Thursday, December 29, 2011

7 (Okay, 10) Quick Takes: My Favorite Posts of 2011

(I just wanted to show you the beautiful olive wood carving of Mary and Jesus from Bethlehem that Joe gave me for Christmas. I'm still deciding on a permanent spot in our home for her.)

On this fifth day of Christmas, the kids are still out of school, and today we've invited a few of their friends over to hang out, play video games, or whatever. I made some chocolate-chip cookies already, and in a little while I'm going to make a big pot of chili. Right now, I'm going to toot my own horn a bit (bear with me). As I've shared before, I love blogging, even though it takes up time during the day that I could be spending doing more "important" things (even sleeping--I can't tell you how many nights I've spent at the computer during the wee hours working on a post to make it just right). I try to put some thought and planning into each post, and sometimes the results are better than other times.

In 2011 I posted 54 times on Musings of a Catholic Mom (not including this one), which is the lowest number of posts in a year since I started in 2009. On Cooking Nick's Books, I posted 38 times, and if you add them together that's a total of 92 posts. (Not too shabby. Maybe I should put some ads up and start making a little cash.)

For your reading enjoyment, I've selected ten of my favorite posts from this past year. I had planned to choose only 7, but even narrowing it down to 10 wasn't easy. Here they are in chronological order (click on the title of each post to view them):


How the death of my cousin reminded me of how precious each day is, and how easy it is to take our time on Earth for granted.


Pictures of pretty flowers.


From Cooking Nick's Books. In which I share photos and memories from our wedding, and share a wonderful vanilla cake recipe.


Some meditations on the crucifixion, and things I ponder when I look at images in my church.


Our little "pilgrimage" to the church where I learned the Catholic faith, where I was confirmed, and where our oldest was baptized.


Images of Our Lady.


My own pro-life reflections on the Seven Sorrows.


From Cooking Nick's Books. In which I share my mother-in-law's wonderful and authentically Italian pasta sauce recipe. I've never had anything better.


My thoughts following the death of racing driver Dan Wheldon. And some photos, too.


From Cooking Nick's Books. My adventures in the kitchen on Christmas Day. I think I'm getting better at taking pictures of food.

Thanks to everyone who has stayed with me through these three years since I started this blog. Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and I'm looking forward to sharing many more memories with you in 2012!

For more Quick Takes, visit Jen's Conversion Diary!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Merry Christmas From Our Family

In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that the whole world should be enrolled. ...And Joseph too went up from Galilee from the town of Nazareth to Judea, to the city of David that is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David, to be enrolled with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. While they were there, the time came for her to have her child, and she gave birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

Now there were shepherds in that region living in the fields and keeping the night watch over their flock. The angel of the Lord appeared to them and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were struck with great fear. The angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.”And suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel, praising God and saying:
“Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

When the angels went away from them to heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go, then, to Bethlehem to see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” So they went in haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the infant lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known the message that had been told them about this child. All who heard it were amazed by what had been told them by the shepherds. And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart. Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, just as it had been told to them.

(Luke 2: 1, 4-20)


Thursday, December 22, 2011

7 Not-So-Quick Takes: ADVENT-ures 2011, Part 2

Take #1. I have this great app on my Ipad called "Home Routines" that helps me organize my daily and weekly tasks. It follows the guidelines of The Fly Lady, and you can adjust it to your own needs. You have a "morning" list, an "evening" list, a "weekly tasks" list; these generally stay the same all the time. Then you have several other To-Do lists: "Today," "This Week," and "Later." These are constantly changing. You can check off each task as you complete it, and it's an easy way to keep track of what needs to be done. It also gives you a place to list chores for each "zone" in your home--a room or area that you try to do little extra cleaning and organizing in each week. (Theoretically. Don't ask me when I last dusted my ceiling fans or cleaned the baseboards.) This Advent I've made a kind of new (liturgical) year's resolution to make better use of it because frankly I'm never been good at organizing my time or my home. (Ginny recommends a book called Organizing Solutions for People with Attention Deficit Disorder. I don't know if I actually have ADD or not, but it sounds like something that might help me. We'll see; I still have Peter Walsh's book Does This Clutter Make My Butt Look Fat? sitting on my shelf waiting for me to read.)

Anyhow, one of the tasks I listed (quite a while ago) in the "Morning" category is, "Prayer and Journaling." Most days I leave that unchecked. I'm working on a solution to that, especially the "prayer" part., and I'll tell you about that in a future post. (I'm also working out a system to help me get more "weekly" tasks done. I don't even look at the "zone" lists. Baby steps.)

