Thursday, December 31, 2009

My Favorite Posts from 2009

My friend Gina found a great idea that I want to copy. She linked to her favorite posts (that she wrote) from 2009. Here are my top ten, in chronological order (yes, I am OCD!):

January 23: An Apology
April 10: Good Friday: No More Waiting
May 10: Like Father, Like Daughter
May 31: Wonder Woman
June 21: Superman
June 22: Weekend Recap: Birthday Party, Father's Day and Baptism
August 20: A Prayer for My Children
September 29: One Year In
November 4: He Lives On
December 23: Fourteen Years and Fifteen Times

Happy 2010 to everyone!

Friday, December 25, 2009

24: Sing Happy Birthday to Jesus AND 25: Stop and Look Around

So I'm posting this on Christmas Day. Actually the night of Christmas Day. And this would be how we started our day, with #24 on our Christmas Countdown:
video
It was a wonderful day. Time together, talking about Gifts and gifts, hanging out, watching movies, eating cinnamon toast (a tribute to Steeley), calling family, playing with Frank (my new laptop - oooo, aaah!), and then chaos at the in-laws'. I am thrilled with the way our focus was NOT on gifts, and happy with how the Want/Need/Wear/Read gifts worked out.

I am happy and spent and ready to crash in bed. I hope you all had a joyful, Christ-centered, peaceful day. Happy birthday to you, Jesus. My heart is full of gratitude, mostly because You will still be here tomorrow even when all of the hubbub is finished.

And the answer to #25 on our Countdown is yes: even if I had nothing, I would still be happy because my joy comes from You.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

$34.53

$34.53. That is how much my daughter and her friends donated to Living Water tonight. They had a lemonade stand this summer and made bracelets and ornaments this winter. Thanks to the generosity of so many friends and family, the kids collected $34.53 to give at church tonight. Our church donates the entire amount collected at the Christmas services to Living Water.

When Katie and I counted the total on Sunday, she had a little more than $27. I added an extra $3 to make it even, and reminded her that $10 can give someone clean water for the rest of their life. I asked her how many $30 will save, and she said, "Three people, Mommy!" She squealed and jumped up and down, then hugged me in her excitement. Then on Monday, she sold the last of the bracelets and had an extra $4 to add to the pot.

A few weeks ago at church, the kids ministry helped all the kids make containers to use for collecting money. Katie's was a large chip container, like a Pringles can. She put the $34.53 in her can and lugged it into church with us tonight at an early Christmas service. Katie was so excited because we let her go into "Big Church" with us instead of putting her in class. When the offering bag was passed, she popped the lid off her can and dumped the entire amount into the bag. And, man, was it heavy! She also included a note for God, telling Him how much she loves Him - and asking Him to help Jackson "be a good boy." That made me chuckle.

Katie refused to put her Pringles can in the offering bag because she wants to save it and collect more money this year to donate next Christmas.

Thank you, Lord, for Katie's pure and giving heart!

Fourteen Years and Fifteen Times

That first time, 14 years ago, you swore to me that you would have me and hold me, in sickness and in health. That you would love me and cherish me until death. You pledged your faith to me, and I pledged mine to you.

You've done that fifteen "official" times now with every anniversary we've celebrated, but you've done it countless times in countless ways since that first time. Because even the small things you do are still love letters to me:

The way you will get up in the middle of the night with one of our babies so I can sleep. The way you just smile and let me work myself into a tizzy over silly things. The way you know just when I need you to hold me and let me cry. The way you step out of your car when you get home from work, and walk towards me like I am your home base. The way you will drive me through a park to take photos just because you know it will help calm my spirit. The way you will volunteer to grocery shop when I've reached my daily limit of chaos. The way you love to grill and provide meals for us. The way you get up every morning and do the daily grind so you can take care of me and the kids. The way you just show up, ready and eager to help.

From the very first date to our most recent one tonight, you have been more than I ever dreamed you might be. And the best part? You aren't even remotely like I dreamed, because you're a thousand times better. You are just one more example in my life of how God has taken my dreams and blown them out of the water with something even I didn't know I needed:

Love. Unconditional love. Grace. Strength. Patience. Passion.

You, my sweet Dan, are all of those to me. Always and forever. And I am so blessed. Happy 14th anniversary.


23: Write a Recap of This Year

This task on our Christmas Countdown feels a little redundant since I kind of already did a "look back" in this post last September. That focused on a lot of the positive things that happened this year. I glossed over some of the negative, but the truth is there wasn't anything overly devastating that happened this year except for Grandmother's death.

This may sound awful and it's not meant to belittle Grandmother's life, but out of the deaths I've experienced in my immediate family, Grandmother's was the least jarring of all. Maybe because she was 94 and lived such an amazing life, and my other family members died so young or with many years left to live. Grandmother's death is still sad to me and makes me grieve, especially since I've spent 35 years of my life with her alive and always just assumed she'd be there. It's hard to say goodbye to such a large life such as hers. Yet as my sadness flows in, it quickly draws back because I remember the blessing I was given to spend a week with her before she died.

Even the "downs" of this past year still have an "up" to them, if I choose to see them.

