Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Church Triumphant: Spotlight on St. Stephen

Afternoon all, and I hope that you are all having a wonderful Thursday. :) Me? Well, my day started off with a bit of an adventure. I left the driveway to head to work, my Fr. Roderick podcast happily playing in the background, and all of a sudden my audio started sounding like an alien spaceship was landing in the background. I have an old car, and thus an FM transmitter to listen to my iPod, so these types of occurrences aren't all that rare. :) Then, precious Fr. Roderick stopped talking altogether, and I looked down to see that my radio was off. Huh? I was pondering this surprising development as my car started making gasping noises and stalled. Uh oh, not good. I managed to coast around the corner and off to the side of the road to try and get it restarted. Let's just say that didn't go well. A phone call to Mike had him and Anne swooping in to rescue me, with a tow truck soon behind. Both Mike and the car shop guy think it's the alternator, but we're waiting for them to call with an official diagnosis. So, I'm at home waiting on the car, and I'm hoping that it'll be fixed today. Always an adventure. :)

At any rate, welcome to December's edition of The Church Triumphant! Everything is moved up a week in December (book club, this series) to accommodate the holidays, so the dates are off a bit. We usually do all of these posts in the 4th week of the month. But anyway, today we'll be discussing two saints with upcoming feast days. St. Stephen (feast on December 26th) is here on this blog, and the Holy Family (feast on December 28th) is over on Cristina's!

These Advent and Christmas feasts are so lovely, are they not? Now, I will grant you, St. Stephen isn't exactly an easy story to read through. This poor soul is known for his death by stoning by those calling his beliefs blasphemous, and he is the very first Christian martyr. A key part of his story is the presence of the future St. Paul in the crowd during all of this. Quite a dramatic scene that was, I am certain, especially since St. Stephen was praying for his persecutors as they were stoning him. You can see from the iconography in the photo within this post that he is portrayed as a deacon carrying stones atop his Bible. He is also shown carrying a green palm, which symbolizes victory. Martyrs are often depicted carrying palms for their triumph over the enemies of their soul.

St. Stephen's feast falls during the traditional 12 Days of Christmas, so we're starting that off on a powerful note. :) I keep emphasizing to my kids that Christmas is not a single day, but is an entire season. And each day within has special meaning. St. Stephen's feast day, to me, signifies trust. Total abandonment to trust in the will of the Father. Not an easy thing, to be sure. But also faith, hope and love. These things apply to many things in our lives, usually cheerier things like a wedding, but they apply to martyrdom and death as well. Certainly, these things were all swirling about in the mind of our Blessed Mother in the early days surrounding the birth of her child. How do they apply to each of us in our specific vocations and states in life?

The Second Day of Christmas, when I was a child, always seemed like a "letdown day." You look forward to Christmas Eve (our big extended family celebration) and Christmas Day (gift opening and general frivolity) for months, and then it's like someone just let all of the air out of your balloon with a fork. It's December 26th, and it seems like the only thing ahead of you is the longest part of the winter and going back to school. Of course, at that time  I lacked a full understanding of the Christmas season, not to mention maturity. Now I see December 26th as the beginning of a season of promise, with St. Stephen as our model in faith. We always have that, no matter what, and we're only just beginning (no matter our age) to discover what God has in store for us. What's not to be joyful about in that?

Who has a special devotion to St. Stephen? Do write in a comment. :) And don't forget to head over to read Cristina's Holy Family post! She's got some great ideas over there, involving food, everyone's favorite, :) to celebrate the feast!

I have a Christmas party tomorrow and won't be able to blog, but I hope that you all have a beautiful Fourth Sunday of Advent, and I will be reporting in first thing Monday morning. Until then!

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Catholic Book Club: Advent of a Mystery

Happy book club Wednesday everyone! Today I am pleased to be reviewing a title that fits in perfectly with the season, Advent of a Mystery, by Marilyn Leach. I received this book as a gift, but it is officially out of print, and available only on Amazon Marketplace. I found out, however, that is has been reissued as Candle for a Corpse (A Berdie Elliott Mystery, Book 1). The happy news is that if you didn't read this book already, and my review intrigues you, you can now buy it in print and get two day shipping with your Amazon Prime membership, or download it to your Kindle or Kindle app for 99 cents! Pretty awesome, and thank you to Ashley for letting me know about this!

Ok, so let's get right into the scoop. This is a light-hearted mystery featuring an Anglican vicar and his wife in a small English village, and as the title indicates, set during Advent. The book begins with a large Christmas party hosted by the couple for the members of their parish, and we are introduced to a motley assortment of characters. One of the parishoners (an eccentric sort who engenders mixed feelings among the group) is later murdered. Who is the culprit?