The wise men are starting on their journey to visit the Baby Jesus. This is Moe's little project.

Take #2. I almost skipped praying one morning this week. I had made beef stew the night before, and had left it on the stove to cool before putting it in the fridge for the next day; when I got up in the morning I discovered I had left it out all night and had to throw it out. I wanted to cry. I cursed myself and of course the first thoughts that came to my head were harsh words of reproach about how stupid I could be sometimes and that I'm a loser, a failure, etc. Being angry at myself (or at anyone, for that matter) doesn't exactly put me in the right frame of mind for prayer. But I also realized that even spending a few minutes talking and listening to God would calm my spirit and I would have a better day overall. God certainly isn't angry at me for being forgetful. After praying a decade of the Rosary--trying not to scold myself for not praying the whole thing--I felt much better and was able to put that mistake behind me and focus on the tasks of the day.

O Jesus, through the Immaculate Heart of Mary, I offer You my prayers, works, joys, and sufferings of this day in union with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass throughout the world. I offer them for all the intentions of Your Sacred Heart. Amen.

Take #3. Recently our nephew in Atlanta turned four, and my brother-in-law and sister-in-law threw him a birthday party last Sunday. We talked to him on the phone that night, and he was excited to tell everyone about his party. When I got on the phone, he said, "Hi, Auntie Sharon! I had my birthday party! But why couldn't you come?" I told him I wished I could have been there but we live too far away. "But you could go fast!!"

We spent last Christmas at their house in Atlanta, and this year we miss them more than ever.

This is the creche at the church in Atlanta where we went to Christmas Eve Mass last year.

Take #4. In Art class, Moe and his classmates were given a plain, silver-colored Christmas ball and instructed to draw what they saw in the reflection. The teacher had four or five kids sit around a small table with the ball in the middle, and gave each of them Shrinky Dink paper and colored pencils (or whatever you use for Shrinky Dinks--I haven't seen those since I was a kid!) Here's how his turned out:

Take #5. In Technology class--here I go bragging about my kids' school work again--Moe used Power Point Auto Shapes (whatever that is) to make this:

(He says the manger looks like a flying saucer. Curly said it looks like a bobsled. Personally I think Joseph's mustache is way cool.)

And just for kicks, here's the one Curly made two years ago when he was in fifth grade:

(I love Mary's big hair in this one.)

Take #6. My paternal grandmother used to collect all kinds of whimsical things, including salt-and-pepper shakers. She had a whole china cabinet full of them. One of her most memorable sets was made in the image of a large-breasted mermaid. They sat on a tray shaped like the lounging mermaid, and the shakers were her, um, girls. Over the last couple of years I have started a collection of my own (although I don't think I'll ever have any that resemble body parts), much to the amusement--annoyance?--of my family.

The most ordinary-looking ones are what we use from day to day. The blue and white ones in the back match our wedding china, and I'm pretty sure we've had those the longest. The little redbirds and the peppermints are ones I found at Cracker Barrel just a few weeks ago. (I used to have more than these, but since I insist on actually USING them, some have gotten broken. And I did get just one more set this week that isn't in this photo; a little Christmas present for myself.)

I fell in love with these a while back at an antique show:

I didn't buy them, though, because the lady selling them was asking $90 for them. I almost wish I had, though; maybe I could have talked her down in price.

Take #7. In my last 7 Quick Takes post, I included this picture:

I received several comments about how beautiful my wreath is. It's actually my mother-in-law's wreath that she had out on Thanksgiving weekend. Here's the one she had on her door.

(The other day I found one in our attic like this one that I forgot that I had. I'm pretty sure my mother-in-law made it. I'll put that one up after Christmas.)

I'm sure she has put out some more Christmas-y ones by now (although these are pretty Christmas-y already); she has a whole collection of them hanging in a row in her attic. I sometimes jokingly call her Martha because her decorating and cooking often rival Martha Stewart's.

Here's the wreath I have on my door.

I picked it up at the Farmers' market, made by a nice lady who sells pies and cakes and things. The Santa was given to me a few years back by a friend and fellow teacher I was working with at the time. I'm sure Martha Stewart wouldn't have this on HER door, but we like our little holly-who wreath.

Bonus take, #8: My friend Lynda wrote this beautiful piece for Christmas and posted it on her blog, Conversations With My Soul. Head on over and check it out!

