Category Archives: Interactions

While at Home: Choosing to Make the Most of Bonus Family Time

In this season of social distancing, many of us find ourselves at home with our children, with considerably fewer activities and opportunities filling our schedule. At moments this may feel daunting: how can we possibly keep our children “entertained” for that many hours, for an uncertain number of days? How will we not all go “stir crazy”?

Right now, at the beginning of this season – however long it may be – is a good time for us to carefully choose our mindset, which will shape the atmosphere of our home. If we view this “bonus” time together as a gift from God, wherein we can build our relationships with each other and continue to grow toward Him, our children will respond accordingly. We are being given the opportunity to teach our children, through our example, what it means to trust God and to love and serve others. They will see – even more than usual – our gratitude towards God and His provision; our generosity with our neighbors near and far; and the love that we have for Christ, demonstrated in our prayer/study/participation in church (as possible).

Will we fail? Yes. When we do, let us model asking for forgiveness and getting back up again. Fall down, get up again: this is the way our Faith works! How we handle our own failure is also an opportunity to teach. Glory be to God, Who never gives up on us when we fail.

This bonus family time affords us the chance to help our children learn more about the Faith. Of course, our own example is the best way to teach them! But there are many resources available that we can access from home that can help. We aim to share these resources (and some others, just for fun!) with the community. It is our hope that these resources will help you to build your (and your children’s) faith while also creating many fun family memories.

May the Lord bless us all, and strengthen us for the days ahead.

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Here is a large collection of resources that you may wish to comb through: http://ww1.antiochian.org/christianeducation/index

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Orthodox Educational Resources:

Listen to Dr. Chrissi Hart reading a great variety of children’s books at https://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/grapevine

Every day, you can listen to Deacon Jerome Atherholt’s readings about a saint commemorated that day, here: https://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/saintoftheday

Prepare your heart for Sunday’s Gospel reading by listening to https://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/letusattend

Each week you can listen to this meditation and then discuss it together: https://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/tendingthegarden

If you have small children in your life, don’t miss this resource: https://orthodoxpebbles.com/

Find Orthodox crafts, ideas, and even some recipes here: https://raisingorthodoxchristians.com/

If your children enjoy activity books, check these out! Themes include “Saints Who Were Physicians and Healers”, “Saints and the Animals That Served Them”, “Saints in Times of Trouble”,“Saints of North America”, and more! Find them here: http://dce.oca.org/page/activity-books/

The OCA’s department of Christian Education has these wonderful focus units (“Journey to Pascha”, “My Orthodox Family”, “The Theotokos”, and more) available for free download: http://dce.oca.org/page/focus

Potamitis Publishing offers all sorts of children’s books and activity books. Their “Paterikon for Kids” books are child-sized and colorful, and will be a useful resource to any family! https://potamitis.us/

This is a great time to take in the “Be the Bee” video series and talk about them together as a family! Find them here: https://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/bethebee

Celebrate spring and new life with these activities: https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2015/04/23/on-celebrating-new-life-in-springtime/

There are so many needy people around us, and now we “see” them more easily. How can we help, even if we have limited resources? Here are some suggestions of ways to work together as a family to help someone in need: https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2017/07/05/on-finding-a-way-to-help-even-on-a-limited-budget/

Here are a few of the Orthodox books that we’ve shared, as well as some learning ideas that could be used at home (even though the ideas were originally written for Sunday Church school classes): https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2019/06/14/gleanings-from-a-book-anthony-the-great-by-john-sarantakis-illustrated-by-misha-pjawka/ https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2019/05/10/gleanings-from-a-book-spyridons-shoes-by-christine-rogers/                                         https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2015/05/01/260/ (“H is for Holy” by Nika Boyd)

Learn more about the saints during this time! They have all been through great struggles and show us how to be faithful to God to the end. Although these blogs were written for Sunday Church school, many of the ideas will work in a home setting, as well. Search “saints” at https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com  to find ideas like these: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2019/01/25/learning-about-a-saint-st-kendeas-commemorated-oct-6-19/ https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2018/08/10/learning-about-the-saints-st-tikhon-of-zadonsk-august-13-or-26/ https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2017/06/16/learning-from-the-saints-st-peter-june-29/ https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2017/01/06/learning-from-the-saints-st-nina-january-1427/ https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2016/12/09/saints-of-recent-decades-st-paisios-july-12june-29/

Find a variety of Orthodox-related art and craft ideas here: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2017/07/28/back-pocket-ideas-for-creative-expression-in-lessons/

Other Educational resources:

Many companies are offering free subscriptions during the social distancing period. Here’s a list: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/u/1/d/1t3r618pd8MAi6V87dG2D66PtiKoHdHusBpjPKXgm36w/htmlview?fbclid=IwAR1MdJ7K0-_QEbSGW78tR9hYtY9KGs9_2YOat1Ow8jPk0E-b14Vm5HN8qiY&sle=true#gid=0

Free printable pages by theme or age level: https://www.123homeschool4me.com/home-school-free-printables

Online educational resources for a variety of ages: https://funinfirst.com/free-online-learning-at-home/

Take these virtual field trips without any of the expense! https://www.tripsavvy.com/virtual-field-trips-for-kids-3129414

Here are even more virtual field trips: https://adventuresinfamilyhood.com/20-virtual-field-trips-to-take-with-your-kids.html

Just for fun:

Here are a variety of spring-related activities: https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2019/05/22/a-handful-of-spring-memory-makers-for-families/

Here are 50 (!) family-fun activities you can do together: https://www.kcedventures.com/blog/50-fun-things-to-do-at-home-with-kids

This is a wonderful season for reading. Here are some suggestions for great chapter books: https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2016/10/19/bedtime-and-other-rituals-reading-books-together-part-3-books-to-read-with-older-children/

Perhaps it is too cold to do some of these activities, but others may be fun! https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2019/06/26/on-family-fun-ideas-for-summer/ and https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2015/05/27/go-out-and-play-ideas-for-summertime-outdoor-fun/ and https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2017/06/28/back-pocket-ideas-for-summer-fun-activities/

This is the perfect time to practice random acts of kindness. What a gloriously fun way for us to be thinking of others more than ourselves, and to bring joy in this tense time! Need some ideas? Check these out: https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2014/02/12/try-a-little-kindness/

Take a daily safari with the Cincinnati Zoo! From their Facebook post: “While the Cincinnati Zoo is closed and kids are home from school, let us help make your children’s hiatus from school fun and educational. Join us for a Home Safari Facebook Live each weekday at 3pm where we will highlight one of our amazing animals and include an activity you can do from home.” https://www.facebook.com/cincinnatizoo

Here’s a daily lunch doodling time with author/illustrator Mo Williams: https://www.kennedy-center.org/education/mo-willems

Craft idea: make a Godfulness Jar. https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2019/07/17/on-creating-and-using-a-godfulness-jar/

Explore a variety of art styles together (yes, you too, mom or dad!) during this time at home. Here are a few suggestions: https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2017/07/26/back-pocket-ideas-for-creative-children/

Work on learning the scriptures together by scripture journaling. Here are a few ideas: https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2016/02/03/on-learning-the-scriptures-by-creating-a-scripture-journal/

There’s a whole series of art tutorials, each featuring a cross (but could be used for anything), that you may enjoy trying together. The first in the series focuses on using paper as the main medium, and is found here. (At the end of the blog post there’s a link to the second in the series. Follow that link and the subsequent ones to find all of the different tutorials.) https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2014/12/13/art-projects-for-sunday-church-school-paper/

Gleanings from a book: “Fertile Ground: a Pilgrimage Through Pregnancy” by Laura Jansson

Years after a pregnancy, a woman may look back and wonder at how quickly it passed, but in the heart of the experience, pregnancy often feels like it takes an eternity. Those long days and weeks of pregnancy are good preparation for motherhood. Although a woman may understand that fact, sometimes pregnancy still feels lonely and frightening, even if it is not her first one.

