A tale of two books

This last fall I joined a book club and I have been endeavoring to read more in general. This month the book was my pick and I chose it because it had been referenced in a couple articles I read. The book is Leisure: The Basis of Culture by 20th century German Catholic philosopher, Josef Pieper.

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In Leisure, Pieper makes an argument for man’s need for leisure, but not as we would probably think of synonyms of that word such as idleness or laziness. Leisure is not that:

“The ‘worker,’ it has been seen, in our brief analysis of that significant figure, is characterized by three principal traits: an extreme tension of the powers of action, a readiness to suffer in vacuo unrelated to anything, and complete absorption in the social organism, itself rationally planned to utilitarian ends. Leisure, from this point of view, appears as something wholly fortuitous and strange, without rhyme or reason, and morally speaking, unseemly: another word for laziness, idleness and sloth. At the zenith of the Middle Ages, on the contrary, it was held that sloth and restlessness,  ‘leisurelessness,’ the incapacity to enjoy leisure, were all closely connected; sloth was held to be the source of restlessness, and the ultimate cause of ‘work for work’s sake’ … Idleness, in the medieval view, means that a man prefers to forgo the rights, or if you prefer the claims, that belong to his nature. In a word, he does not want to be as God wants him to be, and that ultimately means that he does not wish to be what he really, fundamentally, isAcedia is the ‘despair from weakness’ which Kierkegaard analysed as the ‘despairing refusal to be oneself.’ Metaphysically and theologically, the notion of acedia means that a man does not, in the last resort, give the consent of his will to his own being; that behind or beneath the dynamic activity of his existence he is still not at one with himself, or as the medieval writers would have said, face to face with the divine good within him; he is a prey to sadness (and that sadness is the tristitia saeculi of Holy Scripture. And then we are told that the opposite of this metaphysical and theological notion is the notion ‘hardworking,’ industrious, in the context of economic life! For acedia has, in fact, been interpreted as though it had something to do with the economic ethos of the Middle Ages… Idleness, in the old sense of the word, so far from being synonymous with leisure, is more nearly the inner prerequisite which renders leisure impossible: it might be described as the utter absence of leisure, or the very opposite of leisure. Leisure is only possible when a man is at one with himself, when he acquiesces in his own being, whereas the essence of acedia is the refusal to acquiesce in one’s own being. Idleness and the incapacity for leisure correspond with one another. Leisure is the contrary of both. Leisure, it must be clearly understood is a mental and spiritual attitude — it is not simply the result of external factors, it is not the inevitable result of spare time, a holiday, a weekend or a vacation. It is in the first place, an attitude of mind, a condition of the soul, and as such, utterly contrary to the ideal of ‘worker’ in each and every one of the three aspects under which it was analysed: work as activity, as toil, as a social function. Compared with the exclusive ideal of work as activity, leisure implies (in the first place) an attitude of inward calm, of silence, it means not being ‘busy,’ but letting things happen. Leisure is a form of silence, of that silence which is the prerequisite of the apprehension of reality: only the silent hear and those who do not remain silent do not hear. Silence, as it is used in this context, does not mean ‘dumbness’ or ‘noiselessness,’ it means more nearly that the soul’s power to ‘answer’ to the reality of the world is left undisturbed. For leisure is a receptive attitude of mind, a contemplative attitude, and it is not only the occasion but also the capacity for steeping oneself in the whole of creation. Furthermore there is also a certain happiness in leisure, something of the happiness that comes from the recognition of the mysteriousness of the universe and the recognition of our incapacity to understand it, that comes with a deep confidence, so that we are content to let things take their course… Leisure is not the attitude of mind of those who actively intervene, but of those who are open to everything; not of those who grab and grab hold, but of those who leave the reins loose and who are free and easy themselves…” (p.23-28)

The other book I am currently reading is also non-fiction and I picked it for the same reasons as Leisure, because it has been referenced in things I have read over the last year. It is How (Not) to be Secular by James K. A. Smith which is his guide to reading philosopher Charles Taylor’s 900 page A Secular Age  which has been called one of the most important books of our time.

