Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Of shoes and ships and railroad tracks, and doll houses and things...

Trying to get re-organized after a major holiday is always a struggle. There is always so much fatigue, apathy and confusion to overcome. After Christmas day, you also have to contend with children excitedly stewing toys from room to room. I have no magic formula for this. In fact, I'll be honest and say that Monday was kind of a bust as far as house-cleaning went. I think I washed dishes, gathered laundry and swept. Other than that...(and cooking)...

I did purchase some more Rubbermaid tubs of various sizes to contain toys with small parts (Lincoln logs, etc.) and pushed those into service. I hate little toys scattered underfoot. Plus, I have sensitive feet. Especially at night. Need I say more?

To some extent I have to realize the limitations of the family and the house. Having children of a certain age means you will have little cars rolling around under the dining table. It means you will have train tracks extending from the door to the dresser to under the bunk beds. Long, long gone are the days when I could set something down, come back later, and find it still there. (Especially crochet hooks. I have a little boy who for some reason thinks these are arrows.) I swear, I'm raising a crop of borrowers.

A post I read today by Kh. Nicole both cracked me up and encouraged me. Here's an excerpt:
To any friend who has ever detected a nostril flare from me upon me encountering a mess, my sincerest apologies. I understand now. In order to accomplish almost anything that takes longer than 15 minutes, I sacrifice Clean in some other space. The only real thing I can do is contain the mess. I can’t really ever live without it. Unless I make Sweet Pea sit on her hands in a chair all day. (Come on, I can’t be the only mother who’s ever had that thought run through her head occasionally.)

So, because having a thought like that doesn’t equate with actually doing that, I have a mess. All. The. Time. It drives me bonkers, but I’ve noticed that it stresses me out the most when I think other people are judging it. Well, that’s not a major philosophical discovery, I know, but in any case I’m trying to relax my standards a bit so that my kids feel that this home also belongs to them. They shouldn’t have to behave like a guest in their own home.

So balance. Some ways I’ve started making sure the messes can be contained are to corral all the art supplies in a tackle box and stick it up out of reach. That way, when Sweet Pea starts a craft, I can be on Craft Alert and make sure it stays on the table. Books out of her room have a box so that they’re handy, but not messy. Toys in the living room live in a big blue bin and currently the bin is in a Pack N Play, an object that I have found, in my few years of parenting, to be almost entirely useless, but Fr. A likes to use it occasionally when he’s watching the kids so it is currently a piece of furniture in our living area… I use it for storage… and to keep Mishmish away from the puzzle shelf. The mess is still, well, a mess, but at least I don’t have to step on it. If you come over, feel free to flare your nostrils at the piles of books, crafting supplies, procrastinated mending, and jars of wildlife. I’m just thankful that I have little ones to mess up my house. I’d much rather have my kids and a mess, than a magazine house and nothing but my orchids for company.
Kh. Nicole, feel free to move in next door any time you like.

The fifth day of Christmas: the Holy Innocents

As I mentioned before, this feast is always a struggle for me.
Matthew 2:16-18

16 Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men. 17 Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah: 18 "A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be comforted, because they are no more."
These children were martyred for the sake of Christ. The traditional number is said to be 14,000. I'm not sure where the number comes from because it is almost certainly much, much less. 14,000 is a lot, no?
What about 140,000?
What about 1,400,000?
That last number is the number of babies aborted in this country in 1994. It is estimated to be over 1.2 million this year.

Through the prayers of the Holy Innocents, may this outrage be stopped.

[Thanks to Kh. Nicole for pointing me in the direction of a post of her husband's on this very topic. I encourage you to read it.]

Monday, December 27, 2010

Wise observations about knitting

This is a hilarious and on-the-money post about knitting by Alana at Morning Coffee. I don't knit (yet) but this can very easily be applied to crocheting. I absolutely laughed aloud as I read it.
So, lets pretend you are at the "I knit scarves" stage of back and forth knitting business. Here's is your step by step guide to developing your knitting skills to the place where you can do pretty much anything with two needles and some wool.