Laura Jansson, who is both a mother and a doula, has undertaken the task of walking alongside women who are on the journey of pregnancy. She serves those living near her in her roles as a childbirth educator and a doula. Now, through this book, her comforting and encouraging words can support and help soon-to-be mothers around the globe.

“Fertile Ground” begins with three prayers “of a woman with child”. Jansson recommends that her readers always begin reading her book by praying those prayers. The bulk of the book takes a pensive look at different aspects of pregnancy, and is divided into seven themes: “Welcoming a New Reality” “Experiencing Pregnancy”, “Exploring Birth in Symbols”, “Fearing Labor”, “Braving Labor”, “Becoming a Parent”, and “Preparing for Birth”. Each chapter forms a weekly meditation, and these begin with week six of a woman’s pregnancy, right around the time in which she confirms that she is pregnant. Every meditation is a focused reflection related to the theme under which it falls, and includes stories, insights, and encouraging scriptures and words.

Jansson asserts that pregnancy is, indeed, a pilgrimage, as indicated in the title of the book. She explains in the introduction: “Pregnancy… is a kind of journey: a purposeful one, but sometimes also slow, waddling, and laborious—more of a saunter than a sprint. And saunter is a good term for it. The word [saunter] comes from a French phrase… meaning “to the holy ground.“ For this is a journey traversing a wide spiritual landscape. There are dizzying peaks and eerie valleys, arduous climbs and refreshing streams. Every day we draw nearer to the holy city that is our destination. There we encounter and usher into the world the divine image in a new form: our baby.“(page 11) Through “Fertile Ground”, Jansson walks alongside her reader, pointing out new growth and signs of God’s touch along the path of pregnancy.

“Fertile Ground” is designed to be read weekly, over the course of a pregnancy. There are a series of chapter-specific reflection questions included at the end of the book. These are offered in the event that that the reader wishes to respond to each chapter in a journal. Or, several women experiencing pregnancy simultaneously could read the book together and discuss the questions in the context of a regular gathering.

The lone appendix of the book addresses losing a baby. Jansson is familiar with this difficult path as well. Her child Seraphim fell asleep in the Lord during the first trimester of pregnancy. (May his memory be eternal!) She was inspired to include this appendix because “very sadly, for many of us, loss and pregnancy go hand in hand.” (p. 307) The appendix, like the rest of the book, extends a hand to offer support and hope to its readers.

Women who are on the path of pregnancy will find encouragement and food for thought buried in the deep reflections in this book. In these pages, they will uncover the opportunity to nourish their own spirit even as they nurture the small life within them. Women who have already given birth will find reflections on their experience in this book that will help them to grow even after the fact. In “Fertile Ground”, Laura Jansson offers a treasured gift to the women of the Orthodox Christian Church.

Find “Fertile Ground: A Pilgrimage Through Pregnancy” here: https://store.ancientfaith.com/fertile-ground/

Here’s a conversation with Laura about her interesting life and her book: https://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/everydayorthodox/meet_laura_jansson

Here are some gleanings from the book:

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“The act of making a baby is sometimes called procreation (the Latin prefix pro meaning “forth”). But the phenomenon of fingerprints proves that mothers are more than procreators, merely bringing God’s creation forward into a new generation. Mothering is not just something my body is used for, a passive means of production. Rather, from the beginning He entrusts me to help mold the clay from which He forms humanity. Astonishing as it seems, the Creator lets me come alongside Him, working next to Him in the dirt as His work takes form. He empowers me to be not simply a procreator but a co-creator of one of His greatest works: a human creature who uniquely bears His image and who will help write the next chapter in the story of the world’s salvation history. It’s a noble and high calling indeed.” (p. 28, “Fertile Ground: a Pilgrimage Through Pregnancy” by Laura S Jansson)

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“Seeing the co-creative work of childbearing through this eucharistic lens reveals my parental role as priestly in nature. ‘The Eucharist is the anaphora, the “lifting up” of our offering and of ourselves,’ writes Fr. Alexander Schmemann—and in the liturgy of childbearing, my baby is the living sacrifice I lift up to God. When I cooperate with the creative work of God in this way, pregnancy becomes an act of worship, transformed from a mere biological process into a sacred act.” (p. 34, “Fertile Ground: a Pilgrimage Through Pregnancy” by Laura S Jansson)

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“…When I host those in need, I entertain angels (Heb. 13:2) or even Christ Himself (Matt. 25:35)… Pregnancy calls me to live out this vocation by offering the welcome of paradise to the little one in my womb. He is like a guest lodging for a season in the innermost chambers of my body. At a cost to myself, I share with him my food, time, and space. Of course, doing so is part of the pregnancy package, and once I sign up I don’t get to choose my terms. But I do have a choice to make. In what manner will I receive my guest?” (p. 43, “Fertile Ground: a Pilgrimage Through Pregnancy” by Laura S Jansson)

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“The unity of the Godhead shown in Rublev’s Trinity icon also finds some analogy in our human motherhood. Of course, unlike the Persons of the Godhead, a mother never shares full oneness with her child. Nevertheless, as we stand with swelling bellies, gazing on the three figures in the icon, the circular movement of their reciprocity speaks deeply to us. Their openness to one another moves us. We experience anew the truth that God is not just a self-contained unit but a relational being.” (p. 89, “Fertile Ground: a Pilgrimage Through Pregnancy” by Laura S Jansson)

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“God’s warm brightness will always rest on my child no matter which way he chooses as his life unfolds. Whether it’s acknowledged or not, God’s radiant love illumines the whole of humanity: ‘He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good’ (Matt. 5:45)… I have the opportunity to direct my child actively along the illumined path. My bones and muscles and sinews will guide his body into the earthly light; in the same way, my heart can point his heart to the light of heaven. After the enlightenment of his birth-day, I can help him come to the enlightenment of baptism, the enlightenment of the Holy Mysteries, the enlightenment of a life of prayer, and finally, the enlightenment of death into the Kingdom, so that his whole life is a progression toward unity with God.” (p. 118, “Fertile Ground: a Pilgrimage Through Pregnancy” by Laura S Jansson)

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“Perhaps this is what the Holy Apostle Paul meant by that rather cryptic statement in one of his letters: he says women ‘will be saved in childbearing, if they continue in faith, love, and holiness, with self-control’ (1 Tim. 2:15)… He’s not saying that women are saved by childbearing, as if babies were collectible box tops that could be exchanged for free entry on Ladies’ Night in heaven. No: women, like men, are saved by Christ—each one of us in the circumstances of our own unique life. Rather, Paul says it is possible for us to find our salvation in and through our maternal experience.” (p. 134, “Fertile Ground: a Pilgrimage Through Pregnancy” by Laura S Jansson)

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“All our relationships—with the world, with other humans, and ultimately with God—have their locus in our bodies as well as our souls. This is why our worship is so physical. Bodies fold in prostration, incense billows, bells jangle, candles flicker, wine sweetens lips, melodies rise, and chests are enfolded in the sign of the cross. Each of my senses draws me into the beauty of God’s presence. In my worship I ask Him to save me, and that me is an inextricable bundle of body and soul.” (p. 162, “Fertile Ground: a Pilgrimage Through Pregnancy” by Laura S Jansson)

