Saturday, December 31, 2011

Vacation 2011-2012: Sedona

We decided to celebrate the end of one good year and ring in the new year with our favourite kind of family vacation:  a road trip!  Starting with a few day trips from home (we haven't really explored around here yet!), the picture taking has already been.....ummmmm.....intense.  We're leaving for a jaunt up the Pacific coast tomorrow, and I'm sure the camera will get quite the workout.  Because of that, I decided to do installments of picture posts.  Here are installments #1 and #2:  Tucson and Sedona.  Enjoy!!

Their first look at the red rocks : from the visitor's center

Vacation 2011-2012: San Xavier del Bac Mission (Tucson)

This mission was absolutely beautiful.  We spent probably 3 times as long as either of us were expecting to spend there:  there really was that much to see!   It's an amazingly stunning place - both in terms of the church and its buildings, and the people we met there.  If you're ever in the Tucson area, you NEED to see this mission!

Santa driving a big-rig!

The white building against the brilliantly blue sky was overwhelming.

I loved the ceilings - so pretty!

Every inch inside the church was covered in art.  It was beautiful.

A replica of the grotto at Lourdes.  The sun's glare in this picture is awesome, in my opinion. (that's a statue of Mary, within the glare)

Tuesday, December 27, 2011


HOPE:  desire accompanied by expectation of or belief in fulfillment 

(courtesy of Merriam-Webster online)

I love this time of year.  Not only is it a time centered on love, compassion, and family, but it's a time in which so many people are filled with hope.   The business of preparing for Christmas - the stress of planning and preparing dinners or shopping for a long list of presents - is over, and for the most part, people are happy.   One might run into a case here and there of "buyer's remorse," but even that seems tempered by the excitement of giving or receiving (talking about gifts, hospitality, and service here, not just consumerism).  School is typically still "out" and families tend to either hunker down at home and focus on relaxing, or take that trip they've been talking about for months.   Just now, sitting at my front window, typing this post, I see two dads teaching children how to ride their bike (presumably received on Christmas morning).  Just yesterday, my husband took my 5 year old on his first ever bike ride where he got to ride a bike and NOT in a bike trailer, strapped in.   The smile on his face (and on these other two children's faces as I watch them today) could be seen from down the street - he was truly joyful.
It's a fun time of year, and being Catholic, it's even more fun.  Our days are centered around celebrating.  What are we celebrating?  We're focusing on and rejoicing in the fact that about 2,000 years ago, our God came into this world as a baby boy.  This baby boy would grow up to die on a cross, just over 30 years later, and in effect, save us.  It's a pretty good reason for celebrating.  ;-)

I don't think it's any coincidence that this time of year also provides a very curious phenomenon:  a return to hope.   Have you ever noticed that the week between Christmas and New Year's is full of people talking about "resolutions" or ways that they will improve themselves or their surroundings during the upcoming year?  The stores definitely have.  Just today, I've received 3 emails from various businesses, focusing on things like improving one's health (and purchasing the appropriate exercise equipment, at a fraction of the regular cost) or sorting out finances.  It seems that everyone, everywhere, is focused on a better future for themselves and their families.

Recently, on a mom's board that I'm a member of, the topic of New Year's resolutions came up.  Members were encouraged to share what they planned on making this year's resolution.  Everyone was so full of hope and excitement, focusing on how next year was going to be better.  Next year was going to be the year that they lost the weight, or cleaned the attic, stuck to homeschooling plans, or took better care of themselves.   The hope  - most specifically, the belief that their goal could be achieved - was palpable.

Like I said earlier, I don't think these two events - the birth of Christ and the "Hope Phenomenon" are unrelated.  One leads to the other, whether or not you explicitly believe in the divinity of Christ.   I would argue that - even if you choose to not believe in Christianity, in any of its many forms - you are aware of the reasons for celebrating Christmas.  After all, it is considered a national holiday.  Schools are closed, there's no mail delivery, banks are closed - if you've grown up in the United States, you've been made aware of Christmas, and most likely, the story of the Nativity (considering you can't go into ANY store during December and not see a Nativity set or picture for sale). 

I believe in the power of suggestion.  (What parent doesn't, really?!?!).  All it takes is a well-placed comment or action from me, and my kids understand what is expected of them, or - even better - change their actions or words to reflect that suggestion from me.   Believe me, we're in the process of potty-training Baby #3 right now....suggestions are powerful things. 

If you've lived in the States for any amount of time, you've heard the Nativity story.  You know - whether or not you believe it yourself - that the majority of our country's population believes that a baby boy was born for the sole purpose of saving us.   You've heard that yes, even though we are sinners, we are so very loved that God Himself became a man and died for our salvation.   That's a whole lot of love.......and when you are loved, you want to give love in return. 

But how do we give love to One who is perfect?  How do we show our gratitude and appreciation for the Incarnation? 

As Matthew Kelly puts it - we become better versions of ourselves.  We strive to become the best version of ourselves that is possible.  

We not only have a goal in mind (to be the best version of ourselves), but we have the affirmation of love from a God who was born to save us - the very reason that we are celebrating Christmas.  We are so incredibly loved by the very baby whose birth we are celebrating every December. 

Whether you agree with Jesus' divinity or not...the power of suggestion (placed by the fact that the majority of the population does profess and celebrate this divinity) is a strong one.   Everywhere around us, people are striving to make themselves their best version....all in a response to an incredible act of Love.  

