Sunday, December 31, 2006Feast of the Holy Family
Happy feast of the Holy Family (on Sunday)!
This is a special feast for we families! We must remember to always pray to the Holy Family for their wisdom and holy example.
Jesus and Mary may have only had one child, but they are still our examples of holiness. We shouldn't forget the fact that they, too, lived simple, humble lives as we do. Joseph was a carpenter, Mary a homemaker.
The following is taken from the Holy Father's Prayer for Families:
Grant that love, strengthened by the grace of the sacrament of marriage,may prove mightier than all the weaknesses and trialsthrough which our families sometimes pass.
Through the intercession of the Holy Family of Nazareth,grant that the Church may fruitfully carry out her worldwide missionin the family and through the family.
Saturday, December 30, 2006His little gift to me
My husband and I share an adoration hour at our parish, switching off weeks to go. Most of the time, Our Lord, grants me a tiny little insight and that sustains me in my vocation or gives me a new piece of knowledge to chew on. Last night was an awesome one.
Friday, December 29, 2006Friday Coffeehouse: Christmas blends & sweets
Around Christmas season it's special to have some treats around. Not just regular old sugar, but the unique, once-a-year treats! Here are a few personal favorites, of the new and old-fashioned sort.
~Peet's Coffee and Tea has a wide selection of teas and coffees for the holidays. Their Holiday Blend this year is very good. -Sweet and smooth. One of my favorite of their black teas is the Scottish Breakfast, but the Black Currant, brewed strong with honey and some milk, pairs wonderfully with desserts.
~Peet's Sweets are quite the gourmet indulgence! Chocolate covered cherries, blueberries, marmalade, chocolate, peppermints and espresso mixes...you name it.
Why do I love Peet's so much? I have found that it has no artificial flavors which many teas and coffees have within the taste. The tastes are unique and natural Also, they're incredibly consistent... and gourmet in presentation if you're looking for a quick gift.
Torani Syrups are probably the most widely-used flavored syrups in coffeeshops. They have wonderful flavors for making your own coffees.. hazelnut, vanilla, raspberry, and more. I never buy "flavored" cofffes, as I think often it compromises the taste of the coffee. But get a good strong coffee blend and add a syrup to it and you have a very tasty beverage. Their site is a lot of fun but you can buy their syrups in stores also.
Sundrops are the most amazing M&M natural alternative! They are sun-colors of pink, orange and yellows, made from beet juice, beta carotene and natural caramel. They look really lovely in a bowl. This is a favorite holiday treat around here.
Nothing beats the good old-fashioned tasty peppermint sticks!! I don't like conventional candy canes, but I love these.
Have you ever tried old-fashioned chewing gum? We used to get these in our stockings.. they don't taste like any other gum made these days. They have a strong, unique natural flavor to them. The flavors I love the most are:
Teaberry -this gum dates back to 1900.
Black Jack -this gum dates back to 1870... it's a licorice-flavored gum.
~Sia, Vancouver, WA
Thursday, December 28, 2006letter from a friend...
A good friend wrote me recently; she works as a nurse in San Jose and has travelled to many parts of the world doing medical mission work. I think some of her thoughts are important to reflect on. So with her permission, I'm reprinting part of her letter. The first section is just a thought on materialism... the second part on finding like-minded people to share your heart with. Every now and again something breaks into my daily mindset of being a wife and mom and causes me to look outside of these four walls and ponder something a bit deeper than the latest diaper blow-out.
I hope that your Christmas was good. I love the holiday, but am always a little overwhelmed. The birth of the Savior of the world is something to be celebrated whole hearted, but the material aspect is oftentimes to much, and guiltily I admit, a preoccupation. The abundance is overly so sometimes. I didn't even ask for anything for Christmas,yet I got quite the haul. Yesterday, I finally did my tithing. Since I am not plugged into a church yet I gave to a couple charities that are really practical. I picked out sheep, cows, goats, a donkey, I payed for a surgery, and a birth among other things, with my tithe. Amazing. I feel so blessed to have the means to do that. Somehow my soft cashmere sweater still lying in its box seems ridiculous. With the money spent on that, three kids could be reunited with their families, after being lured into the sex trade.
I went with a friend to church the other week, and afterward the 20s crowd went out to eat. And I felt so out of place. Three of the people at the table to the technical side of things in computers and were talking about interfaces and other things. Then another was in PR. I feel such a separation from them, more than just different interests, but a different view on life and how it is to be approached and what is valuable. Here we are with the same worldview, which should be our most defining thing in our lives, and I can't find much to relate to with them. It was just one day, so maybe things will change.
I am not excluding myself from this in anyway, but I think that one of the biggest dangers in faith in America is clinging to our culture and not God. It is so easy to lead a "good" life, but escape fighting injustices, and standing up for Truth. There is a difference between going to church, praying, and maybe even being involved in some sort of ministry. God doesn't want Sunday, he wants us fully and completely. I find myself on one hand wanting My time, My space,and things the way I want it, but missing that raw vulnerability of living openly with people in of Faith. I guess what I'm saying is that there are friends who you make in a day and are searching through their cupboards and finding your own glass, talking about surface and heart matters, and then there are those who, years into the relationship,you still arrange to drop by, and ask each time if you can use their bathroom.
Wednesday, December 27, 2006when all seems too much
So I was having one of those familiar "I'm-so-overwhemed-that-I-can't-understand-how-God-can-possibly-want-me-in-this-vocation" kind of days just last week. My husband had gotten off work and quickly left again to help a friend repair his roof damaged in the wind storms. So I didn't get the kind of reprieve that is typical of a well-rested, functioning household. The kids had major cabin fever... were getting into every kind of trouble imaginable. And that's fine enough, but my number 2 child was extraordinarily whiny that day and it was only intensifying my already aching head. Finally, in an act of desperation I sent him to bed early where he promptly wailed his displeasure with me. Then, my four year old was dilly-dallying around and I felt incredibly annoyed and I didn't want to take it out on him so I sent him into bed too... yelling. I was too proud and angry to go and say the nightly prayers with the boys and was simply trying to calm down and pray for patience and guidance and encouragement. I felt completely unequipped as a mother, and rock-bottom low in spirits.
