Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Advent Time

About ten years ago, Mom mailed me a box at the start of the Christmas season and asked me to open it BEFORE Christmas… a rare occurrence for her. Inside was an Advent wreath, three purple candles, one pink candle, and a letter detailing how to use the wreath during Advent season.

Thus began the Advent wreath tradition for me and Dan. Even before we had kids, we would light the candles together to celebrate Advent.

Now, we have kids. And darn it all – they don’t quite get the holy part of the Advent wreath time. Here’s a photo from one of last year’s lighting moments. We LOOK like we’re having fun, right? Trust me, it isn’t as much fun as it appears to be.IMGP1749 - best

The 2010 Advent season started this past Sunday. We just got home from our epic road trip and had a bajillion loads of laundry to do, but I went to the basement and dug out our Advent wreath because I wanted to continue the tradition this year. After dinner, we lit the first candle and THAT’S when our little rug rats went wonky. Katie could only focus on when the moment would end and she would get to use the candle snuffer to extinguish the flame. Jackson couldn’t sit still and vacillated between wanting the snuffer to himself and throwing crumbs from his dinner roll at me. The holy moment just wasn’t gelling. That’s when I decided to end the Advent wreath tradition – or at least scale it back – this year. Why make everyone miserable just for the sake of tradition?

I’m planning something else this year instead. For one thing, I bought the Lego City Advent calendar for the first time. (Thanks for the tip, Carrie!)Lego Advent

Secondly, I wrapped 24 books for the kids to open each night leading up to Christmas Day. The books are ones we’ve read in past years – some are secular and some are religious – but they’ve never been wrapped before. Opening a “present” every day should hold my kids’ interest, right? I also bought a new book to include this year: Llama Llama Holiday Drama. That Llama Llama is one of my kids’ favorite characters. Here’s the basket of books that I hope will be a hit!IMGP6497

The plan is after dinner each night, one of the kids can open the Lego door and the other can open a wrapped book. They can alternate jobs every night. On Sundays, we’ll still light the Advent wreath so I can try for a few more holy moments.

Now I’m actually looking forward to the start of December and counting down with the kids!

Living Water International

If you read this post from earlier today, you know my stance on Christmas gifts this year: spend less and make the gifts you ARE giving more meaningful. But what about the other aspects of Advent Conspiracy? The four tenants are Worship Fully, Spend Less, Give More, and Love All. I want to discuss the Give More part for a moment.

We got a letter in the mail from Living Water International. Here’s what part of it says:

“Alternative giving is powerful. Americans spend $500 billion on Christmas. Just 2% of that would cut the world water crisis in half. Wouldn’t Jesus love a birthday gift like that? In Matthew 25 when Jesus lists what’s really important, water for thirsty is at the top of the list. What could he possibly want from a shopping mall? Christmas is about God’s love becoming flesh and blood. The love you’re about to extend through safe drinking water will literally become the flesh and blood of whoever drinks it. Celebrate Christmas the way God does.”

I can’t put it any better than that.

I still have a few gifts left to buy this year. They are for hard-to-buy-for people, and I’m lacking ideas of relational gifts to give them. I have decided to throw in the towel, refuse to buy them any more useless STUFF, and give safe drinking water to someone else in that person’s name.

On Christmas Eve at our church, every penny collected during the offering LEAVES THE BUILDING. Imagine that! It’s the one time a year when churches know they will finally get out of the red and into the black because more people attend services at Christmas. My church leaders decided to donate everything that’s collected at the 14 Christmas services. I don’t say this to pat their backs or stroke egos – I am pointing this out because it glorifies Jesus’ teachings. Our church gives that money to Living Water. My daughter Katie knows this, and she saves her money throughout the year to donate on Christmas Eve because she knows it’s going to help someone have clean water.