And be sure to check out Jen Fulwiler's blog, Conversion Diary, for more Quick Takes!

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Post #200: And the winner is...

We just returned from Mass. I'm enjoying a mug of spiked eggnog in a Rudy Reindeer mug, just like the one I've put the names in for my giveaway. Joe and the boys just turned on the TV to watch "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer." (Wasn't that on already?) I've asked Joe to draw a name from my cup.
Congratulations, Katie! You're the winner! Email me your address so I can get that book to ya.
Thanks to everyone who entered, and happy Gaudete Sunday!

Friday, December 9, 2011

One more day... enter my giveaway! Don't forget:

1. Leave me a comment;
2. Follow me, and/or;
3. Share this post with your friends.

If you already follow me, that doesn't necessarily mean you're entered; you need to let me know you want me to add your name.

Good luck; I'm hoping to announce the winner tomorrow. Happy Friday!

p.s. The book is signed by Immaculee'. It makes a great gift!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

I Know You Want This...

I love my little blog (and my even littler one, Cooking Nick's Books). Not many people read it, and I don't have many followers; I rarely get comments in my comment box. I've never put any ads in my sidebar, and I generate zero income from this hobby of mine. Occasionally I find myself wondering if I shouldn't just quit and find something more useful to do with my time--like folding laundry, vacuuming, or mailing Christmas cards. But I love blogging; it's a way for me to connect with people and share my faith and put some of my thoughts into words. It's my way of journaling, I guess. And when I see that someone in Brazil or somewhere has looked at my post about The Seven Sorrows of Mary, or when someone leaves a comment about how much they like a photo I've taken, I know my time is not wasted. That's why, as a thank-you gift to my readers, I'm offering my copy of Our Lady of Kibeho, signed by Immaculee Ilibagiza.

Lots of other bloggers have giveaways. They're usually the bloggers with LOTS of readers, ads in their sidebars, and sponsors (is that the same thing?) Maybe they're really good at knitting or crafting, and they'll give away something they've made. Many have Etsy shops where they sell their creations. Or, if it's a book that's the prize, it's one they've written, and maybe even self-published. I don't do any of those things, and when I decided to host this giveaway, I think the devil started whispering in my ear, telling me that I'm a fool for doing so. Nobody will enter your stupid drawing; what's the point? And you spent good money on that book; isn't there someone you'd rather give it to than some random person you may never meet? I'll bet you can make some dough if you sell it on ebay. (Heaven forbid. I've bought signed books on ebay before, but I don't think I would EVER sell one.)

Well, this is MY blog, dang it, and if I want to spend a few bucks every year or two for a prize for my fabulous readers, by golly I will. So take a look at my last post, leave a comment, and share it with your friends. (Heck, I'll even take comments on THIS post.) And don't forget to follow my blog if you aren't already! I've got a cute little reindeer mug (actually, it's pretty hefty, more like a tankard) full of green slips of paper, and I'd love to add your name to it. I'll keep the drawing open until midnight on Friday, an announce the winner over the weekend.

Can you tell I took these photos with my phone? I do get lazy on occasion. I know you don't mind, because I'm sure you're all as busy (or busier) than me. So thank you, my friends, for taking time to read my little labor of love. You rock.

Friday, December 2, 2011

7 Quick Takes: ADVENTures, 2011 Part One, and My Second Ever Giveaway


I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving! We spent a glorious few days with Joe's parents in Williamsburg. The weather was beautiful. Joe enjoyed a round of golf with his dad, and we all had some much-needed R&R--watching football, walking the dog, reading, video games, and we took in the new Muppet Movie. (If you haven't seen it, go. It's most sensational, inspirational, celebrational, Muppetational...) It was even warm enough on Saturday to enjoy an alfresco breakfast at Aromas Cafe' in Colonial Williamsburg.


Sunday Mass with the New Translation went swimmingly! (For my non-Catholic friends, this past Sunday the Church introduced an new edition to the Roman Missal for masses in English. The new version is a more literal translation from the original Latin, and many of the prayers and responses are slightly different. The language is richer and more eloquent, and we're now using wonderful words like "incarnate" and "consubstantial.") Our choir director led the congregation in a practice round of the prayers and responses before Mass, and that was helpful. Father R reminded us throughout the Mass to say "And with your spirit," and everyone was given a cheat sheet when we arrived. And I LOVE LOVE LOVE the new Eucharistic prayers! I mean, "you give life to all things and make them holy, and you never cease to gather a people to yourself, so that from the rising of the sun to its setting a pure sacrifice may be offered to your name." Awesome!


