Hello, Lent!

They say not to give up chocolate for Lent. They say it’s a rote sacrifice not a meaningful one.

But in our family, we have a way to give up chocolate and make it meaningful.

You see, it’s about the m&m’s.
IMG_1391 Yep. Because what we do is earn m&m’s for good deeds. Share with your brother, give a compliment, help mom without being asked . . .it goes into the bowl to be enjoyed on Sunday. And then to liven it up even more, each kid has a specific color of m&m. And so, on Sunday the person with the most m&m’s get a milkshake.

That’s how we do Lent.

That’s the ideal anyway.

But that’s not all.

If you’ve read my blog you know, I like to take Lent, Advent, New Year’s, the beginning of summer and anything else I can think of as opportunities for us to set goals to help us grow in holiness. And if you read my blog you know, it doesn’t all get done well or at all. But, as you can see, I keep doing it . . .because I’m hoping that whatever small percentage we actually do accomplish (remember, Advent–35%?) is making a difference, somehow, someway, some small difference.

So as we walk towards holiness this Lent, here’s what we have on the agenda (in pictures):

First we (and by that I mean I), set family Lenten goals centered around prayer, fasting and almsgiving.

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These are posted in the wall. (As you can see, someone was also practicing writing their name on the paper, lol!)

To this end, we have prayer: weekly family Rosary, weekly Adoration (this may only be 5 or 10 minutes since we still have little ones!), do kind deeds to earn m&m’s, do a kind deed for a family member everyday and read scriptures at dinner (notice this is a renewal of a New Year’s resolution).

Fasting: no chocolate

Almsgiving: blessing bags for homeless. I can’t remember exactly where I saw this idea but I’m looking forward to putting these together with the kids this year. These are like gallon sized freezer bags filled with socks and say non-perishable foods and a card saying we are praying for you (no names of course), and maybe a $5 gift card to McDonald’s that you can give to homeless you see on street corners instead of handing them cash! I will post a picture when we put them together . . .hopefully this weekend!

Our other item under Almsgiving is to earn the money for Yesenia’s jar. You’ve heard me mention Yesenia before–our sponsored child from Guatemala through the organization Unbound. She was a present to the kids one Christmas so technically it’s their responsibility to earn the money we give to her every month, but with our busy lives, it doesn’t usually work like that. So during Lent, I fill her jar up with chores that the kids need to do to earn the money we donate to her. It looks like this:

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But believe it or not, I’m not done. Those are our family goals. I ask the kids to set individual goals as well. This year, I tried something new to help them set their goals. It was this Lent questionnaire:

 

 

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Based on the questions in this questionnaire, I asked them to set four goals (which I discussed with each one individually): how I can help family members get along better, prayer, fasting and almsgiving.

I was very pleased with what they came up with. For example, for prayer, one child decided to focus better, one decided to give a full 15 minutes a day and even my 5 year old decided to say 3 Our Father’s a day.

The fasting didn’t have to be food and they responded by things like doing spiritual reading before any TV time, and giving up complaining.

The almsgiving is tricky because they have no money but they decided to gather food for our homeless program at church and give things away everyday.

And for family relationships, they chose things like don’t retaliate, be kindest to the sibling I struggle with the most, not talking when others are talking, and not taking toys away from others.

And that is a look at our Lent.

Whew! It’s a lot to write about and it’s a lot to commit to, but you know what? We’re all in this year.

How about you?

Setting Goals–Again

Since I like to share with you my goals for Advent, I think it’s only fair, I share with you the results.

Yes, I know it’s February.

At least my Christmas decorations are down!

As foar as reaching our goals this year, I’d give us (me) about a 35%. Yep, I’d say we reached about 35% of our goals.

That’s a failing grade of course, but it is what it is.

  • We did our Advent wreath most of the time–our daily devotional reading maybe half the time.
  • We got nowhere on our spiritual goals.
  • And for the first two weeks of Advent, we neither went to Adoration or said the Rosary.
  • We did pretty well earning our hay for Jesus.

At the end of the day, I definitely spent  a portion of Advent stressed about Christmas cookies and christmas cards and teacher baskets and getting gifts, etc.

