Monthly Archives: December 2013

Mom’s Musings: Keeping Perspective at Christmas

PictureOur Christmas this year does not include Christmas baking, is void of handmade gifts, and includes very few decorations.

(The super cute crafts we’ve been posting have all been from Lyd’s house. :-/)

To clarify, I am not a Scrooge.

I normally LOVE Christmas. All of it! I even like the stress. It just adds a bit of interest to normalcy I figure.
But Christmas has not been as big a thing for us this year.
I didn’t plan it this way.

I even fought it. I plotted and planned and tried to have my definition of a ‘normal’ Christmas.

I grouched at the kids and got frustrated and stressed because I couldn’t implement all my sparkling and usually even spiritual plans.

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Then I realized there was something more important then my nice even good plans.

So I got a grip.

You see we had a baby 5 weeks ago giving us four children 4 1/2 and under. And while the baby is actually a normal to easy baby, every member of the family is adjusting.

Emotions are already high.

My kids need a mom who has her eyes on things bigger then if the relatives get home made crafts this year.
They don’t care if I get the garlands up and unpack all the ornaments from my childhood that have no meaning to anyone in the house but me.

But they certainly do care if mama is grouchy!

They don’t remember the Sunday advent wreath we’ve done in past years that we’ve been too exhausted to do each Sunday night after a long car ride of screaming hungry baby who does not understand that you can’t breast-feed in the car.

But they do remember when mama loses her temper in the a car because she wants to get home and do the advent wreath and stollen.
They need a mom who is focused on God and on each child’s spiritual and emotional needs right now.

Part of me is sad that traditions I had planned to really focus on this year are not happening. There are lessons I had hoped to help my kids learn through Christmas!! (Like giving time and thought to others as they helped me make all the neighbors cookies -)

But I recognize maybe their mom had some important lessons to learn instead.

- Like learning to enjoy Christmas while putting spiritual victory of contentedness first.

- And learning to put my children’s needs before mine. Picture
You see though I thought creating a ‘magical’ Christmas was putting them first, the anger I felt revealed my true heart.

My pride was hurt because I wasn’t succeeding in the perfection I was personally striving for.

Next year we will not have a new baby. ( I don’t think anyway)

However I hope the lesson that I’m learning as I sit attached to a baby for hours and hours gazing at the sparsely decorated house and practicing contentedness through God’s grace alone stays with me. Because there will probably not be a year I will live up to my idea of perfection, I hope that each season (Christmas or otherwise) my kids my kids have a content mama.

-Verity

Nativity Invitation to Play

PictureI absolutely love Invitations to Play!

They help children learn concepts, use their imaginations, and work to create something wonderful. I wanted to carry the idea into a simple nativity activity, so here is what I came up with.

 I made a list of characters who were present at the first Christmas. Then, I went around the house collecting items that I thought MIGHT pass as those characters. Therefore, this will look very different for everyone. You could use Legos or little people, stuffed animals or pictures, craft supplies or food items. Be creative and have fun! :-) Mostly, I just wanted the kids to be able to catch a general idea of who might pass as whom when they looked at the items.

I had the kids sit on the floor and I presented them with a container filled with stuffed animals and other items that could be used to create a nativity scene. I told them to be creative and to work together to try and recreate the nativity scene. I then left the room and got something else accomplished. :-)


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When I came back, here is what they had come up with!
Raggedy Ann and Andy are Mary and Joseph, Baby Jesus is wrapped in a blanket, the sheep with clothes on are the shepherds, and the sheep are the sheep. They didn’t use quite everything I had anticipated, but I thought it was pretty well done.

It’s a simple activity, but it causes the kids to think and to work together to apply what they have learned about Christmas. :-)

-Lydia

Baby Jesus Craft

My kids and I have been having so much fun this year discussing and preparing for Christmas. This has included many games and craft projects. It was important to me though, that early on we do a craft specifically of Baby Jesus so they would recognize the fact that He is, and should be, central at this time of year. Plus, what kid doesn’t like to have his own baby to play with??Picture

I needed to find something that didn’t require buying supplies, so here is what I came up with.

·         A toilet paper roll cut in half lengthwise—I actually just cut up paper towel rolls.

·         Half a craft stick—I was excited to see that I could break them and then cut off the jagged edges!

