Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving {a playlist}

I made this playlist just for you. (Really, I made it for me, because we have to drive some distances with our kids in the car in the next few days, and we need real music to keep us from going crazy. But I'm sharing it with you for your traveling, or your turkey basting, or your pie baking, or your pajama dance party, or whatever you're up to.)

Happy Thanksgiving. I'm grateful for you. Thanks for sharing the journey with us.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Creating an imperfect Jesse Tree {guest post}

Today, I'm excited to welcome Rebecca from Real Mama Joy as she shares about creating a Jesse Tree with her family. My family has never done a Jesse Tree, so I'm grateful to have  Rebecca share her experiences and thoughts with us (early enough that the rest of us can still get inspired and decide to do one this year!). Please help me welcome her by leaving her a comment or popping over to visit her blog. (And don't forget to enter the giveaway for a Blessed Is She Advent have until tomorrow to enter by leaving a comment on this post.)


For a long time, I have considered making a Jesse Tree and adding it as an Advent family tradition. While for many years I didn't even know what a Jesse Tree was, I learned about them as an adult and as a mother and found that I loved their simple beauty. On December 1-24, you add a new ornament to your tree each day, each one symbolic of a Scripture passage and of an ancestor of Jesus. If you would like to learn more about the Jesse Tree and its story, this article from Catholic Culture is helpful. This isn't just an Advent calendar. This is THE Advent calendar. As we get closer and closer to Christmas, we learn more about Jesus and become closer and closer to Christ each day as we reflect on the family tree of Jesus. How perfectly simple and relevant.

A shoot will spring forth from the stump of Jesse, and a branch out of his roots.
Isaiah 11: 1

Most of us long for a simpler Advent season. Most of us want to experience Jesus more fully as we prepare for Christmas. The word "Advent" comes from the Latin root "venire," meaning "to come." This of course refers to God coming to us as a tiny babe and to Jesus' promise to come again, naturally causing us to reflect on God coming to us. God with us. Emmanuel. However, it is just as appropriate, if not more so, to let our thoughts dwell on venire, to come, in a different way. Rather than God coming to us, we can let our minds, spirits and hearts linger on how we can come closer to Jesus.

And through a Jesse Tree, in learning more each day about Jesus' heritage and delving into Scripture, each Advent we can do just that.

When I considered making a Jesse tree in recent years, I would scroll through these beautiful pictures on Pinterest - Jesse trees made of felt, made into quilts, made from clay, made into magnets, made with beautiful, detailed, hand-crafted, hand-painted ornaments that I simply could never make. So for many years, I never made a Jesse tree.

I am not a crafter. I like crafting. I wouldn't say I'm terrible at it. I would say that I am inexperienced and don't have the time for it. Mothering four children (including a one-year-old right now) and homeschooling two of them does not lend me much time for crafting. Also, it's sad to say, but making it yourself isn't always more affordable than just buying it already made. As we live on a budget, I rarely have extra funds for crafting. This year, I made sure to include some money for crafting in our Christmas budget.

Here is a major novice crafter fail - nothing protecting my table! Some of the glitter is still in the grooves of our table, and most likely will be 20 years from now!
Here is a major novice crafter fail - nothing protecting my table! Some of that glitter is still in the grooves of our table, and most likely will be 20 years from now!

While I am not necessarily a crafter, I love to create and find great satisfaction in writing a poem, building a web site, rolling out pasta, having babies and even writing a post. So this year, I decided to create a Jesse tree for our family, knowing it would be imperfect.

So often, lowering my standards reaps great rewards.

Upon later thought, I realized that my imperfect reflection of the lineage of Jesus would be quite fitting. The family tree of Jesus is ripe with imperfection and sinners. My imperfect Jesse Tree would only better depict that!


When deciding how to make the ornaments, I struggled with finding a way that would look pleasing to the eye, would be practical, wouldn't cost too much, would be homemade and could include the children in the creation process. I decided that I did not want to draw or create my own symbols and began looking for a free pattern. I found my choice at this website. I liked them because they looked simple and hand-drawn (which they were by Helen Philips and Jeff Brown) and because they were free. I then printed them on some sheer paper I found at the local craft store. I printed the images at 75% so that they would be small enough for the ornaments I was making.