Suddenly I get interrupted from my pity-party as I start to notice the noises coming from the kids' room. Leo is still whining and crying. But Xavier is taking the initiative to console him. He said in his four years of wisdom: "Leo you have to just calm down. Close your eyes and take a deep breath like this [he demonstrates]." Then if that didn't put some salve on my heart, he told his brother that they should say their prayers. So they recited the normal nightly prayers we do and then went into their own spontaneous reflections, praying for baby Dominic and "that we don't break Papa's glasses" etc. It went on for a few minutes until they just talked quietly with each other... big brother comforting little brother, until they fell asleep.
I felt ashamed at my anger with them at this point. I realized what treasures I've been entrusted with. How deserving they are of my love! What a struggle it is to not be blinded by temporary overwhelming feelings or angst and frustration at motherhood. The big picture is what we need to always focus on. Because these little things are all too common and they undercut our ability to see our vocation as one that is beautiful, challenging and full of dignity. I hope mothers everywhere can zero in on this truth.
Tuesday, December 26, 2006stuff
Christmas with or birth families was filled with blessings. It is always a treat for us to spend time with our parents and siblings because we don't see them so much. The food was yummy and the gift exchanging was fun... but I am left this morning staring at the gigantic pile of "stuff" that my super scout husband managed to pack home, utilizing every single spare inch of our van. Stuff. It is all useful and mostly thoughtful, but wow... simplifying my home just got a little trickier.
Happy Feast of St. Stephen!
St. Stephen was the first Christian martyr... He was one of the seven deacons who helped the apostles; he was "filled with faith and with the Holy Spirit," and was "full of fortitude." The Church draws a comparison between the disciple and his Master, emphasizing the imitation of Christ even unto the complete gift of self. His name is included in the Roman Canon. (~from Catholicculture.org)
Some traditional recipes for this feast, including St. Stephen's scrambled eggs, stew, whiskey punch and horns...these recipes can be found on Catholic culture's site (link provided above).
Saturday, December 23, 2006Are You Ready?
When I read that bit from her book Dearly Beloved it calls me to wake up, to listen, to watch. Tomorrow is Christmas! Tomorrow our Lord comes to us as a little child! Oh, to be like a little child! We must become like little childrn to enter the Kingdom of God-- what better reminder of this than Christmas? The donkey bells are getting closer. Listen for them and be attentive. A new year approaches, a new springtime of love... May we prepare our hearts and once again become like little children. We as mothers are blessed to be holding these little ones!! We are blessed to be around them day in, day out, witnessing their humble joys and discoveries as they learn about the world. How beautiful childhood is.
"What kind of birthplace are you providing for the Christ child? Is the straw shiny and golden and clean? Is the manger solid?...Have you made the door of the stable of your heart secure against the cold winds of apathy, selfishness, indifference, so that these cannot penetrate? Is the dry wood of your sacrifices, your penances, your prayers, ready to be lit to provide warmth in that cold stable?" ~Catherine Doherty
I'll leave you on that note today!
~Sia, on Hanover Ridge with her family in Ohio
Friday, December 22, 2006Friday Coffeehouse: "The Twelve Days of Christmas"
I think we're all pretty familiar with the song called The Twelve Days of Christmas!
This is a wonderful song to sing during the 12 days of Christmas, which is from Christmas to Epiphany. Below is some information about the song and it's origins, which I found here.
~"The Twelve Days of Christmas" was written in England as one of the "catechism songs" to help young Catholics learn the basics of their faith.
~The "true love" mentioned in the song doesn't refer to an earthly suitor, but it refers to God Himself. The "me" who receives the presents refers to every baptized person. i.e. the church...In the song, Christ is symbolically presented as a mother partridge in memory of the expression of Christ's sadness over the fate of Jerusalem: "Jerusalem! Jerusalem! How often would I have sheltered thee under my wings, as a hen does her chicks, but thou wouldst not have it so..."
Here is a complete list of the 12 symbols with their meanings:
1 Partridge in a pear tree = The One true God revealed in the person of Jesus Christ
2 Turtle Doves = The Old and New Testaments
3 French Hens = Faith, Hope and Charity
4 Calling Birds = the Four Gospels and/or the Four Evangelists
5 Golden Rings = The first Five Books of the Old Testament, the "Pentateuch" which contain the law condemning us of our sins.
6 Geese A-laying = the six days of creation
7 Swans A-swimming = the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, the seven sacraments of the Catholic faith
8 Maids A-milking = the eight beatitudes
9 Ladies Dancing = the nine Fruits of the Spirit
10 Lords A-leaping = the ten commandments
11 Pipers Piping = the eleven faithful apostles
12 Drummers Drumming = the twelve points of doctrine in the Apostle's Creed
~Sia, on Hanover Ridge with her family in Ohio
Thursday, December 21, 2006Some gems from Fulton Sheen
I love that bishop.
Was watching one of his old videos in which he shared two profound thoughts on motherhood.
We are in a sense like Christ... think of His words at the Last Supper and apply them to an expectant mother who might say the same thing to her child: "Take and eat, this is my body... this is my blood."
Also, regarding the responsibility to raise our children with a strong sense of morals and spirituality he said: "Whenever a child is conceived, a crown is made in Heaven. Woe to the woman if that crown is forever empty."
-Ellie in WA
Wednesday, December 20, 2006Question of the Week: reflections of your own
You know what? No general question this week; for now, feel free to use this post as a "speak your piece" about anything Christmas related you'd like.
On my end? I'm debating on waking up my troops to go to Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. We have baby-sitters at Grandma's place... but the last time we went to Midnight Mass sans children, we missed them a whole lot. I thought it would've been an awesome experience for them to be with us at the high, Latin Mass complete with incense and bells and beautiful choir music and the placing of baby Jesus in the church créche. Yeah, they'll be slugs the next morning but it's Christmas right?!
