Just a closer walk

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I wanted to do a daily hands-on activity Lenten activity with the two littlest ones. My first idea was to trace their feet and cut out 40 for each. But when my neatnik Cliff would have nothing to do with the feet tracing activity, I had to compromise. Once Lillian saw me come up with a graphic of a foot, she had design plans of her own. What we ended up with was pretty much directed by her.

I used Word and Photoshop. I made twp footprints in Photoshop’s custom shape feature and colored one pink and one blue. (You can guess who came up with that). I saved them as jpegs and pulled them into Word, added a cross on, and an empty heart near each foot (also directed by Lil) and the text: “Walking the path with Jesus brings my heart closer to his.” I printed a total of 40 in each color. The kids each fill in the heart daily with a picture (or scribble ala Cliff) and the number of the day of Lent. It’s hardly craft-0-licious – but it works. We’re tacking them up the wall and they will work their way along the ceiling (eventually leading to a hung crucifix). The children are already excited to see the path grow. I’m not usually a let’s-tape-stuff-to-the-wall mom, but I’m repainting in the spring, so I figured let’s go with my unusual flexibility while the going is good.

Here’s a pdf of what I made: Path of Lent. It’s a nice activity because it’s not too overwhelming or time-consuming, but it is still a multi-step and multi-sensory process. If you’re not for the wall-walking, collecting them in a box would be fun. You could occasionally spread them on the floor (adding a little sequencing exercise to boot). The activity has already prompted some nice conversation, engagement and an opportunity to build on their knowledge of this holy season.

Today (since all are home for break) we are making an Alleluia banner to bring out on Easter. We’ve done this before (usually on Ash Wednesday), and it adds to the celebration (and decor!) of our Easter. And yes: there will be glitter involved – because making all things new has to involve lots of sparkle, right?

Microsoft Word - Document2

Dear me: Can’t you come up with something good for Advent?

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Dear Advent-preparing me:

You don’t have any intention of reinventing Advent – but you do need to breathe some life into the season around here.

I know, you’ve done wreaths, candles, Jesse trees, sung O Antiphons, hung O Antiphons, read scripture, colored calendars, you name it. You’ve got 20 years of Advent with kids under that belt and are searching for a fresh way to look at this seasonal gift called waiting.

I know you don’t want to revisit last year when you were later putting up the  tree in acknowledgement of the “real” Christmas season. But it felt like Christmas passed you by. Everyone else was taking down their trees, and you were just getting started without the benefit of Christmas music on the radio or decorations at the stores. The hat-wearing bell ringers at Kroger had long turned in their red buckets, and you had pockets full of change.

You arrived at the party just as everyone was leaving.

You were left standing in the picked-over Christmas clearance section of Walmart.

(I could come up with many more to continue to distract me from the point of this letter to you, I mean me. Whatever.)

So, what do you think is the actual benefit of holding off to celebrate Christmas and actually embracing waiting? There’s certainly no real outward point to be proved. You were just there in your own little house trying to stick with the program laid out for by the church year – whether you liked it or not. (That sounds dramatically dreary. Which it wasn’t at all. It was  a joyful season. Waiting included.)

So Advent-preparing me, I challenge you to this: Incorporate the joy of the upcoming season while meaningfully embracing the waiting of the soon-to-be-current season. Make it engaging for the littles and not overlooked by the bigs, and try to keep sane with both Advent and Christmas clutter.



P.S. Oh, and good luck with that.

Building the house of the Lord


My dearest and I – with another couple – are part of a leadership team for a big stewardship campaign at church. It’s a diocesan-wide thing, and we’re coming up with … (wait for it) … the children’s activities. The deal about this campaign is that all the planning and education has to happen in a pretty condensed period of time. So we’ve had to bust-a-move.

I’m excited. (Okay. I’m excited about everything.) The program is coming together, we’ve gathered some great folks willing to share their time and talents with the parish.

Yesterday, we delivered our first piece of the program for kids in the religious education program and those enrolled in our parish school: That’s more than 900 children.

We decided that the theme verse for our activities is “As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” Joshua 24:15. With that as the focus, we have come up with a few very tangible ways to help students learn about stewardship. The activity we introduced yesterday was for every child to build a little paper house. There was a short lesson plan – introducing them to the theme verse, the theme song (A rousing version of Rorey Cooney’s “We Will Serve the Lord”) and the idea that all our gifts come from God. There was also a little room for discussion.

Since time in the Religious Education program is at a premium, we designed the activity to be doable in 15-20 minutes.

