Monday, December 5, 2016

Advent Book Review and Read-Alouds

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We began the second Sunday of Advent yesterday and it's been awhile since I've updated my little corner of blog land here.  I last posted about St. Cecilia's feast day on Nov. 22, then there was Thanksgiving (which was a blessing, despite our little one spiking a fever the night before Thanksgiving Day), then we had to deal with my 3 year old getting over being sick and coughing a lot and using our Kleenex box supply on her one tiny runny nose. :)  Before I knew it, it was the first Sunday of Advent on November 27!

Life is busy and life is full to say the least.  I've been updating my blog's Facebook page often and Instagram and Twitter accounts so sometimes the blog gets the back burner for many reasons.

But despite the juggling act of family life, I thought I would share some books we are enjoy during Advent because it is when I read aloud to the family that makes family life not seem so hectic (well, when I'm not telling my younger daughters to sit still a little better and to stop chattering while I'm reading or stop doing gymnastics off the couches. ;) ) 

Last year I listed many Advent traditions we do as a family and we are doing many of them this year.

On this post I wanted to share a new Advent book with you and list many of the Advent book read-alouds we use as a family.

I was first introduced to Bible Characters for Advent: The Stories That Brought Us Christmas because the authors and illustrators, Theresa & Charles Pobee-Mensah, are related to a friend of mine that I have known for several years.  Theresa and Charles were inspired to write this book because of the birth of their son (who was born on the first Sunday of Advent) and they wanted to "instill a Christ-centered focus in their Christmas tradition."

This is the first Advent book I've read that focuses on 25 Bible characters. Each chapter is short and a 2 page spread with brief information about the character and stories from Scripture that relate to the character.  With colorful, eye-catching illustrations this book appeals to young children, but even my older children and my husband and me enjoyed looking at the fun illustrations.  This book is only 58 pages long, which as a busy homeschool mom juggling a lot during Advent, the length is perfect and not overwhelming!  The book covers the more well-known characters such as Adam & Eve and Noah to maybe some characters we often don't hear a lot about like Jeroboam and Rehoboam. Here are a few photos I took of the inside so you can see how the book is laid out.

I especially liked that each Bible character's page has a reference to where you can find the story in the Bible, which encourages parents and children to connect this book with actual Bible stories and the faithful fun can be extended by finding the Scripture passage in your Bible.  In the Introduction Theresa and Charles give suggestions on how to read their book.  Since there are twenty-five characters that lead to Christmas, the authors state "you can read one each day starting on December first, or you can read a few at a time." Bible Characters for Advent: The Stories That Brought Us Christmas would make a great addition to your home and/or church library and it's a fun, meaningful way to have your children become familiar with biblical characters that center around the Advent season.

Be sure to Meet the Authors on their website My Jesse Tree. On Theresa and Charles' site you will find more information about their book, the Jesse Tree, printable Jesse Tree ornaments that go with the readings in the book and be sure to visit My Jesse Tree Shop that includes adorable My Catholic Saint magnets! My Jesse Tree is a wonderful resource and treasure chest to start or add to your Advent traditions and Bible Characters for Advent: The Stories That Brought Us Christmas is one of many treasures you can find there!  Thank you Theresa and Charles for sharing your gifts and love for our faith, family and Advent in such fun and meaningful ways!

Speaking of great books to read during Advent, we are continuing with our wrapped Christmas book tradition that we started many years ago where I wrap one Christmas book from our personal collection in purple/rose paper and my children take turns opening the books each day.

Here is our small, artificial Advent tree we put up on the first Sunday of Advent. I found my purple and rose decorations at the Dollar Store many years ago, but I recently found purple ones and rose ones on Amazon.   I also find purple and rose wrapping paper each year at the Dollar Tree.  The books wrapped in rose paper are those that will be read during the third week in Advent when the rose candle is lit on our Advent wreath.

I printed, cut and taped on the printable labels onto each wrapped book from Jessica at Shower of Roses.

The books that I have wrapped this year for our family's daily Advent read-aloud time are:

Dec. 4: S is for Star 

Dec. 6:  for St. Nicholas' feast day this year, I bought my children St. Nicholas and the Nine Gold Coins

Dec. 7: The Polar Express 

Dec. 11:  Bambinelli Sunday

Dec. 17:  Night Tree

Dec. 18:  One Winter's Night

Dec. 19:  The Crippled Lamb

Dec. 20:  A Shepherd's Gift

Other read-alouds that our family also enjoy are a series of books by Arnold Ytreeide.  We don't read all the books each Advent, rather we choose one book and read it, then the next year we pick another book to read in the series.  We have been rotating these books for many Advent seasons now. 
The titles in the photo are:

This year I bought the newest book in the series titled Ishtar's Odyssey that we are currently reading. 

