Advent 2014: And So It Begins

To be honest, I don’t think I’d be feeling very Advent-ish at all this year if I weren’t forced to do so by my job.

But there are 18 second-graders in my foster classroom, and it’s my sworn duty to teach them all about Advent (hey, it’s actually in the curriculum! Their book has chapters for each season of the Church year.)

So before we headed off to Thanksgiving break, we made this:

Advent calendar 2014

Inside each little “door” of the calendar is an activity (fun, festive or devotional) suggested by the kids.

I also have Sarah Reinhard’s Welcome Baby Jesus book and I know how to use it. It’s perfect for this age group.

I bought a little tinsel tree at 5 Below yesterday and plan to have them make Jesse Tree ornaments to hang on it. Don’t know from a Jesse Tree? Don’t feel bad; I don’t either. I’m relying upon the extensive resources Christine at Domestic Vocation has compiled. You can even sign up for daily Jesse Tree devotionals.

Tomorrow we’re going to make little mangers out of cardboard jewelry boxes. I have a container of yellow basket filler. When the children do a good deed for someone else, they can put a “straw” in their manger.

Finally, I’m going to take the Holy Family out of the cloth manger scene (my kids’ baby toy) and let the students move them around the classroom, each day getting closer to the manger. We’ll start at my desk tomorrow.

Advent: Sublime, Ridiculous and SentimentalAround the house, it’s time to take out the manger scene and set up the empty stable. And, of course, we’ll have the Advent wreath on the dinner table.

I’m adding this post to the Catholic Bloggers Network Advent Linkup. Join in!

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Bless This Mess

Every Christmas it’s the same. Too much shopping, too much wrapping, too many things to do, too many people lamenting that there’s not enough focus where it really belongs:  the coming of the Savior.ornament

We’re all overburdened, overworked, overextended, over the limit, and overwhelmed. And all the craziness that comes before Christmas is enough to send anybody over the edge.

Maybe that’s the point of it all:  to make us realize just how much we need that Savior, how much we need redemption, how much we need to find rest for our souls.

If our preparations for Christmas leads us to realize our limits and brings us to our knees, then we have well and truly prepared our souls. It is only when we are on our knees, before the Cradle and the Cross, that we will be ready to receive the greatest Gift.

When God became man and came into the world, he arrived in the humblest, messiest of circumstances. This Advent, we can allow him into our world to bless our messes and open our hearts.

Even if we’re still not done shopping, wrapping, packing, baking and decorating yet.

Especially if we’re still not done shopping, wrapping, packing, baking and decorating.

Around the Advent Table

Advent linkup catholicmom

We’re sharing Advent wreaths over at CatholicMom.com today. That means I’ll be suffering, more than a little, from Advent Wreath Envy. I’m expecting a lot of Pinterest-worthy photos with artistically-arranged candles in the traditional Advent colors.

Advent wreathAnd here you see what we have. Nothing picture-perfect, but it’s got lots of sentimental value:  it was the same Advent wreath my husband’s family used when he was a kid. I added the white candle (for Christmas, and oops, I need to get one for this year!) and the red charger.

It’s easy to tell that whoever thought it was a good idea to observe Advent by putting candles on the table, in the reach of children, never had children themselves. Year after year after year I threaten to toss the regular candles in favor of the battery-operated variety, because in my house, Advent is where table manners and fire collide.

At my Advent table, you’re likely to hear:

  • “Where are the matches? These candle lighters are for WIMPS.”
  • “Finish chewing your food before blowing out the candle.”
  • “Stop warming your food over the Advent candle!” / “Awesome! It really toasted the bread!”
  • “I like to put the candle out with my spit.”
  • “I wonder if I can sneeze the candles out tonight.”
  • “No spitting on the Advent Wreath!”

And once in a while, you’re likely to see this:

advent match 2

The newest Candle Game involves sitting in your seat without leaning forward and blowing as hard as you can to extinguish as many candles as possible. Each person gets one chance, then it’s the next person’s turn. Asthmatics are definitely at a disadvantage in this game. (Ask me how I know).

If you need some tips for keeping a relatively-safe Advent (fire and all) with kids underfoot, I’ve got you covered.

But clearly, I didn’t miss my calling as an instructor in Charm School.

A very wise woman from my parish (and the Secular Franciscans) who was herself the mom of 6, once told me I shouldn’t worry when stuff like this happened. “At least you know they’re normal,” she reminded me. Martha was one of those people who could find humor in any situation. And that’s what gets me through Advent, year after year after year.

Check out the rest of the Advent wreaths from our friends at CatholicMom.com!

A Holiday By Any Other Name

It’s that time of year again, and this year I’m just tired of it. This morning’s paper carried the announcement that my township will be lighting its “Holiday Tree” later this week.

At least they waited until December, but that’s a rant for another day.