I found a great house template at the most charming blog site: Just Something I Made. (One of my new favorites for creative ideas. Nice photography, too.) We needed something that was one piece, easy to follow, didn’t involve glue and was cute. (Okay, I needed the cute.) And after combing through what seemed like a mountain of examples, this template really fit the bill. I added graphics and some text, and we decided to print it on 11 x 17, 67 lb. cover stock. That made the finished house about the size of a pint Chinese takeout box and offered a little more durability since the children will be using these houses for activities the next five weeks.

The only decorating for the students was that they “cover” the house with their gifts and talents. For little ones, it could be drawing pictures, for older children, they could write them out. We made accommodations to the fact that the littles might not be able to actually cut out the houses. (Remember, time is limited.) They instead just drew on them while they were still one uncut piece, and students earning service-hour credits cut out the templates and assembled the houses for them. I’m sure they’ll be excited when next week they see their work put together as a house.

We will continue to use the houses throughout the program – I’ll fill you in more on that later.

I actually provided photos with instructions for the teachers for ease. Here’s a peek at a few:


There were a few more photos – just for ease. But you get the picture. It all seemed to go well. We used a portion of the paper to add a bookmark highlighting the family event that will be the culmination and celebration of all of these activities – it also gave the children something to take home related to the activity.

Stay tuned for more. Next week, the houses go with the students to mass for a special blessing.

The dingo ate my baby


Yes. It’s another shoe story a la Lillian.

The dingo ate my baby

At the store in an attempt to buy saddle shoes for Cliffy, I look over at Lil who is admiring all the girl shoes displayed on the wall. Her hands clutched to her heart, I hear her mutter, “These shoes are fabulous.” Followed by a sigh.

No luck in the saddle shoe department. As we start on our way out, Lillian and I spy a small stack of boxes on the floor of the shoe department. Perched on top were bubble-gum pink patent leather Dingo cowboy boots. (Or as Lil says in the spirit of conservation: cow boots.)

We both stopped in our tracks, then approached the stack slowly. Then I saw it. The sign that said 50% off. I think I heard angels singing. Then I said the words you can’t ever turn back on: “Lillian, should we see if these are in your size?” At that moment, cash register bells joined the angel chorus.

And there they were. One of the four remaining pairs was obviously meant for Miss Lil.

She looked at me. Tempering her emotion, she said quietly, “I’m going to be a cowgirl for Halloween.” At that moment, I realized she possessed the gift. The ability for any female worth her weight in DSW coupons to justify a shoe purchase–practical or otherwise.

Needless to say, the Dingo ate my baby. And me.

A mile in my shoes

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Today I put on a pair of shoes I bought when I was pregnant with Mary Claire. That was 14 years ago. There they sat, on the sale rack at Hudson’s or Marshall Fields, whatever store it was then. Calling my name. I couldn’t fit my fatter-than-normal pregnant feet into the shoe, but I knew they would fit postpartum. The just had to. They were still kind of expensive, even at half off. But I loved them. So, I bought them anyway, stashed them in my closet and looked forward to (hopefully) wearing them someday.

And wear them I did. These shoes have taken my feet miles. They were the one pair of shoes I’d pack on trips. I’d wear with jeans, dresses, shorts even. Who cared. I loved them. And my feet loved them.

They saw me through years of work and play. I was wearing them the day I ran over my foot with an office chair while hurriedly making last-minute changes to an important speech my boss was making. I’m sure I fractured a bone in my foot. But I just tightened the laces, and hobbled (in absolute pain). I remember my co-worker telling me I was crazy. And I was. The show (and the shoe) must go on. And we did.

Hey old friend

As time went on, the shoes just got better. Laces were replaced. The leather darkened with age.  I oiled them, polished them and loved them. But then, finally, they just got too out of style. So I had to put them away. But I kept them, which is not like me. I’m really good at clearing out my closets and getting rid of the old.

Well, lo and behold. Oxford lace-up shoes are back in the game. So, this morning, when I put on my jeans, I reached for those sweet shoes that I dug out of the attic just a few weeks ago. I put them on.

And I think my feet sang. Or at least I did. (No surprise.)

Oops, We did it again


The candles were such a popular craft for advent, we decided to make more for Lent. Often on Fridays we have a late meal (after Stations of the Cross) by candlelight. So, with that in mind, I thought the candles would be craft worth repeating. Also, when we come together to pray as a family, candles are always a nice touch. We decided to use Easter colors so that even during the solemn season of Lent we keep our hearts on the promise of the resurrection and all that it brings.

