Thursday, December 31, 2015

Reflection for a New Year: And Looking Back at 2015

I wrote a Reflection for the New Year, (last year), and I wanted to do it again this year.  Once again, I have a print out for you, so you can get these questions and hold them in your hand, spend some time with a paper and a journal, and really hash these things out!!!!  I also spent some time corralling some really, really good stuff on a new Pinterest board for you: New Year, New You/Me. Check it out! For real, guys I'm really excited about it, so go check out that link! :-)

Voila! Happy Reflecting. Enjoy.  (And now, you get a sneak peek at my answers...)

1. What was your biggest accomplishment this year?

My biggest accomplishments were having a fifth baby, writing an e-book, walking a bunch, and keeping up with my personal reading goals~ in particular, to read 50 books this year.

2. What was your biggest regret?

My biggest regrets were that my kids spent not enough time outdoors, the yard work I did (or lack thereof), the sewing I did (or lack thereof), and the yoga I did (or lack thereof!).

3. What was your biggest obstacle to good health?

My biggest obstacle to good health in 2015 was definitely sugary snacks. Cookies, pretzel m&m’s, and sugary cereal and the like were a huge stumbling block, you guys. Also, the occasional Coca-Cola!  The almighty drive-thru got a few too many visits, as well. Still trying to get the baby weight off. :-(  Not healthy were the times when I let all of my deep thoughts gather dust, and didn’t make time for journalling and reflecting on the areas of life that need and beg for reflection.

4. What was the healthiest thing you did?

The healthiest thing I did, physically speaking, this past year, was to get the juicer back out. We started using it consistently in October, and it was so good for us! Need to do that again, 2016! I had a lot of time with extended family this year, among my favorite moments was… having my sister in town this summer! Hurrah!

It is always good to be with family, and one of the better moments with my in-laws was going to their house after Stephen’s grandma had a heart attack and open heart surgery.  We all had barbecue and chatted, catching up after such a rough week, especially for his parents and Aunt and Uncle, who were in town at that time.

5. What was the hardest thing you did?

The hardest thing I did was stick to a walking routine after Annabel was born. I made the decision to go for a walk after cleaning up dinner every single night. I only missed a few nights, on weekends usually.  I started by going a mile, walking, then built up to 2 miles of walking/jogging.  I feel so much stronger, and more importantly, I feel like it has immensely improved my mood during the day. After that, dealing with toddlers and their teeth, was certainly one of the hardest things about the past year. And finally, I feel very proud of writing honestly about depression. Also, I think I can honestly say that having a little extra caffeine in the afternoon was really helpful for getting through the first few months with Annabel, although she is admittedly a very good baby... just because I was so tired!

Keeping off the internet after 10am was the hardest but best habit for me to have built. Having Annabel took a lot out of me, in terms of time and energy.  There was so much to do to get ready for her birth- making freezer meals, last minute shopping for that new boppy cover, nursing jammies for me, downloading books to read, on top of school starting for Molly and Frances, bringing down the winter clothes, laundry, and planning activities for the little kiddos.

6. What are your New Year's Resolutions?

I aim to:
~Treat everyone with fairness and kindness
~Listen to more podcasts
~Listen to more music, and particularly, more albums in their entirety
~Pick out some really, really good books to read
~Stay consistent with walking

7. What was your favorite movie this past year?

I am super duper picky about movies. I don't go see a movie in the theatre unless I'm serious about it.
In college, I became a huge Charlie Brown (the musical) fan/buff. Only because I was in it, in college!
:-D When the movie came out, Molly and I were like: We are there. Opening night. Boom. And it was really so good!

As for movie rentals, Far From the Madding Crowd was really excellent, with beautiful cinematography. ;)
walking into Tomorrowland

The entrance of Hollywood Studios

8. What was the most fun or creative thing you did as a family?

We went hiking several times and those were always really fun times.  Playing out at the park, getting hot chocolate, and attending the Christmas Program and other school events probably top the list this year! Driving to Texas for Easter tops the list for sure. But, I have to say, the most sparkly moment of the year was experiencing Disney with the family in June! I will always remember walking up to the entrance of the park and seeing their eyes getting as big as saucers at the sights to see! Taking in the rides, the princesses, and the food, and seeing it all through their eyes, was worth every penny!  We stayed at a Disney resort, and their little minds just couldn't even absorb it all. We'll have to go back in a few years.

9. What was your favorite book?

Oh my gosh. So hard to pick!!!! I loved- absolutely loved rereading Little House on the Prairie in December. And if you know the book, you know- perfect timing!  But overall, this whole year? Goodness, it would have to be one of the biographies I read. They were just so enlightening. So if I had to pick, I'd narrow it down to Einstein or Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln. (so much longness, huge huge huge. but worth it!)

