Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Jesse Tree

Another tradition we are using this Advent is the Jesse Tree. A Jesse Tree is a project which helps to track the ancestors of Jesus. It is called a Jesse Tree after Jesse of Bethlehem who is the father of King David. This project helps to teach you quite a bit of Old Testament history, something that I know we can all stand to learn a bit more about.

With our older two, we are using the Jesse Tree kit from Illuminated Ink. With our younger kids, we are using the Jesse Tree images available on the Advent CD from Holy Heroes.

The Holy Heroes DVD also gives us short videos to use every night to explain the history of each symbol. If you also use their on-line program, you receive direct to your inbox each day word searches, cross word puzzles, coloring sheets, a decade-a-day audio, and audio version of the Angelus and much more. We are combining both the on-line version with the DVD because I like to be able to play the videos on the television rather than just the computer. It's not too late to sign up if you missed doing so earlier.

Catholic Christmas Discounts

Everyone is looking for deals on those Christmas gifts.  Why not look for some discounts on Catholic gifts this year.  Check out Catholic Icing for a list of discount codes good at several different Catholic vendors.  Some may already be expired but there are several good discounts still out there. And check out that Lego Rosary.  That looks like a very cool gift indeed.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Celebrating Saints and Seasons

I am always looking for a few new ideas to add to our schedule to help the children understand the liturgical year better.  Heck, I love finding ideas for the adults in the family as well since we both grew up without truly celebrating the liturgical year.  The book Celebrating Saints and Seasons is full of easy yet fun ideas to try with your children.  Many of the activities would be appropriate to use in a classroom setting so they would be great for religious ed classes but there are also plenty of activities that are best for a home setting.  This book also has ideas for drawing attention to some secular accomplishments in each month such as the lunar landing.  The inexpensive price makes this a wonderful book to add to your library.  I am looking forward to using the ideas in the book to add a little something extra to our religious education studies this year.

This review was written as part of the Catholic book reviewer program from The Catholic Company. Visit The Catholic Company to find more information on Celebrating Saints and Seasons . They are also a great source for first communion gifts and baptism gifts.

Kids in the Kitchen

While Alan was making dinner, the little ones decided they wanted to help cook. 

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Jotham's Journey

We try to focus on some seasonal read alouds during Advent. We've started this book twice before and gotten distracted by life and not finished it by Christmas. The goal this year is to make a point to read this book every night with the kids.

Jotham's Journey is a family devotional book divided into short chapters for each day of Advent. This book follows 10-year-old Jotham as he tries to reunite with his family. Obviously, the boy learns some valuable lessons along the way.

This book is part 1 of a 3 book trilogy. Hopefully next year we can delve into the next book in the series.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

The Making of the Advent Candles

We try every year to make our own Advent candles.  Some years it goes better than others.  The past few years we have purchased a kit from Illuminated Ink to make beeswax candles.  This is a wonderful project for the kids to do mostly on their own.  The only negative to using these candles from my view point is that they are only supposed to have about 4 hours of burn time and we usually try to light them every night so we buy 2 kits and hope they last.  I think we may try something a tad different next year but for now, these work well.  Hopefully we will be able to get the candles blessed tomorrow.  And I have to say I really prefer the smell of beeswax candles to regular ones. 

Hopefully over the next few weeks we will be able to share a few more of our Advent traditions since we do our best to focus on Advent and never Christmas until the Christmas season actually starts.


I've had the movie Babies sitting in my Netflix queue for quite a while now.  I decided to watch it last night (instant streaming of movies is a wonderful thing).  I have to say this movie did not live up to the hype for me but it was a very interested study of the cultural differences in child rearing.

This film follows 4 babies for their first year of life.  Each child comes from a different country and different economic background.  While there are certain things I could not see doing with my own kids (tethering a baby to a bed post so it can't wander off or letting a child wander around in a field full of cattle and other animals and their assorted manure), I was struck by the fact that in the developing countries the babies were pretty much always kept right with mom.  If mom was there, so was baby.  But in the developed countries, baby was often entertained with something else.  Elaborate Mommy and Me classes, every toy and book under the sun, just about anything other than mom.  Yup, it left me feeling a tad sorry for the children from developed countries because frankly, babies are happier when they are with mom.  The baby from the US tried to make a break for it and escape her Mommy and Me music class and I found myself saying "yup, I'd want to get the heck out of their too, kid."

