Advent Calendar Ideas

In the Orthodox Church, the Nativity Fast begins on November 15 (Gregorian calendar), and we wanted to share some fun ideas for journeying through the season.

Advent Calendar!


We released the first ever reusable, 40 day, felt pocketed Advent Calendar, and it is a great backdrop for many activities with your kids. Here are some ideas!

For little ones:

🌟A felt star is included with the advent calendar. This can be glued onto a popsicle stick, and moved day to day, until the star is over the Nativity scene on Christmas. This a great visual for little ones as they can watch the star getting close to Christ

You can put something in the pockets, like…

📖a short Bible verse to commit to memory each day

💗note with an act of kindness to do (“Tell your sibling something you love about them.” “Choose 5 toys to donate.” etc)

💰some coins and have an almsgiving jar nearby for your little one to drop them into (then donate the money together after Christmas!)

🍬a little treat

☦️wrap up a little icon for them and put it in the Nativity scene pocket to be opened on Christmas Day

For older kids:

📖separate the Christmas story in the Bible up into 40 sections. Memorize 1 section per day, and recite it with the previous ones. By the end, you will have the entire Christmas story memorized!

✏️a note every day with something you love about them

😊and all of the above ideas!

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And of course, there’s the incredible Welcoming the Christ Child set. This is a book that starts with Creation and has a reading and discussion questions for every day for each of the 40 days, culminating with the Nativity. Each reading is a story from the Bible, and demonstrates how they all point to Christ. The beautiful illustrations from the book have been made into an accompanying ornament set. The ornaments fit perfectly in the large advent calendar pockets! This is a wonderful resource that can be used year after year.

This is a beautiful, joyful season of the year, and having special traditions to celebrate personally or with your family can add to the richness of the “little Lent.”

“Your Nativity, O Christ our God, / Has shone to the world the Light of wisdom! / For by it, those who worshipped the stars, / Were taught by a Star to adore You, / The Sun of Righteousness, / And to know You, the Orient from on High. / O Lord, glory to You!”

House Blessings!

Hello all! It’s Caroline here!

I hope everyone is having a lovely start to the year! Now that both New and Old Calendar Orthodox have celebrated Theophany, I thought I’d share some resources that have been very helpful to us when preparing for house blessings.

Our first parish, St. Athanasius Orthodox Church in Nicholasville, KY printed out the house blessing prayers on a little booklet, complete with brief instructions on how to prepare for a home blessing. I found it super helpful, so I shared the link to it at the bottom of this post!

Secondly, it has really helped me when I have a clear picture in mind before I lay out my materials. This year (in addition to the January activity from our 2019 calendar), I created an easy printable that your kids can use to help you seek and find the appropriate materials in your house. It’s simple in it’s layout so that you can even set on the table and place your items on top of each shape as if completing a puzzle. Notice that there’s a significant amount of blank space here. That’s because a house blessing is simple and the focus should really be on the icon or icon corner where you are standing.

Below are some great ways to get your kids involved in the process of preparing for a house blessing:

  • Have your kids seek-and-find the necessary items. (ex: “Can someone pick out an icon with Jesus on it to place on the table?”)

  • Listen to the troparion for Theophany so that your family can sing along while the priest blesses the house.

  • Have your kids pretend to be the priest and walk around the house blessing or censing it. Have them remove any toys that are in their way and in turn would be in the priest’s way as he walks though the house.

We hope these resources help your family during this special season in our church! Below are links to the House Blessing Printable and House Blessing Service Booklet.


HOUSE BLESSING SERVICE BOOKLET - Special thanks to St. Athanasius Orthodox Church in Nicholasville, KY for putting this together!

Books we love!

I don’t know about you, but I almost always get my kids books for Christmas and birthdays. Plastic toys certainly have their place in my home (why does it seem like that place is always under the couch?!), but I never regret giving books!


