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Friday, December 30, 2011

Top Ten Posts of 2011


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2011 has been an adventurous year, in April I decided to make the jump into blogging more. Before then I had a couple of blogs I had played around on but had not yet found my voice. If you are interesting to see where I was before I started Granola Catholic you can check them out here The Fourth Pew and Random Words. I was sporadic at best, but at the encouragement of Fr. Kirby I had started to blog, in April I found an outlet that let me combine all of my interests under one roof and much to my surprise there was an audience. Thank you all for joining me here.
I tackled all sorts of subjects and made loads of new friends on here. Some Catholic, some Crunchy, I found out that many of my old friends had some of the same interests in Real Food and Family that I do. Just wished I still lived closer to them.
Looking back I never would have expected these to be the most popular posts of the year but here we are. The most popular posts fell under the category of Green Living and Real Food.  I never thought I would be a food blogger but it looks like that is what my readers like. So I will do my best to include more of my recipes during 2012.
But for now take a look back at the Best of Granola Catholic from 2011.
I hope you enjoy reading these as much I did when I wrote them.  I am a researcher at heart so I take care to get my facts right for myself and for you my readers.

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Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Stocked Pantry Method of Meal Planning


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A while back I mentioned that I like to use the Stocked Pantry Method for feeding my family. But what did I mean by that? The Stocked Pantry has multiple meanings. There is Martha Stewart’s stocked pantry, there is the The Foodie Pantry, The Prudent Pantry and the Frugal Pantry.
I am not a couponner but I do stock up when there is a sale, buying food in season and setting it aside for later. A couple of times a year I stop buying food and  eat down our stockpile. There have been many times I have been thankful for a stocked pantry. When a snowstorm that promises to shut down the state is forecasted I don’t have to go and get “the essentials”
So What does a Stocked Pantry Look like?
Well it all depends on what sort of food you eat.  Most families eat the same basic 10 dinners over and over again. If you are a menu planner simply look over your past months menus to see what you have eaten. Over the years the compostiion of my pantry has changed. We had lots more canned goods. Now my pantry includes more organic products and things like Jerusalem artichoke flour pasta, buckwheat soba noodles, canned beans, dry beans,
When I use up a product I write it on my shopping list, and when I get ready to go shopping I take a look to see if there are any holes in my pantry inventory, just in case I forgot to write something down or somebody else used up the last of the salsa. Once I have my list I take note of what I need. I plan my strategy. Some of the pantry staples I use are best found at different stores. Since I try to go shopping every two weeks, I map out my plan. the items needed dictate  what stores I visit.  While I am shopping I do take advantage of sales, not necessarily planning meals around the sales but to set aside. Where I buy my meat they often mark down  the meat a couple of days ahead of the sale by date. I got 1.75 oz. eye of round for $1,87 this week. Great for my lunch and dinner for the kids tonight.
What is in my Pantry?
Since I cook seasonally it varies from season to season but I would have to say that the must haves in my pantry are, in no particular order of importance.
  • Canned tomatoes, when tomatoes are out of season organic canned tomatoes in BPA free cans are a great flavor boost to any recipe
  • Organic Canned Beans – black, red, and navy beans are the most used around here.
  • Dried beans – lentils cook up so quickly and can be added to almost any soup recipe for a shot of protein
  • Natural Peanut Butter – I have been a fan of Smucker’s for years.
  • Tea – all sorts of herbal teas, since we do not drink juice we drink herbal and black teas, coffee beans.
  • Salsa – In the Winter it is hard to make my own so I like to keep a couple of jars, they make a great base for soups or chilies.
  • A quality Spaghetti Sauce – this is one of my convenience items. My 7 year old will use this to make himself a quick snack “pizza”
  • Grains – Brown Rice, Quinoa, Oatmeal, Barley
  • Cereals for son and husband – Raisin Bran and “Cheerios”
  • Aseptically packaged milk – this is an emergency item – we tend to get snowed in about once a year and this is good to have on hand.
  • Flours, whole wheat, almond and buckwheat flour
  • Maple Syrup, Brown Sugar and Local Honey
  • Onions, potatoes, sweet potatoes, winter squashes, garlic
  • Sea Salt, coarse and fine, Herbes of Provence, Turmeric, Allspice and Ginger (I actually have a spice problem, I have too many according to some, but I use them all)
  • Pastas - Jerusalem Artichoke Flour Pasta, Buckwheat Noodles - these seem to be the best gluten free options, in my opinion

You may notice that I do not have canned soups on this list. As a rule we do not have canned soups or chilies in the house.  I make a big batch of soup or chili at least once a week so there is no need to have any canned soup or chili in the house.
I also have not included any fresh produce or frozen foods or meats on this list. I am just strictly speaking pantry today.
What are you pantry must haves?


this post is linked up to Living Well Blog HopFresh Bites Friday

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Things I learned in 2011


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Learning isn’t just for kids. Each year I make it a point to learn some new things, but some of the lessons I learn each year are not quite what I expect.

  • I learned that thanks to this blog there are more people out there who think like I do.
  • I learned that it is possible to over do and do too much and if I try to be all do all, my body is not very happy.
  • I learned who my friends are this year. (Here is a hint) They come from where you expect them to.
  • I learned that people are not perfect, even if you think they are.
  • I learned that I am not some one who is a meal planner or a by the recipe cook. I am a Stocked Pantry sort of cook.
  • I learned that no matter what your plans are or how much you do plan it can all change in a second.
  • I learned that  you can’t change other people, no matter how hard you try.
  • I learned that even when you have the best intentions sometimes the best thing is do/say nothing.  A simple hug says so much more than all the words in the world.
  • I learned how to prioritize my time. I stopped doing all those things I don’t want to but feel I should. I know concentrate on what is best for me and my family.
  • I learned that I can turn on the circulator on the house HVAC system to move air around when it is hot or cold in the house.
  • I learned how good real meat tastes. Grass fed pastured that is raised locally.
  • I learned how important it is to know where your food comes from
  • I learned that buying my food from local farmers is not any more expensive than the big box stores.
  • I (re)learned how to use natural herbs and spices to treat simple things like a cold. (before I did my sugar detox I had not had a cold in over 3 years)
  • I learned that I am an all or nothing sort of person. This came to light in my sugar detox. While it was easy to give up the sugar it was easy to over indulge at Christmas. (looks like I will be doing another sugar detox in January, who would like to join me?)
I am sure there is so much more I learned, my children continually amaze me with the lessons they teach me, sometimes they seem wise beyond their years.
As 2012 approaches I am making plans to learn some more new things. While I always like to learn something new each year it is often the lessons I learn along the way that teach me so much more than I expect.
Did you learn anything new this past year> Do you plan on learning anything new for 2012. I have some plans of my own and I will share them with you later this week.


