I Call That Spring!

Kite Days

A kite, a sky, and a good firm breeze,
And acres of ground away from trees,
And one hundred yards of clean, strong string –
O boy, O boy! I call that Spring!

 Mark Sawyer

OHC Spring 1

We introduced our kids to the movie Mary Poppins a few weeks ago, and ever since they’ve been going around the house singing “Let’s Go Fly a Kite,” which is a very appropriate song for the beginning of spring.  We’ve been watching our yard and neighborhood for signs of spring this month and we have not been disappointed.

As March began, the branches of trees all over the neighborhood blossomed in bright white flowers.  The breeze rushing through the trees caught white petals in its breath and all month we’ve seen white petals floating down to the ground.  My California born and bred kids exclaim, “Snow!”

OHC Spring 2

With the warmer weather (and the returned health after a few months of flu season ravaging through the household), Terrace Hill Academy students can be seen riding bikes, taking walks, climbing the apple tree, drawing with chalk, searching for flowers, and painting outside.

OHC Spring 3

The second week of March we found a few poppies in our yard and observed first hand nyctinasty (new word for us!)- the blooms fold up (“like a carrot,” my kids say) at night and open up to the sun in the morning.  Princess K was pretty fascinated by this as we observed the flowers day and evening after day and evening.  This was also the week we started seeing a few leaves on our grape vine.  The kids found a little ladybug, decided to keep it as a pet and called it Curly, drew it in their nature journals and then lost it.   (It reminded me of A.A. Milne’s poem Forgiven.)

OHC Spring 3b

OHC Spring Collage 1

OHC Spring 3c

 At the beginning of March, all that could be seen of our apple tree (we’ve been observing all year) was dry brown branches.  Today, March 25th, when we went to examine our tree, we found a few buds and a blossom!  It was exciting.

OHC Spring 4a

OHC Spring 4

OHC Spring 5

OHC Spring Collage 2

Our roses are in bloom again, the breezes are fragrant, the rain is sporadic, the kids are barefoot, all the world is in color.  Oh boy, oh boy, I call that spring!

OHC Spring 6

A Sure Sign

 Evaleen Stein

When you see upon the walk
Circles newly made of chalk,
And around them all the day
Little boys in eager play
Rolling marbles, agates fine,
Banded, polished, red as wine,
Marbles crystal as the dew,
Each with rainbows twisted through,
Marbles gay in painted clay,
Flashing, twinkling in your way,
When the walk has blossomed so,
Surely every one must know
None need wonder who has heard
Robin, wren, or Peter-bird;
Sure the sign as song or wing,
          It is spring!

Homeschooling through the Seasons of Life

Digging in the mud

Every season of the year has its charm.  Summer holds beach trips, ice cream, bare feet, and long, lazy afternoons.  Autumn brings crisp apples, crisp weather, the crunch of leaves and the mouthwatering aroma of pumpkin pie.  In winter, you blow out your breath in frosty clouds, go ice skating, and drink hot cocoa by a roaring fire.  Then spring breezes in warmly with new life, bright and beautiful blossoms, and the promise of summer break arriving before long.

Often, we describe our lives in terms of seasons.  “It’s just a season,” reminds us that the experiences of the phase of life we are in is transitory and soon a new season of life will arrive.  There are good seasons of fun and growth and happiness.  There are times of transition and change.  There are periods in life where things are difficult and sad and challenging.  And there are seasons of new life and new beginnings.

He has decided that he would like mommy's sunglasses

As homeschoolers, we have the challenge of trying to educate our children as we go and grow through the seasons together.  There will be exhilerating seasons of new beginnings, enthusiasm, when you plant seeds and faithfully water them.  There will be times when homeschooling and life is going well and you see the fruit of your labors blossoming in your children in their skills, understanding, or habits.  There will be times of transitions when you are trying to adjust to changes to your life or routine.  And there are seasons of difficulty, sadness, or grief, when things are hard and school seems an overwhelming burden.

So how does one homeschool through all of these changing seasons?

1.  Lean on God’s Strength- Abide in Him and let his words abide in you by spending time in prayer and in his Word, meditating on it and memorizing it.

Lean on God’s strength and abide in Him when things are going well, when life is shifting all around you, when everything is impossibly hard.  Abide.  Always.

Peace despite his casted leg and his box top bedding

God’s grace gives peace despite your circumstances

2.  Live in Grace- Remember that your worth, your value is not dependent upon your accomplishments or failures.  Your value is determined by the price paid for you.  The blood of the one and only Son of God.

