Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Advent: Waiting in Joyful Hope

As the season of Advent is upon us, I just wanted to take a bit of time to reflect on what Advent means in our lives. This season, a time of preparation, is considered a time of "joyful hope." I've been reading a few resources to help prepare my heart and mind for the joy of Christmas, and wanted to share with you a few things I enjoyed pondering along the way.

One of the books I've enjoyed reading in years past is "Waiting in Joyful Hope" by Robert Morneau. (by the way, he is an amazing author-I highly recommend reading his other books! Note: the link provided is not for the current Advent year.) It's a daily meditation book and companion to the daily Mass readings throughout Advent. The introduction of the book describes Advent as a three-fold type of waiting: past waiting, present waiting and future waiting. I found it really valuable to reflect on these "layers" of waiting to deepen my understanding of this beautiful season.

The first type of waiting during Advent, past waiting, is when we call to mind Isreal's wait for Christ's coming. Throughout the Old Testament we see the struggle, despair, triumphs and failures the Isrealites experienced as they awaited the coming of Christ. Thinking about their thirst for God makes me so truly thankful to not have to wait for Christ as they did. Sometimes it's easy to grow a bit complacent in our faith, taking the gift of Jesus for granted. But when we remember all of those who longed to know our Lord in years past, our gratitude awakens. Reflecting on the past helps make us more thankful for our present.

The second type of waiting during Advent is present waiting. Each day of our lives we wait for the Lord to come more deeply into our hearts and minds as we walk in faith. In this present waiting we hope to understand Him a bit better and become more like Him. With the dawn of each day is a new opportunity to know Christ more deeply, to love Him more and to serve Him better.

The third type of Advent waiting is future waiting. We wait for Jesus' coming in His fullest glory at the end of time. We wait for a more perfect understanding of God--one that can only occur in the distant future. This type of waiting is difficult since we yearn for such a relationship now, yet we must wait. But it's this incompleteness we experience that keeps us coming back to Christ whenever we go astray. In the wanting and waiting we grow closer to Him despite the earthly separation we endure. In this respect, future waiting is the most important, for it drives us to become more like Him each day.

As we prepare our hearts and minds for the coming of our Savior this Advent, it's my hope and prayer that Jesus will be reflected a bit more in our hearts and actions--that this joyful waiting might ignite a spark of God in our lives, renewing our hope in Him. As you light the candles on your Advent wreath, tick off the days on your calendar and prepare gifts to share, I hope each day brings you just a little bit closer to the light, joy and peace of Christ. In this season of hustle and bustle I encourage you to set aside some time to be still with God. Take some time to quiet your soul and let God enter. Give yourself the spiritual food you crave so that when Christmas arrives, you may truly rejoice and sing at the wonder of this miracle birth.

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Tuesday, November 29, 2011

10 Christmas Craft Ideas for Kids!

As we tuck away our pilgrims and pumpkins in exchange for evergreen boughs and twinkling lights, I thought I would share with you some fun Christmas crafts for kids. The month of December always seems to fly by, so I like to try and plan head a bit to make sure those fun kid projects actually happen. If your family uses an activity-themed Advent calendar (i.e. do something Christmasy each day until the 25th), you might want to borrow some of these! Many of them make great gifts, ornaments and gift wrap so they're useful as well as fun! Here they are:

1. Pine Needle Snowflake Wrapping paper!

This is so simple and makes a lovely personalized gift wrap. I can't wait to try it!

2) Stacked Snowman Cards

What a simple and adorable handmade card this would be! You could even make smaller versions of these as gift tags!

3) Snowman Glue Ornaments

Aren't these great?! What a cute set these would make to give away to family and friends!

4) Gingerbread Man Birdseed Ornaments
The perfect useful gift for the nature lover in your family!

5) Glitter Animals!

Take a trip to the dollar store to find some glitter-worthy creatures and create some sparkle together! I don't think I've ever met a kid who didn't LOVE glitter! What a cute little gift set these would make! Affordable, too!