When I look back at this year, the overall sense I get is a warm glow. I am blessed to have this feeling, since I know some people's 2009 has been a void of despair. But I know that the years in my past that have been voids of despair were also years of tremendous personal growth. They brought me to where I am today, and gave me the ability to see hope in the midst of deep pain. It doesn't mean I'm putting blinders on and ignoring the negative, it just means that I'm choosing to see the silver lining more than the cloud.

There were some definite joys for me this year, and I want to take those joys and keep running with them in 2010. For example, I connected so deeply with my extended family on my father's side during the week with Grandmother, at her funeral, and also during our family reunion in July. I want 2010 to bring a deeper bond with my family, especially since my original family nucleus is gone. (Well, except for you, Mary. Ha, ha!)

I also want to continue growing my faith in 2010. My leap of faith on Good Friday and my baptism in June were just the beginning. In just the last month, God has shown me in so many ways that I am on the right path. And, more than that, He's shown me that I'm exactly where I need to be right now. He's calming my urge to just jump forward to the end of the story and challenging me to stay in the moment.

At our church's Thanksgiving Experience at the end of November, we were challenged to give a gift to Jesus this Advent season. The gift I decided to give was a promise to speak more openly about my faith to people IN PERSON, which has been a fear for me. The very next day, an opportunity presented itself and I felt God's nudging to speak unabashedly about His new presence in my life. And since then? I've been continually presented with chances to start speaking openly about my relationship with Jesus. At parties. At a girls' weekend away. At our weekly Advent Conspiracy small groups. And for the first time in my life, I haven't felt embarrassed. I've actually felt more like me, like I'm finally claiming my birthright. I get goosebumps just writing about it, y'all!

So, to recap, I am so looking forward to 2010. I think I am on the cusp of some pretty amazing experiences. Last weekend when Dan drove me through a local park to take snow photos, we were talking about our hopes and dreams for our kids. I told him how excited I am for the kids to be old enough to do some new things with us like camping and traveling. There are so many amazing things I can't wait to show my kids. And then I said, "Do you think God feels that way about us? That maybe He thinks, 'Elizabeth, I love you so much and I can't wait to show you what I have in store for you. It is so cool! I have something so big for you just around the corner.'"

I can't wait either, and I'm looking forward with breathless anticipation.

Click here to read about our last tasks.

3D Snowflakes

I made a cool snowflake yesterday, and wanted to share a photo of it here.


I've seen these before and wondered how they were made. I decided to Google it and figure out how to make one myself. It really wasn't that difficult, although it's much bigger than I expected. Here's a link at WikiHow, and another at Lowe's Creative Ideas. Now I want to try my hand at smaller, more intricate versions. Good thing I have a long winter ahead of me to experiment!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

22: Donate Toys (Plus a Second Try for #18)

Task #22 on our Christmas Countdown was actually kind of nice. Katie and Jackson started in the basement and picked out toys they don't use anymore. Then they moved to our main floor, and ended in their rooms. I gave them a box to fill up, then left them to their own devices.

Katie showed me the box when they were done. It was interesting to see the random items they picked to donate. Not surprisingly, I had to sort them into new piles of "Keep Anyway" and "Don't Keep." And the "Don't Keep" had a subcategory of toys we can pass down to our neighbors who are expecting their first baby in April.


We left the house and took a trip to Goodwill and donated the box of toys. I'm proud of the kids for making room for new toys, and for letting go of some of their old treasures.

Later tonight, Katie helped me make dinner too. We bought all the ingredients for our snowman pizzas last week, so we decided to eat them tonight. Jackson refused to eat even one bite, but the rest of us enjoyed the quick and easy meal.


Here's a link to task #23.

Gingerbread Trees

I've decided I really REALLY don't like gingerbread houses. My friend Beth is a pro at them, and I admire her for that. But I just can't get the darn walls to stick together and stand up. Gravity is not my friend. (In oh so many ways!)

So I saw a kit for gingerbread trees and bought it, thinking gravity CAN be my friend when it comes to trees. After all, the tree is just made of star cookies stacked on each other.

I pulled them out and let the kids decorate them today. It really wasn't that bad! I had special Christmas sprinkles, marshmallow fluff (which acts as a pretty solid glue on the different layers), marshmallow shapes, M&Ms, and a tub of green icing. Jackson enjoyed licking the green icing.


I also had a box of gingerbread people that I let the kids decorate. Katie's turned out pretty cute.


Here are the finished projects:


Monday, December 21, 2009

Want/Need/Wear/Read

I was feeling a little anxiety this weekend over the fact that Christmas is so close and I didn't have ANY presents wrapped. Except for these, which I HAD to wrap so I could mail them to my sister in North Carolina last week. What do you think of my unique wrapping paper?


This year, I used old maps to wrap gifts. It's unique, environmentally friendly, and colorful too. I'm pretty sure my nieces will say I've lost my mind. But, then again, they already thought I was weird.

So last night, Dan and I had a mission. He worked on a spreadsheet while I went to the basement to start wrapping gifts. He joined me when he was done, and we watched the Survivor finale and assembled and wrapped some more gifts. I can't tell you how many times I congratulated myself for being so smart a few years ago and sewing drawstring bags to use for wrapping. They are reusable and so darn easy. I was thrilled with how much time I saved.

