Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year!

(So, today, pretend to sit down with me, and pick your choice: hot chocolate or peppermint mocha, and I will subject you to the wanderings of my mind...)

I am strange. I tried to deny it, but I really have learned it is better to just own it. I love this time of the year. And I am not talking about Christmas. I do love Christmas, but I really get in my groove the day after. It is not just the clearance shopping, either.

I am ready to be refreshed. I spent a whole year working, scheduling, making, breaking and generally just trying to get everything done. I need a new start, a clean slate. I am not much one for making New Year's resolutions-mostly because it is more likely that I *won't* do what I resolve to do, than actually accomplish it!

However, I do really feel like I am getting a wonderful, unblemished gift. If, as Anne of Green Gables would say, "Tomorrow is always fresh, with no mistakes in it.", then surely a whole year of new tomorrows is as vibrant as a vegetable growing in the garden-full of possibilities!

I know that I don't need the numbers of the year to change to make a fresh start, but there is so much putting away of the old at the change of the year. Throwing away old calendars, packing up Christmas decorations, which leads to house cleaning and a general decision making time. What will I keep and what will I give up to make room for something better? Even stores are making sweeping changes, clearancing out everything from clothes to bathroom soap.

And it just is a whole new year to envision living better and more fully than I did the year before. If this year has been good, how much better can I make the new one?

 “No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. If he does, the new piece will pull away from the old, making the tear worse. And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. No, he pours new wine into new wineskins.”  Mark 2:20-22

I want to pour new wine into my new wineskins! I want to have new clothes, so I don't need to patch the old ones. And I love new- new jeans, new towels, new packages of candy. And that is how the new year feels to me. It is a significant point of change- all perfect and unblemished. And that makes me excited. I get to make changes and learn from the mistakes of the past year. Yes, of course, the coming year will have its share of trials and imperfections. But I get another chance.

Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past.See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland." Isaiah 43:19

Last year, is so, well, last year! I serve a God of not just second chances, but eternal forgiveness to those who seek it. I am overjoyed at the prospect of my 30th new year- one full of chances, choices, and completely unblemished, fresh with no mistakes in it. I am excited to see all the ways that will be made for me, all the streams that will bubble up unexpectedly. This really is, to me, the most wonderful time of the year. I love a new year!

I will leave you with my favorite "after Christmas" carol (by the way, Boxing Day is celebrated the world over on December 26th)

Boxing Day
(Relient K)

Take it all down
Christmas is over
Do not despair but rather be glad
We had a good year. Now let's have another
Remembering all the good times that we had

Oh no more lights glistening
No more carols to sing
But Christmas it makes way for spring

The hearts of men are bitter and weathered
As cold as the snow that falls from above
But just for one day we all came together
We showed the whole world that we know how to love

Oh no more lights glistening
No more carols to sing
But Christmas it makes way for spring

Oh, remember that Christmas, it makes way for spring.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

The Most (Im)Perfect Tree in the World

I have one simple requirement for our Christmas tree. At some point it must have been alive-read: I want a real tree! I don't have a problem with other people having fake trees, but they are not for me. I love the "trouble" of watering the tree every day, I love vacuuming up the needles, I love the irregularity that can only come from having a tree that grew, in the sun and in the rain, until I brought it home.

And this year, I had the perfect plan for obtaining one. The last three years we have been gifted a tree from the Trees for Troops program. The trees have been beautiful- full, tall, gorgeous trees that probably would have cost somewhere between $45- $70 each. One year we even got a Noble fir! Anyway, now that Joel is no longer in the military, we aren't eligble, so I had to re-group.

I had heard that you could cut your own tree through the Forest Service. The permits were only $10! It would be so great, we would all go out together, tramp through the woods, select a wonderful tree and bring it home. I had done it once before with my parents, and it was fantastic memory. Joel purchased our permit and we were all set. It would be Christmas card perfect.

And it all went downhill from there. We had planned to get our tree on Friday, but when I looked at the weather on Wednesday, (when the temperatures were in the 50's) I saw that on Thursday the weather service was calling for the bottom to drop out: temps in the 20's, snow, and lots of wind. Not exactly ideal tree-cutting weather!

