Emmanuel is Coming!


I know you still have your fat pants on.

But Advent is coming.

I’m not rushing you. I have glad tidings: This year we have a whole week to get ready. None of this Thanksgiving on Thursday, Advent starts on Sunday madness.

Seven days, sisters.

Find your advent calendars. Or if–like me–you aren’t allowed to disturb the carefully crafted storage box fort in the garage, ask your husband to find it. And the wreath, while he’s in there. Try to ask before he comes back in from finding the calendar.

Click here to order advent candles from Amazon, because Michael’s and Joann’s will not have them. Will not, I tell you, and not because there was a 4 am rush for all the purple candles on Black Friday like the sweet Michael’s girl tried to tell me.

Click here to get your Advent Family Prayer Service.  About this–and if I ever taught you how to write an essay, please look away: I put it together five years ago for my family, and like all good educators, I begged, borrowed and stole it from others. I’m hoping the fact that it’s prayer will outweigh the part where I did not correctly cite my sources.

Click here if you can’t remember how “O Come O Come Emmanuel” goes.

Click here for directions on using a Jesse Tree as your Advent countdown–borrowed from Tara at Feels Like Home blog.

Click here for Advent calendars that countdown to Jesus and not Santa.

Click here for Bishop Barron’s Word On FireDynamic Catholic’s Best Advent Ever,  or Richard Rohr’s daily emails for grown-up advent prayer and reflection.

Click here for everything you need to teach your kids or grandkids about St. Nicholas, whose feast day is December 6.  And here for everything you need for the Feast of St. Lucy on December 13, a day of lights and sweets.

Because Advent used to be observed like Lent, with fasting and sacrifice, here is a more sober cookie recipe: St Hildegard De Bingen’s Cookies of Joy. And by sober, I mean half the sugar and double the butter.

Last of all, remember to Get ‘er Done, so that your heart and spirit can be at peace in this sacred time of waiting.

Blessed and prayerful Advent to you and yours!




Get ‘er Done


You know we like Advent over here.

But every year we buckle down to observe the holy heck of out Advent and we notice that the crap still creeps in.

Like Tuesday I’m sitting on my yoga mat before class, meditating (aka: trying to talk myself out of bailing and going for coffee) and I can’t help but hear the conversations around me that all sound like this:

“I have SO MUCH TO DO. There are not enough hours in the day. Not enough days in the month. Every year I tell myself I’m going to start early and I never do.”

We have all felt that. I have felt that. But that’s not how we should feel this time of year.

So here’s your pep talk.

This weekend, this one starting right now—Purchase. Wrap. Use Amazon Prime and Ebates to do it from the cushy, warm comfort of your couch plus free shipping and cash back. It doesn’t have to be wrapped nicely. It just has to be wrapped. You don’t need cute gift tags. A folded over square of paper works just fine.

Get ‘er done.

Decorate. We got our tree in the parking lot at the mall and I don’t even care. Last year we did the big family haul to the woods to cut it down in the wild. It was the most giant cluster ever. This tree is shorter and skinny, which means the kids could reach it. There are lights and ornaments. The end. The tree does not have to be a work of art.

Get ‘er done.

Sit down with the remote. Search up all your favorite holiday movies and set them to record. Roll through Freeform to find the kids’ favorites. One night two weeks from now when you have reached the breaking point you will be able to yell “GO WATCH TV! And don’t come back until you’ve watched Prep and Landing and Prep and Landing Two TWICE.” Then you can open a nice bottle of wine and catch up on your favorite A Christmas Carol. May I suggest Alistair Sim, although Captain Picard will work too.

Just get ‘er done. A few days of nose to the grindstone now will help you create the sacred space you need later to be calm and present. We’ll need our wits about us for the hard parts. And there are always hard parts. For lots of reasons.

But let’s don’t let one of those reasons be because we left it all so late that we didn’t have time to breathe.

We can do this. We can get ‘er done.



I have this cross

I try to walk with a “Thy Will Be Done” attitude, but I am telling you as a cancer survivor, the days surrounding the six month testing appointment challenge my resolve.

The appointments don’t loom on my calendar like they do for some, but you better believe I feel them coming. I don’t sleep as well. I’m irritable. And I rediscover my hereditary gift for superstition.

Tuesday morning I went to my ultrasound appointment, sipping my third cup of coffee, because everyone knows that’s calming.

