Saturday, December 20, 2014

Books to Read During Christmas Week

We talk about Jesus, St.Nicholas, and Santa Claus in our home during Advent. 

On December 6th, we always read The Baker's Dozen: A Saint Nicholas Tale. Then we return to our regular bedtime reading (usually a chapter book) until a week before Christmas. That is when we start reading Christmas stories.

There have been many great articles around the Catholic Mom blogosphere that list great books to read during Advent and Christmas. 

I do not want to recreate their lists, but I think books lists are great resources and we have several books on our list that I have not seen mentioned yet. So I am going to share several of the books that we have read every year for the last several years a couple books that are new to us this year.

The Town That Forgot about Christmas  The boys and I love this sweet tale about a sad town that has forgotten the joy of Christmas and a kind stranger that teaches them all how to bring back the Christmas spirit. 

Bethlehem Night A beautifully illustrated book that tells the Christmas story as a poem.

Christmas Day in the Morning This book is new to us this year. I first saw it here. It is a sweet tale about a father and son, and I must admit that is made me just a teeny bit teary-eyed at the end of the tale. 

The Legend of the Poinsettia This book, about a Mexican folktale, is also new to us this year, although we have been Tomie DePaola fans for years. This book tells the tale of a young girl who learned a gift given with generosity and love is truly beautiful.

The Christmas Story We love Little Golden Books. This telling of the Christmas story is lovely.

The Night Before Christmas (Pictureback(R))  A favorite Christmas poem by Clement C. Moore, beautifully illustrated by Douglas Gorsline.

Santa's Secret Helper  An endearing story about Santa's secret helper, his wife! 

The Biggest Christmas Tree Ever I have always loved stories involving mice, even though I am not a fan of mice in real life. It is a cute story with charming illustrations. It is total fluff, but we like it! 

*All links are Amazon Associate Links. If you click through and make a purchase I will earn a few pennies to help supplement our book addiction. Thank you!

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Gift Giving, Why All the Fuss?

My friend Amelia at One Catholic Mama wrote a thought provoking article titled When Gift-Giving is Not Your Love Language. She made some good points about how disconcerting it can be to receive and give gifts when you do not like gifts as a whole. 

I have many thoughts about gifts so instead of leaving a super long response to her post, I thought I would share them here. 

Receiving gifts is not my love language, but I don't mind giving or receiving gifts. What I mind is the attitude I have witnessed lately surrounding gift giving and receiving. 

I love finding something that I think another person will love and giving it to them "just because". I don't think that you can put a price tag on a gift given out of love with the intent to bring joy to a person. Nothing is too cheap or expensive when it is given with true intentions.

But I have found that there is nothing more stressful than feeling pressured to buy a gift or reciprocate a gift of equal or greater value. It feels a little fake doesn't it? 

After all, a gift is a thing given willingly to someone without payment. A few synonyms of the word gift are donation, offering, handout, and freebie. 

It seems like today people have forgotten the without payment part, and more and more I hear about gifts being given unwillingly. I hear people talk about how they have to spend at least $50 on cousin Ida's gift because she always spends that much on them. Or Charlotte with one child always buys Harriet's three children gifts, so Harriet feels obligated to spend more money on Charlotte's daughter to make up for her having two more children to buy gifts for Christmas. Families pick names and set price limits to keep the gift giving manageable, but still they complain about wishing they had drawn Uncle Harry's name instead of Aunt Maude's name. 

All the happiness and excitement appears to have vanished from gift-giving these days. It feels more like an obligation than an act of kindness made out of love and friendship. And it has begun to look more like a business agreement, as an exchange of goods, rather than a selfless act.

Gift giving and receiving should never be stressful. A gift given with a genuine and generous spirit will always be a pleasure to give and receive. 

So the question that arises is how does one stop the madness? 

I always try to have a proper attitude, a genuine smile and kind words of appreciation given to the gift giver. And I strive to give gifts with generosity and no expectations. 

I have tried to teach my boys that when they receive a gift to say thank you with a smile and to think of the time and love that the gift giver put into purchasing or making a gift for them. And to always give a gift for the joy of giving it, not in hopes of getting one back. My hope is that they will always see gifts, given and received, as joy and not a burden.

Do you enjoy giving and receiving gifts? Do you think gift giving has fallen away from what it was originally?

Monday, December 15, 2014

A Fearless Conclusion

In January, I wrote about my word for the year, fearless. I thought the word was to help me battle fears from my childhood and young adult years, and that may have been true for I was often fearful in my younger years. But now that the year is coming to a close I see that God was preparing me for my grandmother's failing health and eventual death and my health issues (read a little about them here, here, and here). I know that God has given me the grace I need to be courageous during the difficult times and the doubts and worries that plague my mind. 