10. What was the best thing you ate this past year?

I had a very delicious dinner on a date night with Stephen~ a dish called Gringo enchiladas and Mexican street corn at one of our favorite restaurants, Taco Mamacita. Second place goes to Two Ten Jack and their disappearing addictive brussel sprouts. (SO Good!)

11.  What album did you listen to most this past year?

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty soundtrack.  (I need new music, you guys!)

12. What was the most expensive thing you bought this year?

An experience at Disney World for ourselves and our three girlies.
A baby (Paying for hospital was mostly covered by our insurance, but there was still a hefty out-of-pocket fee when you look at the big picture of the hospital + all the doctor visits, combined).

10. What are you most proud of?

I am the most proud of my kids, how well they can talk at such a young age, my birth with Annabel, the fact that I have been consistent with most things as they are prioritized accordingly.  And I have to mention again,when talking about what I am most proud of, because yes- it was something I had to make space in my schedule for- my E-Book!

11. What do you want to do better or differently in 2016?

I don't want watered-down faith. I want to live for Jesus.... nothing else.
I also really need to improve on clutter and disorganization in 2016.
There is so much more (See next question).

12. How can you improve your job, marriage and finances this upcoming year?

As for my writing, I need to hone my writing skills as always, keep consistency in my writing time budget and reach-out, as well as marketing my blog and e-book.

As for marriage, I think the best thing for our relationships has been my decision to start counseling. I don't dump on him like I used to anymore. We still talk and talk, about practically everything. But while before, if we had a hard conversation, he would say, "Write it down," to stop the flow of conversation and get me to reflect, now, he can say, "Talk to your counselor about this."

I think we could also use some more dates.  Our communication could always use some improvement.  And I think if I could keep the house cleaner and less cluttered, with five kids 8 and under, our marriage would have much less strain. (I’m doing pretty well, considering, but I could always do better and be more consistent).  One potentially hopeful thought is that Anders started potty training around the beginning of November, so hopefully with less diaper changes on the horizon, I can be a bit better about my cleaning routine and getting kids to help keep things in order!

As for finances, we’re in good shape, because God is good, and he has blessings abundantly for those who put their faith in him! I know for a fact that worrying about finances is not a first world problem, because we are in a blessed situation here in the US no matter your income! But yeah. Anyway, I can be more consistent about meal planning with a budget in mind. Also, tithing well and teaching my children to tithe and follow in this example.

13. What is ONE way that you can make your life better (what's missing in your life)?

Ok, I can't pick just one. Travel, and a sparkling clean kitchen everyday. (ha)  Going to confession regularly, Praying and Adoration, and attending Daily Mass as much as I can.

14. Who is your saint for the year?

Last year, my saint for the year was St. Bonaventure. This year, it is St. Anton Martin Slomsek. He was an author and poet of the late 19th century.  Find your's here!

15. What are Your Three Favorite Posts of the Year:

St. Catherine and St. Therese~ Two Saints Who Help Our Children Embrace the Passion of Catholicism

Q &A And My E-Book Cover Reveal

I Finished the Flannery O'Connor Biography, And It Is Definitely Worth Your Time

16. One word for 2016:
my word for 2016 is Marvel.

Thanks for reading... if you made it through to the end, you're officially awesome!
Linking up with Like Mother, Like Daughter

Monday, December 28, 2015

What Converting is *Really* Like

The year 2015 is almost over. For some reason, it seemed like a good time to talk about Conversion again.  And so....I've done a bit of thinking and reflecting on our conversion in Easter 2011. We've officially been Catholic- since Stephen and I did RCIA and all of it together- for four and a half years. So here ya go, friends...  some thoughts I've come away with from a stroll down reflection lane.

It’s hard to describe to onlookers and friends what converting to Catholicism is *really* like.  I remember praying for spiritual confirmation/confidence a few weeks before converting, and I ran into a woman on the way into Mass who said, "I'm praying for you! With the intercession of St. Therese!" and I marveled to myself, that I had just finished her autobiography, which had made such a deep impression. Was it a coincidence? I think no. It was, rather, an answer to prayer and Divine intervention. To convert from Protestantism to Catholicism as an adult takes courage and wit. ;)  Seriously though, you can’t really attach words to the feeling of making a decision that huge. All of the butterflies, the break-down-crying episodes, the rift between family members, the lightning bolt hitting you from a huge, dark sky. Or should I call it a sunbeam, shining down on all of your dark places?

There are a bunch of really good conversion stories out there.  But none of them sit you down like a person in a sitting chair by the fire, handing you a cup of hot tea and saying: LISTEN. This is what it is REALLY LIKE.   It sucks. IT IS SO FREAKING HARD.

Imagine that you are sitting in my somewhat cramped living room, pulling up to a nice cuppa chai, and imagine me saying: There are three things you need to know.