I was also pretty excited because this year, we are limiting the gifts to four categories: Want, Need, Wear, Read. I think I mentioned in an earlier post that Katie told us she should get three gifts (like baby Jesus was given) and then one from Santa. I had already bought a few more than that so I wasn't sure how to backtrack and make that work. I recently read some comments here and here that made me rethink the idea. Dan and I settled on Want, Need, Wear and Read. I made special tags for the kids' gifts and wrapped them in the bags. I think they turned out pretty well!


And, yes, I do understand that drawstring gifts bags will work for only a certain period of time. Once Katie learns to tie her shoes, I'll have to come up with some other way to wrap. But for now, it's the way to go!

19: Feed the Birds and 20 & 21: Tour & Award Christmas Lights

Whew! We are totally out of order on our Christmas Countdown, not to mention we took a weekend hiatus from the Advent wreath. Our excuse is the kids were at Grandma's and we were gone for a large chunk of the weekend. But now it's Monday, Christmas Day is in sight, and I'm catching up on our Countdown.

First up, we didn't feed the birds on Saturday. Or Sunday. We didn't get around to it until today. The kids opened the back door and tossed bread crumbs chunks on the patio. We haven't checked to see if it's been eaten, but hopefully our feathered friends appreciate the effort.


Last night, we fed and bathed the kids early, dressed them in their "kuh-gammas" (Jackson's pronunciation), then loaded them into the car for a Christmas light tour. Since tonight's schedule is already packed with gymnastics and Girl Scouts, we brought a trophy with us to award to someone last night too.


We drove by a house near us that has LOTS of those inflatables in their large yard. Guess who we saw on the driveway? Santa, Mrs. Claus, and two elves. We had to u-turn and go back to see them again, and then we rolled down our windows and shouted to them. Can you see Santa in the photo? It was such a fun surprise!



We went to three different displays in our area. You know, the ones that are on someone's house and attached to a computer that makes them sync with music? I read Randall's blog the other day and found out about this light display near us. Turns out this family goes to our church too.


(Please forgive the out-of-focus shot. I promise there are better photos at the website link above! I would also upload a video we took, but there are also cool videos on their website too.)

We watched the first song, then Katie asked if we could deliver a trophy to the family's front door. She and I knocked and the mom answered, and I recognized her as a singer at church. We told her how we heard about their light display, and we got to meet her husband and two boys. Then we gave them their trophy and told them how much we liked their lights, and the mom said she was about to cry. They asked how long we might be there and told us to wait a few minutes and they'd bring hot chocolate to our car. Isn't that the sweetest thing ever? They put on a light display and then make us feel so welcome!

We got three hot chocolates, one of which Katie dripped all over me. I actually giggled about this because I had already spilled communion on my lap that morning at church, and now I had hot chocolate on me too. Yes, it was the same outfit because I never had time to change after church, and the grape juice wasn't very noticeable anyway. What a lucky girl I am! The grace of Jesus spilling all over me in the morning and the hospitality of kind hearts dripping on me in the evening.

I'd call that a pretty successful day.

Skip ahead to #22 by clicking here.

Friday, December 18, 2009

18: Make Snowman Pizzas

Number 18 on our Christmas Countdown didn't happen. Nope. No snowman pizzas at our house. Instead, we ignored the Countdown in favor of a new tradition.

Last year, Katie and I went to see The Little Drummer Boy at Grace Church. She and I loved it so much that we really wanted to take Dan and Jackson to see it this year. I forgot that it was this weekend, and realized this morning that tonight might be our only chance to go. So, we quickly figured out the logistics and went tonight. Dan met us there after work, and I brought LOTS of supplies for the kids to play with while we waited for the show to start. (You have to get there early to get a seat, so there was lots of waiting.)

We were NOT disappointed. Even Jackson liked it, although his attention span is pretty short. (Thankfully I remembered to bring a dry erase board to entertain him during the slower parts of the show.) Here's a clip of one of their final numbers. They lowered huge drums from the ceiling, and had the full cast banging away on the stage as well.
video
Maybe we'll do the snowman pizzas another night!

The next three tasks got lumped in together. Go here to read about them!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

A Katie Stamp!

Santa came to today at the Christmas party for my mom's group. He brought Katie one of the coolest presents! It's a rubber stamp with Katie's face on it!


I asked Santa about it, and this is what he told me. He ordered it from an elf named Anna-Mae at www.villageimpressions.com. Here's a link to the specific page on photo stamps. She used a photo of Katie, plus a scan of Katie's name that she wrote in her own handwriting, and made the stamp. It's mounted on clear acrylic, so Katie can see the placement of the stamp before she imprints on paper. The stamp can also be removed from the acrylic block for use with other stamps or for cleaning. It'll stick itself right back on when you're ready.

Here's a photo of Katie with the stamp, the impression in her new High School Musical journal, and an odd smile (she likes to stick her tongue through the holes where she has lost her teeth).


Santa says Anna-Mae was very fast with the order, and had a good price. I thought I'd just pass along this great info in case you still need a unique gift idea!

It's For Your Own Good

Oh, Jackson. My sweet boy. How I wish I could make this day easier for you. But as painful as it is for you, it's even worse for me. (And now I get what my parents were trying to say years ago!)

About two weeks ago, you decided to give your pacis (pacifiers) to Santa. You hoped he would bring you a flashlight in exchange for your beloved pacis. You and I talked about it, and you were dead-set on giving him those pacis. And I was only too happy to oblige.

