• "Everything is a grace, everything is the direct effect of our Father's love—difficulties, contradictions, humiliations, all the soul's miseries, her burdens, her needs - everything, because through them, she learns humility, realizes her weakness - Everything is a grace because everything is God's gift. Whatever be the character of life or its unexpected events—to the heart that loves, all is well."
  • - St. Therese of Lisieux

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Celebrating The Feast of Pope St. Gregory The Great

Pope St. Gregory is a Doctor of the Church. He is the patron saint of musicians, singers, teachers and students. He loved the poor and generously gave the donations made by wealthy people to them. 

There is an old church in Majayjay, Laguna called the Iglesia de San Gregorio Magno. Doing this painting got me curious about St. Gregory so I started reading about him while I worked on this painting.
Visit my shop @weenaswatercolors

Anyway, here are the three activities I've planned for us to celebrate St. Gregory's feast:

1. Listen to Gregorian Chants. It is said that St. Gregory might have also established the "cantus planus" or gregorian chant. I sometimes play this playlist during Teo's nap time. We will listen to some parts of it during our music & movement time. We do active listening  in Kindermusik class and it helps Teo develop his focus and attention. We'll try to hum a tune too if he's up to it. 

2. Give alms. St. Gregory is known to give alms to the poor. So I've planned to buy some bread and water so we can hand them out to the kids who sell vegetable spring rolls and rags outside the school where we do Kindermusik. It would be a great way to teach our children to love the poor by modelling right? And Pope Francis has declared this year as the extraordinary jubilee of mercy, why not feed the hungry and give drink to the thirsty? That's two out of the seven Corporal Works of Mercy.

3. Pre-writing activities. St. Gregory has written a lot of books and he is often depicted in paintings and iconography holding a book or writing on it. So I have made a couple of activity sheets, nothing fancy, for Teo to do.  You can download and print for your little one too. While the closest thing Teo does to writing is scribbling on his sketch pad, we do a lot of pre-writing activities like playing with playdough; scooping (and scattering) beans, then picking them up - this is very good practice for pincer grip, so I let the toddler scatter away; or using tongs to pick up pom-poms. 
Click here to download
Click here to download

And of course, a coloring page of Pope St. Gregory the Great.

Click here to download
I hope you can do these activities with your little one too. 

Friday, August 26, 2016

Celebrating The Feast of St. Monica of Hippo

On August 27 we celebrate the feast of St. Monica. She is patroness of wives and abused victims; as well as alcoholics, married women and mothers. Her persistent prayers lead her husband and mother in law into the Catholic faith; and her son, St. Augustine's conversion.

Next to our Mother Mary, I ask her intercessions whenever I'm about to loose my patience with my son. I cannot count the number of times a day I say, "Mama Mary and St. Monica, pray for me."

I have planned 3 activities for Teo and I to do. And since August 27 is a Saturday, It's going to be Nanay and Teo's day. So here they are!
1. Pray for others together. St. Monica is known for her persistent prayers. I thought it would be a good idea to model how to intercede for others. Although we pray for blessings and protection for our immediate family members every night before bed, we will put extra effort on this day to pray for friends and family.

I have chosen a few photos of friends and family to show Teo. While we look at the photos, we can talk about the person and pray for them. You may do this with your tot or preschooler anytime that is convenient for you. We will probably do this before afternoon nap. 

I plan to go a little further and make this part of our daily prayers. I found this wonderful idea from One Thousand + Gifts. Instead of prayer sticks, which are really good if you have older kids, prayer flowers have photos of the people you want to pray for. 

2. Mom and me selfie. I rarely take selfies of me and Teo so I plan on taking as much as I can on this day. It does not matter if we're just at home doing our usual routine. What matters is the memories we are making.

The activity may be extended by making a Mom and Me album or a pin up board. This way you both can look at the photos and talk about the events that happened or the emotions you felt at that time. This will help your toddler or preschooler express his thoughts and feelings. Talk about feelings. Let your child know that you will always be there for him, that you will love him no matter how he feels.