When we arrived home on Saturday, I decided to reorganize my kitchen cabinets. I spent a good-sized chunk of time on Saturday and Sunday taking things out, packing things I don't use into a box to send to Goodwill, and moving items from one place to another. I found about twenty or thirty brown paper bags of various sizes stuffed into a couple of drawers--I can't imagine why on Earth I wanted to save them. I had bread pans in three different places (I mean, who keeps bread pans in three different places? Joe is delighted because now he knows where to find things), and I dug out two serving trays I completely forgot I had. I was able to clear away some of the clutter that had built up on the countertops over the summer. This weekend I hope take some time and tackle the study shelves, and find places for all my Religious Education stuff, which is mostly in cardboard boxes at the moment.


I've been going over the changes in the Mass these last couple of months with my third graders in CCD. Recently I found this Mass response booklet over at The Catholic Toolbox blog. I printed it out and made black-and-white copies, and gave them out to the kids to color and take home. A few weeks ago I wrote the words to the new penitential rite on the white board, and covered up the words one by one and had the kids fill in the blanks. They loved that one, since they were competing for prizes. We only have one more class before the Christmas holidays (classes are cancelled Wednesday and Thursday for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception), and they'll be having treats, listening to Christmas music, and decorating their own personal Jesse Trees. (I'm just using the one that's printed in their textbooks, and I printed off some symbols I found at Our Sunday Visitor for them to color, cut out, and glue to their trees. One of these days I'll plan far enough ahead to make a real Jesse tree, and have the kids make the ornaments. I want to do that at home too--maybe next year!


Now for the part you've all been waiting for--the giveaway!! I'm fast approaching my 200th post, and my three-year blog-aversary is not far behind. With Christmas coming soon I thought it might be a good time for a giveaway (And I'd better do it now before I change my mind. More on that in my next post.) What's the prize? A signed copy of Our Lady of Kibeho by Immaculee' Ilibagiza! Last spring I had the privilege of meeting Immaculee', and I bought several books that she signed for me: one I gave to my mother (Left to Tell), one is for me (Led By Faith, Immaculee's story of her faith journey, which I still haven't read), and one to share with you! We just celebrated the feast day of Our Lady of Kibeho on the 28th of November, too; had I known beforehand I would have had this giveaway earlier. Ah, well...


To enter the drawing, all you have to do is:

1. Follow my blog. If you already follow me, leave a comment letting me know you want to be in the running.

2. Leave a comment here.

3. Share this post with your friends, either via social networking or by email. Let me know in the comment box (or by Facebook, Twitter, or email) that you've done this. I operate under the honor system! :-)

You don't have to do all three to get your name into the cup (the last time I had a giveaway, I used a Dave and Buster's mug that we acquired on a visit to Atlanta; this time I'll probably use a Southern Living At Home Rudy Reindeer Mug. They're my favorite, and dang it, they've been discontinued.) If you do all three, your name will be entered three times; if you do two, I'll enter you twice, etc. You get the idea.


You have until ONE WEEK from today to enter--Friday, December 9. I will announce the winner on the 10th or the 11th. My goal is to get the book in the mail on Monday the 12th so you'll have it before Christmas!

Let the ADVENTures begin, and be sure to visit Jen Fulwiler's Conversion Diary blog for more Quick Takes!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

November Blessings

Now that the fall colors are fading, and Thanksgiving is approaching, I often find myself in a bit of a funk. During the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas I always worry and fret and stress myself out. What are we going to get our kids/parents/brothers/sisters-in-law/niece/nephew? What am I going to cook? How am I ever going to get my house clean AND buy presents AND send Christmas cards AND get presents wrapped and shipped, etc. etc. etc. I'm always envious of people who get all their Christmas shopping done and their presents wrapped before Thanksgiving, and are able to relax and enjoy Advent, and really prepare their hearts for the coming of the baby Jesus. I've mentioned this to Joe on occasion, but he doesn't like to think about Christmas until after Thanksgiving; although today he reminded me that there is no reason why I can't start thinking about it sooner. But this year at least, as always, we'll spend time with family for Thanksgiving (which is always a relaxing and enjoyable time for us) and in the weeks ahead, try not to stress too much about Christmas.

This year I want to focus on the many blessings that we have. Why do I worry so much about what gifts to buy friends and family? Many people are unable to buy gifts for anyone. Is it really necessary that my children get the latest electronic gadget they're begging for?