I really liked this book, and found that I breezed through it, as one would expect for a cozy mystery. My only constructive criticism is that I found the characters hard to keep track of, there were a lot of them. I had to flip back several times to remind myself of who was who. But the heroine, Berdie, is quite endearing and I liked her very well. She and her good friend Lillie get themselves into all sorts of trouble by poking around on their own to try and figure out what happened. The murder actually ties in the victim's Advent wreath, which I found a nice touch. :) And again, this is all in good fun, it is a light mystery. In contrast to last month, it is very easy to remember that this is fiction. There is a romance brewing for Lillie, which was a sweet side story, and general happenings involving Berdie and her husband acclimating to the parish and its accompanying village since this is a very new assignment for them.

This is a cute, cute book, and I really enjoyed reading it. I had my suspicions about the murderer, which likely means it was easy to tell, since I'm terrible at that. But that did not ruin my enjoyment of the book. I loved the characters and the setting. An enjoyable seasonal read, and I definitely recommend this book to cozy mystery lovers.

The author has published a new title in this series, which is Up From the Grave: A Berdie Elliott Lenten Mystery. I mean. :0


It too is 99 cents for Kindle, and man! I may have to download this one. In fact, I just did. :) It's now happily residing on my Kindle. A British cozy mystery set during Lent? Can't pass that one up, my friends! I'm very excited to read it this spring. :) I may very well make this an official book club selection to review here on the blog. We'll see!

Just a side note on Kindles: I have an older model of the small Kindle e-reader, the one with a 4-way controller. That thing is a workhorse and I adore it. The controller, rather than a touchscreen, is a pain in the backside, but I rarely use it. I download books from my phone and send them to my Kindle. Then they automatically download when WIFI is connected, easy peasy. But the reason I'm mentioning this is that the Kindle e-readers are on sale right now, in this pre-Christmas sales bonanza time, and the deal is amazing. They are normally $79 (also dirt cheap for what you're getting, really) and are marked down to $59. That's a heck of a deal. These are the new versions, with a touchscreen, although lacking lighting of any kind (but the Kindle Paperwhite is now on sale for $99, just fyi). But at any rate, I know a lot of people use the Kindle app, which is convenient and easy and all of that, but this is just a quick plug from the librarian about the beauty of a dedicated e-reader device. ;-) LOVE. The e-ink is just gorgeous and so easy on your eyes. I actually prefer reading books on my Kindle to reading print books anymore, for fiction especially. Some non-fiction I still prefer print due to illustrations and such, but the e-reader is a gem. I always have a ton of books on there, no worries about clogging up your bookshelf, and I love how easy it is on my aging eyes to read with it. There's your Librarian Public Service Announcement of the day. :)

Back to books! If you've read either Advent of a Mystery or Candle for a Corpse, do chime in in the comments! Next month we're back to non-fiction with Blessed Mother Teresa's Come Be My Light. Join us January 28th for the discussion!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The Catholic Nook: Our Lady of the Snows & the Christmas Novena...

Happy Tuesday everybody! I'm so excited about our post for today. Before I talk about Our Lady of the Snows, it seemed perfect that today is day 1 of the Christmas Novena. I have a page at the top of the blog for those of you interested in praying along with me. There is a link to sign up for the daily email reminders. The Christmas Novena begins each year on December 16th and runs through Christmas Eve as a spiritual preparation for the big day. So get your intentions squared away and get started!

Ok, so Our Lady of the Snows. This has become my new obsession. :) And the image in this post? I LOVE IT. I've been searching for a similar prayer card, but no luck so far. At any rate, let's learn more about her, shall we?

This title for Mary developed from a tradition involving a Roman couple in the year 352. Both husband and wife had a dream in which Mary appeared to them and told them that she wanted a church built in a place on which snow would fall to mark the spot. Given that they lived in Rome, you can imagine that the couple was a bit curious. :) Snow doesn't fall all that often there, especially in August. :0 Well, sure enough, on August 5th snow covered Esquiline Hill in Rome. All of Rome proclaimed this a miracle, and a church was built on the hill in 358. Through the years, the church has undergone a lot of restoring and refurbishing, and is the modern day Basilica of St. Mary Major. The Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, who honor Our Lady of the Snows as their patroness, run an American shrine to Mary under this title in Belleville, Illinois, which features a Way of Light at Advent and Christmas and multiple small shrines to Mary under her various titles (Our Lady of Guadalupe, Our Lady of Lourdes). Her feast is celebrated on August 5th. A special prayer for her intercession is below:

Our Lady of the Snows, Immaculate Queen of the Universe, from this privileged sanctuary, Thou has bestowed so many countless graces and pledges of love upon the hearts and souls of millions. O Mother, from this cradle of Christianity, this Mother Church of all churches, deign to shower forth the graces of thine Immaculate Heart upon the remnant Faithful throughout the world, wherever they may be, and grant them the graces of a childlike love and unwavering fidelity to the holy truths of our Faith. Grant, good Mother, to the faithful Bishops of the Church the grace to defend Her Sacred Teachings, and to persevere courageously against all the enemies of the Holy Church. Amen.
 Cool, huh?