We find ourselves immersed in Hope.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Merry Christmas!

I only have a few minutes to update, as I need to get cleaning and then grocery shopping (we have family coming over to visit today), but I wanted to take a minute to wish everyone a Merry Christmas!  Isn't it fun being Catholic?  Twelve days of Christmas await us, and usually the rest of the world moves away from Christmas, as of today (Boxing Day).   12 days to celebrate without the hustle and bustle and stressful shopping!  Woo-hoo!

Christmas here started with our first ever midnight Mass as a family that was actually at midnight.  The boys went to bed around 7:30, and then we woke them up just after 10:30 to get dressed, eat a snack, and head to church.  They were unbelievable - perfect gentlemen - at Mass.  Apparently we need to have more middle-of-the-night celebrations!  

Then it was back to bed for everyone.....except Mommy.  The boys and I had planned and prepared a Winter Wonderland, as a surprise for Mike, who was very much missing our white Christmases from back east.  I tried to be as quiet as possible while decorating our living room with snowflakes and lights.  It seemed to work - no one woke up!

I finally made it to bed around 4:45, to be woken up at 8 by the children.  It was a wonderful, relaxed morning of gifts, laughter, smiles, and adorable pajamas.  ;-)  Enjoy the pictures!

A bit groggy for Mass

Goofy Christmas boys

We were truly blessed this year by friends and family alike.

Santa brought Graham a bike!

Happy boy

Another happy boy - taking a snack break

Santa brought Nicholas TWO Cliffords!

Santa brought Joseph his coveted Lego police station

Happy boy #3

Winter wonderland

The boys made all of these snowflakes - they looked so pretty!

This doesn't really need a caption  ;-)

Sharing their gifts

Maybe Joseph will stay in bed later now?  (Being said by his non-morning-person mother)

More sharing - they really are the best of friends

Giving the dogs treats that we made ourselves on Friday.
Our winter wonderland

Think they enjoy the gymnastics lessons?

He can't let his brothers have all of the fun!
Merry Christmas from our family to yours!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Morning Calm

"Grant me, O Lord my God, a mind to know you, a heart to seek you, wisdom to find you, conduct pleasing to you, faithful perseverance in waiting for you, and a hope of finally embracing you."
St Thomas Aquinas

I know I've mentioned that I've been getting up early recently, before the kiddos are awake, to try and have some dedicated prayer time.  Most days, it's not a problem - I'm able to sneak out of bed and sit in a darkened living room, and enjoy some quiet time praying and talking to God.
The quote above has become my favourite way to end my prayer time every morning.  I just thought I'd share!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Taking a deep breath..

And the Facebook fast begins again today...

It's kind of silly.  I was counting down to this day, almost anxiously awaiting it.  The further away you get from Facebook or constant social connectivity (at least that was my experience), the more you feel like you can breathe.  The more you can relax.  You're no longer living in a fishbowl, of sorts.

No one needs to know whether or not I'm still in my pajamas at 9 am, but for some reason, the social setting of sites like Facebook just compel the user to put information like that out there.  I have a bit of an addictive personality, and that rush that you get with every "like" or comment is addictive.  It feels good to think that people care about what you are doing and want to see what you have to say. 

That feeling of acceptance and what seems like love/admiration (although, after being FB-less for a month, I doubt the authenticity of most of that) becomes almost a drug.  People - who used to only log in once a day or so - build up to posting and updating their status reports every hour.   They find themselves needing that rush, that fix, in everything they do.  In my personal experience, it wasn't because I thought everyone needed to know what I had just done or thought or was because I had started to believe that I was that important that people were anxiously awaiting news reports about my life.  I had started to put myself - and my next "fix" of admiration - as the center of my universe.  My drug (aka admiration) had become the focus of everything that I did.

But that was wrong.

My priorities were messed up.  I am not the center of my universe.

God is.

He needs to come first.  Only by putting Him first will I be able to grow in holiness, which should be each person's goal.  I want to be a saint for Him.....but how can I do that when I've put myself first, and not Him?  It's not possible.

After God, my husband and family must come second.  They are my vocation:  wife and mother.   It's not just me that I have to worry about getting into Heaven:  it's them, too.  I care just as much about them spending eternity with God as I do about myself.  But, how can I focus on them when my whole daily world is revolving around myself on this pedestal that I've created?  It's not possible.

So I step back - again - from Facebook.  My reason for signing back on was purely to share news and pictures of Baby #3's birthday.  He's been three years old for a week now, and it's time to log out again.

It's time to breathe and focus on what is truly important in life:  my Creator and my family.

I'll pop in occasionally to say hi, but it will be few and far between.   The temptation is too strong to put myself into that top position again.  I don't want people to see me.  I want people to see Him in me.

"Whenever a child is born, a crown is made for that child in Heaven, and woe to the parents if there is not a head for that crown!" - Fulton J. Sheen

Our wish, our object, our chief preoccupation must be to form Jesus in ourselves, to make his spirit, his devotion, his affections, his desire, and his disposition live and reign there.
-Saint John Eudes

Monday, December 19, 2011

Christmas in the Desert

This past weekend was a fun-packed one of holiday celebrations, dinners, and lots of time with friends.  It's been awhile since a picture-post, so enjoy!  (remember, you can click on the photos to see them larger).

Looking at Christmas lights with friends

Daddy and Baby #3, taking in the lights

Decorating gingerbread men

Oh, goofball