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

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Parish Family Night

We drove down to church this evening for a "Parish Family Night".  We attended vespers and then a potluck dinner in the hall.  Tonight's potluck theme was Greek food since we were going to receive a presentation from three of the teenage girls in the parish about their trip to Ionian Village this past summer.  The girls showed a wonderful slideshow presentation on a drop down projector screen in the front of the hall.  They shared tidbits about their trip and gave background information on the sites they visited with their group.  There were about 30 of us in attendance and it felt just like we were all gathered in someone's living room listening to our own daughters, nieces, or granddaughters excitedly recounting their trip to Greece as we munched on cookies and hung out with family.

Our next Parish Family Night will be a Romanian theme.  A Romanian priest from a neighboring community will be celebrating vespers with us (we have many Romanian families in our parish as well) and sharing a potluck dinner with us afterwards.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Exaltation of the Holy Cross

Today we celebrate the finding of the Holy Cross by Saint Helen. Saint Helen was the mother of Saint Constantine. She went on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land in search of the True Cross of Christ. Three crosses were found on a mound but they were unable to determine which one belonged to Christ. A dying woman was passing by at this time and she touched the cross of Christ and was instantly healed.

I talked about the feast day with all four of my kids. My oldest child, Niki, read about the feast day online. My youngest three colored an icon of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross from a coloring book called "Byzantine Coloring Book: Feast Days" by Father John Matusiak.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Nativity of the Theotokos

Today is the feast of the Nativity of the Theotokos. Last night, we attended Liturgy as a family at our parish. On the ride home, we talked about what nativity and Theotokos means.

We started by asking them, "What do we celebrate on the Nativity of

They responded with - "Christmas!"

So then we asked them, "What do you think the word nativity means then?"

Our oldest two responded with, "being born".

"Good. Now...who is the Theotokos?"

One of our kids said, "Jesus' mommy". Another said, "Mary".

"Right. The word 'Theotokos' means - Christ-bearer or the one who gave birth to Jesus. So today, we are celebrating the Nativity of the Theotokos. What does that mean?"

"The birth of Jesus' mom."

The conversation was not a long one. Maybe ten minutes at most. The ride home gave us an opportunity to talk about why September 8th is a feast day in the church. September 8th is also a special day to us on a personal level as well. It is my brother, Jacob's, birthday today. It is also the day that our state filed paperwork to petition for us to adopt our three boys 3 years ago.

For a bedtime story, I read one of my favorite Orthodox children's books to my kids - "The Story of Mary the Mother of God" by Dorrie Papademetriou.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Saint Zacharias

Many Years our Dear Zacharias!

Today we commemorate Saints Zacharias and Elizabeth. Our son, Zach, came to us through foster care when he was three years old and he very quickly connected with the name Zacharias even before we started calling him by the name. One of our favorite young Zach stories is a time when he was pointing at the icons grandma had just sent him and his younger brother, Chris. He pointed to his and said, "That's my icon! Saint Zacharias!" Then pointing to his brother's icon, Saint Christopher, he said, "That's Chris' icon. Saint Chris-arias!" We adopted Zach (and his two brothers) two years ago.

Today Les read the story of Saints Zacharias and Elizabeth from our Orthodox children's bible after dinner. Saints Zacharias and Elizabeth were the parents of Saint John the Baptist. Elizabeth was barren for many, many years. An angel came to Zacharias and told him his wife would give birth to a son and to name the child John, but Zacharias did not believe the angel. Elizabeth was well beyond the years of child-bearing and because of his disbelief, he was made mute and he could not speak. For many months, Zacharias was unable to say even a single word. After Saint John was born, there was some confusion on what to name the baby. Everyone turned to Zacharias to ask him his opinion and he signaled for a writing tablet and wrote - "His name is John." Immediately, he was able to speak again for the first time since initially learning his wife would have a baby. (Luke 1:5-23; Luke 1:57-80)

All of us listened and then Les asked the kids questions about the story. It is our goal to read or tell the story of our children's patron saints to them every year on their name day. We hope that by doing so, our children will learn examples of how to live their life for Christ and apply it to their own lives today.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Ecclesiastical New Year

September 1st marks the beginning of the cycle of feasts and fasts for Orthodox Christians. It is also a time for school and church school to begin again. The Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople has asked all of us to say a prayer for the protection of the environment on September 1st as well. He asks all of us to show our respect for the environment because it was created by God. It is a time where we can reflect on the changes we can make in our own home and community to make it a healthier and cleaner place to live. There are many ways we can do this - by recycling our paper products, certain plastics, certain metals, glass, and many other items. We can also compost our fruit, vegetables, and other food scraps in a compost pile in our own backyard. This helps reduce the amount of trash making its way to the landfills. Choosing organic items whenever possible helps support farmers using non-toxic agents for growing their crops. There are so many ways we can make changes around our home and community. It is a lifestyle change - one that doesn't come all at once. We are adding one or two changes at a time. On this September 1st, our family is starting our own compost pile in the backyard. It's a small start but adding this change to our previous changes - recycling and eating organic as much as possible - starts adding up over the long run. Finally, I am hoping to chronicle our family's life as we strive to live our Orthodox Christian faith throughout this next year. I think it will help us focus and reflect on how we are teaching our children their faith as we journey day by day.

Niki took this photo on our walk talking about nature.