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Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Little Steps to being a Saint


"To be holy, it is not necessary to be Bishops, priests or religious. 
We are all called to become saints!"
~Pope Francis, November 19th General Audience

Today, Pope Francis reminded Christians that we are all called to be Saints.  May we all take the little steps toward sainthood that God offers us everyday, regardless of our circumstances.

The full translation of the Holy Father's remarks are available at Zenit.org:

Dear Brothers and Sisters,
A great gift of the Second Vatican Council was that of recovering a vision of the Church founded on communion, and regaining also the principle of authority and of hierarchy in this perspective. This has helped us to understand better that all Christians, in as much as baptized, have the same dignity before the Lord and share the same vocation, which is that to holiness (cf. Constitution Lumen Gentium, 39-42). Now we ask ourselves: what does this universal vocation to be Saints consist of? And how can we achieve it?

First of all we must keep very present that holiness is not something that we procure for ourselves; that we obtain with our qualities and our capacities. Holiness is a gift, it is a gift that the Lord Jesus gives us, when He takes us to Himself, clothes us with Himself, and renders us like Himself. In the Letter to the Ephesians, the Apostle Paul affirms that “Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for her, that He might sanctify her” (Ephesians 5:25-26). There, holiness is truly the most beautiful face of the Church: it is to rediscover oneself in communion with God, in the fullness of His life and of His love. One understands, then, that holiness is not only the prerogative of some: holiness is a gift that is offered to all; no one is excluded, it is what constitutes the distinctive character of every Christian.

All this makes us understand that, to be holy, it is not necessary to be Bishops, priests or religious … We are all called to become saints! Very often, however, we are tempted to think that holiness is reserved only to those who have the possibility to detach themselves from ordinary tasks, to dedicate themselves exclusively to prayer. But it is not so! Some people think that holiness is closing your eyes and putting on a pious face... No! That is not holiness! Holiness is something greater, more profound that God gives us. In fact, it is precisely by living with love and offering Christian witness in our daily tasks that we are called to become Saints – and each one in the conditions and in the state in which he finds himself. Are you consecrated? Be holy  by living with joy your donation and your ministry. Are you married? Be holy by loving and taking care of your husband or your wife, as Christ did with the Church. Are you an unmarried baptized person? Be holy by doing your work with honesty and competence and offering time to the service of brothers.  "But, father, I work in a factory ... I work as an accountant, always with the numbers, I cannot be a saint there..." - "Yes, you can! There, where you work you can become a saint.
God gives you the grace to become a saint. God communicates with you." Always and everywhere you can become a saint, that is, by being receptive to the grace that is working in us and leads us to holiness. Are you a parent or a grandparent? Be holy by passionately teaching your children or your grandchildren to know and to follow Jesus. And this takes a lot of patience, to be a good parent, a good grandfather, a good mother, a good grandmother, it takes a lot of patience and this patience is the holiness exercising patience.  Are you a catechist, educator or volunteer? Be a Saint by becoming a visible sign of the love of God and of His presence at our side. This is it: every state of life leads to holiness, always!  At home, on the streets, at work, at church, in the moment and with the state of life that you have, a door is opened on the road to sainthood. Do not be discouraged to travel this road. God gives you the grace to do so. And this is all that the Lord asks, is that we are in communion with Him and serve others. If lived in communion with the Lord and in the service of others.

At this point, each of us can examine our conscience, we can do it now, everyone answering for himself, inside, in silence: So far how have we responded to God's call to holiness? But do I want to improve, to be a better Christian? This is the path to holiness. When the Lord calls us to be saints, he does not call us to something hard or sad... Not at all! It is an invitation to share His joy, to live and offer every moment of our lives with joy, at the same time making it a gift of love for the people around us. If we understand this, everything changes and takes on a new meaning, a beautiful meaning, to begin with the little everyday things. An example. A lady goes to the market to shop and meets another neighbor and starts talking and then comes the gossip and this lady says, "No, no, no I will not gossip about anyone." That's one step towards holiness, this helps you to become more holy. Then, at home, your son asks you to talk to him about his fantasies: "Oh, I'm so tired, I worked so hard today..." - "But sit down and listen to your son, he needs this." And you sit, you listen with patience... This is a step towards holiness. Then at end the day, we are all tired, but prayer... We must pray! That's one way to holiness. Then Sunday comes and you go to Mass and to take Communion, at times, a good confession that cleans us up a little. This is a step towards holiness. Then, Our Lady, so good, so beautiful, I take up the Rosary and pray. This is a step towards holiness. And so many steps towards holiness, little ones... Then I go down the street, I see a poor person, someone in need, I ask him, give him something, another step towards holiness. Small things are small steps toward holiness. And every step towards holiness will make us better people, free from selfishness and being closed in on ourselves, and open us up to our brothers and sisters and their needs.