3. Home made picture frame. Doing arts and crafts is a perfect bonding experience for you and your child. From the extra craft sticks (or popsicle sticks) you have after making the prayer flowers, you can create a beautiful picture frame for any of your selfies. The little ones can paint, draw with markers or glue buttons, beads or cutouts onto the sticks. Find inspiration on my Pinterest board!

St. Monica, B&W
I plan to make this another day though. While you make this, remind your little one that you will always pray for him like St. Monica did for St. Augustine. This may be also a good time to talk about St. Monica. You can read more about her here.

Here is also a coloring page for older kids. 

Let us continue to ask the intercession of St. Monica to help us be persistent in prayer, not only for our children but for all people. I hope you will do one or all of these activities with your little one. do let me know how it turned out in the comments. 

Download more pictures of the saints here.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

10 Things We Knew We Did Right When We Adopted A Toddler

We had overwhelming support from friends and family when we told them that we were adopting. From praying about it to finally deciding to do it; from the day we walked in the field office of DSWD R4-A to awaiting the call of our social worker for the news that we had been matched. I imagined myself holding an infant boy. We expected to be adopting an infant.

But God had other plans. He gave us a toddler. Teo was 20 months old when we brought him home. And so, we had to adjust to life with a toddler and learn as much as we could on how to parent, well, a toddler.

Of course we got a lot of help from the one who made this all happen - Our Heavenly Father. We couldn't have done these 10 things right if it weren't for His grace and guidance anyway.

1. Adoption Birth. The orphanage from where Teo stayed required us to go there and bond with him for two whole days before we could take Teo home. It was wonderful and heartwarming. We bonded instantly and we got to see how Teo interacted with the other children and staff in the home and learn about his daily routine. Which brings us to number two.

2. We kept his sleeping and eating routines. Routines are very important for toddlers, it gives them a sense of security - and this is what we wanted to give Teo from the very beginning of our lives together. We had to adjust our entire day to accommodate Teo's routine. We kept the same time for naps and bedtime and of course added our own rituals like reading books and cuddling.

3. We took home some of his things. The orphanage sent home some of Teo's favorite clothes and toys. Although I wanted to change him into the clothes we brought for him, time did not permit me to. we had to leave quickly after the despedida at the orphanage because it was time for the children's nap, and Teo's too. So we brought him home in the clothes he was wearing that day. This helped with our goal to provide emotional comfort for him on his first days with us. Familiar things or faces help ease a toddler's anxiety. 

4. I cooked the same food he ate at the orphanage. The adoption birth also gave me a chance to see what food they serve Teo and what he likes to eat.  So for the first week, I cooked only the meals he was familiar with. Then added a couple of new ones each week. We also wanted Teo to feel secure during mealtimes and familiar tastes helped him enjoy family meal time. 

5. We had his 'Life Book' available for him to look at whenever he wanted. Teo would look at his life book a couple of times each day during his first two weeks with us. We keep his life book under the coffee table. He would ask me to sit with him on the sofa to look at his pictures. I would talk about him and his friends at the orphanage and he would point to the photos of his caregivers. We would not want to keep this part of his life hidden. And so his life book will always be under the coffee table. It will be easier to talk about adoption when he is a little older. Meanwhile, it is wonderful to recall and talk to him about the events that lead us to each other.

6. We stayed home during the first two months. We established routines and rituals while building our relationships. Noli and I took turns in feeding (nah! Teo insists he eat by himself), bathing and putting him to sleep. The only times we 'went out' were on Sundays to hear mass and to go to the grocery. Rituals helped us bond. Its our special time with each other. Reading books before bedtime is one of Teo's favorite rituals. It also gives me a chance to tell him that we are his forever family and that he is loved.

7. Kept his toys to a minimum. The toys Teo had during the first two months were all hand me downs. I had kept some wooden toys I used when I taught my Preschool readiness Program and he played with that too. But toys were not really the focus during our playtime; it was cuddling, tickling, laughing, singing, dancing and making funny faces. We had more chances to look into each others' eyes and connect.

