Archive for the 'Intentional Holidays' Category

First Week of Advent…Are You Ready?*

Blog 2012 006Twenty days til Christmas, do you know where your Advent wreath is?  Celebrating Advent is a way to keep you and your family focused on Jesus while still enjoying the cultural celebrations.
Here is an excerpt from my first published Advent article. Kids are grown now but I still celebrate Advent every day!

Three weeks and two days before Christmas and the heated discussion among my four children is not about which video games they want for Christmas but whose turn it is to light the candle at family Advent. It’s the first week of Advent season, the observance of the four weeks preceding Christmas, a tradition started in the Middle Ages. My kids want to make sure they each have a part in the celebration.

More than any other activity, Advent can restore Jesus to the center of the Christmas celebration, because on each Advent day the birth of Jesus is read, sung and talked about. The whole family can participate and find the observance meaningful. The props are simple and inexpensive. The memories and training will last a lifetime. Although the common tenets of observing Advent are shared by many churches, each family can add its own flavor. Following is a basic primer on how to start celebrating Advent this year.

When: Advent starts on the fourth Sunday before Christmas. Because Christmas falls on different days each year, Advent can last 22 to 28 days.

What you need:

    • An Advent wreath,  available  at most Christian bookstores, on-line , or made of fire-safe materials. Perhaps it could be a family event to choose or make the Advent wreath.
    • Four candles, three purple and one rose, and an additional white candle for Christmas Eve. A box of four Advent candles available at  Christian bookstores or  on-line.
    • A Bible for readings and, for younger children, a selection of children’s Christmas stories that focus on the birth of Jesus.  My favorite resource is “The Advent Book.”
    • Advent readings.

Optional items:

    • An Advent calendar, available where cards are sold, with 24 windows to open each day in December or a paper chain of 24 red and green links to mark the number of days until Jesus’ birthday.
    • Christmas carol books.
    • The Advent Book


Advent Book

The Advent Book

Beginning the celebration: On the first day begin with either a prayer or a Christmas carol. Light the first purple candle, known as the prophecy candle. The liturgical color purple is a sign of penance and longing as we wait for the birth of Jesus. With the lighting, talk about Jesus being the light of the world. Read the Advent Scripture of the day. Conclude by singing or praying. Have one child blow out the candle.

Light the same candle each day of the first week. Follow with the reading, Christmas carols or other meaningful activities. On the second Sunday light two purple candles, both of which are re-lit each night. The second candle is known as the Bethlehem candle.

The third week light the two purple candles and then a rose candle, or shepherd candle. Rose is a sign of joy and hope that He is coming.

Light the last candle, known as the angel candle, on the fourth Sunday. All four candles are lit each night that week to symbolize the growing brightness of Jesus’ coming.  Some families choose to light a white candle on Christmas Eve.

Long after the new toys are banished to the back of the closet and the decorations stored away for another year, the memories of the four weeks of Advent will remain. Don’t be surprised if it turns out to be your favorite tradition!

Additional Advent Activities

    • As Christmas cards arrive, save them with the Advent wreath and use your Advent prayer time to pray for the senders.
    • Do an Advent service project for the needy. Collect money or goods and use a portion of the Advent time to decide whom to help and how to do it. Some possibilities are to join a church’s gift-giving project, call the Salvation Army for names of families who are needy, send a special food or gift package to a missionary or give anonymously to those you know in need.
    • Use your nativity set with as many animals as possible to enact the story. (Great for younger kids!) Some families set up the manger scene and each day move the people and animals in a little closer.
    • Add occasional craft times to the end of an Advent ceremony. Make ornaments using salt dough or glue pictures of family members on flat foam shapes and decorate.
    • Make cookies or candies to share at the conclusion of your Advent time, or make special Advent cookies different from Christmas ones.
    • Have children bring homemade instruments to enhance the singing.
    • If you have competitive children, alternate who will light the candle, pick the carol, lead the prayers and read the Bible.
    • Invite your friends to share an Advent evening with you.

Advent Readings

The length of the Advent season depends on which day of the week Christmas falls on. This schedule includes all possible 28 days of Advent. For shorter seasons adjust this schedule by doubling up on some readings or eliminating the final two readings, which record events after Christ’s birth.

