Sunday, November 30, 2014

Celebrating St. Nicholas Day in Our Home

St. Nicholas Day (Dec. 6) is becoming a dear part of our Advent and Christmas season.

Celebrating St. Nicholas Day Dec. 6 with our Children | Advent ideas | Christmas and FaithSt. Nicholas, one of my daughter's adopted saints, is best known as his contemporary, Americanized alter-ego, Santa Claus, but this bishop from centuries past and saint has a deep story of loving and giving - to the point of saving lives.

I first learned about St. Nicholas Day from my kindergartener in Catholic school. There, they set out their shoes before rest time and received a treat. I dug a little more into the real story, and realized this was a fun way to sneak a bit of faith back into the all-too-commercialized Christmas spending season.

Each Dec. 5, our children set out their slippers in front of our tree. They wake this morning to a simple gift in their slippers, typically a candy and a small religious-themed gift like a prayer card or book.

I'm a bit saddened that some of their friends don't enjoy this Advent tradition in their home. It's an easy way to reinforce the reason for the season, without it getting lost in the busy gift-giving shuffle of Christmas gift exchanges.

My children are again looking forward to setting out their slippers before they go to bed on Dec. 5.

Celebrating St. Nicholas Day in our homeThis year, they are getting some chocolate coins with St. Nicholas's image printed on them. (You can find the pattern here.) I purchased the chocolate on Halloween clearance, but you can easily find chocolate gold coins in the Hanukkah section as well.

As far as an activity, I'm torn between putting this project in their shoe (size determining it, I'm sure), or into their stocking. I stumbled on this great project online for children to build and create their own wooden rosary holder.

Build your own rosary holder and other great ideas for stocking stuffers or St. Nicholas Day gifts Illuminated Ink creates these kits, which the kids assembly, paint and decorate. I thought it was perfect for my little guy who wants to build things as well as my artist in residence. He'll be getting a kit for St. Michael the Archangel, the protector and a saint he is drawn to, and my daughter will be getting Our Lady of Guadalupe. Other saints offered include Our Lady of Fatima, Sacred Heart of Jesus, Saint Joseph, and there's even a 10 pack if you need multiple gifts. The kits run about $10 each on Amazon, including shipping costs.

Book gifts

We've also given book gifts in our past. Some you might consider include:


How do you celebrate St. Nicholas Day in your home? Share your ideas below.

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. Thank you for your support!

Amazon Deal of the Day: 75% off winter coats!

Amazon deal of the day: 75% off winter coats! 11-30-2014Amazon is offering 75% off winter coats as its Deal of the Day today. If you haven't yet picked up ones for your child or yourself for the winter, you may want to check them out!

Saturday, November 29, 2014

When someone you love needs help at the holidays

"To learn to give, you have to learn to receive," I was told by a wise nun years ago.

It is the toughest advice I ever had to swallow but one I think I benefit from each day.

Gift giving and spreading holiday joy when someone you love is struggling financially. Charity begins at home,  but it does not have to feel that way.
I had a baby and a three year old, my husband was out of work, and the Great Recession was in its beginnings. Everyone was scared. And so was I.

This was the year that Christmas came from loved ones - and many secret Santas I'm still grateful for. They blessed us with diapers, clothes, toys for the children. I spent that Christmas day in half tears, devastated by the fact we ourselves couldn't provide things for our family. The Kroger gift card - giving us a week's worth of groceries - drove the point home. Never intended, but our situation was too raw.

I learned my "lesson" that year and despite our financial situation tucked away a few things over the year (clearance summer clothes, etc.), determined not to be empty under the tree. But it took even longer for me to learn the real lesson.

Whatever we have - no matter how little - is a gift from God, and we always have the chance to grace others and share blessings.

Here are some ways we've learned to bless others - and some tips for friends and family who are on the "other side" wanting to help: 

Blessing Others When You're Broke

  • Time and talent: I always try to remember that in our church they talk about gifts of not just treasure - but also time and talent. (Note that you'll often hear "treasure" last of these tree!) Gifts of time and talent can make such a difference - whether it's donating time to a charitable organization or making an upcycled gift.

    In the last few years, while we try to recover from our financial upset, we have redoubled our efforts to help, whether it's at school, scouts or church. Not only does it provide needed volunteer support, but my children will remember that mom and dad were there! Maybe you can't donate to the Angel Tree, or perhaps you yourself are benefiting from it; instead, can you help wrap gifts or deliver them?

