Sunday, April 29, 2012

Tabletop Shrine for Mary

During this month dedicated to Our Lady, consider making a small shrine or altar on a tabletop to honor Mary.  We made ours on a side table in the living room.

You can easily make a tabletop shrine with items you have on hand.  Here is what you need:
  • a small statue of Mary
  • plastic, crocheted, sewn, or painted flowers
  • live flowers, herb cuttings, or a small potted plant
  • a small vase
  • a votive or tea light candle holder
  • a way to display the artificial flowers, such as a plate or bowl to place them on, a picture of flowers in a frame or a board to glue them on, a branch to hang them from, etc.
For the flowers, traditional symbols and adornments for Mary, we cut pink blossoms from a large ornamental plastic branch.  If you have small branches, you could place them in a small vase without cutting the flowers off.  We also have a set of crocheted roses that we use to pray the rosary, and my daughters wanted to place some of those on the table also. 

I suggested they place the statue with some of the flowers on an ornamental plate we keep in our display cabinet, but you could spread yours on the table, place them in a bowl (floating in water, perhaps), or hang them from a branch.  The hanging idea came to me when I saw Jennifer’s post about a Flowering Mary Tree on Crafolic.  Let your children get creative with how they organize and place the elements of your shrine.

Mary is often associated with living plants and a bountiful harvest, so we used herbs cut from our garden, a combination of oregano, rosemary, and parsley.  My children decided what they wanted to cut, and how much.

You can see that we had plenty of herbs left over, since we only needed a few sprigs for our small blue vase (Mary’s traditional color).  I have placed the others in larger vases to have handy in the kitchen.  You can read about the health benefits of herb bouquets at this post.

We completed our shrine with a small religious tea light holder I bought at a dollar store a couple of months ago.  See how easy it is to organize a display for Mary out of things you already have?

The table where we placed our shrine is in the center of our house, next to a path we walk many times a day from the bedrooms to the living and kitchen area.  I like the spirituality it adds to this space, and the constant reminders to pray to Our Lady that we receive when we pass by.  Recently, that same table has been a dumping ground for toys, half colored pages, hair bands and bows, etc.  I am glad we have made better use of the space, and I like the new elegance of our shrine, so I think we may keep it, or a version of it, as long as possible.

In fact, my children have already rearranged the flowers and other items a couple of times, so we will probably change things up now and again.  Every time I’m tempted to place something else on that table or I find something there that doesn’t belong, I remember to keep that space dedicated to Mary.  This way, we can keep Mary in our thoughts, our hearts, and our prayers in the months to come.  See our shrine for the month of June (Sacred and Immaculate Heart of Mary) here.

If you don’t have a small table to dedicate to a shrine, you can make one for a smaller space by using a round fish bowl.  Scatter some pebbles, shells, or glass beads on the bottom, and place your statue, cut herbs, and artificial flowers inside.  Your herbs will dry up, but you can leave them as they are or refresh with new ones.  This would be perfect for a desktop or windowsill at home or at the office.  Or, to keep statues, flowers, and plants away from tiny hands that may want to try eating them! 

The fishbowl shrine was inspired by two ideas.  Last year, Lacy posted on Catholic Icing about Mary Terrariums.  Go see her interesting idea, especially if you are inclined to plant something this spring.  Also, last fall I saw something when visiting one of my aunts.

I really like the display my aunt made with a small angel statue in a fishbowl with shells.  Ceramic flowers like hers would make a nice addition to a tabletop shrine too.  When I saw her display, I knew that I wanted to do something similar.  You can be sure I’ll post about it when we do.

In case you haven’t seen them, you can read about my other Mary projects at these links.

I’m linking this post with Equipping Catholic Families.  Monica hosts a Saints Cele-linky organized by month.

I have also added this post to the Catholic Bloggers Round Up at the new Catholic Bloggers Network.  They are currently hosting a Big Clicker Contest; the linked posts with the most clicks will win a button to hang on their blog.  Go see what people have linked up for May.

