Listen to God's voice at the foot of the crucifix." ~St. Gaspar del Bufaro~

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

The REAL Night Before Christmas

Our 35 year-old Nativity set (hand-painted by my very talented Mother-in law). One of my favorite treasures!

*Just found this little story that we are reading tonight in great expectation…Had to share!*

The Real Night Before Christmas
By: Sister St. Thomas

Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the town,
St. Joseph was searching, walking up roads and down;
Our Lady was waiting, so meek and so mild,
While Joseph was seeking a place for the Child;

The children were nestled, each snug in their beds,
The grown-ups wouldn't bother, there's no room they said;
When even the innkeeper sent them away,
Joseph was wondering, where they would stay;

He thought of the caves in the side of the hills,
Lets go there said Mary, it's silent and still;
The moon on the breast of the new fallen snow,
Made pathways of light for their tired feet to go;

And there in a cave, in a cradle of hay,
Our Savior was born on that first Christmas Day!
The Father was watching in heaven above,
He sent for His angels, His couriers of love;

More rapid than eagles God's bright angels came;
Rejoicing and eager as each heard his name;
Come Power, Come Cherubs, Come Virtues, Come Raphael,
Come Thrones and Dominions, come Michael and Gabriel;

Now fly to the Earth, where My poor people live,
Announce the glad tiding My Son comes to give;
The Shepherds were watching their flocks on this night,
And saw in the heavens an unearthly light;

The Angels assured them, they'd nothing to fear,
It's Christmas they said, the Savior is here!
They hastened to find Him, and stood at the door,
Till Mary invited them in to adore;

He was swaddled in bands from His head to His feet,
Never did the Shepherds see a baby so sweet!
He spoke not a word, but the shepherds all knew,
He was telling them secrets and blessing them too;

Then softly they left Him, The Babe in the hay,
And rejoiced with great joy on that first Christmas Day;
Mary heard them exclaim as they walked up the hill,
Glory to God in the Highest, Peace to men of good will!

Merry Christ-mas from our house to yours!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Advent and Celebrating Mary~Ideas to Share!

This was our Immaculate Conception treat after morning Mass…Not exactly fancy or original!  Over the years, I have heard of other families treating themselves to white powdered donuts (or other white food) on this feast day to remind them of Mary's purity from the moment of her conception.  Most importantly for us, it's always a great discussion as inevitably there's a child or two who has forgotten that big word and what it means!  

I love the special Advent Masses…True peace of the season:)  Today Fr. M. reminded us in his homily that God chose Mary to model the relationship with Christ that we should all strive for…Complete trust and love.  Through her intercession she is always there to help us get better at this.  Leading us to the manger is what she does best.  Advent is such a wonderful time to reflect on all of this!
It is my greatest desire to be close to the manger and help my kids do the same.  I can only imagine this feeling magnified a million times for Mary…Her desire to bring all of her children close to the manger must be enough to make her Immaculate Heart swell.

  This is year is special for our family because it marks about the 10th year since we've started celebrating the Advent feast days in the home.  I've enjoyed each year so very much!  As I look back, I have fond memories of introducing new traditions, prayers, stories, and activities.  I've come to realize that it's the simple things that really matter.   For me and our family it boils down to simple... Otherwise I would never do anything at all.  After all, the manger was simple, wasn't it? No matter what we do, it's the priority of thought and prayer that counts.  There is just too much to do this time of year not to keep things simple, at least at my house.  I have learned that with one simple step at a time, we can bring new meaning to our lives and our homes.  Most importantly, this looks differently for each of us as we move forward on our individual journeys. What a blessing to share this with one another as we are families on the journey together!

I close my eyes and try to remember that like the Holy Family's journey to Bethlehem, Mary brought God into the world with simple and steady steps.  We can do the same…One small step at a time.  

That being said, the two Advent Marian feast days are my absolute favorites…The Immaculate Conception and Our Lady of Guadalupe.  No matter what else is going on, we stop what we are doing and make these days a priority.  I've also come to realize that we never regret making these special days a priority.

