Friday, December 15, 2023

St. Lucia and St. Herman


This past week some families in our community gathered to remember two special December Saints: St. Lucia of Syracuse and St. Herman of Alaska.

For St. Herman, we made Spruce Island cookies. A Presbytera friend gave me this recipe years ago, and I taped it into the back of my parish cookbook. This post has the full recipe with instructions, as well as a link to purchase the cookbook with the original recipe. It's traditional to make green tree shapes for Spruce Island, and yellow stars since St. Herman is called the North Star of Christ holy Church in his troparion.

In an attempt to avoid food dyes this year, we added 1/4 tsp tumeric to the recipe to make yellow stars. But you can also ice them or use yellow sprinkles.

I've also had to modify the recipe for Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free family members, using sun butter and oats. (Any kind of nut butter would also work in that one.)

For St. Lucy of Syracuse, we made St. Lucia buns. I never realized how perfect this recipe is for little hands. Basically, the dough is like play-dough and can be manipulated easily. I made the dough the night before and kept in in the fridge in an oiled plastic bag. 

It sat out on the counter during liturgy and was ready for rolling after snack time.

Since my god-daughter likes cinnamon, and since saffron is rather expensive, I adjusted the recipe:

St. Lucia Buns for my God-daughter

About 2 lb flour

¾ c oil

1 c sugar

1½ TBS yeast (or 2 packets)

1¾ c warm water

1 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp salt

Raisins or chocolate chips to decorate

Add sugar, yeast, and warm water to a bowl and let sit for 5-10 minutes.

Mix in rest of ingredients, adding just enough flour to make a dough that doesn’t stick to the sides of the bowl but is still pliable.

Shape and let rise for an hour, or refrigerate dough overnight in an oiled plastic bag. Bring to room temperature the next day, shape and rise for an hour.

Size of dough to shape = a small lemon (pics below)

Roll into a rope and then roll the ends in opposite directions towards the middle.

Bake at 350 for 15 minutes.

And just in case you need the reminder that these sorts of activities don't always turn out perfectly, I give you, the turtle/porcupine bun version. I love them!

None of the these children are mine - mine are with the "older kids" now. Therefore, I am particularly thankful for these moms sharing their children with me. I pray you enjoy the time with the children in your life this season!

Monday, April 3, 2023

Saint Moses the Ethiopian

You might have arrived at my blog from the link in my bio in my short story in Kosmeo, so I thought I would introduce you the historical man that inspired me. 

Meet Moses!

He has several epithets that help the faithful distinguish him from Moses of the Old Testament. 

Moses the Black
Moses the Ethiopian
Moses the African
Moses the Strong

You can read a short history of his life in wikipedia

Why is St. Moses the Ethiopian so inspiring to me? 

His Strength

I love the story of the Moses as a monk in the desert, attacked by four robbers. (You can read the story in the Wikipedia link above.) It helps to remember that Moses used to be a leader of a gang of robbers himself, and became a Christian later in life. Moses had the physicality you might expect from a gang leader. He was so large and so muscular that he was able to wrangle four men without knocking them out. Then he CARRIED all FOUR MEN to the main monastery building to turn them in to his abbot, because he didn't think it would be Christian to hurt them. (I love this detail in the story, because it points out that hurting them was an option. But he didn't do it.) He had physical and spiritual strength.

His Humility

He himself had been a former robber and gang leader. He had a personal conversion story to share that was similar to their own past. He could have sat the robbers down in his own cell and told them his story of becoming a Christian and urged them to follow his model.

But he did not presume to know best what they needed. Like all monks are trained to do, he crucified his own thoughts and desires and brought the robbers to his abbot. That way the abbot could ask Moses to share his story, or ask the cook to prepare them a meal, or ask the infirmary to check their health, or choose to talk to them himself. We don't know exactly what happened, but the four robbers were overcome by the Christian Life, the love-as-deeds-life, the kind of life in which "They will know you are Christians by your love." And the robbers experienced their own conversion story.

