Posts tagged family
A Family Objective

Photography by Brittani Renee Photography

In teaching, I wanted to be clear about my objectives. Write it on the board, "Students will be able to..." Let them know what our end goal was. No need for mysteries or secret reveals. This is what we want to learn.

I've been thinking a lot about this question that Sara Moore posed to me,

What do you hope your children will learn from you?

In the list of 11 questions that she asked, it was the one that took me the longest to answer. The question made me reflect upon my thoughts on sharing my parenting objectives. 

  • Do my children know what I want them to learn?
  • Do I know what I want them to learn? What is it again?
  • Why am I keeping it a secret to be uncovered at a later point?

The question is as deep as it is simple. The whole cycle of parenting involves the activity of what we want our children to learn from us. Our ideals, our beliefs, our dreams become a part of their upbringing. These things "rub off" in our interactions. 

Are there other areas and lessons that I want my children to learn that might not come up so naturally?

My husband and I created a family mission statement late one night when my second daughter was an infant. During one of our innumerable sleepless nights with C, we felt like we were veering off course, or, at least, meandering a bit more in our parenting than we wanted. We wrote out these simple statements to remind ourselves of these goals as we changed diapers and soothed teething cries.

Now two of our three children can read, and they can all express themselves quite clearly. They are perceptive; they are good listeners. I wonder how I am communicating these broader and more important family values. To Sara, in her interview, I said:

I hope my children learn that they are always loved by us, their parents, and by a generous God. I hope they learn to go after their passion and to work consistently to point that passion towards the greater Good. I hope they learn that tenacity and enthusiasm can accomplish almost everything you need. I hope they learn to laugh at themselves (a lot) and help other people do the same.

And now I'm feeling challenged to revisit our original statement or post this new one for my children to read. And to remind me, everyday.

What do you think? How do you let your children know what is most important?

xoxo, MJ

Memorial Day Games & Activities

It's about that time to celebrate and relax with the opening weekend of summer: Memorial Day! Whether you're spending the holiday with oodles of family and friends or kicking back for a low-key day at home, I've found some of fabulous activities to enjoy the outdoors and togetherness.

1. Scavenger Hunts are the best! And this one by Play Dr. Mom combines the alphabet and searching, challenging young players to bring items from the outdoors to match up with as many letters as they can find.

2. Looking for a fast DIY for your backyard? Grab a dollar store shower curtain and some painters tape and make a jumbo tic tac toe board. Colorful frisbees make great markers, too! Check out how A Turtle's Life for Me put it all together.

3. Bucket toss is a classic in any arrangement. Pull out the rainbow hues and arrange at a close distance, in a triangle, or far apart to challenge the entire family. Apply numbers to buckets like they've done over on Gets Bored Easily to add another level to the toss game.

4. If your Memorial Day will bring high temps, cool off with some water balloon pinatas like these. Pool noodles make fun bats, too!

5. The poppy is a symbol of remembrance and is often linked to Memorial Day. These lovely flowers were created in a few simple steps - make these together for the holiday! Check out Bar's poppy project over on Handmade Charlotte.

What does your holiday bring? Are you ready to welcome in summer?

xoxo, MJ

A day of satisfaction

Satisfaction is a funny thing (keeping it clean here, friends).

I am rarely content. There's always something I want to do, or something I don't want to do, or something I wished I hadn't done. I'm a pretty passionate, driven kind of person.

I am rarely satisfied.

Except for one day of the year. And that is my birthday. Today is my birthday.

And today I allow all the memories of joy flood my interior space. It's a day of virtual scrapbook flipping, remembering all of the people and events that have brought me to this day. And likely, if you're reading this, you're involved in one of those memories.

Even if we haven't had the pleasure of face-to-face meeting or even engaging in witty banter on social media, I'm thinking about you today and grateful that you take the time to click over to this space to see what's going on. Your clicks, your reading, and your encouragement have given me the trust that this space can flourish into something I really want it to be - a piece of heaven and a piece of me.

Indulge me here, it is my birthday, on sharing two snippets of wonder wisdom from my deep old age of 39:


A very hard lesson for me to learn, but I have re-learned it again and again in my decades is to be grateful. A great saint once said, "Problems, too, have their purpose. Be grateful for them." Sometimes, most times, I hate conflict. I no longer shy away from it, but I still detest it. And what I'm oh so, so, so slowly learning is that I learn in conflict. I grow in a challenge. Even when I screw up big, life goes on. Might as well be grateful.

And so I am.


I live in a world and in a time when anything can happen. When seen from a negative angle, this is terrifying, but when seen from a level perspective, this is pretty exhilarating. I laugh when I think back to my little girl dreams of being a ballerina (I took one ballet class when I was 6) and being an artist. My dreams are so much bigger now, even more fantastical perhaps, but many of them are coming true. Take for example this space. Pars Caeli has given me friendships with very talented and encouraging people and given me professional opportunities that I didn't even imagine.

I have moments - maybe you do, too - where I'm physically struck by how good my life is.

I had one last week, walking in from the garage, with the smell of fresh herbs in my hands. I was struck and fell back just slightly. No one around me likely noticed.