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I have been struck by Smith’s analysis which resonates so deeply with me and writing down quotes from it in my quote notebook like mad:

“Like those hucksters on Venice Beach offering maps to the homes of the stars, there is no shortage of voices hawking road atlases for a secular age. Confident ‘new atheists,’ for example, delineate where we are with a new bravado. Employing a kind of intellectual colonialism, new atheist cartographers rename entire regions of our experience and annex them to natural science and empirical explanation, flattening the world by disenchantment (Graveyards of the gods are always a highlight of this tour). At the same time — and sometimes as a reaction — various fundamentalisms seem intent on selling us maps to buried treasure, pulling out yellowed parchments and trying to convince us that these dated maps tell us the truth about ourselves, about our present. But their maps are just as flat, and we feel like they’re hiding something… Both of these sorts of maps are blunt instruments. They are road atlases that merely show us well-worn thoroughfares, the streets and interstates of our late modern commerce. They do nothing to map the existential wilderness of the present — those bewildering places in which we are beset by an existential vertigo. These neat and tidy color-coded road atlases are of no help when we find ourselves disoriented in a secular age, haunted by doubt or belief, by predawn fears of ghosts in the machine or a vague sense of the twilight of the idols. These road atlases of belief versus disbelief, religion versus secularism, belief versus reason provide maps that are much neater and tidier than the spaces in which we find ourselves. They give us a world of geometric precision that doesn’t map onto the world of our lived experience where these matters are much fuzzier, much more intertwined — where ‘the secular’ and ‘the religious’ haunt each other in a mutual dance of displacement and decentering.” (p. 13)

“…most of us live in this cross-pressured space, where both our agnosticism and our devotion are mutually haunted and haunting. If our only guides were new atheists or religious fundamentalists, we would never know that this vast, contested terrain even existed, even though most of us live in this space every day.” (p. 14)

“But the haunting is mutual, which is why religious literature in our secular age attests to the persistent specter of doubt. Outside of Amish fiction and Disney-fied versions of biblical narratives, believers in contemporary literature are ‘fragilized‘ …twentieth-century fiction was where we saw that ‘the churchgoer was giving way to the moviegoer.’ What Taylor describes as ‘secular’ — a situation of fundamental contestability when it comes to belief, a sense that rival stories are always at the door offering a very different account of the world — is the engine that drove Flannery O’Connor’s fiction. As she attested in a letter about her first novel: ‘I don’t think you should write something as long as a novel around anything that is not of the gravest concern to you and everybody else, and for me this is always the conflict between an attraction for the Holy and the disbelief in it that we breathe in with the air of our times. It’s hard to believe always but more so in the world we live in now. There are some of us who have to pay for our faith every step of the way and who have to work out dramatically what it would be like without it and if being without it would be ultimately possible or not.’ Even a faith that wants to testify and evangelize — as certainly O’Connor did — has to do so from this place. Indeed, consider the dramatis personae of religiously attuned literature over the past fifty years, from Graham Greene’s whisky priest to Walker Percy’s Dr. Thomas More to Evelyn Waugh’s Charles Ryder, even Marilynne Robinson’s Protestant pastor in Gilead: not a one matches the caricature of either the new athiests’ straw men or fundamentalist confidence.” (p. 20-21)

“Indeed, on Taylor’s account, ardent secularism has not appreciated or embraced secularity. And he thinks that, in some fleeting moments of aesthetic enchantment or mundane haunting, even the secularist is pressed by a sense of something more — some ‘fullness‘ that wells up within (or presses down upon) the managed immanent frame we’ve constructed in modernity. In the same way postmodern believers can’t shield themselves from competing stories that call into question the fundamental story of faith. Evolutionary psychology and expressive individualism are in the water of our secular age, and only a heroic few can manage to quell their chatter to create an insulated panic room in which their faith remains solidly secure. Ours is a ‘secular age,’ according to Taylor, not because of any index of religious participation (or lack thereof), but because these sorts of manifestations of contested meaning. It’s as if the cathedrals are still standing, but their footings have been eroded. Conversely the Nietzschean dream is alive and well, and the heirs of Bertrand Russel and Auguste Comte continue to beat their drums, and yet Oprah and Elizabeth Gilbert still make it to the best seller lists and the magic of Tolkien still captivates wide audiences… While stark fundamentalisms — either religious or secular — get all the press, what should interest us are these fugitive expressions of doubt and longing, faith and questioning. These lived expressions of cross-pressure are at the heart of the secular.” (p. 22-23)

I found myself nodding my head over and over at the apt descriptions and analogies that describe the world in which most of us find ourselves. I am an Orthodox Christian, but even when we are doing the shortened Reader’s services that the laity can perform without the clergy in my own living room or at a beautiful Orthodox Church for a full Divine Liturgy, I am haunted by whether or not God is really there, what the heck He is even doing with my life, whether I am on the right path, if God is really at work in the situation I find myself in: a two family tiny mission parish in a town that is a sea of over 200 Protestant churches full of people that believe very differently than me.