Thank Him for his gracious provision when things are going well and trust in his sovereignty, his wisdom, power, and love, when things are hard.  It is God’s grace that enables you to be victorious and it is God’s grace that carries you when you fall.

Thy compassions, they fail not

His grace carries you

I’ve noticed that moms have that thing called Mom Guilt.  We all experience it.  We are not doing enough.  We are failing our husbands and ruining our children.  We look around at other peoples’ best, judge ourselves on that impossibly high standard and find ourselves wanting.

You know, whenever I talk to any other mom about this, I can see that Mom Guilt is ridiculous.  I encourage them to “Let it Go!”  Have grace for themselves.  But it seems that the hardest thing is to have grace for yourself.  I know.  It is for me too.

What we have to remember is that God is sovereign.  Our best efforts will fall far short.  We will fail.  We will yell at our kids unfairly.  We will neglect some important habit.   We will forget things, fail to fulfill promises, disappoint our kids from time to time.  God’s grace enables our successes in parenting and covers our failures.  If we can use our failures to point to the One who never will fail them, we will have done our job.

My two year old almost drowned a few months ago.  How I castigated myself!  I wasn’t there to watch my son.  Why wasn’t I watching?  But God was watching when I wasn’t.  He saved my son.  He’s the only one who can truly save our children.

Live in God’s grace so you can reveal God’s grace and love to your children.

3.  Rejoice Always- Give God thanks for the good times and be thankful for God’s grace and strength and sovereignty in the bad times.  This will make your good times better and your bad times a bit lighter.

Hospital Visit

4.  Record God’s Faithfulness- Write down the ways in which you see God work, in the good times and the bad.  This can later be a great encouragement when things are challenging (again).

Write down the things you do in your homeschooling.  Take pictures and make a scrapbook or a Shutterfly Yearbook.  Then when you are feeling discouraged (perhaps going through a season of illness like we recenty when through- when no school gets done for 6 weeks) and feeling like your kids are learning nothing and doing nothing valuable, you can look back at how far you’ve come and the fun things you’ve done.

5.  Be Flexible in Times of Change or Challenge- If no school gets done for a few days or weeks, that’s ok.  One of the beauties of homeschool is the wonderful flexibility with the schedule.  We school from August to June so there are plenty of weeks we can take off for travel, illness, or when we need a break.

Perhaps you need to purchase some special materials for those times of change- audiobooks, educational films, special craft kits, sticker books, computer programs or online learning website memberships.  Get help if you can.  Grandmas can do a baking “class” or read wonderful stories to their grandkids.  Perhaps Dad can help with school when he is home- or he can take the kids to the zoo or local museum for a field trip.

Four kids on a stroller- I love my Joovy Caboose!

This is how a dad takes the kids on a field trip

You might need to shorten up your school schedule.  Times of transition or hardship call for a “just the basics” schedule, rather than worrying about all the extras we homeschoolers like to include in our days.  Make a short list of the basics- depending on your children’s current needs, and just aim to accomplish those.

In the end, the most important thing is to abide in Christ.  Abide in Him and He will carry you.

3 Super Simple Christmas Crafts

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I am not a super crafty person, but my kids love to do crafts.  So whatever crafts we do in our household need to be super simple.  My oldest son is a very independent, out-of-the-box thinker and his favorite kind of craft is one where he is free to follow whatever creative path his brain suggests.  This works out well for me since my favorite kind of craft is one where I gather up some supplies, dump them on the table and let them explore the materials and be creative.

1.  Construction paper ornaments- Everyone knows how to do this.  X-man had been begging to make ornaments all morning one day last week.  So I thought, why not?  I pulled out some green and dark pink cardstock (this was as Christmas-y as I had on hand), scissors, markers, glue, tape, and yarn.  I helped with the tying of the yarn so they could hang their ornaments on the tree.  I also cut out little gingerbread people for them to decorate.  Otherwise, this was a totally independent craft that took at least an hour.  I gave my two year old scratch paper and markers so he could craft with his siblings.  I played Christmas music and it was a very merry time!

Construction Paper Ornaments

Construction Paper Ornaments

2.  Craft Stick Snowflake- I gathered smal craft sticks, glue, glitter, sequins, white paint, and paper with which to cover my table.  Yesterday, I showed the kids how to make snowflake forms with the craft sticks.  They formed a variety of snowflakes and glued them together.  Today, they decorated them with white paint, glitter, and sequins.  Once they are dry,  plan to tie some sort of yarn, string, or wire around them and hang them in our windows or on our tree.