I’m not proud of it, but I’m just being honest. I was only on my A game for, well, less than half of Advent.

And forward we march.

Every New Year two of my friends and I spend time in the Adoration chapel, asking God what He wants for us this new year.

This year, He is asking of me some self-discipline.

My theme for the year is: Do!

You know why? Because my goals from last year are almost exactly the same.  Which means I accomplished almost exactly nothing last year.

And then I decided to keep it simple with the kids.

I’m tired of setting my sights so high–and then at the end of every season, looking back with a sigh at how little we did.

Let’s face it: I’m terrible at follow-through.

So our New Year has begun, imperfect but still holding on.

So this year–we’re going try a monthly family Rosary. We’re going to try 5 to 10 minutes of Adoration a week. We’re going to try to read through the New Testament at dinner. And we are going to work on praise–To God and to each other (one little trick we are using for this last goal is on everyone’s birthday go around the dinner table and everyone says something nice about the birthday person).

And the good news is, Lent is right around the corner! Another time to assess–to begin again. The church in her Wisdom!

And so lastly, my quote for the year, from the book, Sacrament of the Present Moment, is

Keep firm, go on, fear nothing.

P.S. Some of my personal goals include, losing weight, establishing a better bedtime routine with kids, blogging more, eating healthier as a family, and read 10 spiritual books!

Feel free to share some of your New Year’s resolutions with me!

Our Big Christmas

I admire people who get Christmas right. And by get Christmas right I mean not feel the need to get their children tons of things and who don’t feel the need to create some dramatic exciting scene of them coming down the stairs to find all of the presents Santa left….instead these family keep the focus where it should be and still enjoy giving and getting a few gifts while not buying into the consumer culture.

We are not those people.img_0573

I’d like to be, but my husband and I can’t get over the nostalgia of Christmas. Blame our parents for fond Christmas memories or blame the movies for presenting such heartwarming scenes of a big Christmas. But whatever it is, we have not yet been able to talk ourselves out of giving our kids those magical Christmas memories of trying to get to sleep so Santa will come and waking up to find eaten cookies and a plethora of presents.

Still despite all that, I long for my children to know and appreciate the true meaning of Christmas, the birth of our savior. I want to get it right but I can’t talk myself into it!

So we try–to show them not just to get but to give. Some of the things we’ve tried over the years:

  • Every year for as long as I can remember, we set up the nativity without Baby Jesus in the manger and they earn a piece of hay to keep Him warm for every good deed they do. They find him warm in his manger on Christmas morning.
  • We have baked extra cookies and  brought them to elderly neighbors who are alone.
  • And then every year for the past few years, we’ve given them the gift of giving. It all started a few years ago when I felt like there might be too many presents. My then 3 year old had been saying she wanted a little sister, so we decided to have them sponsor a child. We wrapped up the picture of a sweet little two year old girl from Honduras and put it under the tree. Since that time they help earn dollars and change to pay our monthly pledge as well as write letters back and forth with her which they absolutely love.
  • The year after that, they earned money and we went to the dollar store and bought toys and socks and took them to the homeless shelter.

This year….
I admit I hung up list for the kids to write down what they want for Christmas well before Thanksgiving and started my shopping by ten too to make sure I get those things that may  become hard to find (thank goodness none of my kids have mentioned hatchimals!!).
But I’m asking them another question too–

How are we going to give this year?

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Our Advent

Hows your Advent going?

Here we are in week two and we are doing so-so on our goals to grow in holiness and have our hearts ready for Jesus when Christmas day comes.

I was going to include a picture of our wreath looking all perfect by itself but I decided this was much more realistic!

I was going to include a picture of our wreath looking all perfect by itself but I decided this was much more realistic!

I don’t know why Advent always sneaks up on me! Actually I’m so focused on Thanksgiving–I can only prepare for one thing at a time.

As far as goals go, I’m trying to keep it simple, realistic (as our lifestyle seem to keep getting busier and busier) and not too overwhelming.