So, we decided we would hurry and go on Wednesday afternoon after Joel got out of school. My first mistake was forgetting my camera. Fail. Then we drove up to the forest, and it was beautiful. I wasn't expecting "perfect" trees, so I wasn't surprised by the sparseness of the growth, I was confident we would find a wonderful one.

The kids were not impressed by our nature trek. It was during nap time, so Carson, usually my outdoor lover, was crabby. Jocelyn was tired of walking up and down-it was very hilly. We were having zero success. All the trees were wrong: too small, too tall, too sparse, bare on one side, crooked... I could go on and on. There were a number of other tree hunters out there and they did not seem to be struggling. They were chopping and strapping trees on cars, no problems.

Part of the reason was that they did not seem to have any problems breaking the rules. The permit specifically states the areas where you can cut trees. Also, trees cannot have trunks thicker than 6 inches in diameter, and you are not allowed to "top" trees- they must be cut off near the ground. I was determined to obey the rules (I must have had a greater fear of the $5,000 fine than they did!).

But that was making it hard. Actually impossible. Finally, we found the most likely candidate we had seen. It was the right diameter, although it was far too tall. But we figured we could pare it down once we got it home. We looked around for a while longer, but not having any more success we decided to go for it. Once we cut it, I realized it was even more sparse than I had originally thought. I chose to be optimistic, though.

It was the PRICKLIEST tree I have ever handled. Jocelyn started singing "O Pokey Tree" on the way home! Both Joel and I sustained various injuries- the tree seemed to be fighting to stay in the forest. But we wrangled it onto the truck and got it home.

Where I realized, that to make it fit in our living room, we would need to cut off about three feet. Of the best part. My little sparse tree would be even more sparse once we cut it down to size. We fought to wrap lights on it, getting poked the whole time. And it wasn't like the Christmas movies. It did not magically become more full once the lights were on.

However, I realized something. Our poor little Charlie Brown tree has character. And we had fun getting it. And it is real. So, I can give in to the imaginary expectations that I so often let rule my life, or I can be happy with what I've got.

And I am. I realized that is what I want all of Christmas (and my life for that matter) to be about. Getting to the true meaning and not being ruled by everyone else's expectations- real or imagined! In the end, I have to live with my tree AND my choices. And I want to know that I pleased the Lord and went with the "real" thing (not that I have anything against other people having artificial trees- I am really applying this to other areas of life!) in all areas of my life. Because I have to live with my tree-and my choices-not everyone else.

"I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.  I can do everything through him who gives me strength." Philippians 4:11-13

In the end, I will be called into account for my choices, and I want to know that I have the strength of character to make such wise decisions that I will be proud to defend them when I need to. And also, to have enough confidence in Christ to know that I can be happy being different- even if that sometimes is a little prickly...

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Easy Snowflake Ornaments

If you want a quick and easy Christmas craft, this is for you! These snowflakes would be perfect as gift tags/package toppers, too. I loved that they have a sort of vintage/Swedish vibe, which is so trendy this year.

The list of supplies is laughable:

-white spray paint
-a ruler
-hot glue gun
-and the secret ingredient...toilet paper tubes!

I photographed the ribbon, but I was inspired to add them to my fireplace garland, so I didn't end up using it.
Start by prepping your paper tubes. There were little bits of paper stuck all over them, but it is really easy to remove all that by rubbing the flat side of your scissors blade up and down the tube. That makes it nice and clean.

Then, take your tube and flatten it. Measure out half-inch increments. You don't need to mark all the way across, just make lines so you know where to cut. Then cut all the way across.

You will end up with a pile of  ovals. You can make one of either kind of snowflake with one tube. If you go through toilet paper like we do, however, you can probably make enough to trim an entire tree with what you save in a week! That is probably more information than you wanted.

Take your ovals and glue them together with a small dot at the bottom. If you want to make the eight pointed snowflake, glue four ovals together, then a separate four. Stack them, rotating the top section slightly, using a glob (professional word, by the way) of glue in the center to hold them together. For the five pointed ones, just glue five ovals together at the center.
Once the glue has set, you can spray paint them. If you wanted perfection, you could hand paint them with craft paint. I am too lazy for that. I put three coats of paint on, they dry at lightening speed. However, the cardboard sucks up paint, it wouldn't have hurt anything for me to have added a fourth coat. But I was in a hurry and not looking for perfection!
I was very pleased with how they turned out. You can see a little of the numbers they print on the inside of the tube, but you have to look at them pretty closely.