Saturday, December 24, 2011

Merry CHRISTmass

 

From Our Family to Yours

holy family with angels

 

A very Merry Christmas and a Peaceful New Year.

 

 

 

 

 

Lisa, Deacon G, Pi, Peanut and Pumpkin.

 

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

How to Make Christmas Morning Last All Day



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In so many households Christmas morning is over in a blink of an eye. The kids wake up early and race Mom and Dad to the tree and stockings. While Mom and Dad are still trying to fully wake up the kids begin tearing into the gifts and wrapping paper going every where. 10 minutes later Christmas morning is over, well at least for the kids it is. Mom and Dad have a mess to clean up.
So how can you make Christmas Morning Last?
Some families have Christmas Morning traditions that help Christmas last a little longer than 10 minutes.
  1. Establish a stockings only rule before Breakfast.  Kids and adults may only open their stockings before breakfast. Be sure to have a really special breakfast for the kids to enjoy.
  2. Save the majority of the presents for after Mass or Church. Let the kids get their stockings and Santa Clause gifts if time allows before Mass. Save the gifts from family, grandma, grandpa for after mass.
  3. Pass out only one gift at a time from under the tree and take turns opening the gifts.
  4. Pass out all the gifts and have everyone sit in a circle, take turns going around the circle opening gifts.
  5. Have a scavenger hunt for the gifts or just on special one.
  6. Save some gifts for after dinner, Grandparents gifts make a good choice for this especially if Grandparents are not there in the morning but are there for dinner
  7. If you visit other relatives over the holidays save their presents for when you visit them. 
  8. Exchange some of the gifts on New Years Eve or Day. This is something I have done with my brothers and their families since we were kids.
  9. If you really want to make Christmas last save a few gifts for the kids for the Feast of the Epiphany, We all have those gifts we bought real early and hid and forgot where we put them.
How Do You Make Christmas Morning Last All Day?

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Life Cycle of a Christmas Tree


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We enjoy a Real Christmas Tree at our house.  I have many reasons for loving my live tree chief above them is that I grew up with real trees.  Recently I was wondering if having a real tree was best for the environment. I got some good news. It is (source) While is true that the greenest Christmas Tree is the live tree in many parts of the country it just is not feasible to use a live tree because you can not plant them  when the ground is covered in snow or frozen.
If you have a Real Tree Christmas tree what to can you do with it once Christmas is over?
Depending on where you live you have multiple options.
Now I understand you may not have these options available to you but many towns and cities do have options for recycling your Christmas trees
  • Many cities have Tree Recycling Programs
  • Make a Bird Tree
  • Use it for a fish habitat in a lake or pond
  • If you live near the shore or a lake check to see if the local beaches use Christmas trees for soil erosion prevention.
  • Check to see if your city has a Burning of the Greens. Some cities collect the Christmas trees and burn them in a great bonfire, not only is this a safe way to have a bonfire, the local fire department gets some practice. 
As tempting as it may be do NOT use your Christmas tree as firewood. Christmas trees are evergreens, they have a lot of pitch and will burn hot, but they are still green and will smoke and worse still may start a chimney fire.  When I say we may use it as kindling the tree has been seasoning for almost a year before we cut it up.
At our house our has it’s usefulness after Christmas.   Since we get a real tree we wait until Gaudette Sunday to put it up.  Our tree will stay up until New Years Day, another family tradition.  When the tree has been stripped of all its glory it still lives on. We  decorate the tree for the birds, making bird seed ornaments, and popcorn garlands.  Now the tree can only last so long even outside. By the time the first signs of spring start coming around it is time to take down the birdseed tree. At that point our tree joins a brush pile, benefits of having 5 acres. While in the brush pile it becomes an important part of our little eco system here. The brush pile provides a safe haven for little animals and birds in the winter. The birds that winter over will nest and perch in the brush pile.  Now what do you do with a brush pile you ask? Well at some point in time it either gets cut up for kindling or burned in a brush fire.  Setting fires in pastures is a time honored practice here in Oklahoma and other parts of the Midwest.  Ranchers and before them, local Indian Tribes practiced control periodic burns as a means to to rejuvenate the soil.


This post is linked up to Your Green Resource at Sorta Crunchy

Friday, December 16, 2011

7 Quick Takes




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Oh my it has been a long time since I have done a 7 Quick Takes post. Maybe because I am busier now or just because I have fallen into a rhythm and pattern I am not posting as much as I used to. My first month blogging I posted something like 50 posts. Seriously.
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So much has happened since my last 7 quick takes. We went on a impromptu road trip to see the Nina and the PintaIMG_9552  and the Cherokee National Museum, Christmas plays were had as well as a High School Theater Production, at which I got no gooIMG_9554d pictures.



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Advent started and we celebrated this year with a new wreath made by my sweet 7 year old son with his very own hands. Shopping was done, presents made and sent and delivered IMG_9544-1






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But all that seems small after the phone call we got yesterday. It was one of those phone calls. You know the type we hate to get. It was from a friend of the family. My mother in law had been hit by a pickup truck. She was walking, he was driving 35 mph. She has sustained many injuries and is in critical condition in the ICU. She has had one 5 hour surgery and goes back in tomorrow for more. Now all the sudden the decisions about when and where to meet up with her for Christmas seem trivial. All has changed in the blink of an eye. I am thankful however for the support of everyone who has offered, offered to watch kids, feed dogs, and simply pray.
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One thing I do ask for though is that you pray for the man who hit her. See he was a co-worker of hers, He knew her and I can only imagine the anguish he is going through right now knowing he caused so much pain.
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So we watch and wait, wait and watch. We wait for the doctors and wait and watch for planes to arrive.  I am ever vigilant watching my children in parking lots, knowing that people this time of year are in more of a hurry and less attentive in their driving. Please keep an eye on your kids and cars. My father always made sure I did, I remind my own kids that parked cars can't and don't always see you so you much watch them. 
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IMG_9696On a lighter note my daughters have taken up some interesting hobbies. Pi received a crochet kit for St. Nicholas day and was crocheted everything from head bands to coffee cup cozies( or at least I have an order in for one.). Peanut has taken up bow making to curtail the cost of her bows. It is much easier than we ever dreamed. We are currently just taking care of her but who know both girls may be offering items for sale in the near future. One can hope that they are budding entrepreneurs.







