Tuesday, December 28, 2010

A new holiday cookie favorite -- just in time for New Year's Day!

Although this isn't generally a food blog, the Christmas Cookie Recipe Exchange Link-Up at Catholic Cuisine inspired me to share a new recipe:  Mint Chocolate Chip Cookies.

This will become a standard holiday recipe for  my family:  it is DELICIOUS!  And the green color is so festive. Best of all, it is easy to make because it uses one pouch of Betty Crocker's Sugar Cookie Mix as its base. (No need to measure flour, baking powder, etc.) 

Here's the recipe:

1 pouch (1 lb 1.5 oz) Betty Crocker® sugar cookie mix

1/2 cup butter or margarine, softened
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon mint extract
6 to 8 drops green food color (for me, this created a very light green color.  I added 10-12 drops.  You will need to experiment based on the strength of your food coloring.) 1 egg
1 cup creme de menthe baking chips (I used Andes Crème de Menthe Baking Chips)
1 cup semisweet chocolate chunks (I used semisweet chocolate chips)

Heat oven to 350°F. In large bowl, stir cookie mix, butter, extract, food color and egg until soft dough forms. Stir in creme de menthe baking chips and chocolate chunks. Using small cookie scoop or teaspoon, drop dough 2 inches apart on ungreased cookie sheet. Bake 8 to 10 minutes or until set. Cool 3 minutes; remove from cookie sheet to wire rack. Serve warm or cool completely. Store tightly covered at room temperature.   Makes 3 dozen cookies.

You can also check out this recipe (and reader reviews) on the Betty Crocker website.

Incidentally, my first batch is already gone, so I'll be making another batch for our New Year's celebrations!

Check out other delicious holiday recipes at Catholic Cuisine.

My favorite gift

I love my 8-year-old daughter Maria, but she has fine-tuned her ability to drive me crazy!  She likes to debate (argue) about everything.  If I say "Isn't the sky a beautiful blue color today?" she will spend the next hour debating with me on whether the sky is actually blue.  ("No, I don't think it is really blue.  I think it is pale blue. Or maybe indigo blue.  Or maybe a true blue.  And the clouds aren't white; they are grayish white.  Or maybe a whitish gray.")

Changes in her routine especially seem to bring out her argumentative side. Which means that the holidays are always challenging, since she isn't in her regular school routine, her brother is home from school, and daddy is around more often.  Some days I go to bed exhausted, asking God (or rather, begging him!) for a better day tomorrow.

Then, out of the blue she will do something that touches my heart so deeply.  On Christmas Eve she gave me  this gift -- a coloring sheet she had just finished:

Kinda' makes it easier to forget all the arguing and debating...if only for a little while!

Friday, December 24, 2010

O Holy Night

As we remember the birth of our Lord, thought I would share a beautiful rendition of one of my favorite songs: 

May you have a Holy Night ...

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

An inspirational song by Casting Crowns

Was paging through YouTube, looking for some inspirational Advent/Christmas music to play in the background while I worked on a writing project, and came across a video by Casting Crowns called "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day Live."  Some of you probably saw this a couple of years ago on TBN but the lyrics touched me so much I had to share it here.

I heard the bells on Christmas day
Their old familiar carols play
And mild and sweet their songs repeat
Of peace on earth good will to men

And the bells are ringing
Like a choir they're singing
In my heart I hear them
Peace on earth, good will to men

And in despair I bowed my head
There is no peace on earth I said
For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men

But the bells are ringing
Like a choir singing
Does anybody hear them?
Peace on earth, good will to men

Then rang the bells more loud and deep
God is not dead, nor doth He sleep
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail
With peace on earth, good will to men

Then ringing singing on its way

The world revolved from night to day
A voice, a chime, a chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good will to men

And the bells they're ringing
Like a choir they're singing
And with our hearts we'll hear them
Peace on earth, good will to men

Do you hear the bells they're ringing?
The life the angels singing
Open up your heart and hear them
Peace on earth, good will to men

Peace on earth, Peace on earth
Peace on earth, Good will to men

Monday, December 20, 2010

Another freebie from Holy Heroes

Holy Heroes is giving away another freebie, just in time to fill those Christmas stockings.  It is offering a free download of a  19-page coloring book about Joseph (which includes scenes depicting his marriage to Mary, the Annunciation, the Angel Gabriel's visit to him, the trip via donkey to Bethlehem, the visit to the Temple, and much more. The pictures were drawn by former animators for Disney so they are especially appealing to children. After filling out a short survey, they give you the download page for immediate download.  I may turn some of these coloring pages into ornaments for our Christmas tree. 

