How to Make a Home Altar

Home altar - catholickatieThough many aren’t familiar with it in modern America, a home altar has for a very long time been considered a staple feature in a Catholic home. The home altar is meant to serve as a central place for prayer and religious practice in a Catholic household. Most of us have designated places to eat, sleep, work, exercise, and play at home – why not have a designated, special spot to pray, both individually and together as a family?

Here’s an easy how-to for helping you set up your own home altar or prayer space:

1. altar and bookshelfChoose a place and surface. Find a spot in the home for your prayer space or altar, easily accessible to everyone. Ours is in the family room, in between a bookshelf containing a number of adult and children’s spiritual books, holy water and rosaries (right in picture), and a “prayer chair” below our icon collection (left). (You can also consider having smaller altars and spaces in each of the bedrooms, especially for the kids, which they can design uniquely for themselves.) As far as surfaces go, you can use a shelf, desk, end table, mantle, nook…pretty much anything. We used a medium-sized square end table.

2. (Optional step): Get some linens. I like the idea of having linens on the altar to dress up the table and to coordinate with the liturgical year. (I took pictures of our altar during Lent, so we have a plain white table cloth underneath a purple strip of cloth that I had cut for less than a dollar at a fabric store. I also have a green and a red cloth strip.) This is an optional step because if you are using a shelf or mantle, you may find it preferable to decorate without the linens.

3. Adorn the altar. Collect religious items from around your home to put on the altar. You may also want to consider investing in some of these items if you don’t have them; they make great family gifts on special feast days! You can make the altar as simple or as elaborate as you prefer (we opted for simple with young kiddos). Here are some things you can put in your prayer space or on your altar:

  • altar close upCrucifix
  • Bible (with or without a stand)
  • Prayer books, prayer cards, a missal, or a Catholic book of blessings and prayers
  • Catholic icons and/or art (of Jesus, Mary and the saints; on or above the altar)
  • Statues
  • Rosary(ies)
  • Candles
  • Holy Water
  • Blessed salt
  • Incense burner
  • Seasonal items like pictures of the Stations of the Cross during Lent, Advent wreath or Advent candles, a manger scene during Christmas, a Paschal candle or lamb during Easter, Baptismal candles, palm branches from Palm Sunday, pictures of saints on their feast days, etc.

4. Have your home and altar or prayer space blessed. If you haven’t had your house blessed, have a deacon or priest come bless the whole home, including the altar or prayer space. At least take your crucifix from your altar to Mass with you one Sunday and have that blessed.

altar5. Pray around your home altar! Take time during the day (we like to gather as a family after dinner) to pray around the home altar. This is a great time to light candles, read from the Bible, offer prayers of thanksgiving and intercession, pray a decade of the Rosary or a chaplet, learn about a saint or a feast day you are celebrating, or sign a hymn. Try and take little moments throughout the day to look at the altar or prayer space and offer a quick prayer and turn your mind and heart to Jesus. Just don’t let that special spot go unnoticed and unused!

For some home altar inspiration and ideas beside my own pictures here, check out Pinterest and these prayer space pictures from CatholicMom. Having a home altar or prayer space is a great way to make your home more of a domestic church!

One last thing…Recently, during Ordinary Time, I added a small altar/prayer table to my home-altar-catholickatie-comtoddler son’s room so he has a special place in his own room where he (and we together) could pray when he gets up in the morning, before nap/rest time, and before bed time. (Obviously a good habit for your children to form even if you don’t put a prayer table in their room!) Anyway, he loves it! I kept it pretty simple, and his favorite element is the statue of the Good Shepherd. I added a prayer card with a simple Scripture verse next to it, which he memorizes, that I will rotate every month. I’m enjoying the mini altar in his room as much as he is!

My Catholic Toddler’s Religious Library

I’m often asked for book recommendations for Catholic little ones. Here’s a peek at some of the books in my toddler’s religious library. The books are all age-appropriate, though a few are a bit text-heavy; those he’ll probably come to enjoy more within the next few months and years. I recommend these books for your kids, grandkids, nieces, nephews, godchildren, and the other little ones in your life as presents for special occasions or “just because”; building a religious library for young children is a valuable gift!

These are not listed in any particular order, though the books generally get more text-heavy and more are paperback than board book nearing the end of the list, except for the Bibles at the top, which, of course, have the most text. Also, some of the books are not Catholic in particular (meaning they aren’t written by Catholic authors), but these books still support a Catholic worldview. Finally, I linked all the books to Amazon, but please consider purchasing from the publisher or your local Catholic bookstore!

