Monday, December 30, 2013

Today's JAR- Are You Willing to Keep Christ in Christmas?

Today's JAR- Some of you are getting antsy and tempted to remove any signs of Christmas from your décor, to start fresh in the new year. But if you ever shouted out "Keep Christ in Christmas!" Then you should consider the irony of removing Him before Epiphany, January 6th. The Orthodox faithful celebrate Christmas for the twelve days between Christmas and Epiphany.

Please be consistent and keep Christ in the true Christmas season.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Walnuts in Syrup are a Sweet Treat

This month I posted a sweet recipe for Walnuts in Syrup on the Sounding.  follow the link for the recipe 

Happy Holidays is Perfectly Acceptable.

Christ is Born!  

This has been an amazing feast day, celebrating the birth of our Lord, and Savior Jesus Christ.  And for weeks many have politicized the importance of keeping Christ in Christmas, refusing to say happy holidays.  I like saying happy holidays because it doesn't take away from Christmas but includes Thanksgiving and New Years Day in the well wishes.  

We are experiencing a season of goodwill towards men with the religious holidays of Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years/Theophany.    Thanksgiving, an American holiday designed to thank God for His many blessings, offers an increased awareness to charitable giving and feeding the poor as a sign of thankfulness. It's also a holiday that focuses on the sanctity of family and gratitude.   

During the weeks leading up to Christmas many of us saw Santas ringing bells outside stores collecting change for humanitarian aid.  When we celebrate the incarnation of Christ we remember the Magis bearing gifts and Jesus' commandment: “Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink?  When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you didit to Me.’"  Matthew 25:37-40

And soon we will be bettering ourselves with resolutions for the new year as we remember the feast day, the Circumssion of our Lord.  And later the necessity to "Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand," with the a great Feast of our Lord's  Transfiguration, and St. John the Baptist. 

So you see, this is a cluster of holy days not just one.  It's doesn't deny Christ anything to say Happy Holidays.  It only confirms that these months are sacred and worthy of celebration. 

Thursday, December 26, 2013

It's the Second Day of Christmas, Here's an Idea...

Today's JAR (just a reminder). the Christmas celebration has only just begun!!! Let the merriment commence! We celebrate Christ's birth for the next 12 days, till the Eve of Theophany, making this the Second Day of Christmas. are you planning anything special or is your tree already on the curb?

One year we were financially challenged since my husband was in grad school and our son was a baby.  We had saved our loose change all year long and after cashing it in for bills, we split it down the middle and each had $48 to buy 12 gifts for the Twelve Days of Christmas.  We even saved our receipts to stay honest.  That was a fun Christmas!

He got me things like perfume samples, my favorite Bic pens, a gently used book on eBay.  I made him hankies from scrap fabric, found book ends in his mom's basement she no longer needed and a bar of his favorite chocolate.  We also took advantage of the After Christmas Sales in the malls. 

The trick to making this kind of activity work is to save the big stuff for last.  You want to leave Christmas with a Bang!

I hope you can find a new tradition to keep the Twelve Days fresh this year..  Just something sweet to do for one another to honor Christ's birth and incarnation.  Even if it's a few trips to the dollar store. 

We are in a season of celebration... don't go back to normal just yet. 

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Christ is Born! Glorify Him!

This morning we flipped over the final circle on our Advent Calendar!  Oh what a joy to finally be at our Lord's Nativity!  I remember flipping over the first circle wondering what the fast would bring and if I was up to the task. 
I have to admit, I wasn't the most graceful Adventer.  (I know that's not a real word.)  With every fast I see one or two places where I am lacking and I don't like it.  Life is so much easier in the disillusion that I am good enough and all my troubles are someone else's fault. 
But the reality is, and the fasting seasons make this clearer, my sufferings are a result of my own sins.  I have no one to blame but myself.  But how do I repent?  How do I change my ways? 
There is new life in the world, a new beginning in the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  And with the new year approaching, this is as good a time as any to stop for a moment and ask ourselves: Where are we a slave to our passions and what are we going to do about it.  Just look at today's epistle reading for Christmas morning:

St. Paul’s Letter to the Galatians 4:4-7

BRETHREN, when the time had fully come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son then also an heir of God through Christ.
It's time for us to start thinking of how we are no longer going to live like slaves (to our passions) and live a life where we are free, and worthy to be "heirs of God through Christ." 
Christ is Born! 
Glorify Him!