I parked in a spot right in front and hopped out of the car into a pile of wet leaves. They squelched, so I looked down and this caught my eye:


Some folks would say “Ooooh. A sign that He is with me!  My test is going to be fine.”

I said “Sh*t. A sign that He is with me. The cancer is back.”

In the waiting room, I tried to calm myself. I even texted a picture to my mom, who said “Nice message!”. But then the check in lady kept looking at the cross where I had laid it down on her desk. She leaned in and gently asked “You brought your cross with you to your test?”

My heart sank, even as I smiled and said “Oh no, I found this on the ground when I got out of the car! Can you believe it?” She patted my hand and said “You need it today. Hold on to it.” Then I heard her go around the corner and tell the lady at the next desk “She’s here for a cancer test and she just found a cross on the ground in the parking lot. Isn’t that amazing. God always knows what we need.”

I swear I almost crawled over the desk to tell the both of them “Look—I don’t even know if this cross is for me. Maybe I should put it back. Or leave it with you, in case someone comes along who needs it. I don’t need it. I am fine.”

But I didn’t. I picked up my cross and carried it back to my seat.

And I’m not talking about the stick.

Once you have cancer, you never don’t have it. You’re marked, in your own heart and by others. You never ever just have a cough, or a bump or an unexplained bruise. There is always an asterisk. And every odd thing that happens feels portentous. Why did I find a cross TODAY? Why is the nice lady speaking so tenderly? Why did she say I needed it?

Most everyone else finds a lump and calls someone who tells them “Oh my goodness. Don’t be dramatic. It’s not like you have cancer.”

But I did. I did have cancer and I can’t unhave it. Every six months I get to spend a day being that person again, the one others are gentle with and speak softly around. It makes me crazy, but it is what it is and it’s better than some of the alternatives.

Even though the tech said it would be two days, my doctor called four hours later to tell me my ultrasound was clear. For 179 more days, I have a clean bill of health, with an awesome cross thrown into the bargain.

I’ll take it.


In Defense of Confession


(You guys, my dad just fell off his chair)

So yes, reconciliation is a sacrament in the Catholic Church.

But I don’t go.

It has something to do with the confessions of my youth, which sounded like a grocery list and then Father Fiefel would rattle off the absolution, sometimes slipping into his native Polish and once even falling asleep during a classmate’s confession. He was 100 if he was a day, God bless him, but it was hard for me to believe that this was important.

Then, right when I was ready to be an adult in my church, our beloved parish priest, the one who was accessible and understanding and kind, turned out to be a pedophile.

And the impressive monsignor who came to our parish as a representative of the archbishop, and promised us all that this was the first they had heard of it, turned out to be a liar.

As did the archbishop.

My ability to believe that these men were somehow ordained by Jesus to forgive my sins was squashed.

The last few years though, I’ve felt the pull. We’ve been shepherded by an amazing line up of priests, in California and Oregon, and they have restored my faith in the priesthood. Plus, I’m in charge of not just encouraging my own kids to go to confession, but a whole Sunday school class of fourth graders. Which I have done faithfully, while praying that no one says “When’s the last time you went?”

This is not Proper Role Modeling for Young Catholic Children. I looked it up.

Then there’s the matter of John 20:21-23: The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.”

It’s that last part that got me. I don’t want to show up to the afterlife retaining anything.

So I went.

If I had wanted to rattle off a list of sins with my head down and my hands folded, I could have. Cultural Catholic Confession (or CCC, which could also stand for “check, check, check”) is in my DNA.

But I decided to come at things differently. So I started like this:

“Bless me Father, for I have sinned. It has been ONE MILLION YEARS since my last confession.”

“Oh boy”, he laughed. “This could take a while.”

It did. And that’s ok.

Afterwards I felt humbled, which is an emotion that lives right next door to grateful on a street I need to visit more often. I also felt centered and clean and determined to do better.

I did not feel ashamed or judged or like I was keeping Father from his afternoon nap, which is how I remember feeling when I was a kid.

All of this to say—It’s Advent, one of the times of year when we are encouraged to experience this sacrament. Most Catholic churches will be holding Penance services at some point in these weeks before Christmas. You should go. I should go. We all should go. It’s kind of like washing our hands before we hold a new baby. We should clean our souls before the Son of God is born unto us.