·         A Permanent marker

·         A strip of yellow paper

·         A piece of felt or fabric

·         Glue

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            I gave each child the paper towel roll portion with the paper that I had cut the edges and fluffed up with my fingers. We talked about why Jesus was born in a manger, what that would have been like, and so on. They glued in the paper to represent straw.

They each received a “baby” (craft stick half) with a face drawn on it. Older children could do this themselves.

They got to pick their color of felt for the “swaddling clothes” and we discussed what that meant as they wrapped up their babies. I ended up using a hot glue gun for the blankets, but you could probably use fabric glue and let them do it.

I then let them decide if they wanted me to glue their babies into their manger or leave them out to play with. One child wanted hers glued, the rest left them out.

This craft was big hit! They loved playing with their babies, singing them to sleep, and taking them in and out of the mangers. I think it also worked well to help them understand who Baby Jesus was as we discussed it. I like that it gives them a tangible reminder to hold and play with throughout the month.

-Lydia

Mom’s Musings: The Opportunity of Christmas

This time of year abounds with opportunities to teach our children about Jesus—the real

reason for the season.

As I have a nearly 2 year old and a 3 year old this year, I have been amazedat how everything can tie back to WHY Jesus was born as a baby those many years ago.

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My children are particularly excited as we are expecting a baby in a few weeks, so they are probably overly fascinated with babies right now, but it has caused them to be very interested. Books we read, songs we sing, games we play, crafts we do, conversations we have, activities we participate in, events we attend… all of these things are opportunities to point our children toward Christ. I am learning to take advantage of each moment with them this month and to use the “why” questions and the quiet observations to teach them and to tie truths together.

Before Verity and I were married, we worked for a ministry where we directed Vacation Bible Schools in small churches who otherwise would not have been able to host one. We did this for over 6 years each week of every summer. You can imagine who many VBSs we did! One thing I truly loved about a VBS format was how all morning of each day was centered around 1 main theme. Everything tied back to that theme: the lesson, the decorations, the puppet skit, the songs, the craft, the games, and so on. By the end of the morning, do you think those kids knew what the theme was? Of course they did! By the end of the week they had 5 solid Biblical truths/themes to walk away with–even if they learned nothing else, those themes, could not be avoided. I once read that it takes 18 times before a person learns something. Not to mention the concept that we learn:

·         10% of what we read

·         20% of what we hear

·         30% of what we see

·         50% of what we see and hear

·         70% of what we discuss

·         80% of what we experience

·         95% of what we teach others

If you take the time to teach your kids the truths of Christmas throughout this month, they will not miss them. At this time of year, I love how I can read a Christmas book to my children in the morning, discuss our advent calendar Names of God at lunch, do a Christmas craft in the afternoon, and sing a Christmas song before bed and it all has the same message. This doesn’t even take into account the Christmas events at church, activities that just seem to pop up everywhere, decorations around the house, and regular conversations. As moms, we have been given an amazing opportunity to teach our children about God, about Jesus, and ultimately, about what Jesus did for us on the cross and the personal choice we each have to accept Him or reject Him. At Christmas time, these truths are pretty much handing themselves to us to “feed” to our children on a silver platter. My question to you is this: Are you taking full advantage? Next Christmas is a long ways away. What will transpire over the course of this year? How much older and more distracted will your children be? Use each moment, of each day, to lovingly stop and teach your children the important truths of Christmas. This is a unique time where they will learn those truths like no other time during the year.

-Lydia

Saving Money on Christmas Gifts: Part 2

Inexpensive gifts that show love, care and thought are wonderful budget-friendly options for Christmas.

Until recently, my husband was in graduate school, and we didn’t have hardly any money to put into gifts. Here are some gifts that were well-received.

Scrapbooks & Family Gifts

Most relatives love scrapbooks. When I was 16, I made a scrapbook of memories and pictures for Picturemy grandma. When she died years later, I ended up having something special to remember her by. Old pictures into a small scrapbook of memories with a certain family member, a Christmas scrapbook of Christmas memories, pictures of a family trip that year are all wonderful scrapbook ideas.

A framed family tree that can be made for free on familyecho.com

Last year, Lydia and I made a Winter Swag for our relatives that had recent pictures of everyone in the family. The swag was something wintry to put up after Christmas decor is taken down. It was a big hit but only cost $5 per swag. We will be putting up a post of how to make that next week!


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Framed Postcards of favorite paintingsMy husband and and his siblings grew up in Germany. In the city they lived in was a famous painting that all my sisters-in-law liked and had spoken highly of. It’s called the Chocolate Maiden.

