Monday, March 27, 2017

Lent in Pictures

Why lemons? Because, Hummus.

Lunches for the kiddos: steamed-from-frozen broccoli, mini carrots, hummus, and left over rice "stir-fried" with some canola oil and Montreal Chicken Seasoning. So thankful to my Ukrainian friend, Sasha, for introducing that spice to me. She puts it on rice, potatoes, and noodles for her kids.

How many pounds? Yes, 4 pounds of Peanut Butter. I know that almond butter would be more healthy, but our budget is more of a peanut butter budget right now. It is comforting to know that there is at least one thing in the pantry that does not need cooking and can give my kids some protein. Besides, "go get a peanut butter spoon" (literally, a spoon dipped in peanut butter), how else do I use it?

  • Spread before topping with cinnamon sugar for cinnamon toast.
  • Mix it into oatmeal.
  • Put on celery or apple slices.
  • Grilled PBJ (like grilled cheese)
  • Our very favorite use: chickpea blondies for breakfast or coffee hour. Katie has some great fast-friendly breakfast and dessert ideas on that website!

Would you like to share what images you see around the house that are unique to our Lenten Spring?

Monday, March 20, 2017

Book Review: The Suitcase by Jane G. Meyer

I am always on the lookout for beautiful picture books that will present meaningful ideas from a new perspective for my students. Last week my husband, our teenage son, and I watched this Ted Talk about how a slight change in perspective can reveal ... the gateways to empathy and understanding.  Totally cool video, I highly recommend it, especially if your student is getting bored with math - but I digress. Let's talk about children and empathy and understanding. Let's talk about travelling to the Kingdom of God!
I teach pre-K- 2nd grade Sunday School and 3rd-5th grade Writing/History/Faith.  After I read this book, which I was grateful to receive free in return for a fair and honest review, I thought to myself, “that is the book I wanted last October, when we were doing our HUGS
-based lessons. The goal was to teach the children Christ’s words, "Do it to the least of these my brethren and you do it to Me" (Matthew 25:40).

This book is a good living book for that Gospel passage. The young boy in the story takes Christ literally and is ready to put His commands into practice – after packing his suitcase with all of the bits of Biblical commands and images he has learned over the years.  Although the text of the book does not overtly state it, the young boy has some common characteristics of a child with autism. I was delighted with this young character and - revealing my ignorance - I wouldn't have realized the autism connection without being told so. In any case, the reader can gain understanding and empathy with both children with autism and the Gospel passages this young man is so willing to accept without question.

The surprising part of the book, for me, was that his parents get on board right then, at that very moment. As I read the ending, I was irritated, thinking, “right, that mom can’t just turn the stove off, leave all those dirty supper dishes, and go out the door!” So I was thankful for author Jane G. Meyer’s page of suggestions at the end of the book. After a gentle reminder that parents should take care not to put off their child’s heart-felt desire to serve others, (entertaining angels is one thing the young lad had in mind when he packed his suitcase!), she offers a list of ways to make that practical in daily life. In the end, even though I think this will be a nice book to read to my students, I think it holds an even more important reminder for the parents.

From the Archives:

Book Review: The Life of St. Brigid by Jane G. Meyer - really, one of my all-time favorites by this author!

Book Review and Lesson Ideas: The Woman and the Wheat by Jane G. Meyer


Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Vegan Nut-Free Nacho Cheese Sauce

One day as we were discussing fasting meals that children like, a Presvytera friend told me about a Lenten cheese sauce. Let me tell you - if you have not yet discovered Angela Lidden's Oh She Glows website, you are in for a treasure chest of new fasting recipes!  By all means, if you like Broccoli Cheese Soup, try her version, because it is very tasty.

Thank you, Angela!

The soup on that website, however, is not the priority here. It's the cheese sauce that she makes to pour into the soup that we are after!

We have some nut allergies in our family, so we haven't been able to enjoy those yummy looking cashew nacho cheese sauces I've seen. Also, as Melissa Naasko points out in Fasting as a Family, over-using nuts can grow expensive (especially if one has a love for Mexican food!). That's why this nut-free cheese sauce was such a find for our family! We liked the original recipe so much that we wanted to tweak it so we could use it for one of our family's favorite meals - NACHOS! Just throw in some refried beans or black beans to round it out with protein.

