Monday, December 30, 2013

Did You Keep Your 2013 New Year's Resolutions?

Don't just forget last year's New Year's resolutions. Evaluate them and use them as a guide for this year's resolutions. For 2014, you can renew the good resolutions from 2013, revise the okay ones, and ditch the impossible ones (or the ones you've fulfilled). Most of all, ask God for his help in setting and achieving these goals. He wants us to be better people with stronger wills, and he wants us to keep our promises to ourselves. So don't give up. Every new year is a second chance to accomplish good things and become the people God wants us to be.

With that back-drop, let's see how I did on my 2013 New Year's Resolutions. I'll even grade myself. You can do the same for yourself, if you like. I made one resolution for each member of my family, and I definitely achieved greater success with some than with others.

Resolution #1: Help to manage my 12-year-old daughter's ADD. Grade: B

We managed to find a kind and empathetic child psychiatrist, who put my daughter on a medication that worked for her. But the end goal is for her to do well without medication, so we tried the first trimester of the new school year without it. The results were disappointing, so we're going back to the medication regimen again. Action: Renew It!

Resolution #2: Study more with my 10-year-old son. Grade: B-

We tried studying at 9 pm, after the other children had gone to bed, but we were both too tired to accomplish much that late at night. Weekends or immediately after dinner might work better. Teaching him strategies for studying on his own is also key!  Action: Revise and Renew It!

Resolution #3: Show more love to my 8-year-old daughter. Grade: A-

When my daughter asked me to show her more love, it nearly broke my heart! What meant the most to her was my singing her a Spanish lullaby every night. She told me I was doing a great job keeping that resolution. But ... now she wants me to spend less time on the computer when she and the other kids are home. Action: Mission accomplished! New resolution: No computer usage from 3 pm to 5 pm when the kids get home from school, and limited computer usage until they go to bed.

Resolution #4: Help my 7-year-old daughter to read better. Grade: B+

My 7-year-old struggled a bit in kindergarten, but she's doing much better in first grade. She told me, "Nothing is really that difficult for me any more." Sometimes time and practice do the trick. She asked me to help her with backbends and other moves from her gymnastics class instead. Action: Mission Accomplished! New Resolution: Help with gymnastics goals.

Resolution #5: Teach my 5-year-old daughter how to read. Grade: C

With my older kids, I tried to teach them to read in the summer before kindergarten or definitely in the first trimester. Classroom teaching never sufficed -- they had to learn one on one. My 5-year-old knows her letters and letter sounds, together with a few sight words, but she can't read even a simple book yet. She always reminds me that we need to study her sight words, instead of me reminding her! I could definitely work harder and help her more here. Action: Renew It!

Resolution #6: Teach my 3-year-old daughter how to talk and use the bathroom. Grade: C for talking and A for potty training

My littlest one can pee like a pro now, but you still can't understand a lot of what she says. Her nursery school teacher recommended that we seek free speech services from the county, but pre-school services are pretty inconvenient. Before age 3, the speech therapist will come to your home, and after age 5 the speech therapist will go to your child's school. In between those ages, you need to go to the speech therapist's office twice or sometimes three times a week. With my other children's needs and extracurricular commitments, plus my husband's health issues, we simply can't devote that amount of time. Which means it's up to me. There are videos like Your Baby Can Read and iPad apps that help with annunciation, all for home-based learning. The older kids can even help, so we're going that route instead. Action: Drop the potty training resolution, and renew the resolution to help with her speech.

Resolution #7: Get the kids to pick up their shoes. Grade: D-

This was all my husband asked from me, and it was a pretty big fail. He hasn't noticed a bit of difference in the water level of mismatched shoes strewn around every room in the house. Action: Renew It! Really, really renew it!

Resolution #8: Pray more. Grade: B-

This resolution fell into the classic trap of way too vague to ever motivate real change. So, let's get down to specifics. Once upon a time, I could fit in 10 minutes of mental prayer and 10 minutes of spiritual reading every day, plus at least one decade of the rosary with my husband. I should be able to do it this year, too. Action: Revise and Renew It!

May God bless all of our resolutions in the new year and make them fruitful. Not for our own glory, but for the good of the family and the greater glory of God!

Photo Credit: bjornmeansbear via Compfight cc

Monday, December 16, 2013

Christmas Gift Ideas: Book Edition

Just in time for Christmas, here are some awesome book suggestions for nearly everyone on your list.

For Married or Engaged Couples

For Better... Forever!: A Catholic Guide to Lifelong Marriage, by Greg Popcak. This modern Catholic classic has been offering helpful advice to couples for more than a decade. Give a gift that helps love grow all year long. Click here for my review.