We put out a few visual reminders for the feast day…a couple are crafts from days gone by:)  
{Candle links below}
Out of all of the books about Our Lady of Guadalupe, these are my 2 favorites.  In the beginning, I learned right a long with my kids by reading faith-filled story books!
This is a new one I bought this year and it quickly made it to my "favorite" list:)
We will definitely be eating Mexican food this week!
 This year I also had a "lightbulb" ornament idea that I wanted to try…Well, let's just say that it looked a lot cuter in my head.  It didn't exactly turn out how I envisioned but it was a worthy try.!?!
It's just a lightbulb painted with acrylic paint and a gold sharpie.
My oldest daughter is finally at an age to be a wonderful helper and she is patient with my ideas:)
Mary, Mother of God AND Mother to us all, never ceases to fill my heart and soul with wonder…She beckons me to quiet myself and be filled with a simple message...the miracle of her baby…A baby that she delivered to deliver us all.
+Gentle woman, please lead us to the manger.+

Mantle Lantern link (Our Lady of Guadalupe and Immaculate Conception)

Our Lady of Guadalupe Candle Craft

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Prepare Him Room, Not Rejection

Advent is here again…Another chance to prepare!
On the outside, most Christians prepare their homes for Christmas (the birth of Christ), while being keenly aware that we are also preparing for His promise to come again.

On the inside, we are preparing our hearts, often the most difficult thing to do on an ongoing basis, let alone this time of year.

This Thanksgiving, our whole family had the honor of serving the needy in our community.  Each year, this event serves over 1,000 homeless, elderly shut-ins and less fortunate citizens.  I can't express in words, the heart warming experience this was.  
A few of our American Heritage Girls served the event and were honored to do so!  

As I helped an elderly lady to a table, who was feeling lonely with no family, my heart connected with her rejection.  I felt her pain and it humbled me to the deepest caverns of my soul.

We have all felt rejection at one time in our lives, haven't we?
If you think about it, we see it all around us every day…

How easy is it to reject someone even via social media?  (Facebook, blogging, etc) 

It hurts to be rejected, not only by those we love and care about,  but from those we thought to be friends and acquaintances around us.  I think rejection is one of the most painful things to experience on an emotional level…
Maybe we get ignored,
Maybe we try to be friends with someone, only to be shut down.
Maybe someone doesn't accept our apology;
Maybe we aren't liked;
Maybe someone else gets chosen instead of us;
Maybe we aren't the favorite;
Maybe we are judged.
Maybe we are the rejectors on the other end of some of these...
Maybe we cause our own rejection, and
Maybe we are rejected for no apparent reason at all.
I've been reflecting on this rejection as we move into Advent.
I think rejecting and rejection takes up a lot of room in the dark corners of our souls.

I'm reminded of Mary's rejection as she was shunned by her neighbors and friends when she was discovered to be pregnant out of wedlock.  Even though she was known for her pious,  kind, and gentle nature, it all went down the tubes when she was discovered to be with child...Son of God or not, she was rejected.

How can we begin to overcome the small rejections, let alone the big ones?  Mary bore hers so patiently…If only I had an ounce of her courage!

I know for sure, the answers lie in the past…From the manger to a selfless Cross;
They certainly lie in the present…Through the sacrifice on the Altar;
But they also lie in the skin…Through Us, created in His image and likeness, to love one another as He loved us. The answers lie in the questions we ask ourselves…

How can I open my heart, this Advent?
How can I open my eyes to search for someone who might need a smile?  
How can I open my hands with a cup for a thirsty soul?  
How can I open my ears to hear someone crying for help?
How can I prepare Him Room, Not Rejection?

A novice master once responded when asked about a life lived in Christian authenticity, that "to be a Christian was not to know the answers but to begin to live in the part of the self where the question is born…"

Whew, that's a good thing with all the questions I have going on in my head! 

