Advent Christi Feast Days

How Our Advent Tree Came To Life



In today’s world, we find Christmas decorations fighting with Halloween items for space on the store shelves. It is easy to succumb to the temptation of putting up the decorations and tree in time for Thanksgiving. Turkey day may or may not end up being the same weekend as the first Sunday in Advent. This year we have a week’s grace between Thanksgiving weekend and the first Sunday in Advent, but the pressure to get the festivities started now seems to grow every year.

Influenced by our faith journey over our thirty plus years of parenting, our choices of how and when to decorate for Christmas has undergone many changes. As we are originally from Canada, where Thanksgiving falls in October, it wasn’t part of the equation. Instead, we typically chose to put the tree up on our first child’s birthday in early December.  

In the early nineties, we became aware of of Advent as a time of preparing for the birth of Christ and wanted to be more mindful of that. Incorporating the changes this awareness brought about was initially difficult for our oldest children. They were used to a more secular means of preparing for Christmas. As much as I wanted to push the putting up of the actual Christmas tree as close to Christmas Eve as possible, my husband and I came to the conclusion that we needed to move slowly.

One of the first changes we made was to not put all our Christmas ornaments up at once. We still put the tree up early in the season of Advent, but staggered the decorations.  Each Sunday of Advent, we added more Christmas decor to the house. By the fourth Sunday we pretty much had the whole house decorated.

The next change was to make use of the Advent colors in our table settings. For our still very young family, this helped make the change of the church’s season very noticeable. We used either a purple tablecloth or runner for the first, second and fourth week of Advent and a pink one for the third week of Advent. On Christmas morning and St Nicholas’ day the children woke to either a red tablecloth or very festive one on the table. We also really emphasized the joy of the many feast days celebrated during the four to five weeks of Advent.

However, my biggest goal, which was to not decorate our tree until only days before Christmas Eve was not achieved until 2009: our 13th child’s first  Christmas.  

Back in 2002, my husband was laid off and we began our journey of running a family business . The following Christmas our second oldest, determined that all her younger siblings who were still at home should have Christmas memories like hers, showed up from college with a tree tied to the roof of her car and apple cider in the back seat.  Over the next six years, while my husband and I struggled with the challenges of self-employment and raising a growing and still rather young family, our daughter made annual trek home with a tree and cider. Always in early December.

All good things come to an end, and after our daughter married and started her own family I had the opportunity to create a new tradition of putting the tree up closer to Christmas Eve! Yet, after almost thirty years of putting it up during the first week of December, I was loathe to take that step and announce to the children the tree would not go up until December 22nd or 23rd.  

I shared my dilemma with our fifth child and between the two of us we came up with the idea of an Advent tree. We shared this plan with the other children and they were elated. After purchasing some inexpensive purple ornaments and white lights, we spent hours that first Sunday in Advent taking turns coloring the clear light bulbs with purple and pink permanent markers. Hilariously, only the purple-colored bulbs showed any color at all and they looked pink. We didn’t care – we were in love with our Advent tree: the first of many.

Over the past nine years, we have continued to grow our purple and pink ornament collection and have added homemade ones as well. Our first year, a fellow parishioner, gifted us her purple Halloween lights after hearing about our Advent tree. Since then, we have been inspired to watch for purple lights at the dollar stores. I think we still have one strand of the original lights we so painstakingly colored pink and purple.

We have varied from decorating both an Advent tree and a Christmas tree to converting the Advent tree into Christmas tree just a few days before Christmas. This year we will have two trees. The Advent tree will, of course, go up the first Sunday in Advent (December 2nd) and we will have hot cider and simple treats while enjoying family time. Sometime after our ninth child returns from Milan, in late December, we will put up a live tree and decorate it with our Christmas ornaments. Again we will have cider and maybe some eggnog along with Christmas cookies while we listen to Christmas carols and trip over strings and strings of colorful lights.

What are some of the things you do in your family to help your children focus on Advent while the rest of the world has been buying ornaments and stocking stuffers with their Halloween candy? Feel free to share them below in the comments.

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Greater the Gold: Adding Siblings is Worth the Sacrifice

This spring, we were thrilled to welcome our seventh baby. And to add to the excitement, it was a boy, after twelve years and three daughters. Our two older sons were thrilled to have a new brother and our daughters were equally as thrilled to have a baby to dress up. They even fight over who gets to change his diaper!

