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Keeping Your Kids Engaged Throughout Lent

Kids and LentCan you believe that we are having a conversation about Lent already? Weren’t we just swaddling the infant Jesus and celebrating His birth? I feel as though I really haven’t had time to prepare myself for the sacrificial season of Lent. Although it’s no longer my responsibility to keep my kids engaged throughout Lent, when they were small I always had a game plan to engage them in the season and promote conversation around our faith story. We were blessed to belong to a church where there were plenty of activities for both adults and children to participate in, which made for a great support system for us. I thought I’d share a few of the ideas we used with our kids for those that may not have the same kind of support system or just want to supplement what their church may be doing; perhaps even begin something new themselves.

For as long as I can remember, our church provided Friday evening Soup to Stations. We’d pack up our pot of meatless soup to share, along with our kids and head to the church where we shared a meal with our faith community, followed by Stations of the Cross. It was a fun way for adults and kids to socialize, share an array of meatless soups, swap recipes, and forge new friendships. Because everyone had their kids with them, our kids never felt like they were the only ones at a church event. They saw that other families prayed together, making it a comfortable place for them, even into their teen years. There were different formats to the weekly Stations of the Cross. One week the prayers might be through the eyes of Mary, another week it might be scriptural, then the traditional, and when I was a Youth Minister, I organized a Teen Stations of the Cross. This included a PowerPoint with visuals, contemporary music and the best part, the teens created the prayers with a contemporary and relevant script for each station.

The Seder meal is commonly celebrated the same way by Jews all over the world. It is a fulfillment of the biblical command from Psalms 145:4, “Let each generation tell its children of your mighty acts.” It is an orderly retelling of the Exodus from Egypt leading God’s people from slavery to freedom and has a growing interest for Christians. The Seder is a wonderful teaching experience that tells the story of God’s grace in history and calls us to share in the experience as our own. It broadens our awareness of the importance of the Old Testament as our history and the sacredness of our liturgy and sacraments. Although there are slight variations to the Seder meal, the custom includes telling the story of the Exodus, partaking of symbolic foods placed on the Passover Seder Plate, drinking four cups of wine, eating matzo, and sharing in a celebratory meal. 

I found two websites that elaborate on this celebration. The Voice describes the event and meaning in great detail, while Jennifer Dukes Lee site lists step by step instructions for a Christian Seder that incorporates the elements of the Last Supper Jesus celebrated with his disciples. There is a printable copy and link to recipes, etc. I also found, in the comments, information that we Catholics don’t always hear too much about or are even aware of – the explanation of the fourth cup of wine and its absence at the Last Supper.

If you have younger children and are trying to teach them about charity, alms giving or penance, a simple idea that also engages dinner conversation is the Good-Deed Jar. Draw the outline of a cross on a large piece of poster board and hang where all can see it. Place a jar filled with something like ripped scraps of paper, lima beans, flower petals, etc. on the center of the table. Discuss what “Good Deed” they did that day to help Jesus carry His cross. After dinner, take whatever item you chose to fill the jar and glue it inside the poster board cross and watch the progress in filling the cross.

If you don’t already have one, creating space for a Family Altar is a beautiful addition to your home. Deuteronomy 6:4-9 and Psalm 78:4 remind us that WE, the parents, are our children’s first teachers and it is OUR responsibility to pass on the faith, our history, our story, to them. Our home is the Domestic Church and where most of our time is spent. A family altar is a visual reminder of our faith offering comfort during difficult times and reminders to offer thanksgiving for the simple, tender moments of family life. A place to stop and pray with our children for a bit or simply to gaze upon offering a quick thank you. An altar can be as simple as a corner shelf, your dining room hutch or a cabinet; placed in a central location that you pass everyday or a quiet corner within your home. Some items to include:

  • Crucifix
  • Bible
  • Statue of the Blessed Mother
  • Holy Water
  • Rosaries
  • Candles
  • Pictures of Saints

Other people include linens that change with the liturgical season, books, incense, etc. If you like to do crafts with your children, some of these items can be homemade as well. I found two great websites that offer various suggestions for family altars – Catholic Icing and Catholic Mom.

My kids love their father’s Italian heritage, especially when they could sneak a sweet treat (St. Joseph Sfinge) on the Feast of St. Joseph in the middle of Lent – March 19th. I recently saw another Italian tradition that could be lots of fun with the kids called the St. Joseph Table. This ancient tradition, celebrated more fervently in the southern region, goes back to the Middle Ages. It is a day to pray to St. Joseph for his intercession, but it cannot be for personal gain, it must be for the benefit of someone else.