First Week

  • Sun. Is. 40:1-5
  • Mon. Is. 52:7-10
  • Tue. Is. 40:9-11
  • Wed. Gen. 3:8-15
  • Thu. Gen. 15:1-6
  • Fri. Deut. 18:15-19
  • Sat. Ps. 89:1-4

Second Week

  • Sun. Is. 11:1-10
  • Mon. Zech. 6:12-13
  • Tue. Mic. 5:2-4
  • Wed. Mal. 3:1-6
  • Thu. John 1:1-8
  • Fri. John 1:9-18
  • Sat. Mark 1:1-3

Third Week

  • Sun. Luke 1:5-13
  • Mon. Luke 1:14-17
  • Tue. Luke 1:18-25
  • Wed. Luke 1:39-45
  • Thu. Luke 1:46-56
  • Fri. Luke 1:57-66
  • Sat. Luke 1:67-80

Fourth Week

  • Sun. Is. 7:10-14
  • Mon. Luke 1:26-35
  • Tue. Is. 9:2-7
  • Wed. Mt. 1:18-25
  • Thu. Luke 2:1-20
  • Fri. Mt. 2:1-2
  • Sat. Luke 2:21-35

Hope for the best,


PS My book on personal retreats is available! Getaway with God: The Everywoman’s Guide to Personal Retreat.

PPS * Popular post

The Thanksgiving Journal*

Thanksgiving JournalThanksgiving morning our family crowds around a card table to eat breakfast in the living room.  Sipping eggnog in champagne glasses,  we give thanks.  For the new job, the fun summer vacation, grandma’s successful surgery, the basement stayed dry…from the spectacular to the mundane, we are grateful.

As the self-appointed secretary, I write it all down with cryptic notes and initials of who was grateful for what. Not nicely at all but rather fast and furious, in between sips of tea, so as not to slow down the flow. Later that weekend I will carefully transcribe this year’s thanks into the Thanksgiving Journal, a simple fabric lined blank book we started in 1982.

The favorite part of breakfast is next:  We open the journal and read aloud lists from the past.   We used to read ALL the entries from every year but now each of us chooses a year or two to read before the turkey needs to get put in the oven. The early years are most often chosen.

Much laughter ensues as we recall a four-year-old’s gratefulness for a new tricycle, the year we got our winter coats at a great garage sale, the addition of a guinea pig to the family circle.  We also remember the family triumphs: the completion of a project at work or the beginning of a new baby-sitting job, the mastery of a hard piece on the violin, the winning little league team.

Friends who have moved on often show up in the journal, the upstairs neighbors who provided the playmates, the best friend from kindergarten, the work colleague who was so helpful. Some people in our paths have many entries in our journal:  the teacher that taught all four of our kids, the children’s pastor at church, grandmas and grandpa’s and our close friends who live two doors away.

Vacations are always remembered with thanks, Niagara Falls, the ocean, the campsites, and the family van that took us to all those places.

The harder stuff of life transforms into thanks in the pages of the journal as well.  We’re thankful that our friend who died is in heaven; grateful that mom’s car accident  wasn’t worse; glad for the new bike to replace the stolen one.

We also recall the guests who joined us each year as their names are in the journal as well.  Remember John and Sue?  Whatever happened to Mark?  Who is Terry?  Wow, the Bowkers have come 17 times!

By the end of breakfast we are full from the special foods but also of rich memories of fun times, friends along the way, places we have been, and God’s faithfulness.  We will spend the rest of the day with family and friends, and later also record all the details  such as the weather, special treats, new games, and assorted tidbits such as the year the plumbing backed up.

Later in the day, the same card table will hold a jigsaw puzzle for old and new friends to work on while drinking hot cider and waiting for the traditional dinner.  Following the feast is a group walk around the block and spirited game playing.  One of the beauties of Thanksgiving is that we all know the script!

The journal will stay the rest of the weekend out for browsing, laughing, and remembering.  By the following Monday it will return to its place on the shelf next to the one that holds the Christmas memories.

We remember what we have written.

Hope for the Best,


PS It’s never too late to start!

*Annual post

Five Steps for Christmas Planning to Start Now


This Year’s Notebook

I know it is 10 days before Thanksgiving but the holiday music is on the radio and it’s time to start the Christmas lists! I crawled under the front steps last week to dig out the Christmas planning box and pulled out THE NOTEBOOK which contains all the details.

I love Christmas but enjoy it so much more with a plan for action and celebration so I can keep my focus on the birth of Jesus.  Based on my years of coaching and workshops on this topic, I think most of you want a plan as well.