Here's the link to the survey and free coloring pages:


Alternately, you can find the link on their homepage.  Look on the right hand side of the page in the "Free Stuff" box.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

A beautiful tradition -- the Advent Spiral

We won't be homeschooling next week, so I wanted to find some meaningful faith-based activities to keep my kids busy.  I came across the idea of the Advent Spiral, which I guess is a tradition in Waldorf Schools.

Basically, a spiral is created on the floor with evergreen boughs.  A lit candle sits in the center of the spiral. Each child takes a turn walking through the spiral path while holding a candle or votive. When she reaches the center of the spiral she lights her candle, and then walks the path back to the beginning.  Sometimes she places her candle along the spiral.

When all children have finished, the path is beautifully lit by glowing candles.  Prayers or songs may be sung, too.

I could see this spiral as the perfect place to sing O Come, O Come Emmanuel or pray the Rosary.

Waldorf Without Walls has a better description of the advent spiral, along with ideas on how it can be adapted for a smaller area, like a tabletop.

An Art Family blog has photos of an outdoor spiral created with evergreen boughs, in addition to photos of their candle-lit indoor celebration.

Here is a spiral set up indoors at the Lancaster Steiner School in the United Kingdom.

Some spirals are made out of wood to fit a tabletop.  This spiral was created by a German company called Grimm's Spiel and Holz Design. 
Alternately, you could try making one from salt dough, like Kimberly demonstrates on her blog Catholic Family Vignettes.

Wouldn't this be a nice activity to accompany prayers for each evening in Advent? I'll be filing this idea for next year!

Advent Meditation with Children: The Visitation

In an earlier post, I mentioned the presentation on the Annunciation that we do with the children in our Catechesis of the Good Shepherd atrium. Even the smallest children, as young as three years old, are deeply touched by Infancy Narratives like the Annunciation. I think it's because the process becomes a hands-on experience when they are able to use the diorama and other materials to recreate the story.

We also present other Infancy Narratives in the atrium, like the Visitation presentation I gave to my daughter yesterday.  It is based on Luke 1:39-56, where Mary goes to visit her cousin Elizabeth, who is also pregnant despite her advanced age.

My diorama of Elizabeth's house is a work in progress, but we used it anyway. Like Mary's house for the Annunciation presentation, it is made from a photo storage box covered with plaster.  It hasn't been painted yet; I'm debating whether to leave it white or paint it. (By leaving it white, it will help the children differentiate between Mary's home and Elizabeth's home.)

The Mary and Elizabeth figures are made from 1" wide dowels, cut to a length of about 3".  Their veils are made from a plastic compound I found at a craft store.  Unfortunately, I don't remember what it was called but I think an air dry clay would work too. The clothing, hair, hands and facial features were painted on with acrylic paint or fine-tipped permanent markers.   As an alternative, you could use wooden pegs (available at many craft stores) instead of the wooden dowels. 

Unfortunately, it is a project that takes time but it's well worth the effort!  My son loved these dioramas and now my daughter is beginning to fall in love with them. Feel intimidated?  In the atrium, we have found that the children love the figures and dioramas best when they appear homemade and are less-than-perfect. The Fontanini figures are nice but they don't speak to the children as much as these little wooden doll figures do!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

First approved Marian apparition in the United States!

Our Lady of Good Help
 Things have been so hectic lately that I forgot to mention some exciting news that happened a couple of weeks ago.

On the Feast of the Immaculate Conception (December 8) Bishop David Ricken of the Diocese of Green Bay, Wisconsin, announced that he officially approved the Marian apparitions that occurred in the late 1850s in rural northeast Wisconsin, near the town of Champion.  These are the first approved Marian apparitions in the United States.

