Dec 30, 2016

Friday Feasting: Pasta Bake with Italian Sausage

1 lb Italian sausage (we use turkey)
2 TBSP oil
1 large onion, diced
1 TBSP minced garlic
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 orange bell pepper, diced
2 tsp Italian seasoning
1 qt chicken stock
1 TBSP corn starch
16 oz shredded mozzarella cheese
1 lb rigatoni (or other tube shaped) pasta

1.  Add  oil to skillet and heat over med high heat. Remove sausage from casing and add to pan, cook until brown, about 10 minutes.

2.  Remove sausage to a plate and add onion and peppers to pan with reserved oil. Sauté for 5-8 minutes, until translucent.
3.  Add garlic and sauté for 1 minute until fragrant.

4.  Add sausage back to skillet and stir to combine.

5.  Add 2 stock and simmer for 5 minutes.
6.  In a small bowl combine cornstarch and ¼ C stock. Add to simmering sausage and gently cook on med for 5 minutes.
7.  In the meantime, cook pasta as directed, drain, and return to stockpot.

8.  Add sausage mixture and remaining broth, along with mozzarella to pasta.
9.  Mix to combine then pour into 9x13 baking pan and cook in 350 degree oven for 30 minutes, covered.
10.  Remove foil and cook an additional 5 minutes or until brown. Serve with garlic bread.

Dec 28, 2016

O Holy Night

Do you ever feel weary, like the weight of the world is crushing down upon you? Do you find the weight of your personal “crosses” seemingly unbearable? I do.

It seems like more often than not lately that I feel weary.  I feel like there's just no more of me left to share or to give.  That feeling in itself is draining.  There are days when I've been so overcome by what lays before me that tears stream down my cheeks.
Early mornings and late nights. Endless loads of laundry. Piles of papers to sort through and file away. Bits and pieces of random stuff just everywhere. A spouse that deserves my attention but always gets the dregs at the end of the day.

Surely I'm not alone.  What mother or father hasn't felt that overwhelming sense of weariness?  It's completely human to feel weak, because we are.  We weren't made to go on and on, doing and going, and never resting.  We weren't made to carry our burdens alone.  God sent His perfect Son into the world to make our burden light.

I was listening to my favorite Christmas hymn, O Holy Night, the other day when for the first time I actually heard the words  Here's the line that God wanted me to hear, “A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.”  I'm weary, you're weary but on the night of our dear Savior's birth, in that moment when Heaven meets Earth, it's all wiped away. A sweet, holy baby, so small and innocent, swaddled and laid in a manger, embraces our weariness, our burdens, and we rejoice with the angel choirs.

We can believe in the power of His love that makes all things new.  We can celebrate all that His life has done for us.  Jesus Christ, our Savior, our King has come to Earth to make all things new. He restores us, renews our faith, and gives us the hope of Heaven.  Merry Christmas!

Dec 26, 2016

Monday Meme: Christmas ~ Meshing the Secular with the Spiritual

How does a “Good Catholic” rectify celebrating Christmas with The Nativity and Santa Claus?  My answer is simple:  EASY.

My dad calls Santa Claus the Father of Socialism:  a kid gets something for nothing and that is a bad lesson for anyone, let alone kids.  My cousin claims that Santa is Satan in disguise.  He represents greed and materialism.  My response is no; Santa is the opposite.  He is a saint.  He gives and expects nothing in return.

I can see how some people do not understand how we give our children presents from Santa, yet we are Catholic and profess that Christmas is about the birth of Christ.  My husband is agnostic, and three of my five boys have autism.  I have to mix my Catholic beliefs with a secular outlook in order to include all of my family members.

When asked years ago, my husband said that celebrating Christmas is the right thing to do.  He grew up associating family with Christmas, and it was always celebrated, but I needed to ensure that my boys understood the true meaning of Christmas.   I taught my boys what Christmas is—the birthday of Christ.  We incorporated the simplest rituals of a birthday:  baking a cake, singing Happy Birthday, and giving of presents.

