The Twelve Days of Christmas

Merry Christmas! I have a gift for all my readers, a book of reflections to help you focus on continuing the Christmas celebration for all twelve days.

Based on an almost certainly inaccurate but still fun interpretation of the traditional carol’s lyrics, this eBook contains reflections and prayers written by members of Everyday Ediths (I am one of them and have submissions therein) and compiled by Anni Harry.

You are free to download this, print it, and pass it around any way you like. I hope you enjoy it and thank you for reading Life in Every Limb.

Download your copy HERE.

Check out the contributors’ Facebook pages below:

Sweeping Up Joy
A Beautiful, Camouflaged Mess of A Life
Not So Formulaic by Ginny Kochis
Pinot Noir and Prayers
Under Thy Roof
A Drop in the Ocean
Life in Every Limb

Books Worth Reading: Christmas Edition

It’s Christmas Eve!
In a time of year full of traditions, there is one I think I cherish the most, and it will happen this evening, after Mass and dinner out, when all my kids–even the adult ones–will gather in the living room before the tree to open one present each.
The tradition has its roots in my own childhood.  I don’t know where I got the idea that everyone should be allowed to open one present on Christmas Eve, but I convinced my mother that we, too, should adopt this custom.  And for the first few years, I can remember picking any present I wanted to, which usually meant the biggest one!
Somewhere along the way, our practice changed to opening a specific present that my mother chose, and it was always a chapter book.  The idea was that we would go up to bed and read a few chapters and it would help us fall asleep while waiting for Santa.
Emily was not quite a year old on her first Christmas, and I started the tradition immediately with a picture book I read to her before putting her to bed.   The following year I gave her a Christmas book by Tomie de Paola (described in more detail below).  This gave me the idea that going forward I would give only Christmas books.
As Christmases passed and our family grew, so too did our collection of Christmas picture books.  I started a couple of new traditions–reading a few stories every year in my children’s classrooms, having a bedtime story party for their classmates in our home.  Then our house burned down and we lost them all.  A sweet little girl in Lorelei’s class, remembering the party she had attended the year before, helped us repurchase our favorites, and six years later we again have a full box that we pull out every year.
It became increasingly difficult to find five good-quality Christmas books that we didn’t already have every year!  For awhile I tried buying the big kids chapter books but the Christmas offerings for adults weren’t quite on the same level as the picture books they had loved as children.  So last year I tweaked the tradition yet again, and began giving Emily, Jake, and Teddy each their own copy of one of our favorites for them to begin building their own Christmas library.
We began last year with The Clown of God by Tomie de Paola, our all-time favorite that we read on Christmas Eve every year after we’ve finished the new books.  I cannot get through this sweet retelling of an old legend without crying.  It’s a very Catholic tale of conversion with some Franciscan brothers and a miracle included.
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This year they will be receiving The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey by Susan Wojciechowski.  This redemptive love story is beautifully illustrated and yes, it makes me cry too.
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The Other Wise Man, a story written originally by Henry van Dyke and adapted for children by Pamela Kennedy, will probably be next year’s gift.  It’s the story of a fourth wise man who missed meeting Jesus in person because he was too busy helping others along the way.
The Other WIse Man
An Appalachian tale based on a true story, Silver Packages by Cynthia Rylant is another touching story about Christmas giving that ends with a tear-inducing twist.
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The four stories above were among the first Christmas books we collected and they continue to be favorites that the kids–yes, even the big ones–want to hear year after year.  But there have been a few gems that despite their more recent acquisition have captured a spot on our favorites list, like A Small Miracle by Peter Collington, a surprising tale in which a poor woman is repaid for her kindness by some very unexpected visitors.  This is a quirky, wordless story that will hold the attention of every age group.
small miracle
I’ll stop here, because five seems like a good number and then I can do this again next year.  Tell me about your favorites in the comments–and Merry Christmas!

