Saturday, February 9, 2019

St. Haralambos Day! (with a printable zine)

Martyrs, admittedly, aren't the easiest saints to introduce to little ones, even joyful ones like St. Haralambos. So I made a little zine to tell a simple version of his life. The illustrations are adapted from the comic I made several years ago, which is now printed in this little book: "How to Start a Mission Church" (along with several other stories about mission life).  If you'd like a copy, proceeds go to St. Nicholas Orthodox Church. We're also very grateful if you would like to support St. Nicholas on fundly.  The Zine jpg and printing instructions are below.

How to Start a Mission Church (i.e. The Grace of God) and other stories about St. Nicholas Orthodox Church

a Joyful, Cake-Table, Name-day celebration!

Grab the image above and print the zine on one page at 100% (not "scale to fit"). Folding instructions are below or check out these instructions. I love these tiny little books. :)

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Happy New Year, 2019!

1/2 cup butter
1 cup white sugar
1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3 eggs
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup warm milk
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1-1/2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons blanched slivered almonds
1 tablespoon white sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F, and grease a 8 inch round cake pan. Cream the butter and sugar together, then stir in the flour and mix until mealy. Add the eggs, baking powder and milk, mixing well. Then combine the lemon juice and baking soda, stir into the batter. Pour into the prepared cake pan.

Bake for 40 minutes in the preheated oven, until toothpick comes out clean. Let cool in pan for 10 minutes then flip onto cooling rack. Add the coin(s) to the bottom while cooling. (Put on a lazy susan and spin so you don't know where it is.) Once cool, flip right side up onto a plate and decorate with sugar and almonds.

Things we did differently this year:
1. We used multiple coins, and that was more fun. There was still one special winner - the buffalo nickel.
2. The coins sink to the bottom while baking, so you might as well just put it in after its baked. That also keeps them from getting messy.
4. We should cut all the slices first, and decide who gets which slice, before serving. This prevents spoiling the surprise.

5. I put the coins in a bag at the back of the napkin drawer for next year. (I keep forgetting.


Monday, December 31, 2018

Daily Journal Printable

Here's a quick daily journal printable for the new year. I'm trying to cultivate gratitude and an appreciation for my daily activities, so I made this one line daily journal for me. But then I thought my kids might find them beneficial, too. I kept them very simple because anything daily has to be doable! 

Figuring out how to print these front and back was the hardest part - lucky you if your printer is helpful. It looks out of order because its meant to be printed front and back, then folded in half for a little book. I like to sew the book instead of staple because it opens more neatly - here's a sewn book tutorial.  Printable is embedded below.

Happy new year!

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Caves, Midwives, and Sarcophagi in the Nativity Scene

We've grown as used to the cozy, hay-filled stable and bouncy baby Jesus in Nativity scenes as we have the discussions that follow about where animals were really kept in ancient Palestine. I love all of these conversations that look for ever-deeper understanding of the birth of Christ. So my little contribution is a look at the slightly different nativity scene we find in Orthodox icons. Icons aren't like photographs. They don't show a single moment but the whole story - so don't worry about the  early arrival of the magi. They also don't attempt to show exactly what things looked like, but instead they reveal the light of Christ in events. So, with that in mind, here are just three of the unique elements you'll find in the icon of the Nativity.

First, you might notice some characters who aren't usually present in most creches: the midwives. Primarily, the midwives speak to the total, vulnerable humanity of Christ. He was born, received, washed and swaddled by those faithful women who have assisted in births since the beginning of time. We're reminded of those brave midwives who defied Pharaoh and saved Moses and the other slave children in Egypt. God saw their reception of these little ones and blessed them with their own families. Here, too, we suppose these midwives who received the infant Christ didn't yet understand the divine-human family that God ushered in with this birth.  Nevertheless, the women faithfully set about their work, washing the child Christ. I can't help but notice that the basin resembles a baptismal font, and so in the icon this first birth points ahead to that second birth. As they wash this baby boy, we expect the descent of the Holy Spirit and the voice of the Father who reminds us this is his son.

If we zoom out, we see that icons show the scene somewhere totally different - in a cave. Perhaps homes were carved out of caves and rock, but the icon points to something further up and further in. We recently took our kids to visit a large cave, and their legs shook as we descended deep into the darkness. Caves can be scary. They are the darkest places within the earth, places of hiding and burial. Yet even in this deep darkness the light of Christ came to earth.