Number one: It is Terrifying.
Number two: It is So Freaking Overwhelming.
Number three: {All the feels on this one, because} it is so very, very Ignorance-Confronting.

So yeah.  It is scary. No, in fact, it is really terrifying. That’s how it feels.  It is not just a little scary, it's more like I'm lost in space, and I have no tools for how and what to do next. If you are even remotely considering becoming Catholic, you’re going to need not just a little, but lots of reassurance.  If you play around with the idea, remember that there will be not just a little but lots  of spiritual warfare.* You need to not only make some Catholic friends, but you need to do a lot of reading (whatever speaks to you, but be sure it is from the correct- Catholic- standpoint).  And really, making friends who are Catholic speaks volumes of your faith taking on a new direction. Reading Catholic blogs, etc. just isn’t going to cut it.

Second, you need to know that converting is oh so very overwhelming- so much to learn and so much to let go of.  The culture of Catholicism- have no doubt- is very beautiful.  But it’s very, very different from being Protestant. At first, it feels almost extremely strange. At the same time you’re appreciating the incense and the lit candles, you’re terrified that the chanting is Satanic or at the very least, off-base. (It’s not).  Slowly and over time, you get used to the liturgy, and the Psalmody, and the Scripture and Gospel reading, and it starts making all the sense. But in the mean time, you’re wondering: Nice music, but where’s the spirit-felt prayer?  Nice processional, but where’s the 10 point sermon?  But over time, not only does the liturgy start to make sense, your eyes start to open, and you start to love it.

Finally, you’ve got to you're able to confront your ignorance, if not also your sin. This is a big part of shedding doubt and darkness. If you spent some time at a Catholic mass before converting, this point might not be for you. (And yes, that was an equivocation... no shame). I was in the camp of I’m-a-hard-core-Protestant, and not only that, but I was a defend-Presbyterianism-till-I-die type (maybe I still am that defensive INFP type, heh...).  But I felt so, so behind as I was being catechized, that my eyes would so often glaze over, and my emotional thoughts would run to the hypocrisy of the various teachers in my RCIA class. I was so blind, my friends. Looking at Jesus (AKA my RCIA teachers), all I could see were their issues, their problems, their blindspots..  If only back then, I would have known…

“Jesus, Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world…”

(Including mine)

In order to truly judge Catholicism, you have to judge it from the inside, not the outside. Once you experience First Communion, particularly as an adult, EVERYTHING CHANGES. Not just a little. EVERYTHING CHANGES. A LOT. Because of a more intimate communion with Christ our Lord and Savior, you change, your words change, your thoughts change. You experience the world with more light, more life, and more loving humility.  However, those things are inward. Never in my first years of being Catholic, did my fellow Catholics give me two ounces of flattery.  That was so hard for me. Flattery, my friends… that is not the same thing as love. But to Protestants, Catholicism may seem unkind, or forced, or even fierce. It is fierce- with Mary, and the Saints- like a consuming fire, fierce… but it is also Love. For example, the once strange Rosary is now a discipline I embrace gladly. And so those feelings of ignorance slowly but surely washed away (and they are still being washed away).

As my children become catechized, I’m frustrated. I honestly, honestly feel so behind compared with my friends who were cradle Catholics, or catechized a long, long time ago. The Montessori approach has not come easily. Rather, it tests my patience daily. It is hard- so hard- as we hear and see our family’s reactions. There are boundaries, a need to keep from “rocking the boat,” and real, true feelings that spring up every once in a while and surprise all of us, me included. I am - in fact- shocked at some of the things I’ve said and some of the things that have made me downright irate. "How could someone misjudge the Church so completely?" Honestly, I just wish they understood.  All flattery aside, I am afraid they are living in darkness, because they haven't experienced their First Communion (and every Communion after that!). As I make friends, feel behind, and see myself slowly catching up, I know that I’m staggering as I do it.

I really don't know what else to do. And so I try to write honestly. I try not to be scared. I try not to be overwhelmed. I try not to be ignorant, any more. Here’s to lightning bolts of understanding, and making the way easier for the weary to embrace truth. *clinks glasses*

*I’ll have to address spiritual warfare more in another post. Suffice it to say, I had nervous feelings on the drive to every single RCIA class. I had the same *Feelings* at every Mass I attended as a non-Catholic. I felt like my understanding of Catholicism (which was just about nil) did me no favors, at that point in time. If I had the knowledge and peace that I have right now, it would have been easy.

I close with a quote I heard sometime in college. The pastor of my then-church said these words. I can now say they apply to my life so well. They were sealed in my memory; I can never forget these words. He is a very profound person, by the way! Like other pastors, he has a gift and an intellect that I highly respect.

By the way... I'm open to any questions you may have. Leave them here for me in the comments, or email me~!
linking up with Tuesday Talk @ Waltzing in Beauty

Friday, December 25, 2015

Merry Christmas! And the Winner of the Giveaway Was....?!