Jennifer at Crafolic is hosting a Month of Mary Craft and Décor Link up, so I have linked there also.  She has several wonderful ideas for celebrating Mary and the link up is sure to have many more.

Holly at A Life-Size Catholic Blog hosts a monthly Pay It Forward Link Up, so I am connecting there in May also.  Her link up is a great forum for sharing the ideas you have found on other blogs, as I have shared my inspiration for the tabletop shrine with you.  Go see what others are sharing this month.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Cards for the Easter Season

We have made a couple of different types of cards for the Easter season.  Cards are a good way to share the joy of The Resurrection with others, or to display at home to remind us that the Easter season is ongoing.   

These cards are a great way to encourage creativity because children can design them however they wish.  You can make both types of cards blank on the inside, and after they dry, you can write or glue on your Easter message.

We started by designing egg shaped cards using crayon resist and watercolors.  We drew egg shapes on cardstock with a white crayon and filled in with decorations in crayon before painting with watercolors.  You can decorate the egg with secular designs or religious symbols and sayings.  (Read more about converting secular eggs to religious ones at this post.)

Make sure you draw the egg to one side of the cardstock page so you can fold it over before you cut.

After the paint dries, fold the page so that one edge of your painted egg is on the fold.

Then, cut your egg shape out, leaving enough fold to keep the card together.  You are ready to write your message inside.

Last month, when I found Amanda’s link up for A Meaningful Easter, I found linked there a post by Jessica at Our Family for His Glory illustrating cross pictures she made with her children using masking tape and dot paints.  When we made ours, we started by folding cardstock in half lengthwise.  Then, we used blue painter’s tape (what we had) and brush paints to create our cards.  

The cards looked good with the tape still on, but we may have waited too long to take off the tape, so the pictures tore a bit where the tape was attached.  Maybe we should have followed the directions!  We will try again and hopefully remember to take off the tape as soon as they dry.

Jessica’s post also explains how to make crosses that look like stained glass.  We are going to have to try those too!

I am attaching this post to the Easter Link up hosted by Lázaro at Aprendiendo a Vivir en Cristiano.  Please go visit to see what other bloggers are sharing, or to attach your own post.  This link up is part of the Liturgical Calendar Link up Party organized by Xhonané at Familia Católica.

I have also added this post to the Catholic Bloggers Round Up at the new CatholicBloggers Network.  

Amanda at Impress Your Kids is hosting a Meaningful Easter Link up, where I have attached my post.  There, you can read her post and many others about how to focus on the Lamb and not the bunny this Easter season.

Martianne at Training Happy Hearts hosts a weekly Faith Formation in Young Children Link up, so I have connected there also.

One more: Monica at Equipping Catholic Families also hosts a Cele-linky Through the Catholic Seasons with a few link ups and lists of Link up Parties hosted by others for each season.  I’m linked up under Easter there.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Spring Writing News

Last week, I called to see how my chapbooks were selling at Brazos Bookstore, and learned they had sold 70% of the copies I left several weeks ago.  Yeah!  So, I took more copies over to restock.  Go and buy your copy of Entre la claridad or my first chapbook, Familia before they run out.  Or, you can buy Entre la claridad directly from Mouthfeel Press.

You may have noticed I changed the right sidebar to highlight a series of posts that include excerpts from Entre la claridad and a direct link to the press.  In case you missed the excerpts published previously, you can read them here.  You can listen to radio broadcasts of poems from both books at the links on my Audio page.

You can start or join my discussion forum about the usefulness of National Poetry month at this post, or at the Facebook Page for Entre la claridad.  I am certainly taking advantage of April to remind you about my book as often as possible!

Yesterday, I found a new button that I have hung at the bottom of the left sidebar (scroll down and take a look).  I have pledged to read the printed word, which was very easy for me since I don’t enjoy reading books on-line.  Yes, I read blogs and short news articles on the computer or ipad, but for longer articles and books, nothing beats paper in my opinion.  I really enjoy the feel of a book in my hands.  Plus, I write in my books; they are full of underlines, circles, arrows, notes, and references to other authors.  I’m sure you can do something similar to e-books, but I don’t think it will be the same kind of experience.