for more 7 Quick Takes check out Conversion Diary

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Waiting Watching Praying Hoping



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It can all change in an instant. We all dread the phone call. Today was a day we got one of the those phone calls. My husband’s mother had been in a car accident and was taken to the hospital. He had just arrived at work, called me at home and told me he was driving the two hours to the hospital.
Then the second call came. My mother in law was being transferred to a second hospital. There is no time to think when something like this happens. You just react and do what needs to be done. But perhaps the hardest part is the waiting. While my husband went to the hospital I waited here at home. I waited for him to get to the hospital, and then I waited for updates. Right now everything else seems trivial, the holiday preparations, the family quibbles and quibbles, None of it really matters. What matters now is that family is okay.
Watching Waiting and Praying
That is a classic theme of Advent. Except this year our watching has turned to watching the clock or  my phone for updates and phone calls. Our waiting is waiting for surgery to be over or a doctor to come out and tell us how she is doing. With all luck our waiting will be for her healing, mind, body and soul. Last but not least our praying has changed to praying for Grammy Sugar and her team of doctors.
Hoping
Today instead of hoping for the promise of Christmas and the birth of the redeemer we are hoping that Grammy Sugar makes it until her next surgery.
A friend said to me today “Feed Your Faith and Your Fears will Starve to Death”.  I will be doing my best to live by these words.
a special thanks to all you who have been with me and sharing your prayers on Facebook and Twitter. It means a lot to us.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Road Trip–Word(less) Wednesday



Now that soccer is over for the season and no new sports looms in the immediate distance to take its place we have been finding new things to do on our Saturdays. Recently we took a road trip to rediscover America’s Roots.  We were lucky enough to go see the Nina and Pinta. Yes that is right. The NIna and Pinta, Christopher Columbus’s boats. No not his original ones but life size replicas. Now let me tell you I have a whole new found respect for those men who traversed the oceans. I have seen whaling boats and tall ships and even the Mayflower in Plymouth, but the boats that Columbus crossed the Atlantic were Caravels. I have seen boats in dock bigger than these. IMG_9551IMG_9543IMG_9547IMG_9549
After seeing Columbus’s boats we decided to make a quick trip to Tahlequah to visit our roots, well my husbands roots. He is Cherokee, as are our kids. The camp Peanut attended last summer was a  Arts and STEM camp. hosted by the Cherokees. While the museum has an inside component. My children had more fun checking out the Cherokee villages. They have a traditional village and a post relocation village.
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We did all this on a day that the local like to refer to as Bedlam, and still got home in more than enough time to watch the game on TV.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Our Nativity Story



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Growing up My mother had a Fontini Nativity set that she would add to each year. At our house it was definitely a hands on activity. Whenever my mother set it up we would help and even play with it from time to time. Over the years figurines were added some from Fontinin others not necessarily, such as the Muppets and a t-rex.
When I married Deacon G I knew that I wanted a nativity set for our Christmas. So for our first Christmas I asked for a nativity set. It seemed like everyone and their uncle got me a little nativity. They were not exactly what I grew up with but they were nativity sets. So what does one do with all these nativity sets?  I have given each one of my children one for their rooms and have placed one in each and every room of the house. Along with our Advent wreath our nativity sets are the first Advent decorations to come out. We take Christmas slow around here but we do get ready for Advent.
Our Fontinini Nativity set is an interactive one here. Those of you who follow me on Facebook may remember these pictures.  The kids enjoy setting up and playing scenarios with all the different characters.
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IMG_9713Our three Wise Men take a journey each year starting in the room furthest from the Crèche and make their way to the Nativity. When I when looking for them this morning they were on the stairs. The wise men will arrive on the Feast of the Ephinany.  Did I mention we take Christmas slow around here? We keep some of our decorations up until the Christmas season is liturgically over.  If you are wondering, why yes I would be happy to get more figurines and perhaps some buildings for my nativity set. You see when my children grow up and flee the nest they will get to take “their pieces with them to carry on the tradition.




Monday, December 12, 2011

Is Wood Good for Heating a Home?




Oklahoma weather is what I like to call bi-polar meaning that we get it all. If you don't believe me look at these weather stats. Coldest Day 2011 saw us get down to -31 degrees and our hot summer saw 41 days over 100 degrees this year. Heating and cooling a home are important topics here.  As is saving money while doing it.

What is the most efficient cost effective way to heat a house?
Winter weather is settling in for most of us. We have had a cold snap here with overnight lows below 20 degrees. Not that cold for some of you but colder than normal for this time of year here. I took the recent cold snap as a cue to stock up on fuel for the winter. This past week I ordered another cord of wood and 100 gallons of propane. While I was arranging for my orders I began to wonder what is the most cost effective and at the same time ecologically sustainable way to heat our home for the winter. My daughter being a smart teenager suggested solar, while we do enjoy passive solar heating during the winter, thanks to a well designed home. However passive solar heating does nothing when it is cloudy. We need another option. Living in Oklahoma our winters are generally milder than most. Our average temperatures for winter are in the mid 40s to lower 50s with  overnight lows in the 20s and 30s. Add to the mix a house that is built into the side of a hill and we have a pretty efficient house to heat or cool. Until the ground freezes our downstairs remains a pretty constant temperature, about 55 without heating. If the sun is shining we have the advantage of the passive solar heat with large windows and wood floors absorbing that heat.

According to Popular Mechanics the average 2400-square-foot house, proud to say we are an average size home,  burns around 100 million Btu of fuel per year. The chart below is a great graphic for breaking down the cost of heating homes. Now our cost for wood is actually less than what is listed here. We happen to pay $150 for a cord of wood. For those of you unfamiliar with the measurement a cord of wood is defined as a well stacked woodpile 4 feet (122 cm) wide, 4 feet (122 cm) high, and 8 feet (244 cm) long.

