Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Pray for us, who have recourse to thee: An Advent Reflection

I wish that when I was 28 and taking classes for the RCIA program at our local Catholic church, that someone had come up to me and said this: "In five or six more years, you are going to love this. You are going to love being Catholic. You are going to find the rosary beads and the Church calendar so beautiful. All the things that seem so foreign to you now will be deep with rich, meaty meaning. You will look around and your faith will make you so deeply happy."

Right now it is December. We are doing it in the most Catholic way we know how: by observing Advent.  When you think of Christmas, I hope you think of Jesus in a manger. I hope you think of his incarnation as a baby, taking the place there and in our hearts: front and center.  But when you picture a nativity scene, what do you see? You see those who came to adore him: animals, shepherds, and wisemen. You see donkeys, lambs, doves, and sparrows. Perhaps you see a cow, if you're lucky.;)  And of course, you see hovered over baby Jesus in the manger, his adoring parents looking on.  Of all of these, I believe that Mary- that gracious mother most humbled by the events of this night in the piercing cold- was the most important attendant at the nativity. She was the person adoring Jesus that we should look at and learn from.

The animals bring an important element to the nativity. They were probably loud and obnoxious. There was moo-ing and baa-ing. They may have all had a spiritual moment: one of silence and adoration. I think of two songs: "The Friendly Beasts," where the animals are squirmy and wiggly and normal. And I think of "O Magnum Mysterium," about what a great mystery it was that animals would come to adore the Child Jesus. Perhaps they did, indeed, stop to look on in silence. Perhaps they were hushed for a moment at the Savior being born. What a miracle that would be! ;)

Next, I think of the shepherds.  The shepherds have a very special place at the nativity.  Is your heart like that of a shepherd? The shepherds were confronted by angels and they accepted with faith and courage the message of Heaven. Are you a Grinch at this time of year, or are you a shepherd?  Do you gently shepherd your sheep, or do your first thoughts at this season bend toward a cocktail, another home decor item, or your dwindling bank account? Do you stop with your sheep to adore the Child Jesus?

Earlier this year, Stephen came to me with some news about his job, and it was shocking, to say the least. Without going into personal details, we were sidelined by something that we could never have imagined or guessed could or would ever happen.  It was painful, and it was a hardship. It was a real blow to our regularly-as-scheduled programming, and it was happening within the walls of what we thought was a secure home.

I think of the wisemen.  The wisemen followed a star in the East, bringing their gold and other treasures across the sandy desert to the place where they could worship and adore the Savior. Are you led by this profound faith? This year, as I said, we have had some profound challenges come up in our personal life. Unexpected, painful even. It is so tempting to feel bitter, helpless, and angry at God when unforeseen circumstances crop up in our lives. Are you a Scrooge around Christmastime, or are you a Wise man?  Do you defend your wallet with all the gusto of Jingle Bells? Or have you brought the greatest treasure to the Baby?  Where your heart is, there your treasure is- because they're the same thing.

What can I give him, poor as I am, if I were a shepherd I would bring a lamb,
if I were a wiseman, I would do my part, 
yet what can I give him? Give him my heart.

Have you chosen wisely where your pennies go? Especially when painful things happen and you no longer feel in control of your wallet? And so, too, have you chosen wisely where your heart is?

Finally, I think of Mary and Joseph. But especially, I think of the Virgin Mary, mother of God.  I think of the profound humility of carrying Christ. I think of the deep grief they must have felt to be shut out in the cold, both literally and figuratively- as their actions shocked their friends and family, and the innkeeper turned them away.  What a comfort in hard times to think of Mary and Joseph's faith. They probably lost a lot of friends in this great sacrifice and huge act of their hearts. I'm sure it was not unlike Noah building an ark - everyone laughed as she got bigger and bigger. People scoffed when she claimed it was the Messiah. And if she claimed the truth to a large group or gathering- that she was a Virgin- who, among her acquaintances would have believed her?

Who should we emulate, as we look at the attendants at the nativity? Who of the people there present at the manger sets the best example?

Well, I truly believe Mary was the most important person- the greatest of the attendants- at the nativity.  Why? Because we think of what she said, and how this impacted the state of her heart. She said, "Let it be done to me according to thy will." She did not say, "Let it be done to me according to the will of the people." She did not waver in her faith, though people mocked her, as I assume they did and must have. She did not seek the praise of men, or the attention of the masses.  She suffered to be with child, and she suffered in the cold to give birth to this baby.  A screaming, messy, fussy, normal baby.  She suffered psychologically as she faced unbelief, criticism, and the very real experience of being an outcast: literally and also not. Normal yet not at all, because she bore to us the Son of God.

Although now she is the Queen of Heaven, in her day, Mary wasn't popular. She wasn't accepted in her time. But now, we have the greatest example in her. She left all and gave it all for faith, following God's leading and saying yes to his call to bear his Son Jesus.  She listened to his will, she heard his message, and she followed with an obedient heart. We have the great privilege of having a connection with the one who has a connection to God. It says on a miraculous medal, "O Mary! Conceived without sin, Pray for us who have recourse to thee." Are you hovering over Jesus, as Mary is? If you are Catholic, I hope you see now how rich and beautiful your faith is, just as I am learning to discover. We should take advantage and ask her to pray for us. Her example and her life were immense and deeply special.

