Sunday, December 17, 2023

Stop and Count the Joy this Advent

Happy Gaudete Sunday!

On this third Sunday of Advent, the
 entrance antiphon for Mass, which is taken from Philippians 4:4, reminds us to “Rejoice in the Lord always!"

Even if there have been challenges or sorrows this Advent... Whether we are tired or too busy... No matter where we may find ourselves at this moment - shouldering crosses or basking in moments of obvious grace... we rejoice!

Why? Because no matter what this moment may include, the big picture is a joyful one!

There is joy in God's plan as foretold by the prophets. Christ's birth, the way He died to save us from our sins 
(Mt 1:21), the promise of Him coming again to give believers the crown of righteousness (2 Tm 4:8) and a place in His Father’s house (Jn 14:2).... JOY!

And so the vestments of the priest at Mass and the symbolic color of the candle on our Advent wreath brightens from the usual penitential purple of the season to rose this Sunday as we joyfully anticipate the annual celebration of the Solemnity of Christmas and prepare for the coming of Chris in our lives.

Today is also a wonderful day to pause from the harried pace that preparing for Christmas might cause to simply reflect on the joys in our lives.

Big ones. Small ones. All the ones in between. Ones that come from living Advent and ones that come just from living each day as it comes. Life is replete with joy when you stop to count blessings.

Today, I encourage you to do just that!

I know I am.

This year for a number of personal reasons my family has not celebrated Advent as robustly as we have in some years past, but we have still been observing some of our traditions and embracing moments to prepare our hearts and homes for Christ. Praise be to God for every blessing.

In fact, as I browsed recent photos on my camera, I could not help but to smile with abundant joy and gratitude as some snapshots helped me count blessings:

Witnessing the glory of God's creation on walks.

Cooking meals to share with others.

Making time to connect with one another.

Celebrating St. Nicholas Day with a visit from St. Nicholas.

... and volunteering at My Brother's Keeper,

which is one of our favorite Advent traditions,

Stealth gifting is so much fun!

And, even if we typically wait for Christmas Eve to celebrate Christmas, we do make room for some seasonal festivities with friends...

...laughing along with silly Santa at an annual Christmas party a friend hosts...

... taking in the symphony and a friend's show choir singing...

All the while slowly preparing our home by putting out parts of the manger each week...

... and getting the tree to decorate on Christmas Eve...

Slipping in traditions after school and before other commitments...

Making time for moments to pause the busyness and spend time in nature with friends...

Appreciating the glory of God evidenced in moments...

... and enjoying time after Mass now and again to pray, walk, and talk together.

Seeing the forest and the trees... the big picture and the snippet of life that God has blessed us with...

Taking down links of our Advent chain and doing simple service with friends, too...

...such as making cards for nursing home residents at co-op.

Sometimes focused...

Sometimes fun...

Always blessed!

Yes, as I was looking back at recent snapshots today and thinking about many unpictured moments, too, I reflected with joy on the gifts of this season, on the ways Christ works in us and through us and those we know, and on the promise of Christ in our lives.

May you have myriad blessings to count and be joy-filled about today, too!

Sunday, December 10, 2023

Make a Super Simple Advent Wreath

How has your second week of Advent been?

If I am being honest, it has been a hard week in many ways here. Yet amidst the challenges, there have been blessings, and I am grateful for all the ways that light shines in the darkness

The light of Christ has been seen working in and through others, the hope and strength of the Eucharist has been found at daily Mass, and literal light has shined when my children and I have made time to sit around our Advent wreath to pray and read.

I have yet to snap a photo of those times this year, but I did take some snapshots of the making of our wreath, which I thought I would share here in case you'd like ideas for an easy way to put together an Advent wreath.

Gather Supplies

Typically, I have our Advent wreath ready to go before Advent or on the first day of Advent, but this year, I was definitely behind, only had our Advent Chain and Christmas Novena card ready as Advent began, and so spent time on the second day of Advent getting our wreath ready.

First, I stopped at a local Dollar Tree for a gold charger plate, some ribbon, and some florist foam.

After that, I stopped into our church offices to purchase some Advent candles. (If they were out of these, I would have just picked up white candles at Dollar Tree and put purple ribbons on three and a pink on on another.)

Then, later in the day - okay, maybe as darkness began to fall - the kids and I went for a walk to gather greenery.

Make a Walk in the Woods an Advent Wreath Tradition

Some years ago, we started a tradition of walking in the woods on or before the first day of Advent to find a branch to hang our Jesse tree ornaments on. Last year, that walk morphed into one for finding Advent wreath greens, too.

We are blessed to have holly trees along many local trails. We also collect any sort of evergreen we think might last throughout Advent in our wreath.