Ultimately, we learn that when we set ourselves aside, like Mary did, God's light takes over.  Please, dear Mother, help me move over, this Advent and beyond!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Exciting News of Thanksgiving

Did this title spark attention?
No, I'm not pregnant...I guess my news isn't that exciting!*wink*
So, let's talk about the weather...
The weather has been downright gorgeous around here!  As I mentioned in a previous post, Fall has finally arrived in Northern California.
I'd much rather stay outside all day more than anywhere else right now:)
This pretty little river lies just North of our town and it's simply breathtaking this time of year.  We head over to see the Salmon spawning every mid-November.  For those who don't know, Salmon return from the ocean, up the river to their place of birth to lay their eggs before they die.  Yes, they travel upstream for many miles.  It's amazing! New salmon life emerges and the cycle starts all over again.  It's always a great science lesson for all of us:)
We can actually see the very large salmon this close!  Grandma and Grandpa went a long this year.
 Grandpa loves to be the teacher of skipping stones:)
This was one of those precious, thankful moments, for sure!  Time together with family is a real treasure that I appreciate more and more with each passing year. 

...And speaking of thankful…I am feeling incredibly blessed to be going on a pilgrimage very soon….To Rome!
That's my exciting news! Can you believe it? I have never been to Rome (Or any part of Italy, for that matter) and I'm just beyond excited!
Giddy, really:)
The exciting part of this whole thing is that it wasn't even a thought or a plan. It was one of those opportunities that presented itself at just the right time…A God-thing for sure.
  To be honest, we don't have the money for traveling of any sorts right now.  Ironically, our oldest son is just finishing his UD Rome Semester and it took a lot out of us to get him there, scholarship and all.  Many people asked if we'd go visit Rome while he was there and the answer was always: "Nope, can't afford it!"  We were just grateful that he had such an amazing opportunity through his university.

  So, the funny thing is that my husband and I had just been chatting about my love of travel and dream to "someday" visit the many holy places of our faith, not to mention Rome!  Since I started homeschooling 10 years ago, I have loved reading and learning about the lives of the saints.  It fascinates me to think about visiting their real life homes and countries.   I also have this (kind of silly) desire to someday be a Catholic pilgrimage tour guide:)  But I still have so much more to learn!   Dream, dream, dream...We can dream, right?

The very next day after this conversation, the Rome pilgrimage trip was announced at church!  Thenjust 2 days after that, we were given a very unexpected monetary gift. My husband insisted that it was meant-to-be that I go!  To make matters even better, one of my dearest friends, Kim had a similar experience and we quickly became instant travel companions.  The whole thing is just incredibly exciting for both of us!
Our only sadness lies with the fact that we had both hoped and dreamed of going to Rome with our husbands.  For now, that isn't in the cards for either of us with young children at home...  

 These are 7 of the 8 kids between us and both Firefighter Dads are well-equipped to take on the challenge. I'm sure there will be some fun going on while we're gone! (At least we hope so:) 
It's all happening the end of January and that will be here before we know it!
To say that I'm feeling Thankful is an understatement…Grateful beyond words, is more like it:)

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Thankful Gifts To Share

I love to remember special people at Thanksgiving if I can pull of a little something extra. 
This is a short little post to share 2 of my favorite ideas.

My favorite gift to share with friends, family, pastors, teachers, etc., are these mini pumpkin loafs.  We made these last year and they turned out so yummy and cute with free printable tags.  You can get everything (recipe and tags) over at The Larson Lingo.

We added chocolate chips to a few of ours…yum:)
And we eventually found the mini loaf pans that came with plastic lids…Much easier and better presentation (than foil) for the cute tags!
My second favorite gift that we've given over the years is a Blessing Mix.  Organized Christmas has a fun recipe and printable poem that gives a description of each item in the mix as symbols of Thanksgiving.  It's been awhile since we made these so I think we'll make a few of this year! They are so simple, festive and sweet:)