A Season of Hope ~ Guest Post by Amy

Amy is how we all got to know Meg. We prayed for her health and then we prayed her through the door of this life into the next. Meg left behind a husband and two young girls, one only an infant. This is their first Christmas without their mama.

No doubt, Meg’s husband Sam will struggle as he learns to walk without his partner, juggling his grief with the responsibilities of his girls and the season. How hard it must be for him to find the light right now.

But Amy wants to share with us a story of how we don’t always have to find the light on our own.

Meg was an AVID coordinator in the Ontario Montclair school district. AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) is a national educational support program, designed for students who will be the first in their families to attend college. As coordinator, Meg was directly involved with the teachers and students, promoting a college education for all.

A few weeks ago, I attended a regional AVID training. Memories came crashing back: Last year when I was here we had just found out that Meg was diagnosed with breast cancer while pregnant with her second child.

Meg took off work to fight the disease with a mastectomy, chemotherapy and radiation. She lost her hair so Sam shaved his off as well, in support.  By early summer, the doctors felt Meg was on the road to recovery. In July we celebrated the news that her PET scan was clean, showing no lesions.

Somehow, just six weeks later, she was sick again. She had lesions on her liver, which was swollen and losing function. The cancer was aggressive and untreatable.

By October, she was gone. Her daughters were four and six months old.

At the AVID training this year, her school site team, including Sam, wore pink shirts in honor of Meg. Every year, the region raffles gift baskets to raise AVID scholarship money. One of the baskets had a pink breast cancer theme, but all the money donated for this basket would go directly to Sam and his girls. Without hesitation, I dumped all my tickets in this basket.

The next morning, another coordinator stood at breakfast and announced a challenge: that every person in the room donate $1 for Sam and his girls. Sam was stunned. In tears, I made my way to his table and wrapped my arms around him. Together we watched.

In five minutes, people donated $1500.

Sam cried. I cried. Everyone in the place, 400 people, cried.

Miracles are real. This was a miracle. It wasn’t the miracle we had prayed for months earlier, to heal Meg and keep her here. Instead, the healing was for Sam, to show him that all is not lost. Meg had a hand in it, I know she did. She used all those people to give her husband a hug and remind him that people are good, the village is good. And there is light in the world for us when we need it.

Thank you to all those people who donated that day. It was about so much more than money. Thank you to Sam’s school, who love him and hold him up. Thank you to everyone who prayed for Meg. Thank you for reaching out in love and faith to strangers. I want you to know that it’s working. God’s hands are healing this family with love.

We have to remember that we are God’s work in this world. Happy weekend.

Meg and Sam

Meg and Sam

A Time of Sacred Leisure ~ Jen



Did you know that the four weeks of Advent were originally known as the “little Lent”? And that the season was marked in the same ways: prayer, fasting and preparation? It was a joyful time, but quietly joyful. No parties, no feasts, no overindulgence. The Christmas tree wasn’t even decorated until December 24.

And let me introduce you to this little gem: Sacred Leisure—“According to an ancient (and practical) tradition, by Christmas Eve the house is to be thoroughly cleaned, all tasks finished or removed from sight, all borrowed items returned, and no task allowed to be begun that cannot be finished by nightfall” (www.holytrinitygerman.org)

Friends, Sacred Leisure is God sanctioned quiet time.

Why did we ever give that up for what we have now? A holiday season that starts October 1 and marches on through the New Year, fueled by cleverly manufactured stress and anxiety. Here’s what I have already noticed this year: if you ain’t got Elf on the shelf, you ain’t got Christmas.  At $24 a pop, that’s pretty brilliant marketing.

It aims right at the desire of lots of moms to “make” perfect Christmas memories for their kids. So we don’t go to Lowe’s and buy a tree. We drive everyone an hour down the highway to cut one down. We don’t take pictures with the Santa at the neighborhood party. We dress everyone up in matching sweaters and pay way too much money for the same picture at the mall. We haul our kids to every single Christmas parade in a 20 mile radius, book into every single Santa breakfast and accept invitations to an endless number of cocktail parties, gift exchanges, cookie parties and Secret Santa extravaganzas. And we Facebook and Pin it all to keep up with our other mom friends who are furiously Facebooking and Pinning their own made-up perfect Christmas memories.

What in the world are we doing?

Christmas has gotten loud. Bright. Expensive.  But it’s not holy. I know I am not the only Christian mama who wants to turn the children’s faces away from the man in the red suit and towards the humble manger. And I know I am not the only mama who’s ready to throw in the towel on the Christmas mompetition.

