Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Giving Gifts, Not Presents

I really believe that the best gifts aren't bought in a store.  If you are having trouble finding the perfect gift for that certain someone, check out this list of great last minute gifts that anyone can give.

The Gift of Time
For the past few years, my cousin has had my children over for pizza, a Christmas movie, and cupcake decorating.  That is their Christmas gift.  I think it is great!  However, I'm not the only one, my children look forward to it all year.  Despite all the other presents they open on Christmas, the only one they talk about all year is this simple get together.  It isn't the pizza and movie.  It isn't that the party is a lavish, over-the-top bash.  It is simple as simple can be.  What they like is the time they get with their "aunt" and cousins.  Is there some special time you could spend with someone special? Watching a movie, going for a hike, making ice cream sundaes, playing ball in the yard..the time will be the best gift you could ever give.

The Gift of Experience
As a general rule, we are not a family that gives big gifts.  Some of that has been due to financial constraints, but also we know money can't buy happiness.  Each year for our children's birthdays, they get to go on a special family trip.  We have been to museums, aquariums, historic trains (lots of historic trains), Medieval Times, and so many other places.  We don't give them all the same trip, it is their chose.  Some trips are big, some are small.  This year, Buddy wanted to go apple picking with his Aunt Kathy (who lives in Texas but was visiting) and have cider and donuts.  Almost six years ago, we were gifted with the use of a townhouse and took Cowgirl on her dream trip to Williamsburg, VA.    We have spent $30 to $300--but the real riches are the time we have spent together.  These trip shave opened opportunities to our children that have taught them so much.  They have also forced us to plan special family days that we would never take the time to do otherwise.  We don't buy souvenirs or go out for fancy meals--unless that is part of the trip plan--but the days are always treasures for all of us.  Is there a special place you could take your child or aunt?  Have you been to an art museum lately?  Has your love done ever attended a Jazz concert on the green?  Pick a special place, set a day and spend the day experiencing something new while you enjoy each other's company.  The memories will be priceless!

The Gift of Tradition
My mother was a person who lived for her family and holidays.  her house was not just decorated, it was decked out in every way and every room.  Through the years, many traditions arose around those decorating patterns, which by the way were for EVERY. SINGLE. HOLIDAY!  Unfortunately, Cowgirl was the only grandchild to have known my mother when she was still healthy, and was only a pre-schooler when she became ill.  She remembers but she doesn't.  All of the children are missing Grandma, and it got me to thinking about how much they missed of Grandma and all she would have done with them.  One of the many traditions, when we were small, was to make and decorate salt dough ornaments each year.  I know it is one of those traditions that would have extended to the grandchildren.  So this year, I am having my nieces and nephews over for a salt dough decorating party. This way the cousins can spend time together and get to know their Grandma along the way.  Do you have a special tradition that has been forgotten?  A special recipe you could teach to the next generation?  Keep the love going and build those traditions, again.

The Gift of Giving
I have said before that on St Nicholas Day, my children receive a gift that must be given away.  A few years ago, we began giving money for them to spend on the needy in the best way they find fit.  It is completely up to them.  They spend hours with charity gift catalogs finding the best and biggest combination of gifts for the money they received.  Last year, I wanted to honor friends who had given us so much--not just in things, but in love and support.  What could I give them?  They needed and wanted nothing.  So, I had a bio-sand filter built in their name and they were thrilled.  Their gift will keep on giving and bless so many, no doubt that gift will earn them some riches in Heaven as well.  Does your loved one have a favorite charity?  Is there a special project that you could contribute to and then visit with your loved one?  Or is there a charity that offers "gift cards" so they can pick the gift?  Their gift will bless not only them but those who receive its fruits.

The Gift of Prayer
We often think of Mass cards as gifts to give to grieving families, but there is no one who is not in need of a little extra prayer.  Mass cards are a simple way to honor your loved one and give them an everlasting gift.  I have given these for many birthdays, and even the children who have received them have been so thrilled to know that they are being prayed for.  Does your loved one have a devotion to a particular saint?  Find a shrine for that saint and request a Mass remembrance card.  Not sure about giving a Mass card, or your loved one is Christian, but not Catholic?  What if you create a Spiritual Bouquet, promising to offer certain prayers and devotions on their behalf?  Prayer is a one size fits all gift that is wealth beyond wealth, despite costing nothing but time and devotion.

