Advent

Celebrate Advent with a Jesse Tree Tradition!

Need some ideas?

Check out our Liturgical Year Activities for some great ideas on sharing out faith with your family.

Celebrate Every Day

With so many ways to celebrate our faith, you're sure to find ideas that you can do with your family today!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

ACTIVITY: Quilted Advent Placemats & Table Runner - Decorating for Advent

celebrating advent decorating table runner placemats
Like many of you, we're really trying - each year - to hold off Christmas until Christmas and celebrate the season of Advent. A component of celebrating, for us, is in the way we decorate our home. We're fortunate to have the ability to sit down to dinner each night together (notice I said sit down...actually eating with a three year old - and getting him to eat - is a whole other matter), and it's something we don't take for granted. 

celebrating advent decorating table runner placematsAs the kitchen table is such a part of our family, we wanted it to serve as a reminder that we were celebrating Advent. Somehow, having our Advent Wreath on a "Merry Christmas!" table runner just didn't cut it. So...off to Joann Fabrics! Wandering the aisles here, dreaming up projects, is seriously therapeutic, no? 

I wasn't exactly sure what I wanted to make, but that's sometimes half the fun! I found some great purple- and rose-toned tie-dye fabric which matched the colors of our Advent candles. The colors were too bold side-by-side, though, but a few aisles over was this great purple/rose ombre sparkley tulle, which worked great as an overlay. Love the way they turned out! The size of the purple and rose in the placemats is actually in quarters, just like the four candles of the Advent wreath. The first section of purple is equivalent to two purple candles, the next section is equivalent to one rose candle, and the final section is equivalent to one purple candle. It's subtle, but ties in nicely with the four weeks of Advent. 

celebrating advent decorating table runner placemats
I'm a horrible photographer, so no matter how many photos I took (seriously, like 30), none seem to really capture how nice they look with the top sparkle tulle layer. If any of my local friends want to offer up their photography skills...well, my placemats and I would be grateful. 

You'll end up with a bit of extra fabric...use it to create a mat for your Jesse Tree


WHAT YOU NEED
  • 2.5 yards of purple fabric
  • 1 yard of pink fabric 
  • 1.5 yards of tulle/overlay fabric
  • purple and pink thread
  • fusible web for applique
  • fusible batting (or regular if you prefer)
  • really good scissors!
  • iron  & ironing board


HOW TO MAKE

*be sure to check out some of the great YouTube videos on quilting. I'm mostly friend- and self-taught, so these instructions aren't nearly as good as a real quilter would write them.
  • First, wash the fabric. This way, any shrinkage or fading won't impact your final product. This is totally a do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do as I didn't wash mine. Hey, I was just too excited to start the project! :)  Then, iron everything!
  • Second, measure and cut out all the fabric. Here are the dimensions I used - the dimensions take into account a 1/2" allowance at the edge of each piece. 
    • Runner: 35" x 15" (final product: 34" x 14")
      • Top Panel:
        • 1 purple rectangle: 35" x 8"
        • 1 rose rectangle: 35" x 4.5"
        • 1 purple rectangle: 35" x 4.5"
      • Bottom Panel:
        • 1 purple rectangle 35" x 15"
    • Placemats: 
      • Top Panel:
        • 1 purple rectangle: 10" x 14"
        • 1 rose rectangle: 5.5" x 14"
        • 1 purple rectangle: 5.5" x 14"
      • Bottom Panel:
        • 1 purple rectangle 18" x 14"
  • TOP PANEL: Stitch the top-panel rose and purple fabrics together, pressing the seams as you finish. Then, stitch the tulle down on the right-side of the top-panel about 1/4" from the edge. <--this is just to hold it down for when you apply the applique.
  • APPLIQUE: print out the words: Faith, Peace, Hope, Joy, and Love on your computer. I used MS Word, made the letters about 2" tall. Select a font that you like. Bold the letters, and print. You'll want them to be nice and thick. Once you print them out, trace them onto your fusible web...follow the instructions specific to your webbing. Basically, you're getting the letters transferred onto the pink fabric. Again, follow the transfer instructions on your webbing. Once you have the letters transferred to the pink fabric and cut out, iron them down on the right side of the top panel directly onto the tulle. I did throw a towel down and press the towel as opposed to putting the iron right on the tulle, as it would probably burn. Using a zig-zag stitch, sew the letters down through the two layers of material. 
  • BOTTOM PANEL: fuse the bottom panel to the batting and cut out - or, just cut out the batting if your batting isn't fusible. Lay the bottom-panel right-side down on top of the right-side of the top panel (they face in to each other). Stitch around the edge at 1/2", leaving approx 4" open so you can turn it right-side out. Once you've finished stitching and turned it inside out, handstitch it closed. 
  • Iron, and enjoy!