Not a bad movie to watch if you have an hour to kill.  It definitely will help me to rethink the need to buy all sorts of gadgets, baby toys and assorted junk for young kids in the future.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Gifts that Give Back

When you are trying to figure out what gifts to send to the adults on your list this year, I suggest looking for a gift that not only will keep the recipients happy but will also help out a charitable organization.  This is just a highlight of 3 of our favorites.  And, yes, we have tried products from all of them and they are delicious.

Monks' Bread is made by Trappist Monks in Western New York.  Their breads are all natural, no high fructose corn syrup and very yummy.  They also sell preserves, honey, fruit and nut butters, coffee, candy and cakes.  Truly something for everyone and almost everything they sell is made by religious brothers and sisters.

Healthy Sisters' Soup and Bean Works sells bean soup and dip mixes.  This organization works to help struggling women get necessary job skills so they can become self sufficient and improve their lives.  Their soups and dips are delicious and each package is signed by the woman who put it together for you.

Mystic Monk coffee is roasted by Carmelite Monks.  Excellent coffee made in small batches.  They also sell candy, cd's, brewing equipment and religious gifts.  You can taste the extra time that went into making your coffee.

Whatever gifts you choose to give this year, I hope every family takes the time to share a little something extra with those in their community who don't have what they do.

Sanctus Real - Lead Me

For that someone out there in my life that I know needs this right now.

Matthew West "My Own Little World" LIVE

We heard this song on the way to Mass this morning and I wanted to share it. It is a reminder that we often get so caught up in our own world, our own problems, our own way of viewing things that we forget to think of the other folks around us. In our family, Alan works every single Thanksgiving pretty much. He has since Sean was born. With this job it means he gets Christmas off but in the past that was never a guarantee. Spending most holidays alone reminds me every year to think of that single mom or the family that just moved or folks just starting out in life who have no one to share their holidays with this year. I am surrounded by loud happy kids and Alan will cook tomorrow. But how many folks are out there alone? I have to wonder why we as a society never think to reach out to anyone outside our own social circle. Your close friend has an emergency, you are there. The relative who lives 10 minutes away needs help, you are there. And you feel good because you helped. But what about the rest of the world? How many folks truly take the time to see beyond "population me" and try to understand what another person is living. Just what I am pondering today.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Glory Stories

We love using audio books around here.  They are great for car trips, reluctant readers and getting kids to listen to stories that maybe they aren't quite old enough to read on their own.  The folks at HolyHeroes sell two great series of audio stories that are perfect for teaching your children about the faith.  The Altar Gang series teaches children about the sacraments (and I am constantly getting requests to put those cds back in the van to listen to on our trips) and the Glory Stories series teaches children about various saints.  Right now they are offering a free copy of one of their Glory Stories CDs.  You just pay shipping.  This free CD covers Imelda Lambertini and Juan Diego.  Blessed Imelda is considered the patron of first communicants so this would be a perfect cd to give to any child preparing for First Communion this year.  Check them out and while you are there, consider ordering some of their advent resources as well.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Shutterfly's Holiday Photo Cards

With Christmas looming on the horizon, many folks are thinking of those Christmas cards.  Ok, I'll admit that I have somewhat developed a lazy attitude about Christmas cards.  My list gets shorter each year and I get overwhelmed with everything else in my life and often put the cards off until the last minute.  With the services provided by Shutterfly, even the best of procrastinators can have a wonderful looking photo card delivered on time.

Last year while Alan was gone, we used Shutterfly to have a photo calendar made and he claims it was the best gift we could have sent him.  It arrived right at that time between Thanksgiving and Christmas when he was dealing with the reminder that he would be away from the kids on Christmas so he loved seeing a year's worth of pictures at once.

This year with a new baby due any day now, I have a feeling we'll be looking for photo cards to send to folks for thank yous and to announce the babe's arrival.  Makes it much easier on a new mom to not have to think about that stuff later.