Here's my version of Mrs. Lidden's original. You can rough chop the veggies because they are all landing in the food processor eventually. If you don't have all the spices, the recipe is very flexible, so go for it anyway!

Vegan Nut-Free Nacho Cheese Sauce


2 TBS oil
1/2 large onion
1/2 red or green bell pepper
8 baby carrots
* see note below if it makes you cringe to read 1/2 of a vegetable!

2 garlic cloves
2 small russet potatoes and 1 medium sweet potato - you want to end up with about 2&1/2 cups, peeled and chopped

1 tsp kosher salt (use a little less regular salt)
4 TBS nutritional yeast
4 TBS veggie water (saved from draining your veggies)
1 TBS fresh lemon juice
1 TBS apple cider vinegar
1/4 tsp smoked paprika
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/4-1 tsp chili powder, depending on your preference
few dashes of hot sauce
squirt of ketchup
small can of diced green chiles


Chop the onions, peppers, and carrots and cook them in the 2 TBS of olive oil with a little salt over medium heat until they began to turn golden, about 5-10 minutes, stirring often.

Throw in the chopped garlic and potatoes, cover with water, and bring to a boil until veggies are tender, about 10 minutes. Check a potato with a fork to be sure.

Drain the veggies, reserving the liquid. Measure 1/4 cup for the sauce tonight and save the rest in the fridge for Taco Soup tomorrow.

Add the cooked veggies and every other ingredient to the food processor and process for 1 minute. Use a rubber spatula to scrape down the sides and process for at least 1 more minute.

I don't know if you've ever over whipped mashed potatoes and ended up with goo? I have. The reason is because overworking the potato starches causes them to change structure...

...into gooey Nacho Cheese Sauce! Even my sweet 9 yo daughter remarked dramatically, "Mama, I can't believe you put sweet potatoes and bell peppers in here - and hot sauce - I hate those things, and I like it! I can't stop eating it!" Usually those sort of exclamations come after we've been fasting for a few weeks already and just about anything new and interesting seems delicious. But this was week one of Great Lent and we got two thumbs up.

We served it spooned over tortilla chips with refried beans and "Bell Pepper Nachos" on the side. Just cut bell peppers into roughly triangular shapes, rub on a little oil and garlic salt, and bake at 350 for 30 minutes. Then fill with toppings like black beans, avocado, and Nacho Cheese Sauce.

You could pour this over Refried Bean Burritos, or use it to top Wet Burritos, Enchiladas or Black bean tamales.

Or use Angela Lidden's original recipe as a dip for steamed broccoli spears or on top of baked potatoes.

From the archives:
If any kind of spicy dish sounds good, this Sweet and Spicy Chili is unique! If you need some new ways to serve beans, you might like this post, 1 Bag of Beans, 3 Meals, which includes a delicious Southern Soul Food Beans and Greens recipe. You can tell it's from 2009, though, because $.97 bag of beans??!!!!

I have one more idea I hope you'll consider: I am not so special, and therefore you too can take a recipe and tweak it for your own family's preferences and needs. Share it with me when you do, please, because after cooking for a family for a dozen years of fasting days, it is pleasing to find something new!

*1/2 a vegetable? I don't think so!

Chop that whole onion and bell pepper, and double the garlic and carrot too. Saute it all. Then, before moving on with the recipe, scoop out half the sautéed veggies and use them with the potato water tomorrow for Taco Soup. Just add 2 cans of beans (chili beans, black beans, pinto beans), a can of corn with the juice, a can of diced tomatoes and green chiles with their juice, a quart of veggie broth, a tsp each of cumin, chili poweder, garlic powder, and 1/4 tsp of oregano and a pinch of sugar. Simmer for 20 minutes, taste and adjust seasonings, turn the heat off and add a squeeze of lemon, lime, or vinegar and lunch is ready.

Wait - did I just say you could chop one whole vegetable? This is really crazy, but if you have time, chop 3 onions, 3 bell peppers, ect. and put in 12 cans of beans (or 16-20 cups of cooked dried beans), 6 quarts of veggie broth, 3 cans each of everything else and 2 TBS of each spice.  When it's all done, ladel into freezer bags that fit your family's needs and freeze for future use. You could pull out large bags in the morning and thaw them in the crockpot for later that night. Or you could pull our single serving containers for lunch boxes.

Or, you could just make the one original recipe and ignore all of this. :) Just had to put it out there!

