Let’s Get Real


Icon corner, fancied up for Pentecost.

I was far off in the choir loft, desperately trying to sightread alto notes and decipher the copy of a copy of a copy of phonetic Greek–all these things without the benefit of coffee-when I noticed the lovely greenery that adorned the iconostasis at a sister parish. Lime green hydrangeas, wispy ferns, and unidentifiable floral beauties atop the arch, heralding the Feast of Pentecost.

Off to the side was a table flanked by ornate silk flower arrangements. My eyes wandered along with my mind, looking for more silk arrangements, the type that needs dusting and replacing, but always looks ready to be seen and ready to be admired. The type that isn’t real, but is convenient. The type that can be closeted, then brought out again.

It was then I remembered something that long ago drew me to the Orthodox church–the appeal of the real.  Early on, a priest emphasized that the things we use and see in the Church are real: real flowers, real candles, real oil, real wine, real bread, real water. All these things are touchable and common. All these things are transformed by an encounter with the Divine. All these things remind us of Christ’s reality, His coming to earth, His taking on flesh, His becoming real.

The real things that we see, taste, smell, and experience in church not only remind us of the power and mystery of the Incarnation, they also remind us that we too are called to be real. Like the wax candles that bring light to the darkened church; like the holy chrism that bestows the power of the Holy Spirit; like the wine and bread that co-mingle, becoming the body and blood of our Lord; like the water that joins us to the body of Christ–all these real things transforming us into who Christ calls us to be: real human beings.

When my kids were little, one of my favorite books to read to them was The Velveteen Rabbit. Without fail, I teared up when Rabbit meets Skin Horse, who tells him a beautiful truth:

“Real isn’t how you are made,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.’

‘Does it hurt?’ asked the Rabbit.

‘Sometimes,’ said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. ‘When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.’

‘Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,’ he asked, ‘or bit by bit?’

‘It doesn’t happen all at once,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”

Perhaps because we are surrounded by so much that is not real and not true, these real things, these simple things, seem primitive and almost silly. It is, however, through the small, humble gifts, that God comes to us–starkly real–and calls us to also be real and true in response to His own reality.

55 Maxims of the Christian Life by Fr. Thomas Hopko

Since I’m sharing lists, this one is probably the most important one:

  1. Be always with Christ and trust God in everything.
  2. Pray as you can, not as you think you must.
  3. Have a keepable rule of prayer done by discipline.
  4. Say the Lord’s Prayer several times each day.
  5. Repeat a short prayer when your mind is not occupied.
  6. Make some prostrations when you pray.
  7. Eat good foods in moderation and fast on fasting days.
  8. Practice silence, inner and outer.
  9. Sit in silence 20 to 30 minutes each day.
  10. Do acts of mercy in secret.
  11. Go to liturgical services regularly.
  12. Go to confession and holy communion regularly.
  13. Do not engage intrusive thoughts and feelings.
  14. Reveal all your thoughts and feelings to a trusted person regularly.
  15. Read the scriptures regularly.
  16. Read good books, a little at a time.
  17. Cultivate communion with the saints.
  18. Be an ordinary person, one of the human race.
  19. Be polite with everyone, first of all family members.
  20. Maintain cleanliness and order in your home.
  21. Have a healthy, wholesome hobby.
  22. Exercise regularly.
  23. Live a day, even a part of a day, at a time.
  24. Be totally honest, first of all with yourself.
  25. Be faithful in little things.
  26. Do your work, then forget it.
  27. Do the most difficult and painful things first.
  28. Face reality.
  29. Be grateful.
  30. Be cheerful.
  31. Be simple, hidden, quiet and small.
  32. Never bring attention to yourself.
  33. Listen when people talk to you.
  34. Be awake and attentive, fully present where you are.
  35. Think and talk about things no more than necessary.
  36. Speak simply, clearly, firmly, directly.
  37. Flee imagination, fantasy, analysis, figuring things out.
  38. Flee carnal, sexual things at their first appearance.
  39. Don’t complain, grumble, murmur or whine.
  40. Don’t seek or expect pity or praise.
  41. Don’t compare yourself with anyone.
  42. Don’t judge anyone for anything.
  43. Don’t try to convince anyone of anything.
  44. Don’t defend or justify yourself.
  45. Be defined and bound by God, not people.
  46. Accept criticism gracefully and test it carefully.
  47. Give advice only when asked or when it is your duty.
  48. Do nothing for people that they can and should do for themselves.
  49. Have a daily schedule of activities, avoiding whim and caprice.
  50. Be merciful with yourself and others.
  51. Have no expectations except to be fiercely tempted to your last breath.
  52. Focus exclusively on God and light, and never on darkness, temptation and sin.
  53. Endure the trial of yourself and your faults serenely, under God’s mercy.
  54. When you fall, get up immediately and start over.
  55. Get help when you need it, without fear or shame.