We use a mixture of propane, because the house came with a propane furnace, and wood. We have a fire place with an insert, glass doors and a blower. This make our fireplace more efficient than a wood stove, but not as quite as efficient as a ceramic heater, although our brick chimney does begin to heat up and radiate heat after a day of the fire going. Properly designed fireplaces also can decrease heat loss. Modern fireplaces may have metal side walls and backs with space for air to circulate between the walls and the fireplace setting. Inlets near the floor and outlets near the mantel provide convection-air heating and circulation in addition to the radiant heat from the fireplace.
I was dismayed to see that propane was not that efficient but at the same time I was VERY happy to see that burning wood is a  good choice for not only for efficiency and cost effective wood is also a prudent choice for sustainability. Trees while are a sustainable resource. In our case we harvest only standing dead wood on our property and most of our suppliers do the same. In fact one of them is harvesting wood from river beds. In essence they are clearing out the the river. Some of this wood is wood that may have sunk during logging days.
Our Plan
So what is my plan. Some of you may remember me joining in with the Freeze Yer Buns Challenge. Well I am proud to say that we have only turned on the heat to make sure that the furnace is working properly. We plan on heating with wood for the most part as in years past.  When the temperature in the main living area gets above 72 degrees we turn on the circulator on our furnace only to help move the warmer air around the house.  The furnace is reserved for those really cold mornings when the temperature in the house has dropped below 65 degrees and we need some motivation to get up. Most of the time we will not see nor hear the furnace come on. Even in the midst of our blizzard and sub freezing temperatures last year we did not have the furnace come on.
Over the years we have found that best woods for heating are the hard woods and the best ones are the ones with the least water content. All woods burn cleaners and hotter when they have been seasoned. .
I always knew we were saving money by burning wood, just the fact that we had an efficient fire place, one with an insert and a heatilator. Now I am relieved and happy to know that we are indeed saving money not just on paper but in reality and we are doing so in a sustainable way.

this post is linked up to Simple Lives ThursdayHomestead Barn Hop

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Stocking Stuffers that Make Sense


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Christmas comes with so much stuff.  I like to keep our presents meaningful. But what about the the stocking stuffers. How do you keep it from being so much cheap plastic crap? I will tell you how, ready? Don’t buy it! But wait what about all those aisles of stuff just clamoring Christmas Stocking Stuffers? Sometimes the aisles in big stores are even labeled that.
I don’t know when I started this family tradition but it seems like it has been going on forever. For us stocking stuffers are limited. It does not matter how large the stockings are. We do the 5 Senses for our stockings.
The Five Senses Stockings
This is an easy way to do your stockings and you can set any budget you want. (The glory of this system). You simply get one gift for each of the 5 senses and put them in the stocking. Still not sure? Here are some examples of how to adapt this method for you.
Sight
  • books – appropriate for all ages
  • a camera whether disposable for a young kid or a digital for an older recipient
  • puzzles
  • video
  • video camera
  • eye makeup for an older girl
Touch
  • soft socks
  • mittens/gloves
  • a pretty scarf
  • a kooky hat
  • a t-shirt
  • a small stuffed animal – while most parents think their kids have enough, most kids want to add to their family
Taste
  • the recipient’s favorite candy
  • coffee or tea for an older person (non kid)
  • hot cocoa mix
  • fruit
  • a favorite food item
  • gift card to a favorite restaurant
  • a gift card to a coffee shop
  • a mug to drink tea/coffee with
  • travel mugs for all ages
  • new water bottle – my kids seem to loose their lids – or is it the lab who eats them?
Hear
  • musical instrument – small
  • I-Tunes gift card
  • CD of music
  • A movie
  • ear buds
Smell
  • cologne
  • deodorant
  • toiletries
  • candles
  • incense

While some of these stocking stuffers may seem more expensive than what you may normally find in a stocking remember Santa only brings three gifts and adults in a household only buy three gifts each. There is no BIG  gift for kiddos each year or a blizzard of gifts under the tree. Each and every present whether it costs just $2 or $200 has meaning.

What are some of your favorite thoughtful stocking stuffers to give?

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot like Christmas



The Christmas season is going on all around us. Technically speaking it is not the Christmas Season but rather Advent. But it sure does seem like Christmas. We still don’t have our tree up, or a tree yet for that matter but we have been busy elves.
Making Treats for Teachers
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Putting out shoes for a visit from St. Nick – my kids have decided to put out their boots several years ago. Apparently the bigger the shoe the more you get in it.
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Want to know how to get the kids up on a cold dark winter morning for 6;30am? Have St. Nick visit them and leave goodies, and gold and silver coins (chocolates)
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Standing room only Christmas Program put on by the pre-k and 2nd graders. Pumpkin would be the tallest head in the back row. He takes after his Dad in the height department
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After the Christmas performance Santa Claus came to visit. Pumpkin would not sit on his lap, much to the chagrin of his Dad, but I consider it a victory. This is the first Santa we would talk to. Secretly I think it was just to get the candy cane.
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Monday, December 5, 2011