Here’s how it goes…


First step: Gather the planning supplies:

  • Blank calendars printed from the computer, one for the rest of November, and one for December.
  • My plastic box of Christmas files which include recipes, gift lists, receipts, past newsletters, Advent activities, inspirational articles and decorating ideas.
  • A stack of old-fashioned steno notebooks which is my main planning tool each year.  One page per person, event and activity.
  • The December Good Housekeeping magazine for fun ideas.
  • Christmas journals from past years.
  • An old article from 1979 which always inspires me.
  • A Christmas CD or Pandora station
  • Hot cocoa🙂

Second step: Review the past few years of celebrations.  What worked, what didn’t and note questions I need to ask my husband, adult children, and friends about this year’s gifts/events.

Third step: Fantasize about all the magical things that could happen!

Fourth step: Do the planning

  • Begin to pencil in the calendars for what happens when.
  • Start each list in this year’s notebook including: to order, to make, to shop local, stocking stuffer ideas, etc.
  • Decide about services, projects, parties, performances.
  • Detail the steps in sending out a card.
  • Make a budget and review often.
  • Plan an item or two just for me such as attending a Lessons and Carols service or re-reading The Christmas Carol
  • Check for upcoming Holiday Specials on TV or favorites to add to my Netflix Queue.
  • Buy tickets for any upcoming events if it’s in the budget.
  • More details on this:  My Best Christmas Planning Tool

Last step:  Put it all away and enjoy Thanksgiving

Stay tuned for more holiday helps!

Hope for the best,


PS Need a little more help?  Ask me about Christmas coaching and planning classes.



Five Things I Like/Don’t Like about Halloween*

pumpkinsThe lawn decorations have definitely escalated, don’t you think?  Each year I seem more ambivalent about this almost National Holiday, Halloween.  I remember years I loved it, and other autumns I couldn’t wait for it to end.  Do I like it or not?  I’m still not sure but here are my five reasons for each side of my personal debate.

Like # 1: You get to talk to all your neighbors on the same night!  My favorite Halloweens were the years we took the kids trick-or-treating in our neighborhood.  I loved the meet and greet that occurred at each door.


Easy costume!

Dislike # 1: I am a definite non-creative when it comes to costumes, the kids or my own.  I had a bad case of costume-envy every year.  One year in a rare act of domesticity at the machine, I sewed  costumes for my boys.  I don’t sew!  I thought they looked adorable but more or less made them wear them until they outgrew them and passed down to the girls.  They still lurk in the garage I think.

Like # 2:  I love seeing kids, i.e. my grandchildren, light up when they talk about what they are going to be for Halloween.  Such a magical transformation that trumps an afternoon rummaging through the dress-up box. Can’t wait to see them tonight!

Dislike # 2:  I don’t like being scared and don’t get why people think Haunted Houses are fun.  Horror movies? Don’t get me started! I can still call up some Twilight Zone episodes and feel all the fright. Why invite fear?

Like # 3: I like the mostly universality of the holiday. Families all over the country are gearing up for the big night and I like being a part of that large scope and seeing the spillover on my sidewalks.

Dislike # 3: I have encountered the real spiritual dark side and there is nothing fun about it.  Hard for me to enter into any celebration that honors this in any way.

Like # 4: Seeing retail and other employees in costume for a night is really fun. Catching glimpses of their whimsical side showing up is usually delightful. The grocery store was full of fun headgear today and everyone seemed friendlier 🙂

Dislike # 4: I don’t get the “Dead” thing either with all the tombstones on the lawn.  My chaplain job often takes me into the real thing so it is hard for me to appreciate the decor.

Like # 5:  I love the opportunity to make pumpkin-anything:  soup, pasta, bread, and so many more orange gastronomical concoctions.

Dislike # 5:  The leftover candy can start a just-one-more slide that lasts into the New Year!

How about you?

Hope for the Best,


*adapted from previous post

Happy Birthday America Breakfast! *

Gabe & Grandchildren

We used to dress the kids in red, white and blue when they were little now sometimes they choose it for themselves!

Looking for a fun way to start the 4th of July?

Holidays call for special food and our annual 4th of July breakfast features the patriotic Red (strawberries or raspberries), White (whipped cream in a can for fun distribution) and Blue (blueberries) waffles.

