Sunday, November 27, 2016

Our Holiday Blend: Mixing Our Christmas Traditions

This month, Multicultural Kids Blogs is focusing on Christmas celebrations across the globe. Today, I'd like to share our "holiday blend" of traditions dear to my husband's family and mine.

The beauty of the Christmas holiday is in the waiting. There's something special to me about the month of December. Whether you rely on the Christian idea of Advent or just the eager countdown to the opening of presents, the days leading to Christmas are filled with anticipation.

When so many people are racing through the season, December is a time for me largely to slow down, to reflect. I put the brakes on any activities that aren't essential to the Christmas season. I've turned down events, sports and children's activities, simply because they weren't special to the Christmas season.

An American Christmas: No Two Are the Same
Growing up in Kansas, hours away from family, we had a simple Christmas celebration. We opened presents and went to Mass. My childhood memories focus on sneaking to see what was in the stocking, only to quickly replace it before Mom and Dad found out. And on a few lucky Christmases, we were blessed to make the 16-hour drive to Wisconsin to see extended family.

For my husband, growing up just a few hours away, Christmas was about family. I remember being shocked the first Christmas Day celebration with his family, when we spent literally three hours opening gifts - there was that many people. 

But the celebrations went well beyond gifts. As we dated through college, I was welcomed into their Kansas City traditions of savoring Strawberry Hill povotica, visiting the Plaza lights and seeing the Nutcracker at the Midland Theatre. We enjoyed Christmas Eves at the local winery and ate (or choked down) black-eyed peas for good luck on New Year's Day. And I always teased my mother-in-law about her unusual tradition of an orange, apple and peppermints in the stockings, until she told me it was a family tradition from when such things were rare in Arkansas generations ago.

Creating Our Indiana Holiday Blend
When my husband and I were married, we created our holiday blend of traditions of our own. And as children have come into our family, I've loved to see how our family traditions have evolved and the way faith has intersected with the traditions of past.

Our Christmas celebrations begin with the Advent season. While we haven't been active with having the traditional Advent wreath at home, we celebrate this season in other ways. Our children are first to grab a child's name off the Giving Tree at church. We've embraced unique Catholic traditions like the shoes left for St. Nicholas on Dec. 6, which I was introduced to when my daughter was in kindergarten, and the Dec. 12 celebration of Our Lady of Guadalupe, a decades-long tradition for our Hispanic ministry at church that included an elaborate Mass, traditional costume and a dinner celebration. This year, I'm gearing up for 5 a.m. mananitas as well (prayers and singing).

At work, I haven't missed helping with the Live Nativity for 13 years, and I love the Gift a Family program, where we adopt local families for the Christmas season. I've been blessed to see from all sides how it makes a difference, one family at a time. And for that I could never tell my child "no" if they wanted to do the same.

Food is key to our celebrations, as well. The kids and I love the afternoons baking Christmas cookies, and I'm always shocked about how many dozens of cookies my grandmother's old sugar cookie recipe really makes. We love our Christmas Eve tradition of noshing through  the day, baking a dessert or making chicken wings, or whatever and whenever the mood strikes. We mix our family favorites, from treats my husband's family's Southern roots to our sixth-generation apple streudel recipe, which is an understood part of the day.






making apple streudel

Grandma Johnson's Apple StreudelDough:4 cups flour1 1/2 teaspoons salt1/2 cup lard or shortening (we use butter or margarine)2 beaten eggs1 cup warm waterFilling:2 quarts peeled and sliced apples(or more)2 cups sugar2 handfuls of Corn Flakes1/2 cup raisinsCinnamonMix flour, salt and shortening. Add the eggs and enough warm water to make a soft dough. Knead on floured board until smooth and elastic (the longer you knead the better it pulls later). Cover with a bowl and let rest about 2 hours.Cover table with a large cloth. Sprinkle cloth all over with flour. Roll dough long and narrow to get it started. Then put hand under the dough and keep stretching dough gently until it is very thin, trying not to tear it.When dough is stretched very thin, scatter the sliced, cut up apples all over the dough. Sprinkle with the sugar, cinnamon, raisins and the crushed Corn Flake crumbs (or you may use 1 cup fried bread crumbs).Roll up into a long roll. You may do this by raising one side of the cloth and the strudle will roll up by itself. Cut the roll in half. Place streudel rolled with open side up, on two greased cookie sheets with four sides. Pinch ends shut. Grease top with melted butter or margarine.Put in 400 degrees oven for 15 min. Then reduce heat to 350 degrees and bake about 45 min. more until brown. Remove from oven. Cut into 3-inch pieces. Remove from pan while hot using a pancake turner. Is best when warm.Note: The dough pulls easier in a warm room rather than in a cold one.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Inviting God into Your Daily Life