We'd just returned from the nursery, where we went as a family, to purchase our future garden. My children come alive around plants and flowers, and they were sniffing their way around the place, running down the aisles of color, and making up songs to celebrate the joys of summer on its way. I watched my husband carefully peruse each vegetable, considering which could handle our lack of open sunshine in the backyard now that the trees we've planted are so tall and lovely.

I realized that I am living the dream that I had not fully formulated as a little girl. And I am so grateful.

Lovely people have asked me what sort of special something I'm doing for my birthday. I'm headed into work, taking a break to go to the orthodontist with C, and then heading into three hours of dress rehearsal for my daughters' ballet performance.

And, you know what? I'm just delighted. Because this is my "normal," and this is my dream.

And I am completely satisfied.

xoxo, MJ

The 5 simple April Fools' jokes for kids
Image and idea from Jen at Classic Play

Happy April! Bring on those showers and flowers. Our family is in celebration mode today for my hubs whose birthday is today and who has happily handled April Fools jokes his whole life. He's such a good sport. Happy birthday, my love!

April 1 brings us the silly, the ridiculous, and the over-the-top - it's the perfect kind of day to have some fun. And it's not too late to do these easy peasy jokes on your kids. I love the elaborate and extended pranks, but for my kiddos, a simple introduction to the idea of April Fools is called for.

Here are my top picks for the simply wonderful jokes of the day:

1. I'm a little biased, but I think Classic Play always has the greatest resources for fun with your kids. And, no doubt, Jen has a great treasure trove of April Fools jokes. I love how she and her children illustrated these quick pranks over a breakfast.

2. Martha Stewart's team crafted some fun ideas with food. The mashed potato sundae is a classic and one that I think would get my kids. How about yours?











3. Have you done (or been on the receiving end) of the frozen cereal trick. Put the milk in the bowl first, set it in the freezer. Take out and add the cereal. It will leave your little ones dumbfounded, in the best way. The full how-to is found over at

4. For the youngest set, I think a batch of freshly baked brown E's is a great way to go. Your child will be glad to know his/her letters, but sad/laughing that they'll miss out on the chocolate treat.

5. This last one is a great surprise prank that I might do for fun on some other day of the year. Why not put googly eyes on every food in the fridge? It's such a hoot to open the door to sets and sets of eyes staring right back at you!

Are you setting up any jokes this April Fools? We're off to set up a silly scavenger hunt for the birthday boy. Here's to a great April!

xoxo, MJ

More Holiday Traditions: Jesse Trees and Painted Wrappings

Happy Wednesday, good people! Two fun things to share with you today: an easy Fresh Holiday Tradition and an Advent tradition to begin.

First off, a little Advent. You all have seen some amazing Advent calendars going around, have you not? Do a quick search on Pinterest to see just how creative people can get with countdowns! I am amazed.

Have you heard of a Jesse Tree before? It's an Advent calendar of sorts, that takes you through the days leading up to Christmas and uses the words from the Old Testament stories to do so. I posted all the details last November, but I've received so many questions about it, that I wanted to post it again for new readers.


Wanna make one? Here's what you need:

  • 1 yard of purple felt (it's a traditional Advent color)
  • 1 yard of brown felt for the limbs and trunk
  • Printed or drawn symbol ornaments
  • Velcro to attach
  • Dowel and ribbon/twine to hang.
  • Fabric glue or hot glue

Head over here to get the full details including printable symbols, a reflection book to follow, and some more Advent ideas.

And as we get our homes and gifts ready for Christmas, I'm excited to share with you this great kiddo project from Jen over at Classic Play! I know that I've been looking for a few ways to contain, errrr focus, my children's holiday energy in good directions. This is a perfect project. And I love Jen's first reminder to keep it simple! Click over to see Painted Wrapping Paper!

Only two more projects in our Fresh Holiday Traditions series! Here's what we've seen so far:

What holiday traditions are you bringing out these days? Cookie baking? Christmas-book reading?

Check out these great traditions from my pal, Janae, over at Bring Joy.

xoxo, MJ

Fresh Holiday Traditions: December 1st Party

Happy Thanksgiving Eve! We don't use that term enough, do we? But tis true, turkey day is tomorrow, and I, for one, am running around trying to get suck up our dust bunnies and chop celery till the cows come home (sorry for today's late post!). In Northern Indiana today it looks like we're in the middle of a snowglobe, and we can't help but dream and think about the holidays ahead.


I have to spend two minutes giving a very warm and special thanks to the talents behind the Fresh Holiday Traditions series. We've been sharing some of our favorite ways to give thanks and live it up for Thanksgiving, and now our eyes turn toward Christmas! But right before they do, here's a fabulous list of Thanksgiving activities that you can do tonight with the kids or tomorrow with the extended fam:

Melissa of Lulu the Baker is sharing her December 1st Party tradition today. It's just adorable. And right up my alley. Imagine this: Christmas tunes, tree decorating, and gobbling gingerbread cookies. It's a tradition she's passed down from her mom to her children.
If you try any of our projects or traditions, post a picture of it twith the hashtag #freshholidaytraditions. We'd love to show it off!!
Our team here is welcoming one set of grandparents tonight and more come tomorrow. The turkey is in the fridge ready to be buttered up, and the house *almost* smells good now.
Off to finish up the final finishings. Wishing you a lovely Thanksgiving Eve! If you need a little break from all the togetherness tomorrow, check back in here for a special holiday message!
xoxo, MJ
In Thanksgiving for Thanksgiving

In my childhood bedroom, I often strung construction paper Christmas tree garlands and hung homemade Valentine hearts from the ceiling. Even as a youngin, I loved to decorate for these special occasions and create my own "decor." As a little girl I could rattle off my three favorite holidays, in order: Christmas, Valentine's Day, and New Year's Eve (probably not the normal conversation starter but it worked for me).