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“The logismoi that come to us in labor usually converge around our pain. It’s no sin to have such an impression; it’s how we respond to it that is the issue. If we let the thought be, it passes. If we latch onto it, it leads us to the next one, a little further down the road: This is really bad. Next we come to Poor me! Before we know it we’ve reached a state of mind where our pain is all that exists: I’m dying! This is never going to end! Somebody just kill me now. We have lost all sense of control over our fate; we have become nothing more than slaves to our impressions. Looking at the situation through the lens of Logos rather than logismoi, we see that this trap is an illusion… In labor, as in many of life’s hard situations, we cannot always choose a way out of the experience, but we can always choose a way in.” (p. 198, “Fertile Ground: a Pilgrimage Through Pregnancy” by Laura S Jansson)

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“Slowly it dawned on me that, far from being alone in my plight [caring for a child in the middle of the night], I was part of a huge secret army of caregivers keeping vigil through this night. Right now, other mothers and fathers were feeding, rocking, soothing, changing, holding, and tending their babies. There were those up with an older child who had been sick or had a bad dream. There were parents in hospital, propped up next to incubators, or pacing linoleum floors as they labored to give birth. There were people caring for others not their children—beloved parents dying or friends in crisis. There were those whose hearts, or whose monastery bell, had awakened them to pray for those in need. Like night watchmen, each of us took our turn to watch and to sleep, but at no time did the world have to keep turning without the collective witness of our love.” (p. 225, “Fertile Ground: a Pilgrimage Through Pregnancy” by Laura S Jansson)

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“…It’s understandable if I want my baby to land in a nest a little more luxurious than the newborn Christ’s. But for me, too, a simple nest can be a fitting one. My baby cares not a whit about color-coordinated nursery accessories. What makes a difference is the space I create to accommodate him. Can I hollow out a place of safety, belonging, and comfort for him in this world? Will I make of my own life the nest in which he can grow?” (p. 268, “Fertile Ground: a Pilgrimage Through Pregnancy” by Laura S Jansson)

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“…both we and our babies leave this moment behind; we leave our pregnancies, and our babies leave our bodies. Throughout motherhood we will know this experience again and again. Our little ones leave first our wombs, then our arms, then our sphere of commanding influence, and finally our homes. Their job is continually to go foth, and ours is to allow them to do so. Being a mother, as one scholar puts it, is ‘a lifelong process of  “being there to be left”.’” (pp. 292-293, “Fertile Ground: a Pilgrimage Through Pregnancy” by Laura S Jansson)

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“…I felt my miscarriage had reversed the order of creation, putting death before birth. I was the mother of this tiny person, and by dying he had become my senior in the Kingdom. Everything was backwards. Yet because I had never known the child of my own womb, there was a little room for complicated feelings. My huge sadness had a kind of sweet purity to it that left room for a sense of wonder. ” (p. 28, “Fertile Ground: a Pilgrimage Through Pregnancy” by Laura S Jansson)

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Expectant mothers may find these scriptures (from p. 201 of Jansson’s book) helpful as a focus point during labor.

A Closer Look at “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home”- Chapter 1

Note: This series of blog posts will offer ideas of how to build up the little church in your home. The series will take a closer look at “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker. Each week we will take a look at one portion of the book and focus on the wisdom and ideas offered there. Find an overview of the entire book here: https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2016/06/22/gleanings-from-a-book-blueprints-for-the-little-church-creating-an-orthodox-home-by-elissa-bjeletich-and-caleb-shoemaker/

We thank Elissa Bjeletich, Caleb Shoemaker, and Ancient Faith Publishing for granting us permission to share the book with you in this way. Purchase your own copy here: https://store.ancientfaith.com/blueprints

 

Chapter 1: Why the Little Church?

In chapter 1 of “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home”, authors Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker help their readers better understand the concept of the “little Church”. The chapter begins by reminding each reader that “The Church” is not a building or place: rather, it is the Body of Christ, including all of His people throughout time. The smallest unit of the Church is the family unit, or the “little Church”.

The chapter goes on to suggest that family life is a type of asceticism. Just as monks are interrupted from their daily tasks for prayer, so family members are interrupted from their daily tasks by each other. But rather than distracting us from it, family life can actually bring each member of a family deeper into the spiritual life, when it is properly approached. The authors encourage their readers to look for ways to make their own home a “natural monastery”, where the family works together and grows spiritually at the same time.

The chapter continues with a closer look at marriage and baptism: two foundational events in the construction of the little Church. The authors offer their readers the opportunity to revisit many prayers from each of those events, to see how, even from marriage and from baptism, the Church of their home is being established among its members. The authors encourage parents to remember that it is their job to raise saints, and that, as they work toward that end, the family can practice asceticism together. The chapter closes with several “holy habits” that families can develop to work toward this end.

Do you have a parenting question for the “Blueprints For the Little Church” authors? Connect with Elissa here: https://elissabjeletich.com/contact/ and email Caleb at caleb.shoemaker@gmail.com.

 

Here are a few gleanings from chapter 1:

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“The little church has its own hierarchy and its lay versions of the sacraments—we break bread together, we bless one another, anoint one another, pray for one another, and love one another in this little community, striving together to grow ever closer to Christ.” (p. 22, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

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“Family life, however, can also lead one to deep spirituality. A family can be immersed in prayer, both at table and after, and their hospitality and generosity will speak of an earnest application of Christ’s exhortation to love their neighbor as themselves.” (p. 23, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

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“God sends everything to us for our salvation, and we can receive it that way, accepting each of our daily tasks and experiences as a call to prayer. When confronted with mountains of laundry, we can thank God for clothing us as He clothes the lilies of the field; when approaching a sink full of dirty dishes, we can thank Him for providing food and ask that He nourish our souls as well. Every mundane task that makes family life so busy can be received as a call to prayer.” (p. 25, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

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“The truth is that your home is a school, a hospital, and a church. Your children will learn their spirituality from you, and it is a sacred calling for parents to shepherd—literally, to pastor—their children in the ways of righteousness.” (p. 27, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

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“It is in these moments—these holy spaces—that man and woman are no longer individuals but are bound to one another, and a new one icon is created. It is in this holy event that a young child is crucified with Christ, resurrected with Him in glory, sealed with the Holy Spirit, and tonsured—set apart—for the work of the priesthood in which all believers participate.” (pp. 29-30, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

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“…Our little churches should be communities always centered on Christ, where love and forgiveness reign, where we pray together ad struggle toward salvation together. This includes directing our children in loving submission and repentance to their Heavenly Father, who has promised to complete a good work in them. It is not about manners—it’s about holiness. It’s not about “good behavior” — it’s about a life given completely to God in loving humility and peace.” (p. 32, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

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“Sunday school, religious schools, and summer camps are not enough; they may enrich what you are doing in the home, but they cannot replace it. We cannot outsource the raising of saints.” (p. 34, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

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On the Gift of Story

When I was a child, I remember sitting with my family (and any guests we were hosting) around the table after dinner, and listening as the adults told stories and jokes. I have always loved stories, and this daily experience fed my hunger for them. Throughout my growing-up years, I remember begging my parents to tell me tales from their childhood. Sometimes they’d remember one, and tell it to me, and other times they couldn’t think of any story to tell. I remember adamantly thinking to myself that I was going to remember every single thing from my childhood, so that I would always be able to tell my own children stories when they asked for one. In my childhood mind, that was the best gift I could give to my future kids. (Unfortunately, my memory did not serve me as well as I intended, and therefore many times when my own children would ask for stories, I could not call any to mind! Now that my children are grown and no longer begging for stories, often something will jog a childhood memory, and at last I can think of stories to tell!)

