Monday, February 20, 2017

Pass Forward Love with Love Bucket {FREE Printable!}

Saint Valentine's Day has just passed and Lent is around the corner. Thus, many of us are thinking about love as well as praying, fasting, and giving.  That makes now a great time for gifting forward a little kindness and fun with a Love Bucket!

I found the idea of love buckets at Shauna and Co when I was planning activities for a local homeschool gathering in honor of Saint Valentine.  Right away, I knew I wanted to adapt the idea for our celebration. 

Since my children already love egging people and playing St. Nicholas for neighbors, I had no doubt that they'd delight in a new St. Valentine's Day-into-Lent tradition of "love bucketing" others.  So, it was I penned two poems so we could begin the tradition by making Love Buckets with friend so secretly gift to others.

{Disclosure: Some links which follow are affiliate ones.  Should you click through them and make any purchase we may receive compensation.  Anything we make goes straight back to training happy hearts and sharing about it here.}

Since I had already planned to take a picture walk through Saint Valentine (Tompert) at our party and to read Saint Valentine (Sabuda), I wrote one poem to harken back to those stories.

Since I also planned to share
a perennial favorite, Somebody Love You, Mr. Hatch, I wrote a second poem related to that story.

This poem, especially, I think can be used as for anytime of year Love Bucket to share a random act of kindness, Work of Mercy, or Lenten giving mini-mission.

As you can see, I typed each poem up in a variety of fonts.  I, then, printed enough of the poems so that
the children at our party could choose one version they liked, cut it out with fancy scissors, glue it to cardstock, and decorate it as a bucket tag to put on some inexpensive lidded buckets a friend found for us.

I meant to laminate the children's decorated tags so that the tags would be durable through much of love bucketing passed forward, but, unfortunately, when I had packed all the supplies for the party in my minivan, I had forgotten my laminator.  So, I simply had the children hole punch their cardstock tags and tie them with ribbon to their buckets.

The children then were encouraged to bring their buckets home, fill them with treats and decide who to "love bucket".

My children could not wait to do that and are so excited to add this random (and secretive) act of kindness to our annual traditions.  If yours would be, too, please  feel free to use a FREE PRINTABLE of the Love Bucket poems I wrote as you and yours  make your own love buckets to pass forward.

I'd be delighted to hear about your "love bucketing" fun!

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Ninevah 90 - Are You In?

In less than an hour, the day the Nineveh 90 Challenge will be here, and 90 days hence, the challenge will end with a consecration on the 100th anniversary of Our Lady of Fatima.

If you'd like to grow in faith and spiritual strength over the next 90 days (or less, if you are reading this late), I'd encourage you join the challenge by heading on over to the
Nineveh 90 page to read all the details about the challenge and to sign up for it.   First, though, you may want to watch the video below (which appears at the bottom of the Nineveh 90 informational page).  The video puts the challenge into perspective and helped temper the "I could never do this" naysayer  in me. 

Another thing that encouraged me to say "I can do this" was a blog post by Jamie, from Make Me a Saint, which had this helpful graphic in  it:

Credit:  Make Me a Saint
Credit: Make Me a Saint

Also, Nicole, from Just Like Mary was kind enough to start a support group on Facebook, which encourages wives and mothers to take the challenge, while adapting it to fit whatever stage we are in while still seeking spiritual renewal and preparation

All this worked (or rather, through all this, God worked) to make buoy up my courage to say "yes" to the challenge.

Won't you join me - in full or in part - to conquer vice and grow in virtue with the
Nineveh 90?  The challenge is FREE and even if taken with modifications (as I am taking it) can offer spiritual strengthening (and a healthier body and mind).