Have yourself a merry little Christmas
Let your heart be light
From now on, our troubles will be out of sight
Have yourself a merry little Christmas
Make the Yuletide gay
From now on, our troubles will be miles away
Here we are as in olden days
Happy golden days of yore
Faithful friends who are dear to us
Gather near to us once more
Through the years we all will be together
If the fates allow
So hang a shining star upon the highest bough
And have yourself a merry little Christmas now
Through the years we all will be together
If the fates allow
So hang a shining star upon the highest bough
And have yourself a merry little Christmas now

The winner of the giveaway was... {randomly selected}... Jennifer Hoots!

who said on Week 3's post:

Beautiful post. My children used to love to make salt dough anytime I was willing to let them. My daughter also used to dress up at St. Lucia and give us rolls. Aw such sweet times! Thank you for the play list.
Jennifer- Please email me your address, and I'll get the giveaway prize pack in the mail for you! See my about page for more information.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Advent Week by Week: Week 4 ~ Merry Christmas!

Week Four: Welcome back for the last installment of my Advent Week-by-Week series, installment #4.  So, as I said last week, we got our pictures made for our annual Christmas card. As usual, they turned out really nice, and Sabrina Stanford did an awesome job.

I couldn't pick just one, because there were several that I thought should have gone out to our family and friends.


I love the lighting in this one!

I think this one might be my favorite.

I love some of the smiles in this one... and the magnolia trees in the background!

I ended up going with the first two for our Christmas card. Half of the cards were the first picture, and half were the second. I ordered one of the last picture for myself, for posterity's sake (and to frame)! And all of them are on my new updated About Page.

Christmas program ~ (Siiiigh, makes me want a real camera... alas.) Molly and Frances sang in their annual school Christmas program this year. They did so well! Frances sang "Christmastime is Here" from the Peanuts classic. Molly sang "Rudolph," and she danced across the stage as the reindeer "Dancer." So cute!

We went to see lights two different nights. We did a drive-thru light show and Rock City. I think you could say our Christmas events/experiences for fulfilling all of our annual traditions definitely satisfied the full quota! ;)

And guess what? Yep, yep. I made you one last {pretty} playlist. This is called "My Christmas," because it's what I want to listen to on my headphones as I work on the computer, walk around the block, or cook by myself in the kitchen.  It's the music that's not for my kiddos, or my husband... it's just for me and my ears, and it makes me sooooo happy!!  (And if you've never heard "Hard Candy Christmas" by Dolly Parton, you're missing out, big time. Just sayin.' She's really underrated in our times, I think. She really has a certain style you can't deny, and has contributed to the Southern culture in ways we won't see for a long, long time.;)

If you listen to one song, you should try "Lumberjack Christmas"!

Driving to see lights~ We drove to see the lights at Camp Jordan. They blinked in sync with a radio station. It was fabulous. We had hot chocolate afterwards.

The readings for this week included the verses from Psalm 121: I rejoiced when they said to me: 'Let us go to God's house!' And then it says some of my favorite lines from the Bible: 'I lift my eyes to the hills. Where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, maker of Heaven and Earth. The Lord is my keeper, the Lord is the shade on my right hand. The sun shall not hurt me by day, nor the moon by night.' 

Take a few minutes to ask yourself: Do you rejoice to go to God's house? Are you a Christian, or a Do-Gooder? Are you a true Christ-follower, or a Follow-your-own-way Hypocrite?  Here are a couple of questions to get your juices flowing, in order to answer the questions most accurately:

1. Do you have the love, joy, peace.... of the Holy Spirit during this season, or a stressful I-can't-spend-any-more-money-or-I'll-scream attitude?

2. Do you go to church on Christ-mass Sunday because of what it would look like if you didn't, or because of a longing in your heart to participate?

3. Do you give out of obligation, or duty? Do you give cheerfully and willingly, with excitement? Or do you grumble as your hands shake with frustration or stress?

4. Where is your heart? Are you a Scrooge, a Grinch, a Shepherd, or a Wiseman?

5. Take a deep breath. What is the first thing that pops into your mind? Your frantic to-do list, a cocktail, a garland on your to-buy list, Christmas decor....? Or a peace that passes understanding?

Those are just a few questions to make you think.

What do we mean when we say "Jesus is born!"?  It means, if you have the Spirit of the living God in your home, you have received the best dang Christmas present anyone has ever, ever received.
That's what it means.
With excitement, we welcome Christ into our hearts!

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.

Christmas Eve~ We're going to the 5:30 mass at our church tonight.  Then we'll have dinner with my family and brunch and opening presents at home and with more family, tomorrow!

Christmas Day~ Check back tomorrow to find out the winner of the giveaway!!!!