How to Choose Meaningful Christmas Gifts


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these guidelines work year round for all gift giving reasons and seasons
What is a Gift?
A gift is a present that is given freely to show favor towards someone or to honor an occasion,  The gift is for the giver to acknowledge the receiver. Gifts should not be bought off a list at Christmas. Gifts should be thoughtful and meaningful and the receiver should reply with a gracious response. When a gift is purchased with the purpose of crossing that person of the list to fulfill an obligation there is no joy behind it and it shows. Gifts even to children are chosen to make the child squeal with delight. More is not necessarily better when it come to gifts either.
Meaningful Gifts for the Kids
At our house Christmas Gifts are important. But more important than the volume of gifts is the meaning of the gifts. You see our children each receive just three gifts from Santa under the tree and five more from Santa in their Stocking. Because they do not get a boat load of present each one is designed to be more meaningful. I don’t remember when I started it but somewhere along the line the three gifts became one gift for Mind, one gift for the Body and one gift for the Soul.  In doing so I have been able to focus on what makes my kids glow. I work hard to get into their minds and hearts to find out their true desires, not just what their friends want or they happen to see on TV.
So how do you pick gifts for Body Mind and Soul?
To give you an idea of a body gift one year my son got a bike for Christmas, while his teenage sister got a pair of boots, and another sister got a basketball with gym clothes to go with it.  The body gift is a gift that is intended to benefit the body.
A Mind gift is one that encourages the development of the mind. In the past my children have received easels with paint sets, Legos,  and a small sewing machine. The mind gift is one that encourages them to develop the gift of their minds, as they get older the gift changes and is developmentally appropriate.
The Soul gift can be the hardest one for me to identify each year. It is that secret desire that only Santa can know, even without the kid telling Santa. This is the gift that really touches them. The soul gift is one that might just touch on their spiritual side.
Why Meaningful Gifts?
I am not sure when we decided to limit ourselves to three gifts each. I certainly know it was not our first Christmas married. I went a little overboard that year. Having our own place I bought gifts for the the town house. I am sure I over bought for our families too. My husband came from a family where it was the quantity of gifts that counted, and count they did. All presents were passed out from under the tree to each person and placed in a pile next to them. Then each person would take their turn opening one gift each while holding it up so everyone could admire the gift and thank the giver. As someone who sat on the floor at these family Christmas events I remember the piles being taller than I was (in a seated position).  In my husband’s family each gift was wrapped separately, so an outfit would have its socks. shirt and pants each wrapped separately.
Why Three Gifts?
Because of the experience at my husband’s Christmas gatherings, we made the decision to limit ourselves to three gifts. Why you ask? Well there is a simple answer to that. Christ himself received just three presents.
Meaningful Gifts for Adults
When it comes to picking gifts for my husband I follow the same guidelines. We limit ourselves to three gifts each and I do my best to find one his Body, Mind, and Soul.  This year he has asked for black socks. It seems Deacons go through a lot of black socks. This would be a body gift. As for a mind gift in the past I have gotten him books to compliment his growing library. Soul gifts are sometimes something spiritual and sometimes something that just makes him smile and know that I do listen to him.
Meaningful Gifts for Others
The concept of the meaningful gift can go beyond the immediate family. Each year I take care to get a meaningful family gift for our brother’s families. Buying a family gift allows me to stretch the budget and save my sanity all at the same time. While choosing a family gift for our in-laws I take care to choose something that will be used or is relevant. One year I did family arts and craft kids, another year was a ‘Green Christmas””.
Meaningful gifts for others can also translate to all those people that touch our lives in so many ways, teachers, priests, clergy, secretaries, babysitters, hairdressers. Before you give them another mug take a moment and think about what they may like to receive.  Some years we do bake or make something for our teachers but we try to make something they can use in their classroom. If we bake we keep in mind that most teachers are receiving lots of homemade goodies at this time of year and try to make something really worthwhile for them.
What about Stocking Stuffers?
As you can imagine I am not a fan of the dollar store generic stocking stuffers. But since this is getting long you will have to come back for stocking stuffer ideas later.

In order to give a meaningful gift you need to know the recipient. While you might enjoy nothing better than to go to the big game and see the local team win, does your recipient prefer sitting in a coffee shop and reading a good book? If so, then tickets to the big game may not be a good fit for them, but a new mug with the latest best seller and a gift card to their favorite coffee shop would be a great gift. Giving meaningful gifts does not mean giving gifts that you would like to receive or gifts that can be found at the corner store. A meaningful gift is a thoughtful gift. Remember what you mom told you it is the Thought that counts.
What are some of your favorite meaningful gifts to give and receive?

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Celebrating Advent


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Why do we celebrate Advent?
Advent is the four weeks prior to Christmas that is often not given much attention in our race from Halloween to Thanksgiving to Black Friday to Cyber Monday to the big gift giving/receiving day otherwise known as Christmas.
Advent is  a time of preparation of waiting. One of my favorite readings is that of the women staying up to wait for the bridegroom. Christ is that Bridegroom. (Matthew 25:1)We are waiting for him to come. The word “Advent” is derived from the Latin words, ad-venio or adventus, which both signify a coming. We are remembering Christ’s coming when he was born as a baby in a manger, and preparing ourselves for his second coming.
For four weeks we prepare ourselves, our hearts and homes for Christ to arrive. Advent while a time of joy is also a time of repentance. We know and understand that we are not perfect and most try to be ready for Christ to come, lest we are one the ones without enough oil and falling asleep.
How Can we Celebrate Advent?
Celebrating Advent helps make the Christmas Season more relevant and with kids it is actually quite fun to do.
  • Make an advent wreath and use it with your family. This year my sweet son (7) made our wreath. Other years I use fresh greens from the yard. Light the candles in your wreath at dinner . Read the the advent prayers each night as you light the candles at dinner, or you may choose to only light the candles on Sunday, as we do.
  • Use an Advent Calendar. We have two, one with candies one without.  Advent calendars can be found for very little, a couple of dollars or upwards of $25.  They can be made of paper or wood or cloth. Some have candies others have drawers to put little gifts, or scripture sayings in.
  • Have a Jesse Tree- this custom represents the family tree of Jesus Christ. Each day of Advent an ornament, usually homemade is added to the the Jesse Tree. The tree is typically made from Evergreen Branches but I have seen them made from tree branches. The ornaments represent a prophesy or the ancestors of Christ.
  • Have a Sock and Mitten Tree – organize a collection for the Homeless. Advent is typically a time for almsgiving.
  • Read the birth story of Jesus with your Children.