Yes, they called it a “Holiday Tree” in the announcement. But honestly, whom do they think they’re fooling? Santa’s going to arrive (via fire truck, not reindeer sleigh) and there will probably be candy canes. That, plus the decorated tree and musical entertainment by the middle-school chorus gives everyone the first clue:  this is not Labor Day.

Call it what you want; we all know what the holiday in question is. And I don’t think that ranting about the problem is going to fix it.

This Advent and Christmas season, I encourage you to remember the reason for the season, cheesy though that expression may be.

Take time to listen to some sacred music. My Advent soundtrack this year, in addition to the rehearsal music for the Festival of Lessons and Carols in which I’m participating, is Advent at Ephesus. I got my copy a week ago; today I’ll listen to it for the first time. If a church or school near you is hosting a Festival of Lessons and Carols, don’t miss it!

Light the Advent wreath.

Study the Gospel of Luke.

Make a Jesse Tree.

Decorate gradually, and keep those decorations up past December 26. We don’t “undecorate” around here until after Epiphany.

Pray.

And have some fun. Watch the Christmas specials on TV or DVD. Don’t miss Charlie Brown or the Grinch.

I wish you a blessed Advent and Christmas season!

Advent: Sublime, Ridiculous and Sentimental

In honor of Gaudete Sunday, I brought out the Christmas decorations yesterday.  I used only about half of what I usually do, though I will bring other things out of the box if my family asks for them.  (At this point, I’m wondering what decorations are holiday “musts” for them, and which ones can go.)

My collection of handmade Christmas trees surrounds the empty manger.

We’ve had the Advent wreath and the empty stable out since the first Sunday of Advent.  The trees went up over the weekend.

This is our Advent wreath.  A couple of years ago, my mother-in-law found this wreath among her Christmas decorations.  It’s the one they used when my husband and his brother were kids.  We’ll use it until those plastic greens fall apart (each year we lose a little more of it.)

That’s really what Christmas decorations are all about–the sentimental value (like each and every tree pictured with my manger).  My most precious Christmas ornaments are not the pricey Belleek ball or the Lenox “baby’s first Christmas” giraffe.  The ones I treasure most are the popsicle-stick picture frames with my Big Kids’ pre-K pictures in them.  The kids’ favorites are the ceramic pierogi and the penguins, and they fight to see whose penguin can claim the highest spot on the tree.  It wouldn’t be Christmas decorating without that battle, which is why our tree did not go up on “Pink Candle Sunday” this year.  Big Brother will be home by the weekend, and we’ll get it done then.

Here’s one item that’s not going to last beyond this holiday season:  Snowman In a Bowl.

Little Brother picked this up at Lunch with Santa on Saturday.  It’s a substance with the consistency of egg white.  You pour it out of the little snowman jar.  Eyes and nose come out of the jar too.  The jar lid is the little hat, which you then pop into the bowl.  12 hours after opening this, it’s still jiggly and viscuous.  I’m glad I gave him a dollar-store bowl that I don’t mind sacrificing, because I do not know what is IN this stuff, but it’s pretty disgusting, especially when Little Brother constantly picks up and relocates the hat.

Prepare

This is from 2006.  No paper chain anymore!

It’s time to get ready…it’s Advent.

This weekend, my folk group was off duty, and my family attended Mass at the school parish. Father began the homily by confiding that he really wished that if Christ were to return during his lifetime, that He would find Father serving the poor or visiting the sick or celebrating Mass with due reverence–but he really fears that Christ would instead find him in the middle of a traffic jam.

It was a good point. Do we live our lives by making an effort to do our best wherever we are? Even in traffic?

Although I had time today to get my house ready for Advent, I don’t feel ready. The wreath is on the table, and we lit the candle before dinner. The empty manger is in the place of honor in the living room, all by itself except for the stained-glass picture my dad recently made me (I need to find a good place to display that.)

The Big Kids helped TheDad put up the Christmas lights, which I could have waited for, but we had to take advantage of the fabulous weather today. I am calling it “no jacket November.”

The house is ready for Advent, but the mom is not. I have been busy getting ready for the Festival of Lessons and Carols, and taking Little Brother to rehearsals so he can get ready to perform in Pippin. I haven’t done any thinking whatsoever about getting ready for Christmas, which is pretty much fine with me.  I’m sure it wouldn’t be fine with the kids, the cousins, or the grandparents, however.  And sooner or later people around here will want the tree up, even through I am lobbying to postpone that activity.  Usually we do the tree on Gaudete Sunday (“Pink candle Sunday”) but since Big Brother will return from college on the 16th, and there is a full 4th week of Advent this year, I’d like to do the tree after he gets back.  It’s more fun to have all the kids there, fighting over whose ornament gets the tippy-top of the tree and who gets to hang the ceramic pierogi.

For the moment, I’m unprepared.  I’ll get there, though.  Wouldn’t want Jesus to catch me while I’m sitting in traffic.