As previously, it was a fun activity for all. Richard even made one, and we made one for the baby. And of course, the candles are so telling of each of the children. Helen’s was a creative flower, Mary Claire’s was orderly and in all in line. Henry made his with more glue, more glitter than everyone else. And Lillian’s had a lot of pink. (She needed a little help but enjoyed painting and painting and painting the glue.) We had one minor accident when the baby reached up on the table and grabbed a paper plate full of excess glitter. I’m sure we’ll all have little extra sparkle for days to come, but with each stray sparkle, I’ll be reminded of the fun we had putting our projects together.

Jesus spoke to them again, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12)

Preparing the way


We made an Advent candle project yesterday. I know, it looks like I’m on the ball — planning ahead. Yep, that’s me.

Hardly. It was more an effort to avoid my usual Advent candle mayhem, which goes something like this:

Our project

Henry, MC and Lil admire their work.

We make a trip to the Catholic bookstore to buy candles in early November. (They actually run out.) I buy them. I stash them some place I’m sure to remember when the time comes. But instead, I forget. I look in all the reasonable spots. Accuse my spouse of moving them, then I end up blaming the candles themselves  (as in, “where are those stupid candles?”).  I buy a second set. Then mid season, find the first set. Promise myself I’ll remember I have them for next year … but I don’t. And so it begins all over again. Oh, and by the way, the candles never quite fit the wreath properly. So I’m always melting them, shaving them, adding extra wax, you name it.

Not this year. I won’t be able to lose these. And the kids are so excited about them. So for once, I’ll actually be prepared to prepare the way.

Break through

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For the past year, Mary Claire’s been attending an art class for homeschooled students at a local church. It’s once a month and is packed. There are usually at least 70 students, often more. The man who teaches the program is wonderful. The kids all work on the same picture. He guides them through the process and techniques involved step-by-step to draw a specific picture. It’s more about learning how to recreate something … which is good  a first step. The pictures they work on all have a Christian theme. He tells them some story through the process and keeps them totally engaged. Mary Claire loves it. And this month, for the first time, it was Henry’s turn to attend the class (now that he’s going to be eight).

Henry was excited. Or at least he expressed he was excited. That is, until the day actually came. I was packing them a snack and when Mary Claire ran upstairs to get her supplies, Henry approached me.

“Mom,” he said quietly. “I don’t want to go. I’m going to be terrible at it.”

My boy has no misconceptions about his artistic talents. To him, a pencil’s greatest purpose is that of projectile. He hates writing. He hates drawing. Always has. Getting him to work on his handwriting is like pulling teeth. He does it. But not without complaint, pain and apparent agony.

“Henry, this isn’t a contest. This is about learning. You aren’t going there to create a masterpiece. You are going to learn a little about drawing, a little about God and a little about some other boys and girls,” I reassured him. “You have to a least try it, or how will you ever know?”

“Okay. But if I hate it, I’m not going again.”

“We’ll see,” I said. I really had no intentions of letting him get out of it in the future. But, well, you know, we had to move on.

I took them to the class. Asked Mary Claire to show him how they check in, etc. She did, then immediately found a table that had only one vacant spot and slid into the empty seat. Henry marched to another table with five boys all in orange shirts. Brothers. Seven-year-old twins and nine-year-old triplets. I asked the boys to introduce themselves. They did … but their names could have all been the same. They all looked alike and the matching shirts didn’t help matters. Henry looked comfortable with the orange boys, so I quickly left.

After the class, Mary Claire and Henry were instructed to walk home. The church is only a block from our house. It was drizzling but they had umbrellas. When I first caught sight of them, Henry was carefully protecting his picture by holding it high up under the dome of his umbrella.

When he came in, he announced that his drawing was terrible, but he seemed to be beaming just the same.

“What did you think?” I asked.

“I’ll go again,” he said.

“Do you like your picture?”

“It’s okay. Yeah, I like it okay.” Then he handed it to me.

I loved it, especially since it came from my I-will-never-willingly-hold-a-pencil-in-my-hand-unless-I’m-shooting-it-at-something boy and was complete with his own embellishments, including a whole row of smiley faces along the top of the picture, instead of the more predictable skull and crossbones (the God part must have rubbed off, too). I could tell he was proud of himself. And I was proud of him. I thought maybe this is just the break through he needed to feel a little more confident in writing in general. (I was wrong. He argued all through handwriting today, but I look at the picture on the fridge and know there is hope.)

Henry's break-thru (notice the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow).
Henry’s break-thru (notice the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow).