Sunday, February 28, 2021

Of Birdfeeders and Bottles

Sometimes, God sends us hope and reminders through little things...

A window feeder with birds that come to feast, reminding me that the "birds in the not sow or reap... yet (my) heavenly Father feeds them." (Matthew 6:26)

My daughter helping me prep and wintersow 20+ bottles and jugs of what we hope will grow into flowers and edibles brought to mind the verse, "One who pays heed to the wind will never sow, and one who watches the clouds will never reap." (Ecclesiastes 11:4)

And, in the days that followed, as I faced some significant challenges in my call as wife and mother, I was edified by the thought that things may seem hopeless at times, conditions may appear all too imperfect, but if I just trust and do my work, God will do the rest. He provides. He controls the winds and clouds. He is always at work and always has a plan. I must stop worrying and just move forward in trust doing what I can as I can this moment.

If you, too, are facing struggles right now, I pray that everyday noticings and the Word of God can bring you some peace as they have me.

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Will the Personal Finance Lab Budgeting Game and Stock Market Game Be a Good Fit for You?

I received this product free through the Homeschool Review Crew

When my children and I heard about an opportunity to review the 
PersonalFinanceLab Budgeting Game, Stock Market Game, and integrated curriculum from, we were excited. 

The idea of a game and curriculum that encourages financial literacy was appealing and timely for us.

So, when we received our log-in information, I set aside some time to do my part on the admin portal. Then, I sat down 1:1 with my two older children, asked them if they wanted to try out the Budgeting Game or Stock Market Game first - or do both - and sat with them while they got going.

Both children chose the Budgeting Game, which was okay with me, because I thought it would be a solid way for them to reinforce money management skills.

In real life, both children have jobs now and have been learning to divide their income into spend, save, invest, and give categories, but they have not yet begun making budgets. So, I looked forward to seeing how the game helped them simulate the life a college student with real bills, such as
 rent, a car loan, utilities, groceries and some of the unexpected expenses and would challenge them to stay on budget while learning how to manage cash and credit cards.  

I thought that once they got going, they'd be hooked and, then, we could roll out the real-time stock game, with live streaming portfolios, instant order execution, integrated research and reporting, etc. This would help, because both of my children want to begin investing in real stocks once they get a solid chunk of "invest" money saved.

Unfortunately, things did not play out that way here though, for, although offers a plethora of financial literacy learning lessons - with 50 personal Finance lessons and 20 Introduction to Stock Market lessons - integrated within the framework of its games, it just was not a good fit for my children. 

That being said, before I detail my children's opinions, I want to say that the Budgeting Game and Stock Marketing Game do have merit and to encourage you to also 
click through the Homeschool Review Crew where you will find links to over 20 video, social media, and blog reviews, some of whom truly LOVED this product and can give you an enthusiastic recommendation for it. 

I also want to commend on their customer service. Due strictly to user error (not the product itself), we had some log-in trouble and other issues and contacted the company. The reply we received was quick, helpful, and personalized to our issues and their correction. I was impressed by the prompt attention, and it made me appreciate this vendor.

Moving forward, I am hoping that as my eldest moves over to the Stock Market Game, the product will become more appealing to him. I hear from other Crew folks that it is fantastic, and from the little I have dabbled with it, it looks like it could really teach my children some new things.

When I interviewed my eldest child- 15 and a computer/independent learning lover - about this product, it went like this:

What is Personal Finance Lab?

It is two online games. One is focused on stocks and the other is focused on a college student's life and personal finances. There are also articles and lessons.

Why did you want to try this game?

I was curious how it would work.

Can you tell me a little but about how the games work?

I have been focusing on just one game so far and have gotten a number of "months" into the game. 

To play, you start off setting some things such as what type of groceries you want to eat, the size of your apartment, etc., which all affect your game play.

Then, you roll the electronic dice and the game starts going, moving you through days of the calendar.

You get paid weekly and can increase your paycheck by working extra on Saturdays, which is simulated by doing a math game.

Some random events are thrown at you, some of which I like, such as the ones that let you choose things, and some of which I don't I don't like, such as when they just charge you, for example, $400, because you felt badly about dogs or something like that.