His Refusal to Judge

I love this for two reasons. First, I feel like I can come to him and talk to him and know that he is not judging me. Second, I feel drawn to his help when I am tempted to judge someone else. And I am always tempted to judge someone else. I feel grateful to God for the example he gives me in Moses. I know that by the prayers of St. Moses, I have been able to - slowly, over much time - see some of my own sins, my own sand that falls behind my back unknown to me, leaving a mess in my trail. 

Want to Read More about St. Moses?

I haven't read it yet, but want to read this graphic novel about the life of St. Moses. I have read two other graphic novels by the same author and was inspired by them.

If you would like to read about St. Moses in the context of other African saints, you might appreciate Become All Flame: Lent with African Saints – Park End Books. The explanation of the phrase "become all flame" is alone a worthy story!

Here is a little illustrated children's book, The Abbot and the Robbers. This paperback book is just the right size to read as a bedtime story.

I pray that when I am tempted, like Maurice in my own story, to think I am better than others or that others are doing things wrong, St. Moses will help me remember to see my own sin instead. St. Moses, pray to God for us!

Friday, January 13, 2023

The Ethics of Beauty (Free Webinar Link)

This free online event has me thinking!

"... interview with author and Orthodox Christian theologian Dr. Timothy Patitsas to discuss his book The Ethics of Beauty for an evening to rediscover the older Beauty-first response to moral questions, the integrity of the soul, and the best possible human life." January 26th, 8:00EST

Ethics of Beauty When Dealing with Children

This topic (focusing on Beauty first to help you figure out what to do in a situation) makes me think of a scene from Hard Times by Charles Dickins. Dickins clearly contrasts two opposite ways of thinking about a thing. In the passage, Mr. Gradgrind is trying to teach a little girl (whose father rides, raises, heals, and trains horses for the circus) about horses. 

I imagine that little Sissy, who has grown up with horses, had a more beautiful answer inside of her, but Mr. Gradgrind squashed it.)

‘Girl number twenty, ...Give me your definition of a horse.’

(Sissy Jupe thrown into the greatest alarm by this demand.)

‘Girl number twenty unable to define a horse!’ said Mr. Gradgrind, for the general behoof of all the little pitchers.  ‘Girl number twenty possessed of no facts, in reference to one of the commonest of animals!  Some boy’s definition of a horse...

‘Bitzer,’ said Thomas Gradgrind.  ‘Your definition of a horse.’

‘Quadruped.  Graminivorous.  Forty teeth, namely twenty-four grinders, four eye-teeth, and twelve incisive.  Sheds coat in the spring; in marshy countries, sheds hoofs, too.  Hoofs hard, but requiring to be shod with iron.  Age known by marks in mouth.’  Thus (and much more) Bitzer.

‘Now girl number twenty,’ said Mr. Gradgrind.  ‘You know what a horse is.’

She curtseyed again, and would have blushed deeper, if she could have blushed deeper than she had blushed all this time. 

The Ethics of Beauty

If Mr. Gradgrind had even considered the beauty of a horse, or the beauty of the bond between a person and his horse, then he might not have totally alienated poor Sissy. Instead he saw the horse through a lens of science, facts, figures.

Photo courtesy FreePik

It makes me wonder, do I ever see my children or the things they care about through a lens that belittles them? 

Thanks be to God for the prayer At the Beginning of the Day by Metropolitan Philaret, which includes these wise words:

 "Bless my dealings with all who surround me... Teach me to act firmly and wisely, without embittering and embarrassing others."

Metropolitan Philaret

Last October, I was able to attend our Diocesan Assembly and hear Eugenia Constantinou talk about how an Orthodox way of thinking differs from a modern Western way of thinking. 