Friday, November 14, 2014

ACTIVITY: Succulent Mini Pumpkin Table Decoration

Mini Pumpkin Succulents: Great idea for table decoration or gift!Wanted to share this adorable gift we received from a friend for Halloween/Thanksgiving. A fan of succulents, she is always cultivating, clipping, and sharing the succulents she grows in her garden. As a gift for us for the Halloween/Thanksgiving season, she made a lovely table decoration out of a miniature pumpkin, peat moss, and succulent clippings. This is definitely one to remember as it's a great (and easy) gift to make for friends and family this fall. Best of all, the succulents - after the holidays - can be transplanted into the garden and enjoyed for many years to come!

HOW TO MAKE: using a glue gun, glue peat moss down onto the top of a pumpkin. Then, add glue to the outside of the clipping's stem (not the exposed part of the cut stem) and attach into the peat moss. Water each week or as needed. Best part: after Thanksgiving, stick the succulents into the soil and they'll root, turning into a gift you can enjoy year round!






Pumpkin Cream Cheese Muffins

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Finding Your Gift in a Pile of Leftovers

Blame it on the fussy toddler, or hormones, or the flip-flop that had ripped just as I stepped out of the car. Blame it on whatever you want, but last night - at our women's ministry - I was THAT girl. The one who starts off sharing, answering a question, and - somewhere between the second and third breath - loses all sense and can barely finish the answer between the tears and nose blows. I actually woke up this morning and had that post-frat party hangover feeling (sans alcohol), thinking...please, let that have been a dream. Turns out, it wasn't - and maybe that's a good thing. 

We were on session three of Momnipotent, a wonderful study geared towards life as a mom today. I won't go into it here, but seriously, find one of these in your area or bring it to your parish if you can - it's so good and it's lead by the talented Danielle Bean with amazing guests (like Lisa Hendey). Last night's session was on the competition we women create for ourselves...of feeling like we're failing if our meals, house, friends, family, holiday decor, and style aren't Pinterest worthy. In a world that offers only highlight reels of others' lives, it's hard to remember that there are more than twice as many moments where these moms are down in the thick of it, just like you and me. As we were sitting in small group, we worked through the discussion questions - and then we came to IT. The question I thought I had a short, simple response to that ended up turning, for me, into so much more. "Are there times in your life where you feel inadequate? Who makes you feel that way?" Yes. Yes, yes yes - and the person who does that isn't my family, or my friends, or my neighbors. It's me. 

We all grow up with personal, individual experiences that make us who we are today. 

I was fresh out of Catholic school and new to the public system. My first day of school immediately put me in my place - I had no idea what to wear, where to go, what to do, or how to fit in. The outfit my mom helped me pick out, which I was so proud of wearing to my first day of school (out of a uniform), fell tragically short of what the other girls were wearing. The language the spoke was different - the bubble I had lived in felt like it popped. My bad perm, red glasses, and braces stood out in the wrong way. I felt so lost that first year, and the cruelty that others - just 13 years old as well - can verbally inflict on others is unimaginable. That first month, I found myself lost and on egg shells, constantly trying to find a way in. Instead, I found my way to a small lunch table at the back of the cafeteria.

There were four of us at the lunch table*. Kay, who came from a absent-father broken home; Liza, who barely spoke out of fear of others hearing her thick accent; Grace, who was sleeping (in 7th grade) with any older man she could as she sought to find her self worth by giving herself away; and me - someone who fit into none of these categories, yet felt just as outcast as they. I remember one afternoon, while watching the cool table sharing plans for the dance later that week, Grace snapped, "Jen, let it go. We'll never be like that. We're the leftovers." WHAM. There it was. I felt like she hit it on the head...she was right. We were the leftovers. We were the friends no one wanted to be friends with. We were the last to be picked at dodge-ball and the first to be pegged with the ball once it was game-on. We were the ones that bonded not over make-up and after school activities but over a shared sense of uncool. We found in each other a tenderness, understanding, and acceptance. 


Life changes, and people grow. I ended up finding a really wonderful friend in high school who - though I still manage to miss her birthday every year - still stands by my side and she probably has no idea how much I truly love and value her. I have several women now who are becoming an integral part of me and my family's life, and I enjoy spending time with them more than they'll ever know (and I hope to still be sitting with them, sharing a glass of wine, in forty years). But that feeling...that feeling of being the leftovers, the only-friends-until-something-better-comes-along, never completely goes away. It still shows up - I work to always be at all the social events we share for fear of being forgotten about if I'm not there. I worry when I leave a message that goes unreturned for fear they don't like me anymore. I don't ever want to be leftovers again. 

