Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas!

Christ is Born!  Glorify Him!

Wishing all of you a joyous Christmas!!!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Nativity of Christ

My husband and I took our kids and my sister to a live Nativity Scene at the Creation Museum tonight.  We took our kids there last year as well.

I was thinking about it on the drive home - we haven't ever taken our kids to see Santa at the mall.  I just can't see spending $20 - $30 for them to get a picture with the mall Santa.  It does nothing for me.  But...I kind of like this new tradition we've established.  It's only the second year we've taken them to see the live Nativity scene but I wouldn't mind doing this every year with them.  1) It's completely free.  2) We are emphasizing where we want the focus for Christmas to be - on Christ rather than Santa.  (Although my boys do believe in Santa - we could debate that one but it was never really a choice for us since we adopted them and this was a part of them from the's not the worst thing in the world - but I do want to make sure they understand where the importance lies for Christmas)

It's fun going to the museum.  Volunteers dress in costume and walk around and interact with everyone who visits.  Roman soldiers are walking around.  A man stands at the entrance of Bethlehem for the census (taking information for the museum to see how far people are traveling to see their live Nativity scene - but we'll play along).  Once you enter Bethlehem, you're greeted with the market area.  They have hot drinks and gifts to buy from people in costumes.  Then you journey to the outskirts of town where you see the archeologist talking about the Nativity of Christ while Joseph, Mary, and baby Jesus are sitting contently in the cave below.  (I think I preferred last year better because they had the shepherds and animals surrounding baby Jesus.  This year, I didn't see any shepherds but we went on a walk and saw one of the magi and many animals in the petting zoo.)

After passing by baby Jesus, then we walked through the trails in the garden enjoying all the colorful Christmas lights and watching the snow slowly drifting down on us.  It was a wonderful night spent with my family!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Teaching My Kids About the Nativity of Christ

I'm spending this week on all things Christmas with my kids.  My main focus is, of course, on the Nativity of Christ but we are also spending time doing family traditions such as making cookies for our neighbors, singing Christmas Carols, and snuggling up on the couch with hot chocolate and reading Christmas stories.

I have warm memories of sitting on my grandma's piano bench while she played the piano and we sang Christmas carols together.  Singing Christmas carols with my kids brings back those special memories as a child with a dear grandma who has fallen asleep in the Lord many years ago.

I also have wonderful memories of making Christmas cookies with my mom when I was little.  She would let me scoop the sugar and pour it into the bowl.  Take turns stirring with me and then letting me scoop out dough and make balls to place on the cookie sheet.  I try to pass on these traditions to my kids as well - plus a few of our own.

Yesterday we were studying about Saint Joseph the Betrothed.  We were coloring icons of Saint Joseph. I even had my 15 y.o. coloring the icons.  Why?  Well, because she is a very visual-spatial child who learns best by hands-on activities and with pictures.  She is just like me - we think in pictures.  More on that another time.  :)  I expect age appropriate retention and learning from my kids.  I wanted my boys (7, 6, and 4 y.o.) to remember that Saint Joseph was betrothed to the Theotokos.  His job was to take care of her and baby Jesus.  

While I expected my 15 y.o. to know the difference between being betrothed and being married as well as greater detail about the Nativity of Christ.  Wikipedia defines betrothal as:

Betrothal (also called espousal) is a formal state of engagement to be married.

Historically betrothal was a formal contract, blessed or officiated by a religious authority. Betrothal was binding as marriage and a divorce was necessary to terminate a betrothal. Betrothed couples were regarded legally as husband and wife - even before their wedding and physical union. In Jewish weddings thebetrothal is part of the Jewish wedding ceremony.

We made a batch of sugar cookies for our neighbors yesterday as well.  They were so kind and mowed our lawn several times this summer while we were out of town.  I tried a new recipe and the cookies turned out phenomenally.  
Sugar Cookies:
3 cups of flour
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup butter
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1 tbs vanilla
1/4 tsp almond extract
powdered sugar for rolling out the dough

Mix all your wet ingredients together.  Then mix your dry ingredients into the wet mixture.  Roll out your cookie dough using powdered sugar.  Use your favorite cookie cutters and bake at 350 degrees for 7 - 8 minutes.  *Note: you need to use a non-stick spray, oil, or something on the cookie sheet otherwise the sugar on the outside of the cookies will caramelize and make it next to impossible to get the cookies off the cookie sheet in one piece.

