Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Keeping Christ in Christmas: Celebrating the Golden Days

"I’m participating in the Keeping Christ in Christmas Blog Carnival, hosted by Raising (& Teaching) Little SaintsTruly Rich Mom and Arma Dei: Equipping Catholic Families. We'll be sharing different ways, tips, stories and real-life experiences that will help us focus on Jesus as the Reason for the Christmas season. Please scroll down to the end of the post to see the list of carnival entries.”

In a perfect world, I would cancel all outside activities during December.  My son would stay home from Catholic school and my daughter would skip her homeschool co-op.  I would eliminate sports practices and dance classes.  Instead, we would start each day by attending Mass and end each day with Advent vespers or by meditating on the Infancy Narratives.  Our days would be filled with reading good books, making  symbolic ornaments for our Christmas tree, visiting our parish's Adoration Chapel, helping at the food pantry, visiting with the elderly at a nursing home, baking cookies and other treats for family and friends, and creating meaningful homemade gifts for everyone on our list. 

Alas, I don't live in a perfect world.  I can't realistically pull my son from school and my daughter from co-op.  I can't eliminate all outside activities. In fact, I can't even skip secular activities like sports practices and dance classes. You see, my high-energy kids are happier and better behaved when they get a lot of physical activity--the strenuous physical activity that comes from swim team, soccer, basketball and ballet. Without that exercise, they would  be bouncing off the walls, bickering at each other and getting into mischief.  And I would be exhausted just trying to keep them out of trouble!

So I keep my sanity by continuing with our sports practices and dance classes.  The downside:  we are never home before 8 p.m. on a weekday night. When we do get  home, we only have time for a quick dinner, baths, homework and perhaps a chapter of Tabitha's Travels before bedtime. 

I constantly struggle with trying to put more spiritual meaning into December. But it's hard, very hard when we are home only a few hours each day, and that time is spent eating dinner, cleaning up, preparing for the next day and then getting ready for bed. 

So I asked myself:  how can I put Christ back into this season during the few hours we have together?  Well, we have to eat.  Could I do something to turn our meals into a time when we remember the true reason for the season? 

I read about the Golden Nights on Catholic Cuisine,  and discovered the ancient Benedictine monastery custom of praying the O Antiphons and enjoying special meals and gifts on the seven nights before Christmas Eve (December 17-23).  Hmm, I thought.  This would be the perfect way to turn our focus back to Jesus on the days leading up to Christmas. I asked myself:  could I do something like this, if I keep it super simple?  

I did a bit of research using the resources on Catholic Cuisine, Catholic Resources, Catholic Encyclopedia,  the USCCB website,  Women for Faith and FamilCatholic Icing and Family Feast and Feria. 
Maybe I could do it, if  I did a bit of preplanning yet still kept it simple. Thought I'd share my plan for those who are also looking for a simpler way to keep Christ in Christmas.  Even if you are reading this after December 17, you could still incorporate some of these ideas into the days leading up to Christmas.  You could deviate a bit from  the monastery custom and perhaps double up on days or pick the antiphons and symbols that would resonate most with your family. 

Basically, each day at dinner we will replace our usual prayer by saying the O Antiphon of the Day and the Magnificat.  If it's really late, we simply sing the appropriate verse of O Come, O Come Emmanuel.  We're using Jennifer Gregory Miller's O Antiphon Prayer Companion, which you can find here.   

December 17 
Theme:  O Sapienta/O Wisdom
Small Gift or Special Meal:  It was an especially late evening, so we ate out between dance class and sports practice.  While driving, I told them about the Antiphons and how we would be adapting the monastery custom for the next week. I mentioned that today's theme was "O Wisdom."   At the fast food restaurant,  I encouraged the kids to select something with eggs or tomatoes, which are known to be "brain food," or to have chicken, which has wings like the dove representing the Holy Spirit, also a symbol of wisdom.    At home, we pulled out the Prayer Companion and discussed Christ's messianic title of O Sapienta/O Wisdom.  I then gave the kids a package wrapped in gold paper. Inside, they found a gold tablecloth and matching napkins.  I explained that gold is traditionally the color associated with wisdom and knowledge.  I also mentioned that the next few nights are known as the Golden Nights, so we will use this gold tablecloth at each of our meals through December 23.

December 18 
Theme: O Adonai/Or Lord and Ruler
Small Gift or Special Meal: Stouffers Skillet Meal (ready in 15 minutes--yeah!)   For dessert, Milano Cookies decorated to look like the 10 Commandment tablets and fig newton cookies that were decorated to look like little Bibles. Here is a photo of the cookies:

  Here's a photo of our table:

On the side of the table I display a magnet board with the name of the day's antiphon, along with the artwork in Jennifer Gregory Miller's Prayer Companion. 

December 19
Theme: O Radix Jesse/O  Root of Jesse
Small Gift or Special Meal:  Since today's antiphon mentions roots, I made a crockpot beef stew with lots of root vegetables like carrots and potatoes.  Here's a photo of our beef stew simmering in the pot:

I also made poinsettia cookies for dessert.  This required a bit of pre-planning. A week ago, when I made our Christmas rolled sugar cookies, I cut out some simple shapes that I would use to put together the poinsettia cookies and our sunrise cookies (for another antiphon day).  To make the leaves for the poinsettia flower, I used a measuring cup to make medium sized circles and a football shaped cookie cutter  to resemble a poinsettia petal.  (After a few tries, I realized that if I bent the football cookie cutter a bit, it looked more like a petal.)  

