Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Gifts We Gave and Got in 2020

 I wasn't going to put together our Martin Family Gift Guide for 2020 because families have enough struggles and worries this year and I don't want anyone feeling guilty if they can't make this Christmas "as wonderful" as Christmases past.  I also feel bad because I do 95% of our shopping through Amazon, Walmart and Target and I know it's small shops that are struggling this year.  But I have to be real, and this authentic, busy, tired mom of many needs to be able to shop online on her lunch break, or add something to a cart while waiting at piano lessons, and this is the easiest way for me to get it all completed.  So I'm just listing the gifts my kids received this year, and hoping it blesses some of you readers who need some inspiration to get the job done so we can create a bit of magic as we say GOODBYE TO 2020!  And maybe you can give your kid a moment like this:


Bose Bluetooth Speaker

Phone case with built in charger

Hooded sweatshirts


Adidas sneakers

 Beats wireless earbuds


Portable hammock

Car mount for phone

Soccer cleats

Cam Newton jersey

Adidas Slides

Adidas Hat

Celtics Sweatshirt

Cam Newton Pats Shirt


Escape Room Game

The favorite present was definitely this Ping Pong Set



Gabb phone

Cake Decorating Kit

Flying Ring

LED Lights for their room

Amazon Fire Tablet 10

Bucket hat

Lunch bag


washi tape 

throw blanket


Invisible ink pens

surveillance kit

long shoehorns

Handheld Game System

Christian Name Sign (great First Communion or Baptism gift)


harmonica with a book

Soccer ball

Motorized scooters 


Aqua Doodle Mat


Water guns

A gumball machine with gumballs

TWO new stomp rockets

A cool racing car kit

bubble wand

Floppy hat (seen below on the youngest two)


Best cheap vacuum

Easy and clean favorite mop

 Cute boots 

my favorite pajamas

Apple Watch

Yeti tumbler with handle

Best gift this year was this tabletop fire pit for our screened porch:


 5000 Facts About Everything, volume 3

Danielle Bean's new book

Manual for Women

Brain Quest books


The Mamba Mentality

Ripley's Beleive it or Not

Guinness World Records 2021

Science Year by Year

The Vatican Christmas Cookbook

Milk Street Cookbook

The Grumpy Old Ox (kids)

The Spider Who Saved Christmas (kids)

Little Blue Truck books (little kids)

Justice on the Accropolis (age 8-12)

A Journal for Boys (ages 8-12)

Will Wilder Books (tweens and teens)

Sword and the Serpent Books (teens)

The Outlaw Series (teens)

Extreme Ownership: How Navy SEALS Lead and Win (teens and adults)

Life in the Fasting Lane

Looking for more ideas?  

Here's our BIG Family Shopping Guide


Lists and Lists of Books

Thanks for shopping through my links and helping me make Christmas more magical for my family :)

Friday, November 20, 2020

7QT: Painting the Fireplace, Crafting a Wreath, and Candles in the Windows

Happy Friday folks!  Linking up with Kelly and off we goooooo....

We always decorate for Christmas on Black Friday and even though I kept seeing other families post photos with their beautiful trees and other Christmas decor up, I restrained the urge to decorate before Thanksgiving.  I totally understand why people want to make their homes pretty and bright a little earlier in this 2020 Year Never To Be Spoken Of Again.  I really do.  I just have this thing about celebrating holidays in order that outweighed that.  So for now, we are just *prepping* the house for Christmas decorating.  And also eating lots of these crazy good cookies from Aldi's:


Guys, I actually crafted!  I went to Hobby Lobby and got a grapevine wreath and some florals and cut off the branches and shoved them into the wreath.  That's it!  No glue or anything else needed.  It was such a good craft for dummies Colleen.




I just tied a ribbon around it and hung it in between our dining room windows.

I was very pleased with how it came out and my kids were equally shocked that their mom can now apparently make stuff.

Thursday, November 19, 2020

The Vatican CHRISTMAS Cookbook, Filled with Delicious Stories and Tales from Rome (Great Gift Idea!)

After having read and loved The Vatican Cookbook that came out a couple of years ago, I was so excited to receive The Vatican CHRISTMAS Cookbook to review.  With the holidays coming up, and a pandemic still forcing us to stay at home, what better time to create and taste some recipes straight from a Swiss Guard chef at the Vatican?

From the Back Cover

The Christmas Vatican Cookbook shares with the world the glorious spirit of joy and feasting that characterizes Christmastime at the Vatican.  

Acclaimed chef and former Swiss Guard David Geisser presents more than 100 original recipes that have been prepared and served at the Vatican during the Advent and Christmas seasons for over a thousand years, offering a deeply historical and uniquely Catholic way of celebrating the holidays in your home each year.

A marvelous cooking manual and so much more, The Vatican Christmas Cookbook includes stunning behind-the-scenes photographs of the Vatican, which elevate this collection of sublime recipes to a work of art.

After reading through the beautiful cookbook (seriously, this is a coffee table book!) I decided to try my hand at the Maple Cream Cake because it looked delicious and simple.  I used a frozen crust (shhhh don't tell the Vatican!) and the custard filling came together quickly.  

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

A Chance to Win CASH!

 If you're a gambling type, or if you just want to help support my sons' high school fundraiser, may I kindly implore you to purchase a $10 raffle ticket to be entered in 39 drawings (prizes from $150 to $2021).  Each raffle ticket is entered for all of the drawings, so the odds are in your favor :)  

To support JP - choose John-Paul M. Senior Spartan as the participant

To support Andrew - choose Andrew M. Sophomore Spartan as the participant

Thanks in advance and Good Luck!