I just absolutely love the image of Mary under this title, it just gives me such a cozy feeling. Our Lady of the Snows isn't a very well known title for her, and finding gift items bearing this image are difficult to come by.  I had her in mind when I recently asked the fabulous Allison to craft matching rosaries for me (for me and Anne) with a Frozen colorway theme. Our Lady of the Snows rosary centers are nonexistent as far as I know, so I asked her to use Our Lady of Lourdes:

Isn't it stunning? The colors are just so evocative to me of Our Lady of the Snows. The bead mix is called "Glacier," and has sparkly blue shades and Aurora Borealis crystal. The Paters are silver pearls. I LOVE IT. It's a perfect winter rosary. :) And she'll custom make you one too if you ask her!

I also see that Our Lady of the Snows has a novena that you can pray each year from July 27th through August 4th, leading to her feast day, so let's do that in 2015, yes? I'll create a page with the prayers so that we can pray along together for her intercession.

Does anybody else have familiarity with Our Lady of the Snows? I'd love to hear from you!

P.S., don't forget that book club is tomorrow! We'll be talking about Advent of a Mystery. See you then!

Monday, December 15, 2014

Baby Jesus makes a pilgrimmage to our parish - Third Sunday of Advent & Bambinelli Sunday...

Happy Monday everyone! I'll be honest - my Monday didn't start out so sunny ;-) but things are better now and I'm feeling up to my usual writing fix for the day. This was a jam packed weekend of liturgical goodness, so let's get started!

Saturday was the feast of St. Lucy, and as promised, I got up to put some cinnamon buns into the oven. I have never made cinnamon buns before, even out of a tube, so I read the instructions very carefully. Apparently, my level of carefulness is directly correlated with unsatisfactory results, because the rolls came out overdone. Leave it to me to screw up processed cinnamon rolls, but there you have it. They were, however, still very edible, and the kids seemed to enjoy them quite a bit. I got out the St. Lucy book (I mention it, as well as a book on Bambinelli Sunday, which I will discuss below, back in my 7 Quick Post from Friday) and this year, Henry didn't seem too interested in reading the whole thing (it's certainly lengthier than your average picture book), but Anne actually sat for the story. I had to modify a few things in the retelling, :0 this is definitely aimed at slightly older kids, maybe in the 8 year old and up range, and I didn't want Anne to be scared. But I will say, I learned a *lot* of good stuff about St. Lucy from this book. For instance, Lucy's crown of candles comes from, not just her name, but a Swedish tradition in which St. Lucy arrived by boat, guiding the way with lights, during a severe famine. She brought wheat to the starving people, and hence that's why we make sweet rolls and breads to commemorate her feast. Good stuff.

We also read the Bambinelli Sunday book, and I was thrilled to see that Henry had brought a flyer home from school advertising that the school parish would be having an official Bambinelli Sunday Mass the next day. So, the children were invited to bring in their baby Jesus figurines to have them blessed during Mass. I was very excited and planned to go, but in the end, we decided to go to our regular parish since we had a bunch of stuff to drop off (Giving Tree gift and some clothes for the donation bin). However, I was all inspired, and insisted that both children pack up their Baby Jesus figurines for a blessing request after Mass for the Third Sunday of Advent:

Anne was super excited about this and immediately got her Jesus ready, as was I. That's my baby Jesus up in the cover photo for this post. :0 Henry on the other hand...he's 9. He's entered this age where he's worried that everything he does is being watched and deemed embarrassing by others. While I sympathize, I think the child is far too paranoid for his own good. ;-)

So Sunday morning, we loaded up all our stuff, including three Jesuses. The kids put the gift under the Giving Tree while I found a pew. I was wearing bright pink in honor of it also being the Third Sunday of Advent, and thus Gaudete Sunday, when we light the rose candle.

*happy sniff*

Anne wore her pink furry boots in commemoration as well. :0 I tucked our Jesus figures into our pew for the end of Mass, so that we could ask our parish priest to bless them. Anne was pretty fidgety, and during the Gospel, asked to use the restroom. This is my lot in life right now, as mother to a 3 year old, so I took her back into the sacristy. While we were back there she spotted the children in the other room participating in Children's Liturgy of the Word. When we finished in the restroom, she asked if she could stay with them.

Well.

*sniffle!*

I thought she might not want to stay without me, so I explained that if she went, she had to sit like a big girl without me and then come back to our pew when they were done.

"Ok, Mommy. I won't be scared!"

She hustled over next to another little girl, looking mighty proud of herself, and waved goodbye to me.

All right then.

*eyes well*

It actually was a nice respite for me to be able to hear the homily, and she came dashing out at the collection, bursting with happy energy. She declared that she wants to go back next week, so we'll see how this goes. She's younger than Henry was when he started going, but the enthusiasm is certainly there. She's getting so big. :-\

At the end of Mass, we got our coats on and hurried to the back with our Jesuses. Anne ran ahead and thus got to Fr. Jay before I did. I saw him hold out his hand to her, likely expecting her to shake it, but instead:

Whap!