And for those of us who do have faith, maybe not the same faith, but faith nonetheless, I found myself wondering how we got here where it is so hard to have faith at all as I see countless friends claim their new labels of atheist or agnostic, rejecting faith and the practice of faith. This is not necessarily a new phenomenon to me, I grew up in a home that didn’t have belief, it’s just more shocking when life-long believers that grew up differently from me throw that off completely. Over the weekend we watched the documentary Becoming Truly Human which explores this rise of the “nones,” from 7% jumping to 25% of the population now claiming no religious affiliation in polling. Smith addresses this question of, ‘how did did we get here?’ too:

“Our goal in trying to understanding our ‘secular age’ is not a descriptive what, and even less a chronological when, but rather an analytic how. The question is not whether our age is less (or more) ‘religious;’ nor is it a question of trying to determine when some switch was tripped so that, in the world-historical language of Will Durant & Co., we went from an ‘age of belief’ to an ‘age of reason.’ Instead, Taylor is concerned with the ‘conditions of belief’ — a shift in the plausibility conditions that make something believable or unbelievable. So A Secular Age is persistently asking and re-asking various permutations of the following questions: ‘How did we move from a condition where, in Christendom, people lived naively within a theistic construal, to one in which we all shunt between two stances, in which everyone’s construal shows up as such; and in which, moreover, unbelief has become for many the major default option?’ ‘Why was it virtually impossible not to believe in God, in say, 1500 in our Western society, while in 2000 many of us find this not only easy, but even inescapable?’ As you’ll notice, these questions are not concerned with what people believe, as much as with what is believable. The difference between our modern, ‘secular’ age and past ages is not necessarily the catalogue of available beliefs but rather the default assumptions about what is believable.” (p. 26-27)

It was really interesting to read that passage and then pick Leisure back up and hear Pieper pretty much describe that same world of easy belief of the 1500s still shaping people’s lives in the early 1900s when he was writing:

“The soul of leisure, it can be said, lies in ‘celebration.’ Celebration is the point at which the three elements of leisure emerge together: effortlessness, calm, and relaxation, and its superiority to all and every function. But if ‘celebration’ is the core of leisure, then leisure can only be made possible and indeed justifiable upon the same basis as the celebration of a feast: and that formation is divine worship. There is no such thing as a feast ‘without Gods’ — whether it be a carnival or a marriage. There is no such thing as a feast that does not ultimately derive its life from divine worship, and that does not draw its vitality as a feast from divine worship. That is not a demand or a requirement; it does not mean that that is how things ought to be. It claims to be a simple statement of fact: however dim the recollection of the association may have become in men’s minds, a feast ‘without Gods,’ and unrelated to worship, is quite simply unknown. It is true that ever since the French Revolution attempts have repeatedly been made to manufacture feast-days and holidays that have no connection with divine worship, or are sometimes even opposed to it: ‘Brutus days,’ or even that hybrid ‘Labor Day.’ In point of fact the stress and strain of giving them some kind of festal appearance is one of the very best proofs of the significance of divine worship for a feast; and nothing illustrates so clearly as a comparison between a living and deeply traditional feast day, with its roots in divine worship, and one of those rootless celebrations, carefully and unspontaneously prepared beforehand, and as artificial as a maypole… There is in fact no room in the world of ‘total labour’ either for divine worship, or for a feast: because the ‘worker’s’ world, the world of ‘labour’ rests solely upon the principle of rational utilization. A ‘feast-day’ in that world is either a pause in the midst of work (and for the sake of work, of course), or in the case of ‘Labour Day,’ or whatever feast days of the world of ‘work’ may be called, it is the very principle of work that is being celebrated — once again, work stops for the sake of work, and the feast is subordinated to ‘work.’ There can of course be games, circuses — but who would think of describing that kind of mass entertainment as festal? It simply cannot be otherwise: the world of ‘work’ and of the ‘worker’ is a poor, impoverished world, be it ever so rich in material goods, for on an exclusively utilitarian basis, on the basis, that is, of the world of ‘work,’ genuine wealth, wealth which implies overflowing into superfluities, into unnecessaries, is just not possible. Wherever the superfluous makes its appearance it is immediately subjected to the world of work. And, as the traditional Russian saying puts it: work does not make one rich, but round-shouldered.” (p. 44-47)

How indeed did we move from a construal where feast days are connected to divine worship and leisure to one where most of Christianity has only 1-2 feast days (Christmas and Easter), if that? Where Christmas falling on a Sunday in 2016 sparked huge debate about whether churches should have a service or whether the pastor and his family needed a break to celebrate because the church always steals PK’s dads? Where dressing up for Dr. Suess’s birthday and making green eggs and ham gets more participation in elementary schools across America than most church services, even on those two floundering feast days we still kind of observe on the Liturgical calendar?

And this is why I joined a book club this year: to reclaim my motherhood sapped brain and read more and ponder the deep thoughts.

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Idealism v. Reality

It’s January. So much of my ideal vision of motherhood and Orthodoxy is wrapped up in what was my normal for the last four years as well as goals I have for our family spiritual life. I mean, I’ve been researching and writing a book, non-fiction, that is sort of an encyclopedia of various feast day practices throughout the year for the last few years so I definitely have a lot of ideas, whole Pinterest boards of them, but the execution both in actually writing the book and in our personal lives is often lacking.

In my ideal January we’d start off the year sharing Vasilopita with friends and all the excitement and anticipation of who get’s the coin and the blessing of St. Basil for the year. I’d make the cake from scratch from someone’s centuries old family recipe. It would be perfectly dusted in powdered sugar and the year.

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On January 6, which fell on a Saturday this year, we would be having Liturgy for Theophany (the feast of the Baptism of Jesus), heading out to bless the Kern River as we have in past years and then house blessing and food all afternoon.

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On the weekend nearest January 15, our dear Ethan’s birthday, we would have that Pinterest perfect “How to Train Your Dragon” party that he has planned up in his mind. We’d have the amazing Night Fury cake with candles coming out of the dragon’s mouth, Popsicle stick catapults and “sheep” marshmallows, games, a picture perfect tablescape, a photo booth set up with viking and dragon themed props, a clever party hashtag, the works.

On January 17, we would spend some time talking about St. Anthony the Great, our schoolwork patron saint, and try learning that Troparion (hymn) for his feast day yet again.

Lent and thus Pre-Lent comes early this year, so on Sunday January 21, we’d sing the silly Zaccheus song and go to Hart Park to climb Sycamore trees on Zaccheus Sunday.

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And at the very end of the month, we’d be gearing up for St. Brigid (Feb. 1) and Candlemas/Meeting of our Lord in the Temple (Feb. 2) getting supplies to make Brigid’s cross and candles.

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In my ideal our home would function as a little monastery in some ways, in the mornings we’d do prayers before starting our day, we’d do the full fast on fasting days, and in the evenings we’d either do evening prayers or Compline as a family.

It’s nearly midway through January and what my month has looked like so far:

Dec. 31 was a Sunday this year. Ever since our mission closed public doors, we’ve done Typika (a shorter version of the typical Sunday services that laypeople can read through) at our home with another family and more recently an inquirer that has been coming for about a month. That morning I woke up early, bought a boxed spice cake mix from the closest grocery store and made it just before we started the service. I frosted the cake and put number candles on it because sifting powdered sugar to make the year is messy and not my thing. I was surprised the cake even turned out because my mantra has been “I can’t bake” for quite some time. I got the coin this year after we all stuffed ourselves on too much cake.

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January 6 was filled with the lows of my husband’s grandmother’s memorial service where we were gutted by bagpipes (she was very proud of her Clan Sinclair Scottish heritage) and bittersweet memories.

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That afternoon was followed by the highs of the birth of Christ late that evening on Old Calendar Nativity. Death and Birth all in the same day. An emotional rollercoaster, and yet fitting, since Christ’s coming allows us to “rejoice in the Lord as we tell of this present mystery. The middle wall of the partition has been destroyed; the flaming sword turns back, the cherubim withdraw from the tree of life, and I partake of the delight of Paradise…” (First Stichera, Vespers of Christmas Eve).

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Christmas on January 6/7? Old Calendar? A brief history lesson: In the 1500s the Pope of Rome decided to change the calendar which is 13 days “behind” to correct some dating issues and slowly much of the world followed suit, except some Orthodox holdouts because the job of calendars and dating events had always belonged to the Church of Alexandria, an ancient center of learning. Eventually some Orthodox switched to the New Calendar, with the date of Pascha/Easter still ascribing to the Old Calendar date so that all of Orthodoxy celebrates on the same day.

On January 10 we were just getting around to reading the our favorite children’s book on the Life of St. Catherine (Nov. 25) and making our liturgical journal entries for her, because that is how far behind we are on those. Though I did manage to make from-the-can cinnamon rolls on her actual feast day.

This weekend will be spent sewing a couple paraments (fancy Liturgical cloths that cover stands, tables, etc.) for a special Liturgy we’re having on Monday to celebrate Theophany kind of halfway between the dates on the Old and New Calendars and all of our usual pomp and procession, river splashing, and house splashing that comes with it.