Today we were talking about the Nativity of Christ and who was there.  My youngest (4 y.o.) was coloring the icon of the Nativity when he asked me, "What color do I color that dude?"  I responded, "We don't refer to Jesus as a dude."  I think it was mostly done to get a rise out of his older brothers and thrive off the giggles.  ~Sigh~  

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Teaching Our Faith to Our Children

I was reading a book and came across this quote that made me stop and think, "A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it."

For whatever reason, my mind immediately turned to teaching our children about their faith - not only the theology but the traditions that go with them.  When we don't teach our children about their faith then they grow up not practicing it and not knowing it.  How are their children suppose to learn it?  Orthodoxy is a very experiential faith.  It doesn't end when we leave church on Sunday.  We live it at home, at school, at work.

Do we have a generation that has grown up not attending church every Sunday?  Do we have a generation that puts sports before God on Sunday morning?  Do we have a generation that has forgotten what it is to fast?  Do we have a generation who has forgotten how to come together as a family and pray daily?  Do we have a generation who have not received instructions on some of the traditions of the church - making prosphora, kollyva, vasilopita, etc?  These questions (and many more) may or may not apply to you, your family, or friends - but they've left me thinking...if I fail to pass all this on to my children along with many other parents, will we create a generation void of so much knowledge, experience, and traditions of their faith?

Ahhh...the gifts and responsibilities of parents.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Saint Nicholas

Today is my daughter Niki's name day.  May God grant you many, many blessed years to come!  I love you with all my heart!!!

One of my brother's brought this icon back for Niki from Bari, Italy a few years ago.  (The relics of Saint Nicholas were moved to Bari from Myra in 1087.)

One of my favorite websites is the St. Nicholas Center.  I visit it every year to re-tell the story of Saint Nicholas to my kids.  We explore the website and talk about Niki's patron saint and also the story of Santa Claus.  It is an invaluable source.

A tradition in our family is to attend Liturgy on our name days (if offered) and then celebrate with a special dinner, reading/talking about our saint, and eating a special name day cake.  Our focus is on the story we tell our children about their saint.  How can their saint be a role model for them?  How can they emulate their saint today?  Why is it important to strive to do God's will and not our own?

One tradition we have unique to Niki's name day is we put up our Christmas tree every year (for about the past 5 or 6 years) on December 6th.  Then we take it down on Theophany - January 6th.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Entrance of the Theotokos & St. Catherine

We were at grandma and grandpa's house for the feast of the Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple and for my sister, Catherine's, name day last week.  We're back from our trip and we are catching up on our lessons about these two feastdays.

Our first lesson was on the Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple.  I told a little story to my 7, 6, & 4 y.o. about how the Theotokos was taken to the temple by her parents, Saints Joachim & Anna, when she was younger than they are now.  She lived there for many years and prayed to God each day.  Each of them colored an icon of the Entrance of the Theotokos.  I've never limited them to colors before when they are coloring but today I tried to guide them to use colors found in icons since icons are written in a very specific manner.  My seven year old asked me to find an icon on the Internet so he could try and copy the colors.  :)  My other two just wanted to color.  I took the pink crayon out of the pile.  :)

Justin coloring - Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple


We call this "Mr. Mouse".  It is a glove to help train beginning writers to hold their writing/coloring implement correctly by providing only two holes for your pointy finger and thumb to peek through.  You teach the child to put the crayon/pencil in the mouse's mouth and then color/write.  It works absolutely beautifully and does a wonderful job reinforcing fine motor skills!!!




Saint Catherine lived in the 300's.  She was martyred because she professed she was a Christian and would not worship anyone but God.


Friday, November 27, 2009

First Time Altar Boy

Zach got to be an altar boy for the very first time on Thanksgiving Day!  He knew only "big boys" get to serve on the altar so when the opportunity arose for him to serve on the altar, he was both ecstatic and nervous.  He's my thinker and planner.  He wants to know all the specifics before diving into anything.  Thankfully daddy was serving on the altar also so he could direct Zach and teach him where to go and when.  He really enjoyed being an altar boy!  (His younger brother, Chris, was jealous and attempted to show me he could stand still and be quiet in church to prove to me he's able to serve on the altar himself...soon my Chris...soon.)  :)

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Discussions with Teenagers

I originally created this blog as an extension of my website.  The more I thought about it, the more I wanted to document our family living our Orthodox Christian life through one year.  Not all the details have made it to this blog as I originally intended but I do try to hit the highlights as time provides the opportunities.