These family stories for Advent are definitely books my entire family enjoys hearing me read each night.  Each chapter ends with a cliff hanger usually so my teens and even my husband always want me to read more than one chapter each evening. These book are also interesting because the author weaves in the main character from one book into another book.   I highly recommend these stories as family read-alouds during the Advent season! 

As a side note, during Lent, just before Easter, we enjoy Amon's Adventure: A Family Story for Easter by the same author as the Advent stories. 

I hope some of my suggestions will help make your Advent traditions more memorable and faith-filled.

And coming up this week are some big feast days that we will be celebrating:

Dec. 8: Feast of the Immaculate Conception

Enjoy the rest of your Advent season!

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

November 22: Feast Day of Saint Cecilia

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Today, November 22, is the feast day of Saint Cecilia and my oldest daughter's Confirmation Saint.

St. Cecilia was born in Rome, Italy and lived around 100 A.D. It is said that she heard heavenly music whenever she prayed to God. She is the patron saint of composers, music, musicians, organ builders and singers. She was persecuted for her Christian beliefs and her story of great faith through her suffering is amazing!  I found out today with a Google search that "Cecilia is one of the most popular of Roman saints. The year of her birth is unknown, but it is believed she died about 177 A.D. in Rome. Her body was discovered incorrupt in 1599, is known to be the first Saint to be incorrupt."

This was the first year we "celebrated" this feast day with a very simple sweet snack and we read a little about her life in our Saints for Young Readers for Every Day, Vol. 2, July-December and Saints and Angels books during our Couch Catechism prayer time.

I got the idea of the KitKat keyboard from Catholic Cuisine.  I didn't know they had white KitKats until I saw the Catholic Cuisine post!   I found my white KitKats at a gas station store (because the grocery store I went to didn't have them.) 

In the morning, I set out the Saints and Angels book opened to the page about Saint Cecilia's life, a Saint Cecilia holy card and the Saint Cecilia peg doll. I received at the Saint peg doll exchange last year.  My children were very excited to eat the sweet treats after lunch today! 

Prayer to Saint Cecilia

O glorious saint, who chose to die instead of denying your King, we pray you please to help us as His fair praise we sing. We lift our hearts in joyous song to honor Him this way. And while we sing, remembering, to sing is to doubly pray.
At once in our hearts and in our tongues we offer double prayer sent heavenward on winged notes to praise God dwelling there. While in our hearts and tongues we try with song to praise God twice, we ask dear saint, to help us be united close to Christ! Amen.

Image result for saint cecilia image 

If you would like to learn about other fun ways to celebrate Saint Cecilia's powerful Christian witness, be sure to read Easy Ways to Celebrate Saint Cecilia

Saint Cecilia, pray for us! 


Sunday, November 20, 2016

Feast of Christ the King: Craft and Video

Today, Sunday, November 27, 2016 marks the final Sunday of the liturgical year with the Feast of Christ the King.  This feast day was instituted by Pope Pius XI in 1925 though Christians have celebrated Jesus as King of Kings and Lord of Lords from the time Christ entered the world.  Be sure to read Deacon Marty McIndoe's post Our Lord Jesus Christ-King of the Universe that elaborates on what this feast day is all about. 

Last Sunday the newly formed Young Families Group at my parish met for the first time for a morning snack after Mass and did a craft that focused on the liturgical church calendar.  In anticipation of today's feast day, we did a craft to teach the children that in adoration in front of the Blessed Sacrament in the monstrance we worship Christ the King.   

The family that organized the meeting had all the supplies prepared and so the children could put the pieces together for their monstrance. The supplies were: 

* styrofoam block painted gold
* gold stick to place in the block
* gold cardstock that was cut to be the stand on the monstrance and glued to the gold stick
*  gold doily
*  host with an image of Jesus inside
*  jewel stickers to decorate the monstrance

Here is the craft when it was completed: 

Monstrances don't all look the same, but all of them are beautiful and unique and hold the sacred consecrated Host.  Here is a photo of one: 

Image result for monstrance 

Here are some photos I took as our two youngest children made their monstrance and my older children and friends helped the younger children. 

Here is a great short 3 minute video titled Christ the King by Christopher Stefanick.  It explains what it means that Jesus is King.  "Jesus Christ is the King. Is He your King?" 