You can read my thoughts about book publication versus e-books at this post.  If you agree that reading the printed word is sublime, you can hang a button on your blog too (there are several options and sizes).  Just click on the button to visit the web site and copy the coding for your button of choice.  The pledging itself is on the honor system.  And put your thoughts about reading printed books in the comments below if you are inclined to say something.

I have more projects in the works, including an upcoming guest post at a new blog hosted by VIDA: Women in Literary Arts.  I learned about VIDA at the AWP Conference last month.  They are best known for conducting The Count, a statistical comparison of the number of publications by male authors versus female authors.  More men are published than women in all publishing arenas, even when more manuscripts, pitches, and queries are submitted by women.  It is hard to deny gender bias in the face of the statistics.  Go take a look at the results.

VIDA’s blog, HER KIND, will launch soon; my post on Freedom for Women Writers will appear in July.  Check back for more information about HER KIND and my guest post.

Several months later, I will be reading on one of the regional poets panels at the South Central Modern Language Association Conference in San Antonio.  I am excited to present at two conferences in one year, something I have not done in over a decade.  Also, my husband and children will likely travel with me; as a family we travel to San Antonio at least once a year.  It’s a great city to relax in, with much to see and do.

I am also thinking about future blog posts, including more posts for my Healthier Eating series: the healthier salad dressing and the healthier poultry salad.  I also hope to post about how to dry your own herbs, the joys of juicing citrus manually, and harvesting/preparing nopalitos (yes, you can eat nopal cactus).  I’m pondering a new occasional series: Meatless Mondays.  (See my meatless posts here).  Plus, there will be more Easter posts (Easter cards and Easter books), and hopefully something for Pentecost.

Looking ahead, I will be hosting a Link up for The Most Holy Trinity, celebrated this year on June 3rd.  I hope you will participate by linking your crafts, thoughts, and musings about our One God in Three Persons and reading the posts that link up.  Look for more information a month from now.  In the meantime, I need to learn how to create a button!  If you have pointers, let me know.  This link up is part of the Liturgical Calendar Link up Party organized by Xhonané at Familia CatólicaIf you are interested in hosting a link up, click on the button to get the details and to sign up.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Thinking About Divine Mercy

I have somehow managed to remain ignorant of the intentions of this Sunday’s celebration, so I have been doing some research.  Maybe you also need more information?   

I started with an examination the gospel reading for this year, John 20: 19-31.  In addition to the story of “Doubting Thomas,” who wished to see the wounds of the risen Jesus with his own eyes before believing in the Resurrection, this gospel relates how Jesus gave the Apostles the sacrament of reconciliation in lines 21-23.  This opportunity to confess our sins, which arises from the sacrifice Jesus made on our behalf, is the heart of the Divine Mercy.

The salvation of our souls from the darkness of sin is the reason we celebrate the Resurrection.  In return for repentance, our Lord grants us eternal life.  Jesus accepts the penance of death on our behalf.  How appropriate that we honor the Divine Mercy on the second Sunday of the Easter season.  While our joy at the Resurrection is fresh in our hearts, we recall that God is merciful, that He washes away our sin.  We place our trust in God that he will reveal His plan for us if we live faithfully.  Alleluia! 

Indeed, the revelation of the Divine Mercy to Saint Faustina calls even the most hardened and habitual sinners to know the depth and abundance of God’s forgiveness.  The Apostles of the Divine Mercy suggest on their website (sitio en español) that Divine Mercy Sunday should be an evangelization tool to welcome “fallen away” Catholics to return to the church and begin a new faith-filled life after repenting from sin.  We all know Catholics who have left the church for a more secular life; there is a great need to promote the opportunity for Divine Mercy in our time among all Catholics.

In order to receive the Divine Mercy, one must repent his or her sins, attend confession, receive communion on Divine Mercy Sunday, and pray for the pope’s intentions.  Veneration of the image of the Divine Mercy and merciful acts toward others are also important.  We cannot be like Thomas and doubt the Resurrection.  Unlike Thomas, we know what the Resurrection means for all who choose to embrace it; we must walk the path to holiness with faith and open hearts.

