Sunday, November 29, 2015

Advent 2015 is Here! A Roundup of Advent Traditions to Prepare Our Hearts and Home

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Christmas, despite what our world tells us, doesn't start the day after (or even before) 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 is a roundup of Advent traditions we have done in the past and some are new ideas for this year.  I have gradually added on to our family's traditions for the past 15 years and some most years we don't get to do all of them.  Maybe if you see a new idea  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.

To start out, I thought I'd share the post 8 Practical Ways to Get Ready for Advent over at Peanut Butter & Grace. It's a great summary of ideas and our family enjoys doing most of them.

Advent Wreath Tradition  

Sunday, Nov. 29, 2015, 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 "coming" or "visit"?  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.  This year I bought my candles from Dominican nuns at the Cloister Shoppe as mentioned by Shower of Roses.  I am looking forward to burning these 100% beeswax candles during Advent. 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. 

 Advent Tree and Wrapped Christmas Books Tradition

We set up an "Advent" tree which is just a small artificial tree decorated with white lights and purple decorations, the liturgical color of Advent.  We eventually decorate our home with a larger Christmas tree closer to Christmas.  Under the Advent tree I wrap a stack of our favorite Christmas books in purple and pink (for the 3rd week of Advent) wrapping paper and one child each night unwraps a book and we read it as a family.  

Our family started collecting Christmas books as soon as we were expecting Baby #1. My husband gave me one of our favorite books called The Christmas Candle and he wrote this sweet note inside the cover in December 1999 as we anticipated the birth of our first child. 

Here are the stack of books I wrapped in purple/pink paper for this year's Advent. 

From bottom to top:
Dec. 6: S is for Star  (For St. Nicholas' feast day, the kids will be surprised with Our Lady of Guadalupe and Bambinelli Sunday)
Dec. 17: Night Tree

On top of each wrapped book I taped a printable label provided by Jessica's beautiful blog at Shower of  Roses.  

 Jesse Tree Tradition
Speaking of trees, we plan on reading scripture and using symbols for our Jesse tree.  Kristen at Drawn 2B Creative explains in her beautiful Printable 3-D Jesse Tree Ornaments e-book that "the Jesse Tree is a pictorial representation of the lineage of Jesus.  The name comes from Jesse, the father of King David, in the Bible.  In Isaiah it says "There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots (Isaiah 11:1)"

Below I printed, cut out and made the ornaments for Day 1 (sun, moon, stars and animals for creation) and Day 2 (tree for Adam and Eve).  Kristen's e-book gives you easy to follow directions and the scripture reading that goes with each symbol.  I'm looking forward to replacing our old Jesse tree paper ornaments with these fancier 3-D paper ones.  You can find out more information and how to purchase this fun and creative e-book from Drawn 2B Creative.

"The Little Way of Advent" (New) Tradition 
I recently purchased The Little Way of Advent book to read during the Advent season during morning prayer time.  I've always loved St. Therese of Lisieux and I'm looking forward to reading more of her wisdom with this book.   

Advent Calendar Tradition 

Our children love counting down the days until Christmas Day with our Nativity Fabric Advent Calendar.  I received ours 15 years ago when I was pregnant with our first child and it is still in great condition.  Currently, Amazon has this Advent calendar at 40% off!  They make great gifts for family, friends and Godchildren. I gave my nephew, my Godchild, his fabric Advent calendar when he was born 2 years ago. 

My children also enjoy opening the doors to this Kurt Adler Wooden Nativity Advent Calendar with 24 Magnetic Figures and as we get closer to Christmas Day the first Christmas scene is created with wooden magnetic figures. 

There's also an Advent Calendar on DVD that my family has enjoyed watching through the years.  This DVD kept the attention of all my family members, from young to adults.  The 25 mini-documentaries about various Christmas symbols and their meanings are interesting and only about 3-4 minutes long.  

Advent Ornaments (New) Tradition  
I really enjoy celebrating the liturgical calendar and feast days with my family and I was very excited to be able to make the Advent Ornaments from Jennifer at Catholic Inspired that highlight 8 Saint feast days during Advent.  With your purchase, Jennifer provides the printables and detailed instructions on how to make each ornament.  They were alot of fun to make and we look forward to hanging these on our Advent tree after we read about each Saint during our Couch Catechism time each morning.  

 Family Advent Story Tradition 
We've been reading one of these books each year during Advent that tell of the many adventures of children who lived during Jesus' time.  You don't have to read them in any certain order, but all the characters are connected somehow in all the books.  We try to read a chapter a night with whichever book we decide to read for the current year.  My children love these books that really hold their attention and each chapter ends by leaving you hanging wanting to know what will happen next.   They make exciting and engaging family read alouds.  And I see there is a new title in the series called Ishtar's Odyssey: A Family Story for Advent!