Advent is a time of joy. Do you have that joy? Do you have peace?
Linking up with Tuesday Talk
Cross-posting at Association of Catholic Women Bloggers

Friday, December 2, 2016

Advent Week-by-Week: Week 1~ Letters to Santa, Advent Wreath, and Play-doh

Welcome to my Advent Week-by-Week series. This is where I recount for you what we're doing and what we've actually done for each week in Advent.  I hope to share our joys, activities, thoughts, words, and hopefully what we've learned. I'll keep it honest and real, because this season isn't about being perfect. So along with all the rest, I'll share our missteps and challenges as well.

To kick it off, I want to discuss and define the word "Advent." Advent is easily my favorite season of the year, because I do have good memories of celebrating this season and lighting the candles on the Advent wreath growing up. The word "Advent" comes from the Latin meaning "Coming." It references the incarnation of Jesus Christ. Thus it is a time to prepare for the coming of our Lord.

In the movie, "How the Grinch Stole Christmas," the Grinch's heart grows three sizes in one day.  I think that is exactly what the season of Advent is for: the purpose of Advent is to joyfully anticipate the birth of Jesus. We have to give our hearts room and time to grow. It isn't penitential in the sense that we should punish ourselves (although, yes, the color purple represents penitence); it isn't the Christmas season technically, yet, either. But, to keep Christ in Christmas, and to keep ourselves from a Grinchy attitude, is the purpose.  We can remember to give generously and prepare thoroughly, to do the things we did as kids, to celebrate in a meaningful way (American though it may be).  Just as John the Baptist said, "Prepare ye the way of the Lord," so we are building up the joy, but we are not technically celebrating Christmas yet!

To me, this means lighting candles- on the Advent wreath, singing and humming "O Come, O Come Emmanuel," teaching this to our children, attending Mass services, remembering the Feast Days of December (St. Nicholas, Santa Lucia, and more!), going to Confesssion, doing the Scripture readings, and preparing our hearts to make room for baby Jesus on Christmas Day and on the twelve days of Christmas. I can hear you saying, "yes, but do we really need Advent?" I can think of two analogies to illustrate that the answer is "Yes."  

First, I think of my daughter who recently did something so typical of a 6-year-old. We were getting ready for bed, singing nursery rhymes joyfully, and caught up in the exuberance of the moment, she popped in a piece of bubble gum, just as I asked her to brush her teeth.  It made me imagine a child shoveling their mouth full of sugary candy right before getting into the dentist's chair.  It would be inappropriate. This metaphor corresponds to the idea that we aren't to get caught up in the materialism of the age or the season. While some are packing away their junk from Black Friday, others are whimsically pulling out one solid brass wreath in which to place candles. The light of Christ.

Again, a metaphor strikes me. If you are going to a feast, do you tuck away little snacks in case you get hungry?  On our way to Alabama for Thanksgiving, I was worried that I would feel ill on the drive. I bought a package of donuts and a biscotti at a coffee shop, and stealthily hid them away from my kids the night before we left. It made me laugh, because I knew that once we got to Alabama, the tables would be laden with fruit, spilling from a cornucopia, and the tables would be overfull with all kinds of goodies and food. The thought of hiding away snacks on our way to a feast made me laugh. It is the same with Advent. The generosity of God cannot and should not be rivaled by our trips to the mall or too many Christmas cookies before Christmas! His goodness should not have to compete with materialism or wrongful feasting! Our thoughts of "provision" and "decor" must make him laugh! The hay in a manger was enough decor for him! The idea that December is already Christmas is like shoveling our mouth with sugary snacks, instead of making room for him in our hearts.

It's easy to cover Advent over with a list of generalities, the number one being "Slow down. Stop talking. Stop shopping."  But when you stop saying "What if we did this?" And when you stop shoveling snowfulls of "Not yet, not this year," you get to a place where you're grown up enough to not show the Advent traditions to the door- yet. Now let's talk about what we actually did this past week! In honor of 7 Quick Takes, here are seven things we did! (To say that we've mastered Advent would be untrue, but we're trying to better understand the Spirit of the season!)

We did go ahead and get a Christmas tree the Sunday after Thanksgiving (First Sunday of Advent). However, we're trying to be really intentional about turning on the lights at special times- Sundays, when we light our candles, and Feast Days, and then on Christmas Eve and Christmas.

We did glitter play-doh. This is a big hit with the kids every year! I pull out my Mom's old vintage Christmas cookie cutters, get Christmas-colored playdoh, and get the kids to add their own glitter.

One thing that's fun is that you can go ahead and teach kids the story of Christmas during Advent. Not pictured: camel and star cookie cutters, etc! I used the cookie cutters to tell the story of Christmas, then they were inspired to make cut-outs with the shapes they heard in the story. We keep it on cookie sheets and pull it out several times over the first week of Advent. I think it's a good warm-up to baking Christmas cookies! ha! It's an already-but-not-yet type thing. :0)
We set out the Advent Wreath. It took me a couple of attempts to get it 'right,' but I added some greenery and ended up buying a new Christmas candle to light on Christmas day (I'm not sure if this is just a family tradition, or if others do this one, too).

We hung our Advent calendar. It has scripture reading for each day of December leading up to Christmas day. It has been fun to have the kids take turns opening them each day, and the readers in our family can help read the verse.

We wrote letters to Santa. This is a great way to practically prepare for Christmas! We made these homemade envelopes after working very hard on our letters. They decorated them with markers and do-a-dot. It is very hands-on, and it's a helpful thing to do during Advent! It helps you with your Christmas shopping! I'm unabashedly a last minute shopper.  I do reference the lists they make quite a bit. Shhhh! ha.

