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?

Monday, June 13, 2016

Summer Learning Challenge Week 4

Not all learning comes from books.

The reality is my great dreams of a Summer Learning Challenge didn't pan out as planned. Weeks 1 and 2 were pretty good. Week 3 was lost in the shuffle and chaos of Girl Scout camp. Even my avid reader hardly cracked open a book in her bedtime routine.

But I don't think all was lost. 

My kids learned how to make adorable poodle skirts and vests in the camp craft room. They played CSI in the math and science center. They learned to identify trees and learned about light pollution from my awesome co-leaders. And my daughter's task of "paint something?" She painted her own hiking stick (and I think herself in the process).

And with forecasted temperatures in the 90s, we nixed the idea of a weekend hike.

So if "planned" learning didn't go as planned, that is OK. There is always another time.

Week 4 Summer Learning Challenge ideas and activities:

Summer Learning Challenge for Incoming Sixth Grader: 

  1. Keep taking care of your garden! It is supposed to be very hot this week; what extra steps do we need to do? Figure out what vegetables are done growing; harvest them, and plant new ones that do well in the summer.
  2. Write about what makes America great for the kids' writing competition for Kids' World Travel Guide.
  3. Volunteer at Vacation Bible School.
  4. Sew something. 
  5. Build something with your brother.
  6. If it's not too hot, go for a weekend hike with mom. (Let's see if how close we can get to 100 miles on our Bicentennial Hiking Challenge this week!)

Summer Learning Challenge for Incoming Third Grader:

  1. Keep taking care of your garden! It is supposed to be very hot this week; what extra steps do we need to do? Figure out what vegetables are done growing; harvest them, and plant new ones that do well in the summer.
  2. Cook dinner one night.
  3. Enjoy Vacation Bible School.
  4. Shoot off a balloon rocket.
  5. Get on ABCya and play some math games.
  6. If it's not too hot, go for a weekend hike with mom. (Let's see if how close we can get to 100 miles on our Bicentennial Hiking Challenge this week!)

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Summer Learning Challenge Week 3

Our Summer Learning Challenge has not been without its hiccups. Strange schedules - holiday weekends, sleepovers, tech week and an impromptu Super Sitters class- make for tired children, and getting used to a binder of "to-do's" hasn't been the easiest endeavor for my crew. But it's worth it. If I can train my soon-to-be middle schooler to review a checklist of assignments and make sure she's covered them all, this Summer Learning Challenge exercise will be worth all battles.

The funny thing is, it hasn't been all bad. My son has fallen in love with Multiplication Baseball from last week, and I've found homemade game sheets scattered all around the house. He's learning; I'm happy. #Win.

Summer Learning Activities for Grade Schoolers Week 3

This week, we're taking it down a notch, as we have Girl Scout day camp this week. Yes, we. I volunteer, and little brother goes to hang out in the "bro" unit. I know from experience that we'll have worn-out children who will be all too eager to watch a movie when the days are done!

But we still are working on habits. Here's what's in our binder for Week 3:

Summer Learning Challenge for Incoming Sixth Grader:

  1. Keep taking care of your garden! Figure out what vegetables are done growing; harvest them, and plant new ones that do well in the summer.
  2. Create something with your 3D printer pen.
  3. Read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and start Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator so you know the story behind the play you want to try out.*
  4. Check out an activity at the Summer Reading Program.
  5. Go for a weekend hike with mom. (Let's see if how close we can get to 100 miles on our Bicentennial Hiking Challenge this week!)
  6. Paint something.
*Yes, two books on a "light week" seems a bit strange, but I have a highly active reader!

Summer Learning Challenge for Incoming Third Grader:

  1. Keep taking care of your garden! Figure out what vegetables are done growing; harvest them, and plant new ones that do well in the summer.
  2. Read a bedtime story to mom.
  3. Do a book report. 5 book reports = Gatorade!
  4. Build a balloon-powered Lego car.
  5. Check out an activity at the Summer Reading Program.
  6. Go for a weekend hike with mom. Let's see if how close we can get to 100 miles on our Bicentennial Hiking Challenge this week!

What are your children learning this week? Share your ideas below!

Note: This post does contain affiliate links, which helps support this blog. 

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Summer Learning Challenge Week 2

It's Memorial Day Weekend and our first full week of summer vacation!

It's also a crazy, busy week, as my daughter is in full-blown Tech Week with her theatre production. I feel blessed that she was accepted in the play that wasn't out until after the school year, because the 4-5 hour a night practices plus school would have been too much!

Here's what we're doing with this week's Summer Learning Challenge:

Incoming Third-Grade Boy:

  • This is sis’s TECH WEEK! So it will be weird and busy. As they say in theatre, break a leg! What part of the English language is “break a leg”? _______
    (Note, my kids talk all the time about idioms. I don't personally understand it, but it's their thing. Seeing if they catch this!)
  • —Make Tangrams with your sister.
  • Cook a meal.
  • Don’t forget to do at least 1 book report this week!
  • Take care of your garden.
  • Read Seaman’s Journal. (This is a book, told from a perspective of a dog who traveled with Lewis and Clark, that we got at the Lewis and Clark site in Missouri.) Write a nonfiction book report.
  • Write a letter to your friend who moved out of state.
  • Make a crossword puzzle for your sister.
  • —Do the Lewis and Clark challenge. (OK, this is actually an online Junior Ranger program!)
  • Play Math Baseball!

