Friday, November 28, 2014

Advent 2014: How Our Family Prepares

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Christmas, despite what our world tells us, doesn't start the day after Thanksgiving, but rather there is a period of preparation for the Christmas season called Advent.  Advent begins the Sunday nearest to the feast of St. Andrew the Apostle (November 30) and includes four Sundays.  So the First Sunday of Advent can begin as early as November 27 or as late as December 3. 

(FYI: Christmas "officially" starts on Christmas Day until the Epiphany, the 12th day AFTER Christmas, and the Christmas season traditionally lasts beyond the Epiphany.) 

Advent is a time to prepare our homes, but most importantly our hearts, for the coming of Christ. 

Below are traditions we have done in the past.  I have gradually added on to our family's traditions for the past 14 years and some most years we don't get to do all of them.  Maybe if you see a new tradition that I have listed, you will feel inspired to include it in your own family's Advent season.  We try to incorporate our Advent traditions during our Couch Catechism devotional time each morning or in the evenings during and after dinner time when my husband is home from work.  

Advent Wreath Tradition 
(Shout out to Melissa, our parish youth minister,  for the beautiful Advent door wreath that she made and I bought at our church's craft fair last weekend :) )  

This Sunday, Nov. 30, 2014, marks the first day of the liturgical year in the Catholic Church with the first Sunday of Advent.  

Did you know the word Advent is from the Latin word advenio, meaning "to come"?  It's hard to believe it is time to prepare for the celebration of Christ's birth!  I truly think that one way to keep Christ in CHRISTmas is to embrace the Advent season with all its beauty and meanings.  

One of the first decorations we pull out is our  Advent wreath which we display in our kitchen.   After we eat dinner as a family we light the candle(s) depending on which week of Advent we are in.  So during the first week of Advent, we will be lighting one purple candle after we bless our wreath with a special prayer.

Here is a beautiful paragraph I found about the Advent wreath from "The History of the Advent Wreath" by Father William Saunders:

The four candles represent the four weeks of Advent. A tradition is that each week represents one thousand years, to sum to the 4,000 years from Adam and Eve until the Birth of the Savior. Three candles are purple and one is rose. The purple candles in particular symbolize the prayer, penance, and preparatory sacrifices and goods works undertaken at this time. The rose candle is lit on the third Sunday, Gaudete Sunday, when the priest also wears rose vestments at Mass; Gaudete Sunday is the Sunday of rejoicing, because the faithful have arrived at the midpoint of Advent, when their preparation is now half over and they are close to CHRISTmas. The progressive lighting of the candles symbolizes the expectation and hope surrounding our Lord’s first coming into the world and the anticipation of His second coming to judge the living and the dead.

Here's a cute song to the "Alphabet Song" tune that we have sung while we lit the candles. I got this song from someone on the Catholic Homeschool Moms Facebook page one year:

Set the candles burning bright.

One by one each week we light.
Advent is a time to wait -
Not quite time to celebrate.
When the waiting time is through,
It's Christmas joy for me and you!

One year our homeschool group made kid-sized Advent wreaths using 1)  air-dry clay, green Tempera paint, purple and pink chenille stems for candles, and yellow/orange dot stickers for the flames.

2) Each child got a ball of clay so they could form it into a wreath shape.
3) Then they painted the wreath green and placed 4 chenille stems ("candles")  that I cut 2 inches long. I gave them 4 yellow/orange circle stickers and had them wrap one sticker around one purple candle.
4) The children can "light" another candle by placing a sticker on another purple candle as each Sunday in Advent arrives.  So they can count down the weeks until CHRISTmas day with their own handmade wreath.

Advent Tree and Wrapped Christmas Books Tradition

Do you have a collection of your favorite Christmas books that you either own or borrow from the library and read each year?   

Several years ago I found a great way to read our Christmas books and at the same time have my children anticipate Jesus' birthday.