I thought of this list because I have been searching high and low for a gift for my Goddaughter who is 14.  Tough age as far as gifts.  Nothing seemed quite right. I finally remembered how I always say it's not the buying that makes gifts special.   So, my gift to her is an "Adoration Dinner Date."  On a Friday where I can get babysitting (she is my go to babysitter), we are going to go out to dinner to the restaurant of her choice, then spend an hour at Adoration in prayer together.  Adoration is my favoirtie devotion, so this is really a combination of all five gifts--time, experience, tradition, giving, and prayer.  I am very excited to spend this time with her, especially the time we will have adoring Our LORD!

Do you have any gift suggestions to add?  I'd love to hear them.  I'm already planning for next year! 

Thursday, December 17, 2015

{p, h, f, r} Buddy's First Reconciliation

Last Saturday Buddy received his first confession.  He was so adorable the way he really took it seriously.  He told me on the way into church, "I just don't want to make a bad confession."  I told him that if he was worried about it that much and had really thought and prayed to prepare that there was no way that he could do a bad confession, he just had to be truly sorry.


I really enjoy how our church progressively decorates for Christmas.  The first week the Advent wreath gets put up, the the second week there are wreaths and roping, by the third week (pictured) the wreaths are decorated.  On the fourth Sunday, there will be an enormous Christmas tree in the atrium with angel ornaments all over.  The children are invited each year to bring an angel to hang on the tree.  Then come Christmas, the alter will be flooded with poinsettias and the creche will be set up in front of the side alter.  The progression builds the anticipation and coming joy of the season.


My older children, especially Buddy, have a very strong devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe. I find it a little funny because it is something they came to on their own, but Our Lady is so very special to them and then revere her always but especially in this apparition to St Juan Diego.  In fact, Cowgirl had an embroidered picture of Our Lady of Guadalupe on her First Commuion dress, it was one of the few requirements she had for the perfect dress.

Anyway, Buddy was so happy that he received his First Reconciliation of the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe.  When we got to church and I reminded him of the feast, his eys just lit up.  It was a very special gift for him.  He was so proud to have his picture taken with this beautiful statue.  I only wish I had remembered to take flowers to leave for Our Lady.


Since my children are so devoted to Our Lady of Guadalupe, we usually have a special day in her honor complete with a Mexican feast and Mexican hot chocolate. I wasn't sure how to make that happen with Buddy's confession in the middle of the day and all the work we had to accomplish on the lake house for the new tenant to move in next week.  My husband had the perfect idea, lunch at our favorite, little luncheonette, which happens to be owned by a Mexican cook so they have the best Mexican delicacies north of the border.  Much better than I could make at home.  

Buddy ordered his favorite, tamales, which he seems to think were probably Juan Diego's favorite, too.  Yeah, good food and no cooking nor cleaning up--that, my friends, is no laughing matter!  :)


I so appreciate the time and effort that our catechists and priests put into making all of the sacraments so special, but also so holy.  We had a beautiful service, after which the children we directed one by one to a priest for confession.  The organ and cantor filled with church with such beautiful music the entire time.  While each child waited their turn, a catechist sat with him to talk to him about how wonderful it is to receive confession and how that should never be afraid to come close to Jesus in the confessional.  Once one child went in, the catechist gently guided another child over and repeated the process.  Each catechist repeated this ritual at least 15 times.  Always gentle, always smiling.  

Once the children were done, and we received a final blessing, they were escorted out to the atrium for cookies and juice, while the adults and older children of the families had the opportunity to receive confession as well.  It was all a very moving and touching experience.

I cannot believe that my little Buddy is already old enough to receive First Communion.  Where have the years gone?  I shed more than a few tears over that the week leading up the 13th.  Buddy was baptized on the Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord.  He received penance on the feast of his beloved Lady.  I decided to look ahead and see if there were any special feasts on his First Communion day. Sure enough, it is the feast of the patron of the church where Hubby received all his sacraments, I was confirmed, we were married, and Cowgirl was baptized.  I think that God has very big plans for Buddy, and I can't wait to find out what they are--even though I would love to keep him little for a few decades more.

Linking up with Auntie Leila.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Five Fav: Advent Traditions (That We Aren't Doing This Year)

We are in the home stretch of Advent.  Wow, that flew by!  One more candle and a handful of days and the Christmas season will begin.  I am linking up with Jenna to share some of our most beloved Advent traditions that just aren't happening this year.  My beautiful friend, Jessica, has told me that life has seasons and there are seasons of an overabundance of activity, and others where just doing what is required liturgically is more than enough.  I am embracing that this season, even though it seems that Jessica is always able to do a little bit extra no matter the season, I appreciate her kind and truthful words.  After a year of goodbyes and upheaval, I needed to keep Advent simple to keep it as focused and holy as possible.