Dear friends, in the First Letter of Saint Peter, this exhortation is addressed to us: “As each has received a gift, employ it for one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who utters oracles of God; whoever renders service, as one who renders it by the strength which God supplies, in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ” (4:10-11). See the invitation to holiness! Let us receive it with joy, and support one another, because the path to holiness is not traveled on one’s own, each one on his own account, but it is traveled together, in the one Body that is the Church, loved and rendered holy by the Lord Jesus.

~Pope Francis, November 19th General Audience

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Moments of Affirmation

Motherhood is not easy.  Moments like these give me hope.

"Mommy, I love you.  
I am going to pray to Jesus.  
Jesus, please come into my heart and make me more like you."  
~Buddy Bear



"Mom, today at school I was supposed to think of someone who is alive that I think is like a saint.  
Do you know who I said?  I said you." 
 ~E-Bear

"Mommy, I love you so so so so so so so so so much. xoxoxoxoxoxo"  
~G-Bear's note to me after practicing her spelling

"Three cheers for Jesus!  
Hip, hip, HOORAY!  Hip, hip, HOORAY!  Hip, hip, HOORAY!"  
~Buddy Bear 

Happily Ever,
Queen B

Monday, November 3, 2014

Sequoias in Sequoia

When we left DisneyLand, we were still at the beginning of our California adventure.  T and I had agreed that we couldn't possibly bring our whole crew out to California and not make an effort to see at least some of the spectacular natural sights.  So, from Anaheim, we embarked on the second stage of our epic journey and headed to Sequoia National Park.


The drive into Sequoia is twisted and surprising.  The mammoth forest appears as you rise out of a fairly arid landscape.  Giant trees greet you even as you arrive.


Spectacular views greeted us as well.  This was just one of many breathtaking sights through the trees on our drive into the mountains.


Our first stop in the park was to climb Moro Rock, which we could preview from the road, though we were still far off.

The hike up Moro was not for the faint of heart.  We made each of the kids hold an adult's hand, as the pathway was narrow and the drop off was steep.  E-Bear told T,  "Daddy, this is scarier than the scariest ride in DisneyLand."  


The kids loved the hike, both up and down.  


At the top, we were rewarded with the most spectacular view.  It was certainly worth the effort to make it to the top.


Breathtaking!


Some of us were quickly ready to head back down, however.  
I'm just keeping it real.


Don't worry, J-Bear settled right down as T the hike back to the car.  
You can be sure I was holding tight to Buddy Bear's hand as we made our way to down.



Our next stop was the short hike to the General Sherman tree, the largest living organism on earth.  One the way down to the tree, we passed through a gorgeous sequoia grove.


The trees grow in curious clusters in areas that harbor just-right conditions.  The trees were awe-inspiring for both the kids and the adults.


Suddenly, we arrived at the General Sherman tree.  I couldn't believe I was looking at a living tree that has been alive for over 2,000 years!


We spent the night in nearby Kings Canyon Park at the John Muir Lodge.  The lodge had simple, clean rooms and a restaurant, which was a blessing.  As you can see, we were a pretty tired group by the time we rolled in for dinner.


In the morning, after a good night sleep, we were ready to explore again.



The kids loved the huge sugar pine pinecones that they found along the hiking paths on our way to the restaurant for breakfast.


It was hard for us to leave them and not keep them!


