Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Review: Parachute with the Angels and St. Catherine Laboure Catholic Kidz Camp

Last week our parish had another faith-filled, fun and successful Catholic Kidz Camp (CKC) using another one of the Growing with the Saints excellent authentically Catholic programs!  Many may be more familiar with the term "VBS"(Vacation Bible School).  CKC is very similar to VBS, but CKC got it...Catholic and CKC is the new VBS!   Growing with the Saints was written by Catholics for Catholics! Same concept as VBS, which is to teach our youth (and adults too) the Good News of Jesus Christ, but CKC also highlights the many specific, beautiful teachings of our Catholic Church through skits, arts and crafts, games, Bible stories, snacks and music!!  (snacks and music are favorite stations among the campers! :) )

This was our parish's 5th year using the Growing with the Saints CKC programs and they have all been excellent!  Here is a list of the programs we have used the past four years and the links take you to my blog posts about each themed CKC:

June 2012: Vatican Express featuring St. Jerome
June 2013: Assorted Saints and the Virtues of Faith, Hope and Love
June 2014: Parade Around the Our Father featuring St. Joseph of Cupertino
June 2015: Set Sail with the Holy Trinity featuring St. Patrick

This year's theme was Parachute with the Angels and St. Catherine Laboure.

 photo credit:  Growing with the Saints

For an overview of the week be sure to visit the Camp Overview page to check out all the fun and learning that the campers did during the week!  

I mentioned above that the campers seemed to like the snack and music "stations".  They love to eat and dance alot! :)  Ms. Anne, our wonderfully organized and hard-working children's youth ministry director, prints out a schedule for each grade level to follow through the week.  The schedule is broken into time slots where volunteer adult and youth leaders lead their age group around to each themed station. 

This year we parachuted with the angels to:
*Control Tower Drop Zone (in the parish hall where CKC began and ended each day)
*Uplift Music
*Chutes Snacks
*Target Bible
*Runaway Games
*Cloud Crafts
*Faith in Flight (this station is where the group leaders taught a brief lesson and read from their copy of St. Catherine Laboure storybook)

With another adult volunteer and two wonderful teen volunteers, I lead a group of rising first graders throughout the week and we were "Gabriel's Gang".   Here is the schedule we followed during CKC Mon.-Thurs. and Friday's schedule looked a bit different (not pictured) because of the kids' final performances for parents to close out CKC week...

Here are just a few highlights of our week with my camera phone that doesn't always take the best photos. :/

Ms. Anne does a wonderful job with the decorations each year!  This year Ms. Anne had a "God-cidence" that gave her chills when she saw that the parish school's graduation decorations were the exact same theme as CKC's theme! So she was able to borrow the hot air balloon, balloon rainbow and a few other decorations!  
Each morning began with the sign of the cross and prayers as a group (Hail Mary, Angel of God prayer, and St. Michael prayer) and then the youth acted out skits to go with each day's topic.  The youth worked hard and did a fantastic job! And then of course, each group had a designated snack time during the morning!

Here are my rising 1st graders walking to their next station with our wonderful teen helpers with the second adult leader at the head of the line in the background.

Lots of games, sweat, water breaks and laughter! :) 
The foil Miraculous Medal was made by the older campers and it was a hit and so beautiful!  

Like last year, each age group had the opportunity to visit the chapel in our church and spend time in front of the Blessed Sacrament adoring our Lord.  After I spoke to our first grade group about how to show reverence and talk to Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, our class went into the chapel a few minutes to listen to our Lord speak to our hearts in the silence.  I didn't take a photo of our class this year during adoration, but this is a photo from a few years ago during CKC with one of our priests.

I look forward to CKC each year as a parent and a regular volunteer and I love to learn from all the children that attend!  I'm also grateful that my older children volunteer their time to help during the week and my younger children enjoy being campers!  It's beautiful to see our Catholic faith, which is full of Truth, wonder and treasures, being taught in fun and creative ways!  I am so grateful for the Growing with the Saints programs and all those that work hard to create such great programs!  I thank Ms. Anne for all her hard work and the many helping hands that help bring our Catholic parish an authentically Catholic CKC!   We look forward to next year's CKC!