6) Button Wreaths!
Another affordable, simple yet adorable craft idea! And bonus: this is also a great fine motor skill for those little fingers!

7) Yarn Trees
These are just beautiful, aren't they? No one would ever even know that a child easily made these! It also happens to be another great fine motor skill, too-woohoo!

8) Watercolor-Crayon Snowflake Wrapping Paper

Have some fun and score yourself some unique handmade wrapping paper with this craft! Just grab a white crayon to color snowflakes on paper (even very young kids can make nice snowflakes with a little help. They're just lines and dots!). Brush over your work with watercolors and see the snowflakes appear! We made spiderweb art this past Fall using this technique and the kids were FASCINATED!

9) Chocolate-Dipped Marshmallows
I couldn't possibly complete my list without a couple of delicious treat ideas! I mean, it's CHRISTMAS, after all! :) Marshmallows meet chocolate meet sprinkles--it's a win-win-win! Simple and yummy-that's my kind of kid craft! Try crushed candy canes on top for a little variety.

aaaaaaand, last but not least...

10) Christmas Chex Mix!
This simple mix has only 3 ingredients--white chocolate, candycanes and Chex! We are SO making this!

I hope this list inspired you to make some DIY crafts with the kids this season! I'd love to hear your Christmas craft ideas, too!

Happy Crafting!

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Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Squishy Squash Soup

I. LOVE. SOUP. It is one of my absolute favorite foods in the world. I love all kinds--brothy, creamy, stewy (I think I just made that word up!) name it, I'll slurp it! Now that the chilly weather is here, I've been making soup like crazy. I have this wonderful cookbook called Blue Moon Soup by Gary Goss.

It has all of these adorable illustrations throughout the book which makes it just that much more spectacular! Look at how cute these are:

Sadly, this book is out of print, but I was able to purchase mine online at a used book site for just a few dollars. One of the unique things about it is that it's organized by seasons, so you can easily get inspired whenever you find yourself in a "recipe rut." (Don't you hate those?!) If you love soup like I do, I highly recommend this book! One of my favorite soup recipes for Fall is Squishy Squash Soup. It's colorful, it's creamy, and oh-so-nutritious! So, without further ado here's how to your very own pot of Squishy Squash Soup:

You Will Need:
--2 T butter
--1 small leek, chopped (about 1 cup)
--1 butternut squash, peeled and cubed
--1 tsp. dry white wine (optional)
--1 pinch nutmeg
--1/4 tsp. salt
--1/2 tsp. pepper
--1 carrot, chopped
1/4 C fresh chives (plus extra for garnishing)
--2 1/2 C milk


1. Melt butter in soup pot over medium heat. Add leek, half of the squash, the wine (if using), nutmeg, salt and pepper. Saute for 5 mins. stirring frequently.

2. Add carrot, chives, remaining squash and 2 C water. Stir.

3. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 20 minutes.

4. In blender or bowl blend or mash half of the soup with the milk until thick and silky smooth.

5. Return the blended soup to the pot and stir. (or, if you prefer a completely pureed soup, use a submersible stick blender to puree)

6. ladle into bowls, garnish with chopped chives and enjoy!


Happy Slurping! :)

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Raising Homemakers

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Weekend Reflection: Bending Low

"Humility is the only posture that can receive the wondrous grace gifts of God--God who humbled Himself and came to the feed trough and waits to be seen in light off doorknobs and the curve of vases and the mound of laundry."
--excerpt from One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp

Take time to delight in the extraordinary ordinary this weekend. Get lost in the curve of a mug handle, the way dust sparkles in sunlight, and in the patterns and colors of nature all around. Bend low to take in the magnificence of shadows gracefully swaying and the glorious crunch of leaves beneath your feet. As we bend low our spirits soar.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Smiling at God

My just-turned-four year old pauses as we say our morning prayer together. Wide-eyed he stares at the ceiling, smile on his face. I look over at him, thinking he's not focused. I gather up some words to let spill about the need for quiet and focus, but before I can speak, before I have a chance to give him my sternest "mom look" to let him know I mean business, he says:

"Mommy, you know why I was looking up with my eyes opened while I was praying? Because I was looking up at God and smiling."