Recently I read the newest book by Melinda Johnson, The Barn and the Book. What a sweet story! (I’m not going to lie, I teared up at one part…but you’ll have to read it yourself to find out why!) The book is a sequel to Shepherding Sam, and while they’re both chapter books, they’re meant for young readers (I think even 3-5 year olds would enjoy hearing them read aloud). The spaced out print and engaging story makes it feel like the book flies by— always encouraging for little ones who are just adventuring into the world of chapter books.

Disclaimer: My 3 year old is definitely NOT reading herself a chapter book— she just enjoys the pictures in the book. And cat snuggles.

Disclaimer: My 3 year old is definitely NOT reading herself a chapter book— she just enjoys the pictures in the book. And cat snuggles.

Shepherding Sam and The Barn and the Book both center on a group of children whose parents take them to visit a nearby monastery, particularly Sam, a boy who isn’t thrilled about these visits and doesn’t fit in well with the other children. He finds a buddy in Saucer, a relentlessly cheerful Corgi at the monastery who adopts Sam as his personal project. I particularly liked the relatable cast of characters— from the bossy girl who always knows what the Right Thing is, to the sweet and uncertain Sister Anna who has the (she thinks) unfortunate, and definitely challenging, task of corralling these children in Sunday School class.

This set would be a perfect St. Nicholas Day gift for a child!

This set would be a perfect St. Nicholas Day gift for a child!

I especially liked that while the setting is clearly Orthodox, the storyline itself feels like a story, not like a “lesson” that you’re supposed to be learning. I think that is so important for the children growing up Orthodox in America right now— to have resources around them showing the everyday lives of other Orthodox children, where Orthodoxy isn’t necessarily the main focus, just the background of the story, just like them! Often, being the only Orthodox kid in school or a friend group can make it feel like there just aren’t many other kids out there like you (or at least that was how I felt at a school where there was only 1 other Orthodox family). Reading about kids whose parents bring them to monasteries (like mine did) and celebrate the holidays differently than other churches (midnight services, anyone?) is refreshing and encouraging! Both of these books would be a sweet gift for Christmas or St. Nicholas day, and can be found here (just $20 for both of them!):

Some of our other favorites are these little books by Potamis Publishing:

The Story of You by the Orthodox Children’s Press (my little girl will ask me to read “the book about me!”) and right now there’s a free shipping promotion!:

So many good board books for little ones (my daughter particularly likes “What Do You See At Liturgy”):

We sure are blessed to have so many great resources for our kids these days!!

Pricing your work and buying intentionally

Good morning, friends! I’m taking a moment while my little girl sits beside me and plays with noodles, beads, play dough, and pipe cleaners to talk a little bit about the difficulties and importance of pricing your work, and why handmade goods sometimes cost more than the average Amazon search results. It’s the middle of November, and if you’re anything like me, gifts for Christmas are on your mind (and possibly already tucked away in the corners of your closet)! We have been adding items to the Marketplace and our Shop to help you find Christmas gifts for a variety of people on your list, and with everything from coloring books to baby quilts to soaps to mugs available, I want to address the most common question we get from our Marketplace vendors— how do I price this so that it doesn’t have sticker shock, but I will still get paid for the time and materials this took?

Pricing these handmade, completely unique princess flip dolls was a challenge (and the price will be going up soon, shhh!)

Pricing these handmade, completely unique princess flip dolls was a challenge (and the price will be going up soon, shhh!)

The most expensive item in the Marketplace at the moment are the cross-themed baby quilts, and the woman who made them typed up a break-down of the costs, time, and pricing. Even just a glance at this can tell you— the price of $75 which she chose for most of her quilts basically just pays for materials. She wanted to price them low enough to, in her words, “be a blessing to those who want a handmade quilt.” We work with the nicest people, right??

Such attention to detail!

Such attention to detail!

Why Do Quilts Cost So Much?

Costs for making a 44” x 44” Baby Quilt.  More elaborate designs take longer to sew and assemble.  (In real time, it generally take me about 1-3 weeks to complete a baby quilt, depending on difficulty level.  This doesn’t include time and supplies needed for sewing machine maintenance.)