They've been a pain for me these past two years and nine months. Yes, they have been a great tool too, but so darn annoying at 2AM when they've rolled out of the bed. Not to mention I think they are deforming your mouth and giving you an overbite. A few months ago, I tried to talk you into giving up the pacis. I said, "Pacis are for babies." You emphatically - and without skipping a beat - replied to me, "No! Pacis are for ME." Guess you showed me, huh?

In order to minimize the rolling out of bed (and subsequent blind searching for them at 2AM), I attached them to your blanket with help from my friend Susan. That was about a month ago. It helped, until you finally bit through your favorite paci and got mad. That's when I started entertaining the idea of just hiding them from you and dealing with the fallout. Instead, you surprised me by saying you could give your pacis to Santa. Woo hoo!

In order to have something to replace your crutch, I asked you if maybe Santa could bring you an animal to sleep with instead. You really liked that idea, and suggested a dragon or a dinosaur. As today (aka Cold Turkey Day) finally approached, you homed in on the dinosaur/flashlight combo. So I took your final photo with your beloved yesterday.


And here's the proof of how sharp your little teeth really are:


Today, you saw Santa and ran straight to him with your Ziploc bag full of five pacis - the backup from your dresser drawer, the blue one from your school bag, and the three favorites from your bed. And just like that, you LET. THEM. GO. It seemed too easy.


And guess what Santa gave you in return? A dream come true: a big blue flashlight and a matching blue dinosaur that you and I named Dasher (after Santa's reindeer, of course).


You were so excited to bring Dasher home and take a nap with him. I rocked you and we listened to your lullaby song, and then I laid you gingerly in your crib. That's when you whispered, "My paci?" I reminded you that Santa has them now. You laid your head down, snuggled up to Dasher, and fell asleep.

FOR THIRTY MINUTES.

The first time you cried, I went in your room and asked what was wrong. You said, "I spit on my pillow." I guess it's a weird sensation to slobber on your pillow when, in the past, the paci kept you plugged. So I flipped your pillow over and told you to go back to sleep. You didn't. After a while, you cried again. I went to you and you said "My blankie is falling off me." I fixed it, told you to go back to sleep or else I would take Dasher away, and left you. I've been in your room yet again since then, and told you to GO TO SLEEP. It hasn't worked.

I can hear you, fussing and annoyed in your crib now. And all I can think is it would be so easy to cave and give you a pacifier again. But then we'd all pay for it, at least in orthodontic costs or in the lack of consistency that you might take as free rein.

So, my dear son, I must now bear the cross that all parents assume at one time or another. I must realize that it's for your own good and stick to my guns. Please go gentle on me, son. At least when it's 2AM and there's no paci in sight? Have mercy on me.

Love,
Mommy

17: Make Snowflakes

Today is a busy day for us. It's Katie's half-birthday, we had a special trip to see Santa with my mom's group, Katie had a playdate at her friend Anna's house for the first time, Jackson gave up one of his biggest crutches (more about that in a separate post), and I have a lupus eye exam tonight. All of this is to say that there isn't much time to make snowflakes today.

However, I made sure we squeezed in #17 on our Christmas Countdown. I don't want to skimp, y'all! So this morning between breakfast and loading the car to go see Santa, I asked Katie to cut a few snowflakes from coffee filters. Here's one of her creations:


I really love the look of delicate paper snowflakes. Katie and I made a bunch last year, which we saved and hung in our windows again this year. They are the cheapest and simplest way to decorate for the holidays. This year, we have a few intricate ones that we made after our trip to the City Museum. We bought a snowflake pattern book there and made some pretty cool ones. Here's a butterfly I made last year.


And here's a squirrel from this fall.


The pattern book is called How to Make Animal Snowflakes by Marion Nichols.


Want to try your hand at one of Marion's snowflakes? Here's a link to one of her designs, online. Enjoy! P.S. One little tip from Marion when we were at the City Museum: use toenail scissors to get into the tiny designs.

#18 didn't go as planned. Click here to read more.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

16: Be a Drive-Through Angel

Oh, how I love this task on our Christmas Countdown. Heck, I love doing it all year long, not just at Christmas!

There's something so liberating and magical about pulling into the drive-through and watching in my rear-view mirror to see who might pull up behind me. I place my order, then pull up to pay. I tell the cashier, "I'd like to pay for the person behind me." Sometimes this delays the line a little because the cashier might have to get special approval to run my credit card twice (this always happens at McDonald's), but I'm patient. Once I've paid, I hand the cashier a little note to give to the driver behind me. I printed a bunch of these on the computer and I keep them in my car for moments like this. The notes say "Life is hard. God is good. You are not forgotten. Pass it on."

Do you think that's cheesy? I'm always nervous about handing over that note, thinking it might be too cheesy or seen as pushy. But, oh well, the bell can't be unrung.

I pull forward, get my food from the second window, and watch in my mirror as the driver behind me gets a confused look on his face when he realizes his food has cost him nothing. And then I see the smile break out, and I usually wave as I pull out of the drive-through.

It's a GREAT feeling.

I have this silly little fantasy that one day, the person behind me will truly pass it on and pay for the person behind him and so on down the line. Think how awesome that would be!

Move on to snowflakes and #17 here.