Like last year, I have discussed the importance of repentance with my children, and the gift of God’s infinite mercy.  We have looked at images of the Divine Mercy (see some at the Oblates home page linked below), and discussed the symbolism of the red and blue rays emanating from Jesus (the blood of sacrifice and the waters of baptism).  On Sunday, we’ll color this image of the Divine Mercy, courtesy of The Oblates of Divine Mercy.  At that time, we’ll have another discussion about confession and repentance, as well as how we can show mercy to others.

In 2013 I am linking with: New Evangelists Monthly 

In 2012 I linked with:  Divine Mercy, Catholic Bloggers Round Up, Meaningful Easter, First Friday.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

National Poetry Month

During this month long celebration of poetry, I am taking the opportunity to once again promote my latest book of poetry, Entre la claridad, published four months ago.  If you have been reading this blog since the fall, you have read about this book several times (indulge me, please), but some of you are more recent followers and may not have seen much about it.

Entre la claridad is a chapbook, or short book of poetry, written by me, mostly in English, with some Spanish phrases to more accurately reflect the dialog of South Texas.  The title can be translated as “Moving into Clarity.”  The first poem in the collection, “Border Sonnet” actually discusses the South Texas way of speaking, known as Spanglish, that is distinctive to the communities where my parents were raised.  Read an excerpt from this poem here.

National Poetry Month is the perfect time to acquaint yourself with poetry, and to support poets and poetry publishers by buying and reading a book, specifically my chapbook, of poetry.  If you already have a copy of Entre la claridad, please share your thoughts about the book with a friend or family member, or consider buying another as a gift.  For only $7.00, you can purchase a poetic reading experience for yourself or someone else!

If you would like to know more about the book, you can read several excerpts, as well as information about the book editing and publishing process at these postsYou can also listen to radio broadcasts featuring these poems at the links on my Audio page.

As I mentioned earlier this month, you can buy Entre la claridad and my first chapbook, Familia, for a limited time at Brazos Bookstore in Houston.  Last week at the Local Poets Event, several copies of each book sold.  With your help, the store may decide to keep stocking my books.  Or, you can purchase directly from the publisher, Mouthfeel Press.  Maria, the press’s founder, editor, and publisher, reports that my book has been selling slowly, so I decided to write this post to speed up sales.  

Self promotion is not something I have ever been good at, so please excuse the awkwardness of this post.  However, in the electronic publishing age, self promotion is a necessary marketing strategy for physically published books, especially for poetry, the least read genre of literature.  After all, we must have a whole month dedicated to poetry on a national scale for a reason.  

Just for fun, you can read a tongue-in-cheek (sort of) critique of National Poetry Month by the poet Charles Bernstein here.  He asserts, among other claims, that National Poetry Month is meant to save poetry from extinction due to lack of interest among Americans, despite the clear connections between poetry and contemporary culture, such as popular music.  More awkwardness: Bernstein suggests that National Poetry Month activities actually hurt poetry more than they develop interest for it by championing “safe” and understandable poems over innovative and more aesthetic work.  Unfortunately, most people know more about National Poetry Month than they know about contemporary poetry or poets . . .

If the last statement applies to you, the easy solution for you is to read my book.  In addition to poems about my parents’ courtship and the unfortunate end to their marriage, you will find spiritual poems, others about Tex Mex culture, about a young woman (a younger me) searching for her vocation, and much more!  I promise that my poems are not obscure or overly difficult to understand; many of them are narrative, which means they tell a story, and the book as a whole tells its own story poem by poem.  

Even so, I don't think Bernstein would categorize them as "safe" (meaning unaesthetic or lacking craft).  I am interested in your opinion about my poems, my book, or poetry and it's national month efforts.  Is there an audience for literary poetry?  Leave your thoughts in the comments, or send me an e-mail.

Have you liked the Entre la claridad page on Facebook?  I post notices about writing, readings, publications, and literary events there, including things that I don’t have the chance to blog about.  Do go like the page if you are interested in those topics, or if you just like my book!

