying the "love" rule. But I have already collected a garbage bag full of stuff to get rid of from just a few tubs - things that are too stained to keep, too worn to keep, or just not our style.

And that is what we have been up to lately! Now we will be busy preparing for our little guy's baptism in the next few weeks, and preparing for quite a few visits from my family (yay!).

In the next week or so I am planning on preparing a Great Lenten plan for our family, and that will hopefully be my next post.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

St. Porphyrios on Spiritual Struggle

A few months ago I began reading a book called Wounded by Love, by St. Porphyrios. I am taking a rather slow time to read it because it is my nightly reading and usually I only get through one little section before my eyes begin to close. It is kind of better this way though, because there is a lot to soak in from each section of this wonderful book. It is a really great nighttime read because the sections are indeed short, and leave you feeling completely enlightened before closing your eyes! 

I wanted to share a part of my reading from last night that completely struck me as something incredible and eye-opening. I have never in my life viewed spiritual struggle in such a way as St. Porphyrios talks about it here. 

God has placed a power in man's soul. But it is up to him how he channels it  - for good or for evil. If we imagine the good as a garden full of flowers, trees and plants and the evil as weeds and thorns and the power as water, then what can happen is as follows: when the water is directed towards the flower-garden, then all the plants grow, blossom and bear fruit; and at the same time, the weeds and thorns, because they are not being watered, wither and die. And the opposite, of course, can also happen. 

It is not necessary, therefore, to concern yourselves with the weeds. Don't occupy yourself with rooting out evil. Christ does not wish us to occupy ourselves with the passions, but with the opposite. Channel the water, that is, all the strength of your soul, to the flowers and you will enjoy their beauty, their fragrance and their freshness. 

You won't become saints by hounding after evil. Ignore evil. Look towards Christ and He will save you. Instead of standing outside the door shooing the evil one away, treat him with disdain. If evil approaches from one direction, then calmly turn in the opposite direction. If evil comes to assault you, turn all your inner strength to good, to Christ. Pray, 'Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.' He knows how and in what way to have mercy on you. And when you have filled yourself with good, don't turn any more towards evil. In this way you become good on your own, with the grace of God. Where can evil then find a foothold? It disappears!

In a later section, he continues on a similar path: your spiritual life engage in your daily contest simply, easily and without force. The soul is sanctified and purified through the study of the words of the Fathers, through the memorization of the psalms and of portions of Scripture, through the singing of hymns and through the repetition of the Jesus Prayer. 

Devote your efforts, therefore, to these spiritual things and ignore all the other things. We can attain to the worship of God easily and bloodlessly. There are two paths that lead to God: the hard and debilitating path with fierce assaults against evil and the easy path with love. There are many who chose the hard path and 'shed blood in order to receive Spirit' until they attained great virtue. I find that the shorter and safer route is the path with love. This is the path that you, too, should follow. 

That is, you can make a different kind of effort: to study and pray and have as your aim to advance in the love of God and of the Church. Do not fight to expel the darkness from the chamber of your soul. Open a tiny aperture for light to enter, and the darkness will disappear. The same holds for our passions and weaknesses. Do not fight them, but transform them into strengths by showing disdain for evil. Occupy yourself with hymns of praise, with the poetic canons, with the worship of God and with divine eros. All the holy books of our Church...contain holy, loving words addressed to Christ. Read them with joy and love and exaltation. When you devote yourself to this effort with intense desire, your soul will be sanctified in a gentle and mystical way without your even being aware of it...

...By reading these books you will gradually acquire meekness, humility and love, and your soul will be made good. Do not choose negative methods to correct yourselves. There is no need to fear the devil, hell or anything else. These things provoke a negative reaction. I, myself, have some little experience in these matters. The object is not to sit and afflict and constrict yourself in order to improve. The object is to live, to study, to pray and to advance in love - in love for Christ and for the Church...

...Forget about all your weaknesses so that the adverse spirit does not realize what is going on and grab you and pin you down and cause you grief. Make no effort to free yourself from these weaknesses. Make your struggle with calmness and simplicity, without contortion and anxiety. Don't say, 'Now I'll force myself and I'll pray to acquire love and become good.' It is not profitable to afflict yourself to become good. In this way your negative response will be worse. Everything should be done in a natural way, calmly and freely. Nor should you pray, 'O God free me from my anger, my sorrow, etc.' It is not good to pray about or think about the specific passion; something happens in our soul and we become even more enmeshed in the passion. Attack your passion head on, and you'll see how strongly it will entwine you and grip you and you won't be able to do anything.   

Don't struggle directly with temptation, don't pray for it to go away, don't say, 'Take it from me, O God!' Then you are acknowledging the strength of the temptation and it takes hold of you. Because, although you are saying 'Take it from me, O God,' basically you are bringing it to the mind and fomenting it even more. Your desire to be free of the passion will, of course, be there, but it will exist in a hidden and discreet way, without appearing outwardly. Remember what Scripture says: Don't let your left hand know what your right hand is doing. Let all your strength be turned to love for God, worship of God and adhesion to God. In this way your release from evil and from your weaknesses will happen in a mystical manner, without your being aware of it and without exertion. 

Sunday, January 3, 2016

New Year!

Happy New Year! (A few days late).

So far, 2016 has been off to quite the busy start for us! I don't think it will get any less busy anytime soon between Christmas, a special girl's 2nd birthday two days later, Theophany, our family's slava, and then, my due date!

This year, I have started out two new traditions/rituals. One is for our family, and one is for myself.

The first one is one I have been trying to remember and do for several years now. Finally, this year I remembered thanks to Facebook. I have created a jar for our family (just a large mason jar with a ribbon on it), which will be used to throw in small pieces of paper that have happy memories and happy thoughts recorded on them throughout the year. If you read the description, it will make a little more sense to you (you jot down anything nice that happens pretty much - surprises, funny moments, accomplishments). I am excited about this! Then, on December 31st this year, my husband and I can open up the jar and see what little things happened throughout the year that we may have forgotten about. I love the idea of this jar, especially the fact that it helps you focus on positives instead of negatives, and I am hoping that we can fill it up to the top (or perhaps overfill it) by December 31st.

The second new thing I have started this year has been a new type of journal.

One of the main issues I struggle with (as I think many moms do) is remembering day-to-day things. It is always easy to remember a major event, but the little things are important, too. Well, it's like one of my friends read my mind because for my birthday, she sent me this journal. I LOVE it! All you need is literally 3 minutes a day, and you answer the same question each year on the same day. (For example, every January 1st for 5 years straight, you answer the same question....etc). You simply fill in which year it is, write your answer, and leave it until the next day. I know we are only a few days into this year, but so far, this has been a lot of fun and very rewarding for me. I love the idea of looking back through my answers 5 years from now once I have completed the entire journal. My favorite thing about it so far is that I do not need to prompt myself on what to write (which is the reason journaling never works out for me - I always have too much to record and not enough time)..the prompt is there ready for me and I have not had any difficulty answering any of the questions yet.