However, if you are looking for ideas to ramp up the final week or start planning for next year.  Here are five tried and true favorites.

Holy Heroes Adventures have become a fixture in our home.  My children talk about the Holy Heroes guides as if they are personal friends.  We did not have internet for the first half of Advent and so we could not link up for the adventure.  While they still discussed the various skits from the past for each feast day, they have not actually complained about missing the adventure.  After so many years of doing it, perhaps we needed a year off to appreciate it more.  If you want to sign up, it still isn't too late, and even one week of Holy Heroes will get your children hooked for the Lenten Adventure coming up in a couple of months.


We began celebrating St Lucia's Day when Cowgirl and I read through the Kirsten books five years ago.  Last year, I made her a new crown and purchased a new, beautiful nightgown because she had outgrown the old ones.  Traditionally, we have been awoken to coffee and pastries (any where from prepackaged cinnamon rolls to authentic Swedish delights).  We then continued our celebration with Swedish crafts and wrapped it up with Swedish meatballs, buttered noodles, pea soup, and lingon berry jam for dinner.  Our celebration has varied from simple (pre-made everything just for breakfast) to the whole shabang.  This year it didn't happen, though.  I had made sure to find the crown just after we moved, but realized a few days before St Lucia's day that I hadn't unearthed the gown yet.  I thought we could still pull it off, although there would be no Swedish treats, and considering I no longer can tolerate gluten, milk, and coffee, among other things, I wondered what we would serve.  However, I knew I could come up with something, that is until I shot awake at 5:30 AM last Sunday and realized I had gotten nothing prepared and St Lucia's Day was already here.  I felt terrible, but Cowgirl took it in stride.  I thought perhaps we could have a St Lucia's Day Observed this Saturday, but our calendar is once again jam packed with house moving/fixing, and holiday festivities.  I think for this year, it must be left by the wayside.


The sacrifice manger is a tradition that is so simple but so powerful.  I can remember the kids' dismay the first time we did it when they saw the amount of straw to comfort baby Jesus on Christmas Day and wished they had sacrificed more.  Of course, Buddy didn't completely understand the whole concept at first.  After explaining how the manger worked, I set it out on the bow window but kept the straw on the counter in the kitchen(I knew where it would all end up if it were left at the height of preschooler hands.)  He came bounding up to me minutes later, "Mommy, I need straw for the manger."

"Why do you need straw?"  I inquired

"To make Jesus comfortable, remember?"

"Yes, I know that is the purpose of the straw, but what did you do to earn the straw?"

"I walked through the house twice without anyone talking to me."

He had completely misconstrued the example of "doing something without being told!"  LOL, oh, Buddy.  Anyway, I have considered breaking out the manger this weekend for a strong finish to Advent.  I would have to make a new one, but at least there is plenty of hay in the shed thanks to our new rabbits.  We have been trying to remember to sacrifice without the manger, and particularly to sacrifice our time and money to raise funds for Mary's Meals.


I don't remember where I even saw the idea first, but the traveling wise men have entertained us immensely the past few Advents.  This my children have queried, and so I have promised that they will show up on Christmas and scout around until Epiphany.  If you are looking for ideas of what to do with you wise men, check out Jennifer's link-up.


Reading a portion of the Bible and crafting an ornament each night has both delighted and frustrated us in the past.  The Jesse Tree was set to make an appearance, and I must say that since getting permanent ornaments thanks to a Jesse Tree ornament swap a few years ago, it has been much easier to keep it going even on busy nights.  However, while the tree arrived safely at the new house with all ornaments in tow, the base that hold the tree up did not.  This accompanied with the lack of Holy Heroes, put this tradition on the back burner until next year.  I think, though, that it gives me more motivation to complete a Jesus Tree this Lent, something I have thought of but not gotten around to yet.

Despite all of these set back, I think that we have had a good Advent.  It was bare bones, but sometimes doing less is more.  Do you have any traditions new or old you would like to share?  I'm already planning for next year, so I would love to hear.  Thank you and God bless!

Correction:  Five Fav's is now hosted by Ashley.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Works of Mercy Bouquet: Resources for Spiritual Works

I have been wanting to wrap up this series in time for Christmas, but haven't known what to really write about the Spiritual Works to make them practical.  I realized that the greatest practical advice I had was to know your Catechism and Scripture.  Knowledge really is power, and it is difficult to admonish the sinner, instruct the ignorant, counsel the doubtful, and comfort the afflicted without a lot of superpower--God's super power!  These works are all duties we are called to, but it is the spirit working through us that brings glory to the Kingdom.  The more I tried to hash out how to complete each one, the more I felt like I would just be a broken record.  (Even now, I am rambling, trying to explain how I didn't want to ramble on and on....)