Sunday, November 17, 2013

Advent For Dummies

*The title of this post is not meant to be insulting.  It's more of a "lessons learned" or HDYDI (How Do You Do It) post for people like me who had a hard time grappling with making Advent work in the family* 
We always have a late Fall here in California and it usually lasts through November.  It's beautiful weather but it sure makes it hard (mentally) to think about Advent when the sun is shining and the leaves are still drifting.  It just looks more like Thanksgiving, not Christmas!  The commercial stores sure don't help out with all of the Christmas stimulus in full swing:(
Our backyard
Yet, I've come to learn that I need to start thinking and planning ahead for our family Advent to be meaningful.  Each year, I desire more and more that Advent be simple, spiritual, and enjoyable, not just for my family but for me as well. As much as I try to simplify each year, there is still a lot to do when preparing for Christmas, hence stress creeps in on Mama!   Ultimately, if there's one thing I have learned, it's that planning ahead is worth every minute of invested time, even if Thanksgiving isn't here yet. These are a few things I wish someone would have suggested as I was introducing more faith-based Advent activities to our family. I definitely could have used an Advent for Dummies post!

1. Start a Christmas club savings account.  
This has been one of our best decisions.  It forces encourages us to save a little bit of money each month that we can't touch until November 1st. At least for our income level, we could never afford to do much of anything if we didn't plan ahead.  Within this allowance, we are able to afford special Advent spiritual reading (like the Magnificat Companions), extra feast day celebrations, and even printer cartridges for all of the fun online Advent printing options. These are all additional costs that add up on top of Christmas cards, gifts and adopting children in need from our Parish Giving Tree, etc, etc.  Saving ahead has truly paid off for us!

2. Keep a Binder with lists that help for planning each feast day.  
My binder includes a grocery list of special items that I like to use in our celebrating.  I always think I'm going to remember but I never do! Each year I have to review my list. This year, Lacy from Catholic Icing came up with an awesome Advent Planner, ebook.  I am looking forward so excited to print and review my copy. I haven't looked at it but I'm sure it's going to be good! (Post will follow about that soon:)  My binder also includes sheet protectors where I keep printed coloring pages and other items ready to go.
Jen from Forever For Always No Matter What is also offering a free printable planning sheet right now. Thank you, Jen:)
3.  Mark your calendar ahead of time with the special feast days that you'd like to celebrate.  
Since our Christmas money is available on November 1st, I push myself to start my planning then.  I know it sounds silly but having a "start day" for your planning is often half the battle.  I start with Christ the King (the Sunday right before Advent) and go from there. Each year that goes by, it gets easier and easier to do. Whether it's St. Nicholas Day or the Immaculate Conception, inevitably something will interfere if you haven't marked it down!  Making these significant days a priority takes effort.  To this day, I still love the printable calendars from Catholic Culture…They just work for me! I use them for information and to post for reference.  (I also include a page for each feast day that we want to celebrate in my binder/notebook that includes my list of items and websites needed to do that).

4.  Pick the feast days and celebrations that fit best for your family.  
Let's face it, most of us can't do it all.  Depending on our family sizes, situations, and ages, we put a lot of extra pressure on ourselves to do too many things.  Personally, I think it's best to pick a few things and do them well.  We can always add something new another year.  For example, it took me many years to make the Jesse Tree come alive in our home and I have yet to get past our paper ornaments! I am also finding that my family is changing so I must adapt a long with them.  Sadly, not everyone likes to color anymore and my olders need different spiritual expression.  Last year, I posted about some of our Advent traditions that have evolved over the years, not over night, and adaptions still to come!
5. Get Christmas cards done early.
If you send out cards every year, it can be an extra stress. i.e.) Getting "just the right" family photo, choosing a card, getting them all addressed and out the door.  In the last 3 years, I have set a goal to have all of my cards done, stamped and addressed, ready to go, before Thanksgiving.  It took all 3 years to make it happen and this year I finally did it!  Done.  They are stacked and ready for whenever I decide to drop them in the December mail...Oh, it feels sooooo good! Having the money from the Christmas account sure helps get this accomplished as well:)   For that matter, I try every year to do get gift shopping done early as well.  I've yet to master this task but I keep trying.