It's amazing how God works.  I was recently pondering the many apparitions of Mary around the world, such as those that occurred near Mexico City, Lourdes and Fatima.  I wondered why there had never been any apparitions in the United States.

God answered my question on December 8.  He answered it in a big way for me!  This site is not in Hawaii, Florida, Alaska or some other distant state. In fact, it is in my neighboring state of Wisconsin!   But even more amazing to me is the fact that these apparitions seem to be directed especially to catechists, homeschooling parents, or any Catholic parent who wants to instill the faith in their child. 

In these apparitions, Our Lady appeared to Adele Brise and asked her to teach the children  “their catechism, how to sign themselves with the sign of the Cross, and how to approach the sacraments."

I've always taken my role of catechist very seriously, striving to help the children in my classes develop a personal relationship with Jesus.  But lately, it's seemed harder than ever, and I've wondered if I really ever reach the children.  This apparition has given me a renewed passion to teach the faith!

You can find out more about this apparition on the Relevant Radio website.  You can also check out the Shrine of Good Help, which is located near the place where Adele Brise saw the apparitions.

By the way, I think I've found the inspiration for my next yogurt cup saint!

Yogurt Cup Saints: Our Lady of Guadalupe and St. Juan Diego

Finally finished my yogurt cup saints for Our Lady of Guadalupe and St. Juan Diego!  Wanted to show them to you; they came out better than I expected! 

Juan's tilma even has a miniature imprint of Our Lady's image on it.  Her veil is covered with handpainted stars. 

I'm looking forward to making some for the patron saints in our home, and a few other saints, throughout the year.  It seems that each one gets a bit easier to make, although I did have difficulty getting Our Lady's face just right.  I tried five times to capture the beauty of her image.  Finally settled on simple dots for eyes and a line drawing for her nose and mouth.

Will work on more of these during the year, in hopes that I can publish a tutorial on how to make them during Advent 2011. Start saving those 6 oz. yogurt cups!

Cute Idea: Advent Cubes

St. George's Church in Worcester, Massachusetts, has a wonderful idea for celebrating Advent, using an Advent Cube.  You can download graphics and directions from their website. I love the idea of putting a "jingle bell" inside the cardboard cube to "remind us that Jesus is the REAL present at Christmas!"

This would be a good project for next year, or perhaps could be adapted for the days following Christmas to Epiphany? 

I've been brainstorming some ways to keep my kids busy over their Christmas holiday, which begins today.  I'm thinking about adapting this Advent Cube idea and one created by Alice Gunther on the O Night Divine blog.   I'll post an update with photos soon!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

An early morning surprise -- St. Lucia's Day

My Ebay find: an adorable St. Lucia doll
Tomorrow is St. Lucia's Day, a favorite Advent holiday in many Scandinavian countries. Lucia lived in Syracuse, on the island of Sicily, in the 3rd century. She died at age 20 because she refused to renounce her Christian faith. Her name, which derives from the word Lux, means light, so this feast day is especially appreciated during the cold, dark days of December.

In Sweden, a young girl in each family dresses in a white robe with a red sash and wears a candle-lit crown on her head. She awakens her family members in the morning with a call to "share breakfast with me," then serves them special sweet buns and coffee.

Although my family isn't Scandinavian, I grew up in Minnesota, a state where almost everyone considers themselves at least partially Scandinavian!  In any case, my daughter looks forward to dressing up and serving the family every year.  I purchased a crown a few years ago from Hemslojd, a Scandinavian online store. It uses battery operated candles, which are much safer than real candles! 

This year, we will also be planting wheat berries, a tradition in Hungary, Croatia and other European countries. I ordered a St. Lucia wheat planting kit  from The Confraternity of Penitents Gift Shop in  Middletown, Rhode Island. They suggest planting the seeds on December 13 so green shoots will be showing by Christmas. They then recommend placing the plant near your Nativity set to remind us that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, a word that means "House of Bread" and that bread (including the host used at Mass) is made of wheat.

We will be reading:

1) How to Make a Swedish Christmas by Helen Ingeborg. This book is filled with recipes and has some Swedish craft ideas, including directions on making heart-shaped woven tree ornaments and a straw Julbock (goat).

