7QT: Christmas Celebrations

The Christmas season is still going strong, and while we could have been more intentional this Advent, we are grateful for the blessings we’ve received. Some of our highlights have been:

1 // Lessons & Carols at St. Paul Seminary –  since our first Advent together in 2012 (woah!), we have attended a Lessons & Carols Concert during Advent. In Boston, we went to St. John’s Seminary – typically the second Sunday (or Saturday night) in Advent – and it was always done sooooo well. It has always been the way we really mark the Advent season. Last year we attended the concert at our parish in Duluth – a bit underwhelming compared to the Schola at the sem, but still a treat nonetheless! This year we ventured out to SPS (in terribly cold & snowy weather) and it was, as always, a joy for the Gearns family. The one difficult part was not really knowing anybody. We said hello to a couple of seminarians that we’re acquainted with, but it’s such a different experience when I lack the connections to the Catholic community that I have in other places. I’m sure it will come, it’s just a void that is very noticeable.

2 // I’ve briefly mentioned how much I love our apartment, and it really shined this Advent. It’s not that it’s super large or fancy, but it’s got a cozy feeling to it (so much more so than our previous residences). We’ve really come into our own with decor and such – so just adding minor touches of a Boxwood wreath with a purple piece of fabric, an Advent wreath on a cake stand with beeswax candles, the a small nativity setup on our prayer shelf, and finally our purple cloth over our tv (a Gearns tradition) – it really lifted our spirits.

3 // We traveled to PA to spend Christmas with my family for the long weekend, and it was a good time. Different, since the older siblings/spouses/nieces were absent, but still a really great time with the rest of them. Sometimes it’s nice being home without every nook & cranny of the house crowded with people. I love it when we all get to be together, for sure, but the slower pace is also welcome. And like most holidays, my family hosts all the extended family the day of. So we still got to share the day with most of the cousins/aunts/uncles and had a delightful time!

4 // We saw the Nutcracker in Philly Friday night, which we looooved. Kevin and I saw it in Boston together when we were dating and have been longing to see it again. I also just love getting dressed up and going downtown for an occasion like that. So yay!

5 // I got some good quality time walking around my favorite spots back home. Kevin and I went for neighborhood walks – admiring all the beautiful colonial architecture (something that is sorely lacking out here in the Midwest, but I get it). Then I got to meet up with my best friends from high school at our favorite breakfast spot. The four of us have not all been together in a very long time – partly because one of them lives in Abu Dhabi now (world traveler, she is). So we had an absolutely lovely time and probably overstayed our welcome at the small restaurant.

6 // Christmas morning, Kevin and I went over to the perpetual adoration chapel at my family’s parish (it’s such a gem) and prayed for a bit. I absolutely love being able to do things like this – it really helps us to shift our focus as we ought for this wonderful celebration. After leaving the chapel, we prayed morning prayer on a bench outside and an elderly woman came up to us go give us a special prayer card for the precious blood of Jesus. She said it looked like we were praying for a special intention (which we were, and have been for quite some time) and that this prayer is incredibly powerful. So she gave it to us and then let us be. It was so beautiful!

7 // Now I know Christmas is not all about gifts (obviously), but I do want to mention a couple of things that I was SO SO SO excited to receive. My fabulous husband, who knows me so well, bought me this amazing lunchbox. Given that I eat practically an AIP diet (autoimmune paleo), my lunches are typically one container with spinach/kale, some protein, and then a variety of vegetables. And I’m not complaining about that because we eat well and I usually enjoy it very much. But sometimes it’s nice to have a little variety and separate the foods for a different experience. This lunchbox, eco-friendly, safe from all toxins, & cute! has multiple spots for all your fixin’s – vegetables, nuts, fruit, meat, two sealed containers (one for a dressing of sorts and the other for more liquid type foods). I am newly rejuvenated to eat lunch in 2017. So thank you, Kevin. You have won this round of gift giving. Other honorable mentions – this dress, these boots, and the annual matching sportswear that my dad gets everyone in the family (I’m being serious, he really knows how to pick this stuff). As always, I’m too spoiled, and my family is overly generous. But I’m super grateful as most of the gifts are quality investments that really help us out. So praise God for all that we have been provided for – we really do live super well.

Merry Christmas to you & yours!

Advent: the second half

Here we are quickly approaching the high feast of Christmas and I’m so excited. While our travel plans are not ideal (driving to the twin cities at 4am to catch a flight on Christmas Day to PA, flying back 2 days later), we are very much looking forward to being with my family for the holiday, even if for a brief time. The last couple weeks around here have been busy, but good busy.

