Monday, December 30, 2013

My Top Ten Post of All Time

Just for fun and because I really should be doing something else...

Over at A Slice of Smith Life, Tracy posted her top 13 posts in 2013. There is a whole bloggy link-up that Monica at Equipping Catholic Families set up. I thought it would be fun to check my stats (which I rarely do), but could not figure out how to see the top 13 in '13. Instead, here are the top ten posts of all time on Just Like Mary, with comments on how each have withstood the test of time in my household.

We have not used this since I first made it, but I think it would be good to get out and do with my 7 and 4 year old again, especially since they are very excited to see Father in different colors more often lately.

#2: Winter Unit Study, Week 1

This study was loads of fun. We tend to do seasonal studies each year, and mix up the activities. I would do this study again in a heartbeat. The kids (and I) loved it!

#3: All Saints Day Party

Our current parish does not hold an All Saints Day party, and honestly, I am ok with that. My feelings toward this kind of party are changing, I think, as I look to simplify our life of faith, though I would not say no to an occasional saint game at home or having the kids dress spontaneously up like a saint.

#4: The Rosary with Kids

The Rosary... Oh, this prayer is so difficult for me, even more so with the kids. I find the Divine Mercy Chaplet so much easier, and yet I keep going round with the Rosary. As far as the kids, praying the Rosary is like a wrestling match (even just a decade). Much of it is timing, lack of support from my husband (in praying the Rosary), and the crazy nature of children at bedtime. Yet, we still try... off and on. Making the Rosary into candy sure does get their attention though! My final thought - keep at it! You will be blessed.

#5: First Holy Communion Notebook Part II (Salvation History)

Skipper just completed this last year, and while we do go through Salvation History annually (during Advent and Lent typically), I have not used this particular post, but will once Critter is ready to complete his First Holy Communion Notebook.

#6: Light One Candle, an Advent Song

(No picture, can you believe it?! People still read posts without pictures!!!)

My kids love, love, love singing this song as we light our Advent wreath. I even caught my six year old humming and singing this throughout Advent this year. It is a simple little addition to your Advent wreath tradition.

#7: Other Advent Traditions
I love Advent, and we still do all of these traditions in some shape or form, though this year it was light and sporadic due to moving and settling in. My favorite family Advent tradition? I don't think I can pick one but I love setting up the nativity (and sometimes purchasing a new piece to go with it), the Advent wreath, and placing baby Jesus in the crib for Christmas morning.

#8: The Jesus Tree for Lent

We do this every Lent. Between the Jesse Tree during Advent and this Jesus Tree, the kids get a good dose of Salvation History year after year, and it does stick with them. What they remember and have reinforced year after year really is amazing. Plus, the kids just love to have their turn at hanging up ornaments. So my suggestion is that if you can do this in some form you should! (We prefer hanging on a tree but there are nice coloring pages too if that's more your style.)

#9: Preparing for Pentecost

I guess this is more proof that celebrating the liturgical year does not have to be difficult or time consuming. I literally did this mobile craft thingy in less than ten minutes (once I gathered the very simple supplies). We tend to do different crafts each year but I definitely can see us doing this easy one again, whether for Pentecost or when learning about the Holy Spirit or the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

#10: Jesus Loves Me Pilgrimage

This activity is a fond memory of my old First Friday group. I still have the pictures and plan on doing this with the kids again. The kids enjoyed it at the time. Part of the reason, no doubt, was being outside and running free on a path in the woods.

Well, those are my top ten posts of all time. It seems pretty clear that a good majority come for kids and faith and how-to's, and that is good. I like to figure out what works at home, keeping it simple but faith-filled, and I hope it helps others. But I like you to visit just to say hi too. :)

Ok, now that I have used time that I should be cleaning and preparing for our annual New Year's party or out shopping for said party, I really have to go! Have a wonderful New Year (but I'll be back later for our 6th day of Christmas).

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Remembering the Innocents Then and Now ... and a little girl turns 2!