 I decorated the petal shaped cookies with red frosting and sugar, and the round shaped cookies with yellow frosting. Then I assembled the pieces together on a plate to look like a poinsettia, like this:

 Here's a photo of our table:

December 20
Theme: O Clavis David/O Key of David
Small Gift or Special Meal: Basketball practice and Confessions tonight, so we will have these Crockpot Greek Chicken Pitas followed by Marie Callender's individual key lime pies which I picked up from our supermarket.  I also found some decorative keys at Joann's Craft Store a couple of weeks ago, which I will be tying to our napkins. The keys will then be used as ornaments for our Christmas tree.   A couple photos:

December 21
Theme: O Oriens/O Dayspring
Small Gift or Special Meal:  Friday is usually our day to eat eggs, so we will have "sunny-side up" eggs and waffles or pancakes cut/baked into sun shapes. Also, we will enjoy this Texas Sunrise drink from the Catholic cuisine website.  Sports practices are cancelled tonight (yeah!) so we will have a family movie night and watch one of our favorite holiday flicks, along with enjoying "sunrise" cookies (cookie dough cut in round shapes and long rectangles, then decorated with yellow frosting.  I'll share a photo soon!)  I've also planned a special gift for tonight--some battery lit candles that change color, which we will use for some of our upcoming holiday meals.  

Here's a photo of our Texas Sunrise drink and sun-shaped cookie dessert. 

December 22
Theme: O Rex Gentium/O King of Nations
Small Gift or Special Meal:  It's Saturday, and only one sports practice today (and no games or swim meets) so I have a bit more time to prepare a meal!  Since today's antiphon mentions a "cornerstone," I'll be serving individual meat loaves to represent cornerstones, along with mashed potatoes to represent the kingdom of heaven. For dessert, mini bundt cakes decorated to look like crowns.  After supper, our special activity will be to visit a "drive through" Nativity play at one of the churches in the area.

December 23
Theme: O Emmanuel/God With Us
Small Gift or Special Meal:  No outside activities today besides Mass!  It will be a family day to decorate the tree and finish getting ready for Christmas.  Our traditional Sunday dinner is usually pasta, so I'm looking for uniquely shaped pasta that might tie in with our theme.  It may be a stretch...but perhaps a mixture of angel hair pasta (to represent the angel's announcement to the shepherds) and campanelle pasta, which looks a bit like a lily, the flower that is used to symbolize both Joseph and Mary.

I'll add bread and wine since they symbolize the Eucharist and we will enjoy some Nativity shaped sugar cookies made along with the poinsettia cookies. For a special evening activity, I've wrapped up a nativity themed puzzle that we can start working on together. 

Want more ideas on how to keep Christ in Christmas?  Check out these great blogs!

Homeschool Mosaics: Keeping Christ in Christmas
Joy: Keeping Christ in Christmas: Advent Interruptions
The Breadbox Letters: Interrupted by Glory
TwentyTuesdayAfternoons: Keeping Christ in Christmas/ The Season of Giving / A Wee Bit of Beach Holiday Angst
The Learning Basket: Staying With the Nativity Story
Tercets: Keeping Christ in Christmas
Rosary Mom: Keeping Christ in Christmas
Ate Maui: Hoping and Bringing Hope
Written By the Finger of God: 12 Traditions for Keeping Christ in Christmas
Dominique's Desk: Keeping Christ in Christmas
Felix at Fifty: What Jesus Wants for Christmas
Mommy Bares All: Birthday Cake for the Birthday Boy on Christmas Day
Between Now and Later: Keeping Christ in Christmas, I am trying...
Lique's Antics: Family Antics: Christmas Reflection
Life of Fortunate Chances: Our First Ever Christmas: Keeping Christ in Christmas
The Mommy Journey: Keeping Christ in Christmas
Roller Coaster Ride: How to Remind Your Kids of Jesus Christ This Christmas
Cymplified: Christ -Centered Christmas: Cymplified!
Mountain Grace: Keeping Christ in Christmas
Touring Kitty: Grown-up Christmas List
Mommy Chinkysoup for the Soul: A Very Special Christmas
City Girl, Country Home: Finding Jesus in a Flurry
Coffee Moments with Sam: Christmas Unwrapped: 5 Presents Our Kids Truly Deserve
Raising Lifelong Learners: Keeping Christ in Christmas
The Diary of a Sower: Keeping Christ in Christmas: Celebrating the Golden Days
Arma Dei: Equipping Catholic Families: Keeping Christ in Christmas
Raising (and Teaching) Little Saints: Keeping Christ in Christmas
Truly Rich Mom: The Greatest Gift of All This Christmas
Joy-Filled Family: CHRIST in Christmas
Blueberry 010: Keeping Christ in Christmas: Jesus is the Reason for the Season
Deeper Truth Blog: Keeping Christ in Christmas Carnival
Holy Ducklings: 10 Ways to Make Advent Special for Your Little Ducklings
Green Eggs and Moms: Keeping Christ in Christmas: Green Eggs & Moms Style!

(This list will be updated throughout the next couple of days, so check back for even more ideas!)

 I'm also participating in Annette's Waldorf Wednesday link-up at her Seasons of Joy blog.  Hop on over and check it out  


Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Happy Feast Day of Our Lady of Guadalupe!