Assemble the Wreath

Because I was not been able to find a circular floral foam when I stopped by Dollar Tree, I went with two blocks of foam, one of which my kids and I opted to cut to make a cross shape, which we thought was apropos as it reminded us of the cross Jesus died for us on, linking the Advent, Christmas, Lent, and Easter seasons for us.

Then, we put the candles into the cross and surrounded them with greenery, popped a few ribbons in, and, as a result, ended up with a more circular Advent wreath.

We were delighted with how it came out - simple, traditional, and ready for us to pray a blessing and use as we prepare our hearts and home for the coming of Christ this Advent season.

Pre-Made Advent Wreaths Can Work, Too

Of course, if you're not up for a walk in the woods and making your own Advent wreath, you can always purchase a pre-made, reusable one.

For years, our family went that route.

Some years we used a reusable wreath with regular Advent candles...

 ... and some years we popped in roll-your-own beeswax ones.

In fact, it was only a few years ago that we decided to start pairing a family walk at the start of Advent with making an annual fresh-cut greenery wreath.

Any which way we've done our Advent wreath, we find that every year the light of the candles on our Advent wreath captures and focuses us especially when we've made regular time to gather, pray, and read by our Advent wreath.

No matter how your Advent has been going, I encourage you to put together a wreath of some kind to help you and yours wait in joyful anticipation while giving thanks for and recognizing the light of Christ in this world.

I'd love to see a photo of your Advent wreath this year. Feel free to post one on our Facebook page.

May your Advent continue with hope and peace as you embrace moments that shine!

Sunday, December 3, 2023

Count Down to Christmas with a Works of Mercy Chain

Happy New (Liturgical) Year!

If life has thrown you some unexpected curve balls lately and you feel as unprepared for Advent this year as I do, perhaps the simple freebie I am offering today can help.

Let Our 2023 Advent Chain Help Your Family Live the Works of Mercy This Advent

We just took the first link down from our annual Advent chain tonight, so I thought I would share the Advent Chain printable we made for it here in case you're looking for some quick inspiration for an easy way to count down to Christmas while keeping your family's hearts focused on sharing Christ's love through Works of Mercy.

To use the printable as we do, just print the document out. Then, color or paint all of the backsides of the strips violet, except for the final one that says "Celebrate! Christ has come!" which is the Christmas strip and left white. (Alternately, print on purple paper.)

After that, cut the pages into strips and use tape or staples to make a looped paper chain. 

Hang the chain up and - viola! - you and yours are ready to count down to Christmas while focusing on the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy.

Disclosure: Some of the links below are affiliate links. This means that, at zero cost to you, I will earn an affiliate commission if you click through the link and finalize a purchase.

Alternatively, you could browse the document for ideas for making a count-down chain tailored to your family or put the strips out with a Giving Manger  
(which I reviewed previously) or homemade Sacrifice Manger (like the one pictured in 6 Things to Do Before Christmas).

Know You're Not Alone If You're Just Starting to get Ready for Advent Even If Advent Has Already Begun

And if you don't have an Advent Wreath set out next to Advent reading, Jesse Ornaments ready to go, or any of your personal Advent traditions rolling out yet, take heart! You are not alone.

Until tonight, the only thing we had out was a
 St. Andrew Christmas Novena Prayer Rebus Bookmark that we made years ago and just happened to find yesterday when cleaning, and currently, besides the addition of our annual Advent Chain, that remains true.

For you see, last week that old saying that life is what happens when you're making other plans became a reality here again.

A week ago today, I had plans to be well-prepared for Advent by last night. As a part of my plans, since family has been 
making paper Advent chains in order to count down to Christmas for years now, I had asked my youngest child to start listing Works of Mercy ideas that he would like us to include in our 2023 chain in his binder so that we might make them into a chain later in the week.

Then, the week happened and with it came a major car repair, a printer issue, a plumbing issue, an urgent care visit, an internet outage, another car repair, a roof replacement, and more.

Yes. All of this. In one week. 

So, before I knew it, Advent was upon us, and, instead of being prepared and starting Advent with morning Mass and traditions, my husband and I decided to celebrate the onset of Advent by giving everyone in our household the gift of waking up naturally and going to a noon Mass.

On the way to and from Mass, we prayed the Rosary, and - having been prompted by the aforementioned Christmas Novena bookmark that reappeared yesterday - we caught up on our Novena, too.

Then, the first day of Advent unfolded for us, without many of our New (Liturgical) Year except for praying the Christmas Novena and getting our simple Advent Chain ready.

And that's okay. Totally okay. 

Christ did not come to us in the manger because we were perfect. He does not come to us in the Eucharist because we are perfect. And He won't be coming to us again because of our earthly perfection.