You also have bills to pay, such as rent, electric, gas, credit card, etc. - like life.

Periodically, they will ask you questions and, if you get them right, you get money. These questions are connected to lessons.

For the lessons, you read something, then answer an easy question, and get "cash".

When the months change in the game, you go over your budget and accounts. 

You also decide if you are paying credit or debit when you make purchases and can move money from savings to checking.

Have you learned anything playing the game?

Yes, I learned that in this game it appears that I will always make less than I owe or spend. 

Other than that, I did not really learn much, because I have learned about finances before. I think someone who does not know much about finances can learn through this game.

Do you like this game? Do you think it is a good use of your time?

It's okay, but as a high school student who already knows much of what it's trying to teach, I should probably be spending my time doing other things.

I will try the Stock Market Game.

If you had to pick one thing you really like about it, what would it be?

It's a quick game. Each "day" of the game can be complete quickly and you can do a month in one sitting. It also seems like they are updating the game regularly. 

Will you continue to use the program?

Yes, I want to try the stock game, because I do not know much about the stock market. 

Until now, though, because of my other workload, I just wanted to focus on one game at a time. Now that I have given the Budgeting Game a chance, I will probably move to the stock game.

Would you recommend this product, and, if so, to whom?

For someone like me, I would not recommend the Budget Game. However, younger students and those who do not have much finance experience might appreciate it.

I am not sure about the Stock Market Game yet.

Is there anything that could be improved about the Budgeting Game?

I would recommend the game makers program it so you could have the ability to actually choose if you want to spend money as opposed to forcing you into doing so. Many of the incidents that come up are not things I would spend money on.

While I understand, the game is trying to show that there are random and unexpected expenses, it could improve how it does this. Expenses such as a car breaking down should be included in the game as a simulation of emergency expenses, but things like donations and other ways you could choose to spend your money in real life should be choices in the game.

My daughter 13, who does not always like online things, was oddly eager to try the Budgeting Game, and did sit and play for a full month of the game at times when she sat down with it, but did not relish all aspects of the game.
When I interviewed her, it went like this:

Why did you want to try Personal Finance Lab?

When we heard about Personal Finance Lab, I was excited. It sounded interesting to use to learn about financing.

What did you think about it?

I was disappointed when we got it, because I found it ...unrealistic.

The only fun part was the "work" game where you matched numbers, but that did not teach me anything. It just was more entertaining than the rest of the program.

What did the learning part look like?

In the part of the game when I was supposed to be learning, they had a calendar where you roll electronic dice and move spaces.

Then, you get random things, like "You tore your bag on a nail, you can either buy a really expensive one or a cheap one. And if you buy the expensive one, the points of your quality of life will go up, because it probably won't break..." Then, a couple turns later, you get another scenario, sometimes quite similar. 

Most of the scenarios did not fit my personality at all - such as "You went out and got coffee with friends," or "You bought tea at the grocery store," - and I would never do these things in real life, especially if I was behind with my bills. The game failed to give me an option to opt out of these choices. 

Do you think there is a reason the game does this?

Of course. There are bills in life. Some you cannot opt out without penalty. The game demonstrates this, but with expenses like buying bags, coffee, make up, etc., you can opt out in real life, but the game would not let me.

Did the game teach or reinforce anything for you?

It reinforced that you have to pay your bills or you may get penalized, that you can budget, and that there are sometimes unexpected expenses. 

Would you recommend the Budget Game?

Not really. I was looking forward to having an enjoyable finance game that would teach me new things about financing. This one did not engage me.

What could make it better?

Perhaps it could be changed so that you could choose what you want to do - like whether you actually want to go get coffee with friends. There are some expenses - like bills and filling you gas tank so you can go to work - that are necessary. Other things should be optional.

Any final thoughts?

This game might be good for those who have no finance knowledge and who like online programs. It is not terrible. It is just not for me.

Learn More

Even though's Budgeting Game was obviously not the hit we hoped it would be here, I can see why it has proven to be a good fit for some families. It provides some solid, basic financial literacy learning, offers parents/teachers a full panel of options, gives students a chance to read basic lessons as an integrated part of the game, etc. There is also the Stock Market Game, which has real-time portions and, from what I have seen in dabbling with it so far, looks like a fantastic no-risk way for students to get a real look at how stocks work.