This year, Living Water has new gift cards you can give that let the recipient decide where exactly the money is being donated. I think that’s pretty cool. Instead of just telling the recipient you donated in their name (which is kind of boring, really), you can get them involved by asking them to designate how the money will be spent. And in the process, maybe their eyes will be opened a tiny bit more to the blessings surrounding them. Who needs another electronic gadget or mall gift card or DVD when there are human beings who are drinking water full of feces and parasites? Sorry to paint such a blunt picture, but that’s the truth y’all.

This weekend, my pastor preached about Advent Conspiracy. He said the money you DO spend this year at Christmas should be spent strategically. Don’t end Christmas in debt! God’s way isn’t to have a noose around your neck at the end of the holidays. No present can fill the hole in someone’s heart – only Jesus can. God could have given us stuff, but He gave us His son.

Okay, I’m stepping off my soap box for a moment. The point I want to make is this: it doesn’t really matter where you donate the  money you save by buying relational gifts this Christmas, but it does matter that you don’t hold on to it and you give it away to someone who could use it.

Oh, and here’s one last shameless plug: Katie and I worked on a video for the Advent Conspiracy film contest. You can help her win the contest by voting on her video. So far, she has 338 votes. Pretty cool! Want to watch it and give her your vote? Click on this link and you can view it. She came up with this line on her own: “I love people more than presents.”

What a sweet girl.

Christmas with Meaning

Before we get to the good stuff (i.e., the gift ideas), let’s spend a few minutes detailing my new Christmas philosophy.

The Christmas craziness has always rubbed me the wrong way. I was never able to place my finger on why, and the only thing I could point to was that I didn’t like getting (or giving!) all kinds of junk for Christmas – or my kids getting all kinds of junk – when we already have so much. Don’t get me wrong: as a kid, I loved that part of Christmas. But as an adult – and especially as a parent – I bristle at all the STUFF. December flat out Wears. Me. Out! It should be a holy time, but it’s crammed full of activities (Visiting Santa! Christmas concerts! Television specials!) and super-mega-To-Do-Lists (Shopping! Cooking! Wrapping! What-are-you-bringing-to-Christmas-dinner-emails!) on top of an already hectic daily life. Dude. I’m worn out just thinking about it. I’m sure you are too!


I never really considered any other way to DO Christmas. Until I heard about Advent Conspiracy at church. Watch this video. It still gives me goosebumps to watch it!

Isn’t that BEAUTIFUL?! A way to worship Christ, bring relationships back into Christmas, and help others? SIGN ME UP!

With that philosophy in mind, I want to do Christmas differently. I am putting much more thought into the gifts I’m giving AND the gifts I’m asking for (for my kids and myself). Some are handmade, some are store-bought, and some aren’t even tangible. Want to see what I’ve been working on? Here goes!

First up, I made this notebook for my niece Peyton. She L-O-V-E-S Justin Bieber. For her birthday in September, she told me she wanted a life-size Justin Bieber. I found a full body image of him online, uploaded it to blockposters.com, and sent her a life-size Justin. It cost hardly anything, and she LOVED it. For Christmas, I decided to go the Bieber route again. I found images of him online and copied them into a Word document. I inserted lines to make it look like a notebook, and also added text boxes that say things like “Justin loves Peyton” and “Mrs. Justin Bieber.” I picked out a photo of Justin for the cover, which shows him pointing at the camera. I added a word bubble that says, “I love you, Peyton!” Then I went to the copy store and had it spiral bound for $4. I’d estimate the paper and ink cost another $2, so the total cost was about $6. I added a pack of Justin Bieber stickers that I found for about $3 at Walmart to complete the package. I think she’s going to LOVE it!IMGP4981

Next up, I’m giving my kids and our nephew a Year of Books. I saw a pack of 12 books in a Scholastic order form that Jackson brought home from school. There is a book for every month of the year. The entire set cost $25, and I bought two sets: one for Jackson, one for our nephew Adam. Then I went to Leftovers and looked at their used books and selected 12 chapter books for Katie. (I spent $7.) I am going to wrap each book separately in its own 10x13 manila envelope (easier to wrap!) and label it with the month it should be opened. Then I’ll tie a big ribbon around the entire set of books and give it to the recipient. On the first day of each month in 2011, we will Skype Adam so everyone can open their books at the same time. I think this gift will be awesome because it is a gift of time (someone has to sit and read the books to the little ones, you know!), it’s pretty inexpensive, and it’s educational. The trifecta of gift-giving!