Monday, June 13, 2016

A Review of 2 Short Films Distributed by CCC of America

Our family has enjoyed watching the CCC of America's Saints & Heroes Collection DVDs for about 15 years now!  In fact, the first video we ever watched and still love to watch was Nicholas: The Boy Who Became Santa.  These short, animated, educational and high-quality DVDs have always been a great addition to our family celebrating the feast days throughout the liturgical year!

Besides the Saints & Heroes entertaining collection, CCC of America also sells short films.  Their most recent releases are titled Special Flavor, which teaches the virtue of obedience and Catch, a short film written and directed by David Henrie.  Both films are produced by a company called Project 36.

One evening last week our family sat down together to watch both films, which included my husband and four out of five of our children ages 2, 8, 12, and 14.

Special Flavor is just 11:20 minutes long so it was able to keep everyone's attention, no matter the age.  The target audience is for 12+, but even my 8 year old daughter enjoyed the film and was able to relate to parts of it. CCC of America site summarizes Special Flavor...

"A disobedient boy gets a special flavor ice cream that makes his parents obey whatever he says. Struggling with authority, Tom is given a chance to learn what it means to take control. After encountering an ice cream man with a special flavor, his strict father and distant mother are at his beck and call. Watch what happens 27 ice creams later!"

My husband and I have children who often struggle with disobedience (Ahem!) so I especially enjoyed seeing how this important and often difficult virtue was portrayed via a short production.  The film starts out with a young teen boy who does not appreciate his father's creative hobby of building small boats in glass bottles and the boy ignores both parents as he sits in a zombie-like stupor playing his video games.  (The son might have had a few eye rolls too! Uggh!)

The  teen's life appears to be a drab (in his young mind, at least) until he meets up with the ice cream man in front of his house who shares a special flavor of ice cream with the boy with a promise that the boy can now tell his parents what to do.  There are humorous parts as things get out of control fast for the boy and his entire family and the care-free life void of any responsibility and authority begins to take a toll on the teen's conscience.  The teen then realizes how his irresponsible behavior and actions not only affect him, but others around him.  By the end of the film that moves quickly due to the short length, the viewer sees that he has learned the importance of obedience and why parents use their authority to raise virtuous children.

 Photo credit: CCC of America

My 8 year old daughter thought the ice cream man reminded her of the devil since he was constantly trying to entice the teen to just take one more ice cream cone so he could enjoy his freedom without having to obey his parents.  We all agreed with her and I was pleased that she was able to relate this short, light-hearted film to the reality of how satan tempts us and tries to make good look evil and evil look good.

This film gave my husband and I the opportunity to discuss with our children how having our own way and not obeying parents (and God) can lead to unhappiness and restlessness very quickly.  We also opened up a discussion how our children shouldn't take anything from someone we don't know without parents' permission, even if it's the friendly ice cream man offering a delicious treat. :)

Catch is another great short film.  Our family enjoyed this one especially because it was more realistic compared to Special Flavor.  CCC of America site summarizes Catch...

"... an inspirational short film about fatherhood and the value of quality family time. It delivers a strong punch to busy parents who make promises they can’t keep.
This 11 min short film focuses on family and what fatherhood really means. Just maybe, this could be the start of making everyday….Father’s Day!"

This film is definitely worth watching especially since Father's Day is just around the corner!  My children are blessed with a wonderful father who does invest alot of quality time with our children, but I even think the film gave my husband some things to think about and he took the message to heart.  Even as a mother, the film touched my heart in a special way and made me think how I spend time with my children. Our family enjoyed how the film kept us all at the edge of our seats until the end not knowing why the boy was using creative ways to save money.  That's all I'll say about that so as to not spoil the ending.  :)

 Photo credit: CCC of America

Our family also enjoyed viewing the the behind the scenes commentary about Catch.  We were impressed that David Henrie, the writer/director, and many other young adults on his team committed so much of their time and talents to produce a film that encourages families and fathers to take time with their children.  In today's world, we need more positive messages that David Henrie so beautifully and successfully portrayed through digital media!