I contemplated coloring each image myself, but then realized that was silliness. Not only would it take a long time, but it wouldn't take advantage of an opportunity to involve the children in the creation process. So I asked the children for their best work and let them do the coloring. They loved it! I then mod-podged each image onto wooden ornaments I found at the craft store. The mod podge smudged the marker ink a little bit as I painted them on, but not too badly. Also, the mod podge made the ends of the paper begin to curl up and wrinkle a little.

Ah well. Imperfect Jesse tree.

I do think that overall, the mod podge over the sheer paper worked really nicely. It gives the effect that the image is actually colored directly onto the wooden ornament, rather than a piece of paper glued onto the wood. The two older children and I then painted the borders of each ornament red and green. I regretted this later, wishing we had painted them the traditional Advent colors of pink and purple.

Ah well. Imperfect Jesse tree.


Veronica, my three-year-old daughter, and I then sprinkled the ornaments with glitter, which she loved. We probably overdid it on some of them, but ah well. Imperfect Jesee tree. We will hang the ornaments on some branches I pruned from our prune tree and spray-painted gold.

There are many free devotions and prayers found online to use with a Jesse Tree. However, I am quite taken with the work of Ann Voskamp right now, author of One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are, and blogger at A Holy Experience. I was excited to see that she has released a beautiful book this year for families to use with their Jesse Tree, Unwrapping the Greatest Gift: A Family Celebration of Christmas. I purchased this beautiful book and am so excited to use it! Also, last year she published a book of reflections for Advent that center around the Jesse Tree, The Greatest Gift: Unwrapping the Full Love Story of Christmas. I will also be reading through these reflections this Advent. Each day of Advent, we will read the Scripture passages, pray and hang our very glittery, red and green Jesse Tree ornaments. Having a beautiful, Pinterest-worthy Jesse tree is not the point. The point is Advent. Venire. To come.

God came to us, Jesus will come again and joy is complete when we come closer to Him.

This Advent, come closer to Jesus. Whether through a Jesse tree, prayer, reading Scripture or through loving acts, Jesus is calling you this Advent.

Veni. Come.

Real Mama Joy Portrait ImageRebecca is a writer at her blog, Real Mama Joy, where she focuses on discovering joy in motherhood, homeschooling and everyday life with the help of her Catholic faith. She is a homeschooling mother of four children. She believes that most often in the everyday life of motherhood, joy is a choice. With diapers and boogers and whining and disobedience and the hundredth spill in one day, that choice can be hard! It is Rebecca’s hope and prayer that by sharing her journey with readers, she will help to spread Jesus’ message of joy to other moms.

Monday, November 24, 2014

3 ways to get ready for Advent (so you can get ready for Christmas)

Advent is coming. 

It is. It's coming.

I always start out the Advent season feeling panicky, like I'm falling behind before I've even started.  Time to find the wreath and the prayer book. Time to make all the, cookies, cards, events. Time to start getting everything ready. I'm not even ready to think about getting ready. Part of me wants to run away down the street and not look back, squeezing my eyes tightly shut so I won't see all the giant Christmas inflatables that are already popping up on my neighbors' lawns.

Maybe it's okay that I feel apprehensive. Jesus is going to be born. We're not could we be? Having recently welcomed a baby who is not the Son of God, I'm more than aware that there's a lot to do. We need time to make preparations, to quiet our souls, to sink into the knowledge that in the midst of all the chaos and confusion of our world, God is entering. God is going to sit down with us right in the middle of our mess, because that's what God does.

Emmanuel. God with us. Ready, or not.

But that's why we have Advent. We don't have to be ready yet. This season exists to help us become ready, to bring us into a space where we can prepare.

We have a choice. We can spend the next four weeks running around and wringing our hands about the crazy that surrounds us, or we can take a deep breath, accept that it's coming, and decide to prepare.

I'm going with the deep breath option.

If you are also starting out this Advent feeling a bit behind, these three things might help:

First, there's the new Advent journal from Blessed Is She. This slim booklet is so lovely. It's filled with scripture verses, prompting questions and space for your thoughts and reflections each day from the first day of Advent through Christmas. A lot of love and care went into creating it especially for you, the busy reader who wants to take time to ponder and reflect but doesn't have a lot of time to spare. I am really looking forward to using my copy, and guess what? I have one to give away to one of you!

