keeping-christmas-simple

How to Keep Christmas Simple

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I am a huge fan of Christmas!

HUGE!

I love the feeling in the air, the decorations, the lights, the glitter, the way stores are decorated (in December… NOT September), and giving to my family.

But how many years did I go into the Christmas season with gusto and grand ideas only to burn myself out mid-December? Pretty much every year.

Each year I go into the Christmas season with the idea that this is going to be the best Christmas ever!

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I figure out how many fun Christmas related activities we can fit into our schedule, and I cram all of our days and weekends with something to do.

My kids end up tired.

I end up frustrated that no one appreciates the effort I put into making this the best Christmas ever.

And then we are ready for Christmas to be over and done with and to move into the New Year.

But not this year…

I have always been a fan of simple living, of not making things more complicated than necessary, of believing that less is more. But Christmastime has never reflected that.

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This year, we don’t have to see every Christmas pageant in our county.

This year, we don’t have to attend every Christmas party or activity.

This year, we don’t have to plan to do something Christmas related every night.

This year, we don’t have to have an advent calendar that involves a ton of extra gifts for me to purchase, wrap, and remember to distribute each day.

Instead…

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This year, we’ll stay home more evenings than we go out and watch the old Christmas cartoons I grew up watching like Frosty the Snowman, Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer, and the Little Drummer Boy. And because I homeschool my kids, we can stay up as late as we want to watch these shows and sleep as long as we need to the next morning.

This year we will delight in the simple joy of finding our little monkey pal, Melk, in the mornings and learn something about the character of God.

This year, we will limit the parties we go to, and, if bringing an exchange gift is necessary, we’ll bring something simple but sweet.

This year, if there isn’t a Christmas moment on the calendar, we won’t make one up just for the sake of it. We’ll just carry on as usual.

This year, we will make paper chains and countdown to Christmas the old fashioned way.

Because…

Satan’s mission has always been to destroy what God has created- to interfere with the message that God loved us and sent his Son (Awana Cubbies key verse). How are we supposed to stop and reflect on the purpose of Christmas Day if, during the time of the year that we are supposed to remember and recognize the giving of God’s gift to us, we get so busy and distracted and we keep our kids running from one activity to another?

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This year, rather than focusing on the “show” of Christmas, I want to focus on the message. That God loved His creation and gave us a gift, the most precious gift He could give- His Son.

Trendy wrapping paper with a perfect bow was not the wrapping of this gift. Strips of cloth were the wrappings of this gift.

His surroundings were not Pinterest worthy. A barn with hay and animals was the setting for His birth.

Those who came to see him that night did not come with $5 gifts for a gift exchange. They came with empty hands, but sincere hearts.

I want our Christmas to reflect those ideals.

So here is your Christmas challenge…

Before you are swept up in the tinsel and show of Christmas…

Before you are knee deep in the quicksand of activities and parties…

Before you find yourself drowning in receipts and wrapping paper…

Take an hour one evening to think through what you want your Christmas to look like.

Figure out your non-negotiable calendar items.

Next, determine in advance how many activities you will be a part of.

Decide how many $5 dollar exchange gifts your budget will allow for.

For your sanity to be kept in tact, set in stone how many evenings you need to stay home each week.

Establish your gift giving list early and stick to it.

And then, sit back and enjoy this Christmas with your family and closest friends.

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The Perfect Bedtime Book for Little Ones

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I began reading to my children from the time I brought them home from the hospital. I looked for as many Bible story board books as I could find, and rotated through them. I loved the board books that were gifted to us as well that taught my children about colors, animals, and first words. I grew to love my collection of board books, and I was thankful that the pages were strong enough to survive my two children

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My son will be five next week, and recently I discovered that he prefers board books over “paper” books. During our silent reading times, he gravitates to the board books I pull out. At the library, he ignores the rows of brightly illustrated picture books and sits in front of the board book shelf.

When I received my copy of Snuggle Time Psalms by Glenys Nellist in the mail, I’m not sure who was more excited- Ian or me.

I asked Ian what his favorite things about Snuggle Time Psalms were- “the pictures and hard pages.”