Katie isn’t asking Santa for much this Christmas. She wants a salon chair for her doll and a microscope. There are two other gifts on her list that I’m excited about: sewing lessons and art classes. Grandma and Poppy have agreed to buy the sewing lessons for her, which she’ll get to take with a friend. Dan and I will buy the art classes for her. It’s an after school class by Young Rembrandts, once a week for six weeks. I’m thrilled to give her gifts which will help her learn.

Dan is giving his dad a gift of time. Our pastor gives this example every year when we talk about Advent Conspiracy: there was a son who gave his dad a bag of coffee beans. That’s it. But the catch was the dad wasn’t allowed to drink the coffee unless the son was with him. And when they drank the coffee, the son asked the dad to share stories of his life. Wow! As a parent, can you imagine getting a gift like that from your child? So Dan is going to give his dad a bag of coffee with the same stipulation. We are going to pick a day each month (like the second Monday every month in 2011) and Dan will go to his parents’ house for dinner and coffee.

I’ve been bitten by the genealogy bug in years past, and love researching  my family tree. Dan’s mom has gotten the genealogy bug this year too. She calls me with questions I don’t quite know how to answer. So for Christmas, we’re paying for her to take genealogy classes at our city’s recreation center. The classes are very inexpensive and cost only $7 per person. I’m going to sign up for the classes too, so it’s a gift of spending time and learning together.

The other big gift for the grandparents actually took place in October. We had a family photo taken with all 11 family members, and it turned out awesome. (Thanks, Michael!) I saw a Groupon for a $45 16x20 photo canvas at CanvasOnDemand.com, so I snatched it up and ordered it for the grandparents. We haven’t had a family photo taken since 2003, so I’m pretty excited about this gift.102010-36

Each year, we also give the grandparents a Shutterfly photo album with all the photos from the year. I’ll blog about that separately, because I have a big Shutterfly post coming up!

Lastly, my friend Carrie gave me a fantastic idea for teacher gifts this year: a gift wrap “ensemble.” She’s a Stampin’ Up consultant and is being WAY more creative than me (she’s hand-stamping a lot of the items in her ensemble), but her idea is to give teachers a set of gift wrap, gift bags, coordinating stamped tissue papers, die cuts, and gift tags to wrap their own gifts. I went to the Target dollar spot and found all kinds of cute gift wrap items to give to Katie’s teacher, and included some Scotch tape too.IMGP6499

Katie also made a mosaic glass monogram for her teacher. We found the directions here at FamilyFun.IMGP6500 

So, tell me what other inspiring gifts have you found? Gifts that are personal, and not just more STUFF to add to someone’s house? I’d love to hear about them!

P.S. Want some more ideas? Check out this website: rethinkingchristmas.com.

Thanksgiving 2010

We had an epic Thanksgiving this year. Dan and I loaded the kids into the car and drove halfway across the country to the Outer Banks of North Carolina for a reunion on my dad’s side of the family. It was pretty cool.

There were 28 people there (plus two dogs), so we rented a 14 bedroom house. It was on a remote beach that you can only access with a 4x4 vehicle.IMGP5038

There are wild horses on the island that roam around. We went for a drive in my brother-in-law’s truck to hunt for horses one day, and saw more than 25.IMGP5429

The weather was really nice on the first two days of our visit. The kids even got in their swimsuits and played in the sand.IMGP5313

They didn’t get too wet in the ocean, though. The air felt nice and warm but the ocean was COLD!IMGP5103

On Tuesday, Jackson had an earache and I spent many hours on the phone talking to doctors and pharmacies. Then I was blessed to spend two magical hours alone with Katie. We collected seashells and built fairy sandcastles. Those two hours will be one of my most cherished memories with her.IMGP5327