We set out the Advent books, so that the kids can pick them up and look at them any time during these months of Advent. ;)

Finally, number 7. We did an Advent lapbook-inspired craft. Without stressing yourself out, Mamas, here is a simple way to do a lap book without doing the whole shebang. We made a hand-wreath, tracing Anders hands. He glued on the pieces. A good time for a craft, I learned, is when you have already made the soup, but realize the rolls still need 25 minutes in the oven to bake! haha. Molly helped me make the Advent card for Grandma after school.

As I mentioned above, I want to share our mishaps to keep it real. After decorating the house and pulling out these first traditions, several of our kids came down with colds, some quite severe. It feels like just when you really start to get into a productive groove as a Mom, some curveball is thrown at you, and you have to plow ahead somehow. As the prayer below mentions, it keeps us humble as we have to show ourselves grace in the midst of the to-do lists! We also have heaps and heaps of laundry from our Thanksgiving travels and in addition to coming down with a cold, I've been nauseated from this pregnancy and I have to sit down a whole lot more than usual.;) #humility

As I'm seeking an Advent-heart, I also want to make the disclaimer, once again, that I will not be on instagram for the month of December. I want to keep the season quiet in one way, and Instagram has the tendency to steal me away from being present, so this decision is in order to give myself some balance and sanity!!! ;-)

closing prayer:

God give peace, balance, and yes, sanity to us this Advent season.
Be in our hearts, and teach us to be still.
Fill our hearts with wonder, and fill each moment with grace.
Be good to us, and remind us to be gracious, mindful of your emptiness, and lowliness to be born in a manger, surrounded by animals. Teach us that humility, as we await your coming.

linking up with Kelly

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Monthly Recap vol. 39~ November 2016

This was a good month. I was able to continue with my reading goals for the Reading Challenge 2016 on goodreads. I feel good about it, and I'm excited about finishing my December books and getting ready for a new year of reading. It has been a lot of fun. It's like "Summer Reading" all year long.

44. Present Over Perfect by Shauna Niequist
Well, this deserved all of the rave reviews it got and has gotten. I think Niequist has figured out how to cross over into bestseller territory and it's official: this book will appeal to anyone.  She has a clear, poignant message for our time. This book made me read out loud to Stephen, it made me cry, and it may have changed my life.   I still absolutely love her other books, but this will have a broader appeal, certainly, and there is nothing wrong with that. #5/5stars

45. Be Frank With Me
This quirky, hilarious novel was absolutely precious and a delight to read.  It's a page-turner, but it is refreshingly different from many books I've read this year.  It's about an eccentric kid, an appealing nanny with an adorable perspective on life, and a handsome man name Xander who changes her life. ;)  The second half of the novel was not as good as the first half, plot-wise, but it was still fantastically written and would have inched up to my top picks of the year if it weren't for this. 4/5 stars

46. Surprised By Oxford by Carolyn Weber

If you're looking for a journey to Christianity through the eyes of intelligence, hope, and real faith, I think this book, although long, will go by quick for you. The references to famous places, and people, are deftly handled by an expert humility and deep passion for literature, Britain, and faith in the deepest sense. Read. 5/5 stars

47. Discernment by Henri Nouwen

This is an excellent journey of faith. It would be an absolutely perfect companion if you are trying to discern your vocation, God's will, and his voice speaking in your life. All handled adroitly by only the very best: Nouwen. Read. 5/5 stars

~Kids are Reading~

Molly is just like me- she always has about five books going at once. She is now becoming more like her Daddy, in that she keeps starting new ones and not finishing the ones she is in the middle of.  She doesn't have to finish books until her AR is due, as long as she does a certain amount of reading each day. I have to praise her and say that she is doing a wonderful job keeping up with her daily reading {time}  quota. (Just finish 'em, girl!) She *did* finish Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle this month. 

As for Frances... 

she is beyond prolific! She got a personal pan pizza for reading 20 books. Brag moment because I am a proud Mom-- the Mermaid Tales book was her first chapter book. She is just reading and reading. ;)


I thought this was funny... so many funny details. My favorite posts from Tiffany are always her stories!!! ;-)

I love this place: Austin, TX @ The Art of Simple
I hadn't read *anything* on this blog in years, but when this sprang up in my news feed on Twitter, I marked it as "to read." Finally read it this month, and guys, it may be one of Tsh's best in a long time! I learned so much about Austin. Having only road-tripped to Texas once (Dallas, Fort Worth area) I had a tiny idea of what it was like there, but this was sure illuminating~ ;-)

Did you know that Tolstoy,   and other authors, wrote children's stories? Learn all about it.

Donald Trump is Naked:@ A Knotted Life
An old-ish post but still relevant nevertheless and unfortunately ;)

16 Literary Puns Only Readers Will Understand @ Bustle {link credit: MMD fb page)
This is hilarious - if you are an English major, a reader, or simply a pun-lover (or pun-creator).