She slapped her Baby Jesus into his palm. He looked confused at first, but then I approached bearing two more Jesuses and explaining our request. He was happy to oblige. :)

So we left feeling contented and with three blessed Jesus figures. Anne eagerly deposited them back to their home nativity scenes upon our return. Another lovely addition to our arsenal of Advent Sundays. Just one to go before Christmas!

How was your Third Sunday of Advent, dear reader? Leave me a comment. :)

Friday, December 12, 2014

7 Quick Takes {Take 64} Advent feast days & tons of books! edition...

-1- Happy feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe!


Happy Friday everybody, and a lovely feast day it is. :) When it comes to Feast Day Nerdiness, and my presidency of this particular fan club ;-) I love to use SQPN's saint database. And for Our Lady of Guadalupe, you can read their lovely write up here. Our Lady of Guadalupe holds a strong connection amongst indigenous people in the Americas, and thus I have a strong affinity for Our Lady under this title as well. I absolutely love the deep teal of her cloak, just beautiful. I had it in mind when I crafted a rosary for myself using her as the centerpiece:


Given that I made it, this is a very non-professional job :) but it does the praying trick nicely. I plan to pray with it on my way home from work later.

-2- Pillsbury cinnamon rolls for everybody!

As I mentioned yesterday, tomorrow is the feast of St. Lucy:

Yes, those would be eyes on that plate :0
I was brainstorming for ideas to celebrate the feast with the kids, and the fabulous Deltaflute suggested (as she knows that I am prone to debacles when it comes to baking; I mean, I don't even know how to buy yeast!!) those tubes of cinnamon rolls that one can acquire in the refrigerated area of any grocery store. I mean...GENIUS!! Mike had to run to the grocery store today anyway, and thus he now bears a list that includes "cinnamon roll tube with picture of that doughboy on it!" in my charming scrawl.

:0

That is our breakfast plans for tomorrow, along with coffee, and I'll read the St. Lucy book with the kids.

*liturgical gold star!*

-3- Speaking of liturgical nerdiness...

This Sunday is obviously the third Sunday of Advent, also known as Gaudete Sunday. It means "joy!" and is when we light the rose candle on the Advent wreath. I wrote about it a bit last year over here. :)


I always wondered about that pink candle when I was child, who's with me?! It's different, why is it different? Very curious, indeed. We're at a crucial part of Advent, and the rose candle reminds us to be vigilant, Christmas is near. Here's another interesting factoid: the Third Sunday of Advent is also known as Bambinelli Sunday, and is a day on which children traditionally bring their baby Jesus figures into church to have them blessed by the priest for subsequent placement into the home nativity scene. Lovely, yes? Naturally, the librarian has a relevant book to bring to your attention:


*adjusts bun and glasses*

I reviewed this last year for a Catholic library periodical and loved it. It resides in Anne's personal library and I plan for us to read it this Sunday.

-4- Notice a theme here?

I've always written about my love of the liturgical calendar, but I was thinking that maybe over the course of this next year, I will step that up a bit. I received The Year & Our Children: Catholic Family Celebrations for Every Season for Christmas last year, and I think I'm going to start putting it to good use:


The book chronicles the entire liturgical year, starting with Advent, with ideas for commemorative activities children would enjoy. I'm going to give this a go, and of course I will write about everything here so that we can all share ideas with each other. I actually used this book to do the research on St. Lucy that I wrote about yesterday. You'll see all of this more after the new year, and I'm very excited to share all of this with you!

-5- Lots of fun Catholic-y posts next week

Next week will be my last full week of blogging (although I don't think I will blog next Friday, I'm off that day for a Christmas party) until after the new year. I always take a brief hiatus between Christmas and New Year's Day, and this year will be no exception. The week of Christmas I'll blog the first half of the week, but starting Christmas Eve I'll take a brief respite. But I digress! The point of this take was to say that *next* week I have some great faith posts planned. On Monday, I'll debrief our Third Sunday of Advent, then Tuesday I have a Catholic Nook post planned that I am SUPER excited about regarding Our Lady of the Snows. :0 Wednesday is book club day, see more information on that below in take #6, and Thursday Cristina and I will be posting December's installment of The Church Triumphant.

#soexcited

-6- Catholic Book Club!

The Catholic Book Club will have two posts coming over the next two weeks. Wednesday 12/17 is our regular, scheduled discussion, which for December is Advent of a Mystery, by Marilyn Leach:


I have also been asked to read and review a historical Catholic novel called A Subtle Grace, by Ellen Gable:


I am nearly three quarters of the way done with this one, and I expect to post a review Christmas week, around 12/23. This is an excellent story, and at the part in the action I'm at now, I'm dying to pick up my Kindle each evening and read more to see what happens!

