Purpose of this Blog...

You may have noticed that not all books are equal in capturing children's imaginations and in cultivating those innocent, tender souls. My goal is to help you find the ones that do!
(Painting by Mary Cassatt: "Mrs Cassatt Reading to her Grandchildren" -1888)

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Somebunny's Having an Easter Egg Hunt...

The Easter Bunny came by today 
and left surprises along his way. 
Colorful eggs are all around. 
With baskets in hand we search the ground. 
Hiding in places here and there --
Easter Eggs are everywhere!
-Author Unknown

Celebrating an Easter Blog Party Parade with Audrey Eclectic today, and wishing all my friends who are on the Western Calendar a Happy Easter.  

As an Eastern Orthodox Christian, I'm barely at the beginning of Lent; and my Palm Sunday and Holy Week are yet to come.

kulich - source
I will be celebrating Orthodox Easter (Pascha) on May 5, amidst exclamations of "Christ is Risen!", with decorated candlesred eggs, and kulich for our Pascha basket.

Paschal Candles - source
Tomorrow I'll be stocking up at the Day-After-Easter-Candy-Sales!

EASTER "Morning Carol"

For God So Loved the World, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.  
-John 3:16
"Morning Carol"
by Margaret Tarrant

Friday, March 29, 2013

The Legend of the Dogwood, for Good Friday

Have you heard of "The Legend of the Dogwood"?
Look at a dogwood flower: each delicate white or pink blossom of the dogwood tree is in the form of a cross – two long and two short petals. 

Upon even closer observation, you'll see on the outer edge of each petal small holes resembling nail prints. The tips of the petals are rusty on one side and brown-red on the other. It is not hard to imagine the holes represent the place where spikes pierced the hands and feet of Our Lord on the Cross. 

Finally, in the center of the flower there is a green cluster that recalls the crown of thorns...thus a legend was born:

At the time of Our Lord’s Crucifixion, the dogwood used to have the size of the mighty oak tree. Because the wood was so firm and strong, it was chosen to be the timber for the crosses used in crucifixions of criminals. 

Thus, the wood of the cross that would bear Our Lord and Savior was made from the dogwood tree. To be used for such a cruel purpose, however, greatly distressed the tree. Sensing this, the crucified Christ said to it: 

“Because of your compassion and pity for My suffering, never again shall the dogwood tree grow large enough to be used as a cross. Henceforth, you shall be slender and bent and twisted and your blossoms shall be in the form of a cross. 

“On the outer edge of each petal there will be nail prints, and the center of the flower will resemble the cruel crown of thorns placed on My head, with bright red clusters once again recalling the blood I shed. Thus, all who see this will remember Me.” 

When and where the legend first appeared is unknown. But the “how” of its origin is clear. It was a profound love of Christ that inspired the legend.  "The Legend of the Dogwood" is one of the most unique of the old stories handed down in the South where Dogwoods typically bloom every spring during March and April.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Egg Crafts and Traditions For Easter

Because new life emerges from an egg when a chick hatches, eggs  have long been associated with Easter and are a symbol of the Resurrection. As an egg lays dormant, it contains a new life sealed within it, just as Christ's body was resurrected to new life from the sealed tomb.

To go along with some beautiful Easter picture books about eggs, I found several fun egg crafts to share with you - these are perfect to try with your children over spring break, when they are home and have time to be creative with you.

This folktale describes the origin of pysanky, the process of decorating Easter eggs with intricate, colorful patterns. Katrusya and her grandfather are walking in freshly fallen snow when they discover a flock of tiny golden birds that has been overcome by the sudden cold. They rescue as many as possible from the drifts and stuff them inside their coats, then hurry back to the village for assistance. Soon everyone rushes out to help, and the priest opens the church to shelter the animals and preaches to his congregation that with every chirp the birds worship God with perfect faith. Shortly before spring arrives, the feathered creatures clamor to be released, saddening the villagers, who have grown to love them. Easter comes, and Katrusya and the other children find gorgeous, brilliantly colored eggs in the grass. When the people wonder at their source, the priest points to the golden birds, now perched above, and explains that these eggs are their Easter gifts. As each one is different and precious, he says, so is every living creature in God's eyes.