SPONSORED REVIEW: Watch Ya' Mouth Throwdown Edition

Do you like board games?  Do you like silly physical challenges?  Do you like laughing hysterically?  If so, you are probably going to like this game, which I received free as a U.S. Family Guide blogger in exchange for my honest review.
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So Watch Ya’ Mouth, Throwdown Edition, is a game that makes use of mouthpieces, which judging from a recent trip to Walgreens, is apparently a thing.  Who knew?  I don’t watch t.v., y’all, and my kids ask for things like statues of Egyptian gods and rare stuffed animals from eBay, so I’m not exactly up on the trends. 🙂
You can get more information about the game, and even see a video of it being played, on my original post.  I’m going to share a more detailed explanation of how it works in this post.
So first of all, I’m kind of misspeaking when I call it a board game because there isn’t a board.  There are cards, and balls, and mouthpieces, and straws, and party horns, and a timer.  Plus you may need some common household items like spoons or tissues.  But don’t worry–if a particular challenge calls for something that isn’t handy, you can improvise.  In fact, improvising and having house rules are encouraged in this game, which doesn’t take itself too seriously.  This isn’t Trivial Pursuit, y’all.
Without going into too much detail, when it’s your turn, you roll the die to determine who you are challenging, then both of you insert mouthpieces and perform the challenge on the Throwdown card.  Whoever succeeds first wins the card. There are several possible categories of challenges.  In the “Picture Perfect” challenges, players must draw objects by holding pencils in their mouths.  The “Ping Pong Pop” challenges involve passing balls around on spoons held in mouths.  “Suck It Up” challenges use straws to–yes, guessed it–suck things up.  This is only a very small sampling of the challenges provided.
In addition to the Throwdown cards, there are Phrase cards which are used in some challenges.  For example, in the “So Much Drama” challenge, players must recite a phrase from a Phrase card in a particular emotion.  Other challenges simply involve guessing the phrase, not super easy to do when considering both the mouthpiece and the obscurity of the phrases, for example: “Bar Soap Bubbles Up” and “Fairy Flower House.”
In case you were wondering, a game lasts four rounds, a round being complete when every player has had one turn.  Whoever has the most cards at the end wins.  You can see the game in action below:

So now what you’ve all been waiting for:  my honest opinion.  The game has lots and lots of cards with many creative options and a wide variety of challenges.  You won’t do them all in one sitting and then get bored.  If your family likes this kind of game, then you will enjoy Watch Ya Mouth Throwdown Edition.
Me, I don’t like this game.  But it’s not the game’s fault, it’s mine.  It’s just not the kind of thing I enjoy and if I’d been paying more attention on the front end I would not have asked to review it.
Many people do like this game very much, including Toy Insider and Amazon.  Throwdown Edition was already been awarded Top Holiday Toy of 2017 by Toy Insider and was selected for the 2017 Amazon Holiday Toy List.
So if you are like those people and not a boring party pooper like me, and you want a hilarious family game to play during the holidays, your search is over. Just click here and use code 15WYM for 15% off!
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SPONSORED REVIEW: Package from Santa

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A couple of weeks ago I told y’all about this cool company that helps add a little magic to your child’s Christmas.  I received a letter, phone call, and video from Santa–all personalized–in exchange for my honest review.
First of all, let me explain how all this works.  You purchase the package of your choice (all components are available separately–the silver package is what I received and am reviewing here).  Then you customize everything just the way you want it on the website.  This is explained clearly and is very easy.  And you don’t have to do it all at once.  I did the letter first and then came back a couple of days later to figure out the video, and then last of all, the phone call.
There are many, many choices for each component.  I ended up writing my own letter so it was completely personalized.  There are templates to choose instead if you aren’t feeling super creative.  You also get to choose from several videos and telephone calls.  These are personalized with a picture of your child that you upload, and details such as age, birthday, and what they may have done to get on Santa’s nice list this year!
The letter was my (and Lorelei’s) favorite.  She was totally surprised and mystified.  The letter also came with a signed photo of Santa and a Nice List certificate.
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I was a little confused about how the whole phone call thing would work but it’s pretty clever.  You download a free app on your phone and then schedule the call for when you want it to come in.  Then you get a notification when it is scheduled and you have to confirm it.  Once you locate your child you hit a button to accept the call.  And you set a delay that causes a black screen to appear so that it really looks like a phone call coming in!
The video is sent to your email when it is ready and then it’s up to you how and when to share it with your child.  You can purchase it on DVD as well if you like.  The phone call is saved on the app like a voice mail, so you can treasure this experience forever and your child can listen over and over again.
I was impressed by the quality of this product and by the user-friendliness of the process.  I would recommend this either for smaller kids or for fun for non-believers (there are even options aimed specifically at adults!).  I would NOT recommend it to a savvy eight year old who will spot the video/audio editing immediately.
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It’s not too late to order your very own Package from Santa!
Go to the website and save 25% OFF your order when you use FAMS17 at checkout.  Hurry–you have until December 15, 2017!