Share the love and use Shutterfly's excellent service to share pictures of your family this year.  I guarantee you won't be disappointed.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Why Enough is Never Enough

As a family, we have been focusing on paying off all of our consumer debt over the past 2 years so when I was given a chance to read the book Why Enough is Never Enough: Overcoming Worries about Money-A Catholic Perspective, I jumped on it.  This book is not about teaching your how to manage your money or spend your money, but rather about how to make peace with your finances.  It's about learning to be at peace if you have $1000 left at the end of the month, are $200 short or fall somewhere in the middle.

If you are looking for a book full of budget sheets and investment ideas, this book is not for you.  If you are looking for a book that will remind you that money does not define who you are, then keep on reading.

Our society today gives us a lot of mixed messages about finances. You should never allow yourself to get into debt but you should also never allow yourself to appear as if you don't have an infinite amount of wealth.  Never, ever mention that you are trying to stick to a budget so you simply cannot buy the latest gadget for your brood.  We've all known the person who seemed to believe that a person's worth could be measured by what they do for a living or how much money they had in the bank rather than by examining their character.  We are all bombarded by messages from the media to focus on things in our attempt to be accepted by family and friends.  These messages are especially prevalent during the holiday season.  Just yesterday I saw commercials telling people that before you have your family over for the holidays, you must buy new furniture, whiten your teeth, buy new clothes and get a new car.  Why we seem vulnerable to these messages is easy to figure out.  You want to impress your relatives and make it appear as if you have gotten somewhere in life.  But I have to wonder if we have all forgotten some very important ideas. Several quotes from the book jumped out at me in regard to these ideas.

"The main spiritual problem we have in America today is that as a society we have confused what we do with who we are."

"It is impossible to make peace with money until you make peace with God."

"Wealth invites us, ever so slowly and with great cunning, to spend more time on  things rather than people. Wealth is deceptive."

This book was a gentle reminder that when we turn off the worry and trust in God's providence to take care of us, a great burden will be lifted from our shoulders.  But we must be willing to make a few hard choices along the way and perhaps ignore the societal urge to keep up with neighbors or the relatives.  I'll happily trade having the perfect appearing life for that sense of peace anyday.  For those struggling to gain control of their financial life, don't neglect to read a book of this nature.  Wealth is one thing, peace is another.

This review was written as part of the Catholic book reviewer program from The Catholic Company. Visit The Catholic Company to find more information on Why Enough Is Never Enough and be sure to check out their great selection of baptism gifts while you are there.

Advent Activities

Advent is quickly approaching.  Just a reminder to check out Illuminated Ink and Holy Heroes for projects and free activities to do with your kids this year.  Holy Heroes offers a free daily program sent via email and Illuminated Ink has lots of different art projects.  Yes, you can find all sorts of activities on the web but some years it is much easier for me to have a ready made kit all set to go so I don't have to look for anything.  I have a feeling this year will be one of those years.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Unlikely Spiritual Heroes

I just finished reading the book Unlikely Spiritual Heroes by Brennan R. Hill.  I have a feeling that this series of books will be added to our required reading list for our kids during jr high/high school.  I won't say the writing was absolutely excellent. It did drag a bit in places.  But the stories of the ordinary people who made a major difference simply by living their lives as they should be lived were inspiring.  The kind of stories that always leave me wondering if we have folks (myself included) in society today who would be willing to stand for what is right even if it meant certain death, ridicule and criticism.  Super quick read and a good book for starting one of those discussions with your kids.

Friday, November 12, 2010

This Kid Makes Me Smile

Friday Funny

Alan shared this with me the other day and I just could not resist passing it along.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Veteran's Day Thank You

A little bit of a different one perhaps.  Veteran's Day is today which means lots of kids are out of school, some folks are off work.  Chances are good that lots of people have no real clue why they get the break or what is important about honoring our veterans.  We as a country owe many thanks to the folks who went before us to defend our rights.