It wasn’t until I was teaching first grade in a private Christian school that I began to appreciate the gift (and power!) of story. My favorite class to teach in those years was Bible class. One day, I realized why I loved teaching Bible class so much (besides the obvious fact that it was a lesson from the Scriptures). You see, it was in Bible class that I could teach in a way that engrossed my students: through story. Years later, after we had children of our own and I was no longer teaching in a classroom, our family began sharing other cultures with children and their families through educational gatherings which always included folktales. I am confident that the children (and adults) who attended may not remember any of the facts or activities from those gatherings. But if I were to ask them something about the folktale that we told, even years after the event, a light would go on in their mind, and a smile would cross their lips, as they remembered it. Stories are a gift, because they are memorable, and even children can understand them.

What is it about stories that entices children? And is it just a childhood thing, this longing for stories? I have noticed in my adult life that I am much better able to digest concepts if they are embedded in a story than if I am just presented with the idea. I retain much more from walking through a living history exhibit and speaking with its re-enactors than I do from visiting a glass-encased-artifact museum. As our family journeyed toward Orthodoxy, it was Frederica Mathewes-Green’s story of a year in their mission parish, her book Facing East, which made the Faith real to me, not a straightforward theological discourse. Story speaks to the adult me, just as much as it did to the child. I suspect that I am not alone. Given our whole culture’s renewed interest in storytelling (even businesses are utilizing storytelling for increased success!), it seems that stories are for everyone, not just children.

Perhaps this is why, throughout the history of mankind, storytelling was utilized as a means for communicating culture, history, and morals. That’s a tall order! But it was effective. Unfortunately, in the last centuries, we have begun to step away from the gift of story. As we rely more on technology for learning and less on sitting together around the dinner table (or campfire) and talking to each other, the experienced people in our midst are not as readily able to share their wisdom through their stories. This has reduced the organic transfer of culture, history, and morals. The recent “rebirth” of interest in storytelling in our culture is a step (back) in the right direction. Now it is up to us to move beyond interest in storytelling, and begin to actually practice it.

Stories are a gift, because they are a memorable (and fun!) way for life lessons to be beautifully conveyed. Our Lord Himself offered us this gift when He told stories. Remember all the parables that He shared? Many of them were great stories but they also incited discussion because they housed deeper meaning. Christ modeled for us the use of story for teaching.

We should be taking advantage of this gift! As we do, perhaps the stories that we share will come from our personal experience. As a child, I craved stories from my parents’ growing-up years. But even now, as an adult, I continue to savor the stories that they tell me from years gone by. We should not underestimate the value of personal stories. Retelling our personal history allows our listeners to hear what life was like when we were younger. The stories are engaging because they’re real, they’re about someone the hearer actually knows, and they bring the past to life. They can also teach a lesson, especially if we are humble enough to even tell the stories of our mistakes. As we share our stories, let us be careful not to gloss over those mistakes. Rather, let us allow our listeners to learn from them. God gives us opportunities to suffer and stumble and get back up again, not just for our own salvation, but also for the salvation of those around us who can learn from our choices (and even from our mistakes!).

Another way to share the gift of story is through reading books together. They may be Orthodox books and/or books that directly teach an important concept or lesson. At other times, we may share a story from a book that is not Orthodox, and maybe does not even directly teach a concept or virtue, but it opens up a way to speak together about one. Perhaps the main characters in the story actually make the wrong choice. Rather than throwing out the story altogether because of that wrong choice, we can allow such a story to become a launching point, a way to safely talk together about the Faith and our choices and to learn through the characters’ mistakes. This can save us from having to make the mistake ourselves. (Of course, each family is different, and is thus differently able to process the stories that they hear. Because of this, we adults need to decide which stories are appropriate to share with our listeners. This requires preparation through careful thought and pre-reading before sharing, but in the long run, it is very worthwhile.)

Modern schedules may no longer allow for the daily extended mealtimes that I experienced when I was a child. This makes it more difficult for storytelling to happen naturally. However, this gift is so valuable that it is worth investing the time and energy required to make it happen. Let us find a way to give the gift of story, and value it when we receive it in return!

Note: We are not all professional storytellers. That’s okay. The personal touch, the time that is offered in order to tell a story, and the beloved voice of the teller is what makes each story valuable and approachable to the listeners, whether or not the storyteller is a pro.

 

Here are some ideas and additional information that may be helpful as you begin to share the gift of story:

***

Years ago we shared a series of posts about bedtime stories. In case you missed it: https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2016/10/05/bedtime-and-other-rituals-reading-books-together-part-1-why-read-at-bedtime/

https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2016/10/12/bedtime-and-other-rituals-reading-books-together-part-2-books-to-read-with-younger-children/

https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2016/10/19/bedtime-and-other-rituals-reading-books-together-part-3-books-to-read-with-older-children/

***

We wrote before about the value of sharing stories from the scriptures. If you missed that, check it out here:

https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2016/10/26/bedtime-and-other-rituals-reading-from-the-scriptures-part-1-introduction-and-a-few-resources/

https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2016/11/02/bedtime-and-other-rituals-reading-from-the-scriptures-part-2-old-testament-stories/

https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2016/11/09/bedtime-and-other-rituals-reading-from-the-scriptures-part-3-new-testament-stories/

***

Did you see our blog post about telling the stories of the saints? If not, here it is: https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2016/11/23/bedtime-and-other-rituals-sharing-stories-of-the-saints/

***

Would you like to read more about the value of telling your children stories from your family’s history and/or your own personal life? Check this out: https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2013/12/what-kids-learn-from-hearing-family-stories/282075/?utm_source=atlfb

***

Most folk tales offer the opportunity for character-building discussions. Check your public library’s 398.2 section of the non-fiction part of the children’s department to find a multitude of such books (but, as always, read the stories yourself before reading them with children, to verify that they will work for what you’re trying to learn together). There are other character-building stories available, as well. For example, these: http://www.momentsaday.com/storybooks-that-build-character-printable-activity-pages/

***

Here is a list of picture books that may be helpful to your family, if you are looking for stories that can encourage discussions on character building. (Again, we encourage you to read these books yourself before sharing them with your children, to make sure that they’ll work for your particular situation.) https://thecharactercorner.com/15-books-to-teach-character-to-kids/

***

Here are some suggested chapter books that may be helpful to your family, if you are looking for stories that can encourage discussions on character building. (Again, we encourage you to read these books yourself before sharing them with your children, to make sure that they’ll work for your particular situation.)

https://www.notconsumed.com/chapter-books-teach-moral-lessons/

https://thecharactercorner.com/character-building-books/

***

If you want to read more about encouraging character-building through stories, you may find these books helpful: https://www.christianbook.com/honey-for-childs-heart-fourth-edition/gladys-hunt/9780310242468/pd/42463?event=ESRCN|M and https://www.christianbook.com/honey-for-a-teenagers-heart/gladys-hunt/9780310242604/pd/42606?event=ESRCN|M

 

 

On Family Fun Ideas for Summer

We in the northern hemisphere are right in the middle of summer. For many of us parents, this means that we have more time and/or a different schedule with our children. There are so many ways to spend that additional time! We have gathered some ideas that can be tucked away if and/or when you would like to offer your children an idea of something to do.

