Monday, May 30

Learning Basket: Seashells...

One White Wishing Stone: A Beach Day Counting Book
What Lives in a Shell?
A House for Hermit Crab
Seashells by the Seashore
The Seashore Book

Collect Seashells on the Beach
Play with Seashells during Bathtime
Snack on Madeline Cookies at Teatime
Listen for the Ocean Inside a Large Conch Shell
Glue Shells Together to Create a Picture or Sculpture

Learning Basket: Strawberries...

Pick your Own Strawberries
Make Strawberry Jam and Strawberry Shortcake
Observe the Strawberry Seeds on the Outside of the Berry with a Magnifying Glass
Select a Bowl of Strawberries to Give to Your Neighbors Anonymously
Grow Strawberry Plants in your Garden
Attend a Strawberry Festival (or Host Your Own!)

Learning Basket: Butterflies...

Learning Basket: Birds, Eggs, and Nests...

Set up a Bird Watching Station by a Window in your Home: Child-Sized Binoculars, Bird Guides, and Perhaps a few Audubon Birds
Take a Nature Walk to Search for Birds and Their Nests... Perhaps You'll Find an Eggshell from a Robin!
Create a Bird Haven in your Garden: Fill your Bird Feeders Regularly, Keep a Clean Bird Bath, and Add Plants to Your Garden that attract Birds
Visit Your Local Zoo to Catch a Glimpse of a Few Exotic Birds
Purchase a Wooden Birdhouse from the Craft Store and Have your Child Decorate it

Saturday, May 28


We went to a fancy nursery a few days ago and bought four pots of geraniums: a perfect white, the palest pink, a magenta, and one that I think of as flamingo pink. There were so many other colors, too (scarlet, orange-y red, salmon pink, to name a few). Geraniums are my go-to summer flower since they can take a beating from a someone who often forgets to water them! I love how they look in some mossy green terracotta pots that I purchased last year just after I got off of bedrest. How long ago that seems!

Friday, May 27

Happy Little Ones...

I have decided that I am going to find a way to simplify beach trips as much as possible so that we can enjoy the next few weeks before the tourists descend. The joy that my little ones have the second that their little feet hit the sand is a pleasure to see and will make the endless trail of sand worth it!


In lieu of birthday cake, Sugar Plum opted for ice cream cones on on the boardwalk. Little Man was particularly thrilled with his first cone of the season. He exclaimed, "Mama, this is my lucky day!"


Our camera went for a little trip this month with my brother-in-law to Kenya (he was there doing brain surgery with a few doctors from the hospital where he works). We missed it a lot, but it was fun to see photos of wild animals in their natural habitat on the memory card!

Thursday, May 26


Happy Birthday, Sugar Plum!

Wednesday, May 25


My father is home from the hospital! He is going to have to take it easy for awhile, but I know that he is thrilled to be home! Thank you so much for all of your prayers!

Sunday, May 22

Ask Father: 3 Questions/3 Answers...

Question: How should I respond to people’s questions about the Faith?

Answer: It is always good to remember the words of Scripture. The Apostle Peter says: “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and be ready always to give an answer to everyone who asks you a reason of the hope in you, with meekness and fear; having a good conscience...” (1Pe 3:15-16)

St. Peter gives us three practical things to do: 1) to seek the Lord’s help; praying fervently to Him from the heart that He might inspire both us and those we are speaking with; 2) to have the courage to share the reasons why we believe; and 3) to speak, “with meekness and fear; having a good conscience”.

Why meekness, fear, and a good conscience? Meekness because the Lord Himself is humble and doesn’t force anything on anyone. Fear because we ourselves are mere human beings and the things of God are mysterious and beyond our full comprehension. And a good conscience because we ourselves must be seeking to do what is right, seeking to follow the way of the Lord, if we are going to lead others in the same. If we can pass along the spirit of meekness, fear, and a good conscience, to the person we are speaking with, then they will have all the necessary prerequisites to learning the true Faith. Without this spirit, even the most perfect teaching from the most perfect Teacher will not be enough. We recall how some even departed from the Christ because they lacked meekness, fear of God, and a good conscience.
Question: But how can I help the person, if I don’t really know what to say?