"Pysanky" is an Easter folk art craft that I have attempted over the years during Lent (post and book recommendations here). There are lots of books available about this ancient Ukrainian folk art, and you can search the Internet to find how-to videos and classes in your area.

Sound too ambitious? You can make an easier version with your kids at home - wax resits on paper.  You just need food coloring, paper, crayons, and an iron!

Here's another version - a pastel resist paper egg (you need paper, pencil, oil pastels, and tempera paints).

Take a look at these gorgeous (and easy, mess free) silk dyed Easter Eggs? My daughter and I can't wait to make these!

How about baking Italian Easter Egg Bread?

You could try the Greek Easter Bread Version:

source and recipe (Food Network)

In Orthodox Churches, Easter (May 5, because our calendar is different), or "Pascha" eggs will be red, symbolic of the blood of Christ ...
 ©iStockphoto.com/ vaskoni
Tradition relates that in Italy Mary Magdalene visited Emperor Tiberius and proclaimed to him Christ’s Resurrection. She gave him a red egg as a symbol of the Resurrection, a symbol of new life with the words: “Christ is Risen!”  Thanks to Mary Magdalene the custom to give each other paschal eggs on the day of the Radiant Resurrection of Christ spread among Christians over all the world. [source]

For all my readers who follow the Western calendar, have a blessed Holy Week and Easter. 

Friday, March 22, 2013

Book Themed Easter Baskets (They're Sugar Free!)

You can have fun playing Easter Bunny this year - with books!

Somebunny loves you!
For babies and toddlers, I love all these cute combinations with board books for your child's Easter basket from A Lovely Lark...

 Ollie, by Olivier Dunrea

 The Tiny Seed, Eric Carle

Pat the Bunny, Dorothy Kunhardt

And this, from You Are My Fave would be perfect for a preschooler...
Gossie, Olivia Dunrea

How about these fun little pom-pom chicks?  Hide them in plastic eggs and pair them with a couple of cute Coco books...

Coco, Sloane Tanen/Stefan Hagen

For ages 4-8, one of my favorite Easter books is Patricia Polacco's Rechenka's Eggs.  You can read about it in my past post, "Why Eggs for Easter", here.

Wouldn't it be adorable in a basket with these unique tin eggs from My Sweet Muffin?

And they'd look so cute on an Easter Egg tree! (Go here for my past post.)

Looking for more ideas for 4-8 year olds? In case you missed it, yesterday's post had several more book recommendations for Spring and Easter reading, here

I think it's such a great idea to pair books with other non-candy items like chalk, play dough, bubbles, crayons, stuffed animals, stickers, stamps, and garden or beach toys. 

Of course, food items such as goldfish crackers and Laughing Cow Mini Babybel cheeses are fun treats too, that can be tucked into plastic eggs...along with maybe just a few jelly beans and chocolate eggs? (More about eggs in my next post!)

Thursday, March 21, 2013


Spring is here, and Easter is near! Yesterday was the first official day of Spring. To celebrate, I got out some special books just for you. Any of these picture books make great Spring reading, and would be perfect for a child's Easter basket (watch for my next post: ideas for making book-themed Easter baskets). 

Right click on the titles for descriptions of each book.  I've listed them from left to right on the shelf...

1- What Do You Hear, Angel? Elizabeth Crispina Johnson/Masha Lobastov.
2- The Three Little Pigs, Paul Galdone  
3- Home for a Bunny, Margaret Wise Brown/Garth Williams
4- The Paintbrush Bunny, Adrienne Adams
5- The Hidden Garden, Jane G. Meyer/Masha Lobostav
6- Mr. Rabbit and the Lovely Present, Charlotte Zolotow/Maruice Sendak
7- Because You are My Baby, Jennifer Ward/Sylvia Long 
8- Easter Eggs For Anya, Virginia Kroll/Sally Wern Comport

Do you have a favorite Spring-themed book?  I'd love to know what it is!

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Book Making Ideas for Kids Part 2

If you read my previous post about making books with kids, you'll see some of the types of projects I did with my own children in our homeschooling days, including journaling, pop-up books, and alphabet books. 