You may notice a name missing on our expectant mother list:
Labels: in the news
The fir tree is of course what many of us know to be a very big part of Christmas-time: we decorate our trees with ornaments and lights, we put our presents under them.... but when did this start? What is the history of the fir tree? I did some research because I was interested in this myself. I know that the day will eventually come when my own children will ask me certain questions such as "why do we decorate the christmas tree?".. and I want to be able to answet them! Although most of what I am throwing out here is quoted from what I've read on Catholic culture's website, at least you all can take what you want from it and make sense of it yourselves as I am trying to do still. (Click on the sources link at the bottom to read everything in full.) Here is what I have learned :
Part-history, part-legend has it that: ~ St Boniface, (eighth-century Bishop), amidst his missionary work in Germany, came across a group of pagans worshipping an oak tree. In anger, he is said to have cut down the oak tree... in it's place a young fir tree sprung up from the roots of the oak tree. ...This tree signifies peace, and as an evergreen it also symbolizes immortality; with its top pointing upwards, it additionally indicates heaven, the dwelling place of God. When he gave the fir trees to the Druids, he said: “The fir tree is the wood of peace, the sign of an endless life with its evergreen branches. It points to heaven. It will never shelter deeds of blood, but rather be filled with loving gifts and rites of kindness.”
~Another legend is constituted by a famous hawthorn called the "Holy Thorn" that was found at Glastonbury Abbey in England and flowers at Christmas time. It was venerated as a "sacred relic" because a legend claims that it derived from a sprig that came from Jesus' crown of thorns. The legendary hawthorn survived for many centuries a was honored as a sacred relic. This flowering bush made a contribution of its own to the idea of a tree associated with the Christmas feast day.
The Christmas Tree itself: ~Origins of the Christmas tree are found in the medieval mystery plays which depicted the tree of paradise and the Christmas light or candle which symbolized Christ, the Light of the world. (The medieval mystery and miracle plays were performed in the middle ages to help teach the people, many of whom were illiterate, about the Christian faith. ) In these plays, the garden of Eden was indicated by a fir tree hung with apples; it represented both the 'Tree of Life' and the 'Tree of discernment of good and evil' which stood in the center of Paradise.
The Tree in the home and the decoration of the tree: The Paradise tree -from the play- eventually found its way into the homes of the faithful...In the fifteenth century the custom developed of decorating the Paradise tree, already bearing apples, with small white wafers representing the Holy Eucharist; thus, in legendary usage, the tree which had borne the fruit of sin for Adam and Eve, now bore the saving fruit of the Sacrament, symbolized by the wafers. These wafers were later replaced by little pieces of pastry cut in the shape of stars, angels, hearts, flowers, and bells... Hence our ornaments of today! ( --source: catholicculture.org)
~To read about the blessing of the Christmas tree in our own homes, click Here.
~Sia, in Ohio for the season
Tuesday, December 19, 2006Holiday Eating Tips
Have you seen these being circulated yet? (My favorite is number 4)
We females (I assume that most of the readers out there female!) are very emotionally needy, especially while pregnant. It is very easy for us to feel neglected, left out, sad, ...you know the story. However, we need to always keep the emotional needs of our husbands in mind! They may not cry when they need attention or love. But they are human just like us and need lots of "Tender Loving Care".
They need our loving words and affection just as much as we need theirs. Just as we need those physical expressions of love such as a kiss at the beginning and end of each day, a good old bear hug, and look in the eye (every woman needs their own amount of this attention!), so do our husbands need that extra dose of loving attention. They may be feeling really worn out when they come home after a long day's work, and we may be exhausted from doing laundry, bending over with a pregnant belly all day picking up after our toddler(s) and feel too tired to welcome them heartily or with a smile. But our gift to them, our emotional support to them, should be making them feel like a KING when they walk through that door! (Granted, they should be always trying to treat us like queens too, but this post is about our actions, not theirs.)
Men become better men when we treat them like men. When we praise our husbands and tell them they are that they're handsome, are good husbands, are strong and hard-working, etc., their head is held a little higher, their shoulders a little straighter. (I mean in a good way, not a vain, pig-headed way.) They will act like our knights if we treat them as knights. Switch this around and think about it: If they were to never tell us that we are lovely as ever, that they love and appreciate all that we do, we wouldn't glow as much about our daily tasks. Yet we FEEL lovelier than ever when they tell us we are lovely, and oftentimes we are even more motivated to be better wives and mothers when we have them cheering us on.
So make your husband that extra cup of coffee... throw in that extra word of affection as he walks out the door and comes in in the evening. Try to keep in mind their emotional needs even amidst our own. They are more needy of our love then we usually remember!
~Sia, on Hanover Ridge with her family in Ohio
Monday, December 18, 2006Making Do on Mondays: gifting on a dime
Need some ideas for homemade gifts? Hopefully you still have time! Here are a few worth noting... these are especially geared toward people like myself who don't sew too much and aren't especially gifted bakers:
- Body Scrubs
Sia wrote about this a while back... why pay big money for something so simple?! Fill a small jar with sea salt, enough oil (edible like olive or sunflower, etc.) to barely cover it, and a few drops of whatever essential oil you like best. Adding a teaspoon or two of baking soda will work as a skin softener. Lavender is a popular aroma... as are citrus and vanilla scents.
- Personalized Rocks
A couple cans of contrasting spraypaint, letter stencils or leaves from your garden and a steady hand can make a beautiful assortment of rocks... present them on a pewter tray or in a pretty box with tissue paper. Use a large piece of card stock to trace your design, then cut it out. Hold it over the rock and spray away...
- Mosaic Art
Rather than doing a hodge-podge job of detailing this myself, I'll link you to a site with how-to instructions. HERE. We did this a little bit this year, doing tile work on old mirrors and picture frames we picked up at the thrift store.
- Homemade Soaps
Homemade soaps can be a lot simpler than you might think if you take a shortcut! Simply buy blocks of glycerine soap at a craft store; melt it down (using a double boiler works better than the microwave), add herbs, dyes, fragrances or basically whatever you want (don't use FRESH fruits or herbs with this particular process... only dried) and pour it into molds! You can use either real soap molds or stuff around the kitchen. If you want to make soap the old-school way, here's a good site on that.
- Personalized Garden Stones
Finally, remember that this is all about giving in love... though I know firsthand the frustration of feeling "what do I give?!" when you have to watch your budget and you want something unique. Most people appreciate your time more than you money so keep that in mind. Here is a good site I found on gifting ideas and moneysavers.
-Ellie: Oak Harbor
Saturday, December 16, 2006How primitive
You'll notice that we've been offline the past day or so. Sia is in Ohio... Hope is hmmm... where is Hope? Vermont maybe?
And Ellie? I was one of over a million Washingtonians without power the past couple days. We went 30 hours without electricity at all due to some serious wind storms (that blew off too many of our shingles to count).