So, here are recommendations for how to arm yourself with the power of understanding, so that you can spread truth and light to all around you...in #7QT!


Have you heard of Flocknote?  They have some great resources.  I just got a sneak peak at their new offerings for 2016 and what do you think I found?  In addition to the Catechism in a Year, which delivers bite sized pieces of Catechism to your email--invaluable resource.  Be honest, are you really going to read the Catechism every day?  Probably not, with Flocknote you will!

Anyway, back to my point, in 2016, Flocknote is offering...drum roll, please.... Daily Works of Mercy texts or email!!!!!  Can you believe it?  How perfect is that?  Each day you will receive a short message of how you can live the Year of Mercy.  I guess that means no one will be reading these posts any longer--another reason to finish up by Christmas!


I know that I have mentioned this before, but Bishop Barron's Word on Fire Youtube videos are not only informative, but easy to digest.  Presented in short videos on timely topics, these videos will not only teach you your faith, but how to live in the 21st Century as a Catholic.  Just a video a day will have you well on the way to deepening your faith and living with conviction.

Our parish recently started carrying Word Among Us.  I have read the daily readings in the past either online or in booklets, but I really like how Word Among Us features not just the readings but all of the prayers of the Mass.  We often don't realize just how beautiful the prayers of the Mass truly are until we read them.  In addition, the are "homilies" for each day.  So, while it isn't the same as daily Mass, it is the closest I can get in my PJ's on hectic mornings--which isn't that every morning.  The reflective homilies are so well written and timely.  It has truly enriched my home study time--which I admit is not every day as I hope it will be at some point--but at least when I have time, Word Among Us is there!

I cannot say enough about how our parish has really tried over the past few years to catechize the parishioners.  There are always new and interesting opportunities for prayer and study.  I do wish that we would begin reaching out to the thousands of families that are register with the parish but don't come to Sunday Mass, but that's another story--and a good motivation to live the Spiritual Works of Mercy myself.  However, back to how we have been gifted with knowledge.  Every Christmas and Easter, each family receives a CD, video, or book to experience and share.  All are Catholic and all have been spectacular!  This year, as a gift, the parish joined Formed.  If you have not heard of this website, I urge you to click over and look.  There are Catholic movies, audio programs, study programs, and e-books.  An amazing resource of entertainment, Catechism, teaching, and apologetics all at your fingertips.  If you are not a member of a parish which belongs to the Formed website, it costs $9.99 a month.  Let's be honest, though, $10 is about 3 coffees out and about, or one lunch for one person from a deli or fast food.  If you are looking for the greatest arsenal of spiritual growth tools, it is worth the small sacrifice each month to join.

Reading the Bible every day is a blessing.  I am still working on getting back into that habit, and alternate between a personal study and the Word Among Us. However, reading the WHOLE Bible is a great feat.  When we listen to the readings at Mass, we don't always know the sequence of background information of the passage.  Reading the entire thing is a great way to get to know our faith and our LORD better.  The problem is that most Bible plans are not based on Catholic Bibles, and so you still aren't reading the entire Bible.  If you are looking for a plan to start in the new year, check out Catholic Bible in a Year.
As you grow in faith and grace through your study, bearing wrongs patiently and forgiving all transgressions will get easier because the abiding peace of Christ will rest on you.  Will it ever be effortless?  Probably not.  We are fallen people living in a fallen world.  The only people not sinning ever are those already in Heaven.  However, I find that when I am taking the time to pray and study regularly, the craziness of the world and the mistakes of others are much easier to bear.  It will always be a sacrifice, that's why it is a work of mercy. 
For a long time I would wake up in the middle of the night with situations or conversations from a decade or more ago, replaying in my mind.  The anger and hurt would bubble up and my soul would mourn that time of darkness all over again.  I found it so hard to move past the slights, bullying, and unchristian behavior of others.  However, by reliving it over and over again, and renewing my anger over it, I wasn't being Christian either.  Forgiving ALL transgressions is the key.  We all sin, and sin is dark and ugly no matter how big or small.  We must forgive them all, because through Christ we are released from all of our debts of sin, we simply need to prayerfully ask forgiveness in Confession. In this Year of Mercy, let us see Christ in all we encounter and pray often, "Forgive them Father, they know not what they do!"
Praying for the living and dead should be self explanatory, but again it doesn't always come easy.  First, you must pray for everyone, most especially those who are difficult and you are not intent on remembering.  Second, pray for all the dead, those you believe were faithful and those we feel have no chance at redemption.  God is the only judge, and He is the Beginning and the End, there is no time in the LORD, our prayers could save a poor soul that we think had no chance of being saved.  Lastly, please, please pray for our enemies.  This is a command so commonly forgotten in modern life.  Pray for them, for their conversion, for their families, for their hearts and redemption.  Pray that they are not lost, that they will fall to their knees and accept Our Sovereign LORD.  Pray that the darkness will flee from around them, that their world may be flooded with light and compassion.  I feel so strongly about this, and believe it is our greatest weapon in the war of terrorism raging across our globe.