I wrap up each book with purple wrapping paper.  I usually find the purple paper in our local Dollar Tree store.  Then beginning the first Sunday in Advent, one child opens one book and we read it as a family.  Then on the second night in Advent,  our next child opens a book and so on.  My children really love this idea of opening their Advent Christmas book.  I have a small "Advent tree" in our great room decorated with purple balls and under this tree is where we have our wrapped Christmas books.  This small Advent tree goes up at the beginning of Advent and then we buy our real Christmas tree sometime later in December.  
I also number the books and put each child's name on the back of the wrapping paper so I don't have to remember who gets to unwrap the next book!

Jesse Tree Tradition

Our Advent Tree is also used as our Jesse Tree and we read scripture as our children put one symbol per night on our small tree. (Pictured above is a picture of our original Jesse tree which was just a branch stuck in a pot of sand and the pot was wrapped with a purple cloth.)  Our symbols are made out of paper and our children colored each picture several years ago. I then laminated them and punched a hole to tie a string to the paper.  I made copies of these symbols from this page on .  There as so many ways to make Jesse Tree symbols that I have seen through the years (made out of felt, wood, etc.)  and I hope to remake our symbols some year or buy some beautiful ones like the Jesse Tree symbols from JesseTreeTreasures on Etsy, but for now these simple paper symbols are working and will do.
We have enjoyed reading The Jesse Tree by Geraldine McCaughrean in years past and we will continue with this tradition this year.  We read one story each night which relates to the Jesse Tree and its symbols

In years' past we have also read Jotham's Journey, A Storybook for Advent with our children, which is a great book that takes you and your family on a journey with characters who are living in Jesus' time.  The young characters in the book are my own children's ages and so it is very enjoyable to read for the entire family.  We will try to read it with using only the light from the candle(s).  It's beautiful to see that as we get closer to the celebration of Christ's birth, each lit candle makes the room brighter and reading easier.  I love how this symbolizes how we anticipate the coming of Jesus Christ, the Light of the world!   

 What God Wants for Christmas Tradition

Another Advent tradition in our family is reading the book What God Wants for Christmas.

This is a beautiful story that is written in rhyme on each page.  For example, the first page tells of the angel Gabriel from Luke 1:26.  After each page the book directs the children to open one of 7 boxes which contain pieces to make the interactive nativity set. So in box number 1, they will find a little angel Gabriel figurine to place in the manger scene.  The 7th box is when the children discover the best surprise...which is what God wants for CHRISTmas! 
The book goes along with the interactive kid-friendly nativity set, which has the 7 boxes and the pop-up manger scene.  *Note:  I bought this book and interactive nativity set several years ago and it looks like it may be out of print, but maybe you can find used copies. 

 Andrew's Toy Box Tradition

Speaking of books, I'm excited to add two more books to our Advent /Christmas reading.  The first book titled, The Amazing Giving Tree Secret, A Story of Kindness, Love, & Joy is written by Mary Ellen Fimbel, who is local author and a member of my parish.  Mary is a dear friend and I enjoy listening to all the ways the Holy Spirit worked through her to remember and honor her grandchild, Andrew, who passed away at 6 months old in 2001. The proceeds from Mary's book will go to Andrew's Toy Box, a non-profit, charitable organization founded in memory of Andrew Fimbel, who passed away on February 17, 2001 from Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA).  The disease is the No. 1 genetic killer of children under two.   My children loved this book and with so many giving trees during this time of year, it would be a perfect story to share with your family during this Advent season!  Our family and homeschool group also donates toys to Andrew's Toy Box during Christmas and throughout the year to help sick children smile.  


The second book, called Jesus' Birthday Gift is a treasure also and is written by Mary's sister, Michelle Boggiano.  This book is full of beautiful colors and illustrations and has a wonderful message that goes along with the story of Jesus' birth.  I also love the fact that some Spanish vocabulary is sprinkled throughout this beautiful story.   Proceeds from this book will also go to Andrew's Toy Box.   

 Family Fun Bucket Tradition

Twas the night before December at the Smith house kitchen table....the family was enjoying their Family Fun Bucket instead of watching cable....
Several years ago a friend of mine made this family fun bucket for our family and it has become one of the best Christmas gifts and a family favorite Advent/Christmas tradition!  To read more about the Family Fun Bucket and how to make your own with free printables, click HERE where I guest posted at Upside Down Homeschooling!  