8. Brought him to a toy store 3 months after. For fear that he might feel 'entitled'. Ha! I was worried that he would want us to buy every toy that he sees. So when we finally brought him to a toy store it turned out quite the opposite. While we looked around, Teo inspected some of the amazing toy cars on display. When we told him it was time to go, he walked towards me with a smile and held my hand. We bought a bottle of bubbles. I don't regret delaying the toy store trip though. As much as we want to give Teo everything we believe that it is better to point him towards the One who created everything.

9. Worked on attachment. We read and read all there is about attachment and positive parenting and worked on it.  

10. Took him back to the orphanage on his birthday. On the way home from the orphanage, Teo was so happy he kept on hugging me and his lola (grandma) in the car. And he seemed happier than his usual 'happy morning self' the next day. I guess he now understood what I meant by 'we are your forever family'. 

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Celebrating The Feast of St. Clare

On August 11, we celebrate the feast of St. Clare of Assisi. She is the patron of clairvoyance, eye disease, goldsmiths, laundry, embrodiers, gilders, good weather, needleworkers, telephones, telegraphs, television.

In the Philippines, the faithful bring eggs to the Monasterio de Santa Clara in Quezon City as offering for fair weather. Lately, I ask her intercession when doing the laundry. Its the rainy season here in the Philippines and even though the weather forecast can be easily accessed through the internet, the weather can still be pretty unpredictable. While doing some research and planning activities for my little one to honor her on this day, I learned that St. Clare is also the patron of laundry!

Dear St. Clare, I ask your intercession for clear skies; and help me today with my laundry.

So here are three activities I have came up with. They're simple and doable. 

1. Cook and eat eggs. The little one and I have done scrambled eggs a couple of times. I let him beat 2 eggs in a large bowl (to avoid spilling); and used a balloon whisk (so he can hold on to it easily). Of course I had to beat the eggs a couple of times before I poured it in the pan. He sits on the kitchen counter and watches as I cook. So we're doing this again on August 11.
     note: make sure your child is at a safe distance while you cook. This can be another lesson on safety too.

You can also ask questions or talk about the process. Go over the steps with your child. 'First we prepare the bowl, then we crack the eggs in, then we beat the eggs.' This simple activity helps your child develop his executive function skills. 

Watching the clothes spin around and around.

2. Help with the laundry. Little kids love to do grown-up things! Your child may help load up the washing machine and watch you put the detergent in. Because toddlers love pushing buttons (I mean both literally and idiomatically), I let the tot push the start button. You may have to restrain you toddler a bit while you program the washing machine though.

They can also be 'in charge' of handing you the clothes pins. Older toddlers can sort clothes by color. Sorting (learn more about it here) is an early stage of math development while doing the laundry, well, I consider it a life skill. 

We'll pray and seek St. Clare's intercession for good weather and to keep us in high spirits as we tackle this chore.

T hands me the clothes pins

3. Beading. Since St. Clare is the patroness of embrodiers and needle workers, I think this activity would be appropriate. You may need a little preparation on this one. But I'm sure you'll have the supplies. All you need are toilet paper tubes and rope or a ribbon. I got the awesome idea here. This activity helps your toddler develop his fine motor skills. Also, his focus and attention. This can be done with very minimal adult supervision, you probably just have to show your child how to do it the first time. 

4. Coloring. For preschoolers and older kids who can sit and color for a longer period of time, here's a free downloadable coloring page of St. Clare. 
St. Clare, BW

So these are the activities we will do on St. Clare's feast day. And I pray all goes well, if not, its OK. We'll just laugh and laugh and laugh all day!

Since she's also the patroness of television, maybe we could watch a little TV too. (wink!)

Oh, talking about watching,  we might be viewing this from Catholic Online and this as our virtual field trip. We hope to make a pilgrimage to the monastery too.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Make A Creation Story Paper Bag Book for Toddlers

Teo and I had so much fun making this Creation Story book. All the things we used are easily available.

First, I had to make the paper bag book. We have so much brown paper bags from the grocery that I decided to make books out of them. I followed this tutorial but decided to bind the paper bags straight in the middle instead of punching holes on the sides.