Today in the Catholic Church it is the Feast of the Holy Innocents. As a mother, this day is torturous to think about, and it is too easy to think of it as something that happened so long ago that it could not happen today. Yet, it does - through abortion, abuse, neglect.

On this fourth day of Christmas, we took time at breakfast to retell the story of these little children. I used the kids' oatmeal to represent their innocence and swirled raspberry jam through it to represent the blood spilled. This was not very appealing to the kids. They loved the oatmeal but not the preserves so this will not be an annual tradition. However, conversation followed as did a prayer for those children lost so long ago as well as for all those aborted today, for those mothers contemplating abortion, and for those children today who are neglected or abused.

We also listened to the Coventry Carol (You Tube video linked above), a 16th century English carol portraying Mary's lament over the murder of these children. Such a moving bit of song.

It is also a good day to bless your children, if you do not do so daily (make the sign of the cross on the child's forehead, with or without holy water). Before Miss Z came along this was a nightly habit of mine when tucking the kids in at night. After Miss Z... well, evening would find me passed out or one kid going to sleep, and just plain crazy evenings now. We are finally settling down (two years later!!!) and I am trying to pick up the habit again.

We were going to drive around looking at Christmas lights, but ended up staying in and teaming up to play Battleship. That was so much fun!

Today was also a wonderful day in our household as Miss Z turned two today!

Miss Z is as sweet as can be, with just the right touch of spunk. 
Quick to smile, hug, and kiss (at least for me)...

...look at books...
~~ in the kitchen...
...stir her daddy's coffee...
...blow out candles...
...remove her clothes...
...follow mommy around...
...chitter chatter but refuse to use "real" words...
...say "enh" for everything (except mama and this weird cry for nursing)... with little toy figures...
...sit on the counter -- with wine and knives to her back -- to help in the kitchen or to eat a snack...
...clementine oranges...
...milk (mama's or cow's)...
...any kind of meat or potato...
...her grandparents...
...her siblings...
...piggy-back rides...
..."What Does a Fox Say?" song...
...Little People...

It was a fun day for a little girl, who is not so much a baby now. These two years have gone so quickly.

And how could we not have ended the day without a typical two year old reaction??? Even with her short, but fierce, tantrums she is so darn cute.

Friday, December 27, 2013

For the love of St. John

First, blessing of the wine (and juice).

All cozy by the fire.

I drink you the love of St. John...

In continuing the spirit of Christmas and the Church's feast day of St. John the Apostle today, we had a little toast after dinner. There's a long line of tradition in drinking to the love of St. John, including a yummy warm wine drink, but I kept it simple. It was nice. The boys especially were impressed that St. John drank a poisoned cup unharmed after blessing it.

God, who through the blessed Apostle John have unlocked for us the secrets of your Word, grant, we pray, that we may grasp with proper understanding what he has so marvelously brought to our ears. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

On the Feast of Stephen

Today in the Catholic Church it is the Feast of St. Stephen, the Church's first martyr (Acts 6-7). He was one of seven deacons chosen by the apostles to look after widows and the poor. Throughout the years, different traditions have sprung up around this saint, including national holidays in some countries, gift giving, feasts, festivities, and alms giving.

I gathered the kids around the piano and slowly sang through the song, "Old King Wenceslaus" and we talked about what happened in the song with each stanza. Then I introduced them to our St. Stephen's Blessing Jar (just an old plastic pickle jar, cleaned and rinsed, with a picture of St. Stephen and the words to the song on it). Throughout this coming year it will sit out on a school shelf and anyone can donate coins. During Advent of next year, we will take the coins and turn them in for cash for donation, most likely to a local food/shelter for the homeless that runs solely on donation and volunteer work.

This is an idea that has sat in my idea folder for a few years, but the Christmas season petered out in our house the last few years (new baby, ill, etc.). This year, I have something simple (mostly) planned each day of Christmas and hopefully we can keep Christmas going.

Old King Wenceslaus

Good King Wenceslas looked out
on the feast of Stephen,
when the snow lay round about,
deep and crisp and even.
Brightly shone the moon that night,
though the frost was cruel,
when a poor man came in sight,
gathering winter fuel.