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My favorites about Snuggle Time Psalms are:

  1. The message– As the title suggests, each page begins with one verse from a Psalm. After the verse is a rhyme that perfectly explains to a child what the verse means. The rhymes are written using terms that speak to children where they are. Words like teddy bear and airplanes make the meaning of the Psalms relevant to toddlers and preschoolers and puts the verse in terms they can understand.
  2. The author– Glenys Nellist has quickly become one of my favorite authors. Her writing style has such a gentleness that I have found the way I read her books to my son affected by it. When you pick up any one of Glenys’s books, you’ll find that you cannot  read them quickly. They cause you to pause time, to slow down, and savor the moment with your little one. I have even been known to pick up her books and read them to myself when I need a pause in my day. As a mom, I love that my son always asks for “one more” as we read through Snuggle Time Psalms.
  3. The illustrations– I have always been a huge fan of great illustrations. For little ones who can’t read or are still learning how, illustrations are how they “read” a book. Cee Biscoe has a gift. She can make her illustrations come alive while giving them a gentleness to match the words on the page. They are calming, beautiful, and endearing.

If you are looking for a board book that will survive your toddler/preschooler’s love for reading and will also give them a solid Biblical foundation, Snuggle Time Psalms is a perfect book to bring your children into the presence of the Lord from the comfort of their mother’s lap.

Publisher: Zonderkidz Year: 2016 Pages: 30 pages ISBN: 978-0310749257 Retail Price: $9.99

You can read my reviews of Glenys Nellist’s other bookstall these locations: Snuggle Time Prayers and Love Letters From God.

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celebrate-the-ordinary-days-fall

Celebrate the Ordinary Days- Fall Edition

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September is here and with it comes the anticipation of all things fall. Sweaters, boots, leaves changing colors, and pumpkin flavored everything…. yes, fall is coming.

Here in Florida, we can only imagine what the rest of the world experiences for fall. We live vicariously through Pinterest photos and Hallmark movies and imagine the crisp feel of the air on Thanksgiving.

However, there are so many delightful, ordinary days sprinkled into the months of September through December that it doesn’t matter if our leaves actually turn color and fall in January. We can still enjoy these days along with everyone else who live in the perfect fall climates further north.

Here are some of my upcoming favorite ordinary days (this list is by no means extensive) and how I plan to recognize them in splendid ways or just acknowledge them in passing. After all, that is the beauty of ordinary days.

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September 22- First Day of Fall (We celebrate this day by decorating for the season of fall, not a particular holiday.)

September 23- Native American Day (I have several books about Squanto and Sacajawea that we read at this time)

September 29- Coffee Day (no explanation needed…)

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October 4- Taco Day (Tacos for dinner!)

October 10- Columbus Day (This year we are going to make this Christopher Columbus themed craft.)

October 15- Sweetest Day (Enjoy a sweet treat.)

October 17- Boss’s Day (A good day to show our children how to respect the ones who sign our paychecks.)

October 24- United Nations Day (We will take some time to learn about this organization.)

October 28- National Chocolate Day (Watch the Gene Wilder version of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.)

October 31- Reformation Day (We will be “nailing” the 95 Thesis to our door using tape on the back of the papers and my son’s plastic hammer and learning the Five Solas.)

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November 3- Sandwich Day (This will be easy to celebrate…)

November 8- Election Day (Take your kids with you as you place your vote… and explain to your children that a secret ballot means they are not to announce your choice of candidate to everyone in your voting precinct.)

November 11- Veteran’s Day (Several state parks in our area offer free entrance on this day in exchange for supplies to be made care packages to be sent to our troops- a more than reasonable trade. Find out if any state parks in your area offer this service to you.)

November 15- America Recycles Day (Take note of what you and your children are currently doing to help preserve our environment, and decide what changes could be made to help even further.)

November 24- Thanksgiving

November 26- Small Business Saturday (Look into small businesses in your area that could use a boost during the holiday season.)

November 27- First Day of Advent (Begin celebrating the advent of Jesus and the Christmas season.)

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December 4- Cookie Day (Bake a batch or more of cookies. Package them to be given as gifts for your neighbors, friends, and teachers.

December 7- Pearl Harbor Day (Take some time to reflect on the impact this event had on our country 75 years ago.)

December 15- Bill of Rights Day (Review what the Bill of Rights are and show them Norman Rockwell’s paintings of the Four Freedoms.)

December 20- Last Day of Fall (Get ready! Christmas is around the corner!)

Let’s make fall’s ordinary days a memorable time for our families. 