They are the perfect accent to my holiday garland! I didn't need hooks or anything to hang them, I just stuck them right on the garland. It might be fun to whip some of these up and hang them from the ceiling with some ribbon. I don't think anyone would guess their humble origins.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Pretty Paper Christmas Wreath

I  love making wreaths. It is a very satisfactory activity for someone with a short attention span, such as myself. In the wonderful world of Pinterest, I found this wreath. If you look at the tutorial, however, she has a lot of things I don't have. Like a really nice printer. She printed all the cardstock. And then she glues antique book pages to the back of each strip. Not gonna happen. Her's is beautiful, don't get me wrong, but obviously she is more patient than I am! Also, I didn't really want a year-round wreath, I wanted a Christmas wreath! So, while I needn't rewrite her perfectly fine tutorial, here is what I did.

I purchased:
- Floral pins ($4.99 at Hobby Lobby-used a 40% off coupon)
-12 inch straw wreath ($2.99 at Michael's used 20% off coupon)
-Colored card stock ($9.99 regularly at Hobby Lobby, on sale for 50% off) It is called "Christmas Brights"
-Roll of polka-dotted ribbon ($1.99 regularly at Michael's, on sale for 70% off)

(Is it weird that I want to see pictures of this kind of stuff? I get so frustrated when I can't visualize what someone is talking about. So, I posted one for you!)

She recommends cutting your card stock into two-inch widths. Since I went with a smaller wreath, that would have been a little too large. I used the really nice commercial paper cutter at our church and I chopped my paper into 1 7/8 inches (approximately). The nice part is that I also ended up cutting a few by hand, and you can't really tell the difference. The other cool part: I only used about 15 sheets of the card stock, so that made this a really cheap project, coming in around $7. You could make one for every season!

So, anyways, you cut your paper into strips, then you put the ends together and push a floral pin through the paper into the wreath. Note here: do not put your strips too close together. I found that if I put the top of one strip in the middle of the strip underneath, it was about right. If you put them too close it makes it too full and it looks funny.

That is really all there is to it! I made the little paper accordion like she did, but I don't know if I love it. I will probably leave it, anyway. It was really tricky to form it into a circle! Then I used a one inch punch on some left over paper and hot glued the little circle onto the accordion. I added a little ribbon, and it was done. The whole project probably took me about 45 minutes, after I cut the paper.

I think my short cuts made it less difficult, but not really any less cute. I am happy with it, and since I have a tendency to want to change things up frequently, it will be really easy to remove it all and start again. It will make a great addition to my Christmas decorations. I love a simple DIY, especially at Christmas time!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Thanksgiving and A Birthday

My Thanksgiving baby had another Thanksgiving birthday this year. Josie was born on a Thanksgiving Thursday and this year she turned six on Thanksgiving day. It was fun to remember all the excitement of her delivery! Her dad gave her flowers (she loves flowers, such a girl!) as a wake-up gift.

 Her brother gave her pajamas and bunny slippers for Kit. She was thrilled! I thought it was hilarious that she slept with her bow in- it made her look so cute for her photos. Usually, we do breakfast in bed, but since we weren't going out for lunch, we had a special birthday breakfast at McDonald's. A sausage McGriddle is one of the birthday girl's favorite things.
 We had been invited to have dinner at our friends' house, so we had a very peaceful morning. I whipped up my most favorite Thanksgiving dish, sweet potato casserole, while the rest of the family took in the Black Friday ads and the parade.
 I wanted to snap a shot of one of our favorite traditions: watching the Macy's parade. Jocelyn couldn't believe it was on when I was a little girl. We really should have a tradition of watching the dog show-that is what I watched while I was in labor with her!
 I also wanted a good picture of my two favorite turkeys. I got some really good ones-for once! This one is such an accurate representation of their personalities.
 Josie was excited to get to spend her birthday with her best friend, Hannah. I was excited that I didn't have to cook! Lunch was delicious, thanks to my dear friend, Sarah, and her sweet mom. It is so nice to not have to spend the holiday with just our little family. I always miss my wonderful extended family, and it helps make it a little easier when you are with good friends.
 Jocelyn discovered a love of pumpkin pie! It is kind of tough to fit 6 candles in a little piece of pie- next time her birthday is on Thanksgiving we will have to put them on the whole thing!
 A girl after my own heart: she used her candles to lick all the Cool Whip off her plate. Pumpkin pie without cool whip is like a mashed potatoes without gravy-except for worse!
 Another favorite tradition is making a snack-craft. We did turkeys last year and this year I copied these little acorns from my sister.
 These were a snap, and the kids loved making them! It is:half a mini Nutter Butter cookie, an unwrapped Hershey's kiss and a mini chocolate chip (we stuck ours on with a little bit of peanut butter piped out of sandwich baggie). So easy, so cute!
They were obviously a hit with Carson, who clearly takes after his dad. Josie had a great birthday, and we had a wonderful Thanksgiving. Who can go wrong with good food and great friends?