We've started watching The Crown and it *is* good. Prompted by the Sorta Awesome podcast.  My love for all things Brits and British royalty is rekindled, officially. Although watching the main character is like watching Kate Middleton with a boob job. #notnecessary #notgoodforyoursoul #leaveittoNetflixtosuckthesouloutofsomething Hmm... 
I love the community of the old Gilmore Girls, so I've watched it here and there in anticipation of the reunion (if you're living under a rock: the new episodes available on Netflix on Black Friday). No spoilers ahead, don't worry.;) Besides my favorites from the first season, my favorite episodes overall are with Rory's college boyfriend, Logan. I like the drama with Tall Dark and Handsome Marty! I also love where Luke and Lorelai are in their relationship (mid season 6) and Kirk just makes me laugh at that point. So. much. Suki is by far my favorite character.  Naturally I was excited about the resurrection on Netflix. 
Also we watched: The Nutcracker ....I prefer the Pacific Northwest Ballet version designed by Maurice Sendak.

Celebrating our 10th Anniversary on the River. My parents own this house on the river, and one thing I love about it is that it is completely screen-free. It is far enough out in the country that they don't get wi-fi, and they purposefully do not have a TV or computer there. #ADDfree
{{book picture: hers <-----his---->  }}

If you didn't hear, we are having another baby! Baby Beck #6 is due to show up around these parts around May 13th! :0)  It was a total shock, but we're really happy and excited. You can read the story of finding out here.  Stay tuned for a little gender roulette coming up on the blog. 

Also: If you read one post from my blog this past month, read: What's Coming: State of the Blog Address  ;-) In it, I talk about why I'm giving up instagram for Advent. I'm alllllll about Sabbath rest and I need the break from posting just as much (or more!) than I need a break from viewing. I'm looking forward to a peaceful season!

~Funny Things They Say~

Me: {Showing Anders the ultrasound picture} This is your little brother or little sister. We'll find out which one in about a month.
Anders: And I think we are going to find out in about five minutes.

Me: Frances, Mommy is going to have a baby! I have a baby in my tummy right now.
Frances: YAY!! Maybe it will be a boy! And then we can name him after a boy in my class!!!!
{She suggested Thomas, Atticus, and Ryder} #cryinglaughemoji

Molly: I called my teacher "Daddy." She didn't respond. Sometimes when I don't think, I just say, "Daddy!" lol

Me: Madeleine, Mommy has a baby in her tummy. What do you think about that?
Madeleine {listening} I can hear the baby breathing! {Feeling my tummy} And kicking!!!!
--cute--- (you can't quite feel the kicks this early, but her idea that she could hear it was pretty precious).


Still really enjoying Mipso. I've also discovered Mandolin Orange (think Alison Krauss meets First Aid Kid)- listen to "Hey Stranger." I'm also loving NONONO's song "Pumpin Blood" from the JF show. I was also reminded recently of that magical moment in Parenthood when Adam escapes the stress of life by sitting in his car listening to Ray Lamontagne, I think the song, "Are We Really Through," inspired me to listen to that again.

the difference between Obama and Trump ;-)

The difference between Hillary and Trump ;-)

this message brought to you by election failure ;-)

Just in case anyone is wondering about #;-)girl
Now I'm just glad it's actually Advent and I will see you on the flip side, guys! Chicas! All of you!
Linking up here and here

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Twenty-Some-Odd Quality Christmas and Advent Books to Own

Isn't overwhelming when trying to decide which books are worth owning when it comes to Christmas and Advent? How do you know what will be suited to your children's ages, and how can you be sure to have a conglomerate of age-appropriate material? I have been searching for only the best for my kids, and because of the library,  I'm keeping our collection down to a small, selected few. (Don't overdo it... because who wants to deal with taking care of that many books and things?!) I've tried to keep it from getting out of control in amount, and that collection is what I'm sharing with you here today.

Advent Books

This includes one "intro to Advent" and several books about the saints days that take place during the season of Advent.

The Advent Book by Jack and Kathy Stockman

This is our kids' introduction to the Advent season. It is like an Advent calendar within a book. Exquisite is really the only word that can describe this meticulously drawn companion to Advent. Like an Advent calendar, each page contains a door, which opens to another gorgeous, hand-painted illustration, with a Bible verse describing the scene. My daughter Molly loves this book and says, "I can't believe my eyes!" whenever we pull it out each Advent season.
a peek inside The Advent Book

The Legend of St. Nicholas by Demi

One of the beautiful things about celebrating Advent as a Catholic family is that we get to celebrate the Feast Days in full force. We own this book about St. Nicholas, and combining illustrations with writing, I think it is one of the best on the market right now.

St. Francis and the Nativity by Myrna A. Strasser

This is a sweet story that teaches children about St. Francis. I believe it is a fictional story about St. Francis organizing a nativity scene for children in his city in Italy. The illustrations are incredible and middle elementary students will enjoy reading this picture book aloud.

Lucia Saint of Light by Katherine Bolger Hyde

I absolutely adore this book, and I think it is one of the best out there. We set it out on the kitchen table on her Feast Day, and we have a special breakfast in commemoration.  This book is such a wonderful way to introduce this saint to your children!

Books About Santa Claus

I love the legend and tradition of Santa Claus. I think it adds to the culture in our home around Christmastime. I love the wonder and the magic of hanging stockings and making cookies for Santa, and what this magic brings to children's hearts. Plus, I think the fact that Santa is inspired by St. Nicholas confirms that it is a wonderful tradition that should be passed down. ha.

Jolly Old St. Nicholas

This is a classic book and it is one worth owning.  It has been passed down through the generations in the Beck family, and I value this one so much! The illustrations are just gorgeous. Fun fact/ bit of trivia about this book for you: the old copies have Santa holding a pipe. In the newer versions, (we have the newer one) the pipe has been edited out! LOL

Richard Scarry's Best Christmas Book Ever

I have always adored Richard Scarry, and this book is no exception.  He has a quirky way of presenting everything from letters and numbers, to people and cities and even Christmas traditions in such a funny, thorough, and completely unique way. Highly recommended!