If you already have ideas and plans with your children, that is awesome! You will not need these ideas! If you would like to add to your list of “things we may want to do”, perhaps something here will be of help to you. Check them out as you have time and energy.

Either way, God bless you and your family as you enjoy the summer time together!

 

Here are the ideas that we found. What ideas do you have to share with the community? Please comment with your own fun family activities!

***

Before you get bogged down by too many ideas and the feeling that you must have every day scheduled for your children’s summer vacation, treat yourself (and your family, by applying your learnings) to this podcast. You will find that is an hour well invested: https://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/hmhs/summertime_parenting
***

The title may make this seem as though it is just for “littles”, but the myriad of kitchen-ingredient doughs could be fun for any aged child! https://team-cartwright.com/taste-safe-sensory-play/

***

Here are fun ideas for your own backyard that will challenge your children to play and exercise: https://www.funlovingfamilies.com/diy-backyard-play-areas/?utm_medium=social&utm_source=pinterest&utm_campaign=tailwind_tribes&utm_content=tribes&utm_term=280897172_7438592_258321

***

If your children are the crafty sort, you may want to take a look at these beautiful things that they can make with items found in nature: https://www.howweelearn.com/breathtaking-nature-crafts-for-kids/?utm_medium=social&utm_source=pinterest&utm_campaign=tailwind_tribes&utm_content=tribes&utm_term=723694014_29094136_80903

***

Here’s a compilation of cool and clever ideas for summer fun! https://kidsactivitiesblog.com/72221/cool-activity-ideas-summer/

***

If you have a beach ball or two, you’re all set for these fun games: https://www.birthdaypartyideas4kids.com/beach-ball-games.html

***

From games to art, here’s a fabulous, screen-free collection of ideas of things kids can do: https://selfsufficientkids.com/screen-free-kids-activities/

***

Here are some gender-specific idea collections. (We recommend that you look through both, though, because children like to try all sorts of activies, and the fun is not gender-specific!) https://www.moritzfinedesigns.com/25-summer-activities-for-boys/ and https://www.moritzfinedesigns.com/25-summer-activities-for-girls/

***

Check out these fun science experiments! https://lemonlimeadventures.com/must-try-summer-science-activities-for-kids/

***

Turn your backyard into a play space – or a gameboard! Check out these fun ideas: https://www.diyncrafts.com/17772/home/35-ridiculously-fun-diy-backyard-games-borderline-genius

***

Giant painted “mural”, anyone? Waffle cone s’mores? Ice cube stacking? Here’s a large collection of  fun summer ideas! https://mothersniche.com/60-days-of-cheap-summer-fun/

***

For the artists among us (or those who are willing to inspire their children to explore art) there’s this: https://www.artbarblog.com/58-summer-art-camp-ideas/

***

These family fun ideas are all wet: https://whatmomslove.com/kids/best-outdoor-water-activities-to-keep-kids-cool-summer/

***

 

A Handful of Spring Memory-makers for Families

For many families in our community, we are deep into the season of spring, that special time of year when things are growing, budding, green, and flowering. We have gathered a few fun spring family activities to share. It is our hope that you will find an activity or two that will help your family to create a happy memory in these final weeks of spring. Here are some of the ideas that we found:

***

Be mutually encouraged and grow your faith together as a family with these spring faith-building ideas:  https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2015/04/23/on-celebrating-new-life-in-springtime/
***

Whether or not your family has “kindness elves” to help encourage you to act in kind ways, the spring ideas posted here are a lovely way to step out into the spring air and do something that will be helpful to someone else. Print the free “leaves” with kindness suggestions on them, cut them out, and keep a bowl of them ready for reading/doing. If you don’t have “kindness elves”, you can still use the leaves: pull one from the bowl each day, do what it suggests, and add that leaf to an empty grapevine “kindness wreath.” By the time you get to the end of spring, your wreath will be green and your hearts will be happy! https://theimaginationtree.com/25-spring-acts-kindness-ideas-kids-free-printable/

***

Just for fun, check out this “spring bucket list” things to see how many of these would be fun to add to a  list of your own: https://www.sunnydayfamily.com/2017/04/spring-bucket-list.html
***

There’s a printable spring scavenger hunt for young children and their family here: https://thepurposefulnest.com/spring-scavenger-hunt-printable/

The spring scavenger hunt is just one of the fun family ideas found here: https://spitupandsitups.com/21-spring-family-activities/

***

If your young children enjoy crafts, here are some with a spring theme: https://www.hikendip.com/spring-crafts-for-kids-toddlers-preschoolers/

***

Recycle plastic eggs for this spring-themed movement game! https://www.creativelittleexplorers.com/spring-movement-game-using-plastic-eggs-free-printable-action-cards/

***

Rainy spring day? No problem! Check out these printable pages:

I spy (at three different levels of difficulty): https://www.poolnoodlesandpixiedust.com/spring-i-spy-coloring-pages/

***
If you have toddlers, you’ll want to check out the fun ideas and crafts here: https://www.craftsonsea.co.uk/spring-activities-for-toddlers/

***

The sidewalk chalk games and nature art suggested here could happen in almost any season. They look like fun! https://thepinterestedparent.com/2016/09/sidewalk-chalk-games/

***

These spring-themed art projects are beautiful! https://creativefamilyfun.net/beautiful-spring-art-projects-for-kids/

***

What better time than spring to make your own kites? You can fly them for months to come! https://www.aboutamom.com/how-to-make-a-kite/

***

Here are some fun spring-themed activities to do with tweens: https://www.kitchencounterchronicle.com/10-activities-to-do-with-tweens-over-spring-break/

***

How fun would it be to host a neighborhood field day? Here are some game ideas: https://ourfamilylifestyle.com/outdoor-field-day-games-for-kids/

 

Gleanings from a Book: “Spyridon’s Shoes” by Christine Rogers

Christine Rogers’ new book, “Spyridon’s Shoes” is a comfortable fit for its readers. The language is simple enough for mid-elementary-level readers to read on their own. The story line is intriguing, though, and will capture the attention of younger or older children as well as the adults who read this book.

Young Spyros’ family is hard-working, but nonetheless they experience one hardship after another. The book tells the story of how Spyros (a nickname for Spyridon) and his family face each of their struggles with faith. It also reveals the ways in which God chooses to send help.

The grandfatherly man who arrives and helps Spyros when he badly cuts his foot early in the story is, interestingly enough, also named Spyridon. Spyros offers to call the grandfather “Abba” and the man accepts that nickname. After the first meeting, Abba continues to show up in Spyros’ life, helping him as needed and inspiring him to do what is right. It takes the reader almost the entirety of the book to realize that “Abba” is actually Saint Spyridon himself, appearing to and physically assisting his young namesake who truly needs his help.

Although “Spyridon’s Shoes” is a work of fiction, it is a highly believable and delightful read. This book very naturally shares much of the wisdom of St. Spyridon, challenging readers to growth in their own Christian walk, without the reader feeling at all that they are being preached at by anyone. It incorporates some true stories of ways in which God has used St. Spyridon in the lives of those who have asked for (and received) his help. The book offers a glimpse into the saint’s real life on earth, within the context of a fictitious story.

Besides the story itself, there are a few extras that make this book so helpful to its readers. Vladimir Ilievski’s cover and occasional illustrations throughout the book are true to the story, giving readers a face for each Spyridon, while also bringing to life the setting on Corfu. The pages about St. Spyridon himself, found near the end of the book, help readers to learn even more about this wonderful saint. His troparion and icon are at the end of the book, for those who wish to ask for his prayers and see his icon.