Step One: You must know how to knit and pearl and be able to do this with a good even hand. This is where many beginning knitters stop their mad knitting skillz development. It's a great place to start but there is so much more, grasshopper, so much more! When you get to this point, develop your addiction by knitting some scarves to give as Christmas gifts to your friends. If you've been dating a man or woman for a year or so, a hand knitted scarf might be appropriate. Do NOT, however, knit him a sweater until the ring is on your finger, girl!
Go here to read the entire post - it's so worth it!  Thanks for the laughs Alana!

On the third day of Christmas...(Music Monday) was the feast of St. Stephen. Fr. Benedict posted about him so I'll just add this:

St. Wenceslaus

Good King Wenceslaus looked out
on the feast of Stephen,
when the snow lay round about
deep and crisp and even.
Brightly shone the moon that night
though the frost was cruel,
when a poor man came in sight
gathering winter fuel.

"Hither page and stand by me.
If thou knowst it telling.
Yonder peasant who is he?
Where and what his dwelling?"
"Sire he lives a good league hence
underneath the mountain,
right against the forest fence,
by St. Agnes' fountain."

"Bring me flesh and bring me wine,
bring me pine logs hither.
Thou and I will see him dine
when we bear them thither."
Page and monarch forth they went,
forth they went together,
through the wild wind's loud lament
and the bitter weather.

"Sire the night is darker now
and the wind blows stronger.
Fails my heart, I know not how
I can go no longer."
"Mark my footsteps good my page.
Tread thou in them boldly.
Thou shalt find the winter's rage
freeze thy blood less coldly."

In his master's steps he trod
where the snow lay dinted.
Heat was in the very sod
which the saint had printed.
Therefore Christian men be sure,
wealth or rank possessing,
he who now will bless the poor
shall himself find blessing.

St. Wenceslaus' feast day is actually September 28th. Many people know about St. Stephen, but so few people know about St. Wenceslaus. The carol is stuff of legend, but in reality he was a martyr. He was a prince of Bohemia (later Czechoslovakia) and was raised by his Christian grandmother Ludmila after his father's death. His mother was a pagan and angry about losing influence over her son. After having Ludmila killed she tried to convert Wenceslaus to paganism. A few years later Prince Wenceslaus gained control of the government, had his mother exiled, and ruled as a Christian duke. His younger brother, who desired the throne, allied with a group of rebellious nobles and plotted to have Wenceslaus murdered. He and three of his companions were killed on their way to church to celebrate the feast of Sts. Cosmas and Damian. St. Wenceslaus lived from 907 to 929 or 935.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

On the second day of Christmas my true love gave to me...


After what I said about the children being disappointed at the lack of snow yesterday, it was rather a shock to go outside to head to church this morning and see snow flurries. The flakes were tiny and of course nothing was sticking, but there it was all the same. Those were some excited children! After church it was still floating down and the temperature had dropped. When we got home I checked and the wind-chill was in the low 20s. Apparently Indiana had run out when we left for church and he was squealing to be let in when we drove up. Genevieve was rather smugly curled up next to a heating vent. We've had a quiet afternoon (I read in bed next to Pickles so he would go to sleep) and are looking forward to lots of leftovers. It's odd how little it felt like Sunday today. When we left church I was really thinking we had just attended a week-day festal Liturgy. Christmas yesterday really usurped the place of honor in the week.

I hope everyone on the Gregorian calendar is having a nice Christmas!

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christ is born! Glorify Him!

Praying everyone has a joyful Christmas!

It's cold and quite windy here. Father said it's trying to sprinkle. I wish that meant snow. I have several family members who are probably getting snow right now. Our children were expecting some, just because it was Christmas. Never mind that it's never snowed on Christmas before and now we are so far south as to practically fall into the Gulf.

I feel very accomplished. I just constructed a rocket ship all by myself. The aliens and spacemen have taken over now and I hear that Dr. Who will be making a visit in the Tardis soon.