    The gift of time is simple too. While I don't do gifts for friends, we do invite them for cookie making - treasured time when everyone is so busy! Or offer to babysit one night for a dear friend.
  • Use ExtraBucks wisely. As we don't have a lot of extra money right now, we are very careful in what we can donate. But those ExtraBuck deals can bless others. Now I buy nearly free diapers for our Gabriel Project at church or free foods or medications for the church food pantry. Every bit helps.
  • Reach out and ask how you can help. I believe people naturally want to help others but sometimes we need to give them the opportunity. A woman at church knew a family whose home burnt. She certainly couldn't help them in all the ways they needed, so she reached out. And we reached out. A few phone calls later and I had not only clothes for one daughter from us but also clothes for a son and decorations for a Christmas tree I had heard was being donated to the family. 

When Your Family Is Financially Struggling 

  • Don't be afraid to ask what they need...and gently encourage them to share. Do the kids need new shoes? Pajamas? Maybe they need diapers (or maybe cloth ones they can reuse?) or gas cards?

    Be specific. Saying to let me know if you need anything, or asking what I can do to help may not get you far.
  • Help meet emotional needs. While you're not a therapist, even something as simple as movie tickets and an offer to watch the kids for a night can give parents the emotional break from the constant worry of a situation.
  • Be practical without feeling"practical." Sure you could buy groceries, but you can also buy a basket of locally made spaghetti sauces, breads and salad dressings (for example) from the winter farmers market or buy a gift certificate to a local produce delivery service. It makes the ordinary - cooking and worrying about feeding the family - feel a bit more decadent.
  • Consider gifts of experience instead of stuff for the kids. One year, my mother bought the kids soccer and dance lessons at the parks department instead of toys. She likely even saved money than when she bought stuff, but more importantly, the kids felt a little more "normal" and for once weren't turned down when they asked to do an activity. We've tried to continue this tradition when we could, asking for a drawing class through Girl Scouts, for instance.
  • Take the focus, if you can, off money. Invite a family for a popcorn and Christmas movie night at your house, take them to a free or low-cost Christmas event, go caroling or looking at the Christmas lights, or invite the kids out for an afternoon of sledding.
  • Remember, while they appreciate any assistance , it's also hard to receive. Being in a position of constant worry is difficult, and it's hard to learn to receive gracefully.
Please help others help their loved ones! Share your tips below.

Our Lady of Guadalupe crafts for kids

The feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe is one of my favorite Catholic traditions I have adopted.

Dating back to 1531 in Mexico,  the celebration marks the appearance of the Virgin Mary to a poor man, Juan Diego, who was later named a saint.

I love this description of the lessons of this event, found on
The first lesson is that God has chosen Mary to lead us to Jesus. ...The second lesson we take from Mary herself. Mary appeared to Juan Diego not as a European madonna but as a beautiful Aztec princess speaking to him in his own Aztec language. If we want to help someone appreciate the gospel we bring, we must appreciate the culture and the mentality in which they live their lives. By understanding them, we can help them to understand and know Christ. 
We began celebrating this tradition in our family five years ago, when my daughter began participating in the church's children's processional. We have since grown that part to include crafts, scout patches and activities to help the children better learn and appreciate this aspect of Catholic faith tradition. 

We have adopted a tradition of creating a commemorative Christmas ornament that is simple for the kids to make. Last year's was a simple paper ornament that included a picture of Our Lady of Guadalupe. This year's will likely be a little more complicated as we have an older group. We are looking at these two options:

The Catholic groups for both Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts also have patches the children can earn for learning more about St. Juan Diego, and the Archdiocese of San Antonio has an Our Lady of Guadalupe Girl Scout patch as well.. All three of these resources offer ideas and activities to help school-age children learn about this aspect of their faith.

What has worked with you when sharing the culture of your faith with your children? Share your ideas and experiences below.

Follow Robbie's board Catholic | Christian Crafts on Pinterest.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Getting my Girl Scouts Outdoors

Girl Scouts can vote on new outdoor badges through Nov. 30, 2014
Girl Scouts is adding one new badge for the Brownie, Junior, Cadette, and Senior levels. Girls can take this short survey and help us choose the badge category. This survey runs through Nov. 30, 2014. You can vote as often as you like! The badge topic with the most votes wins!

Monday, November 24, 2014

My baby's staying a baby: That's all I need.

My baby just announced he was getting rid of all his "little books."

"I just need chapter books now," my first grader said.

And my heart took a skip.

What? My baby doesn't read his books anymore?