All the Things


The previous post and this post were prompted by living with kidults who can’t remember all the things, like how to pick up after themselves or feed themselves when I am not around.

Your moms all taught you these things–you just forgot in the haze of adolescence.

Here is how you do things when mom isn’t there to nag. Please stop saying we didn’t teach you:


Make bed; tidy room (AM)

Chores (AM & PM)

Dishes (ongoing/2x per day)

Pick up your stuff (ongoing)

As Needed

Empty trash/recycling/compost

Change towels

Fill soap dispensers

Laundry (Fold & Put Away–also known as FPA)

Tidy living areas (trash, books, papers, phones, miscellaneous items)

3 Xs/week

Sweep floors

Vacuum floors


Change sheets

Clean bedroom

Clean the house (tidy, dust, sweep)

Yard work (summer)

Wash vehicles

Sweep & tidy front entrance


Wash off cupboards

Sweep basement

Vacuum vehicles

Spot clean windows

What’s for dinner?



  1. Pasta options:
    1. Mac & cheese
    2. Spaghetti w/ red sauce
    3. Alfredo sauce
    4. Cabbage & egg noodles
  2. Breakfast options:
    1. Pancakes
    2. Eggs (omelettes, scrambled, fried)
    3. Waffles
    4. Frittata
  3. Ground beef options:
    1. Burgers
    2. Tacos
    3. Meatloaf
    4. Meatballs
  4. Vegetable options:
    1. Roasted
    2. Stir fry
    3. Frozen with oil or butter
    4. Fresh
    5. Salad
  5. Chicken options:
    1. Roasted
    2. Fried
    3. Grilled or broiled (breast)
    4. Soup
    5. BBQ sandwiches
  6. Pizza options:
    1. Mexican
    2. Traditional
    3. W/olive oil, garlic, herbs
  7. Mexican options:
    1. Tacos or burritos
    2. Guacamole
    3. Enchiladas
  8. Rice options:
    1. Plain
    2. With butter & cheese
    3. Pilaf
  9. Potato options:
    1. Mashed
    2. Roasted
    3. French fries
    4. Hash browns
    5. Smashed
  10. Sauces:
    1. White sauce (Alfredo, nacho)
    2. Red sauce
    3. Vinaigrette
    4. Gravy
    5. Pesto
  11. Salad
    1. Green
    2. Cole Slaw
    3. Potato
    4. Taco
    5. Chopped


—Start dinner prep at 4:30 PM

—Make enough food for all the people 

—Defrost meat in the morning or microwave on 50% power to get things going

—Have at least two sides, one of which is a vegetable

—Magic three: proteins, starch, vegetable

—Start with the item that takes the longest to cook, roast, or bake, then work on the items that take less time

A Restoration

I always forget what binge watching, rich food, and alcohol right before bed do to me. I routinely ignore all those tips about how to get a good night’s sleep–no screens, no food, no caffeine, no alcohol–and then wonder why I can’t sleep all night.


Then, right on schedule, the church calendar reminds me that I was created for a higher purpose than watching too much and eating too much and drinking too much. My purpose is to be in communion with God and with my fellowmen and women, yet her I am, out of whack, off-kilter, unbalanced.

I need restoration in my relationship with God and with my fellowmen and women. How  exactly is this accomplished? Self-restraint, prayer, and giving.

Regarding self-restraint, the rules are clear. Orthodox folks are vegans for about half the year. Between the four fasting periods and the Wednesday and Friday cycle, we eat lots of beans and rice. Or pasta and sauce. Since we live in an era of plenty, this is not difficult.

What IS difficult is keeping the fast. Not because of food availability (you can get veggie burgers anywhere), but because of our tendency to rationalize our cravings: we often opt out of fasting, which is one of the greatest tools for spiritual growth.