We then delved into who was Santa.  Our boys learned the history of Santa, who was based on St. Nicholas. He was a Greek bishop back in the fourth century who lived in Asia Minor.  My boys learned the legend of St Nick’s gifts as a dowry for three daughters so they could be married.  However, I emphasized that he brought gifts, without thought of receiving anything in return.

One of my favorite ornaments is St. Nick bowing before the Christ Child.  This image clarifies everything:  Christ is the focus.  His birth, life, death, and resurrection is why we celebrate Christmas, and St. Nick lived his life as a Christian, witnessing the life of Christ.

As a family, we do much more to celebrate the birth of Christ.  We celebrate the 12 Days of Christmas because the season begins on December 25, not ends.  We add the Christ Child to our Nativity Scene on December 25 and leave it up until January 6.

It all comes down to Christ.  He brings us together.  He is why we celebrate. He is why St Nick brings us gifts.

Dec 24, 2016

Saturday with the Saints: St. Stephen, First Deacon and Martyr

Saturday with the Saints: St. Stephen, First Deacon and Martyr
Feast day: 26 December
Patron Saint of Bricklayers, Deacons, Hungary

Reading 1     ACTS 6:8-10; 7:54-59

Stephen, filled with grace and power,
was working great wonders and signs among the people.
Certain members of the so-called Synagogue of Freedmen,
Cyrenians, and Alexandrians,
and people from Cilicia and Asia,
came forward and debated with Stephen,
but they could not withstand the wisdom and the spirit with which he spoke.

When they heard this, they were infuriated,
and they ground their teeth at him.
But he, filled with the Holy Spirit,
looked up intently to heaven
and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God,
and he said,
“Behold, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man
standing at the right hand of God.”
But they cried out in a loud voice, covered their ears,
and rushed upon him together.
They threw him out of the city, and began to stone him.
The witnesses laid down their cloaks
at the feet of a young man named Saul.
As they were stoning Stephen, he called out
“Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”

Advent is almost over. The time of preparation is almost over. The plans have been made, the tree has been trimmed (or will soon be), the candles are burned, the gifts have been purchased and wrapped. We have been able to spend the last few weeks in deep devotion and reflection, as humanly possible according to our circumstances, and we have acknowledged our longing and our searching for the gift that is to arrive. Even if you’ve come to the table late, rattled by holiday stress, overcome by traditional family angst or limited funds, the Lord has still prepared the way for us to find Him: in Mass, in Reconciliation, in Adoration and Devotion. Tomorrow, we will find him as a newborn infant, who will tug at our hearts for comfort and consolation, cuddling and protecting.

Then, Wham! The next day, the first Monday of this joyous season of Christmas, we honor St. Stephen, the first deacon and martyr. Well, that can be a downer…. No resting on our laurels here, says Mother Church. She, in her infinite wisdom and divine direction, urges us to keep the Infant Jesus in mind – embrace those feelings of love and protection that a newborn stir in us, but also gently asks us to reflect on how have we lived? How far will we go on this journey? How long will we last in the fight for that Newborn’s life within us?

St. Stephen was chosen – using the apostle’s litmus test – one who was well respected, full of the Holy Spirit, and wise.  He was close to our Lord in mind, body, and spirit. He embraced that Infant Jesus to death. He embraced that Infant Jesus when others abandoned him and misunderstood him. His words could not be refuted and he spoke the truth because he allowed the Holy Spirit to work within and through him, in all matters both big and small. In life, St. Stephen accepted the calling to baptize, to preach, and to spread the gospel. Then, in death, he looked up to the Lord. He offered his life up for the Lord as a gift, with complete forgiveness in his heart. Like the Magi who brought offerings to the Infant, like the shepherds who came to adore Him in the cradle, St. Stephen’s life and death became a gift to the Lord. St. Stephen was a true imitation of Christ, in life and in death – our supreme goal!