This book is an enjoyable read for young and old alike. Children will resonate with Spyros and love his story so much that they will slip back into it, re-reading the book from time to time. Just like St. Spyridon’s shoes, this book will be well-worn by the families and libraries who own it. Here’s hoping that Christine Rogers keeps writing books like this!

 

Purchase your own copy of “Spyridon’s Shoes” (available in paperback or ebook) here: https://store.ancientfaith.com/spyridons-shoes/

Here are a few gleanings from the book (mostly quotes from “Abba”/St. Spyridon, so as not to give away any of the story line), as well as a handful of resources that can help your family learn more about St. Spyridon and his miracles:

***

“Spyros sat down, and the old man took his foot again. He tore a piece of fabric from the bottom of his cassock and used it to gently dry and wrap Spyros’ injury. He then took one of his own shoes and eased it over the bulky bandage.” (p. 22, “Spyridon’s Shoes”, by Christine Rogers)

***

“‘Pray in the little things, pray in the big things. Leave everything to Him.’ Abba lifted his hand and showed Spyros the rope he was holding. ‘This is a prayer rope… For each knot on the prayer rope, say a prayer. Even the simplest prayer works great good in our hearts.’” (pp. 34-35, “Spyridon’s Shoes”, by Christine Rogers)

***

(Spyros is talking to his friend Niko about Abba here:) “‘…when he talks about God, he does it in a way that makes me want to listen instead of staring out a window at church, just waiting for liturgy to be over.’ He looked at his friend. ‘I know it is strange, but I still hope that you can meet him. And then he will say to you the same thing he always says to me— “Until we meet again, may God bless you.’”’ (pp. 50-51, “Spyridon’s Shoes”, by Christine Rogers)

***

“‘It is good to have goals and to make plans, Spyros,’ Abba said, ‘but you must remember to give all those plans and goals to God in heaven. Ask for His blessings and mercy before you begin any task.’” (p. 57, “Spyridon’s Shoes”, by Christine Rogers)

***

“‘Saint Spyridon is the patron saint of our island,’ his father replied. ‘Many times he has saved the people here from invasion and enemies. Once,there was a great famine, and no one had any food to eat. By the prayers of Saint Spyridon, a storm blew a ship off course, and the ship was full of grain. It landed here on Corfu, and the people were saved from starvation.’” (p. 79, “Spyridon’s Shoes”, by Christine Rogers)

***

“Spyros reached his hand out to touch the icon on top of the reliquary. Father Theodore continued to speak. ‘Saint Spyridon is famous for his miracles and for appearing to people in need. He walks about so much helping people that he wears out his shoes. In fact, every year, we open his reliquary and give him new ones.’”(p. 84, “Spyridon’s Shoes”, by Christine Rogers)

***

St. Spyridon was present at the first ecumenical council. At that council, he used a brick to demonstrate the unity of the Trinity. He held the brick in his hand and then squeezed it. Miraculously, fire shot up from it, water dripped out of it onto the ground, and then all that was left in his hand was dust. “There was only one brick,” Saint Spyridon said, “but it was composed of three elements. In the Holy Trinity there are three Persons, but only one God.” Read this and more about the life of St. Spyridon, including many miracles worked in his lifetime, here: https://oca.org/saints/lives/2000/12/12/103526-st-spyridon-the-wonderworker-and-bishop-of-tremithus

***

Listen to the accounts of several miracles of St. Spyridon, recounted by Fr. Peter Shapiro, here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V9iWjfYTzBM

***

After reading “Spyridon’s Shoes” by Christine Rogers, your family may want to pray the Akathist to St. Spyridon. Find it, as well as an after prayer, here: https://akathisttostspyridon.wordpress.com/

***

 

Gleanings from a Book: “Raising Them Right” by St. Theophan the Recluse

St. Theophan the Recluse may have lived a reclusive life, but his was a life of prayer and asceticism, and that closeness to God granted him much wisdom. His writings and teachings have been recorded, preserved, and translated from the Russian so that we are able to read them and learn from them. “Raising them Right” is a collection of his writings and teachings for and about young people, intended for youth and those who raise or teach them. It is a small but powerful collection of teachings.

“Raising them Right” begins with a few pages telling about the life of St. Theophan the Recluse. That is followed by 7 chapters of his teachings: “The Christian Adult”, “Baptism: the Adult and the Child”, “The Developing Child”, “Forming Attitudes”, “The Years of Youth”, “Understanding a Young Person”, and finally “Preserving God’s Grace”. Each chapter contains timeless wisdom. Even though St. Theophan was born more than 200 years ago, his words are applicable to adults and children today.

This book is small but helpful. We recommend that parents and teachers alike read it, ponder its words, and allow St. Theophan to help us in our task of raising children. As we learn, may we, indeed, raise the next generation of Orthodox Christians right.

 

St. Theophan, please pray for us and for the children in our care.

Purchase “Raising Them Right” here: https://store.ancientfaith.com/raising-them-right-a-saints-advice-on-raising-children/. The ebook and audiobook will soon be available, as well.

Here are a few gleanings from the book. We found these short selections encouraging and/or challenging for parents:
***

“An enemy hates an enemy not only personally, but he hates also relatives and friends of this enemy, and even his belongings, his favorite color, and in general anything that might remind one of him. So also, true zeal to please God persecutes sin in its smallest reminders or marks, for it is zealous for perfect purity. If this is not present, how much impurity can hide in the heart!” (p. 18, “Raising Them Right,” by St. Theophan the Recluse)

***

“Christian life is not natural life. This should be the way it begins or is first aroused: as in a seed, growth is aroused when moisture and warmth penetrate to the sprout which is hidden within, and through these the all-restoring power of life comes; so also in us, the divine life is aroused when the Spirit of God penetrates

into the heart and places there the beginning of life according to the Spirit, and cleanses and gathers into one the darkened and broken features of the image of God.” (p. 20, “Raising Them Right,” by St. Theophan the Recluse)

***

“…if you desire to begin to live in a Christian way, seek grace. The minute when grace descends and joins itself
to your will is the minute when the Christian life is born in you—powerful, firm, and greatly fruitful.” (p. 24, “Raising Them Right,” by St. Theophan the Recluse)

***

“It goes without saying that after the baptism of the infant a very important matter stands before the parents and the sponsors: how to lead the baptized one so that when he comes to awareness he might recognize the grace-given powers within himself and accept them with a joyful desire, together with the obligations and way of life which they demand. This places one face to face with the question of Christian upbringing, or the upbringing which is in accordance with the demands of the grace of baptism and has as its aim the preservation of this grace.” (p. 30-31, “Raising Them Right,” by St. Theophan the Recluse)

***

“…the spirit of faith and piety of the parents should be regarded as the most powerful means for the preservation, upbringing, and strengthening of the life of grace in children.” (p. 35, “Raising Them Right,” by St. Theophan the Recluse)

***

“It is necessary that in the gaze of the parents there should be not only love, which is so natural, but also the faith that in their arms there is something more than a simple child. The parents must have the hope that He who gave them this treasure under their watch as a vessel of grace might furnish them also with sufficient means to preserve him. Finally, there should be ceaseless prayer performed in the spirit, aroused by hope according to faith.” (p. 37, “Raising Them Right,” by St. Theophan the Recluse)