Answer: Even if we can’t fully answer every question (and really, who can?), we can still help people by referring them to someone who might know a little more than us or to some profitable book on the subject. By so doing, they will be assured that what we are telling them is not our own personal belief but the universal teaching of the Church. And even if they never speak with the person we referred them to or never open the book we suggested, at the very least they will know that Orthodox Christianity is not about personal opinions but instead a common and universal witness to the Truth.

Question: But what if the conversation starts to turn argumentative?

Answer: Arguments about the Faith seldom bear fruit; the Christian life is communicated better by example than by argument. And so, if the conversation seems to turn argumentative, it might be best to follow the above advice and humbly refer the person to someone else or to some pertinent material on the subject in question.

By humbly removing ourselves from the conversation, we can actually help the person more than if we continued to debate them. This is because the person will more easily accept the answer to their question if they don’t have to swallow their pride by “giving in”. We all know how once a conversation turns into an argument, it can be less about the question and its answer than about who is going to “win” the debate. We should try to avoid this at all costs. Even if we might full well know the answer to the question, it could be that the person needs to hear the answer from someone other than us. Humbling taking ourselves out of an argument is not losing; it is giving a chance for the other person to be won over by the Lord.

Getting Better...

We are still under the weather, but on the mend! Our get-well-tonic is a visit from Grandma (Father John's Mama), Parmesan Popcorn, and Peter Pan!


My father is still in the hospital, but hopefully we'll be getting some more information on Monday... We are happy that he is being taken care of so well at Auntie Juliana's hospital.

Friday, May 20


.: Wild Daisies and Sweet Purple Clover Collected on One of Our Walks:.

Please pray for my dad, Father David. He is in the Emergency Room now and will likely be admitted for being septic. We aren't sure exactly what the problem is, but I will be sure to keep you posted.

UPDATE: My dad was finally diagnosed with cellulitus! Yikes. They will be keeping him for a day or two and my mother has calls out to clergy in the area to see if anyone can cover Vigil and Liturgy for him. Thank you for your prayers.

It has been a very hard day for our family. Besides worrying about my dad, we took Little Man to the ER at 5am for croup. He was given steroids and we were sent on our merry way. Button has been sick with cold-like symptoms (that are worsening) for five days, so I called our doctor for a sick visit and since he was booked up, he suggested waiting it out until Monday (this did not make Mama happy!) At about 4:30pm Sugar Plum began complaining that her ear hurt (she has been sick with a cold all week, too). I rushed her right over to the Urgent Care in our area and she was diagnosed with an ear infection. While we were there, I asked the nurse practitioner if she could look at Button, but she said that she couldn't since he was under 18 months old. When we got home, Father John and I decided that it would be a good idea to talk to the on-call physician about Button before it got too late in the evening. At 7:00 pm we were told to head to the ER "just to check things out". Father stayed home with the big ones, while I went off to the hospital. We are now home after 5 hours with a diagnosis of pneumonia! Yikes! Hopefully we will all get to rest tonight!

Thank you for your prayers!

The Story...

By Father John Oliver
Touching Heaven

The curtains fill with faint breeze and tease away from the open window, then hang still again. I cannot sleep. In several minutes the clock beside my bed will ring as I have programmed it to do. I hear no sound but the soft rustle of swaying leaves. Time has passed unnoticed. It is night-one hour before the Easter Pascha Liturgy.

I dress, then move quietly through the house. There is nothing to take to the temple but the usual-joy from the astonishing events that will unfold this night, guilt from another Lent of scattered effort, and hope of meeting Christ, who welcomes the eleventh-hour people. Somehow, though, feelings are irrelevant. Indeed, something infinitely more interesting is moving toward center stage. The dark corners in every fold of the universe rumble in anticipation as the priest readies his vestments and the choir arranges the hymns.

I pat my pockets, listening for the familiar jingle of coins and car keys. The money is needed for a meal at an all-night restaurant; the keys for transporting my hungry body there after the Liturgy. I walk through the living room, brushing with my fingertips the wall holding the icon of the Mother of God. Traveling light, I open the front door and step into a humid Florida night. Faint blue-and-white shades of television screens flicker from nearby homes. It is the only evidence of life I can see, and I imagine that they shine upon the bodies of sleeping men and women.