Today I want to share some super creative "make your own" book ideas...

Accordian Style Book-in-a-Box
source: Martha Stewart
I love this idea! Here's a simple way for kids to store their sticker, button, or stamp collections: Accordion-fold a strip of paper, and glue the first and last pages to the inside of a box's lid and bottom. Keep some pages empty so the collection can grow.

Flip Books 
(source: Martha Stewart)
Make a stack of 20 or more index cards held together with "bulldog clips". Hand illustrate the cards (or use rubber stamps, stickers, or cut-out paper). The objects that are supposed to "move" should be shifted by 1/8 to 3/8 inch from card to card. If it looks too jumpy, make additional cards whose images show smaller changes, and insert them in between every other page. To put all the pages in the right order for viewing, the book should begin with the last page: You flip from back to front.  More detailed instructions and video here.

Paper Bag Books
source: Rosy-Posy

Paper bag books are another great way to showcase nature or sticker collections, paper dolls, homeschool projects, and much more. Here's a Video how-to for making paper bag books:

You can find lots more DIY book ideas on this website: Making Books.

Books about Making Books!
The Pocket Paper Engineer, Carol Barton

Making Books That Fly, Fold, Wrap, Hide, Pop-up, Twist and Turn, Gwen Diehn

Making Mini Books, Kathleen McCafferty

Monday, March 18, 2013

Stone Soup for Clean Monday: Sharing the Hidden Ingredients

It's "Clean Monday" - the first day of Orthodox Lent - and I'm making soup (simple recipe shared below).

Remember the children's folktale "Stone Soup"? One of my very first school day recollections is when our first grade teacher told the story to our class.  It's about cooperation and sharing what we have with others. 

Vintage book by Marcia Brown
The short version is this: some hungry soldiers come to a village and ask the peasants for food. The frightened and selfish villagers are unwilling to share any of their food stores with the hungry travellers, and hide it all. 

The soldiers finally tell them, “We are three hungry soldiers in a strange land. We have asked you for food and you have no food. Well then, we’ll have to make Stone Soup.”

One by one, the villagers become curious and listen to the soldiers' ponderings - they need a pot, some water, and three stones. Intrigued, the villagers assist them. The witty soldiers assure them it tastes wonderful, although it's still missing something that would improve the flavor.  Each villager contributes a little bit of seasoning or ingredient to help them out. Finally, a delicious and nourishing pot of soup is enjoyed by all.

This simple story is perfect for the beginning of Lent, and we often shared it with our children along with a pot of soup at the start of Great Lent.  The "ingredients" of Lent are, after all, fasting, prayer and almsgiving (works of compassion and forgiveness of others) - which lead to repentance and joy.  

The primary aim in fasting is to make us conscience of our dependence on God. As an Orthodox Christian, I fast for 40 days from meat and dairy products, but fasting in itself is valueless if not combined with prayer and almsgiving. (You are welcome to read more here about "The Meaning of the Great Fast: The True Nature of Fasting".)

A practical ingredient to successful Lenten fasting is planning.  Another key is simplicity!  With the many prayer services we add to our already busy schedules, it's helpful to get organized.  Some families assign the same dish to each night of the week.  For example Sunday=fish; Monday=soup; Tuesday=pasta; Wednesday=shrimp; Thursday=beans...

I've also discovered a third help: shortcut ingredients - so I don't spend so much time in food preparation on the days I'm babysitting my little grandson.  Here are some favorites I use in for my soup:
Mirepoix: diced onions, carrots, and celery
Pre-peeled and cut butternut squash
Canned beans are so quick!

