Ave Maria Grotto, AL

The ride to Cullman, AL seemed like it would go on forever. I am thankful that my kiddos are so willing to take on traveling. From what I experienced while sitting in the very back row of our 12 passenger van its always very bumpy. During the trip the kids and I kept ourselves entertained with knitting, reading, and interesting conversation. I guess it’s a good thing I spend my entire day with them or I might have struggled with spending so much extra time with them.

We arrived at the Grotto around lunch time. There were picnic tables located near the entrance. For lunch we had PB&J rollups, Ham and cheese rollups, apples, popcorn, pretzels, and juice. It was a really cold day for Alabama so the kids walked around and ate to keep themselves warm. We ate more quickly than usual hoping to seek shelter in the gift shop.

We spent almost an hour exploring the gift shop. It was full of Catholic everything. Most Catholic churches in our area have their own small Catholic store but nothing like what was in the Ave Maria Grotto’s gift shop. I wanted to buy everything. I mean everything even the duplicates. We bought some crucifixes for Pippi to continue her love of making Rosaries and I got a new scapular as mine had started to cause some skin irritation.

We paid for admission and headed outside. The grotto is known as Jerusalem in Miniature. It contains over 100 reproductions of famous buildings. The first thing you see is a beautiful enclosure with the Nativity inside. It’s amazing how during the Christmas season we take more time to notice the details in Nativity scenes.

We tried our best to get the boys to slow down and look at everything instead of running. It really is just part of their nature. The kids all had fun looking at the mini versions of different churches, buildings and shrines. Duke even managed to find a lizard condo. While Baby Kermit and Pooh thought the chipmunk crossing was interesting.

The buildings were beautifully constructed. It’s amazing to think a monk, Brother Joseph Zoetl constructed most of the structures. I love his creative spirit. He used my new favorite word: resourcefulness to accomplish such an amazing place. There is a pamphlet that tells you about each structure and a little history. My favorite of course being the Nativity.

It is definitely one of those places that I think you can visit multiple times and find things you didn’t notice the first time. If you live in or near Alabama or your just traveling though this is a great place to visit. And if you seem some of the Monks don’t be afraid to chat with them. They are very friendly. Grandpa and Bubbles had a nice chat with one of them that made the trip more special for them both.

 

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New Year New Goals for 2018

I am not one to really buy into the whole resolution business but I do know when it’s time to change habits. I can  realize when it’s time to start improving myself. I think after living a year of so much pain, both mental and physical, I am ready for a good year. I am determined that 2018 has to be better.

My first goal is that I will get a diagnosis for my migraines and headaches. I will get answers . I am my biggest advocate and I am not going to let things fall to the wayside. My Graves Disease is in remission which means this is the perfect time to resolve all my other medical issues. I want my life back and I am willing to fight for it.

The next goal is a Bible challenge. My friend, Steve asked me if I would like to do a Bible study. I thought that was a great idea. I have lacked in studying the Bible and growing closer to Jesus is a good thing. So after some research I found the 5x5x5 reading plan and this 1 year plan  .  I thought a good start would be the 5x5x5 reading plan. We agreed to read according to the reading plan, jot down some things we’d like to discuss and chat every Sunday night about what we read that week.

The third goal I have is keeping a food diary. I have tried to use my fitness pal or other websites and techniques to try and help me keep track. It started to make myself feel really guilty for the bad days when I didn’t eat well because I didn’t feel well. Plus with not feeling well means I haven’t been exercising at all. So with keeping a food diary and getting a better hold of my health I am hoping I can get back on track to taking better care of myself.

My last goal is a thankful journal. I decided on this for a couple of reasons. It’s easy to do and only takes a few minutes a day. I already try to write down key details of what happens each day so this would be a good addition. I also wanted to find a way to catch hints of depression or anxiety before they happen. I’m pretty sure I can tell by what I write and how I word things what kind of mood I am in.  Plus I’m hoping it will help me appreciate the small things just a little bit more.

I am very happy to have made these goals for 2018. I am choosing to trust God and keep the faith this year. I think it will make it that much better. Happy New Years and happy goal setting as well as resolving.

 

The Road to Bethlehem – Journeys Through Time and Space

Overview: ‘The Road to Bethlehem’ is a “RPG-in-a-box” game where players journey to meet the Holy Family through a series of scenarios, which contain story path choices, and personal and team challenges.

How to Play: Each scenario begins with narrative read by the Game Master (GM), which presents the first decision point for players. Using voting cards (labeled A through E), players secretly vote on their preferred decision, reveal, and discuss if a majority is not reached. The GM reads the narrative for that choice, and proceeds through further decision points, and conducts personal and/or team challenges. When the end of the scenario is reached, the GM reads the Epilogue narrative, which features a question(s) asked by the Archangel Raphael. After the 8th Scenario, the GM reads from the Final Epilogue, which will vary based on players time, equipment, authority, and reputation progression levels (i.e., arriving too early/late and the players will miss meeting the Holy Family, higher levels of authority/reputation/equipment will mean richer event descriptions).