Do you celebrate Advent ? What is your favorite way to Celebrate Advent?
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Monday, November 28, 2011

Taking Christmas Slow


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Around here we like to take Christmas slow and enjoy the season. We have no rush to get everything decorated the weekend after Thanksgiving. We want to enjoy each and every part of Christmas in its time.
So how do you take Christmas Slow?
  1. Only put up a few decorations at a time. We began on Friday by finding our advent wreath. This year my son made ours. We followed that up on Saturday with the Nativity Sets. I mentioned one year that I wanted a Nativity Set and everyone and their uncle bought me one. I have the family Fontinani Set in the living room. We are very hands on with this set. Each bedroom has a small set and the bathrooms and kitchen have one. By decorating fist with our Advent decorations it helps us to remember that Christ comes first in Christmas.
  2. We make time to enjoy each of the little events little up to Christmas. St. Nicholas Day, Christmas program at school, picking out the tree, putting the tree up. Each one of these occasions is celebrating in its own right and day.
  3. Wait to put up the tree. When everyone used fresh trees and heated their houses with wood or coal there was no rush to bring a tree into the house. Many families had the tradition of decorating the tree on Christmas Eve.  Growing up we would put our tree up the Sunday before Christmas and decorate it then. That was also the day my grandmother would arrive to start cooking her bounty. Now we wait until Gaudete Sunday IMG_2157to put up our tree. It is a fitting celebration for that Sunday. We make cocoa, and enjoy popcorn while decorating the tree.
  4. One thing I do get done early is my present shopping. And I take advantage of sites like Amazon and Amazon Prime to ship my gifts to my far away family. By getting my shopping done and out of the way I am able to enjoy time with my kids – doing the Christmas things I want to do, not standing in lines to buy presents and then wrap and ship them.
  5. With the busyness  of the season, school parties, Christmas programs at school, Office parties, parades, and everything else I make it a priority to pick just one event each week to attend. I want to be able to enjoy each event not have to rush from one party to the next.  Saying no during the holiday season also gives me more time with my family.
  6. Wait until Christmas Eve to have the kids put up the Stockings. My family likes to use the IMG_2365same stockings every year. These are stockings that I made for them their first Christmas.
  7. Make the focus on family not on the gifts. Our children only get three gifts from Santa. the gifts are for body, mind and soul. Santa also puts presents in stockings, 5 in all – one for each sense.  They are not overwhelmed with gifts.
  8. Speaking of Gifts  - Santa does not wrap his gifts at our house. The kids have access to those right away but we wait until after everyone has had breakfast to open any other gifts under the tree.

What are some of your ways to Slow Down Christmas and make it last the whole Season?

This post is linked up to Simple Lives Thursdays

Friday, November 25, 2011

Butternut Squash and Apple Stuffing


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This year I am trying something new for Thanksgiving. Last year I wanted to do this but my family did not want change. So this year I am making the Traditional Stuffing and a Grain-free version too. This stuffing is based on one of my all time favorite winter dishes. Stuffed Butternut Squash. This recipe can be adapted to be vegetarian if you like.
Ingredients
  • 1 lb. Apple Sausage – I am using a locally made one but you can find Apple Sausage at Whole Foods and other supermarkets.
  • 1 small to medium butternut squash
  • 2 medium apples
  • 1 onion
  • allspice –to season
  • cinnamon – to season
  • maple syrup 1/4 cup (real maple syrup)
  • butter about 2 tbs.
  1. Cut butternut squash in half and scoop out seeds
  2. Score the butternut squash and season with all spice, cinnamon and maple syrup.
  3. Place butternut squash in a baking pan and cook at 350 degrees until a fork easily passes through it. (the length of time depends on how big your squash is)
  4. Finely dice the onion and sauté in the skillet with the sausage. Cook the sausage until browned. Remove sausage and onion mixture from skillet
  5. Peel and dice the apples, sauté in skillet with a little butter the any remaining maple syrup and cinnamon and allspice
  6. When butternut squash is fork tender remove scrap it away from the skin. Add the butternut squash to the apples, and add back the chicken sausage.
  7. Thoroughly mix all the ingredients together. Add more allspice and cinnamon if you feel it is necessary. (This would be a time to add poultry seasoning too if you like)
For a vegetarian version I like to use black beans instead of the sausage.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Black Friday Alternatives

 
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While many are preparing for Black Friday- (my girls among them) I am thinking of many other things I would love to do instead of standing in line in the dark cold night only to run into a store to pushing people down to get that bargain or great deal. Black Friday shopping is not my idea of fun. Not to mention I like to have my shopping done by Thanksgiving so I can enjoy Advent.
While there are many reasons that you don’t need to go out bargain shopping on Black Friday I will not go into those here. But you can read some of those reasons here and here.
Instead I am going to offer some alternatives to Black Friday Shopping

  • Go out to Breakfast with your Family
  • Many cities have runs the day after Thanksgiving – go burn off those calories from Thanksgiving Dinner
  • Go to a Museum or Zoo
  • Clean out your closet and purge 20 items – Load it up in the car and drop off at a local Charity
  • Get your Car ready for the Winter – clean out the trunk and put your “winter” stuff in the trunk – boots hats, gloves, blanket
  • Finish up those last few outside yard chores and winterize the house
  • Have a family game tournament
  • Start a neighborhood football/soccer game
  • Get out your Advent Wreath and Nativity Set – Set them up
  • Go to see a family friendly movie
  • Have a Homemade Black Friday – get together with some friends or the kids and make gifts, enjoy leftovers.
What will you be doing this Black Friday? I will for one will be getting out my Advent Wreaths (yes I have more than one) and Nativity Sets (I have several of these as well). Did I mention that Advent is my favorite season?

Monday, November 21, 2011

Choosing Your Thanksgiving Focus


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I have been thinking a lot about Thanksgiving. What is our focus on Thanksgiving? We all talk about it being about Giving Thanks, but for so many it is about eating and gorging ourselves, watching football and preparing for Black Friday sales. For me football and Black Friday are not big Mostly about the amount of food that is prepared and wasted. Yes wasted. It seems that That’s right – how much food is wasted. I have been thinking about how much food is eaten too. It seems that Thanksgiving has become more a holiday of gluttony and less about giving Thanks. We normally eat a turkey a week this time of year, so by Thanksgiving turkey has been done a couple of times. In some families, Thanksgiving means not not only turkey but ham and sometimes lasagna. It seems the bigger the gathering the more food there is . I know that when I am going to a potluck I bring enough food for my family to make an entrée out of and a dessert.
So what can we do to make Thanksgiving less about feasting and gorging ourselves?
  • Eliminate dishes you do not need to make. Only make your family’s favorite dishes. If your family does not like sweet potato casserole don’t make it. Just because it looks good in the magazine does not mean you need to make it.
  • Stick to the basics – at  bigger Thanksgiving gatherings, make what people expect. Most people want to see stuffing, turkey, gravy, sweet potatoes, green beans. My family used to make more dishes but not everyone liked all the vegetable dishes. It had just become a tradition.
  • Make Less Food –Consider the portion size, do you really need a 20 lb. turkey when a 12 will do? Do you need to cook 10 lbs. of mashed potatoes? I know if you are the hostess you want to make sure that no one goes away hungry or that everyone gets their favorite dish. One question – Have you ever seen anyone walk away from the Thanksgiving dinner hungry?
  • Change the emphasis – If Thanksgiving is about giving Thanks, find ways to do that with your family and in your community. Go help out with a food outreach, Invite the lonely to Thanksgiving. If you live in a college town ask your local college if there are any students who can’t go home for Thanksgiving. Visit those who have to work for Thanksgiving, firemen, policemen, take them some pie or other dessert.
  • Help out Those Less Fortunate than You – Go work at a soup kitchen for a few hours on Thanksgiving. Help hand out turkeys the day before at a Food Bank. 