We had a very nice lunch today (albeit a little lacking on the veggies). Genevieve ran around the kitchen begging. She was rather frantic. We had to have someone give her kitty-treats in another room before she had a conniption.

I told the children that they could have whatever they wanted for the rest of the day. Then I took a nap. Bliss.

For the first time ever, I did not take any "Christmas morning pictures". I decided I wanted to experience it in the moment and not through a lens. I did take pictures of the children in their new PJ's last night. They looked very cute.

Well, this is the first day of Christmas. Eleven more to go!

Friday, December 24, 2010


Tidings of Comfort and Joy

People are born and die every day. People get sick, recover, worsen, go home, go to the hospital. People buy houses, are thrown on the street. Families are made and families break apart. Good deeds and heinous ones happen.

We are accustomed to this and while some of it touches us, out of  a sense of self-preservation we must shield ourselves to a certain extent. You can't swallow the whole world's sorrows. We grieve with those people we know who grieving and rejoice with those who rejoice. Mostly we acknowledge that this is the way the world is and we pray. And this is the world into which Christ was born.

At Christmas somehow, everything is magnified. Small things suddenly loom larger than life and our emotions grow proportionately. We find it so much more unfair that people sicken and die at Christmas, more so than at any other time. Because we feel that everything should be happy at Christmas it seems a discordant note that anyone should be suffering.

People do suffer, however. Without pausing I can think of three families who have lost children recently, one as recent as yesterday. In two of those houses there will be no children at all for Christmas. Is this fair? Well, of course not. Why does this happen? Only God knows the ultimate reason behind the sufferings he allows and their timings. I have to believe that God is good even though I can't explain why things happen the way they happen. The feast of the Holy Innocents is always a struggle for me.

Is it disloyal or wrong somehow to rejoice at Christmas while we know people are grieving? No, we rejoice, not because people are happy, that families come together, that the fast is over, that we've received gifts, but because Christ is born. Christ has become incarnate. Truthfully, was this a "happy" occasion? Christ born into human limitations so that he could ultimately suffer and die? I hardly think so. But joy does not equal happiness. We can feel grief and sadness for the earthly loss of a friend's child, but we must feel joy at their reception into the Kingdom of Heaven.  You can be grieving and feel joy at the same time.

I think this is probably some of what the Mother of God felt.

I pray each one of you, whether your hearts are heavy or light, find comfort and joy this Christmas.

Kontakion for the pre-feast of the Nativity

Today the Virgin is coming to the cave
to give birth ineffably to the pre-eternal Word.
Hearing this, be of good cheer
O inhabited earth,
and with the angels and shepherds
glorify Him whose will it was
to be made manifest a young child,
the pre-eternal God.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

"Everything was going wrong..."

Pause for a moment of stillness in the midst of the whirl:
"Remember, too, the struggles of His holy Mother. We know the Christmas story. She did not. It was all new for her. She journeys with Joseph, knowing full well that her time is near. At last they arrive at the inn. But there is no room. Where can they go? Where can they stay the night? And perhaps even then she knew that the birth was imminent. Everything was going wrong. How could she give birth in a tiny cave, a place where animals were kept pinned up during the night? But there was no choice. The time was at hand..."
Read the entire beautiful post by Fr. Benedict here.

Pray for Persecuted Christians

Please keep Christians in Iraq and (other countries in which they are persecuted) in your prayers this Christmas.
KIRKUK, Iraq (12/22/10) -- Christians across Iraq have been living in fear since the assault on Our Lady of Salvation Church as its Catholic congregation was celebrating Sunday Mass. Sixty-eight people were killed. Days later Islamic insurgents bombed Christian homes and neighborhoods across the capital.

On Tuesday, al-Qaida insurgents threatened more attacks on Iraq's beleaguered Christians, many of whom have fled their homes or the country since the church attack. A council representing Christian denominations across Iraq advised its followers to cancel public celebrations of Christmas out of concern for their lives and as a show of mourning for the victims.