The Catholic Bible for Children (my preference, because it’s by a Catholic publisher)

The Beginner’s Bible (my son’s preference, because he loves the pictures)

My First Catechism

My First Bedtime Prayers

A is for Altar, B is for Bible

God Made Animals & God Made Family

Hide & Slide Bible Stories

Thank you God for Loving Me

God is Good…All the Time

I Want You to Know the Wonder of God (One of my favorites)

God Made You Special

Manners in God’s House

The Beatitudes for Children

The Mass Book for Children

Living the 10 Commandments for Children

Saints for Boys

Angel in the Waters (great pro-life pick!)

The Oak Inside the Acorn

You Are Special

If Only I Had a Green Nose

…also pictured are a few books by a dear friend of mine who is an absolutely FABULOUS illustrator. Pray they get published soon so they can be widely available! I will definitely be promoting them when–not ifthey are mass-produced, so stay tuned!

 

Free Printables: Mother’s Day Spiritual Bouquets

In preparation for Mother’s Day, don’t forget to PRAY for the moms in your life – and let them know that you’re praying for them, too!

Here are a few colorful spiritual bouquet printables for mom, daughter, or grandmother. Just save & print the card image, add the prayers you’re offering on the lines provided (ex. one Mass, one Rosary, three Hail Marys, etc.) and sign your name.

Enjoy & Happy Mother’s Day!

Spiritual Bouquet for Mother

Spiritual Bouquet for Daughter

Spiritual Bouquet for Grandmother

 

Christmas Spiritual Bouquets

Consider surprising some of your friends and relatives this Christmas with the gift of prayer.  It’s always at the top of my want-list every time of year, but especially around holidays. This card makes a present topper!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finer Things Night: Our Favorite Family Date

Since my husband and I have only been married three years, there are few long-running traditions in our house yet, with this fabulous monthly exception. I look forward to the 14th of every month. It’s like a breath of fresh air, and a unique change of pace during an otherwise normal week or month.

I leave little reminders on the fridge or on bathroom mirrors to remind us to plan for FTN.

I leave little notes on the fridge or on the bathroom mirror to remind us to plan.

Allow me to introduce you to one of our favorite in-home date experiences. We call it Finer Things Night.

The name derives from the exclusive group of coworkers in the show, The Office, who call themselves The Finer Things Club and meet once a month to discuss books, listen to classical music, enjoy fine food, and appreciate culture “in a very civilized way.” As they say in the show, “There is no paper, no plastic, and no work talk allowed.”

So the hubby and I hijacked the sitcom’s infamous club name, but the desire to start Finer Things Night, and the date of the month we chose to schedule it on, was an effort to celebrate our anniversary date every month of the year. Our anniversary being on April 14th, we wanted the 14th of every month to be a mini-celebration of our continued love and fidelity for one another and a chance to enjoy not only each other’s presence, but to soak in some of the finer things in life together, disconnecting from technology most of these finer evenings and embracing high culture “in a very civilized way.” We also just wanted an excuse to have a little extra fun on a random weeknight.

Some things I love about Finer Things Night:

  • They require intentionality on our part, but not a burdensome amount of
    A FTN menu and a little decor

    A FTN menu and a little decor

    planning or execution. When we first started doing this, the hard part was remembering to plan something and then dividing responsibilities, but neither of those tasks were actually that difficult once we got the hang of it. I usually type up a “menu” for the night, which describes our meal for the evening (preferably something slightly fancier than we may normally eat on a week night) and the “finer” activity. I cook, set the table and the ambiance—like candles and flower petals (or flowers that Ray brings me), cloth napkins and wine glasses, for example—and

    We get a little fancier than usual on our FTN. (Picture: homemade chocolate raspberry cake…with a secretly healthy spin. Shh. Don’t tell my husband.)

    Ray plans and executes the activity. Neither of us spends more than a few hours planning (if that), but the small time investment is so worth it. We also try to get a little dressed up, even though we’re staying in.

  • Everyone can be involved. This is more of a family date night than a couple one, though it can be either. We love to engage our son in the activities, since we want him to appreciate culture anyway. Because he is the ultimate reminder of our love for one another, it makes sense that he’s an integral part of our evening festivities, too. Since he is only 14 months old now, his involvement is likely to grow as time goes on. Currently, he sometimes falls asleep before the activity starts.
  • It reminds us to celebrate our marriage every month. In the middle of hectic family life and work, we are forced to stop and think, “Gosh I am happy to be married to this man/woman,” and to spend a little extra time in thanksgiving for our marriage when we come to God in prayer that night.
  • We learn something new and interesting. From listening to and
    From classical music studies to tea tasting, FTN is full of culture and learning.