So, as we close out this Advent season and begin the Christmas journey into the New Year, let’s challenge ourselves to be more like St. Stephen by embracing the Infant Jesus, accepting the Holy Spirit, and living a life with honor and purpose. Ask yourself these questions -

  • Am I honorable, faithful, with a good reputation that uplifts all that I hold dear and true?
  • Am I humble, repentant, prayerful and open to the Holy Spirit?
  • Can I preach the Gospel, spread the Word, spend time in prayer over scripture?
  • Do I share my faith, my witness, my time and my energy on others who are less fortunate, less knowledgeable, and in need?
  • Do I meditate on my words before they leave my mouth?
  • Am I forgiving of others who hurt me in words and actions, holding no ill-will to anyone who persecute and revile me?
  • Am I willing to, in the end, offer my life (full and complete) to our Lord, with a humble and contrite heart?

Let’s also pray:

Saint Stephen, pray for me that I may one day glorify the Blessed Trinity in heaven. Obtain for me your lively faith, that I may consider all persons, things, and events in the light of almighty God. Pray, that I may be generous in making sacrifices of temporal things to promote my eternal interests, as you so wisely did.

Set me on fire with a love for Jesus, that I may thirst for His sacraments and burn with zeal for the spread of His kingdom. By your powerful intercession, help me in the performance of my duties to God, myself and all the world.

Win for me the virtue of purity and a great confidence in the Blessed Virgin. Protect me this day, and every day of my life. Keep me from mortal sin. Obtain for me the grace of a happy death.


Dec 23, 2016

Friday Feasting: “Not My Family's” Spiced Cider

"This warm, delicious holiday drink is a perfect addition to any celebration this time of year.  Not only does it taste super yummy it also smells wonderful!  Enjoy." 

“Not My Family's” Spiced Cider 

-1/2 gallon apple juice
-1 cup cranberry juice
-1 cloved orange or tangerine
-3 cinnamon sticks Sprinkle ground cinnamon, too
-1/2 cup sugar

1.  Place all ingredients into crock pot.
2.  Heat on high until bubbling, then reduce to low.

Dec 21, 2016

Look at the Tree, Tired Mama

Look at the tree, tired mama

Our tree is up, decorated by nine of my children, big helping little, with lots of love and care. It doesn't quite fit in our small living room and everything is a little more crammed together. But I love my Christmas tree.

Today, my third child turns nineteen. His is the fifth birthday we have celebrated among my children this month. Needless to say, December is crazy busy and crazy stressful. Ironically, my most peaceful Advents have been those five years when I was awaiting and then holding a new baby. I was forced to prepare early and be ready when baby arrived. And even if it wasn't ready, when baby came, I was forced to stop, to sit, to gaze at my baby and to look at my tree.

Other years, I tend to not stop until that last chance to order from Amazon, or even until Christmas Eve. There is always one more gift to buy, one more stocking item to get. Sometimes the wrapping runs right into Christmas Eve dinner and Mass. Our Christmas Eve dinner tradition is take out Chinese, because a few years back I finally gave in to the fact that I couldn't get dinner on the table and stopped beating myself up for not making a seven course meal involving fish!

This year feels a little more peaceful. Maybe it is the longer Advent, it doesn't feel as rushed. Maybe it is age. Two more kids may leave the nest in the coming year. My internal voice says, "savor each moment", "smile more- fake it if you have to". I'm looking closer at the lit Advent candles, searching for the spiritual depth I need to find for myself. I am trying to be more mindful when the stress builds up, and I'm taking extra care of myself, especially nutritionally, instead of indulging in cookies and birthday cakes and sabotaging myself.

We moms take on so much during Advent, especially as Catholics because while we are tending to the material aspects of the "season" like most Americans, we know that it is more important to tend to the spiritual. We pray the prayers, we light the candles, we read the picture books,  we celebrate the feast days. Our kids know "the reason for the season".

But, tired mama, are you tending to your own spiritual needs? Will the Baby Jesus find a warm, cozy dwelling place in our hearts? Or will we hit Christmas morning worn out and empty, with no room at the inn because the inn is a run down ruin? Will those mom tears we cry (y'all cry at Christmas Mass, right?) be tears of joy or tears of exhaustion or disappointment?

I can promise you that you can't get it "all" done and things won't be perfect Christmas morning. I know my house won't be clean enough for my liking and inevitably I will forget something for a stocking or misplace a gift. But if you and I stop today, four days before Christmas, turn the lights low, maybe light a candle and make some tea, meditate on what we are preparing for, and beg for grace, the less than perfect can be part of the beauty instead of the straw that breaks the mama's spirit.