I watched a movie with my 15 year-old daughter tonight which leaves me awake reflecting on the discussion and lessons learned using the movie (and book) as a catalyst.  I've found over the years that using books and movies have provided a path to conversations about heavy or sensitive topics that would otherwise be hard to bring up out of the blue.  It also allows for the conversation to be a bit less embarrassing to discuss...with your parents - by talking about the topics in the context of the characters first and then relating it to real life...their life...our lives.

Tonight we watched "Frankenstein" based on the book by Mary Shelley.  After the movie ended (and yes, the movie was a bit graphic and gruesome so you may want to watch it first if you're not sure whether or not you want your child watching it), the two of us had a lengthy conversation about God as the Creator, abortion, stem cell research, respect for your body (tatoos, piercings, etc), death (life after death), meaning of life, playing God, etc.  

Frankenstein's creation sees himself as someone essentially good (or at least not evil) as he hides in a barn and slowly learns/remembers how to speak, read, and interact with people again by watching a farming family through the cracks in the stable into the family's home. He secretly helps the family plow their frozen potato crop because he's enamored by them. Through a misunderstanding, the family first learns about their secret tenant when he tries to help the grandpa. In that moment of misunderstanding, the farmer beats the monster with a pole and crushes the monster's hope for love from the family because of the emotional pain inflicted with the beating (not the physical). Niki and I discussed how one comment, one joke, one snide remark can cause permanent damage between you and the person you said the words to. It is so important to be kind to others at all times because by mere words, we can permanently affect someone to the point we hurt them so deeply, they can't even discuss it with anyone - internalizing it and wreaking havoc in that person's mind for the rest of their life. Think about the damage that can be caused when someone is teased about their weight or told they are stupid or if they feel abandoned. There's so many ways mere words can alter a person's thoughts about themselves....for long lengths of time if not permanently. That's where apologizing and asking forgiveness comes into play as a remedy for the wound.

The "monster" is trying to understand his meaning in life. He quickly realizes he doesn't have parents like everyone else. He's made from parts of other people. Were these good people? Evil people? Does he have a soul? He's outcasted by all those he comes in contact with - he doesn't belong. So where does he fit into this life? What's his purpose? His creator sees him as a monster - so he was created and brought into a world where not only he's different from everyone else but even his creator/father sees him as evil. How does he even have a chance to be good in these circumstances? Where is he to find love? What's life worth without love?  So many topics discussed.

It's not the first time I've done this.  I think it was about 6th grade that we read "The Giver" by Louis Lowry together.  I wasn't prepared for the content of the book and was a little shocked while I was reading aloud to her on the couch.  (One summer, the two of us would sit on the couch at night when Les was on a business trip and read to each other.  One of those books was "The Giver".)  Instead of censoring it - like I instinctively wanted to do - I would finish out the paragraph or chapter then stop and discuss the story.  We talked about abortion, euthanasia, and birth control.  These are not topics I would naturally think to bring up while lounging around on a lazy summer night with my daughter...but the opportunity presented itself.  Instead of shying away from the topic, I used it to my advantage.  Today, my daughter is not afraid to state her opinion - and give reasons to support her opinion - when her beliefs are challenged by friends.  This may simply be part of her personality but I'd like to think that our discussions while reading books helped her to mold and define her strong beliefs to the point of feeling comfortable defending those beliefs.  I'd prefer she learn about these things from me (or my husband) instead of from her friends who may or may not agree with our own beliefs.