Turning south onto 56th Street, I roll down the window and inhale the warm air. The temple fills early and completely, so I've left home expecting to arrive with time to spare. Midnight is near and the streets are peppered with the flashy vessels of late Saturday revelers. Music and attitude spray from a few cars. We-all of us-are traveling toward our altars, to worship our gods, seeking relief from afflictions that feel personal and unique but are, in fact, common and everywhere.

I marvel at the ache of the soul, how it winds its way like water around the objects we place in its path. What a glorious thing. No dam of bounty, status, noise, psychology, or distraction is sufficient to protect us when the pangs of our true selves come calling. I have felt my share. And like my fellow night pilgrims, steering toward whatever they have constructed as their promised lands, I am simply trying to keep my eyes on the road and trust it takes me to a better place.

I have lived for a brief time in the warm fold of Valaam Monastery with men and women who are responding to the pangs of their true selves. They, and their spiritual ancestors, tell me that the true self is not the distorted, hollow construction of personal whim and cultural manipulation that so often meets our gaze when we look courageously into ourselves. No, the true self is the shining pearl beneath. It is the image of God that bears my name. And it is worthy of deep respect and vigorous celebration. It is worth rescuing.

As the years pass, my memories of Valaam will gradually be contained only in photographs. Even these will fade and yellow with time. The few artifacts I managed to slip past scrutiny at the border-icons, candles, an audio recording-will enter the cycle of display and replacement on mantles and shelves, and in recollections and conversations. But they will never fall out of favor. Rather, they will linger for a lifetime on the edges of my mind, fading in and out of consciousness like these streetlights that pass, one after another, through the corners of my vision as I drive through the night.

Pulling onto the highway, I settle into a legal speed. A police officer once told me I should give it a try, and tonight I am unhurried. Neon peeks through tree branches thick with greenery as I pass over twenty blocks of city streets. The breeze moves forcefully now through the interior of the car, and I reach over to move an old newspaper from the passenger seat to the floor. Resisting the urge to turn on the radio, I labor instead to listen to nothing more than rushing wind and random thoughts.

When I arrive at the church, the nave will be dark. We are still squarely on this side of the Resurrection. The stone has not been moved and many of us have only to look toward our chests to find it. We feebly commiserate with the disciples and their shattering confusion. You go through life placing your trust in anything that promises a decent return. Then, one Person appears in whom you invest every shred of your being. He gave eternal life; did they feel foolish for that brief time when He was dead and gone? At least we know what awaits on the next page of the story. Compared to that of the disciples, perhaps the intensity of our joy is dimmed because of it.

I have known the Story since childhood. That fixed point in spring-yes, shifting dates but always present and waiting-when flowers and clothing and sins turn white. The Story was recounted faithfully in the churches of my youth, in the wild variety of flannelboard figures, song titles, hymn selections, Sunday school handouts, real wooden crosses, and fancy dramatizations. Some years we awoke and celebrated before dawn. The Story was always told.

And always believed. The nave will be dark when I arrive but will not remain so. Even as the night set hard on my family when my parents finally chose fresh and separate lives for themselves, the darkness never lasted. Grace entered when I needed it most, in the form of a book or a friend or a movie or a walk in the woods. And I think grace entered my parents' lives also, as my sister and I emerged shaken but poised and resilient.

There were forays into cultures beyond the one I inherited. Shades of wildness and freedom colored my youth. Discovering that I could make music and be joyful, attend college on the other side of the country, sample life in its strange but exciting forms, visit other countries, appreciate other faiths-all this was powerfully shaping. A wider worldview was being forged from such exposure. And there in every shadow formed by new sights and new lights, the Story remained.

Then I entered Orthodoxy, and something happened to the Story. Or, rather, something happened to me: I no longer observed, I entered. I now walk with Christ in real time-day by day, through the Passion Week. The liturgical services contain the pious reflections of saints and hymn-writers, filling the biblical accounts with rich detail. I stand among His disciples listening to their thoughts. His Mother's heart opens and her anguish and hope are revealed. His cross is stained with fresh blood. I identify with Judas, even secretly respecting him because at least he held out for thirty pieces of silver, when I so often betray Christ for less. The liturgies vigorously discard sentimentality and explore real people in real events with real consequences.