Last Thing on the List

There is SO MUCH on the list right now.
Haircuts for me and Little Brother
Wrap gifts
Do Tons o’Laundry
Freelance work here and here
And, of course, all the baking

So when the Christmas tree went dark the other night, I left it for another day. I think it’s going to be left for a few more days unless someone else decides they want to troubleshoot the extension-cord situation. The tree’s pretty without lights–prettier with lights, but it’s loaded with colorful ornaments and that might just have to do.

Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes

Every year that weather permits, our Secular Franciscan Fraternity hosts a “Live Nativity at Grecciocelebration.

Last time we had it, it was in a new place, indoors, without live animals, but we had 117 people to enjoy the Live Nativity. This year, it’s going to be even more different.

It will no longer simply be a Live Nativity, but will be incorporated into our parish’s “Catholics Come Home” Christmas Carol Festival. That means that it’s going to turn into a Battle of the Bands of sorts, with all 3 parish ensembles (Religious Education Kids’ Choir, Adult Choir, and Folk Group) all participating.

A few diehard Greccio participants have bowed out this year–the changes are just too much for them. I kind of want to join them, but I’m bound to hang in there with both the Folk Group and the Secular Franciscans. And I do have to say that I’m relieved for us Seculars, because the membership in general is getting up in age and it’s hard for many of them do to much to help with the event. I was getting pretty tired of handling most if it myself. This year, my role is much more limited, and those SFOs who are physically able will bring cookies and help hand out (and collect) costumes.

Tonight I have to go over to the church to represent the Folk Group as we do a walk-through of the whole event to figure out how long it will take. I know it’s going to be a bittersweet time. I’m going to have to compromise, as if I haven’t done enough of that already with this event and this parish merger.

And in the end I’m going to have to hope that this event touches the hearts of those attending and those participating. After all, “that’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.”

Jolly Old St. Nicholas

We’re getting used to life as a family of 4 now that Big Brother has been living on campus for 4 months. Not that we don’t miss him, but we’re just getting used to the different routine.

And then something comes along and smacks you in the head. For me, this week, it was St. Nicholas.

I always get the kids a treat for St. Nicholas Day, and put it in their shoe near their bedroom doors. (Parents get a treat as well. Rumor has it that my treat this year will be a Lindt dark chocolate with sea salt bar. Yum. But I digress.) So when I was in the grocery store the other day, I remembered that I needed to get busy shopping for those little treats.

Then I remembered that one of my kids is not going to be here with his shoe outside his door. It’s almost worse than not having him here for family dinner or Sunday Mass.

Dorm security being what it is in his urban university, it’s not like I can sneak into the third-floor hallway and leave him some treats outside his room. Instead, I had to depend on the US Postal Service. So the other day I filled up one of those Priority Mail Flat Rate boxes with all kinds of yummy things–enough for him and his roommate and some friends to share–and sent it along, with a big note marked on there that said “Do not open until December 6.”

It’s not the same, but it will have to do.

Adventish and More

I was just looking back over the old Advent posts. And it seems that, every Advent, I don’t get what I planned for. Maybe it’s time to stop planning and just roll with it.
For the third year in a row, I am dealing with health concerns at this very busy, crazy time of year. How about that? Am I so insane that I must be forced to slow down?
It’s entirely possible that without Instigator #1, the Advent table manners will improve. At least through December 17. After that, all bets are off, because all 3 kids will be home. But now I’ve got to rethink the whole “who gets to light and blow out the candle” thing. Maybe I’ll delegate that job to Middle Sister and tell her to find a way to make it fair to everyone.
Things are chilly here at Chez SFO Mom; our heater cut out sometime Friday (when we weren’t here) and yesterday the repairman came out to give us the bad news. While he was able to pronounce our last name with no difficulty whatsoever and even told us what it means in Polish (pine cone, in case you’re wondering), he was not able to fix the furnace. It needs a part. His boss will order it. I wonder how long that will take. I bought a space heater for the family room and some wonderful friends lent us 4 more. When Middle Sister and I plugged those in, we blew a fuse. We are now only heating the family room.
I’ll probably be baking a lot today. Yesterday I made Michelle’s molasses crinkles, the chocolate-peanut butter cookies from the back of the Reese’s peanut butter chips bag, and almond biscotti.

At Mass last night, Father H started his homily as he does most Advents: by asking us to contrast all the decorated, brightly-lit houses we’d passed on the way to church with the minimal decoration (Advent wreath and Jesse tree) in church. He made a good point–he said he was not going to rage against those who get into the Christmas hype early, because so much of our economy and so many people’s livelihoods depend on that. BUT he encouraged us to remember the reason for THIS season.

So this morning I headed down to the basement and dug out what I need to get Advent started: the Advent wreath, the candles, the Nativity scene. I need to remember that I don’t have any more candles left–a few years ago I was an overachiever and bought 3 sets all at once. I took the last box out today. Everyone’s still sleeping. I think that I’ll get things ready now, so when they wake up, they’ll discover that Advent has come!