Did I mention…we celebrate outside on the picnic table and the large flag hangs on the garage as part of the birthday decorations.  The last couple of years, Tom has brought the waffle iron outside too with a long extension cord so less trips running back and forth.

We don’t sing Happy Birthday to America but after breakfast we read the full length Declaration of Independence.  In the early years, Tom and I did the reading, then we started passing it around, each one taking a turn reading a paragraph or two.

I’m not going to tell you our young kids sat spellbound through the reading as fidgeting abounded but I think they would recognize the words anywhere and hopefully, they GOT it.

Uncle Gabe helping with the reading.

Uncle Gabe helping with the reading.


“When in the course of human a firm reliance on the Protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor

…we remind ourselves and each other of the magnitude of this document and what a different world we would all be in without it.

Sometimes we add a little quiz on the Founding Fathers or read more about their personal histories but the Declaration is the centerpiece of the morning.

Happy Fourth of July!

Hope for the Best,


* Annual Post

Carpe Diem! Leap Year Day

Leap YearFebruary 29… what an exciting elusive day! We each get only a couple dozen of these in our lifetime so spend it lavishly. Don’t worry if you have to do a few “normal” things, just try to squeeze in as many opportunities as you can to remember this is no ordinary Monday!

When our kids were at home, we marked the uniqueness of each Leap Year Day by letting  everyone  order their favorite item for dinner…what a spread!  Afterwards, each of us filled out a brief questionnaire (parents helped the pre-writers) to create a Family Time Capsule, a written snapshot of the present.

Questions like:

  • What is your favorite activity?
  • What are you most grateful for?
  • What do you think you’ll be doing in 5 years? 20 years?
  • If you had unlimited money to give away, where would it go?
  • If you had unlimited money to buy something, what would you buy?
  • Favorite food?
  • Favorite song?
  • Favorite TV show?
  • Favorite movie?
  • Favorite book?

We also added the front page of the newspaper, best seller list, top ten music charts, church bulletin, or anything else relevant to the family or the current culture.  Our capsule, which is just a sturdy envelope (you could use anything like a small box or chest), was then hidden away in a narrow unused cabinet behind our fridge and not disturbed until the NEXT Leap Year Day.

With much excitement, four years later, on the next Leap Year Day, Tom pulled the fridge out, opened the door  and retrieved the Time Capsule. First we filled out our new questions, then read the old ones, and then refilled the envelope for the next February 29.

My children are adults now and this week I emailed the questionnaire to them so they could use it if they wanted.  I don’t know if they’re carrying on this tradition but I still am and will eagerly fill out my sheet and read the old ones starting with 1988.  Can’t wait to see what we all wrote 28 years ago!

One Leap Year I decided to make the day memorable by visiting some of my favorite Chicago places all in one day.  Started at the beach, dropped by the Shakespeare Garden at NU, lunched at Chicago Botanic garden, and spent the afternoon at the Art Institute.   My fun tank overflowed!

This year I’m heading somewhere to catch some beauty, see something extraordinary and create my holiday.  If not now, when?

Hope to see you out there creating your own celebration!

Hope for the best,


PS If you are a subscriber to my blog, comment with your email address and I will send you the questions. Not a subscriber? Sign up on the top!

Second Week of Advent: Do you know what your Holiday Values are?

Not everyone feels the same about holiday baking or decorating or the value of attending The Christmas Carol. Before you make another list for the next 12 days, stop and clarify your holiday values so you can invest your precious time and resources in the places most meaningful to you.

In my Christmas workshops, I ask the attenders to rank the following values 1-10.  Try it and see if you can identify what is really important to you.

Important disclaimer:  There are no right values, just yours!  Answer what you know is true, not what you think you should answer!

Please rank these values in order of importance to you

Christmas is…

___A time to celebrate with my immediate family

___A time to celebrate with extended family

___A time to celebrate with friends

___A time to go to special events

___A time to decorate my home and/or be creative

___A time to prepare special Holiday foods

___A time to give gifts to those I love

___A time to help the needy in the community

___A time of spiritual renewal

___A time to kick back and relax

Tea for twoTea for Two

When you’re done, if applicable, ask your spouse or significant other to also do the exercise.

I am now able to forego baking cookies (except with my granddaughters!) and use the time to celebrate with my friends.  Much more enjoyable 🙂

Once you know what you really want to make time for, be sure and do just that!