Anyway, here’s what we are focusing on as a family:

  • Advent wreath with special prayer and Gospel reflection (from Magnificat companion) everyday at dinner
  • family Rosary once a week
  • family Adoration once a week (which can and probably will be brief)
  • Earn hay through kind deeds to put in the manger so that baby Jesus will be warm when He comes on Christmas day (a little more on this in the next post)
  • And this year, instead of focusing on the virtue we need to work on the most, we are going to try something different: focus on improving our greatest virtue.

This last goal is an experiment based on advice from Eva’s religion teacher who said that if you improve your already strong virtues, your weaker virtues will improve too. And that this is a much less discouraging process than focusing on our weaknesses. I’m much more inclined to have them set a goal to improve on weaknesses–like the story of Saint Therese going out of her way to be nice to the Sister she liked the least–but we will try it this year!
We all took a virtue test to help Eva with a school project in religion, so we all have an idea of what our strongest virtue is. (To take the test, follow this link: https://www.viacharacter.org/www/ ). Then they each set a concrete goal to help them work on that.

I also asked the kids how they were going to focus on giving, not getting this season. I’ll have more on that–and their goals–in my next post.

We are not the best at setting these goals and especially at following through (not for 4 weeks straight anyway) but as always I’m hoping that whatever we actually are able to accomplish has some positive effect on their character and their spiritual life.

Here’s to our imperfect Advent walk!

What does your family do during Advent?

Thanksgiving Project

I’m not a crafty person but thanksgiving-clothyear for as long as I can remember, I have the kids do a thankfulness project before Thanksgiving.
I think it’s because I always feel like we are focused on the wrong things for the holidays (the days before Thanksgiving, all we did was clean!) and because I always feel like my kids are not thankful enough.

I look for any way I can to get  them to reflect on how much we have to be thankful for.
This year’s project, a thankfulness tablecloth was a repeat of one we did several years ago.

 

Here are a few of our other ones:

 

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One of my favorites that I didn’t find a picture of: we drew the body of a tree  on posterboard and they wrote their thank yous on different colored leaves we glued on the tree and falling to the ground. I also remember doing placemats one year.

I think I’m running out of ideas, but we will keep doing something! My small effort to teach my kids to be thankful!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m not complaining

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For the last few weeks, when people ask me how I am my standard line was “I can’t wait until football is over.”

I blame football for my burn-out. Really.

In my opinion, football is the most intense of youth sports. And with two sons playing, it’s 5 days a week and some Saturdays we can spend 6 to 7 hours at the ball field just to get all the games in. Long days, running back and forth, rushing to get homework, showers, dinner, etc.

My husband works a lot of evenings so I’m doing coordinating, driving, getting kids ready by myself most evenings.

And then there’s the conflicts. Since our kids are in Catholic school but play sports for the city, we don’t know a lot of families . . .so what to do when two (or three) kids need to be somewhere at once? Awkwardly asking for rides from people who barely know us, or trying to figure which practice, which game, which place to go with which kid . . .

Yeh, football season gets long. It got to me. So I started to always say, “I can’t wait until football is over.” And then I realized . .

I sounded like one of those moms.

You know the harried mom. The perpetually stressed mom. The mom you feel sorry for because she’s lost all perspective and everything just seems like a big hassle to her. That mom.

I thought, I must sound like I’m really unhappy with my life.

But I’m not. I’m just busy. And perhaps just looking for a little sympathy.

But that’s not who I want to sound like and it’s definitely not the way I want to be.

Am I busy? Yes.

Stressed-sometimes and burnt out-sometimes.

But being a stay-at-home mom to five beautiful kids is exactly where I want to be. And if the life and activities we choose to follow sometimes leads to stress, burn out and a few dropped balls, well, that’s okay. Or at least it will be once the pieces are picked backed up. We figure it out.

 

So I stopped saying it. Not to be dishonest about how I’m feeling but actually to be more honest. I’m happy with my life.

I’m not too busy to remember that.

So from now on, I’m not complaining.

My Family, My Way, My Choices

It’s funny, but I’ve been criticized and praised over the same things, the choices I make as a mother, the things I feel are part of my job to do as a mother or what I feel the kids can do for themselves.

For instance, I don’t pack my kids lunches. They pack their own. Some other moms have said, “what a great idea!” and others have said, “well, I always pack theirs so I know they are eating well,” with a disdainful look on their face.