We have so much to be thankful for. We have a home to live in and plenty of food to eat and clothes to wear. My husband has a decent paying job that keeps the heat on in the winter, the refrigerator stocked, and allows us to save money so the kids can go to college. Right now our parents are all alive and well, and they love our children more than they imagine. They have aunts and uncles and cousins who miss them and pray for them every day. The boys are all doing well in school, and are forming lifelong friendships.

I want to share some highlights of the last month; on All Saints Day, Moe dressed up as St. Juan Diego. He had an old shepherds' tunic left over from one Christmas when the boys were in our church's Christmas pageant, and he painted an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe on the front. At school his class led the annual All Saints Day parade, and he was one of a few students selected to read his essay about his saint in front of the whole school. His teacher complimented him on how well he read. I was so proud of him!

(He's covering his face because he doesn't want me to take his picture. I'm seriously thinking of abandoning my own blogging rule about not showing my kids' faces here, especially now that they're getting older. The picture of Moe with the hat on top of his head is much better, and you should see his sweet smile!)

This is Curly, getting wrapped up like a mummy this past Sunday by the boys in his confirmation team. I am really looking forward to his confirmation preparation this year! My friend Lesley, whose twin daughters are also preparing for the sacrament, and I are leading the team together. (That's the other thing. I'm tired of referring to my friends as "L" and "J" and "B", etc. I want to use their real names from now on. I hope they don't mind.) Anyway, on Sunday we got the team together for our first official meeting, fed them ice cream, and as an ice breaker we had them wrap each other up in toilet paper.

At our parish, kids preparing for confirmation are required to complete three spiritual works of mercy and three corporal works of mercy with their assigned teams. A spiritual work might be attending Stations of the Cross during Lent, or a holy hour at church--something to help them grow closer to God. A corporal work is serving someone's physical needs--feeding the homeless, collecting clothing for the Salvation Army, raking leaves for an elderly parishioner. We decided (and this was Lesley's idea, as was the toilet paper icebreaker; I am extremely blessed to be working with my friend I've known since the sixth grade--plus she's super-organized AND creative!) for our first corporal work we would pack boxes for Samaritan's Purse Operation Christmas Child project. We packed boxes with small toys, school supplies, toiletries, even socks and t-shirts, and they each wrote a note to the child who would be receiving his or her box. Lesley delivered the boxes to the distribution center where they were packed into crates and loaded onto a truck to be shipped, eventually, to needy children overseas.

Ever since we moved into our house nearly fourteen years ago, we've been talking about landscaping the front and back yards. We've had a lot of other things done--remodeled our kitchen and two of our bathrooms, had a deck built, painted and re-carpeted various rooms--and now we've finally hired a landscaping company to hopefully make our yard more attractive and (hopefully) less muddy. On Saturday there was a crew here drawing lines and digging holes and planting bushes and ferns and things and spreading topsoil. These last few days have been rainy, so unfortunately they haven't been back; but Lord willing, we'll have a perfectly landscaped yard before Christmas, and if we're lucky, it will stay that way for years to come.

This will eventually become a stone pathway.

Oh, and one more miracle happened: Curly was able to snap a picture of Holly our neurotic yellow Lab before she jumped up and started barking and letting us know in no uncertain terms that she does NOT like cameras.

I want to wish you all a happy and blessed Thanksgiving!

UPDATE: There is one more November blessing I did not mention; check out my latest post over on Cooking Nick's Books to see what it is!

Friday, November 18, 2011

It's a Beautiful Autumn in Our Neck of the Woods (2011 edition)

Joe spent all of last weekend blowing leaves. And the weekend before that, and the weekend before that. A couple of years ago he invested in a heavy-duty gas-powered backpack monster blower, and the first time he used it he threw his back out. Now he's got the hang of it, but Monday morning, after the three-day weekend, he was sore and stiff. One Saturday recently, Moe built quite an impressive fort with the piles Joe had made.

It rained this week. As Joe left the house one morning, I heard him exclaim, "I HATE LEAVES!" No doubt he was dreading this weekend, which would surely mean more leaf-blowing. That afternoon, we returned home to find more leaf piles in the yard, as if someone had come and blown them for us. We were somewhat perplexed, but grateful. The next day we found little yellow flags in the ground leading from the house to the street, marking the buried gas line. That was when we remembered that last weekend we had signed a contract with a landscaping company, and they were eager to get started.

Today I came home to find all of this.

They start planting tomorrow.

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