SPONSORED: Package from Santa

Anyone my age remembers with what joy and excitement they greeted the arrival of the Sears Wish Book.  My sister and I would sit on the floor, catalog open on the coffee table, feasting our eyes on the offerings and circling things in pen as we paged through.  Next would come the yearly tradition of writing letters to Santa to tell him what we had chosen, letters hopefully dropped into the mailbox with aspirational addresses like “Snowy Lane, North Pole.”  The only answer we expected was the hoped-for gift under the tree.
But what if your children could really get a letter from Santa?  THEY CAN!
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As I’ve mentioned before, I am a U.S. Family Guide blogger and therefore get to share special offers with you in exchange for my honest review.  Today I’m offering you a discount on a very special Christmas experience for your child.  Here’s what the company wants me to share with you:
Start a new and memorable tradition this Christmas with PackageFromSanta.com, the ONLY Santa memory service that does it ALL! Personalized LETTERS, PACKAGES, CALLS and VIDEOS from SANTA! 
Do you want to see your children’s face light up in amazement when they get a personalized letter from Santa Claus? Of course you do! This not just a letter from Santa. It’s an amazing experience – it’s joy, memories, wonder and happiness in a box! You can choose a specific letter theme and then customize it yourself to include details that only Santa would know! 
Every package also comes with a FREE personalized CALL and VIDEO FROM SANTA that can be scheduled any time. 
PFS has an A+ Rating with the BBB due to their unmatched high-touch customer service so you can be confident that you are making a wise purchase. They have real people on the phone ready to help answer questions. 
Click here to see a video to learn more about this very special Santa memory service that will be a part of my family for years to come! 
The Silver Package ($24.95) comes in a red box & includes:
Personalized Letter from Santa
BONUS! Personalized Video from Santa (retail $9.99)
BONUS! Personalized Phone Call from Santa to a cell phone OR land line! (retail $9.99)
Personalized Nice List Certificate
Autographed Santa Claus Photo
Autographed Rudolph Photo
Genuine North Pole Stamp
…and so much more!
It also comes with a 60-Day Money-Back Guarantee. Wow! They are THAT confident your child will LOVE it! 
There are 3 different packages offered, so you can choose a price point that works with your budget.
I will be receiving the Silver package, which I will be receiving for free in exchange for offering this information to you and posting an honest review after my package arrives.
My readers can save with this offer, either now or after you read my review: Order for your child at at PackageFromSanta.com and save 25% OFF when you use FAMS17 at checkout.
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Sponsored: Who Likes to Play Board Games?

Y’all, I loved to play them when I was little.  I was always begging my parents to play, with minimal success.  And now that I have a kid begging me to play LIFE, I totally understand where they were coming from!
There are board games designed to be fun for children and adults of all ages, though, and as a U.S. Family Guide Blogger, I’ve been given the opportunity to share one of them (plus a coupon!) with you!
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Here’s what they want you to know:
Watch Ya’ Mouth Throwdown Edition is the evolution of the original, wildly popular, hilarious Watch Ya’ Mouth game. Rather than just speak phrases, players now go head-to-head with hilarious and challenging tasks – while wearing mouthpieces. Throwdown Edition takes competition – and laughter – to the next level and builds on the multigenerational gaming phenomena.

Throwdown Edition has already been Awarded Top Holiday Toy of 2017 by Toy Insider & selected for the 2017 Amazon Holiday Toy List.Want a hilarious family game to play during the Holidays? Your search is over.
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And my readers can click here to use this discount: 15% off Coupon Code: 15THROWDOWN 
I’ll be receiving this game in exchange for my honest review, which I will post here after my family and I have a chance to play it!
 

Crabpot Trees SPONSORED Review

Before I even give my usual disclaimer let me tell you that I LOVE LOVE LOVE my crabpot tree!

Yes, I received said tree for free in exchange for my honest review of it here, in my capacity as a blogger for National Family Guide.  But it’s not even stretching the truth a little bit to tell you that I love this thing and I would like to own many more of them.

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First of all, the details the company wants me to share: Crab Pot Christmas Trees are remarkable, perfectly shaped trees that are pre-lit, fold flat for storage, sparkle from EVERY angle and are easily set up. What makes these holiday trees so unique and the MUST HAVE of the season for home decor? Crab Pot Christmas Trees are made from the very durable PVC Coated Crab Pot Wire which withstands all that Mother Nature throws at it.

