Sunday, December 25, 2016

May Your Christmastide Be Blessed

May your Christmas be blessed and beautiful.
May you be filled with His love and peace.
May gifts of joy be yours.
And may gratitude never cease.
Wishing one and all a blessed Christmastide!

Sunday, December 18, 2016

When Joyful Anticipation Gets Interrupted

Joyful anticipation.  That's what Advent is all about, right?

It is meant to be.  But, sometimes, life throws you a curve ball. 

You and yours are in the midst of a "catch up" day, when you've cleared the calendar and are staying home to attend to some responsibilities that have been being pushed aside, as well as to enjoy some Advent merriment that you've been wanting to get to - cookies, crafts, and such.

You wind down a pleasant morning of checking off tasks and begin to look forward to lunch, followed by the completion of a few more things, before a late afternoon of Advent merriment.

Just as you're about to call a pre-lunch tidy, the phone rings.  Your daughter picks up the receiver and hands it to you, saying, "It's a doctor."

BOOM!  Everything changes.

You wipe away silent tears that escape the corners of your eyes despite the brave smile that you try muster up for your children.  You take a deep breath and make a quick, silent plea to the Lord for the right words to explain things to your little loves who have such big ears when you're on the phone and such keen sensitivity when your emotions do a 180.

As your children's questions slow, you hug them tightly and say, "It's going to be all right.  We'll take things one step at a time and get through this together.  God is with us."

Then, you lay your trust in that.  He IS with us.

Jesus came to us all those years ago in Bethlehem.  He comes to us each week in the Eucharist and in the way others let themselves be His hands, heart, and mouth. 

Because of this, there is hope.  There is love.  There is joy.

There are three young children offering extra hugs to a Mommy who needs them and leaving rocks and shells decorated with encouraging messages all over the house.

There is a woman who knows she is loved by those children, their earthly Daddy, and their Daddy in Heaven.

There is concern over what will unfold regarding the news from the phone call.  Yet, joyful anticipation remains, re-ignited by love and hope.

If you, too, have had an Advent interrupted by unexpected news or difficult challenges, please know you are not alone.  None of us are.  His love brings hope.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Enjoy a Movie and Moving Joseph, Mary and the Donkey

I was intending to share about something else this week, but when I heard my children laughing as they watched a movie and, then, giggled  myself upon finding our Joseph, Mary, and donkey figurines facing our bathroom wall for the umpteenth time this week, I felt prompted to share about one of our simple Advent traditions:  Family Movie Night and a Journey to Bethlehem.

Now, before I share why Joseph, Mary, and the donkey were facing the wall, let me explain the back-to-back parts of our weekly Advent tradition:

Family Movie Night 

As much as we attempt to keep our hearts focused on joyful anticipation during Advent, it's easy to get caught up in pre-Christmas busyness and holiday hoopla.  Thus, for the past several years, we've made it a point to s-l-o-w life down in our home once a week throughout Advent - and, sometimes, straight through Christmastide and on to Candlemas - to enjoy the treat of a family movie night.
  {Disclosure:  Some links which follow are affiliate ones.}

So far this year, we've enjoyed:

Miracle on 34th Street is a classic, which is well worth watching.  Beware, though: the movie can bring up questions about if Santa really exists, which may not be welcomed, depending on your children's ages and family's traditions. 

In our home, we have always taught the Santa is the expression of the spirit of love at Christmas, so the movie presented no problems for us.  Rather, Miracle on 34th Street proved not only a fun film to watch, but also one that prompted natural discussions about virtue and vice as chatted about the plot and characters depicted in the movie.

In years past, we've watched this version of The Littlest Angel:

This year, though, we accidentally ordered this one from the library:

What fun my children thought this newer version of The Littlest Angel is!  They laughed so hard at the silliness and antics within the film and appreciated messages about the importance of friendship, the delights of memories, the power of forgiveness, and the big potential of small acts of kindness.  They also paused to comment about the theological differences between the movie premise and our own Catholic beliefs. (We have discussed before how humans do not become angels when they die, for example.) 

