December 29, 2016

New Year's Resolutions That Might Work

I've never really gotten into the New Year's resolution thing.  It's kind of a recipe for disappointment, in my opinion.  On the night of the year people are most likely to drink champagne, they look over their predicted accomplishments of the closing year, realize they failed at the wildly unrealistic resolutions they made the year before (largely because they never really thought of them after January 4th), attempt to drown their self-loathing in more booze and then, in the enlightened state that ensues, make fresh, new unattainable resolutions!  Surely there is a better way to become the best person you can be.  One that actually has some chance of doing good?

I can think of a few methods to consider and am happy to impart my unfounded but hopeful wisdom upon your eager ears (i.e. eyes).

Be Specific.  Instead of stating your whole goal as your resolution, specify the task you will do that will lead you closer to the desired goal.  How silly is it to say I resolve to lose twenty-five pounds?  Who knows if you can or will?  Why not, instead, aim to adopt a few simple practices that will be beneficial even if you don't achieve the whole goal.  Think of a small, manageable and relatively painless way to begin toward your destination.  Can you switch from white sugar to a natural sweetener and less of it?  If you usually put two spoonfuls of sugar in your tea or coffee, try one and a half for a week.  See how that goes.  You can then decrease it by more the next week or month once that becomes natural.  Not only will it be easier, you have a better chance of succeeding and actually embracing changes that are incremental and gradual.

Set up a win-win scenario.  Make a commitment to an action that will be of benefit even if you fail.  If you want to quit smoking, while you're working on it, resolve to only buy your cigarettes from a small, locally owned shop.  That way, at least if you never attain a smoke-free status, your failure will be bring good to the small business!  Get creative so that even your failures will make you and the world better!

Think Smaller.  Instead of New Year's resolutions, set an earlier check point.  Begin the first day of  first week of the new month of the new year with a New Week's resolution.  Keep your demands and expectations of yourself to manageable increments.  You're small success in the first week will impel you to continue them in the next week and to eventually raise.  Set New Month's resolutions and New Week resolutions.  Each night, you can even set New Day's resolutions!

Make a Plan.  A plan of attack will help keep you from becoming discouraged.  A far away goal may lose its appeal.  A weekly goal can help you keep up your interest and effort.  Consider making a plan for each month to help you increase your momentum throughout the year.  For instance, you could break down your individual resolutions into stages throughout the year, or work on a different goal each month.  If your goal is to get your house organized next year, devote the first month to one room and the next to another and so on.

Reminders.  This is really simple.  When you get your new calendar for the year, write your resolutions (or the various stages you've identified) on each month.  Begin each new month with a reminder and encouragement to keep you going.

Strengthen Your Resolve With Prayer.  Remember to pray for the grace to accomplish those things that will help you become the person God made you to be.  When you write in your reminders of your steps and goals on your new calendar, schedule in a day each month to get to the Sacrament of Confession.  There is no better way to gain the help to overcome harmful habits than through this refreshing sacrament.

"Without being strictly necessary, confession of everyday faults (venial sins) is nevertheless strongly recommended by the Church.  Indeed the regular confession of our venial sins helps us form our conscience, fight against evil tendencies, let ourselves be healed by Christ and progress in the life of the Spirit." (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1458)
 Entrust your resolutions to the Lord of time and happy New Year!

December 19, 2016

The Lazy Mom's Guide to Making Holiday Traditions

When I was a kid, I used to long for "traditions."  I vaguely defined that as long-standing meaningful and wonderful Christmas observances.  I would incessantly borrow library books about Christmas crafts (I never made) and look longingly through seasonal magazines.  I befuddled my mom by telling her I wanted to have traditions.  She had no idea what I meant.  Now that I'm grown up and have my own kids, I finally understand.

First of all, it turns out that we did have traditions.  It's just didn't recognize them as traditions because it just felt like regular stuff people do for Christmas.  I thought of traditions as great presentations that are made with pomp and circumstance and connected back through the history of Your People.

My family's traditions included things like going to midnight Mass after an unsuccessful nap attempt, eating all the same great foods we had for Thanksgiving because we all loved them so, our stockings and tree decorations from all the different places we lived.  I loved when my mother took out the three china choir children as a decoration.  Later it was a tradition for my brother's best friend next door to come over at the earliest opportunity to see what my brother got.

Now that I have a little family - and friends with families - I see how easily these traditions are made.  Anyone can have great family traditions.  Here are a few tips that will hopefully keep even low-energy moms afloat if you have a child who nags you for traditions like I did.  Fear not!  You can help create magical Christmas memories that will last a life time and traditions that will be passed down for generations.