    From classical music studies to tea tasting, FTN is full of culture and learning.

    studying the history of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata to learning the process for harvesting, brewing, and tasting tea, we always go to sleep that night with a sense of unexpected appreciation for whatever we have learned or experienced.

  • It’s fun. Sometimes, it just feels so good to break up the monotony of an ordinary evening with fancy food, good conversation, and a little class and culture.
  • It’s flexible. If Finer Things Night falls on a weekend night, we may go out to eat and do our activity out of the house. If it’s a Holy Day, Mass is our “finer
    FTN table setting...I even did a "bishop's hat" napkin fold (after almost giving up)!

    A FTN table setting. I even did a “bishop’s hat” cloth napkin fold (like I said, fancy!), pictured by an appetizer platter of spruced up prosciutto deviled eggs with sesame seeds.

    activity” (the finest activity, really).

I can’t say enough great things about our monthly Finer Things Night tradition. I hope it continues for a long, long time. Give it a try, and let me know what you think.

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How to Spice Up Conversation at the Dinner Table

As I listened to our forks clinking against our plates, I looked up across the table at my husband and chuckled, “We can’t be serious. We haven’t even been married two years. There must be something to talk about.”

Ray and I are both very talkative people, but, sometimes, it’s not always that easy to think of new conversation topics after all the chitchat about the day’s events is over. Once in a while, dinner table conversation just needs a little sprucing up.

Making an effort to enliven conversation at the dinner table will do wonders to your family dinner experience, because, despite what dinner in many homes has devolved into (meals eaten at different times, often in front of the TV), dinner is meant to be just that: an experience.

Here’s what to do to encourage more unique discourse with family (or roommates) at dinnertime. (Note to reader: those of you with children of a certain excited, chatty young age may likely have no problem with dinner table entertainment. Relish your little entertainers while you can!)

  1. One night, sit down as a family and hand out strips of paper to each family member.
  2. On the strips of paper, have each person jot down questions—fun, serious, imaginative, thought-provoking, lighthearted, pertaining to current life, the past, the future…almost any thing is fair game. Some ideas include:
    • Who was your favorite storybook character growing up? (Remember, all of these can be modified for age-appropriateness—Who is your favorite storybook character? for kids)
    • If you could have dinner with anyone, alive or dead, who would it be?
    • What Olympic sport is your favorite to watch?
    • Describe your favorite family vacation.
    • Which book of the Bible or verse do you find yourself reading most often?
    • What is one character trait or virtue you wish you were better at displaying?
    • Name the event or moment that made you the happiest in the past week.
    • If you could start your own business some day, what would it be?
  3. Fold all of the strips of paper and place them in a big jar or box. The more question strips, the better!
  4. Every night (or on select nights), take turns picking a strip from the question box and let fun conversation ensue. My husband and I usually chat about our days, catch up on each other’s physical, emotional, and spiritual lives, and then turn to the questions after that, going through anywhere between one and three questions, depending on our desire or on how long each question takes to answer. Often, the questions will end up leading to all sorts of other tangential conversations. Allow yourself to get sidetracked! It enhances the experience.
  5. When you run out of strips, make more!

Forget the music of clinking forks. You can have animated chatter, dynamic storytelling, and laughter back at the dinner table for the cost of a fraction of time, some paper and pens, and the intention to make dinnertime an experience that your family will look forward to every night.

*For those of you looking to do this fun dinner Q&A activity without the doing creative work of coming up with your own questions, I recommend Gary Chapman’s books, 101 Conversation Starters for Families and 101 Conversation Starters for Couples. These books have done the work of coming up with intriguing questions for you, and the Kindle editions are particularly reasonably priced.

I Went to School for Years! Now I’m a Stay-at-Home Mom…?

The other day I was reflecting on a common frustration among stay-at-home moms—the seemingly “wasted” years of higher education that apparently get tossed aside when children enter the picture. Admittedly, I had moments leading up to the birth of my son when I felt that way. “I kicked my butt in undergrad and graduate school, just so I could change diapers all day?” Then, my son was born, and my view slowly but profoundly changed.

Essentially, I came to realize that my life, like a book, has chapters carefully constructed and laid out by God, who has a time and place for everything. He ordered the chapters in my novel, and just like it would be absurd for chapters in a carefully plotted book to be out of order (imagine Frodo journeying to Mordor before he acquires the ring…what? or Elizabeth falling in love with Mr. Darcy the moment she meets him…boring!), it would be equally disappointing if I desired and tried to live my life out of order from God’s intended story for me.