6. Get ourselves in spiritual order.
It's so much easier for me to quiet myself when I have frequented the Sacraments…(Ahem) Most specifically, Reconciliation.  Clearing the slate and being in a better state of grace works wonders.  Not to mention keeping prayer and the Eucharist (Mass and Adoration) as priorities...We owe this to our families.  These things don't make the world go away but they sure help me cope a whole let better with the world!  I love this quote:
"Peace:  It does not mean to be in a place where there is not noise, trouble or hard work.  It means to be there in the midst of these things and still be calm in your heart."~Unknown

7. Lastly, be flexible…Things don't always go as planned!
With all of this talk of planning, this is probably my biggest "note to self."  We all know that things don't always go according to plan.  It is my hope that by reminding myself of this, maybe I won't be so disappointed when things don't work out how I had hoped.  Things happen, whether it be financial difficulty, illness, new baby, or other. When this happens it's important not to look over at anyone else's paper, so to speak.  Don't beat yourself up because your house doesn't look like somebody else's.  My friend, Ann Marie, once said this about homeschooling and it's so wise:)  God has the ultimate plan, not us. 
In today's homily, Father M. reminded us all to live each day well and we will be prepared.  By our perseverance, our lives will be secure according to the Gospel. (Lk 21:5-19)  His bottom line was that we shouldn't fret over things that don't go our way or that we don't have control of.  God's got that covered and He gives us the grace to live for today.  We should not be people of gloom and doom but people of hope.  
What a wonderful message as we prepare our hearts and homes for Advent!

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Hope For All Souls

It's that time of year again when the souls of the faithful departed come forefront to our prayers.  Though we pray all throughout the year, the feast of All Souls is an ever-present reminder that we are not of this world and there is life to be hoped for in the next.  As Catholics, we pray that we will not only be reunited with all of our loved ones who've gone before us but also that they make a swift passage, safely home, to rest in peace. {I'm certainly no theologian so more information can be found here and here.}
One of the reasons I first started blogging a few years ago was to share hope after a tragic loss.  At the time, it felt like a calling since writing has always been a therapeutic and spiritual outlet for me.  By sharing hope, I mean living through tough things, even the worst things imaginable and still have a song in your heart, still knowing that God works all things for our greater good. 

I'm not saying that it easily translates to every action.  In fact, sometimes the song in my heart sure doesn't sound very good on the outside at all…I get discouraged and I fail miserably on a daily basis. Yet even when I fall short in bearing wrongs patiently, the song keeps playing.  It's there now, like never before.  It keeps me moving forward, knowing for certain that there's life beyond my trials.  
Hope waits for all of us...
For me, Hope has never been a fluffy white cloud that's easy to reach out and grab ahold of...  Sometimes a Hallmark greeting card might make it seem this way…Like it might be handed to you on a silver platter. Wrong.
The thing is, a song of hope rises directly out of suffering.  I see it as a gift... Not like a gift you open with pretty wrapping paper but a gift like being pulled from a fire. 

Ultimately, hope is a sacrificial gift rooted in the Cross…"The" Cross.  
...A gift called grace.
After all, God Himself was anchored on that Cross so that we might see His abundant gift(s) quite clearly.  That man up there was one of them...He gave us His only Son who was brutally murdered so that we might have hope.  The greatest gift of HOPE rose through the the glory of Christ's Resurrection…Salvation came to life.  

Hope became the window to Eternity so that we might be able to live
If you believe this, nothing else in this life really matters.

Most people who read this blog know my testimony about surviving the horror of my dear and precious husband, Chris, being shot and killed in front of me, senselessly murdered during a robbery while our sleeping baby laid near by.  Who in the world does this random kind of thing happen to for no reason? It still boggles my mind at times.  Well, us, I guess…and our family.  Oh, and Jesus.  Oh, and many innocent children…Oh, and the victims of 9/11… The list goes on and on in my mind now. But for a very long time, I felt like the only victim on the planet.  But in the end it happened to me, just like terrible things happen to a lot of good people out there.  Still, after my world shattered around me I wallowed in the rubble for quite some time.  Hope was a faint echo in the night. It was a very dark place.  Sometimes it still is.  

Sometimes, hope hurts.  I'm sure it did for Jesus hanging on that horrid Cross.