No doubt Christmas topped them all for the p-r-e-s-e-n-t-s and good music. Valentine's Day was filled with pink and chocolate. And New Year's Eve was so exciting and hopeful and late-night.

But Thanksgiving? Well, Thanksgiving never even made a blip on the radar screen.

Fast forward a few decades later, and here I am mom, wife, and hostess for the annual Thanksgiving dinner.

And guess what? My favorite holiday, hands down: Thanksgiving.

So today I'm giving it up for Thanksgiving with my top 4 for the holiday:

1. Having a four-day weekend that many people honor for leisure. I know this is up for debate with increased shopping schedules, tough economic/working situations, and a lot of football. But speaking just for myself, the hectic work life powers down for four full days, and I sink into the beauty of family and home and pure relaxation. No extra projects creep into the fun of Thanksgiving...and time off really is time off.

2. Having everyone in one spot. The older I get, the more sacred this becomes for me. Don't get me wrong, this is also the element that causes me the most stress; however, I always overthink it. Truthfully, I hit the pillow every Thanksgiving night so grateful to have my parents, my in-laws, my aunt, my children, and my love all in one space - happy, healthy, and very full from a savory meal we were able to provide.

3. Having teamwork. Wednesday evening and most of Thursday is spent in food preparation (and a whole bunch of parade watching). My husband and I plan the meal together and dance around one another in the kitchen all day, prepping each dish and attending to the big bird. It's a total team effort that fills our house with the smells that are family, holidays, and gratitude. And we have hours and hours just to marinate in the experience together.

4. Having time to be grateful. At Christmas, I can get distracted away from Christ's birth with toy overload and travel prep. At Thanksgiving, I take the time to pull away just a bit from the must-do list and gaze at all I've been given. I watch the scene of my children laughing and playing make believe with their grandparents. I peek in on my daughter sharing her latest secrets with her grandma. I take a deep breath by the fully extended dining table, covered with recipes we've tweaked and enjoyed as a family for years and years. I feel the sentiment in this year's toast to good health and family, and whisper a petition for yet another next year. It's a day of very active prayer, very present moments where I feel and express the gratitude that I am graced to experience the other 364 days.

And I'm so very thankful for Thanksgiving.

xoxo, MJ




Fresh Holiday Traditions: Gratitude Star Garland

It's my favorite day of the blog week! Time to share another Fresh Holiday Tradition with you.

This week I'm super duper pleased to share with you a homespun piece of Thanksgiving decor that you can easily transition into a Christmas garland when the time is right.

My husband and I have hosted our parents for Thanksgiving here at Pars Caeli since we were married in 2002. As a nervous newlywed, I decided to start a tradition with our guests. Mailed to them about a week before Thanksgiving were paper stars on which they were asked to write people/experiences from which they were grateful. Every person received three stars that they were to sign and date.

11 years into this tradition, I have an album of stars from all of our family members - featuring the words we thought our infants might use for their favorite objects to the wisdom of my husband's grandmother on the blessings of family and good health. Reading my father's words for "his soulmate" and my little girl at 4 writing that she was grateful for her friends...well, it gets me a little emotional every year.

We put up our tree the evening before Thanksgiving as food prep is also at its peak.

We hang only white lights and these white stars on the tree for a few days surrounding Thanksgiving, and the beauty and simplicity of the words and light is really gorgeous.

As we add our ornaments for Christmas, we keep the white stars on the tree to remind us of the real gifts we've received.

This year I'm putting some of our favorite gifts on a star garland that will hang for Thanksgiving as well as offer a foundational layer on our Christmas tree.

Have you ever made Baking Soda/Cornstarch clay? If not, you really need to carve out some time to do so. The bright white color is brilliant.

I followed this recipe from Full of Great Ideas:

  • 2 cups of baking soda
  • 1 cup of cornstarch
  • 1.25 cups of cold water

1. Combine and mix the ingredients in a pot.

2. Continue to mix as you turn on medium heat. Stir continuously until the mixture pulls away from the side of the pot and becomes more of a ball. This took about 10 minutes for me.

3. Take out the clay and put it in a bowl. Cover the clay with a wet, cool paper towel and allow it to cool off before working with the material.

4. Once cooled, the clay will feel like stiff mashed potatoes (in my humble opinion). Roll out your desired amount to about 1/4" thickness and begin cutting with the star shape.