The Night Before Christmas by Clement C. Moore

This is a must-have. The classic poem with so many famous and familiar lines should be part of your regular Christmas reading! I remember my own imagination being sparked as a child by many of the lines in this poem. Be picky about which version - there are so many well-illustrated copies out there (Let me know in the comments if you have a favorite!;)  I found this copy on amazon, illustrated by Tasha Tudor (yep! highly recommended!).

Santa's Snow Cat by Sue Stainton

Imagine if a white cat rode along with Santa on his sleigh? This will capture the imagination of your Pre-Schooler or Kindergartener, and it has lovely illustrations.

The Berenstain Bears Meet Santa Bear by Jan Berenstain

After reading and checking these books out from the library for almost nine years, I actually think the superior Berenstain Bears Book "out there" is The Berenstain Bear's Old Fashioned Christmas. Someday I think we will add it to our collection. For now, Santa Bear is a fun read-aloud for young and old- something I love about the Berenstain Bears. (And I admit I read these as a child growing up, so there is some nostalgia with these books as well!)

Books That Will Become Favorites (Too Good Not to Share/Buy, Some of My Favorites:0)

This is my list of our favorite Christmas books that we own. I think that when you get to the point where you read it enough times, it should be bought!  All of these fall into that category, in one way or another.

The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg

I just love this book about a train ride to the North Pole. It gives me chills every single time I read it. I think the movie isn't half bad either. (It has made it into our yearly rotation of Christmas movies!)

The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree by Gloria Houston

This is an appealing story about a girl who provides the tree for her Church Christmas pageant, and dresses as an angel while her father is off at war.;) It is a sweet story, with adorable illustrations.

Frosty the Snowman by Walter Rollins

Babies love this sing-along picture book, and the older kids will join along. Toddlers can "read" it along with you as they sing. I think that alone is a good reason to own a copy of this one! I also *love* that Frosty has a "jolly, happy soul." Anders has latched onto that phrase even at 3 years old. He gets it!

Holly & Ivy  by Rumer Godden

I love this author, and the illustrations for this sweet story are phenomenal. This book is a bit longer for a picture book, but if you break it up into a couple of nights, it would be a good read aloud for Kindergarten and middle Elementary age students. I think it grows with the child, as there is always something new about the story or pictures that I notice, each time I read it.

The Story of the Nutcracker Ballet by Deborah Hautzig

You've got to have a good rendition of this book on the shelf.  This version has a concise telling of the story within the ballet. A great introduction for young elementary-aged students.

Also try: the version by E.T.A. Hoffman, with Maurice Sendak's illustrations, pictured above.

Christmas Carols, illustrated by Noel Tennyson

I love having an illustrated book of Christmas Carols. When you feel like singing, pull out a picture book like this! It will establish good traditions and good memories in your home!

Books That Tell The True Story of Christmas

The Christmas Story

This book is selections straight from scripture, combined with gorgeous paintings depicting the stories, taken from The Metropolitan Museum of Art (The Met to NY natives). I highly recommend adding this to your collection.

The True Story of Christmas by Nell Navilius

This book is great for younger children, as it has recaps of the Bible stories in short, concise sentences on every page. The hand-drawn illustrations are lovely to boot.

Christmas ABC Book

This might be a good choice for toddlers, or people just learning their letters. ;)  I enjoy reading this to my little ones, because it concisely tells the true story and meaning of Christmas.

Lift the Flap Nativity by Allia Zobel Nolan

This book is perfect for babies - ask me how I know? Experience, the best teacher! ha. They are never too young to hear the true story and meaning behind all that we do at Christmastime!;)

The True Night Before Christmas by Timothy Penland

This is a fun book, as it is written by a grown-up, but illustrated by a child. Highly recommended for explaining the true story of Christmas with rhyming stanzas and cleverly, child-illustrated.

The Shepherd's  Christmas Story by Dandi Daley Mackall

This story is better for middle-grade readers. It's a little longer and it will hold their attention without being too simplistic, short, or boring.

What Child is This?

This would be a good choice for babies or toddlers, and all of my kids enjoy listening to this read-aloud.

Tomie DePaola Christmas

Joy to the World: Christmas Stories and Songs by Tomie dePaola

Tomie dePaola has written over 200 picture books for children, so his Christmas books aren't the only thing he is famous for. However, his style, beautiful illustrations, and infusion of other cultures and Catholic traditions, I would assert makes him one of the best Children's authors of children's - and Christmas stories - living today.

This book is definitely one worth owning. Every time Stephen or I read one of his stories to our children, we debate back and forth over that being our favorite. Then we read another one again, and we think- no, that one is our favorite! They're all that good!

Pictured below, the contents of this book, a collection of stories and songs: (They all have a special place in my heart, but you've got to read The Night of Las Posadas- it will take your breath away).

The Legend of the Poinsettia by Tomie dePaola

As you can see, we have some overlap with our Christmas collection.  This is a sweet story, so having an individual copy ensures we read it more often. There's nothing wrong with that;)

Jingle the Christmas Clown by Tomie dePaola

Not included in the collection, I think this one is my favorite. LOL. Really though, I love how he infuses a bit of magic (or, ahem, miracles) into each story. This is no exception. The thought of a child dressing up himself and his animals to portray a Christmas circus for the elderly in an almost-abandoned town in Italy is simple and so sweet.