Another example of books used for sensitive topics was the "Twilight" Series.  Again, we had a lengthy conversation about sex before marriage, relationships (does a "perfect" boyfriend/husband exist?), abortion, death (life after death), etc.  Yes, there are some big topics in this series.  My daughter was introduced to the series back in 8th grade when a friend at school gave her the first book to read.  Today, my daughter is very sensitive to voluntarily telling people she's read the Twilight Series.  She enjoyed the story but she doesn't want to be confused with the girls who excitedly exclaim they are a "Twilighter" - which again, was a topic of discussion.  Twighters are the cultic following of fans who have evolved and emerged trying to bring the fantasy into their real lives.  I'm really happy that my daughter doesn't want to be associated with this.  This past weekend, friends of ours' teenage son was over visiting us.  A short discussion got brought up over the Twilight books.  He said, "I don't like them.  How am I supposed to compete with it?"  Referring to the fact that the main male character, Edward, is portrayed in the series as THE PERFECT boyfriend/husband.  He has a valid and good point.  The focus of the relationship is being put on superficial, external characteristics instead of a relationship that places God at its center. I drift off to sleep...I'm thankful for yet another opportunity to have had an open and wonderful discussion with my teenage daughter.  It was a great way to talk about what we believe - strengthening her knowledge of her faith as well as guiding her for her future life as an adult.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Saint Zenobia

Today is my name day.   The Orthodox church commemorates Saints Zenobius and Zenobia on October 30th.  They were brother and sister coming from a wealthy family in Cilicia during the reign of Emperor Diocletian.  Their parents raised them as Christians and when the brother and sister were older, they gave away their inherited wealth to the poor and needy.  

Zenobius was given the gift of healing maladies and his sister, Zenobia, would help him attend to the sick and the suffering.  Zenobius was also bishop of Aegae.  The siblings were both killed in 285 for professing their faith in Christ.  It is said that the following conversation was held between the Govenor Licius and Saint Zenobius - “I shall only speak briefly with you,” said Licius to the saint, “for I propose to grant you life if you worship our gods, or death, if you do not.” Zenobius answered, “This present life without Christ is death. It is better that I prepare to endure the present torment for my Creator, and then with Him live eternally, than to renounce Him for the sake of the present life, and then be tormented eternally in Hades.”

I spent the day enjoying time with my family and a couple of my friends.  The icon above was given to my by my brother a few years ago.  Saint Zenobia is not a common icon among those who write or sell icons.  My brother was very sweet to have this icon written by an iconographer in Greece while he was on pilgrimage there.

Hymn to Saints Zenobius and Zenobia -

Let us honor with inspired hymns the two martyrs for truth:
the preachers of true devotion, Zenóbius and Zenobía;
as brother and sister they lived and suffered together and through martyrdom received their incorruptible crowns.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Godparent Sunday

Our parish celebrated Godparents and Godchildren today.  I don't think there's a specific day designated to this because I've been in parishes that celebrate it in February and in parishes that don't celebrate it at all.  On Godparent's Sunday, the children are encouraged to receive Holy Communion with their Godparents.  In our parish, many of the Godparents live out of town (including all four of my own kids') so they lit a 3 day vigil candle for their Godparents and left it in the church.

Please forgive the blurriness of the pictures.  I used my phone's camera and it doesn't handle motion very well.

All the children read a portion of the prayers from the Baptism service with Father.  In addition to to this, the middle school and high school students read short summaries explaining the Sacrament of Baptism after Liturgy was completed to the rest of us.  They did a fantastic job!  Father encouraged all of us to have a close relationship with our Godparents/Godchildren and not just remembering them on birthdays, Christmas, and Pascha.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Greening Your Church Community

1.  Set up a recycling station in the church hall.

2.  Church Yard Sale:  Hold a yard sale in the church parking lot as a fundraiser

3.  Plant trees around the church

4.  Plan a day to pick up any trash on the church grounds or in the neighborhood around the church

5.  Bulletin board at church with a picture/short story on an index card about one change each family has made to make their home more environmentally friendly as stewards of God’s Creation.

6. Clothing Swap:  Plan a day for the community to hold a clothing swap (hand me downs on a grand scale) in the hall.  One side of the hall can have tables for boys/men’s clothing.  Each table is labeled with a size range.  The other side of the hall is for the girls/women’s clothing.  Again, tables are labeled with a size range.  Anyone wanting to participate, brings clothing (in decent shape) on the designated day.  They sort their clothing onto the appropriate tables.  (i.e. Sorting time is from 9am – 10am)  Then everyone can look through the clothes and find items they need for their growing kids or different clothes for themselves.  (This can take place after the sorting from 11am – 1pm, for example)  It can be a social time where coffee and snacks are brought while benefiting everyone at the same time with a clothing swap.