This was the final installment, so thanks for sticking around for my Advent Week by Week series. This is your last change to enter the giveaway, so comment away. Question: How much do you generally spend on Christmas, all told?  Also, if you want, take just a minute to add me to your feed reader of choice, or follow me on one of my social media channels, so that you don't miss a post! Links to the right. -->

Prizes for Advent Feature!
And the winner of my giveaway was: COME BACK TOMORROW to find out!  Send me your email address at and I will put that in the mail for you!!!

Don't forget- I'm also throwing in a free PDF of my e-book!

Linking up with Like Mother, Like Daughter and 7QT

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Monthly Recap vol. 28 ~ December 2015

Well, I've already given you a pretty thorough recap of our month, so:  See these posts if you need to catch up.

Advent Week One

Advent Week Four...coming soon. ;)


I updated my book post for the year. I finished my 50 books goal by reading two more books for December, and they were... {drumroll}...

The Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder (reread)
I couldn't believe how much I forgot since 5th grade! ;) I was especially surprised at her treatment of "Indians." The gratefulness, self-sufficiency, and frugality was just as inspiring to me as a grown-up as it was once upon a time. And I just love this one in particular, from the series, because of the stories about Christmas. So it was great timing to read it in December! I read it on our way to the Biltmore and back. ;)

and a really, really great way to end the year, was reading...
Father Sergius (short story/novella) and other stories/selections from this book by Leo Tolstoy, which I highly, highly recommend having in your home library.

Tolstoy's stories are really so readable.  The Death of Ivan Illych, in particular, will really fill you with the fear of God.  You'll ponder, love, death, marriage, and spirituality. Tolstoy easily makes the ignorant self-aware, and the silly, worldly, and self-conscious among us, he puts right back in our/their humble place! Like reading Shakespeare (his sonnets, especially, are gorgeous) or Dante, I truly could feel the presence of God as I read The Death of Ivan Illych.

I also really want to read The Faithful Departed, so I might just order it and read it before 2016. ;)

I didn't do too much watching, but we saw quite a number of Christmas films over our children's shoulder (I was usually writing or cleaning during those).  I always love and will recommend until I'm blue in the face "Emmett Otters Jug Band Christmas," a Jim Henson film. Stephen and I watched the "Bill Murray Christmas Special," and we were DYING laughing when the movie goes from Miley Cyrus performing "Silent Night," to George Clooney singing 'Santa Claus Wants Some Lovin'.'  There were just enough comical contrasts like that to make me think it was really, legitimately funny... just not long enough for me. I love Music Specials where every five minutes there's a new song that starts up. I wish there were more specials like this.  And I loved the cast.  Again, I just wish it had simply been a bit longer. (And I wish Amy Grant's old Christmas specials would just show up on Netflix!)

Other things of note...

Anders got his first real (good) haircut.

Annabel is the sweetest, dearest gift in the world.

Reading Online...

All of my links are worth sticking around for. Take a couple of extra minutes and read these: (And don't forget to look at the interesting memes I saved for you down at the bottom!)

This is the Advent Tradition You've Been Looking For @ Dappled Things

Do Muslims and Christians Worship the Same God? College Suspends Professor Who Said Yes @ Washington Post

How Real Men Beat Lust {Guest Post} @ Mama Needs Coffee

Christmas Tour of Homes 2015 @ Sometimes Martha Always Mary {Loved this!}

Left to right: Han Solo, Darth Vader, Chewbacca, Princess Leia, Luke Skywalker, R2-D2

I think I also saw this meme as saying, "Unfriend you I will." 
hahaha! ;)

Dec. 17!

I think I heard he corrected "formula" and changed it to breast pumps! ;)


See how many details you can spot.
Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year! :-)

Linking up with Tuesday Talk

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Advent Week by Week: Week 3 ~ Our Lady of Guadalupe, Santa Lucia, and Hot Chocolate

Salt dough ornaments, recipe via

This past week was busy and full.  I truly love being Catholic, and being able to celebrate all of the special feast days in addition to simply lighting the Advent candles and singing the Advent songs that I sang growing up!  God is good!  You guys, I can't believe Christmas is only a week away! (Squee!) I hope I'm ready!  This Advent has flown for me... I don't know about you?!

The Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe~  On Saturday, I made a Mexican feast, and we made salt dough ornaments for decorating our Christmas tree, as a family activity.  It was a lot of fun. 
Salt dough ornaments are so easy. Simply stir together 2 c. flour, 1 c. salt, and 1 c. water. (add flour if too sticky, water if too dry).  Shape with your hands, or using Christmas cookie cutters. Bake in a 250 degree oven for 2-3 hours, or until dry and solid.  Paint with acrylic paint. (More detailed instructions available here).
For our feast, we had meat and cheese quesadillas to eat, and meaty nachos with avocado, diced roma tomatoes, and sour cream.   Then Stephen served his homemade pumpkin bread for dessert! It was a wonderful meal (so much better than fast food!), and it was good chance to discuss the miracle of Our Lady of Guadalupe with our kids... link credit: Like Mother, Like Daughter.