Do you ever feel like you are going through the motions? That you are so busy doing and less living?

Serving our family, our friends, our church, our communities are all valuable, but become much less so when we forget to invite God into our endeavors. Personally, when I've kept my efforts "in the world," I've felt more easily drained, more tired, more resentful that others aren't doing their part.

But when we invite God into the process - whether as simple as starting the day in morning prayer or doing more in-depth discernment and prayer - the full force of our energies are blessed by God's love. We are truly not alone.


"Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven." Matthew 5:16

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Haiti Devastation: An On-the-Ground View and How You Can Help

Hurricane Matthew is making its way to the Florida coast, but lives have been devastated already.

Haiti after Hurricane Matthew: How You Can Help Gandou, Haiti
Today, I want to share with you a message from a priest in Gandou, Haiti. A friend's cousin runs her Indiana church's Haiti ministry to help this village. Please read this. Pray for relief efforts in Haiti and all other places affected by Hurricane Matthew. Help if you can.

"IT is with great sadness that I send this message after the devastating cyclone that Matthew is terminated Haiti. The words to express the damage this terrible devastating cyclone fail us and we always fail, because it is unimaginable to see in so little time a country knelt and saw his destruction of state as if there was a war in country.
Gandou take such a community that previously was very vulnerable in terms of poverty of the population today, hit the entrails with the passage of Matthew.
At Gandou there is more garden beans, corn, everything is washed away that come in the hills. And the wind is still considered for the inhabitants of Gandou, the greatest enemy even when there is no cyclone like this.
I announce, population Gandou does not know yet where to go.
No roads, drinking water problem.
Animals such as goats, beef, especially mule representing much of the wealth of people Gandou are all washed away by heavy rains caused by the cyclone.
The extent of damage is invaluable.
I promise to send some pictures, but I hope you have the sad courage to look.
For now, there is no telephone network that works Gandou.
No Internet. There is not even a road for donkeys, let alone motorcycle or vehicles, perhaps in the next three months. For now the feast of the community Gandou is not a priority. What is priority now is food, medicines, sheets, nails, cash for work, to support the most needy population.
I count on the support of every living inhabitant of Indiana in particular, the parish of Saint Anthony, my sister parish. I have not had time to greet you but I hope you understand me because the situation is really precarious painful sad and painful.
May God bless you United States, Indiana, and everyone"
Fr. Reginald Voltaire

If you would like to support Haiti relief efforts in Gandou, St. Anthony Catholic Church in Morris, Indiana, works directly with the community there. Checks to St. Anthony Haiti Ministry can be mailed to St. Anthony Catholic Church, PO Box 3, Morris, IN 47033. Please specify hurricane relief.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

More Reading Material for Muggles from JK Rowling

We are huge Muggle-loving fans in our family. And this summer has brought a treasury of reading from author JK Rowling.

We kicked off our summer reading with Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. While reading it, I discovered a particular sense of torture:

Me: Kids, we'll read one scene a night...

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child Screenplay-order from Amazon (affiliate link included)Kids: (Shocked tone.) What!!!

Me: Well, we have to savor it...It's been like 10 years since the last book came out. Who knows when the next Harry Potter story will come out -- or if it ever will.

Kids: That's torture!

Needless to say, The Cursed Child has wiggled its way out of my bedroom and into my daughter's collection.