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On Gaudete Sunday, we cut down our own Christmas tree with some friends. It was my first experience of actually cutting it down, though, I actually didn’t do it – Kevin did. It was a bit anti-climactic, but it was also cheaper than buying one pre-cut. So win-win.

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Afterwards, we went to our respective homes to setup the trees and ended up at Fr. Michael’s rectory for some dinner & Marvel entertainment. The Avengers is just that good.

We got some snow shortly after the tree cutting extravaganza. And I’m still not sure what to do with our driveway. So for now – we shovel. And we shovel. And we shovel some more.

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This past weekend was pretty awesome. Fr. Seth, another one of the Priests that con-celebrated our wedding, was in town (he is assigned at parishes way up north), so we went out for dinner Friday night. It was a truly wonderful time. Good conversation, lots of laughter, and delicious food. We went to Tycoon’s, which is on Lake Ave in downtown Duluth and it was a lovely restaurant: a nice interior, classy holiday decor, live music that wasn’t overpowering – an all around good time. After dinner, we met up with another friend all together at Olive Garden for some coffee & dessert. A rejuvenating night if ever there was one.

We also had a visitor on Saturday evening – none other than Deacon Paul, one of Kevin’s best friends currently down at the major seminary in St. Paul. He was up for a wedding and stayed with us that night. He is such a great presence to have around – a man of wisdom & peace. So Kevin was quite excited to have some time with him.

We also saw…STAR WARS. Oh my goodness. No words. I wasn’t really hyped up for this one, but I grew up loving the original trilogy, and am one of very few people who can appreciate the most recent trilogy ;). But for some reason, I just wasn’t excited to see The Force Awakens. We want to see it anyway, of course, and I was caught off-guard at how good it was. And I am loving the main character, Rey. She’s not an overpowering man-hating feminist, but she is a very strong leading woman and it was awesome. If you haven’t seen it – GO SEE IT.

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On Monday, I was able to go down to St. Paul with a friend here just for a little day out in the city. We had such a lovely time going ice skating, looking at beautiful homes on Summit Ave, eating lunch by St. Thomas, visiting the Cathedral, and obviously going to Trader Joe’s. I can’t not go to TJ when it’s nearby. Success!

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Finally, last night we attended Lessons & Carols at our parish. Very different from the version that the seminary in Boston would put on, but still a nice evening. Plus one big bonus: livestock. Yes, our parish had a donkey, a sheep, and two goats. It was great. So many happy things.

Now off to finish a bunch of things before the Christmas season begins!

How will we respond?

Today at Mass, a newly-ordained Deacon was preaching and he mentioned a phrase I’ve heard many times but that I don’t seem to dwell on enough: “already and not yet.” What does that mean? Our faith can be a strange, and at times, seemingly contradictory thing. Our Lord came and redeemed us, and yet there is still the final judgment to be made. Redemption has come, but it ain’t over.

And then there is Advent. A time of waiting for our Lord. We remember his Incarnation, but we also await his second coming. And as we prepare our hearts for the celebration of Christmas, we also need to prepare our hearts for the day we will meet God face-to-face. As today’s second reading says, “May the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we have for you, so as to strengthen your hearts, to be blameless in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his holy ones.” [Thessalonians 3:12]

This life that we are living is our opportunity to choose God. Once we die, time is up. We will no longer be able to change our ways, or repent for our sins. The time for that is now. It may seem dreary to be speaking of death when most of the world begins holiday festivities, but we cannot separate the Incarnation from the cross. Redemption came at a cost.

I was reflecting a great deal today on how I can use these weeks ahead to drastically silence my heart and open it up to our Lord. He has called us out, and we choose how we will respond.

May you have a blessed Advent!

 

 

Monday updates & a great feast!

Happy feast of the Immaculate Conception! A truly grand solemnity, indeed! This day is quite special to Kevin and I for many reasons, not the least of which being that it’s simply a wonderful day to honor our lady! I’ll admit, we indulged a bit this morning and woke up early to watch an episode of Parks and Rec. Hey, we all celebrate differently. We look forward to Mass this evening followed by a nice reception with the Oblates of the Virgin Mary.