Star from Afar (New) Tradition

Some time ago I received another exciting and fun way to celebrate the true meaning of Christmas with children in exchange for my review.  The Christmas Star from Afar wooden nativity set is a great new family tradition and the book and nativity set is beautifully made! When my 11 year old daughter first saw the wooden figures she exclaimed, "Wow Mom those are so pretty!" 

The creator and author, Natalie Ard, is a mom who wanted to teach her children that Christmas is much more than getting gifts and Santa.  The concept and product that she created with her family is very simple and fun!

This is how the game works according to the directions given outside the storage box:
- Set up the nativity
- Hide the star every night
- Once your children find the Star move all Three Wise Men to it's location
- Have fun and get creative!
- Repeat
- On Christmas Eve place the Star on the top of your nativity stable
- On Christmas morning the Three Wise Men reach the nativity scene and fin their king, baby Jesus! 

My 2 year old played with the wooden nativity set for quite some time and I love that the pieces have rounded edges which makes them safe and easy to hold for little hands!  Our 2 year old (with some wild hair) can be quite rough with things so I'm grateful The Christmas Star from Afar's wooden pieces can survive her play time :)
Since our family celebrates the Epiphany each year, I will keep hiding the Christmas star the 12 days following Christmas Day until the Epiphany when the 3 Wise Men visit Baby Jesus.  The Christmas Star from Afar blog addresses using the set for Epiphany
There are many ways to use The Christmas Star from Afar to start this new family tradition.  There is room to be creative and have fun to make Advent and Christmas a more meaningful and faith-filled time in your family's life.
To find out more information and to purchase you can visit The Christmas Star from Afar website

 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!
I blogged about a few other Advent traditions on my Advent 2014 post if you want to check out some more ideas and resources! 
May you have a blessed Advent as we prepare our hearts and homes for the birth of the Christ Child! 


Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Happy Thanksgiving 2015!

This past weekend our family visited Charleston, SC since 2 of our children were in a soccer tournament with their teams.  We turned it into a little family vacation and maybe I'll get to blogging about our adventures and fun?

But, until then, I wanted to stop in and wish everyone a Happy and Blessed Thanksgiving from our family to yours!  These photos were taken in September for our church directory so I took a picture of them to post on my Facebook page and blog, hence the quality isn't great here :)

And here's my fruity and festive turkey I made for the Thanksgiving lunch we will be having with my parents at my house. Buying the fruit bowl saved me tons of time vs. cutting up the fruit myself which gave me more time to get a little creative :)


I hope to post again soon about our old and some new Advent traditions since Advent starts this Sunday, November 29!

God bless!

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Happy 8th Birthday to our 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 8 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!

We had a blast celebrating your 8th birthday with your "Messy" party this past Sunday and then on Monday, November 16, you finally got your ears pierced!  Your sisters and a few friends came to watch this exciting event!  You were a bit nervous and you said it hurt, but you did great!

I love this photo that Mrs. K. took of you as I was taking a photo of you with your newly pierced ears :)

You bring so much joy, laughter (and energy) to our family and your Daddy and I are blessed to be your parents!  It has been so much fun watching you fall in love with gymnastics and it is our prayer always that you will 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!

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

My Daughter's "Messy" 8th Birthday Party...What Mess and Fun!

This post contains affiliate links.

We celebrated our daughter's 8th birthday this past weekend on Sunday, November 15. She won't officially turn 8 until Thursday, Nov. 19, but we decided to celebrate early since we have a busy weekend after her official birthday with an out of town soccer tournament with 2 of my children's travel soccer league.  

My daughter stated she wanted a "Messy" birthday party and I had no idea what she was talking about.  So what do people do these days when they want ideas on themed parties?  Google and Pinterest searches, of course!  It was so much fun planning this party and trying to find creative ways to be messy, BUT not too far over the top messy!  Here's how all the fun happened: 

I spent some time the day before the party making homemade funfetti cupcakes.  I've never made funfetti cupcakes, but I have used the homemade funfetti cake recipe before when my daughter turned 6 and I made her a roller skating/in-line skating funfetti cake.   It really is an easy recipe and tastes so much better than the boxed mix. 
I have to say my cupcakes did turn out quite "messy" (and somewhat overcooked), but they tasted great and they went along with the party theme. I iced the cupcakes with homemade cream cheese icing that is a family favorite and easy to whip up quickly.  I left the cupcake decorating up to the girls during the party.  More on that later in the post...

Note: Some of the ideas that I got for this birthday party were inspired by Sow Sprout Play and Instructables.

Messy Activity #1:  Decorate aprons with puffy paint
As the guests arrived I had these colorful aprons laid out on our kitchen table and fabric puffy paint bottles.   The girls went right to work and were all so creative with their designs.  It was so fun to watch them at work! I didn't get a chance to get a picture of all the girls wearing their decorated aprons since we ran out of time and the paint took a little while to dry.