The Feast of Santa Lucia~ For the feast of St. Lucy, we celebrated by creating the same type of Advent crown/St. Lucy wreath that I made last year, out of Ivy and Rosemary.

Simply gather an ivy vine and some longish sprigs of rosemary. Use twine, some kind of sturdy string, or pipe cleaners to gather the greenery together. Use either pipe cleaners or a twist-tie (like from a loaf of bread) to add birthday candles. Make sure they are very sturdy, and that they are attached very well before lighting the candles! :-)  Just as I did growing up, Molly brought us yummy cinnamon rolls on a platter, we discussed the history of St. Lucy, and we listened to the Swedish version of the song, "Santa Lucia." So beautiful!

Gaudete Sunday~ The third week of Advent is always Gaudete Sunday, which means: Rejoice!  I made this Famous Sweet Potato + Bacon Hash. So. good!  We had mac and cheese and strips of bacon for sides... because, toddlers. ;-)
Bacon = Great rejoicing in our house! {Happy!}

Addressing Christmas cards... such a fun yearly tradition!

image via

Hot Cocoa~  Another fun Christmas tradition is to mix up something special and give away to neighbors and friends. For me, my childhood was blessed with the opportunity to give to others Spiced Tea and Homemade Granola.

I always helped deliver it with my Mom, and in High School, my Mom let me drive around solo, delivering it to our local friends.  I always loved that tradition! ;-) My children and I made Candy Cane Hot Cocoa this year. I used this recipe, based off of this one.

Finally, we had our Christmas Pictures made!

So, my toddler was listening to a show on Netflix recently, and the main character sang, "I know there is something else out there, that will fill this hole inside..." and I thought: Yes. That's what this Advent has been about for me! It is about realizing that the Love, Joy, and Peace of Jesus coming as a baby to earth is enough.  Yes, it is fun to gather the things we need to celebrate each season and feast and holiday. Yes, it is fun to shop for my kids. I anticipate eagerly the feast of our Lord on Christ-Mass.  I look forward with joy- as I'm sure everyone does, especially parents (!!!)- to seeing their faces light up with the magic of the experience. Christmas morning holds more than just a little sweetness in all of our hearts, I'm sure. 

But if your Christmas is bitter for some reason, if you feel a hole inside, or if you have that sinking feeling on Christmas morning that "I know there is something else out there..." remember this: 
Come, Holy Spirit, live in us
With God the Father and the Son,
And grant us your abundant grace
To sanctify and make us one.
May mind and tongue made strong in love
Your praise throughout the world proclaim,
And may that love within our hearts
Set fire to others with its flame.
Most bless├Ęd Trinity of love,
For whom the heart of man was made,
To you be praise in timeless song,
And everlasting homage paid.
-from Universalis (this past Monday's Terce reading)

Like taming a wild horse, I have to constantly bring my mind back from wanting, wondering, and needing. The best way to do this is to remember the joy of this season, and the love I feel from just resting in that.
Another wonderful prayer to remember at this time!

And some Sacred Christmas music for you this time... check out my playlist below. I'm so excited about what I picked out. Truly, truly {pretty}! 

You guys, I'm so glad I'm doing this! It is keeping me more sane, and definitely more organized, for sure! Thank YOU for being awesome readers.

Don't forget to enter the giveaway: HERE! :-D 
Answer me this: Did you do anything to commemorate the Catholic Feast Days during Advent so far this year?
Adding my link to Like Mother, Like Daughter, and This Ain't the Lyceum

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Let's Talk About Hypocrisy For a Minute

The other day, Stephen and I were on a date. It was one day last week, to be precise.  We were talking about lots of things, but as we drove into the parking lot of "Drink Smart Liquor," late at night, we started talking a little bit about Catholic Theology, a little about marriage, a little about hypocrisy, and the like. I'm not sure what got us started on the Theology bit, I just remember it was a big part of our conversation. (It might have been because recently I mentioned that I remembered on our first date, he was telling me he was about to teach a Sunday School class (to his whole Orthodox Presbyterian church, by the way} on St. Augustine.)

As luck would have it, I didn’t have my wallet, so I could not run in, leaving Stephen and our newborn (almost) baby in the car, to buy some wine, as we had originally intended.  That wouldn't work. No wallet, no drinkie.

Instead, I ran in, looked around, came back out to the car, and told Stephen what I thought looked good: a bottle of Concord Grape Kosher wine made by the Jewish community. The bottle said explicitly: not for Passover. The nerdy geek in me just was so fascinated by this beautiful bottle. The irony of running in and out was that, this particular liquor store was huge, so the chances of him finding what he needed were slim to none.  So, he just ran in, found his favorite drink of choice lately- a delicious bottle of rum, and popped back out. ;)

As luck would have it- again... it was a very lucky night-  he also ran into his friend John, who he actually used to be roommates with, (so a very good friend), who made this comical statement: "Are you here to drown your sorrows like we are, because you just saw the movie Spotlight?"  No, Stephen admitted. He was just on a date with his wife... no big.