Hither, page, and stand by me.
If thou know it telling:
yonder peasant, who is he?
Where and what his dwelling?
Sire, he lives a good league hence,
underneath the mountain,
right against the forest fence
by Saint Agnes fountain.

Bring me flesh, and bring me wine.
Bring me pine logs hither.
Thou and I will see him dine
when we bear the thither.
Page and monarch, forth they went,
forth they went together
through the rude wind's wild lament
and the bitter weather.

Sire, the night is darker now,
and the wind blows stronger.
Fails my heart, I know not how.
I can go no longer.
Mark my footsteps my good page,
tread thou in them boldly:
Thou shalt find the winter's rage
freeze thy blood less coldly.

In his master's step he trod,
where the snow lay dented.
Heat was in the very sod
which the saint had printed.
Therefore, Christian men, be sure,
wealth or rank possessing,
ye who now will bless the poor
shall yourselves find blessing.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas to you all!

It may have taken until Christmas Eve for any spirit to enter our household, but it certainly did. It was a very nice day of baking cookies, decorating (yes, even the tree!), and attending the nighttime Mass. And it was a very late night spent wrapping presents (never again) while watching It's a Wonderful Life - love, love, love that movie.

Here, just a few quick shots from Christmas Eve...

Our cat stole Jesus' bed (and actually pushed our baby doll Jesus out this morning so he could nap all day):

I am so happy to have a mantle again! It has a huge brick chimney so we are perplexed on how to dress it up. My Mom gifted us a beautiful wreath full of her hand-carved wooden flowers but it looked absolutely miniature up against the brick. For now, we have a pretty little row of Christmas.

My little joy-filled angels found a home this Christmas on my kitchen sink window sill. I smile every time I see them.

This is an extremely blurred photo of our tree. The lighting in our fireplace room is not conducive to photographs (says the not-even-an-amateur-photographer). But it sure looks better here - especially with a photo bomber - than it does...

HERE, on the 23rd. Our poor angel, hanging upside down by a thread. My youngest son pulled on a branch and the entire tree fell over, and water was everywhere. Oh goodness. The tree is massive. I tell you, it is slim pickings up my way to find a cut Christmas tree, but since we procrastinated until the 22nd to buy one, we found ourselves with a giant of a tree at a fraction of the price. Now our tree is anchored with two fishing lines attached to hooks on the wall.

Our nativity yesterday before "midnight" Mass, awaiting baby Jesus. Miss Bear had the honors of placing Jesus in the manger after Mass. The wise men begin their journey to Bethlehem tomorrow. 

This was our first year attending such a late Mass with the kids (the last few years we have attended on Christmas day itself) so I was a little worried, but the kids did beautifully. After Communion Miss Bear turned to me, eyes and face radiant, and whispered, "I love God!" And Miss Z "sang" with every song played, a first for her. And my husband even attended Mass, which I will feel thankful for despite certain comments.

God bless you all, my readers (those few left, I know!), and may you have a very blessed and joyful Christmas season.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Gluten-Free Starlight Cookies

I have wanted to make these cookies for two years now, and though most of our Advent plans have been cancelled or extremely simplified due to moving and settling in and catching a nasty cold, I did find time to mess around with Jessica's starlight cookies to make them gluten-free (and dairy and egg-free alternatives too).

It was so simple to do and quick to make up multiple jars (as long as you have all the ingredients unlike me!). Jessica's is so much prettier but the cookies are super yummy. Here's my version of starlight cookies.

Place these items in a jar (I used pint and a half jars that I bought and have seen locally at big box stores). Ignore my photo and put the ingredients in this order:
To make the cookies, cream together 1/2 cup butter, 1 egg, and 1 tsp. vanilla. Stir in dry mix and blend thoroughly. I thought the batter was way too dry, especially for gluten-free baking, so I added 1/4 cup. milk.