5. I added one gift to each star and kept the descriptions simple (eg: humor, home, my teacher). Also since I wanted to make a garland of these, I added two holes on either side of the star for stringing. Simply use a pencil, eraser end, for these. Using stamps purchased from the dollar bins at Michael's, I stamped in our gratitude, playing with the depth for each letter.

6. Set your oven to 220 F. Place all your stars on a cookie sheet. Set the timer for 45 minutes. Inspect. As the clay bakes, it will turn even whiter. When it's thoroughly white on one side, remove from the oven and turn over on the other side to bake for another 45 minutes. Be careful not to turn up the heat to speed up this process as you run the risk of burning and changing the coloration.

7. Let the stars cool. Once cool, string ribbon through the holes and find the perfect location to show off your Thanksgiving gratitude. And right after the Macy's Day Parade, take it over to your Christmas tree!

We're looking forward to another fun project next week! Until then, let us know how your holiday prep is going!!

xoxo, MJ

Check out the other posts in this series…

  1. 5 Minute Gratitude Journal on Lulu the Baker
  2. Pumpkin Pancakes on Classic Play





When do you deck the halls?

The first official lake effect snow has hit the ground. We've tossed out the pumpkins. And I'm starting to get the itch.

The Christmas bug. A switch to Christmas music, the beginnings of decorating. I want to resist and I don't.

I, like so many, dread the early onslaught of commercialized Christmas that creeps up on us before the Halloween candy is out.

I am not advocating this.

Perhaps it's my want to nest inside as the trees turn bare. I begin to simmer good scents on the stove, long for more time to cook. I spend more time at home, in my home.

So bring on Christmas!?

I enjoy the anticipation of the holiday, more than the one day of Chirstmas.

But I also adore Thanksgiving. Maybe we should develop more amazing Thanksgiving decor that I could really sink my teeth into...

Or as my daughter protested, "There are no good Thanksgiving songs." True that.

When do you begin your Christmas holidays? Post Thanksgiving? Or do you wait until closer to Christmas?

I'd love to hear your thoughts.

xoxo, MJ

The Happiest Monochrome You Ever Saw

Hi, hello! How are you, friends? I feel like I've been on a silent retreat for a week, and now all I wanna do is gab and give you a hug to tell you how much you've been missed!!

Welcome to the new monochromatic Pars Caeli. I'm a girl in love with color so this is going out on limb for me, but I'm hoping this new ste up will allow all the colorful creations and inspirations to pop right off the page and into your life. I have some great fun planned for the coming weeks, and I'm completely grateful you're taking the adventure with me!!

Here's the skinny on what's up: for the fall semester (I still live my life according to the academic calendar), I'll continue my three days a week posting - Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday. A funny thing happened to my waistline over the summer - it expanded! And instead of putting on my freshman 15, I put on my indulgent summer 15, so I'm vowing to use my time away from the blog to animate this body back into motion. Yes, my friends, there's some nutrition, running, and yoga in my future. I don't one regret one s'more or second plate of pancakes - I let myself enjoy the loveliness of food - but now it's time to get back in the groove. Are you feeling it, too?

My hair got nine inches shorter with a bit more sass, and you're going to see some of that same busting out around here, too. We're talking weekly projects, new series, fresh collaborations and a whole lot of good time. Ya with me?

Are you ready for fall and the amazingness it brings? Check this out for a little bit of inspiration.

I'll see you here tomorrow to share our fall bucket list (is yours ready yet? Here's what we dreamed up last autumn). I'd love to hear what you're up to..

xoxo, MJ



How do I tell you this? I think I have a blog.

If you suddenly started an expansive button collection, consisting of the most majestic, sparkling, and extraordinary buttons, ones that make you proud to collect buttons and including a handful of, you know, mediocre ones you started with... Would you tell your friends? Take pictures of them with fun hashtags?

What if you started a blog, including a year full of posts that include your ideas, ramblings, projects, and collaborations, ones that make you proud to be a writer/designer/photographer/artist as well as a handful of posts that make you say, "Meh."  Would you share it with your family? Send them links to the posts that are your fave?

Do the real people in my life know I have a blog?

Do they read it?

Over the last year, I have thought about this first question - a lot. I began this blog to keep me actively creating, not necessarily to keep in touch with people I know or bring myself any level of attention (though I do love me a great big page view at the end of the day).

For the first few weeks of blogging I told only my husband about this new thing. Then I sent a Facebook message to a dozen girlfriends who I thought might be willing to read and follow along. Next I told my parents - admittedly a little heeby-jeeby'd that they'd be seeing all of this, in my very mature 30-something way.

It took me a bit to send the blog address along to my closest friends. Why? I'm not completely sure, but at first, this new adventure was easier to share with strangers than people who loved me. If a random person rejects me or, worse, is just disinterested by my blog, that won't hurt so much.

Well, over the year-and-some that I've opened Pars Caeli, it's become very much a part of my creative process, my inside jokes, my free time (what?), and my joy. And now it's kinda weird that everyone in my life doesn't know about it. But how do you casually bring up, "Oh, I have a blog. And, yes, I post something daily, sometimes a few times a week. Uh, yes, I've been doing this for an entire year. Did I not mention this?"

But honestly? The really brilliant part of this reveal experience is that I've been met with only support.