As I mentioned before, some other Homeschool Review Crew families absolutely LOVED the Budgeting Game and the Stock Market Game engaging and helpful and would HIGHLY recommend it. I encourage you to hop over to see some of their thoughts by clicking through the Homeschool Review Crew where you will find links to over 20 video, social media, and blog reviews. offers a quality product that could use a few tweaks to be a better fit for my family but is already a wonderful fit for others. Perhaps it will be for you and yours!

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Sunday, February 21, 2021

A Real Look at Our Lenten Journey Thus Far...

Last week, I shared 15 Ways to Prepare for Lent with Kids. Today, I thought I would offer an honest look at which of those steps we actually took this past week.


Because plans and reality are often different, and I never want to be one of those folks that gives a skewed vision. Life is real here - with ins, outs, ups, downs, plans that don't come to fruition, and, yet, still, blessings. So many blessings.

So, here goes with a real look at how the week's Lenten plans unfolded...

1. Lenten Chain: None of the kids were into actually making our Pray-Fast-Give Lenten Chain this year even though some of them wanted to have it up. So I simply printed out the list we had pulled teeth for brainstormed. I then colored the backs of the print out backs purple, cut the list into strips, assembled, and put up the chain myself, wondering why I was even bothering.

The Lord answered quickly when one of my children eagerly ran to the chain to take one down, and since, two of my children have been taking turns taking a link each day, while all three of the kids and I have been pausing to pray, fast, and give accordingly, albeit sometimes with the need for some extra "encouragement" to prompt participation.

2. Pretzel Prayer Pals:  Life surely is what happens while you are making other plans, and as such, we did not get our pretzel bags to give to chosen Lenten Prayer Pals together by Wednesday, and, so far, only one child has actually gifted a bag to a friend.

Sadly, one of my children participated in making the bags only with "encouragement", because said child "does not really believe in praying much anymore, Mom." It hurts this Momma's heart to have a child who has strayed so far from believing in God and living our faith. I welcome prayers for this child's reversion.

3. Pray-Fast-Give Jars: Our Pray-Fast-Give jars  did not get out of our attic until Wednesday, but were updated for this year, and
 are in an accessible space.

It makes my heart smile that one child was pleased to see these out again and also encourages me when some of my children quietly go and drop a seed into one more more the jars. 

4. Special Intention Collection: One of my children specifically asked for a this tradition again this year, but we have yet to get together to pray, and decide which cause we'll collect for this year. Guess I know what will be part of this week's agenda for together time with the kids.

5. Stations of the Cross Sticks: I got our Stations of the Cross prayer and Sequencing Sticks Wednesday and put them out as simple decor.

6. Lenten Resurrection Eggs: Our Lenten Resurrection eggs did come out and get put up.

7. Picture Books and More
: Some of our books got put in our basket and one child has read a few, but our evening read together time has been unrelated, so far.

8. Ash Wednesday Mass and Distribution of Ashes: We gratefully were able to drive about half hour to get to Ash Wednesday Mass and confession.

9. My Lenten Prayer/Sins and Virtues:
We had a goo chat about Capital Sins and Capital Virtues using a free pdf Examination of Conscience from the Fathers of Mercy, and, then, after some reflection, chose our personal Lent practices, which we recorded on individual copies of My Lenten Prayer printables.

10. Lenten Path Countdown: While finally beginning to listen to The Bible in a Year (with Fr. Mike Schmitz) episodes, we colored our Lenten Path Countdown sheets and some of us are now using out colored sheets to track our Lenten journeys.

11. Bury the Alleluia
: We have yet to get to creating Alleluia posters to bury, but may yet create some when listening to more Bible in a Year episodes, which is something we are trying to make a habit of this Lent.

12. Stations of the Cross
: B
ecause there was no local church we could go to for Stations, one of the children picked a Youtube Stations of the Cross for us to do.

13. Abstinence: We are going quite light on meat and dairy overall this Lent and I am asking everyone, no matter the age, to observe abstinence on Fridays.