We drove off and talked a bit about what we’d heard of the movie, mortal sin, and other interesting topics like rum and appetizers.

By the time we got home, my mind was addled and befuddled. I had so much to think about. My arrogance was flat at best, my spirits simultaneously lifted and disheartened from all we had done and seen and from all the interesting conversations of the night.  Just. so. much. to think about.

This stuff is spicy, folks, so like all good meals… this one is….

to be continued…

*Some names and details have been changed.
Adding my link to Tuesday Talk

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Advent Week by Week: Week 2~ Breakfast With Santa, Cookies, and St. Nicholas Day!

First, before any other ado: if you read the comments here or on Facebook, you know that there was some question about Advent, and whether or not it is okay to go ahead do Christmasy stuff (and Santa) in December. To answer that, please read this post by Jennifer Fulwiler.  I'm sad that I feel like I have to start this post with a disclaimer that those solemn, penances of Adventish misers don't suit us, but I don't want anyone getting the wrong idea from my Advent Week-by-Week series. In it, she explains why she is going to continue with the traditions her parents did; like Santa. She explains why: So she doesn't have to rethink every last little jot and tittle of what her kids and her family will do and celebrate each and every year. So that some things can stay the same: Just like we've always done, just as our parents did.

In our home, we will celebrate Advent as a preparation for Christmas. Yes, Christmas isn't here yet... but we're not going to be solemn. We're also going to listen to St. Peter's Choir sing Christmas Carols, and some of the other great music out there while we munch on gingerbread cookies, because... well, that's what Stephen and I have always done. That's how we grew up. Maybe that doesn't sound important. But we are Americans. I suspect some of you out there reading this grew up this way, too. December = Christmas parties, events, traditions, celebrations! ;)

Why do we celebrate Advent? Ultimately because it is part of the church year. If you think about it, if you are fully celebrating Advent correctly, you must do it in context.  You can't have a proper Advent without Lent. But then, you can't understand Lent at all, if you do not celebrate Easter. And if you don't believe Jesus really rose from the dead, what is the point of the year, and what is the point of "pretending" to do any of this at all- Advent, Lent, Easter, Christmas?  If you do not have the waiting and penitence of Lent, you can't have the fulfillment of joy and celebration of the Eastertide.  If you do not have the anticipation of Advent, Christmas just isn't the same. Because that's the calendar: That's how our Church Fathers meant it to be.

I'm not sure what the church year means to those ignorant of the calendar. But I do know from personal experience that Advent is a wonderful thing to do with children. And having an Advent wreath to light with children is a beautiful, beautiful thing. Reflecting, doing devotions, and singing "O Come, O Come..." as a family as we light candles could also be helpful. But one of our favorite family songs when I was growing up was called, "Christmastime's a comin," and surely that was our attitude! But also, Advent in an American context = inevitably means, Christmas celebration! But maybe the joke's on us: that "partridge in a pear tree" mindset makes for a whole lot of presents! And just FYI, Christmas lasts until Epiphany. Candlemas is in February, see here, see here!

Sleepers, wake! Let's figure out why we're doing any of this at all in the first place! We are meant to show our children a counter-cultural approach: but that's not the penance of Lent.  It is, however, that it isn't about getting. It isn't about greed. Gifts have no place in our Advent. Advent is about the wonder we feel in our hearts, meditating on Jesus born as a baby, and expressing that through giving to one another on Christmas Day!

If we lived in another part of the world, we might have a Siesta in the afternoon of each and everyday, and we would also give all of our gifts on the Feast of Three Kings (Epiphany) instead of Christmas! But we are Americans- Stephen and I. So we'll talk up Santa and give gifts on Christmas, and we will enJOY the spirit of THIS season, as much as we can without compromising the Advent season!

In the spirit of having Joy during this time... Here are some fun American tunes to get your juices flowing! :) ;)  This is technically my "Secular Christmas" playlist, but it is still full of fun!  I truly believe it can't hurt to bring the spirit of Christmas into your home, even if it is still Advent, simply because- as I said before- it's the American way. ;) And please don't judge- give the Beyonce song in this list a chance. (Normally I wouldn't include something with a cover like that, to those of you out there who would not let their kids listen to such an album.) :-0 !