I.  Materials for a Baby Quilt include:

Fabric for the top—2 yds @$13/yd = $26

Fabric for the backing—2 yds @$13/yd = $26

Batting—2 yds @$13/yd = $26

Fabric for the binding—1/4 yd @$13/yd = $3.25

Thread—1/2 spool @$6.50/spool = $3.25

Cost of Materials = $84.50

II.  Making the Quilt Top includes

1. Choosing the quilt design & fabric, 

2. Washing, drying, ironing & cutting the fabric, 

3. Sewing into blocks, rows & combining all, ironing seams in between,  

4. Sewing on borders

Cost of Making the Quilt Top @17 hours @$10/hr = $170

I just love these colors together!

I just love these colors together!

III.  Assembling the Quilt Sandwich includes:

1. Cutting the backing fabric,

2. Cutting the batting,

3. Layering the backing, batting and quilt top,

4. Pinning the three layers together,

5. Quilting the 3 Layers on Sewing Machine: 

(Charged by square inch in a simple, all-over design)

1,936 sq. in. x $0.015 = $29.04

Cost of Assembling the Quilt Sandwich  @6 hours @$10/hr  + the Quilting Charge = $89.04

IV.  Finishing the Quilt includes:

1. Trimming the edges of the quilt, 

2. Measuring the fabric needed for binding,

3. Cutting the binding fabric,

4. Sewing the binding fabric into strips,

5. Ironing the binding fabric,

6. Pinning the binding to the quilt sandwich,

7. Sewing the binding to the quilt sandwich,

8. Tying off remaining threads,

9. Making & sewing a Name Patch &/or hanging sleeve on the back of the quilt. (Optional)

Check out this unique Jerusalem cross design!

Check out this unique Jerusalem cross design!

Cost of Finishing the Quilt @4 hours @$10/hr = $40

Total Time of Labor for Baby Quilt Assembly = @27 hours

Total Cost of Baby Quilt Assembly = @$383.54

*If my labor is my gift to you, but I include materials and the $0.015 charge per square inch, the cost comes down to $113.54.  Finding materials on sale also can help bring the price down, but good quality fabric is going to cost more than cheap, thin cotton. Also, this is not taking into account the time it takes to fix problems with the machine, wash and dry the fabric and finished quilts, and the upfront costs of a sewing machine, iron, etc.


The princess flip dolls are similar— the woman who makes them said she averages 12 hours of work per doll. Y’all, she is making way under minimum wage for these. I just want you to know that there is a reason for the pricing of the original or made-to-order items, and really the price should be much higher! And this isn’t even taking into account the benefits like significantly less packaging waste, incredible care and attention to detail, and the unique, high quality items lasting for years (generations!).

The sweetest St. Elizabeth the New Martyr!

The sweetest St. Elizabeth the New Martyr!

With products like our Royal Saints coloring book, the Orthodox Children’s Calendar, or art prints, etc, the pricing is different. On one hand, you have to consider the amount of time each product took to create— for instance, each drawing for the coloring book took 5-7 hours. Each painting for the calendar took 20-30 hours, and total the calendar probably took more like 450 hours total. For real. PLUS the cost of printing the actual product! Generally speaking, artists price work like this by taking the cost of production and multiplying it by 3 (possibly 4 for items like the calendar that require vast amounts of time to create) to get retail pricing (for instance, a coloring book that costs $5 to print would be priced at $15.) That gives you room to offer wholesale discounts and have a sale every now and then, while still keeping prices reasonable.

In addition, when you choose to spend your money with small businesses and makers, your money is going straight to other families. There’s no money being lost to advertising or CEO’s exorbitant salaries. The people you are supporting are active members of their churches, parents, and students, often putting their income towards the same things you most likely do— kids’ expenses (so many expenses, AMIRIGHT?!), traveling to visit family for the holidays, and tithing to their churches. Not to mention, the genuine happy dances every time someone places an order!


So all that to say THANK YOU for supporting the small businesses and artists who work hard to share their light and love with the world. We try our best to price things fairly and reasonably, and the money that you choose to spend in the Marketplace or Shop is going right to the people you would probably be friends with in real life (because they are all SO NICE!).