Advent Adventure Tradition

A great resource my children have grown up with and love is the Holy Heroes website which has an annual Advent Adventure for families.  It is free to sign up and a few times a week our family gets an email with the next day's adventure lesson.  My children love to watch the children on the videos and hear the Bible stories and history and traditions of Advent.  Check out my post HERE how I met the oldest daughter in the "Holy Heroes" family at a Catholic conference several years ago! :)

So if you are looking for another great way to enhance your Advent season with your family, check out the Holy Heroes website and enjoy your adventure!

 Advent Calendar on DVD Tradition
An Advent resource we just bought last year is a DVD called Advent Calendar on DVD, A Christmas Countdown for December. Each day in December there is a short video clip, about 2-3 minutes long, that talks about various topics including Advent history,  origins of Christmas carols and Christmas traditions, and just various topics surrounding the Christmas season.  It's very interesting and holds everyone's attention, adults and children alike.   We also have this fun fabric Advent calendar and this beautiful wooden calendar  displayed in our home so our family can count down the days to Jesus' birth.

Christmas Creche Tradition

Another Advent tradition we have done in the past is prepare a soft bed/manger for Baby Jesus.  I first saw this idea on Holy Heroes Advent Adventure and thought this would be a fun and simple way to have my children prepare their hearts and souls for the true meaning of the Christmas season. You can read more about the Christmas creche, which started with Saint Francis, with the great children's book, Saint Francis Celebrates Christmas.  I love Nicole's little cradle she uses for her straw bed for Jesus over at Children of the Church blog.  I'll have to put that on my wish list! 

At the beginning of Advent we start with an empty manger (empty basket)  and have a bowl full of "hay" (yellow yarn pieces).

Then as my children make sacrifices for family and friends (doing their chores without complaining, helping a sibling with school work, doing a kind deed for a sibling/friend, etc), they can put a piece of yarn in the basket.  So by the end of the Advent season, the basket will be filled with yarn for a soft bed for Baby Jesus (at least that is the goal :) )

On Christmas morning, we will place Jesus in our soft manger built with love and sacrifices and display Him under our Christmas tree.

Wandering Wise Men Tradition

Are you looking for a Christian alternative to the "Elf on the Shelf" craze?  Jennifer at Catholic Inspired started using Playmobil wise men and camels and each day takes them on ADVENTures where her kids find these wondering wise men in humorous situations each morning. She explains it all HERE.  Jennifer had a link-up where bloggers could link-up their own Wandering Wise Men ADVENTures and I joined in on the fun! Hopefully, Jennifer will be doing this link-up again this Advent.  

Jennifer mentions in her blog post HERE how I came up with the "Wandering Wise Men" name, while she started this great and fun tradition!   Last year, I took my own Wandering Wise Men and placed them around the house for my children to find each day.  It was a lot of fun!  

Here is one of our ADVENTures last year where my Wandering Wise Men visited Saint Nicholas on his feast day on Dec. 6.   If you are interested in the Saint Nicholas and angel Playmobil set you can purchase it HERE.

During the season of Advent we also try to remember all the special feast days that are sprinkled throughout the month of December.  Below is a list of the dates we observe and celebrate and I have linked posts I have done in the past with each feast day in case you want to look ahead. I plan on blogging more about these feast days in December.

You can also Visit My Store to find books about each feast day in case you want to order any.  My Store is a work in progress so I'll be adding more items gradually.  

December 6:  Feast Day of Saint Nicholas
December 8:  Feast of the Immaculate Conception
December 9: Feast Day of Saint Juan Diego
December 12: Feast Day of Our Lady of Guadalupe
December 13: Feast Day of Saint Lucy
December 17-23: Last year I also tried to celebrate the Octave before Christmas, the 8 days before Christmas Day, with an "O Antiphons" lapbook that I started with my children.  We will pull out these lapbooks again this year and finish them and learn more about this special time in the Advent season!