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Growing (up) in Faith




Liana over at Working to be Worthy asked me to review her new e-book. l was more than pleased to do so and overjoyed. I wish I had a resource like this when my kids were little.  This is a well written book about celebrating the liturgical year with your child with ideas for activities and crafts from Advent to Christmas to Lent, Easter and Ordinary Time. The  written from a Catholic perspective, but has many ideas that will appeal to Christians of all denominations. I wish I had a book like this when my kids were younger.
Liana has a back round in Psychology, and is a Nationally Certified School Psychologist. As such she understands child development and how your child thinks.  She has worked with children of all ages and has geared this book for those up to age 5.
I particularly loved what Liana had to say about Christmas. She writes about reducing materialism during Christmas. I am a big fan of the simple Christmas, so this was right up my alley.  Liana, also touches on teaching your child how to dress for church and the importance of doing so.
“In our culture, dressing in formal clothing is a sign of respect.
Christmas and Easter usually inspire people to wear their best
clothes. Many families will buy special outfits particularly for the
season. It is worth considering why most people do not wear their
“Sunday best” for every Mass”
Liana does not neglect the parent either.  Each chapter end with a special section for the parent’s spiritual growth.  You can get Liana’s  her book Growing (up) in Faith here where 10% of the proceeds go to Angel Care  or if you are an e-book reader you can get it on Amazon for Kindle. At $4.95 it is a great value.
This book makes a great edition to the  family bookshelf and has many ideas that can be incorporated in families of all ages.

Friday, November 18, 2011

What happens when the Washing Machine Breaks



While my washing machine was out of commission this week I had some time to get caught up on some other things, like my room. While cleaning, and rearranging and decluttering (apparently, not having to do laundry gave me a LOT of free time) I came across this poem written by my dear daughter Pi.
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There, here no where, still where?
Sun, Moon, Stars, Sky, There , here , nowhere.
but where is holy heaven?

Hope, Faith,life, love Jesus
Church as Faith, Hope life and and love
God, Jesus, Holy Spirit, Trinity

Father, Mother, Daughter, Son, Family.
All together life and death in heaven
God’s done what we have.

Mother’s heartbeat. Boom boom!
Nourishing food Yum Yum tummy full ahh!
A baby in Mother’s womb
New beginning lost life, try!

Old, new still trying, last change try
still waiting, last change TRY!
Begin, doing, End a race
Will death win over you? Run Race, run Sprint You win I Live.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

My Caring Cross Review and Giveaway


This Giveaway is closed. Thanks to all who participated.


caring cross
When I was asked to do a review of the Caring Cross I was thrilled. I have been buying Olive Wood products from the Christians in Bethlehem for years. I usually have to wait till they come around to our parish but not anymore. You can get these crosses directly for yourself.
Each Caring Cross is individually carved from a single piece of beautifully grained olive wood pruned from the olive trees around Bethlehem. When you buy a caring cross you are helping Christians in Bethlehem directly. Christians in Bethlehem are now in a minority  The Christians in Bethlehem are discriminated against, so when you buy their handiwork you are helping to provide a living wage for these people.
I received a beautiful Caring Cross with a velveteen gift bag. This cross is made from a solid piece of beautifully grained olive wood.  They are designed specifically to fit within the contours of your hand and are  perfectly formed to fit in your hand.  Caring Crosses make a wonderful gift to say "thanks" or "I care" to your pastors, priests, Sunday School Teachers, or prayer group.
These crosses are smooth and polished, easy to hold in your hand and take with you. They make great gifts too.  Christmas is coming up, and they are offering a special price for my readers.  Why not take advantage of the great discounts and order a few and knock out some Christmas gifts?
To order your own there are some great discounts at this time!
1 cross is $8 ($5 plus $3 shipping)
2 crosses are $12 ($9 plus $3 shipping)
Mission Pack is 8 crosses at $40 ($32 plus $8 shipping)
Fundraising and Church packs are still $3 per cross plus shipping.
To order at these great prices above go here.
each cross will come with a beautiful velveteen gift bag.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Giveaway~ Caring Cross has offered one of my readers their very own Comfort Cross and velveteen gift bag!

To enter the giveaway be sure to leave a comment, and don't forget to share this giveaway with your friends. Winner will be chosen via Random.org. This giveaway will be open until November 21st.
 
I received one or more of the products mentioned above for free using Tomoson.com. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers.
Sponsored by Tomoson.com

Sunday, November 13, 2011

White Sage for Cold Relief



image credit
I enjoy learning new things and you never know where or who you learn it from. While attending a Mountain Man Rendezvous I had an opportunity to learn a new cold remedy. My husband is Cherokee and because of that we try to incorporate his culture in our lives. So when a lovely lady told me of a new to use for White Sage I was eager to try it. As it turned out,  my oldest is dealing with a cold. So we tried this remedy as soon as we got home. White Sage is typically used in smudging and cleansing ceremonies by Native Americans. However it does have medicinal uses too, It can be made into a tea, which reduces mucous secretions of the sinuses, lungs and throat, salivation and sweating. Cold Sage tea can be a good remedy for stomach tonic, while a warmer Sage tea is good at sore throats remedy. The Sage’s leaves are also used as a remedy for heavy and painful menstruation when it is applied as a uterine hemostatic tea..  Considering that most cough syrups are not effective Why not give this remedy a try next time you have a cough or cold?
  • White Sage – 1 tsp.
  • Honey – 1 tsp.
  • Lemon juice – 1tsp