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intentional-celebrations

Building Monuments

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God loves a good celebration. So much so that He instituted times when His people came together to rejoice with food and symbols to represent what the celebration was for.

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But the celebrations were not meant to be frivolous. They were not meant to be commercialized. These celebrations were meant to be spiritual monuments for the people to look back and remember God’s goodness to them as they made the journey from Egypt to the Promised Land. These celebrations were to mark specific moments in time when God showed His provision, protection, love, and mercy to His stubborn, stiff-necked people (Deuteronomy 9:13). These celebrations were to contain lessons that would be passed down from generation to generation so there would never be a generation who did not know the Lord or the things He had done (Judges 2:10).

As I think of my own life, I can remember distinct moments where God showed His hand of provision, protection, love, and mercy on my journey from childhood into adulthood.

He provided a piano for me when my parents could not afford to buy one. (In fact, my family nor I have ever had to buy a piano, but we have almost always had one in our home or access to one since I was 11 years old.)

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He provided the money needed for me to attend college through scholarships, generous gifts from others, and some savings my father had intentionally put aside without the need for college loans.

He protected us from an oncoming tornado when I was 7 years old and caused that tornado to completely turn around and head in a different direction.

His love and mercy allowed my mother to know she would have a granddaughter before she passed away.

His goodness provided for our children so much that we can look at their rooms and count on one hand what we have had to actually purchase for them.

I want these memories to be monuments for my children to see, for them to reflect back on when times get rough in their lives, when they are unsure how the end of the story will turn out. I want to retell these stories to my children so they will not forget them, and so they will have stories to pass down to future generations of God’s goodness, grace, and mercy.

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As I thought of our personal monuments, I realized that underneath the debris of our calendar holidays, there are beautiful monuments for us to refer back to when the going gets rough.

When you pull away the tinsel, the lights, the wrapping paper, the wish lists, and the empty boxes, there is a stable with a sleeping Baby who was given as the greatest Gift humanity has ever received. During those times when we feel that we have nothing, that hope is lost, that life is for those in high position and not for us, that Baby stands as a monument saying, “I was given to you.”

Hidden under the very last strand of shredded, plastic, green grass, eggs, and bunnies is a cross of raw wood that is stained with blood. When we visit that monument we are reminded of how very loved we are- so much that someone was willing to die in our place to carry our burden, and reap the punishment for what we sowed.

Some monuments are built as reminders to us of principles in God’s Word.

Buried under the flowers, chocolate, cards, and paper hearts is a man who, as tradition tells us, defied an emperor in order to keep those in his flock from breaking God’s law.

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Journey past the rainbows, the leprechauns, the pots of gold, and shamrocks and you will find a young English boy, kidnapped by pirates, and taken to Ireland to be a slave. Despite his circumstances he prayed to God one hundred times a day, escaped his captors, and eventually went back to Ireland as a missionary to reach the people he had grown to love for Christ.

Travel through the fields of cornucopias, feathers, black and white garb, and gaze upon the monuments of a small band of pilgrims who are celebrating what only the hand of God could have brought about and done.

I want the “holidays” to be more than just a stressful time filled with rushed trips to the stores, receipts, and commercialism.

I want these days to be “holy days”- days that turn our focus to God and His goodness towards humanity.

I want my children to visit these monuments yearly, not with the expectation of temporary trinkets they may receive, but with the expectation of receiving the long-lasting gift of hope these monuments stand for.

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One of my favorite books is Jerusalem Jackson Greer’s book, A Homemade Year. In it, she lists dates that are significant to the history of the Christian Church at large- spiritual monuments. Days that I usually breeze by as I go about my year have a spiritual significance and lesson to teach me and my children. Days that I would have scheduled a doctor’s appointment or a library trip were monuments meant to turn our hearts towards the Lord.

Many of these dates are not on our calendars.

They are probably not even on the radars of marketers.

But these dates are there, and they are a gift. Not just to me, but to my family as well. They are days that I have an opportunity to use as monuments for my family. Monuments with a beautiful history that my family can look back to and remember God’s goodness in the past and His promised faithfulness in the future.

Celebrate the Ordinary Days

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Making ordinary days special for my family has always been a goal for me.  In fact, one of my goals when I first became a mom was to make life wonderful for my family. Not just the big days, but more importantly, the little days- the days that no one else but us would see and know about.