Lord's Prayer Printables + How to Teach Prayer

How is your family prayer routine going at home?

Ours is FINALLY showing some sort of form and the kids are somewhat focused…sometimes. But, honestly, I’ll take it as a victory because a few month ago, my kids were rolling on the floor and trying to run out of the room pretty much every night of evening prayers. I can say it’s by the grace of God and our beautiful church that got us where we are today with our prayer rule.

Our evening prayer routine finally started to click in our kid’s minds when they were able to realize that the prayers we are saying each night are prayers found in our services. And I truly believe that God allowed them to make a connection cause they were an unruly bunch - ha! Below are a few tips that work with our family, and some that I’ve gleaned from other mom’s in our community.

  1. Choose your battles. This one was the most difficult for me. My husband and I wanted to pray every night as a family, but the kids saw it as a time to goof off while mom and dad were pre-occupied. We didn’t want to aggressively force them to pray, and give them a negative association with prayer time. So we chose to not fight the “You have to pray NOW” battle. Instead, we were diligent in implementing our rules that the kids have to be quiet and respectful, and near us while we’re praying. Kids under 2, we let sit at our feet and read or sometimes quietly play. It took 2 years, but hey, here we are. Did I mention that our oldest child is a bit stubborn? - ha!

  2. Pay Attention. I think this is jut basic parenting, but if we’re sensing that the kid’s can’t handle a lot of prayers on a particular night (i.e: they’re especially rambunctious, tired, or just low on motivation), we let the kids pick one prayer and then say the Lord’s Prayer. We are so excited to grow our prayer time as our kids grow, but right now, we just do what our family can.

  3. Let them Choose. We let our kids choose a prayer as part of our rule each night. This is a great time to suggest some of the Memory Exercises from our Orthodox Children’s Calendar, or some of the Liturgical Hymns of the season. This way the kids are actively participating. It also gives us as parents the opportunity to teach our kids new church hymns (Before Thy Cross is STILL being requested at prayer time over here) which they can have reinforced later as they attend services.

  4. Let them Discover. How cool is it the first time your kid recognizes a hymn from your prayers at home, while they’re in church? We try to gently guide our kids into the realization that what we’re praying at home mimics the church services. We may mention that we’re saying a particular hymn during our prayers because it’s a particular church feast. However, in church, we like to let the kids themselves make the connection. Sometimes, I’ll ask my 3 yr old, “Have you heard this song before?” or I’ll say, “Do we know this song?”. It’s a joy to see her face light up as she puts the two together in her mind. She’s started making the connections more frequently without my assistance now, and it’s been so edifying for both of us.

What is your family prayer time like?

What habits or resources have been helpful for your family?

What is prayer time like with grade schoolers or teenagers?

Leave your answers in the comments below!


We hope your prayer time as a family is blessed this month! Please enjoy this free writing-exercise for early grade schoolers and pre-k kids. Just click the link below to download and your kids can practice writing and reciting the Lord’s Prayer.

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Welcome "The Artful Educator" to the Marketplace!

If you all haven't already seen The Artful Educator online (or in person!), we are delighted to introduce you to this phenomenal wife, mother, entrepreneur, and Orthodox Christian!

By day, Kim Votruba-Matook is a mild-mannered mama and Director of Content & Branding for a community-building start-up. When she hears the call of a curious kiddo or senses the need for creative consult, she becomes The Artful Educator (not-so-coincidently the name of the graphic design company she founded in 2015)! Fueled by black tea, chai lattes and macaroni and cheese, she spends all the time she can creating and sharing educational art to inspire a love for learning wherever she goes. She continues to hone her superpowers of transforming two tiny humans into responsible global citizens as well as her ideas into delightful and artful educational tools. And when she can, she has dance parties in her kitchen because she knows every moment matters and can (and should!) elicit joy.