Tonight, I travel toward my first Pascha service since returning from Valaam Monastery. The warriors there challenged me to keep the Story present and near. Do not trivialize its heroes by treating them as magical figures in a mythological sphere. No, they, and those since who have loved the Story, attained Christ by constantly grappling with the crude matter of their immediate circumstances. They were laborers whose redemptive scope included nothing beyond the simple materials-the persons, the tasks, the hour-before them.

I emerged from Valaam with this: I am not my own, but belong to God, who loved me into being. Moving through this evening, I imagine a different world. Not a pure and polished Planet of Eden, but simply a life closer to the prayerful one I encountered at the monastery. Monks are imperfect, as imperfect as any of us, and they fall as hard and as often. Still, there, a person lives not for himself, but for his Lord and his brother; there, to work is to participate with God in His creativity; there, sin is not as worrisome as not repenting; there, rest is a treasured part of the weekly routine; and there, they rise when fallen. Our culture needs plenty of all of this. We need the healing that these tedious, boring, difficult, but life-giving disciplines can bring. Valaam is an oasis of clarity for a world of confusion. Valaam is an island for America.

The details of my pilgrimage may fade, but the monastic experience has, by the grace of God, taken root; it will offer occasional nourishment for the journey and shade for the times when I feel like quitting. But it is only one step in that journey. It is a special grace among a host of mercies the Lord has granted to this pilgrim. The event will fade as it should, but the mysteries it imparted will grow and be fruitful. In that way, each of us has events and mysteries uniquely our own but drawing us toward a shared and holy communion.

And it is in Christ, after all, that we discover our true selves. Crushing our defenses, His cross; granting us abundant life, His death; illuminating every speck and sliver of creation with love, His Resurrection. I travel this highway tonight trying to turn from every thought that might drain the Story of its power over me. And they come as they always will come. But I drive with the winds of mercy, keeping my eyes on the road and trusting it takes me to a better place.

There, rising in the distance like a dim gray cloud, is the church. Palm trees line the road and sway gently under a black night sky hanging low. Scores of red taillights flutter, following their drivers as each finds a resting place. In a few moments, we will enter the Story. What we often consider to be the last chapter we will experience as the first breath of new life. I walk toward the door with my eyes to the earth, seeing only the ground that will hold my next step. Suddenly, the choir's pure song pulls at the wind, and in this moment everything I have been and ever will be does not resist, but turns and enters.

Wednesday, May 18

Enlighted By Actions...

My sister, Juliana, has decided to take up blogging this summer. She is a nurse and has decided to take a few months off to travel. The first stamp in her passport will be from Uganda, where she will help the people there on an OCMC trip. You can follow her wanderings at her new blog, I Want to Be Enlightened By Actions.

Sunday, May 15

Growing Ducklings...

We've been checking in on our ducklings every day or two. They are growing so quickly! We decided to change our Paschal Feastday shelf to show what we are learning about. We have really be enjoying Mallard Duck at Meadow View Pond, which is a very gentle science story about the life of a family of ducks. We have Canada Goose at Cattail Lane on order from the library because we noticed several families of geese and their goslings in the water near church and the pond in our neighborhood. It is such an exciting time of year!

Saturday, May 14

Cheerful Windows...

Father John hung window boxes outside of our bedroom windows and our living room window (they open onto our screened in porch). This simple change has completely changed the view from those rooms! It is so nice to look out and see happy little pansies swaying gently in the wind... the porch looks so much more finished now, too.

Friday, May 13


Lilacs from Our Neighbor

I am thinking of the lilac-trees,
That shook their purple plumes,
And when the sash was open,
Shed fragrance through the room.

::Mrs. Anna S. Stephens, The Old Apple-Tree::

Strawberry Shortcake...

