Sunday, July 30, 2017

A Call to Love

A while back, I shared a reflection about When Divine Mercy Intervenes with Parenting a Preteen.  In it, I shared several prayers that my oldest child had written.  That boy continues to create written prayers during many of the weekly quiet times that we experience as a part of Holy Hour.

His sister, on the other hand, does not often write during Holy Hour.  Instead, she sings the Divine Mercy prayers with a radiant
smile, and, then, often, during the time for quiet prayers, can be found sketching with her lips silently moving.

When I glance over at my daughter, intent on sketching what she sees around the church, her lips moving in silent conversation, I smile and give thanks to God for the gift that she is. 

She is a child who loves to sing His praise and to open her Bible to read His word. 

She is also shyest, most sensitive child, yet she is also a child who is vibrant in her own ways

In crowds and new situations, my daughter can often be found clinging to my side, silent, but intently listening and observing, and, often, later, chatting with me about what she has heard and witnessed.  When she is comfortable with those around her, she is animated - on the move, offering vivacious smiles, being as compassionate and helpful as she is imaginative and active.  At home, my daughter vacillates between being a crazy, kinesthetic kid and a contemplative, quiet one

Yes, my girl is both pensive and playful, reflective and rearing to go! Thus, it comes as no surprise to me that my daughter's preferred way of reflecting and praying during Holy Hour is by gazing at the altar, sketching and thinking while quietly conversing with Jesus.

Observing my daughter in such quiet moments of sketching, thought, and prayer - as well as during both the sung and spoken prayers during Holy Hour - I give thanks to God and am sometimes moved to tears. 

What an observant, sensitive, beautiful child He has gifted me to steward. 
Like all children, she has her own gifts and challenges and, for one reason or another, God has decided that I am the perfect mother for her, my husband is the perfect father, and her brothers are the perfect siblings.  Not perfect, mind you as people, but perfectly chosen by Him to be a family - to help one another grow in strength, wisdom, faith, and hope.

Likewise, our local parish collaborative family, I know, is the result of people coming together in response to God's call.  And our larger community is made up of people God places in proximity for a purpose.  And on and on in concentric widening circles of souls that God has granted the opportunity of coming together as conduits of His love and mercy.

It occurs to me that while we each are unique and have free will, we also each have a common purpose and call - to embrace His love and mercy and to share it with one another.  In our communities, in our families, in our one-to-one relationships with one another and with Him.

As I glance at my daughter during Holy Hour and then look back to Jesus on the altar, I give thanks for the way He converses with our souls, for His love, for His mercy, and for His wisdom.  I think about the responsibility He has entrusted me with and pray for the grace and strength to live well as a mother to my children, an individual in my community, and a child of God. 

Then, I reach over to my daughter's forearm, gently squeezing it three times in a silent "secret" message we have shared for years: I. Love. You.  She smiles, take my hand and squeezes back:  I. Love. You.  May she always know how much I love her.  May she always know how much Our Lord does.  And, may she always be so willing to share love.

May we all.

Yes, today, and every day, may love be what we reach out and respond with. 

How is Our Lord conversing with your soul today and who is He calling you to express love to?

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

What Has My Children Reviewing and Learning U.S. Geography? {A Crafty Classroom Review}

My children have never been worksheet kids, but they were delighted to begin using the USA Activity Bundle by the The Crafty Classroom to review and learn more about U.S. geography.  To me, this speaks volumes: the well-designed pages  of each e-book included in the bundle equaled fun, not work, for my kiddoes.  Beautiful illustrations of state birds, fun sate-shaped mazes, and detailed (but not too busy!) state notebooking pages invited my children to color, research, review, write, and enjoy.

We received three downloads of activity packs in PDF format with bundle, which together provide a fun homeschool geography curriculum supplement for us - which could also act as the spine for a 50 States unit study for others.

The U.S.A. State Bird Art Cards download was a surprise hit with my children.  They all loved the detail of the line drawings in the 30-page pdf and had fun beginning to research a bit about each bird, using online resources to hear different bird calls and learn more about the birds. 

In the downloaded pdf, the book
United Tweets of America is recommended for researching in order to fill our the bird cards, but our library system's copy has been unavailable for a while.  So, I decided not to explain to my children that the small cards on each bird page are actually memory match cards.  My plan is that when the recommended book comes in, we will read it to learn and review more, and, then, cut out the small cards as a fun conclusion to our state bird studies.

One other thing I like about the Bird Art cards is that they include a small space for children to write fun facts about each bird.  None of my children like to write by hand, so the relatively small space encourages them to write something without discouraging them with too many lines to fill in.

