Perfect Alternative to Elf on the Shelf?

As many of you know I sent the Elf on the Shelf packing last year. My reasons were many, click here to read more. Though, I must admit, it did feel like something was missing last year.  I missed the added enthusiasm the children displayed; their eager eyes every morning, and that extra dose of magic that added to the already exciting anticipation of the birth of our King.  I wanted a tradition that centered on the true meaning of Christmas. I really despised the whole idea of; if you are good you will get something…um, hello, what about the overflowing joy that fills your heart when you give?   I want to be able to ask my children, how are you coming along on your Christmas list? And their response to be something along the lines of, good, I just have Nana and daddy’s gifts left to buy, not, I have narrowed it down to 12 things I want! I figured there was nothing like that out there and then I happened upon a kit in the clearance section of the local Family Christian Bookstore, The Christmas Angel kit.

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The kit came with a book, toy stuffed angel, golden dust, and tin for storage. Book & stuffed animal combo sound familiar? The basic idea is that the Christmas Angel comes in the evening when the children sleep and writes a message, an act of kindness to complete, in the golden dust (glitter that is spread in the bottom of the tin).Hmmm….I was totally skeptical!

I stood there in the clearance section for a lengthy amount of time having a conversation with myself. (I am really hoping I am not the only one who does this…always keeping it real, no matter how embarrassing).

I asked myself the following questions:

If I purchase this am I simply replacing one ridiculous tradition with another? Will this tradition encourage a selfless Christmas or foster selfishness? Is it about the receiving or the giving? Is this tradition practical, will we be taking on too much during an already very busy season?

My responses to my own questions (I know, I am a total dork):

If I purchase the Christmas Angel kit I will have more flexibility and control over the tradition since I would be the one writing the messages, the acts of kindness, in the gold dust. I could also alter the messages if need be, if we do not have time to complete an act of kindness one day I could instead leave a message expressing affirmation for a random act of kindness a child facilitated the day before (it is so important we acknowledge and praise a child when they do good, far too often we only focus on punishing them when they do something bad). This tradition would definitely be focusing on the giving, making someone else’s day brighter, and fostering a selfless Christmas. Conclusion, this new tradition would not be ridiculous, this tradition would fill our hearts with the joy of giving, and this new tradition would center on something real, the Christmas Angel.

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So I bought it!! And the day after Thanksgiving we read the book and I introduced the children to our new tradition!

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How was it received by the children?

The children were beyond elated. We read the book and all three of them, including our 10 year old, were enthralled. They even decided on a schedule of who shall sleep with the stuffed angel each night. Then they made a special request before they went to bed, they asked if they could write the angel a thank you note in the golden dust, it melted my heart to hear them request such a beautiful thing. Thus began their communication with the Christmas Angel.

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CLICK HERE to purchase your own Christmas Angel Kit and checkout some fun activities!

Need some acts of kindness ideas:

Examples of what we will be doing include, make an invitation inviting our neighbor to dinner, donate toys & books, decorate cookies at a nursing home, sing carols with friends, let a sibling go first, help mom without being asked, take stuffed animals to the children’s hospital, make a thank you note & treat for local firefighter and police, thank your guardian angel, etc. Keep it as simple as possible; remember this is supposed to add to your joy not take away from it. And don’t forget to entwine some messages of affirmation and praise for those random acts of kindness you children do.

What are some acts of kindness you do as a family during Christmas? What traditions do you have during this joyous time of year? Please share.

 

 

Catholic Variety Show for Kids & Catholic VBS

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I am overwhelmed with joy & gratitude. We had such a remarkable day yesterday meeting the Cat Chat family, breaking bread with them, and enjoying their concert. You are probably thinking, what is Cat Chat, I know I was a few months ago when a close friend excitedly expressed that they were bringing Cat Chat to Toledo, more specifically our parish!