I have not continued to update the blog with the Bible verses that I chose to commit to memory this year. And I must admit that while I know them better, I can not tell you that I have learned them fully, please don't quiz me on them! 

I committed to memorizing six verses. 

Deuteronomy 31:6

Isaiah 41:10

Psalm 56:3-4

2 Timothy 1:7

1 John 4:18

1 Peter 3:13-14

As the year comes to close, I will spend the next couple of weeks praying for my word for 2015. I want to be open to all God has to show me, but I am sort of hoping for the word renew or restore or health. But I am open to the word that he places on my heart. 

Did you have a word for this year? How did your word help you to grow in Him this year? Are you asking God to reveal your word for 2015 to you? I would love to know your story. 

Friday, December 12, 2014

Parents, get out of God's way!

While sitting on the sideline waiting for my child's soccer game to start last May, I overheard the conversation of the people sitting next to me.

Now before you accuse me of rudely eavesdropping, I feel I need to explain that I would have had to pack up my stuff and move away from my spot to not hear the conversation. If you have ever been to a youth soccer game, then you know how close the family members of the players park themselves next to the line on the field and each other.

Anyway, now that I have cleared that up, it's back to the conversation that I overheard.

The conversation took place between two young adult men. They ended up at the game separately but ran into each other and decided to sit side by side. Apparently they had graduated from high school together a year or two prior to their current meeting, went off to college, and had not seen each other since graduation. At this unplanned meeting, they happily greeted each other and explained why they both found themselves at the soccer game (one was there to watch his girlfriend's younger brother and the other was there to watch his brother referee the game).

For the sake of this story, I will call the young man there for his girlfriend's brother Bob and the young man there for his brother Mike.

Bob asked Mike what he had been up to since graduation. Mike explained that he went away to college, and had come home a couple weeks before to spend his summer with his family. Then he started complaining about how he didn't have a car, and that he had wanted to eat at a local restaurant since he returned home, but no one would take him. He told Bob that he was thinking about getting a job with the local school district for the summer but had not filled out the application yet.

At that moment, Bob interrupted Mike to explain that he was going to be working the exact job that Bob had mentioned and that he had been hired back in March for it. Then he told Mike that he was also in college, and he planned to take a class or two over the summer, in the hopes of graduating early.

There was a pause in the conversation before Mike enthusiastically mentioned a former schoolmate of theirs. He told Bob that their schoolmate was getting married that day, and said "Isn't that crazy? He hasn't even lived life yet?"

Bob asked, "Didn't he join the military, and isn't he twenty now?" Mike responded that he wasn't positive, but he thought that information sounded correct.

After that, their conversation ended. The game had started, but I also think they had run out of things to discuss.

I have thought about that conversation for months. 

What did Mike mean by saying his classmate had not lived yet? Had he not spent the first twenty years of his life living? Joining the military, falling in love, and getting married are, I am sure, some of the happiest events of that young man's life!

Now, I don't know if Mike was raised in a Christian home, but I have noticed this in a lot of families, even Christians ones. Parents are encouraging their children to postpone making the "big" decisions until they are much older (thirty is the age I hear most). I hear them say, "Don't get married or think about having children until you are older. Have some fun before you settle down into your life. Don't make things harder for yourself." 

For a while, our children live under our loving guidance, before leaving us to make lives of their own. But they spend their entire lives under the unfailing love and support of the One who knew them before they were formed and wrote the story of their lives in His book. 

If we, Christian parents, are teaching our children from their infancy to pray and seek God's will in their life, then shouldn't we continue to encourage them to do it in their adult years? 

There is a contradiction between teaching children to seek God's will and then telling them how to live their lives.

God calls us to do and be things at different times throughout our lifetime. His timing is different for everyone, but His timing is always perfect for each one of us. I know I need to repeat that, for I am still learning it, His timing is perfect - not mine. 

As a mom of three boys, I want to protect them from making bad decisions, and I don't want them to suffer. But more than that I want them to have a relationship with God, always seek His plan and understand that He makes all things come to good.  

This life, the life that we live one day at a time, is good. It is more than good. It is exhilarating and full beyond measure. Yes, it can be hard. It can feel draining and impossible at times. But as long as we keep our focus heavenward, we will make it through the hardships and our reward will be beyond what we can imagine. 

When my children come to tell me about a big decision that they are in the process of making, I pray that I will respond in a way that turns them towards God and away from worldly selfishness. 

I pray that I will stay out of God's way. 

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Current Favorites {Five Favorites}

1. Prints from Audrey Eclectic. I gave these two prints to my twin nephews for their baptism. They are gorgeous! 

2. My new flexi from Lilla Rose. I love wearing my flexi in my hair, but a new favorite way to wear it is to hold the ends of my scarves together. 