2) Lucia: Child of Light: The History and Traditions of Sweden's Lucia Celebration by Florence Ekstrand. A great little book that explains the history behind the Lucia festivities, in addition to information about tomte (Swedish elves or little people), plus recipes and lyrics for popular holiday songs like Santa Lucia.

3) Lucia Morning in Sweden by Ewa Rydaker. A fiction story that follows the adventures of the Svensson family as their three children get ready for Lucia Day.


Lucia Morning in Sweden

Yogurt Cup Saints

We eat a lot of yogurt in this house. That means we have a lot of 6 oz. yogurt cups in our recycling bin. For the longest time I've looked at them and tried to brainstorm ways to recycle or re-purpose them. It bothers me that all those little cups are filling up our landfills!  I've  used them for paint cups and to pot seedlings. Yet every time I ate some yogurt, I pictured them as something else, perhaps the body of a shelf sitter or doll.

Recently, I experimented with transforming them into saint figures.  Here is the result:

St . Nicholas of Myra made from a yogurt cup

St. Lucia made from a yogurt cup     

Isn't it amazing what one can do with a little paint, a wooden ball, some felt, hot glue, some birthday candles, artificial greenery and a red ribbon? 

I'm also finishing up my St. Juan Diego and Our Lady of Guadalupe figures.  Will post those photos in a few days.

After I've perfected the process a bit more I'll post more instructions, a pattern or a tutorial.

Celebrating Our Lady of Guadalupe and Juan Diego

Today is the feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe. However, we've been celebrating the feast since last Thursday, which was the feast of St. Juan Diego.

Juan Diego was a poor Aztec Indian who experienced an apparition of the Virgin Mary.  She appeared to him three times, asking him to ask the bishop to build a chapel on the rocky hill where they were standing.  The bishop did not believe Juan Diego and asked for a sign to prove it was the Blessed Mother.  The Blessed Mother had him pick roses and put them in his tilma, then bring them to her.

That in itself was a miracle, since roses did not grow in that rocky area, especially in December.  Even more miraculous is that fact that they were Castile roses, a gorgeous red rose known in the Spain but not yet grown in the Americas.

Juan Diego brought them to Mary, who arranged them in his tilma, then asked him to show them to no one but the bishop.  He took them to the bishop in Mexico City and dropped his tilma, allowing all the roses to cascade to the floor.  He thought the roses were the sign, not realizing that a beautiful image of Our Lady was now imprinted in his tilma.

You can find out more about this miracle and why red roses are so popular in Mexico here.

We spent the last few days learning more about Juan Diego and Our Lady of Guadalupe, plus tying in a bit of Mexican geography and culture.  Some of the things we have done (or will be doing today) include:

1) Eating a Mexican meal of tacos and spanish rice, and drinking non-alcoholic Sangria.   Sangria is very simple to make! Just mix 1/2 cup of grape juice, 1/4 cup of orange juice, and 1/4 cup of Sprite or 7-Up.  Add ice cubes to glasses and pour mixture into glass then add a maraschino cherry or orange slice for garnish.  Makes about 2 cups.  It is delicious!

2) Making roses and/or poinsettias out of red tissue or crepe paper.  Martha Stewart has directions for large and small roses here, including templates.

I originally planned to make  roses, but decided to try poinsettias instead after viewing this tutorial on the Essential Packaging Store Blog. I thought we could make a few extras to decorate gift packages.  Isn't the flower on this package beautiful?  (By the way, it would also be a great project to go along with Tomie DePaola's book The Legend of the Poinsettia.)

3) Watch CCC of America's DVD Juan Diego: Messenger of God. My now 11-year-old son was fascinated by this cartoon video when he first watched it at age 8. I will be introducing it to my 8-year-old daughter this year.

4) Read Tomie DePaola's book The Lady of Guadalupe.  It's a beautiful story told in a way that children can understand. We also read a small book called Our Lady of Guadalupe by Father Lovasik on Thursday.

5) If we still have time, we might make this Guadalupe Day Decoration found on the Crayola website.  I've been looking for a way to use those packages of Model Magic clay in our craft cabinet!