Much like the rewards of hard work, hope reaps amazing rewards but we are often left with a callous or two, or three.  Pain still comes in our daily struggles.  Everyone carries scars to the grave.  I know I will never be able to shake the scars of war and violence that have no earthly cures
I might look like a happy, crafty, homeschooling Mom who has nothing else better to do but make churchy kid food and post pictures about it.  Sometimes I slip into this role because there is where my hope can be pretty.  
Hope must be my habit. 
After once being in a place where I thought I'd never survive such an atrocity, I've come to find that teaching my children about their faith is living beauty….Living hope.  The history of those who've gone before us, living real lives of suffering, teaches us that there is hope despite the hurt, hope despite ourselves.
Inside real life, hope still hurts, yet the healing hope lies just beyond the gate.  Sometimes it's risky to look toward the light, leaving the dysfunctional comfort of our sorrows in a heap.  Yet the freedom of this light flickers inside the deepest recesses of every soul, longing to flee the darkness.  Beyond the shadows of our doubt, life is anchored here and Hope is always worth hoping for.

Today as I pray for Chris and All Souls, I light a candle of hope.  May it be our greatest desire!

{More on Hope...}

Friday, November 1, 2013

Happy All Saint's Day! ~2013~

Happy All Saint's Day!
Can you guess the saints?
We've had a fun and busy couple of weeks but our homeschool group's All Saint's party was a highlight…
Here we have St. Sebastian and Saint Apollonia with her golden tooth.  Just prior to being burned to death, St. Apollonia was tortured by having her beautiful teeth pulled out, one by one with pincers, while defending our Christian faith in the 3rd century.  Can you imagine?  I prayed for her help quite a bit when I had my front teeth smashed in so that's how I got to know her story!  Princess is going to be asking for her prayers very soon when she gets her braces:)  Here's her prayer for dental issues. In ancient art, St. Apollonia is often depicted with a golden tooth, hence angel baby's costume as St. Apollonia's partner:)   
We made this fun snack to go with St. Apollonia…Apples, peanut butter and mini marshmallows.  Thank you, Pinterest!  It was a secular Halloween idea that fit perfectly into our All Saint's theme:)
Ok, enough about teeth…Yikes, it makes my mouth hurt to think about it! (But these were yummy:) And a good reminder of the Christians before us and all they endured to preserve our faith…Talk about a big dose of grateful!

Angel baby also wanted her own costume so she dug out one of her favorite saint costumes from the plastic bin in the archives…St. Joan of Arc!
All the kids in our group stand up and give a few clues about who they are and everyone gets to guess…So much fun!
Afterwards, most of the kids strip off their costumes and race off to play some fun games!

On to Halloween…
Well, even though Halloween is the Eve before All Saint's, we celebrated in reverse order this year.  
We have a fun tradition of visiting all of our grandparents on Halloween…It's been neat to collect the photos from year to year.  This is my grandmother who is only 93 years young!  She looks forward to having the kids come over all dressed up:) 
{Highschool son is absent since he had a football game}
Here's my Mom and Dad…
They aren't together in the photos since my Mom had somewhere else to go…My Dad loooooves to give out candy at our house in town since they live in the country.  It's nice to have him "man the house" since Rod is often working and I'm alone with the kids.  We have a great neighborhood for trick or treating:)
Sadly, Rod's Mom wasn't feeling very well so she wasn't up for our visit this year.

Had a little "fun" with food this year...surprise, surprise:)
St. Lazarus Mummy Dogs
(How's that for ancient biblical history!?)
Saw these on Pinterest and thought they were so cute…OK so I changed the name a bit;-) Princess is studying ancient history so these were also a perfect addition to her mummy study!
Our version was just wrapping a hotdog with strips of Pillsbury Croissant dough and baking @ 375 for about 15 minutes.  Some little dots of mustard made the eyes:)
I shared and posted more on our cute little All Souls Prayer Parfaits over at Catholic Cuisine! All Souls Day is up next, November 2nd...
 I am so thankful for the rich history of our faith that adds so much to celebrating!  

Missing my 2 older boys being with us so had to post a "throw back" All Saint's Day photo:)  {This was before Angel baby was born.}

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