Hope for the best,


Birthdays in Heaven?

birthday-cake-1321827Years ago I signed up for one of those birthday reminder emails that starts notifying you about a week before a birthday so you can look good and get a card delivered in time. Ever use those?

I’m pretty good at remembering birthdays if you have been in my circle for a while. I didn’t need any reminder that my sister-in-law Karen’s birthday was last Saturday but I got the reminder a week ahead as well as the Facebook flag right on schedule. Karen died last January.

After 32 years of remembering her birthday, I thought about her all day.

One of the coolest things she did before she died was to celebrate the graduations of three of her children that she knew she wouldn’t see take place last spring. My brother, who is pretty cool as well, managed to pull off a private graduation-in-advance ceremony right at her hospice-bed-side at home. He got the robes from three different schools as well as a representative from each of the schools to come make a statement and present a diploma to each.

Graduation Party

Graduation Party

She wanted to make it until 2015 and she made it 10 days but nowhere close to her 53rd birthday. I wrote on her wall anyway. Who knows what you can see from heaven?

Funny (funny peculiar not funny ha-ha) was that another friend shared Karen’s birthday who is also now deceased. I got that reminder as well. Maybe they celebrated together as they did at a few parties on this side of heaven.

Like I told a patient last week who was trying to get the facts straight on heaven, I’ve got a lot of questions too. Will there be birthdays wasn’t one of them until last Saturday. Guess I’ll find out.

Somehow I think it will be a party all day every day.

Hope for the best,


Missed Easter Surprise

basket-1139411-m“I have to have a pair of hose!” my 11-year-old self blared to my Mom. Easter early 60’s, before the invention of panty hose or at least before they showed up in Quincy. Bare legs were certainly not the trend then so it was anklets or hose. She reminded me once again she thought I was too young for the transition.

I remember pouting in the car, how she dare deny me the ONE thing I wanted. Who cared about the hollow chocolate bunny, peeps, jellybeans, and the other gifts I knew would be in the basket? (Easter was like a mini-Christmas at my house.)

When we got back home I tried one more plea, this time with tears. Mom sighed deeply, went into her room and returned with the package of hose in her hand. “I wanted to surprise you and put them in your basket,” she lamented. I think I just grabbed them and took off.

All the joy I would have experienced in the morning finding the basket was lost. My mom lost that joy too in seeing me discover the package. I don’t think I ever apologized.

Funny how that memory comes back after all these years. Now it’s God I’m blaring at about the ONE thing I just have to have. Not just for Easter but there is about one thing per day I feel I must have to make my “outfit” complete, like the pair of hose.

I am big on praying for everything and believe He invites to do so. I do want to remember the nuanced difference between asking politely and demanding my …whatever it is.

I want to choose to wait for the basket in the morning instead of pouting and grabbing. I think it’s already being prepared. Yours too.

Hope for the best,


PS Another Easter post: The Easter Corsage

Play me a Valentine Song

exploding-hearts-1210286-mI spent hours today looking for Valentine cards. Not for Tom, he is easy, for the grandchildren.

Somehow a few years back we picked up one of those musical cards that blurt a loud tune upon opening. You’ve probably seen them. We lingered and laughed in the card aisle and decided to send it to our 3-year-old granddaughter Six months later, it was still being opened and danced too. Who knew we had started something!

When her brother’s birthday came around, we overheard, “Mimi and Papa ALWAYS give musical cards.” Well this was news to us! We luckily found him a card suitable for his age and every birthday and Valentine’s for the past six years we have showed up with the card that keeps on singing. We started dropping them off instead of mailing them as the postage is higher for these oversize cards. The price seems to have gone up as well over the years as has our number of grandchildren but we can’t stop this train now.

There must be a shortage of “suitable for children” musical cards this year or I am way too late in shopping. The clerk in the Hallmark store chastised me today, “We’ve had these cards since after Christmas and are all out now“… in a tone that indicated I was definitely failing in my duties. I slunk out of the store.

At CVS I found a couple in the midst of all the other more “risqué” shall we say ones.  I dashed all my other plans for the morning and drove to one more store, also bare shelves in the musical Valentine department except for one I wouldn’t buy anyone, ever.

I do wonder, will we always send them musical cards? Maybe. If that becomes part of our grandparent imprint I’m OK with that. Hopefully they will remember all the other words and music of the heart we have been imparting over the years.

So I’m heading out again in the morning to finish the list. Sheesh! Wish me luck.

Hope for the Best,


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