***

“Parents often speak among themselves; children overhear and almost always assimilate not only the ideas, but even turns of speech and gestures… Let parents talk with their children and explain to them either directly or, best of all, by means of stories… Or let them ask the children what they think of one thing or another, and then correct their mistakes. In a short time, by this simple means, one may communicate sound principles for judging about things, and these principles will not be erased for a long time, and may remain for life.” (pp 50-51, “Raising Them Right,” by St. Theophan the Recluse)

***

“While accustoming a child not to do his own will, one must also train him to do good. For this, let the parents themselves furnish a fine example of good life and acquaint their children with people whose chief concerns are not pleasures and awards, but the salvation of the soul. Children love to imitate. How early they learn to copy a mother or father!” (p.53, “Raising Them Right,” by St. Theophan the Recluse)

***

“The earlier the fear of God will be imprinted and prayer aroused, the more solid will piety be for the rest of one’s life.” (p. 55, “Raising Them Right,” by St. Theophan the Recluse)

***

“What frost is for flowers, so is the transgression of the parents’ will for a child; he cannot look you in the eyes, he does not desire to enjoy kindnesses, he wishes to run away and be alone; but at the same time his soul becomes crude, and the child begins to grow wild. It is a good thing to dispose him ahead of time to repentance, so that without fear, with trust and with tears, he might come and say, ‘I did something wrong.’” (p. 56, “Raising Them Right,” by St. Theophan the Recluse)

***

“The state in which we emerge out of the years of youth depends a great deal upon the state in which we enter into them. Water falling from a cliff foams and swirls below, but then it goes its quiet way in various courses. This is an image of youth, into which everyone is thrown as water into a waterfall. From it there come out two kinds of people: some shine with virtue and nobility, while others are darkened by impiety and a corrupt life.” (p. 66, “Raising Them Right,” by St. Theophan the Recluse)

 

 

Gleanings from a Book: “Lights on the Mountain” by Cheryl Anne Tuggle

Author’s note: Long ago I committed to reading fiction that strengthens my faith instead of dismissing it. I am fine with reading stories of people who struggle with life or with what they believe, as long as they are struggling towards God, not ignoring or shying away from Him. Because of these self-imposed limitations when it comes to reading adult-targeted fiction, I have limited my reading mostly to Christian fiction and classics. Suffice it to say that I have read a fair amount of both over the course of my five decades.

In all of my reading, I have yet to read a book like this one. “Lights on the Mountain” by Cheryl Anne Tuggle is Christian fiction at its best. The characters are so believable that you expect them to step right out of the book so you can marvel at the sunrise together, or share a cup of tea. Their struggles are real, as is their growth: painfully real, as is our human experience. Their story is carefully and beautifully told. This book is written as though it were already a classic.

Tuggle offers her readers a glimpse into mid-20th-century rural Pennsylvanian life, with its clash of cultures and challenges. Characters include a host of rural-minded Americans, a handful of hippies, a pair of Hungarians, a few Romanian “gypsies”, some Orthodox Christians, and more. (One character has Amish roots, but this is anything but another “Amish Christian Fiction” book: his cultural heritage is far from the focus of the book.) The characters interact with believable honesty, by turns disagreeing and misunderstanding; then accepting and helping each other as would be expected in a rural community such as theirs. (I live in Pennsylvania and married into a rural Pennsylvanian family, so I am familiar with such a community.)

Tuggle’s writing is lyrical and poetic. She refuses to spoon-feed her readers, instead inviting them to mull over the story, perhaps re-read sections, and ponder the reading. Her expertly-crafted sentences are clad in words befitting their message, saying just enough to allow the reader to find the pieces of the many puzzles in the story. Tuggle’s words spin ordinary farm life into gold, without sugar-coating the dirt.

“Lights on the Mountain” is filled with purposeful pain, glazed with moments of joy. How else could the story of a boy-becoming-a-man be genuinely told? The readers follow pensive Jess Hazel from his late boyhood through the moment when he fully embraces his adult responsibilities. Constant to his tale is the everyday glory of life on the farm. A host of colorful characters appear in different parts of his life, and not until the end of the book does the reader fully understand each one’s significance. True to life, some parts of this account leave the reader hanging until the parts come full circle, and there is beautiful completion.

This book is an interesting blend of thoughtful words, difficult subject matter, complex characters, deep faith, and simple glories. Readers will come away from reading “Lights on the Mountain” knowing that their time was well spent. I’ll warrant that many of them will read the book again, to revisit the characters and gain further insight into the puzzle pieces that they missed the first time around. I am particular with my fiction selection, and I will be among those re-readers.

By the way, according to my research, Tsura is a Romanian name. It means “light of dawn.” You’ll find that interesting when you read the book.

 

Purchase your own copy of “Lights on the Mountain” here: https://paracletepress.com/products/lights-on-the-mountain

Watch the trailer for the book here: https://youtu.be/VfCLI998hh4

 

While this book is a work of fiction, the insights that it offers will encourage you as a Christian, a spouse, and/or a parent. Here are a few gleanings from the book, to offer you a tiny taste:

***

“No doubt his father was right. Clyde always was. The beam of light probably was an extraordinary reflection of the everyday sun, but did that mean it couldn’t also be more? It might also be a kind of ladder, the means for God to get down to this patch of soil Hazels had been working since old Penn first claimed these woods and set things back to the way they used to be.” (pp. 19-20, “Lights on the Mountain” by Cheryl Anne Tuggle)
***
“Now that he knew how it was a man should live, it was clear that it was no more than his lot to do so. He still grieved, still felt acutely the pain of his aloneness. But there was a great deal of solace, he found, in taking Clyde’s approach to existence. Acceptance had its own plain reward. To be sure, living in such a way, a man’s sense of wonder was muted. But so was his sense of tragedy. Jess did not pine now for the old joy or wish for knowledge beyond his ken. And except for that which he now put in himself, and that which ought to be placed (with caution) in his fellow man, he did not long for faith. He did not long at all. Or he did but did not know it. And then, while he was longing without being aware that he longed, Gracie came to him. In the cool
of an evening. Almost as if she’d been sent. As if someone knew it was not good for man to be alone.” (pp. 42-43, “Lights on the Mountain” by Cheryl Anne Tuggle)
***
“For if there was anything he knew about Gracie Morozov after three months of loving her, it was that she was serious about God. It wasn’t a thing she talked about endlessly like some religious girls Jess had known—she seemed to take her faith as a natural gift, much as she did the shine and gloss of her hair or the unusual hue of her eyes, and rarely spoke of it directly, but he would have to be a fool not to see how it affected everything she said and did.” (pp. 65-66, “Lights on the Mountain” by Cheryl Anne Tuggle)
***
“She was quiet for a minute, thinking. Then she said, ‘I haven’t met Mr. Zook. But he’s human, right? And don’t we all suffer? We all have weaknesses. Injuries. Battle scars. Sins. Even the Amish. Straw hats and horse-drawn buggies don’t buy paradise. Or else none of us would need a savior.’”(p. 102, “Lights on the Mountain” by Cheryl Anne Tuggle)
***
“It seemed to Jess that he was being humbled on purpose, as if having stood for a few brief moments before the icon of Christ, he was now somehow standing within it, viewing himself through those all-seeing eyes. And from this view it was pretty clear that he had acquired more than just his father’s so-called natural way of taking his place the world. He had also acquired his stiff-neckedness. ‘There’s a way seems right to man,’ he remembered Orville Hays saying, ‘and oft times it isn’t.’ Jess wondered then if this was to be the response to his prayer. (If indeed such silent groaning was prayer.) God, after all these years, speaking to him in voices he could recognize. Or (and this was a sorrowful thought, weighted with regret) it could be that God had been speaking all along, and Jess only could not hear because he was not with any real amount of honesty listening.” (p. 184, “Lights on the Mountain” by Cheryl Anne Tuggle)
***
“Silence is a good teacher, but most of us make poor students.” (p. 210, “Lights on the Mountain” by Cheryl Anne Tuggle)
***
“‘There is a prayer we make to Christ,’ Father Daniel said, his voice growing tenderer, as if he’d heard Jess’s thoughts, knew the reason for his sigh. ‘“Wound my heart with love for you.” Is that not a strange request? It’s madness! And yet, don’t we understand it, you and me? At least a little. From the moment I saw you, I said to myself, now here’s a pilgrim I recognize. A fellow wounded. He has heard tales of a singular healing salve and has been limping about the earth to find out if one truly exists. Tonight, you’ve made a discovery. Yes, this miraculous ointment does exist. And what is it? More madness! More sweet pain to be endured. More sorrow mingled with joy. It’s love.’”(p. 214, “Lights on the Mountain” by Cheryl Anne Tuggle)
***