14. Missions: 
I may not be able to get to the local chapel that is giving a series of Monday night Lenten reflections afterall, but I hear they will be posting a recording on Facebook. Yay!

15. 12-12 Fasts: So far, so good for me with joining in the tradition of our Maronite Catholic friends who fast from 12 to 12 throughout the weekdays of Lent. .

So, some "hits", some "misses", some challenges, many blessings. Little ideal. All real. And all a part of the journey.

I pray however your Lenten journey has begun, it brings you closer to Our Lord.

Sunday, February 14, 2021

15 Ways to Prepare for the First Few Days of Lent

As Lent nears, I have been praying about how my family may best journey through the season this year. 
  • What forms may our prayer, fasting, and almsgiving take?
  • Which traditions may we continue?
  • What practices we may focus on?
  • Where do we each need to grow?

And, of course, how might we respond to the involuntary penances that will undoubtedly arise as walk the road to Easter.

I am also thinking about practicalities: What do I need to pull down from the attic? Which things do I need to put on the calendar? What will be more free-flow?

In doing so, I made a 15 Things to Remember list for myself and thought I'd share it here in case it inspires you for your families first steps of Lent this year.

1. Lenten Chain: The kids and I sat down to brainstorm ideas for our annual Pray-Fast-Give Lenten Chain, which we will hang up, and, beginning on Wednesday, take off of each day  before praying, fasting, or giving accordingly.

2. Pretzel Prayer Pals:  By Tuesday night, I need to get shopping so I can pick up some pretzels for us to make pretzel bags to give to our chosen Lenten Prayer Pals.

3. Pray-Fast-Give Jars: By Tuesday night, I also need to get to our attic to get our Lent bin with our Pray-Fast-Give jars in it. These will go on our table with some seed, which I will pick up when I get the aforementioned pretzels. That way, again this year, we can hold ourselves accountable by slipping seeds - which will eventually "grow" into "Easter sweetness" - into our jars.

4. Special Intention Collection: We no longer Count, Pray, Fast, and Give during Lent, but we still do set out a container for moneys to donate to a special cause. Tuesday night, we'll chat, pray, and decide if we want to pick a cause before Lent begins or begin collecting change and, then, choose a cause as God reveals one to us.

5. Stations of the Cross Sticks: Some years ago, we made Stations of the Cross prayer and Sequencing Sticks. We no longer use them to pray our Stations, but they have become a traditional decoration around here to remind us to go pray the Stations, so I will dig them out of the attic, too.

6. Lenten Resurrection Eggs: Our Lenten Resurrection eggs will also come out of the attic to be placed upon a shelf for Lent as a daily reminder of the season.

7. Picture Books and More
: Although my children are growing and we are not using the library as much these days, I will still put out a basket of picture books, audio books, and longer books. For nostalgia can be strong here, and I would like to facilitate curling up to read a few of our past favorite read alouds during a cozy Lenten evening.

8. Ash Wednesday Mass and Distribution of Ashes
: With all the closings, changes, and hoopla at some churches this year, I was concerned that we would not be able to get to a traditional Ash Wednesday Mass. With thanks to some relatively local friars, though, we will! I am so grateful.

9. My Lenten Prayer
: Again this year, I will encourage each child to keep at least a minimal Lenten journal. As a part of that, I will print out some copies of My Lenten Prayer printable again this year and encourage each child to make at least one special commitment for the season. I will do the same.

10. Lenten Path Countdown
 While I am at it, I will also print out copies of the Lenten Path Countdown sheet we use each year so the children can track their personal Lenten commitments and journey how they see fit.

11. Bury the Alleluia
: My children are outgrowing their desire to spend much time creating Alleluia posters to bury, but tradition and nostalgia hold fast here. Thus, we will spend some time this week making and "burying" simple Alleluia posters that will return on Easter.

12. Stations of the Cross
: We've come a long way since our Babysteps towards Prayerful Weekly Stations of the Cross with Children. Yet, we still have our challenges, including a wayward child who attempts to eschew most things faith-related. Knowing this, I am realistically expecting push back as we enter into six Fridays of including the Stations of the Cross, but I am going to aim for this practice anyway.

