102. Heaven

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My son had so many questions about heaven and death after my mom passed away last summer that I eventually started working on this project with him to have something concrete to learn from. I’m not a theologian but I worked from the biblical passages about streets being paved with gold and Christ going to prepare homes for us. I modeled the shape on a monastery as a way to make God (symbolized by the church in the middle) visible and accessible from all angles, and because the beauty and peace found at monasteries must be one of the nearest things to heaven that we can find on earth (along with the Divine Liturgy, of course!) Being a packrat sometimes pays off – I had plenty of small boxes stashed away in the garage. I wanted lots of boxes to help convey the idea of lots of little houses. I used a nail to punch holes in the boxes with the intention of adding electric tealights or a flashlight to the model at some point to add to the sense of light and illumination. We taped on a box as a gate – the tape lets it open and close like a hinge. The fact that there is a gate has led to a lot of discussion with him! My son watched me hot glue the boxes together, and then I spray painted it gold. He has helped me glue on gems as pathways and along the walls, and he added a white doormat in front of the church. We began this in December and have worked on it off and on. Eventually I would like to add small paper icon figures of angels and saints and perhaps of our deceased relatives to help him understand even more. It’s definitely not finished yet!
I’d love any suggestions you might have as well for our project.

100. Theophany

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We are preparing for Theophany tomorrow, and I’ve finally assembled a simple album of our baptisms and our godchildren’s baptisms (as well as weddings and churchings) to share with our son on Theophany and throughout the year. I used Fotor’s collage tool to assemble simple pages (one for each event) and then printed them on photo paper. I found the idea in Elizabeth White’s book. A second set was sent to godchildren and godparents – baptisms and weddings from California to Wyoming and South Dakota to Texas and Pennsylvania… It’s quite beautiful and touching to gather all of the memories into one special album!
My son has also been greatly enamored of drawing in and creating little homemade booklets the last few days. I suggested we do a Theophany booklet and he chose to draw grass (ie, basil for house blessings), an empty bowl, a censer, a bowl with water and ‘grass’ in it, and an altar cloth. It’s quite adorable. We may do another one of small paper icons pasted into a booklet. I’m astounded at how the new format of a booklet has ignited his desire to draw and then tell the stories of the booklets.
I’d love to hear any of your Theophany traditions and activities as well!

99. Hand Rolled Candles

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On St. Lucia Day we rolled candles from beeswax sheets. While we mostly focused on St. Herman of Alaska on December 13, the candle activity seemed very fitting for St. Lucia Day (as well as for his recent bee obsession)! I was surprised at how much my son enjoyed it. He rolled numerous candles; all I did was cut the sheets of wax and place the wick for him. We gave the candles to his friends at church as Nativity gifts. Orthodox families can always use candles for their prayer corners! The sheets seemed a bit pricey to me, but they actually made a lot and were almost comparable in price to purchasing beeswax candles for prayer.  This could also be a good activity for the Twelve Days of Christmas.

98. Advent

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Oh, my, I intended to be much more organized with Advent preparations and traditions this year, especially because my son is now four and is more aware of the impending holiday on December 25. But a variety of illnesses conspired against us and made me modify my plans. Although everything didn’t work out, I’m happy with what we’ve fit in and think it has given us a good foundation for future years.
Fortunately, we were able to celebrate St. Nicholas Day on December 6, and St. Herman of Alaska on December 13. Their celebrations tie in well with the season, St. Nicholas for obvious reasons and St. Herman because of the chance to use evergreen cuttings and talk about stars (he was called the North Star) and woodland animals. I overheard him singing his own song about St. Herman, improvising on liturgical melodies. It was quite sweet. (I will likely use the same basic idea for St. Seraphim of Sarov on January 2, given some of the similarities in setting and theme between the two men.) He asked about the reason for St. Nicholas giving gold coins to the girls, so hopefully the idea of charity is beginning to form.
I put up the Advent calendar at least a week late, but he didn’t notice. We made it last year out of a birch stick I’d carried around the country for a decade. The bags were simply sewn and contain figures from small wooden Nativity sets (found at Target) and Christmas ornaments. Mary, Joseph, and the infant Christ are in the last bags. I love how all the Nativity figures are lined up in a row with an angel waiting to greet them – one of those signs your kid is Orthodox!
He has greatly enjoyed having a simple paper chain to use to count down the days, perhaps because he gets to use an adult scissor to cut them off.
We also made ornaments together for an Orthodox children’s ornament swap. Despite his (sometimes) long attention span, I knew I couldn’t get him to make 12 ornaments entirely by hand, so he helped me pick out paper color and shape (oval, not square) for the Nativity silhouette cuts and then placed the stars on them. We’ve received our first one in the mail. He immediately hung it on the tree and asked the names of the children who sent it. What a sweet tradition!
And now we wait for just a few more days!

97. Beehive!

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My son’s fascination with bees beegan this spring and summer when we often saw them buzzing around our flowers in the backyard. We’ve been reading The Saint and his Bees and The Beeman recently.  One of the few good things about me being sick the last week has been having more time to stay home and putter in my pajamas with my son.  Using a small cardboard box, I filled it with the toilet paper rolls I’ve been saving (knowing I would eventually find a good use for them!)  We glued the rolls together side by side to create our hive and honeycomb.  Then we used craft sticks (the egg shaped ones were from Easter clearance), pipe cleaners, beads, and more to create bees in various stages of the lifecycle.  He especially loved making that queen bee! I lost track of how many pipe cleaners and beads were wrapped around her.  The craft sticks are the perfect length to pop into the honeycomb and easily take out again. We used yellow glitter gold for a bit of honey and gold wrappers from St. Nicholas Day coins as more honey. I also found bee lifecycle charts and 3-part cards at Trillium Montessori.  Now we’ve been talking about how beeswax is used to make the candles at church and I’m dreaming of a candle making session…

95. Thanksgiving Mail

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Are you like us, thousands of miles from your family during the holidays? Even if you’re not, it’s hard to resist doing a few Thanksgiving crafts: turkey cards (cut on the Silhouette – I finally figured out how to use it, only a year after purchasing it on cyber Monday!) with a note inside telling our loved ones how thankful we are for them, and a collaborative mother-son hand tracing fall tree for the grandparents. And we do have so very many things to be thankful for: the basics (which so many around the world don’t have) of clean water, a safe place to live, enough food, relative health, stable employment, good friends, visits with family, and so, so many more that my heart nearly fills to bursting when I stop to think about it. Happy Thanksgiving!

89. Leaf Wreaths

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I’ve been trying to scrape back a little time these last few weeks from our overcommitted days, in disbelief that my son is almost four and with the yearning to be home purposefully spending time with him. I am at home with him, but I take on too many projects and end up spending too much time running in circles. I miss our lazy days of puttering on projects together. Since fall is finally beginning here, today we made time to gather leaves from our backyard with the intention of turning them into wreaths. He just liked gathering leaves, happily scooping up dirt-crusted ones and fallen lime leaves off the patio. He asked to pick some Meyer lemons from the well-laden branches. He glued three leaves into the middle of a paper plate and called it good, but I decided to complete a birch wreath as planned. I glued my leaves around the trimmed edge of a paper plate and will punch a small hole in it when dry to hang it. I feel so blessed to have had that short time in the yard together and, I’ll admit, blessed to have three lovely birch trees!  When they turn, I can admire their yellow leaves on the green grass and pretend that I’m in the forest of the Black Hills again.