If you'd like to win, just leave a comment here on this post or on our facebook page with either a challenge you are facing this Advent or something you're especially anticipating this season.

If you don't want to wait, you can purchase a copy of the journal here or by clicking on the ad in the sidebar. Your purchase helps support the ministry of Blessed Is She (an entirely volunteer effort).

Second, I'm sharing my favorite Advent music in a playlist on Spotify. You can find the playlist here. (If you don't have a free Spotify account, you'll need to set one up and download the software, which is easy to do.) I love Christmas music, but in this season of preparation, I'm not ready to listen to it yet. I fill the gap by listening to Advent music (yes, that's really a thing!) If you have favorites that would be good additions, drop me a line- I'd love to expand the list some more this year.

Finally, how about joining me in a photo challenge? I'm focusing on finding holy moments and treasuring them in my heart by doing #HolyLens again. #HolyLens started during Lent 2014 as a way to notice and share the sacred moments we find each day. I will be posting a list of daily photo prompts for you each week. Just take a picture related to the day's prompt, post it on Instagram- don't forget the hashtag- and share your everyday holy with our little photo-happy community. Your eyes and your photos create our shared experience, and we all get to reflect on the little bits of grace that surround us. You can follow me on Instagram here...I'm dere_abbey.

If you are not on Instagram, you can post your photos on our brand-new HolyLens Facebook page.

I need to prepare my heart and mind for the arrival of Christ. If you do, too, please join me in any or all of these things. Together, we'll be a little community of works in progress, headed down the road to Bethlehem just as we are, getting more and more ready to receive Jesus all the time.

That's what Advent is all about.

The fine print: The Blessed Is She journal giveaway closes at 11:59 pm on Wednesday night, 11/27/14 (so I can mail you your journal in time for the first Sunday of Advent). This giveaway is open to US residents only. 

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Welcome to #HolyLens for Advent 2014

Welcome to the home of #HolyLens. We are focused on seeing the sacred in the everyday by taking a photo every day during Advent. This is where the weekly photo prompts will be posted. I'll be posting the photo prompts daily on our HolyLens facebook page starting the first Sunday of Advent.

This project is about more than just taking photos. It's a spiritual discipline, designed to help us notice the places in our ordinary lives that God is already at work. It's inviting Christ's presence with intention. It's building a moment of reflection each day into an otherwise busy time of year. It is holy work.

If this sounds like something you need this year, please join us on our journey. You can share your photos on Instagram with the hashtag #HolyLens or our facebook page. Be sure to like the facebook page so you won't miss any updates. 

Thanks for being part of our community of photo-taking pilgrims on our way to Bethlehem. Our shared experience is richer because you are a part of it.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Five-Minute Friday: Notice

You're in your blue period now, we say, by which we mean you'll methodically cover almost the whole paper with all the different shades of ocean, turquoise, cornflower and navy you can find, leaving a deliberate white border around the sides.

Your outfits always begin with your socks- usually the yellow striped ones, if they're clean (usually a tantrum, if they're not). It's hard to change your mind once you've made it up. You always make your choices on purpose, and you can't be hurried. You know what you want, and you move toward it with the determined, plodding focus of a marathoner at mile 24 of a race...never rushing and unwilling to be distracted by anything.

Sometimes, I want nothing more than to push you out the door in my overwhelming desire to get us someplace less than 15 minutes late, but you are solid, sister. You take your time, carefully putting on your purple sparkly sneakers and your striped mittens and your red-white-and-blue star-shaped sunglasses. And just when I think I can't wait one more second, you pause, lifting your head with a curious, delighted look on your face, cocking your ear toward the lilac bush.

"Mama! That's a chickadee!" Your chuckle crinkles the corners of your eyes as the black-capped bird takes flight.

I never would have noticed.

I have to kiss your head, sweet girl, and remind myself to move over into the slow lane with you. You're on the scenic route, and I don't want to miss any more of it.

For more Five-Minute Friday, visit Kate's blog.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

When yes is no and no is yes

I chronically overpromise.