"No Goldbug?"

"I'm too old for this book."

"No Three Little Jayhawks?" I asked.

"No I love the Jayhawks. I need it."

"No John Deere?"

"I love John Deere!" he said, taking it back.

"And this one. I love this one."

"And I need this one."

It felt a little bit from the scene from The Jerk...

But what all I need? My baby to stay little just a little bit longer.

Olivia: An inspirational character for my fourth-grade girl

As my fourth-grader becomes more advanced in reading, we've struggled with finding appropriate stories for her to read. Finding compelling stories that aren't about monsters, vampires or other scary topics or themes hasn't been an easy task. I have an impressionable girl, and one that's tender at heart. I'd like to preserve that as long as I can, and even in a Christian school, it's tough to find good books in the school library that she can read.

But I've been pleasantly surprised with the discovery of a new author and Nancy Carabio Belanger's Olivia books.

Catholic and Christian books for fifth-graders | Book review of Olivia and the Little Way by Nancy Carabio BelangerOlivia and the Little Way tells the story of a fifth-grade girl who moves to a new state. As a way with dealing with the nerves of starting a new school, her grandmother gives her a St. Thérèse chaplet and tells her about "The Little Way," that St. Thérèse believed that "you can show your love for God by doing little things for Him with great love."

Olivia learns how to love others through the Little Way, whether it's dealing with mean kids or other grade-school concerns, but she learns that the Little Way is not always easy.

Her grandmother tells her, "You cannot expect to follow the Little Way without some hardship along the way. It is a work in progress. Do not get discouraged...God does not expect perfection; He only wants you to try your best every day." Great advice, not only for Olivia, but for all of us.

I had received this book for a review copy, but in all honesty haven't had much time to peruse it. My daughter has had her nose in this book since it arrived at our home. But I love that her head pops up to share with me a fact about St. Thérèse or Joan of Arc or other strong women that my daughter should look up to as inspiration.

Nancy Carabio Belanger's Olivia book series for fourth and fifth grade girls
Olivia and the Little Way is a 2009 Catholic Press Association book award winner, children's books. It is also a 2010 recipient of the Catholic Writers Guild Seal of Approval.

The sequel, Olivia's Gift, (which I'm certain will wind up on my daughter's bookshelf!) has received the Catholic Writers Guild seal of Approval and is a 2011 Catholic Press Association book award winner.

Note: This post does include affiliate links for ordering. Thank you for your support of my blog.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Saints for When You're Getting Nothing for Christmas

At bedtime, worries come out. And in a hushed tone, my 6 year old said, "Mom, I don't think I'm getting anything in my stocking. I've been too naughty."

Yes, we've had more than our share of "naughty moments" in the last few weeks. But the awesome thing was, my son was realizing that maybe those moments add up.

I gave him a hug. There is still time to change, I assured him. And even really big saints were naughty - really naughty, far worse than what a 6 year old could do - but changed their minds and turned to God.

Take St. Augustine. Known today as one of the doctors of the Catholic Church and the author of Confessions , a mainstay in university World Civilizations classes, Augustine wasn't always so clean-cut. He hung around with the wrong crowd, and made a series of not-so-great choices. (Not that I'd share this with my first-grader, but his famous prayer was "Grant me chastity and continence, but not yet."

Even St. Francis of Assisi, a beloved saint for my son, wasn't so saintly to begin with. He loved his lavish lifestyle and all it brought. A spiritual crisis and illness ultimately led him to his personal conversion, and a quest to "rebuild my church."

What impresses me about the lives of saints is that, for all of those who were known to lead a Godly life their whole lives, there seem to be just as many who struggled, fell, and yet turned their way to God. And that is what I want my children to know.

And Saints are our friends in Heaven. We can ask them for help, just as we might talk to a loved one who had passed. Last night, we began talking to our saint friends Augustine and Francis, and asked them to help us not be naughty.

Sweet words coming from the mouth of a 6 year old. But I believe, a friendship could lead to great change.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Reindeer Stocking Stuffers (Non-Alcoholic Ideas)

I love the six-packs of reindeer I see everywhere on Pinterest. You know the ones, where a few pipe cleaners and googly eyes later, you have a heap of reindeer out of beer bottles.

Alternatives to the beer-bottle reindeer for stocking stuffers and other "guy" gifts
I'll also confess: I don't know that I love the message.

There's something kind of wrong about your 6 year old giving his uncle a six-pack for Christmas, you know? Even if it's cheap, and funny, the underlying message is, well, just strange.