Our house was located right beside a huge dune called Penny’s Hill.IMGP5735

From the top of Penny’s Hill, you could see the ocean on the east and the sound on the west. It made for beautiful sunsets.IMGP5138

The back side of the dune dropped off sharply. The kids decided that was the perfect place to do some jumping.IMGP5819

I loved sitting at the bottom of the dune and taking their photos.IMGP5807

This photo of my niece and her friend is one of my favorites from the week.IMGP5775

I got to do a photo shoot of my sister and her family.IMGP5578-

Then the word got out and I was honored to do photo shoots for the other families too.IMGP6349

The light on the beach was heavenly. I love this photo of my aunt and uncle.IMGP6286

With all the activity, I hardly noticed the Thanksgiving holiday. Gratitude flowed out of my heart all week as I watched my kids, my husband, and my extended family laugh and enjoy themselves. Thanksgiving lasted more than one day this year. It was an entire week long!IMGP6183

What a gift God has given us – the gift of family!IMGP5991-

Overall, I took 1,164 photos last week. I won’t show them ALL to you, but you’ve gotten a good sampling here!IMGP5486a 

I’ll leave you with this last parting shot. These are donuts from a place called Duck Donuts. They are probably THE best food I’ve ever put in my mouth. Y’all know how much I love Chick-fil-a and creme brulee? And about a thousand other foods? They PALE in comparison to these little morsels of heaven. Thank you, God, for Duck Donuts!IMGP6473

Chewing Gum Advent Calendar, Take 2

I wrote about these gum packs three weeks ago, but I wanted to show you the newest (and final!) version I made.IMGP6493 

I took my friend Carrie’s idea and glued on a list of 24 names of Jesus and the Scriptural reference to each name.IMGP6492

I made 26 of these to give away to my kids’ teachers, our neighbors, family and friends. I love how they turned out! I  made sure to keep one for me, so I can celebrate Jesus throughout December too. I am making a conscious effort this year to focus on Jesus and NOT commercialism, and I think this little gum pack will help!

Monday, November 29, 2010

I Wanted to Blog, But…

I had a little boy who woke early from nap. He was very groggy and grumpy. I explained that it wasn’t time to get up, but I’d let him come downstairs if he could play alone while I finished my work. He clung to me, but I brought him downstairs anyway.

I sat at the kitchen table and tried to mark off a few things on my list. My little boy held on to my leg. My efforts to tackle my list were fruitless. I caved.

I grabbed a blanket, cuddled up in our big LoveSac, and invited my boy to nestle beside me. His grumpy face broke into a grin as he climbed to my side. We held each other and watched the rain fall outside.

I itched a little to get back to my To Do List, but the feeling passed as I scratched it with thoughts of how badly I’ll want these moments back one day. Years from now, that little boy will be too busy for me. I can only hope that some part of his subconscious will remember today, push the pause button and let me come up beside him.

Blogs can wait. Boys cannot.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Making PB&Js

We have a routine in our house that has saved tremendous amounts of time, so I want to pass it along.

You know those Smuckers Uncrustables?  Man, they are yummy! And oh so easy when it comes to packing lunches for my kids. Just take one out of the freezer and pop it in the lunch box where it thaws by lunchtime. But there are a few drawbacks: they are a little pricey, and I’d like to have a better nutritional punch.

Thanks to my friend Michelle’s awesome idea, I came up with an alternative. I buy a loaf of wheat bread, a jar of natural peanut butter, and a jar of sugar free grape jelly. I line up the bread on the counter, then Katie and I have a factory line and make 10 or 12 sandwiches at a time. I get out my Pampered Chef Cut-N-Seal (which makes an Uncrustable-shaped sandwich), and cut the crusts off.IMGP4962

Then I get empty sour cream and hummus containers and pop a sandwich in each of them. We toss them in the freezer to wait for mornings.IMGP4972

When Katie finishes breakfast each morning, she packs her school lunch. She grabs a homemade Uncrustable, and lunches are taken care of!