Cat Chat is a Catholic variety show for kids (and totally fun for kids at heart too!) composed of one very talented family of 7 & their cat Moses. Gerald & Denise Montpetit and their 5 awesome, adorable, kind, sweet, and did I mention talented children make up the Cat Chat show. They sing songs that have such strong messages but with an awesome get up and dance kind of beat. Songs about Jesus, the Sacraments, doing what’s right, not easy, etc. Catholic religious education has never been this much fun!

Let’s be honest, there are quite a few Christian based programs, shows, DVDs, CDs, etc. out there for children but hardly any Catholic based engaging, fun, programs for kids. There was definitely a need and I am so thankful that the Montpetit family saw the need, made the necessary sacrifices, followed their faith, and is sharing their talents while spreading the Catholic teachings. And boy do they put on a show!

As children entered the concert they received a paw stamp…look who received that special job of stamping hands! (fyi-that’s my son 😉 )

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Let the show begin!

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There were tricks, jokes, singing, dancing, unicycling, juggling, etc.

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Hope for the future, our children’s future was restored within me when I witnessed the children’s faces beaming with excitement when singing and dancing to songs about our faith. The Holy Spirit was definitely present!

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We were sad to see it end.

We reflected on the concert on the way home and the conversations that evolved were outstanding! We all agreed that the Montpetit children make great role models. We really admired their musical talents and a discussion about perseverance followed, and having to practice an instrument even when tempted by other pastimes, specifically screen time. And thanks to Cat Chat unicycling has now been put on my son’s radar, unicycleing! Who knew!?!

I am officially hooked! I am a FAN of the Cat Chat! Why? Well, from a parents perspective I like the fact that I can pop in the Cat Chat CD, the kiddos inevitably get the lyrics stuck in their heads, and a continuous loop of positive, encouraging, life affirming lessons can replay over & over again….it’s nourishment for the soul! Likewise, the DVDs can offer me a moment of reprieve and I don’t have to worry about the impact it will have on the kiddos because I now it will be filled with positive lessons. I am also quite excited for their VBS program. There are tons of Christian based VBS programs but there is such a NEED for a Catholic VBS.

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In conclusion, I would like to send our a HUGE thank you to the Shanks family for bringing Cat Chat not only to our parish but also into our lives! Thank you Shanks Family and Cat Chat for a fun filled family & faith based afternoon!

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Why I am a Bad Catholic

The other day I found myself in a heated discussion and I slipped up and said a four letter word, and it wasn’t love! To which the other person replied, “What a good Catholic!” It was meant as a jamb, said sarcastically, a way to get a rise out of me. And let me tell you, it worked! I continued to yell in frustration, I can’t even remember what I said but I needed to get the rage out… I was drunk with rage. I was in a bad state. I wasn’t being a good Catholic.  Then it got me thinking, what is a good Catholic?

I have a friend who once told me that her mother said she was going to go to Hell because she lived with her boyfriend before they got married. Was that a good Catholic?

Over coffee the other day with some ladies one suggested that all child molesters should be given the death penalty. Is that a good Catholic?

A husband cheats on his wife who he has been married to for 20 years and they work things out, their marriage ends up being better than ever! Is that a bad Catholic?

A young mother has turned to prostitution in order to provide shelter & food for her two young children after her boyfriend ran out. Is she a bad Catholic?

So where am I going with this? The one, of many, beautiful & comforting aspect of Catholicism is the fact that I do not have to pass judgment! Thank you God! Talk about a relief! There is no way I could live with that kind of pressure, that kind of burden, day in and day out.

Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.   Ephesians 4:29

I am so thankful that my job is to love and pray for ALL souls, sinners & saints! And speaking of sinners, guess who has two thumbs and is a sinner, this girl!!

Yep, I am a sinner.  Does that make me a bad Catholic? Jesus’s was crucified so that EVERYONE’S sins could be forgiven. He wasn’t crucified so that only some people’s sins would be forgiven.  But there is a bit of a catch. See, you can’t just say, I accept Jesus as my savior and be done.  There is this miraculous thing called confession. I tell ya, it is like a day at the Spa for the soul, it feels phenomenal! Nothing compares to acknowledging your sins, repenting, asking forgiveness, and receiving God’s grace. But I know I don’t go to confession near enough. Does that make me a bad Catholic?