Sunday, March 12, 2017

A Menu, Not a Checklist

The ladies were gathered in the church hall at long tables with pink cyclamen blooming as the centerpiece for each row. The microphone was ready. The children were back home tucked away with grandparents, fathers, friends. The evening was ours to focus on God.

Thanks be to God, I was blessed to attend a Ladies Lenten Retreat last weekend. The speaker was Khouria Krista West, an ecclesiastical tailor, purveyor of fine linens, and researcher and speaker in the field of Orthodox Christian Aesthetics. She shared with us about beauty, specifically restoring the image of Christ in us, and gave us handouts with ideas of how to implement this reality in daily life. One handout listed mentoring ideas, one handout listed books to read, one handout listed ways to add beauty to your surroundings.

As she gave us the handouts, she made it very clear that we should consider these sheets as a MENU - something to peruse and choose which ideas fit our own life. "This is NOT," Khouria Krista most adamantly proclaimed with a sassy slide of her neck and those knowing eyebrows looking down at us, "a To-Do List!"

Each of has unique gifts from God, unique circumstances, unique relationships, and unique phases of our lives that may or may not overlap with what is working well for another woman. So I hope you never feel pressure to try everything I offer in this online space. No indeed! But like Khouria Krista, I say, here are a variety of ideas, see if you desire to use any of them.

Does an idea make you inspired or excited? Try it out! Does an idea make you feel weighed down at the thought of cramming one more thing into your already full life? Or frustrated because you don't feel like you could make it work but maybe you should try? Well then, my friends, ignore it! May God who loves us dearly help us discern between the two and bless our efforts in Christ Jesus.

We are all beautiful in our Lord Jesus Christ in different ways.

As another way to recognizing the many different forms of beauty God has created and nurtured, I started a list of diverse and unique sisters in Christ. If any call to you, this resource and this one can help you learn more.

Very Young Woman - Martyr Aquilina of Byblos
Pregnant Woman - Matry Felicitas
Young Brave Mother - Martyr Julita (Ulita) of Tarsus
Elder Holy Woman - Mary of Egypt
Daughter of Abusive Parent/Nature-loving Woman/Clever Architect - Greatmartyr Barbara
Princess - Elizabeth the New-Martyr
Behind-the-Scenes Faithful Woman - New-Martyr Barbara
Refugee in a Strange Land - Ruth (you're going to have to look in the Old Testament book)
Misunderstood but Strong Woman - Mary/Marinus
Physically Blind but Spiritually Sightful Woman - St. Matrona

I bet we could put our heads together and think of many more. I'll be glad to add them to the list if you send me your ideas to orthodoxmother at gee mail dot com or reply in the comments below!

Each of us has a unique beauty from God. We do not have to be like all of the women listed above. We have to be the image of Christ manifested in the way God created for us!

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Lent in Pictures: In Which the Young Men Are Reminded

I think I'll start posting an image or two each week to capture a memory of the sights we see only during this unique time of year, Great Lent.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Lent in Pictures: Lenten Calendar

After being inspired by Matushka Emma and Illumination Learning, I headed to the Dollar Tree to pick up a board and some stickers to make our own Lenten Calendar that could incorporate what I loved about both ideas.

From Matushka Emma, I liked the idea of the butterfly (because we too are being transformed into something beautiful!), the colors, and the dots for each day. Since I was using a butterfly clip instead of a magnet, I had to put the days around the border of the poster.

From Illumination Learning, I liked the calendar that showed what we would be doing each day of the week. Little man, 5, is especially concerned with this, "Will we kiss the priest's hand or the cross at the end of this service? Are we having communion? Are we eating afterwards?" So I put all of that onto a calendar for him and he feels very proud being able to look for himself and know ahead of time!

The children did the coloring and the gluing. Each Sunday has a small icon glued next to it to show the focus of each Sunday of Great Lent.
Here's Little Man moving the butterfly to the 3rd day of Great Lent.

I bet you could take my file and make an even better poster with your family, so here it is.

Click here to download Our Lenten Spring poster file.

All of the information about the Sundays of Great Lent came from the OCA website.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Sunday of Orthodoxy Activity

As a private and public junior high and high school teacher for ten years before becoming a homeschool teacher of grades pre-k and up, I can basically offer something for ALL of your kids, no matter who your are! (smile)

When I post learning material I hope that you can see yourself using it whether your kids learn at home or also in a traditional school. For instance, today's COPYWORK on the Sunday of Orthodoxy can be used several ways once you print it out:

  • Do you help with Sunday School? Include it in your lesson this week, along with this coloring page found here.