...and then I remember what a gift having been a leftover is. It's given me the chance to be a friend to people who had none (and them the chance to be mine). It's created this INTENSE need in me to make sure no one else ever feels like that - as a result, my husband and I are always having new parishioners/families over for dinner to make that connection with them and become a friendly face at Mass. It drives me to strike up small conversation and look into the eyes of total strangers, just in case no one else has stopped to talk with and smile at them that day. It leaves me writing lists from sign-in sheets at events I go to, making note of who is absent, and checking in with them later that night to make sure they're ok and let them know they've been missed. It inspires me to seek out the gifts in every single person I meet, because I know they have worth. It drove me to start a Moms group at our church, just in case there were other moms who were looking for other women out there to share this journey with (turns out there were over forty). It's given me this amazing ability to excel at individual sports - I've competed in countless bike, swim, run, and triathlon races, including the half Ironman and a bike tour across the state of Iowa (I still hate dodgeball). I have little issue speaking up or being silly...if I fail or look odd, well, I've developed a thick skin. We all have different experiences, and we are all broken...and that's where our faith steps in. We each have our own challenges, our own unique circumstances - and if we just ask, God will show us how to work with them. It's through my growing faith that I can see this gift as a gift and begin to shed the insecurities that come with it, keeping only the good. I'm thankful to have my gift...and I hope that you are thankful for your gift, too - whatever it may be. 

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PS:  *totally not their real names

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PPS: After the breakout group was over, and I had managed to pull myself together (drippy mascara and all), the session ended. So many beautiful amazing women came over and told me they had been/still are where I was. It amazed me, because most of these women are the most charming, confident people you'd ever imagine. Then, the Cool Girl came over. Come on, you know that even in your thirties and forties (and beyond, I'd imagine) there's still the cool girl. So she walks over to me, gives me an amazing hug, and tells me that is exactly how she feels. Wait, what? She shared HER challenges in finding intimate female friendships, of finding other women she can connect and share with on that deeper, more meaningful level, of difficulties in moving past that "we're more than acquaintances and perhaps even friends but I don't know if I can really call you if I'm going crazy and need someone to talk me off a ledge". For me, it was such a huge mental shift - here I was, seriously getting middle school jitters when she would say hi to me, and here she is sharing that she experiences the same struggles I do.

I am so blessed to have the beautiful women there as part of my friend family. I'm learning that a wrongly-perceived swimsuit or an ill-timed phone call doesn't mean they don't want to be friends. I'm thankful to know that they probably look past the thousand insecurities I have about myself - and perhaps don't even see them, just as I don't see anything in them except how amazing & inspirational they are. Seriously, ladies, you rock. I hope you know how much. 

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PPSS: If you know someone who could use a hug, please share this with them. There's strength in numbers, ladies. Besides, I promise - I'll always be your friend. 

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PPPSS: My head is a bit swollen right now...but since we're friends I'm sure you won't mind me sharing. Thanks for being cool like that. Had to share - the host of Momnipotent, Danielle Bean, and her guest host Lisa Headey (of Catholicmom.com) shared this article! Truly, I'm humbled. And honored. Thank you.








Just for fun...this post links up at Catholic Carnival.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Saint Michael: Defender of Evil and...Halloween!

Catholic Halloween Saint Michael

Halloween is one of my favorite holidays...it's one of those totally silly days that doesn't take itself too seriously. Grab a costume, have some chocolate, and enjoy the adorable costumes that come to your door. For my husband and I, Halloween has come a long way from our college days to now celebrating it with our toddler. As we try to live our Catholic faith in all that we do (and not "just" be church-on-Sunday-can't-get-out-of-the-parking-lot-fast-enough parents), we wanted to find a way to learn about our faith as part of this holiday.

Well, ask and you shall receive! A few days ago this post from Scott Richert on Catholics Celebrating Halloween. Pretty awesome. The article is great, as it talks about how "Halloween" is actually the contracted word from "All Hollows Eve", or All Saint's Day. I don't want to spoil the rest of the article, so check it out - turns out those ghosts and goblins have originis in the Catholic faith, too. I'll be honest, I truly had no idea!