The stepped table includes the statue of St. Joseph holding the baby Jesus with candles and flowers surrounding him. Many Italians also place homemade wood crafts on the table in memory of St. Joseph. The foods surrounding him are foods that grow wild in the field, those of vegetables and wheat – no meat. Breads and sweets are also displayed. An added element for kids is performing small acts of work as an offering. St. Joseph took great care of Mary and Jesus and did so with a loving, giving heart. He provided food, shelter, and protection for them faithfully and lovingly. Doing small tasks for another person, in secret, not expecting it can be offered up to St. Joseph, for his intercession, as he presents it to God as a gift of love. For more in-depth information and step by step instructions on setting up your own St. Joseph’s table, I found this website chock full of information.

I loved to cook with my kids when they were small. It’s a great way to keep their hands and minds busy while enjoying simple conversation. It was also a great time to share stories with them about our faith, using the food and ingredients in front of us. Over on my blog, I share a few of my favorites over the years in Cooking Through Lent With Your Kids.

Whatever the tradition you and your family choose to partake in this Lent, be sure to keep our story alive and well for generations to come.  Many blessings to you and yours.


Ink Slingers

Resting in the Blessing of God’s Presence

My daughter, Addie, a blessing of God's presence

Addie (our five year old daughter with cystic fibrosis) had another clean culture last month: normal respiratory flora and normal vitamin levels. We’re all happy she’s had such good luck. And I do call it luck, not blessings or hard work paying off. I don’t know why saying, “We’re blessed,” bugs me so much. I know that all good things come from God. I also know that some Christians have terrible problems. The ending of Hebrews 11 (verses 32-40) tells of those who had miracle lives and those who “did not receive what was promised.” After all, Christ Himself said that the heavenly Father, “makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes the rain to fall on the just and the unjust.” God does not bless Addie more than Rees (our twenty-two year old with cystic fibrosis who has had more trouble with his health) and I do not work harder at taking care of her than I did Rees.

The chapel in our hospital where I have prayed in good times and in bad times, always resting in the blessing of God's presenceI’ve knelt in our hospital’s chapel after a CF clinic visit with a kid and given thanks together; and I’ve knelt in there alone, having signed over a kid upstairs for an admission. Tears both times, the crucifix and tabernacle before me a physical reminder of life’s true love and pain. I turn to God in good luck and in bad luck through this journey from womb to earth and beyond. We all get through on our own trajectory and Eternal Love surrounds us whatever the lab reports read. That surrounding by God is his blessing.

I don’t think to be blessed by God means health and prosperity. I think it means that we are watched by our Creator throughout this valley of the shadow of death where we fear no evil because he is there to comfort us. We are blessed, then. When the lab reports come back badly, we are blessed; and when they come back clear, we are blessed. He is with us.

I did a little digging on the word Blessed and found that it is used in the Scriptures several ways:

  • To praise God: Bless the Lord oh my soul.
  • As a desire for goodness: Blessed are you among women.
  • For sanctification: He took bread and blessed it.
  • As a gift: Children are a blessing.

I did not look these up to be an annoying know-it-all, though! I needed to make sense of things. And my studies blessed me (haha, yes).

A friend of mine lost her son last month and a friend of hers wrote about the question of blessings for some and not others (Why Us and Not Her?). We’re all trying to make sense of things, aren’t we? I wonder if I bristle at reports of health blessings because of the reminder that some are not blessed that way and the unfairness of it all exhausts me. It is still a good word, however, because it brings our focus back to God, so I need to not bristle (Help, Holy Spirit!).

I hope and pray for all of us, my Sistas, that we rest in the blessing of God’s presence in good luck and in bad luck. May we keep our eyes on Jesus this week especially ~ passion of Christ, strengthen us.

Psalm 23:4

Christi Domestic Church Homeschool Ink Slingers Raising Saints

Diary of a Homeschool Mum part 1

I don’t know if you know me. If you are a regular reader of Catholic Sistas you have hopefully met me through the 7QT First Friday posts or possibly have read some of my other posts. I’ve recently joined the new team we have writing the Raising Saints Homeschool monthly series. 

Way back in the early nineties when I was expecting my fifth child we had just purchased our first home and our two oldest daughters were attending the local Catholic elementary school and our five year old son was a drop out from kindergarten. The three year old was still enjoying snuggles even if the ever growing baby lump was getting in the way.

