Saturday, December 31, 2011

Christmas Memories

Christmas Morning- taken by our five year old.

We had a wonderful Christmas and are still basking in the luxury of extra time together before school officially starts again.  Here are some memories and traditions of our Christmas of 2011.
amid the chaos

On Christmas Eve, we let the kids open their Christmas presents from grandparents and aunts and uncles so as to distinguish who-gave-what.  It's hard to be thankful when all the presents are torn open at once, so we really tried to slow things down and help them remember who gave them which presents.  This would have been easier had the gift givers been present, but since we don't live close, it's not possible.

Working around my husband's shift work is always a challenge during the holidays, but thankfully he got off on Christmas Eve and we were able to drive up to Maryland to visit his parents and enjoy the traditional "Harkins Family Christmas Meal" via P. F. Chang's.  Here's our best try at a family Christmas photo that evening:

We drove back home that night and Eric and I finished up the last St. Andrew Novena before heading to bed.

In the morning St. Nicholas came (trying to get away from the fictional 'Santa Claus' and incorporating the actual saint into gift getting). Here's Jude with his only Christmas present from Saint Nick. Keeping it simple since they already get so much from everyone else!

Then we headed to Christmas Mass at 8:30am.  Liam talks about how much he enjoys this Mass all year long, so we opened the church doors to reveal the lit Christmas trees and Christmas decor and baby Jesus, he exclaimed, "Wow, this is going to be so much fun!"  Fr. L. thought it was pretty funny too. 

After Mass, we decorated the Christmas tree. This is our kids' favorite tradition on to opening Christmas presents, of course!

It's hard to keep the FRAGILE baby Jesus away from this one!
I tried to start a new tradition of continuing the Christmas celebration with the 12 days of Christmas (incorporating the feast days and the Catholic meaning of the song into spreading Christmas joy to others in a sort of 'Works of Mercy' theme) , but it turned out to be a lot of work and the kids didn't seem to care, so I decided to wait until the kids are a little older and they can participate a little more. Maybe I'll try again next year.

While they are all so young, the simple joys of beholding the new born king is enough for them.  Children know the meaning of Christmas so much better than us adults anyway!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

It's Not What You Think

My husband snapped this highly incriminating photo:

Honestly, we were innocently reading a Christmas book! The wine glass in the child's hand- well, that was a little taste testing after Mommy was done.

Hope you are all having a nice close to your Advent season! We have been taking it very easy.  No traveling for us this year. I've spent more days at home- not going anywhere- than I have all year! We are really getting used to this homebody thing. It's the best time of year for it.  Not rushing anywhere has really made it a blessed time to prepare our hearts.   Trying to keep it simple this year!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Art Appreciation Made Easy

I love fine art. I just don't know how to talk about it and really "appreciate" it without someone interpreting it for me.  I remember going to an art museum in Sacramento with my Polish friend and realizing this very fact. She could go on and on about each painting- how the light hits this part and makes this statement or how the artist used this color to show this emotion and or not. I was amazed at her ability! I got so much more out of that one trip to the museum than I ever had from all the art museums I had ever seen.  From that point on, it's always been on my mind as something I would like to learn how to be able to do.

With my Magnificat subscription, there is at least one piece of art that is explained in light of the Catholic faith.  They talk about all the elements of the painting and how it conveys what the artist had in mind.  I love to read this and have learned so much. I decided to share one of these articles with my group of boys that I teach for coop. They got into it much more than I thought they would and made me see that this art appreciation skill just might come in due time. 

Now for Christmas, I dug out a book that I've had for many years by the Metropolitan Museum of Art entitled The Christmas Story.  So far, we've looked at a few of the artworks and it has not only enriched our Christmas season, but also our Jesse Tree reflections. I took it out today for the story of John the Baptist.  We talked about the painting while rereading the Bible story.   I read a little about the artist and what the artist was trying to convey.  It held Liam's attention much more than if I had just read from the Bible.  Note: the only bad thing about this book is that it uses the King James Version for the Bible verses.

On a different day, we took it out to look at a picture of the Annunciation.  We talked about symbolism, colors, setting, and perspective.  Then I read a little about the artist and what the artist was trying to convey.  The kids enjoyed it so much! They were searching for the symbols, examining all the details, and giving their opinions- it was better than Where's WaldoFun fact: Did you know a monkey in art symbolizes sin?  I've never liked monkeys...  And it was so effortless.  I felt like I was reading a picture book.  If you think about it, looking at a book of paintings is kind of like a picture book on steroids.

Two months ago, I would have never thought I'd be teaching art appreciation with such ease. Now that I'm doing it with the help of books such as these, I am seeing how it might be a possibility how I could walk in an art museum and start talking about the painting like Sister Wendy. Ok, maybe not a professed Sister Wendy, but maybe a novice or at the very least a postulate!

I would to get some more of these art appreciation aides for the rest of the year too. I'm going to try out this one for saints and this one for and Lent/Easter.

Baby Love

I am so in love with this baby. He's 14 months now and a real handful, but I can't resist kissing his sweet cheeks or kissing his good smelling, soft hair ALL THE TIME. 

 He really loves this silky blanket for chewing on. Not sure what that's about, but with this special blanket, he will easily lay down in his bed for naps and bed.

He's at that squirmy age where he doesn't want to be held very long at church or in public or really anywhere where he can't crawl around. He squirms and screams until he gets his way to be put down so he can crawl around.  Good times. I was dreading this time as I remember having a hard time doing anything in public with Liam when he was about 9 months to two years old. Liam was also a bolter, so I always had to hold his hand, strap him in or chase after him everywhere.  Girls are so different!