A not-as-surprising hit with my children has been the U.S.A. 50 State Mazes.  I already knew my children like mazes, but what I did not know was how much they would enjoy doing the state-shaped ones in this 51-page pdf that includes each of the state's outlines filled in with mazes to print and complete.  They found the mazes challenging, but not too hard, and I liked that they were using basic critical thinking skills and increasing their awareness of each state's shape while completing the mazes. 

The U.S.A. State by State Activity Notebook was surprisingly well-received, too.  As I said before, my children are not worksheet kids, and I wondered if they'd find these activity sheets to "workbooky"  Happily, they did not.  Instead, they eagerly researched the abbreviation, bird, nickname, flower, flags, geography and other facts of some states in books that we own as well as online and, then, enjoyed coloring and writing to fill out activity pages. 

I plan to let them continue to move through each of the state activity pages in the 60-page pdf at their own pace and, then, to play the included full-color Bingo USA game and Roll-Across-America game when as an enjoyable review.

Our Thoughts

Truly, each of the three resources in the USA Activity Bundle compliment each other, balancing visual interest, research, review, and challenge.  The simplicity of the pages, yet (non-busy) detail of their design is quite appealing.

My oldest, at 11, said:

I really like this.  It's super fun.  I really like doing the state pages...coloring the birds.  I also like doing the mazes which are so fun to do.  Coloring the bird pages is good, too.  I have been reviewing things and learned Massachusetts was named from an Indian name.

I want Mom to get me a binder, because I want to put all my papers in it to make a state book.

My youngest, at seven, said:

I like coloring the birds and doing the mazes.  They are fun.  I've done a lot of mazes.

My middle-child, at 10, said:

I really like doing the mazes although they are really complicated.  They are the shape of the states.

I really liked learning about the birds.  That was fun to do.  It is interesting to find out what bird goes with what state.  I thought it was interesting that some birds went to more than one state.  Also, I like Rhode Island's bird: a chicken.  It is different, because it is a tame, domestic bird.

I liked the state pages, too... coloring and writing facts.

I would recommend these to people learning about the country.
USA Activity Bundle

I would not hesitate to recommend the USA Activity Bundle to others who have children that enjoy coloring, completing mazes, and learning about the states.

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Sculpt Away with this Quik-Sculpting Kit! {An ACTÍVA Products Review}

If you have tactile kids who loves to craft, then a Rigid Wrap and CelluClay Quik-Sculpting Kit from ACTÍVA Products could be a huge hit in your household. If you have a sensory defensive child who gets squeamish with anything goopy or wet, then you may still welcome
this product as a therapeutic sensory diet tool which is big on sensory input, yet relatively easy to use and clean up and which also just happens to be 100% wheat- and gluten-free, non-toxic and non-carcinogenic!
{Disclosure: Some links which follow are affiliate ones.}

Rigid Wrap and CelluClay Quik-Sculpting Kit

Our Experience

In my home, we have two children who love to dig in and get their hands dirty and one who has an aversion to many textures.  Thus, I opted to review Rigid Wrap and CelluClay in hopes of delighting my two tactile kids, while possibly enticing my sensory-defensive child to join in on some creative fun.  So far, only the former has happened. 

My two "hands in" kids have wrapped, shaped, sculpted, and painted, creating their own little projects, while their tactile-defensive big brother circled round, got curious, asked a lot of questions, and observed, but has yet to jump in on the fun. 

Because my oldest, unfortunately, has been having a tough summer, I did not "force" - or even strongly encourage him - to use the
Rigid Wrap and CelluClay with us.  For I knew that it would only exacerbate things.  What I did do, though, is quietly ask my younger two to keep their projects small, using only a portion of our kit, so big brother could use some later. 

Of course, when my oldest heard me suggest saving some of the plaster cloth and quick-set papier-mache mix for him, he declared that he has no interest in trying them.  However, as an observant mother, I could already see his curiosity piqued and his brain ticking with ideas for how the materials might be used.  And, okay, I admittedly fed my son's quite-active brain by letting him happen upon me browsing project idea videos on the
ACTÍVA Products website.

"Mom, can I watch to... Oh, that's cool... I wonder if..."

Yes, as my son commented while watching videos of various applications for
ACTÍVA Products, seeds were planted.  I am confident that as they germinate into visions of original projects for a future homeschool fair, products that might be sold at our church bizarre table, or a 3-d design that my son's imagination has cooked up, my son will be asking to use our remaining Rigid Wrap and CelluClay.  Years of parenting my child has proven to me that patience and timing are everything.  So, I am excited to have this easy-to-use, versatile sculpting media on hand for when the ideal time for overcoming sensory aversions while making visions realities arrives for my oldest.

Meanwhile, my younger two have been asking to use some more of it.

They had fun experimenting with it.

My daughter decided to adapt an idea from the FREE, full-color
ACTÍVA Products' Favorite Sculpture KIDS CRAFTS e-book in order to craft a St. Anne doll for our upcoming feast day celebration.