After nine months of debating (read: arguing with me), the kids won out and we call this little guy Blaise. I can’t even imagine how special it must be to feel like you got to name your little brother! Even three months in, they’ll occasionally comment “Aren’t you glad we named him Blaise? What a great name!” He is theirs and he couldn’t be more loved.

Our big kids have made many sacrifices, now that our little guy is here. There are the regular newborn sacrifices, of course, such as learning to change a diaper (you’re welcome, future spouses!) and deferring their preferences to the baby’s demands. They have all pitched in and helped out without a single complaint.

They’ve also made sacrifices for his particular needs. Blaise was born with bilateral clubfoot, which is one of the most common congenital defects. It’s not a huge deal–it’s easily correctable and we’re fortunate that one of the top orthopedic surgeons specializing in clubfoot is only a five-hour drive away.

But that’s a five-hour drive nearly every week for their entire summer break. This means there hasn’t been any time or money for much else. Family trips to the pool have been slim. Family vacations have been non-existent.

Our family van, which had been faithfully limping along for months, finally met its end shortly after Blaise was born. We are searching out a replacement, pinching our pennies, and making due in the meantime. Have you looked at the price of high-occupancy vans lately? Ouch!

I don’t mention this to complain, but rather to point out the abundance we have been given. Yes, between a vehicle, mounting medical costs, and life in general, things have been tight.

But you know what? No one has complained. Not once. No one has suggested that our family is too big, that maybe a new baby was a crazy thing to do. And I am absolutely certain that if we asked them outright, not one child would regret this little guy. Not one person would suggest that maybe we were better off before.

Because the truth is, we weren’t. Isn’t it funny how you don’t realize what you’re missing until you have it? And then you can’t imagine life any other way? We are all better forever each time we welcome another child to our unruly gang.

Money, time, energy, and stuff are not worth the trade-off. Fancy vacations are boring compared to hearing our little boy laugh. Money seems useless when I step back and watch six older siblings cheer him on as he tries to roll over for the first time. (Still working on it!)

Summer is winding down and the return of the school routine is looming. As I look back on our summer, I am inclined to regret all that we weren’t able to accomplish. The garden that was eaten by weeds and rabbits…the trip up north never happened due to car troubles…the rare, long leisurely days at the pool or the park…so few spontaneous meet ups with friends.

But I’m better served to remember all that we did do and all that we have. Money is tight and only our small vehicle runs, and our sweet baby needs to be in St. Louis every week or so. That was still special time with him, every week when we traveled. Because we could only fit one extra person in the car, we were able to spend special time with one “big” kid each trip. The kids who stayed home had an abundance of time with their cousins, while we were out of town.

We spent long summer days watching our baby grow and change. Older siblings spend afternoons rocking their brother to sleep and playing with him as he learned to giggle at their funny faces. We are still hoping that our Kateri will learn the age-old rule “never wake a sleeping baby!” But it’s hard not to snuggle with him when he looks so peaceful.

In reality, this is probably the best summer we’ve ever had. As our five-year-old likes to remind us, “Aren’t you glad I asked God for a baby?” Yes, dear. We are so, so glad.


Fabulously Featured Ink Slingers Series


Welcome to Catholic Sistas’ newest series, featuring some of our friends in the Catholic blogging world entitled Fabulously Featured which will run on Wednesdays. I have always wanted to introduce you to some new blogs to follow and support, but seriously lacked the time to put this together before now. In a Facebook group of fellow Catholic women bloggers, I asked ladies to answer some questions for this series, and they were all too excited to participate! I give you their answers in their own words.:)

FF Team Whitaker

Today we feature Team Whitaker in our Fabulously Featured series. If you need a little repreive to talk about big families, faith, DIY projects, and maybe even have a glass of wine then you have found the right blog to visit! Grab your wine glass and your favorite Pinot Grigio or Chardonnay and get to know Kathryn. She’ll make you laugh and inspire you all at the same time!

Whitaker Headshot




My focus is on life as a mom – from prematurity to party planning, organization/DIY projects to Catholicism, my love for the Aggies to motherhood


I had a good friend who said, “Kathryn, you should blog. You’d love it.” And she was right. I began as just a way to update family and close friends and what began as a digital scrapbook has become so much more. Mostly? I want my kids to look back on my writings, remember the awesome memories, appreciate the struggles and be grateful for our time together as a family.


I never dreamed how cathartic it would be to write, specifically to write about my daily struggles and successes of motherhood. My faith is interwoven into the blog, but it’s not the only thing I talk about! I adore the sense of community and the support I’ve received, particularly when I share the hard moments. It’s reminded me that we really are all in this motherhood gig together.