Gameplay: We had three generations playing the game, with nine players (we used seven player boards as my parents doubled with our youngest two who are 4 and 5), and myself as the GM. The initial narrative and encounter board helped everyone picture the situation. Every decision point often evoked discussion before and after. For instance my youngest daughter expressed distrust of the Phoenician merchant due to his aggressive advertising of his wares, but her grandmother proposed maybe he had something useful for the journey ahead. The personal and team challenges were sometimes entertaining and invoked a lot of laughter, and other times brought frustration. I prepped 2-3 scenarios in advance to ensure I had a modified alternatives for elementary age children, and middle-schoolers. For the scenario epilogues I decided to read each person their own Archangel Raphael card (my parents were visiting and I wanted them to see as much of the game content as possible). Each card has some serious answers, but there’s always a funny one or two which made the kids laugh hard. For some challenge/card rewards, it allowed a player to pick a token out of the ‘Bag of Surprises’; this created some mystery, and some of the tokens were private challenges, e.g., make someone laugh, help someone with a personal challenge, for that player to earn some extra reputation.

Some examples personal/team challenges:

  • Properly arrange parts of famous proverbs
  • Sing Christmas Carols from memory
  • Find hidden objects in a room
  • Define Biblical Phrases, e.g., Promised Land, Prodigal Son
  • Untie knots as a group behind back
  • Build a tower out of paper & toothpicks (we used marshmallows in lieu of paper)
  • Memorize a maze pattern
  • Walk on a path blindfolded, following directions from others
  • Name synonyms/antonyms for words

Our Family Background with Gaming: For family background, and experience with board and role playing games, my parents, my one sister, and I played Heroquest, the grandfather of “RPG-in-a-box”, in the early ‘90s. More recently, I have played in several Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition campaigns, and hosted some ‘No Thank You Evil’ sessions with my four oldest children. The wife and I have been heavily involved in the board game renaissance, and have introduced our children to a wide range of new generation board games, e.g., Machi Koro, Carcassonne, Castle Panic, Smallworld, Survive, to name a few, and in particular the modern “RPG-in-a-box” Mice and Mystics.

Summary: I would definitely recommend this game. The kids were excited to play the next scenario, and would ask when we were going to play it again. I would be hard pressed to find a better game to play during Advent, this game fits the role well and I believe it will become an annual family tradition. The kids often found the physical challenges entertaining, and the funny answers in the Archangel Raphael cards brought out hearty laughter. It was a great way to spend hours together as a family, and everyone was able to play. Traditionally, Christian-themed games are either mass market games with tacked on Christian veneers, e.g., Operation Noah’s Ark, Bibleopoly, or made by well-intention Christians who made unfun games, e.g., Solomon’s Temple, The Bibleman Adventure, Walk to Jesus. Because of this Christian-themed games tend to be a niche market, despite Christians representing one-third of the world’s population. Which leads into my next point. The game is currently selling for $89 on Amazon, which is high for a board game, but fairly on par for a “RPG-in-a-box”. I conclude it’s due to the market size and the quality of the components. For comparison, Mice and Mystics retails for $70, Descent: Journeys into the Dark for $79, and Gloomhaven (currently #1 on BoardGameGeek) for a stunning $289. For another comparison with pen & paper style role-playing games, seriously getting into D&D 5th edition will cost you at least $100: one copy each of the Player’s Handbook, Dungeon Master’s Guide, and some dice. Now, it’s bit of comparing apples to oranges (D&D is immensely flexible and Gloomhaven has mind-boggling 95 scenarios), but where I’m driving is the price is not unreasonable and if we want to see more games like this we need to vote with our wallets. Get the game, play with family and friends.

Verdict: FOUR out of FIVE WISEMEN

Likes:

  • Requires little setup time, and minimal prep time for the Game Master
  • “Choose-your-own-adventure” feel
  • Co-operative, family-friendly play with story decision points
  • Top-notch Quality Components
  • Beautiful, professional Artwork
  • Variety of challenges that catered to everyone
  • Educational about Advent, the Nativity
  • Replayable, each Scenario has several major paths
  • Candidate for Annual Family Advent Tradition

Dislikes:

  • Scenario pacing is sometime uneven (Too narrative heavy at times, team decision points bunched up, back-to-back challenges)
  • Some mildly mature references (e.g., Drinking at an Inn, Bandits capturing people for slavery)
  • Some challenges are hard to understand, based on reading alone, short videos would help
  • Challenges/Trivia don’t scale based on age
  • Missed opportunities for proverbs/quotes/references from the Bible, Catholic Saints, Popes, Church Fathers, etc. (I would guess this is a design choice, in order to appeal to all Christians, regardless of Denomination)
  • No built-in mechanism for create your own scenario/campaign

Players: 3-8
Playing Time: 30 minutes to 1 hour for each scenario; 8 scenarios in total
Age: 8 and up (younger children can play with assistance from adults)

Website:http://www.road2bethlehem.com/

Where to buy:https://www.amazon.com/Road-Bethlehem-Journeys-through-space/dp/B076DD6HJ8

Designer: Jacek Malkowski
Artist: Martyna Bylinka, Monika Popkiewicz, Michal Dziubicki, Natalia Kielmel, Przemyslaw Pulit, Kacper Molewski
Distributor: Gates of Tau
Translation: Annabelle Chapman, Anthony Glotz, David Liebers, Krzysztof Rafi Gorski
Year Published: 2017
Categories: Adventure, Biblical Campaign Setting
Mechanisms: Co-operative Play, Storytelling

Encouraged by God

I woke up that morning with the best ah-ha. It was a quiet ah-ha as George was still sleeping but it was the best.

Since our move I have also had some of the most beautiful words come from a friend I made in DC. Here’s some of the things she told me: “Oh precious friend if I could wrap you up in a huge hug and somehow let you feel and experience the love God has for you I would.  I pray now as I’m typing that you feel His comfort, his light, his love. It takes strength and courage to share what you shared today. It may take some strength to hold in what you’ve been holding in, but it took more strength to share it.  Being vulnerable and asking for help or opening up to others is always the bravest and hardest thing to do. And yet I wonder how many dozens or hundreds of people walk past us everyday holding and shouldering the burden of such tear pain and we have no idea?  No, sharing is always the bravest and scariest thing to do.  You are a warrior Kim – a brave, courageous, beloved warrior princess of the God who loves you with a capacity we will never fully understand or fully experience on this side of heaven. But goodness I pray that God surround you with so much love and comfort and hugs of protection right now, this night, that you can’t help but be comforted by the One who holds us during our worst pains.”

We have been going through kind of a rough patch and I was starting to lose hope. I needed a friend to talk to but I wasn’t sure whose advice, encouragement and love I was suppose to seek. Facebook is still an odd creature that I don’t understand but I decided to use it. I decided to just out right post that I needed a friend to talk to. By doing this I was agreeing to being very open to whomever God sent me.

 He sent me a friend from high school that I have talked to on and off throughout the years. Here are some of the kindest and most encouraging things she said: “ I know that this is not what we like to hear in times of struggle and pain and worry. But God has his hand on your precious family and no matter what storms come, He will be the Rock of your stability. He does nothing without already knowing what is coming next. Nothing is a surprise to Him. He loves you and has great plans for your life. Cast your cares upon him, for he cares for you. Sometimes we have to remember that our happiness isn’t contingent upon our situation but is rooted in Christ. And our feelings aren’t always gonna be happy and joyous. Sometimes you feel like throwing your hands up and quitting. Especially when the money isn’t there or things are just crashing in around you. On the days when you just want to cry and let depression and anxiety overtake you, it’s easy to see the bad side of things. I’m not gonna give you the whole “God is in control” speech because that is never helpful and to be honest, it doesn’t make anyone feel better. I do know that depression is a hard thing to deal with and many people say “just shake it off” because they equate depression and sadness as the same thing when it’s not.
God will definitely give us storms that are too big for us to handle. I don’t subscribe to the “He will never give us more than we can handle” theory. He wants us to learn to lean on Him. I don’t know why you’re going,through this and I’m sorry that you are. Kick, scream, cry if you must. There are times when I need to do,that. Asking God why is sometimes helpful. Not in a way of blaming Him, but seeking direction.
Most of all, I love you. And I know that we don’t speak often but you cross,my mind often. I will be praying for you all.
And tell the devil and his demons that they have no place in your home, because you are a child of the Most High King.”
I fully believe because of these words I was able to finally understand my biggest and best talent.
The days leading up to the point I was comforting and encouraging my best friend. When someone dies: a close friend or an acquaintance it makes us stop and take stock. We wonder why we are here and does it get better. I told him that life is short and doing the right thing and using our talents to help others is what we’re here for.
  I’ve had alot of trouble sleeping between the sinus infection and sleep interruptions caused by anxiety and worry. I wake up most mornings worried that I’ll screw it up. I’ll screw them up (the kids). Mostly that I’m failing at life. This morning I woke up feeling over joyed. For the last couple of years I have struggled with depression and anxiety that I come in and out of. The biggest thing I question during that time is my purpose. What am I here to do? How am I useful? What is this talent that God gave me? Besides being a mom and taking care of my family is there more to me? Does this make me feel whole?
 I’ve known for a while that being a Mom and Wife is a blessing. I love it! But I woke up that morning and knew the answer. I’m here to help people with my resourcefulness. MY RESOURCEFULNESS. (It feels amazing to say it out loud.) I know how to make something out of nothing. We can be in-between grocery trips:I can pull a great meal from minimal ingredients. We have no money and I need to buy shoes: I can figure it out. Someone asks me how to entertain little people during Mass: I have lots of suggestions. A friend is having trouble with homeschooling and I can help. If you want to know how you can volunteer: I can give you many ideas. I’m here to use my talent of resourcefulness to share my knowledge and love with others. I’m here to use the gift God gave to me to help others.
  This day was one of my best because not only did I find meaning but I found forgiveness. I am the type of person that hopes for the best but prepares and expects the worst. I let myself get to the point where I feel so badly that I start to believe I’m not worth loving. I believe the things I’ve done or not done are the worst sins ever committed. But on this day I found a light and was not only able to receive Gods forgiveness but also forgive myself. I was so happy to feel Gods presence again.
 We are still struggling with life as is normal. Money, work, school, and all the rest. I still spend a huge chunk of my day teaching my children all the things they need to know to become the best adults they can.  I may have to yell at the kiddos to do their chores pretty much everyday. I miss my Dad more than usual lately. But today and yesterday I could feel Gods presence encouraging me to keep trying and to not lose hope. I can feel the precious words said to me by those 2 sweet ladies whom have blessed me in a dark time. I am loved!
“There is nothing I cannot do in the One who strengthens me.”
Philippians 4:13