-7- A final book recommendation before the weekend...

You all might remember a book that I reviewed back over the summer, a Catholic YA title called I Am Margaret, by Corinna Turner. I absolutely LOVED the book and have been dying for book two in the trilogy to be released. Well my friends, the day is here:


The Three Most Wanted is the second book in this series, and the instant Corinna tweeted me that the book was out, I fired up my Kindle and downloaded it. I *cannot wait* to read the next installment in this exciting series! Go back and read my review of the first book and you'll see why. I'll plan to include this in a 2015 edition of the Catholic Book Club.

All right everyone, that's it for this week, and I've certainly given you a large reading assignment. ;-) How are you all planning to spend your third weekend in Advent? Leave comments as you wish, and talk to you on Monday!

Don't forget to check out other 7 Quick Take posts over at This Ain't the Lyceum!

Thursday, December 11, 2014

St. Lucy's feast day approaches - should we have Anne wear a crown of lit candles?! #CouldBeDangerous...

Happy Thursday everyone, and I hope that you are well. :) I absolutely love the feast days during Advent, and a fairly new one to my radar screen is coming up on Saturday December, 13th: the feast of St. Lucy. I thought we could talk about St. Lucy a bit and plot about how to work her feast day into a fun family activity/ domestic monastery thing. :)

Henry is the one who really drew my attention to St. Lucy. He and I read a saint story of some sort each night before bed (we have an entire library of books to pull from). And during the course of these readings last year, St. Lucy made an appearance. What with all of the dramatic eye gougings and blazing fires, the story captured Henry's imagination.

"Wow. Did that really happen to her, Mommy? How was she able to do that?"

*very big eyes*

Since then, he's always been fond of St. Lucy. Last year, I bought the book that you see above, Lucia: Saint of Light to read to the kids on her feast day. Henry read it, but Anne wasn't too interested in longer stories just yet. Plus, it really is written for slightly older children, I would say the 7-8 year range. But the pictures are intriguing, so we'll see how it goes this year.

I'd like to make St. Lucy's feast an annual celebration in our house. Thus, I decided to do some additional research this year. Who exactly was St. Lucy, you ask? Lucy was an early virgin martyr (there's that word again! :0 I always substitute "unmarried" when reading these stories to the kids ;-)) who actually appears in the canon of the Mass in Eucharistic Prayer I. Hence, the Church obviously finds her a pretty important example of courage in faith. Part of her story involves Lucy convincing her mother to seek the intercession of St. Agatha for the cure to a bleeding problem she was experiencing. The two women traveled to St. Agatha's tomb, and while there, Lucy had a vision of Agatha and her mother was cured. Subsequently, Lucy took a vow of virginity and gave her money and belongings away to the poor. When she rebuffed a smarmy suitor wanting to marry her, she was targeted as being a Christian, tried, convicted, and martyred. Unfortunately, we have the torture sequence referenced above. :-\

Traditional activities on the feast of St. Lucy involve the youngest daughter in the family wearing a crown (symbolizing martyrdom, and Lucy's status as a bride of Christ, I'm thinking) of lit candles. Her name means "light," so that's part of it, but it may also have to do with her feast falling during Advent, when we expectantly await the light of Christ. This is all very lovely, but obviously a trifle dangerous.  Especially considering our contender for the crown:

I'm not thinking this is a good idea. :0 I may try to find some crafty materials around the house to make a ribbony crown for her, we'll see. But no candles, please. The other thing that is popular on the feast of St. Lucy is serving coffee and sweet rolls that morning. I have no idea what this has to do with young Lucy herself, but this is the custom. I found a recipe here for an appropriate sweet bread for those brave souls wanting to bake. I absolutely love the idea of placing lit candles on the bread, perfect and symbolic compromise! I was all gung ho, but then I saw "active, dry yeast" on the list of ingredients. I have no notion of how one acquires yeast at all, let alone yeast that is all active :0 so I'm not sure if we'll be doing this or not. Maybe I could stop at the grocery store on my way home for some pre-baked "St. Lucy bread." Or at least, that's what I'll call it. ;-)

But I'd like to make the day notable for the kids. There are some other great St. Lucy day ideas over at this blog, if you feel ambitious.

How about you, dear reader? Doing anything special for the feast of St. Lucy?

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Seasonal arts traditions - The Nutcracker...