Also, most of the time, I don’t make my kids breakfast. Nope. I always make sure they eat but they eat cereal, waffles, instant oatmeal, a piece of fruit or once in a while, even Pringles. Not making them breakfast allows me to get up early and do my prayer time before I have to wake them up (At this point, I have not entertained the idea of getting up earlier than 5:45 so I have time to do both). Some people think that’s awful.

I also don’t get involved in my kids homework. If they need help, they ask and I help them but in general, I don’t look at what they’re doing. This is out of necessity. With 5 kids, dinner to make, sports practices to run to and a to-do list that is routinely two pages long, I just don’t have time or energy to micromanage their homework. I’ve talked to a lot of people who aren’t so nearly hands off but I’m glad for it. I think it’s taught my kids greater responsibility. And, they all do pretty well in school.

Call me a bad mom if you want–you may hurt my feelings (in fact, you probably will because I’m fairly sensitive) but I’m not going to apologize for these choices or others.

Like I talked about last week, we, as moms make the choices that work for our families. These choices simplify my life, get me through and keep me from feeling too stressed out and overwhelmed. And my kids may even learn some extra responsibility from it.

If you can make breakfast, make lunches, and oversee homework, I tip my hat to you and am impressed by you.

But I myself, am a lower-energy little soul. And so great feats of motherhood are not for me.

I won’t apologize for finally being able to embrace that that’s how God made me.

Do I have it all together? Nah, not really. But you know, I’m learning to find my way. My way. It works for me and my family for the most part and most of the time.

Your path is just for you.

 

PS–I would love to hear what things work in your family. What do you do or not do for your kids?

Being ok with being authentic

So at the big annual Catholic Fest in Wickliffe, I had a chance to meet and get to know a mom I’d never met before. Her husband had known mine when they were younger–they were from the same hometown–and so we stopped to talk to them.

Sometimes in meeting another mom for the first time, it’s like we are sizing them up, or they’re sizing us up or we think they are… And sometimes we walk away feeling inadequate… You know that whole comparing their best foot forward with all the weaknesses we know about ourselves.

And from appearances, this situation had the potential to be like that. Here was this mom, probably almost ten years younger than me, with three small kids, each spaced 18 months apart so probably on their way to a nice big family; she’s beautiful, thin despite having a five month old, feeding her kids ants on a log where I have a bag of chips.

But as we began to talk, one of our first conversations was about why it always seemed our kids were the only ones squirming in Mass while everyone else’s sat quietly.

So this young mom was happy to be authentic with me right out of the gate. And when you have two moms willing to just be authentic, it’s easy to form a real friendship.

In fact, this mom, whom I had just met, and I talked about all sorts of things. Childbirth and NFP, adoration, nursing, tandem nursing and–

Now this was where I experienced a moment of grace and learning for me, and to practice something I had just recently come to realize. It’s about our parenting choices. It’s about not judging another moms parenting choices. I guess in some ways I be struggled with this because  I choose, like we all do, what I think is right and best. And if we think it’s right, I guess it makes sense that we think everyone should choose that.

But what I’ve come to realize is that we all have to choose what’s best for our family. And our families, our temperaments, their temperaments, the number of kids we have, our own upbringing…. It’s different for us all. So what works best will be different for us all.

So when I confessed that I don’t believe in letting babies cry and she said she was the exact opposite, I was ok with that.  And so was she. And I didn’t have my usual reaction of secretly feeling sorry for her kids or even try to find a gentle way to win her over to my side. We just kept talking–about our faith, our kids and all sorts of things.

And when we said goodbye I left that interaction with her feeling–uplifted.

Not bad, not wishing to validate myself, not critical of her or her choices as a way to make myself feel better about her seeming perfections.

And I saw a real example of how when we dare to be authentic with each other, grace follows. Grace that we as moms so desperately need. We need to know that we are all imperfect. And that is just fine.

Then, we can truly begin to form bonds with each other that are based on faith, hope, and love . . .and real authentic friendship.

 

P.S. I was very inspired with them as a Catholic couple so I have endeavored to support their ministry. If you’re curious about their efforts to proclaim their faith from the housetops, check out their Catholic t-shirt business at housetoptees.com.