If you'd like to rip off the reindeer idea in a non-alcoholic way, here are a few options for reindeer "stocking stuffers" from the kids:

  • Hot sauce bottles (like we did for my brother, pictured at right)
  • Root beer or other specialty sodas
  • Barbecue sauce bottles for the bbq lover
  • Real maple syrup
  • Specialty olive or other nut oils for the chef
It's cute, it's inexpensive and it allows your kid to let out his creative side without sending a mixed message of sending alcohol for the holidays.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Healthy Pumpkin Bread That Tastes Great!

Pumpkin bread may be my seasonal downfall. I love everything about it: the pumpkin taste, the sweetness...
Healthy pumpkin bread that tastes great. | Swap sugar with Splenda for diabetics. | Swap flax for shortening. | Mom Hats & More

But not the calories. Or what it does to my blood sugar level. Not to mention the extra fat that makes it taste soooo good.

Recently, my sister gave me a cooking tip that I'm sure to incorporate in my recipes. I tried it with this pumpkin bread recipe from an old church cookbook, and it was a success. Instead of shortening (yes, it actually called for shortening, though I always used butter), swap 1-to-3 with ground flax seed. Sounds strange, and my sister told me it might give a slightly nutty hint, but with pumpkin bread I was ready to try it.

Don't know where to get ground flax? It's pretty mainstream, even Wal-Mart carries it in the baking area these days.

So, here is my diabetic-friendly, low-sugar pumpkin, lower-fat pumpkin bread recipe that I hope will please your family too.

Healthy Pumpkin Bread that Tastes Great

makes one loaf
1 5/8 cup flour
1 tsp. soda
3/4 tsp. salt
1 1/3 c. Splenda
1/4 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. cloves
1 cup ground flax seeds
2 eggs
1 c. canned pumpkin
1/3 cup water
1/3 cup walnuts

Preheat oven to 350. Spray 9x5 pan.

Stir together dry ingredients. Add wet ingredients until mixed. Fold in nuts.

Bake at 350 for one hour.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

The Gift of Time

Time. It's such a precious thing. It's something we count so greedily, whether wishing it away or wishing it would stop. What if we gave more of it, instead of unwrapping things under the tree? Maybe this world would be a different place.

What if...
giving the gift of time
We spent an hour having coffee with our friends?

We spent time as a family volunteering before the holidays or even during Winter Break?

We wrote a note to a teacher, a mentor, a grandparent, thanking them for their contributions in our lives?

We did a team volunteer project at work as part of our Christmas celebration?

We made Christmas cookies or baked treats and shared them with our pastor, our coaches, our small group, the homeless?

We spent an hour in the classroom instead of collecting for a teacher gift?

We ate lunch at school with our kids -- like they so often ask us to do?

We asked the volunteers for groups our kids participate in: What do you need help with? And follow through.

Many hands make light work.  - African proverb

Share your favorite ideas for giving the gift of time.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

12 Minutes with My Kids and God: Why I Take Them to Adoration

Adoration with children - why even a few minutes counts
Twelve minutes with me, my kids and God. I think I set a new record.

I'm one of those parents. The parent who drags their kids into the adoration chapel for even just a few minutes after Mass. Even though I know we may only be good for a candle lighting for a loved one, a quick seat on the pew and a prayer...before I pray for just a minute more!

Sometimes I am faced with the frustrated adult, who needs silence before the Lord, not the curiosity and energy of a six-year-old boy. But more often, I'm finding the amused faces of regulars who wink at me as we leave and promise me it's okay, as I give up and walk out the door.

Taking a first-grader into Eucharistic adoration is a task for the foolish, some may say. There's too much energy, too little attention. But ... how are they going to learn?

I myself never set foot in an adoration chapel until I was in my thirties. I don't think I've yet spent more than 30 minutes at a time, and I'm deeply in awe of those who commit to a weekly hour slot in front of the Lord each week.

Last night, my children and I attended Mass, and I informed them we were stopping by the chapel before we returned home. And I held my breath and prayed: Just give me a few minutes...

We got past the candles, settled into a pew, and the kids immediately began chatting in loud hushed tones and wiggling. I found two children's books for them to read, and suddenly, it was silent.

And I embraced that silence. (And just for the sake of curiosity, hit my stopwatch on my smartphone.)

I got 12 minutes of peace. Just me, my kids and my Lord.