"Nobody can ignore the threats of al-Qaida against Iraqi Christians," said Chaldean Archbishop Louis Sako in Kirkuk. "We cannot find a single source of joy that makes us celebrate. The situation of the Christians is bleak."
Read the whole article here.

h/t Byzantine Texas


God decided to take Lucia home and she fell asleep in the Lord last night. Please pray for Lucia's parents, Fr. Anthony and Kh. Ramia.

Family picture at her 5 month birthday a few days ago.

May her memory be eternal!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

New Orthodox CD Out

The phenomenal choir at St. Symeon's Orthodox church in Birmingham, AL made a CD which has just been released today. It includes hymns and music mostly from Lent, Holy Week and Pascha, but some things are sung all year round. This is the choir that Met. Jonah said was the best he'd heard since he was at Christ the Saviour in Moscow. As soon as some audio clips are available I will post those so you get a sense of how heavenly their singing is. I ordered my copy this morning and am quite anxiously awaiting its arrival! We ordered a few copies for our church bookstore as well. To order a copy contact the webmaster at the church website. They are $15 each.

"Oh the grammar outside is frightful..."

posted on

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Lunar Eclipse: Totality

I woke up those who had asked to be woken up. Ribby, Duchess, Ginger and Pickles. Ginger said he was tired and wanted to sleep. The other three came outside, Pickles carried out in a blanket. I loved looking at the wonder on his face (the only visible part of him) as he gazed at the reddening moon. We looked at the moon through binoculars too. Father said what I was thinking: that the moon looked so three-dimensional. You know academically that the moon is a sphere, but until you've seen it like this, you realize that you've never seen it, just taken it on faith. Well, let me tell you: it's a sphere.

I changed setting multiple times but never got a good, clear picture of the moon in totality. Not having a tripod was hampering, but I jury-rigged one by leaning the camera on the binoculars. Oh well.

{all pictures taken between 1:35 and 2:00}


A tired (but satisfied) me.

Lunar Eclipse: Umbra {blogging in real time}

{about 12:25}

definitely see the shadow at 7 o'clock...
The hot chocolate was good and warming. I haven't woken the kids up yet. I'm waiting for something more impressive so I don't hear, "is that all?" Father's watching the eclipse from his laptop as I post. He said it's the only way to view an eclipse.


I have the camera set on 1/400 and F8, for anyone who's interested.




I've been working my way down: now I'm at 1/160 and F8.


Time to wake the kids! Next pictures will be of totality (supposed to start at 1:40 or so).

Lunar eclipse: Penumbra {blogging in real time}

I'm still in my coat and shivering. You lose a lot of body heat lying on concrete.

I went outside for a little while after 11:30 to see if I could tell when the moon entered the penumbra. (I couldn't.) It is as bright as, well, not day, but really bright in any event. You can read by it and that's not an exaggeration - I actually did.

The moon was almost too bright to look at with binoculars. I tried taking some photographs but they were totally whited-out. I'm going to have to let the eclipse progress a little bit before the camera can handle it. I changed settings around and still didn't have any success so I'm just going to have to wait.

I've got water heating for hot chocolate. I'm sort of scared to change and go to bed because I'm afraid that I will not get back up.

Let's face it: I am trying to do this with entirely inadequate equipment. My eyes work fine, but I was hoping to capture some images to remember it later. Here's an example of what I got:

{about 11:45}

Total Whiteout

 Managed to filter out some light but lost the focus

{about 12:15}

Awesome! Fiddled around after checking for some tips online and got these.
 You can see the penumbra at about 7 o'clock.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Children's Christmas Crafts: Pomander Balls

This is a really simple project, and adaptable for different ages.

All you need are citrus fruit (usually oranges but you can use others), whole cloves and a ribbon. I suggest using a fork or something else to make the holes for you. This will save your fingers in the long run. Look for cloves on sale and/or get store brands because they're usually expensive. 

Also suggested is working on a paper plate. The juice will start coming out and things can get sticky.

