Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Moving Beyond Picture Books & Presents: Helping Your Teens Transition to a Deeper, More Meaningful Advent

"Look up, and lift up your heads, because your redemption is at hand (Luke 21:28)."  
This time of Advent is a time for hope.  These great horizons of our Christian vocation, this unity of life built on the presence of God our Father, can and ought to be a daily reality."
-St. Josemaria Escriva, Life is Passing By

Our family loves traditions, and never more so than those we experience together throughout the Advent and Christmas season.  Just a few days ago, I sat down to make my annual Advent checklist, which looked exactly like this (minus the cute paper and perfect handwriting, add coffee stains and purple marker scribbles, compliments of Jophis):
Over the past fifteen years, the Jesse Tree, Advent wreath, family book basket, Feast of St. Nicholas, and prayers around the nativity traditions have been a wonderful way for us to nurture a deeper faith in our children.  

In an effort to preserve this sacred time, and to truly give meaning to the season of Advent, it is our hope that our children will not just know, but understand and live Advent for that which it is meant to be - a season of preparation.

Yet, I confess, when the world around us begins to break out the Christmas decor before Halloween, it's a great challenge to draw their little hearts in away from secular influences and in toward Jesus Christ.

The challenge is becoming greater, now that we have teens in the house.

Every year I hear Christians chatting about how secularized Christmas has become, and how the season of Advent seems almost to have been forgotten.  We shake our heads, throw up our hands and wonder if it's worth all the effort to keep Christ in Christmas.

I admit, that I feel quite alone the day after Christmas when everyone else is taking down their decorations and lights.  What seems to be the end of the celebration is just the beginning for us.  We take that Twelve Days of Christmas song seriously!

While I'm convinced that those of us who long to live the seasons of Advent and Christmas to the fullest are not going to change society's perspective toward the true meaning of the holidays, we can have a strong and lasting influence within our own families, and pray that they will pass the truths and traditions we teach them on to their own families one day.

Maintaining the magical spirit of the season is simple with little ones, but for our older children, Steve and I have realized that there is a time of transition where they move from a simplistic experience of Christ's coming into a more sincere and efficacious one.
Steve reading from The Holy Mass after Sunday brunch.

Guidance through this transition requires time and effort on our part, and also an authentic example that is visible and trustworthy. Just a few of the ways in which we are forming and nurturing our teenage sons' faith throughout the season of Advent (and beyond) are:

1.  Advent is a Time of Preparation
We remind them that Advent (like Lent) is a time of fast and abstinence meant to prepare our souls for the reception our Lord.  What a great challenge this is, when typically the days leading up to Christmas are filled with abundant opportunities to indulge! Fasting, however, can come in forms other than giving up food.  The fruit of the sacrifice, whatever form it may be, is an increased hunger and longing for our Lord, as well as a humility that recognizes a real need for Him.

2.  Make Prayer a Priority
Making time for family prayer can be difficult, especially with so many activities and responsibilities weighing on our shoulders and our schedules.  But during Advent this is the one thing that, for our family, does not play second fiddle to other committments.  As Catholics, praying the Joyful Mysteries of the rosary together around the nativity is one of our favorite forms of prayer.  If it is late, and the children are restless, sometimes we say just a decade together, then Steve and I will finish the prayers together after the kids go to bed.

3.  Practice Examination of Conscience 
I have written more on that here, but for now, I'll just say that during Advent, in preparation for Christ's coming, we follow the example of John the Baptist who's message was one of conversion, of forgiveness, of repentance (Mark 1:3).  While we strive to pray an examination of conscience with the family once a week, our good night hugs to the older boys are often followed by a simple, "Don't forget to examine your conscience before you go to sleep."

4.  Read Aloud 
Our Christmas book basket is overflowing, as each year I cannot resist adding one or two new stories to the stack.  As the older boys have moved well beyond picture books, we still continue the tradition of reading aloud to them with more challenging texts.  This usually takes place after the evening meal or before night prayer.  Of course we understand that the little ones will reach boredom quickly, so they are allowed to color or play during this time.  We read for a short while and then have discussion.  It's amazing how even Henry, who is 8, and George, who is 10, enjoy participating in the dialog.