My Personal Nineveh 90 Challenge Goals

For these 90 days, I resolve to:

1.  Let go of repetitive sin that I struggle with, which is between God and me.

2.  Find my Brown Scapular during the 90 days, get it blessed (as I am not sure it ever was) and begin wearing it.

3.  Make it to at least one daily Mass each week.

4. Get my children and I to the Sacrament of Reconciliation once a month, if not more often.

5.  Participate in online Support System groups at least three times weekly and maybe form a local in-person one.

6.  Build daily prayer habits to include:

  • Continuing to pray a simple Morning Offering with my children and, when I am not rushed in the morning, adding a more formal one for myself.
  • Praying the Angelus at least once a day, and, hopefully, building up to the traditional three-times-a-day at 6 a.m., noon, and 6 p.m.
  • Continuing to pray a Rosary decade for the Living Rosary group I am in as well as at least one decade with my children daily, and, adding a full rosary (perhaps inclusive of the decade with my children) with efforts at the 54 Day Rosary Novena* (February 13 to April 7), a 33 Day Preparation for Consecration* (April 10 - Monday of Holy Week - to May 12), and a Marian Consecration* on May 13, 2017, the 100th Anniversary of Our Lady of Fatima.
  • Making a Holy Hour (or 20 minutes at least) once a week in front of the Blessed Sacrament and taking another 20 minutes or more a day for at-home "Holy Hour" time.
  • Being more consistent with Bedtime Prayers and Blessings with my children (as they sometimes get rushed around here and should not be) and for myself.

7.  Strengthen my body and mind by:
  • getting regular (and increasingly intense) exercise by moving my body for 30 consecutive minutes a day on some days (walking, shoveling, jogging, etc.) and actually starting some more intense and -ugh for me - strength-training work outs on others.
  • getting seven hours of sleep a night (even if not always consecutive, although consecutive is a great goal and will mandate corollary goals of getting myself to bed at a decent hour more often and also getting the children off to bed at an earlier hour than we have been lately).
  •  continuing to drink no alcohol, soda, or sweetened drinks.
  • eating no desserts or sweets outside of feast days and Sundays.
  • eating nothing between meals except fruits, seeds, or greens.
  • watching no television or movies at home besides occasional news, faith-based programs with my children, and programs for my children's schooling.
  • continuing to listen only to music that lifts the soul to God (or maybe I should stay starting to listen, as I listen to little music these days.) 
  • limiting recreational use of the computer (which I tend to do anyway) and, more importantly for me,  being more cognoscente of actual time spent on computer for work, lesson planning, support and networking, etc. better balancing time online for work, lesson planning, networking, volunteering, blogging, etc. with the needs of my children, my body (sleep!), etc.
  • and, since, watching no televised sports would not be a sacrifice for me at all as I do not care for televised sports, I will actually watch a televised sport with my family occasionally if they desire to watch one.
*These are listed as elements, 8, 9, and 10 of the whole-hog Nineveh 90 and, truly, are some of the most important elements, I know.  However, since I have never been good at formalized prayer habits like these I a committing to making an effort at these prayers and, if I fail to succeed with consistency, just picking up again with the knowledge that each attempt strengthens me for future success.
In addition, I am going to attempt fasting on Fridays and one other day a week using water, broth, and maybe some juice.  However, if my body does not take to this well, I will likely add other liquids (creamed soups, smoothies, etc.) in or simply fast as outlined by the USCCB.

I know this is NOT going to be easy for me - especially the formal prayer, bedtime/sleep hours, balancing computer usage, and intensifying exercise, but, the point is not to have it easy, it is to conquer vice, grow in virtue, do penance, and make reparation.  

If you, too, are taking the Nineveh 90 Challenge, I would love to hear about it!

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Learn and Review Times Tables the Fun Way {A Times Alive Review}

My children have been enjoying some independent learning and review lately using Times Alive online lessons with animated songs and stories to learn times tables the fun way.  They also decided to help me write this review by dictating their thoughts to me.

What My Children Have to Say About Times Alive

My middle child, who is nine and has studied multiplication facts before (but who also struggles with memory), had this to say:

Times Tables the Fun Way is an online program that teaches you to do your times tables.  They tell you stories that have characters that look like numbers, such as 7 or 6.  Then, they sing a song that tells you what the numbers equal when they are multiplied.  Then, they have little tests and things, like having you write what a problem equals.

Times Tables the Fun Way {Review}

I used the program about 30 minutes at a time and it took me a few weeks to complete.  It helped me with a few of my times tables.  I knew some already and some are still hard for me, but it helped me some of the ones I could not remember before.
I liked the songs the best.  They made the stories make more sense.

I did not like how sometimes even when I finished a lesson, the circles did not fill.  I also did not like how the tests were timed, but the tests were okay otherwise.

Times Tables the Fun Way {Review}

I would recommend this program for others.  It is okay.