Listening to her speak, I realized that often, much of my thinking does not line up with the Orthodox φρονιμα (way of thinking, way of seeing the world, way of approaching life - one of those hard words to translate). I'm not talking about my thinking about church that doesn't line up. It's my secular thinking: situations that I don't realize that I'm seeing wrongly, in a non-orthodox way. 

Thinking Orthodox

First, I want to read this book by Presvytera Eugenia. I'm also considering registering for the free interview with Timothy Patitsas. (Thursday morning or evening? I need to ask the event organizers and I'll update this post when I find out!)

Tuesday, January 3, 2023

Make Your Own Free Icon Coloring Page

I made this one year for our annual pilgrimage for our beloved Saint Raphael of Brooklyn

We have enjoyed free icon coloring pages like these in the past, but sometimes I can't find the saint I want.  

No worries - it's easy to make your own!

I was raised in the 80's on the TV show MacGyver, and his name became a verb for us, any time we needed to cobble something together we didn't have.
MacGyver rigs up a lie detector.

It seems that this idea of "macgyvering" seeped into my bones, because it has been my default response many times in my life.

My high school drama program couldn't afford scripts and royalties? We macgyvered plays ourselves.

My pantry didn't have the ingredients for a recipe? I macgyvered a substitution.

I couldn't find an icon coloring page for my children? I made one.

And you can make one for the children in your life, too!

How to Make a Free Icon Coloring Page

Step 1 - Icon and Clear plastic 

You need a container with a lid slightly larger than the size of the icon you want to use. I save clear plastic fruit & bakery containers for this purpose.

I've scored some very large ones at Coffee Hour - when someone brings muffins or mini-cinnamon buns from Sam's Club. 

This is a small berry carton for a small icon.

Cut the lid off, so you can place it over your icon.

I decided to make a coloring page of the icon of Saint Monica instead, since she is my patron saint, and we already have a lot of St. Herman materials.

Step 2 - Permanent Marker

Trace the major lines of the icon onto the clear plastic. You may want a back-up plastic lid, in case you mess up the first one.

Keep taking it off and putting it back on to see what you still need to trace. The goal is not to trace every detail - just the major lines. Sometimes, instead of coloring pages, these are called Black Line Drawings. That name might help you make choices about what to trace.

Step 3 - Cut out your Flat Template

My icon is St. Monica asking the Lord Jesus to help her son. 

I didn't like how the image of Jesus turned out on my plastic rendition, so I decided to cut it out. I can tell the story of St. Monica to children and explain that she is gesturing to Christ in prayer.

Step 4 - Make a Copy onto white paper 

Our home printer makes copies, but you could also ask your local priest if you could borrow the church's copy machine. Or you could take it to Fed Ex or Kinkos.

After the original copy, I decided to enlarge it 160% so the icon coloring page would indeed fill a whole page. 

Step 5 - Revise your Icon Coloring Page

I made a couple of copies, so that I could play with it. I eventually decided NOT to include the pattern on the dalmatica. 

I did use correction tape ($1 at Dollar General) to remove the faint line of the original plastic.

I also took my permanent marker and went back over some lines that looked faded.

Finally, I printed her name using Algerian font and made another copy. 

If you can, scan the image as a pdf, to save it to your computer for future use. 

Also, I put the tracing pages and plastic in our "Holy Burn Can" - which is just where we keep things like that to burn later. If your family doesn't regularly burn holy trash, your priest probably does. If you have a son who serves in the alter ask him about it - it might even be his job!

And that, my friends, is how you macgyver a free icon coloring page.

Tuesday, December 13, 2022

Nativity Fast: Nachos


Also known in my motherly mind as "Chips and Veggies"

"Cheese" Sauce = puréed veggies 

baked butternut squash

roasted red bell pepper (jar)

caramelized onion (I doubled the onion I needed last night and had it waiting to go in the fridge)

pickled jalapenos

mustard, lemon juice, nutritional yeast, garlic powder, smoked paprika, chili powder, cumin, salt, cayenne, whatever spices you like

fat of choice 

(For fat, I alternate between what I have available, usually coconut oil, blended cashews, or a packet of Daiya cheese sauce. It's expensive at $6 per box, but each box has 3 packs of sauce and it's nice to have around in a pinch.)


refried beans
taco sauce

I put the beans on the chips with the cheese before popping them in the oven for 5-10 minutes, basically to force the kids to get protein, haha. 

