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 time...my 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...