There are two: 1) every year I write love letters to my kids on their birthdays. Those are my six favorite days of the year on the blog! And, 2) The Mom I Want to Be. I wrote it nearly three years ago, but the words? They are still so true.


My blog has never been about making money, it’s always been about saving my sanity. When I have time to blog, I know that my life is in balance. I also know that I have to make time for the things I love. Some days, the kids eat frozen nuggets because mommy needs a half hour of computer time. Other nights, I sacrifice an evening with my husband on the couch because I am touched out and need time to myself. Balance is a tricky thing. I’m starting to realize the specific, and very predictable, seasons of our family life. Being honest with myself and lowering the expectations has helped tremendously. When I want to find time to blog, I switch off all social media. Because, time suck. And I’m usually happier for it. Once upon a time, I had a blog calendar and that really helped. Note to self: pull out the calendar again!


Anybody who will listen? HA! No, seriously. I suppose I just write as if I’m having a conversation with someone at my kitchen table. Some posts really are geared toward preemie moms (mom of a preemie here!), while some are meant for moms of lots of littles and still others are written for non-Catholics. I write about DIY and organization projects and there’s no faith or motherhood component. It just depends on the day. But, I always write with authenticity. That’s the big thing for me.
FF Team whitaker header


A peek at the world from our branch. That’s been my tagline for about four years. I’m a huge lover of owls and my header has a branch with all of us sitting upon it. I never proclaim to be an expert on anything, except my own family. Sometimes, my kids would disagree that I’m an expert on even that! Regardless, I never want folks to think I’m the be-all, end-all of everything motherhood. It’s just my take.


 Be yourself. I think we’re always tempted to read other people’s writing and try to emulate that style. It doesn’t take long before you get worn out trying to be someone else. Hey, maybe it works for them. But, you know your life, your circumstances, your passions – write about them. If people follow along, sweet. If not, don’t change because you want more pageviews. As for the look and feel of your blog, think and pray long and hard about what you’re called to do and called to write about. Just because you’re a Catholic blogger doesn’t mean you have to talk all things Catholic, all the time.


Have a question or comment for our featured blogger? Please leave them in the comments below!

Would you {or someone you know} like to be fabulously featured?

Send an email to Martina@CatholicSistas.comand reference the Fabulously Featured series and we’ll get the ball rolling to get you or your friend featured!


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Channeling Jesus on Aisle 5

It’s rare these days that I have all my children with me when I go anywhere other than church but there once was a time, before I had any older kids to help babysit little ones, that I took them everywhere with me.  We were a regular sight at the grocery store, little ones in the buggy, bigger ones holding on, strolling around getting the things we needed for the week.  We’d often see people stop what they were doing and use their fingers to count the children in tow.  The counting never bothered me, in fact, it amused me, but the comments that would often follow did.  Some of the comments were made with genuine interest (“Wow! Are all these kids yours?”).  Some were made in jest (Don’t you know what causes that?”).  But still others were made out of ignorance or meanness (“You’re overpopulating the world!” “God, you must be Catholic.  You don’t have a choice do you?” “I feel sorry for you.” “Your husband must be so controlling.” “Wow.  That’s ridiculous to have that many children.”)

My children were always well behaved.  They were quiet and obedient, sweet and respectful.   I could take them anywhere with me.  I can still take them anywhere with me and know that they will behave even though I now have eleven children.  These comments that people made to me were not because they were being rowdy and wild; they were made to me just because there were so many.  They were also made because our society has deemed having many children as an oddity, a burden, and a disgrace.

I’ve often wondered where people find the courage to say the things they do to others.  I can remember a woman in the elevator on the way to the doctor’s office saying to me, “Are all these kids yours?”  When I replied yes she said, “Wow, you probably need to stop having children.”  At the time I had six children, 5 girls and 1 boy, and was largely pregnant with my seventh child.  I told her that we trusted God to help us decided when we had enough children.  She said to me, “Then you might want to talk to Him because obviously He doesn’t know what He’s doing.”  I told her that I trusted that He did in fact know exactly what He was doing.  She looked over my children and then said with disgust, “Well, it’s too bad that you didn’t have more boys.  Maybe it would have been worth it then.”  I quietly told her that I thought God gave us exactly the children we needed, when we needed them. She looked at me as if I were pathetic and exited the elevator.  My sweet 5 year old Emma would cry later asking me if I thought the woman was right and that it would be better if we had more boys.  I hugged her closely and repeated what I had told the woman… God knows what is best and He thought it was important that we have a lot of girls and that I loved having so many girls.  I also reminded her that God doesn’t make mistakes.