If you do prep work in the morning, this is super quick to throw together at dinnertime. 

Monday, November 28, 2022

Book Review: Exile by Loren Warnemeunde

 What if a YA novel made you think of Dostoevsky?

It seems rather unlikely, but the new YA novel, Exile, moved me to think of Dostoevsky, the Old Testament, and Grimm’s Fairy Tales. (And fairy tales - as we all know - contain shadows of the Gospels, right?) 

And it’s also just a good story! 

Loren Warnemeude says in the Author’s Notes that she set out to write a retelling of Grimm’s fairy tale, “Maid Maleen,” but it grew into something much more. I agree. In the beginning it does feel like a fairy tale, complete with the threat of a tower/tomb, a garden, an apple tree, a threat of exile…

But somewhere along the way, the literature teacher in me quit looking for imagery and metaphors, and I was swept into the story, just enjoying the ride. 

Princess Maleen is faced with an impossible choice: marry a man she doesn’t want or be exiled into a tower. She has only three days to make the choice and chooses the tower, confident that her true love Melinor will rescue her. The novel unfolds the consequences of her choices, the struggles she faces, and the unexpected growth she discovers in those struggles.

Let’s talk about why Exile makes me think of Dostoevsky, et al. It is definitely not long and heavy. Each character does not have seven names. The “horrible” father of Exile is not at all like Fyodor Pavlovich Karamazov. However, both stories incarnate an important idea of the Christian life: suffering can offer a chance for redemption. 

Very gently, and without preaching, Loren Warnemeunde unfolds the transformation of a young woman, a transformation that seems only to have been possible through her suffering.

Many scenes of the novel reminded me of Pride and Prejudice, of how blind we can be to the true nature of people and of the beauty that comes with new sight.

Exile is set in a fantasy world, and in the same way that Tolkien and Lewis include Biblical ideas without actually putting the name of God in the story, Warnemunde’s fantasy world is a mirror of the Scriptures. Christian readers will probably recognize the veiled references to the Mighty One, and I think non-Christians would still enjoy the story without making the connection.

I highly recommend it. If you still need to buy some presents for teens (or adults) in your life, Exile is a good choice.

Friday, September 2, 2022

Book Review: Into the Flames (& Other Plays on Saints' Lives)


My first experience of a children’s church play was at St. Nicholas in Shreveport, where my children got to participate in a play every December, for either St. Nicholas or for the Nativity. I was also blessed to spend a couple of years in Ann Arbor, Michigan at St. Vladimir Orthodox. Each year on their parish Feast Day, the children put on a play. It always impressed me afterwards how these kids could remember details from the stories, more than if they had only been taught a lesson. The plays enabled them to embody and absorb the stories.

I love plays!

That’s why I waited and waited (with no patience whatsoever) all summer to get my free preview copy of Into the Flames by Christine Siampos. And now I’m sharing my honest review with you. :)

I’m a drama teacher by trade, so I have opinions about drama, gained through years of putting on performances. I approached the book really hoping that I would be able to envision these plays being performed by regular kids, directed by regular parents and teachers, with easy props and costumes. 

It turns out that the playwright wrote these plays for the children in her own parish to perform, so she knows what it is like “in the trenches” of dealing with real children. She knew exactly how to write the script and adjust the directions for real kids. I could easily envision someone with no experience at all directing these plays, because the directions are so clear and easy to follow.

There is also room for options. A given play can be performed by six kids or by ten or more, depending on which of the options you choose. 