Start by poking some holes with a fork. (You may want to do this yourself for younger children.) If you have your face too close to the orange, the juice may end up in your eye. Just a warning.

Then just insert a clove, pointy end down.

Don't make the holes too close together or the peel will rip.
 Try doing radiating lines or other patterns.

When you're done, you can dust them with cinnamon or not. We usually don't.
Then tie a ribbon, piece of yarn, piece of twine (whatever) around the ball leaving some
extra at the top to form a loop.

Tie a bow at the base of the loop and hang. (We hung ours on the Christmas tree because
I couldn't think of anywhere else at the moment. They're nice in the entryway and in the kitchen.)

These will gradually dry and shrink. As they shrink the cloves will be closer together, even touching. The cloves prevent it from rotting. It is advised to keep it in the open air until it dries a bit. After they dry, they will last several years. Not only do they sweeten the air (and it's wonderful!) but they keep away moths.

Total Lunar Eclipse Tonight

Depending on where you are in the world right now, you can view a total lunar eclipse late tonight. We'll be getting the children up. There are some things for which you break with routine.

Times of eclipse over North America
(-8 UTC)
(-7 UTC)
(-6 UTC)
(-5 UTC)
Start penumbral (P1)9:27 pm (*)10:27 pm (*)11:27 pm (*)12:27 am
Start umbral (U1)10:32 pm (*)11:32 pm (*)12:32 am1:32 am
Start total (U2)11:40 pm (*)12:40 am1:40 am2:40 am
Greatest eclipse12:17 am1:17 am2:17 am3:17 am
End total (U3)12:53 am1:53 am2:53 am3:53 am
End umbra (U4)2:02 am3:02 am4:02 am5:02 am
End penumbral (P4)3:06 am4:06 am5:06 am6:06 am
(*) before midnight on Monday night, December 20

(animation and chart from Wikipedia)

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Top 10 things I'm NOT doing for Christmas this year

1. Going to Walmart during the next seven days. For anything.

2. Making cookies from scratch. Sorry. Pillsbury sugar cookie dough is good and my kids don't care anyway.

3. Making gingerbread houses. I don't think I can handle the stress of having five children cry because the walls won't stay up. Maybe when they're older. Like 30.

4. Worrying if my son inadvertently wore his only red plaid "Christmas" shirt today instead of waiting until Christmas like I wanted. Oh well. It's a shirt, for crying out loud!

5. Stressing out. (Serenity Now!)

6. Fretting because my children won't be just like the children in the Southern Living feature article about the family in the ultra-Christmas-decorated antebellum house. I'd be willing to bet those children started whacking each other with foam swords as soon as the photographers left. (And that the master bedroom closet was a disaster area.)

7. Diving at children with a brush and comb before they head out to the tree Christmas morning so they'll look "nice" in the photographs. You should see some of the pictures of me as a child. (Well, no you shouldn't.) Why deprive my children of the same pleasure?

8. Feeling guilty because I find out some other family has children who "gave all of their presents to the poor and spent Christmas day at the soup kitchen." Good for them.

9. Going caroling.

10. Losing my peace because things aren't "good enough", "cheerful enough", "handmade enough", "peaceful enough", etc. I will be grateful for what I have. I will be happy in the moment and content. No one knows what another day brings.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

You know you've gotten a lot of packages lately...


1. You see the UPS truck coming down the street and go ahead to the curb to wait for it.

2. The UPS man knows you by name.

3. On Friday he says, "See you Monday!"

4. The mailman has seen you in your robe and asks after the kids.

5. The UPS man tells you in a whispered aside that one of the boxes "has a picture on it" and where would you like him to put it so the kids won't see it? (This was SO sweet, by the way.)

6. The only safe place to put boxes is in your room but now you can't get to your closet without rearranging everything.

7. You need a box to mail a gift and you can (by redistributing gifts) find exactly the one you need from your large stock.

8. You've only had to actually get envelopes out of your mailbox three times in two weeks (because they always come to the door with the box).