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Convert Cascarones From Secular to Religious and Two Link Ups

As a child, one of my favorite Easter traditions was to make cascarones (decorated egg shells stuffed with confetti) for our large family Easter celebration.  For those of you unfamiliar with this tradition, on Easter Sunday, the adults would hide the cascarones we had made and then my brothers, my many cousins, and I would go search for them.  Next came the egg cracking free-for-all, where we would break our cascarones on each other’s heads, spilling confetti into our hair, onto our clothes, and over the ground.  Even the adults would get in on the action, sometimes saving cascarones on the side rather than hiding them so they would have some to break.

What does all this have to do with the Resurrection?  Aside from a suggestion that an unhatched egg symbolizes the new life that Jesus offers us through his death, the entire tradition is secular.  However, because we participated in the eggshell saving, painting, and stuffing as children, we knew that the eggs did not come from the Easter Bunny, as the story usually goes.

As a mother, I continue this tradition of making cascarones with my children because it is one of the many ways we practice our Tejano Mexicano (Tex Mex) culture with our family.  I wish that my children could have as many cousins as I did to share this experience with, but they enjoy it just as much regardless.

I do make sure that we decorate some of our cascarones with religious stickers and drawings, and I’m planning to include more drawings of resurrection symbols and to write resurrection messages this year.  This helps my children recall that Easter is a celebration because Jesus sacrificed himself for us.

The cascarones in the picture below were made commercially; my mother brought some over this past weekend.  When we decorate the ones we have been saving to paint, we’ll add some stickers to these.

Cascarones are easy to make, and there are several great tutorials already on the web.  Basically, you crack only a small hole in the top of eggs you plan to cook (the egg scrambles itself on the way out, so be patient).  

After washing the shells and letting them dry, they are ready to decorate with crayon resist.  Use a white crayon to draw symbols or designs, or write messages.  This is the step I refer to above, and you can also do this with boiled eggs that you plan to paint (after they have cooled off, of course).  We also like to write the names of family members on some of the shells, so we know whose head to break them on.

Use an egg painting kit to color the cascarones.  Get creative by dipping eggs half way into one color and then dipping the other side into another color.   Try this horizontally and vertically.  When they are dry, add stickers to some if you wish.  Fill with confetti (as much or little as you like), place glue around the edges of the hole and cover with tissue paper.  

I could not find good pictures of our cascarones from previous years, but will try to post some after we decorate this year.  You still have time to make your own cascarones, if you can manage to eat eggs several times in the next few days.  

It is time to announce two new link ups for the Liturgical Calendar Link up Party organized by Xhonané at Familia Cátolica.  The Easter Link up is hosted by Lázaro at Aprendiendoa Vivir en Cristiano.  The Liturgical Easter season lasts 50 days, so you will find many great ideas about celebrating at this link up in the weeks to come.  I will post later about some of the cards we have made to send our Easter greetings.

The Divine Mercy Sunday Link up is hosted by Maria at En la Vía Singular de la Vida.  Divine Mercy is the second Sunday of Easter, and I am thinking about a post based on this year’s gospel reading.  Check back!

Since we always paint our cascarones during Holy Week, I have attached this post to the Holy Week Link up hosted by Monica at Equipping Catholic Families.  I’m also attaching this to the Easter Link up hosted by Lázaro at Aprendiendoa Vivir en Cristiano (see the button above).  Please go visit to see what other bloggers are sharing, or to attach your own post. 

These link ups are part of the Liturgical CalendarLink up Party organized by Xhonané at Familia Católica.

I have also added this post to the Catholic Bloggers Round Up at the new CatholicBloggers Network.  

Amanda at Impress Your Kids is hosting a Meaningful Easter Link up, where I have also attached my post.  There, you can read her post and many others about how to focus on the Lamb and not the bunny.

And, I am connecting with the First Friday Link upfor April hosted by Lacy at Catholic Icing.  You will find lots of ideas for celebrating the Easter season at this link up.

One more: Martianne at TrainingHappy Hearts hosts a weekly Faith Formation in Young Children Link up, so I have connected there also.

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