Recognize your traditions!  Those normal things, like going to church, having a meal, decorating, already are among your traditions.  If you haven't called them that yet, start talking about them that way and they'll cherish these things with no extra effort on your part!  You don't need to plan, create, execute anything new.  If you usually begin to decorate on Thanksgiving weekend, say that "It's Our Tradition to decorate on Thanksgiving weekend."  They will look forward to it and it will suddenly become even more wonderful.  If you typically have pancakes on Christmas morning, call them "The Christmas Pancakes" and voila!  Instant tradition.  Soon, you can institute that the child closest to thirteen years old always makes The Christmas Pancakes and, not only will you never have to cook breakfast on Christmas ever again, they'll look forward to the year it's their turn!

We get our tree on the later side - it's often on sale then, too!

Some of our traditions now include going to an early Mass on Christmas Eve (so we can get back in time to put the chickens away).  The first thing we do when we return home is to let a child open the first gift - a beautiful box containing the baby Jesus and an angel.  These are added to the nativity set and we sing "Happy Birthday" to Jesus.  Then we eat dinner (which I have cleverly made really simple and stress free for me).

It's super easy to keep traditions going.  Anything you do once for Christmas with small children will become a compulsory Christmas institution ever after.  That's all it takes!  They will remind you and you will be forever bound to this practice.  Watch a Christmas movie you love with your family.  Drink cocoa and eat pop-corn while you watch.  I guarantee, at least one kid will ask the following year, "When are we going to watch THE Christmas movie?" while another offers to make the pop-corn.  In fact, it happens so easily, you'll only have to be careful to not accidentally do something fun that you don't want to have to do every year!

The cookies are wrapped in foil on the right.
St. Nicholas was foolishly energetic the first year he filled shoes at our house.  He brought St. Hildegard's "Cookies That Bring Joy" (recipe below).  It is now a wonderful tradition, but, St. Hildegard has to find time to secretly make them - and when it that going to happen????  But somehow she always finds time.  I suppose that's why she's a saint.  St. Nicholas also decided to personalize those gold coins with adorable self portraits this year.  Lovely, but prudent?  I'm not sure.  If you want to make some like them, the Shower of Roses site will help you!

As your kids get older, you won't have to do as much.  My friend, Carol, assures me that the past couple of years she just brings out the boxes of stuff and sits back to watch her three kids run the Advent and Christmas show!  Her kids make it happen!  She doesn't have to do anything.  Obviously Carol is my inspiration!

So, if you work it right and use the proper marketing and sales techniques, you, too can create a collection of memorable family traditions that your whole family will look forward to and will eventually happen with very little effort on your part.  That will be handy as you become old and tired.

If you do happen to want more ideas for lovely things you can institute - at some effort to yourself, visit my friend Karen's blog at Catholic Home Front.

As promised, here is the recipe for St. Hildegard's "Cookies that Bring Joy."  St. Hildegard was a twelfth century Benedictine abbess and foodie.  You can learn more about her and get more of her recipes in the book, From Saint Hildegard's Kitchen: Foods of Health, Foods of Joy by Jang Fournier-Rosset.  (If you click through and buy from this link, I may eventually receive some small monetary benefit - so they say.  It hasn't happened yet.)  I was given the recipe by my friend, Maria, who is very holy and so, I'm sure she received it directly from St. Hildegard herself!

St. Hildegard's Cookies That Bring Joy

12 T + 1t Butter
3/4 C      Brown sugar (as unrefined as you can find, such as Sucanat)
1/3 C      Honey
4            Egg yolks
2 1/2 C   Spelt flour
1t           Sea salt
2T          Spices that bring joy (1T Nutmeg, 1T Cinnamon, 1t Cloves)

Melt butter on low heat.  Remove from heat and add sugar, honey and egg, beating lightly.  Add flour and salt; combine gently.  Refrigerate.  Roll out onto a floured surface, quite thin.  Cut into desired shapes.
Bake at 400° for 10 - 15 minutes, until golden brown.

(You could make substitutions to the recipe, I suppose, but then they won't be St. Hildegard's cookies and they might not bring you joy!)

December 12, 2016

Reclaiming Christmas Magic

Sometimes in secret moments I lament that Christmas has lost its magic.  When I was little – like most other kids I knew – Christmas and birthdays were high points of the year.  Christmas had the added delight of a whole season of preparation and societal festivities.  It seemed forever away and the anticipation was dizzying.  The feast day burst upon a family with lights, sweets, song and presents.