I know that I briefly mentioned that we had strawberry shortcake the other day, but I want to make sure that if you are a shortcake fan, you try this recipe! It is so delicious! I found it on the Food Librarian Blog after Bethany mentioned that she served it for Easter dinner and it forced her husband to have to forbid any other shortcake from being made in their home. Try it, and you will see why!



2 1/2 C + 2 T (12 1/2 oz) all-purpose flour
1 T baking powder
1/4 c sugar (when I made this a second time, I put in 1/2 a cup of sugar)
3/4 t salt
7 T unsalted butter, very cold
1 C heavy cream, very cold
Extra cream and sugar for the tops
Sliced Strawberries
Whipped Cream

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
2. Sift flour, baking powder, sugar and salt in a mixing bowl.
3. Cut butter into small pieces, and cut butter into dry ingredients. I used a pastry blender, but you can use 2 knives or your fingers to get pea size pieces of butter.
4. Make a well in the center and pour in the cream. Gently mix the dough together with a wooden spoon or your hands. Don't'll look shaggy.
5. Turn the dough onto a floured surface and roll or pat out out to 1-inch thick and make the biscuits using a circle cutter.
6. Place biscuits on baking sheet and brush tops with heavy cream and sprinkle with sugar.
7. Bake until golden, 10 to 12 minutes.
8. Serve immediately topped with a generous spoonful of stawberries and a dallop of whipped cream.

Adapted from Tartine, page 116 (Amazon)

Thursday, May 12

Wee Monastics...

I found these little monks and nun for sale a few weeks before Pascha and we decided that they would make excellent gifts for the little ones for their Pascha baskets. Sugar Plum and Little Man are fascinated by monastics (their favorite monk is Bishop Tikhon!) and they have been a hit! I wish that they would make some different ones of the saints, priests, and bishops!

Wednesday, May 11

Living and Learning: May...

Saint Thomas Sunday
The Holy Myrrhbearing Women
Sunday of the Paralytic
The Samaritan Woman
Ss. Constantine and Helen
Sunday of the Blind Man


Reseed Grass in Yard
Hanging Baskets for Porch
American Flag for Porch
American Flag Bunting
Meal Planning & Weekly Shopping
Create Homey Atmosphere for Screened-In Porch
Plant Herbs, Tomatoes, and Zinnias
Find window covering for front door
Potty learning for Little Man
Research and Buy a baby Gate for the Steps
Research and Buy Window Locks for Upstairs Windows
Prepare for Sugar Plum's Birthday
Read Creating a Beautiful Home and Living a Beautiful Life

NICU Follow-up Appointment
Complete Baby Book for First Birthday
Plan First Birthday
One Year Baby Well Check

Birds and Nests

Visit Favorite Outdoor Spots Each Week: Beach, Playground, Zoo, Forest, Farm (Note: normally, we try not to go out and about so much, but Papa just reseeded the lawn and we can play in our yard as we normally do for a few weeks)
Enjoy a Daily Art Project: Painting, Playdough, Watercolors, Collage (Encouraging Scissors!), Fine Motor Skill Activity (Beading, Stamping, Stickers, etc.

Special Days
Saint Emilia - 8th
Mother's Day - 8th
Full Flower Moon - 17th
Sugar Plum's 5th Birthday - 26th

Practice Being Still and Quiet During Prayers and Services
Learn the Trisagion PrayersSinging – “Christ is Risen”
Helping with the Laundry
Nature table scene and book basket
Visit a Garden
Care for Bird Feeders, Bird Bath, and Plants
Crafts with FlowerListen to recorded books
Learning How to Draw Books
Resume Storyhour
Go on Nature Walks

Tuesday, May 10

Strawberry Day...

Today was our first trip to the farm for strawberry picking! The berries were delicious! After snacking on them much of the day and serving Strawberry Shortcake for dinner, we only have a small bowl full left. I foresee several more trips to the farm for picking in our future!

How to Never Complain About Anything Ever Again...

By David Cohen

At a certain point in my life I was a world-class complainer. Complainers have few friends, solve few problems, create nothing outstanding, and do nothing of significance.

I created this "how-to-never-complain-about-anything-ever-again" infographic for myself, but wanted to share it with you, in the event you're also a world-class complainer, or an aspiring one.