It was very humbling... how different life was before electricity came around! Thank God that our food supply has been running low; we hadn't got paid to do our big grocery shopping yet. This means there was almost nothing notable that spoiled in the fridge! We simply put our milk and eggs and mayonaise in a cooler outside and fried up the chicken for dinner on our (fortunately) gas stove. We got up around dawn to make the most of our daylight hours. We had no TV or computer to distract us. Almost all the businesses in town were shut down so there was nowhere to go. We just hung around the house, being a family. What a concept. My brother-in-law delivered some fresh cut wood for our woodstove; we pulled the mattress out by the fire to stay warm; we read Christmas stories by candlelight; we made popcorn the old-fashioned way on the stove; prayed the rosary by the fire; and we went to bed pretty early. Most of all, we talked. We played with the kids, let the dishes pile up in the sink, the laundry suspended in the washer... and just spent time together.
Now I'm not one to throw out the "technology is evil" bit at all... I missed my electric heat and would've loved to watch a movie or run my laundry or go to the grocery store. But it was a refreshing little slice of reality into what really matters. I am thankful to have experienced it. It's amazing how modern appliances have shaped family interactions... whole lifestyles. I know too many couples who let their bedroom television put them to sleep. Everything in moderation is what I think. But I'm more and more convinced that the less we have... the less we take for granted. So I don't mind a little power outage every so often... just don't let it happen during Survivor!!! (just kidding)
I have wonderful memories of music we listened to during Christmastime, both in our preparations and after. Here are a few I thought I'd share with you all.
The Baroque Folk: Joy After Sorrow is the name of the album (yet I can't seem to find a place where you can buy it online!)
From O'Carolan to Bach and Mozart, this album is really diverse in it's selections yet it works beautifully and all peices flow together well. The music brings classical and Scottish/Irish folk together. The group is made up of classically trained musicians... It's a combination of dulcimer, recorder, guitar, and strings. My memories of this album are baking and doing projects in our kitchen around Christmas time... It's a rare beauty, if you can find it!
An excellent source of music to have in your home for the Christmas season is the book titled Carols for Christmas, by David Willcocks- this is "A collection of medieval and Renaissance carols, traditional carols and hymns, and modern selections is accompanied by masterworks of sculpture and painting by Giotto, Raphael, Durer, Van Eyck, and others..." (-from a review on Alibris.com) It's rather pricy, but worth every penny. I have spent hours and hours learning all the beautiful ancient carols in this book with friends and family. There is also a double CD you can buy which goes with the book.--a real treat to listen to!
The book and the album are both gems to have in the home.
~Sia, in Ohio for the season
Labels: Books Music Culture
Thursday, December 14, 2006St. John of the Cross
Well, we must at least recognize a Doctor of the Church and one of the greatest mystics in our Faith: St. John of the Cross."Uniquely and strongly John underlines the gospel paradox: The cross leads to resurrection, agony to ecstasy, darkness to light, abandonment to possession, denial to self to union with God. If you want to save your life, you must lose it."
As you might suspect, Sia, Hope and Ellie are as busy as the rest of you preparing for Christmas and simply doing our day-to-day winter lives. While we do still have posts lined up for the next few weeks, we are all a bit preoccupied with travelling or family and such and these posts might not make it up first thing in the morning (for you East-Coasters... I wouldn't even bother checking the blog before noon EST). Additionally, there will likely be days when something doesn't come up at all, or we don't recognize every saint's feastday on the calendar. Be patient with us as we are on holiday break too! We expect things to regularize a bit more after the New Year so please stay with us...
Pax et Bonum!
Labels: our website
As I contemplate Advent and Christmas time, being a mother provides a whole new realm of thought for me. The story of the nativity is made more real now. It is more real to imagine Mary and Joseph travelling together: she on a donkey, going from inn to inn looking for a place to deliver. It is more real to imagine Christ as an infant. It is more real to imagine these practical aspects of the whole story of Bethlehem. But further, It is a new spiritual journey for me. Being a mother shapes my thinking in a whole new way. As I enter into the spiritual journey of Advent, preparing for the coming of the infant Jesus, I can apply this thinking in an entirely direct way. Caryll Houselander epitomizes this new realm of thought in her book titled, Wood of the Cradle, Wood of the Cross. Here are some of the beautiful passages from it below. To read the whole of the source, go to ewtn's library by clicking here.
"...The first giving of this love to a newly born child is the reshaping of our whole life, in its large essentials and in its every detail, in our environment, our habits, ourselves...
The sound of our voice must be modulated - the words that we use considered, our movements restrained, slowed down, and trained to be both decisive and gentle.
...Our rooms must be rearranged; everything that is superfluous and of no use to the infant must be thrown out; only what is simple and necessary to him must remain, and what remains must be placed in the best position, not for us, but for him...
We must learn to sleep lightly, aware of the moonlight and the stars, conscious even in our deepest sleep of a whimper from the infant and ready to respond to it. We must learn the saving habit of rising with, or a little before, dawn.
...The rhythm of our own bodies must be brought into harmony with his. They must become part of the ordered procession of his day and night, his waking and feeding and sleeping. Our lives, because of his and like his, must include periods of silence and rest. We must return with him and through him to the lost rhythm of the stars and the seed.
...All our senses must be given to him, and we must give him our hands. We must give him our hands, tending his needs and washing his clothes."
~Sia writes from Ohio
Wednesday, December 13, 2006Question of the week- healthy holidays
But tell me:
Today is the feast of one of our blog's patronesses: St. Lucy of Syracuse. Since she is associated with light, it is easy to incorporate activities into our Advent season, particularly with candles and such. I for one will be praying to St. Lucy today for her intercession with my son's eye infection.
Saint Lucy, you did not hide your light under a basket, but let it shine for the whole world, for all the centuries to see. We may not suffer torture in our lives the way you did, but we are still called to let the light of our Christianity illumine our daily lives. Please help us to have the courage to bring our Christianity into our work, our recreation, our relationships, our conversation -- every corner of our day. Amen
Tuesday, December 12, 2006A bit more on reading
I know many of the moms reading this have children who may be getting ready to read. Reading is such a treasure to me that I remember when I learned how to do it... my whole world opened up and seldom was I seen without a book in hand. It can seem a daunting task for moms I'm sure: "What method should I use? How often should we be working on it? How can I get my kid interested..." etc.