As I read through the plays, I imagined who might like to use them:

First, I want to share some ideas that might not immediately come to your mind. I think just the process of reading through and acting these plays out, scripts in hand, just for fun and not necessarily for a formal performance, could be fun:

Friends in the backyard

Babysitting job for a large family or during Mom’s Night Out

Childcare during a parish Retreat for adults 

Then, of course, there are the rehearse-and-perform venues: 

Special Feast Day performance at a parish

Sunday School classes

Vacation Church School

Summer Camp

Diocesan Conference Children’s Program

Classical School Drama Program (maybe not all the plays, but 

This new book of plays has so many possibilities. 

If you purchase five copies, Park End Books will allow you to make photocopies for the different children so they can highlight their lines and take home their scripts to practice, without fear of losing the playbooks.

I truly think this is a great resource for the Orthodox community and look forward to helping the children in my life perform some of these plays! Thank you, Christine Siampos and Park End Books!

#orthodoxchristian  #orthodox #bookreview #churchschool #parkendbooks #parishlifeconference #parishretreat #diocesenconferencechildren #largefamilyfun #classicalschooldrama

Sunday, June 5, 2022

The Birthday of the Church (Pentecost)

Music Review

My oldest is almost 19 years old, but he can still sing all the words to all the songs on this wonderful album - Celebrate the Feasts! When he was a wee lad and his little siblings were strapped into their car seats in the old minivan, this cd was pretty much on repeat whenever we drove anywhere.

I love how the music is fun, but the lyrics are straight out of Orthodox theology, often even straight out of the services.

If you are new to Gigi Shadid, I hope you enjoy this song about Pentecost with your children this week. It will be a nice way to prepare them to engage in the Feast this coming weekend! 

Fun Links:

Speaking about preparing for the Feast, this research shows that just experiencing new things prepares a person to better learn them.

Here's the entire Youtube video list of Gigi Shadid.

From the Archives:

Have you ever wished things were different? If only... might make you laugh with me. 

Hatian Beans and Rice - because you can never have too many ways to make beans and rice!

Wednesday, June 1, 2022

Help to do Shakespeare

I promise, you could just follow my own family's plan and get a good taste of a Shakespeare play.

However, you might like to go deeper for a number of reasons:

1. You are just curious.

2. You are nerdy like me and like going deeper to see more ideas.

3. You would feel better about answering your children's questions if you had a little more preparation yourself. This one might especially be true if your child was assigned Shakespeare in school and you want to be able to participate and/or help at home.

4. You want to learn more about a specific play in order to decide if it is appropriate for your family.

If any of these resonate with you, then this post is for you. I'll start with Free Resources, and then move to Paid Resources. Remember - not everything I list will be appropriate for your children. This list of resources is really for you as a parent. 

Free Resources for Shakespeare

If you can, start with the Lamb's version

Then move to the play itself. I linked to their Romeo and Juliet, but you can find most of the plays there. Just type Shakespeare into the search bar. 

The Play's the Thing Podcast - best free place for understanding the histories and tragedies

This podcast goes through Shakespeare plays one act at a time. The rotating hosts are all literature teachers and Shakespeare lovers. I have not listened to them all, but I can share my favorites:

Their series on Romeo & Juliet is enlightening. Hosts Tim, Heidi, and Sarah-Jane help you understand specific scenes, big motifs, and the frustrating question, "Why did this tragedy have to happen?!" 

I also really like their series on the History plays. Henry IV, part 1 and Henry V are incredible! The first deals with a prodigal son (Prince Hal) who has to make his way into manhood and take responsibility for the nation. Then, Hal become Henry V in the next play. If you are from the United States, you might not know that Henry V became a super popular military hero king, something akin to George Washington in terms of national popularity and historical legend. He is truly inspiring! I suggest listening to the first part of the first episode of a play before starting to read. The hosts usually do a wonderful job setting it up for you!