And that little boost or sometimes big bounce like the one that comes from your boss with jokes like, "you're going to be famous," or statements like "what can we do to help you grow?" ... well, those moments are the cups of crisp, cold water on my overheated, stewing mind. Never underestimate the power of support in the early buds of creativity.

So, friends, I've got a blog. It's not an easy conversation starter, but here it is.

And here are the whole spectrum of answers to this question from charming blogger pals of mine:

Do the real people in your life know about your blog? Do they read it?

xoxo, MJ

PS. Head on over to Twitter and follow all of these lovely tweeple because they are good and decent enough to respond thoughtfully to this request of their time. xo

Getting kids prepped for summer

In less than 80 school days, my three giant personalities (wrapped up in small bodies) will complete their academic and developmental years and be ready to run hog wild into summer. As much as I would love to be home with them, taking on new adventures that only the warm weather can bring, the reality is that I'm a working mom. I work from home for a portion of every day so I'll get to partake in sandboxes and water balloons. And whether I'm in the office or at home, it's really important to me that my children have a summer of fun, outdoors, activity, and as much magic as I can muster.

Are your minds turning to summer yet? We're there. Ready to plan it and live it. Here are my thoughts on how to make this summer a mutually awesome experience for parents and children.

Think of the possibilities

My favorite beginning to the process is the dreaming. This is not necessarily my husband's favorite, so draw from your strengths. I love to have "what if" conversations with three-year olds (you just never know what you'll get) and daydream along with eight-year old minds. Sit down with each child, and brainstorm all the activities they'd like to do. Consider categories like "I want to continue," "I want to try," and "I want to learn." I've discovered fascinating new aspects about my children such as an interest in Irish dancing, a want to learn to stand on one's head, and a desire to make a quilt.

Consider the impossibilities

Not my favorite aspect, but the process for which my hubs excels. Look at the summer calendar. Actually, print it out and lay it down before you. Mark off all the vacation time that you can as well as times of heavy workload. Be good to parents and children as you look at the time you have allotted. Be sure to find stretches of time for full family activities, individual time with each child, and moments for mom and dad to connect.

Put your purse where your mouth is

Those horse riding lessons and the ceramic studio time? Well, they are both beautiful options that can quickly clean out your wallet. Before you make any definite plans or fill out registration forms, decide what's a realistic amount to spend on each child's activities. Obviously most activities become more specialized and expensive as the age of the child increases so try to factor that into your budgetary conversations, too. Prioritize which experiences would be most meaningful to your child and try to hit as many of those as your budget can allow.

Enlist your helpers

The chaffeuring from one sport to the next is draining and not the way anyone wants to spend the best days of the year. Right up front, ask parents of your children's friends to join the class and sign on to the same teams so that carpooling can streamline your summer and double the fun at the same time. We rarely sign up for an event or class without calling in a buddy (it's also super helpful with children who are shy to new situations).


Take advantage of Mommy and Daddy time

Remember that the most wonderful childhood memories will happen in simple ways in your backyard or around the campfire. Make a list of all that you want to experience with the kids this summer and commit to doing them (even put making s'mores on the calendar). Make a list of what you as adult want to do and share that with your children (and spouse) to help them get to know your hopes and dreams, too. Consider how your talents and interests can add to their summer experience. Do you have the patience to teach those knitting skills your daughter so wants to learn? Or play tennis with your son? Can you even learn something new together?

Here's our summer list from last year, and we're beginning this year's now. February and March are when camps, classes, and teams begin their summer registrations so keep an eye out in your newspapers and media. And in the meantime, let the dreaming begin.

I have some extra greatness coming your way this summer with the help of other amazing bloggers. I can't wait to show you!!

What's at the top of your summer wish list?

xoxo, MJ

Prepping for Advent: Make a Jesse Tree

Friends, have you noticed? Christmas is just around the corner. This Sunday marks the first Sunday in Advent. It's the first of four Sundays that lead us right into Christ's birth.

I've seen so many adorable Advent calendars (that begin on Dec. 1) like this one, and I want to share a different kind of countdown we use in our house. I made these for my parish with about 100 other families last year, and it's a super fun family craft to make and keep for years to come.

Have you heard of a Jesse Tree? It's a way to get the kids involved in the countdown to Christmas while learning more about the family tree of Jesus. Through each ornament, from creation through the Old Testament. Usually a Jesse Tree would be made from branches with ornaments hung from the branches. We made ours in the form of a banner that can be easily stored from year to year.

We used our family hands to create the tree. With our family of five, we had each person trace their right and left forearm and hand. We became the branches from which the (velcroed) ornaments hang. I adore that I will have those little hands forever captured as the tiniest of branches.


Wanna make one? Here's what you need:

  • 1 yard of purple felt (it's a traditional Advent color)
  • 1 yard of brown felt for the limbs and trunk
  • Printed or drawn symbol ornaments
  • Velcro to attach
  • Dowel and ribbon/twine to hang.
  • Fabric glue or hot glue

Lay out your felt and trace forearms and hands. Cut out and arrange limbs on purple felt. Cut out a rectangular trunk to fill out the bottom of the tree. Glue down. Print and cut symbols. Laminate and add adhesive velcro (only one side is needed to stick to the felt) to the backs. Wrap the top two inches of the purple felt around the wooden dowel and glue down the edge. Knot off twine or ribbon from the dowel to hang. Viola! Keep your waiting ornaments in an envelope near your prayer booklet until they're ready to be used.