The inspiration for today's project came from the last paragraph of the article - how we can say a prayer to St. Michael to watch out for us, and protect us from the goblins that lurk in dark corners on All Hollow's Eve. For our craft, we're making the Archangel St. Michael, complete with his helmet, sword, and shield - shielding off those scary things!

WHAT YOU NEED

HOW TO MAKE
  • This one was super easy! On the back of the glittery paper, draw out a helmet (mine looks like a letter "C" with a bump in it), a sword, and a large shield. You want to make the shield large enough that it can hold a few scary stickers.
  • Cut out the shapes, glue them down on your angel.
  • Glue down google eyes (if using) - otherwise, draw the eyes along with the rest of the face. Add "St. Michael, Protect Us!" to the angel.
  • Stick the stickers onto the shield, and talk about how St. Michael battled evil a long time ago, and today he is still protecting us, using his sword and shield to keep evil away!
Check out all our Halloween projects!



Just for fun...this post links up at Arma DeiCBN

Monday, October 6, 2014

Knights of Columbus Installation Dinner

Knights of Columbus Installation Dinner Decorating Party Ideas
Hosting a dinner party is so much fun, so when we had the opportunity to move the annual Knights of Columbus out of the sterile church cafeteria into our back yard, we were thrilled! Hubby is entering his second year as Grand Knight, which made this event all the more meaningful. So proud of him.

When it comes to party planning, no one does it better than my friend Kylie of Made by a Princess: Parties in Style. I mean seriously, she's good. When it came to the KoC party, I knew I was hosting an outdoor potluck but wanted to make it a bit classier and less mishmashed casserole dishes, if you know what I mean. After a quick call to explain my challenge, Kylie shared some great ideas: using our own dishware/serving platters so the dishes matched, sticking cloves in lemons to help ward off bugs (plus, they look adorable), and more.

I took her tips, and created the blue-and-gold Knights of Columbus party shown below! Love the way everything came out. Already thinking of next year's dinner...




Knights of Columbus Installation Dinner Decorating Party IdeasFor the main table, I created a main focal area in the center of the table towards the back. As the Knights of Columbus' colors are blue and gold, I themed as much as possible with this color scheme. The lemons worked great not only to help fight the bugs, but to create a very summery feel to all the centerpieces - plus, they fit the color scheme perfectly! Hubby was great as he helped shop for blue and yellow flowers...it took three different stores to find enough to fill the nine vases we had. A tip: blue flowers - at least those this blue - are artificially colored, and the color will leach into the water. So, put the flowers in the final water just before the party unless you want your water to turn blue (as mine inadvertently did).  As it was a potluck, I made dessert - four dozen chocolate mini cupcakes with white frosting. I tried to avoid adding artificial food coloring (there's less than nothing good about that stuff) so sprinkled colored sugar in blue and yellow. This mini cupcake stand has been my go-to for more events than I can count! Lastly, I used a chalkboard with that new cool liquid chalk markers to write out a message to the officers...both the old and new. 


Knights of Columbus Installation Dinner Decorating Party Ideas
When it came to the individual dining tables, I used these gorgeous little hanging mason jars that my mom had given me for Christmas a few years ago. They're intended to be hung with tea lights, but I've used them as centerpiece holder all the time. They're just the right size for a table centerpiece - not to small that they get lost but not too tall that people have to peak around the centerpiece to talk to each other. Now - getting the lemons in the jars was quite a challenge. To do this, I had to stick a plastic cup (it's white, and you can just make it out in the photos) inside each mason jar. This left about a 1/4" space between the outside of the white cup and the inside of the mason jar - perfect for sliding a lemon slice between. Lemon slices float, so it was important to figure out a way to keep them weighted down. I also threw in some glass baubles in white and blue that I had on hand. Cute, no? They worked great clumped together like this on a side table during the ceremony, and then were right on hand to place as individual centerpieces when we did a quick reconfig on the yard for dinner. 


Knights of Columbus Installation Dinner Decorating Party IdeasFor the ceremony itself, we used one of the large tables as the podium. I'm a HUGE fan of simple white linen table cloths (we have six of them, all the same. Yep - six.). They work perfect for ANY season, as they're simple, classy, and pair perfectly with whatever theme you want to have. A bonus? When they're dirty, just throw them in the wash with some bleach and they come out just like new. The main table for the ceremony had, as it's base layer, one of the white tablecloths. I already had these great yellow and blue stripped placemats, so we laid three of them side-by-side to create a faux table runner...and it totally worked. I placed a large vase with lemons and flowers as the side (center) piece - to be honest, this was the last vase and I was both tired of slicing lemons and running short on time so just stuck the lemons whole into the vase :)  I still think it looks cute, and added a bit of variety to the centerpieces. In prep for the ceremony, we placed the KoC medals around the vase and along the table runner. 