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Monday also happens to be Ethan’s birthday. I got wind of his party plans only a week or less ago and struck up a compromise that I’d bring a cake with plastic dragons on it to our homeschool co-op at the end of this month. I always feel bad for the kid because we’re usually so wiped out after Christmas and his birthday just becomes an afterthought like this most of the time.

As for my other lofty spiritual family goals, ha. Our mornings are not started with prayer, like ever. And I hate putting kids to bed. We had a good two month stint where I was boring my kids to sleep by sitting on one of their beds and chanting Compline and an Akathist to the Saints of North America. But honestly, it started to make bedtime take even longer, which I already hate, and I wanted to do other things besides taking an hour or more to chant. The kids joked that they were giving me “a holiday break, just like for school,” but honestly I don’t really wanna anymore. Last night I kept popping in their darkened rooms to put away laundry and Henry would say, “Prayers?” every time I came in with a new pile and I said I was busy and he knows the “Our Father” so can’t he pray himself?

But I think real life and our faith and having an Orthodox home is lived somewhere in between this idealism and nothing at all, just like my real month has looked. We stand up, we trip, we fall, we get up, we brush ourselves off, and repeat.

“What we should bear in mind is that every type of work on earth and in all the universe is God’s work, and as such it should be performed from the heart, without reservation. When we do so, we can free ourselves from our interior resistance. Every action of ours will then help our neighbor, beginning with our family, wherever we may be… We must learn how to live a heavenly life. And that is not easy, because up until now we have led a life of resistance and opposition. Take, for example, a family man who has a home and a family and who knows how to do his job well but is doing this job against his will. That is how inner resistance builds up… For we have acquired the habit of always opposing one thing or another, as there is always something that is against our will. We have not learned to be obedient to the will of God but always want our will to be done… Therefore, let us be thankful to God for everything. He knows why He has put us in the position where we find ourselves, and we will get the most out of it when we learn to be humble. We should always remember that whatever task we perform here in this life is for Him.” –Elder Thaddeus of Vitovnica, Our Thoughts Determine our Lives

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Dr. Suess

I always find this amusing. It is Dr. Suess’ birthday Thursday. There will be celebrations in classrooms and libraries across the country with dress up, readings, songs, special food, etc. None of my friends that believe honoring and celebrating saints and feasts is sinful, or idol worship or whatever will bat an eye. They will send their kids along merrily to partake in all of these festivities. Green eggs and ham will be eaten. Some may even volunteer in classrooms donned with a certain iconic striped stove pipe hat. A LuLaRoe consultant I know has outfits picked out from her collection that are themed to certain beloved characters even. 😏 Pick X, Y, Z American icon or hero and it is the same story. Like humans just can’t help themselves when it comes to this sort of thing. I remember a priest we knew once making an argument in a sermon about how humans are prone to idol worship and that’s why the Church has icons and saints so our honor is rightly placed.

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The Liturgical Year in Orthodox Children’s Books – First Quarter

As a homeschooler, I tend to borrow from a variety of educational philosophies: we’re fairly structured like Classical, read a lot of books like Charlotte Mason, and I’m not afraid to derail things when a learning opportunity comes up or a particular subject is really interesting and we want to pursue it more in depth like an unschooler.

In more of the vein of Charlotte Mason, I’ve been developing this list of books about saints and feasts that follows the Liturgical  calendar and decided to share it here. We are beginning to use this as the spine of our children’s educational program at our little Orthodox mission. I know there are other programs out there that are more popular, but I love that through these “living books” our kids get to know practical lessons for how the saints lived and interacted with the world.

I’ve broken the list down by month with the moveable feasts separated out. As we know, the Orthodox Liturgical year starts in September, so with that in mind my list starts at the beginning. While I have the list in a Word document and built into my smart phone calendar, tracking down all the links to buy the books and their covers takes a bit of time, so I am planning to put this list out in quarters with a post for the moveable feasts (Pascha) alone.

I’ve also been collecting little “t” traditions and craft/recipe ideas on several Pinterest boards for these saints. Please, please, please share more if you know of them in the comments. I feel like so much of this stuff is hard to dig up and find for us American converts. I also know there are other books out there and new ones being written all the time, so this is by no means the ultimate Orthodox children’s book list, just a beginning.