Maybe it's the dark side of being an optimist. I always hope to have more time, more energy, more resources than I actually end up having. I want to do more, be more, and create more. I feel I have a lot to give, so I want to give it. Then an opportunity comes up that seems perfect for me, I say "Yes, I'd love to!" and end up running around like the proverbial chicken trying to find my keys and one of my kids' shoes and mittens that match for everyone on the coldest day of the year.

(I know, the chicken was looking for his head. The thing is, it's a lot harder to find keys, mittens, etc. if you also can't find your own head. And that's how I felt today.)

Do you ever have days where the ordinary everyday stuff seems too much to handle? When deciding what to have for breakfast and getting it on the table is going to completely overtake you? Or when putting that load of laundry in and starting the washer is such a monumental task that you might just fall in the washer along with the clothes and end up drowning during the rinse cycle? I'm not sure what it was today...everything just seemed hard. During the throes of lunch and nap and accompanying tantrums from overtired kids, I realized I'd forgotten last night to soak the beans for our dinner tonight. The idea of having to do the "quick soak" method and set them on the stove to simmer before I could lie down for a rest was so overwhelming that I texted my husband and asked him to bring home frozen pizza for dinner.

Sometimes, I think overcommitment is almost expected of us. Our priest even talked about it this week in his homily. If you do well with the obligations you already have, people will ask you to do more things. You can sing in the choir? Great, we'll ask you to be a lector. You used to teach preschool? Oh, wonderful, we'd love to have you be a scout troop leader! I look around and see I'm far from the only one doing so many things and being so overextended that I can barely scrape myself off the couch at the end of the night to go to bed.

Why do we do this to ourselves? Why do we put so much into our lives that we exhaust ourselves trying to keep up? If we run ourselves completely ragged doing all these good and worthy and important tasks, do we even have room to remember the reason we're doing these things in the first place?

Is there ever a time when saying "no" to commitments means saying "yes" to more space for God?

After I took a nap with the baby this afternoon, I still felt overwhelmed. Responsible Me said I should put Felix in his swing, turn on some music, and tackle the chores I hadn't finished this morning. I was dragging myself and the baby swing into the kitchen when Nora appeared at my side, eyes big.

"Do you know what is a really good snack?" she said, a smile forming in the left-hand corner of her mouth. "Something flat and kind of soft but kind of crunchy. That involves oatmeal. And chocolate chips."

"You're asking me to make cookies?" I sighed.

She wrapped her arms around my leg and squeezed me. "No. I want to help you make some cookies."

And you know what? I said Yes. Forget the chores. Forget the fact that I haven't posted on my blog in a month and that the sidebar still excludes the existence of my now three and a half month old son. Forget the hats that haven't been knitted even though it's 24 degrees today and the meals that haven't been planned and the floor that really needs to be mopped. Let's go make some cookies.

So we did.

And while God wasn't telling me explicitly to go bake cookies today, I think He'd be glad I did.

Let's not get so busy with all the have-to-dos, even the really good, worthy, well-intentioned ones, that we forget to make room for the spontaneous encounters and experiences that really make life worth living.

Like warm cookies with chocolate chips eaten with smiling three-year-olds.

And licking the spoon...because I said "yes" to that, as well.

Today is the big release day for Lisa Hendey's new book, The Grace of Yes. It's all about cultivating the virtues that help us to say "yes" to God in our lives. I'm only halfway through the book, but I'm loving it so far. Lisa weaves her personal story with wise advice. Reading her book feels like having coffee and seeking counsel from a warm, faithful friend who shares from her own experience without telling me what to do. You can check out The Grace of Yes: Eight Virtues for Generous Living on be sure to look for all the stories people are sharing on social media  today with the hashtag #GraceofYesDay.

Note: This post contains affiliate links. A small portion of your purchase made through those links supports Surviving Our Blessings at no cost to you. Thanks for your support.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

A work in progress...{fall decor}


Fall is my favorite.

I unapologetically love the falling temperatures, the early-darkening sky, and the pumpkin-flavored everything.