The season of Advent is such a special time and I am thankful that our family celebrates the true meaning of Christmas by doing several fun and meaningful Advent activities to prepare for the day when we can sing "Happy Birthday to Jesus!" 

There are so many wonderful ways to prepare our hearts and homes for the birthday of Christ! I pray my post will inspire you to continue your own traditions or add a new tradition into your home

What are some of your family's Advent traditions?  

I'm linking this post to the Catholic Bloggers Advent LinkUp, which will be happening during each of the four weeks during Advent.   Be sure to visit the LinkUp and find out what others are doing in this season on preparation and LinkUp your own Advent post if you have one!  Enjoy!  

Last, but not least here's a great 1 minute video about what Advent is not and what Advent is! 

This post is linked to Catholic Inspired Wandering Wise Men Link-Up 

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Have a blessed Advent season! 

Monday, November 24, 2014

Thanksgiving Turkey Trot/Crafts/Recipes from the Archives

This week we are taking a break from our homeschool lessons to celebrate Thanksgiving week with family and friends.  Thanksgiving is always a special holiday because our 4th Cupcake was born just before Thanksgiving in 2007.  We just celebrated her "non-theme" birthday party, which was alot of fun!  

A family tradition we do each year on Thanksgiving morning is participate in a local Turkey Trot that raises money for Habitat for Humanity.  We go early in the morning to run/walk the race as a family and meet friends there and then we head to Mass to thank God for all our blessings.  Then it's family time with food, fun, and laughs! 

Here are some Thanksgiving themed posts from the archives that I thought I would share in case they inspire anyone to try baking or making one of these ideas. 

May you have a Happy and Blessed Thanksgiving with friends and family!

  “Give thanks to the Lord for He is good. His mercy endures forever.”
Psalm 107:1 

For this week's  Thankful Thursdays Link-Up, I'm thankful for family and friends on this Thanksgiving 2014!   Creating memories and fun with those I love are some of the reasons I love Thanksgiving!  I'm also thankful for all the friends and visitors I have "met" in blog land!  Thank you to those who visit my corner of the web once or regularly!  I'm so glad to share God's goodness and a slice of Smith life with anyone who is willing to listen! :)

thankful thursdays 150

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PS: It's hard to believe that the first Sunday in Advent is coming up this Sunday, November 30!  I'll be sharing all about how we prepare for Christmas during the Advent season sometime just after Thanksgiving!  So stay tuned!  

Please visit other thankful posts below and if you have a thankful post you want to add to the Link-Up, (Linky will open Wednesday evening/Thursday morning of this week) please add below!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Homeschool Historical Ball & Thankful Thursdays Link-Up !

Last year my oldest daughter and youngest daughter and I attended our first homeschool historical ball and it was a fun and memorable night!   In fact, it was so much fun that this year our entire family was able to attend on Saturday evening, Nov. 15. 
What is a homeschool historical ball you may ask???

It's a fun event for homeschooled teens and their families.  Young ladies are required to wear formal period costumes (medieval to WWII).  Everyone else could wear formal period costume or formal attire.  All costumes and behavior have to be modest.  The ball we attended was about an hour away from our home and last weekend's ball was the 8th annual event hosted by a homeschool group in a nearby county.  There was a small fee to get into the ball with a family cap price (our family met that cap! :) ) Each family was asked to bring finger foods (we brought grapes and cookies) while the organizers provided some main dishes that could be eaten with no utensils.  (tiny sandwiches, cut-up wraps, fruit/veggie platters/cookies/cupcakes).

Here is our family at the ball.  My girls were all wearing dresses that we borrowed from a few friends and my gentlemen were in their nice slacks and ties.  I just wore a long skirt, blouse and scarf.

About 130 adults, young adults, and children smiled, laughed and danced from 5:00-10:00PM.  The dance was held at a church's hall and the decorations were so beautiful!  Like last year, I just loved seeing all the beautiful dresses (that many of the young ladies made themselves!) and it was just so nice and refreshing to see young men and women dressed modestly dancing with one another, smiling and laughing.    The music was provided by a great group of musicians who instructed the dancers on what to do.