Next Sunday, Nov. 27, 2016 is the beginning of the Advent season!  We plan on doing several of our Advent traditions that I blogged about last year in my post Advent 2015 is here! A Roundup of Advent Tradtions to Prepare our Hearts and Home.  I hope some of our Advent traditions will inspire you to prepare your hearts and home for the Christmas season. (Because the Christmas season actually starts at sundown on Christmas Eve, despite what our secular world tells us.)

Have a blessed week and Thanksgiving!

Friday, November 18, 2016

Happy 9th Birthday to "Cupcake" #4!

On this day, November 19, 2007
You were and always will be our sweet blessing that was sent from Heaven
My! Oh! My! Look how big you have grown!
These past 9 years with you have been full of blessings and have flown! 

Your 3 older siblings couldn't come see you at the hospital when you were born because your oldest sister had strep throat.  I don't know if they were more excited to meet you for the first time or if they were more excited to see what "gift" you brought them.  :) 

You went from a little cutie pie...

To a big (sister) cutie pie in a blink of an eye!

It has been fun to watch you grow strong and grow to love gymnastics these past few years!

You are special everyday, especially on your "Name Day" since your middle name is Rose after Saint Rose of Lima

We had a blast celebrating your 9th birthday with an Adventure Time theme with the fun pinata cake this past Saturday!

You bring so much joy, laughter (and energy) to our family and your Dad and I are blessed to be your parents!  It is our prayer that you will always continue to fall in love with Jesus Christ with your whole heart, soul and mind and grow closer to Him and our Blessed Mother!

Happy Birthday sweet girl!  We love you!


Pinata Cake and Adventure Time Birthday Party

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Last weekend we celebrated my daughter's 9th birthday. (Her birthday is Nov. 19, but we had to celebrate early due to our family's schedule).

My daughter wanted an "Adventure Time" theme, but since I've never seen this cartoon that is on Cartoon Network, she helped out a lot in planning for the party!   We don't have Cartoon Network at home, but she saw the show at a hotel.

My daughter found a Pinata cake on Pinterest and she said that was what she wanted for her cake.  It was the first I've heard of this rather easy, but fun and festive cake.  So I went for it and it was a smashing success!

I used an easy homemade funfetti cake recipe that I've used before for other birthday cakes.  I found the delicious funfetti recipe HERE. (It tastes so much better than the box kind, but the box version would work and save time)  I quadrupled the recipe because one recipe makes one 9 in. round pan cake.
After making the 4 round cakes, I cut holes out of the middle of 2 of them.

Then you stack the layers, putting the 2 layers with holes in them in the middle between the bottom and top layer. Fill your cake with your favorite treats before stacking on the top layer.  I filled our pinata cake with colorful Sixlets candies and some mini M&Ms.

The birthday girl and one of her older sisters enjoyed icing the cake and decorating it.  I found the "Adventure Time" cake decorations on Amazon.

My friend came to the party in a "Jake" costume which was a surprise for my daughter and me too!  My daughter found her Jake shirt at a thrift store and she wore it as part of her Minion costume for Halloween.

For the party we played some relay games out in our backyard.  My daughter loved the relay games we played last year for her "Messy 8th Birthday Party" that she wanted to play them again this year too!
The first game we played was the egg relay.  The girls were split into 2 teams and each team raced with a raw egg on a plastic spoon.  None of them broke this year!

The second relay game was the sponge game.  The girls were in 2 teams again and each had a sponge with a bowl of water.  They had to put the sponge in the water then race to the other end and squeeze the sponge into a container with a line drawn on it.  Whichever team got to the line on their container first, won! 

After the relay games my daughter requested a scavenger hunt so I wrote out about 10 clues and one of my older daughters hid the clues around our yard and neighbors' yards.  The clues all rhymed and all the girls were tired from running so much. :)  The final clue lead to the "treasure" which was a pinata that was hidden under our staircase in a secret hideout.   So we then went outside to hit the pinata open. 

After everyone grabbed some treats on the ground we went inside for cake and opened gifts.

My daughter was so excited to show her friends the surprise in the cake! 

Everyone had fun watching the candies fall out of the cake after it was cut!

Each guest received a goodie bag filled with an plastic Emoji cup and marshmallows on a decorative paper straw.  I used an edible ink marker to try to draw "Finn" on the marshmallows. 

It was a fun party and many special memories were made.  My daughter and friends loved all the activities and the best part was seeing the big smile on her face during the party and when she told me "Thanks Mom, that was fun, especially the scavenger hunt!"