Taking Jackson to See the Trains

There's a hardware store near where I take Jackson for Parents' Day Out. I noticed a sign outside saying they have a train display inside the store for the Christmas season. I picked Jackson up from PDO today and took him by the hardware store to see the HUGE display. It was fantastic!

We walked in the door and Jackson's jaw dropped open in awe. There must have been at least a dozen trains running on these enormous tracks. There was even one that was suspended in the air.


The trains whizzed by (see the blur in the photo?) and Jackson just sat there with his eyes wide open and a stunned look on his face.


We didn't get to stay for very long because we had to hurry home and meet the grandparents and Katie after their trip to see "The Princess and the Frog," but I got Jackson to pose for one photo before we left.


I know he can't wait to go back!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

15: Pray for Those Away from Home

At Christmas, we often get caught up in the hustle and bustle, trying to tackle our lists that have grown out of control. And sometimes it's hard to slow down and think about how painful Christmas might be for some people.

What about those who are apart from loved ones because of their jobs? Like soldiers, oil rig workers, TV news producers, or firefighters? Those people who won't be seeing smiles on their kids' faces on Christmas morning?

And what about those people who have lost a loved one, and this is their first Christmas without that person? I remember our first Christmas after my brother died. We all tried to put on a brave face, but it was hard. My mom couldn't take it and packed her stuff and abruptly left to drive back home to Georgia the next day. From Missouri. I imagine she probably cried for the majority of the drive home.

Today's task in the Christmas Countdown is simple: pray for those who are separated from the people they love. And maybe, if you feel moved to do so, you could also drop them a note to tell them they are not forgotten. Christmas can be painful, but it can also be healing.

Next on our list is #16.

UPDATE on this post: I wrote this and then checked my mail. In God's perfect timing, I received a card from a woman who was a friend of my mom's. I haven't heard from this woman in more than five years. She said she came across a letter that my sister and I sent after Mom died, and it made her think of Mom and how much she missed her. This woman wrote just to tell me that. It brought tears to my eyes, to know that Mom is remembered and that the kindness I just encouraged others to show has been turned back on to me.

Lucy & Lupus

Want to help support lupus research? I found an easy way to do that today.

There's a new song called "LUCY" by Julian Lennon and James Scott Cook. Here's the background on it, directly from the Lupus Foundation of America:

Musicians James Scott Cook and Julian Lennon are doing their part in the search for a cure for Lupus. For both men – this is personal. James’ 92-year-old grandmother, Lucy Cook, has lived with lupus for many years, and Julian’s childhood friend, Lucy Vodden, recently passed away at the age of 46 after a long battle with the disease.
You may already have heard the story that one day four-year old Julian brought home a watercolor painting of his friend and classmate, Lucy Vodden. Julian told his dad that the drawing was “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” which inspired his father, the legendary John Lennon, to write one of his most famous songs of the same name.
To honor both of these women James and Julian have partnered to release the song, "LUCY." A portion of the proceeds will be donated equally to the Lupus Foundation of America and the St. Thomas Lupus Trust in Great Britain to support lupus research. From now until March 15, 2010, 100% of the proceeds from each download of "LUCY" will be donated to lupus research.

I already bought the song on iTunes. Join me by buying your own copy and helping to fund lupus research!

Here are some other links about the song and its background:
YouTube video
Below Zero article

Monday, December 14, 2009

14: Lay Under Your Christmas Tree

Yes, this is an odd one on the Christmas Countdown list. I mean, really... who lays under their tree? Well, I do. It's actually kind of pretty, even under our obviously fake tree.


We gathered the kids and squeezed under the tree tonight after dinner/Advent wreath time/bath. Note to self: don't try this again until Jackson understands why he CAN'T sit up underneath the tree. Aargh!

The kids knocked ornaments off so we shooed them out from under the tree, and Dan and I snuggled up underneath while Katie did schoolwork on the computer (yes, it's cycle break for our district, but there's a nifty website where they can hone their skills and get credit for it), and Jackson sat beside her and watched her work. Dan and I got to snuggle for about 3.5 minutes, until the kids argued about who was touching the computer and we broke up the fight with Shrek the Halls on our DVR.

Oh, well. It was a nice idea to lay under the tree and try to soak up the season. Maybe next year...

Here's the link to #15.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

13: Call a Family Member

Well, this one was easy peasy. We talked with Katie about which family member she should call today, and her first choice was Uncle Mike. We planned to do it in the afternoon during Jackson's nap. But before we got around to it, Uncle Mike actually called us!

Katie chatted with him for a while, then the phone got passed to me because he needed some Christmas gift ideas for the kids.

And, really, that's all there was to it. I thoroughly liked this task on our Christmas Countdown, because it was so simple and just fell right into our laps. I needed a break today!

Head on to #14.

Stocking Swap

Ooooo! I'm so excited to tell y'all about a little love I received in the mail yesterday. I participated in a stocking swap sponsored by sweet Janera at My Garden Hat. I was paired with Kristie at Insomniac Scrapbook Theater. And, man! Did she make me smile!

I got home late after shopping with Katie, and was supposed to be getting dressed and leaving to go meet friends. But I couldn't stand having mail that was unopened (I love mail), so I HAD to check out Kristie's package right then and there. You can see the chaos I created in my rush to see my surprises.