5 December3

5 December1

5 December

3.  Button Tree Collage- Next week, I plan to give my daughter (and any other interested parties) a piece of cardstock or green felt in the shape of a Christmas tree, some glue, and a bunch of buttons of a variety of sizes and Christmasy colors.   She can fill the tree with the buttons in any pattern or arrangement she wishes.  It sounds easy, fun, and pretty -3 important components of any successful craft!

I like these crafts since they encourage my children to explore their own creativity.  If any of you have any more ideas like these for this craft-challenged mommy, I’d appreciate them!

 

Great Christmas Books for Kids

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We love reading stories.  And I love getting into the holiday spirit with my kids by reading them Christmas stories during the month of December.  Here are some recommendations and ideas for good books to read at Christmastime.

Christmas Picture Books We Like

These are the books we’ve (or at least I’ve) read and enjoyed:

1.  The Tale of Three Trees by Angela Elwell Hunt  -I cry every time I read this story.  It works for Christmas and Easter and I like how it ties the two together.  I think it is important to remember at Christmas time, when all is sweetness and light with babies and shepherds and gifts of gold, that the little baby came to earth to die.  For us.

2.  A Wish to Be a Christmas Tree by Colleen Monroe  -This is a sweet little picture book about love and friendship and kindness.

3.  Christmas Day in the Morning by Pearl S. Buck  -A boy gives a precious gift to his father.  As a mother, I want my children to get ideas from this book and carry them out!  :)

4.  How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss  -A classic story that we love.

5.  The Nutcracker by Susan Jeffers  -I love the ballet and I was excited to introduce the story to the kids.  This version has great illustrations.

6.  The Legend of St. Nicholas by Dandi Daley Mackall  -I really like telling the legend of St. Nicholas.  I tell my kids that this is legend- so we don’t know how much of it is true- but it seems like there was a guy who loved God and out of that love God poured forth generosity toward others.    He is a hero worthy of emulation- we also should be generous with what God has graciously given us because of our love for Him.

7.  Silver Packages by Cynthia Rylant  -This is a sweet story of the ‘circle of generosity.’  It even touches on having a good attitude and a thankful heart, even when you don’t get what you wish for the most- this is a good lesson and a very needed one for my kids!

8.  Stephen’s Feast by Jean Richardson  -A tale of King Wenceslas and his page.  A boy learns from his king to follow in his footsteps and give to those in need.

9.  The Christmas Knight by Jane Louise Curry  -A fun story about a generous, loving man and what happens when he gives all that he has away.

10.  The Story of Holly & Ivy by Rumer Godden  -A very sweet story of a little homeless girl and her Christmas doll.

11.  Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening- by Robert Frost and illustrated by Susan Jeffers  -A great way to introduce this poem to kids- with lots of fun snowy illustrations!

12.  Jolly Old Santa Claus by Mary Jane Tonn  -This was a book my mother read to us when we were little, every Christmas Eve.  So now, I read it to my children every Christmas Eve.  Ah, tradition.  I love it.

13.  The Night Before Christmas by Clement C. Moore  -This was another book my mother read to us every year on the night before Christmas.  The version I read to my kids is a pop-up book from Barnes and Noble I picked up one year when I started having Christmas at home.

14.  The Story of Christmas illustrated by John Walker  -My mother also read a pop-up book of the very first Christmas to us every Christmas Eve.  So, again, when I started my own family traditions, I found this book.  I fell in love with the amazing illustrations and I liked that the text was taken directly from the Bible.

Chapter Books & Books for Advent

1.  The Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens  -I like to listen to the Focus on the Family Radio Theater version of this classic tale.

2.  The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis -when I taught school, this was the book I assigned at Christmas (to my 7th graders.  I assigned The Christmas Carol to my 8th graders.)  It isn’t a Christmas story really, but since Father Christmas is in it, it is Christmasy enough for me.

3.  The Jessie Tree by Geraldine McCaughrean -We read this last year as our Advent family devotional time.  I love that it starts at the beginning and traces God’s plan for the coming Messiah throughout the Old Testament.