Friday, December 17, 2010

"And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city." (Luke 2:3)

I just spent a nasty hour trying to guesstimate what we'll owe in tax last year. Considering we're living on (if not below) the poverty line with five children, you'd think we'd owe nothing and get a big, fat check. But this is nowhere near certain because Father is a member of the clergy. And clergy have to pay both the employee and employer halves of the social security tax (which is the biggest part). The only reason we've been able to get any refund in past years is because I worked and had tax withheld at work. Most of that got eaten up by Father's taxes but we had some left over for a refund. Because our only income this year is Father's, I couldn't be sure that we wouldn't wind up sending the government a check. I'm still not sure (because I don't have most of the definite numbers and I was working with five tabs open, a calculator and pen and paper) but it looks like they might owe us this coming year, not the other way around. Whew. I'd just be happy to break even.

I asked someone from the IRS about the clergy tax once and they said that all of the money we got from baptisms, weddings and funerals were not taxed. I asked what happens if you don't really have any of that income? She said too bad, the rules were the way they were because that's how churches can get out of paying taxes. So they tax the clergy extra instead. Nice.

Heaven and Earth

I know this isn't properly sung until Christmas but I might as well go ahead and post it since I've been singing it for the last two weeks anyway. This is one of the children's favorite carols (and they've been singing it too). When we got the Ritchey family's CD yesterday we were ecstatic to find "Heaven and Earth" on the track listing. I wish I had a way of letting you hear the version on their CD. It's in a more minor key and has a really neat sound. I don't know who arranged it.

The video below is in Russian (sorry) but you can follow along easily. The lyrics are below.

Heaven and earth, Heaven and earth,
Now sing in triumph.
Angels and people, angels and people,
Join in celebration.
Christ the Lord is born, come and behold Him,
Choirs of angels singing, Wise men appearing,
Christ the King greeting, Shepherds joyfully
The wondrous story retelling.

In Bethlehem, in Bethlehem
There are tidings of great joy.
The pure Virgin, the pure Virgin
Has given birth to the Son!
Christ the Lord is born, come and behold Him,
Choirs of angels singing, Wise men appearing,
Christ the King greeting, Shepherds joyfully
The wondrous story retelling.

Christ God is born, Christ God is born
To Him we offer worship.
Glory in the highest, glory in the highest
To Him let us give praise!
Christ the Lord is born, come and behold Him,
Choirs of angels singing, Wise men appearing,
Christ the King greeting, Shepherds joyfully
The wondrous story retelling.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Christmas Songs by the Dozen!

I am SO excited to announce that the Ritchey family has made its first CD! I don't know how much the baby of the family sings, but Christopher and Dunia and the other nine children all have beautiful voices. This clip gives many short excerpts of their songs. You can also listen to them here and here to hear more examples of their phenomenal singing. I ordered mine two days ago and I can't wait for it to come.

[Update: It just came! We love it!]

You can find them on Facebook as well. To order a CD contact them at
Matthew 25:40 And the King will answer them, 'Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.'

h/t Svetlana

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Trees of Christmas Past

We were trying to remember what the Christmas trees looked like when we were little so we looked on Shorpy tonight. There were some fantastic trees! I just had to share a few of note.

Look at the ceiling light. Did they just not use it until after Christmas?
(Look at the front of the toy car: "Buick")


This is the Wright family tree. They have one lucky little sister. I'm coveting that doll house furniture...


This is the WIDEST Christmas tree I have ever seen. Ever.


Is it just me or does that little boy look like he's in heaven?


This tree is on a homemade mechanical rotating stand that made different electrical connections as it turned to produce thirty different light combinations. Wow. Apparently the stand is still in use today.

This picture was taken in Miami.  That is one bright tree.


All we did was go to Shorpy and search for "Christmas". It's a fun little excursion! If you visit the site and view the photographs there, you can zoom in and see incredible detail. Now, I should note that we don't remember anything like these! We were mostly remembering things like the little plastic flower surrounds on the tree lights. Anything anyone else is nostalgic for?