My son asked if he could make Daddy a tiny football to keep at work.

Then, my daughter decided to make an even tinier one.

Our Creations So Far

My younger two children both had fun cutting
Rigid Wrap plaster cloth, dipping it, wrapping it, and smoothing it.  Then, they patiently waited overnight for their projects to dry before finishing them off.

Their projects could have been dried more quickly in a microwave, but we don't have one in our kitchen, so just left their projects out overnight.

The children only used Sharpies and paint to finish their projects off - but I hear other finishing media can work, too. 

My daughter also used white glue to attach a baby Mary to her Saint Anne statue.  Hot glue or more plaster strips would likely have worked just as well, I'd guess.

Our Thoughts

Overall, I was quite pleased with the
Rigid Wrap and CelluClay Quik-Sculpting Kit and can attest that is just what it is advertised to be: 
"A paper mache kit ... (and) excellent way to try the materials before moving on to larger projects... ideal for kids crafts and science fair projects (with)
  • 2 - 4" rolls of Rigid Wrap
  • 8 oz. of CelluClay
  • Complete instructions for 12 projects"

The only thing the kit lacks, in my opinion, is clear, easy-on-the-eye instructions on how to use the materials and build the suggested projects.  (Inside the box is only a photocopied page with relatively minuscule print.)  This drawback is easily remedied by going to the ACTÍVA Products website, though, where you'll find loads of helpful resources and ideas, such as:

Truly, the physical kit, when paired with the website, can easily unleash sculpting and creativity in children!  I am happy to have been introduced to this crafting media.

My youngest, at seven said:

I liked the texture of the dry strips, and liked how it sticks (when it is wet).  It was easy to clean up.

My daughter, at ten, said:
I liked how you can wet the Rigid Wrap and wrap it around your cardboard.  It was fun, but messy to use, because it was dry and had holes, then, you wet it, wrapped it, and, then, rubbed it to make the holes disappear.  It wasn't too messy though.

I let mine dry overnight, and, then, I painted it.  My project was a statue and it was good. I even made a baby to glue to it. 

I want to use this stuff again.  My brother also made a football, and I did, too.

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Sunday, July 23, 2017

Celebrate St. Anne's Feast Day This Week (Even if Impromptu)

The Memorial of Saints Joachim and Anne is coming up on July 26 and is a super simple one to celebrate as you and your children live the liturgical year.

Catholic Culture offers prayers, recipes, background, and more, which you might find helpful if you're the planning type.  Tracy at A Slice of Smith Life shares a wonderful way to celebrate with grandparents on this day, and, in the past, I have also shared a variety of prayer, food, and resource ideas in St. Anne celebration posts.  Plus, if you're a more spontaneous type, you might enjoy hearing about the impromptu celebration that we enjoyed last year, which proves that feast day prayer, fun, and learning can be thrown together even on a hectic day!

St. Anne's Intercession, Our Lord's Grace and the Help of a Friend Made It Happen

Seriously, last year, I almost thought I would not be able to continue our family tradition of celebrating my Name Day - St. Anne's feast day.  For, as the day arrived, I found myself swimming in chaos!
Both my son and I were on meds for Lyme's disease, and our washer and dryer had been broken for days.  That meant the laundry room was piled high with dirty clothes atop sundry boxes, bins, and bags of "homeless stuff" from other parts of the house which were blockading the door where our broken machines needed to be taken out so new ones could be installed.  Having spent some time working budget wonders in the week prior, I had been able to find money to replace our old machines, and, on the day before St. Anne's fest day, I was faced with the formidable task of clearing the laundry room clutter while managing one Lyme-lethargic child and two exuberant siblings who had been helping as they could, but were also rearing to just enjoy youthful energy.

Needless to say, prayers for the intercession of St. Anne - patron of homemakers and mothers among other things - were needed and, Our Lord must have smiled on those prayers, because a wonderful friend offered to take my children on St. Anne's feast day, so I could finish up the laundry room and manage the removal of broken machines and delivery of new ones without children underfoot. 

Thanks be to God for sending me - a tired mama - a generously kind friend like that and, then, for gifting me with enough energy and focus to do what needed to be done before the delivery men arrived.  By afternoon, the laundry room was organized and the two men who sweated through removal of our old machines and installation of our new ones were sipping some iced water I offered them while I was inwardly offering prayers of thanksgiving for how smoothly things had gone and how happy I knew my children were in the care of my friend. 

I also was delighted, because the delivery and installation didn't take as long as I thought it would, so I had time to pillage our fridge for St. Anne celebration foods, and was able to call my friend to ask her if her children would like to join us for an impromptu feast day when she dropped my children back to me. 