A few years ago, Shea and I decided to make a change. We need our kids to understand what this season is really about. I’m sharing how we do it, not to increase the mompetition or make anyone feel like they are doing it “wrong”. But sometimes it’s hard to figure out how to get off the merry-go-round. So take it or leave it, for what it’s worth.

First, we under-schedule December, which means we don’t commit to much. If we wake up and decide we want to spend the day at Disneyland or ice skating in Old Town, then off we go. But we aren’t obligated to be many places.

Then I finish shopping before Advent begins. This year I finished before the Thanksgiving week sale juggernaut. I still got everything on sale. Shopping is fairly easy for us. The kids pick two presents from us and one from Santa. Only the grandkids and the grandparents get gifts, so the list is fairly small and has a dollar amount attached to it. Mostly. Sometimes grandmothers and great aunties are hard to control.

We have an Advent calendar. A real one, not those Santa countdowns they sell in the stores that have nothing to do with Advent. We have a wreath that lives on the dining room table for the season. Every Sunday we sit down to a small but formal meal with a group of friends and the Advent candles. We have a scripture reading, say a blessing and sing “O Come, O Come Emmanuel”.

As we get closer to Christmas, we focus on the giving. We shop together for our Giving Tree family.  I take the older ones out alone so they can purchase gifts for their siblings with their allowance money. And the week before Christmas, we clean out our stuff, making three piles: trash, recycle, donate.

In between these things, we bake and make home-made gifts for our friends and listen to Christmas music and drink hot chocolate. We get our tree from Lowe’s. We do a Santa picture, but on a whim, and in casual clothes. We already did it this year, for free at Disneyland.

This will be our fourth year of really focusing on Advent and these years have been some of the most calm, reflective, loving celebrations in our home. I’ll be honest, the first year I felt like maybe I was missing something as I watched our neighbors and friends Facebook about performances and cocktail parties and parades and Santa breakfasts. That’s because we’ve been programmed to believe that we have to go-go-go from Halloween to January 1.

But we don’t. The only thing we have to do is prepare our hearts and gather round the candles to wait for God to send the Light into the world.

Prayerful quiet. Joyful anticipation. Sacred Leisure.

Advent resources:

About Adventhttp://www.holytrinitygerman.org/adventcustoms.html

Manger Advent Calendar: http://www.holydepot.com/kurt-adler-wooden-nativity-advent-calendar-with-24-magnetic-figures/

Advent wreathshttp://www.catholiccompany.com/traditional-holly-berry-wreath-12-p3001243/

Advent prayershttp://www.churchyear.net/adventwreath.html

Holiday Preview


Dana and I have had a heck of a last few weeks. Rough waters. We love the holidays, but this time of year comes with its own set of rules.

Dana may check out for the next six weeks. Or she may not. It’s her first year without her dad and as far as grieving well goes, I’d say she’s doing a bang up job. But that’s a relative statement. Grieving well means that she wakes up waist deep in memories and sadness on a daily basis. So we decided together to change her status from “Active” to “Write as Needed”. Which means that she may show up here once a week, like normal, or she may take a break. She may post on a Sunday, instead of a Friday.  She may just put up pictures of things that make her smile. As needed. If you don’t mind, please keep her family in your thoughts. This first year will be the hardest.

I’ll still be running my mouth, though, because that’s how we do. If you would like to join us, if you have a guest blogger desire in your heart, let us know!

Here’s a taste of what’s coming down the pipeline:

Thanksgiving recipes! Dana and I have some doozies. No canned cranberries, pumpkin pie filling or cream of mushroom soup necessary.

Advent Ideas! Such an important time of year, and we do it BIG.

Our favorite things! We’ve each made a list of things and places that we love and are so excited to share. Alas, not Oprah style, but there’s a dream for the future.

Healthy Home Giveaway! Dana and I are putting together homemade gift baskets this year, with detergent, dryer balls and deodorant. Of course, we’re going to give one away! Maybe more than one, but I have wound so many balls in the last few days that I might coin a new medical term: dryer ball elbow.

And of course, Christmas time favorites: my great Aunt Honora’s sugar cookies with sour cream that sound strange but are so stinking good, and Dana’s Austrian Vanilla Kipferl.

Don’t forget to see Tuesday’s post for a crazy good discount on a wonderful photographer, and have a peaceful weekend!