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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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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).


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.


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.


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


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

St. Hermione
Women of Faith


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


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


17 – St. Sophia
Christina’s Favorite Saints


20 – St. Eustathios
My Warrior Saints

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


25 – The Great Earthquake at Constantinople
And Then Nicholas Sang


27 – St. Callistratus
My Warrior Saints


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


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

St. Kendeas
Under the Grapevine


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



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


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


25 – St. Mercurius
My Warrior Saints

30 – St. Andrew
St. Andrew Pinterest Board


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


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


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


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.

Jilly gets to be a little fairy (Sleeping Beauty).

“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.

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:



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.

This was Jilly’s last dress rehearsal on Tuesday night. She’s so excited for the big show!

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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December 2014

This month has been marked by trips to the beach and St. Barbara’s Monastery with my Godmama, Peter being three months old, Nutcracker rehearsals and performances, crafting, glorious rain, opening presents, and church feast days.


































































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