Perfect, no. But it's a start.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Stuffing your stockings in a memorable way

Stuffing our stockings is one of the most treasured parts of Christmas Eve. As it's been passed from one generation to another, we've tried to make things our own.

In our home, we blend one long-standing Southern tradition with a lot of fun and love. My mother-in-law introduced to me her family's tradition of an orange and an apple in the Christmas stocking, which we've adopted for our kids.

My sister and mother are guilty of stocking up on the holiday chocolates, which are overloaded into the nooks and crannies of the stockings. (Which, I must admit are not small in the least, having bought them from L.L. Bean when my children were born.)

To me, the best part of stocking stuffers are when you truly listen to your loved ones and sneak in surprises that they least expect. 

Unique stocking stuffer ideas that the kids will remember

In our home, Santa brings one gift and a whole lot of love into the stockings, so he better make it right. (The kids know Santa tasks the grown-ups to fend for themselves.)

Yes, he's fallen prey each year to the mini bags of lip gloss and Legos in the stocking stuffer aisle. But he also tries to listen to conversations and make sure there are surprises that they'd enjoy - even if on the outset they didn't know.

Food ideas for the stocking
Santa tries to add something besides the candy that the kids can munch on before breakfast is ready. Yes, the apples and oranges do get eaten, but they tend to wind up as afternoon snacks. In the past, we've done everything from Pop-Tarts (which my kids beg for any other day of the year and do not get) to granola bars.

And fun food gets in the mix too. My daughter saw a story on unique Christmas foods on the Food Network, and was really interested in the chocolate orange. That found its way in there. And my husband tends to get a bottle of beer or Kansas City barbeque sauce in his stocking.

Crafty ideas for the stocking
If you have an art lover, make sure to slide in some supplies for him or her. In years past, Santa's brought washi tape, mini canvases for painting, small wooden models for assembly, artist pencils, markers and more.

Even if your child is not artsy, keep in mind, you may have to replace school supplies this spring!

Other ways to make it fun

  • Tuck in tickets or a Living Social certificate or Groupon for a fun activity. Last year, since we were traveling, Santa bought the kids a day at an indoor water park instead of a gift that took space in the car on the way back. (Believe me, it was much appreciated with the record winter we had!) Another year, he wrapped up tickets for Disney on Ice.
  • Think outside the box. This year, Santa is bringing back the much-beloved "Flyer Flyer," my son's pterodactyl, which he lost "permanently" after a few weeks of "naughty" attitudes. I can't wait to see his face when he sees his stuffed friend in his stocking.
What other ways have you made your stockings memorable? Share your ideas below!

Monday, November 3, 2014

Keep the Happy in Your Holidays: It Starts Now

As Christmas approaches, I admit I've worried about the holiday season more than I have had in years.

In fact, I'm almost as anxious about it as in the years my husband was unemployed. Rising expenses, my husband's student loan coming due without an increase in income, and thousands in medical bills from this summer have left me uncertain.

Sure, I did some planning ahead. For years, I've slowly bought gifts for my children, taking advantage of seasonal sales and gift certificates from Amazon. Yet as the days tick by, I become more anxious. What can I affordably buy for my family that's meaningful and they'd enjoy? How can we celebrate the season without going overboard on time or costs?

I had a great reminder by reading Cherie Lowe's e-book Keep the Happy in Your Holidays: 21 Ways to Save Time, Money, and Your Sanity This Christmas Season. This easy-to-read e-book walks you through the holiday season - from Jan. 1 (planning for next year!) through Black Friday through the post-holiday sales.

But, more importantly, it speaks to those days between the Christmas shopping events.

Keep the Happy in Your Holidays reminds us of the accumulating costs of the little things: wrapping paper, hostess gifts, side dishes for a potluck, family pictures, traveling to friends' and families' homes. It offers alternative solutions to help you reduce those costs if you hadn't planned ahead financially for this holiday season.

I love also that your "Happy" is also a focus: your emotional happiness, your spiritual happiness. Reducing stress and refocusing on the real meaning of the Christmas season and traditions that truly are meaningful for your family.

Cultivating contentment at Christmastime isn’t for cowardly lions. It involves intentional and sometimes difficult discussions throughout the year, not just on December 24.

You can pick up Cherie Lowe's e-book Keep the Happy in Your Holidays: 21 Ways to Save Time, Money, and Your Sanity This Christmas Season on Amazon for $1.99. There are also extra freebies at

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links, and I did receive a review copy.

What tips do you have for reducing stress - financial, emotional and scheduling - during the Christmas season?