Messy Activity #2: Find the gummy worm in a plate of whipped cream...No hands! 
My oldest daughter put a gummy worn on the center of each paper plate and then sprayed a pile of whipped cream over the worm to hide it.  The girls had to dive in and find the worm and grab it with their teeth.  They didn't mind the messy madness of this activity!  Smiles, laughter and lots of dirty and sticky paper towels and wipes filled our back porch! :) 

Messy Activity #3: Paint a plastic table cloth with washable paint and shaving cream with your hands
I didn't want to spend money on paintbrushes so I thought spraying a can of shaving cream and some washable paint on the table and have them paint with their hands would be one of the messiest and most fun ways to paint. They loved squishing their hands in the shaving cream and I ended up not using that much paint since they had so much shaving cream all over the table.

Messy Activity #4: Sponge and water relay race
It was time to clean up a little and continue to enjoy the beautiful weather we had so the next activity was a relay race in our backyard that had water, sponges, and buckets.  Each team had a bowl of water and a sponge.  The first person on each team soaked the sponge in the water then ran to the other end where an empty container with a fill line was placed. They squeezed the water out of the sponge into the container then ran back to their team so the next runner could soak sponge and run to fill their container.  The winner was the first team to fill their container to the fill line.

Messy Activity #5: Egg on spoon relay race 
I told the girls we were now going to throw raw eggs at each other and they looked at me strangely until I told them I was kidding :) We did use eggs for our next relay as each team member had to hold the raw egg on a spoon and run to the designated spot and walk/run back and hand off the egg and spoon to the next team member.  Each team even got in cute huddles to discuss egg relay strategies! This classic race brought back memories of my childhood and it made me smile watching the girls enjoy this so much.  We only had one egg fall and break on the ground during the 2 rounds we played!

Messy Activity #6: Play with ooblek and make some too! 
What's ooblek you say?  It's easy to make, just cornstarch and water (and for our party the girls used LOTS of food coloring).  When you make the right consistency of the cornstarch and water it makes a solid form, but then as you squeeze it in your hand it then runs through your fingers in liquid form.  The ooblek recipe I used called for cornflour which is cornstarch so I used cornstarch.   I had no idea the girls would get into this messy fun as much as they did!  They eventually combined all their individual bowls of ooblek into one bowl and the messiness got oh so "interesting"!

They loved playing with the ooblek and many went home with stained hands from all the food dye they used, even after we had them wash their hands with soap and water at our outdoor cleaning station.

Messy Activity #7:  Decorate funfetti cupcakes and ice cream sundaes with yummy toppings
After we sang "Happy Birthday" the girls (and my son and some neighborhood boys) got to decorate their cupcake and make an ice sundae with the variety of toppings I had.  I really enjoyed watching their creativity with all the choices they had. 

I have to highlight one of the gifts my daughter received from our neighbor.  She and her mom make these beautiful mobiles and my daughter wanted one to hang in her room.  My friend punches out all the butterflies with pattered cardstock and then threads the paper and beads through clear string to make the mobile.  Each butterfly strand is tied to the top of a dream catcher pattern.  They are so beautiful and my neighbor is super crafty and creative!  My daughter was blessed with such nice gifts from her friends.

After 2 hours of non-stop messy fun, each girl received a party favor that had homemade Kool-Aid play dough in a clear plastic baby with a Kool-Aid pack and the play doh recipe attached.

I had so much fun making the Kool-Aid play dough.  It's really quite easy and addictive to make and play with.  I got the recipe from Instructables and the idea to make party favor bags from Sow Sprout Play. (NOTE: Sow Spout Play forgot to include water as one of the ingredients on their post.  Without the water the mixture burns...ummm ask me how I know :/)  I found the small plastic containers to store each guests play dough from a local grocery store.  I just happened to find them hanging in the grocery aisle because I'm sure if I had to go out looking for the containers I would not have found what I wanted. :) 

Here are the ingredients and some shots I took of the play dough making process.

Ingredients for Kool-Aid Play Dough
1cup all purpose flour
1 cup  water
2 tsp. Cream of Tartar
1/3 cup  salt
1 Tbs.  vegetable oil
1 package unsweetened Kool-Aid (any color you want)
* I did add a little yellow food coloring to the Kool-Aid lemonade flavor to make the yellow color a little brighter

To make the play dough combine all ingredients and stir constantly over medium heat.  Eventually the mixture will harden and then you can form it into a ball.  Remove ball from heat and pot and let it cool as you knead the dough.  Roll it into a ball and store it in an airtight container.

I must say I'm a big fan of messy parties now because I had as much fun as my daughter and her friends!  I had no idea I would get so much enjoyment seeing so many smiles and creativity during the 2 hour party.  It was a great way to celebrate our daughter turning  8 years old.  It was filled with wonderful memories and 2 thumbs up from my daughter and her friends!


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