  • Work on it with your child Sunday afternoon, between your own parish's service and the Pan-Orthodox service later that evening*. Ask your child to listen for the words when you attend that evening service.  I love the knowing look my five-year-old gives me when he hears something we had talked about before the service. 

  • If you homeschool, use this for handwriting practice on Monday as a way to review Sunday's events.
Don't try to click on me - I'm just for show!

  • If it is appropriate in your parish, you could allow your smaller child to quietly color the line drawing and practice the letters on the manuscript page during one of the bed time evening services this upcoming week.
For the file, click on the link at the bottom of the page :)

But, why copywork? Isn't that sort of like busywork, that pointless time-filler many teachers who didn't know better used in order to keep little hands occupied?

Actually, the process of saying words aloud and then writing them with one's hand accomplishes several benefits beyond improved handwriting.

First, your child encounters an idea in those words, an idea that is nourishment for the mind and soul. In this case, your child gets to spend a few minutes with an idea that is foundational to our Faith. You can talk about it together. As he writes, time is provided to chew on and digest something from this important day, making this year's Lenten journey a little more meaningful.

Second, writing can be an elaborative rehearsal device. What is that, you might be thinking? It is a technique that moves information from one's short-term memory to one's long-term memory by providing opportunities to repeat that information and link it to other encounters. In this case, you are linking the encounter of the Church service to the copywork.

Third, writing and speaking the same words uses three of our five senses: we see them with our eyes, hear them with our own ears, and "touch" them as we form our lips, tongue and teeth to say them and touch the pencil with our hand. The only senses missing are smell and taste, which your child will receive at church with incense, beeswax candles, kissing the icons, and Holy Communion. 

Why does it matter to use our senses? When I taught Speech and Drama students to memorize their material, I instructed them: imagine your brain receiving a message from one of your senses; your finger touches something and a little pathway is created from the tip of your finger to your brain. Now, what if more than one sense were traveling down that pathway? You write the word and say it with your mouth and the pathway is made wider, stronger, more like a road to your road. The more times the path is traveled the stronger it gets. The stronger the pathway, the better you remember.

This is perhaps why Katherine Johnson included so much copywork of Scripture and hymnography in her Orthodox Curriculum, Ages of Grace. We want our children to remember the important things about our Faith.

On to the file: it is a pdf file with a page for cursive, a page for elementary manuscript, and a page for easier manuscript.

I hope you can use it!

* (Okay, I realize because I have been there that some of you don't even have one parish within an hour drive, much less two! Thanks be to God you have that one you can get to sometimes! If you have to, you can do your own procession around your house and shout together the lines of copywork.)

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Lessons from Rogue One: Part 2, Dying for Others

We are still reflecting on the "being willing to die for others" theme, but expanding it to find a way for all of us to participate, every day. Our lives may not be as dramatic as a climb to the top of the communications tower to send the secret information before the entire thing explodes. Jen and Cassian did a great job of that, but many of us are not called into those physical circumstances.

Some of us are - I am thinking of our brothers and sisters under persecution that do have to make extreme physical sacrifices as they flee their homes or offer their very lives.

But that is not my cross, not right now anyway. Does this mean I cannot participate in the greatest love?

Dying for others does not have to mean physical death.  If we live in a family, we don't have to look very far to find opportunities to participate.

Life offers a hundred moments a day to die to oneself. Especially during Lent, may our eyes be opened to seeing and embracing this! Here are a few scenarios that may or may nor be from our home:

  • Praying the prayer of Saint Ephraim, with the twelve "God be gracious to me a sinner" bows between it, two family members disagree on how many bows have been done. Instead of arguing about it, one might humbly let it go and say nothing!

  • With a light rain pattering outside and darkness already fallen, teenage son could grumble when reminded about taking out the trash, or (as he did - thanks be to God!) he could say nothing and humbly do his chore.

  • When the children are all being naughty, each in their own special way that somehow seems to exponentially increase the propensity for naughtiness in the others, the mother can not yell, but instead close her eyes and say the Jesus prayer before proceeding.

Do you see the pattern? Every example involves being humble and restraining the tongue.

The Scripture could very well be demonstrated as, Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his TONGUE with his family!