To be honest, in those years, it was often hard for me to go to the store, the doctor, the park even.  I knew wherever I went I would be followed by comments.  It was one thing if they were said just to me but many times my children would overhear them as well.  Some people I believe wanted our children to hear their comments.  It was hard to know what to say in response to them.  Oh how I wanted to shoot something off to them that would make their jaws drop open!  I wanted to shock them every bit as much as they shocked me by some of the things these strangers were saying to me.  But I didn’t.  I held my tongue and said a quick prayer that God would guide my words.  I did this more for my children’s sakes than for these people but in the end I knew that those watching us would be witness to God’s love better that way than if I were to be ugly back to them.

One particularly hard time was in the grocery store where I had children clinging to the buggy, little ones sitting in the seat, and a “bigger” kid pushing a second buggy for me. I was tired and just wanted to be done for the day.   A woman coming down the opposite way saw us, the little girls giggling and playing, and loudly said, “Are all these kids yours?”  I told her they were.  She stopped, looked them over and said, “Oh! I feel sorry for you!” and began walking past me.   I looked at her and asked, “Why?  Why do you feel sorry for me?  I certainly don’t.”  She paused, caught off guard and said, “What do you mean?”  I told her that I didn’t feel sorry for myself, after all, look at these amazing kids, I was blessed more than most!  I looked her up and down, smiled, and turned to just walk away.  Suddenly she was following me, “Well… I mean.  I don’t.  I… well.”  She was at a loss for words.  She called out, “I’m sorry.  I didn’t mean it that way.”  I turned, smiled at her and walked away.   I knew that nothing else needed to be said.

I have found that while I have a whole list of things I would love to say back to people when they make comments, often the most powerful thing to say is “I am happy with my life” or “Look how blessed I am!”  It won’t change the minds of everyone we encounter but for some, like the woman on aisle 5, it might make them reevaluate what they have said or how they think.  If by keeping my composure others might see Jesus, well, then I suppose those snarky comebacks will just have to stay in my back pocket.

These days I still hear many of those comments that I did when my children went everywhere with me, but now I’m normally the only one who hears them.  My kids aren’t subjected to them quite as much, although they do still hear them sometimes.  I’m thankful for that.  It hurts me when people look at my family and decide that some of them shouldn’t be here.  I see value in each and every one of them; it baffles me how others might not!

Jesus calls us to be witness to Him in many ways.  Sometimes it might be in the place we least expect it.  Sometimes it might be on aisle 5 when we are tired and ready to go home and encounter that person who just can’t understand our buggy full of children, food, and love.

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20 Things You’ve Always Wanted to Know About Large Families, But Were Afraid to Ask

Our family size has been the topic of many conversations.  People are always asking us various questions, some with genuine interest, others out of rudeness.  It never ceases to amaze me what people will ask or will say behind our backs instead of asking us. There have been times where I have been hurt by what I have heard.   Many would be shocked to hear some of the comments we’ve endured from people who think that it is crazy to actually want a large family.  Society has conditioned us to believe that children are a burden and that we should want material things for ourselves instead of the joy that children can bring into our lives.  I find this sad and always say a little prayer for those who are so ugly to us when they question about our family size.  I pray that through meeting our family they will come to understand the happiness that comes from being open to God’s will in all areas of our lives.

There are those, however, who leave me feeling uplifted  after speaking to them about our family.  These are the people who look at our children and see the joy they bring.  They see their smiles and the sparkle in their eyes and say, “Oh!  You are so blessed!”  Sometimes these people will tell us about their own families, some of them also having large families, others having small.  Each one though understanding just how special each and every child is and how truly wonderful it is to be surrounded by such love.  I say a prayer for each of these people I come in contact with as well.  I thank God for their understanding and love.  They can’t begin to know how much their comments mean to me.

Blessed indeed!

I thought I would address some of the most common questions or comments that we, as a large family, get from those around us.  Again, I realize many are said in jest or out of true curiosity, but many are not.  I hope to dispel some of those false beliefs that follow large families wherever they go.

