24 December 2011

Treasures Abound

Christmas Eve baking, music listening, excited bouncing, and pinecone glittering. Treasures abound.

Merry Christmas.

"Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, 
where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 
But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven ...   
For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."
Matthew 6:19-21

Clean-It-Out Day

In expectation of all the Christmas extravaganzas, today has been "clean-it-out" day. Boxes from Amazon shipments and scraps from wrapping have all been isolated and pitched with verve.

And while we're at it ... the children were enlisted into service as well. Since they are undoubtedly getting new goodies, it is time to cull out the old. Empty bins and shelves in the closet? This is a good thing. Kids are remarkably willing to clean when it involves making room for anticipated treasures.

A kid tip? Collect 3 empty bags. A big ol' garbage bag in the hall for trash (there will be lots ... why is this always so??) and two other bags for each kid (paper grocery bags work great). One for giveaways and one for "I don't know what to do with this so I'll ask mom."

Is the house now a picture of tidy perfection? Of course not! But it's better than before we started and that is a great thing.

21 December 2011

Operation Smile, Chocolate Style

I've begun to feel challenged, lately, to find more opportunities to smile with my neighbors. A quick wave as I drive by or a chat at the mailbox are easy to do. But in the wintertime, when we are all clustered indoors, we see each other very little and it's too blasted cold outside to really visit on the sidewalk over recycling bins.

But yet, I've had this nudge. Reach out. More. Keep it simple. Show you care. Bring a smile.

I can do this.

So this year we mixed up a ridiculously easy hot chocolate recipe that slaps together faster than a bejeweled Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye musical number. (Have you seen "Sisters"?? Watch the ladies first and then watch those boys. One of my favorite old-timey movie scenes ever).

Once made, we spooned into containers, wrapped in string and tied on a little note. The girls and I delivered small tubs of hot chocolate mix to our frosty and hermited cul-de-sac. And you know what we got? A lot of smiles.

We pray for opportunities to show His love, right? Here's a nice, simple, chocolately one that's a sure-fire winner.

• Pass-It-On Hot Chocolate Mix •

8 c. powdered sugar (1 c. more if you like it on the sweeter side)
4 c. cocoa
10 c. powdered milk (or one 8qt. box)
4 t. salt
8 t. cornstarch
a couple good shakes of cayenne pepper

Mix all together, spoon into air-tight containers or baggies. 2-3 T per mug of hot water or milk.

**Takes me two batches to make up enough to pass out to neighbors and friends.

20 December 2011

Skipping Rocks and A Mama's Heart

 At first, while rummaging his closet, I thought I had just been negligent. How can he have grown out of all of his long-sleeve shirts? What has this poor boy been wearing these last months?

But then later, while watching him skip rocks with more skill than I'll ever muster, I realized ...

... he's just growing so quickly. My mama-heart is both wistful and joyous all at once.

16 December 2011

A Christmas Thank-You Gift

Personalized pencils for teachers along with a little festive zippy pouch (made from a vintage table-cloth and red ticking!). Affordable, practical ... and still awfully cute.

15 December 2011

On the Tree and Throughout the House

We don't really collect nutcrackers, but we seem to have amassed a number of them throughout the house. Kids are so drawn to them, aren't they? Both a bit human and a bit imagination.

And if they are "working" nutcrackers, beware of fingers. We have a six year-old loose in the house who will attempt to crack yours in the big red fellow's mouth if you aren't on your guard.

13 December 2011

Advent in the Heart and Home

I'm guest-posting over on GraceLaced, authored by my friend, Ruth. She is a fellow busy-mama who does wonders in her home and with her kids ... and isn't afraid to expose the less than shiny parts of life. I love people like that.

Here is the post:

 Merry Christmas, friends! It was with great joy that I accepted Ruth's request to share with you, some of our favorite advent-season traditions. Over time and through much trial and error, I have realized that any traditions we have grown to love have been ultimately rooted to two things: Expectations and Simplicity.

Expectations can be a killer. It can drain joy and smiles and leave behind a colander full of disappointment.

It has been my experience that deciding ahead of time what will become a treasured moment ... doesn't always fly. Turns out, people don't like to be bossed into special moments. And believe me. I've tried. Sweet traditions seem to evolve on their own accord. Yes, they often require a little effort or forethought, but they may or may not "stick." Initially, they are best offered up without expectation.