4.   Jotham’s Journey by Arnold Ytreeide (and also Bartholomew’s Passage and Tabitha’s Travels) -We are reading Jotham’s Journey this December, with daily readings throughout the advent season.  It is exciting and scary and we are all really enjoying it- the kids are at the edge of their seats with wide eyes and we are all excited to read the next section.  My plan is to read Bartholomew’s Passage next year and then Tabitha’s Travels the year after that.  Ah, so many books to read, so little time.

Books On Our List This Year (But We Haven’t Read Yet)

I searched the internet for recommendations for Christmas books to read to my children that I could also find at my local library.  Here was the result:

1.  The Snow Queen retold by Sarah Lowes and illustrated by Miss Clara  -We haven’t yet read this book based on Hans Christian Anderson’s fairytale, but I was drawn to this story by the beautiful and whimsical illustrations.  It is long tale, comprised of 7 chapters, about a young girl who sets off to rescue her friend from the Snow Queen’s clutches.

2.  A Certain Small Shepherd by Rebecca Caudill  -We like this author and so I am looking forward to reading this story about a mute boy who longs to do something special at Christmas.

3.  The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson  -The bad kids in town get involved in the Christmas Pageant in this chapter book.  I hear it is funny and sweet.  My kids are totally into funny.

4.  Albert and the Angels by Leslie Norris  -A boy and his dog try to find a gift for his mother.

5.  The Remarkable Christmas of the Cobbler’s Sons by Ruth Sawyer  -A playful goblin king pays a visit to the cobbler and his sons.

6.  The Wild Christmas Reindeer by Jan Brett  -We enjoy Jan Brett’s fun stories and vivid illustrations, so this year,we’ll give this one a try.

7.  Auntie Claus by Elise Primavera  -A little girl stows away in her Aunt’s luggage to discover her Christmas secret.

8.  Dance in the Desert by Madeleine L’Engle  -All sorts of animals come to dance for a child who is traveling to Egypt with his parents.  I am intrigued by this different take on the Christmas story.

9.  The Christmas Candle by Richard Paul Evans  -A boy buys a magic candle that changes how he views others.

Five Things We Don’t Do to Keep Christ the Center of Christmas

Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.

-Helen H. Lemmel, 1922

If you ask my kids what Christmas is, they’ll tell you, “It’s Jesus’ birthday.”  If you ask them why they like Christmas so much, they’ll tell you, “Because of PRESENTS!”  When pressed, they’ll agree that the festive decorations, the fun activities, the food, and giving to others is fun too.  But it’s all about the presents right now.  And you know what?  I understand that.  Presents are fun.

It is just important to my husband and I that we take that excitement in our children for presents and turn that passion toward the Lord.  The presents they get are a symbol, a picture of the amazing gift we were given on that very first Christmas.  If we had that same excitement our children have when they wake up on Christmas morning and see the gifts under the tree every time we thought of the gift of salvation, how that would change our lives.

So here are a few things that we don’t do in order to keep Christ as the focus of our Christmas celebrations.

9 Reading stories on Christmas Eve

1.  We don’t neglect our time with the Lord.  I carve out time, usually early in the morning, every day (as best as I can), to spend time with my Lord.  During December, we pause our regular Bible lessons and go through the story of the very first Christmas, from Luke and Matthew.  I use flannelgraph or paintings as visual aids, we sing Christmas Carols that (attempt to) tie to the theme of the lesson each day.

Today, X-man noticed with a look of dawning understanding that in our Bible story, “Mary is almost going to have Jesus.  And it’s almost Christmas when it’s Jesus’ birthday!”  I know it is awfully obvious, but for my 7 year old son to notice the correlation himself fills me with delight.

We also go through a Advent storybook together as a family every evening.  Last year, we read through and very much enjoyed The Jesse Tree.  It was wonderful to have a review of the whole Old Testament and how it all points to the coming Savior.  This year, we have begun the story Jotham’s Journey.  It was highly recommended by our pastor and so far it is really enjoyable.  It is exciting and scary and the kids all groan when the chapter is over.  Then we sing Christmas Carols and rejoice and worship our Savior around the lit up Christmas tree.  It is a beautiful family time of worship together.

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2.  We don’t try to modify behavior by threatening lumps of coal instead of presents.  In fact, we don’t tie gifts to behavior at all.  Sometimes the idea of presents only coming to good children does come up in the stories we read or the movies they watch.  Then we explain that Christmas is a time to celebrate the gift God gave us in His Son- the gift none of us deserve at all.  Although we all are sinful and deserve to be on the naughty list, if we have accepted Jesus as our Savior, our names were crossed off of that list with His blood and He has signed our names on the good list, the Book of Life.  Christmas is all about grace.  Just like we don’t deserve the gift of God’s Son, none of us deserve presents under the tree.  We get them anyway, because of love.