Here are some highlights from a fun-filled family night:
I love the picture above on the left of my daughter in the blue dress being swung by my husband during one of the dances.

The picture above on the left is a picture of the stage with the musicians and the picture on the right is my son and daughter going down the line during the "Virginia Reel" dance. 

Oh I will never forget the excitement of my oldest daughter and the many other dancers when the band announced the last dance of the night, the "Virginia Reel!"  Kids and adults of all ages were giddy, excited, and running to the dance floor!  It is a crowd favorite, especially with this historical ball!

Here is a clip of my oldest daughter and son dancing the Virginia reel that my husband captured on his iPhone:

And here is my other daughter in the blue dress dancing with a partner (who she just met at the dance).  The dance got faster and faster before it was all over!  Lots of fun!  

For today's Thankful Thursdays Link-Up, I'm thankful for fun family times, like the Homeschool Historical Ball!  Creating memories and fun with our family is one of the many reasons I homeschool my children as homeschooling allows us to experience unique and fun-filled opportunities, such as the ball!

thankful thursdays 150

Please visit other thankful posts below and if you have a thankful post you want to add to the Link-Up, please add below!

Happy Birthday to Cupcake #4 and How to NOT have a Themed Birthday Party!

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On this day, November 19, 2007
You were and always will be the sweet blessing that was sent from Heaven.
My Oh My! Look how big you have grown!
These past 7 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!

Happy Birthday, our star daughter and gymnast! 

This past weekend we celebrated our daughter's birthday with some of her friends and this was the first year I really didn't have a "theme" for the birthday party (I know, GASP!)  I love themed parties and have had several in years past and you can check out all the cakes I've made in the past and probably guess what each birthday's theme had been.   

But, for whatever reason, my daughter's party this year was "eclectic", but still so memorable and fun!  I found out two things about hosting a non-theme birthday party.....1) My daughter still had a great time with friends and she had fun helping me make her cake with her sister. 2)  I had a great time not stressing over NOT having a themed birthday party :)  So for all you theme and non-theme party planners out there that want to know how to NOT have a themed birthday party, here's how I got one done...

You ask your soon-to-be 7 year old what kind of cake she wants.  She suggests the homemade funfetti cake with chocolate mouse layers and homemade (green) cream cheese icing.  I realized that's the same cake she requested last year, but last year's icing was pink, not green. 

Then I asked what she wanted on top of her cake.  She disappeared upstairs for a few minutes and came running down the stairs with her Rapunzel figurines. Perfect!

We asked our neighbor if we could borrow her #7 birthday candle.  It sorta looks like a "1" candle, but hey it worked! 

When the guests arrived the day of the party, I had them make a craft with tissue paper, glue and jars or "vases".  I want to thank my dear friend, K.C., for the jars and tissue paper that she had left over from her twin daughters' party a few weeks prior. 
I ran out 2 hours before the party started and bought pens, plastic flowers, and butterfly picks at the Dollar Store. I also went to the craft store to buy green floral tape.  I then wrapped the sides and top of each pen with green floral tape with the flowers and the butterfly pick so each guest took home their colorful jar vase and flowered pen.

We then played some relay games outside.  One game had the kids use plastic apples and they had to balance them on plastic spoons.  In another relay game they had to run and drop the apples in a basket and tag the next person in line.    The plastic apples and baskets were borrowed from K.C. too who had an "apple" themed birthday party for her children a few weeks ago.  

Continuing with my daughter's non-themed birthday party, she asked to have a unicorn pinata.  I was all for that since we were able to clear out almost all our Halloween candy by using it in the pinata!  There are advantages to having a party just after Halloween and stuffing a unicorn with the loot is one of  the best advantages!  
The kids got a kick out of the unicorn becoming headless during the pinata beating. :) 

Then it was time for some cake and ice cream!  Here's the inside of the homemade funfetti cake with chocolate mousse layers:

So my first non-themed birthday party was a great success filled with smiles and memories!  I may just have to plan another party like this one for future birthdays!  :-) 

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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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