We also took a moment to document that the giant sequoias aren't the only large pine trees to admire.


She may be small, folks, but I think she has a spirit as tall as that tree.


After breakfast, we hiked the General Grant Trail to see the General Grant Tree, the official Christmas Tree of the U.S.

Yet again, it was an awe-inspiring hike.


Along the way to the General Grant tree, we got to walk through a fallen sequoia that has served as a hotel and saloon in the distant past.  


The hollowed out, fallen giants feel like carefully carved tunnels.


We definitely left the park with a renewed appreciation for God's magnificent creation.  We also left with grateful hearts to the forefathers that foresaw the need to protect these wondrous trees and their habitat.  I hope my grandchildren and great-grandchildren are able to be inspired by these trees like we have been.



Happily Ever,
Queen B











Sunday, November 2, 2014

A Happy All Saints Day 2014

Our All Saints celebration this year was truly special!

I love celebrating All Saints Day.  After a fun night of trick or treating, it is wonderful to wake up and have a big celebration to continue the fun.  The kids wake up to a decorated dining room, ready to welcome guests (MoMo and Papa) and eat a giant brunch of delicious food. We always have crafts, decorations and stories to help mark the day, and normally (but not this year, because the obligation was transferred to Sunday) we get to go to Mass.

This year, we added a mini prayer service to the morning activities.  Our kids are getting older and plus, we didn't have an All Saints Mass to attend.  Buddy Bear and E-Bear got to hold white votives, which we lit for our prayers.  G-Bear read our opening prayer:

Prayer for All Saints Day
Dear God, thank you for the example of the Saints.
I desire to join in their company, worshiping you forever in Heaven.
Please help me follow their footsteps, and yours, Jesus Christ. 
Please help me to conform myself to Your image, 
seeking Your will in all things, as the Saints did. 
Please help me to devote myself, and all that I do, 
to Your glory, and to the service of my neighbors. 
Amen. 

Then, T led us in the Litany of Saints. What a beautiful devotion it was to pray together!

Next, it was time to eat. This year, we had tomatillo frittata (adults), scrambled eggs (kids), apple cider, bacon, fruit salad, chocolate chip bagels and cream cheese, yogurt and cupcakes. Whew, what a feast.  While I finished the food, the kids got to color their Armor of God for our craft. After our meal, we read Ephesians 6, and everyone followed along with their own armor. Then, we colored and assembled the paper dolls.  I also read James 1:12, which describes the "Crown of Life" that God bestows upon the Saints.  Next year, I'll make "crowns of life" for the kids to wear for the meal, which would make for a fun, festive, and symbolic addition.

The Saints are the real life heroes of our faith.  I am so thankful for the opportunity this feast day gives us to highlight these heroes, celebrate Christ's triumph in everyday lives, and pray for help in our everyday struggles big and small.  

Happily Ever,
Queen B

Friday, October 31, 2014

Happy All Hallows Eve: Halloween at MoMo's

We've been looking forward to this weekend for weeks!
Happy Halloween!


We started our evening at our neighbor's house and then headed over to MoMo and Papa's for dinner and trick or treating.  We were only treating with our crew this year, everyone was so sweet and excited!  E-Bear and G-Bear both enjoyed costume celebrations at school, complete with bingo and prizes.  Buddy Bear was a ninja turtle all day, greeting friends after Mass and showing off his moves. Buddy Bear, J-Bear and I had a fun day at home, complete with pumpkin picture coloring, juice boxes for treats, two fun Halloween finger plays  and our All Saints Cat Chat CD.  I taught them both the "5 Little Pumpkins" finger play, which J-Bear especially loved.  

MoMo's pumpkin was spectacular this year, as usual, but her theme topped the coolness chart coming off the heals of our Disney Land trip.  The Disney Imagineers could take a lesson or two from MoMo!

While we were eating dinner, the kids couldn't stay seated at the table because they were having so much fun opening the doors for trick or treaters and handing out candy.  They were so excited to see other costumes that arrived at the door.