**To make egg-free, I used Ener-G egg replacer successfully.
**To make dairy-free, sub Spectrum shortening for the butter and alternative milk for the milk (I used coconut milk successfully). In searching I saw this butter flavored Spectrum shortening. I have not seen this in my little local stores so I will definitely have to order it and try!!! (Ok, I just did so I could use it for frosting Christmas cookies.)

To bake, have oven pre-heated to 350. Plop cookie mix down spoonfuls. Bake about 16 minutes or until brown on the edges. I tend to be cautious and check early since gluten-free cookies can get dry so fast. When it's done it'll be a bit brown on the edge but still look a smidge wet in the center. That's ok because you'll let it cool for 5 minutes or so on the pan and then move to a cooling rack.

Last, enjoy! I don't eat cookies often and these were incredibly over-the-top sweet. You could probably reduced the sugar a smidge and no one would be the wiser.

To make it prettier I cut a circlish shape out of a pretty sky fabric (I had very limited choices) and used a Christmas sparkly thin garland to wrap around the lid and to hold the instructions. I used Jessica's instructions as inspiration to make more of a story. You can download and print here. Simply print front to back, cut and fold. Here is the story instructions I wrote:

Long ago, St. Joseph and our Blessed Mother prepared for a journey to Bethlehem.

(Prepare for the cookies: preheat the oven to 350 degrees and grease cookie sheets or use parchment paper).

They remembered the angel Gabriel’s message: that Mary was to be mother to baby Jesus, God’s own son. He will be the light of heaven on earth, a baby born to save the nations.

(Think of the light of heaven: cream together ½ c. of butter, 1 egg, and 1 tsp. vanilla in a medium bowl until fluffy.)

The journey to Bethlehem was a difficult one. The road was rocky as they passed through the brown hills of Bethlehem. Yet, under the clear multitude of stars, they traveled on, passing shepherds in the field. Time and again, doors were shut on them as they asked for shelter for the night. Soon, however, they came to a lowly stable, inhabited by a handful of animals, and there, in that stable, Jesus was born.

(The dry cookie mix represents their difficult journey. Add this to the bowl, adding no more than ¼ c. milk if mixture is too dry.)

How wonderful to think of baby Jesus’ birth! How special that moment must have been, and yet, we remember that this is no ordinary baby. No, indeed! This is Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, who was prophesied to live among us, loved by many, hated by many, and who was to die on the cross as the ultimate sacrifice for our sins.

(Take a moment and remember the hardships of Jesus’ life on earth and on His Passion on the Cross. Spoon cookies onto pan, and bake for 15-16 minutes or until the edges brown.)

Christmas is not only a time to remember and celebrate Jesus’ birthday, but also a time to remember that He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead. Oh happy day! Let us now anticipate that day.

(Allow cookies to cool on pan for 3-4 minutes before moving to a wire rack to cool.)

Our simple story of a journey and a humble birth has ended. Go now and appreciate the joy and promise of His birth.

(Eat the cookies – and enjoy!)

I hope this helps someone! We used these as our CCD gifts this year and I have a jar set aside for the kids and I to bake up on Christmas Eve while we wait for Mass.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

It's beginning to look a lot like...

Just checking in.

I hope your Advent is moving along nicely. We have been busy, busy, busy moving and turning this house into a home (that means A LOT of painting and caulking the last week or two for me).

Finding our Christmas tree should help to set the mood this coming week.

Today's weather will definitely help. Our first real snow storm. I wonder if we will actually get 7 inches? The wind is slight so it's a gentle, Christmasy snow.

The view from my kitchen window:

with Mary close by watching over us

and a few more views...

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving

It is a brief quiet spell here before the second wind of hustle and bustle, and I wanted to wish you all a happy Thanksgiving, one filled with many thanks and blessings.

And a peek at my little turkeys. :-)

For all my many blessings, I thank you, dear Lord.

And Skipper's hand because he'savoided the camera thus far (more like holed away reading  a book, heehee).