He also has super hero senses that know when Mommy is trying to get some homeschooling done.  He knows that if he throws a big enough fit, mommy will be forced to pick him up, thus every attempt at homeschooling will be foiled.  I'm really trying hard to figure away around this super power of his. I think I may need to develop a super power or two of my own...

Friday, December 9, 2011

Project Detox, Part 3: Small Successes and Much Confusion on Grains

....Continued from Parts 1 and 2

Project Detox took back seat while the grandma's took their turns visiting, but we're back into the swing of things now.  Even throughout visitors, I held fast to my rule that no concessions shall be made for individual preferences.  On the whole, implementing this rule was much easier than I thought.   Once I established it as the new norm and put up with temper tantrums and bad attitudes for the first few days (and occasionally now and then), things have been going better than before.  The kids still complain about meals they don't prefer, but they know now that this is all they are going to get.  They don't expect to get whatever they want for lunch so when I serve them left overs, it's not the end of the world. 

Taking away the sugar, processed snack foods, and most of the grains from their diet was a good way to strip away all the ways they fill themselves between meals and during meals so that what remained was protein and vegetables and dairy.  They had to eat them in order to survive because there wasn't going to be anything else to eat!  I took the cue to take away grains from Wellness Mama.  However, I have been serving whole grains in moderation because I am not convinced that all grains are bad for everybody. 

Another good thing about detoxing from sugar and grains and processed foods was that I was able to get a clearer picture about what artificial flavors, colors, excess sugars and perhaps even too many grains do to my kids.  I have noticed that my son has a hard time concentrating and the kids get really wound up when they had something that was out of the detox diet.  Case in point: my son just came out of his bed and said his tummy hurt from eating too much cake (the only sugar food that was allowed just for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception). From now on, I will be strictly limiting and/or banishing these from their diets.   The best advice that I have read was from Sarah at The Healthy Home Economist when she says, "There is no substitute for listening to your body and noticing/observing the effects of a food on your own personal biology."

However, I'm still confused about the grains thing....I am led to believe that the USDA's recommendation for grains is unhealthy.  A friends suggested that there be some political motives behind their recommendations.  In any case, even in my worst eating days, I've always thought that 6-11 servings of grains a day was atrocious.  My husband and I have read the South Beach diet book and have had much success with that diet which cuts out all carbs for the first two weeks, then gradually introduces them in a whole grain approach while watching the glycemic index of starchy foods.  But I never thought it was nutritionally appropriate for kids to go without grains.   I'm not trying to make my kids lose weight, I just want them to be healthy.  Wellness Mamma seems to think that no grains (including beans, corn and potatoes) is the only way to go for everyone, but I'm not convinced about that either.   I did a bit of research from her blog and from the internet at large and I came up gasping for air.

Information Overload!   

Trying to move out of a state of confussion, I ignored all the extremists and paleo dietititions and went with my gut.  Until there are more studies done on that, I am not totally eliminating grains.  If the kids have one meal a day with grains, I think that's perfect. I'm going to try not to stress about it any more because the more research I do, the more confused I get. Everyone has a different spin and I just want to get off the tilt-a-whirl!

In conclusion of detox week, our lifestyle is now reflecting a more organic, non processed, whole food look.  I hope I don't backslide, but from now on, I will be cutting back on whole grains (to about a third of what we were eating), eliminating processed grains, banishing sugar (except for special occasions) and striving toward an organic, whole food diet including grass fed beef and free range chickens. 

The kids are still not lapping up their food like Farmer Boy, but I know things like that don't happen overnight.   I have seen enough small sucesses to believe that we are on the right track.  It's all for the glory of God.

If you have any good nutritional books or websites to suggest, please let me know!

The "Secrets" to a Happy Couple

A member of my homeschool group and my children's pediatrician was on an ABC news report on the "What Makes Couples Happy".  This mom is one of those incredible women who exuberate joy and is so filled with serenity and poise that you wonder how it is she can do all that she does so beautifully.  She is so in love with her Catholic faith which she shares with the children at my son's school every Monday.

It's a very good little clip that is rare to find on national television because it shows large families in a very positive light.  A couple of the most important parts that were left out of Dr. Canady's comments were that "all happiness comes from God" and "our Catholic faith brings God's blessings to us throughout each and every day". 

I was a little surprised by the first statistic that 65% of couples are more unhappy AFTER having children.  I don't see how this could be possible except if your idea of happiness is a shallow misinterpretation of what true happiness is.   My husband and I often say how we are more close to each other and love each other more after children.  In fact, every aspect of our relationship has improved since having children.  It really saddens me to see couples putting off children and even marriage in favor of more money and more time for themselves and their dogs!  It's unfortunate that they don't know what they are missing.

Thank God for wonderful examples of the joy that comes from a life of true sacrificial love such as seen in the Canady family!  

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Giveaway Winners!

Happy Feast of the Immaculate Conception! Today's winners for the giveaway were generated by  The numbers that won were number 3 (Noreen) and number 9 (Natasha). Congratulations! Thank you to everyone who entered!

Friday, December 2, 2011

Bracelet Giveaway!

Like I promised, I am having a little giveaway!  Here are two bracelets I am giving away. I will pick two numbers from  You can win one or both bracelets.   Just leave a comment with your email address if you don't have one that goes with your comment name.  I can ship overseas.  Winners will be chosen on December 8.  Good luck!

Handmade Clay Music Beads with pewter spacers (sized for a female adult)
"Jesus in My Heart" Handmade clay heart beads with glass and pewter spacers and Virgin Mary medal (sized for kids or small wrist)