7.  Community Garden:  There are many different ways you could approach this but the basic idea is for a community garden on the church property where parishioners can grow fruits and vegetables together for their homes and for social hour after Liturgy on Sunday.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Homemade Dishwasher Detergent

I'm on a journey to make my home and family more green.  What do I mean by green?  My own personal definition is - taking steps to eat healthier (organic, non-processed, and attempting to have a productive little garden), waste less (anything from packaging for an item I buy to eating leftovers in the refrigerator instead of letting them go bad to recycling and composting for sending less to the landfill), use products that not only are easier on the environment but also on our bodies (shampoos, toothpaste, dishwasher detergent, laundry soap, etc.), respecting/loving God's Creation, and teaching my family about these things along the way.  It's not always easy and it's definitely a lifestyle change.  What I've found is that it's easiest to incorporate these things one or two at a time.  Once I get comfortable and make it a part of my everyday life then I know it's time to add another thing.

My latest addition on my journey is making my own dishwasher detergent.  It is very simple and considerably cheaper than buying the environmentally friendly version at the store (although I have bought that in the past also).

Here's my recipe that has worked very well for me these past 3 months:
- 2 cups borax
- 4 cups baking soda
- 1 cup kosher salt
- 4 ounces citric acid
- distilled white vinegar (for the rinse cycle)

Measure out and mix together the borax, baking soda, salt, and citric acid.  Keep it in a container that will not get your detergent wet.  I bought my container and spoon at a local kitchen store but you could use just about anything.  I use 2 scoops for the main wash and 1 scoop for the pre-wash.  I don't know exactly how much that measures out to be but I'd guess that one scoop is about 2 tablespoons.

You can find the borax in the laundry section of your store.  It's pretty easy to find.  I bought my citric acid from Amazon.  I didn't use the citric acid at first but after my dishes kept turning out foggy after they'd been washed, I did some research and found that the citric acid will prevent the foggy and streakiness.  It has worked incredibly well.  I bought a large container of it - this way I don't have to worry about ordering it on a regular basis since the one container will make about 35 batches of detergent.  The salt is added to help act as a scrubber for the dirt on the dishes.  I've played with this recipe for the past 3 months and found that this one works best for me.  I also pour in a little bit of distilled white vinegar into the rinse aide (twist off cap in the inside door of the dishwasher) which helps to disinfect and also with streaking.

Feel free to post any of your own dishwasher detergent recipes and how they work for you!

Blessing of the Mississippi River

The mighty Mississippi River was blessed yesterday by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew along with several other clergy.  You can see pictures of yesterday's service here.

Here is a short little video on YouTube from yesterday's Blessing of the Waters.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Recycling Church Icon Bulletins Project

I have always had a hard time just throwing away our weekly bulletins.  It seems disrespectful to me to throw away these icons.  I had a nice size pile of icons in a file folder waiting for an idea on how I could re-use them.  My daughter has always enjoyed working on craft projects with me - so I started an ongoing project with her when she was little.

I bought a spiral binder and sheet protectors.  Then we pulled out some construction paper, markers, scissors, glue, and scrapbooking scissors.  We went to work and created a book about the saints, feasts days, and angels of the Orthodox church.  We'd glue the front part of the icon bulletin onto the construction paper then cut out the back side of the bulletin (many times containing a description of the icon on the front) and glue it to the back side of the construction paper containing the icon on the front.  Each week after church, we'd come home and add another icon to her book.  Many years later, my kids have a decent collection of icons that they can flip through and read about at home.

This is a nice way to re-use these icon bulletins and bring the family together for a craft and discussion about the icons.

I organized the book the following way but feel free to tweak it to your liking:

1.  The Apostles:  They were the first ones to spread the message of Christ and salvation through Him.

2.  The Prophets:  They predicted and prophesied about the coming of Christ.

3.  The Martyrs:  Those that died because they refused to worship anyone but God.

4.  The Fathers and Hierarchs of the Church:  Those who excelled in explaining and defending the Christian faith.

5.  The Monastics:  Those who dedicated themselves to spiritual exercise , reaching, as far as possible, perfection in Christ.

6.  The Just:  Those who lived in the world, leading exemplary lives as clergy or laity with their families, becoming examples for imitation in society.