Then I began noticing that there were “special” days everywhere. National Popcorn Day. National Donut Day. National Hot Dog Day. And my personal favorite, National Coffee Day!

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I like that  there are special days because it makes ordinary days just a bit more special. I am the mom who makes the popcorn, gets the free donuts (with the purchase of a beverage…. and then my donut is not so free anymore), makes hot dogs on that particular night, and takes her kids out in the pouring rain to get the coffee (because coffee makes my world go around).

Yet, those were not the only special days that I wanted to create for my family.

I wanted to make the ordinary days special- the special days that do not show up on the calendar.

I wanted to purposefully plan to make a regular Tuesday special by planning ahead a simple but memorable activity for my kids to look back on.

I wanted to plan ahead for a special time for my husband and I to enjoy after the kids had gone to bed.

So I did.

I began thinking about ways to make some of our ordinary days special. These are just a few ideas to get you started on making ordinary days special for your family.

  • Donut Day- Get your donut and then read your littles the book If You Give a Dog a Donut while you eat your donuts.
  • Chick-Fil-A Cow Appreciation Day- It is so much fun to dress up for your lunch or dinner! Pull out the paint, the old t-shirts, and some construction paper and make an event of going to your local Chick-Fil-A. special-days
  • American Girl Girl of the Year movie premier- If your little girl is a fan of AG like mine is, the date of the movie premier can turn an ordinary day into something special. We tend to make a girly afternoon of it. I pull out my nail polishes, curlers, hair straightener, curling iron, and then I paint my daughter’s nails and do her hair. She picks out a cute outfit complete with as many accessories as she wants, and we watch the movie together.
  • Beach Day- One benefit of living in Florida is the nearness and accessibility to beaches. The surf and sand have a way of making any ordinary day special. Pack a light lunch such as fruits, cheese sticks, pretzels, trail mix, plenty of water, and sunscreen and let them play. Sometimes we bring beach toys, sometimes we don’t.  ordinary-days
  • National Puppy Day- Do you have a dog? We don’t. But we can still celebrate National Puppy Day by going to a pet store and playing with the puppies.
  • Ring in the Olympics- There are so many ways to make the Olympics a special time for our families. We make our own torch, and, during the opening ceremonies, we have our very own torch relay. This time around, we have also chosen a particular sport to follow (gymnastics) and particular athlete to root for (Gabby Douglas). special-days
  • Cookie Day- As a little girl, every year, our mom would take one day around Christmas to do nothing but bake cookies. One year, we baked 500 cookies. Then we gave those cookies to others in our church as gifts.
  • First Day of Each Season- It doesn’t have to be anything special, but commemorating the first day of each season can make that day special. For the first day of spring, we love going to Rita’s for a free ice. On the first day of fall, we decorate our home for fall- adding autumn colored leaves to our arrangements and decorative greenery, pulling out our previously made fall crafts, and even some of our Thanksgiving items. For the first day of summer we enjoy going to the beach, and on the first day of winter, we typically celebrate Snowman Day (mentioned below).
  • Snowman Day- Here in Florida, my kids can only dream of snow, so snowmen are an impossibility for us…. or are they? We made an entire day based on snowmen, complete with homemade snowman shirts, snowman shaped pizza, have a “snowball fight” made of crumpled paper towels, and then collecting all of our paper owls on white garbage bags to build a snowman. You can see more of our first Snowman Day in this Smilebox slideshow.

It doesn’t take a lot of effort to make an ordinary day more than just a day.

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Going Outside… On Purpose

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The chapter “The Discipline of Simplicity” from the book Celebration of Discipline by Richard J. Foster has been one that has made me think in a purposeful, intentional way, such as learning to enjoy things without owning them.

Another lesson from this chapter was to develop a deeper appreciation for creation- a hard one for me to follow through on sometimes.

Okay, so let’s just lay it out here.

I don’t have a green thumb.

I don’t like to get hot and sweaty.

I can’t stand the feel of dirt on me.

I (and my hair) do not fair well in the Florida humidity.

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So now that that is out in the open, I am also willing to admit that

  • I do love hanging my laundry on the line
  • I love watching my kids discover the beauty of uninhibited running outside
  • I love the idea of growing beautiful flowers in my front yard
  • I dream of growing a vegetable garden in our backyard
  • I love going to a nearby beach and letting my children play in the surf and sand to their hearts content

Every year in the spring, I get this feeling. The one that reminds you that the earth is a beautiful place. The one that causes you to take deep breaths of air and fill up your lungs with fresh oxygen… not the recycled stuff from inside.