6) Listening to the Glory Stories CD that features the story of Juan Diego.  This is a CD we picked up for free from Holy Heroes!  My daughter received it from St. Nicholas on December 6.

7) Adding pages to Our Saints Notebook.  My daughter is keeping a notebook about all the saints that she is learning about this year. Each saint has a brief biography, a handmade trading card, a coloring page or her drawing of the saint and a paper doll.  We developed our own trading cards but some saint trading cards are available for a free download from That Resource Site.  For paper dolls, we use either the free downloads from the Paper Dali blog or adapt the Biblical paper dolls on the Making Friends website.

We spread out our activities during the past few days since some of them were more time consuming.  today.  If we have time, might do some of the simple Mexican activities found on the DLTK website.  Their  paper quilt would be a fun way to learn a little about Mexico's customs and cultures.

Some resources:

Juan Diego: Messenger Of Guadalupe

The Lady of Guadalupe

 The Legend of the Poinsettia
Our Lady of Guadalupe

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Meditating on the Annunciation with children

As you may know, I am a trained catechist with the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd (CGS) program. CGS helps children build a personal relationship with God by creating a prayerful environment for the child; sort of a quiet retreat away from the world.  While the children are in the atrium, they are taught to think deeply about the mysteries and miracles found within the Bible.

One of my favorite meditations is on the Annunciation.  Using simple materials, the catechist demonstrates the wonderful miracle that occurred when the Angel Gabriel appeared to the Virgin Mary. The passage from Luke is read from the Bible, and then a variety of "wondering" questions are asked to help the children ponder this wondrous event.

After Mass on the feast of Immaculate Conception, I went home and gave this presentation to my daughter, hoping to reinforce the Gospel reading that she had heard that day at Mass.  Here are a couple of photos of the materials I used to tell the story:

The diorama is made from a photo box covered with plaster cloth and then painted.  The figures are purchased Fontanini pieces.  Unfortunately, Angel Gabriel is larger than the diorama; I'll be working on that.

I've left the materials out for my daughter to work with over the past few days.  Today I noticed that she borrowed something from her doll house and added it to the diorama:  a baby.

I guess it just didn't feel right to her that the Blessed Mother was without Baby Jesus!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Saintly Soaps

I think I'm going to do alot of Christmas shopping this year in the Catholic shops on Etsy!  I am so impressed with the beautiful, creative things I found when I did a recent search of Catholic shops.

For example, aren't these beeswax Christmas tree ornaments gorgeous?  I'll be purchasing them to give to catechists and a few other special people!  Check them out here.  $8.50 for a set of four.

Another find: these Catholic Lego Rosaries from MomentoMoose. They include real Legos strung on waxed cotton cord. Your child can put all the Lego pieces together before she starts praying the rosary, then pull them apart as she says each prayer. I can see this rosary working very well with my daughter, who sometimes can't sit still unless she has something to occupy her hands. They are just $20. I noticed they sell Divine Mercy chaplet bracelets made from Legos, too.

Update (12/13/10): Mark, the owner of the Momento Moose Etsy Shop, has kindly volunteered this discount for my blog readers.  Use coupon code "sower10" at checkout and you will receive a 10% discount on your purchases until Christmas.  Thank you, Mark, for helping us stretch our gift dollars a bit farther!

Monday, December 6, 2010

What did you find in your shoes this morning?

Today is the feast day of St. Nicholas, the 3rd century bishop of Myra.  In many countries, St. Nicholas visits the children on the eve of his feast day and leaves gifts like oranges, a candy cane, chocolate coins and other small gifts. Many of the gifts have a symbolic meanings.  For example, the foil-covered chocolate coins represent the coins he gave to a poor man who had no dowry money for his three daughters.

In our house, we observe St. Nicholas Day in two ways. My children attend the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd program and "meet" St. Nicholas there. They help "dress" one of the men in the church, learning about various parts of a bishop's clothing including the alb, cincture, cope, miter and staff.  After that, he is given a large bag filled with small gifts for all the kids.  The small gifts (which are provided by the parents) are wrapped in holiday-print cloth and tied with a red or green ribbon. Each package has a note attached (also written by the parents).  "St. Nicholas" reads the note, which includes compliments to the child on things she has achieved during the year, and encouragement/gentle coaxing on how he can improve in the upcoming year.  After the kids have all spoken with St. Nicholas, they open their gift bags together.  It is a very special time and the kids look forward to it every year!