3.  We don’t forbid Santa and we don’t lie to our kids either.  We read stories about Saint Nicholas (and watch the Veggie Tale) and explain that legend has it that St. Nicholas was very generous with his family’s wealth, giving away what he had to those less fortunate because he loved Jesus.  Now people love to make up pretend and magical stories about him that are fun to read and watch.  We enjoy reading and watching stories about Santa ourselves.  He is a good role model- a generous, loving, joyful guy who loves to share and give.  We should all be like that- giving to others because we love Christ.

4 Christmas

4.  We don’t just think about what we are going to get.  I definitely let my kids give me ideas for their Christmas lists.  I break up the list into the four categories- Want, Need, Wear, Read- so that they are thinking about more than just toys.  I am also very careful to remind them that this is just to give their parents and grandparents ideas and they will not get everything on the list.

Then we try to talk more about what we are giving to others at Christmas time.  We pack boxes for Operation Christmas child.  This year, each of our older three kids (7, 6, 4) got to fill a box for a child his or her age.  We also went to the grocery store to purchase items for a “Stocking the Staples” (cute play on words there) drive for a local mission that helps out the homeless.  I also encourage them to think of what they might want to get for their siblings.  We want to teach them while they are young the joy of giving to others.

5.  We don’t complain or accept entitled attitudes.  We are currently working on the habit of gratitude and thankfulness.  Whenever I hear a complaint, I (try to) stop the child in his tracks, quote I Thessalonians 5:16-18, “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”  Then the child has to tell me something he is thankful for. Then we will get into the practice of focusing on our blessings, instead of our wants and filling our minds and words with thanksgiving instead of grumbling.  The more gratitude, the more joy and praise will fill our home.  The more joy and praise we have in our hearts and home, the more it will feel like Christmas.

12 Crazy Christmas Family

What we do is try to make the most of every opportunity we have to point our whole family’s eyes to Christ.  As we turn our eyes to Jesus, the things of the world, the stuff, the frantic stress of the season, the many worries and concerns, fade in the light of his awesome glory and his amazing grace.

*Need some Christmas Bible lesson ideas?  I’ve attached my Christmas Bible Lessons- my Christmas gift to you.

24 Christmas Countdown Activities

Christmas Countdown

When I was younger, my sister and I used to make a red and green paper chain to count down the days until Christmas.  So when I was pregnant with my first child, and I saw a Christmas house with 24 doors to count down the days in December until Christmas, I thought it would be a perfect thing to use with my kids to help them countdown the days until Christmas.

X-man's first exploration of the Christmas advent house

X-man’s first exploration of the Christmas advent house

I usually put a few cinnamon almonds or other small treat in with a folded card that describes a fun activity for the day.  My children squeal with delight in anticipation of December 1st and the beginning of the Christmas house fun.

When the Christmas house gets destroyed (notice I did not say “if”- I have three boys, it is inevitable), there are a number of other things we can use to countdown the days of December.  We could hang 24 little Christmas socks on a clothesline on a wall.  We could put envelopes on a bulletin board.  We could make a paper chain with the activities written on it.  I have an ornament that is a little green and red box with a lid.  I could put the activity card and tiny treats in it each day and hide it in a different spot on the tree and use that day after day.

Here are some ideas for Christmas Countdown Activities:

1.  Decorate the windows with Christmas clings or snowflakes

2.  Take out, set up, and play with the nativity set

Playing with the nativity

Playing with the nativity set

3.  Help with Christmas cards- fill the envelope, stick address labels, stamps, and sticker seals on the envelopes and mail the cards

4.  Unwrap a (new or old) Christmas book to read  (we do this one a few times during the month)

5.  Have a candy cane hunt- eat one and hang the rest on the tree

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The End Goal of the Candy Cane Hunt

6.  St. Nicholas Day (December 6th)- put chocolate coins in shoes or stockings, read The Legend of St. Nicholas, watch the Veggie Tales St. Nicholas

7.  Get and decorate the Christmas tree

8.  Make and decorate a Gingerbread House

Gingerbread cakes

Gingerbread cakes

9.  Do a Christmas craft, like: decorate pine cones with glitter to use as a centerpiece or as ornaments, make a wreath or candy cane ornament out of a pipe cleaner and beads, make thumbprint reindeers, or a red and green nature collage (after a red and green nature walk)