Friday, November 13, 2020

7QT: An Acceptance, An Earthquake, and Another COVID Test


JP's first college acceptance came in the mail and it was to Franciscan University!  JP has great grades and a difficult course load and did well on his SATs, so getting accepted to Franciscan wasn't a worry, but what was very happy news was that he won the Chancellor Scholarship, which is the highest merit scholarship they have.  Good work son!  The financial aid package should be coming in the mail any day now, and we are still waiting to hear from nine other schools, so the decision is a looooong way off from being made.  He has an interview with a prestigious six year PA program next week, and has added an internship with a doctor to his busy schedule so that is his focus right now.  Does this college talk bore you all?  I felt so in the dark when it came to the procedures and applications when he became a junior in high school, and I wished people would talk about it more, so here I am...at your service.


When you have lots of kids, it's fun to see the different sibling dynamics that take place.  Well, the argumentative ones aren't fun, but the siblings who seem to get along well 99% of the time are the best.  Declan, age 6 and Brendan, age 4 have been so close.  Brendan just adores Declan and Declan loves being adored :)  I caught them watching a movie like this...when there were literally six other seats available.

Brothers gotta snuggle!

Thursday, November 12, 2020

The Grumpy Old Ox and Other Thoughts About the Nativity

We were asked to review The Grumpy Old Ox by Anthony DeStefano and I jumped at the chance because he is one of my favorite children's book authors.

The Grumpy Old Ox is such a sweet children's book that I am happy to add to our Advent collection.  The Ox is a blind, lame, mean old ox who lives in the barn behind the famous inn that had no room where Jesus was born.  The inn's owner was also cruel and heartless, which had rubbed off on the attitude of the ox, and honestly was something I had never thought about before.  I always assumed the inn was full and Joseph got turned away simply because of that, but this book points out that the owner must have known Mary was about to give birth and left them out in the cold without any food or comfortable items.  Is that true?  I don't know, but it is something to ponder. 

When the ox sees Mary and Joseph with nothing, forced to give birth in the barn, he feels compassion for their hardships.  He pushes the manger over to Mary for a bed for Jesus, and he shares his water with her.  When shepherds and kings and other animals show up, the ox realizes that this baby must be really special, perhaps even a king!  When the holy family leaves, the ox misses the love that was shared in the barn and decides to change his mean ways.  After a long sleep, the ox woke and realized he could see and his lame leg was healed.  He knew it must have been a gift from the little king, and as he exclaims that he can now see, at last, we all understand he is not just talking about his vision.  Jesus had transformed him spiritually as well.  The Grumpy Old Ox is an adorable story of conversion with lots to talk about once the book was finished.  We loved it.

 Whenever I have envisioned the nativity of Our Lord, I think I romanticized the whole thing.  A cute couple in a warm lit up barn, surrounded by adoring animals where Jesus lay in a manger.  But there was so much more to it than that.  Mary and Joseph had to endure the fear of traveling while pregnant, to an unknown place with nowhere to stay.  Giving birth alone without family around, knowing the baby you are carrying is God, yet still being treated as if you are nobodies.  Having been through labor so many times, I know the normal anxiety that comes with delivering a child, and I have a team of medical professionals at my side!  I can't imagine understanding what was to come and feeling so unprepared for it to happen.  But Mary is a much holier woman than I (duh!) and uses the whole story to teach us a lesson (or two or a hundred).  I read recently a reflection that Mary, if she wasn't sinless, could have easily told Joseph to step aside, or chastised him, after he failed to find a room at the inn, and taken care of business herself (as I imagine I would!).  Instead, Our Lady was such an example of gentleness and peacefully trusting in God's plans that she just quietly and obediently rolled with it.  Her whole life was a series of yesses to doing God's will, and saying no to her own desires.  Anyway, there are lots to think about in this upcoming Christmas season, and reading this sweet story with rhymes, beautiful illustrations, and a powerful message of conversion is a great way to start.

Friday, November 6, 2020

7QT: Two Spidermen and Two Elections and Two Much To Think About


I never posted our Halloween pictures...mea culpa!  It was a weird but fun Halloween, which is probably the story of all holidays in 2020.  Maggie went to a friend's birthday party and dressed as a minion:

JP worked at the ice cream store, in costume as Hawaiian Punch:

Andrew was in quarantine from what turned out to be a FALSE positive close contact student from school.  So annoying.

Eamon dressed up as Edelman (a Patriots player) but did not want to be in any photos.

The littles went as Captain America, Spiderman and another Spiderman (Brendan is big into imitating everything Declan does).


We left our house around 5:30 and it was cold (in the thirties!) but still light out.  I was so happy we brought the wagon and the youngest two kids jumped in and out all night.  

We have actually never been trick-or-treating in our neighborhood!  We have always gone to my sister's house in another town, had a family party and then hit up a few houses over there.  But alas, covid has changed social gatherings for the rest of the year at least, so we were on our own.  Our neighbors were so clever and had set up lots of different ways to give out candy safely.  Some had chutes, some had tables set up and decorated, and others threw out candy from their front porch.  It actually ended up being very fun!

Thursday, November 5, 2020

My Name is Colleen and I'm a Mom of Many...Failures (Or Why I Am Changing Our Approach to Kids and Phones)

To be clear, it's not that my children are my failures, it's just that I have so many times in my parenting journey where I feel like I have failed them.  I've realized (early on!) that having a lot of children doesn't make me a better mom, it just gives me more chances to keep improving.  Much like a student who has to repeat a grade in school wouldn't be considered a perfect student, having to raise seven toddlers doesn't a perfect mother make.  Oh sure, I've learned some tricks of the trade, but I've also learned what does not work just as frequently.

Now that's a mom fail ;)