Currently our ornaments are paper. My oldest daughter has expressed a desire to recreate the images so I'm looking forward to capturing her artwork this year or next and making these circles a little bit more time-resistant.


All of these supplies are incredibly easy and affordable for bulk buying if you want to make a lot of Jesse trees at once with your Church or school group.

The Diocese of Erie has a lot of helpful Advent resources, and our ornaments and the booklet I created came from their writings. Find the complete set of reflections plus small and large versions of the ornaments here. All of the illustrations by Carolyn Pikoulas and text by Anne-Marie Welsh for Faith magazine, published by the Diocese of Erie.

Ann Voskcamp and Nancy Rodden also have a great free printable book that includes full color illustrations of each symbol and examples of very cute felt ornaments can be found over at a Shower of Roses.

Here's the copy of the booklet I created for our Church and our home. We keep it on the dinner table and add an ornament every evening (when we also add a piece to the Nativity scene and light the Advent wreath - we're all about evening traditions). The booklet takes you through what symbol to add for the day and even bring the Scripture in so that you only have to go to one place for the reading and reflection. I promise the this ritual won't add more than 2 minutes to your dinner time, and you might be surprised by how quickly this activity helps (you and) your children get a handle on the major stories of the Bible.


How do you count down the days? Do you have a special calendar or tradition to take you through Advent?


Turn It: 3 ways to a great Thanksgiving

Today marks the final post in our Turn It series, and I am so grateful to Joy for her incredible creativity and generosity of spirit. I have been inspired by these posts, and challenged to turn the negative into a helpful positive. We hope you've enjoyed the journey, too. Here are three very practical ways to make tomorrow a great one! xo, MJ

Well friends, the holiday season is officially here! We’ve made it to Thanksgiving day, which means that many of us are headed out to feast with family and friends. While this is meant to be the happiest time of the year, it can sometimes be tough to be with people we wouldn’t generally spend time with otherwise.

Once upon a time, I dated someone whose mother was very difficult to be around, and we spent Christmas at her house that year. We were expected to sit in front of the television for the entire three day period and do nothing but watch terrible TV movies. At one point, I tried to sneak away to read for awhile, and she commented loudly, “Oh, are we too boring for her?”

Luckily, I really enjoy my family and James’, so I don’t end up in these awful holiday situations -- but that experience did teach me a few coping mechanisms. Should you find yourself dealing with a difficult family member this season, my hope is that these tactics will help you turn a dreadful situation into a happy (or at least tolerable) one.

Take a clue from Downton Abbey.

If you’ve ever watched Downton Abbey, you’ve witnessed the conversational choreography that we seem to have lost somewhere along the way. Practice being a great conversationalist by being curious and letting that difficult family member talk about his or her interests for five to ten minutes, seeing what you can learn from the chat. Then, politely excuse yourself by helping out in the kitchen, using the restroom, or heading out for a breath of fresh air. You’ll find that sometimes these individuals just need someone to pay attention to them for a few minutes, and then they don’t need to get attention by being nasty.

Become Martha Stewart.

In other words, bring along a project that everyone can contribute to. As the project coordinator, you’ll get to focus on it throughout the holiday, while each person adds their little touch. Create an ornament making station, make wreaths, make a scrapbook, work on an advent calendar. When you have a project to focus on, you have something to direct conversation toward.

Move it.

So much of the holidays is about sitting down and eating, but getting up and out puts everyone in a much brighter mood. Turn on the Wii and dance or bowl, go for a walk outside, or consider a short hike. I once read that it’s best to have difficult conversations while doing an activity, like driving. It rings true for family get togethers as well -- even if you don’t have anything particularly difficult to discuss, the forward movement opens up the door for communication that might not come naturally while sitting across the dinner table.

Thank you so much, Joy!! I can attest that even a walk around the neighborhood can bring a fresh perspective to a group stuck in a rut. Wishing all of you a blessed Thanksgiving.

Any other helpful ideas to Turn It for the holiday season?

Happy Kiddos: Sharing some magic

Blogging has allowed me to connect with many creative, talented, and fun people from around the globe. I love looking at my Google analytics to see what parts of the globe light up from lovely readers (hello friends in Ireland!). One bright spot for me from New Zealand has been the inspiration of A Happy Adventure, the amazing brainchild of Hana. She knows how to make the world a magical place for her little ones, and I love seeing all that she has to offer (that I can grab and use, use, use for my kiddos). Check out her Little World posts and be prepared to get your family passports ready for adventure.

Hana invited me share some of our family traditions and celebrations as part of her Magical Days series.

  1. Jump, hop, skip, and leap on over with me to hear why I'm a huge advocate of large sinks.
  2. Find out what happens to our Christmas tree after the holidays.
  3. Check out my favorite books to read with my kiddos.
  4. And don't miss what I recommend for more joy in life (even more than a good night's sleep)...