Watching the extras included on the DVD, my children learned a bit more about animated film making.  Cool!  A lot of laughter, a little theological chatting, a cozy doze of togetherness, and a bit of learning...  I'll take that for a movie night.

In years past, some other films we've enjoyed are:

...and more!  We'd love to hear your recommendations for family-friendly Christmas and Epiphany movies!

A Journey to Bethlehem

After our movie each week, we help our Joseph, Mary, and donkey figurines journey towards Bethlehem.

Basically, on the first day of Advent, we put the angel, shepherd, sheep, and cow figurines from one of our nativity sets up in our living room and, then, place the Joseph, Mary, and donkey figurines in one of the rooms furthest from the living room. Then, each week during Advent, after a simple dinner and movie, we move our Joseph, Mary, and donkey figurines to another room in our house, helping them, "journey to Bethlehem".

On Christmas Eve, Joseph, Mary, and the donkey finally settle into our living room nativity set.  Then, on Christmas day, the Baby Jesus figurine is added, and, after journeying themselves, the Wise Men get added on Epiphany.

A Bit of Humor

So what's up with Joseph, Mary, and the donkey facing the wall? 

This year, some of our bedrooms have not yet made it into a clean and clear state, ready to safely host our Joseph, Mary, and donkey figurines for a week.  Thus, last week, the children decided to have the figurines journey to our bathroom. 

Putting Joseph, Mary, and the donkey in a clear space in the bathroom all seemed well and good until someone had to go potty.  Then, the children felt uncomfortable, so they turned the figurines towards the wall each time a potty run was made.  I did not know this until someone forgot to turn the figurines back around when exiting the bathroom.  Oh my! 

I am glad it is a new week and Joseph, Mary, and the donkey can continue their journey to Bethlehem elsewhere.  I also look forward to our next family movie night.

What simple traditions help slow your family down during this sometimes busy season? 

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Star from Afar : A New Christmas (or Epiphany) Tradition with GIVEAWAY and DISCOUNT CODE

Special thanks to The Christmas Star from Afar  for providing "St. Nicholas" a kit for my children to enjoy and another for me to offer one lucky reader here as a giveaway.

Happy St. Nicholas Day!

This morning, my children were surprised to find a gift alongside their treat-filled shoes.  In fact, they were delighted to discover The Christmas Star from Afar, a lovely wooden nativity set and game that celebrates the TRUE meaning of Christmas. 

Truth be told, I am happy, too.  I have long wanted a beautiful, yet simply designed wooden nativity playset for my children and
Star from Afar is just that and more!
What Is Star from Afar?

Star from Afar is a nativity set and book that helps families create new Advent and Christmastide traditions that place the focus on Christ through a fun hide-and-seek game.  The idea is for you to set up the single-sided wooden nativity scene, sans its star and wise men.  Then, you hide the star a distance from the nativity scene and, ask your children to find it.  When they do, they can place the wise men near the star. 

Then, the next day, you hide the star somewhere new, each day, hiding the star closer and closer to the manger, until finally, you place the star atop the manger scene, reminding your children of the true meaning of Christmas: Christ being born!

As a bonus, you may also want to add Bible verses to the daily hide-n-seek game.  In the companion book are daily verses that you can copy and place near the star or may simply read once your children find the star.

It's Flexible and Fun (Plus Ties in Well with Learning!)

Of course, though, you need not use
Star from Afar exactly as suggested.  In fact, one thing I love about the gift set is how flexible it is!  The pieces of the nativity set are sturdy and perfectly sized for young children to play with.  The Bible verses quoted in the book are dated with one for each day of December through Christmas, but, really, they can be used anytime.  The hide-n-seek game is meant to be played as a countdown to Christmas, but could be used equally well between Christmas and Epiphany. Truly, you can make Star from Afar your own, adapting it to your family's needs and traditions. Here, we are doing just that this year. 