In recent years I have run into folks who seem to think that only certain folks in the military deserve our respect and thanks.  That you must serve in a certain capacity to be worth anything.  I think these people miss the mark tremendously.  Without all the folks working in the background, doing all the other jobs that are necessary on a day to day basis, the few folks actively fighting would have a much harder job.  We need to remember to honor and thank everyone who has served our country.  To do otherwise is a grave mistake.  So thanks to those who cook the meals and wash the clothes and fuel the planes and bandage the wounds and print the books and fix the computers and those who take care of all of the other details that are necessary to keep things running smoothly.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Things I've Learned as a Parent

As we do our best to raise a large family in a society that is anything but family friendly, I often find myself looking outside our own family for ideas on how to do so effectively.  I've spent tons of time watching other families, particularly those that seem to have a quality or closeness that I hope to achieve in our own family.  I've learned lots of helpful tips this way.  Most people are more than welcome to share with you what works for them.  And it is always a good thing to ask the same questions of the kids and not just the adults.  You have to remember that adults aren't the only ones living in a family and everyone will likely have an opinion on things.  So I just thought I would share a few of my favorite tips that I have gleaned over the past few years.  Each one has changed the way I parent in some way and has hopefully helped improve things around here.

1.  Never, ever use humiliation as a discipline technique.  This seems self-explanatory.  As an adult, you would never tolerate someone attempting to use humiliation to get you to as they wish, why would it be ok to degrade our children in such a manner?

2. Never harbor hatred or disdain for one of your children.  Kind of like playing favorites but on a greater level.  This is incredibly damaging to the child and chances are pretty darn good that whatever the adult thinks the child did, the child had no control over to begin with.  It just breaks my heart when you can see a parent who treats one of their children with open disdain.  The child pretty much always knows and will go back and forth between trying to avoid their parent at all costs and trying desperately to do anything they can to gain some measure of approval.  Even worse, this child learns they simply can't trust anyone since their own parent treats them so badly.

3. Trust your instincts.  We are given them for a reason.  Don't ignore that feeling that tells you an activity or show or book or relationship is bad for your child.  Don't leave your children in the care of someone you don't trust completely simply because of who they are or what someone else thinks you should do.  Yup, this is one we've learned the hard way.  It doesn't matter if a person is related to you or just a friend. If they don't respect you as a parent or don't really care for your kids, you shouldn't leave your kids with them. And if your child comes to you and says they aren't comfortable around someone, listen to their instincts as well.

4. Don't take yourself or your kids too seriously.  And always treat your own children as nicely as you treat other people's kids.  I remember learning very early to detect that different, almost fake voice and attitude that adults reserved for times when they felt they were being watched.  The different way we treat those outside of our own home is often heartbreaking for those who live in our homes.  "Don't be a street angel and a house devil" is something to try to remember.

5. Remember to always put the people in your life above your possessions.  A 2-year-old has no concept of how much a television or car costs.  Accept that these things will get damaged on occasion and deal with it.  The people in your life are more important than the stuff.

6. Find small simple ways to start family traditions.  Your kids need these things to ground them in your family.  I'm not talking about anything elaborate or putting off spending time together for big vacations.  I'm talking having a special dinner on Sundays, having a family game night, special birthday traditions, seasonal/holiday routines.  The things that stay the same year after year so that even your youngest kids will have some of the same memories as your oldest children.

7. Never, ever assume that once your kids are teenagers that they don't want you involved.  Or that you somehow now have an excuse for not knowing them or being involved in their life.  Teens need adult influence and involvement even more than the 3-year-old does.  I've heard adults tell a teen that they were no longer welcome to attend a family function because they were teens.  Or that the adult could not be expected to know anything about the child now that they were a teen when the truth is the adult made no effort to begin with.  I've watched the faces on those kids fall when they realized they were being pushed aside and ignored for something they had no control over.  Draw the teens in your life close to you and keep talking to them. Otherwise when they head off to college and stop sharing with you, you have no one to blame but yourself.

8. Be open to what your kids have to say.  I've often thought that children see things a bit more clearly than adults.  That God often speaks to us through our children because we've hardened our hearts to his message.  Listen to your kids even if their beliefs are different than your own.  They have something to teach you.

9. Don't spend so much time on making your house look perfect that your kids are afraid to live there and just be kids.  Or that they have no memories of you other than seeing you cleaning.  Or no memories of playing together because they weren't allowed to play anywhere other than their rooms.  Yes, kids come with messes.  Don't be so afraid of the mess that you miss out on the fun.