This year, our fabric sacks included gold coins, a Kinder (German) cookie, a St. Nicholas bookmark, a candy cane, a small "Squirmie" toy and a CD of saint stories (Glory Stories).  In addition, my son received a card game and my daughter received some clothes for one of her little plush kittens. In the past they have received oranges, nuts, a St. Nicholas icon, book, holy card or ornament.  I try to include something about St. Nicholas each year, no matter how small.

At home, the children put out their shoes before going to bed on December 5.  When they awaken in the morning, they find little gifts nestled in and around their shoes.  This year, they received a St. Nicholas Nutcracker (my find from Costplus World Market!), an Advent story book called  Bartholomew's Passage, a Kinder cookie, chocolate candy coins and a shepherd piece for their Nativity sets.

Today, we will be watching the CCC video on St. Nicholas, reading a story about him, and enjoying some traditional St. Nicholas treats like Pepernoten cookies. My daughter also learned to draw St. Nicholas this morning as part of her homeschooling day.  The drawing turned out so nice that I think I will use it for this year's Christmas cards.  Such a fun day!

By the way, if you are interested in learning more about the Advent book Bartholomew's Passage, check out the link below, which includes reviews of the book. It's the sequel to another Advent book called Jotham's Journey. I have read Jotham's Journey to the kids during Advent for the last couple of years.  We're looking forward to diving into this new book together.

Bartholomew's Passage

Jotham's Journey 

Another free gift idea: free Veggie Tales Music Download

Amazon is currently offering a free MP3 download of the Veggie Tales Album The Incredible Christmas Tree. The album is built around the Veggies search for a  Christmas "Star" to be the top of their singing Christmas Tree for a holiday production. The music is a nice mix of serious and silly songs to entertain all ages. You will hear 
classics like Silent Night and Joy To the World, and Veggie Tale originals like Candy Cane Blues and Was He a Boy Like Me.  

To get your free download, surf over to the Amazon website by clicking  on this link:  The Incredible Christmas Tree

While you're waiting for the songs to download, check out some of the other free downloads listed further down the page, which include several other Christmas albums!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Ideas for St. Nicholas Day (December 5/6)

St. Nicholas Eve is on Sunday night; are you ready?  If not, check out the crafts and cooking ideas at St. Nicholas Center.  Some of these (like the printable puzzles and "I Spy" game) would make nice items to accompany the orange, foil-covered chocolate coins and candy canes you put in your children's shoes on St. Nicholas Eve.

Over at the Shower of Roses blog, Jessica has a wonderful way to turn those generic chocolate coins into something very special:  she adds St. Nicholas stickers, advent stickers and nativity stickers that she created herself and printed off her computer. I love this little touch -- that's the kind of thing that children will remember when they have kids of their own!

Friday, December 3, 2010

Lady of Guadalupe Playset

Wow, look at this gorgeous Lady of Guadalupe Playset over at StLuke's Brush Etsy Shop!

What a wonderful way to tell this miraculous story to children.  I love the fact that the inside of the storage case is also a diorama of the Mexican desert. This would be a great gift for either St. Juan Diego's feast day (December 9) or the feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe (December 12), in addition to Christmas.

Check out this neat shop; they have a beautiful "Storybook Nativity Set" which would also make a nice Christmas gift.  (I am not associated with this shop in any way; I'm just very impressed with their beautiful peg doll sets!)