There is also the Act of Contrition but again, I know I don’t do that near enough either, perhaps I am a bad Catholic?

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Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Now this is a tricky one. See, it had me thinking about the person who got this whole mess started, the person who made the comment originally, about me not acting like a good Catholic. And what I have realized is that people make their own assumptions. And because I take my children to church on Sunday, because the Eucharist is my main driving force, because I pray the Rosary with my children that somehow makes me out to be someone who judges, is hypocritical, who thinks they are perfect?  I am not certain how this assumption came to be but I don’t think I am alone in feeling the repercussions of such assumptions. It does hurt badly when someone says that you think you are perfect and better than someone else especially when you think NOTHING of the sorts.  And the hardest part is having to forgive them for they do not know what is in our hearts, but GOD does, God knows our intent and we must find console in that and forgive those who trespass against us.

 

If you have come in contact with someone who calls themselves a good Catholic, I am sorry, and please pray for them. If you have a friend or family member who is judgmental and Catholic please don’t make an assumption that all Catholics are that way, and again, please pray for them. Catholics are humans, we are flawed, we are far from perfect, we make bad decisions, we are sinners, we are forgivers, we are thankful, we are givers, we are not better than anyone else, we are charitable, we are all equal, we are loving, we are fun (FYI-our festivals include gambling & beer…told ya, not perfect!), we are broken, we are recruiting, you interested?

 

The conclusion I have drawn after carefully analyzing my own behavior and what Catholicism stands for I realize that there are no good or bad Catholics, just Catholics.  God knows we are all a work in progress. He has given us free will, what a magnificent gift yet we do not always make the best choices which are why he sent us his son and why his son was crucified so that our bad decisions & sins could be forgiven. We are all good people but sometimes we make bad decisions.

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Preparing for the Lenten Journey: Lenten Acts of Kindness & Sacrificial Alms Jar and Love Dare

 

As we begin with Ash Wednesday and its reminder of repentance, let us resolve to do our best each day, knowing that it is not the destination, but the journey that will ultimately transform us. -Father Barron-

So, on our Lenten journey this year we are trying something a little different for Lent. We are merging two traditions, the Lenten Alms Jar & the Kindness Jar (Jelly bean Jar).  I still feel strongly about the need for children to have these traditions during Lent. It is in childhood that we learn what Lent is and these activities are the perfect way for a child to comprehend the Lenten journey. 

We have a jar that is filled with 40 acts of kindness. Each day during Lent the children will take turns pulling an act from the jar.  I really liked the acts that Family at the Foot of the Cross shared. They included, draw a picture of Jesus with your family and hang it on the fridge, help set the table without being asked, read a story with a sibling, say a prayer for the Pope, learn a new bible verse, etc.  They all seemed appropriate for the age range of my children (4-9). Click here for a full list of the acts of kindness.  However we will not be adding any beans to the jar. Instead we will be adding money to the jar in order to enter into the spirit of saving for alms.

The children have decided to give up pizza that we usually have on pizza & movie nights. I know how much they look forward to it and I know how much I look forward to not cooking.  Haha! But that’s okay; maybe they will pull the “help mom cook dinner” act of kindness on movie night.

The older two have also decided to give up the chocolate milk they buy once a week at school in addition to any Tooth Fairy money they might be receiving.  And our youngest, our 4 year old has declared that she will be giving up her Valentine’s candy, which just so happens to be down to 1 sucker…a small sacrifices, but a sacrifice no less. And I have decided to give up Starbuck’s. It will be interesting to see how much we save as a result of self-denial. The next step is deciding where we would like to send the alms fund. The children have tossed around a few ideas…Apraxia Support, American Heart Foundation, Church, a student from school whose family lost an infant.