These are only a few examples, and I'm sure you can think of many more.  Perhaps you will share in the comments below, so we can smile together. 

May God help us die to our own desires and making room for the life of our Lord Jesus Christ to manifest in us.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Christian Lessons from Star Wars Rogue One

Every single one of the main characters in the movie lays down his or her life for others.

Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.

This movie impacted my heart more than I expected because it made me think about my own children laying down their lives, a far more intense idea than a vague someone.

I was asking myself, if I find myself in a situation like St. Sophia or St. Julitta, mothers who had to cope with their children be martyred, will I be able to handle it? Will my children be able to handle it? Will they stand for their faith like the child saints Faith, Hope, Love, and Cyricus?

I need to pray differently for my children. Sure, I will keep praying for them to be kept from harm, like the Children's Prayer to the Guardian Angel: Keep me from every evil, sickness, and grief. 

But also, Lord help my children be brave and courageous and willing to die for others, willing to die for their faith if that time ever comes. Lord, help me be brave and courageous and willing to die to myself.

That is the first lesson I gathered from Rogue One.

Jyn Erson
Captain Cassian
Chirrut Imwe
Baze Malbus
Bodhi Rook

They had courage to be willing to die for others.

If you are not a Star Wars fan, then perhaps you won't be interested in the rest of this series. Maybe you want to learn to make Veggie Loaf, instead of meatloaf, since Great Lent is here! Or you might like to learn how to turn a beloved children's book into a literature lesson.

However, if your family enjoys Star Wars as much as my family does, be on the lookout for future installments in this little series, Lessons from Rogue One.
Part 2

Saturday, February 25, 2017

On Beauty and Femininity - a Lenten Retreat

If you live in the Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippi area, you might like to consider this Women's Retreat next weekend!

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Orthodox Christian Holy Week Calendar

I found a great idea for Holy Week, but wanted to make it fit with our Orthodox Cycle of services for this upcoming week.

So, with help from Illumination Learning and the Greek Archdiocese website, I synthesized the Calendar idea with our blessed Holy Week. And I'm happy to share it with you!

Click here to download the Orthodox Holy Week Calendar Project

Each day has the following four categories:

1) Theme for the day
2) Scripture Readings
3) Crafts to glue onto the poster
4) Hymns for the services that day

Friday, August 8, 2014

Cut-Out Cookies for St. Herman (GFCF No Nut)

Tomorrow we will visit a sister parish for their feast day - the glorification of St. Herman of Alaska! We've often celebrated St. Herman's Day in December with special treats, so we wanted to bring some Spruce Island Cookies for this special day in the parish's life.

However, my son, the one who is no-dairy-soy-egg-nut-wheat-corn, would not have been able to eat them without discomfort, so I tried a new recipe today, inspired by Katherine and Anna. I substituted sun-butter for part of the margarine, sugar for the powdered sugar (which has corn starch), and oats & gfcf mix for the flour. And the bottle of vinegar for a rolling pin.

We thought the results were good enough to share, since it can be hard to find good recipes for our gfcf-no-nut-no-egg family and friends:) At first, I thought they might be too crumbly and would need something like xanthum gum to help, but once they cooled they turned out fine.

Cut-Out Cookies 

(GFCF No Nut No Egg)

1 scant c. sugar
1/2 c. lenten margarine, softened (we use Earth Balance, soy-free)
1/2 c. Sunflower Seed Butter
1 T apple cider vinegar
1 1/4 c. Bob's Redmill Gluten Free baking mix (the one with garbanzo beans & sorghum)
1 cup oat flour (just took my stick blender to a bowl of oats, then measured out a cup)
3/4 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt

Preheat oven to 400 degrees

Cream together confectioner's sugar, margarine, sun-butter, and vinegar. Mix together the flours, baking soda, and salt into a separate bowl. Add to the margarine mixture and stir until blended. If the dough seems dry, add a little liquid (rice milk, water, etc.) to correct consistency.

On a lightly oat-floured surface, roll the dough out to about 1/8 inch thickness. Cut into desired shapes (like a tree!) Place cookies carefully onto ungreased cookie sheets. Sprinkle cookies liberally with green sugar or leave plan to frost after baking.

Bake 6-8 minutes. Cool slightly on the pans. Remove to wire rack to cool completely. Makes 1-3 dozen, depending on the size of your cookie cutter!

 Spruce Island Trees and the North Star of Alaska
St. Herman, pray for us!