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Kim's bright and bold educational art can be seen at

We asked her to explain a bit about the mission behind her business, and here's what she shared: 

"The Artful Educator’s mission is to help families engage in learning at every opportunity. Everything in this world has inherent beauty and a story; they can inspire a meaningful conversation with the children that you cherish.

 Our philosophy is simple:

1. The (limited) time we have with our children should be valuable, meaningful and fun for all involved.

 2. Educational opportunities are everywhere. Sometimes we need help finding them. 

The Artful Educator™ sets out to solve a challenge I faced as a life-long learner becoming a mom. When my son was a newborn, I started looking for educational nursery decor and all I found was the standard “A is for apple” items. I didn’t really understand why a letter was being reduced to a single item. Life is so beautiful and complex, why couldn’t I share that in a positive way with my newborn son through art? Since I couldn’t find what I was looking for, I created it. 

My products encourage a world of wonder through art infused with educational content that is easy to incorporate into a daily routine. It’s called the Artful Alphabet™.


The Artful Alphabet™ is exactly that. All the letters of the alphabet are designed as a mosaic of objects that start with that letter (A includes asparagus, Alabama, ant, ampersand, etc.). Then all those letter-specific items are filled in with a color that also starts with that letter (A in Aqua, B in Burnt Sienna, C in Chartreuse, etc.). So, from far away, you see an alphabet letter. Then when you zoom in, you see the one to three dozen items that form the letter and can inspire educational conversations. It’s educational on myriad levels; families can engage with the art at whatever level their children are ready to enjoy.

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The objects within each letter prompt discussions about geography, nutrition, the animal kingdom, sports and activities, among many more topics, totaling 675 points of conversations at a glance. The Artful Alphabet™ currently takes the form of flashcards, placemats, wall art, drawstring bags, and note cards (with inspirational quotes!) to help adults and kids truly be surrounded by educational opportunities. 

Through The Artful Alphabet™ (my original art), educational opportunities in everyday life are illuminated and showcased as meaningful points for conversation. Small things – from apricots to marbles to zippers – can and should give us pause in our busy days and bring the focus back to our relationships with the present moment, the world we live within, and each other. I also want my art to serve as an affirmation that everyone has a unique perspective and story to tell. Everyone, regardless of age, should be confident that their experience and connection with the world is enough and absolutely worth sharing, especially with the next generation. It is paramount that families authentically connect with eye contact, conversation and shared experience. Art and education can inspire this; they can provide myriad perspectives and interpretations, while sparking storytelling, curiosity, and wonder for the world."


Anyone balancing parenting and working knows the balancing act it can be, not to mention owning and running your own small business (trust us, sometimes it's a madhouse!). We asked Kim to share a struggle she faces as a mother and entrepreneur, and what her favorite part of it is. 

Her biggest challenge: "Being kind to myself. There are definitely days when I work hard on and in my business and I don’t make a sale. I struggle with negative talk on those (and most days) because I always think there is something more I could be doing for my business and as a mom. That was actually the inspiration for my quote cards! I needed something to counter all the negative talk in my head so I found encouraging quotes for every letter of the alphabet and printed them! I use them any time I need a boost! Building a business takes time; I need to be patient with myself, pray more for guidance, and focus on the joy I feel when talking about my passion for empowering families to learn and connect together through educational art!"

And the best part? "Freedom and flexibility with my time. While I am certainly not making as much money as I was when I had a full time job, working part-time, freelancing AND growing The Artful Educator may sound more complicated and busier, but the huge difference is I CHOOSE when to work. That is am amazing feeling! This means the schedule I set for the day is more likely to be completed because I am in control of it (through God’s will, of course!) Waking up and knowing that I can spend time with my kids without always needing to rush out the door is so so so wonderful. Then I can work when I need to, juggle what I need to, and then know I’ll have time to play, read and cook with my two littles (who are 4 and 2 by the way!) is amazing. My life feels joyfully full and I am happy. This happiness emanates and positively connects with my husband and kids and that joy exponentially increases. Of course we have our off days, but ultimately being a mompreneur has been a constant lesson in time management and priority ranking. What is most important is my family, my faith, and my well-being. This new flexibility in time has helped me re-center my life to make sure these three foci are always at the center of my world." 