My youngest, at six, had this to say:

Times Alive is something that teaches you how to do times.  I used it by myself for 15 minutes or 30 each time.

I liked how it showed the answers for problems in every story, like the 4-fort and the sign that looked like a 9. 

Times Tables the Fun Way {Review}

I finished the program and it helped me learn times better, but I cannot remember all the stories and some don't have stories - like the 9's.  I still have to learn some times.

Times Tables the Fun Way {Review}

It was fun to use by myself.

My oldest, at 11, knew his times tables fairly well before Times Alive came into our home.  However, since he enjoys checking out anything online, he wanted to try the program, too. 

At first, I could not allow my oldest to check out
Times Tables the Fun Way since he was on a four-week (forced) computer break.  However, as soon as my son received his computer privileges back, I told him he would give Times Alive a try, whereupon he happily began the program.

In just two sittings so far, my oldest it through 10 of the 18 lessons in the
Times Alive program and has this to say:

Times Alive is a computer-based learning program that teaches the times tables.  I wanted to use it to see what it was like. 

Times Tables the Fun Way {Review}

I like that it has stories, but I do not like that it has songs.  (I don' like songs.)  I think the stories are clever and I like the animations.  I think they should be used, of course, to get kids interested in math, but not to totally teach it, because things like this would only work for addition and multiplication.  I liked using it as a review and would recommend it to others.  I would also recommend they take out the songs.

My Own Take - Both Pros and Cons

Times Tables the Fun Way {Review}

Seeing my middle child and my youngest solidify their multiplication facts is a goal of mine for the first quarter of this calendar.  Another goal has been having the children engage in more independent learning when possible - whether aided by on- or offline resources.  Thus, I was delighted with how easy
Times Alive made it for us to make headway with these goals.

Once I logged into the program - which was as simple as entering an email address and password - it was easy for each of my child(ren) to login by typing in their names.  Then, they could easily begin (or carry on) with the program by clicking "next" or by clicking on whatever lesson had no little yellow circle filled in yet.

Unfortunately, though, the way the program saves each child's data, we found out, is not full proof across browsers, on different laptops, or even on the same laptop. 

When a browser on our main computer gave my children and I trouble one day (which was strictly a browser issue, not a 
Times Alive one), we switched to another browser.  At that point, we found that all of our saved Times Alive  progress data was "missing".  Later, when we returned to the original browser, the data returned.  That is when we realized that however Times Alive  saves data seems to be browser-specific.Then, another time, when one of my children was on our "good" laptop and another child wanted to use Times Alive, I brought the program up on our older laptop only to discover the progress data was again missing.  A little playing around on both our computers helped me figure out that data is not only saved in a browser-specific way, but in a computer-specific way, too.  While not the most convenient, I could make that work by having the same child use the same browser on the same computer to do Times Alive  work.So it was my middle and youngest children progressed happily with Times Alive lessons on a single browser on a single computer, taking turns.  Luckily for me, I had two of them working the program, because more than once, one of them would ask, "What is the story for (insert problem) again?", but since I was having them work independently, I had no idea.  I simply answered, "Let's go back and find out," or, "Ask your brother/sister."  (They usually did the latter, and, with a reminder from a sibling moved on.)  This made me wish for a "cheat sheet" of sorts for parents or a printable story memory sheet with an image or a sentence to quickly use a a memory trigger. 

Finally, I also would like to see upgraded editions of
Times Alive  have better progress reports, for the current ones simply show when/if children complete lessons and what scores they get on tests.  I would like to see WHICH problems my children have trouble with.  Knowing that would be far more useful than what an overall scores.

Now, of course, I know that, looking at the tests from different lessons would help me suss out where my children most need help/additional review with specific multiplication facts.  However,  my plan to do that was foiled within days of when both my middle and youngest children completed all 18 lessons within

Times Alive .  It was then that I went to pull their progress reports up only to find them all gone.  Completely gone.

I was chagrined quite chagrined by the loss of my children's progress data, since I had been careful to have them work on one computer on one browser and had seen their progress circles fill in as I glanced over at them working (while doing 1:1's with their siblings.) I had planned to review the children's scores to decide what to ask them to review or to see which sets of facts might be good for me to play some hands-on multiplication games with them during 1:1 or 2:1 lesson time with Mom, but that option was negated by an inexplicable loss of data.