Fast forward to adulthood and some of that sparkle often becomes a bit lackluster.  Actually making the preparations, ticking off my mandatory gift list, dragging out boxes of decorations (and the thought of putting them away again) aren’t as fun as they were when my responsibilities ended with letting my parents know what I wanted for Christmas and letting sugar-plums dance through my head.  

It helps to have children in the house to recapture some of that magic.  It makes it more fun when we put on Christmas for them.  We decorate and revive the customs we grew up with, adding new ones, perhaps.  We teach them through our observances and celebrations what Christmas is.  Hopefully, they’ll be left with a more complete understanding of the great greatness that is the Incarnation of the eternal God; the Mystery of Christ.

I was talking about this with my friend, Laurie, recently.  She is the youngest of eight children in a family that stirs up thoughts of the Waltons TV show.  She described her family’s Christmas morning: a lavish cornucopia of giving!  Her family was not particularly affluent, materially anyway.  They were rich in children and love.

Her favorite part as a child was waking up and rushing down to see the Christmas tree deep in a sea of gifts.  With eight kids, each receiving a gift from and giving to parents and exchanging with each other, you might need a slide rule to figure the present count.  They went to morning Mass and ate a big breakfast before plunging into the gifts.  Laurie remembers that she would do her best to delay the opening as long as she could because she knew the magic lay in the anticipation, in the hope - the unopened gifts.  Once they were unwrapped, something was lost.  Once it began, the end was near.

This reminds me of Caryll Houselander’s meditation on Mary’s Advent, her expectation the Incarnation of the Word of God.

“Humanly speaking, the time of Advent must have been the happiest time in Our Lady’s life. . . .  But sometimes a pang of grief must have shot through her; for example when the young wheat grew and she saw it pierce the earth with little swords.  Perhaps the first sword to pierce her heart was a blade of green wheat.
          For was not her precious burden a grain of wheat sown in a field?
          Was He not bread?  The world’s bread that must be broken?”

When I focus only on the magic of Christmas – the gift giving, the decorations, the feasting - I might miss the mystery of Christmas.  The Mystery of Christ includes His life, death, resurrection and return.  To overcome death, He had to die.  It is what He was born for – on Christmas.
Caryll Houselander goes on:

“This is what it meant to Mary to give human nature to God.
He was invulnerable; He asked her for a body to be wounded.
He was joy itself; He asked her to give Him tears.
He was God; He asked her to make Him man.
He asked for hands and feet to be nailed.
He asked for flesh to be scourged.
He asked for blood to be shed.
He asked for a heart to be broken.
The stable at Bethlehem was the first Calvary.
The wooden manger was the first Cross.
The swaddling bands were the first burial bands.
The Passion had begun.
Christ was man.”

True as this may be, it would be wrong to not celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, even knowing it heralds His death.  Mary did.  The Angels did.  The kings of the world adored Him, the second person of the Blessed Trinity, contained in the tiny being lying in a manger.  They brought Him the best the world had to offer.  If I wish to be wise, I ought to do the same.

Let us bring Him our gold.  In a literal sense, I can give of my plenty to Him in the “distressing disguise of the poor.”  While I feast, I should help others to feast.  It is fitting that we all feast on Our Lord’s birthday.  I will give more generously.

Let us bring Him our frankincense.  Incense is offered to God.  I should look inside my heart to see if the God who created and redeemed me is the god I truly worship.  Or, do I adore His gifts?  Do I give Him my first and best?  I will examine my conscience, confess and amend my life.

Incense represents our prayers rising to God.  Are my prayers like a burning thurible, sending fragrant smoke billowing up to Him?  I will pray better.  I will seek to open my heart to His.

Let us bring Him our myrrh.  Myrrh means “bitter” and was used to prepare a body for death.  Do I offer my life to the One who died for me?  Am I willing to receive as a gift all the bitterness that comes so it may unite me to His redemptive work?  Am I willing to lay my life down – if not in bodily death, in the death of inconvenience – for those He loves?  I will need Your help, Lord, to pour out myself to the last drop as You did.

And so, as I make the preparations for Christmas this Advent, I will strive not so much to create magic, but to enter into the mystery of Christ.  I wish for Jesus to abide in my heart as Mary carried Him under her heart on the journey to Bethlehem.

With the gifts under the tree in the living room, let me place my whole self on the tree of the cross with Him.  I wish to give him my vulnerability, my joys and tears, my hands and feet, and my heart.  He will open my gift and transform it into a life more fully lived.

I suspect when I give myself as a gift to Our Lord, the results will be magical.

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You can find this meditation in Caryll Houselander's book, Reed of God, available through my Amazon affiliate link (from which I might get a little remuneration if I'm lucky!).  Click here!