Nature Plex 1.0 and Survival Day

One day, Mom decided to take us to this nature place called Nature Plex. It was free because Dad is military. We went inside and looked around. The ceiling was so huge that if you were 6Ft and you grew 3 more Ft you would still fit in the building.

The first place was this room with educational stuff in it. (Mom don’t read the 2 sentences after this) To tell the true I thought it was the bathroom. When I finally decided it wasn’t, I walked in. I looked and Voilà Magical. There was a Giant bee hive and some frog tanks, etc. I played with some dead animal skins and Then Mom said some about studying some facts, Meh. Mom also took some pictures of me with trash pandas (They were dead but not dead?). There was also a bat cave (Not a real one) It had a TV playing a video about Bat and the white-nose syndrome. (White-nose syndrome is an emerging disease in the USA and Canada, to save the bats, scientists must quickly find the disease’s weakness. I got this info from a website) Then we went in the store. There was a racoon hat (*Sigh*), a stick with an animal head on it, Etc. 20 minutes later and we were watching a movie called Planet Earth Pole to pole. It was about Penguins, and Polar bears surviving and a hyena chasing impalas.

Then we went outside and walked some paths. We didn’t even get lost once (Not). There were trees, trees, grass, a stinkbug(P.U.), a worm, trees, and grass. Pippi had hit me with her jacket so I asked mom if my face was red and She pinched on the cheek. It hurt (Meany). Then she said “It’s red now.” So I walked away. We also saw a hairy caterpillar (I’m going to exaggerate now). Mom then screamed so loud that it scared away all the birds. “I hate hairy ones” she said. Then she ran away really fast.

We went to the Natureplex a second time the next week for Survival Day. The first thing that we did was fire starting class. Mr. Matt (that’s what he said his name was) told us if you were going on a hike and you knew you weren’t gonna get back in time then you should start getting wood. First start with your tender: It’s like a small stick, kindling is a little bit bigger, and then fuel, is like a log. He showed us two diffident ways to light (P.s. don’t try that stuff on TV. It takes too much energy).

After that we did a compass course,  you followed whatever direction was on your sheet. Me and Pippi had a team and Bubbles and Duke had a team. There was flags and each flag had letters on them. Example Below. When you go to the right flags it makes a word, that’s why it says Water. Does that confuse you?

Course 1

NW         W

N          a

E           t

NE        e

W         r

After that we did an archery course. I thought archery was gonna be easy but there were so many rules that it sounded stupid and was too hard. They were gonna do  kayaking  but we didn’t want to stay. We thought it was gonna rain and we were tired. Plus I was really hungry. THE END

-Jem

 

Now on to the critic reviews

Bubbles: 8 stars “I really liked that they were teaching other people how to survive.”

Duke: 10 stars “It was silly especially the toads and lizards.”

Pippi:9 stars “It would have been better with a picnic. I loved archery.”

Me: 9 stars “It was fun! I liked walking but archery was lame.”

Mom: 8 stars ” I really enjoyed the hike in the woods. The best part is that they have great events that are included with admission.”