I am not sure if the loss of progress data was due to a cookies/cache thing after regular automated computer maintenance or something else, but it frustrated me and made me wish even more that the
Times Alive program had more reliable progress report options.

Luckily, it had only been a few weeks since my middle and youngest children had taken the pretest in the program and I remembered their approximate scores, so when I discovered all their progress and test scores missing, I simply asked the, to redo the final test.  They complied and I discovered that their final scores were, indeed, higher than their initial ones, however, they were not as high as I had hoped for... and I had no ability to see which problems they struggled with without having them do the the tests get again.

That is when I decided that until such time when
Times Alive may changes its progress reports and its way of keeping data for them, I would advise anyone using the program to either use the print option in the program to print out tests or to keep written notes on progress.  

After several weeks of using
Times Alive  - and "finishing" the program (i.e. doing all of the activities within it), both my middle and youngest children made progress with their times tables, but still have more work to do before instant and accurate recall of all of their facts.Since my children like Times Alive  well enough, we may revisit some of the stories and songs within it -repeating portions of the lessons - before our three-month subscription runs out.  The children enjoy the program enough that they won't balk at doing so and I see enough value in the fact that the program did help them to learn some multiplication facts to have them spend some more time with the program.

Such glitches and inconveniences aside, I would still recommend

Times Alive as a fun, supplementary program to strengthen multiplication facts.  My children found the program engaging, worked independently on it , and improved their multiplication facts using it (or had fun reviewing their facts in my oldest's case.) 

My middle and youngest child however, have not yet reached multiplication facts mastery.  My middle child, who has memory issues, gained some confidence and increased her success with some facts.  My youngest who had only minimal prior multiplication exposure, got to about an 80% success rate.  Thus, in closing, I would say that
Times Alive:

  • draws children in with clever stories, fun animations, and helpful songs;
  • encourages practice and assessment through quizzes;
  • and offers an engaging way for children to improve their ability to recall multiplication facts.

A parental "cheat sheet" of stories/song lyrics/visual triggers, test results that show which problems are not mastered or intuitive programming that repeats problems children miss, and more reliable saving of progress reports would serve to make the program even more user-friendly.

Times Tables the Fun Way {Review}

Discover what over 75 Homeschool Review Crew families tested thought about Times Tables the Fun Way.

Times Tables the Fun Way {Review}

You can find
Times Alive by Times Tables the Fun Way / City Creek Press on Facebook and YouTube.

Currently, a Times Alive monthly subscription is $9.95/month with a $6.95 set up fee. 

Crew Disclaimer

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Enjoy an Our Lady of Lourdes Poet-Tea

Our Lady of Lourdes feast day is February 11. Have you already decided how you might live this liturgical celebration with your children?

Perhaps taking a peek at how my children and I enjoyed an Our Lady of Lourdes Poet-Tea with friends last year might help.

All you really need for a tea are some symbolic eats and a copy of

the Lourdes Poem - A Holy Place.   However, since my children are a part of an AMP club we run at our home, we did things up a bit more.
"AMP"ing Up the Liturgical Year

As background, let me explain that 2015-2016 school year brought a new initiative to our family and some friends: We decided to begin an A.M.P. It Up club to "amp up" our regular focus on art, music, and poetry in our lives, which we have continued through this year.

For "AMP", as we have come to call our club, three families gather at my home once or twice each month so the children can:

  • recite (and sometimes write verses of) poetry
  • be introduced to famous composers and their compositions
  • and experiment with different styles of artwork, sometimes after completing quick picture studies.

Since all of the families in our AMP club share our Catholic faith, together, we decided that we'd tie our club activities to the liturgical year on occasion.  This means that, sometimes, we based entire meetings on a specific liturgical celebration (such as what we did for our Our Lady of Sorrows and Candlemas Poet-Teas), while, at other times, we dedicate only a portion of our gathering to directly honoring a particular saint or liturgical season.

Our Poet-Tea for Our Lady of Lourdes was in the latter style. We started with full focus on the story of Our Lady of Lourdes and, then, only loosely tied back to it as our gathering progressed.