7.  Feast Days of the Orthodox Church

8.  Angels

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Live Broadcast of the Green Patriarch

At 11am (Eastern) today, you will be able to watch a live broadcast of the patriarch's address to the Religion, Science, and Environment (RSE) Symposium.  Patriarch Bartholomew has been a part of  RSE symposiums in the past also.  The symposiums are held on major world rivers because of the extreme importance of water.  This symposium will be focusing on the Mississippi River.

A wonderful video has been made available (for free - it's normally a $20 video) on the web.  It does a wonderful job giving a background about Patriarch Bartholomew as well as his efforts for helping the environment.  I encourage all of you to take advantage of the opportunity to not only watch the live address above but also watch the following video - "The Green Patriarch".

At this time, it is exceedingly trendy to be “eco-friendly”.  As Orthodox Christians, we need to put into perspective why it is important to be protectors of the environment and not just follow the current fad because “it’s the thing to do”.  God created the earth and he put us here to be stewards of the earth.  As stewards of the earth, we have to be aware that sometimes our actions can contribute to the destruction and polluting of the beauty of God’s Creation all around us.  There are steps each one of us can do to change our own lifestyles and homes.  Just as the average person could not go out and run a marathon tomorrow – making your home environmentally friendly is not going to happen overnight.  There are habits we have – that we may or may not even recognize yet – which will take some time to break.  Take small steps in changing.  Begin the walk towards becoming eco-friendly and with time you’ll be running the marathon yourself.

Here are some discussion questions to think about while watching the film (link above) - "The Green Patriarch".  After the show, talk with your family and friends about your thoughts and what you’ve learned from the documentary.  Talk about the changes you want to make in your own home.

Discussion Questions:
1.    1.   Who is the “Green Patriarch”?
2.    2.    How did he earn the title of Green Patriarch?
3.    3.    Why does the patriarch say it is a sin not to care for the environment?
4.    4.    What is the goal of the patriarch by having symposiums with scientists and religious leaders together?
5.    5.    Where does the patriarch take the symposiums?
6.    6.    How can a massive movement to save the earth occur?
7.    7.    There’s a need for leadership with the environmental crisis.  Why is it important for it to come from religious leaders?
8.    8.    What was the declaration the Patriarch and Pope signed?

This is truly an important and historic visit for the patriarch to the United States!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Patriarch's Arrival in the U.S.

Here's a short little clip of Patriarch Bartholomew arriving at the New Orleans airport.

Visit of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew

Photo by:  Nikolaos Manginas

The Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople will be arriving today in New Orleans.  He will be visiting several places in the U.S. including Louisiana, New York, Georgia, Maryland, and Washington D.C. as well as being part of a symposium on the Mississippi River discussing ways to improve the environment.  You can follow his itinerary here.

My husband and I were very blessed to get to meet him on a pilgrimage in 2007.  He talked a little about his efforts to help the environment and the importance of being stewards of God's Creation.  I'm sure his schedule was extremely full and we all knew how fortunate we were to receive 30 minutes of his time at the patriarchate.  (There were about 25 of us that went on this pilgrimage through the Youth Department of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese.)

Here's a glimpse of our trip:
Locally, the patriarchate is referred to as the Fener or Phanar.  Our bus driver dropped us off on a main street where our first hint that we were close to the patriarchate was a small shop selling icons.  This sticks out quickly in Istanbul where the population is dominantly Muslim.  We start to walk up a side street towards a walled in courtyard.  Some of the locals are trying to sell knick knacks to us while others are staring at us.  We're not quite sure if it's a curious stare or an intruding stare.  As we approarch the stairs to walk up to the door of the courtyard, we notice a door in front of us that has been permanently locked. 

We quickly learn that one of the past patriarchs, Patriarch Gregory V, was hung in front of this door in 1821 by the Turks.  The door is welded shut to this day in memory of the patriarch.  

Here is the door from inside the courtyard -

There are many buildings situated close together once you enter the courtyard.  Nothing as glamorous or large as something you find at the Vatican but there is a humble beauty and peace washing over you as you glance around. 

This is the exterior of the Basilica of St. George -

Inside, we venerated the relics of St. John Chrysostom and St. Gregory the Theologian as well as the relics of other saints.

These are the relics of St. John Chrysostom on the left and St. Gregory the Theologian on the right.