Our crew had a great time Trick or Treating as usual.  J-Bear joined in for the first time this year, and boy, did she figure out the routine!  T would set her down, she would walk up to a door, mumble a greeting and then stick her hand right in the candy bowls.  When she got a piece of candy, she would sit down on the ground (her pumpkin costume was too bulky for her to reach her bucket in her other hand without setting it down), reach over to her pumpkin bucket and put the candy in.  She always thanked her benefactors with a big wave and a smile, "BYE!"  Too cute!

Back at the house, the kids counted their candy (G-Bear, 89!  E-Bear, 92!), and everyone picked a few pieces to enjoy.  J-Bear was so excited to get a lolly pop, and she spent the rest of the night picking the lolly pops out of the candy pile and putting them in a bucket.  It was hard to keep her from eating them!

Thanks to MoMo and Papa for hosting a wonderful celebration.  I am thankful for the wonderful lessons of Halloween that my kids are learning: generosity toward others, being welcoming hosts, gratefulness for gifts and treats, sharing and being patient with each other.  

Happily Ever,
Queen B

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Happy All Saints and All Souls

Heading into a Holy Day weekend, I thought this quote quite appropriate for my All Saints reflections:

"They who are engaged with the salvation of their neighbor, will gain more by an humble modesty than by an authoritative manner, and will gain victory sooner in retreat than in combat."  - St. Ignatius of Loyola

And, remember this craft?   We've done it a few years in a row now.

DSC_1953I love making Armor of God paper dolls (from Ministry to Children) on the Feast of All Saints with my children.  We read Ephesians 6 and talk about how to be like the saints, we need the armor of God.  The paper dolls make great decorations for the month of November.

Happy All Hallows Eve, and Happy Feasts of All Saints and All Souls!

Happily Ever,
Queen B

Friday, October 24, 2014

Our Disney Land Adventures

Disney Land is fantastic.
For us, at our stage with our still-young crew, it hits a sweet spot.


First of all, for a fraction of the Disney World Deluxe Hotel price, you can stay ACROSS THE STREET from Disney Land, and walk into the park in the morning. We stayed at the Howard Johnson across the street from the main gate, and we strolled up to the park entrance for the opening, stress and bus free. We might as well have been staying at the Cozy Cone.


We spent two days in Disney Land, giving us one day for each park. We easily could have stayed longer! We tackled California Adventure first, because we were so excited to visit Radiator Springs. We felt like we were in the movie, everything looked so realistic. 

 
The Cars Racer ride was at the end of the street and was definitely worth a Fast Pass.  Our best choice would have been to send one member of the group to get a Fast Pass first thing in the park, while the others explore Cars Land for a few minutes.  In the end, we had a great ride.  What a blessing, Buddy Bear was juuuuust tall enough to make the 38" cut. He was so crushed for a moment when he thought I wasn't tall enough to go through. It was certainly a highlight of the trip, and it remains the ride that we talk about the most.


Of course, along with the Racers ride, there were plenty of other wonderful attractions in Cars Land.   We loved riding those crazy tractors...


...and we made a stop at Luigi's Casa Della Tires for a twisty and turning good time.


Of course, you can eat a Flo's, which we didn't do, but we enjoyed the view from the gas pumps.  There is also a cute playground and photo op spots with Lightning and Mater.


From Cars Land, we walked next door to A Bug's Life, where we met flick and rode a bunch of rides that were perfect for our younger crew. 


The littlest ladies watched the bumper bugs from the sidelines.


We also loved the Toy Story ride, which is very similar to the one in Disney World.  We love shooting with blasters! It was definitely worth the wait.


Paradise Pier really did look like paradise the day we were there.  We loved walking around the Pier, both during the day and night.  T and I got to do the roller coaster several times, coming back at night once the kids were in bed.  I think it was the best roller coaster I have ever ridden.  We really enjoyed the other rides along the pier walk.


We ate dinner at Wine Country Trattoria, a worthy splurge, not only because the food is great, but because we were right in front of the parade route and also because FastPasses to the evening World of Color light show were included.  We loved waving to all the Pixar friends right before our meal.  Disney parades are my favorite.