To use make an infusion by pouring  1 pint of boiling water on to 1 OZ. of the dried herb, 1 tsp. of honey and the juice of one lemon. Let it steep for about 30 minutes.  Strain it and drink it up. We like to use the French Press for making our infusions. Your dose will be anywhere from 3 oz. to 8 oz.  Take throughout the day.

this post is linked up to Homestead Barn HopFrugal Days, Sustainable WaysHealthy 2Day ,WednesdaysSpa SunDaze

Technorati Tags: ,Native American cough remedy

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Kids need the Sabbath


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Many of us set aside time aside to attend church on the weekend. But do you keep the Sabbath? Do you teach your children to keep the Sabbath? What am I talking about here? I am talking about setting time aside for God and family. Most of us do a pretty decent to good job of setting aside time for God and Church, but what about setting time aside on the Sabbath for our families or ourselves?
When I was growing up stores were closed on Sundays. All of them, grocery stores and even the Mall. Shopping was just not done on the Sundays. somewhere about my teens the Blue Laws as they called them started to relax.  It allowed for grocery stores to be open, as groceries were a necessity. However they did not open until noon or 1pm and closed by 5 or 6pm. Now today drive by any Shopping Center parking lot and you will find that Sunday is perhaps the busiest day of the week. There was a time in our marriage and family life that we joined the crowds on Sunday. It was church out to lunch and shopping. We  would get home somewhere about 3pm. When I realized that we had no down time on Sundays, no real family time I decided to make a change in that.
For many Sunday has blended into Saturday  and is called "the weekend." Many of us do go to church but for just as many. Sunday is just another weekend day to get the shopping done, or watch a football game. I understand the demands of the week for many of us.  For some of us we see Sundays as a bonus weekend day, a day to catch up on those things we did not get done during the week. While we can not change how our American society treats Sundays we can as families and individuals set aside  Sunday as a day that for worship, for family, for rest and recreation, and for charitable acts, not for business (and especially not for non-essential, unpaid work so often demanded by corporate employers on that day).
The  Catechism of the Catholic Church states that  God’s  action is the model for human action. If God "rested and was refreshed" on the seventh day, man too ought to "rest" and should let others, especially the poor, "be refreshed."96 The Sabbath brings everyday work to a halt and provides a respite. It is a day of protest against the servitude of work and the worship of money.97
The Sunday obligation
As Catholics we have an obligation to attend and participate in the Mass. We must make time on Sundays for Mass, As a practicing Catholic, I follow the percept to attend Mass first and foremost on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation. I believe that Sunday should be set aside not only  for mass but  for family time. Much to my chagrin I have had fellow parishioners tell me they were not going to mass because they were going to a soccer game or a birthday party, or needed to go grocery shopping  and they could not fit mass in. Seriously?!! Living near the city there is practically a mass and hour here. If going to another mass is not an option go late to the birthday party. What sort of message are you sending when you put your social life or grocery or Christmas shopping ahead of God?  The Catholic Catechism goes on to say that those who do not attend mass (except those excused for a serious reason) commit a grave sin.

  A Rhythm of Work and Rest
We as humans crave a rhythm of work and rest. This need is ingrained in our very core. In setting aside a day of rest for everyone it allows us to recharge our batteries, we are able to make time for not only physical rest, but we are able to cultivate our cultural and social lives. The Catholic Catechism states that on Sundays and other holy days of obligations the faithful are to refrain from engaging in work or activities that hinder the worship owed to God, the joy proper to the Lord's Day, the performance of the works of mercy, and the appropriate relaxation of mind and body.123
Family needs or important social service can legitimately excuse a person  from the obligation of Sunday rest.  Most families need to eat. There was a time when I did not cook on Sundays, because I was cooking 3 meals a day 6 days a week, we used Sunday as our Leftover Buffet.  It is good to give ourselves a break on Sundays.  I certainly enjoy taking a break from laundry and other big jobs at home on Sundays.  As a general rule I opt not to spend my time catching up on laundry or house cleaning on Sundays. We try to set aside the afternoon for family time, weather permitting, doing something outside.  
The Sabbath and Family Time
In the Catholic church Sunday is traditionally consecrated by good works and humble service to the sick, infirm and elderly. Thus you will see Deacons and others taking the Eucharist to those who are not able to attend mass. As Christians we are called to spend time devoted to our families and relatives. Many families still carry on the tradition of Sunday dinners. In our case our family is too far flung to gather on Sundays. But we do take time to gather with those in our Church family and have set aside Sundays for family time. Growing up I remember well one family that religiously set aside Sundays explicitly for church and family. Children were not to visit their friends on Sundays, or get jobs that would require them to work on Sundays.
Taking Time to remember those less fortunate on Sundays
Catholic catechism states that we are to keep the Sabbath Holy. But it also states that we should be mindful of our brothers who have the same need for rest and relaxation on Sundays but who cannot because they must work. Many of those in public service fall into this category, firemen, paramedics, police. We must also consider those who must work to provide for their family’s basic needs, of food and shelter.  . Today it is often necessary for those who earn the least to work 2 or more jobs and many of them end up working at business that are open 24/7. Instead of having disdain for those who need to work to supply the basics for their family we should work to help those who need assistance. There are many ways you can remember those less fortunate than ourselves. It humbles me to think that no matter how bad I think we have had things that there is always someone who has had it worse then me. If you don’t think that there is someone who has it worse than you, volunteer at a local shelter, or food bank.
Keeping the Sabbath Holy
Catholic Catechism states that every Christian should avoid making unnecessary demands on others that would make it difficult for them to observe the Sabbath. Some people may need to work on Sundays for the good of others, i.e., police, firemen. As managers and business owners that means accommodating people taking off time on the weekend for church and rest. I am not suggesting that all businesses need to close on Sunday, but I am suggesting that employers  they try to accommodate their workers so that they have enough time off for church  relaxation or leisure and time to spend with families.
I know it is not easy to always keep the Sabbath a day of rest, but we must do our best to set aside time for our faith and families, for it is up to us to teach our children how to keep the day special.

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