You can see the company’s pictures and their explanatory video on my first post here.  But let me tell you about my personal experience.

This thing comes folded flat in a triangular box.  It takes literally two minutes to set up, tops.  We set it on our front porch for instant festiveness.  It came with anchors for putting it out in the yard if we had wanted to do that.  I was a little worried it might blow over in the wind but it never did even though we have had strong winds and rain, too, and our porch does get wet when it rains.

I have one complaint only which is that the cord is a little short.  It would be perfect for an in-floor or in-ground outlet but we had to attach ours to another strand of lights to reach the wall plug.  No big deal but just one detail that could be improved upon.

We love this tree and would buy more of them.  They are having a sale right now if you want to get your own–check out their site right here!

Putting Christ in Christmas

When our first child was a baby, 25 years ago, I had very specific ideas about Christmas that went along with my ideas about being a perfect mother.

From time to time when I was a child, my mother would suggest we should cut back on Christmas gift giving and concentrate instead on the true meaning of Christmas.  At which point we kids would raise a chorus of protests.  (Never happened, naturally.)

I thought to conquer materialism on the front end, by buying just a few well-chosen presents.  And that first year, it worked.  Between us and Santa, baby Emily received about $50 worth of well-chosen gifts.  My memories of that Christmas are idyllic:  Christmas dishes displayed in the china cabinet, Celtic Christmas music in the background, a baby in red velvet eating apple cinnamon bread, Midnight Mass, a day spent showing off Emily to adoring family members.

emily-christmas-baby

Of course it escalated from there.  And I didn’t count on extended family who didn’t want to get with the program.  Eventually several relatives who wanted the kids to get lots of presents but didn’t know what to buy them started sending me so much money I could hardly figure out how to spend it all, resulting in a veritable mountain of gifts under our tree each year.

That’s not to say that we ever left Christ out of Christmas. Presents were important, no doubt, but I don’t think our kids have ever forgotten the reason for the season.

The way we keep Advent has a lot to do with this, I think.  Two weeks before Christmas, the only signs of the season apparent are our Advent wreath and a few other candles here and there.  Our preparations build slowly–the other decorations will go up next weekend, probably, and the tree just a few days before Christmas.  We hold off on hosting any sort of gatherings until just a few days before Christmas or ideally even afterwards, waiting to start celebrating until the Guest of honor has arrived!

Religious decorations are given pride of place in our home.  Yes, we have Santas and trees, but my favorite Santa shows that he knows his proper place in the celebration.

christmas-santa

Christmas really begins for us on Christmas Eve, when we attend Mass as a family.  Not Midnight Mass, which doesn’t work for us at this point, but an evening Mass which we traditionally follow with a dinner out before coming home to one of my favorite Christmas rituals.

Every Christmas Eve, each child gets one present to open and it is always a Christmas book.  So the last thing the kids do before going to bed to talk and dream of Santa and presents is listen to me reading them Christmas stories, both the new ones and old favorites, most of which relate to the true meaning of Christmas.

Christmas Day is all presents and dinner and family and more presents, but one way we avoid having it turn into a materialistic free-for-all is that in our family presents are opened one at a time, youngest to oldest, until everyone finishes.  The kids are excited to see the happiness of the other members of the family upon opening gifts.  We do this in the morning and then we do it all again after dinner with the extended family–almost twenty people taking turns.  It takes HOURS.  It teaches patience.  And in the exchange of gifts and the love they represent we commemorate God’s gift of Christ to us, always recalling that God Himself is Love.

This post is part of the Siena Sisters’ CWBN Blog Hop.  You can read other posts by clicking here.

Siena Sisters

 

How to Celebrate Advent When Everyone Thinks It’s Already Christmas

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No joke, y’all, I started seeing houses with their Christmas lights up just after Halloween.  Is it any wonder that there will be Christmas trees lying on the curb by Christmas night, tossed out by people who have celebrated themselves out before the guest of honor even arrived?

But the reality is, that’s the world we live in, and being all sanctimonious about it (IT’s NOT EVEN ADVENT YET!!) isn’t going to help.  We could shut ourselves away from the world and refuse to participate, but that’s not much fun, is it?  The Christmas concerts and television specials, the tree lightings, the pageants and parades–they will all be over after Christmas Day.

So how to reconcile what the world teaches with what the Church teaches?  How do we keep Advent when the world says it’s already Christmas?  (And how do we celebrate Christmas when the world says it’s over?  Perhaps I will post on that at the proper time!)