T and I went back for World of Color after the kids were in bed.  I wish they could have stayed awake for it, but we'll save that for another trip.  World of Color was truly impressive.


Our second day at the parks was devoted to Disney Land.  It is right across the plaza from California Adventure!  While we have never considered paying for Park Hopper tickets in Disney World, given the young age and slow moving speed of our crew, the option seems more plausible for Disney Land. The parks are so close together, we could conceivably enjoy parts of both in one day.


Walking into Disney Land, we noticed so many similarities to the Magic Kingdom. But, the two parks are actually more different than I expected.  Certainly, they are not carbon copies.   The Land was decked out for Halloween, and impressive decorations were everywhere.  We particularly enjoyed watching the carmel apple making window at the bakery. Yum:


We enjoyed plenty of princess moments, including watching the very creative Tangled show with front row seats for the kids, a walk-through tour of Sleeping Beauty's castle, and a stop by Anna and Elsa's Frozen Boutique.


There were also highlights for the boys, including a visit to Autopia to ride the cars, and a submarine trip with Nemo.

We enjoyed the new experience of Toon Town, which feels like you've walked into Mickey's neighborhood.  The roller coaster was just right for the older kids.  J-Bear and I found a super-fun play spot in Goofy's "House" where she could run around, climb and explore with other tots.


Of course, we had to take the Small World cruise. No trip with Papa or me would be complete without Small World.


Even though we were close enough to our hotels to go back for naps in the afternoon, we never did.  The littlest ones snoozed in the backpacks for an hour or two each afternoon, but otherwise held out really well.  As you can imagine, we slept well at night after such long days of walking, riding and exploring.


We finished our day new Pooh's Thoughtful Spot, and I thought this was a perfect picture to capture the fun of our Disney Land trip.  It was such a sweet experience because we were all together, exploring and enjoying it together, which was pretty impressive for a group of fifteen.


Disney Land is a re-do for us if we are ever blessed with the chance.  It is charming and manageable, even for a crew of our ages and size.  What a spectacular way to start our California adventure!

Happily Ever,
Queen B

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

How to prepare for a 10 day trip to California with kids

How do you prepare for a 10 day trip with eight kids under the age of seven,
a trip that will cover over 800 miles,
and span several different climate zones?

Start in the book section of your favorite store (or library).
  We brought lots of books with us on our trip, knowing that we would have lots of long drives.
We also stocked up on squeezable fruit pouches, trail mixes and Go Picnic meals, to ensure
that we didn't have to resort to fast food for EVERY meal.



Sleep when you can.
Too bad, T and I were up until all hours of the night before our super-early departure flight.
Oh, well!  A few winks on the plane and an early night to bed the first night hit the spot.
Be sure to sleep when the babies are sleeping!



When in doubt, take the shuttle!
From the LA airport, we took the Magic Express shuttle to DisneyLand instead of renting our car.
A few days later, we picked up our rental car in Anaheim, not the airport, for a substantial discount.
Shuttle bus plus less hassle, less expensive car rental = happy parents and kids :)


Start vacation with a nice, big meal.
Across the street from Disney Land is a great restaurant called Mimi's Cafe
We could have happily eaten every meal of our vacation there.  
The food was excellent and so was the service, even for a party of 15 with 8 kids!
For breakfast, I recommend the oatmeal, for brunch the veggie omelet and for dinner the
tomato basil soup and any of their salads.  The kids options were healthful and yummy too. 


Hit the pool first.
No matter what is across the street (ahem, Disney Land), when our kids check into a hotel, the first thing they want to do is jump in the pool.  This vacation, we wisely and happily said "yes!"
We stayed at the Howard Johnson across from Disney Land, and there is a wonderful splash pad pirate pool.  Our kids could have played there all day.  The weather was gorgeous, and there was no need to fight the lines right away.  Better to relax and wait for the morning.  Had we thought of it, however, we would have gone to buy our park passes that night ahead of time.  We hadn't purchased them ahead of time, and we could have just walked across the street to the park to get them while the evening lines were short.  Oh well.  If that was our worst mistake, we were doing pretty well.



Happily Ever,
Queen B