This past weekend was very full, but really a joy. I’m so grateful for the drastic separation from work life and home life. Work has been hard, but my time at home and with friends has been absolutely life-giving. Saturday I was able to spend time with my good friend and her husband beginning with confession (I’ll always take a free ride to the church). Then we enjoyed the afternoon at their apartment decorating and making it festive. It was so much fun and very relaxing. Exactly what I needed.

Afterwards, I met up with Kevin and we went to dinner with a friend’s parents. This friend is a seminarian in Rome studying for the Boston diocese, and his parents and I have developed a great relationship over the past couple years (they even came to my wedding in May when he couldn’t!). So we decided to get dinner (which was a blast) and go to the Festival of Lessons & Carols at the seminary here. They hadn’t been around the sem much since their son had been asked to go to Rome, so it was  real treat for them as well.

The concert is my favorite festive thing to do during Advent. Kevin and I have gone the past three years now, and it truly helps us delve deeper into the season. It’s a night of scripture, carols, and hymns put on by the seminarians and they always sound amazing. This year was no exception.

Sunday we went to Mass followed by a morning of homemade waffles with two good friends! And the rest of our day was spent with just the two of us walking, resting, andddd watching the Chronicles of Narnia…a movie that we find most appropriate for this time of year.

I’m very grateful for the beautiful moments that were had. May this week be full of many more!

7 Quick Takes: Thanksgiving travels and more fun stuff

– 1 –

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As you know, Thanksgiving was last week. Kevin and I got up at 4:30am that day to drive to PA, which I’m SO glad we did. We avoided ALL traffic and the poor weather that we had the night before. And because it snowed, we had a lovely scenic route the whole way! AND instead of finishing the drive in the dead of the night, we arrived in full sun. 10 points for us.

– 2 –

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We had our “annual” (aka we do it when everyone is around on a holiday) football game, in which all of the able & willing family members participated. It was a huge mess outside from that week’s weather and it was a complete mud bowl. We were all freezing and numb and covered in mud by the time it was 5-5, so we called it a tie. But it was still a blast!

– 3 –

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Saturday was my dear friend Krista’s wedding – I was honored to be a bridesmaid. We have been close friends since high school – needless to say we’ve experienced a lot of life things together. What a beautiful bride she was! It was such a great time, and it was so moving to see them give themselves to one another in the sacrament. The reception was at Holly Hedge, where my brother had his last March, and I just love that place. It’s darling and cozy and there was the perfect amount of snow on the ground with light flurrying. Congrats Krista & JB!

– 4 –

We had our rental car until Wednesday, so I was spoiled.com and got a ride to and from work Monday and Tuesday. It was awesome. Once we have a car (hopefully next summer!), I will never take it for granted. Never. What a luxury it is. It’s amazing how much time we saved and how much we got done. I’m pretty efficient with my life right now, I can only imagine how much more so I’ll be with my very own vehicle!

– 5 –

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Kevin and I got our very own tree! Our first one! Small…but also cheap…and the perfect size for our apartment. We rearranged some things (not the easiest job in the world) to make it fit, but it does! And it smells glorious. Just as an Advent (soon to be Christmas) tree should. And I made a little (and quite basic) Advent wreath!

– 6 –

Work is crazy at the moment. We are currently down two people and Katie has taken on their responsibilities. Also, two other people in the office have been pulled to work on a big project. That leaves two of us in the office…fun times for all. Truly. But I will say that it’s nice to be consistently busy! Even though my to-do list isn’t shrinking (it keeps growing), I feel like I’m getting a lot done and contributing to whatever it is I should be contributing to. 🙂

– 7 –

Parks and Recreation is my new favorite show. Kevin and I had been binge watching it on Netflix for the two weeks prior to Advent, and then had to stop. So suddenly! That’s okay. Gotta make room for the Lord. But it is SUCH a good show. It’s so innocent, hilarious, and all around good fun. Maybe we’ll watch an episode on Sunday…or two(ish).

Have a stellar weekend!

Advent Reading

I love the Christmas season. Like most people, I find it to be super magical and all things lovely. And I’m always headed somewhere for Christmas as well since I don’t live near family, which means there’s always a trip to look forward to (as well as vacation from work). This can make the patient waiting of Advent a bit difficult at times. And since Kevin and I have covered our television with purple cloth, that means no movies or shows or music (except Advent hymns) to pass the time.

So in addition to just spending some quiet time with my husband and taking our evenings slower, it’s a good time for some reading. And not just any reading, but some Christ-centered, Advent reading. I haven’t read much in relation to this specific liturgical season, but what I have read has been beautiful. So allow me to share!