Ahhhh, seasonal festivities. Don't you just love those? I wouldn't call this an Advent tradition per se, but it's certainly a lovely event to get into the spirit of the coming Christmas season. Every year for quite some time now, I've gone to see The Nutcracker with my mom. Through the years we've seen a number of different ballets perform the piece, but we often seek out a local company who performs it each year in the Center for the Arts at the university for which I work. They do a really nice job with it, and keep the locations of the magical places Clara visits in Act II slightly different each time. I like the unpredictability of it all. :)

For the past two years, we've brought Henry along with us. So far, he sees The Nutcracker as "a play," hence it's OK for boys to attend, in his opinion. As if boys couldn't also enjoy watching ballet, but you know how these thought processes can work, sigh. At any rate, he really loves going, and I think part of the appeal is the lobby outside the theater, where collectible nutcrackers and all sorts of beautiful ornaments are on display and for sale. Each year he and I pick out a new nutcracker to bring home and add to our own collection, and usually an ornament for our tree as well. And we go out to dinner afterwards too, food always sweetens the pot. ;-)

This year, I decided to also bring Anne. At three and a half, it was a bold choice, but I figured: life is short. Why wait to start building those beautiful memories with her? Granted, I risk being in the ladies room for half the performance while Anne oohs and ahhs over the decor in there and/or throws herself to the ground in protest of heaven knows what, but I decided to live dangerously. We all got dressed up (Henry somewhat against his will) and headed out Sunday afternoon for the matinee performance.

It went pretty well. We got there *right* before start time (my mom drives sort of slow, but don't tell her I said that :0) and found our seats up in the front of the balcony. Anne seemed to find it pretty amazing that we were "up real high!" and I love sitting up there. So much easier to see well.

And Act I is my very favorite part of the show. I love the opening sequence set on Christmas Eve in the beautiful old house. The children dancing and the happy, festive music. The dramatic Mouse King segment. And finally the dancing snowflakes. Sublime! That part of the show is also shorter, and so it's also easier for the kids to sit through. There's a lot of action going on to keep them entertained, and the narrator explains everything. It's all very lovely. Anne was bouncing up and down in her seat, and kept asking "whispered" questions, so I had to field that and ask her to be quiet, oh, I don't know, 150 times maybe?

!

But, really, that's to be expected. And the matinee was packed full of other children, so I think the people around us understood. During intermission, my mom took Anne to see Santa and Mrs. Claus, and Henry and I shopped for a new nutcracker. We chose one adorned in red velvet, who is skiing. :)

Back for Act II, things was a hair dicier, but still manageable. Anne was now tired, and wanted to sit in my lap. She also wanted something to eat, and it took some convincing to settle her down out of that little situation, but all was well. The changing locations in Act II kept the kids interested for a spell, but I knew the Sugar Plum sequence at the end would be a problem, it is every year. :0

"Mommy. Are they ALMOST DONE?!"

She goes on a bit long, that Sugar Plum Fairy. And there isn't really a story anymore in Act II, we're just watching the dances set around the world, and the kids aren't as into that. Unsurprisingly, the Arabian dancer is always my favorite.

:0

We had lots of bored fidgetiness to contend with near the end, but we got through it. We went out for an early dinner afterward, and they both ate like they hadn't seen food in days. Typical. :)

Has anybody else seen The Nutcracker this year, or going to see it before Christmas? Do chime in in the comments. :)

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Of sparkly canes & perilous props - adventures in holiday dancing, 2014 edition...

Hi all, and happy Tuesday! I promised to review our studio holiday hafla today, and though the focus of this blog isn't dancing, it's a huge part of who I am creatively, and so I force you all to read about it when inspiration strikes me. ;-) I love writing these dance posts because writing and dancing are both creative outlets for me, they are a very natural mix. And I'm certain (I hope) from reading this blog you can tell that I don't take myself or my hobbies too seriously - I do them because they are fun and inspire me creatively, and often provide amusing fodder to poke fun at myself. So settle in and journey along with me as the introverted Catholic librarian prepares to dance in public. :0

Bring your tea or coffee with you...
(Housekeeping Announcement - I don't usually have these types of breaks in posts, like the one right below this bracket, that ask you to click "Read More," but I had to for this post due to the file size of some of the photos. Sorry! And please do read more. :0)

Monday, December 8, 2014

How are we preparing for *this* Christmas? - 2nd Sunday of Advent & the feast of the Immaculate Conception 2014...

Morning everyone! Hopefully my greeting depicts "chipper!" because I am indeed in a very good mood. I had an excellent and jam-packed weekend, and over the course of the week I'll write about all of it. So! We had the feast of St. Nicholas on Saturday, an action-packed dance performance that evening, the Second Sunday of Advent, taking the kids to see The Nutcracker that afternoon, and the feast of the Immaculate Conception today. I'm going to have my usual Catholic Monday going on, with a recap of the Second Sunday of Advent, plus the feast of St. Nicholas, also touching upon my morning Mass for the Immaculate Conception, as they meld together nicely. Tomorrow will be a Dance Tuesday post recapping all the hafla fun (and it *was* super fun, I just love writing those posts, and I hope you enjoy reading them!), and on Wednesday I'll talk all about The Nutcracker and my first year of bringing both children. That is such a beautiful Advent tradition, I can't wait to write about it.