One of my projects from a couple of years ago: Saints made from yogurt cups!

It's feast or famine here at The Diary of a Sower...or maybe I'm on a roll today with all these blog posts?  ;-)

It will be another late night supper since we don't get home until 7:30 p.m. from swim team practice.  But I figured at least we could have a Mexican inspired meal to commemorate the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe!  I discovered a quick recipe for a Mexican Chicken Casserole.  If my family likes it, I'll share the recipe in the next couple of days. We will also be having a Mexican corn and tomato salad, tortilla chips and salsa, and a simple dessert like Mexican wedding cakes (or whatever I can find in the bakery at my grocery store!)

Or maybe we will skip the dessert and enjoy a mug of Mexican hot chocolate while we watch the CCC video on Juan Diego and Our Lady of Guadalupe.

Wishing you and your family a happy feast day!

Follow up: Our Jesse-Tree inspired dinner

I apologize for my much-delayed posting of these photos from our Jesse-Tree inspired dinner on the first Sunday of Advent!  Time is flying by even more quickly than usual! 

I was inspired by Catholic Cuisine to create an afternoon tea based on the symbols and stories of the Jesse Tree.  However, soccer and swim practices and basketball games pushed our tea into dinner time!
My daughter and I served:

 Adam and Eve's apples and serpents (gummy worms), plus sparkling apple cider for drinks.

Abraham's star sandwiches (bread, cheese and salami cut with star-shaped cookie cutters)

 Mary's flowers cucumbers (I originally planned to shape them like roses using this tutorial), but my daughter was having so much fun laying the slices on the plate so they look like flowers, that I didn't have the heart to take them apart!)

 Moses' burning bush (broccoli with Catalina salad dressing)

 Tobias' fish crackers

 Noah's rainbow fruit platter

Elizabeth and Zechariah's Angel Wing Cookies (palmier biscuits purchased from Cost Plus World Market)

Creation Cookies (Keebler's Almond Crescent Cookies)

I didn't photograph these items, but we also served carrot sticks to represent the "root of Jesse," and pasta shells and white sauce ("John the Baptist's pasta").

Here are a few more close-ups of our dinner table:

This is the second themed Biblical themed meal my daughter and I have created.  I'm never sure how my husband will react.  He's a  "meat and potatoes" and "let's eat already" kind of person who doesn't really get into a lot of creative flourishes in his meals. But he seemed to enjoy this symbolic meal, which is encouraging me to try this more often!

A hands-on presentation about the Bishop of Myra for St. Nicholas Day

Every year on December 6, I give a presentation about the Bishop of Myra to my children and to my catechism classes.  This presentation uses a variety of small objects to tell the story of Nicholas' life.  It's always a popular presentation, so I thought I would share some information about it. My presentation has been adapted from the two suggested on the St. Nicholas Center website.  Every year I tailor it a bit, based on the ages/attention span/cognitive development of the children who are hearing the presentation.  You can find the presentation here and here on the St. Nicholas Center website.

The presentations above use cards, but I like use 3-D objects whenever possible.  These  are items I've collected over time or made with a few simple materials, including:

A underlay cut out of gold fabric in the shape of a miter, a bishop's miter made from felt, a sack of cold coins, a crozier made from a gold pipe cleaner, a small sack of seed (purchased from the miniature section of a hobby store), entwined wooden swords, a printed "Nicene Creed," a St. Nicholas prayer card, a miniature Dutch shoe made from porcelain (obtained on our surprise trip to Holland, Michigan a few years ago on St. Nicholas Eve), a small knitted stocking and a wooden tall-sail ship.   There is also a gold St. Nicholas figure that my children stamped out of air dry clay one year (they insist we keep it in the box!)

I store everything in a wooden box painted gold.  Right now it is plain; with time I hope to embellish it with a simple St. Nicholas prayer card or other emblem. 

A brief overview of my presentation:
I start the presentation by gently laying out a miter underlay made of gold fabric (you can see it on the photo above). Then I talk about Nicholas' life as a young boy and how he became a rich orphan after his parents died.  I describe how he decided to give his money to the poor, including money for a dowry (I put down the sack of coins). I emphasize how he tried to give away his money in secret.

I discuss how he later became a bishop (and set down the miter and crozier).

Then I discuss some of the legends that surround him, like the story about how Nicholas was able to convince a ship's captain to sell grain to him so the people wouldn't starve in a famine (putting down the sack of grain).  I lay down the swords and describe how Nicholas saved three men from execution and how he helped write the Nicene Creed that we say in church today.    I talk about how he is the patron saint of many different people, including children and sailors (then lay down the wooden ship).

We discuss how St. Nicholas is loved around the world.  I tell them that in some other countries, children receive small gifts on St. Nicholas' feast day of December 6  instead of Christmas.  We discuss how the children in the Netherlands leave out their shoes for St. Nicholas.  We talk about how this has evolved into our custom of hanging stockings for Santa Claus.

With time, I hope to develop the presentation even more, covering some of the other European traditions about St. Nicholas.  I would love to show them different images of St. Nicholas as he appears in different countries.

This is such rich, full work!  It's wonderful to see the children's eyes light up when they discover the connection between the Bishop of Myra and our present-day Santa Claus!