Monday, December 23, 2013

Do You Need a Plan B?

It's the Eve of Christmas Eve, and here we are.  Down to the last minute with details and plans, visitors and dinners.  Wrapping and... what am I doing on line?!?! 

Do not panic!  Check to see how much on your to-do list really has to get done.  And how much of it are you own expectations as to what Christmas should be.  Maybe it's time for Plan B. 

It's like that poem... if you let something go it was never meant to be... If you haven't started it yet... and little elves don't come and finish the task... your expectations were too high.   Let it go, run to the store, ask someone for help. 

And if you are at the point where you forgot that this is a religious holy day, then ask someone to bonk you in the head.  

Regroup, put your Mrs. Claus bloomers on and assess. It's sink or swim... Here's a floaty for you to keep it in perspective... a Biblical Plan B, since the inns weren't available?

 Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David,  to be registered with Mary, his betrothed wife, who was with child.  So it was, that while they were there, the days were completed for her to be delivered.   And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. 

Then the angel said to (the shepherds), “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people.  For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.  

 And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.”  

 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying:
 “Glory to God in the highest,
And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”
Luke 2:4-7, 10-14

It's all going to work out lovely if you remember that the day is about Christ's birth and the salvation it brings. 

Sunday, December 15, 2013

I'm Blessed Like You

 In a way, I have been avoiding Christmas for now. 

No, I'm not a Grinch.  We made a commitment to return to the ancient tradition of participating in the Advent fast, in preparation for the Nativity of our Lord.  We are therefore saving the actual celebration of Christmas till its traditional place, the twelve days between and including Christmas and the Eve of Theophany (January 5.)  The first year we tried it, it was hard to maintain momentum.  By December 29th, we were all Christmas-ed out.  Little by little we have been delaying our celebration.  Today we are more prepared.  We've even acquired a collecting of Christmas Cd's, to play Christmas in house all twelve days, since the radio stations will cease with the holiday music come December 26th.  

So yesterday when I was in one of our local superstores, I wasn't quite in the Christmas Spirit like those around me.  I haven't participated in any random acts of kindness I prefer them to be intentional.  I haven't been wearing green or red, bells or tinsel.  Actually, I was in a bad mood and I wasn't feeling sociable.  So when the man behind me said, "Hello, how are you?"  Out of obligation replied, "Fine and you?"   

He stopped me in my tracks when he replied, "I'm blessed like you."  
I had never heard that before but I loved it.  What a great response.  
I often forget I am blessed, that we all are.  I tend to take it all for granted: good health, a loving husband, a home, a child.  Most of the time I only look at what I don't have instead of what I do have.   But this man knew.  This man knew that he was blessed.  Maybe he was glad to be standing on his own two feet.  Maybe he was glad he had money to buy the things in his cart.  Maybe he was glad the autistic child with him wasn't having a meltdown.  Maybe he just truly understood what the Spirit of Christmas really was, and there is no need to wait till December 25th (or Thanksgiving to mark the official Christmas Season) to live it.  If nothing else, we are blessed because God is with us. 

 “Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which is translated, “God with us.” (Matthew 1:23)

This man in the checkout line was a miracle to me for which I am grateful.*  I'm still going to keep the fast and work harder to read something that will nourish my soul.  I will even work harder at being charitable to someone in need.   But more importantly, I will live in the reality that I have been blessed... just like you, because God IS with us.     

*The world does not revolves around me and this man did not chose the same register as I had so that I could see his patience and gratitude.  It just happened that way and I saw it.  I am grateful that I saw his example and repented. 