I opened the package to find all kinds of goodies. First off, she HANDMADE the stocking she sent for the swap. It is so darn cute! And I can't believe it's handmade.


She included some cookies for Santa. Aren't these cute? I'll add them to my Christmas tree every year and remember Kristie.


And this candy cane ornament? Also handmade! I love the story behind it about the legend of the candy cane, and I will be hanging it every Christmas too.


Kristie has her own Etsy shop, and I was floored that she sent me a gift certificate so I can shop there. Woo hoo! I hit the jackpot! Go poke around her shop. Her jewelry is on sale for the holidays, and there are some gorgeous pieces that are very affordable.


Now I'm torn between which of the last two gifts was my favorite. I think first I'll show you the beautiful earrings Kristie made. She knows my favorite color is red, so she made me sterling silver earrings with little red beads. I think they're actually ruby beads. So pretty! I immediately put them in my ears to match my Christmas green sweater.


Lastly, Kristie sent a tag photo album. I've seen these but never made one, and I am SO excited to have one for myself! All I have to do is add my own photos and it's ready to go. I absolutely love this.


Thank you, dear Kristie, for such a fun swap. I feel like I came out the winner! Merry Christmas to you and your family, and thanks for brightening my season!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

12: Compliment Three People

I wasn't overly heavy-handed with compliments on day 12 of our Christmas Countdown, but I did use my words to show my love and appreciation!

The last compliment I gave for the day was the one I said to Dan as I fell asleep: "You did an amazing job today." That's because he cooked a full dinner for six adults and seven kids, on top of entertaining Jackson AND cleaning the house AND setting the furniture and tables up for the meal. Today was our annual Journey to Bethlehem, and I took Katie while Dan and Jackson stayed home. We met up with Dan's childhood best friends and their wives and families, and walked the Journey. We came home to a full meal prepared by Dan: ribs, corn, garlic bread, fried okra, french fries, baked beans, hot dogs, and fruit. Yes, it was a heart attack waiting to happen. But, yum!!!

I also gave a compliment to Katie when she and I went shopping for a Christmas dress. We are seeing Santa tomorrow at our neighborhood clubhouse, and she needs something nice to wear. We went to Kohl's and tried on outfits, and I told her how beautiful and grown-up she has been looking lately.

Another compliment? When I rocked Jackson before his nap, I whispered in his ear about how sweet he is and how he's my Sugar Boy. Some days I just want to eat him up and other days he makes me a little crazy.

I didn't stop at just those three compliments. When our friends came over for dinner, they brought AMAZING desserts with them. If you've ever been around me when I eat something I really REALLY enjoy, you know that I am very vocal about my enjoyment. So when I ate the tiny little parfaits that my friend Michelle made, I was groaning and sighing over how awesome they were. And when I ate the humongous cookies that Eric made, fresh from the oven, I was about to fall out of my chair. My compliments were in overdrive as I told them how amazing their baking abilities are. YUM!!!

I hope you're all spreading Christmas cheer wherever you can!

Friday, December 11, 2009

11: Wear Green or Red and Paint Your Nails

I decked the kids out in red and green for #11 on our Christmas Countdown. Katie wore red leggings with a green dress, and Jackson wore a red shirt with his jeans. I joined in with a red turtleneck.

Today was the last day of school before our district's three-week cycle break. The kids don't go back to school until January. Today was also a half day of school, so Katie was home during Jackson's nap. We took advantage of the girl-only time and had a little festive nail polish session.

I painted Katie's fingers and toes, alternating red and green. She loved it, but didn't like having to sit still and wait for it to dry. However, she did like having the camera's remote control. She must have snapped 40 photos of the same pose!



The end result looks so nice and fun!


I wanted to get in on it and painted my own toes. Now we match!


Katie decided to sing while she waited for her nails to dry. So for your listening pleasure, I present "Jingle Bells!"
video

Go here for task #12.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

10: Wear a Santa Hat All Day

Alright, time to put the brakes on this joyride. We hit task #10 on our Christmas Countdown and I realized we are going about this all wrong! What we need to be doing is reading the countdown the night before the specific day. We should have read #10 last night so we would be prepared to wear Santa hats all day today. Oops. My bad.

Tonight, we read the task and then put Santa hats on for dinner. The goal is to wear them all day tomorrow. And I realized that Jackson's hat is too small now (isn't that a sad little milestone?), so tomorrow I will buy him a hat that fits! He squeezed the old one on anyway, and it smashed his forehead into his eyes. It's still pretty darn cute.


Katie tried to squash hers on her head too.


And to make sure we are on the ball tomorrow, we skipped ahead and read the countdown task and we are ready for our red and green!

Click here to see how #11 turns out.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

We Interrupt This Christmas Countdown...

Yes, I know the last nine posts have been solely about the Christmas Countdown. It has kept me on my toes! I hope I'm not boring you (all four of my blog readers) to tears!

Now I'm interrupting the countdown to actually share a little news with you! A woman with Living Water International contacted me about ten days ago after finding this post I wrote on Advent Conspiracy. She asked if she could mention our story on the LWI website, and I was floored. How cool is it that God might use our little story to inspire others? Of course I said YES!

She included us in her post yesterday. If you'd like to read about it our learn more about LWI, please click here.

Now... back to our regularly scheduled Christmas Countdown. Tee hee!