3.  The Norwex Body Towels (they are actually washcloth size). My oldest son has acne. Since he started washing his face with these antibacterial cloths, only using warm water and the cloths, his face has really cleared up. The cloths have silver in them, and the silver fights bacteria. 

4. The Norwex Timeless Lip Balm. It is natural, has a light, pleasant scent, and keeps my lips moisturized for hours. 

5. Free Christmas romance novels for Kindle at Amazon. I am very picky about the romance novels I read, so to be able to pick from free ones is great for my budget. If I start reading one and don't like it, I do not feel guilty about removing it from my device and picking a new one. Also, reading through the reviews help a lot to find out if the story is "sweet" or "risque" (I prefer sweet with a bit of a mystery, in case you are wondering). 

Linking-up at Call Her Happy for 5 Favorites.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Complete Surrender {on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception}

God knew that Mary would consent to be the mother of Jesus, so He sanctified her at the moment of conception, preserving her from original sin.

On this day, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, I focus my thoughts on Mary's total surrender of her will to that of God's. She gave herself to him completely and trusted that He would take care of everything. 

I want that kind of trust. I want to abandon my fears, and say to God "Let it be" and not have any worry of what will happen next. For many months, I have been back and forth to my doctor, trying to figure out the cause of physical pain that I am experiencing. As I move through my day, I worry about the what is happening inside my body, and I play the "What if..." game with myself, stressing over all the details. 

I have become a slave to my pain and worry. For some time, I have been feeling stuck in this place of pain and exhaustion, and feeling unable to control what is happening to me. 

But I know that there is freedom in giving my worries over to God, seeking His will and believing in His care. I need to give up my idea of control, abandon my worries and concerns to my Father in heaven, and be open to what comes tomorrow no matter how scary and uncertain it seems.

So today I offer prayers of thanksgiving to my father God, who loves me and takes care of me despite my foolish thoughts. I ask Mary, free from sin since the very moment of her conception, to pray for me. I pray that my faith increases, and I surrender myself completely to God. May I always trust in His care, love, and mercy. 

Today I will abandon all my worries and completely trust in His goodness. Tomorrow comes whether I am down with my worry or lifted up with hope. May I always seek God and have a trusting heart full of hope. 

Do you have worries? Are you stuck in a place of fear? Lift up your uncertainties and sorrows to God, and ask the Blessed Virgin Mary to intercede on your behalf - not only today but every day.

Prayer to the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary
Father, the image of the Virgin is found in the Church. Mary had a faith that Your Spirit prepared and a love that never knew sin, for You kept her sinless from the first moment of her conception. trace in our actions the lines of her love,in our hearts her readiness of faith. Prepare once again a world for Your Son who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God for ever and ever. Amen.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Homemade Scented Epsom Salts

Earlier this year, I wrote about my favorite detox bath ingredients. On the list, I included Dr. Teal's Scented Soaking Solution because I loved them. I still love them, but I have started making my on that I love more. Not only can I make them whatever scent I want, but they are so much more affordable! If you love taking a bath, you should definitely make your own scented Epsom salts. Store them in an airtight container and keep for yourself or give them to the bath lover in your life. 

Scented Epsom Salts

4 cups Epsom salts
1/4 cup baking soda
1/4 cup mild scented oil such as apricot or sweet almond* 
30 to 40 drops of essential oil of choice**

I use up to two cups in hot water and soak for about 40 minutes. 

*Oils like olive and grapeseed are fine to use, but they have a stronger scent. 

**A few of my favorite essential oils are bergamot, grapefruit, and lavender. 

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

My Favorite Jane Austen Sequels {Five Favorites}

I love Jane Austen's novels. Unfortunately, Jane Austen only wrote six major novels before she died at the young age of  41 years old. Several years ago, a few friends and I were having a discussion about Jane Austen's novels, and one of my friends mentioned a sequel she had recently read about Pride and Prejudice. I did not know that there were sequels to Jane Austen's novels. Today, you can find enough prequels, sequels, and adaptations to keep you reading for years, but you have to be careful because they range from very steamy and somewhat scandalous to fantasy and the supernatural. At my last counting, I have read 20 books that have either continued her novels, reworked them in some way, or have storylines where Jane Austen is the main character. And I have many left on my wish list to read.

There are six books in my list, but I consider two of them to be part of a set; therefore, I count them as one.

All of the links in this post are Amazon Associate links. If you click on one of the links and make a purchase, I will earn a couple pennies to use towards the purchase of more books (most likely) at no extra cost to you. Thank you!