JK Rowling's Pottermore Presents: Short Stories from Hogwarts of Heroism, Hardship and Dangerous Hobbies (Kindle Edition)
Even better than a new Harry Potter book is the idea of not one but three collections of wizarding stories coming out next month! Called "Pottermore Presents," these books feature a collection of short stories straight out of the digital wizarding world of Pottermore:
The good news is the Pottermore Presents books will be available in multiple languages, including Dutch, French, Spanish and Italian. (Know anyone taking a foreign language? This would be fun to surprise them with!)

The bad news is these are only available at this time as Kindle editions. That means we either have to share devices, or simply be patient for the day these come out in print!

These will tide me over on my wizard-world fix, until I check out the Fantastic Beasts movie and have a Harry Potter/wizard theme lock-in with my Scouts.


Note: This post contains affiliate links, which helps to admittedly support my Muggle adventures and this blog. While I don't know that I'll be getting a new wand through the Amazon affiliate program any time soon, it's nice to know that I can share fun finds and deals, and I will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Saving Sanity on Back to School Shopping

Saving time and sanity by shopping online for your school supplies | back to school tips
I stepped into the school supply aisle. With two kids in tow.

It was like I let small children step into the toy aisle. "I want." "I need."

And in 10 minutes time, I was shaking my head, and only half of the school supplies were already in the cart.

For the rest of my school supply shopping, I'm going online. And never coming back.

I'm in love with the fact that Amazon now offers school supply lists online. It's well worth my time and money to place an order and not fight with being kids, shopping cart battles and more when I do store shopping. It's especially helpful as our art teacher requests niche specialty art supplies each year, and any difference in price is easily made up by the savings in gas and my time!

You can go online and search for your school's list or search for a generic school supply list by grade:



Find FAQs here. This post does include affiliate links, for which I may receive a percentage of sales at no cost to you.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Summer Learning Challenge Week 6

Starting week 6 of our summer, I am recognizing a need for a slow down.

We have been go-go-go for the last few weeks, with scout camps, VBS, visits to two state parks and an astronaut memorial, and theater. This week, it's about slowing down for a few days and savoring summer vacation.


My kids are tired. Tired from heat, tired from running around, tired of not enough sleep. But behavior wasn't a big enough clue for me.

Today, I was reminded at church about the need to slow down, recharge and create memories. I was given the added reminder of the need to slow down in my inbox, right as I got home.

So today, I called it.

I turned off the TV. Said we were going nowhere but the church service (and possibly the grocery, but given that it's 3:30 p.m., it will be unlikely as well). Demanded that the kids rest in a way.

My son went for the Legos; my daughter, a book. Then they came up with a creative lunch.

Next, it was an impromptu religious lesson as I shared what I'd learned about the Miraculous Medals someone was distributing during Mass. (We'll also be working on this scout patch about the Miraculous Medal, as well, but we'll be doing this at our own pace.)

I watched their interest levels, and let them move on to other ideas as I saw their interest fading. The kids are now on to painting the birdhouse built at camp and drawing pictures.

Learning to rest and pace yourself is a tough challenge in today's society. I'm glad I had the grace to get that opportunity today.

This week, our learning challenge won't be about books or math facts or whatever, I'll be listening to their interests and their hearts and guiding them through what comes naturally. Consider it unschooling or what have you, I consider it teaching them to breathe.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Summer Learning Challenge Week 5

Unconventional learning is the  plan again this week.

My oldest is going to archaeology camp through the Girl Scouts. While she's read books and played online to learn about the past,  it won't compare to a week at least exploring what it might be like to be an archaeologist. I can not wait to learn about her adventures and hope it won't disappoint.

My second grader goes to Cub Scout day camp this week as well.  The unusually warm weather may take a toll on him,  but we've scheduled some quiet downtime activities as well.

Today is Father's Day, and his dad is working.  What is my little guy excited about this afternoon?  Finally playing with his Physics Workshop toolkit he got for a birthday gift.  Not kidding.  Once he flipped through the book and saw he could make motorized machines pulleys and  more,  he decided that was our afternoon plan.  I'm thrilled it doesn't involve a TV show.

What are your learning plans for the week?