As regular readers know, our family already has a Works of Mercy Wise Men tradition that helps us focus on one way we prepare our hearts and home for Jesus: service!  The
Star from Afar could easily be layered into that tradition and, indeed, may be in years to come.  However, this year, we have decided to use the star in a different way.

For, while our hearts are already becoming more and more prepared for Christ this Advent season, our home remains in a less-than welcoming condition.  Daily, we make efforts to clean, declutter, and organize some of the mess we've let accrue.  However, there is just so much to be squared away that we are beginning to feel  discouraged. Thus, I suggested to my children that we focus our  
Star from Afar game before Christmas this year on literally readying our home for the celebration of Christ's coming to earth.  Then, from Christmas through Epiphany, we can play the game the way others typically play it, helping our wise men journey towards Jesus.

My children agreed to this idea, so our plan is that
throughout the rest of Advent, instead of having ME hide our star daily, any one of us who notes a mess that could be taken care of in 15 minutes or less may take the star and hide it within the mess.  Then, as soon as another of us finds the star, we will all take a break from our lessons and activities to set a timer and see if we can beat the clock in cleaning up the mess to make a safe spot for our wise men to hunker down in until they are ready to continue on their journey. 

If we succeed in beating our timer, we can take a break until the timer goes off.   If we don't, then we shall simply persevere, hopefully, making a bit more headway on our home before Christmas and having fun along the way.

Then, from Christmas through Epiphany, we can simply enjoy hiding the star, celebrating Christmas, and knowing we have a home that is, literally, a bit more ready to welcome others!

We also have a plan for the book that comes with with set. 

When we read the story and noted the Bible verses, we realized how easy the list of verses could make our copywork and studied dictation efforts this month and next.  Each week, the children are responsible for picking a passage o use for copywork and one for studied dictation.  We've all decided that the Star from Afar verses will make a great go-to list for choosing this season's handwriting and spelling work. 

Yippee!  I just love it when a fun product can dovetail into existing goals and lesson plans, acting both as a tool for fun and one for greater independence. 
I am delighted that both the nativity set and book in The Star from Afar gift set are quality items we can easily use and enjoy right away and for years to come.

Enter a Giveaway!

If you would like to help your children reconnect with the true meaning of Christmas using
The Star from Afar, today might be your lucky day! 

We're hosting a GIVEAWAY* and I am making entry easy:

On your honor, pop on over to The Star from Afar website to watch a video about the kit or to get more ideas for using it. Then, before 6:00 p.m. on Friday, December 9, leave a comment on this post telling what you already do to point your children to the true meaning of Christmas and how you envision The Star from Afar playing into your Christmas and Epiphany traditions.  Be sure to leave a way for me to contact you in case you win, too.  For we will be selecting and notifying a random winner on Friday night, and, if the winner does not respond within 24 hours, we will pass the opportunity onto a new random winner.

*Note:  This giveaway is
open to U.S residents only, ages 18 and older, with no purchase necessary.

Good luck!

Take Advantage of a Discount Code

Even if you do not win, you can still enjoy
The Star from Afar using a discount code.  Simply order The Star from Afar by December 25, 2016 using  FOLLOWTHESTAR as a discount code for 10% off. 

Learn More

As you can see, The Star from Afar is more than just another nativity set to add to your collection. Rather, it is a beautiful boxed set that includes a child-friendly nativity playset with a companion story book/Bible verse list. The set can be ordered in Spanish, and you can also choose a set with characters that have light or dark skin tones. Add-on stable animals and Scripture cards can be purchased, too.

If you'd like to get social with The Star from Afar, find them
on FacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram.

My children are excited to follow the star throughout Advent and Christmastide.  I bet yours would enjoy doing similarly!

This is a sponsored post in that we received a product in exchange for an honest review.  All opinions are my own.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Begin a Works of Mercy Wise Men Tradition with 16+ Picture Book-Inspired Service Acts

Happy second week of Advent!  