Of course, my friend said that she would be delighted to join us, but that I didn't need to go to any trouble to prepare something special for her nor her children. She knew I had been working hard and must be tired; there was no need for me to expend any extra effort to offer them a meal.  I responded that it really would be my pleasure - not trouble - to put together an impromptu feast day meal for them to join us at.  I was quite grateful that she had taken my children for the day and, since things had gone so smoothly, was excited to continue our annual tradition and to share it with her and her children.

So it was that this happened:

I went through our fridge and cupboards to find any green and red foods that everyone might enjoy since St. Anne is typically depicted in wearing green (for rebirth or immortality) and red (for love).  In doing so, I attempted to keep things healthy with protein and produce choices, but also put out a tray of "treat" chocolate Silk and 100% juice so the children could enjoy something sweet.

I laid all the foods out on a low table outside and, also, put out our green, red, and white pillar candles (for St. Anne's typical colors and Christ's pure love shining down through the generations.)  Alongside these, I placed three books I was able to quickly grab from our shelves each have St. Anne stories and/or prayers in them.

{Disclosure:  Some links which follow are affiliate ones.}

Credit: Amazon

Of course, these books are not necessary for your own celebrations.  If you don't have them - or something like them -  you can always use a saint day excerpt from online, like the brief one at Holy Spirit Interactive.

Let the Feasting Begin

My preparations went fairly fast, and everything was set to go when my children returned with our friends and, by chance, my husband got home from work and changed into casual clothes.

So, we began with a prayer and chat about St. Anne, and, then, I read a brief excerpt about her before drawing the children's attention to our feast table and asking them what symbolism it might have.

Of course, they quickly noticed the colors - green and red - and the "light of love" with the candles.  One of the children likened the GFCF pretzel sticks either to the tree where the bird's nest St. Anne was said to have spied and prayed by or to the nest itself.

Another likened the stuffed grape vine leaves to St. Anne eventually being full with pregnancy, and someone commented that the chick peas could be like little Mary in St. Anne's belly.  (Gotta love children's imaginations.)

The children noticed the smiley I had made with onions and tomatoes on farm-fresh beans - reminding us of our Lord smiling down on us in love.

They also noticed the hearts I had out on the regular and red pepper hummus bowls - again, representative of God's love for us, as well as of St. Anne's and St. Joachim's love for Mary, and Mary's love for Jesus and for us. 

Likewise, the chocolate squares that were on the table reminded them of the sweetness of God's love.

Chat complete, it was time to dig in...

The children happily served themselves nibbles of this and that...

While I enjoyed making "St. Anne cracker bites"...

And Nina, I think it was, prepared a full plate for Daddy!

Playtime in Honor of the Patron to Homemakers

Bellies satiated, it was then time for free play. 

I had asked the delivery men to let me keep the boxes for our washer and dryer, and, let the kids loose with them.

Before long, scissors, knives, duct tape, and more were coming out.

The children's imaginations and creativity were in full swing.

And on the feast of a saint who is patron to mothers and homemakers, the children made play homes.

Doors of friendship, faith, and gratitude were wide open!

With fridge forage, books, candles, boxes, and the blessings of friendship, faith, and fabulous kiddoes, our fifth annual St. Anne celebration - although impromptu - was a success!

I pray your Memorial of Sts. Anne and Joachim is blessed and happy.  As shared on Catholic Company, please join me in praying:

Good parents of the Blessed Virgin Mary,
grandparents of our Savior, Jesus Christ,
When life seems barren,
help us to trust in God’s mercy.
When we are confused,
help us to find the way to God.
When we are lost in the desert,
lead us to those whom God has called us to love.
When our marriage seems lifeless,
show us the eternal youth of the Lord.
When we are selfish,
teach us to cling only to that which lasts.
When we are afraid,
help us to trust in God.
When we are ashamed,
remind us that we are God’s children.
When we sin,
lead us to do God’s will.
You who know God’s will for husband and wife,
help us to live chastely.
You who know God’s will for the family,
keep all families close to you.
You who suffered without children,
intercede for all infertile couples.
You who trusted in God’s will,
help us to respect God’s gift of fertility.
You who gave birth to the Blessed Mother,
inspire couples to be co-creators with God.
You who taught the Mother of God,
teach us to nurture children in holy instruction.
You whose hearts trusted in God,
hear our prayers for . . . (state your request).
Pray with us for the ministry of Catholic family life.
Pray with us for the ministry of Natural Family Planning.
Pray with us for all who give their time, talent, and treasure to this good work.
Hail Mary . . .  Our Father . . . Glory be . . .
God of our fathers, you gave Saints Anne and Joachim the privilege of being the parents of Mary, the mother of your incarnate Son. May their prayers help us to attain the salvation you have promised to your people.
We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.


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