Saying no to ourselves and our desires helps us say yes to God and to good things. Saying no to ourselves builds our souls and aligns them with God. Saying no to ourselves restores us to creation and to each other.

The other thing, prayer, is a gift from the church. It’s so hard to give up food and activities without putting something in its place. Voila! Church!

The first week of Lent is filled with the Canon of St. Andrew. The following five weeks, depending on the practice, has either two (OCA practice) or three (byzantine practice) or more church services to attend–Great Compline, Pre-Sanctified Liturgy, and the Akathist. The prayer rule at home changes with prostrations and additional prayers. For some of us, Lent reminds us again that personal prayer is as important as corporate prayer, so we renew our prayer rule at home.

This additional prayer restores our relationship with God and with each other. It humbles us. It reminds us who we are. It silences us.

Finally, giving helps us to see outside of ourselves.  In addition to our gifts to the church, the money we would have spent on meat, milk, eggs, and cheese is given to the poor. Some people say they spend more on lenten food than they do on non-lenten food; however, if you are eating simply, you will notice a big difference in your grocery bill. Instead of finding meat and dairy substitutes, eat in-season vegetables and grains. It won’t kill you, I promise.

Like the additional fasting and prayer, giving restores us to God and to each other. We see the person who is hungry not as a person who doesn’t work hard enough or a person who needs to prove they deserve food or a taker rather than a maker; rather, we see the person as a fellow traveler on the road of life who needs our help. We see the other person as an icon of God because that is what she is.

Great Lent only works if I work it. I see no change in my life if I fast but don’t pray, or if I give but don’t fast, or if I pray but don’t give. All these things are for our growth and for our change. They are for our restoration, to God and to each other.

Blessed Lent!

Sophie, the Graduate



Photo courtesy of the talented Bailey Archer

I didn’t want to home school her all the way through high school–really I didn’t. But here we are and the third child has up and graduated. There’s a grand graduation party in the works. She really blew us all away, what with her perfect grade point and scholarships for her academics and scholarships for her amazing voice.

Small, but mighty, that’s Sophie.

I spent the morning of the graduation making Spinach-Filo Roll-Ups for the reception after the graduation, and sloppy joes , potatoes, and cole slaw for our family dinner after that. Not content with one item in the food line, I had to try a new cake recipe  also, and of course, I had to quadruple the recipe, which ultimately led to the cake entering the oven right around the time we needed to leave in order to be there an hour before the ceremony.

I sent Mel and the kids out the door and begged the cake to hurry up and bake. Guess who left the house before it was done? Me. I turned off the oven with the not-quite-done-cake and hoped for the best.


Have you seen my mother?

As it turned out, I was there ten minutes before the ceremony, so I wasn’t super late. My tardiness proved to be my undoing, however. I sat at the end of the aisle rather than at the first seat. The diploma was on that first seat, which wasn’t important until we were ready to award her with said diploma. From across the room.

Having no way to retrieve the diploma and since she was the first one to receive her diploma, we walked on stage without it.Guess who got a hug instead of her diploma?


Awkward attempt to disguise our forgetfulness.

It all ended well, though. Mel snuck it over to her–I’m sure no one noticed–and she walked across the stage after that tassel was moved and after the class (of nine!) was introduced. Our beautiful third baby, all grown up and stuff.


We match!

Many blessed years, kid. Many blessed years!

P.S. The cake was delicious, by the way. It lasted for a whole week.

Getting Ready for Christmas

I am such a tree hugger! I just love recycling, especially blog posts.

What's Cooking

IMG_6857 Comfort Christmas, 2012

It is almost November, and around here, that means it is time to get ready for Christmas. Now before you envision me hanging lights, putting up a tree, and baking cookies, let me  clarify. In the Orthodox  church, our Christmas preparation is spiritual and has three disciplines: restraint from certain foods, increased almsgiving, and additional prayer. These three disciplines help us to focus on what really matters during the Christmas season–Jesus Christ.

The first thing I do to prepare for fasting is a fridge and pantry evaluation. It’s important to figure out how much fasting food I need to purchase because it’s really hard to fast if you don’t have good food on hand. There are six of us eating, so I buy in bulk. I make sure to have a 3-liter container of olive oil, half gallon of honey, 5 # of peanut butter, a variety of legumes…

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