What St. Nicholas Brought 2012

A peek at what St. Nicholas tucked into my children's shoes on December 6:

My son received a candy cane, chocolate coins, a chocolate Santa, a book on St. Nicholas, 
and a Ukrainian St. Nicholas statue from the International Santa Claus collection.

My daughter received a candy cane, chocolate coins, a chocolate Santa, the book Kersti and St. Nicholas  
and a Ukrainian St. Nicholas statue from the International Santa Claus collection. 

I planned to turn the chocolate Santa's into bishops using these directions from the St. Nicholas Center website, but ran out of time.  Maybe the kids and I will do it as a craft together next year. 

Every year I try to give them a small "Bishop of Myra" gift.  I've given them a holy medal, a prayer card, a small icon for their bedroom, a hand puppet and ornaments for the Christmas tree.  Finding items that relate to the Christian saint (not the secular Santa-Claus type figure) can be challenging, but I've found several items in the St. Nicholas Center shop.   Orthodox Christian online gift stores sometimes have some things too, since the Bishop of Myra is especially revered in the Orthodox church. 

A few years ago I discovered the "International Santa Claus Collection" on eBay and I've been slowly purchasing international St. Nicholas figures to give to the kids' each year for their own collections.  Although some of the figures in the set are secular (like Pere Noel from France and Joulupukki from Lapland), some are based on the Christian saint, like this Bishop Nicholas of Myra from Ukraine.  I believe the set was made manufactured in 1993 by the International Resourcing Services, Inc., and sold through large department stores.  Here are a couple of close-up shots of the figure:

I think they are discontinued, but I've found them inexpensively on eBay.  Sometimes Amazon has them, too.

I also try to give each child a book about Bishop Nicholas.  As the years have gone by, this has become more challenging!  This year's books include:

A Cloud of Witnesses: The Life of Saint Nicholas the Wonderworker by  Neno Seco; published by St. Nectarios Press in 1994.  This is a small 24 page book with lovely yet simple illustrations.  It includes the music and lyrics to "A Hymn to St. Nicholas," which is a Carpatho-Russian Hymn song by children on St. Nicholas Day.  I purchased my copy from Orthodox publisher  Light & Life Publishing

The second book, purchased for my daughter, is titled Kersti and Saint Nicholas.  If I can't find an appropriate faith based book on the saint, I try to at least find one that will emphasize simpler traditions and customs based around St. Nicholas, or books that show how St. Nicholas Day is celebrated in other countries. Kersti and St. Nicholas is a reprint of a 1940 book written by Dutch author and illustrator Hilda Van Stockum, who wrote the Newbery award winning book A Day on Skates.   It's a book about a mischievous six year old who worries that she won't be visited by St. Nicholas so she sets off on an adventure.  It has simple yet beautiful illustrations. It also portrays a nice depiction of  a large family's life in Holland long ago.  I purchased my copy on Amazon. 

I follow quite a few blogs and have loved reading about how all of you celebrated St. Nicholas Day!

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Jesse Tea for First Day of Advent

 I was looking for something different and fun for my family to do for the first day of Advent when I ran across this article on Catholic Cuisine. It suggests holding a tea party for Advent, based on the figures and symbols in the Jesse Tree.  Because I'm doing a couple of "Jesse tree" themed activities this holiday season, this fit in perfectly with my plans. 

So my daughter and I will be doing some light cooking and food prepping while my husband and son are at a soccer game tomorrow.  When they come home, they will be treated to a "Jesse Tree Feast!" 

We will be using some of the ideas from the Catholic Cuisine article above, in addition to those on the Cottage Blessings website. 

I'll post more information and photos in a couple of days.  But I wanted to share a printable that I've been working on today:  little signs that we will use to mark our various food items.  I've uploaded the basic printable on Google Docs, in case anyone else would like to use them for their own Jesse Tea!  You can print these out on cardstock and attach them to a skewer.  I'll be attaching mine to some old manila folders to create table tents. (I have some old manila folders that need to be repurposed.)

These are basic little signs with just words.  As you will see when I post photos later, each of my signs also has a symbol on it, which matches the symbol of our Jesse tree ornament.  We use Anne E. Neuberger's Advent Stories and Activities: Meeting Jesus Through The Jesse Tree book to tell our Advent stories each night, and our symbols are copies of those in the book.  But I would suggest that you use copies of  the symbols on your own Jesse tree.  It helps reinforce the concepts better if you consistently use the same symbols to represent Abraham, Moses, Elizabeth and the other figures in the Jesse Tree. (Hope that makes sense!)

I am finishing another project related to our Jesse Tree--a project that would be perfect both for families and catechism classes. I'll be posting that hopefully in the next couple of days.

Advent to Epiphany Planner 2012

Last year, I created an Advent to Epiphany Planner to help me keep track of the numerous feast days in December and January.  I also wanted to create a planner that my daughter and I could use during the week to schedule our homeschooling lessons.  I try to do a little reading, math and writing everyday, then devote some time to fun activities like baking, doing holiday crafts, etc.  The planner helps me track these things, in addition to schedule fun activities like field trips to see holiday displays, watch our favorite holiday movies, etc. You can read more about the planner at this post.

I thought others might like to use this resource, so I uploaded a 2012 version into Google Docs, which you can get here.  The first two pages are a basic template without any dates.  The pages after that are dated and note saint feast days, solemnities, etc.

Please let me know if you use it!  I also welcome any suggestions for changes for next year. 