The Beginning of Our Works of Mercy Wise Men

Two years ago, on this day, I shared my idea for marrying picture books, wise men, and service to create a new family tradition. 

Then, last year, at this time, I was so busy living Advent that I never got around to sharing how the children and I had brought my idea to life as what we dubbed our Works of Mercy Wise Men.

{Disclosure: Some of the links which follow are affiliate ones.  If you click through one and make a purchase, we may receive small compensation at no extra cost to you  Anything we make goes straight back into training happy hearts and sharing about it here.}

On the first day of Advent, the children found our Tales of Glory Wise Men in this vignette:

Then, together, we chatted about why the real wise men traveled, who they were going to see, what Jesus was said to be (a king), what we typically do for kings (serve them), and what kind of king Jesus was (a servant king). 

The children and I, then, continued on to talk about how we can model after Jesus in general (by serving and living works of mercy) and, how we might do so specifically using the supplies our wise men were found with (perhaps making pictures or cards in the style of the illustrations in the book to bring joy to another).  I explained that, throughout Advent, the children might find our kings anywhere in the house with picture books and more and that, whenever
they did, if they felt inspired to, they could pause our day to serve someone else.  They loved the idea, and, with it, our Works of Mercy Wise men were inaugurated in keeping with the Year of Mercy focus we'd begun with and our Works of Mercy club and Advent-turned-Works of Mercy-chain.

Throughout the rest of Advent, my children discovered our Works of Mercy Wise Men in different vignettes, and, then, after reading whatever book the wise men were on or near, they "chatted" with the wise men about suggestions for a work or mercy (or simple kindness) we could offer.


It was so much fun to see the children's imaginations ignite as they "conversed" with the wise men.  It was equally delightful to hear what Works of Mercy the children came up with after "sharing secrets" with the wise men and cuddling to read together with me.

Some days, the acts of mercy the children decided on were simple ones, such offering prayers for the living or the dead.   Other days, they were more involved, such as making extra laminated prayer bookmarks to gift others or taking special trips to the store for supplies to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, or clothe the naked.  Still other days, the works of mercy the children came up with brought us together with neighbors, such as "visiting the imprisoned" (elderly neighbors who cannot get out much and enjoy company.)  Always, with inspiration from picture books and  "conversations" with our Works of Mercy wise men, the children and I found ourselves better preparing our hearts for the coming of Jesus. 

The Tradition Continues

Making the Works of Mercy Wise Men a new tradition in our home offered much fruit last year, and, thus, even though I have been seeking to simplify a bit this year, our Wise Men are back.

The vignettes the Works of Mercy Wise Men become a part of this year are uber-simple.  Often times, just a book and a quickly jotted phrase or sentence.  Still, the children look forward to finding the wise men daily, to reading together whatever story the wise men are with, and to deciding on a way we can love and serve others that day (or soon thereafter.)

Likewise, I look forward to how heartwarming it is to witness my children brainstorming kindnesses and carrying them out.

8 Books and 16+ Ideas to Get You Started

If you'd like to get started with Works of Mercy Wise Men for the rest of Advent, or, perhaps, between Christmas and Epiphany, here are some simple book-and-service ideas to inspire you and yours.  The first idea for each book is what I had in mind - but did not share aloud - and the second is what my children came up with on their own.  Not all of the ideas are literal Works of Mercy, but each helps children exercise virtues as they act with love and kindness.


Pair the book If He Had Not Come - or any alternate title that brings to mind the reason for the season - with a small sign that says those exact words "the reason for the season".  

My Idea: Think about how we can live the season with the real reason for it in mind and how we might share that reason with others.  Then, act on it!

The Children's Act of Kindness: 
The children, then, decided to pray with the words the boy in the book prayed with and, also, to pray for the living and the dead by praying an additional prayer for babies.  


Merry Christmas, Strega Nona - or any picture book that highlights holiday preparation or surprises - with a foam question mark, hand-written question mark, cleaning supplies,or cooking supplies.