1. My favorite Pride and Prejudice sequel is Illusions and Ignorance: Mary Bennet's Story, written by Eucharista Ward. Since I first read this book, the book has a new title and cover. It is now titled A Match for Mary Bennet: Can a serious young lady ever find her way to love? The author, Eucharista Ward, was unhappy with sequels to Pride and Prejudice. She felt that several authors ignored Jane Austen's final chapter hints and in some cases completely contradicted her, so she set about writing this sequel in her free time. I think Ms. Ward did an excellent job in continuing where Austen left off. Mary develops from a boring and somewhat judgmental girl to a woman with a more mature understanding of love and the world around her. Most of the original characters of Pride and Prejudice return and a few new characters add a bit of mystery and intrigue to the story. At times, it is a bit slow, but not so much that it ruins the overall feeling of the story. There are many references to faith and Christianity, but I think that follows right along with the impression that Jane Austen intended her readers to have of Mary Bennet. I enjoyed this story. So far, I have read it two times, and I am sure I will read it again in the future.

2. Jane Dawkins manages to write two moderately entertaining Pride and Prejudice sequels with Letters from Pemberley: The First Year (Pride & Prejudice Continues) and  More Letters from Pemberley . In both books, Elizabeth shares her joys and fears as the new Mrs. Darcy, reports on the current situations of many of her family members and friends, and describes her everyday life at Pemberley in letters she writes to her sister, Jane. Also, the author incorporates several characters from other Austen books under different names or with vague descriptions. Overall, the books are simple, sweet, and quick to read.

3. Darcy and Anne: It is a truth universally acknowledged that Lady Catherine will never find a husband for Anne... is written by Judith Brocklehurst. Due to an unforeseen accident, Miss Anne de Bourgh finds herself separated from her mother and a guest at Pemberley. With Darcy and Elizabeth's attention and kindness, Anne starts to come out of the box that her overbearing mother, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, has forced her into. On her own, she learns to trust herself and to enjoy her newly found freedom. Will Anne find true love? Or will Lady Catherine show up and ruin everything? Darcy and Anne is fun and unpretentious. The changes to Miss Anne de Bourgh make her interesting without totally changing her from the woman that Jane Austen intended her to be. Also, there is a silly little twist at the end involving Lady Catherine that is not quite believable, but it is entertaining. This book is everything I like a Jane Austen sequel to be.

4. Mr. Knightley's Diary is a retelling of Jane Austen's Emma through Mr. Knightley's private thoughts. Amanda Grange does a good job of staying true to Jane Austen's novel while allowing us to get to know Mr Knightley more intimately. As a bonus, she introduces a charming new character and adds another happy union to a story that already had so many. My Knightley's Diary is a quick and enjoyable read, a perfect little story for lazy summer days.

5. A Darcy Christmas is fun to read during the holiday season. It is a compilation of three novellas that revolve around Christmas festivities. I have read it every year during the Christmas season for the last several years. 

Linking up at Call Her Happy for 5 Favorites

Monday, December 1, 2014

When I Think of Home

"Home is a place we all must find, child. It's not a place where you eat or sleep. Home is knowing. Knowing your mind, knowing your heart, knowing your courage. If we know ourselves, we're always home, anywhere." 
 - Glinda the Good, The Wiz (1978) 

Recently, Chris and I watched the documentary, Tiny: A Story About Living Small, on Netflix. The documentary follows a young man as he built his very tiny home on wheels. He built his house in a friend's backyard, but once he finished, he moved it to his property in Colorado, the only place that he felt at home. Though the topic of feeling at home is not the primary subject of the documentary it is discussed throughout the show, and I began to think about my earliest memories of home. 

As a child, I grew up in the home of my grandparents. It never felt like home to me; it did not feel like a happy or a safe place to be. Living with my grandmother was hard, and not having a relationship with my mother or father left me feeling alone.  

But I did have a home. I always felt loved and accepted when I was there. 

When I was a child, my grandmother took me to Mass every Saturday evening. We always had to be at the church 30 minutes early. I did not mind because the church was quiet and safe. I loved the way the last bit of daylight spilled through the old stained glass windows. We sat in the same pew every week. I always felt happy there. I looked around at the other parishioners and knew that they were my people. They may not know me, and I did not know them, but God knew and loved all of us, and we were there for Him because we loved Him. 

Now that I am married with children, we have a home made of wood and bricks. A home that I feel happy and safe in, but if I lost it I would not mourn. I know where my true home is, a place where I can be with Jesus and my family. 

It does not matter which city or state I live in because there will always be a church for me to attend, where Jesus waits. A place where I feel happy and safe until I am called to my eternal home. 

Where is your safe place? Where is your home? 

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving!

Not only today, but every day I am grateful for the family of my birth, the family that I gained through marriage, and my Church family. I am thankful for old friends and new friends, and friends near and far. My prayers are with you all. Have a happy and blessed Thanksgiving!