The Setting

As friends arrived, they found the table set with:

  • a lacy, white tablecloth (white to remind us of Our Lady's purity and lace to make us think of French lace since Lourdes is in France)
  • white and blue candles for Our Lady of Lourdes colors
  • a Mary statue with a Rosary in honor of Our Lady
  • a globe (so we could could find France, where Our Lady appeared and, Germany, where our composer-of-the-gathering was from)
  • Prayers to My Favorite Saints (which have sold used at Amazon for just a penny before!)
  • Prayers to the Saints (which sells used at Amazon for just 15 cents right now!)
  • apple cider juice wigglers to remind us of the mud that became a spring 
  • and some molasses candy the kids made on fresh snow that they wanted to put out as "a muddy spring/river"

Friends also brought vanilla yogurt (again to remind us of Our Lady and her purity) and granola and one other dish, which, unfortunately, I cannot recall and do not have clearly pictured

An Our Lady of Lourdes Poet-Tea

To begin our Poet-Tea, we prayed grace and the prayers in
Prayers to My Favorite Saints and Prayers to the Saints. Then, we used the food on our table as symbols for chatting about what the children already knew about St. Bernadette and Our Lady of Lourdes.

As the children ate the symbolic food items and drank water (for the spring at Lourdes) or tea, I read them the Lourdes Poem - A Holy Place.

After I read the poem, I asked the children how it differed from other poems that we had read and recited at prior meetings.  Of course, they mentioned the length of the
Lourdes Poem and how it tells a story.  With that lead in, I explained that the poem is a narrative poem and asked  if the children could name any other narrative poems.

Then, the children offered poetry recitations on self-selected poems about such topics as snow, rain, Our Lady, and sorrow.

Composer Study and Music Appreciation with a Loose Tie-In to Our Lady of Lourdes

Once the children had finished eating and we had cleared the table, the music portion or our meeting commenced. 

Using the globe on the table, the children found France, where Lourdes is.  Then, they found Germany, where our composer of the meeting - Wagner - was from.

Together, we recalled that in our music "spine", The Story of the Orchestra, we had previously been introduced to the ornate, full Baroque era of music and the simpler, more thoughtful Classical era and chatted about how we were moving on to the Romantic era, which we actually touched on during our first meet up and, again, when we focused on Tchaikovsky during Advent.

We talked about how the Romantic era was filled with passion and drama and how music was composed to overwhelm listeners with emotion, immerse them in magical fantasies, or sweep them away with pieces about love and heartbreak. We reiterate that during the Romantic period, composers became popular celebrities of sorts. 

Then, I handed out notebooking sheets and asked the children to draw or write notes while I played a Richard Wagner medley in the background and introduced Richard Wagner by reading 24-25 of
The Story of he Orchestra.

As I read, I pointed out that Wagner was a troubled person of questionable character – and is, perhaps, now one of those suffering souls that Our Lady asks us to pray for – but that, despite his personal flaws, he had made a huge mark on culture with his music. I pointed out how Wagner was led to make his mark when passion for one thing opened a door to a passion for another and asked how God gifts and guides us through our own passions.

I also played  a clip of the Bridal Chorus and one of Ride of the Valkyries and had the children get up to “march” to the first and to  “strong arm” to the latter as a movement break.

As we often do at the end of the music portion of our club gatherings, the children then were given a few minutes to share one fact they thought was interesting or one thing they took notes about.

Some of the children's notes included:

loud music with horns and the opera with dwarfs that steal gold...

more about the opera...

castles, loud music, and a disturbed composer...

plus, a fantastic quick portrait sketches...

As is typical with our group, more children sketched their notes than wrote them in words, but some did write a word here and there. 

The youngest participating child, though, just went to town with doodled notes!

Art Time!

As the music portion of our meeting concluded, I asked the children to recall, once more, the story of Our Lady of Lourdes and how she appeared more than once, offering more details each time she came. We also recalled how the music we had just heard seemed to get more complex as it went at times.   We, then, connected these thoughts to art.

Artists often use outline shapes and, put together, those shapes create more complex images.  As an example, we studied the art work by Edgar Degas on p. 25 of Artistic Pursuits, which is one of our group's art "spines". 

After studying the Degas artwork, we recalled how we'd made orange art for a prior gathering focused on Our Lady of Altagracia by, first, drawing outlines or oranges, and, then, mixing oil pastels to color in our oranges and give them depth and shape. Connected to this, I  explained that our goal for the day was to explore how to do similarly with chalk/soft pastels.