But in fact, if you look at many icons, this cave is familiar. We see a similar rock formation in the icon of the Transfiguration, a time when Christ shines his light into the world more explicitly. This cave also looks like the one the women approached mournfully to anoint the Lord after his death. But on that occasion, they find once again Christ revealed to be God, risen from the dead. In Vespers before the Nativity, we sing about the response of all of creation to God's great gift of himself to us. We know the shepherds, the wise men, and even the little drummer boy bring gifts to Christ, but in this song, the earth itself offers to hold and welcome God into its inner places:
What shall we offer Thee, O Christ, Who for our sakes hast appeared on the earth as a man? Every creature which Thou hast made offers Thee thanks. The angels offer Thee a song; The heavens, their star; The wise men, their gifts; The shepherds, their wonder; The earth, its cave; The wilderness; the manger; And we offer Thee a virgin mother. - Vespers Stichera

And finally if we look back to the swaddled baby in the cave, we don't see a rosy cheeked child - with arms spread and the little cloth gently and strategically draped across him - like the one in the little set in my living room. I love that baby. A real human child that was snuggled by his mother. But here we see a baby swaddled tightly as in grave clothes and laid in a stone manger that looks more like ancient sarcophagi than a wooden basket overflowing with straw. We've seen this before, too, in that familiar cave. The icon shows us the baby prepared for his work ahead, the divine economy of his life as the suffering servant who will be laid in a tomb. The icon anticipates Christ's death with both somberness and hopefulness. For his death reminds us that he doesn't die as men do, but will overcome death once and for all. We sing,
"I behold a strange and wonderful mystery: the cave is heaven, the Virgin a cherubic throne, and the manger a noble place in which hath lain Christ the uncontained God. Let us, therefore, praise and magnify Him." -  9th ode of the 1st canon of the Nativity
Ultimately icons as invitations to prayer. So, let the icon of the Nativity cultivate in you a prayer to welcome Christ into our humanity, like the faithful midwives; welcome him into your own inner places that need to be filled with the light of Christ; giving thanks for God's coming to be with us in death and life.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Memory Cookie Challenge for Sunday School

This is a Sunday School memory work project we've been doing. All the credit goes to my mother who came up with this great motivator. Each child gets a chart with 12 things to memorize, and they are allowed to recite a maximum of one thing per week after the class lesson (or coffee hour if we run out of time). When you learn all your memory work, you get your own personal cookie, that looks like the chart, but is about 12" around. The kids get excited about the prospect of their own giant cookie, and its a good reward for all the hard work. Of course, to make this work, you have to have someone committed to making the cookies whenever someone finishes the chart. When my mom was doing it, she made it easier on herself by using store bought cookie dough, icing and m&m's delivered on cake boards. That recipe is below.

In our church school, all the kids ages 5-12 are in one class, so everyone is advancing at different rates, and that's just fine. We're cheering each other on, not racing, and they can take as much time as they need to finish. My mom teaches at a bigger church, where she just has one grade level for a year, so her list of memory work would be adjusted for the age group and for the limited time span.

Pillsbury sugar cookie dough + 1/3 cup flour (so that it doesn't spread as much)
bake on 12" pizza pan at 325 for 24 minutes.
cool completely.
Decorate with store bought icing and m&m's.

Our Memory List (with references to look them up)
1. Our Father (Matthew 5:3-12, prayer book pg. 5, 6)
2. O Heavenly King May be sung or recited (prayer book pg. 5 )
3. The Creed (prayer book pg. 7, 8)
4. Troparion of St. Nicholas* or the Beatitudes May be sung or recited (Matthew 5:3-12)
5. The 12 Great Feasts (prayer book pg. 32, 33)
6. The 12 Apostles May be sung (Gigi Shadid song) or recited (Mark 3:16-19, Acts 1:21-26)
7. “Rejoice O Virgin” May be sung or recited (prayer book pg. 14, from Luke 1:28,43)
8. “Christ is Risen!” May be sung or recited, any version 
9. Prayer before Communion (prayer book pg. 52)
10. Books of the Old Testament May be sung or recited 
11. Books of the New Testament May be sung or recited 
12. Prayer of St. Ephraim (can be found here:

This is our list. Because we have a wide age range, we also have a wide range of difficulty levels for the memory work. The idea is that the little ones can participate now and move on to the harder ones as they get older. The first Sunday we started almost all of the kids wanted to sing, "Christ is risen" to earn their first sticker, and, honestly, having 12 small children sing it to you is the best ever. [*St. Nicholas is our church's patron saint, so you might want to use your patronal hymn - or if you sing the Beatitudes, that would be a lovely choice, too. I gave my kids the option of either one.]

Download my Cookie PDF

Saturday, March 3, 2018

New Pascha Basket Cover

I mentioned my new Pascha Basket Cover last month, but its just now available on spoonflower. I'm really happy with the way it turned out. If you want one, buy this fat quarter, but if you want to buy multiples, its better to buy this by the yard. Remember this is just fabric, you'll have to finish the cloth yourself.

Updated to add: You know I can't help myself, and I made a few new designs. My kids have each claimed one for their baskets. You can view them all here, although it takes a few weeks to print and ship, so its too late for this year.