September

1 – New Liturgical Year
Children’s Garden of the Theotokos: Treasury of Feasts

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4 – The Prophet Moses
Children’s Garden of the Theotokos: Treasury of Feasts

St. Hermione
Women of Faith

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8 – Nativity of the Theotokos
Children’s Garden of the Theotokos: Treasury of Feasts

11 – St. Euphrosynos
A Boy, A Kitchen, and His Cave
St. Euphrosynos Pinterest Board

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14 – Elevation of the Cross
Children’s Garden of the Theotokos: Treasury of Feasts
Feasts of the Cross Pinterest Board

15 – St. Niketas
My Warrior Saints

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17 – St. Sophia
Christina’s Favorite Saints

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20 – St. Eustathios
My Warrior Saints

22 – The Prophet Jonah
The Book of Jonah
Jonah’s Journey to the Deep
Jonah Pinterest Board

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25 – The Great Earthquake at Constantinople
And Then Nicholas Sang

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27 – St. Callistratus
My Warrior Saints

October

1 – Protection of the Theotokos
Children’s Garden of the Theotokos: Treasury of Feasts
Feasts of our Lady Theotokos Pinterest Board

St. Romanos the Melodist
Sweet Song

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6 – The Apostle Thomas
Children’s Garden of the Theotokos: Treasury of Feasts

St. Kendeas
Under the Grapevine

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7 – Sts. Sergius & Bacchus
My Warrior Saints

14 – St. Kosmos the Melodist
Christina’s Favorite Saints

18 – The Apostle Luke
Children’s Garden of the Theotokos: Treasury of Feasts

20 – St. Artemius
My Warrior Saints

21 – St. Ursula
Women of Faith

26 – St. Demetrios
Saint Demetrios: The Myrrh-Flowing

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November

8 – Archangel Michael
Children’s Garden of the Theotokos: Treasury of Feasts
Feasts of the Angels Pinterest Board

11 – St. Martin of Tours
The Life of Saint Martin
Martinmas Pinterest Board

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St. Menas
My Warrior Saints

15 – Beginning of the Nativity Fast
Children’s Garden of the Theotokos: Treasury of Feasts
The Kindness Kids – An Alternative to Elf on the Shelf

21 – Entrance of the Theotokos
Children’s Garden of the Theotokos: Treasury of Feasts
Feasts of our Lady Theotokos Pinterest Board

24 – St. Catherine
St. Catherine of Alexandria
Christina’s Favorite Saints
St. Catherine’s Day Pinterest Board

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25 – St. Mercurius
My Warrior Saints

30 – St. Andrew
St. Andrew Pinterest Board

December

4 – St. Barbara
Women of Faith

6 – St. Nicholas
Children’s Garden of the Theotokos: Treasury of Feasts
Jolly Old St. Nicholas Pinterest Board
St. Nicholas Center
The Legend of St. Nicholas

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13 – St. Herman of Alaska
North Star
Christina’s Favorite Saints
St. Herman of Alaska Pinterest Board

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St. Lucia
St. Lucy’s Day Pinterest Board
Lucia: Saint of Light
Women of Faith

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Sunday Before Nativity – Esther
Esther’s Story

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My kid didn’t do a lemonade stand for a “worthy” cause…

This morning when I checked my Instagram feed there was this ad: 


There are billboards up all over town promoting lemonade stands to raise money for cancer. Local churches have had similar things to raise money for clean drinking water, homelessness, and other worthy and holy causes. 

I think these things are really sweet, don’t get me wrong, but I also think they take the fun out of it for kids that maybe just want to have a little fun money for summer, along with a heaping dose of mom guilt for not encouraging a better use of the profits. 

Let me explain. 

For a couple years now my daughter has been looking forward to being 7 and being old enough to go to a week long church camp held in the mountains about an hour south of our city. Her brothers’ Godparents used to send their own children to this camp and raise money for camp tuition with bake sales and lemonade stands throughout the Spring. 

Well, the summer finally came that she is 7 and my very long term goal oriented little miss (this is a kid that started planning her Brave/Scottish Games themed 5th birthday within days of turning 4), was all about this lemonade stand for camp thing becoming a reality. It became a daily topic of conversation that she would bring up back when it was still raining most days here. 

There were a couple things I knew about this idea of hers: 

  • we might spend more than we made
  • it would be a lot of work for me too

But I decided to go along with it anyway. My husband is a bit of an entrepreneur and I liked that spirit in her. It was something I wanted to encourage despite those things. 

After much discussion about the cost of the church camp along with the idea of her being away for a whole week overnight with almost no one we knew in a foreign place (our parish is small, three families, and while everyone that is Orthodox in California has pretty much run into each other in some way or another, I still didn’t know which parishes and kids would be there), we compromised on a dance intensive boot camp put on by her dance studio instead. 

So we’re not even talking a “holy” cause here.

Meyer Lemons were flooding the grocery store and we started buying, juicing and freezing the juice a week or so before our first prediction of 90 was on the forecast. 