In fact, Christ comes to us in our mess and our brokenness. He meets where we are at. He loves us. He gives us so much grace and mercy and asks us simply to love Him and let Him save us.

That's incredible. That's what this season is about: waiting in joyful anticipation for Christ's coming. 

The only thing we really need to journey well through Advent is a heart, mind, and soul turned toward Christ, awaiting Him. 

I'd love to hear how you're doing this Advent. If you have prayer intentions you would like others and me to pray for, please feel free to leave them in a comment. If you want to share some of your own family's traditions for journeying through Advent, feel free to share that, too. 

May God bless you with a joyful Advent.

Tuesday, October 18, 2022

The Oregon Trail from a Horse's Perspective {An Appaloosy Books / Homeschool Review Crew Review}

Disclosure: I received this complimentary product through the Homeschool Review Crew.

Love horses? Historical fiction? Supporting small publishing houses and independent authors?

Take a look at the latest Horses in History book Blue Skies West from Appaloosy Books

Several years ago, my children and I had the pleasure of coming to know author Mattie Richardson's Appaloosy Books and appreciated how they offer a window into history through the perspective of horses

So, when we were offered a chance to review the latest book in the series - Blue Skies West, we took it.

What Awaits in Blue Skies West?

Blue Skies West is the fifth book in an exciting series that can help kids ages 8-12 (plus younger or older siblings and adults, too!) to learn more about important stories in U.S. History from - how fun! - a horse's point of view.

More than just a story, the book contains...

... a map for perspective followed by 12 chapters and an epilogue that tell a wholesome, interesting, tale which shares the true strife, tragedy, and conflicts of history in a sensitive way...

... a "Blast From the Past" which gives more historical details...

... a Bibliography and About the Author page

... and Author's Note/Historical Disclaimer which makes me respect and appreciate Mattie Richardson even more!

Throughout this softcover historical fiction novel, you follow 
the horse Blue and his rider Charlie as they travel the 2,000 mile long Oregon Trail from their longtime home in the Iowa farmlands to their new home. As you would expect, adventure awaits and danger abounds - including water crossings, stampedes, and even wagon train robbers!

What My 12-Year-Old Thinks about Blue Skies West

My 12-year-old has been enjoying Blue Skies West. Here is what he had to say about it:

Why did you want to get this book?

We read the other books in the series and they were fun.

Before reading this book, did you know much about the Oregon Trail and were you interested in it?

I knew about the Oregon Trail. I had played the game before and studied it a little, but I did not know too much.

Did you learn anything about it through this book?

Yes. I got a little feel for the hardship and understood what the journey might have been like.

Can you tell me anything about the book and your thoughts on it?

I'd say it is a pretty good book. It starts out at a farm and then escalates as they go to the Trail. On the trail the horse's rider faces many learning experiences. It is nice to picture in my mind, is easy to follow along with, and is entertaining and exciting. 

One of my favorite scenes was when the boy broke his arm by sneaking out and getting caught in the middle of a buffalo herd. That scene had exciting adventure mixed with life lessons.

I would recommend it to people who like exciting history, people wanting to learn about the Oregon Trail, and people who like horses.

Did you like this book as much as the other ones in the series?

Yes. They are fun, short books, and I like that they are from the horse's perspective.

My Thoughts about Blue Skies West

I have not yet had the time and focus to read the book myself, but I have listened to my son's oral narrations of it and have also read him a chapter or two at bedtime or when he was sick and asked me to read to him instead of him reading on his own.

In doing so, I have come to see that Blue Skies West, like the other books in Horses in History, tells a vivid tale with accurate historical details.

Told from the horse Blue's perspective while still offering character development of other characters, the book draws you in with its unique point-of-view. 

I believe that horse lovers, history lovers, and those who like to read stories that do not shy away from the harder parts of history but also treat them with sensitivity might like this story as a family read aloud, for children's independent reading, as a history supplement, or as part of interest-based or unit-based learning.

Learn More

The Horses in History series are told from a secular - not expressly Christian or Catholic point of view, and as such do not aim to teach any religious/moral lesson. They also, however, do not contain any morally objectionable content. Thus, the books are appropriate for all audiences and could be added to any public school curriculum or library.

Because this book is set in a historical period, does represent events and language in ways that might raise eyebrows to particularly sensitive readers (such as death, the use of the word "Indian", etc.), but it does without any graphic details and in an age-appropriate way.

I commend Mattie Richardson on writing well-researched wholesome, historical reads that can cross over between homeschool, private school, and public school audiences.

Appaloosy Books

Find Appaloosy Books on social media - FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

horse fiction books

Over 25 Homeschool Review Crew families read Blue Skies West. Click through to find links to each family's thoughts in social media, blog, and video reviews


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