Tired mama, He is coming for you, to bring you His peace and His rest, as much as He is coming for your children. Be ready, anticipate as your children are anticipating. So, tonight, when they are all in bed, sneak back downstairs in your pajamas and slippers, and sit in the light of the tree, and soak it in. Look at your tree, tired mama, and be filled with the beauty of all it represents.

Merry Christmas! May your Christmas tears be sappy tears of joy that embarrass your kids! 🙂

Dec 19, 2016

Read To Me Monday - Saints and Sinners: A History of the Popes

Saints and Sinners: A History of the Popes by Eamon Duffy

A disclaimer:  I have not yet finished this book.  (And there are about 50 other books in the same predicament on my bookshelf and sitting beside my bed and chair.)

This is a 400 page book, and I have gotten through about 200 pages.  I have had to read chapters over and over as my ever-distracted brain tried to digest and comprehend where it all falls in history.  Fortunately, Mr. Duffy does an outstanding job of placing each papacy into its historical context.

This book is a nice balance of meaty and readability.  (Kind of like the Old Testament?)

What I like best about this book is how it puts our present papacy in perspective.  Pope Francis ain't got nuthin' on Pope Vigilius!  We must always remember no matter what we hear on the news (even the Catholic news) that our Faith has overcome so much tumult from as close as the See of Peter himself.  Perspective...perspective.  I feel this book is a must-read for our current times.

Dec 16, 2016

Friday Feasting: Pulled Chicken (BBQ chicken sandwiches)

8-12 bone-in chicken thighs
2 C water
2 tsp salt
1 tsp onion powder
1 tsp garlic powder

Ingredients for BBQ Sauce
1.5 C ketchup
½ C prepared yellow mustard
1 tsp garlic powder
½ tsp onion powder
¼ C brown sugar
2 TBSP honey
1 TBSP lemon juice
1 TBSP liquid smoke flavoring
1 C reserved chicken broth (from Instant Pot)
Salt and pepper to taste

1.  Add chicken and next 4 ingredients to Instant Pot and set on poultry for 12 minutes. When done, natural release for 10 minutes then quick release.
2.  Take chicken out of pot and set aside until cool enough to handle, and shred.
3.  Reserve 1 C broth for sauce.  Add sauce ingredients and 1 C reserved broth to saucepan, stir and cook for 15 minutes.
4.  Add shredded chicken to sauce, simmer for 5 minutes. Serve on hamburger buns (or slider buns for the littles) with a side salad.

Dec 13, 2016

Keeping Christmas Alive with Christ

When my kids were younger, I was concerned if they understood the real meaning of Christmas. Three of my boys were diagnosed with autism, and I was doubly concerned.   With society removing every notion of spirituality and stores marketing the perfect gift, I needed to emphasize the birth of Christ.

Before December 25, we prepared!  The first tradition we tackled was Christmas Cards.  My boys were visual learners, so I capitalized on pictures.   I took my kids to purchase the cards, and they could pick any box, as long as the card had a religious image.  Their favorite was always the Three Wise Men, but occasionally, an angel or Madonna and Child would be chosen.  The boys signed the cards and stamped the envelopes.  I purchased religious stamps, so they would see multiple images of Christ’s birth.  The cards were then ready to be mailed, AFTER December 25.

On Christmas Eve, we celebrated by going to Mass.  The boys were excited to stay up for the midnight mass (which was really 10pm).  Then we went home to our immediate family gift exchange.

On the day of Christmas, our boys with autism needed structure, so we had a schedule.  In the morning we opened a few gifts from relatives or from St. Nick.  In the afternoon, we celebrated with a birthday party.  My kids understood the traditional rituals of a birthday party:  gifts, cake, candles, and singing. So, we celebrated the birth of Christ like all other birthdays. We baked a cake together. We all blew out the candles and sang "Happy Birthday" to Jesus.  In the evening, we opened gifts from the grandparents.