I've been researching a LOT on this topic because I'm so eager for my son to start reading. So while I'm no expert (indeed, I invite the moms who've been through this already to share their experiences), I ran across a couple of things that I think worth sharing.
We are blessed to have so many beautifully illustrated kids' books available to us today. This wasn't the case 50 years ago when printing was more expensive and less efficient. At the library, if you are anything like me, we often look for lots of pictures and few words because I assumed kids like pictures more and don't have the attention span for too much story. Now my kids can often be found browsing through books alone on the couch "reading" to themselves. The pictures have gotten so good at telling the stories nowadays that kids sometimes aren't much interested in the printed words! How do we encourage an interest in reading? Expose them to lots and lots of words! Leave newspapers on the table. Let them look at YOUR books if they're careful (which I used to have off limits). Most importantly, read to them out of longer story books with few pictures and lots of words. We have a few of these older story books: our favorite is a Paul Bunyan chronicle that has pictures ever 3 pages or so. Kids will soon learn that important stuff can be acquired from all those words! Picture books are wonderful and healthy... but don't be afraid to try out some of the bigger readers to your children.
I'm at the point with my four-year-old where I don't think I should push him into reading, but we are having fun exploring words together. We play a "game" where he says any word he wants and watches me write it. And I point out similar endings or rhymes, etc. Or he'll ask me what letter something looks like if he sees a shape in nature or the house. And I'll sometimes just pick up the newspaper and read parts of it to him... he is starting to realize that people WRITE about things happening in the world.
Anyway, just a few thoughts on the power of PRINT! And I encourage you to explore this link a reader sent us to her nonprofit literacy site: www.WordsAhead.org
-Ellie: Oak Harbor, WA
Labels: useful ideas
Happy Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe!
What a huge feast this is for the Americas! The Miracle of Guadalupe converted literally millions of Mexicans at the time. This miracle brought roses in the winter and belief to men's hearts... it baffled scientists and still does. It is a miracle which still works in the souls of unbelieving folks throughout the world. May she continue to hold the Americas in her mantle of stars and lead us all closer to her Son.
The link above takes you to Catholic cultures' site, where you can refresh yourself with the story as well as see prayers, recipes, activities and more.
This is the day when for years, my family and another family got together and cooked a Mexican feast for dinner in celebration, including homemade tortillas and flan.
Monday, December 11, 2006Making Do on Mondays: Don't "Do" Too Much
Hello there everyone. This Monday's practical tips post is a bit different... instead of offering time/money saving tips or suggesting fun crafts and activities, I thought I'd focus in a little bit on avoiding the crazed mentality of this season.
A lot of people already are convicted as much as they can be on staying away from consumerism and frantic shopping for Christmas. But there exists another extreme... those who are so busy trying to make "this" Christmas special that they forget to just let things be.
We've offered lots of ideas on little family traditions for Advent/Christmas and activities to engage your children in the real meaning of the season. But I encourage all of you not to fall in the trap that I found myself in earlier this month: trying so hard to start traditions and do every Advent activity under the sun so I could inculcate the beautiful season's meaning to my kids.
Traditions are wonderful. Good. Efficacious. Even, holy sometimes. But they aren't the end all of what Christmas is about. I ran around like mad trying to find some Advent candles for our advent wreath a couple weeks ago... none were to be found on this island. I wanted to do beeswax candles with my kids on St. Ambrose's feastday... money was too tight. I've been meaning to string some popcorn up around our Christmas tree... haven't found the time. And the thought of all the cookie recipes I want to try out is absolutely overwhelming considering the state of my "more than petite" kitchen. I can't find any of our Christmas music because the house is completely torn apart (we are insulating the walls of our drafty, impossible to heat home right now and boy has that been a challenge on the whole family).
So I was starting to get a little depressed about not being able to make our "perfect" Christmas. Then I wised up and said to my self: "Self, God has absolutely every aspect of your family's welfare in His sight. He knows what we need and He is the source of all happiness." Happiness isn't to be found in the exterior traditions as if they are our god... happiness and meaning are found in the moments of gratitude and interior preparation for our Coming Lord. And so... that's all I can focus on this year. We have not the time, resources or money to do all the things I thought would make a perfect Christmastime. There will be only a couple of humble little gifts under the tree for the kids. But I feel joy despite not "doing" everything I wanted to do.
I am making it a priority to visit the Blessed Tabernacle every day... complete with my travelling circus. Even for just five minutes on the way back from the grocery store. And yeah, it's a pain to unbuckle each kid and bundle them up and shuffle into church... but oh the peace I feel when I see that sanctuary candle flickering... He waits for me.
And with the little traditions I hoped to begin with my family. It must be put off. We did manage to get our Jesse Tree going, and I'm proud of that. But the emotional demands of everything else has to take a back seat this year. This year all I can do, all I can offer... is to wait for Him.
Labels: holiday musings
Saturday, December 09, 2006Advent: Words from Catherine Doherty
"Today is very quiet. Are you listening? If you are lisening, you can hear the faint sound of tinkling bells. He who is pure of heart and childlike shall hear the bells of the donkey ring in his life." ~Catherine Doherty, Donkey Bells
Advent is a time when we are called to a renewal inside: an opening of our hearts as we prepare for the birth of Christ. It is a time when we can prepare the "cradles" of our hearts for our Beloved who comes to us on Christmas Eve when, in that sacred moment, to the world's eyes, The Word was made Flesh and dwelt among us.
Catherine Doherty of Madonna House helped me to go deeper into the spiritual aspect of Advent through her book titled Donkey Bells. She brought alive the Advent season in a spiritually enriching way. Below are some passages to share with those of you who are not familiar with her writings or with this book.
"Advent is a short season, yet it covers a long distance. It is the road of a soul from Nazareth to Bethlehem..." she writes. "...In truth, Advent is the road of the spiritual life which all of us must start if we do not want to miss the way...
We must start with a 'fiat' that re-echoes Mary's fiat ('Let it be done, O Lord') . It is a fiat that each of us should say in the quiet of our hearts."
"But let us understand that this 'Bethlehem' we seek is within our own souls, our own hearts, our own minds. Advent is a time of standing still, and yet making a pilgrimage. It is an inner pilgrimage, a pilgrimage in which we don't use our feet. We stand still; yet, in a manner of speaking, we walk a thousand miles across the world - just because we chose to stand still."