In thinking of what traditions, specifically, have meaning for us, I realized I couldn't ask that of myself, but must ask the children what their favorite traditions are. My husband and I have offered up all sorts of Christmas season experiences over the years, but in general, their response is the deciding factor in what "sticks" and what doesn't. Here is what they said they loved:
Cozy to them meant candles and Christmas CDs, twinkling Christmas trees, and stockings hung. Baking cookies, reading books, piecing puzzles, and watching old movies. It meant time together. Atmosphere. All of the little stuff that added together becomes tradition and memories. Not complicated. Not even specific. Just Cozy. Your cozy may look different than our cozy. Don't try to measure up or compare. What you are already doing is enough and it's special.

Advent Readings
For the last four years we have read one of the books from Arnold Ytreeide's series. We light the advent candles and cuddle in for a good nightly read. The stories are exciting, they reinforce God's plan for His people, and they remind us of who Christ is for each of us.

Each Sunday of advent we replace the evening meal that we normally would have with one made of rice and beans. This is to serve as reminder to us of all of those in this world that would be grateful for such a simple meal. You'd think the kids would grumble but I'm always surprised by their enthusiasm.

The money saved by making this our meal is represented by a dollar bill placed above the plate of each person. This gets tucked into our "Blessings Jar" along with any other donated funds from chores or savings. We choose some person or group that we know could use the gift and send it to them after Christmas. It's simple and not a huge amount of money, but a very real way to show the children how they can show love in Christ's name. 

All three of my children agreed on these three as their favorite traditions. It's not the activities, really, it's the intent and the togetherness. It's what has emerged as special to our family.

So how to figure out what works for your family? It may be different than what works for ours.

However, next to managing healthy expectations, advocating Simplicity will bless any family. If it's complicated, someone is going to get stressed out or bored. Totally not the point, right?

Here are some tips I like to refer to as "Operation Holiday Simplicity":

1. Pray that the Lord would show you how to navigate this season in a way that would bring Him glory and honor.

2. Say "yes" to down time! Just because you have a day free doesn't mean you should fill it up with holiday plans. Be willing to let fun opportunities pass by so you can fully appreciate those that you purposefully choose. Added bonus? You're making room for spontaneous jigsaw puzzle sessions or Christmas stories by the fire.

3.  Do it if it is fun. Only if it is fun. Christmas cards? Only if you enjoy the process and won't groan at the postage. Of course we all love to receive them, but nobody will think less of you if you don't send them. Baking cookies? Bring me a plate if you spent a glorious day making them. But if you dread the making, the chilling, the rolling, the cutting, the frosting ... just make some hot chocolate and everyone is still happy.

4. Find simple, sustainable traditions that bring Christ into your home. We all have our favorites that work for us, but our family is learning to slow the daily pace down enough so we can truly set the focus where we want it to be and simply enjoy the season.

5. Let go of the expectations and just enjoy. This means being willing to bag the most brilliant idea if it isn't working for the family. This is a biggie for me. I'm prone to over-planning which can really be a drag for everyone else. Appreciating the days for how they offer themselves up is a skill I'd really love to make habit.
Truly, this is the season for expectations. But in all the treasured moments we find, may we remember our true joy does not come from that which we create. Let us hold loosely to our own expectations, and simply take on The Expectation of Christ. He is coming ... and in Him, our expectations will be met in full.

“I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem!"
Luke 2:10-11

06 December 2011

Reflective Art

 I've been in the process of unearthing and framing some of the children's art and displaying in about the house. How has it taken me over a decade to finally do this? What's more, the children are near beaming with pride over seeing their art on display. Such minimal effort and such happy result.

Lucette painted this abstract tree when she was seven and I love it. I hung it right next to some vintage, granny-like botanical prints and the juxtaposition of style makes me smile.

And of course, decorated with Christmas tree lights makes for a most festive viewing.

05 December 2011

01 December 2011

The Creator Represented

The routine physics of this created world sometimes stop me in my tracks. Marvelous realities that I often forget to marvel at. God could have made steam and it's properties to rise straight up ... yet He didn't.

Lucette Paints Still Life