 *See list below of what we're reading this season.*

5.  Pray for One Another. 
Steve and I pray for each one of our children every day. But, when it comes to praying for the older children, I believe it's important that we ask them how we can pray for them, and also we request that they pray for us.

This is where the faith gets real.  Faith isn't comprised of a firm devotion to habits and traditions alone, it is a challenging interior work, a daily resolution to become less of ourselves and more of Christ. When we share a few of our own struggles to overcome ourselves, our weaknesses, and our defects with our sons, when we ask for their help through prayer, they see that we are sincere in preparing our own hearts for Christ.

Parents are first and primary Catechists to their children.  The most powerful lessons are always taught best through example.  Steve and I are by no means perfect in our endeavors to form our children in their faith.  But, we struggle on, as I hope you are too, trusting in God's mercy and love to guide us every step of the way.

*Any books relating to the faith, the saints, conversion stories, etc. are great, so long as they encourage discussion and contemplation. *
This book is truly a gem of a read.  While it's not necessarily specific to Advent or Christmas, I wanted to include it here, because it is such a treasure and can be read year round. Steve and I are in awe of how much knowledge and wisdom we are garnering from this little book.  It is a fantastic teaching tool for parents and catechists.

by Dr. Scott Hahn

by Dr. Ted Sri

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Husband Headlines - Broken Bones, Baby Bump, Bye-Bye Football and More

Oh, how I wish I had more time to blog (says every mama blogger on the web).  There's always a dozen stories and post ideas floating around in my head as well as pages of pictures to share, but getting them all organized in this little space can be such a challenge, especially since I haven't figured out how to type with my knees and toes.

My favorite stranger-in-the-grocery-store-statement, My your hands are full! (to which I always reply, Full of love. Full. Of. Love.) has never been more true, especially now that I spend 80% of my day holding Peg-Leg Joey.

My poor little Jophis.
A few weeks ago, a slipper slide on the playground just got the best of him. But, thankfully his little fractured tibia is nearly healed and the cast will be coming off on Friday.  For the first few days after getting the cast put on he was pretty droopy, and was only content if I held him for most of his waking hours.

*Side note: If someone could please explain to me why holding a 28 pound toddler all day does not give me the arms of a cross-fitter, I would really appreciate it.

He made a solid effort to go back to crawling, but that totally shattered his pride.  He couldn't bear the thought of reverting back to his old developmental milestones.
With brothers running mach-80 through the house, he was not about to sit back and watch everyone else shred the carpet without him.  When Steve and I caught him begin to limping around on his cast one morning, we knew he couldn't be stopped.  I wouldn't exactly say that the doctor approved of his peg-leggin' around the house, but as a father of boys, he understood that there would be no stopping him.
Whenever I leave for a run, Charlie asks, "Are you taking *our* baby out for a run, mommy? I love that even our four year old knows that there is another person with us at all times!

In other news, most of you know by now that Tenant #7 is nice and cozy in the uterine apartment. I'm happy to be through the "is she pregnant or just really enjoying pizza and beer brownies now that the marathon is over?" stage.

I don't want to scare anyone away who might possibly be open to having more than two kids, but the truth is, with every successive child after #2, you start to show much earlier than usual. And, should you be blessed with babies beyond say three or four, your uterus will develop a super-ego. Not kidding. I swear she's all, Hey, body, I've totally got this. Professional belly builder right here.(Instantly makes room for triplets).

Maternity clothes at twelve weeks? Super.

On a mixed emotion note, football season is over, and football season is over.  I'm always happy to welcome a pause between sport seasons.  It's just nice to have a couple of weeks to enjoy without the hectic practice and game schedules. But, at the same time, football is by far my favorite sport that the boys play, and seeing another season come to an end kinda makes me sad.
 Both Ben and Andrew proudly wear #24 - their father's number, of course!

Benedict played strong safety for the freshman team at his school this year, and loved it.  With 53 kids on the team, playing time was pretty divided, but he enjoyed every second that he got to play. The move up from city league competition to the high school level was quite a jump, but he hung right in there and loved being part of a winning team that plays for a school known for its great athleticism and strong commitment to sportsmanship.

Could their success possibly be because they kneel on the field in prayer before every game? Hmmmmmm......
BBL (before broken leg) sideline games.
You're goin' down, brother!  If we had to pick one man out of our gang that could make it to the college level, we'd put our money Joseph. As the youngest of 6 boys, he's no wimp!
Andrew played on both sides of the pigskin, outside linebacker and slotback.  His team is so much fun to watch.  They work really hard together as a team and proudly celebrate each other's successes. Finishing the season undefeated was a great accomplishment for them!