After a few years, we added our third tradition, the celebrating the twelve days of Christmas. We gave gifts every day from December 25 to January 6. We have a box labelled for each of the 12 days. Again, this was to emphasize that Christmas Season starts on December 25, not ends.

So what did I give each day when the boys were younger? The gifts varied, from necessities to fun.  Anything could be in the box:  shoes or socks, gum or soda, DVDs, board games or a deck of cards or homemade items. Some presents were very individualized, like sheet music or CDs.

As the boys have grown, we have moved toward the gift of self, meaning time we spend together.  The gifts in the box are now dinners out, a day at the beach, movie tickets, bowling, miniature golf, and even Disneyland.

Now, our kids are almost grown; only two remain at home. They have a niece and nephew to teach, so they still bake a cake.  They volunteer to provide a gift for the 12 days, ie what is the family going to do.  Last Christmas, I heard my 16 year old son explain to his girlfriend why we celebrate the 12 Days of Christmas.  He simply stated, "We celebrate Christ, not just Christmas.  So, the traditions have taught the lesson well.

We are linking up today's post with the Siena Sisters Blog Hop on {{Putting Christ in Christmas}}.  Feel free to click on the image below to see what other 
Catholic women are writing about on the same topic....

Dec 12, 2016

Monday Meme: Nothing is Impossible… with God


We hope to attain what we do not have.

Little ones write letters to Santa about what they want.  Moms and Dads try to shop without breaking the bank.  Preparations for Christmas abound, and we can easily be distracted from what is really important.

Our salvation.  That’s the end game.

That is so easily forgotten during this season, but now is the exact time to incorporate our end game into our busy schedules. That’s when God comes in.  Who knows what role he’ll play?  We don’t have to worry about that.  We have a great example.  A young woman trusted him 2000 years ago to become a single, unmarried mother and gave birth to God.

So while we have our daily toil and special plans for Advent and Christmas, we still need to focus on our souls.  That is why we do what we do.

We hope to attain the beatific vision:  heaven.

Dec 9, 2016

Amazing Almost-Flourless Chocolate Cake

This cake is to DIE for!!

Great substitution: Oreo cookies for the graham crackers!

Amazing Almost-Flourless Chocolate Cake

1 cup Pecan, Toasted And Coarsely Ground
1 cup Graham Cracker Crumbs
1/4 cup melted butter
2 tablespoon White Sugar
16 ounce semisweet chocolate chips
1 cup Whipping Cream
6 Eggs, Beaten
3/4 cup White Sugar
1/3 cup all-purpose flour

For crust- Combine pecans, cracker crumbs,melted butter, and the sugar. Press into bottom and about 1 1/2 inches up sides of greased 9-in spring form pan. In large saucepan cook and stir chocolate and whipping cream over low heat until the chocolate melts. Transfer mixture to medium mixing bowl and set aside. In large mixing bowl combine eggs, the 3/4 cup sugar, and the flour; beat 10 minutes or till thick and lemon colored. Fold 1/4 of the egg mixture into the chocolate mixture; fold chocolate mixture into remaining egg mixture. Pour into crust-lined pan. Bake cake in 325 degree oven about 45 minutes or till puffed around edge and halfway to center (the center will be slightly soft). Cool in pan on a wire rack for 20 minutes. Remove sides of pan. Cool for 4 hours. Cover any leftovers and store in refrigerator. Makes 16 servings.

Dec 5, 2016

Read To Me Monday: The Last Straw

We got out our Advent/Christmas books this weekend which is always super exciting around here!  I wanted to share one of our (my) favorites that we've read so many times the pages fell out everywhere when I picked it up.

The Last Straw by Fredrick H. Thury, is a fantastic story for all ages.  Kids love the unusual name of the camel, Hoshmakaka, and the colorful illustrations of his journey.  Adults can relate to his weariness, his weakness, his feelings of inadequacy as he tries to please others and do it all.  Everyone can benefit from the lesson, which is twofold, one the reminder that Jesus never asks us to do anything alone but to let him help us carry our burdens and two, that when we aim to serve Him, to show Him honor, all things seem easier.

I hope you decide to check this book out of your local library or borrow a copy from a friend.  It's a great read!