9: Secretly Do Something Nice

Well, it wasn't a secret because it was in broad daylight, but I took the time during a FREEZING and windy cold day to collect abandoned shopping carts in the Michael's parking lot. One of my pet peeves is when people bring a shopping cart to the parking lot and then just leave it in the middle of the lot once they've loaded their purchases in their car. The carts can roll into other cars or get blown into them by the wind, which I'm pretty sure happened today. It was a windy day in our area! Hopefully my corralling of the carts helped save someone's car from door dings today.

While out shopping, I made it a point to hold doors for people. And when Jackson was with me, he gave candy canes to other shoppers. I coached him to say "Merry Christmas," but he clammed up when it came time to perform.

Another part of #9 on our Christmas Countdown was to leave a surprise in the mailbox for our postal carrier. We worked on that surprise tonight, and it will go in the mailbox first thing tomorrow.


Katie wrote him a letter, and I slipped in a handmade ornament and a Starbucks gift card in hopes that coffee or hot chocolate will keep him warm on the job. Yesterday, it rained a lot in our area. I happened to see the mailman pull up in his truck and prepare to hop out and deliver a package to my door. I opened my front door and waited on the porch for him, but didn't run out because I was shoeless. He saw me, turned around to get the mail from the mailbox, and then delivered it all by hand to me. I thanked him and he said there's no use in both of us getting wet. Service with a smile. So I hope his day is brightened tomorrow when he comes to our mailbox.


Lastly, I'm sending some canned goods to school with Katie tomorrow for the food drive they are holding at school.

Did you secretly do anything nice for someone today?

Task #10 is next.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

8: Make Christmas Ornaments

When I got married, (Which was two days before Christmas, mind you. And, no, I do NOT recommend that! And, yes, I am still apologizing to my family for it!) Mom gave me a pretty cool wedding/Christmas gift. It was a box full of all the ornaments I had made as a child. It even included the set of ornaments I made her when I was 19 years old and in college. That was the year Dad left Mom, and I decided she might want some new ornaments and new memories for Christmas that year.

Every Christmas when we decorate our tree, I love to pull out the ornaments I made so long ago and see them again. Most of them have Mom's handwriting on them, marking the year. I love that because it's a visual reminder of all the little fingerprints she has left on me.

When I had kids, I wanted them to make ornaments each year - for our tree and for the trees of those we love. We started when Katie was about a year and a half old. She scribbled on white paper, which I cut into star shapes then laminated and hung on ribbons. I am careful to make an extra set for her to inherit one day, when she starts her own family and has her own tree to decorate. I also do the same thing for Jackson. And, yes, that means we have LOTS of ornaments to store each year. Oh, well.

We've made dough ornaments, bells, and hand prints. Today, as part of our Christmas Countdown, we recycled some found items from Leftovers and made ornaments with photos of the kids inside. We even added fake snow, which was a big break from the norm for me (I absolutely abhor little sparkly things like glitter). Katie made a set to give to her teachers too.


While Katie wrote the year and her and Jackson's names on the back of the photos, I finished up the teacher gifts I made. They are custom-stamped coasters made from tiles I bought at Lowe's. I think they turned out pretty well.


I hope you're all enjoying the Christmas Countdown. I'd love to hear what you are doing in your house!

Here's the next task on our countdown.

Monday, December 7, 2009

7: Memorize Scripture

I'm not so good at rote memorization, unless it's set to music. (The list of US Presidents set to the tune of Yankee Doodle Dandy was ingrained in my memory in grade school.) So today's Christmas Countdown task might not officially get checked off the list. I am not sure how good we will all be at memorizing “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” (Luke 6:38).

But tonight after dinner, during our Advent wreath time, I read that Scripture to my family and I could hear the ghostly voice of my dad saying, "Don't measure other people by your yardstick." The ribbon of memory tied my past and my present together nicely.

For me, the main focus in this Scripture is the first word: give. That is the part I want to memorize this Christmas. I want to give and find joy in giving. Conversely, I want to be open to receiving too - not monetary or physical gifts, but gifts that God is placing in my life that might even be considered painful. The gift of knowing that even when I feel like an ugly duckling, I am beautiful in His eyes. The gift of gentle chiding when I get high on my horse with pride. The gift of gratitude when I come home to a place where I am listened to, missed when I'm gone, and - put simply - wanted. The gift of knowing that I am on the exact right path that I need to be on at exactly this moment. If there were any questions about that in my mind recently, they have been answered now.

And it's interesting: the emerging ability to open myself up and receive has compelled me to want to give even more. He is heaping and pouring blessings into my lap by the bucketful!

Here's #8 on our Countdown.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

6: Dance to Your Favorite Christmas Song

My heart was warmed tonight to find out that certain childhood traditions never die. Case in point? "Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer (reindeer) had a very shiny nose (like a light bulb!)..."

Katie is six and it hit me tonight that somehow in the last year, she learned how to obnoxify "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer." (I know, that isn't a word, but you know what I mean.) I love that she found as much joy in adding the commentary to the song as I did when I was little. I love that it's been at least 30 years since I learned to do it, and somehow or another it got passed down to her through pop culture.