My Idea:  Discuss practical ways we get ready for Christmas and come up with a way that we might help another prepare or that we might plan a big surprise for someone who could use a lift.

The Children's Act of Kindness: Ask Mom - who has been extra-tired - to get in bed and, then, make and serve her breakfast.


Pair the story "Rosemary's Secret Friend" in Catholic Children's Treasure Box, Book 19 - or any book that highlights conversations with God - with a paper, plush, foam, or wooden heart.

My Idea:  Chat about how we can keep Jesus in our hearts and share him with others and act on one of our ideas.
The Children's Act of Kindness
The children asked to pause our day to pray in our hearts to Jesus.  They decided to include prayers of thanksgiving and petition for Daddy since it is his birthday.



Pair the St Andrew pages of Jesus Loved Them and Lives and Legends of the Saints - or a Bible Story about the miracle of the loaves and fish, or any picture book about St. Andrew - with the three wise men "fishing".

My Idea:
Discuss how St. Andrew left the fishing industry to become a "fisher of men" and think of a simple way we can "fish men" today.  Act on that idea.

The Children's Acts of Kindness:  The children decided we should purchase five loaves of bread and three cans of fish to donate and enjoyed placing some of our donated items in the donation bin for our local St. Vincent de Paul organization. 

They also decided to "quietly evangelize" by praying our usual Eternal Rest prayers when passing cemeteries and offering grace before a meal when we were hosting a friend in our minivan and home.


Pair The Littlest Angel with an empty box, a small bag, or just a small angel figurine.

My Idea:  Consider what precious little items we have to gift forward.

The Children's Act of Kindness:  Since we were not slated to go out all day, the children decided to offer extra acts of kindness and service to one another throughout the day.



Pair The Friendly Beasts or any other book that includes creatures in the manger giving things to Baby Jesus with bird seed (which is what is in that black bin in the picture) or some other animal feed.

My Idea:
Discuss how each creature in the book offers the Christ Child what they can and how we might offer God's creatures what we can.  Maybe make bird or squirrel feeders or donate to an animal hospital or shelter.

The Children's Act of Kindness
:  The children want to make ornaments to decorate a tree for the birds, but would like to wait until it snows to so so.


Pair The Small One with a note that says, "What (or Who) needs a good home?", with an empty box or bag, or with some outsized clothes or neglected toys.


My Idea:  Gift forward some toys, clothes, or other items that we do not need anymore.

The Children's Act of Kindness: The children have noticed that the turtle we are headstarting does not seem to be growing, so they decided we need to look into why and do something about it.  We opted to begin by buying a new type of food for the turtle.


Pair Who Is Coming to Our House with a question that asks how we could welcome an unexpected guest, with supplies to make  a welcoming display, or with supplies to make baked goods or a tea tray to welcome guests with.

My Idea: Chat about how we can prepare our home to welcome unexpected visitors.  Perhaps put something welcoming on the door or in the front entryway and ensure there are snacks and drinks to offer.  Or, work on clearing and cleaning the front rooms.

The Children's Act of Kindness
: The children decided to work extra on cleaning the house in the coming week.

'Tis the K.I.S.S. (Keep It Simple Service) Season

As you can see, we have been keeping our Works of Mercy Wise Men initiative mostly small in scale this year.  This is purposeful on my part

Other goals and commitments for this season prevent me from creating fancy, fun vignettes daily.  And, truly, although such vignettes would add to the merriment of the season, they are not necessary for children to enjoy and be inspired to serve. 

Likewise, just as the Wise Men made a great, long journey one small step at a time, I decided at the beginning of this season that I wanted to stress how we can journey towards Jesus one small choice at a time.  Focusing on small, simple ways that we can love and serve others on a daily - sometimes minute-to-minute basis - strengthens us.  All those small choices add up, building habits in virtue. 