Dec 3, 2016

Saturday with the Saints: St Andrew

St Andrew
Feast Day: 30 November
Patron Saint of Fishermen, Greece, Russia, and Scotland

Image result for apostle andrew

John 1:35-42
The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples; and he looked at Jesus as he walked, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!”  The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus.  Jesus turned, and saw them following, and said the them, “What do you seek?”  And they said to him, "Rabbi” (which means Teacher), “where are you staying?”  He said to them,  “Come and see.”  They came and saw where he was staying; and they stayed with him that day, for it was about the tenth hour.  One of the two who heard John speak, and followed him, was Andrew, Simon Peter's brother.  He first found his brother Simon, and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which means Christ).  He brought him to Jesus.  Jesus looked at him, and said, “So you are Simon the son of John? You shall be called Ce'phas” (which means Peter). 

I imagine St Andrew as a quiet, but friendly and outgoing guy...maybe the strong, silent type? He was the older brother of Simon Peter and a fisherman.   Before he learned of Jesus, St Andrew was a follower of St John the Baptist, but from the day he met Jesus, he was in Jesus' inner circle.  He heard Jesus speak and followed Him without hesitation or question. 

The Gospels do not tell us too much about St Andrew, but we do have several accounts of Andrew bringing people to Jesus...most famously, his younger brother Simon. When Jesus wanted to feed the multitude, St Andrew brought the boy with the barley loaves and fishes to Jesus. And, again, when a group of Greeks approached Philip about meeting Jesus, Philip brought them to St Andrew, and St Andrew brought them to Jesus. 

Legends tell us that St Andrew preached in modern day Greece and Turkey and was crucified in Patras. 

St Andrew can bring us to Jesus through the St Andrew Christmas Novena. When we meditate on the the Birth of Christ, on the time and the mean circumstances, we draw closer to our Savior.  We, in turn, can imitate St Andrew, and bring others to Jesus.  Tell of Jesus Christ and the Good News, in a quiet, friendly, easy-going, and open St Andrew.  


(It is piously believed that whoever recites the above prayer fifteen times a day 
from the feast of St. Andrew (30th November) until Christmas will obtain what is asked.)

+MICHAEL AUGUSTINE, Archbishop of New York
New York, February 6, 1897

Dec 2, 2016

Friday Feasting: Easy Chicken

"This is our go-to meal when we are hungry, and nothing is ready.  With four teenage boys at my house, this became a favorite—so much that they learned to cook this meal.  YES, it is that easy! 

We’ve done variations on this.  We’ve used chicken thighs instead of breasts.  Simply reduce the simmering to 7-8 minutes per side.  We have also used this sauce for pork chops and steak.  It works well.  Just adjust cooking/simmering time so the meat does not dry out.  I highly recommend using Bragg Liquid Aminos all purpose seasoning in place of the soy sauce.  It is gluten free!  Sugar can be used instead of honey, but we found raw honey and fresh lemon juice really perk up the flavors.  I do use my own homemade ketchup, but any ketchup is fine."

2 Tbs olive oil or coconut oil
1 medium onion, chopped
4 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves
3 Tbs ketchup
2 Tbs soy sauce
2-3 Tbs honey
2 Tbs lemon juice
1 tsp ground black pepper


1.  In a big frying pan, saute chopped onion in oil just until the onion becomes soft and tender.

2.  While onions cook, combine ketchup, soy sauce, honey, lemon juice and pepper.  In a mixing bowl.   I use a whisk, but a spoon will do.  The sauce can be done before cooking the onions if desired.

3.  Add chicken and sear.  It takes just a few minutes on each side.  I move the onions to the side to accomplish quickly.  The onions continue to cook, but on the side.  Once chicken is seared on both sides, add the sauce.  Make sure it is well mixed with onions and coat the chicken on both sides.  Bring to a boil.  As soon as sauce starts to bubble, reduce heat immediately and cover the pan.  Simmer for 15 minutes and then turn chicken over.  Simmer for another 10-15, depending on the thickness of the chicken.

Garnish with fresh basil if desired.  Enjoy!!