We crossed off #6 on our Christmas Countdown tonight on the way home from church. We didn't dance to our favorite Christmas songs tonight, but decided to play them in the car and sing loudly. Katie chose the Muppets version of "Twelve Days of Christmas." Jackson wanted to sing "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer." Dan's choice was "Frosty the Snowman." I broke the kitschy streak with the Barenaked Ladies version of "Do They Know It's Christmas" and then my all-time favorite, "Breath of Heaven" by Amy Grant.

It's the simple things, isn't it? Like knowing that the circle of life continues in ways both big and small. I can only imagine what my grandkids are going to learn about Rudolph. Maybe they'll even sing, "Jingle bells, Batman smells..." *Groan*

Go on to task #7 here.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

5: Take a Walk Outside

Missouri is freakish for its odd weather, in that it can go from warm weather to freezing cold in less than 12 hours. Last Saturday, it was 70 degrees. This Saturday? It's about 20 degrees. Brrrr! But that didn't keep us from #5 on our Christmas Countdown: take a walk outside.

Lucky for me, I got to spend a girls weekend away with some friends at the Lake of the Ozarks. I spent my outside time shopping at an outlet mall, which is the way to do it in December! I had limited exposure to the cold, since we'd pop into a store just as the cold became unbearable.

Dan was home with the kids (God, I love that man!), and Katie spent her time outside helping her Daisy troop sell nuts at a local Walgreen's. Turns out it was way too cold and the troop leaders packed up early, but at least Katie got some fresh air!

Moving on to #6 here.

Friday, December 4, 2009

4: Read the Christmas Story in the Bible

Number four on our Christmas Countdown was to read the Christmas story from the Bible. We sat down at dinner and the kids ate while I read a small portion of the story (they have limited attention spans, you know). They seemed to like the "do not be afraid" part the best. It is pretty dramatic.

Here's the Scripture, from the New International Version translation. Just twenty verses, that forever changed the world:

Luke 2:1-20: In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to his own town to register. So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger."Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,  "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests."When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let's go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about." So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

Here's a link to #5 on our Countdown.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

3: Hang a Kissing Ball or Other Item


When Katie first read this Christmas Countdown item, she thought it was gross and "eww, yucky!" She IS six, after all, and kissing is both mysterious and icky to her. Once I explained mistletoe and that the kissing isn't more than a peck and a way to show your love for your family, she was on board.

We picked a beaded Christmas tree ornament off our tree and strung it up in our two-story foyer. We dubbed it the "Kissmas Tree." For the next hour, we must have kissed each other at least 50 times. Katie would stand under it, then I would, then Jackson would. Dan played the role of kisser more than kissee. It was so much fun to run underneath it and wait for one of the kids' sloppy kisses.

The photo shows Katie standing under it, waiting patiently. I should keep the Kissmas Tree up all year!

Go here for #4.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

2: Buy Candy Canes to Pass Out

Wednesdays are always hectic for me. That's the day Jackson goes to a Mother's Day Out program, and I run a thousand errands before I have to pick him up in the afternoon. I go to Wal-Mart or Target almost every single Wednesday, as well as the grocery store and all the other usual places.

Today, as part of our Christmas Countdown, my To Do List included buying candy canes to pass out to strangers. Doesn't sound hard, does it? And yet I couldn't even FIND the candy canes at Wal-Mart. So I opted for Christmas stickers instead. I bought a pack and on the way out of the store, I dug them out of my bag and handed one to the Salvation Army bell ringer. I proclaimed, "I bought you a sticker!" I'm not sure if he remembered me from when I dropped some coins in his bucket on the way into the store, but he smiled anyway.

When I stopped at Walgreen's, I found candy canes. But they were the big kind, and I was hoping for the small kind so I could get more of them to pass out - more bang for my buck. I decided to nix the candy cane idea and bought mini peppermint patties. I figured Katie can use the stickers to decorate the patties and we can hand those out instead.


During tonight's Advent wreath time, Katie looked at today's Christmas Countdown task and was excited by the idea to give candy to her bus driver. I told her she can hand them out starting tomorrow. I am thrilled that this task is a hit!

Next item, #3.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

1: Take a Family Photo

First on our Christmas Countdown list is this task: take a family photo to mark the beginning of the season.


We took our photo after dinner tonight. (I love our camera remote!) We lit our Advent wreath, opened the envelope marked "1" in our Countdown book, then read an Advent story and sang "Jesus Loves Me." This was a candid photo taken at the "He is strong..." part of the song. Katie likes to demonstrate "strong."

Tonight, we also added a new feature to our Advent wreath time. I bought one of those cardboard Advent countdown things that has chocolate inside each door. The kids LOVED it, of course. I explained to them that the chocolate is sweet to remind us how sweet Jesus is to us and how much He loves us.

In less than an hour, four new friends are coming to our house for our first Advent Conspiracy small group meeting. I am excited to meet these new people and experience Advent with them.

Next on the list: #2.

First "Real" Haircut

Jackson had his first real haircut today. And by "real," I mean it's the first haircut he's had that was not on our driveway. The first haircut by a paid professional.
video

I was amazed at how quietly he sat while Miss Laura cut his hair. When we try this at home (with electric clippers, NOT real scissors), he fusses quite a bit. But today, he was a champ!

At the end, Miss Laura gave me a cute "First Haircut" certificate and a lock of Jackson's hair. Then he flashed a happy smile and greedily sucked his lollipop. Good job, Bubbers!

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