Besides the wonderful lessons taught in each film, I loved that they both could be enjoyed by all family members, no matter the age and that they gave our family the opportunity to spend special, quality time to talk about what we saw.  Special Flavor and Catch inspired our family to make positive changes in our home and we think they can be tools to encourage all families to do the same!

If you are interested in purchasing these films and/or any other DVDs in CCC of America's vast selection, now is the time with their 60% off summer sale going on from June 15-July 15.  Use discount code: SUMMER60 at checkout! Awesome deals on faith-filled and fun family entertainment!  Check it out!
(I am a CCC of America affiliate so any purchases you may make from the links in this blog post will give me a percentage back on your purchases with no extra charge for you.  I appreciate your support for purchasing through my links! :)  CCC of America is a wonderful, family-oriented company with faith-filled products and I'm blessed to work with them and share CCC of America products via my blog in hopes that all families will "grow up" with CCC of America as our family has done.)


I was provided with complimentary review copies of these DVDs by the distributor, CCC of America, in exchange for my honest review.  For more information on Special Flavor and Catch, including their trailers, visit CCC of America.  You can also visit Project 36 to see other projects the team has been working on.

Friday, June 10, 2016

A Birthday Tribute for our Daughter's 12th Birthday!

Dear Sweet Birthday Girl (a.k.a. Cupcake #3),

It's hard to believe that 12 years ago today on June 10, 2004  you were born!  Both your older sister and your older brother were born on Friday, the 19th, so exactly 17 months apart.  Your sister was born on Friday, May 19th and your brother on Friday, October 19th.  So it would have been nice if you kept the "19th" day birthday tradition going, but holding you in my womb for 9 more days would have been...well, not so fun! :)

You were loved from the start and what a surprise it was when you came into this world with a head full of beautiful, dark hair!  We were in awe of you, God's blessing, and we couldn't believe the amount of hair God blessed you with!  You looked like you had a wig!  Your big sister is wearing a pink t-shirt that says "I'm the BIG Sister" and your big brother is wearing a blue t-shirt that says "I'm the BIG Brother" in the photo.  I made these shirts for your siblings and wrapped them up for your brother's 2nd birthday.  At his party, they each opened the t-shirts and this is how we told family and friends I was pregnant with you!  It was very exciting to share our joyful news in this way!

Your big sister and brother loved peeking into your bassinet to watch you sleep peacefully!  They loved giving you lots of hugs and kisses!

This picture was taken just before your first mass visit.  You looked so beautiful with your pink and white lace outfit. It was a lovely day to bring you to our church for the first time!

Here you are at 4 1/2 months old, our Little Pumpkin.  You even had a pumpkin stem!  :)

Here you are at 9 months old with your brother and sister  and you still have a head full of beautiful dark (now with streaks of blond) hair!  I had to put bows in your hair at 9 weeks old and since you never lost your hair, as many people thought you would, we continued to keep the hair out of your eyes with pretty bows!

You have always been a big helper as you helped paint our new house!

You love being silly with your siblings!

You are such a great big sister!

You love our Catholic faith and my prayer is that you always will!

I love how you surprise me with sweet notes!  You have such a tender and loving heart!

 I love how you surprise me with silly photos that you take on my phone without me knowing!  :-)
I love watching you run, dribble, and kick the soccer ball.  You are athletic and competitive, yet humble and a team player on and off the field. 

Happy Birthday sweet girl! You bring so much joy and love to our lives!  We are so blessed to have you in our family!

Monday, May 23, 2016

Holy Heroes: Spiritual Diary Review

This post contains affiliate links.

As a Catholic mom, I'm always wanting my children and myself to seek God daily and encourage each family member to spend daily quiet time in prayer alone.  Our family prays together often and each morning we have our "Couch Catechism" family devotion time before our homeschool day starts, but making time for individual prayer is so necessary and fruitful, but can be challenging at times!

Holy Heroes, a wonderful company that offers products to "help you bring the joy of the Faith to your Family", has created the new Holy Heroes Spiritual Diary that is an excellent tool for the entire family (yes, for children AND adults!) to make spending time with our Lord not only possible, but also reflective and fruitful. The diary is intended to be used each day for about 10-15 minutes.  Holy Heroes sent me copies of the April 4, 2016- August 14, 2016 Spiritual Diary in exchange for this review.