His little face is alight with pure joy and wonder and love of God and I am left undone, speechless at this simple yet powerful act of faith from my little boy. Once again, my children teach me how to live, how to truly worship, to wonder, to adore. Because shouldn't we all, on a regular basis look up and smile at God?

I am continuously grateful for the journey of self-awareness this experience of motherhood gives. The more I teach, the more I see my own own ignorance. The more I gently reprimand, the more I see my own flaws in need of correction. The more I forgive, the more I see how He forgives. It's funny how we, grown-ups, who our children look up to and expect all the answers from, have so much to learn from them. We make our faith complex with fancy theology. Dress it up with heady study. But our children remind us how truly simple it all is at the heart of it. Love God. Smile at Him. Really, that's all we must do, and the rest will follow.

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Monday, November 14, 2011

Make a Difference in a Child's Life: Operation Christmas Child

If you're looking for a way to give to others as the holidays approach, I encourage you to be a part of Operation Christmas Child! It's a wonderful program that my family has participated in for the past several years. And if you have kids it's a great way to involve them in the spirit of giving as well as making them more aware of poverty in other parts of the world. If you're not familiar with this program, here's a short video explaining more about it:

Just seeing the light and hope in the eyes of those children brings tears to my eyes! I'm so thankful for this program and for the opportunity to help make a difference in the life of a child.

The kids and I always make a special shopping trip when we're going to fill our boxes each year. We talk about the program before we head out to the store and we pray to select items that our recipients will need and enjoy. We also watch a few videos together so the kids can get a better idea of what they're actually doing. There are several wonderful videos on their site: Samaritan's Purse. The kids have such a blast picking out the all of the items for their shoe boxes! I love to see how much thought they put into the items they select. Here are some pictures of our shoebox-assembling this year:

wrapping our boxes

more wrapping...

time to fill them!

My daughter had fun, too! (Although I have to admit that she did start screaming when I took the box away at the end LOL! I don't think she quite grasped the whole spirit of giving concept! I suppose that's ok seeing as she's only 2!)

Ta-da! Ready to deliver!

If you would like to participate this year, now is the time since it happens to be National Collection week! You can drop off your boxes any time between now and November 21st. So grab a shoebox and get shopping! It's something small you can do that makes a huge impact. There are several drop-off locations. Just check their website to find the collection site nearest you: drop-off locations. I hope you'll consider participating--it's been such a blessing to our family!

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Thursday, November 10, 2011

What a Parenting Book Doesn't Train You For...

The alarm goes off at way way-too-early o'clock and reluctantly you stumble out of bed after having hit snooze 3 times. Before you wipe the sleepiness from your eyes and even before the coffee maker turns on you hear your six year old son weeping quietly. Groggy and unprepared to deal with this crisis you stagger over to him to find out what's wrong. Meanwhile your 3 year old son and your 2 year old daughter are hungry and thirsty, requiring some sort of breakfast. Hazily, you pour cereal into bowls, (turn the coffee machine on) slosh milk into cups and stumble back to six-year-old son, still weeping, though trying to look brave. Gently (or as gently as you can muster at way-too-early o'clock without coffee) you ask him what's wrong. He hides his face in his hands, wiping red nose on monster pajama sleeves. You ask him if he wants to talk about it. He nods. Minutes pass while he collects himself. He begins.

He tells you he's sad that he doesn't have enough money saved to buy an online computer game membership. He wonders when he will have enough saved. He has twelve dollars. The membership costs eighty. You pause and wonder the best way to approach the situation. You take a deep breath, collect your thoughts for a moment and dive in.