10.  Make Christmas gifts

11.  Write a letter to a missionary or a child in need (through Compassion or other group like that) or a Grandmother or other relative

12.  Donate a toy- take the kids to the store to select and purchase a toy to donate

13.  Have a Nutcracker Day- watch the ballet (I love- from my childhood- Mikhail Baryshnikov’s Nutcracker Ballet), read the book, crack and eat some nuts

14.  Christmas Cookie Baking Day (or other Christmas fun cooking)

4 December 2013

Christmas Cookie Time

15. Drink Hot Cocoa with a Candy Cane and Watch a fun Christmas movie- There are many, such as The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, The Muppet Christmas Carol, Rudolph the Rednosed Reindeer, or one of the ones on Netflix streaming: Curious George’s A Very Monkey Christmas, Winnie the Pooh A Very Merry Pooh Year, and the myriad Micky Mouse Christmas movies

16.  Go Ice Skating (and if I lived in the snow, having a snowball fight and making a snowman would definitely be on my list, but alas, I do not)

17.  Christmas concert (or service of some kind; this year our church is putting on a Christmas Concert and my husband is drumming in it, so we are excited to attend)- really, any event (like our annual family Christmas party) that is on the calendar anyway is used as a countdown activity

18.  Act out the story of the very first Christmas with costumes (practice for a show to be given on Christmas Eve or Christmas morning)

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Acting out the Christmas Story

19.  Listen to Focus on the Family Radio Theater’s presentation of A Christmas Carol

20.  Take a drive to look at Christmas lights- we have several neighborhoods in our area that go crazy with their decorations, and we enjoy taking an evening drive to take a look

Christmas Lights Outing

A Holiday Lights Drive

21.  Christmas coloring book or sticker book

22.  Christmas wrapping party- we turn on Christmas music, give the kids (who are old enough) wrapping paper, tape, scissors and areas that are blocked off from view from the others, and do our wrapping

23.  Put together a Christmas Puzzle

24.  Community Christmas activities- there is a museum in our area that has a fun Victorian Christmas house display for Christmas, a local garden hosts a holiday open house, there are Christmas Tree lightings, parades, horse drawn carriages, and other fun community events.

When we lived in the South Bay, a church set up Bethlehem on their grounds and it was an amazing production (I miss that!) and there were fun holiday displays in several parks in the area.

The San Francisco Zoo does a display of lights and has holiday festivities every December.

It is important when I plan out our countdown activities that I keep things simple and realistic.  There is a lot to do in December and I need to not burden myself with unrealistic expectations.  So, being non-crafty, I don’t plan to do too many crafts each December (though I do try to make sure that what do is beautiful and so we can use it year after year).  I also don’t try to hit too many community events in a single December.  One or two is plenty.  I always try to use whatever it is we’ll be doing anyway.  If I need to make Christmas cookies or gingerbread cakes or fudge for gifts or a party, that goes on the list.  That way, I can make things special for the kids and I keep things simple for me.

In the end, my goal with Christmas Countdown activities is joyful, meaningful family fun to build memories and point to how special that very first Christmas Gift really was.  It changes how we live.  It is so much more than we deserve.  It gives us abundant life and joy.

Merry Christmas, Everybody!

A Mom’s Holiday Survival Guide

Smiling through the Season

Smiling through the Season

The holiday season has arrived.  I don’t know about you, but my calendar is filling up fast and my To Do list is growing inches by the minute.

I find myself pulled in two directions.  On the one hand, I want to simplify my life and holiday practices so that I might truly savor the Christmas season.  But on the other hand, I also really enjoy the the decorations, the lights, the music and the traditions that help make this time of year so magical.

But if I let myself get frazzled and worried, weighed down by so many expectations of myself, and get busy and stressed, my kids won’t remember magical Christmases.  They will remember mom’s grumpiness and quick temper.  That’s not what I want for my kids or for myself.  So, there are a few things I do to help me smile through the holiday season.

Joyful Smiles

Joyful Smiles

1.  Lower My Expectations: I am really my own worst enemy.  I demand perfection out of myself.  I get brilliant ideas and make elaborate plans for cute holiday crafts or perfectly themed holiday meals or gorgeous holiday decorations or really fun holiday events.  Then when I inevitably fail to carry out all of my plans, I feel terribly guilty for my laziness or lack of skill.