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And for our marriage we will be taking up a wholesome activity as a couple and doing the Love Dare, 40 days love journey!  My husband’s new job has him traveling a lot. And I am suddenly in a new position myself as the solo parent when he is away. Both our jobs are very demanding, stressful, and draining at time. So it is no surprise that when we do finally see each other we have little left to give the other, if anything at all. Hopefully the Love Dare will help get us back on track.

I am also looking forward to Matthew Kelly’s Best Lent Ever!! BTW, in his first message he say’s don’t give up chocolate and to not do ANYTHING you have done before for Lent, which is precisely what we are doing!!  Click here to sign up for your best Lent Ever.

Here is to a magnificent Lenten journey!! God Bless

What are you doing for Lent? What have you done in the past that worked our well? Have you ever done the Love Dare?

 

 

 

A Faith of Their Own: An Experience Guide for Parents & Preteens

I was elated when I received an email offering me the opportunity to review the book, A Faith of Their Own: An Experience Guide for Parents & Preteens. Why? Because this book isn’t like all the other books, this book is one that is engaging, interactive, and encourages dialog about our faith. It is an experience guide for parents and preteens. So, what did I think? Did it meet, or even exceed my expectations? Here is my review of our travels through the experience guide, A Faith of Their Own.

My first observation was that the guide was organized nicely and user-friendly. The experience guide is broken into 52 experiences, one for each week of the year. Each experience is then further broken down into five sections,

  • Prayer: Open Up to God Together
  • Scripture: Dive into God’s Story Together
  • Experience: Do Something Practical Together
  • Debrief: Process What You Experienced Together
  • Journal: Write Out Your Takeaways Together

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But before you delve into the guide there are two quick words, one to parents and one to preteens. Each truly captures where most preteens and parents are this day and age and they speak truth in a none-confrontational, compassionate way.  They are honest and upfront about the fact that…”If you want your son or daughter to take seriously what’s in the pages that follow, you’ll need to actually pray and read scripture-not just for them but also for you. If those are new habits, take a step of courage and boldly try them on for size. Even if you feel awkward…you can expose your preteen to how following God is a growth curve for everyone, even you.” Thus, this guide not only encourages preteens to grow in their faith but also many parents who may have gotten lost somewhere along the way. It should also be noted that the language, context, and experiences in the guide are appropriate for parents who have been journeying with faith all their life or those who are just beginning their journey. There are no perquisites required in order to understand and enjoy this experience guide which is very refreshing.

 

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.
(2 Timothy 3:14-15)

 

Another aspect of the guide I found to be quite refreshing and appreciative was the preparation notes at the beginning of each experience. There is nothing worse than getting your child, especially a hormonal and emotional pre-adolescent excited about their faith and eager to participate only to find that you don’t have all the necessary supplies to complete the experience/activity. The required supplies are written out clearly so that you can plan a week or even weeks in advance, ensuring you will have the necessary items when the time comes. This leads to another very important aspect that makes this guide appealing, variety. They say variety is the spice of life and this guide is a spice rack. The experiences are fun, each is so different from the last, and there is literally no room for boring.  One experience had us baking a cake, another had us going through the trash (this one was a little off putting for my daughter so we altered it slightly, you can definitely tell some of these activities came from dads, haha!), watching a movie, playing a video game, while yet another had us making greeting cards, I don’t want to spoil the fun (52 totally engaging experiences… and if you don’t happen to have various supplies on hand there are substitute recommendations). I even found myself becoming excited for the next experience.  And the best part, all five sections come together to provide a cohesive educational experience and growth in faith. 

And they were bringing children to him that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them.
(Mark 10:13-16 )

Chris Folmsbee and Tony Myles do a phenomenal job relating the prayer, scripture, and experiences/activities in order to have debriefing that really brings home the purpose and focus of that week. This guide takes the guess work out of ways to engage preteens in their faith. It is literally written out for you, all the hard work has been done.  Talk about an answer to prayers! All you need to do is invest the time, oh, and get the book.