It’s a money saver, a time saver, nutritional, and Katie takes pride in making her own sandwiches now. Yay for everyone!

Sunday, November 7, 2010


Have you ever done something so wrong that it colors everything around you with a black cloud? Something you knew even as you were doing it that it was wrong?

I did something last week that I am so ashamed of. I can’t give details because I am horrified by what I did, and I feel too broken to share it. I knew immediately that my actions were wrong and I asked forgiveness from the person I wronged, but I still can’t shake the guilt I feel over what I did.

I keep “shoulding” myself: I should have known better. I should have seen it coming and stopped it before it happened. I should have NEVER done it. And I still don’t know why I did.

Now I have to live with the reality of my shame and brokenness.

Our church started a new teaching series on forgiveness. The pastor spoke about forgiving others who have wronged us. The entire time he spoke, I couldn’t stop thinking about how *I* am the one who needs forgiveness. It has already been given to me, but I can’t allow myself to accept it. Does that make sense? In a way, I feel that accepting forgiveness lightens the gravity of what I did. And that, to me, is unacceptable.

I screwed up. Badly. And I don’t ever want to forget that because I don’t want to repeat that mistake. It is now replaying itself over and over in my head.

My pastor said the Greek word “aphiemi” means to forgive in the sense of cutting something loose, freeing, releasing or letting go. I know the person I hurt has already let it go, and now I must find a way to follow that lead. My pastor said to leave it at the cross. It doesn’t mean I’m finished with it, but it means that I don’t have to face it alone.

Jesus, give me the strength to forgive myself as you have already forgiven me. Amen.

Chewing Gum Advent Calendar

I know, I know… we’re only a week into November and I’m already posting about Christmas! But I promise there’s a good reason. I have to share this adorable idea in time for you to make some of your own to give as gifts.

I saw this post about a Pocket Advent Calendar. I finally put one together in about 15 minutes, and here’s the final result:IMGP4809

Here’s a top view looking down, so you can see how I wrapped two gum packs together:IMGP4810

I am going to make quite a few of these for Christmas gifts. I found the gum packs at Walmart for $1.88 for a set of three. I already had the cardstock, stamps, and tag in my craft stash. That means these will cost about $1.25 each. What a great, cheap idea!

My friend Carrie gave me another idea to help make this gift more Christ-centered for the holidays. She suggested printing a list of 24 names of Christ and attaching it to the backside of the gum pack. I am going to research that and try to write a list, along with the Scripture reference where that name is used in the Bible.

Do any of you have a brilliant idea for Christmas gifts this year? Please share!

Thankful Tree 2010

In our family, November means Thankful Tree. The kids have been writing their gratitude on leaves and posting them on our wooden tree. Katie’s first leaf says “friends.” IMGP4803

This is the first year Jackson has participated. He picks something he’s thankful for and I write it on a leaf for him then he sticks it on the tree. The first thing on his list was his buddy two houses down. I love that he has a friend who makes his face light up!IMGP4811

I have another unexpected thing that has brightened my life for the past seven days. I send daily texts to some friends and family, and decided for the month of November I’d include one item of gratitude at the end of each text. I asked my friends to text me back with their gratitude too. Sharing in their joy has blessed my life. They’ve listed things like: hope, colors, substitute teachers, forgiveness, God’s guidance, unexpected passion, employment, an extra hour, faith, honesty, good sheets, and chicken (that one was from my 12 year old niece). I think my most favorite response was from my cousin, who said she’s thankful for the smell of her husband’s aftershave on her baby’s head after he kisses the baby goodbye in the morning before work. I just love that image.

What are you thankful for? Leave me a comment or… text me!

Halloween, One Week Late

Our fancy witch and Puff the Magic Dragon had a splendid Halloween.IMGP4667

The neighbors on our street are serious pumpkin carvers. This was the first year we let Katie carve her own, and she did really well!IMGP4651

Dan’s is the tiger on the left. Mine is the little fairy house. Katie’s pumpkin has a ghost and “boo” on it. Jackson painted his with green and yellow paint.IMGP4678


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