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Advent Printables

Now that they have started playing Christmas music already on one of our radio stations, I'm stepping up my efforts to keep Christmas in its proper place--after Advent!   So I've been looking for some fun activities and printables that my kids and I can do leading up to Christmas.  Thought I'd share some of the things I've found.  These activities are for a variety of ages and would be appropriately used at home or in a catechism class. They focus on Advent and preparing for Jesus' birth and do not include materials about saints, the Nativity, etc.

Raising and Teaching Little Saints:  Advent Activities for Kids
This free 25-page .pdf document includes coloring pages, a "write a letter to Baby Jesus" fill in form, description of the "Christkindl" Activity, an Advent Prayer Chain, Advent vocabulary flash cards, directions on creating a "Jesus Manger," simple puzzles with pictures of the Holy Family, and more.

1+1+1=1 Nativity Preschool Pack
Hours of fun for the younger ones, with Nativity-themed printables that teach counting, the alphabet, shapes, colors and more. 

Spell Out Loud's Advent Chain with the Names of Jesus
This would be a great hands-on activity after giving the CGS' meditation on the names of Jesus.

Family Centered's O Antiphons Coloring Pages

Ministry to Children's Advent Coloring Pages
Six different pages.  I especially like the "Advent is Here!" page.  I'm toying with the idea of  copying it on to vellum paper and giving my daughter water-color pencils to color it in, perhaps creating a stained glass window effect that would look nice in one of our home's hard-to-decorate transom windows!

Activity Village's Advent Printables
Some of these are a bit more secular, but I especially like the "Good Deed Chart," the Advent worksheet, the Advent wreath cut-n-stick activity and the Advent wreath writing activity.

Family Feast and Feria's "My Little Advent" Printable
We've used this for the last couple of years as an addition to our morning prayer (before we begin our school day.)  My daughter really looks forward to flipping to the new page every day.

Family Feast and Feria's Advent Calendar Printable

Catholic Mom has a variety of Advent printables including  and advent bingo, crossword puzzles, coloring pages, lesson plans and much, much more.

The Catholic Toolbox has an advent wreath file folder game, lesson plans for preschool through first grade catechism classes (with printables), lapbook resources and more. Some of these are links to other websites.

DLTK-Bible has "The Christmas Story Advent Coloring Book."

Super Coloring Pages has a nice silhouette image of Mary and Joseph that is a coloring page, but I could envision it for a number of silhouette craft projects, too.

Making Music Praying Twice has a "O Come, O Come Emmanuel" coloring sheet

The Apostleship of Prayer has a coloring sheet of Mary and Joseph heading to Bethlehem

Become What Your Are has links to wreath coloring pages.  Check out their links for December saint coloring pages, Nativity puppets and feltboard figures and much more.

Shower of Roses lists links for coloring pages that match the symbols of the Jesse Tree.

ThatResourceSite has an F3 (folder) activity to help kids prepare for the nativity of Our Lord, an Advent wreath project,  Little Lesson of Advent Stories   Color the Seasons Liturgical Calendar Coloring Sheet,  and much more.  Take some time to browse around this helpful site!

Loyola Press has lesson plans with a variety of hands-on activities like  an Isaiah bookmark, an Advent observance banner, an Advent tree of Kindness and more.

If you know of any other resources, please let me know and I'll add them to this list.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Nutcracker Ballet curriculum

Hi everyone,

I'm over at Guiding Masha today, writing a post filled with resources and ideas for a unit study on the Nutcracker Suite ballet.  If you're looking for something fun to do during December, stop by and check out the article here.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Book Review: Catholic and Confident

The Catholic Company kindly offered me an opportunity to read and review the book Catholic and Confident by Henry Libersat.  Thought I would share my review here for others who want to feel more confident when talking about their Catholic faith. 


“Have Catholics been saved?” “Why do you worship Mary?“ “Why do you pray to the saints?“ “Why do you call your ministers “Father?"

If you are a Catholic who has non-Catholic family and friends, you may have been asked these and many other questions. Explaining our faith isn’t easy for most Catholics, who haven’t been trained to evangelize like some of our protestant brothers and sisters. We may feel unsure of what to say and how to adequately describe our faith. Henry Libersat’s Catholic and Confident: Simple Ways to Share Your Faith can help.

Libersat, who has a master’s degree in pastoral ministry and is a permanent deacon in the Orlando diocese, shares ideas on how we can embrace Pope John Paul II’s call to spread the Good News to everyone we meet. This 93-page book shows Catholics that they need not to be afraid or intimidated about sharing their faith if they let the Holy Spirit guide them.

He urges the reader to start his journey by recognizing God’s call to evangelize, and then preparing oneself for the task by reading scripture regularly, making prayer a priority in your everyday life and by attending Mass frequently. Really knowing your faith is key to confidently sharing it with others, according to Libersat.

He then makes the process less intimidating by suggesting that we look for simple ways to evangelize. Sometimes this means being a “wordless witness." “If you are holy and happy, people will know you are somehow different, and they will want what you have," Libersat states. He gives an example of a husband who realized that his wife’s serenity was based in her Christian beliefs. His yearning for similar demeanor propelled him to seek a fuller relationship with God.