Thank you, Hana, for welcoming me so warmly to your adorable and educational site!!


A tri- to try in Photography


Terrific! It's Friday. What's going on this weekend? Don't let Friday the 13th get you down. Throw a superstition party and let everyone reveal their most believable superstitions (of course select your favorite Friday the 13th to watch as well). Celebrate with crepes on Saturday in honor of Bastille Day, and don't forget to head to explore some art and to pay homage to Rembrandt on his birthday (we'll be doing it!).


Here's a trifecta of awesomeness all wrapped around photography for you to try this weekend. My new camera is going to get broken over the next few days in prep for the Alt Channel class I'm taking on Tuesday with Justin Hackworth. Join me, and we'll both become pros at our DSLRs (I really do want to see all the great shots you capture of your kids! I promise).


(Not necessarily captured here.) I've got a need for some higher quality headshots/self-portraits. I am so horrible at finding a shot that I like, and I kind of find the whole process a drag. I found three simple reminders from a fellow blogger heading out to a blogging conference (where lots of photos are taken) that I want to pass on.



Have you tried this?


Angle yourself towards the camera, drop your shoulders, and lean into the camera, putting your weight slightly on your front foot.

I'm going to try it. I'll let you know how it goes. :)



Dave Cooper, talented hubs of Jen Cooper, over at Classic Play has some awesome suggestions on how to take better family photos.  

My fave is #2:

2. Let it happen naturally and capture it. Your family is a living thing that moves. You need to move as well. Capture real moments. These are so much more rewarding to look at a month from now, a year from now, 10 years from now. Have you ever heard someone say “Remember that time we all stood up from the picnic table and stood in a line and you took that picture? That was fun. We should do that again.”?

There's more goodness over at Classic Play. Go and write down all that he has to say!




I'm discovering, with my new large camera, that a strap is essential. And though I don't mind loudly publicizing Canon, I'd like to go for something more special. Bri Emery over at DesignLoveFest posted a wonderful tut on crafting your own camera strap. Have you seen it? Go check it out.


Race you to Michael's for all the supplies!!

Do you have any great photography tips you can send my way? How do you make great art and look good doing it?

Thanks for a great week! Don't forget to enter our giveaway held in conjunction with the Playful Learning. Tell your friends, too. Winners chosen on Monday!

Until soon, XOXO, MJ

Ready to Pray

Hi friends,

I'm hoping to find a better way to get myself and my kiddos ready for Sundays. Our pastor made the suggestion a few weeks ago that we should all take the time to digest the readings before we come into Church. I've done this here and there, but I thought it would be so much more worthwhile to do it as a family.

This week we pulled out the Ipad and went to this website to find what we would hear at Sunday's liturgy. M was able to read the psalm and C and L waited patiently to see what we'd be doing after we were done with all this listening. :)

This week we celebrate the Nativity of John the Baptist, 6.24.12

Here are some questions and thoughts to discuss as a family:

1. What is a Nativity? Who was John the Baptist?

2. Why is his birth/his life an important one?

Our activity involved the psalm for this week which is one of my very favorites.

Feel welcome to download our idea sheet here.  I had one sheet for each child and we spent 15 minutes brainstorming, writing, and drawing everything good that God made about each of us.

I found it a really powerful exercise to do with each of them. I offered ideas of wonderfulness they had not thought of, and I was reminded of other great talents that had not shown themselves lately. We also spent time talking about how we should appreciate what God has given us, even when we want our hair to be more curly like our friend's or we want to be taller like another friend. God has made us wonderful.

Happy Sunday, friends. Hope to post more of these each week as we challenge ourselves to dig deeper into God's word.


Where did my voice go? I must find it.

Happy Friday! We did it.

I'm shifting into high gears next week with lots of time in the office, and while I'm preoccupied there will be some superheroes over here, sitting behind the keyboard at Pars Caeli. They hail from Ireland, Italy, as well as the Northeast and deep South of the beautiful USA (what a lovely melting pot) and these ladies have come armed with dazzling photos, DIYs, calls to action, and even a fancy pants Vlog (first one here ever!!) to keep you coming back for more. Yes, I am cool by association.

I will be popping in to relieve my stress and to say hey so please, please be sure to continue your happy commenting trend. And when I do return, I'm coming back with fireworks ablazin' with a great giveaway and a pool party for the 4th on this here blog (I hope my Mac can handle all that chlorine).

Before we head into the weekend, let me leave you with some great ideas I glistened from my new friend, Jennifer Cooper. Jen is a super talented lady, founder/designer behind Ellie Bellie Kids, editor of Classic Play, and a generous teacher over at the Alt Channel. I was a fortunate student in her class, Writing and Finding Your Voice, and I want to share some great takeaways for you and your writing (whether it be blog, papers, emails, books, or tweets!).

One thing before I give you these 5 golden rings...true confession: before starting a blog, I never really thought about the fact that I'd have to WRITE it. My mom said to me, "The blog will be a great way for you to write and share your ideas." I say, "Well, I don't always have to write. Sometimes I'll just share pictures or things I love or, you know, other stuff." My eloquence started early. And so, here I am, baby blogger, totally in the tornado of writing an ample amount, every day.