Vegetable Minestrone 
2 T. oil
1 carton of Trader Joe’s Mirepoix (or 1 med. onion, 3 carrots, 3 stalks celery, diced)
1 pkg of Trader Joe’s pre-cut Butternut squash, cut into 1/2-inch diced pieces (about 2 cups)
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 t. dried thyme or summer savory
28 oz. can tomatoes, cut or diced, with juice
5 cups vegetable broth or stock
1 bay leaf
1-2 t. salt and 1/2 - 1 t. pepper
15 oz can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
1 cup cooked small pasta, such as orzo
8-10 oz. fresh baby spinach leaves
2 T. store bought pesto (optional)

  1. For pasta: Cook 1/2 cup dried pasta in boiling water, according to package directions, drain, set aside. 
  2. Heat 2 T. oil over medium heat in heavy Dutch oven type pot. Add mirepoix, squash, garlic, and thyme. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, for 8-10 minutes, until vegetables begin to soften.  
  3. Add tomatoes, 5 cups of vegetable broth, the bay leaf, 1 t. salt, and 1/2 t. pepper to the pot (you can add more, if needed later). Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer, uncovered, for 30 minutes, or until vegetables are tender. 
  4. Discard the bay leaf. Add the drained beans and cooked pasta and heat through. 
  5. Adjust seasonings. The soup should be thick, but if it’s too thick, add water. 
  6. Optional: Just before serving, add the pesto and spinach, tossing with two big spoons (like tossing a salad), and cooking just until the leaves are wilted.
(Find more shortcut recipes with mirepoix, here)

My priest emailed this quote today.  I'm sure I'll have to re-read it many times before Lent is over as a reminder of what I'm aiming for during this time of Bright Sadness!

Fast as much as you can, 
make as many prostrations as you can, 
attend as many vigils as you like, but be joyful
Have Christ’s joy. 
It is the joy that lasts forever, that brings eternal happiness. 
It is the joy of our Lord that gives assured serenity, 
serene delight and full happiness. 
All-joyful joy that lasts forever, that surpasses every joy
Christ desires and delights in scattering joy, in enriching his faithful with joy
I pray that your joy may be full.
-Elder Porphyrios

Sunday, March 17, 2013

An Extra Dose of Humililty from the New Pope Elicits Hope, and Softens the Hearts of Journalists

[Credit to Catholic Memes on Facebook]
Today, while sipping my last cup of french-pressed coffee with cream (tomorrow is the first day of Orthodox Lent), I was perusing the Sunday paper - which isn't always a pleasant experience (the news, not the coffee!) - when an article on the next-to-last page of the News Section caught my eye: "The Pope's Blessing for the Press".  Really??  Yup!

Pope Francis met with journalists who have been covering his selection at the Vatican, where he not only discussed the choice of his papal name but also gave them an exhortation and blessing. 

His undeniable humility elicited applause (and even some tears) from reporters as he blessed them and assured them that "the church, for her part, is very attentive to your precious work"... 

The Exhortation
Here's the exhortation (which made me jump up and down with joy, as a writer and reader who recommends "good" books for young souls) :

"Like many other professions, your job requires study, sensitivity, and experience.  But it bears with it a particular attention to truth, goodness and beauty.  This makes us particularly close because the church exists to communicate truth, goodness and beauty 'in person.'  It should be clear that we are all called, not to communicate ourselves, but rather...truth, goodness, and beauty."

Papal Name
So how did Archbishop Jorge Mario Bergoglio come to choose the name "Francis"?  He said that at the election, his dear friend Cardinal Claudio Hummes, who was next to him, hugged him when the votes reached the two-thirds, saying "Do not forget the poor."  

"And that word stuck here - the poor, the poor.  Then immediately in relation to the poor, I thought of Francis of Assisi...for me he is the man of poverty, the man of peace, the man who loves and safeguards creation.  Oh how I wish for a church that is poor and for the poor!"
Painting by Marilyn Moyes

The Blessing
The article stated that even though the Pope, "Papa Francesco" didn't say the traditional Latin blessing and make the sign of the cross over the journalists, "he had, indeed, blessed us."

"From my heart I impart this blessing, in silence, to each of you, respecting the conscience of each one, but knowing that each of you is a child of God: May God bless you." 

Cathleen Falsani, the journalist who wrote the article, ended by saying, "There were tears in the eyes of some hard-headed (yet grudgingly tender-hearted) journalists in the room.  And I'm not ashamed to admit I was one of them."