Each of those bags of lemons was $3 at Trader Joe’s. It took two bags to make a pitcher of lemonade. We made 3 pitchers worth of lemonade that day. So it cost us $18 just in lemons. 

The night before the stand we went to the craft store and bought supplies to make signs and table decor. I probably spent $20 (and yes, dear husband, I know the actual Michael’s charge was for much more, but I also confess to buying more yarn that night). 

We bought cookie dough and other goodies from the warehouse store to sell along with the lemonade and the cold brew coffee I made. We’re talking another $20 or so worth of stuff.

The day of the lemonade stand came. My daughter and her neighborhood friends sold their little hearts out. We had a pretty steady stream of customers. One friend of mine even drove all the way across town and gave us a sweet $20 donation for her $2.50 worth of coffee, lemonade and cookies. 


I was proud of my daughter when people tried to haggle her down and she stood her ground on how much stuff cost. I was proud when, eager for another customer her and her friends rode bikes down the street to the mailbox when they saw someone walking over there. I was proud when they kept nagging the real estate agent that was putting up open house signs until he promised he would buy a lemonade and send customers their way. I was proud that they endured sitting there in 90 degree weather with mostly nothing to do. 

Still, when all was said and done they only sold about $80 worth of stuff. With our costs figured in, that means she really only made $20. 

I wonder if the lemonade for a cause people could just make a quiet $20 donation and let the other kids make their $20 profit with no mom guilt that it isn’t going to something more worthy or holy.  

My sisters and I had all manner of stands growing up. Selling pecans is one I remember in particular. We used the money for the ice cream truck all summer long. Nobody ever made us feel guilty about it.

Well, as for us, our cause may not have measured up to something more charitable, but important lessons in working, profit and loss, and sales were learned and I have decided not to feel guilty about that. 

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Last Dance for the Class of 2015

*It’s been awhile here on the old blog. Of late, we have been crazy busy with dance. I ran into my former boss at Target a couple weeks back and have been inspired to try writing again. While this piece didn’t make the cut, I thought I’d share it anyway because the show is so good and the directors, staff and kids at Civic have worked very hard. I am continually blown away by what they accomplish each time my kids get to play a minor part in the work they do.

The caps have been thrown, inspiring speeches given and diplomas handed out, but for a group of local graduates there is still one last act for the Class of 2015: dancing their hearts out for Civic Dance Center’s 47th Annual Gala.

The studio responsible for putting on The Nutcracker in conjunction with The Bakersfield Symphony Orchestra, also puts together a lesser known spring show which features all of their dancers from the tiniest preschoolers to staff members, the senior Class of 2015 amongst them, of course.

The first half of this year’s show is an original storybook ballet. In “Once Upon a Time,” a group of orphans can’t decide which bedtime story they want to hear and instead pieces of each of their favorite fairytales – Cinderella, Frozen, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Aladdin, and Beauty and the Beast – are woven together.

The “princess ballet,” as some of the seniors referred to it, with lots of tutus will likely appeal to little girls, said Jennifer Barnes, 18, a Liberty High grad that will play a stepsister in the Cinderella portion of the story (Cast C). However, she notes, “I think there’s something in it for everyone because there are so many different stories, there’s a lot of action to keep people interested.” Fellow senior studio member, Hannah Contois, 18, a Centennial High grad, agrees, “Even if you are not into princesses there are several other characters to identify with, plus the opening number and the second half of the show with jazz and tap, there’s something for everyone.”

If your child is into the Frozen craze, Contois will likely be a favorite as Elsa (Cast B). Annalee Fanucchi, 18, a Liberty High grad said, “Definitely younger kids are going to love this show because it has all the Disney stories in there and Frozen is really popular.”

Contois said she’s planning to dance the roll with “no regrets.”

“I’ve always seen the seniors each year and just brushed it off, but yesterday I think it really clicked for me that this is probably my last show so I’m really trying to put so much more into it.”

Giving it your all is just one of many life skills the seniors say they will walk away with because of dance. Fanucchi who will play Snow White (Cast B) noted responsibility, staying focused, and time management.

“Discipline. You have to be there every day, on time, in the proper attire. You don’t talk back,” added Contois.

One of the traditions for seniors during all four Gala performances is to exchange gifts and memories during the cast call just before each show.

“We share our favorite memories and we get to say our goodbyes. We can’t wear makeup before that because there’s usually a lot of crying,” said Barnes.

Since they have all been at this studio for 12-14 years, from the time they were 4-6 years old, the seniors all noted the studio is like a family.