Advent Reading

The Infancy Narratives by Pope Benedict XVI

I read this last year during Advent, and while sometimes spiritual reading can be something I gotta push myself to do daily, this was quite the page turner for me. I love the way Pope Benedict writes – very simple and straightforward, but packed with such beautiful insight. This book covers Jesus’ origins and nativity to the finding of Jesus in the temple. It helped make the season come alive for me and to focus on our Lord and specifically his birth and childhood.

True Devotion by St. Louis de Montfort

This little treasure is about making perfect devotion to Jesus through perfect devotion to our Lady. Advent is a great season to reflect not just on our Lord, but also on the way in which our Lord came into this world: through Mary. By increasing devotion to her, we naturally grow closer to Jesus. This book will aid in that devotion.

Sermons to the People: Advent, Christmas, New Years, and Epiphany by St. Augustine

I randomly came across this book in a used book store many years ago, and since I love St. Augustine so so much, I purchased this one without thought. I will admit, some of the things he writes about are not the most grounded in Church doctrine (naturally, as certain things have only become fully known to us as a Church over time), BUT it is still a fantastic little collection of his homilies and the heart of what he says holds a lot of truth.

These are a few of my favorites that I’ll be revisiting this season. If you have any suggestions for Advent reading, please share! I’d love to venture out into new things!

Preparing for Advent

I’m super excited for Advent. I know we still got a few weeks, but just as it’s good to prepare for Christmas I think it’s also good to prepare well for Advent. Kevin and I have been having many conversations about how we want the liturgical year to look for our family – it’s one of our favorite activities. And we’ve been focusing on Advent and how we want to live the season as a married couple.

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First off, if you want some good ideas on liturgical living, you should check out the book, The Little Oratory, and also head over to Carrots for Michaelmas as Haley writes about it a fair amount.

Like most people, I’ve spent many years celebrating the “Christmas season” from the day after Thanksgiving until New Years. Only in the past few years have I begun to appreciate the penitential aspect of Advent . And though it’s penitential, it’s also not a sorrowful season. Rather it’s one of joyful and quiet longing as we wait for the Incarnation of our Savior.

I’m far from perfect when it comes to liturgical living, and it’s certainly an effort to quiet myself amidst all the excitement. So I’ve slowly tried to take active steps in really living the true season of Advent, and here are a few things that have been really fruitful for me: 

+ December 8th, the Immaculate Conception, is me and Kevin’s Marian Consecration date – we renew it each year. It’s a good way to prepare the heart for Advent and develop a deeper relationship with our Blessed Mother, the one through whom our Lord came into the world. To learn more about this, read here.

+ I’m terrible at fasting, but fasting is objectively good and a necessary part of our Christian life. We should try to incorporate some type of fasting into the season, but how we do it is up to us – there’s many good ways to go about this. One cool side note: there’s a company out here, LaVallee’s Breads (owned by a Catholic) and part of their business is fasting breads, which you can order online. Read more here! 

+ Frequent the sacraments.

+ We like to take part in Advent activities going on. For instance, there’s an annual Lessons & Carols Concert at St. John’s Seminary that we’ve attended the last few years and it is beautiful!! The seminary does such a wonderful job putting this on and it really puts you in spirit of Advent. 

+ Pick up a good book for Advent; last year I read Pope Benedict’s “The Infancy Narratives”; it was a beautiful read that drew me into to the season. 

+ Avoid Christmas music to the extent I can (which is easier for me since I don’t have a car). I prefer to listen to Enya’s “Oh Come, Oh Come Emmanuel” on repeat, but that’s just me.

Kevin and I hope to continue all of that this year, but we hope to be even more intentional with the season beyond those things that have become tradition. Some examples of things we’ve read that have really resonated with us: 

+ We will get a Christmas tree, but will leave the festive decorating until the Christmas season. The rest of our apartment will follow suit as well. 

I’ll attempt to simplify the cooking and leave the Christmas treats for Christmas (I may make some occasional cookies, though…). 

+ We’ve done most of our shopping for gifts/decorations beforehand so we don’t get caught up in the stores during Advent.

By living a true Advent season, it makes the Christmas season even greater! Fast well, feast well! And what’s even more amazing is that Christmas is not over on December 26th, but continues until the Baptism of our Lord! I’ve read that it’s even appropriate to keep all the decorations up until the feast of the Presentation on February 2nd. Talk about exciting!

Anyone have any Advent traditions they’d like to share? What do you do to make it special? 🙂