Since the pastels are so soft, mixing colors requires only layering them and you have to be careful about inadvertently smudging your work while completing it.  Thus, backgrounds should be colored last.

We, then, continued on with the project: You Use Soft Pastels from
Artistic Pursuits by using pictures of Our Lady of Lourdes and/or photographs of animals as inspiration to create art works on colored paper, which we meant to “set” pastels with hair spray, but, never did as none of us remembered to purchase cheap hairspray.  (Ooops.)

I did get photos of most of the artworks created in case they smudged later:

As you can see, most of the crowd went rogue from Our Lady of Lourdes art, and even from animal art. We were okay with that, though, as exploring soft pastels in conjunction with pencil, if desired, was our main goal for the art portion.

During discussions and teas, the children had already focused a lot on Our Lady of Lourdes.

Final Thoughts with More Poet-Teas and Our Lady of Lourdes

As you can see, Our Lady of Lourdes Poet-Tea was not 100% focused on the honoring the feast day.  Rather, like life itself, the Poet-tea became combination of focus on the miraculous and on the mundane, with faith woven into everything in one way or another.

As I mentioned previously, other Poet-Teas we have hosted have been more directly related to particular feast days straight from the tea through the poetry, music, and art.  Howe we proceed all depends on how life and lessons are flowing in a given month and how the Spirit leads me as I plan.

Of course, we have also learned about celebrated other Our Lady of Lourdes at other times, including with a quick white-and-blue breakfast with stories before heading out for an Eco-Science animal tracking walk on the day of this AMP meeting, making candles after Adoration, meeting engineering challenges at parties and having a just-us tea in the middle of a snow storm.

Tracy, at A Slice of Smith Life, who often inspires me with wonderful examples of how to live the liturgical year with children, has some great Our Lady of Lourdes ideas, too.

St. Bernadette and Our Lady, pray for us.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Preparing to Prepare: Catalog Christmas Books

Can I tell you how happy my children have been since I made my big push to take the slalom course of Advent and Christmas paraphernalia out of our hallway and to get it all sorted, organized, catalogued, and put away

I am not exaggerating.  When the children saw our hallway all cleared up, they began literally kissing the walls.  They were that happy with "all this space!"  And me?  I was, too, and, I've been feeling doubly glad to have my kitchen table back.

Finishing the Final Bits of Packing Up Christmas 

This early week, I worked for hours and hours purging, organizing, and cataloguing Christmas books as part of my efforts to prepare throughout the year for Advent and Christmas.  In fact, I was still working on the final parts of this mini-project as my kiddoes had their St. Brigid Day oatmeal the other day, which was a bit disconcerting, because I had hoped to be done long before then.

Luckily, the kids were champs that morning and, after breakfast,  they helped peel and dice apples for homemade applesauce while I made one last push to finish my second mini-project in preparing to prepare for Christmas.

Just in time, I finished cataloguing and storing all of our Advent and Christmas books away and set the table for our
Luncheon Tea for St. Brigid, St. Verdiana, and Our Lady of Altagracia.

That delighted me.  For Christmas books all put away = clear table = table ready for company = one happy mama!  One happy mama who has celebrated twice since clearing the table.  Yep, it's been a double-hitter tea week here.

We celebrated a Candlemas Poet-tea with friends, too.

More on teas another time, though.  Right now, back to explaining about those books.

Just How Do We Own So Many Christmas Books?

For years now, we've spent most of Advent into Christmastide reading, reading, reading with our Alphabet of Advent, Literature-Rich Advent,
Works of Mercy Wisemen, and more.  Thus, every year, I pull out whatever I can find from our personal book collection and also borrow baskets of books from our local library to enjoy during our S.K.I.L.L. T.I.M.E +, Together Time Bag and bedtime reading. 

Without question, Advent and Christmas have become synonymous with cuddling up with books in my house. 
Unfortunately, that has often meant book explosions, too. 

Some years, our library books don't all get returned until nearly Lent, and, most years, our personal collection gets stashed away bit by bit, here and there, causing parts of it turn up missing the following Advent,
lost somewhere in the abyss of mounting disorganization.