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The feeling that I need to appreciate God’s creation more than I do.

Why am I so afraid of my children getting dirty? (Let’s be honest, laundry and extra cleaning.)

Why do I not want to get in the dirt myself? (The time it takes for an extra shower and then washing the hair and blow drying the hair…. you get it, right?)

Yet, there are so many wonders to be discovered in God’s creation.

In childhood, what is the ultimate simplicity?

Going outside and playing with whatever you can find.

When kept inside, my children find themselves in need of something to do for entertainment. That is when the crayons, coloring books, toys, and even my furniture and pots and pans come out. This in turn gives us the added chore of having to clean everything up.

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When my children are outdoors, God has provided everything they need for entertainment

  • plants (weeds count) to look at, pick, and to learn the art of gardening
  • large open areas for running without worry that anyone will run into a sharp corner
  • insects and bugs to catch (and because bugs do not stay still, the entertainment lasts quite a while)

Addie is definitely an outdoor girl.

Ian is totally an outside boy.

Mommy tends to be a let’s-find-something-safe-to-do-inside kind of girl.

Yet I am learning that there is definitely something freeing, calming, and peaceful about just being outside.

When I hang my laundry, it is then that God puts dreams and aspirations in my heart.

When I am outside, I find myself praying and praising more.

When I am outside, I smile more.

When my children are outside, there is a refreshment that comes over them that they cannot get from being inside.

When my children have a good play outside, they rest much more easily at night.

I am trying to develop a deeper appreciation for God’s creation.

Because developing a deeper appreciation for God’s creation is a step towards simplicity.

I originally posted this article at The Joy of Homemaking.

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purposeful-moms

Learning to Enjoy Things without Owning Them

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I want my children to have access to as many things as possible that will teach them and help them reach their highest potential. However…..

I do not want to own all of those things.

So how is it possible to give my children the resources they need without feeling the need to purchase it all?

One thing that I remember our mother doing with us as girls was taking a weekly trip to the library. We would walk there (it was a five minute walk from our house) and spend a couple of hours doing school work (we were homeschooled) and looking through the books. We became friends with the librarians and looked forward to our time spent there.

Fast forward twenty-something years, and I am now the mother taking her children to the library.

 

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The library has changed a lot since I was a kid- there are now computers, games, puzzles, and cool bean bag chairs for making yourself comfortable  with a good book. There is now story time for children under the school age during the school year and learning class time for all ages during the summer.

The library has thousands of books, that are available to enjoy. Toddlers, children and adults alike can enjoy all of the books free of charge (unless one is late returning these books, then there is a late fee…. speaking of…..).

One of the steps to simplicity found in Celebration of Discipline by Richard J. Foster is learn to enjoy things without owning them.

There are so many books I want my children to enjoy, but it would be impossible for us to buy them all. A library offers access to a plethora of materials for education and entertainment.

Learning to enjoy things without owning them can reach far beyond books. There are parks, beaches, festivals, and other things that can be enjoyed for free or for a nominal price without having to own anything.

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The beauty of learning to find ways of enjoying things without owning them is two-fold. In some cases it teaches patience in waiting your turn before you can enjoy something. It also reduces the amount of stuff brought into your living space which keeps clutter at bay. Clutter is an enemy of simplicity.

I want my children to grow up understanding they do not need to own everything in order to enjoy it.

They do not need to have an extensive video library; they can borrow movies from the library or rent them for a $2.50 at a local kiosk or wait for them to arrive on Netflix. They do not need to download every song they like; they can enjoy Pandora or Spotify free of charge and enjoy their favorite songs and find others like it. They do not need to purchase every book they want to read; they can borrow it from the library.

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What important lessons will this teach them in the long run?

  • Not everything needs to be owned in order for them to enjoy it.
  • To save their money for things they really want or need.
  • To critically think about purchases they do make.
  • Less clutter equals less stress.

How will they learn this lesson?

It starts with me and the example I show them. Children will not learn this lesson on their own. They need to be shown that we can learn to find ways to enjoy things without owning them in order for them to learn how to do the same.

The library is a good place to start.

This post was originally posted here at The Joy of Homemaking.