Ok! So let's get underway with our weekend recap of Catholic devotions and liturgical activity. Friday evening before my last dance rehearsal, the kids set their shoes out on the hearth, and this is what we found in the morning:

Anne chose her pink furry boots to put out there, isn't that a scream?
Books, chocolate coins and saints for everybody. :) The kids really enjoy this feast day tradition, and even though I didn't grow up with it as part of our home faith life, I definitely plan to carry it on. I also think it makes it easier when the inevitable "is there really a Santa Claus?" discussion comes up (as it did 2 years ago with Henry) when the kids already know about St. Nicholas. Santa Claus is a fun tradition based upon a *real* person, a saint, whom they are familiar with, and I think this softens the blow a bit. :)

And Anne, oh my goodness, LOVES her St. Therese saint softie:

PRECIOUS. She takes her to bed to cuddle and carries her around the house with her. I have Our Lady Star of the Sea for her Christmas stocking, and now I'm SO glad that I got her two. The shop that I bought these from is Saintly Silver on Etsy. The owner doesn't have any current listings because she's booked until after Christmas, but she'll have items back up for sale in early January. These are *fabulous* gifts for young children.

Sunday dawned with us adding the second purple candle to the Advent wreath, and I found that someone had rearranged our nativity set:

Apparently, everybody has banded together, including the angel and a sheep, to adore the infant King from outside in a mass lineup. :0 And the responsible party was *super* active at Mass in her excitement about the upcoming Nutcracker festivities, bouncing all over the pew and generally talking for all of Mass:

"ANNE. Shhhhh, Honey. We have to be quiet during Mass."

"I AM BEING QUIET MOMMY!!"

You know how that goes, all of you fellow long-suffering parents out there. I pointed out the two lit purple candles to both kids, and as ever, there are lots of questions and excitement about it being "pink candle Sunday" next weekend.

This morning I stopped off at 8 am Mass for the feast of the Immaculate Conception on my way into work. This is an interesting one since, being the patronal feast day of the United States, the holy day of obligation is retained even when it falls on a Saturday or a Monday, in contrast to other holy days throughout the year. I love attending Mass during the week, so it's always a blessing to me to have that extra encouragement to do so before work. I stopped off at a parish close to campus so that I would get to work by 9.

There was a pretty decent showing for a holy day Mass, in my opinion. The organist started things off by asking everyone to stand and greet each other, and can I be honest? I *loathe* this practice, lol! It's well-intentioned, certainly, but I find it forced and uncomfortable. The sign of peace is one thing, but this extra bonding activity is an awkward turn off for me personally. Happily, I wasn't sitting close enough to anyone to have to worry about it. I did wish them all peace at the appropriate place in the liturgy, however.

*gold star*

At any rate, the older priest who said the Mass was quite adorable, and he had some really thought-provoking statements in his homily. He mentioned how well-placed this feast is during Advent, when we can reflect on how we all need Christ to save us and help us to become holy. He talked about how Advent is a great time to avail oneself of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, which I thought was an *excellent* point. The key being - how are we preparing ourselves for Christmas? And he made an explicit point about referencing our preparation for *this Christmas*. Christmas comes every year, and we all know it is a special season, but right now all we need to focus on is the present. Christ wants to dwell among us, and each year we need to prepare and reflect on that anew. I really loved that.

It felt so good to be at Mass during the week, I'm hoping to do that again at least once or twice prior to Christmas. I felt all glowy as I headed into work, and voila! Here I am, starting our week together.

How was your Second Sunday of Advent, dear reader, and your feast of the Immaculate Conception? Do detail in the comments, and come back to join me tomorrow to revel in some dance fun. :)

Friday, December 5, 2014

7 Quick Takes {Take 63} Holiday dance performances and handmade gift guide edition...

Greetings good readers! Glad that you're with me today. This week has been...ugh. :) Maybe next week will be better. It just felt so rushy rushy. I have a lot going on and a lot on my mind. But there are certainly many highlights, and that is the focus of this post for today! I have ordered some lovely handmade gifts this week, look for those fabulous ideas for your own loved ones below. There's also a few holiday performances this weekend to bask in, and a lovely seasonal feast day. So settle in with your tea, here we go for another 7 Quick Takes Friday!

-1- Everybody put your shoes out on the hearth!

Tomorrow is a feast day that I never paid much mind to until a few years ago, and now I absolutely love it. It's the feast of St. Nicholas:


Last year I had the kids put their shoes on our hearth, and then filled them with chocolate gold coins and a few small gifts. This made a big impression on Henry, and I overheard him telling Anne all about it earlier in the week, he knew the date was coming up. :) This year I have the coins again, all of the pharmacy/convenience stores around here (Rite Aid, Walgreens) stock them around this time. I also have a book for each child and a small saint doll, St. Therese for Anne and Pope St. John Paul II for Henry. Now I just have to not forget to do all this when I get back from dance rehearsal tonight. Speaking of which...

-2- Desperately trying to keep track of when I need to balance what on my head and where to stand...