This year, then, I was quite proud of myself, for getting some of the many library books we had borrowed returned before Christmas, and more before Epiphany, with the last of our borrowed Advent and Christmastide books out of our home before the end of January.

Indeed, I was ever so pleased last week when I checked to see what was due on our library cards and didn't notice a single Christmas book still checked out.  (Little things give me great feelings of accomplishment and success these days!)

Unfortunately, my self-congratulations ended, when I began organizing our various book baskets, shelves, and stacks with February reading, whereupon I realized just how many of our personal Christmas books were still hanging around everywhere and, moreover, just how many Christmas-themed books we actually own.

By the time I had collected all of our Advent and Christmas books from sundry shelves, baskets, and drawers, I faced stacks and stacks of books on my kitchen table that were more than a foot high each.
How on earth did we collect so many Christmas books? I marveled.  For, before seeing our Christmas collection stacked all in one place, I had known that we owned a lot of Christmas-themed books.  However, I simply did not realize just how many we've been blessed with!  Between gifts, purchases, library discards, and pass alongs, it is amazing what piles and piles of Christmas books we had amassed and - lo! - there were even some repeat titles among them.

Thus, began a sort and purge.

First, I sorted all the Christmas books into categories:  

  • books we use during each specific week of Advent or Christmas,
  • books we enjoy in general throughout the season,
  • books we definitely will enjoy for years to come,
  • books we can part with now,
  • and, books that I want to decide on after one more year in our possession.

That step done, there were still 70+ books on my table and - yikes - later, I found another small stash of them.


Thus, I gave myself a limit for how many books to keep and catalog:  I would only keep as many books as would fit, sorted into drawstring bags by category, in a single 18-gallon plastic tote.

Of Sorting, Storing, and a Ready Reference List

Once I had decided on the limit I would allow for our Christmas book collection, I sat down with my laptop and created a document that included the following columns for each book:

  • Date to Be Read (if applicable)
  • Tradition We Tie In with the Book (if applicable)
  • Works of Mercy Wisemen for the Book (if applicable)
  • Title
  • Author
  • Illustrator
  • Type of Book (Boardbook, Hardcover, or Softcover)
  • Notes
  • Themes
  • Whether the Book is Religious or Secular

Now, this might seem like overkill to some, but, for me, it is just the right amount of information to note. 

With such information, I can work out this year's Advent and Christmas reading plan easily throughout the year without having to drag out our bin. For the list will remind me which books we own, which we may wish to borrow, and which I might buy on sale. 
I can also easily retrieve particular books that we may want to revisit on specific dates throughout the year - like Kristoph and the First Christmas Tree on June 5 for St. Boniface's feast day or picture books about Christmas around the world when we study specific locations in Geography Club.  Since I cataloged and, then, stored our Christmas collection by theme and typical date(s) of use, and since I know whether each book is a boardbook, softcover book, or hardcover book, I now know which book is where and what exactly I am looking for, so I can easily go to the bin and retrieve just what I am looking for within minutes without much rummaging, hefting, or hauling.

Likewise, with my newly catalog list, I can also be more prudent when it comes to which additional Christmas books that I may buy and borrow.  For, yes, (and here I hang my head in shame) in the past, I have been known to borrow - or even to purchase - books that we already own because I thought we did not since our copies of some book had been lost in the abyss of our home.  I have also - much to my children's disappointment - neglected to borrow family favorites from the library, thinking we owned them and that they'd turn up before the season ended, when, in reality, I was confused.  We'd borrowed certain books year after year, not bought them.

True fact is, that Mama's memory is not what it once was, but mama's newly catalogued list solves that problem.  I now have a ready reference of what we own, so I will better be able to determine what we may want to purchase on sale or borrow again.  Not rocket science, I know, but a tediously long step taken which will now make my path to a more prepared Advent and Christmas so much easier.

I don't know if I am more excited about having purged some Christmas books and catalogued the rest into a neat little file or having my kitchen table back.  Honestly, both delight me and have me revved up for the next step in my preparing to prepare efforts.

What steps are you making month-by-month to prepare for Advent and Christmas?  Are there favorite Advent and Christmas titles you'd recommend?  I'd love to hear about them.

Also, be sure to stop by each month this year on the 2nd to see what more I've done to prepare for Advent and Christmas - or to prompt me to do more.  Thanks!


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