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.