Sharing your story can also be a powerful evangelical tool, according to Libersat. He gives five helpful hints on how to develop and organize your story in a way that will be meaningful to others, such as describing your life before you came to know the Lord and how you changed emotionally after Christ became an important part of your life. I especially liked his examples explaining how others shared their stories in an unassuming way during their everyday encounters with others who had false impressions about the Catholic faith.

Libersat’s chapter on evangelizing to your family is especially helpful to those who have children who are lukewarm in their faith or feel alienated by the church. He focuses on teens and young adults who may be questioning their faith. His advice suggests building a relationship based on compassion and understanding, which will help you and your teen weather his stormy years of self discovery. Libersat states that your strong faith provides a safe environment for teens and young adults while they maneuver the difficult years.

He also includes a chapter about the ministerial gifts of the Holy Spirit and how you can match those gifts with your own talents, then use them to serve your parish and community.

Each chapter ends with two or three questions prompting the reader to reflect and take action. The questions make this a good book for Catholic book clubs or Bible study groups.

He finishes the book with a list of Catholic evangelical ministries and organizations that can help you grow in your faith while sharing the Good News with others.

I think this is a very helpful book for anyone who wants to feel more confident when she talks about her Catholic faith. Libersat’s stories will inspire you while his easy-to-implement suggestions will make you feel like “I can tell others about my faith!” It would also be a good stocking stuffer for a Catholic friend or family member.

This review was written as part of the Catholic book reviewer program from The Catholic Company. Visit The Catholic Company to find more information on Catholic and Confident. The Catholic Company is the best resource for all your family Advent activities and supplies this year, such as Advent wreaths and calendars for kids, as well as Christmas decorations such as nativity scene sets and religious Christmas gifts for the whole family. 

An interactive Rosary Decade in English and Latin

I'm a bit late in posting this, but I wanted to share an activity we did during October, which is the month dedicated to the Most Holy Rosary.

I was looking for a hands-on, interactive way to teach my daughter the rosary.  She knows it in a rote sort of way, just by praying the rosary with our rosary group before Friday Mass.  But I wanted her to better understand the various mysteries.  We are also learning to say the Doxology (Glory Be) and Hail Mary in Latin, so I wanted to give us another chance to practice saying them.

I did a bit of online research and discovered that Kimberlee, of Pondered in My Heart, taught her girls to pray the Rosary using crocheted red and white roses to count the Our Fathers and Hail Marys. What a marvelous idea!  However, I don't crochet, so I had to adapt her idea a bit.  Instead, I used high quality silk red and white flowers purchased from Michaels.  (I used high quality silk flowers because I subtly wanted to emphasize the importance and beauty of praying the rosary.  These are realistic looking silk flowers with drops of "dew" on them.)

Then I gathered together a few other things, including Father Lovasik's Scriptural Rosary for Children, 
two rosaries, a small vase, a prayer card with the words of the Hail Mary in Latin, and a statute of the Blessed Mother.  I put them all in a basket and stored them near our kitchen table where we do our schoolwork.  Here's a photo:

Each morning we begin our school day with a decade of the Rosary.  I read one of the Mysteries from the Scriptural Rosary book.  We then pray the Our Father and my daughter puts the white rose in the vase. We then pray a Hail Mary in English, and my daughter puts a red rose in the vase.  The next Hail Mary is in Latin, and she puts another red rose in the vase. We continue, alternately saying the Hail Mary in English or Latin, until all 10 Hail Marys are completed.  My daughter also likes to count the beads on the rosary at the same time. Here's what it looks like when all 11 prayers are finished:

After we've finished the decade, we'll say the Doxology in Latin and the Fatima Prayer, then do the Sign of the Cross (also in Latin, since we learned that a couple of months ago.) We finish our morning prayer by taking a few moments to discuss and ponder the day's mystery.

She's really enjoyed learning to pray the Rosary this way, and I've noticed how much more confidently she says the Hail Mary in Latin!   I look forward to using this method periodically throughout the year, especially when we are learning the Our Father and other rosary prayers in Latin.

Do you have an interactive way to teach the Rosary to your children?  I would love to hear about it.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

12 Days of Christmas Study

Lately, I've been thinking about some fun things that my kids and I can do over the holidays.  Things that will reinforce the basics of our faith yet not seem to much like school or catechism class. I've been toying with the idea of learning more about the 12 Days of Christmas song.  I've compiled some resources and activity ideas on my homeschool blog, Guiding Masha.  If you are also looking for "12 Day" theme activities, please skip over to the blog and check it out here. 

Looking for memorable ways to celebrate Advent and Christmas?  Check out Sheila's "Exploring Advent and Christmas" link party at her Explore and Express blog.  

Quick thanksgiving hostess gift ideas

Hi everyone,

I'm over at one of my other blogs, the CreativeGiftGiver, sharing three super quick thanksgiving hostess gift ideas.  Please check it out   here

I'll be adding a couple of posts to this blog soon, too.  Want to share a special way that we've been learning to pray the rosary and some ideas for advent.

See you soon!


Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Celebrating International Homeschool Spirit Week

I'm over at the  Guiding Masha blog today, writing a quick post about International Homeschool Spirit Week.  Did you know that this is International Homeschool Spirit Week?  I love the idea of doing some fun and crazy things to celebrate homeschooling!   Check out Guiding Masha to discover some simple yet fun things we will be doing today.  I'm also sharing links to some freebies from Curriclick and other homeschool vendors are giving away to celebrate our special spirit week

Monday, May 21, 2012

Curriculum Review: What Worked and Didn't Work

Thought I'd take a bit of time to reflect on the homeschooling materials we used this year, but for myself and for others who might be wondering what curriculum to use for their families.  This is a list of "what worked" and "what didn't work" for us. I  homeschool my nine year old daughter, who has some learning challenges.  She is working at about second grade level.