Welcome Kim and the Artful Educator to the Draw Near Designs Marketplace! 




Welcome "Taste and See Studio" to the Marketplace!

We are delighted to share a new vendor in the Draw Near Designs Marketplace: Taste and See Studio!

Based in Wilmore, KY, Taste and See Studio is run by Geoff Whiteman, a member of St. Athanasius Orthodox Church who is a mission specialist with OCMC, responsible for missionary care. Geoff and his wife, Kriss, also lead marriage enrichment workshops and raise their son, Patrick. Geoff and Kriss do incredibly impactful work, and we are grateful for the opportunity to help support them through their participation in the Marketplace! Please take a moment to check out his website and learn more about his unique ministry to missionaries at 


Besides balancing work and family, Geoff also creates beautiful prayer ropes that he offers in his Etsy shop, Taste and See Studio ( Several varieties of his prayer ropes will be available in the Draw Near Designs Marketplace! We are especially excited about the adjustable child-size prayer ropes, and matching adult size adjustable prayer ropes. In addition to being handmade with prayer and love, these prayer ropes feature a beautiful olive wood cross from Jerusalem. What a treasure, and a perfect Father's Day present! 


Our favorite aspect of the Draw Near Designs Marketplace is the chance to support other Orthodox Christians' small businesses, and we are thankful to all the individuals who choose to shop in the Draw Near Designs Marketplace for making this possible!

"Old Calendar" Orthodox Children's Calendar 2019- FULLY FUNDED!

The "Old Calendar" Orthodox Children's Calendar for 2019 is fully funded!!!

From April 10-May 10, Draw Near Designs hosted a crowdfunding campaign to fund the printing of a special edition of the 2019 Orthodox Children's Calendar with Old Calendar (Julian Calendar) dates. We are delighted and overwhelmed with gratitude to share that through the support of Orthodox Christians from all over the country (and Canada too!), the campaign was FULLY FUNDED! Some people took advantage of the opportunity to add a saint of their choosing to the calendar, some got to pre-order their calendars at a discount, and others chose to generously donate to the project. We truly felt honored to have the support of so many! 

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Thank you to EVERYONE who pre-ordered, donated, and helped spread the word about this project. Last year we had frequently questions about an "Old Calendar" version of the Orthodox Children's Calendar, and we are so pleased that this year we will be able to say make that available. 

Crowd-funding UPDATE


Hello all! (Abigail here) I hope everyone has had a blessed Bright week and is still enjoying the Paschal season! We are still singing Christ is Risen as loud as we can in our house, and enjoying all the meats!



In Draw Near Designs news, we are 12 days into our (30 day) Old Calendar Crowd funding campaign! We have raised $605 of our $3,338 goal. (18% funded). We have 18 days left and 82% of our goal to be raised.

This project was brought to us again and again by people who follow the "Old Calendar" (Julian calendar) to PLEASE make another version of the Orthodox Children's Calendar better suited to their family's' needs. 

It was clear this was something important to the folks writing us and we wanted to give this new sprout of the calendar business a healthy start. For us, the most responsible avenue was to do another crowd funding campaign and find out if there were enough "backers" to support this new venture. There are 18 days left to help decide the answer to that question!

So just to revisit, here are the ways a person can back this project:

1.) Pre-order the calendar ($25)

2.) Pick tour saint and add it to the calendar ($80, and your saint will appear on the old calendar and new calendar version).

3.) Make a donation (you entire donation will go towards this project).

All people who pre-order will be the VERY FIRST to receive the calendar once it's ready to ship!

If we do not meet our goal by May 10th, all backers will be refunded for their purchases. Want this project to get funded?! SPREAD THE NEWS:

-post a link to our site on your social media pages

-tell your friends that are Old Calendar to order during this window!

-order a copy for yourself, your friends' Christmas presents, Godchildren, etc!

Well, I'm off to put the babes to sleep! Thanks for participating in this process with us! Wishing you a blessed week!