Our group was escorted into a large room where we waited to see Patriarch Bartholomew.  We watched and listened as he sat and talked to us.  Afterwards, we were permitted to look around in a couple of rooms before walking out to the courtyard again.

During the pilgrimage we visited many churches and historical spots.  Among one of our favorites was Agia Sophia (the Chuch of Holy Wisdom) in Constantinople.  The first time you visit Agia Sophia, you are just overwhelmed with the immensity of the church.  I stood there and imagined what it would have been like to attend a Divine Liturgy here hundreds of years ago.  Clergy numbered in the hundreds during the church's prime.  It must have been absolutely amazing!

    Walking up to Agia Sophia

     A glimpse of the narthex

Nave of the Church  (There was construction on the dome.)

This is the upper level of the church.  

Today, you can see the impact the crusades, Muslims, and tourists have had on the church over the centuries.  In this picture, you can see the painted walls with the ornate byzantine style decorations done by the Muslims.  Muslims do not believe in having pictures in places of worship and covered all the icons in Agia Sophia with plaster and paint when they converted the church into a mosque.  The mosque has since been turned into a museum and some of the icons have been uncovered for the tourists to see.  This icon in particular has been damaged primarily by tourists. can't get up close and touch it because there is a rope "wall" in front of the icons.  But previously, tourists would take a mosaic as a souvenir of their visit to Agia Sophia.

This is an example of the damage the crusaders left on Agia Sophia. The cross was plucked from the walls of the church when the crusaders came through and plundered Constantinople in the 1200's.

Here's an example of the impact the Muslims had on the church.  This small portion of wall has had the plaster removed and you can catch a glimpse of the gold tile mosaics under the plaster presumably with icons from the church's days as an Orthodox church instead of a mosque or museum.

Some of the damage and wear & tear of the church is probably from earthquakes as well since some of the other churches we visited in Constantinople had earthquake damage - especially on the ceilings and domes.

Overall, Agia Sophia was a place of awe and beauty.  I still can't shake the feeling and impression I was left with on my first visit there.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Travel Channel Academy

My husband and I just completed a course ("bootcamp") through The Travel Channel Academy in Washington D.C.  It was a four day intensive course on not only film journalism but film making in general.  We signed up for the class for two reasons.  1) Les and I have always enjoyed editing our annual home movies together (as Christmas gifts to family) and knew we would enjoy taking this course together to enhance our production skills.  2)  We want to produce Orthodox content videos in the near future.  We learned so much from the class and are absolutely pumped to begin filming our first video outside of class.  Look for our first video to show up on the website in the very near future!

My husband, Les, outside our classroom at The Travel Channel

Monday, October 5, 2009


I went back "home" to see my family this past weekend and to see my sister-in-law's chrismation.  What a wonderful blessing!  May God grant you many years Melissa!!!

Friday, October 2, 2009

The Green Patriarch

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew has been nicknamed "The Green Patriarch" for his extensive work initiating environmental awareness and response.  Some of his most well known work has been the environmental symposiums he has held around the world with both religious leaders and scientists alike.  In October of this year, Patriarch Bartholomew will be visiting the United States.  He has various meetings and appearances scheduled across the U.S. and will also be holding another Environmental Symposium on the Mississippi River.  A wonderful website has been put together to give further information to everyone about the Patriarch's visit.

Becket Films put out a phenomenal short film about "The Green Patriarch".  I purchased it about six months ago when I was developing my Vacation Church School Curriculum.  It was well worth the $20 I spent to purchase it but I just discovered you can view it on the above website for free.  If you'd like to learn more about the patriarch - here's the perfect opportunity.  Here's a direct link to the video.

(Picture used with permission)

My husband and I were blessed to go Constantinople in 2007 with a group of friends, Father Mark, and Bishop Savas.  During the trip, we visited the patriarchate, Agia Sophia, Chora Church (Museum), and many other places.  At the patriarchate, we were greeted by Ecumenical Patriarchate Bartholomew.  He is a very sweet and sincere man.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Hike in God's Creation

It feels like autumn today! The temperature dropped into the 60's, the wind blew briskly through the trees, and the sun hid behind the clouds for most of the day. It is my favorite time of year! The temperature is cool but not cold making it a perfect time for hikes, playing with the kids outside, and tending to the last remnants of the summer garden (while simultaneously prepping it for the blossoms of spring). The leaves are turning beautiful colors of auburn, orange, yellow, and brown. The school year has just begun and we still have all the allure of new books, new topics to learn about, and familiarity of settling into a routine after the joys of the summer. Fall also brings the excitement of impending holidays spent with family. All of this blends into a harmonious warmth cascading over me despite the chill in the air.