Morning Prayer
We start every day with prayer.  Most of the year, we used LTP's Children's Daily Prayer as our main resource.  My daughter really liked this book, especially since the psalms would repeat for several weeks (or more) and the Bible passages are generally written for a children's point of view.  As a result, she requested to read more and more of the morning prayer, which means our prayer time also gave her additional reading practice!  I like Morning Prayer, too, since its readings follow the church lectionary cycle. 

Our plans for next fall:
I think we may use this resource again next year but supplement it with readings from her children's bible, especially since she is eager to read lately.

We followed Kolbe's second grade lesson plan for phonics and used Pearson Phonics Book B.  For half of the year, she really liked it and would whip through the pages, even begging me to do more when I wanted her to stop at two pages.  But by mid-year, the work became harder and she started rebelling and throwing major temper tantrums when I mentioned phonics. I enrolled her in a phonics course offered by a local tutoring company and that seemed to break up the monotony.  Since that time we've gone back to playing phonics games or using Time4Learning.

Time4Learning is a paid website that features games and contests which help a child learn phonics, language arts, math and other subjects. an online She really enjoys the games and activities on Time4Learning, so I recommend it to parents whose children are tired of the workbook/textbook routine.

 Our plans for next fall:
We recently joined a homeschooling co-op, so this fall she will be taking a reading/phonics class there once a week and given homework to do the other days of the week.  I will occasionally supplement with Time4Learning and may try again to sneak in some pages from Pearson Phonics.  (It's the perseverance part of my personality that doesn't like to leave things unfinished!)

We used Kolbe's second grade lesson plan for spelling.  They recommend 12 new words a week.  It was too overwhelming for her.  So I broke each weekly list up into two parts and we covered six words each week, completing the full list over two weeks. That seemed to work better. 

About mid-year, she began vehemently rebelling against spelling, so I decided to step back from it for a couple of months.  I've noticed that she is again starting to show an interest in spelling, so I think we will pick up where we left off over the summer and hopefully finish up the second grade spelling plan by mid-year.  I tend to stress out over uncompleted lesson plans, so I need to keep my own attitude "in check" and constantly remind myself that God is guiding her and she will learn these things when she is ready. 

It's been a tough homeschooling year, but the bright spot has been Seton's second grade  Faith and Freedom readers.  I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE these readers!!   And more importantly, so does my daughter.  Although she often rebelled at doing any schoolwork, I was usually able to convince her to read a story in These Are Our Neighbors. Perhaps these readers might seem a bit old fashioned to some people, but the illustrations and gentle moral messages really resonated with my daughter.  She progressed from hating to read (at the beginning of the year) to loving to read (right now).  I think her change of attitude had a lot to do with these books. The stories are interesting, and told from a child's point of view, which I think she really liked.  

Over the summer, we will finish up the third book recommended in the second grade lesson plan:  A Book of Sanctity.   I'm thrilled that she has begun independently taking that book and reading it to herself and her dolls!

Our plans for fall:
We will definitely be using Seton's third grade readers next year and are really looking forward to it. 

We used Math U See, for part of the year, but she complained so much!  She liked the videos but didn't want to do the accompanying work in the workbook.  Unfortunately, by November, she refused to do any of the work.   So I pulled away from math.  I fretted that she was falling behind, but at at point she was starting to rebel about all school, so I decided that if she would only "do" school for an hour, we should focus on reading.  I hoped that once she overcame some of the hurdles she was experiencing with phonics and reading, she would have the confidence to tackle math.

For a month, she took math tutoring sessions at our local Mathnasium.  But there was just too much activity there, with kids coming in and going all the time.  I don't think she got much out of it.

We were doing some math on Time4Learning, but she complained it was too hard.  When I looked on the parent reports, it appeared that she was guessing or just jumping out of exercises without completing them.

About a month ago, I discovered Dreambox Learning on Homeschool Buyer's Co-op. Like Time4Learning, it is an online website with games that teach math concepts.  But unlike Time4Learning, the program actually continually evaluates a child's progress and difficulties (based on answers to games).  Using that information, it will adapt the problems to help the child get better in certain skills.  If a child is proficient in an area, it will skip ahead to give her more challenge.  Kids are motivated by earning "tokens" to use with online carnival games.  They also win a variety of virtual prizes and certificates which can be printed out and saved. 

I decided to try the free 14-day trial.  I'm thrilled that this method seems to be working for my daughter!  I can already tell that her understanding of basic math concepts is much better.  She loves using the online "manipulatives" like the abacus.  I also like that Dream Box sends an email note to parent each time their child has been online, telling what the child did and how she is progressing.  Their parent dashboard has a chart showing the concepts to be covered, percentage that the child has completed, etc.  It's been very helpful to me. 

Our plans for this summer and fall:
Our trial expires in a couple of days but I think I will switch to the paid version by subscribing through Homeschool Buyer's Co-op.  (Right now, they offer a great deal on the annual subscription!)  I plan to use it throughout the summer.