 

On Planning Ahead and Enjoying Christmas Vacation

“…and Mom and Dad can hardly wait for school to start again! It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas…”

Is it just me, or is anyone else grated the wrong way by this line of this popular Christmas tune? When my children were younger, I always eagerly anticipated the days of Christmas break. Whether it was a year that the children were attending school or we were homeschooling, those days were precious and full of fun! Even then, I’d mentally change the lyrics whenever I heard this song to something more like, “and Mom and Dad can easily wait for school to start again…” and then I’d think about all the fun and relaxing things we’d do together over the break, while also feeling a little sad for kids and parents in households where the original lyrics stood as truth.

If your household is an “original lyrics” type household that wants to change your tune a bit, maybe some of the ideas in this post will help! We’ve gathered a variety of ideas of things you can do to prepare for the upcoming Christmas vacation, as well as suggestions of activities to do together during the break. Some of them are tried-and-true activities that were enjoyable and left happy memories in their wake. Others are new ideas that look like they would be fun to do. Look through the list for yourself, and see if any of these resonate with your family and the memories you would like to make together, then plan accordingly!

A word to the wise: do not plan to do all of these ideas this year. Even if you like them all, just don’t do that (see #5 below). Tuck some of them into your back pocket for upcoming years! Then relax, and enjoy your Christmas vacation together!

A few ideas for family fun on Christmas vacation:

  1. Before vacation begins, work together to create some gifts for neighbors. Deliver them on Christmas Eve.
  2. Also before vacation, bake cookies together and freeze them for when the Nativity Fast is over. They will still taste fresh, and you’ll have all the baking finished so you can enjoy the break (and the cookies)!
  3. Before you arrive at the break, plan your menu for the break time, or at least purchase and/or prepare (and freeze) food for that time, so you have minimal food prep during the break.
  4. If your clan enjoys cooking, before vacation plan a meal to make together during the break. Double check to be sure that you have all of the ingredients on hand.
  5. Less is more. Truly. Plan less to do during the vacation than you think is possible to stand, and allow yourselves time to lollygag, to invent, to play, to be BORED. (Out of boredom comes a surge of resourcefulness and creativity, but that’s a discussion for another time.) If your family’s school(ing) schedule is anything like ours was, your brains need this downtime desperately. Take it. (Remember, save some of these ideas for future years. Except this one. This one should happen every Christmas vacation.)
  6. Stock up on library books to read together (and individually) during the break. Block out time during the break to read!
  7. Consider spending one day of break as a movie marathon. (Successful movie marathons have included “Star Wars”, “Night at the Museum”, “Back to the Future”, or “National Treasure” movies, shown in sequence. With popcorn, of course!)
  8. Set up a tent in your living room and “camp out” (or camp IN?!?) for a day. (This idea is for us northern folks. Those of you further south can actually camp out if it’s warm enough!)
  9. Keep plenty of games and puzzles on hand to play and enjoy together.
  10. Get some fresh air. Play in a playground. Go hiking. Find a nearby park that you haven’t been to in a while (or ever), pack a snack (or a picnic, if it’s warm enough!), and spend a chunk of a day outdoors. Rinse and repeat if everyone enjoys it!
  11. Plan a day trip. What is near enough to your home that you can spend the day adventuring there, and still be home by bedtime? Vacation in that place for a day. Or spend a “heritage day” with a set of the grandparents, traveling around in their home stomping grounds and hearing their stories. Or look up all of the touristy things there are to do in your home area and spend a day playing tourist in your own town.
  12. With quite a bit of forethought, plan a traveling vacation together, but don’t tell the kids. It’s really fun to give them the gift of a promise to travel on Christmas Day, and then leave the next day to make memories together in another place! One year, our family was able to visit Canada in this way. Our kids’ final gift on Christmas day was a giant gift bag with wrapped gifts inside which included their passports, snacks, some “things to do in the car”, etc., before the final gift (at the bottom of the bag) which revealed where we were going. We enjoyed the days abroad together and had so much fun that we ended up extending our trip and staying an extra day!

As your family approaches this Christmas vacation, prepare to enjoy it! We hope that you will enjoy the whole process: the planning, the anticipation, and also the Christmas vacation itself. We hope that you will find yourself wishing, too, that it will be a gloriously long time “…‘till school will start again!”

Here are a few links that can add to the ideas we’ve shared above. What ideas do you have (tested or not) to share with others in the community? Please share them below!

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Need some ideas of things to give to your neighbors? Check these out:

https://tidymom.net/2014/neighbor-gift-ideas/

https://crazylittleprojects.com/25neighborgiftideasforchristmas/

https://www.theidearoom.net/christmas-neighbor-gift-ideas/

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Here are some ideas for cookie recipes, in case you want to try any new ones:

https://www.godairyfree.org/news/nutrition-headlines/a-dozen-of-the-best-dairy-free-cookie-recipes-for-the-holidays

https://www.tasteofhome.com/collection/our-best-christmas-cookie-recipes/view-all/

https://www.delish.com/holiday-recipes/christmas/g3111/gluten-free-christmas-cookies/

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Need a family cooking night idea? What about this:

https://www.thechoppingblock.com/blog/family-cooking-night-meals-you-can-make-and-enjoy-together

https://www.buzzfeed.com/melissaharrison/cooking-with-kids

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Want to have some creativity boosters for the down time you’re planning at home? Print a folder of these before break, and place them where they can be discovered: https://artfulparent.com/16-printable-art-activities-for-kids/

http://afewshortcuts.com/downloads/lego-challenge-cards/

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Why it’s great to leave down time in your Christmas break:

https://www.huffpost.com/entry/the-benefits-of-family-do_b_1854204

https://www.thenaturalnurturer.com/blog/rest-relaxation-why-downtime-is-important-for-kids

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Fresh new books you may want to read during Christmas break, recommended by the American Library Association: http://www.ala.org/alsc/awardsgrants/notalists/ncb

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Movie marathon ideas:

(This article is old, but the ideas still stand!) http://www.essentialkids.com.au/entertainment/movies/best-themed-movie-marathon-ideas-for-kids-20140717-3c2tb

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Indoor camping ideas for your Christmas camp-in can be found here: https://mommypoppins.com/kids/down-time-have-a-living-room-camp-out

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Need ideas of new family games to play during vacation? Here are a few: http://redtri.com/new-card-and-board-games/