Just For Fun

Sometimes the holidays call for a slice of pumpkin pie, and these books fall into the dessert variety of books. They may get the boot if we replace them all with Jan Brett classics, but for now, they're fun to have on the shelf. ;)

I Spy~ Merry Christmas by Jean Marzollo

These are good for bigger kids, waiting ever-so-patiently for Christmas to arrive. I mean I know my kids just sit for hours looking at these. Ok, maybe not on Christmas Eve, but, you never know. LOL

The Christmas Blizzard by Helen Ketteman

I think I got this at a used bookstore, and it is a cute little story of a blizzard that comes right on Christmas in Seattle (where our cousins live!)

Little Critter's Christmas Book by Mercer Mayer

You may have strong feelings about the Little Critter books, but this one is definitely cute and I'm glad we own it. I enjoy reading it to our kids. The family celebrates the season as fully as possible.

The Animals's Christmas Eve by Gale Wiersum

This is a cute, simplistic story and it was given to our kids by grandparents. I'm sure it was inexpensive and it's a cute read-aloud for littles.

Christmas Fun For Kids~ Stories, Crafts, Songs, and More by Jane Jerrard

This is exactly what it says! The illustrations are decent, but the crafts and recipes are definitely worth buying a book like this.

Ideals Christmas

Did you know they still make this? It is in its 72nd year!!!! Holy cow. My Mom always had these old magazines lying around at Christmas, and for older kids, these are so fun to flip through. I'm really not sure if you'd have to turn to eBay or an old used bookstore to find the vintage copies, but they're a lot of fun for generating that "Courier and Ives" feeling of a classic Christmas.

Can You See What I See~ Toyland Express by Walter Wick

This book is more than an I Spy book, as it also has riddles! ;)

Corduroy's Christmas Surprise by Don Freeman

Corduroy is a classic, and this Christmas rendition is a cute read aloud. It captivates the youngest children and would be an easy first-reader for Kindergarteners.

Merry Christmas- From Biscuit by Alyssa Satin Capucilli

I was reluctant to get on the "Biscuit" bandwagon, but they are appealing to babies, I will give you that. I still remember thinking how silly I felt saying "Woof-Woof" on every page to Molly when she was just a baby, but I've read it to all of her younger siblings since, and all the babies love puppies and so they love this book!  Although I admit, it kinda makes me think of Kevin in Home Alone... "Buzz... your girlfriend... Woof!"

If you're interested, just search the titles on Amazon. I'm not sure all of them are available there since some of these books came from Used Bookstores. But! I know I'm leaving off some good ones. What are your favorite read-alouds at this time of year? Let me know in the comments.

Linking up with Tuesday Talk

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

What's Coming ~ State of the Blog Address

I don't know about you, but I for one am just so glad the election is over. So much endless checking of articles in my newsfeed, even though I did take a whole weekend off from the 'net just after the election result came in. :0) ;-) #ADDfrommyTwitterfeed ---> In any case, I know we are all ready to start thinking about what's next: holidays, Advent, and Christmas!

For various reasons, I felt that now would be a good time for a little State of the Blog Address.  If you've been reading and following my blog, you may remember that I took several weeks off in October, and that I'm also expecting a baby come mid-May (so you can probably put two and two together now! ;) During that break, I had a lot of time to think about where I'm going with this blog, what my purposes here are, and all of that. Rather than ruminate in my head about it, I thought I would just go ahead and share with you, readers, where this blog is going in the near future. I'm really excited and proud of my past work from past years, on this blog, and what all of that has taught me, and how all of that is tying together. It's fun. :0)

~ Advent Week-by-Week

This is returning to the blog for the second (or is it third? I think it is third) year running.  It can be difficult to strategize for the weeks leading up to Christmas. Do you ever feel like the most you do to celebrate Advent is watch Christmas movies, bake cookies, and perhaps listen to a few Advent carols?  I felt that way at one point. It was frustrating, because I knew that Advent wasn't technically "Christmas season," and yet, I didn't know how to truly celebrate it without going to the American traditions passed down to me (and Stephen!) by our parents.

This year, I hope to guide you - my readers- week-by-week, as my family celebrates and observes Advent. Come here, and let's talk about what makes Advent different- and special- as opposed to celebrating Christmas all December long.  We'll define it, we'll remember our Catholic traditions for Advent, and yes we make cheat a tiny bit. We do put up our Christmas tree and sometimes we even  listen to a single Christmas carol. Or two. In Advent. (No!!! ;)

~ Advent Books

We have quite a collection of holiday-themed books. As I have searched on Pinterest, I've found there is a decided lack of posts dedicated to Quality Advent and Christmas books.  There are plenty that will tell you to read secular Christmas books or Christmas according to Pete the Cat, but I'll just go ahead and poo poo that right this minute to get it out of the way! ;) I hope to remedy that lack of great posts, with a post of my favorite read-clouds for Advent and Christmas. I'll share what we've collected, what we found worth buying, and why.