Thursday, November 24, 2011

To Josie, on Her 6th Birthday

Dear Josie,
             What a year this has been! Far and away, the biggest and best memory I will have of this year is that you were saved. I never realized how hard it is to trust that the Lord will draw your child to Himself when the time is right. I have wanted for you to have Jesus in your heart since before you were born. I have prayed that He would give me the right words to say, and not let me get in the way, and He didn't!

You came to me one day in January (I wish I had written down which one) and said, "I prayed to Jesus, and asked Him into my heart during rest time". You told me that it had been a few days before. I was a little hesitant- I mean, you were so little, barely five! But you had been asking a lot of questions, and the more we talked to you about it, the more we realized, you had figured out how much you needed Jesus. And I hope you will see that you always will.

Miss Kelly, one of the best teachers ever, talked to you about it a lot, too. She knew you were ready, and she has been so instrumental in discipling you. You have been so excited, telling everyone you know about Jesus, and how to accept Him as Savior.

You were so ready to be baptized! It took a long time, for a lot of different reasons, but finally you were baptized last Sunday. You were so proud, and so very excited. Your dad was very nervous, but he did a great job. He talked about how " when your 5 year old tells you she accepted Jesus, you think she is too young to know what she is talking about, but after you listen to her you realize you might be too old to know what you are talking about!" and he shared Philippians 1:9-11. We picked those verses for just for you.

"And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ,  filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God." Philippians 1:9-11

When Daddy asked you if you had accepted Jesus into your heart, you so proudly and clearly said, "Yes." It was one of the sweetest moments of my life.

And, of course, you did plenty of other things this year. You have learned how to ride your bike, cross the monkey bars, and tell time. You love playing with your birthday gift, Kit. You spend hours with your Barbies and Pollys. Drawing entertains you endlessly, too, and secretly I hope that you will continue to be artistic.

You are so confident, and I love that. You have lots of friends, but your best friends are Hannah and Rebekah. You are polite and fearless. I hope you keep your great sense of self-esteem. You are created in God's image-so you should be confident in His love. You are a wonderful big sister, sharing and taking care of Carson. I see you always thinking about everything-and you are so curious!

Some other things: you love to eat your vegetables (every mom's dream!) and bell pepper and carrots are your favorite. You love an apple with the peel on, too. You love to watch "Mythbusters" and "Chopped" with me and your dad. You love to play outside, and are great friends with all the kids in the neighborhood. You love listening to me read from the "Little House on the Prairie" series.,

 You are a CHAMP at learning your Awana verses. You passed your book and review in less than one-third of the time you were supposed to. I am so proud of your love for God's Word! I hope that stays with you.

I love you so much. I am so thankful for you, and I love that your birthday is on Thanksgiving this year, just like the year you were born. And this year, I am thankful for your new birth in Christ. He gave you to me, and it thrills my heart to know that you belong to Him. You are so wonderful, and I can't imagine having a better daughter. I love you.
                                                                                (because that is what you always call me!)

Friday, November 18, 2011

Josie's "Best Birthday Ever!"