Thursday, November 10, 2016

All Saints' Day Celebration 2016

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I'm a little behind with posting our annual All Saints' Day celebration because life is full and staying up to 3 in the morning watching the election results this week doesn't exactly help with staying on top of anything, especially blogging.   But, I'm slowly catching up on things so here's a recap of our November 1, Feast of All Saints, celebration... 

Our family attended Mass in the morning then I hosted our annual All Saints Day party at my house for our homeschool group.

We had decorations like this banner that I made a few years ago from Jessica's blog at Shower of Roses.


I also hung up this banner in our kitchen that my friend T.D. made.


For a centerpiece on our kitchen table I set up all the Saint peg dolls that I received at the Saint peg doll exchange that I participated in along with the Shining Light Dolls we own. 

We did the ever popular Saint guessing jars and as each child came to the party they put in their guesses of how many treats were in each jar.  Thank you Jennifer at Catholic Inspired and Jessica at Shower of Roses for the ideas and printables to put on the jars.  I did make my own St. Lucy and Saints Mary and Martha labels :)  I bought my plastic 1 pint mason jars at Oriental Trading. Another parent brought the plastic jars with blue lids and several parents filled a few each so it was definitely a group effort.   Here's a photo I took of the jars before the rest of the guests brought theirs.

The big and little kids had fun guessing the amount in each jar.

When everyone finished guessing we announced the winners, but then we divided the treats among the 15 children present and put the treats into individual bags so each child had a bag to take home with candy to remind them of several different Saints.

Here are the 18 themed Saint jars we used. The candies in the jar relate to the life of the Saint or what he/she is the Patron Saint of: 
St. Peter: goldfish crackers
St. Kateri Tekakwitha: candy corn

Our Lady of Mount Carmel: Rolo caramel
St. Patrick of Ireland: gummy worms
St. Thomas Aquinas (known in his youth as "The Dumb Ox"): Dum-Dum lollipops

St. Lucy: chocolates wrapped in eyeball foil paper
Doctors of the Church: Smarties
St. Nicholas: peppermint candy

St. Bernadette of Lourdes: pretzel sticks (St. Bernadette was collecting sticks when Our Lady appeared to her)
St. Francis: animal crackers
Holy Trinity: 3 Musketeers

St. Adjuctor: Life-Savers (Patron of swimmers, boaters, and drowning victims)
Saints Mary and Martha: M&Ms
Virgin Mary, Untier of Knots: root beer flavored Twists

St. Gertrude of Nivelles: KitKats (Patron of cats and gardeners)
St. William of York: York patties (Patron of York, England)
St. Isidore: candy pumpkins (Patron of farmers)
St. Dominic: mini Milky Way bars (Patron of Astronomers)

Each family brought a snack to share.  I provided some "pious popcorn" and "All Saints are 'grape'" :)

We had our annual "Communion of Saints Cupcakes"

And my friend, K.C., made this Rice-Krispies cross cake as a way to remember the Year of Mercy with the red/blue coloring for Jesus' Divine Mercy and Baby Jesus in the middle and a little Eucharistic Host in the center.

Some of the adults and kids played Saint Bingo that I printed and laminated from Jessica's blog at Shower of Roses.

My friend, T.D., brought other games to play, as well.
*Our Lady of Guadalupe Flower Toss
*The Brothers' Fishing Hole: St. Peter and St. Andrew, fishermen of fish and of men
*Knocking Down the 7 Deadly Sins bowling game: Envy, Pride, Wrath, Lust, Gluttony, Sloth, Greed

The Corporal Works of Mercy and Spiritual Works of Mercy ring toss

At the beginning of our celebration, we prayed the Litany of the Saints and we also watched this wonderful video titled How Does the Catholic Church Declare Official Saints.

I forgot to also share this fun video called The Saint Song that I shared last year.  I'll have to remember to play it at next year's All Saints Day party.

After we prayed and I played the Saint videos, each child dressed as a Saint stood up and told a little bit about their Saint's life and everyone had to guess who they were.  Some were more obvious than others.

My 2 youngest children dressed up as St. Rafqa (a new to us and everyone Saint) and St. Elizabeth of Hungary.

Rafqa-226x300       Image of St. Elizabeth of Hungary
 Saint Rafqa

Here a few photos of the group:

It was a wonderful day to remember and give honor to all the Saints who truly are timeless role models for our families and children!

Have a blessed week!


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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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