Incoming Sixth-Grade Girl:

  • HAPPY TECH WEEK! As they say in theatre, break a leg! What part of the English language is “break a leg”? _______
  • Make sure your theatre stuff is cleaned and put away each night.
  • Find and pack a quiet activity in your tech week bag.
  • —Work on your sewing project.
  • Make Tangrams with your brother. 
  • Take care of your garden.
  • Pick a badge and work on it. Show mom what you did.
  • Read.
  • —Do the Lewis and Clark challenge
  • —Pack your camp backpack.
  • Get enough sleep! 

How is your summer learning going? Share your updates below!

Note: This post does contain affiliate links, which help support our family's adventures and this blog.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Summer Learning Challenge Week 1

Summer...learning? What??

I admit it. I want my kids to cherish their summer vacation at home, but I also don't want them to have their brain rot in front of a screen, either.  So this year I've instituted a weekly summer challenge to keep the kids' brains active and hopefully stave off some of the "I'm boreds."

How am I doing this challenge? Each of my kids is getting a binder with activities tailored toward their age and interests. My almost third-grader, who refuses to do AR until it's deadline time, has to focus a bit more on reading and retention. The carrot? For every five "book reports," he earns a Gatorade. Crazy, but it was just the incentive this little boy needed.

My almost-middle-schooler? She has different struggles: Follow-through and turning work in. So we're focusing on completing all the Junior Girl Scout badges she said she wanted to earn before she becomes a Cadette. I don't have to worry about the reading part, as she blew out the school record for AR points accumulated!

So between you and I, they're learning. But we won't tell them.

Week 1 Activities: Incoming 3rd Grade Boy

  •        Make sure all your school papers you don’t want to keep are recycled and the school supplies put away.
  •        Sign up for summer reading program.
  •        Read a book and finish your first book report of the summer. Remember, for 5 book reports you get a Gatorade!
  •        Take a hike with mom if the weather is good.
  •        Figure out how old our trees are in our yard! Use a measuring tape to measure around the trunk of the tree. The distance around the trunk of a tree is called the circumference. Write this measurement down on a piece of paper. The measurement of the circumference in inches is also the approximate age of the tree in years!
  •        Play “Defensive Multiplication” or another math game that’s not on the computer.
  •        Take care of your garden.
  •        Make a birthday card for Dad.

Week 1 Activities: Incoming 6th Grade Girl

  •        Make sure all your school papers you don’t want to keep are recycled and the school supplies put away.
  •        Sign up for summer reading program.
  •        Take a hike with mom if the weather is good.
  •        Organize your closet.
  •        Play “Defensive Multiplication” or another math game that’s not on the computer with your brother.
  •        Make a birthday card for Dad.
  •        Start your sewing project Grandma got you when we visited!
  •        Take care of your garden.
What are you doing with your kids to help them stay active this summer? Share your ideas below!

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Easy First Communion Menu

My child's First Holy Communion was an amazing experience.  But it was also stressful for mom. 

The reason?  How to celebrate. 

Creating a First Communion party menu is a challenge at best.  A Google search and you'll be dismayed by big-budget catering menus or elaborate lunch plans. But we're a relatively simple family on a simpler budget. On top of that,  Mass was at noon,  which meant we'd have hungry second graders and guests by the time we got home. 

Oh, and did I mention the 80% chance of storms all day that day? What to do? 

If you're a mom like me,  who needs an easy go-to meal for your First Communion party, today I'm sharing our party plan with you. Hopefully this will ease some of the stress of this big day! 

Stress Free First Communion Party Menu

Day before:

  • Bake cupcakes.  (Homemade or from a mix)
  • Make coleslaw or Asian Ramen salad. 
  • Prepare veggie dip if you hadn't pre-bought.
  • Slice veggies for vegetable tray. (If you didn't buy pre-cut.)

That morning:

  • Start barbecue chicken in slow cooker.

After Mass:

  • Shred barbecue chicken; serve on buns.
  • Cook hot dogs.
  • Set out foods and enjoy a RELAXED meal with your loved ones - because this is what this kind of celebration is about!

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Being Messy in God's Work

“Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever believes in me will do the works that I do, and will do greater ones than these, because I am going to the Father.”

I was blessed to be a part of's Daily Gospel Reflection Series for 2016. What an amazing experience!

Today's Gospel reflection focuses on the messiness of God's work, how God's path isn't always easy or comfortable. I liken that to this experience. Writing about the Gospels, or teaching about them in a way others might relate to, isn't something I'm used to doing. Others have had that gift and used it well. Being pulled to use my ability to write - in a new way for me, sharing the messiness and uncomfortableness that it can offer - was a difficult but rewarding experience.

I've waited six months since the story was submitted to see it live. If it strikes you, share your thoughts. If it inspires you, I'll feel blessed.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Where's the Cheapest Place to Get TurboTax 2015?

I've used TurboTax since the floppy disk days,  and I've grown in comfort with the product as our family lifestyle changes.

If you're already keeping tab on this year's TurboTax  prices,  here's what I'm seeing for early pricing for the tax software:

TurboTax Deluxe with State

Prices were checked Jan. 2, 2016.
Please note,  this does include an affiliate link to Amazon, and I receive a commission on sales at no charge to you.