Our studio rescheduled hafla is tomorrow night and I'm feeling decidedly anxious about the whole thing. We didn't have class last week due to Thanksgiving (thus we're a bit out of practice), and a few groups have dropped out of the show due to the new date. Thus, Claire wants the troupe to fill the gap, and we're dancing four different pieces. I'm also dancing a solo, so...that's a lot of dancing to keep track of. :0 The troupe is performing a Saidi cane number (balancing act #1), a Shaabi pop music piece, a more traditional piece but set to popular Arabic music, and a drum number. I chose to solo to a slower instrumental song and balance my sword (balancing act #2, I must be out of my mind) and I've been running through the music and sticking the sword on my head daily so that I feel as ready as possible. I'll be improvising, which makes things a bit easier, and I have an idea of how I want to break the song up with the sword, no pun intended. :0 I dance with the sword a bit before balancing it, and so I have the song segmented up in my head. I really like the music I chose and I feel good about it, but that doesn't necessarily guarantee an accident-proof performance. Please cross your fingers for me and I will report in early next week on how it went. :)

-3- "Maybe if I just stick the needle over here, I can move this clasp...OW!"

And so last night I practiced up a storm after the kids went to bed, and this close to a performance that involves dragging my costumes out from their storage bin to make sure everything still feels ok. Middle Eastern dance costuming is notoriously non-forgiving in nature, and thus clasps that fit just right one day are too loose or too tight the next. I have a top and belt set that is new and I put the clasps on over the summer. I haven't danced in it yet.

*cue in music of foreboding...*

I tried it on last night, and SIGH. I haven't gained or lost any weight, so it should fit the same, right?! Well, it doesn't. It isn't that it's loose or tight, it's just that the clasps seem ill positioned to keep the thing on. I think I didn't actually practice dancing in it when I did the initial clasp placement, which was a crucial error. I spent over an hour last night sewing and re-sewing the clasps to try and get it just right, and let's just say that was an exercise in frustration not to mention a near occasion of sin. I had to make a special trip to my mother-in-law at 8 am this morning to have her look at it and try to re-position things. I'll be re-trying it after work and I'm feeling decidedly cranky about the whole thing. :-\

-4- The Nutcracker with two kids in tow...

In other performance news, on Sunday afternoon I'm taking both kids to see a local production of The Nutcracker. Henry has come with me the past two years, but this will be Anne's first time. I am SO excited. She has a new dress and silver shoes to wear and I'm hoping for a magical experience. What I'm NOT hoping for is lots of trips to the restroom and the two children fighting from in their seats. We'll see, will be reporting in on Monday. :)

-5- Gifty gift ideas!

Ok, here is the handmade gift idea section. Have you all seen this, a guide to Indie shopping this holiday season? If you haven't, you should go check it out. Handmade gift ideas and lots of giveaways. There are two shops on this list that I am familiar with and I wanted to share. The first is Jenna of Call Her Happy, who makes embroidered hoop necklaces. I ordered a ladybug necklace for Anne (she calls all ladybugs "Florence!" and it's so cute you can hardly stand it):


It arrived yesterday, and OH MY GOODNESS! It's adorable, I absolutely love it, and I immediately ordered two more. :0 A peacock for my dance teacher and a snowflake for, ah hem, myself. ;-) There is a coupon code in the post I linked to for free shipping throughout the month of December. She has flowers, foxes, mistletoe, the Sacred Heart and Immaculate Heart, a nativity... anything you can think of, plus a custom embroidery option. These are fantastic gifts at about $15 each.

-6- Rosaries, because, you know, it's not possible for me to restrain myself in this arena...

I've mentioned Rosaries by Allison many times before, she's certainly a huge favorite of mine. You'll see her listed in that shopping guide above, and I wanted to mention that she has a current coupon code going for 10% off your order through Christmas Eve, ADVENT10. She has a St. Kateri rosary listed right now that is absolutely gorgeous. I have actually availed myself of Allison's talents once again to create an Our Lady of Lourdes rosary and chaplet for Anne in a "Frozen" inspired colorway, and I am SO excited about this! I will of course post a photo when I receive everything.

-7- Cute bags and aprons, oh my!

Another store that I have purchased from is Designs by Dragon Lily. I bought Anne a child-sized apron during her Christmas in July sale:


It's absolutely darling. She also makes cosmetic bags, small coin bags and tote bags. I've had my eye on the cosmetic cases for some time and ordered two this week, one for me and one for Anne. Anne of course doesn't use cosmetics, but it's a great size for her to tuck her crayons or other assorted stuff that she seems to always want to carry around with her. Naturally, I chose "Frozen" fabric for both of us. :) I chose a Star Wars coin bag for Henry to keep in his backpack for lunch money and things of that nature. Very cute stuff and extremely reasonable prices.

So there you have it, another installment of 7 Quick Takes. Head over to This Ain't the Lyceum for more 7 Quick Takes at it's new host home!