In conclusion, A Faith of Their Own: An Experience Guide for Parents & Preteens  not only provides encouragement to preteens on their path of faith but can also help  jumpstart or redirect parents’ journeys as well. This guide is such an exceptional way to get children excited about their faith and better comprehend what is often otherwise lost in preteen translation.

Disclaimer: I was given a copy of A Faith of Their Own to review as a Beacon Hill Press Blogger. All opinions are my own.

Marriage is Hard!

Be honest, did the title of this post just totally blow your mind? I mean based upon all the fairytales I’ve read marriage is about living happily ever after. And happily ever after shouldn’t be hard or difficult, it should be natural and easy, right!? Wrong!

 

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My husband and I just celebrated our 11th wedding anniversary. We received many congratulations and well wishes for the future which we both greatly appreciated but it was one statement, more like a label of us that really had me thinking. On more than one occasion we were referred to as the ‘perfect couple’ which I realized was merely a term of endearment but it did make me think, did we actually look like a perfect couple from the outside? Just the thought alone had me giggling. We are far from perfect, in fact we are the perfect example of trial and error. We are a work in progress. We have learned from our mistakes and past experiences and from other’s mistakes and experiences. We are also very blessed to have parents who have 70+ years of experience between the two marriages.

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Our parents support and advice have been invaluable. Now I realize everyone is not as fortunate and sometimes parents model a much more complicated path. This is when advice from other married couples, like us, can be very valuable. But I would warn that most advice should be taken with a grain of salt. If it sounds to good to be true than it probably is.  Thus, my first bit of advice is to be careful whose advice you take (anyone else see the irony in that? Ha-ha!).

It was 2005 and my husband and I were sitting in a preparing for baptism class for our future child. We were at a large table with 5 or 6 other expectant parents. The couple running the meeting, who had been married for 15 years started to discuss how much our lives and marriage would change after children. They addressed how we would need to be a team and lookout for each other. Then a couple attending the meeting asked about arguments and how to handle them in front of children. The response the couple running the meeting gave sent me into full on shock!! Eyes bulging, mouth wide open shock! The couple expressed to the group of expectant parents that they never argue or disagree, NEVER! Did I mention I was shocked by their response!? I so badly wanted to stand up, point my finger at them and scream LIAR, LIAR, pants on fire…but that wasn’t the way a mature expecting mother should act.  I did however find comfort in the fact that my husband’s expression mirrored my own. I have to say that was the WORST advice/support I have ever been given with regard to marriage. News flash, married couples argue and if you don’t then chances are someone is holding a LOT of stuff in, which is SO not good for your marriage. Learning how to disagree/argue is an important part of marriage because trust me, you will be arguing and disagree on things for the rest of your live….on things like chores, finances, what color car to purchase, where to send children to school, how to pack a car efficiently, how to load a dishwasher efficiently, etc.

The aim of argument, or of discussion, should not be victory, but progress.

-Joseph Joubert-

Learning how to argue? What? Like it is difficult? Well, actually it can be at times. It is in the heat of the moment, when we can’t see straight and are so pissed off that the WORST things leak out of our mouths. We attack; we want to hurt by any means possible, we want the other person to feel pain. But wait, didn’t you marry that person because you want the best for them, because you love them, and would never dream of hurting them? See what I mean? You need to learn how to argue as a couple. Discuss it and set boundaries when you are in a state of peace. Because trust me, whenever two people live together their will be disagreements and preparation is key to resolving the conflict and eliminating verbal wounds.

 

Simple rules I live by when it comes to disagreements:

  1. Attack the issue not the person….It can be tempting to address a character flaw when your husband hasn’t put the seat down for the umpteenth time but DON’T! Stay focused on the issue, the toilet seat. (Stick with the good old, “I feel_____ when you____”….I feel insignificant when you leave the seat up).
  2. Put yourself in your spouse’s shoes…perhaps he was rushing quickly to help one of the children and totally forgot about the seat. Haven’t you done something similar before? What about the keys you left in the door last week? And remember how understanding your spouse was?
  3. Find a resolution…perhaps it is time to get a seat that slowly closes on its own.
  4. Forgive. Holding a grudge only harms your health and your marriage. Remember we are all human, we are ALL flawed, and we all make mistakes. THIS IS THE HARDEST STEP, especially when we forget #1 and attack each other instead of the issue.