For Moms and Dads

Growing Up in God's Image, by Carolyn J. Smith.  One of the biggest struggles parents face is teaching their kids a healthy outlook on sexuality. You can start laying the groundwork when your kids are very young by teaching them respect for their bodies. Then, it's much easier to talk to them as they get older. Learn how in this helpful book. Click here for my review and link to buy.

Catholic Family Fun, by Sarah A. Reinhard.  The family fun can last all year round if you use the ideas in this clever book. Imagine always having something wholesome to do that will keep bodies and minds active and electronic devices off. With this book, you'll never be at a loss thinking of things to do. Click here for my review and link to buy.

Big Hearted, by Patti Armstrong and Theresa Thomas. Do you have a big family? Is someone close to you always asking questions about why you made that choice? Big Hearted answers a lot of those questions by providing intimate portraits of big families in their joys and in their struggles. Click here for my review and link to buy.

Dad is Fat, by Jim Gaffigan. Laugh through the pain of parenting, and then share it. My husband bought this book as a Christmas gift for nearly every dad in the family. Guaranteed to make you laugh out loud. Click here for my review and link to buy.

For Kids through Teens

Sisters of the Last Straw: The Case of the Haunted Chapel, by Karen Kelly Boyce. For third- to fifth-graders, this charming tale has ghosts, animal chases and, best of all, the cutest habit-wearing nuns since The Sound of Music. Inspire thoughts of a vocation in the little girls in your life!

St. Francis and Brother Duck, by Jay Stoeckl. Eight- through twelve-year-olds will love this comic book rendition of the life of St. Francis and his fictional sidekick Brother Duck. A great way to bring fun and excitement to learning about this inspirational saint. Click here for my review and link to buy.

Garden of Souls, by Chéri Vausé. An Indiana Jones-style romp back to where it all began. Evocative imagery and non-stop action won't fail to please the teens and action-lovers on your list. Click here for my review and link to buy.

Praying with Your Five Fingers, by Pope Francis. Pope Francis likes to use this helpful prayer method, which is good for kids and adults, too. Buy several of these laminated cards and use them instead of gift tags for all the kids on your list this Christmas. Click here for my review and link to buy.

For the Romantic

Anything from Full Quiver Publishing. All the romance and none of the bodice-ripping. This small publisher run by Ellen Gable Hrkach specializes in Catholic romances where respect is the name of the game. Click here for their web site.

The Rose Ring, by Anne Faye. A romance in the style of Nicholas Sparks, this book is a true tear-jerker. Exploring deep themes of forgiveness and second chances, The Rose Ring will warm your heart! Click here for my review and link to buy.

For the Theology Buff

Fill These Hearts: God, Sex, and the Universal Longing, by Christopher West. This is the latest offering from popular Theology of the Body expert Chris West. Learn how to aim your desire according to God's design so you can arrive at your destiny -- totally blissful union with Our Lord and Savior forever in heaven. Prayer, participation in the liturgy, and reception of the Eucharist can take you there. Click here for my review.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Twelve Tips for Sharing Advent with Your Kids

Since it's too soon for the Twelve Days of Christmas, here are twelve tips for celebrating Advent instead. These tips include what you should do, what you shouldn't do, and what you can get away with (I'll promise never to tell).

**What to Do this Advent**

1. Explore other cultural traditions: Learn how the custom of Christmas stockings evolved from the German tradition of slipping treats into shoes or slippers that kids leave near the chimney in the days leading up to St. Nicholas' Day (December 6). Celebrate the Feast Day of the Patroness of the Americas, Our Lady of Guadalupe, on December 12 at the nearest parish with a large Hispanic community. On Christmas Eve, you can serve twelve fish dishes the way the Italians do. Experiment by adding shrimp cocktail or baked clams to the menu. Dilled salmon steaks garnished with lemon always taste great. Sushi platters or bouillabaisse combine many types of fish in one dish. See how many you can add to your Christmas Eve menu!

2. Pray to St. Nicholas every night: Cant' decide between Santa and St. Nick? You don't necessarily have to kick the jolly old guy in the red suit to the curb. Just remember to pray to St. Nicholas every night at bedtime. After all, he's the patron saint of children. Praying for his intercession during Advent is especially appropriate.

3. Make an Advent Wreath and share pictures on CatholicMom: There's an almost unlimited number of ways to make an Advent wreath. With pillar candles on platters, taper candles in candlesticks, or in special Advent candleholders that have places for four candles arranged in a pretty ring. Check out all the different ways to get inspired and then display what you made on the CatholicMom link-up!

4. See the Radio City Christmas Show: In this era of "winter" concerts and "holiday" tree-lightings, Radio City Music Hall and the famous Rockettes stay almost defiantly Christian. The show starts with a "Ho-Ho-Ho, Merry Christmas" from Santa, and ends with a living Nativity scene narrated with quotes straight out of the Bible. If you live too far away from New York City or the show does not fit your budget this year, rent a video of past shows from your local public library. You won't regret it.