--It is a "journey of the spirit, which is a thousand times harder than a journey of the feet. Let us 'arise and go'."
She speaks of Advent in Russia... it was all about cleansing from the inside out: "...My mother used to say that the days of Advent were the days of building a golden stairway that would lead us to a star, the star of Bethlehem. And this, in turn, would lead us straight to the Christ Child."
~"It is a time for renewal; it is especially a time for forgiveness because God brings His forgiveness to us in the shape of His Son. The Church year begins with the first Sunday of Advent. And very time it comes around, my heart thrills anew."
Catherine Doherty also mentions the bells as being the reminder of our coming Love:
~"I pray that your hearts and souls and ears will hear very clearly the bells of the donkey, not only in Advent but throughout the year. I wish to give you the sound of a donkey's bells so that you might hear it all your life, for then you shall also ride with the holy one and hear the first church bells, which were the donkey's bells when he was carrying Our Lady and Our Lord."
~"To me, the bells of this season, whenever they ring, either for Mass or for the Angelus, always have the joyous sound of wedding bells. For Advent is 'the springtime of love', when the soul awaits her Lover, knowing deep down that He is coming and that He will make her His own!"
To read more exerpts from Donkey Bells, click here. Donkey Bells is available for purchase through Madonna House Publications.
~Sia, Vancouver, WA
Friday, December 08, 2006Friday Coffeehouse: Tomie DePaola
I hope you all know about Tomie DePaola. I would have to say he is among my top 3 favorite children's authors. Probably the best book he's ever written that should be mandated reading for all kids is "Nana Upstairs, Nana Downstairs." No other book treats the topic of death in such a delicate and honest way that eases children into it. This story is a beautiful telling: "Every Sunday four-year-old Tommy's family goes to visit his grandparents. His grandmother is always busy downstairs, but his great-grandmother is always to be found in bed upstairs, because she is 94 years old. Tommy loves both of his nanas and the time he spends with them. He is desolate when his upstairs nana dies, but his mother comforts him by explaining that "she will come back in your memory whenever you think about her."
We have four or five of DePaola's books in our home and always look for more at thrift stores/garage sales. His books have a wide range of topics... from the lighthearted Popcorn book.... to the educational Cloud book... to the religious saint books... to the fantasy/magic of Strega Nona. All of them are dressed up with his unique illustration style that won't ever be duplicated. My favorites include "The Clown of God" (which has been known to bring people to tears) and "Pascual and the Kitchen Angels" (the story of St. Pascual... patron saint of the kitchen). Other religious books from this author cover the stories of Our Lady of Guadalupe, St. Francis of Assisi, St. Patrick, and St. Christopher.
One timely thing to note is that DePaola has written/illustrated several Christmas themed books (including "The Clown of God"). The one we have and love is "The Legend of the Poinsettia":
"Lucida is heartbroken because she has nothing beautiful to bring baby Jesus in the Christmas procession, when an old woman convinces her that the Baby Jesus will love anything she can give, her simple gift turns out to be the most miraculous of all."
One of his endearing little Christmas books is a pop-up: "The First Christmas." Some families use this as a weekly Advent calendar. Other Christmas titles listed here include descriptions from Emmanuel Books:
Country Angel Christmas
"The story of Saint Nicholas and the country angels. They were preparing for a Christmas celebration. But three of the youngest angels were told to stay out of the way by the bigger angels. They wanted to do something too. Saint Nicholas gives them an idea. It was the best idea for their celebration."
The Night of Las Posadas
"The story is set in New Mexico. It is about the old Spanish custom that commemorates Mary and Joseph's search for shelter in Bethlehem! Sister Angie has organized the tradition for many years. This year Angie's niece, Lupe, and Lupe's husband, Roberto, are going to play the parts of Mary and Joseph. But when Sister Angie becomes sick and Lupe and Roberto get stuck in a snowstorm, only a miracle can save Las Posadas! Wonderful tale of a Spanish Catholic tradition!"
Mary: the Mother of Jesus
"A feeling of joyful reverence pervades this story of Mary's life! A very colorful book. This story tells of Mary's life from her childhood, her visit from the angel Gabriel, her marriage, the birth of Jesus, her death and her assumption into Heaven."
-Ellie: Oak Harbor, WA
Labels: Books Music Culture
Happy Feast of the Immaculate Conception! This feast day often gets confused with the Annunciation. The term, Immaculate Conception refers not to Mary's conception of Christ but to the conception of Mary within St. Anne's womb. The conception was Immaculate because Mary was conceived without sin:
"The most Blessed Virgin Mary was, from the first moment of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege of almighty God and by virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ, Saviour of the human race, preserved immune from all stain of original sin." — Catechism of the Catholic Church
The link above will take you to Catholic Culture's site where you can find recipes, prayers, and readings for this feast. Remember, this is a Holy Day of Obligation!
Thursday, December 07, 2006We will never forget
Today is December 7th, the anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor: the event which drew us into World War II. Display your flags today to honor the thousands of servicemembers and civilians that died that infamous Sunday morning. Patriotism is a noble virtue that should be taught to our families, but patriotism doesn't mean blindly accepting whatever happens... Chesterton's quote is true:
Labels: in the news
We're off to mail a few Christmas packages. We live close to town now, so walking is one thing that brings pride to our multi-hundred, thousand-dollar purchase. So I've got a few big boxes- that's no problem with a radio flyer wagon... first time I've used this in a while. Elijah (4) is pulling, wearing his school uniform and bright yellow rain boots, looking like a very responsible Christopher Robin type. Triona (1) is barefoot and riding with the boxes, smiling out from the middle of them and the loose christmas presents. Henry (2) is pushing in the back, content with his job which he finds very important... his blonde hair is just long enough so that I'm waiting for someone to call him a girl, but he is so unkept today that I doubt that will happen. Despite that, we look cute. I am walking along the side, hands free, as my children are enjoying their mission. Cars and pedestrians pass and smile while I smile back with a knowing motherly-type of smile. Sure, no one napped today- but we are doing great.
At the post office: I am in need of a box so I grab one of the ready-post folded boxes, contstruct the box and fill it with presents. The kids are watching, all is fine.