Realizing that the painting matched each of the girls’ kitchens, I asked my mother-in-law to bring some post cards from Germany and framed them. Now my sisters-in-law all can have a piece of Germany in their homes here in America.

Lydia also used framed postcards of Monet paintings, and for about $10 created an arrangement on her wall when we were still in high school.

Postcards of many famous paintings can be purchased online through art museum gift shops, and with sales, you can often get great frames at department stores for under $5 each.


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Family Heirlooms made into something usefulMy older sister took some of my grandma’s costume jewelry and Glued it unto small storage boxes. It was wonderful to have a useful way to remember such a vivid part of Grandma!

My grandpa had been an artist. Several years ago, I made a wreath for each family member with a santa painting he’d painted in the 40s, some of his old writing instruments, and a couple ornaments that were left from their childhood. They put them up every year.

Memorial of something special that happened or was accomplished that year.

An ornament commemorating a pet that has passed away this year or a special accomplishment like graduation by a family member shows that you care and remember. An ornament gives them a moment to remember that special event or special pet each year.

These are ideas that have worked for me and fit into our limited budget!

-Verity

Saving Money on Christmas Gifts: Part 1

As the kids’ tastes are becoming more expensive, as the extended family is growing, and as we learn to live responsibly within a budget, I’ve forced myself to think outside of a comfort zone with their gifts.

I’ve cut costs a few ways which I’ll be talking about in a 2 part series.

The first cut, is new to me this year because I finally took the plunge on it.

I realized that…

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1. Not all the Kids’ Gifts Have to be New 

Especially young children do not know the difference (and older ones can learn to appreciate good quality items even if they are not in the box)

This Year’s eBay Experience: 

So my daughter loves princesses (along with 98% of the rest of American little girls).

Now you’d think if everyone wanted it, there would be so much demand that there would be an influx of competitors leading to a well-priced market. No. Disney has a complete curb on the market. :-I

And they price accordingly.

In fact, the good quality doll I wanted to get her ranged between $40 – $70 which was way above our budget.

So I finally pushed down my pride and checked eBay. There was the $40 18 inch doll for  $12 plus $9 shipping. Perfect Condition – just missing the crown.

$21 and 15 minutes of work to brush out the hair and put in a little party favor crown-shaped barrette we’d gotten. Voila! $21 high-quality princess doll!


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This Year’s Craigslist Experience:

I wanted to get the girls some pretty dress-up dresses to twirl around in. However, dress-up clothes can be $35 a dress right now.

Even on craigslist, dresses were about $10 each for the exact same dresses, but I found a woman who said that she had a garbage bag full of princess dresses for $35.

-$35 

-A somewhat short car ride, (that would have been shorter if I hadn’t gotten lost)

-and I had 10 pretty dresses 

I plan to sell 4 to make up my cost. If you are willing to put in the time to sell items individually and take pictures, you can often sell items higher on Craigslist.

So I got 6 dresses for essentially free.


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As I surveyed the spoils, I did in about 60 minutes of weakness, think about giving all the dresses to the girls as a huge dress up trunk. However, I realize it would be overwhelming to them at their age, and it would go against what I’m trying to teach them about contentment with less.

I’m giving the girls each 1 dress for Christmas for dancing around in since they dance to Christmas music A LOT right now.


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Then next month, my daughter will get this princess dress to wear on her birthday.

Admittedly, my kids are young, but simply buying and reusing a few well-maintained items helped shave our Christmas gift costs, kept the money in the American economy, and also helped me to think outside my gift buying box.

Stay tuned for the next part of my cost-cutting series.

:-)

-Verity

Minimalism: Things I Don’t Minimize

Everyone – even the most well-known minimalists often have areas they do not pinch on. Francine Jay, who write MissMinimalist.com and is one of the most well-known minimalists on the web, once wrote that she enjoys have a collection of jewelry from the many countries she and her husband have traveled. Since she wears a mostly black wardrobe and since jewelry is small, it is an area she can have a little more then the minimal amount.

The idea of minimalism is to clear out the extras to help you focus on the important.

However, hand in hand with that goal comes some items that should be plentiful – either for their utilitarian purpose or for the pure enjoyment they bring.

Here is a list of things that I choose to keep more then the minimal amount of.