Wait you say – the five year out was a “drop out”? In a manner of speaking, yes. Your typical apple pie and blue eyed little boy who enjoyed building train tracks with his red headed younger brother was coming home from kindergarten and systematically beating up his best friend. As you can imagine this was not sitting well with either his father or I (and his brother wasn’t much enjoying it either!). I had a frank Best buds againdiscussion with his teacher and she agreed with my suspicion – my son was coming home and pummeling his younger brother most likely as a result of the aggression he was seeing on the play ground. She readily agreed five year old kindergarten was not a prerequisite for grade one and he could as easily learn his numbers and letters with me at home. Little did we know then that it would be another ten years before he stepped foot inside another brick and mortar place of learning. For his other siblings – most would never enter a “real” school room until they left home for college, while a couple got to sample of public school life for one year while they attended a Montessori Charter school.

What will follow over the next few months will be a collection of journal entries based on my memories of the early months and years of homeschooling. Let’s begin now…

January 12th, 1991 (Ontario Canada)

Dear Diary;

I’ve talked with Alicia’s Godmother once again about the idea of starting to homeschool and I think she has finally convinced me to try. She talked me out of the idea that I need to become a certified Montessori teacher in order to be able to teach them. I’m not sure though. I borrowed a few books from the library about the Montessori method. I love this program but if I wait until I’m certified it will take me 2 years. I can’t imagine Caroline & Alicia making it through two more years in the school here. Hugo seems ready for me to try but he agrees we need to wait until the baby is born and start in the fall. I’m so glad he agrees we should wait. It’s going to be hard dealing with the school board when I pull the kids out. Everyone I know says they had to answer all kinds of questions and I think they even had to go to a board meeting or maybe it was a meeting with the superintendent? I’m dreading this, just dreading this! 

February 26th 1991 

Dear Diary

I’m sorry I’ve neglected you for so long but Elizabeth joined us … on Alexander’s birthday! Good thing we celebrated it early. I don’t think I’d be up to celebrating it right now. Worst. Labour. Ever! I wonder how long till he realizes he’s sharing his birthday with his baby sister. He seems pretty pleased with her but has been very quiet since she was born. Ooops, I hear the baby … gotta go. I hope I can find time to squeeze a few more words in soon. 

June 20th 1991

Dear Diary:

I’m the worst diary writer ever. Where has the time gone? Elizabeth is already four months old. We got a scare when she was so late focusing her eyes – I thought she was blind! All of our other babies were looking us in the face and tracking in their first week. I called Hugo at work, crying and he called the pediatrician. His wife called me & was so reassuring. Anyway – clearly nothing is wrong with her vision now. She’s constantly grabbing my glasses and pulling them off. 

I have good news and bad news, Diary. Bad news first. Last Wednesday I had to walk over to the school with both boys and Elizabeth in the snuggly. The school had called – Caroline had been hit in the face with a baseball. Apparently the teacher on yard duty told her it was her own fault because she was sitting in the grass watching ants. Seriously? A little kid is interested in nature and gets hit in the face wiGoodBye Busth a huge bloody nose and THAT’S what you tell her? Then Thursday I had to call a taxi because the school called again and I still had Caroline home recuperating from the getting smashed in the face. This time Alicia had fallen from the monkey bars … they think. She might have lost consciousness … they think, but are not sure. Apparently the teachers on lunch duty didn’t even notice Alicia lying on the ground until some of her classmates went to get one of them to help her. I was livid when I found her barely able to sit up straight in the chair outside the principal’s office.  (It was interesting trying to fit all five children and myself into the taxi!) Now here’s the good news!!! When I met with the principal to tell her that my girls would not be returning the rest of the school year and I didn’t think they would be back in the fall, she didn’t even bat an eye. She just nodded when I said they would be joining the Mary Immaculate School. She knows full well that’s our small homeschool that the mums in the area have set up. When I told Marie about it she laughed and said – ‘they’re probably afraid of you suing them. I bet you don’t even get a call or letter from the school board.’ I guess that’s the silver lining to my poor girls getting hurt so badly at school. Well, it’s too quiet downstairs – I better go see what the kids are up to!

July 1st 1991 

Dear Diary 

It’s Canada day and tonight Hugo will take the kids the park for the fireworks. We talked about driving into Ottawa and watching them at the parliamentary buildings but Elizabeth is so young. I’ll stay home with her tonight.

Alexander seems to have stopped talking since Elizabeth was born. In every other aspect he seems normal. But he no longer talks. He just nods or shakes his head to questions. This week was his turn to go out with Daddy to Tim Hortons and Hugo said he was interested in what was going on around him but – no conversation. He got his MMR just after his fourth birthday. A friend who’s a nurse brought that to my attention. I’m trying not to worry too much.