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The thing is chances are you will not resolve the issue the first or even second time you argue about it. But eventually with age, patience, and conviction the problem will become resolved, or something bigger will take its place. The important thing is that you balance the good with the bad. Make time to grow together, spend time together, and have date nights, weekend getaway…remember why you fell in love in the first place.

Love is by definition focused on its object. If I’m thinking about me, I am not focused on loving my man.

-Elspeth, Traditional Christianity, The Heart of the Five Love Languages-

It is 2014 and society tells us that our happiness is what matters; we should be self-serving at all times. But that isn’t authentic happiness. The truth is the moment you allow marriage to be all about you is the moment it begins to deteriorate. Marriage is all about putting someone else’s needs before your own. Hard, right!?  I know it can seem exhausting but when both spouses are giving selflessly to one another it is beautiful. But the things with marriage is that there are different seasons. There will be times when you and your spouse are so in sync and then the next month you aren’t. Like I said marriage is hard. Marriage is something that you need to tend to on a daily basis and there will be days when you just don’t feel like giving it your all. Days when you are just not feeling the love so-to-speak. It is on those days or those seasons in your marriage when commitment needs to be your focus. Not one couple is in love 24/7…and if anyone tells you that I would suggest you cross them off you list of great advisors.

 

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Ever hear someone say, “I have fallen out of love”, “I am no longer in love”?   Love is a two way street. How on Earth can someone be expected to give love day in and day out if they do not receive it? If only one spouse is constantly giving and the other just takes and takes and takes it will eventually drain the relationship. Love is a choice and it takes work.  Do your actions show love? To say “I love you” is endearing but empty if not followed up by action that expresses that love. Love is something that can be shown through our actions.

Show your love to your spouse:

Do something for your spouse every day that expresses that you choose love. Grab your spouse coffee, text a sweet note during the day, etc. Please feel free to comment with a few ideas or share small things you do for your spouse.

And last but certainly not least, thank GOD!

In conclusion, there is no perfect couple. No matter how perfect any couple looks it is important to remember that each has their own issues, struggles, and at times even heartache. I know my husband and I have had our fair share. But the real key to a lasting marriage is to keep a 3rd party present at ALL times, GOD. There are moments in marriage when both parties throw up their hands and God takes the wheel.

 

If you are going through a difficult season in your marriage or know of another couple who is here are some great resources:

The Selfish Spouse

Healing a Marriage When Trust is Broken

12 Ways to Fix Your Marriage

Healing the Emotionally Abusive Marriage

 

Please share your thoughts

Resurrection Eggs

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After church on Sunday the children went on a Resurrection Egg hunt. For those not familiar, Resurrection eggs are a set of 12 plastic Easter Eggs each containing a specific object inside related to the true story of Easter (crown of thorns, dice, chalice, etc.). Each egg has a scripture reading, devotion, and short story that accompany the small item placed inside the egg.

 

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Since they had just listened to the Palm Sunday gospel reading of the Passion and the younger two discussed it more in-depth in Sunday school everything was fresh in their minds. So first I hid the eggs and they each went hunting for the eggs then we read the scripture reading and had the children guess what was inside each egg before they opened it. 

 

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It was priceless seeing their excitement before opening each egg. And I was pleasantly surprised how many they guessed correctly.

 

 

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We officially started a new family tradition, Palm Sunday Resurrection Eggs hunt and discussion to help prepare the children for Holy week. Our daughter even came up with the idea of placing them in our Easter basket to be blessed.

 

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If you are interested in making your own Resurrection Eggs the following sites offer free printables and instructions:

The Simple Home

Life Your Way

Play Eat Grow

Or purchase your own like I did by Family Life (from Hobby Lobby, 40% off, score!!) and the Family Life website has some great tips, idea, etc. for using the Resurrection eggs.