You tell him there are things in life that everyone wants but can't have. You tell him the world is full of neat things, expensive things. You tell him that kids and grown-ups alike have to say "no" to themselves when things are out of their price reach. You explain as best you can that grown-ups have bills to pay--food to buy, clothes to purchase, electricity, heat. With as much wisdom and grace you can muster you explain that some people in the world have lots of money and others much less. You tell him that Daddy works hard, and though it may not feel like it, you're blessed to have the things that you do. You remind him that many people work hard their whole lives and still struggle to have basic needs met.

You tell him, tears still falling from his big brown gentle eyes, that there are choices to be made when you grow up. Money choices. Choices about what you will be and how much money you might make. Choices about giving up well-paying careers in order to stay home with kids. Choices about saying no to fancy cars and name brand clothes in order to enjoy life's other riches. You tell him these aren't easy choices to make and each person in their lifetime chooses differently. You tell him you pray for the wisdom and knowledge to make these choices wisely. You tell him you look to God for comfort and guidance and trust wherever He leads. You tell him that while things are nice, they don't bring happiness. You pause and you pray that he understands just a tiny bit of what you are saying, though you know it's several years ahead of his understanding.

He pauses to take this all in, clutching wooden bank in his six-year old hands. You see him weighing your words, tumbling them around like an unopened gift at Christmas. He eyes his bank holding weeks worth of money saved. Money earned by vacuuming, drying dishes, tidying rooms. Money he counts each day waiting for the moment he'll have enough for his next proud purchase. Slowly he looks up at you, extending his hands, wooden box clutched tightly between them. Tears now spilling fast, your little boy offers you his life savings. He tells you he wants to give you all of his money. Because you and Daddy "probably need it more" than he does. Your heart flip-flops in your chest from emotion and you have no idea how to respond to this giving spirit, this beautiful little boy with more generosity in his 6 year old heart than most adults possess in a lifetime.

So you hold him tight and tell him to enjoy his money, tears now welling in your eyes as well as his. You assure him that you and Daddy are just fine and don't need his money. You thank him for his generosity and tell him the offer is amazingly kind. You try your best to explain the important things in life and you know you're not doing this perfectly and that no parenting book in whole wide world can prepare you for these conversations. The ones that happen without an ounce of preparation and at unexpected times. Conversations that can effect your child for the rest of his life. So you pause, and you try and you struggle and you pray and you do your best to shape this human being that God has entrusted in your care. You feel amazingly inadequate and overwhelmed by the enormity of this responsibility and wonder how in the world you can ever be equipped for moments such as these.

You get up, thank God for this lesson your 6 year old has, unbeknownst to him, given you. You thank the Lord for this sweet precious child and you thank Him for helping you through this moment. You turn the coffee maker on, clean up the breakfast consumed, and begin your day not knowing what this wild ride of parenting will throw at you next, trusting in Him that you will only be the wiser and better for it, wherever it takes you.

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Monday, November 7, 2011

One Thousand Gifts (part 18)

As the seasons shift from golden autumn to pale winter, the beauty of the Lord is ever-present in both bold and subtle ways. And so I continue to the count many blessings from God above, making my way to 1000:

412. Nature crowns!

413 -419. Date night: delicious dinner, sleeping in, feeling like newlyweds, talking without interruption, going to church together--able to actually pay attention!

420. nighttime snuggle under blankets watching October snow fall with 6 year old son

421. reading Halloween stories to excited little boys

422. joy of painting

423-427. moms night out: glitter pumpkins (fun!), mulled cider, yummy treats, lots of laughs

428. homemade kettle corn

429. pinkish first morning light against rare October snow-so still and peaceful

430. warm house with electricity while many Connecticut residents go without power--ability to offer house to others in need

431. thick crusty morning frost on grass

432. husband's new job! Such a blessing!

433. warm toasted pumpkin seeds

434. jack-o-lanterns all aglow

435. The last golden colors of Fall set on fire by afternoon sun

436. October snow on holly

437. popcorn, hot cocoa and movies with cousins

...more to come

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