We all love to see Andrew run the ball, but honestly, watching him wrap up a good tackle on defense is much more exciting for me.  I admire how fearless he is on the field.
My guys.  Can't you just smell the clean?  Mmmmmm.

And, wrapping up the headlines news is the business of family pictures.  When it comes to family pics, I'm convinced that we mamas do all that planning, primping, and preparing for one person: OURSELVES.

Do you really think our husbands or kids give a hoot about capturing color-coordinated smiles and cleanliness at the same time? Nope. But for me, those precious photos are a sweet reminder that as messy and undone as real life is every day, there's beauty within and underneath it all, and I love how a simple photo has the power to capture that truth.

Thanks for checking in! I hope you're all having a fabulous week!

Thursday, November 12, 2015

An Easy-Peasy Two-Minute Updo For Short To Mid-Length Hair

This post is dedicated to my friend Lisa, who wouldn't stop nagging me last summer to make a how-to video of an updo I wore during the Edel Gathering last summer.  Because I'm technologically challenged, and because the boys would insist on contributing their favorite sound effects to the show, (I'm sure you can guess what those would be), I think a photo tutorial is our best option here.

Lisa, if you're out there, and you are bored, read this, because it's for you!!

When you have multiple babes, ponytails and updo's really are a mamas best friend.  The boys currently have me on the "4.3 minutes per day to primp" plan with zero roll-over minutes.

They're so generous.  That gives me just enough time to choose between black or grey sweats and brush my teeth. So, make-up? Nada.  Hair? Ponytail.

But, every once in a while I get sick of the ponytail and feel all, "I hate my hair" crazy, which leads me to opt for the chop. I have to say that while I've really enjoyed having shorter hair, figuring out the pony tail and updo (I couldn't give 'em up) were a wee bit tricky at first. But, I finally figured out a quick way to tame my tresses without a lot of time or fuss.

{If this updo is already on Pinterest, my deepest apologies to whomever figured it out a long time ago.  I promise I'm not robbing your fame! Take comfort in knowing that last time I checked, the number of people who actually read this blog is around somewhere between 10 and 12.}
With a little practice, some twisting, and a few bobby pins, this updo can be mastered in just a couple of minutes.  Take that, boyyyyzzz! *wink*

The best thing about this do, is that you can totally start with bed head (do I hear applause?)!! For those of you who are sipping wine (oh, you know who you are), raise your glass.  This is a toast-worthy revelation!
All those Pinterest hair tutorials with photos that start with perfectly cascading curls just make me want to cry. Why would you wreck the hair most of us only dream of having with bobby pins and hair spray?? Why???? *sniff-sniff*
If you are afraid that nothing good can come out of bedhead, then put on your queen bee t-shirt and tell that girl in the mirror she's about to make something awesome happen.

Grab a few bobby pins, some hairspray, a comb, and a hair tie - the clear ones are nice, especially if you're planning to go out beyond the mail-box today.
 *If your bedhead head hair isn't fluffy enough already, tease the roots at the crown and spritz with a little hairspray first before you begin.

/1./  Gather hair from both sides of your head, about an inch or so above the ears.  Twist once and secure with a bobby pin.

/ 2. / Taking a small section of hair from one side, pull it across the twisted section, and secure with a pin (be sure to tuck the pin under the hair so it doesn't show. Repeat from the other side.

/3./  Using a comb, slightly tease the remaining hair to give it a little umph.  Then, gather it up like a pony tail just under the pinned section of hair. Secure with a hair tie.  Take a few pieces of the ponytail and twist them in different directions, tucking the ends back into the hair tie.

/4./  Loosen any tight loops and secure with pins. You want it to look effortless and natural, but not too messy. Tuck in any crazy hairs with bobby pins and mist with hairspray to set.

*My hair is about two inches longer in these pics than when I first had it cut, and even then I was still able to work this up-do.  It just takes a few more pins.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Whole30 Friendly Coconut Almond "Cereal" ~ For the Love of My Carb-Craving Husband

Love can make a person do crazy things.  I'm talking crazy, crazy, crazy, crazy, crazy.