Tired of complainers? Share this on Facebook. Let's kill the complaining.

Monday, May 9

Mama Duck and Her Little Duckling...

We have been watching this Mama Duck for weeks now, waiting for her wee one to hatch. Her nest was inside a hollow tree near the swings at our favorite park and today we were treated to the seeing her ducking for the first time! Though I wasn't able to get a picture of him, the proud Papa was looking after his family with great care. The children were absolutely thrilled to see all of this unfold the past few weeks.

Lemon Blueberry Bread...

One of the wonderful things my husband gave me for Mother's Day was some alone time in the kitchen to make Martha Stewart's Simple Lemon Cake. I have been wanting to try it since I saw it on Grace's blog last month. I used the recipe from the April issue of Everyday Foods and the cake looked wonderful, but unfortunately it didn't turn out well at all. Later I learned that they had reworked the recipe for the website... which may be why it was not the treat I was hoping for.

Undaunted, I decided to make Smitten Kitchen's Lemon Yogurt Anything Cake this morning. It is scrumptious and will be my official summer stand-by! I made a few minor changes, so be sure to check out Deb's original recipe to see how it was supposed to be made and some fabulous variations for this recipe.


Lemon Blueberry Bread

1 1/2 cups and 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup lemon yogurt (I used Chobani)
1 cup sugar
3 extra-large eggs
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup butter
1 1/2 cups blueberries, fresh or frozen, thawed and rinsed (miniature wild blueberries are great for this, and pose the least risk of sinking)

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter and flour an 8 1/2 by 4 1/4 by 2 1/2-inch loaf pan.

Sift together 1 1/2 cups flour, baking powder, and salt into 1 bowl. In another bowl, whisk together the yogurt, 1 cup sugar, the eggs, vanilla and butter. Slowly whisk the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients. Mix the blueberries with the remaining tablespoon of flour, and fold them very gently into the batter. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for about 50 - 60 minutes, or until a toothpick placed in the center of the loaf comes out clean.

When the cake is done, allow it to cool in the pan for 10 minutes before removing it. If you can wait to taste this bread (we couldn't!), sprinkle with powdered sugar once it has fully cooled on a wire rack before cutting and serving!

Sunday, May 8

Mama's Day...

Wishing you a beautiful Mother's Day full of fun, love, and laughter!

The Feminine Trifecta...

This year, Mother's Day was celebrated on May 8th which also happens to be the feast of Saint Emilia. Interestingly enough, today is also Myrrh-Bearing Women Sunday! What a wonderful day to remember the women who cared for Christ in life and death while His disciples hid in fear, Saint Emilia an exemplary model of motherhood (who bore nine children... four of whom became great saints!) and our mothers, grandmothers, and godmothers who gave us life and love!

Happy Mother's Day!

Wednesday, May 4

What a Find!

A few months ago, our parish formed a women's group that meets once a month for a potluck meal and playtime for the little ones before the Saturday evening service. Our group wanted to think of away to celebrate new babies in our church and with the birth of a little baby girl in the beginning of April, we needed to come up with something quickly. One of our ladies suggested that we place a basket in the back of the church after the birth of a child and for the 40 days that mother and baby rested at home, parishioners could place a small anonymous gift into the basket. When it was time for the baptism, the full basket could be presented to the family as a welcome gift.

I was so excited to find this wicker bassinet at a local secondhand shop during my errands this week! Isn't it beautiful? I think that it will be perfect spot to place these little tokens. I plan on looking through my stash of ribbons to find a few pink ones to tie to the handle. When it is not in use, I think that it will be used to store linens in our bedroom. And if we are ever blessed with another little one, I'll be searching for bedding for this gem!

Monday, May 2

Our Bird Watching Garden...

We have really been enjoying our little bird garden this year. We have a couple of feeders and a bird bath that we tend to every few days and we are working on adding some plants to the surrounding area. Our backyard is a total blank canvas and it is so much fun to bring in some personality. It has been thrilling to try to identify the birds that come to visit... we had a bluebird arrive a few days ago!

Sunday, May 1

May Day...

I wish that you were all our neighbors so that we could hang these wee vases on your front door! Happy May Day!
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