At the counter: The lady tells me that I can save $4 if I am able to cram - which will be a work of art- all of the presents into this much smaller Priority Mail box. I can't resist the challenge. I get to work. "Oh, you can go ahead of me; this might take a while...", I say to the others in line. Tree is climbing out of the wagon, now loudly voicing her boredom. "Just a second, guys."...
"Um-- your son just mailed something, I'm not sure what it was". (-Lady behind me in line). Alright: I stop the project for a minute. Time to look like a mom that disciplines well: "Henry, that was a big no-no... you sit in this wagon until I am done...". I get back to work and glance behind me. The lady behind us is holding the wagon while Henry climbs over its rickety edge. "This is an accident waiting to happen," she says with a frown.
It doesn't matter now because I feel a surge of victory: All of the gifts are neatly fit in the box perfectly! Oh, wait - except for these two which happen to be the biggest. Tree has a sticky note in her hand on which I had happened to write down my sister's mailing address. It is going into her mouth. I save it just in time, shove the remaining presents into the box with the brutal force of Cinderella's stepsister "I'll MAKE it fit!" while yelling to Henry, "get back in the wagon!". (These gifts will not arrive in good condition.) Time to write the address but I am holding Tree at this point and she will not be quiet unless she has the pen in her hand. I whisper angrily "Stop!" and "Cut it out!", pulling the pen away to start writing again...she is grabbing it again. The address is barely legible- "I didn't write the return address," I tell the post lady with a pathetic wimpy tone. She takes pity on me and lets me dictate it to her. It is the turn of the lady who was behind me now. At the clerk next to me, she is ordering Christmas stamps and I hear her being asked, "Snowflakes or Madonna and Child?" She responds, "Snowflakes."
Ok: so one box left- a moderately sized box- and the price for this one: $42.00 express; $38.00 3-day, or $26.00 parcel-post. I am standing there left wondering if the value of the items in the box even equate to the shipping charges. Meanwhile the children are falling apart on me, and we are creating the biggest scene possible. The sweet post lady -God bless her- offers my children stickers. Oh how nice. One for each. Henry, though, is extrememly scared of the modern, blue-and-white eagle-looking thing on his sticker. He starts crying loudly, "Too cary! Too cary!" Ok- it'll be Parcel-Post. Here's my credit card! Tree is not happy about anything now so I sit her in the wagon giving her free reign over my purse: a complete act of desperation on my part. She starts pulling things out one by one... looking for my wallet which I have in my hand. I had forgotten what was in there until now... not much to note except an extra pair of underwear for my newly potty-trained Henry. On her treasure hunt Tree flings the underware aross the post office floor, and I embarrasingly laugh and put it back while I am waiting to sign. Annoyed at this obstruction of her vision, she pulls it out again only to fling it across the floor-again. Elijah thinks this is so funny and thank God for him I am able to laugh- a real one. I sign the slip-- "No thanks," on the receipt, console my frightened #2, and head for home... by the way, what happened to the kid's book which Tree was holding? We are no longer cute, as I, pregnant, am carrying my insistent and tired 2 year old, while pulling Elijah and Tree in the wagon behind. But ahhh... who cares about all that? At least I would have chosen the Madonna and Child stamps. :)
~Hope (!), who is finally into her first very own house, writes from sunny and warm Southern California
Labels: holiday musings
Today is the feastday of the "Honey-Tongued Doctor" of the Church: St. Ambrose. What a great way to celebrate his feast by making beeswax candles and ornaments as Sia wrote about earlier! I think this is a wonderful new little Christmastime tradition I'd like to start in my own family... and the day for it could be no better! The title of this man came from his eloquent preaching ability (which helped to convert St. Augustine) but evolved into his association with bees, beekeepers, and candlemakers.
Wednesday, December 06, 2006Quick Pick
In light of this feastday today and the recent Santa discussion, I thought it helpful to throw out what I think is an excellent book on the topic: "A Special Place for Santa." This link goes to the current place where you can find the book the cheapest. I've noticed that around this time of year places like Ebay and Amazon.com sell it for a much higher price than the suggested $8.95... which isn't too bad considering it's a hardback!
With the Christmas season starting, here's our question for the week.
Happy Feast of St. Nicholas! This a very special day for children...
He was known to have secretely helped those in need by placing bags of gold in homes through the windows. It is from St. Nicholas legends that the world has adopted the stories of "Santa Claus". Many families on this day honor St. Nicholas by filling the childrens' shoes with treats, gold coins, etc. The children leave the shoes or stockings out the night before (eve of this day) and awake to them filled. This is a fun kick-off to the Advent season.
~Considered primarily as the patron saint of children, Nicholas is also invoked by sailors, merchants, bakers, travelers and pawnbrokers, and with Saint Andrew is honored as the co-patron of Russia.
~St. Nicholas did his charitable works secretly. Suggest that your children do one hidden act of kindness in imitation of the saint.
Click HERE for some good reading on how to celebrate St. Nicholas day in your homes. As I will be gone for over 3 weeks over the season this year, I am taking today to do some special Christmas baking for our relatives in the area. This way, although it's an early Christmas sweets plate, at least I can write, "Happy St. Nicholas Day!"...
One of my new favorite children's books, as of the last few years, is The Miracle of Saint Nicholas.
Tuesday, December 05, 2006Advent and Christmas in our Homes
Christmas has been very secularized. The focus of giving gifts has been distorted into a shopping madness... The traditions of St. Nicholas has been turned into Santa Claus coming down peoples' chimneys and riding a sleigh driven by reindeer... Yet some of the American traditions of Christmas many of us, including myself, are very fond of. We are hoping to find our own way as a family of making Christmas a rich spiritual time but also a joyful fun time of activities, fun and traditions which the children can look forward to year after year. -So how do we make Christmas a very faith-based celebration, staying clear of the mass culture of consumerism and more?
For one thing, it is very important for us to observe both Advent and Christmas: preparing for Christ's coming during Advent and celebrating His birth after Christmas, until the feast of the Epiphany or the feast of the Presentation (February 2nd.) Many people these days buy their Christmas trees right after Thanksgiving or right in the beginning of December, only to take it down the day after Christmas. Most people sing Christmas carols throughout all of December... there is nothing very wrong with this, but it's not in following the Catholic liturgical calendar! I think that the liturgical calendar and the Masses we attend are the perfect models of living out the spirit of Advent and Christmas: singing Advent hymns before, Christmas carols after... preparing in a spiritual way for the coming of Christ, and feasting with joy after the feast of His birth... the list goes on. Christmas doesn't end on December 26th! The feast begins! We as Catholics are so blessed to have our faith-- it is so rich and full of beautiful treasures if we only open the doors of our minds and hearts to what is there for us to contemplate, to behold, to embrace.