Our family participates in many treasured Christmas traditions in the community, even though they start in November.  We can’t control how the rest of the world celebrates.  But we can control HOW and WHAT our family celebrates this time of year.  Here’s what we do:

  • We remove the harvest/fall decorations, and leave the mantel bare except for candles.
  • We wait much longer than everyone else to decorate for Christmas, putting up most of our decorations ten days or so before and the tree only a few days before.
  • We play special Advent music.
  • We attend our parish’s annual Advent Workshop.
  • With varying degrees of success from year to year we have an Advent wreath, a Jesse Tree, and Advent Calendars.

advent wreath

If you are just getting started with the idea of keeping Advent, start small.  Pick one activity and make sure you do it every day.  Kicking yourself for not doing a better job of celebrating Advent is probably not productive.  Last year was a rough one for me in this area, so I am resolving now to be more intentional about Advent this year, even as we continue to take part in the early Christmas revelry around us.

I love Advent, and have written a lot of posts on the topic.  In addition to those I linked above, check out the links below for more:

Advent Memories

Tragedy and Traditions

Christmastime Is Here–Not!

This post is part of the the Siena Sisters Monthly Blog Hop.  This month’s theme is Keeping Advent, Advent.  You can read the rest of the entries here.

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Signs of the Season: An Advent Workshop

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Lorelei and William as Star Boy and the Virgin Mary at the Advent Workshop

Since it first launched in 2001, my family has attended the Signs of the Season Advent Workshop at our parish every year–even when Lorelei was only ten days old!  This annual event, founded and conducted by Dorothy Romines, has always been an integral part of our Christmas preparations.

This year, Dorothy and the parish CCD program joined forces and held the workshop on Sunday morning during class time.  Lorelei was one of the few non-CCD kids to attend, and she enjoyed it as always.

A few years ago I wrote an article for The East Tennessee Catholic about the workshop.  I’m sharing it in a revised form here.

Last month Dorothy Romines conducted her annual Advent workshop at Immaculate Conception Church in Knoxville, sharing years of research about Advent customs around the world. But her interest in the subject began many decades ago.

As a young woman she attended Webster College in St. Louis, where her aunt was the mother superior and her sister was in the convent. She recalls the sisters celebrating St. Lucy’s feast on Dec. 13 by bringing hot chocolate and sweet rolls to the students’ rooms early in the morning, singing as they came, “like angels floating down the halls.”

Mrs. Romines shared the St. Lucy custom with her children, one boy and four girls. They had Advent calendars too, and she recalls making Nativity sets and O Antiphon decorations with them. Today her children carry on some of those customs with her 15 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. And after 28 years of teaching elementary school, Mrs. Romines now teaches the children—and adults—of Immaculate Conception Parish about Advent.

Mrs. Romines had been a member of IC off and on over the years, returning for good when she retired about 20 years ago. Five years later she had the idea of beginning an Advent workshop, “Signs of the Season,” for the children of the parish. The project started small, with $100 from the adult-faith-formation team. It quickly became one of the most eagerly anticipated events of the year, with 50 or more people attending, including adults who enjoy learning about Advent and making crafts.

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Over the years Mrs. Romines has presented Advent customs ranging from the Mexican piñata and posada to the Polish oplatki (Christmas wafer). Participating children have made Nativity sets from a variety of materials, corn-husk angels and turnip candle holders from the Celtic tradition, a variety of Christmas tree ornaments, and always Advent wreaths.

Mrs. Romines provides handouts for home celebrations, including blessings and readings for use with the Advent wreath and Jesse tree ornaments to make at home. The event has also included dinner, singing, and some impromptu dramatic productions.

Lorelei participates in a play at last year's workshop
Lorelei participating in a play in the 2011 Worshop

Already planning for next year’s “Signs of the Season,” Mrs. Romines says she is pleased by the popularity of the workshop, which she puts on with the help of the Immaculate Conception women’s group and other helpers, including her great-niece Nora Connelly who has provided music, and her late brother George Willard, who documented the event with photographs.

“It’s something I love to do,” she said, citing the O Antiphons and the St. Lucy custom as favorites. “I love the sense of cooperation with the parish community, and I hope families will benefit by learning some Advent customs.”

Here’s a link to an article on the Workshop that appeared in the Knoxville News Sentinel in 2010 if you’d like to read more about it.