Breakfast With Santa~ Molly and Frances are now both students at OLPH. I volunteer for this fun event and fundraiser every year! They had even more fun activities and crafts this year! Frances saw a bunch of her friends from Pre-K and even had a little round of hide-and-seek with one of her friends in the gym.... So cute!
The food was great, as usual, and it was so fun and memorable to have another sibling come along to this event with us this year! We had pancakes, sausage casserole, potato casserole, scrambled eggs, apples, candy canes, grapes, and hot chocolate, with coffee for me.

This is the professional shot that we had done.

This is the one I snapped with my iPhone. Frances was too shy to tell Santa what she wanted for Christmas!

St. Nicholas Day~ I set the table with decor from the Dollar Store, and their new book, St. Nicholas by Demi. The kids had hot chocolate in their new little mugs, while waiting for their real breakfast...

I made these cranberry scones, and Stephen cooked some scrambled eggs and poured orange juice.
I think this could make a very fun new tradition. ;)

We also made star cookies. I think next year, we will do this in honor of the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. Perhaps we could do white frosting next time. This year, we made the frosting orange with orange juice and natural food coloring.

We made a play-doh St. Lucia crown, a la Bonnie's idea.
The big kids wrote letters to Santa, and used this tutorial to make heart envelopes to put the letters in.

a hymn from the readings on Universalis from this past week...

The Advent of our God 
  With eager prayers we greet
And singing haste up on the road
  His glorious gift to meet...

In the past, even here on this blog, I have criticized American culture for the greed I see here. However, today, I'm here to focus in on something I think the spirit of the holidays here in our culture gets right: in celebrating Santa (AKA St. Nicholas), we have captured something unique to this season and also to our culture: This spirit of Generosity over Greed. Why do children sit atop Santa's knee at the Mall or at other events? Is it to fill their little hearts with an insatiable need for stuff? Is it to make little Grinches out of our sweet, innocent kiddos? Why do families tell the legend of Santa to their children, and read "Twas the Night Before Christmas," about a jolly old elf laying a finger aside of his cherry nose ....then, "up the chimney he rose."  Is it to trick them? No!

Santa and St. Nicholas- jolly elf or real patron saint of children, whatever your persuasion- sets the example as a fun thing that represents to children the parents' desire to bless them, to give them good gifts, and to help them know the spirit of giving for Jesus' birthday.  It is universal that some figure comes in the night to bless children secretly. Our children- I hope, from reading a bunch of books- understand that St. Nick and Santa are interchangeable. Someday, the children will be old enough to give gifts, as well- if they don't already! ;) To go deeper, St. Nicholas- from Lycea (modern day Turkey) was the patron saint of not only children, but seafarers and sailors, merchants, brewers, and so much more. (He is the patron of more causes than any. other. saint!) He really lived during the 4th century! This is an opportunity to tell them about a real person, who can enrich and  inspire their spiritual lives!
Stephen snapped this picture of The Basilica of St. Lawrence in Asheville, NC this past weekend. We were visiting the city to see The Biltmore Estate decorated for Christmas.

Late have I loved Thee, O Lord; and behold,
Thou wast within and I without, and there I sought Thee.
Thou was with me when I was not with Thee.
Thou didst call, and cry, and burst my deafness.
Thou didst gleam, and glow, and dispell my blindness.
Thou didst touch me, and I burned for Thy peace.
For Thyself Thou hast made us,
And restless our hearts until in Thee they find their ease.
Late have I loved Thee, Thou Beauty ever old and ever new.
(St. Augustine)

Does our desire for a happy Advent in our home mean that the new Evangelization of Catholic culture sweeping our ignorance away is bad? To celebrate the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, (coming up December 12- Saturday!) when you've never done it before (raises hand!), is quite a lovely opportunity. And the encouragement we find in the blogosphere to find creative ways to celebrate the Feast of St. Lucy (Santa Lucia to us Swedes!)  is a beautiful thing! And we hope to do just that in this upcoming week! This is a season of giving. Generosity.  We remember in our hearts those who suffered during their lifetimes- St. Nicholas, St. Lucy, and more-  who point to the birth of the Baby Jesus, this ultimate picture of generosity- the ultimate Gift!

If even you are late to the game (as St. Augustine felt he was), you can still celebrate Advent correctly. Look at the magic around you and the beauty ({pretty}). Who are we to take away that spirit from our children by polluting it with self-righteousness? The season of Advent technically is not penitential. It is supposed to be a time of joyful expectation. With the memories in our hearts, and the smells and delicious tastes of the season, let's make it real. And let's make it real for our kids, too. ;)

The giveaway is still open! I will keep it open one more week, then announce the winner on Christmas Day here on the blog.  If you already left a comment, each comment will count for one entry in the giveaway so feel free to comment again!
To enter the giveaway, (which includes a delicious smelling honeysuckle candle from Anthropologie, chocolate espresso bean truffles, a Christmas ornament, two Christmas towels, and a Santa drink coaster), tell me: What is your favorite holiday tradition? Did you celebrate and observe Advent growing up? (raises hand)