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Saturday Morning Reflection (11)

I meant to wake early to get this post written and published, but the morning ended in lazing about in bed, squashed among three of the four kids, and the cat on top of me to boot. It felt nice, especially after a much too late night.

I was awake for no reason. I folded some clothes, packed a few boxes, but mostly I found myself awake and not feeling tired. In the background I put on the movie, The Great Gatsby, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Tobey Maguire, and Carey Mulligan. It has been years since I read the book so I only had a vague recollection of the story and had an open mind going into the movie.

Overall, I enjoyed the movie. I loved the running commentary from Tobey Maguire's character, though at times I thought he shouted his lines too much. Carey Mulligan did a good job as Daisy, certainly true to character and I did not much like her (Daisy, not the actress). Joel Edgerton played Tom Buchanan, Daisy's husband, and despite his unlikeable character, he somehow moved me to pity at the end. And of course, the Great Gatsby himself, played by Leonardo DiCaprio. I have been a huge fan of DiCaprio's, way back before his Titanic performance that launched him into the teen fan base, from What's Eating Gilbert Grape and The Basketball Diaries. During the movie, I actually felt bothered by his performance, almost as if he was not up to par or was not quite sure how to play the character. It took the ending and a little reflection to realize that this was intentional, as he was playing the part of a man who made a new identity for himself.

As for the scenes and music, it worked well, very well. Initially, the music really threw me off. I mean, the music was by Jay-Z for goodness sake. Jay-Z in the 1920s, and certainly the first song threw me off, but thereafter, it blended and fit in with the movie style. Speaking of style, the entire movie I kept thinking, this reminds me of Romeo and Juliet, the modern version starring DiCaprio. The colors were brilliant, the scenery fantastic and nearly surreal, and yet a dismal, gray cast over the poorer walks of life. When I compared the two movies, I found the same director, Baz Luhrmann, and the same screenplay writer, Baz himself as well as Craig Pearce.

While I did enjoy the movie, the glimpse of the very lavish (and very poor), the book brought to life, and even a peek at World War 1, I do feel I should mention that the movie does contain sexual innuendo, drunkenness, and one particular vulgar party (no skin necessarily but extremely obvious drunkenness and sexual relations). The story line is based on a few love affairs so this is no surprise for those who have read the book. Compared to most modern movies, however, the scenes are quite tame.

Ok, so my morning reflection has become one long movie review. Not that it matters. This last week was another of cleaning and unpacking, nothing too crazy, except for having the plumber cancel because he cut off his finger! Yikes, can you imagine?

I will leave you with a few kid notes...

Miss Z received her first black eye thanks to walking in front of her swinging sister. Crazily enough, this was our first black eye ever as parents. Miss Z loves the new house and it my little shadow and helper. She's such a sweet girl, as long as she's tied to my hip.

Miss Bear has certainly defined drama queen lately. I cannot keep up with the mood swings, but when she's good, she's golden. I will concentrate on those moments. Here she is loving a dog statue left behind by the previous owner. Miss Bear loves animals and is dying to have a dog or a "baby kitten" or a rabbit or a mouse or even a toad to sleep with. She's fearless in picking up critters, even bugs. Another thing that has really popped out this last week with her? She is talking and talking and talking. It is never ending and she is making all these stories up, which is fun because Critter only makes stories up occasionally and Skipper, never.

Check out this smiling face. Critter was super excited to help out in ripping out the carpet. He's been very quiet lately, though I have noticed a little bit of sneakiness on his part and more make-believe, especially in tormenting his sister, who is too easily tormented. Oh, the job of big brothers - to play so nicely or to tease so mercilessly. Critter's also my creative one. Yesterday he spent a lot of time painting, turning out painting after painting (watercolors).