We used Seton's English 2, which covers using the dictionary, ABC order, writing different types of sentences (like commanding and asking sentences), punctuation and more.  Neither of us cared for it too much, unfortunately.  I think alot of the vocabulary in it was too hard for my daughter, which frustrated her.  (I would help her read it, but she would have a temper tantrum that she couldn't do it herself!) 
Primary Language Lessons - Click Image to Close

Our plans for fall: I printed out a couple of sample lessons of Emma Serl's Primary Language Lessons (PLL) and we tried them out.  We looked at the book published by Hillside Education and one published by homeschooling mom Cynthia Albright. 

I liked Cynthia's version because it has "fill in the blank" sections would not require my daughter to re-copy sentences (something she greatly dislikes right now).  However, she preferred the large, full color illustrations in the Hillside version and said she wouldn't mind re-copying sentences in her journal.  (We'll see--maybe I'll just have her do one or two sentences rather than the 8-10 in some of the lessons.)  

For those who aren't familiar with Primary Language Lessons:  it is a language arts  drill book written in the early 20th century which combines picture study, writing and composition exercises, memorization, poetry and more.  It is suggested in several homeschooling curricula including  Mother of Divine Grace, and Mater Amabilis Charlotte Mason.  You can read reviews about it here and here.

Because my daughter has nice printing penmanship (when she wants to!)  I skipped right to the cursive portion of Seton's Handwriting 2 course.  I have mixed feelings about this book.  I think it provides great practice, but my daughter quickly grew bored of it. We started to skip it when she began tantruming about school this winter. 

Our plans for the fall:
She is again expressing interest in learning to write cursive again, but I think I will combine this book with spelling, and emphasize learning to write words that she is interested in. (For instance, she is really interested in American Girl Dolls right now, so we're learning to write the dolls' names in cursive.)  I'm still looking for ways to motivate her so that she wants to learn cursive.

Map Skills and Geography
We used Continental Press' Map Skills C from Kolbe's second grade lesson plan.   The workbook includes lessons on understanding map keys, compass directions, distinguishing between different types of maps (e.g., political and physical maps) and more.  My daughter liked the workbook at the beginning of the year, but by February she was fighting me about using it.  We did manage to finish it, but barely!

Our plans for the fall:
I love teaching geography, but using a workbook like this also made it a bit boring for me!  I am pulling together a U.S. geography study for this summer, which we will continue through next year.  I plan to use Cantering the Country  and supplement it with living books.  Inspired by Jessica's "State by State Baking" study (see her Shower of Roses website), we'll also be doing some cooking for each state, using Eat Your Way Through the U.S.A. and The United States Cookbook:  Fabulous Foods and Fascinating Facts From All 50 States.

I'll encourage her to make notebook pages for each state.  I'm hoping to compile them into two or three 3-ring binders so she can add additional facts, photos, drawings, etc. whenever she finds out something interesting about each state.

I planned to use Apologia's Exploring Creation with Astronomy but for various reasons we did not progress far into the book.  I think I'll reintroduce it in a couple of years.   My daughter has become very interested in learning about birds, so this spring I switched to Apologia's Flying Creatures of the Fifth Day: Exploring Creation with Zoology 1.   She's really enjoyed the nature hikes, adding a couple of bird feeders to our yard, and determining which bird seed is most popular with the birds in our neighborhood.  

We have also been "bird watching" online regularly.  Our favorite spots are the Ustream live feeds from an eagle's nest in Decorah, Iowa   and Cornell University's live feeds of a Red-Tailed Hawk nest  and a Great Blue Heron nest.   It's been fascinating to watch the eggs hatch and see how birds nurture and care for their young! 

Our plans for the fall:  We will continue working through Flying Creatures of the Fifth Day throughout the summer and fall.  I'm hoping we get through the insect unit before the cool days of fall! 

We attempted Connecting with History, Volume I, but didn't get very far.  I think it is a good program but perhaps better done with older kids.  I really needed the lesson plans laid out, but it really just makes suggestions using a broad outline. I hope to bring it back off the shelf in a year. 

Our plans for the fall: In the fall, my daughter will be attending a homeschool co-op class based on Addy, the American Girl doll who lived during the time of the Civil war.  They will be reading the various Addy stories, making crafts and doing a variety of activities. I've decided to springboard off this and take the summer to learn more about the Civil War with both kids.  We will be reading living books and picture books and doing a variety of activities that will help them see what it was like to live during the time of the Civil War.  Since it's the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, there are quite a few learning opportunities at various museums and battlefields around the United States.  The Civil War Traveler website lists some of them.   I'm hoping that we can visit a Civil War re-enactment sometime this summer.
Faith and Religion
Besides twice weekly Mass and an hour in the adoration chapel, my daughter attended the catechism class I taught for our parish. The parish used the RCL Benziger's Blest Are We program.   However, I deviated quite a bit from the book, instead using my Catechesis of the Good Shepherd materials and presentations.  

Our plans for the fall: I purchased   The Great Adventure: Kids  from Ascension Press, and we will be using that to learn more about salvation history and better understand the books of the Bible.   I'll also be using my "Books of the Bible" CGS materials and perhaps memorize a song about the books of the Bible. 

Wow!  It looks like I'm being overly ambitious again!  I just love exploring the world with all the wonderful resources that are available to homeschoolers today.  Now I just need to pray that I keep it in perspective and let the learning evolve as my daughter is ready for it.  Slow and steady...!