Other than Christmas, fall is the only time of year that I really change anything in our home and call it decorating. This year, I've been a bit busy with other things (three people in diapers, for example) and hadn't thought much about decorating yet. When Bonnie of A Knotted Life asked me about participating in this blog carnival, I thought it would be a good incentive to get things done.

It turns out it was a good incentive to get things started.

Hey, it's okay. I'm a perpetual work in progress. My surroundings may as well be, too. Things are constantly evolving around here. As our lives unfold, we add to our decorating...cut flowers from our yard, acorns from a hike, painted pumpkins from our annual pumpkin painting party, our Thankful Tree around Thanksgiving, banners and art created for various saint days.

I like pretty things, and I like to see beauty around me during the day. I could spend lots and lots of time hunting for seasonal baskets and rugs and throw pillows that are just right at TJ Maxx and Tuesday Morning. I love flipping through Pottery Barn catalogs, finding amazing tea cups in antique stores, and buying candles, picture frames and potted plants. I love arranging and rearranging things in our home.

But this isn't a decorating blog, and there's a very good reason for that.

It's because I like things to be perfect, and when I get caught up in making things look exactly the way I think they should, I can forget that my family lives here (and that they have other priorities than making sure their bath towels are all hanging evenly and with appropriate spacing). Our house is warm and welcoming, but it's not ever going to look like a page from Southern Living. Most of the surfaces are covered with books...between homeschooling, George's grad school books and general reading, we have a lot of them around. There are too many Legos and sippy cups without lids. There are always toys and shoes and superhero capes on the floor in most of the rooms. We pick them up throughout the day, but the kids move them around as they create elaborate adventures and storylines. When I watch them play, I'm thrilled that they use so many different pieces and loose parts in their play. When I stop watching the play and start focusing on the mess instead, it just stresses me out.

What I really need to feel calm about the state of my house are pockets of peace- little spaces on which I can rest my eyes when they are overwhelmed by the rest of my life. These focal points can help keep me sane when the books are overflowing their baskets and the Playmobil guys have taken over the bathroom sink again. Realistically, any decorating I do needs to be out of reach of the smallest people and on a surface that isn't going to become part of a stop-motion dinosaur film. (If we had a mantel, it would fit this purpose, but we don't.)

Realizing I need to narrow my focus to create these pockets, I put my energy into decorating the top of our piano this season. At SuperSam's request, we also worked together on a garland of fall leaves to hang in the doorway between the kitchen and the living room. Finally, I made a wreath for the front door. (We always have a wreath. I like to make them, and I change them seasonally. Sometimes that's all I do, but we do have a wreath.)

Here's the one I made for fall this year:

I'm not thrilled with it yet- I think I'm going to add more fabric flowers around the D. (I'm excited about my new magnetic wreath hanger, though- no more Command Hooks falling off at odd times!)

The other easy place for me to change things is our table. This is our family at Michaelmas dinner. We've kept the centerpiece the same...cloth with leaves, sticks, pinecones, stones and other found objects. This will evolve, too, as we go on nature walks and the kids add their treasures to the table.

The final part of our seasonal decorating is our book basket. The books rotate with the seasons, and so does the basket. I just recently replaced the white one that held our summer and beach books with this one, full of our fall favorites. (Notice the piles of seasonally inappropriate classics, a huge green Bible and a few other random books just hanging out on the table. We could really be running a library if we could keep the books in order on a shelf.)

Seeing the children grab books from the basket and curl up on the sofa together makes my heart happy. Really, this is what it's all about for me...creating a place that's warm and welcoming for the people I love to do what they love. This is our space to be together and live our lives. I had fun adding a few fall touches to it, and I'm happy to share them with long as you remember that there are three giant totes in my kitchen filled with hand-me-down clothes to be gone through and several baskets of laundry in the hallway that need to be folded and spiderwebs above the door on the front porch that should really be swept down and some toothpaste smeared on the hall bathroom door.

It's okay. This is my life. If you stop by, I'll clear a spot at the table and make you some tea, but I can't guarantee that I'll have vacuumed the floors.

For more fall inspiration, check out the rest of the blogs participating in the carnival!

A Knotted Life


Fountains of Home

This Ain't The Lyceum

Mama Needs Coffee

House for Five

Team Whitaker

Two O's + More

Clan Donaldson

Better than Eden