I’ve decided to order my curriculum from Our Lady of Victory in the States. I met with our principal of our little school and she agreed that I would feel more comfortable if I did that as I’m still very nervous about the whole idea. It’s so comforting to know she’s had a lot of years teaching in the regular school system. I don’t know if I’m more excited or more nervous about this adventure I’m about to plunge my whole family into. journal cover 4


Well – dear readers, I will see you again in June and you can hear more about my adventures in our early years of homeschooling. I’m currently in my  twenty fourth year of homeschooling with just another decade or so stretching in front of me until all my 13 munchkins have graduated. I’m sure I will have plenty of memories and adventures to share. 



Crafts Domestic Church Ink Slingers Janalin Lent Liturgical Year

Playing Through Holy Week

Playing Through Holy Week

Holy Week is approaching and we are excited!  We love to learn along with the liturgical calendar and a good portion of our home religious education is done through play. 

A year ago in January, the peg doll craze hit our family when I started an online group that paints peg dolls and exchanges them through the mail.  We started out painting well known saints and over the course of a year also made Mass sets, Nativities, the Apostles, and our Easter set is due back shortly before Holy Week.  Since the peg dolls are our main characters in the reenactment of the Easter Story we thought we would share with you how we plan on playing our way through Holy Week!

Playing Through Holy Week

First we start with the Palm Sunday procession!  Here we cut a single sheet of green felt in half and then laid out “palms” and clothing which were also cut out of felt.  The people welcoming Jesus to Jerusalem are Old Testament characters we had on hand as well as the Apostles. 

Playing Through Holy Week

A wooden castle will serve as part of the Jerusalem city.  This scene is where Pilate is asking the people what they want to do with Jesus.  (Pilate was my part of the Easter set that we just exchanged so we had him available for photographing but the rest of the dolls are still on their way.) 

Playing Through Holy Week

Here is the castle again where we are recreating the Upper Room for the Last Supper.  The Apostles are not in order because our daughter was not home when I was photographing this blog post, but I can reassure you that all Apostles will be in there correct position according to the da Vinci painting during Holy Week.  I love that she took it upon herself to memorize the Apostles’ seating arrangement! 

Playing Through Holy Week

Praying in the Garden.  On the right you can see Judas with a soldier as the other Apostles sleep.  The background is a felt play mat that I made, originally as a Marian garden but covered over parts of to fit the solemnity of the scene. 

Playing Through Holy Week

Our last scenes will cover the final hours of Christ’s Crucifixion and then Resurrection.  We made a garden this year and will utilize it for Christ’s burial and Resurrection!

Playing Through Holy Week

In addition to playing with peg dolls we also will be reading one of our favorite Easter stories, Benjamin’s Box.  If you are familiar with the Resurrection Eggs this book covers the same principles but retold by a boy named Benjamin who takes mementos for his treasure box along the way.  We purchased a box from Hobby Lobby and transferred the contents of our eggs over to the box last year and it has been a big hit!  Children, boys especially, seem to be drawn to the special aspect of having a “treasure box.”  If there was only one thing I could keep to educate our children about the true meaning of Easter it would be this book and box!

Playing Through Holy Week

Our son is four and he found a larger stone this year to replace the smaller one that came with the eggs.  He wanted me to be sure that you saw the large smooth stone he found.

Playing Through Holy Week

The boy and his treasures! 🙂

Playing Through Holy Week

If you are interested in getting peg dolls of your own for your family here are some resources on getting started:

To purchase dolls that are already painted and by our very own Ink Slinger, Erika, click here!  

To join an exchange group click here.

To make your own without painting (much), click here.

And instructions on making your own Resurrection garden can be found here!  


Our family wishes you the most Blessed Holy Week and we hope you are inspired to play a little through it!

Domestic Church Faith Formation Ink Slingers Karen Parenting

Five Ways to Keep Your Kids Catholic

It is always our intent here at Catholic Sistas to provide you with inspiration, guidance, and hope in Christ. Children are the greatest blessings God bestows upon us and it is our role to provide them with a firm foundation in Christ. However, we know that despite all we do for and with our children, sometimes they choose another path. While we cannot guarantee that our children will remain Catholic, and there are times despite our best efforts our children leave the faith, there are certain things we can do to help build that firm foundation in Christ so that they will have faith to return to when they are ready. 