~ Meditation: Why Mary Was the Most Important Person at the Nativity (Next to Jesus)

Last year, I punctuated my Advent post series by doing a little "spiritual" meditation in each post. They ended up being short and somewhat simplistic, and so I've decided not to add those meditations to the posts this year. Instead, I hope to beef up the actual posts, telling you what we *actually* did for Advent, and I'll instead put all of my Advent reflections into one, more tightly written post. My faith is everything for me at this time of year. I think that's why I love Christmas so much, and why I've dedicated such a big part of my blog to Advent preparations. I've already decided on the theme for that post, and it will be about Mary, and her role as the most important person at the Nativity. Next to baby Jesus, of course. :0)  Yes. I'm getting Catholic on you here. ;)

~ My End-of-the-Year Recap of all the books I read this year, with awards!

As you know, I love to discuss all things books and reading here on this blog;) My tagline is Where Faith + Family Meets Books + Coffee, and I do indeed love to read and discuss books here! I can't describe to you how beneficial my reading habit has been for my soul these last couple of years. Since my conversion I have become a changed thinker, reader, and soul-searcher. This will be the post that articulates the what, why and how of all of those books. I will be commending the best books I read with some little awards here on the ol' blog. ha.

~ Advent Unplugged re: instagram

Finally, in addition to taking a break from the blog for Thanksgiving (+weekend), I will also be off Instagram for the month of December. I need to carve out some space during Advent, so that I can be present and focus on the season. My heart needs a rest from posting, and viewing! haha ;)

Thanks for reading! Do you have any articles that I should read concerning Advent (or the "war on Advent"?) Let me know in the comments, I am all ears.;)  Now- everybody go rest up and have a fantastic, wonderful, awesome, and AMAZING... THANKSGIVING! :0) ;)
Linking up with Tuesday Talk

Friday, November 18, 2016

Pregnancy Recap in 7QT~ The Art and Science

Have you talked to someone (anyone) recently who has been pregnant six times? If not, then pull up a chair next to me, so we can talk about the art and science of being pregnant, (cough cough) again.


Suffering from fatigue, nausea, and just general weariness? Eat a banana and then eat another one. Yep, eat two in a row. Drink gallons of water. When you feel sick, do these two things plus drink juice and eat a bowl of cereal. Or two. Have raisins and prunes or other dried fruit on hand, for those times when you can't stomach a banana. If all else fails, sling back two heaping spoonfuls of applesauce and go to bed. Keep all of this in mind and it should help your morning sickness *and* your terrible attitude tremendously.


You will cry about anything and everything. Normal, kind people will appear rude and unworthy to grace your presence. You will have weird personal space attacks when someone sits too close to you or right in front of you in Mass. You will call your husband, crying. You will say, "I'm super hungry and tired and I don't feel like doing anything. I finished my book, what should I do now that I have a babysitter?" This is normal. You will end up going grocery shopping. And then you will eat three more bananas and a gallon of water.


You will look and feel bloated 99.9% of the time. Try not to think about self; think about how you're doing this for baby and it will all be worth it in the end. Even if you feel ugly. All the time. Even if the pants you really like, couldn't wait to pull out for winter, and didn't expect to wear while pregnant this season just. do. not. fit. I'm sure we all have something we could change about our bodies. When you're pregnant you just roll with. it. all. The end.


When you go the doctor, they will start scheduling your appointments like every other day. After having a midwife, this is culture shock. Take your pre-natals, get lots of sleep, take naps whenever you can squish them in.  If this baby is your sixth and you have had experience with endless doctor visits and midwives (and you know the difference), just try to put off that first appointment for a couple more weeks. If you feel healthy, accidentally schedule them an extra week apart. You will need the wiggle room. You know exactly what they're going to say every single time. A midwife will be super hands-off and laid back. The doctor will be the extreme opposite. Bear this in mind.

Disclaimer: this is *only* if you feel healthy and have no weird warning signs about your health or energy levels!!


You will let your kids have extra screen time. Like, let's-just-turn-on-another-one during your First Trimester. (I think I'll call it First Trim(e)?). You will nod off. You will sneak upstairs to your bed. You will feel extremely guilty about it!!! Because of all the things you have done, like art camp and tea parties and homemade dinners you will not care if people judge you for it!!! (Ok, ok a little bit- you'll get a babysitter for some of these moments!). Music and audiobooks for kids come in handy in the car, though. Now if only your kids would sit still for these things so that you can take a nap.  Nope. A movie afternoon it is... night night. Did I mention that we have been having forest fires in our area as a result of no rain? This means it is smoky outside and we have been told not to play outdoors because of poor air quality. And did I mention that in Tennessee, it is as dry as a bone?!


You will ponder pulling over to the side of the road to take a cat nap. Like when you're only driving the short amount of time between home and school. You'll think about putting your head on the steering wheel at each and every stoplight. This comes to a head after a doctor's appointment in which the nurse took (a lot of) your blood. This would have been manageable with two bananas and water, but your daughter can't find her leotard and you drive to the store to buy her a new one. You don't have your purse. In a stupor, you drive home and ransack the house for 20 minutes, unable to find leotard but you do have your purse. You drive back to the store, kids in tow, to buy her another leotard, this time with your purse. You think of how nice it would be to have a blanket and a pillow in the driver's seat with you in case you ever decide to pull over.

You seriously contemplate these lyrics (from this song) every single time you drive:

"Hearing your voice in the blue light,
calming people in the house,
traveling upstairs -
good to be there
now, right now

Oh, I'm near to sleeping, I'm keeping awake.
Oh, I'm near to sleeping, I'm keeping awake,

hearing your voice in the house, in the house,
hearing your voice in the house

Under those trees we will all be
sitting, blankets down.
It's tomorrow, yes it is.