Of course, magnanimous gestures and larger scale service projects hold great merit and are important to make time for.  However, small, simple, practical efforts and prayers can create a positive impact, too.

Might you add a Works of Mercy Wise Men tradition to your family's Advent or Epiphany journey, getting closer to Jesus one small step at a time, too?

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Enjoy Saint Andrew S.K.I.L.L. T.I.M.E. + (including a FREE St. Andrew Christmas Novena Printable)

Tomorrow is St. Andrew's feast day, so in the morning, I will be giving my children the choice of making new beaded rebus bookmarks using our own FREE printable (since we've misplaced our old ones)or using the cute, little printable shared freely over at Life, Love & Sacred Art

{Disclosure:  Some of the links which follow are affiliate ones.  Should you click through them and make a purchase we may receive small income at no extra cost to you.  Anything we earn goes straight back into training happy hearts and sharing about it here. Thank you.}

We'll also be reading the St. Andrew portion of one or more of the following books (many of which are currently available for a penny used on Amazon).

Then, we'll see what unfolds as we learn and play during the S.K.I.L.L. T.I.M.E. + portion of our day and beyond.

As inspiration for the day, I have been revisiting what we did last year and thought you might be inspired by it, too.  

Among our regular life and learning activities, we included these St. Andrew-inspired ones:
S - Spell and Write Words

Even though my children are all at different levels with their spelling, they enjoy doing spelling challenges together, so one of the activities we did was to "write" "Saint Andrew" with our printed alphabet letters on the floor and, then, to see how many words we could each create by rearranging the letters.  Within 12 minutes (for the twelve apostles), we each recorded as many words as we could and, then, compared them.

K - Keep Reading to Yourself

My oldest, an independent reader, read some of the books listed above to himself.  My younger children read some simple Bible story books and fish-themed books with help.

I - Illustrate and Write

I gave the children the choice of creating their own Learn to Draw Saints Saint Andrew or coloring free printables offered at Catholic Playground.  Then, they glued images onto cardstock as the beginning of St. Andrew scrapbook pages that they fleshed out with brief narrations and whatever decoration they wanted to add.

L - Listen to Reading

We read from the books listed at the top of this post.

L -Learn and Play with One Another Using Language Arts


We passed around a figurine representing St. Andrew from our Galilee Boat Playset and shared facts we knew about him.  Then, we passed the figurine around again and shared how we, too, might be "fishers of men".

T - Think, Read and Write About Math

The children created story problems related to St. Andrew and challenged each other with them.

I - Investigate and Problem Solve with Math

Since St. Andrew was a fisherman, we used tangram pieces from our Tangram Race Game to make various fish shapes.

I  also had the children take all the fish and sea life puzzle pieces we have from old wooden puzzles and work together to find different ways to sort and classify them.

M - Master Math Skills Together

We then each took 12 puzzle pieces (to represent the 12 apostles) and, together, created an addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division problem a quickly as we could.

We also played Go Fish.

E - Exercise Math Skills on My Own

The children spent 12 minutes individually creating as any equations as they could that equaled 12 using our puzzle pieces as manipulatives.

+ Extra Learning and Exploration


  • P.E.:  We went to a local pool and brought bathtub fish to help us practice our swimming while being "fishermen" like St. Andrew.
  • Mercy and Virtue:  After finding our Works of Mercy Wise men, my children decided to add extra bread and fish to our grocery list so they could donate it to our local pantry.

  • Geography:  We located the area St. Andrew was from on a map.

  • Montessori-Inspired:  We did not revisit our Montessori-inspired mini-fish unit of old last year, but those with littles might want to check it out for themed ideas that could tie into this day for the fisherman become fisher of men.

 As always, I pray that the sharing I offer here blesses your family's life and learning.  
I'd also love to hear about your favorite Saint Andrew resources, prayers, and ideas. Links to descriptions of your devotions, studies and celebrations are most welcome.
  Saint Andrew, pray for us!


Related Posts with Thumbnails