Knights of Columbus Installation Dinner Decorating Party IdeasWhen it came to the serveware, we opted for disposable. I didn't have enough ceramic dishware or silverware to accommodate 50 people - plus, with the great quality now available out there for picnic-ware, you don't have to sacrifice quality or design to get a great look. In keeping with the general color theme, I opted for plain white paper plates (the high density kind), clear silverware (I think that always looks the classiest), and white napkins (again, classy vs. too much blue & yellow). We placed each type of silverware into a blue tin - I had these on hand from past get togethers, and find they work really well for large groups. I was tempted to do one of the bundles - you know, those cute little napkin-wrapped-silverware packages tied off with cute twine? - but with so many dishes, soups, appetizers, and folks going back for seconds (and thirds), we wanted to provide the most flexible option to our guests. 

I hope this gives you a few ideas for the next Knights of Columbus dinner you help host! 



Just for fun...this post links up at CBN.


Sunday, October 5, 2014

Feast of Saint Francis: Sensory Dough Project/Activity for Kids

The Feast of St. Francis is celebrated each year on October 4th. This is a great feast day to celebrate with your children...not only is it a chance to talk with them about Pope Francis, but kids of all ages love the animals often portrayed with St. Francis. 

We celebrated - as a parish family - St. Francis's feast day in two really great ways today. There was a Blessing of the Animals this afternoon, where all parishioners had the chance to bring their animals (both the furry and not-so-furry) to meet and greet each other - and perhaps bark, hiss, and growl a bit, too.  
Saint Francis Animals Salt Dough Activity Project for Kids

The Faith Formation classes gave the little kids a chance to celebrate, too. With some salt dough, the kids made their own animals in honor of St. Francis. Cute, right? I'm thankful his teachers spelled out which animals were which...while we may have figured out the bunny, I'm pretty sure we would never have figured out the dog and tiger! What's nice about working with salt dough is it dries out and holds it shape...so you can keep those perfectly made tigers, bunnies, and dogs for years to come. 

WHAT YOU NEED



HOW TO MAKE 

  • Mix salt and flour together in bowl
  • Add warm water and kneed
  • Divide up into smaller bowls, and add a few drops of food coloring
  • Create animals out of your dough, using Q-tips, eyes, straws, or whatever else you have on hand!
  • Allow to air-dry



Just for fun...this post links up at Arma Dei & Catholic Carnival.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Turning Artwork into an ABC Learning Book!

 

When it comes to kids artwork at our house, it's at a max. Between the preschool projects, the at home art, the crafts from a friend's house, and drawings at the gym, we seem to have five new pieces show up each week! While we're pretty good at managing the load, there are a few pieces that we really wanted to preserve...especially those that came from Lacy's "Catholic ABCs" Preschool Curriculum*. We needed a way to save a few of our projects, so...

...we've turned some of our best art projects into our very own ABC Learning Schoolbook! Each project is glued down to a full 8.5"x11" sheet of paper, and the letter of the alphabet corresponding to the art is added to the sheet. We then add the sheet into this binder (it's acid free, which will keep these memories safe for a long time and comes with 20 clear page protector inserts to get you started). We're filling up our book, and our son LOVES his "school book" with all his projects inside! Plus, it gives us a way to reinforce and learn our letters over and over again as we look over the projects he made. The pride he has in his school book is evident - not only does he pull it out at least twice a day to look through it, but he shares it with our guests and anyone who will look. He also gets excited about upcoming letter crafts so we can add them to his book. 

This project would work great not only for a structured program but for general artwork your child may make. Did you make our handprint crafts? Mark the letter "C" for crab, "O" for octopus, and "F" for fish, date it, and add it to the book. Perhaps you color pictures of trucks Cut out a car or two from their picture (great opportunity to practice supervised scissor skills), mark the letter "T" on the page, date it, and add it to the book. Easy! This is a great way to save your kids projects while making it into a meaningful tool.

*Disclosure: I bought my own copy of the Catholic ABCs and am very happy with it. We use it in our Moms & Kids group at our church, and it works well for kids age 3-5...the younger ones do the crafts as well, but definitely have a bit more "mom" support than the older ones. The lessons are well thought out, and are structured such that you can make tweaks...add things, take away things, etc. as appropriate for your group. I would strongly recommend this book for those looking for a Catholic-based preschool program to do either solo or as part of a group. 




Discover God's Creations:
Handprint Fish