Did you, by chance, happen to exhale a sigh like I did at her soft-hearted closing words??  What a lovely article - I wish there were more like it in our daily media! 
[read the whole article by Cathleen Falsani, from the Orange County Register, here]

Picture Books about St. Francis of Assisi:

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Shamrocks and Daffodills

I know it's almost Spring when I walk into my favorite market, Trader Joe's, and see all their little bunches of daffodils for sale!  It makes me so happy to see the blooms every morning like bright yellow faces greeting me from their vase on our kitchen table, trumpeting, "Winter is over, Spring is coming!"...

Did you know...?

  • In the Victorian days, Daffodils represented chivalry.
  • Today they represent hope.
  • A gift of daffodils is said to ensure happiness.
  • Their botanic name is narcissus, but they are sometimes called jonquils; and in England, because of their long association with Lent, they’re known as the “Lent Lily.” 
  • Daffodils are the national flower of Wales - traditionally worn on March 1, St. David's Day.

Which brings me to March 17 - another saint's day - St. Patrick's Day, and...Shamrocks!
Fun Facts:

  • Did you know that there is no such thing as a "Shamrock Plant"? 
  • The word shamrock comes from the Irish word "seamrog" meaning "little clover" 
  • Saint Patrick used the plant to illustrate the doctrine of the Holy Trinity.
  • Shamrocks have been considered by the Irish as good-luck symbols since earliest times, and this superstition has persisted in modern times among people of many nationalities.
  • St Patrick's Day is celebrated around the world, with the "wearin' o' the green".

Every year I've highlighted the same book for St. Patrick's Day (I honestly haven't seen another picture book that I like better about this wonderful saint!)  It's a beautifully written and illustrated book by Zachary Lynch.

Your children will love Zachary's telling of The Life of Saint Patrick, Enlightener of the Irish, published by Conciliar Press. His gorgeous Celtic illuminations bring the story to life, and draw us into the isolated land of a pagan Irish King and his druids. 

Born in Scotland, St. Patrick was captured at the age of 16 and brought to Ireland as a slave to herd and tend sheep. During this time, he came to have a deep faith in God, and eventually escaped. After returning home, he became a priest and then a bishop and later went back to Ireland as a missionary, bringing Christianity to its people. He died March 17, 461. 

St. Patrick faced many dangers, but said, "I was not afraid of these things, because of the promise of heaven, because I have thrown myself into God's hands, who reigns over all things."
Make this shamrock potato print - source here

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Lenten Journeys: The Same, But Different

With so many beautiful sunny days here in Southern California throughout January, February, and March, I have to remind myself that in many other parts of the U.S. there's still a winter chill and even some snow, as spring is anticipated.

Torrey Pines Reserve near San Diego, CA

This year for Western Christians, when spring officially arrives on March 20, Lent will almost be over - while for me, as an Orthodox Christian, Lent will just have started!  

The lenten spring shines forth,
the flower of repentance!
Let us cleanse ourselves from all evil,
crying out to the Giver of Light:
Glory to You, O Lover of man!
-from Cheesefare Wednesday Vespers
Every year, this presents somewhat of a challenge for me as a blogger - trying to schedule my Lenten and Easter posts for all my readers who share the same fast and feast, but with different dates.  

It was easy in 2011, since Western and Eastern Christians shared the same date for Easter, but this year, the calendars are quite different - Orthodox Easter, or "Pascha", won't be celebrated until May 5th, while Western Christians will celebrate on March 31. (One major difference in determining the dates, is that the Eastern Orthodox Church calculates the date so that Easter always falls after Passover, since the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Christ took place after he entered Jerusalem to celebrate Passover. In the Western Church, Easter sometimes precedes Passover by weeks. Read more HERE).

Books for LENT:
So, for any of you Orthodox readers who are looking for some Lenten reading for your kids (and yourself), go here to read my Lenten Good Books posts.

And for my readers who are about to embark on Holy Week, check here for my past posts for book recommendations and activities (including making your own Easter Egg Tree).

This year, my own Lenten reading will include The Jesus We Missed: The Surprising Truth About the Humanity of Christ, by Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon (Senior Editor at Touchstone Magazine).

Please stay tuned for my Easter and Pascha posts...but you're welcome to see my past posts here.