“It is one of the things I am going to miss the most, walking into the studio every week and having people that you know support you,” said Fanucchi.

Contois had a similar sentiment, “During busy seasons I am there for about 25 hours a week with my friends. I’m closer to them than any of my other friends at school or anywhere else. It’s so cool that dance is what brought us together, but we found that we have so many other things in common. I know I can talk to them about anything and they will always be there for me and they will always be my friends for the rest of my life, we are just that close.”

Life skills and a second family, why these seniors say their advice to younger dancers is to stick it out.

“It’s hard to make it to being a senior. There were definitely points when I thought maybe it would be OK to not do the jazz company and so many classes, but it is so worth it, to be on stage with your friends and hear the applause and do what you love. So my advice would be don’t quit,” said Contois.

As to whether they will continue dancing, the senior class is a bit mixed. Barnes who plans to stay in town and to start out at BC in the Fall said she thinks she is done. Fanucchi will be attending Fresno State and be on the dance team there.

Contois, who is headed for the pre-Med program at UC Davis said, “It’s been such a huge part of my life, I can’t imagine not doing it, not going more than a week without dance. So they (UC Davis) have a small dance program there and if I don’t do that then I will at least find a studio up there to take classes.”

*Disclosure: There were other studio members of the Class of 2015 that were unavailable for comment.

Civic Dance Center’s 47th Annual Gala
Bakersfield High School’s Harvey Auditorium, 1241 G St.
Tickets: Adults, $20; Students (7-18) and Seniors (65+), $14; Kids (6 and under) $5
Cast A: Thursday, June 11 at 7 p.m.
Cast B: Friday, June 12 at 7 p.m.
Cast C: Saturday, June 13 at 1 p.m.
Cast D: Saturday, June 13 at 7 p.m.

*****
And here is what rehearsing for Gala has looked like for my little crew.

Ethan’s class gets to be little genies (Aladdin). The other boy mom and I sewed some pants because the original sequin pants were a no-go for the dads.
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Jilly gets to be a little fairy (Sleeping Beauty).
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“Notes” (where the directors go over things that need to be fixed and praise things that were really great) at the end one of Ethan’s dress rehearsals.
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Keeping a 9-month-old happy, not screeching happy, but also not screaming crying unhappy during hours long dress rehearsals for older siblings is a bit of a challenge. Luckily he’s easy and the fourth child so crawling on the floor of a century-old theater doesn’t bother me like it would have when Jilly was a baby:
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The theater stage is a lot bigger than the studio, so one of the first things they do for the first theater rehearsal is blocking without music so the dancers can get used to being more spread out.
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This was Jilly’s last dress rehearsal on Tuesday night. She’s so excited for the big show!
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Peeking through the wings at the contemporary piece’s rehearsal just before we left for the night after her last dress rehearsal.
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Children’s Book Review: H is for Holy

Like most homeschooling families, we love books and there are never enough shelves for all of them. So when a friend at Ancient Faith Publishing asked if we wanted to review a copy of the new book H is for Holy, we were all so excited and we of course said yes. We’ve been checking our mailbox every day waiting for it to arrive and yesterday it got here, yay!

We sat down on the couch together after ballet and I started to read with all three big kids crowding in to listen and see the pictures.

Would you believe that a couple years ago when we started looking into Orthodoxy that it was a children’s book we found to be one of the most helpful? It had a way of explaining things so simply rather than the sometimes heady comparing and contrasting of Orthodoxy with other confessions or the rich theology of the Church. H is for Holy is like that with little nuggets of simply put information about the Church, theology and icons woven throughout.

We especially loved all the beautiful artwork in H is for Holy. One of the things that was a bit of a disappointment about that primer book a couple years ago was the lack of beautiful artwork especially coming from a faith with a heritage of such beautiful artwork. H is for Holy does not disappoint in that regard. Bright colors and beautiful depictions of the church and icons fill the book from cover to cover.

I was caught off guard by the way my children responded to the interactive questions sprinkled throughout. Normally, getting my kids to respond to a question in a book or even in our schoolwork brings forth “I don’t know” or they just want to skip over them. As we were reading through H is for Holy, however, my kids were quick to point out crosses on our icon corner, recount Bible stories and all of the other directives we came across.

In the last six months or so I’ve been collecting some Orthodox children’s books both for use by our little mission parish and for our own homeschooling use. Quite a few have recently gone out of print (I found a great little stash at our favorite monastery this weekend), so I am really glad that publishers like Ancient Faith are still making great books like H is for Holy for our kids. This one is a keeper for sure. I even found J looking over it again all by herself this morning.

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