what’s in my bag?

kate spade 'all typed up'

since i was a little girl, i’ve loved to see what treasures were hidden inside a lady’s handbag and i suppose my girlish curiosity still exists.  so in case any of you are as nosy curious as me, here’s a glimpse of what’s inside my bag at the moment.

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The Hidden Garden by Jane G. Meyer

Hidden Garden Review

Hidden Garden Review

Jane G Meyer has been a favorite of mine for a very long time.  Her books have been, too.

Her latest children’s book, The Hidden Garden: A Story of the Heart, is an absolutely beautiful book about a man whose heart has dried up like a desert as a result of his neglect, and how he finally allows Christ to enter and help him turn it into the beautiful garden that it should have been all along.  It reminds me of the sort of book you could give as a Sunday School graduation gift or to someone newly baptized.  Sort of like some people give, Oh! The Places You Will Go, to kids when they graduate high school.  It just has a message that surpasses age.

All of my favorite little critters and I have been spending quite a bit of time on the front porch lately.  The weather has been perfect and we’ve been busy planting and watering our garden-to-be.   This book arrived on one of those lovely afternoons, so we sat on the swing and read The Hidden Garden.

The Hidden Garden by Jane G Meyer

The boys loved it!  Our favorite part is at the end of the book where Jane gives tips on How To Tend Your Garden.   We just finished planting seeds for our garden this year, so it was perfect timing.  I was able to compare the lessons in the story to what my children were seeing develop with our garden.  The boys learned lessons in loving God and your neighbor, and just like our seedlings, we really need little to survive and those are the things we should ask God for daily.

The illustrations were done by Masha Lobastov, who also did the illustration in one of our other favorite books, And Then Nicholas Sang.  They are so perfect for this book, each page has such a whimsical feel to it and it just sort of makes you dreamy.  The only thing that struck me as sort of off, and I didn’t mention this to the boys, but Lucky pointed it out on his own.  The illustrations of Christ, in particular, make him look more like a regular guy than the Christ we are used to seeing in icons or more iconographic  illustrations (which I prefer when depicting saints, etc).  Which, I’m sure was the point in this story but Lucky kept asking who the man knocking at the garden’s gate was and when I told him it was Jesus, he kept saying, “No, that’s not what he looks like!” :)  Other than that, it is impeccably illustrated.

This book would be a wonderful gift for Lent!  Jane’s tips on preparing your heart to welcome Christ is so appropriate for this time of year, this season of renewal and life and new beginnings.  Once again, a job well done by Jane G. Meyer. 

The Scent of Holiness {book review}

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I realize I am way late in posting my thoughts on this book considering it came out some months ago. But I had a really hard time organizing my thoughts on it.

Now, just in case this becomes a very long post, I want to make myself clear so there are no misunderstandings on why I couldn’t quite put into words my thoughts about it. I absolutely loved loved loved this book. I always post honest reviews of products and books and so I want you to know that I’m being 100% honest when I say this: This was by far one of the best books I have ever read. Like ever. And I read A LOT

Matushka Constantina Palmer compiled such a treasury of Orthodox wisdom and knowledge in this book and I highly encourage everyone to make The Scent of Holiness a part of their home library.

It is often said, that only the Orthodox Church contains the scent of holiness. We are the only faith to have the ‘fragrance of Christ’ present in the many, many miracles that happen through myrrh streaming icons, weeping icons, and the fragrant relics of our saints and martyrs. That being said, this book is appropriately titled because the stories contained within it’s pages are also uniquely Orthodox.

ScentHoliness


The first thing I got really excited about it was that it was geared towards women.  There really aren’t very many Orthodox books written from a woman’s perspective, even though there is such a need for it.

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It also made its way into my heart through personal experiences. Most of you know, that I live nearby two monasteries. We have observed monastic life for over a decade, it’s beauty and peace eventually drawing my husband and I to move from our families to be nearer to the monasteries and their grace.

Over the years, we’ve been blessed to have grown quite close to our fathers and sisters, as they are commonly called, and have heard many stories and witnessed many miraculous things. I cannot adequately express our love for them. They have become our family.

I’ve often regretted not writing all of those stories and experiences down to pass on to future generations, but Constantina’s book was the answer to that regret. Her experiences were so similar to mine that I felt like I was re-experiencing all of those moments. DH and I often discuss how our spiritual lives and battles have changed since moving closer to the monasteries.

When I read the following in the Introduction to The Scent of Holiness, I knew from my own, albeit limited, personal experiences that I was holding a gem because even the introduction was clothed in hidden truths.

“Where there are struggling Christians, there is also the evil one keeping vigil. This, however, should not become a stumbling block to visiting monasteries. Monasteries are a spiritual battle grounds; when we step into them, we may also be dragged into the fight.”

an excerpt from the Introduction...

an excerpt from the Introduction…

She explains it so incredibly well. We must expect our temptations to increase as our efforts to become better Christians increase. I love that she introduces the world, us Americans especially, to the beauty and joy and love and strength that is found at monasteries and in monastic life.

There is a popular saying in Greek, “Christ is the Light of Angels; Angels are a Light for Monks; The Monastic Life is a Light for all men.”

Monasticism is a Light for all Men

“Christ is the Light of Angels; Angels are a Light for Monks; The Monastic Life is a Light for all Men.”

I have recommended this book to everyone I know and every person who has purchased and read it has left feeling renewed. As soon as I finished it, I started it again. Then, I lent it out and wanted to read it again and couldn’t wait to get it back, so I bought the ebook. Since then, I’ve given three as gifts. Now that Great Lent has begun, I’ve started reading it again. It’s that good!

My copy of the book is dog-eared, and there are notes in practically every margin. It is now, uniquely mine and I will pass it on to my children one day because it has become that personal.

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I especially love how the book is divided into 33 knots (symbolic of the 33-knot prayer rope) instead of regular chapters. And the stories are all short enough to read in small intervals; 15 minutes in car line, 20 minutes in the doctor’s office.

If you are looking for a book to get you motivated for Lent, this is it. I promise, you will not regret it. It has been such a blessing for my family. Many times after dinner, when everyone is sitting around in the living room, I read a “knot” or two out loud. And even the children enjoy it and benefit from it.For those of you who have never visited a monastery, this will make them feel like home before you’ve even stepped foot at one. It will give you an appreciation for monasticism and it’s vital role in the Orthodox Faith.

Elder Amphilochios of Patmos said, “Wherever Orthodox monasticism is absent, the Church cannot exist, just as there cannot be a government without an army or a well-governed state without gendarmes. The monastics guard the boundaries of our Church and protect Her from Her enemies who, in our contemporary, materialistic age, rush to mangle Her like wolves.”

And Constantina ended the book perfectly by quoting St. John of the Ladder…

“I am full aware, my good friends, that the struggles I described shall seem to some incredible, [while] to others hard to believe…But to the courageous soul, they shall go away carrying zeal in their hearts.”

Those who read this book will certainly go away with zeal in their heart. This is hands down, one of the best Orthodox resources available.

Order your copy today from Conciliar Press. Can’t wait? Download the ebook now! Also, be sure to stop by Constantina’s blog, Lessons from a Monastery.

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Q&A Journal for Kids

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the kids are busy growing like weeds and i can’t help but want to bottle up their childhood innocence and keep it under my pillow.  every day is full of new discoveries and funny kid conversations.  and you all know how much i love kid conversations.  remember the one about christouli eating lucky’s grilled cheese sandwich?  or when ace asked if all the incense from our prayers made God sneeze?

(if not, click the link above)

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i’ve mentioned lots of times how much i love pinterest.  because, seriously, i do.  it’s not like other social networks that just slurp up your time leaving you zoned and distracted.  pinterest is great because it actually encourages you to do things.  i can’t tell you how many recipes, crafts, home decor, or organizational ideas i’ve found there in the past year or two.  you can follow all of my favorite pinterest ideas here.

my latest find was this awesome q&a book for kids.  i love recording the quirky and funny things the boys say all the time but sometimes i just don’t get around to it, or i try to remember to write them down when i get home and end up forgetting.  or what about the time i logged dozens of them in the notes section of my phone only to lose them when i switched phones?  :(

that’s why this journal is perfect! it is a 3-year journal that asks one random question a day.  some questions are serious, silly, or just typical.  since lucky doesn’t know how to write yet, i write down his answers word for word.  ace has been writing his own answers, but i’m beginning to notice a pattern of them being very short, which means he’s being lazy, lol.  so, i might start writing down his, too, so that i get better answers.

here are a few that we did this month:

this one is from ace’s journal.  this kid is going to really give me a heart attack when he’s in middle school.  at least, if he ever goes missing, i know where to find him.  ;)

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this was one of lucky’s.

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gee, thanks honey.  i think, lol.

you can see the 20_ _ underneath, which is where we’ll write the answers to the same question in 2014 and 2015.  Neat, huh?

you can order them from amazon…just follow this link!

A Thunderous Whisper {book review}

Picasso’s-Guernica

I think by now you all know how much I love and appreciate a good book.  And by now, I know how much you love a good recommendation.  So, be sure to add this one to your Christmas lists this year.  Because the thing about giving books at Christmas is, they’re picked up and enjoyed long after the video games get old, and dolls are outgrown.   They’re loved and cherished for years and years to come.

I know I picked up my copy of Little Women last night that my grandparents gave me twenty-three years ago on Christmas Eve.  I have read it every year since.  And there are several books that have become Christmastime traditions for me.  Some classics, some are titles no one else has ever heard about.  But both are enjoyed year after year. [Read more...]

The Scent of Holiness

Scent of Holiness

I first met Constantina about ten years ago at St. Anthony’s monastery in Arizona.  I’ve followed her updates via email since then.  I rejoiced when she and her husband were baptized into the Orthodox Church, marveled at their experiences as missionaries in Seoul, and whispered Axios at the news of John’s calling to the priesthood in Thessaloniki.

I have always been inspired by her perspective of life and desire to serve others.  Which is why I couldn’t be more excited about her upcoming book, The Scent of Holiness.

Below is the trailer for the book.  If this is any indication of the beauty and grace that will be found within it’s pages, this book is bound to be a treasure for all.

The Scent of Holiness will be released by Conciliar Press this fall.  Call 1-800-967-7377 to pre-order.  Also, be sure to check out her blog, Lessons from a Monastery.

Josiah and Julia Go to Church {review}

Josiah and Julia Go to Church Review

I am so excited to tell you all about this absolutely delightful new book for young readers!  Josiah and Julia Go to Church: A Young Child’s Guide to Church Etiquette was written by Kelly Ramke Lardin and illustrated by Sheena Hisiro.  It was just released by Conciliar Press. [Read more...]

Orthodox Wedding Crowns {Stefana}



I wanted to let you all know about the site where I got the stefana for my brother’s wedding. It is called Fanciful Designs and can be found at www.orthodoxweddings.com.

They were so beautiful and were made very well. I wish you could see how they sparkled under the lights in the church.

They also carry stefanothikes (crown cases) and lambathes (candles) and everything is very reasonably priced. If you’re in need of any Orthodox wedding items, you should definitely check them out!

Orthodox iPad App!

Yesterday a friend sent me a link for an Orthodox Calendar app that she and her husband created for iPads! Perfect timing for the new Ecclesiastical year too!

If you go to the iTunes store and search “greek orthodox calendar” it will pull up in the search results for iPads. Be sure it is the one created by Bold Technologies.

I love that I can now sync my daily activities alongside the church calendar. It includes all of the fasts and what is permitted during each one.

I also really love the “My Orthodox Journey” section where you can keep track of prayer requests, jot down questions for your spiritual father or whatever you want. You can also upload photos of different holy places or people you encounter on your journey. It’s awesome and I love it!

 

Go check it out for yourself!!

 

PlanetBox: Lunch Transportation for the Green Generation

I am so excited to show you guys the newest lunchbox we’ve been using for the last couple of weeks. It makes packing a fun lunch even easier! I’ll admit it’s a little pricey, but the money we saved last year on buying individually wrapped snacks and juice boxes made another investment like this worth it. There’s lots of reasons why PlanetBox will become your new BFF.

The PlanetBox is an awesome and eco-friendly way to pack your child’s lunch! I love that it keeps everything neat and separated, even after it’s been tossed around before lunchtime.

Click the photo above to learn more about Chemo Duck, a program that puts a fluffy duck friend in the arms of children coping with cancer.

The interior compartment is made of stainless steel and is easily thrown in the dishwasher after each use. It isn’t made to hold liquids, so you have the option of using the Big and Little Dippers (shown below). They’re perfect for holding “wet” foods like yogurt, apple sauce or dipping sauces like ketchup or ranch dressing. I also use the little one for rice pudding, etc.


The metal compartment fits perfectly inside of the carry bag (carry bags come in 6 different colors), which is 100% toxin free (no BPA, lead or PVC) and made from recycled plastic bottles. It is also super easy to clean off. It can be completely submerged in water, so spills or stains are easily removed. The inside has a large mesh pocket that is perfect for storing napkins, utensils and hot/cold packs.

The outside of the bag has 2 pockets, one for holding a drink bottle and one for anything else you want to include with their lunch. I usually use it for notes and other fun stuff.

PlanetBox also offers 7 different magnet sets to stick on top. We alternate between this fun sports theme and the ocean theme (shown in above photo). Ace likes to use a different one each week. Each set has a spot where you can write your child’s name too. Just remember to take them off before washing! I just stick them right on the fridge when I unpack it each day.

I also love that PlanetBox comes with a limited warranty for a period of 5 years and all the pieces can be ordered separately as well as in sets. So next year, if the carry bag is ruined, I can simply purchase a new one instead of having to buy another whole set.