So what is the Spiritual Diary?  Briefly, I like to think of the diary as a daily "date" with God as I use the diary to think, reflect, pray and write about what is on my heart, mind and soul.

Photo Credit: Holy Heroes

Here is the description from the Holy Heroes website:

The ultimate diary to help children focus and reflect every day on what God is doing in their lives, and what He wants them to do tomorrow!

* Covers April 4, 2016 to August 14, 2016 (end of the Easter Season from the Annunciation through Ordinary Time to the Vigil of the Assumption)
* TWO pages for every day's memories, with questions to prompt spiritual reflection for children aged 7 and up.
* A step-by-step guide for Confession, plus removable pages to carry into the Confessional, with directions for confessing and space for a child to write down sins committed.
* Inspiring quotes from the Mass Readings and Saints for Sundays and Feast Days 
*The Prayer Intentions of the Pope for each month
* Daily prayers and an evening Examen for children based on the method of St Ignatius
* Pages for listing prayer intentions and people to pray for
* Much more to make this a daily resource and a keepsake for the future!

Here is a photo of the inside of the diary that I took to give you an idea of what each day looks like.  Each day doesn't have the exact same questions, but many questions are the same from one day to the next.  For more inside views, you can watch the video on the Holy Heroes website.   I love that the diary records feast days. (For example, Pentecost Sunday is noted in the photo for May 15, 2016)  I enjoy living liturgically with my family with food, fun and activities and being able to use the diary as a quick reference for upcoming feast days is a definite plus! 

I asked my children what they enjoyed about their diaries and here are their comments: 

Daughter, age 16:  "I enjoyed how the diary keeps a record of mass attendance and the last time I went to confession." 

Son, age 14: "I really like how the diary notes feast days which is a quick way to look up various feast days through the year." Side note: One day our family was wondering when a particular feast day was on and my son immediately got his diary out to look for the feast day date. :)

Daughter, age 11: "I like recording what I thought about and did during the day."

Daughter, age 8: "I love listing my prayer intentions in my diary to help me remember who and what I'm praying for each day." 

Daughter, age 2.5: She enjoys getting a hold of her siblings' diaries and a pen and scribbling in them. :) 

As a parent, I have enjoyed sitting down each evening with my diary to write in another entry.  It has helped me reflect on the day's events and I like that some of the questions focus on what I have been grateful for during the day.   Too often, I lay my head down each night and only remember the day's big challenges and headaches rather than all that I should be grateful for.  The Spiritual Diary has helped me redirect my thoughts to what went right with the day and be grateful for my many blessings.   I'm also more aware of what I want to work on spiritually for the next day since I'm recording my thoughts along my spiritual journey.  The Spiritual Diary is full of great prayers and information, but I think it could be an even better tool if the daily Mass readings were listed on each day to encourage users to look up scripture and pray with the Word of God while filling out the entries.
The Spiritual Diary takes self-discipline to fill out each day, which is always a challenge for me personally and with our busy family schedule.  We have skipped several days lately because of our hectic evening schedules, but I'm hoping to get back on track soon with our less hectic summer schedule!  Summer time is a great time to start using the Spiritual Diaries to form a consistent habit! 

I have found that when our entire family fills out their diaries at the same time together each evening we are more consistent so I always try to make this a goal. 

 Photo Credit: Holy Heroes

After you finish filling out the Spiritual Diary through August 14, 2016, Holy Heroes has the next diary for August 15, 2016 - December 24, 2016 for sale and you can order both as a set and save money!  Be sure to visit the Holy Heroes store for more details!  

For more reviews of the Holy Heroes Spiritual Diaries, you can visit the Holy Heroes website and Holy Heroes Facebook page to see what others are saying about this wonderful product that helps children and adults become more prayerful daily! 

Have a blessed week! 

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Our Daughter's Sweet 16: Birthday Tribute and Memories

To my firstborn who made me a Mommy for the first time, 

16 years ago today we were blessed when we held you in our arms for the first time.  Here you are with Daddy and Mommy when you were just a few weeks old.  You were so little and Daddy and Mommy were soooooo young! :)

You were 6 lbs, 1 oz., so very tiny, but big enough to fill our hearts and home with love and wonder!  I remember being admitted into the hospital 2 weeks prior to your due date because of preeclampsia. To make a long story short, I was able to labor on my own without being induced and in about 6 hours with no epidural, you went from your dark, peaceful home into this bright, big world!  Your Daddy and I had tears of joy when we saw you for the first time!

