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...