It’s not that plans and ideas of cute crafts, meals, decorations or events are a bad thing.  But I need to keep my expectations reasonable and remember that doing a craft a day is not as important to my kids as smiling at them every day with love.  (And smiles are contagious!  When I smile at them, they smile back and we all have a better day!)

2.  Work Ahead:  There are a number of things I only do in December.  I am adament about saving Christmas things- the music, the movies, the books, the decorating December.  I really enjoy wrapping presents while drinking eggnog listening to Christmas music next to the lit up tree.  It’s a December tradition for me.  So I don’t do certain things ahead of time.  But whatever I can get done ahead of time will help me during that busy December month that is full of company, cleaning, cooking, wrapping, and advent activities.

A few things I like to do early include gathering and writing out Christmas gift lists, ordering presents online, my Christmas cards and letter, and planning my advent or Christmas countdown activities.

Working Ahead:  Freezer Cooking

Working Ahead: Freezer Cooking

3.  Have a Freezer Cook Day:  Speaking of working ahead, I like to pick a day at the end of November- often Black Friday, since I don’t ever shop on that day and it is a day my husband is home- to have a “Cook Day,” where I make and freeze meals for the month of December.  Really, any month where I get my act together to do this is wonderful.  But it is especially helpful in December when there is usually a lot going on.

So I sit down the weekend before the planned Cook Day to plan out my menu for the following month.  I make out a grocery list and then make out a task list for the Cook Day that groups like tasks together.  I usually start with cooking beans and chopping vegetables.  Then I cook the meat.  Then I assemble the meals in gallon ziploc bags and label them and stick them in the freezer.  My daughter who loves to cook usually helps me out and I get everyone (except the 2 year old) involved in the burrito making assembly line.  So parts of it are fun and in the end, there is great satisfaction when I see a very full freezer and I think of how little effort making dinner will be for the next several weeks.

I have a beautiful and very enthusiastic Assistant Chef

I have a beautiful and very enthusiastic Assistant Chef

4.  Whistle While You Work:  Mary Poppins said, “In every job that must be done there is an element of fun.  You find the fun and -SNAP!- the job’s a game!”

I really wish I could snap my fingers and have the toys pick themselves up.  That would be a neat superpower.  However, while I can’t do that, I can find a way to make my tasks fun.  At Christmas time it is easy to add a festive and fun atmosphere to any chore or task by playing Christmas songs or drinking peppermint hot cocoa, listening to a radio theater version of A Christmas Carol and turning on the Christmas tree lights.  My sister and I play the alphabet Christmas Carol game while we work in the kitchen together.  It brings back sweet memories, since we did this when we were children too.

With my kids, I try to make games out of our chores by racing the clock or pulling jobs (and rewards!) out of a jar.  Or I’ll tell stories and send them on dangerous missions to deliver presents to good little children around the house.  If they are thinking about the ticking clock or slaying dragons, they are not thinking about how unenjoyable work is.

5.  Spend Time with Jesus Every Day:  In the end, the only way to have true joy in any season is through Jesus Christ.  He can enable you to give thanks in all circumstances.  He can give you the power to be content when you have much or little, whether your calendar is full or empty.

It is when we abide in Him and His words abide in us that true joy leaps out of our hearts and finds its way to our faces.  It is therefore vital to carve out some time every day, whether that is early in the morning, late at night, during nap time or a few minutes while we are in the car to lift our hearts to the Lord in prayer and read a few verses of His Holy Word.  Then we will have the internal fortitude to face each day’s highlights and struggles, both the quiet and busy moments, with grace, peace, and joy.

When you sing the old familiar Christmas carols this season, really ponder the words.  My favorite Christmas carol is Hark the Herald Angels Sing.  What rich truths are contained in these lines.  What joy and awe and wonder I feel when I pause to think about how the coming of the newborn King means that God and sinners have been reconciled!  Pleased as man with men to dwell, Jesus our Emmanuel.  Mild he lays his glory by, born that man no more may die.

So let us this season truly consider what Christmas is all about: the Son of God giving up heaven to touch earth with His grace, exchanging glory for humility, and sacrificing His own life out of love for us.  Hallelujah, What a Savior!

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God.  All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.  In him was life, and the life was the light of men. …And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.  John 1:1-4, 14

Christmas with Baby X

May you all have a very joyful holiday season!