For example, agreeing to embark upon the Whole30 with your husband during the season where football, birthdays, and Halloween inspirations make the the diary-carb-sugar possibilities extra yummy.
{95%of husbands believe that muscle flexing will convince their wives to give up chocolate and cream in their coffee for an entire month.  Or something like that.}

As I was processing Steve's request to tackle this detachment-from-all-things-delicious-diet my pregnancy brain freaked out a little knowing that baby #7 loves to remind me of his/her presence with frequent bouts of nausea. If macaroni and cheese is the only food that sounds remotely edible at 3 a.m., then you eat the macaroni, right?

Just the thought of a slab of bacon or pound of raw hamburger staring at me like roadkill from the fridge did not have a positive effect on my gag reflex.

But, when the one you love has spent two years fighting Lyme Disease with little improvement, and he's desperately seeking a little relief from his symptoms, you don't think about macaroni or road-kill, you think about him and you say, YES.

Now, I've been through the Whole30 six times (thoughts on that here, here and here) and this is the third time partnering up with Steve. At the end of those 30 day experiences with him, I have the same conclusion about my husband: He will never, ever, ever, ever, never, give up grains.

He's just a meat and potatoes with a side of bread (like a loaf of bread) kind of guy.  And, lucky for him, his Usain Bolt metabolism can handle the same caloric intake as a horse. But, I do think the reduction of grains in his diet, helps tremendously with the inflammation in his joints.

Every night, since we've been married, he's either eaten a pb&j or a bowl of cereal before bed, but of course that's all a big no-no on this diet.  So, this time around, I thought that surely I could find a recipe that would resemble cereal in some way, and still be Whole30 approved.

Luckily, I found this recipe a few days ago, and after making a few alterations, asked Steve to give it a try. Judging by his reaction, I seriously think he fell in love with me all over again! 
If you're a lover of sugary cereals, this probably will not fulfill your every expectation for a bowl of nourishment, but since that's not the case for us, this cereal is more than satisfying.

Whadda ya pour on top?

We substitute canned coconut milk for regular milk, this is not the coconut milk in the refrigerated section (because of all of the fillers and additives, it is not Whole30 approved).

Tip: Pour a can of coconut milk into a glass jar with a tight fitting lid, add a couple of ice cubes and shake vigorously. After the milk and cream are combined, remove the ice cubes and store milk in the fridge until you're ready to use it.  A shaker bottle, the ones that come with the stainless steal ball whisk, work great, too.

Coconut Almond Cereal
- 1-7oz. bag (about 2 cups) of unsweetened coconut flakes {I like this brand}
- 1 cup sliced almonds
- Cinnamon (about a tablespoon)
- Nutmeg (about a teaspoon)
- Ginger (about a teaspoon)
- Salt (about 1/4 teaspoon)

Mix the almonds and coconut flakes together and spread out evenly on a rimmed baking sheet. Combine all of the spices together and sprinkle liberally over the top of the coconut/almond mixture.* Do not stir. Bake at 250 stirring after 5 minutes and every 2-3 minutes after until the coconut is lightly toasted. Watch it carefully, as the coconut can turn dark quickly.  Store in an air-tight container.

* Adjust the spices according to your own tastes.  For me, the more spices, the more flavorful the cereal, and most of the time, I don't measure, I just sprinkle away.  Just remember that nutmeg and ginger are very pungent, so I recommend using a significantly greater amount of cinnamon than nutmeg and ginger.

Our favorite toppings: sliced banana, fresh blueberries, sliced fresh strawberries, apple juice-sweetened, dried cranberries (in limited amounts).

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

And the Big Brother Club Gains a New Member

Hello, Joseph.  

Welcome to the Big Brother Club.

Sometime in May, you will no longer hold the title of Baby of the Family, but will move up the ranks to the honorary position of Big Brother.

Your promotion to Big Brother is a privilege, and it with it comes great responsibility.  We know that giving up your place as Baby will be difficult at times, but trust us, becoming a big brother is awesome.

Right now, as a 16 month old tot,  you have absolutely no idea what it means to be a member of something so special, but soon you will. And when the time comes, we will be right here to show you the ropes.  You're gonna be a great big bro, Joey, and one thing's for certain, you're gonna love it. 

We promise.