I remember crying myself to sleep one afternoon soon after we got home from the hospital because you were so tiny and I was struggling to get you to latch on so I could nurse you.  Your Daddy woke me from my nap to tell me that he had made a phone call to our local La Leche League and made an appointment for us to see a consultant.  I remember the feeling of gratitude and relief after our appointment because I was soon able to nurse you.  I remember thinking that you have a wonderful Daddy and I have a supportive and loving husband.

We remember when you were and will always be Daddy's little girl and Dad will never forget his first Father's Day in 2000 when he held you lovingly in his arms and gave you a sweet kiss in the backyard in our "old, old house"...

I remember when we were celebrating your first Christmas when you were 7 months old.  The outfit you are wearing in the photo below has been worn by all your siblings too to celebrate their first Christmas.  Nowadays you are more into what's wrapped in the wrapping paper vs. just laughing at the funny sounds paper can make, like you did as a baby... :)

I remember when you were this little with your sweet bow in your hair...

I remember your 1st birthday when we had a "Ladybug" themed party and I made these ladybug cakes with a friend to celebrate your big day!

I remember when I was 17 weeks pregnant with your brother (although we didn't know if you were a big sister to a brother or sister at the time), and I held you on my first Mother's Day 2001 (the first Mother's Day with you outside of my womb) as you modeled your cute outfit with a hat with your adorable smile that lit up a room...

I remember when I borrowed a watermelon print dress from a friend just so I could take pictures of you beside a watermelon and eating a watermelon with me while my belly was getting as big as a watermelon carrying your sibling. (that's alot of repetition there!)  I wanted the matching watermelon (there's that word again!) dress too so I could make the adorable page for you in your scrapbook....

I remember taking this special photo capturing special memories.  Here you are with Nana and me. 3 generations! 

I remember how you loved peeking into the (pink) bassinet looking at your baby brother sleeping.  You were just 17 months old when he was born. You loved taking care of your little brother and still do!  And now you take care of your little sisters too!

I remember how you loved to dance so much that you would stand in front of the oven and stare at your reflection while you made all your graceful ballerina moves.

I remember when you went to Mass in this sunflower dress and hat the Sunday before your first sister was born in June 2004.

I remember that you loved and continue to love our family and faith traditions and how you light up our lives with your smile and sweet personality and talents each day. 

I remember that even as a little girl you loved learning about our Catholic faith.  I remember for your First Holy Communion in 2008, we went and took a picture at the same church that I received my First Holy Communion.  I remember thinking "Wow! You really do look like me!"


I remember when we celebrated your 10th birthday with an ice cream cone castle cake and played lots of games with friends in the backyard.

I will always remember how you have grown to love soccer and contribute so much to your homeschool soccer team with all your hard work and talent.

Last year I remember when you got your driver's permit!  You don't have your license yet, but you will soon enough.  This Momma's heart has to get mentally prepared for that milestone when you can be behind the wheel solo!  That day is coming sooner than later!

For your 16th birthday celebration this year our family will remember you going to see Captain America Civil War with Dad, sister and some friends.  I made you a Captain America pizza and ice cream cake with an Oreo crust , birthday cake ice cream and homemade whipped cream topped with strawberries, blueberries and marshmallows.   Pinterest is a life-saver!

Happy Birthday to our sweet Cupcake #1! It's always an adventure hanging out with you! (I hope you will always remember going to the voting polls with me in March 2016 for the primary election.)

Your God-fearing heart and sweet smile light up the room! We love you and we are proud of the beautiful young lady you are becoming each day!

Happy Sweet 16 birthday sweet girl!


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I'm Tracy. I love my faith, family and on most days, homeschooling my 5 blessings. When I'm not busy baking cakes for my family or making memories in real life or dreaming I had a housekeeper or professional chef, I enjoy documenting a slice of Smith life in blog land.

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