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Have You Been Abusing the True Meaning of Christmas?

Hello, my name is (insert your name here) I am a Christmas-holic and I have abused the true meaning of Christmas. 

Christmas-holism is a disease brought upon by the advertisers who have infected us with the ideas that:
  1. We deserve something for our "good" deeds
  2. Gifts need to be bought in the stores    
  3. Love is in proportion to the amount of money spent    
  4. Traditions cannot be broken, even when they are no longer effective

Are we Christmas-holics?  Have we found ourselves depressed and wanting because we can't live up to an inflated expectation? 


The best cure for a Christmas-holic is Advent: 40 days of prayer, fasting and almsgiving.  Would you expect anything less from a religious holiday? 


Some days I fear we have completely redesigned Christmas into a holiday of ego instead of a loving act of humility.  There is too much talk about what we deserve, what we want, and what we "have" to do during these months.  There are too many expectations. 


But in reality, Christmas is a celebration of Christ's love for humanity


 For God so loved the world

that He gave His only begotten Son,

that whoever believes in Him should not perish

but have everlasting life. John 3:16 


It's a holiday of thanksgiving for God's willingness and desire to come to us in the most humbling way possible, as a vulnerable baby:


 Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people.  For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.  And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.”  Luke 2:10-12


And it's an opportunity for all of creation to celebrating a loving God. 


Today, the Virgin bears Him who is transcendent,

and the earth presents the cave to Him who is beyond reach.

Angels, along with shepherds glorify Him.

The Magi make their way to Him by a star.

For a new child has been born for us,

the God before all ages.

Kontakion in the Third Tone


Are you a Christmas-holic?  Rejoice!  because you can change your ways.  It's not too late.  There are still 2 weeks till Christmas...


...Did you just gasp too?  



Saturday, December 07, 2013

Christmas and Memories of Our Dearly Departed

This year we did it... We put stockings up for St. Nicholas.  It was a nice treat.  It's our second holiday decoration up... first being the advent calendar.

We are "late" in putting up our decorations this year.  Not because of any sort of political statement but just because homework is a chore in this house and I think that it would be easier for the boy to concentrate on homework if the house looked like business-was-usual.  But mid week, next week, is a half day and the Winter Vacation begins!  Then it's up to the attic to bring everything down. 
Although I do like waiting until we are closer to Christmas to decorate... I like to enjoy the 12 Days of Christmas without the feeling of being "over it, already."
I love my Christmas décor and can't wait to see it again. So many memories.  We've established a tradition where we buy an ornament a year.  The ornament usually reflects a big trip or event from the year: First Christmas, New Home, a Baby...  And the little things like our visits to the Alamo, the Pilgrim Plantation, and Washington DC.  This is one of our better ideas and usually makes tree decorating take that much longer.   All those memories... even the sad ones.  We love the happy memories but we also don't shy away from the sad ones. 
A few years ago, we were still deeply mourning the loss of a dear family member and everything was slow moving, when it came to celebrating.  No one was in a hurry to put the tree up.  I am finding that once your heart breaks that deeply, although the heart repairs, it's scars are forever tender.  We miss our dearly departed family members.  May their memories be eternal.
Cyclical events like Christmas have a way of returning memories to the forefront... bringing things up again and again.  The good and the bad all come back to give you another chance to process it until you've either overcome it or it becomes a natural part of you. 
Imagine St. Nicholas.   He didn't have the best childhood.  We understand that he was a young boy when his Christian parents died and left him an orphan.  He must have had a very lonely life.  I imagine he missed his parents constantly.  Being an only child, St. Nicholas must have often felt very alone, were it not for his prayers.  We can see by his deep faith and his life's story that he was close to God.  With the Grace and Love of God, St. Nicholas has now adopted all of us as his family.  His examples of piety, charity, and devotion to the true faith have been a beacon for us.  His love for mankind has made him a man of legend... One of the most loved legends of all, Santa Claus! 
The church offers this beautiful Hymn to St. Nicholas:
Apolytikion in the Fourth Tone
A model of faith and the image of gentleness,
the example of your life has shown you forth
to your sheep-fold to be a master of temperance.
You obtained thus through being lowly,
gifts from on high, and riches through poverty.
Nicholas, our father and priest of priests,
intercede with Christ our God
that He may save our souls.
 I am anticipating the celebration of Christ's birth in the next 3 week... but for now, as we are still in the time of preparation, it's nice to take a break and celebrate St. Nicholas. 