Like most, if not all toddlers, Teo’s attention span was short. So I searched through Pinterest and found this. Liz has so many great ideas for Bible activities for toddlers.

I used the wordings for our story from here.

I showed Teo how to tear paper but since he still needs to practice his fine motor skills (finger muscles), I put little tears on the bigger pieces of paper so he can just use his hands and fingers altogether. He enjoys sticking the paper more. I am amazed on how he puts the pieces into place. Such focus! (for a toddler!)

He likes squeezing the glue onto the paper too! Another way to refine those finger muscles.

I do the cutting of course. These are all prepared beforehand. Usually, during Teo's 1 and a half hour nap. 

putting glue onto a seaweed

I wrote the words on pieces of paper the glued them on their corresponding page. We're still doing mini lessons on The Creation Story like collecting things from nature and sorting them so we read our book a few times a week. Teo loves pointing at the shapes and pictures and really works hard on saying the names.

Day 5
 I hope this inspires you to make your own. We did this in roughly about two months and continue to enjoy reading it together.

Day 6. We ran out of light blue paper so we used Teo's blue finger painting.

Have you done a similar project? Please tell me about it. And if you have questions on how to make this, leave them in the comments.

Monday, August 1, 2016

7 Lessons On Suffering From The Gospel Account: Feeding of the Five Thousand

One of the most inspiring talks of Mother Angelica was about St. Mark's account on the Feeding of the Five Thousand. She has always encouraged her audience to read the gospel with one's imagination. Here are 7 lessons I learned on suffering from this gospel account.

1.   It’s OK to withdraw. “When Jesus heard of the death of John the Baptist, he withdrew in a boat to a deserted place by himself.” –Mt. 14:13 Jesus was grieving. The apostles were most likely to be grieving too.

The first two people Jesus called to follow him were first followers of him (Jn. 1:35 - 39). The first one was John and the other was Andrew.

Most of us have had our share of sorrow and grief when we lost a loved one. And it’s only natural for us to withdraw, to hide away and mourn. Even if our sufferings are not as bad as it is, we sometimes feel that it is. Here, the Lord shows us that it is OK to withdraw, not to shut out the world, but to find God, to seek His counsel, to come to him like a child who goes to a parent with a scratched knee.

When things get chaotic at home with the toddler, my control freak self emerges. With so many things to do and so much more on my mind, it’s pretty hard to keep my composure. I have learned, just lately to step back, withdraw and take a deep breath when I feel that I’m about to break.

We know from the gospel reading (see Mark 6:30-34) that Jesus instructed the apostles to “go to a remote place and have some rest.” From Matthews account, I’m guessing that Jesus took another boat by himself.

2. We must continue to serve God & others.  After taking a few deep breaths, I ask God for guidance and the strength to go on. Of course I cannot just withdraw and lock myself in a room and just pray that all the chores and the toddler’s needs to go away. God does not want us to do that. He wants us to continue to love despite our sufferings.

“When he disembarked, and saw the vast crowd, his heart was moved with pity for them, and he cured their sick.” –Mt. 14:14

If you’re a mom with little kids, you know the feeling of being followed. And sometimes just one toddler could feel like a crowd. When I ask my tot to play with his toys in the living room while I cooked in the kitchen which is just six steps away from him, while he sweetly agrees, I always find him at my feet minutes later, playing with his toys. Imagine Jesus and the apostles, they were expecting to be alone in a remote place to rest. But they were greeted by a large crowd, probably larger than the one they had left because many more came along from the neighboring villages.

Again, in Mark’s account, “(But) the people saw them leaving and many could guess where they were going. So from all the towns, they hurried there on foot, arriving ahead of them.” –Mk. 6:33

3.    Do not overthink. ‘Am I a good parent for letting my two year old watch a Pixar movie for one hour and forty five minutes?’ ‘If only I bought an extra set of cloth diapers, I would not be doing the laundry every other day.’ Most of the time, if not all the time, overthinking gives the devil a chance to sneak in one or two of his lies. I would often doubt about my parenting skills or if I can really be a homemaker, you know, all that mom-stuff in a mom’s head. We need to shake that off.