My room is held in someone's arms,
my bed is held in someone's arms.
I am-I'm held now

In the house,
in the heart of paper vines,
Junie runs into her room
next to mine, Dancing.
And we are all in for the night.
Talking is coming,
is coming up over the stairs."
(-the innocence mission from the amazing album "Glow")


You will have super-power / super-Mom moments where you actually get so much done, you think pregnancy is the reason and inspiration for this "new you." You'll look around and think: I have no idea where that little burst of energy came from, but I will take it because I am a hero(!!!) And then the slump will come back-- reminding you that you are, indeed growing a little human inside you. This lasts until you start buying ten tons of fresh fruit and vegetables and ingesting them like there's no tomorrow. (This is called Second Trimester).  Early bedtimes are not above reproach, and let's admit once and for all that that's where the super powers are coming from!;-)


adding my link to Kelly!

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Happy... {an announcement}

Sooooooonic... ok... you eat strange things when you're expecting...


Fair Warning!  If you don’t like vocabulary related to femininity, you can click away or just skip this one for now!;)

My anxiety was fairly high that night. I had just finished listening to an epic Jennifer Fulwiler show on podcast, where she helped Hallie Lord announce the start of her new radio show, and the release of her book, On the Other Side of Fear.

I had been really, really emotional the week before. Like: crying every single day for a week. Fighting and crying non-stop to Stephen. Calling friends I hadn't talked to in weeks sobbing, telling them to pray for me because I didn't know why I was so tired, why Stephen and I couldn't stop fighting, and why I couldn't get any housework done. (Go figure).

I had had pasta for dinner, but the thought of it started to bother me.  I was a little worried, because I was a little late in starting my scheduled period, but I kept having nausea and saying to myself, "False alarm."

I had gotten so much done that weekend. In two days, I had mopped, vacuumed the entire house, and done about fifteen loads of laundry- AND I put it away.  I thought I was exhausted, so when I couldn't fall asleep because of my "gas," I got up and ordered a copy of Hallie's book.

Then I went outside and threw up. Twice.

We had a plan. No babies for at least three years. No. babies.  Because I was so done with all that, right ("Haha," God laughed).

Then I paced the inside, going back and forth in my head until I knew that this nervous feeling wasn't the panic attacks that had become semi-regularly (Bi-monthly or so). This was something different and I was just hoping it was good different.

"Ok, I just threw up outside twice, " I said to myself. "If that doesn't say 'your typical, oh-so-typical, stereotypical Catholic mother of five children... " then I don't know what it does say.  I could just imagine our neighbors looking outside and saying, "I just looked out my window and saw her throw-up, twice... I wonder what that could mean...LOL..."

And with the dawning light exploding in my brain, I ran to the store praying, "Please let it be the pasta."  I bought Pedialyte and a pregnancy test, and drank the Pedialyte all the way home to combat my nausea. Then, within ten minutes I knew.

Yep, I'm pregnant.

This baby will be 21 months younger than Annabel. {Insert not enough of a break sigh here}. Two years apart in school.

I went up to our bedroom, pacing, trying to decide whether or not to wake Stephen. When I told him, he smiled. He sat up, or sort of rolled over, Smiled at me. "Maybe it's another boy," he said. I said, "I know. I'm just so scared. I'm in shock. This wasn't our plan."
He said, "We've done it five times before.... it will be ok."

 I tried to settle into bed, my relief of having shared the news settling and my anxiety dissipating. It felt like a nervous weight had definitely been lifted... even though Stephen and I were the only ones in the world who knew (and who would know for quite a while). His reassurance, that "We've done this before- in fact, five times before," was so reassuring. When you are open to life, miracles await you around every corner. Every single dang corner.

As I was drifting off to sleep, he nudged me and said, "Now I can't sleep."  At that, I got up, went to the bathroom, and threw up two more times.

The next morning, I felt totally fine.  And as the verse says, "Sorrow may last for a night, but joy comes in the morning." All the night before, I just kept thinking about how sick I felt and how awful this was. I was worried about another human to care for. But mostly just worried about the gestating part where I get uncomfortable and large. lol I was feeling very, very, very sorry for myself. I kept repeating, "I can't do this for nine months."

But in the morning, I calculated and realized I had already done 6 weeks of pregnancy. (I am now 15 weeks.) How did I do that? I wondered. I thought about Stephen smiling in bed next to me. Smiling and smiling. We both couldn't stop smiling.  I thought about a sixth baby. A baby. Sweetness.

I felt this sudden rush and this was my thought: who cares how many there are? (Yes, that's what I thought, even though you are now probably picturing flies on their noses). God will provide if we need more space, a new car. God will provide and gosh,  it's a baby. A sweet, precious baby. I think when we had just one baby, and we weren't Catholic, we used to say, "What if we didn't believe in birth control?..."   How out- of- control our lives would be!" And now, I think, "What if we *did* believe in birth control?" Most of our little one and this baby wouldn't be here at all. Our yes to God confirms that no baby is an accident.

Every child is a gift, created intentionally by God, at the perfect time. Yes, we believe that. Yes, it can be hard, but yes to this. Yes to this.

Whatever will be will be... we're blessed and God provides and the rest is horse cr*p.



My peace I leave you, my peace I give you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.

And so the middle of May... probably the 13th. I'm now almost 15 weeks and in my Second Trimester. Yay! We're pregnant. (again) Time to celebrate by drinking my thousandth La Croix this week. ;)

...and happy thanksgiving. ;-)

Linking up with Tuesday Talk