They have also done a nice job with King Lear and Much Ado About Nothing

The Literary Life Podcast - best free place for understanding how the comedies work

This podcast has done two Shakespeare comedies: A Winter's Tale and A Midsummer Night's Dream

This series is where I learned how the Shakespeare comedies structurally follow the Gospel pattern - what a beautiful set of images to take into your reading! High School students would be ready for this depth of instruction. (Remember, for Elementary students, the story itself will feed them what they need without our extra explaining.)

They have sponsored two free Read-Alongs that are recorded: A Midsummer Night's Dream and The Tempest. (You may have to sign up for their newsletter to access the videos. You might want to sign up anyway if you think your family might like to participate in the next Read Along!)

Hillsdale College Free Online Courses

This wonderful course, "Shakespeare: Hamlet and the Tempest" offers beautiful instruction via video lectures about both plays, comparing and contrasting Hamlet and Prospero. There are 7 videos, each about 40 minutes. You have to sign up and then you'll receive lots of emails from them, but you can just set your email to send those to the spam folder if you like.

Local Library Film Versions:

Since there are too many versions of Shakespeare on film to review in one blog post, I'll start with a play I remember vividly from my 9th grade English class: Romeo and Juliet. The Zeferelli film is gorgeous, but you will need to call a "bathroom break" after the marriage. While the kids are out of the room, fast forward through their honeymoon night. Marital relations are off-scene, but there is a shot of Romeo's naked rear-end when they wake up the next morning.

The Romeo+Juliet film is a modern version with guns instead of swords, full of energy.

                                                                Watch the trailer here.

In general, unless it is a Laurence Olivier black and white version, I suggest you preview a Shakespeare film adaption BEFORE watching it with your children. This is true ESPECIALLY if you watched it as a teenager. We often don't remember details that passed over our heads as teenagers. Trust me, they are much more vivid when you are sitting on the couch next to your young children!

The good news is that you can find plenty of options for free at your local library and on youtube.

Paid Resources for Shakespeare

Recorded Videos from House of Humane Letters:

Roman Roads Press
I taught a co-op class one year and the students found this unit on Shakespeare very helpful. Like the other resources I've listed, these lectures help put the literature in historical context. The unit includes the following lectures, which average 30-40 minutes in length (and include more than just Shakespeare):

1. Introduction to Early Moderns (Wesley Callihan) 
2. Introduction to Shakespeare (Peter Leithart)
3. Shakespeare’s Sonnets (Peter Leithart)
4. Shakespeare’s King Lear (Peter Leithart)

5. Shakespeare’s Richard III (Peter Leithart)

6. Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice (Peter Leithart)

7. Metaphysical Poets: John Donne (Wesley Callihan)

8. Metaphysical Poets: George Herbert and Marvell (Wesley Callihan)

9. Introduction to Milton (Wesley Callihan)

10Paradise Lost I (Wesley Callihan)

11Paradise Lost II (Wesley Callihan)

12Paradise Lost III (Wesley Callihan)

One Last Note about Live Productions

Call the box office before buying tickets. Ask them if this particular production is family-friendly. 

Yes, many theatres like to push the boundaries and politicize their story-telling. However, most theatres will post a sign that says "Adult Content" if they plan to have Macbeth set in the post-apocolypse doing drugs, with images of children being hanged in the background. Or nudity. I didn't take my children to see one production of King Lear because of nudity after reading about it in a newspaper.

The theatre companies want to please their patrons and don't want angry folks marching out of a show. They usually want to inform you to keep you happy. 

I have found this to be very helpful. Also, you could just ask other people you trust about a particular theater's performances before buying tickets.


I will be teaching an online class at St. Athanasius Academy next school year. We will feast on the enrichment arts together, reading aloud two Shakespeare plays in class, as well as memorizing poetry, observing beautiful art, and listening to classical music. The class is on Fridays, if you are interested.

King Lear: Cordelia’s Goodbye (1897-1898) – Edward Austin Abbey

This post offers only a sample of the resources available. If you have specific questions about a specific play, feel free to ask!