Don’t get me wrong. I have always wanted to be a mom. But before I became one (and still occasionally now that I am one), the thought of giving up some of my career aspirations seemed daunting. That is, until I realized that I wasn’t giving up any career aspirations at all. I was entering a new chapter with a new and incredibly challenging career: professional motherhood. I think it’s a mistake when many of us fail to see motherhood as it really is—a professional career.

To be a true professional at any career, you must have focus and passion. Right now, as a stay-at-home mother, I’m called to be laser-focused on how to mother well—extremely well if I can help it—which is hard, professional work. I’m also called to do that work with tangible passion. After years of focus and passion, I will hopefully be rewarded with children who have the virtues, attitudes, and capabilities that reflect the professional mothering they experienced in their childhood and adolescence.

Then, maybe God will call me to a new chapter, perhaps a chapter that involves that workaday world that I once belonged to and went to school for. Until that time, however, it is my vocation to embrace this chapter, offering every bit of talent, creativity, and knowledge that I have gained through the valuable education and life experience He intentionally equipped me with in previous ones.

Fellow stay-at-home mothers: your years of schooling are not wasted; your professional life has not been put on hold. You are using them right now, engaging in the hardest and most important professional work there is.  Do not spend these years wondering what else or what more you could be doing, what other chapters you could be writing. Never take a moment of this chapter for granted. It will end all too quickly!

“That is how mothers are made. Nature had to prepare for them through millions of years by begetting a love that would freely desire children, a love that would educate them, and a love that would sacrifice for them because of their sovereign worth as persons endowed with immortal souls…that kind of love is a gift from God.” –Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen

20 Life Lessons I Will Teach My Son

My little boy should arrive any day now. Having ventured beyond my due date, I’m experiencing Advent as the “season of patient waiting” to a very realistic extent this year. The extra days have given me ample time to reflect and prepare for both his arrival and the celebration of the arrival of the infant Jesus shortly thereafter. I decided to come up with a list of 20 things I look forward to teaching my son, many of the lessons inspired by the example of the Holy Family. Now my baby just has to arrive so I can get to work!

1. No one loves you more than Jesus. If you want to learn to love and be loved beyond your wildest dreams, learn to be loved by Jesus and to love Him madly in return.

2. The priesthood is arguably the coolest job on the planet. Always be open to God recruiting you.

3. Treating a lady with great reverence and respect is never old fashioned.

4. Always honor your father and I. God gave you to us in particular, and He did that for a reason. Respecting us, especially when you don’t feel like it, will make you a better man.

5. The most important trait you should ever desire to master is holiness. Disclaimer: it’s also the hardest to master.

6. Adoration chapels are the best getaways and surest places to relieve stress and find clarity.

7. Your future siblings will look to you as an example of how to behave. Rise to the challenge; give them something to aspire to.

8. Be like your father. Work hard, sacrifice, pray, study, and live morally, so that someday, if God calls you to marriage, you will attract a woman who loves you as much as I love your daddy.

9. Don’t worry. I’ve read studies that explain how much more anxious kids are today (about everything) than in previous generations. Worry is a crippling thing. Trust that God’s grace will help you handle whatever comes your way, and live in the present.

10. Make Sundays sacred. You have six other days in the week to do homework and all other work. Start healthy Sabbath habits now, so you can benefit from Sunday rest for the remainder of your life.

11. Take good care of your body. Eat well and exercise. Show God you appreciate the gift of your health.

12. Use your imagination! Your father and I will help you learn how to play, read, imagine, and dream. Have real fun.

13. Go outside. Enjoy nature. God gave us the mountains, beaches, forests, lakes, and valleys as an expression of His power and beauty. Take advantage of it. It’s a gift…for you!

14. Be self-aware. Examine your conscience every single night, so you can concentrate on how to be a better man tomorrow.

15. Practice gratitude–everyday. Tell God and others daily what you are thankful for. Gratitude cultivates a joyful spirit. Live with joy.

16. Be kind. There is not enough kindness in our hurting world today. Blessed Mother Teresa says that a smile is an act of love, a gift to another person, a beautiful thing. Smile often.

17. Don’t be afraid to share your faith with others. Offer them a slice of the great gift you have that is your salvation and membership in God’s family, His Catholic Church.

18. Learn to love Our Blessed Mother. Imagine the unconditional love of two mothers: one on earth and one in heaven. You are one lucky boy.

19. Make your Bible and Rosary your travel and nightstand companions.

20. Be a good friend. A good friend of your friends, a good friend of the saints, and a good friend of your Savior.