“Children love to anticipate,” Helen McLoughlin writes in her book titled, Advent and Christmas in a Catholic Home. “When there are empty mangers to fill with straw for small sacrifices, when the Mary candle is a daily reminder on the dinner table, when Advent hymns are sung in the candlelight of a graceful Advent wreath, children are not anxious to celebrate Christmas before time. That would offend their sense of honor. Older children who make Nativity sets, cut Old Testament symbols to decorate a Jesse tree, or prepare costumes for a Christmas play will find Advent all too short a time to prepare for the coming of Christ the King.”
Here are some Catholic traditions which can be incorporated into the Advent/Christmas season:
St. Nicholas Day: The feast of St. Nicholas is Dec. 6th, an exciting highlight of the Advent season for children. Traditionally, each child puts out a shoe the night before St. Nicholas Day... in the hope that the kind bishop — with his miter, staff, and bag of gifts — will pay a visit. Some families give gifts on this feast day as well as on the feast of Christmas. A wonderful children's book out there (beautifully illustrated!) is called the Miracle of St. Nicholas, by Gloria Whelan. It tells the story of St. Nick. Tomorrow is St. Nicholas Day, so get the shoes ready...
The Christ Candle: Any large white candle can be used. Decorations (using symbols for Christ) on the candle can be done with colored beeswax by the children. The candle is traditionally lit on Christmas Eve to show that the Light of the World has arrived. Continue lighting the Christ candle throughout the year at Sunday dinner to remind the family of our waiting for Christ, as well as celebrating His birth and Resurrection.
The Empty manger: One of my favorite traditions is that of the empty manger. There can be the communal manger, or a manger per child. The idea is that, during Advent, the children fill the empty cradle with their virtues and good acts, represented by single peices of straw. If they are not working hard in these interior ways, they can SEE that they have not prepared a dent bed of straw for the Christ child to come lay upon on the feast of Christmas. This is motivating for most of the children I've known and usually, by Christmas, the bed is full of peices of straw, ie, their virtues and preparation of hearts.
The Mary Candle: Mary's fiat, her yes to God, enabled God to become Man. The candle can be lit during meal times to serve as a reminder of Mary’s expectation of the “Light of the World.” This also helps to remind each family member to keep their own light of grace burning as a preparation for Christ’s coming.
St. Lucy cakes: The feast of St. Lucy, virgin and martyr, is on December 13th. This marks the opening of the Christmas season in Sweden... to read about the customs/traditions of St. Lucy in Sweden, click here. To celebrate this feast day in your home and carry on the delightful traditions, click here to read how Mary Reed Newland celebrates this in their home.
Stockings: This, I assume, has it's origin in St. Nicholas filling the shoes of the children. On Christmas Eve stockings are a special part of family traditions and can be filled by St. Nick, Santa Claus, or Father Christmas.. (all titles of our current "Santa Claus".. take your pick!)
Singing: Music is a wonderful part of holidays. There is the singing of Advent songs for the Jesse Tree and Advent Wreath prayers, but there can also be some choral studies for the feast of Christmas: About a week before the Feast, children can learn Christmas music either with their voices, practicing harmonies with eachother, or on their instruments. When Christmas time comes, they can treat the whole family to the music they've been preparing for the feast.
Baking: Baking, a few days before Christmas, is a wonderful way to prepare for the feast. -Take advantage of this time of the year to try new exciting desserts: new cookies, pastries, cakes and more. To read about traditional breads for Christmas time, go to catholicculture.com.
Nativity Scenes: This is not only an aesthetic treat for the decorations of Advent but a delight for children as well. The different figures within the scene (usually the Holy Family, 3 kings, some animals, shepherds and angels. ) can be placed accordingly throughout Advent and Christmas seasons... ie, during Advent the Holy Family is in the manger but the Christ child's bed is empty. On the Christmas feast Christ can be placed in His manger. If you've been building up the cradle of virtues, He finally comes to lay in the bed which, hopefully, is soft and full! The 3 kings, during Advent and after Christmas, can be traveling all over the house, always coming closer to the Nativity scene, finally to arrive on the feast of Epiphany in January which is when the 3 kings arive with their gifts. The angels can also be added on the feast of Christmas... and candles lit...
The Star of Bethlehem: The star on the top of the tree represents (or CAN represent) the star of Bethlehem. When you decorate the tree (closer to Christmas) don't forget the star to top it off! -It is special to decorate the tree just a few days before Christmas or on Christmas Eve, then to leave it up during all of the Christmas season during the festivities.
Gift-Giving: If kept in perspective/control, the giving of gifts is a wonderful tradition. Growing up we all got very excited preparing gifts for eachother. As we placed the emphasis on homemade gifts, (this not only fed creativity, but was much less expensive!), it was a joy to be working on something during all of Advent for the family members. It is also so dear to receive a homemade book telling the story of Christmas made by the youngest in the family when it was all their idea. How exciting it is to see what little ones can surprise us with! Their gifts can be the most precious and beautiful of all.
I know many families who do not open all the gifts on the morning of Christmas. Rather, they do the stockings on the morning of and then give a gift per day to each child during the 12 days of Christmas, saving a bigger, more significant present for all on the actual feast of Epiphany. This spreading out of the Christmas gifts is a wonderful way to focus on the Christmas season being extended beyond Christmas and also teaches children patience, steering clear of the greed which we are all subject to on Christmas.
Bedtime Stories: During the last week of Advent our parents read us a Christmas story every night. Now that I think about it, it could be a good idea to read a Christmas story on Christmas Eve and on the 12 days of Christmas, and read aloud more Advent-types of books during the Advent season. Either way, hearing my parents read aloud to us is a very special memory I have. On Christmas Eve, we read a certain book every year to make the night special. That choice of book is up to each family... there are many out there. See my recent Friday Coffeehouse post for a few Christmas-time books I like.
Happy celebrations... please share any other thoughts on customs, traditions and ideas you all have.
For more reading, go to: http://www.catholiceducation.org/articles/religion/re0372.html
~Sia, Vancouver, WA