A Beautiful Basque Carol

I stumbled across this beautiful Basque carol while listening to some Christmas carols on Youtube.  I had never heard the song before but the words really touched my heart.  I think my daughter and I will learn it next week as part of our homeschooling day.  Wanted to share this wonderful children's version of the song with you. It is performed by the Christ Lutheran Academy Choir, Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin and directed by Kathryn Peperkorn.  I think this is going to become a new family favorite!  This comes from Youtube:

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Free Advent Bingo Game

Over the last few days I've stumbled across some great freebies online!  For example, right now Loyola Press is offering a free Advent Bingo Game that can be downloaded from their website.  I may print this out and tuck it next to my children's shoes on December 5 (as a small gift from St. Nicholas). The cards include terminology appropriate to Advent, like Isaiah, St. Lucy, Emmanuel and John the Baptist.  What a fun way to open a discussion about Advent with your kids!  You can download the bingo cards and directions from the Loyola Press website.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Free Advent Adventure from Holy Heroes

Looking for a fun, simple way to teach your kids more about Advent and the Jesse Tree?  The wonderful people at Holy Heroes are offering a free Advent retreat.  Every day, you will get a link to an online video lesson about Advent and a second lesson about the Jesse Tree.  My 8 year old daughter and I have been following it; she is really enjoying it because kids narrate both video lessons.  The website also a variety of helpful free downloads, including a sacrifice list, the words to "O Come, O Come Emmanuel," coloring sheets, word searches and more.
To enroll in the free retreat, visit the Holy Heroes website here.

While you're at the website, why not order the free Glory Stories CD?  Glory Stories are high quality audio shows about saints that were originally broadcast on Ave Maria Radio and EWTN Global Radio Network from 2003-2006. Production was discontinued on the series and the CDs were getting hard to find, until Holy Heroes recently purchased the rights to them.  This would make a great stocking stuffer.  Normally these CDs cost $14.75 but for a limited time you can own one for the price of shipping only.  Find out more here.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Presents for Jesus

A couple of years ago, I developed a "virtue cross" for my catechism class to use during Lent.  I created the activity to help the children learn appropriate behavior in our atrium.  We selected a few behaviors we wanted to reinforce, like reverence, kindness or respect of property.  Whenever one of the catechists "caught" a child doing one of these behaviors, that child was given a colorful sticker to add to a blank cross on the wall.

At the end of the year, the plain white cross was transformed into a beautiful creation because of the colorful stickers.  We complimented the children and pointed out how their virtuous actions had created something beautiful in our atrium.

Since that time, I've toyed with the idea of creating a similar work for Advent.  Today I finally sat down and created our new activity, which I've titled "Presents for Jesus."  Using my desktop publishing program, I drew two boxes on a page.  I divided the main section of each box into 1/2" x 3/4" rectangles, which are the same size as Avery's All Purpose Labels (available at most office supply stores).  Using markers, I colored one sheet of labels purple and another sheet pink.

 Tomorrow I will explain to the children that the best gift we can give to Jesus is our good behavior.  I will ask them to select four different virtues they would like to work on during Advent.  Whenever they are caught doing the virtue, they will be given an appropriate sticker and can use it to fill a space on one of Jesus' gift boxes.
Our goal will be to fill all four
gift boxes by Epiphany.  We will work together to create the beautiful packages for Jesus, rather than competing to see who puts the most stickers on the package.

This activity could easily be adapted to a home environment, either as a family activity or homeschool activity. I've uploaded the "Presents for Jesus" pdf  here if you would like to try it at home.  If you do, please post a comment and tell us about it!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Planning for Advent

Advent begins tomorrow --Sunday, November 28, 2010.  How will you be spending your Advent?  I find that unless I sit down and plan some Advent-focused activities, December is quickly over-run with Christmas preparations. My focus shifts to the many "to do" items on my work list -- the Christmas cards, the baking, the gift buying and the house decorating. I have to make a concerted effort to build prayer and contemplation into my family's daily schedule.

Yesterday night I sat down and read a helpful little booklet called What Am I Doing for Advent This Year? Written by Father Paul Turner, the pastor of St. Munchin parish in Cameron, Missouri, it is only 32 pages, yet provides quick questions and exercises to help you prioritize your holiday preparations while still allowing time for the quiet meditation and prayer that truly makes Advent and Christmas meaningful.  It helps you survey your secular activities and suggests spiritual ones--like using a Jesse tree--to enhance the season.

It also offers a meaningful explanation into the liturgical colors of the season and the Sunday readings.  Finally, the back of the book includes a blank chart that you can use to plan your Advent.

This little gem is only $1.  It can be purchased from Liturgy Training Publications.  It would make a nice Advent gift for friends and family who are also searching for a more meaningful holiday.