13. Abstinence: Although not everyone in our home is over 14 and, therefore, not bound to all Lenten fast and abstinence guidelines, I intend to make meat-free, and, I hope, dairy-free meals only on Fridays again this Lent. Menu planning and shopping lists will be made this week.

A local chapel is giving a series of Monday night Lenten reflections that I hope to get to throughout Lent. There are also other online "mission" offerings. I'd like to add as many of these into our Lent as life allows and am starting to bookmark links. If you know of good ones, please do share them with me!

15. 12-12 Fasts: Our Maronite Catholic friends fast from 12 to 12 throughout the weekdays of Lent. Although my children are not ready to adopt this practice, I am planning to this year and praying it will be fruitful

I would love to hear what you are doing to prepare for Lent and how you plan to spend the first few days of this penitential season. Please do share in a comment or message. Thank you.

May your Lenten journey bring you closer to Our Lord.

Sunday, February 7, 2021

Enjoy a Nutritious Salad for St. José Luis Sánchez del Río's Feast Day!

It's no secret that I like to focus on faith, family, outdoor time, and Saint Day celebration here. In case you do, too, I'd like to share a simple, nutritious idea for a  St. José Luis Sánchez del Río feast day picnic and walk with you!

Whether it is bright and sunny, as it was on an All Saints Day when my son dressed as Saint José Luis Sánchez del Río...

... or a bit brisk, as it was on St. José Luis Sánchez del Río's feast day here a couple of years ago... can enjoy a simple salad paired with a nature walk as part of your St. José Luis Sánchez del Río feast day celebrations on January 10.

The Mexican-inspired salad is easy to make and has symbolism, too, since the colors of the salad reflect the colors or the Mexican flag and since the red stripe made from tomatoes (which could be subbed with chopped red peppers) can remind us of  St. José Luis Sánchez del Río's martyrdom.

To make the salad, simply start with a bed of greens.

Top those with rows of black beans, corn, chopped onion, and chopped tomatoes or red peppers. (Or put the salad greens in one serving dish and the stripes in another if you have picky kids like I do.)

Then, blend an avocado with the juice of a lime, a tablespoon or so of nutritional yeast, some cilantro, a garlic clove or two, and some water to make a dressing.

Serve all this with a side of tortilla chips (if your kids, like mine, love them) as well as some Mexican Hot Chocolate (or Mexican-esque Hot Chocolate made from nut milk or coconut milk if you are casein-free, sweetened with date syrup if you are sugar free), and you've got a relatively nutritious and easy picnic as Simple Eats with the Saints.

Before eating, pray one of these prayers found at Synod.Va, where you can also find a brief biography about St. José Luis Sánchez del Río.

Dear Lord, 
Help me to be courageous and steadfast in my devotion to you. Help me to identify causes and injustices in my day that are worth defending and standing up for. Give me perseverance and a desire to help others at any cost. Help me to revere Christ as the king of my life. Saint José Sánchez del Rio, pray for us. Amen.

Dear Lord, 
Help me to be brave and strong. Help me to pray for those who hurt me and those who hurt others. You are the king of my life. Help me to listen to you and to tell others about you. 

Saint José Sánchez del Rio, pray for us. Amen. 

Saint Jose Sanchez del Rio CD
Credit: Holy Heroes

You may also want to listen to The Story of Saint José Luis Sánchez del Río: Glory Stories CD, Volume 9 before or after your picnic to learn more about Saint José Sánchez del Rio in a child-friendly way.

Walk, Talk and Enjoy

I also suggest going for a nature walk before or after you eat to ensure plenty of time to pause to pray... to amble along chatting about St. José Luis Sánchez del Río... to give thanks for the faithful saints that inspire and intercede for us... and to enjoy time together as laugh, discover, and connect.

Some of my children and I surely did some of this when we went on our St. José Luis Sánchez del Río picnic and nature walk a couple years ago, and I look forward to doing it again in the future.

Here are some snapshots of our walk to inspire you - and us - to get outside for a picnic and walk this St. José Luis Sánchez del Río day!

We pray that your feast day is a fruitful, faith-filled one.

Viva Cristo Rey! ¡Viva la Virgen de Guadalupe!
St. José Luis Sánchez del Río, pray for us.


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