Waste Baskets (The large, kitchen-sized ones)

I have one in every room. In fact. I have a small, long, hallway-like kitchen, and I have two in there – one on each end.

And yes. They are usually almost all full by the end of the week. Between diapers, broken things that kids get a hold of and everything else, we fill them up.

Disposable Wipe Containers

I have one in the car, one in my purse, one in the diaper bag, one in the kid’s room, and one in the spare room in case someone is up, and I don’t want to wake the other two kids. I love disposable wipes!!

Paper Towels

I’m pregnant. We have a 7 month old puppy and a potty trainer. Paper towels are God’s gift to help me survive. Enough said.

Toddler and Preschooler Shoes

Every kid needs at least 2 pair of shoes in our house to keep Mama’s sanity. This way if the 3 year old leaves his shoes at the 4th of July picnic…somewhere, the 1 year old kicks off her shoe in Menards, or the 2 year old puts a shoe to bed with her dolls in the play room and it’s not found for 2 weeks, we are not in a crisis. (Until one of them finds a creative way to dispose of their OTHER pair.)

(To be completely transparent, I have a little obsession with my girls’ cute baby shoes and have been known to have as many as 7 pair at once. Some were gifts. Even aspiring minimalists have their weaknesses.)

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Christmas Decorations

We have FOUR totes in the basement. Plus a large wooden stable about the size of a tote. I know many people downsize more, but this is an area that I have chosen to not downsize further. I create a magical mood around the house at Christmas with all my Christmas clutter. I’m fine with that. I’ve made space for that by getting rid of other stuff. :-)

Make-up

I have two sets of make-up. One in the house and one in the car (because more often then not – that is the only place I remember/have the kids strapped down to do it.)

Bacon

My husband cannot start his day without at least 4 slices of bacon. It works out to about a pound and a half a week. (Don’t judge) After too-many emergency trips to the store because I was running out, I got smart and keep at least a few weeks supply.  Since I’ve bought up to 6 months supply when I find a deal, I have to keep the freezer fairly clear of other things, but it works for me. Minimalists clear out their lesser possessions to make room for what matters to them. This is important for helping him start his day, and so we prioritize it.

Some areas of our lives need to be trimmed down to the bones and others create more serenity and joy by not minimizing them.

What items do you stock up on or allow more of simply for the enjoyment of it?

- Verity

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God Focused Advent Calendar

          It is so challenging to keep Christ in Christmas in this day and age. I have 2 toddlers, and I feel like my husband and I are in a constant quest to explain the real meaning of the season and to make CHRISTmas come alive for them. I’m excited to share some of the things we’ve discovered over the course of this month. Today I’m going to share our advent calendar with you. Even though it’s December 2nd, this is an easy one to put together and you really can start it any time in the month.
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For more ideas on an advent calendar like this, check out THIS blog post.

What you need:

·         24 or 25 small inexpensive ornaments

(I used plain gold ones that I bought 10 for $1 at Dollar Tree. These are everywhere at this time of year. So cheap!)

·         Puffy paint

(Any kind/any color)

·         This list…

The List of Names of God:

(You can use any list, but this is the one I compiled. I wanted to do certain ones for the sake of explaining them to my kids each day as we built a foundation for who God is at Christmas time. I’m also careful to do them in a certain order.)

Mighty God
Redeemer
Servant
Creator
Gift of God
The way
Living water
The Life
Counselor
Wonderful
Vine
The truth
Prince of peace
Emmanuel
Word
Counselor
Shepherd
Door
Bread of life
Everlasting father
I am
The light
Lamb
Messiah
Rock


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What to do:

Simply use puffy paint to write one name of God on each ornament. I found that setting them in empty egg cartons worked great. That’s also where I store them during the year.

Pile them into a vase for decoration. I use them as the centerpiece for our dining room table. This helps to keep them as a main focus and also helps me remember to do one each day.

We pull one out of the vase daily, I discuss it with my kids, and then we hang it, using an ornament hook, on a garland that hangs on a window behind them. As the vase becomes emptier, and the garland becomes fuller, we are getting closer to Christmas. We also have a visual reminder on the garland of who God is.

There are so many things that I like about this concept, and it does do a lot to draw our focus toward God and the reason for Christmas. It also provides deeper teaching opportunities with my children then simply opening a door with a picture behind it each day. It becomes an event, a teaching opportunity, and a beautiful decoration all in one.

-Lydia