Who knew?

Oh, wait, you all did, didn't you? Well, why didn't you tell me?

So, get our those handbags, here's what we've got.

1. Less is more.

I can be a total stream of consciousness kind of girl, and I need to fight that tendency people are precious and your time is the best. So this is a good reminder. Less is fresh.

2. You want to have a certain level of intimacy with your audience.

While shirking away from challenging topics and leaving out the gory details might make for happier posts, the writer needs to establish an intimacy with the reader. I think this is why the "Things I'm Afraid to Tell You" blogging series really hits it out of the park. It feels like we're all up late together eating Suzy Qs in our PJs. 

3. Remind your readers who you are – recap your best posts or your philospophy.

Sometimes I forget that you're not in my head. And so reiterating why I started a series of posts or explaining why my family decided to do something in particular would be helpful to move the story along and connect the dots (I always enjoyed the alphabetical connect the dots as much as the numbered ones, how about you?).

4.  Carry a notebook.

I started doing this when I started blogging, and I find it really helpful to catch thought bubbles that burst way too quickly. And I have to prohibit any to do lists in such notebook otherwise it brings stress instead of inspiration. 
 **this one is my fave: 

5.  A great idea poorly written is better than a bad idea written brilliantly.

Jen has oodles of other ideas and great recommendations on folks who do this well.  Pop over tomorrow night when she's at it again. Check it here. Grab yourself a glass of red wine and get ready to learn. I think you might just find your voice.

Happy weekend, friends. I hope it's a bright one. Meetcha here on Monday where we'll be living La Bella Vita. Do not miss it. :)


P.S. For those of you interested, I'm starting a new weekly series focusing on faith and family. Once I graduate out of the baby blogger phase, and understand feeds and menus more, you'll be able to subscribe to this feature in particular. Until then I'll just try to remind you. "Ready to Pray" will link to the readings of the week and offer an activity and/or questions you can use with your kiddos (or yourself) to help them understand and engage in Mass. I haven't quite decided what's the best day to post these so I welcome your feedback there. This first installment will be coming at you on Saturday!! Happy inspires.

Start here.

Oh, my gosh, hello! How are you? Come on in, please. Make yourself at home. I'm M.J., and this is my web home, Pars Caeli (pars kiley). I'm kind of delighted that you've come over.

Have you ever started something just to inspire yourself? Get your creative juices going? Well, welcome to why this blog was born (are blogs birthed or hatched?)
So glad we caught up with each other! I'm a mom of three, wife, educator, and designer living in the Midwest. I have another full-time gig and for right now this blog is purely my hobby. I'm an avid blog reader, and I find the blogging community to be incredibly supportive and without (unhealthy) competition.

So I've jumped into the great big worldwide web to offer my voice and opinion. I find inspiration all over the place, and I really want to share it all with you!

These are my people, the inhabitants of Pars Caeli. When my hubby and I moved into our home ten years ago, right after our wedding, we titled our happy abode Pars Caeli, piece of Heaven.

And now we have three little people who vividly illustrate this story.

M: age 7
C: now five
L: "I'm two."

I started this blog to inspire. I started this blog to inspire myself.

It's working.

I believe that sometimes we're not fully aware of the little pieces of Heaven all around us.
And sometimes we overlook our own capacity to be one of those pieces. 

Maybe you might find some of the musings, ideas, and projects in my home inspiring.

I hope that you'll feel comfortable to leave a happy comment because I'm pretty sure you're inspiring, too.


PS. I'm fully embracing this lovely quote I found from a wonderful shop on Etsy. Won't you join me in this quest?

This is us.

These are my people. You may remember that I introduced you already. These are my inspires - my core, my life, and the best gigglers I know (yes, even my hubby).  

Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be. ~Mt 6

They are a super huge reason why I've started this blog, and they are the major reason why I've been only thinking about blogging and following awesome blogs for many, many years.

I have my dreams and in every one of them these beautiful people are the main characters. 

I'm not sure, however, if their dreams involve a leading role in the great worldwide web.

This little bitty blog is my place to share home, design, faith, and life - with you. 

Sooner than I'd like, these littles will be biggies with their circles of friends and awesome activities and, at least to begin this adventure (I reserve the right to change my mind*), I'm going to give them their own space to avoid the embarrassment of their momma. They'll be the protagonists in all of my stories but, for now, this is your key in the photo glossary of Pars Caeli.

So many blogging moms out there give us an open view into their homes, their professional life balance, their kids' interests and fashions. (e.g.: Gabby, Kelly, and Melissa are among my faves)

I have read along in awe and gawked at lovely photos - motivated to be more, and moved to be happy with now.

It's tough not showing you all the 1000s of cute photos I have of each child (yes, you've been spared), but I think for now, this is the right choice for us and Pars Caeli.

Pars Caeli (pars kiley) is the name my hubby and I gave our home when we moved into it, two days after our wedding. And now it's my great delight to welcome you to my web home, a lovely extension of our piece of Heaven.

What are your thoughts, dear readers? What guides you in what to share or not to share on the internet?

Thanks for coming over. Let's talk again soon.


MJ Kocovskiblogs, family, inspire, kids