Friday, December 4, 2015

{p, h, f, r} The First Week of Advent

It's the first week of Advent, and though it may appear that we are off to a slow start with our Advent preparations, I believe it is the best first week we have ever had.  Our Jesse Tree isn't set up, no internet still means no Holy Heroes, our traveling Wise Men have yet to appear, and only a handful of our ten (or more) Nativities have been located and set up.  However, here is a peak at the special things that have been happening.  How's your Advent going?


Buddy was so excited that the new house has a very large pine tree.  He locked himself in the workshop for a half an hour and created a special gift for me.  He made this entirely by himself.  He used barbberrries because he knows they are edible and so I wouldn't have to worry about Little Man trying to eat anything off the wreath.

I had to break it to him that it might not survive another three weeks of forced hot air heat, but it is still looking good and there are plenty of supplies right in our backyard.


Recently, our parish was gifted with a pilgrim statue of Our Lady of Fatima.  Families get the opportunity to keep Our Lady for one week at a time, with the promise to pray the Rosary each night before the statue.  Back in September, I signed our family up but promptly forgot for which week with moving, etc.  Thankfully, the Church office kept track and called me with a friendly reminder.
I'm so thankful we have this beautiful mantle for Our Lady, I'm very nervous about little hands loving Our Lady a bit too fiercely.  Every time Little Man walks into the living room, he says, "Baby Jesus Mom Mom."  He has been just as excited as the rest of us to have our fair Lady in our home.  Isn't she gorgeous? 

Although we have had some very late nights, and a nasty head cold making the rounds, our nighttime prayers before Our Lady have really filled our fist week of Advent with lovely focus on the reason for the season and a gentle reminder of peace.


Buddy is a funny little boy.  While we were cleaning out my parents' and grandmother's homes this year, he chose some very random things to keep as mementos.  However, two of his favorite treasures are Grandma's nativity and Mama's (his great-grandmother) rosary from Nazareth.  He has been using it every night for prayers.

Buddy was so excited about the nativty that it went up even before Thanksgiving.  He also has the antlers that the previous owner of our house left for him.  He so sweetly asked if the antlers came with the house, and the man couldn't resist.  They are from the first buck Mr. L ever shot, when he was only 10.  An  interesting collection of decorations for sure.

What is also funny is that we found about the nativity is that for a few years, my mom's nativity kept going "missing."  So, she would go out and buy a new one.  When we cleaned out the house, we found at least five!  Buddy liked this one best because it had a stable included.

With all that is going on in the world lately, it is difficult to feel peace, even in the deepest prayer, sometimes.  I have been praying and trusting, and trying very hard not to worry, as Padre Pio instructed--but I am human and fail from time to time, mostly in the middle of the night.  I recently asked Hubby, "How are you supposed to build security for your family with economic pressures, continually changing laws about what you can do with your land, so much uncertainty?"

He replied, "Just pray.  We are fitting our family for Heaven, not here.  We aren't striving to succeed here, but live forever there."  Ahh--what I needed to hear but not the revelation I hoped him to share.
Yesterday, Little Man's Godmother texted that she had a candle that was lit from the flame of the Peace Flame from Bethlehem.  A teacher at her children's school had driven hours to light her own candle and was spreading the light to everyone in the school.  The goal is to get the flame across the country--do we ever need such a blessing!  So, I drove over with my little candle and took a flame of peace back to our home.  What a special and unexpected gift!  Yes, we haven't done all the items that we usually do.  St Nicholas Day is in two days and I still have nothing planned, but our first week of Advent has been just as it should, full of prayer and the promise of peace, keeping our minds and hearts focused on the coming Kingdom, not just the promise of presents.

Linking up with Auntie Leila!  Happy Advent, everyone.