Our primary goal as parents is to get our kids to heaven, or at the very least, to give them their best start in that direction. But when faced with the impact our parenting has on our children, and the monumental task of guiding children through this broken world to come out as faithful Catholics, the task is daunting. And even if we check all the boxes that should yield faith-filled children, sometimes children still stray (while we ask St. Monica to help them return!). But there are some things we can do that will equip our children with some good tools that just might keep Christ and His Church at the forefront of their lives, and to make faith-filled choices.FIVE WAYS (1)


This one is obvious, but so easy to neglect. We must pray independently, with our spouse, and with our kids. Our children must see prayer happen, model it, and participate in it, both with formed prayers such as the Hail Mary or Our Father, as well as with “free-form” praying that is from the heart in praise or pleading. If our children see us praying on our own daily, they will see this as a normal fluid part of life, as natural as changing clothes or brushing teeth. If they see you pray with your spouse, they will see the foundation of marriage is a relationship and unity with God. And most importantly, pray for your children. Pray that God keeps them close and helps to protect them from the grasp of Satan.

Get involved at Church in both attendance and extra activities!

Mass is every Sunday- rain, snow, sleet, hail. Feel like it, don’t feel like it. For many reading this, Mass attendance just isn’t an issue. For very young kids, especially for families with several very small children, sometimes parents need to split up Mass (where one parent goes earlier in the day and the other later in the day to avoid taking the littlest). Do what you need to do for your sanity. But do at least occasionally take your smallest children, and always take your older children.

In addition to Mass attendance, get involved in at least one ministry. This will undoubtedly change as the years offer different life challenges, and will ebb and flow in terms of how involved you are, but have a presence. Having small children dictates that heavy involvement and meetings are just not going to happen. But small acts help tremendously. Bake a pie for the funeral luncheons, offer to stuff envelopes for the parish secretary to reduce her burden, or donate diapers for a diaper drive for moms in need. If you have older children and are more able to get out and do things, then help clean the church, help with set up and cleanup of the funeral luncheons, bring communion to the sick or homebound. Where appropriate, bring along your children so they can see works of mercy in action and participate in loving others as Christ calls us to do. While is it a good goal to have much of this centered in the Church, it is a great idea to expand acts of service to even sources that are not Catholic, such as soup kitchens, general pro-life groups, etc. We are called to love our neighbor whether Catholic or not.

It is also important to puzzle in Adoration into that picture. I have heard many priests speak about their childhood. Out of those who were cradle Catholics, all have mentioned that their family or parents went to Adoration at least once a month. There is something very powerful about sitting in quiet contemplation and prayer in front of the Blessed Sacrament.

Get your husband involved in Church!
This article cites a Swiss study that detailed whether a husband or wife (or both) were practicing their religion, and their children’s practicing of religion when they grew up. This study found that when a father is actively practicing a religion, the couple yields a much higher rate of children actively practicing the religion as well, irrespective of whether the mother is religious. Aside from that, it is the man’s role to lead his family to Christ. As such, it is important to make time for him to not only get to Mass, but to also be involved. Whether that is service, attending a men’s group, or starting a dad’s group, he should find something that feeds his faith and demonstrates a love for Jesus that his children can model. Many husbands feel they cannot participate in activities because of the needs at home (lawn maintenance, helping mom, etc); however, it is important and wives need to be supportive and encouraging of the nurturing of our husband’s faith, even if it means the lawn is mowed a few days late.

Have Catholic Friends!
If your friends are practicing Catholics with children, your kids will have Catholic playmates. Having your world framed by your faith is integral to keeping it. Since children have such a small world that contains school, home, and friendships, it is ideal if as much of that contains a Catholic influence as possible. Kids who have friends that think going to Adoration sounds like a good time are more likely to go to Adoration. Since peer influence is incredibly powerful, we have to find ways for this to be positive. It is frustrating for kids to experience religion at home and at church, but to have a non-religious school environment and friends ambivalent about God. While children in that situation certainly still can maintain their faith, it does provide some challenges.

Vocations are an Option! 
Most of us probably envision our children growing up, getting married, and having children. Certainly the married vocation is a beautiful one. But many families are quick to disregard the religious life as a reasonable option for their children. Pray as a family for priests and for those discerning callings to the religious life. Go to a convent or seminary for a seminar, Mass, or other activity. If your child shows any interest in the religious life, be positive and encouraging, help them seek out spiritual direction, visit the religious, and encourage them to keep praying and see where God leads them.

While none of these individually or cumulatively will guarantee your children remain Catholic, it sets a great foundation to increase your own faith and provide your children with great opportunities to obtain and keep a strong faith.