More smiles! Skipper has taken charge of Miss Z lately: watching her, playing with her, keeping her from crying, reading to her. He helps so much and it is so sweet to see him with her. My boy is so tall I often forget he is only 8. A few more inches and he will be taller than me! He has entered a bit of a whiny stage, God help me to not react. He has given me a bit of worry healthwise. Hopefully it is just me and my imagination. It is nothing big, just a lot of little things over the last few months (increased headaches, telling me his eyes bother him, paleness and dizziness that comes and goes very sporadically, and his last virus brought out diabetes symptoms - major peeing and drinking, eating, and a few pounds weight loss but then it all disappeared and he's regained his weight - all very confusing). I am not a patient person and tend to worry too much when it is just a feeling. I really should have learned by now not trust my feelings, but I am human, and a mom, after all.

Well, this sure is shaping up to be longer than I intended. Have a wonderful week, readers!

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Saturday Morning Reflections (10)

Dawn is breaking with its deep pinkish hue. The house is quiet, but will soon be bustling. We were up late last night. Miss Bear had dance and then we ran out to the store to place a carpet order for the new house (yay!). On the way home, my husband wanted to stop by the new place since the kids and I had been out there nearly all week cleaning, but poor man, he had to stay home and work.

Last week was a good one. I think it all started when I called Fall Break for school and focused all attention on cleaning the kitchen in the new home. Yikes. That took pretty much the entire week. But, aside from carpet and painting, it was the biggest challenge (in my mind). So, now, my hands are so dry and my feet are killing me - the kitchen floors are ceramic tile. I need to buy some good support shoes for inside only, I think.

It was also cold last week. To start the week off, we did not have propane (the previous owner ran it waaay down). In the meantime, we enjoyed building our first fire in keeping our home above 50:

And on Monday night (out with my Mom and the girls on a rare shopping trip - to Kohl's), it snowed for the first time!

We woke up to around an inch of snow (and plenty of ice). I snapped a quick shot of the new house covered in snow:

To Do Today... Quick trip to the local grocery store. Pack up more stuff and take it to the house. Rip out carpet and sweep down. Cook food - all day as the four year old never stops eating (even more than my non-stop eating eight year old, both skinny as rails). Keep cleaning the house and putting away. Next up, is the little desk area near the kitchen.

On School... Nothing doing. Officially, that is. This year I have had a hard time settling in with a good schedule. We're trucking along but it hasn't jived the best (but definitely better than last year!). So I find it funny that when I declared fall break and that I would require nothing other than the odd reading and helpfulness while prepping the house and moving, we had a morning of beautiful schoolishness - one of reading aloud and discussion after. And then days now of rediscovering old things and learning. We must have been too schoolish and bookish before or perhaps they just hit that phase of high learning activity and will soon settle down again. I hope not, I enjoy them all afire with learning.

In the Kitchen... Our meals have been pretty on the fly all week as we use up what is left in the fridge, freezer, and pantry, stopping at the store every few days for little stuff to help round out meals. I did make a simple, easy and tasty pork chop crock pot meal. I cut up potatoes, carrots, and onions and put in the crock along with the pork, but I do think I would have preferred the rice with this dish.

Thanksgiving! I cannot even believe Thanksgiving is almost here, and then Advent. I have my plans all made out, but it's the doing that is the trouble for me, especially with going back and forth between two houses. Baby steps...

Real Life... This picture pretty much sums up my kids. Skipper, the oldest, ever the helper (and no doubt smiling on the other side of that hood). Critter, in the shadow of his big brother, not quite sure how to take the lead. Miss Bear, drama all the time and a face prone to more frowns than smiles (she wanted to push Miss Z). And finally, Miss Z, loving the attention, a smiley, happy toddler - most of the time.

Please pray... my Grandfather was taken to the hospital via EMS Thursday. He's had a rollercoaster year for health, and was doing a ton better, but this may be the last ride. In all the years I have known him, he has only spoken to me once of "something after this life" so prayers of conversion and for God's mercy are much appreciated.

And finally, I just love the fall pictures I snapped on my phone the other week:

Blessed Mother of those whose names you can read in my heart, watch over them with every care. Make their way easy and their labors fruitful. Dry their tears if they weep; sanctify their joys; raise their courage if they weaken; restore their hope if they lose heart, their health if they be ill, truth if they err, and repentance if they fall. Amen.

Have a wonderful week!