Friday, December 06, 2013

In Honor of St. Nicholas

Last year I saw a flicker slide show of a man who drew on his kid's lunch bags every morning.  It was really cool.... 

So, naturally I thought I'd do it too...

Here are a few samples...
Realized the irony and switched to wax paper for the lunches.

After watching OKLAHOMA over the week-end.

All boys love trains.

The bus was bringing him home early that day.
Rita's ice was being delivered to school. 

Today I drew this...
St. Nicholas leaving gold coins by the slippers. 

So in honor of St. Nicholas...
Blessed, Holy Nicholas, lean your ear this way.
We have not forgotten that today is your feast day.
You, who gave away your wealth to the needy poor,
Thank you, Holy Nicholas, pray for us once more.

Thursday, December 05, 2013

Keeping it Together! A Christmas Binder?!?

Lately I've been checking out other Mom Blogs to see what the competition looks like!  HA!  It's no competition.  I get a few hits here and there and have fewer than 200 friends on facebook... while they have the letter K next to their friend counts and forwards.  I don't mind sharing their good ideas with my facebook friends while they don't know I'm even a "contender."  But one sign that I was still in the Little League of Mom Blogs was a blogger's comment. "Time to get out the Christmas Binder." 

Binder!  Christmas Binder!  All these years I've been keeping good ideas stuck up in my head, and if a good one didn't stick, then it just wasn't meant to be.  I never thought of a binder for Christmas.  I've used a binder filing system to plan my wedding.  I used it to organize the Greek Festival booths.  I've even used it plan out my Senior Thesis- 5 complete outfits designed, patterned, sewn to fit 5 (different) live models who were going to walk down a runway.  But I never thought of a Christmas Binder.  Have I been doing Christmas wrong all these years?

If I were to have a Christmas Binder, it would really have to be a Holiday Binder, because I'd want to include Advent, Thanksgiving, Christmas and maybe even the 12 days up to Theophany.  And Yes!  Christ will still be in this Holiday Binder. 

I suppose my tabs would include:
  • Advent-
    • Calendar,
    • Meals 
    • Activities,
  • Thanksgiving Décor,
  • Christmas Décor,
  • Theophany
    • 12 days of Christmas Calendar
  • Holiday Meals (Main dishes, casseroles, and appetizers,)
  • Gift Ideas (to make),
  • Entertainment
    • Movies, CD's, Books and Lyrics,
  • Address List,
  • Favorite Quotes,
  • Sweetest Memories. 

I might even have to log some of our favorite ornaments and the stories that go with them.  Overboard?  No such thing to a woman who keeps a binder. 

Seriously though, I think I will make a Holiday Binder for myself.  I think I 'll start today... my first Christmas card came in the mail and I have to save the address. 


In retrospect, I'd edit it to: 

  • Calendar Activity,
  • Meals (save this for Lenten Meal Planner that already exists.)
  • Activities,
  • 12 days of Christmas Calendar
Holiday Meals (Main dishes, casseroles, and appetizers,)
Gift Ideas (to make),
  • Movies, CD's, Books and Lyrics,
Address List,
  • Favorite Quotes,
  • Sweetest Memories. 

    I am also open to suggestions....

    Halva, a Sweet Dessert for the Holidays.

    Halva, a fried and syrup soaked semolina, or cream of wheat, is an easy and sweet dessert for fasting periods because its ingredients DO NOT include milk, eggs or butter.  See my latest post on the Orthodox Christian Network blog.