Most nights I would plan and make activities for my tot and sleep with the resolve to do them all tomorrow. Most days, however, we’re blessed to have even do one activity. And all my other plans, B-C-and D are forgotten.

Probably tired and hungry, the apostles could not help but ask our dear Lord to “--dismiss the crowds so that they can go to the villages and buy food for themselves.” –Mt. 14:15

They had only plan A. So when Jesus said to them, “There is no need for them to go away; give them some food yourselves.” –Mt. 14:16 The apostles were now faced with a bigger problem. They were probably asking Jesus to send the crowd away so they could eat their five loaves and two fish. As you can see, even that would not be enough for all of them including Jesus. If I was there, I’d probably bring up all the things that were not going my way. First, I am hungry and tired. Second I will have to share five loaves and two fish with 12 other men. And now Jesus asks me to feed more than five thousand men and women?

But the apostles were simple men and probably very hungry to overthink; and were very honest too. Which brings me to number 4.

1.    Be honest and humble. Tell God you are hurting, you are in physical pain, that you are burdened. One purpose of suffering is to awaken us toreality. Remember the parable of the prodigal son? The son was honest enough to admit to himself that he was wrong and he needed to go back to his father and ask for forgiveness.
     The apostles told Jesus that “Five loaves and two fish are all we have.” –Mt. 14:17 They were honest to admit that that was all they have.

      When we took our son home from the orphanage, it has been hard for me in the beginning to be honest with myself. I believed that I knew everything about taking care of a toddler. After all, I have been teaching them for several years. I was so wrong. I did not know everything. With all humility I told the Lord I needed His help. My struggle to be a good parent has been the subject of trips to the confessional. I still struggle, I must admit; but the Lord’s grace has moved me to rely on Him.

2.    Obey. Jesus asked the apostles to bring him the five loaves and two fish and they obeyed. The apostle who handed them to Jesus might have been drooling.

“Then he said, “Bring them here to me.” –Mt. 14:18

When we submit ourselves to the will of God, miracles happen. When we separate ourselves from God, that’s when the trouble begins.

Based from my own experiences, I know that it is difficult to obey when you are suffering. How can you think clearly when you are hurting? We ask for the grace to do so.

3.    Put the needs of others first. While the world tells us that we must meet our own needs first; Jesus tells us to serve others first.

“and he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, he said the blessing, broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples, who in turn gave them to the crowds.” –Mt 14:19

Let us not forget that the apostles were hungry and tired. Yet they gave the crowds loaves first. I wonder how they felt when they realized that the loaves and fish had been multiplied. How did you feel when something unexpected happens, especially after or during suffering?

This is probably the lesson the Lord wants to teach each member in our family now. When my siblings and I were in our younger years, my mother would ask us to clean our room, fix the clothes in our closets or help with the dishes. She said that it would help her a lot if we did our share in the chores. Our hearts were far from the desire to serve our nearest neighbor, our family. This made Mama unhappy but I know she prayed about it a lot.

And thank God for her prayers, I have discovered the joy of serving my family, especially that I have my own. Nowadays, I cook for both households. We live three houses apart. While Ma and Pa are busy with the construction of their house, and while my two brothers who work from home are also busy, I prepare lunch or dinner or sometimes both. I have also witnessed the transformation in my brothers and I must admit, our relationships with each other have also changed, for the better of course.

1.    Have faith. And of course we must have faith. When Jesus handed the apostles the loaves, they believed that everyone would be fed. When God tells us to ‘be still’ do we trust Him to work on whatever we ask of him? Or do we do our own thing just to ‘help God out’ a little?

“They all ate and were satisfied, and they picked up the fragments left over – twelve wicker baskets full.” – Mt. 14:20

     When we learn to trust in God amidst our suffering, not only will he ease the hurt or pain or burden, but He will surely provide for whatever we need whether it be materially, emotionally or spiritually.

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