  • Yes, we know what causes it.  No, we don’t need a television or another hobby.  This is probably the number one comment we receive.  I can assure you that not only do we know what causes babies but we thoroughly enjoy it as well!
  • No, we don’t believe that everyone should have a large family and no, we aren’t judging you because you don’t have a large family.  We believe that God has called us to have many children.  He may be calling you to a completely different lifestyle.  What is right for us won’t necessarily be right for you.
  • No, our older children do not raise our younger children.  Yes, they do help out with the little ones.  Just as in any family of any size, each and every person is asked to help.  Helping does not equal raising.
  • Yes, it is much harder to have many children at home, even when you have older kids to help out.  Having a mix of ages means having more problems to deal with in a greater range of areas.  It’s not just a matter of having little ones who don’t know how to share; it’s little ones with colic, middle children who are struggling to find where they fit in with their peers or at home, and older ones who are facing broken hearts, peer pressure, and growing up.  It’s far more complicated that just having children of one age.
  • No, we don’t make a lot of money.  We aren’t rich nor do we live in a huge house.  Quite the opposite in fact!  We budget, scrimp and save.  We buy the necessities first and then the “wants” second.  Our house is small yet filled with love.
  • Yes, it takes a lot to feed this many people but probably not near what you think it does.  We make the majority of our food at home.  We don’t eat out much at all and we meal plan.  This saves on how much we spend on food.  I imagine we often spend the same as many small families. Most people are surprised to hear what our actual food budget is.
  • Yes, we use a tremendous amount of toilet paper.  Perhaps other large families don’t go through near what we do, but with 8 females in the house and only 4 boys, toilet paper is like gold here.
  • Our cost of living per person is less than most other families.  As I said before, we live in a smaller home, we wear hand-me-down clothes, we shop at discount stores or thrift stores, buy on clearance and only buy what we need. We do purchase some of those “wants” but only if we have the money in hand to spend.
  • Most large families are very environmentally friendly.  We are conscious about our “footprint” here on earth.  We grow a garden.  We recycle, reduce and recycle as much as possible.
  • No, we don’t want our own reality TV show nor are we competing with the Duggars or any other large family.  Why would we continue to have children that we have to support financially, emotionally, physically and spiritually just to compete with another large family?  This makes no sense at all.
  • Yes, our children fight.  Sometimes they fight like cats and dogs.  Sometimes they get along so well I wonder what’s going on.  Our kids are normal in every way.
  • No, I’m not always patient.  I’m human and have human faults.  I get frustrated and irritated. I yell.  I’m often not happy with my own reactions.  I pray each day, sometimes all day,  for God to grant me the patience I need to get through each day.
  • Yes, we are able to give each of our kids the love and attention they need.  In fact, they probably get more attention and love because there are more people to love on each person!  When you have a large family you don’t have to divide your love, your love naturally multiplies!
  • Yes, we are obviously able to have “alone time”.  We make taking time for each other a priority.  This is one thing that holds our family together.
  • No, we don’t know if we are “done”.  We are leaving that to God.  We have trusted Him so far, why would we change that now?
  • Yes, we have our hands full, but so are our hearts.
  • Yes, we know we will have a lot of weddings to pay for and yes, we are looking forward to it! Marriage is a blessing and a Sacrament.  We believe it is an incredible gift that we will get to be a part of so many.
  • No, we don’t wish God had given us more boys than girls.  We know that He has given our family exactly what we need.  We love each and every child because they are gifts from God, not because they are boys or girls.
  • No, we don’t expect that all our children will have large families.  We pray that they will be open to God’s will in their own lives.  This may mean they have large families, small families, or that they don’t have children at all.  We know that God will lead them to their vocation and we hope they will follow Him.
  • Yes, we are Catholic and no we don’t have a big family because our Church or the Pope says we have to!  Our faith teaches us that all life is sacred.  It also teaches that as long as we feel we have no grave reason to not have children that we should be open to God’s will in our lives.  The decision is always left to us to discern.  Over the years we have prayed and assessed our own lives and have seen that we want to be open to life, we want to embrace these teachings and we want to welcome any and all children God chooses to bless us with.  Our arms and our hearts are open to God’s will.

We know that having a large family is not the norm these days.  We also know that having a large family is a calling and vocation.  It isn’t for everyone.  We know that it is for us.  We know that God has called us to be open to life.  I feel very blessed that He has found us worthy of this calling.  I know it is only with His help and grace that we can raise such amazing children.  I am thankful that He continues to put people in our lives that love our family and can see what joy our children bring.  We know that while we often struggle God will always provide us with the material needs we have to raise our ever-growing family. He also provides for our spiritual and emotional needs as well.  We only have to ask Him and He is there.

Is there a question you’ve always had but never been able to ask about large families?  If so, I can try to answer them! Leave a comment and I’ll answer the best I can.