10. Don't make your older kids responsible for the younger kids all the time.  Yes, everyone should help but don't rely too heavily on them or forget to allow the older kids to be kids because you would like help with the younger ones. It is a fine line but it is easy for resentment to build up between siblings when this one is not carefully watched.

11.  Love your kids without reservation.  And tell them that every day.  Don't wait until they are living out of the house to suddenly start telling them that.  Don't assume that you can put off developing a relationship with your children until they are adults.  You need to build on the relationship when they are younger or there won't be one when they are older.

12.  Speaking of older children.  Adult children.  Never talk down to them as if they were 5 still.  I'm not quite sure why this is considered acceptable or how this is supposed to help a relationship.  If you would not treat your friend that way, you should not treat your child that way.

Nope, I'm not successful at living all of these things every day.  But I am trying and doing everything I can to improve things while I can.  I know I only get one chance to raise my kids and once they are out of the house, that chance will be gone. If I don't build a solid relationship with them now, I will have to start over as something other than a parent when they are older.  These are just things that I have witnessed damage a child or a relationship in the past.  Things that I often think we all need reminding of from time to time. Reminders I need from time to time.

Monday, November 8, 2010

How to Train Your Dragon

Saturday nights around here are movie nights.  One of those rather inexpensive traditions that the children look forward to every week and a great way to build family memories.  This week we watched How to Train Your Dragon

This one gets praise from the parents around here and is a must see for any family.  Just watch it with an open mind. It's not just about dragons.  The underlying story line that most caught my attention had to do with the struggle between teens and adults as the children age.  I was reminded how many times a child's relationship with their parent is damaged not through the actions of the child, but rather through a intense stubbornness on the part of the parent to let go of their own notions of who their child should be.  In this story, the main character's father simply refuses to acknowledge that his son should be allowed to have thoughts and ideas of his own and simply turns away from him.  How many times have we all seen this same scenario played out in families that we know?  A teen strikes out on their own on a path that their parents would not choose for them and the parent is railing about how the teen is making a mistake, ruining their life or perhaps bringing shame to their family.  In this movie, it was only when the adults in the story accepted that this quirky teen might actually be right in the way he views things that their village was saved.  A great movie for the kids to enjoy but also to remind parents that they should never box their children in with their own preconceived ideas.

Smart Martha's:Catholic Guide for Busy Moms

 I recently read Smart Martha's: Catholic Guide for Busy Moms.  This wonderful little book is chock full of tips and ideas to help you in your vocation as a mom.  Many of us struggle with finding a balance between having a neat, organized, perfect looking home and finding time to spend time with our children.  The more kids you add to the family, the harder this balance is to maintain.  In this book, Tami Kiser gives you lots of small ideas to help keep things running smoothly.

One of the best reminders for me in this book was the thought that you only have one chance to raise your children.  This reminder was coupled with the question of what do you want your children to remember of their time in your home.  We all hope for the perfect home on some level but even more important is to stop and spend time with your kids.  If you take the time to implement just a few of the suggestions in this book, you will find that you are able to more easily relax and spend that time with your kids.

This book was reassuring to me as we prepare to welcome our ninth child.  With each new child comes a bit of concern over how we will be able to manage to meet the needs of all of our children without having the house fall down around our ears.  We have already started to use a few of the tips in this book and hope to implement a few more in the weeks ahead.  More importantly, in some way this book gave me permission to sit down guilt free with the kids and simply enjoy being with them.  Even if there is still laundry to fold or a room to clean up somewhere.  For parents everywhere wondering how to manage to the demands of family and home, this book will be guaranteed to have at least one tip you can use to make things easier on your family.

This review was written as part of the Catholic book reviewer program from The Catholic Company. Visit The Catholic Company to find more information on Smart Martha's Catholic Guide for Busy Moms and be sure to check out their great selection of baptism gifts while you are there.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

New Sweaters

The kids have been asking for weeks it seems when their new sweaters would arrive.  Yes, they get a bit excited about their new sweaters each year.  Even more excited when they get to put in requests for colors and patterns.  The sweaters arrived today and the kids are all thrilled.