This tends to be the time of year I make changes and tweak our family life - a sort of new year's resolution. It's not something I've intentionally done but it seems to work out that way. What do I want to make better as we start this new school year (and new ecclesiastical year)? Many times it revolves around spending more time together as a family - "family fun days", prayer time, etc. Other times, it's ways we can improve our daily lives - health, house, learning, sleep, etc.

One of the things my husband and I are working on this year is improving our overall health. Stress and hectic daily lives have a way of taking a toll on the body. Go figure. My husband has a job that requires a lot of overtime and business trips. Many times he misses meals because he's pulled into meetings at the last second and regular exercise is a long forgotten faded memory. This is our first year not being foster parents in a long time. We really enjoyed the children we took into our home but there are many stressful strings attached to foster parenting. Birthparent visits (which actually, we lucked out and they were not a big deal), monthly (sometimes weekly or daily) social worker visits, multiple therapies, meetings with the state where children were specifically asked not to attend (a hard one for us when we live out of state from both sides of our family)....all this for starters. Then throw into the mix foster siblings split into different homes and trying to reunite them (and scheduling times to meet with other foster parents for the siblings can spend time together), adjusting to new children in the family (trying to learn their likes and dislikes while making them feel welcomed and comforted), learning how to deal with these precious children's emotions which they themselves cannot fully comprehend....the list goes on and on.  Taking care of ourselves took a backseat to taking care of our children these past four years.

Over the past few years, we have strived to eat more organically. Originally it wasn't so much to be environmentally friendly as much as to help our youngest son overcome his eczema and ear infections. The more I read, the more I integrated organic foods into our home. Since then, I've switched to environmentally friendly alternatives for laundry, kitchen, and cleaning supplies also.  Last year we started recycling. (It is not mandated in our area. You have to call up and specifically request recycling bins.) This year, we're trying to compost much of our vegetable, fruit, and other compost friendly scraps instead of putting them in the trash can destined for the landfill. Why make these changes? One reason. Respect for God's Creation. Much like we would show respect when entering someone's house to keep their home in the same condition as when we entered it - don't we make sure not to track in mud on a rainy day, ask our children to pick up all the toys they spread across the house during our visit, and even offer to help out with dishes when a meal has been offered to us - we need to do the same for the environment. God created all of this around us. We need to take care of it as stewards of the earth.  We show respect to our friends and family when we enter into their homes - let us do the same for God.  So, with this in mind, my husband and I are striving to make one or two changes every year to help take care of the creation God has so lovingly entrusted and blessed us with.

Another way we take care of  the environment is by teaching our children to respect the earth as well. They will teach their children, spouses, family, and friends. It was such a beautiful day today that I took the kids for a hike in God's Creation.

Our four kids


Chris - We found lots of fruit on our hike.  He's holding up a the newest find - a pear looking fruit.  The other fruit we are calling "brain fruit" until we learn its real name.


Chris is giving Niki a flower he picked for her.


Zach taking a rest on a hill along our walk.


Justin wanted to give Niki something also.  He very sincerely gave her a rock he found along the side of the path.


Zach remarked, "Mom, this flower looks like a snowflake."


Niki calls to me, "Mom!  This leaf looks like a giraffe!!!"  Sure enough, it did.


We talked about roots.


Off for more exploration...


Chris checking out his latest plant find


The boys discovered how fun it would be to roll the "brain fruit" down the hills of the path and see who could catch up to it first.


The kids took turns picking a wild flower bouquet for me.


A closer view of "brain fruit"


Niki wearing the wild flowers her brothers gave to her


Justin - our little botantist


I'm talking to the boys about the lichens on the tree trunk


I opened up soup season tonight with a homemade vegetable pasta soup, fresh baked bread, and chocolate chips cookies warm out of the oven for dessert....and of course, my wildflower boutique decorating our table.


Homemade vegetable pasta soup