**What Not to Do this Advent**

5. Don't display garden gnome plastic Santas on your front lawn: Please, I beg of you, don't display giant, inflatable Santas that resemble scarily cheerful garden gnomes on steroids. They have nothing to do with the incarnation of our Lord and Savior. Somewhere St. Nick is crying. I know I'm crying. Maybe the garden gnomes are even crying.

6. Don't spend more than 20 hours stressing about the upcoming road trip when it will only last 19: Nothing is worse than anticipating a horror and then actually living it. It will only double your pain. So what if you will have to stop every half hour or so to nurse the baby or take the toddler to the bathroom or get something to eat or walk around to prevent bloodclots and varicose veins. Think of it like labor and childbirth -- you can stand anything for 24 hours, right?

7. Don't whine more than your kids about chopping down your own Christmas tree: This is fun, darnit. Moreover, it is very manly (maybe only for your husband, but so be it). Cold toes, cold fingers, and a maddening level of indecision which is resolved only by finally buying the tree least likely to fit in your house will only add to the joy. Think how much you will laugh about this ten years from now. Okay, twenty.

8. Don't fight over the rules for Secret Santa: I so totally do not do this every year. Just ask my relatives. If the suggested price is high enough to give you nosebleeds or low enough to restrict you to a pack of pencils, don't shout or gripe about it. Just say no thanks, maybe next year.

**What You Can Do & I Promise Not to Tell**

9. Listen to Christmas carols: I know it's not liturgically appropriate to listen to Christmas carols during Advent. But unless you hang out at the mall a lot with your kids, you're not going to hear Christmas carols anywhere except home. We've tried to avoid playing or singing Christmas carols during Advent in the past, and the only result is that our kids don't really know that many Christmas carols, which is a rather horrifying cultural gap. So let it ring!

10. Watch "It's a Wonderful Life": The movie presents a completely incorrect theology of angels -- "every time a bell rings, an angel gets his wings" -- really? But it's such a feel-good movie about how everyone's life, even if it seems insignificant and utterly unimportant, makes a huge difference in the lives of others. So watch it with your kids. And maybe explain real angels to them, too.

11. Go to a solstice party: We just got invited to a solstice party, which I think is kind of cool. The winter solstice is a real astronomical event, not just a pagan invention (it also happens to fall on my birthday). Plus, if you go to a solstice party, then you're not really going to a Christmas party during Advent (which is a little dicey) and you're not attending a "holiday" party, either (and turning a Christmas party into a "holiday" party really annoys a lot of people). So, celebrate the solstice and wish me happy birthday while you're at it.

12. Offer your kids a big Christmas gift as a bribe for good behavior through Advent: My son Miguel has adopted a type of behavior that he calls "iPod behavior." He'll set the table without being asked, say please and thank-you, and generally act like a pleasant human being. Then he will point out that this is the type of behavior I can expect to continue if he gets an iPod Touch for Christmas. Works well for me!

What's your favorite Advent tip? Please tell us in the comments! And if you have other tips, please let us know!

Monday, December 2, 2013

Happy Anniversary to Can We Cana!!

On December 2, 2012, I started the Can We Cana? blog on a wing and a prayer, hoping to provide support for Catholic marriages and families. Thanks to you wonderful readers, the blog reached its 1000th pageview in less than two months. By its one-year anniversary, the blog has attracted more than 30,000 pageviews from readers in all 50 states and in countries around the globe.

Blogpost topics have included everything from sexuality and the Theology of the Body to staying married through sickness and health, unexpected pregnancies, first-year disillusionment, and the pressures of raising a big family. There are parenting tips, household tips, and reviews of awesome Catholic family resources. I've even included discussions of difficult issues like marital abandonment, abortion, annulment, virginity, and rape. Thanks to the support of some amazing on-line friends I've made, Can We Cana? posts have also appeared on,,, (Australia), and

Here's a run-down of the posts you liked the best, and a request -- tell me what else you'd most like to read about here!

Top 5 Most Popular Posts

1. Chaste Sex: Not What You Think It Is (more than 1200 views)
2. The One-Year Itch
3. When Sex is Too Much Bother: Japan's Troubling Celibacy Syndrome
4. Pope Francis Makes Me Ashamed
5. Letting Your Child Go with God: A First Communion Story

Most Popular Guest Post

Why We Still Use NFP When We're So Bad at It by James B of

Post with Highest Critical Acclaim

Theology Professor Endorses My Book

Post with the Most Comments

The Terrors of the 7th Grade Dance

Many blessings on all of you for helping this Catholic marriage support community grow. If there are any topics you'd like to hear more about, please let me know in the comments!