Josie has known since her dear friend's party at American Girl (in March!) that she, too, wanted to have an "American Girl Store Birthday Party and the Cheesecake Factory" celebration. The heart knows what it wants. Anyway, in order to avoid the holiday rush, we scheduled her party before her birthday. That did not seem to bother her in the slightest...
I don't consider myself to be super "girly". Feminine, yes, but not so much into high heels, make-up. poofy dresses and bling. Josie is the exact opposite. She wanted to have the whole look for her big day. She loves to dress up! She posed for a photo by the display window of the store.

She was joined by her two "bestest of best" friends. They all delighted in opening every little box and bag at the store to ooh and ahh over the tiny things. I may have been guilty of a little of that, too!
My little cheeseball. She could not make a decision about her doll. We had spent almost an hour in the store, literally inspecting every single doll! I tried not to push her towards Marie-Grace (who just so happened to be 25% off- a significant amount when each doll is $100!) I really wanted it to be her choice.
In the end, she selected Kit. An excellent choice, if I do say so myself. They bear a little bit of resemblance to each other, and I had heard horror stories concerning the upkeep of the dolls with the long hair. Kit's is nice and short- a typical 1930's bob.
Josie anxiously watching while the purchase is completed. I think she told everyone in the store that it was her birthday party.
Someone kindly gifted her with a sticker to announce it. Her dad gave her money to buy whatever she wanted, as a special gift from him. She choose, Grace, Kit's basset hound. I think that is an adorable name for a dog- especially a basset!
Aunt Robyn generously provided the money to have Kit's ears pierced. Josie is dying to have her own ears pierced, but I am not ready for that quite yet. Both of Josie's friends also decided that they wanted to have their dolls ears done, too.

The three princesses waiting on their dolls. They were by far the cutest girls in the store!
If you ever want to get a million compliments on your daughter, put her in a frilly dress, do up her hair and let her wear heels. People kept stopping me to tell me how beautiful she was. She, of course, ate it up with a spoon! Also the perfect time for her to interject, "it's my birthday party", cue more compliments!
Finally, she got to hold her doll, all ear-piercing complete! I love the little bag they gave us with the extra earrings.

Headed to dinner. Josie was insistent on bringing her stroller for her new friend. It was pretty darn cute to watch her wheel Kit around.
Josie's dress came with a matching one that fit Kit. Of course, Kit had to do a costume change before dinner, so they could be twins.
Michael's has the CUTEST American Girl doll party supplies. Each doll got her own plate, place mat and cup. EEEK! I almost couldn't stand the cuteness. They also had a great craft set so each girl was able to make two headbands and two bracelets for her doll. It was a wonderful activity for taking up the time while we waited on the food. It would have been even better if it hadn't been so dark! But they still had fun (although after trying to tie clear string in the dark it is a wonder the three moms aren't blind!). You can see Josie explaining her headband technique to her friend. (Just in case you were wondering, I did NOT pay full price for the things-providentially, there were 50% of coupons the week of her party!)
Josie, sharing a sip with Kit. The paper goods also went well with the mini favors that I packed for each girl. They had tiny packages of candy (mini Tootsie Pops, Haribo gummy bears, etc.) teeny notepads, mini cameras, and little Hello Kitty tins that looked like purses. Everything was doll-sized!
The fun didn't stop! Josie had a great time opening her presents. She got one of the best little girl gifts- a purse filled with fun things.

She got a little ambitious pulling out all the tissue paper!
Josie with Grace. Aren't they adorable?

This, too, was also adorable, errr delicious! I tried the new Hershey's cheesecake: chocolate mousse, chocolate cake, chocolate ganache, chocolate cheesecake=yum!
Josie's special birthday sundae. She was beaming while the servers sang to her. The one time that happened to me, I cried. Josie just eats up all the attention!

She also love that the plate read "Happy Birthday Josie!!" in chocolate and sprinkles.

After everyone was packed full of dinner (all the girls had mini corn dogs, by the way, which I thought was hilarious!) my good friend suggested the most beautiful photo spot. I think they should model, don't you?
This one, however is my favorite. She is such a special little girl. Hard to believe she will be six soon. She just kept saying, over and over, that it was "the best birthday ever". I'm glad.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Sad Day

Without sharing details that aren't mine to share, suffice it to say that a dear friend has suffered a great tragedy. This is the first time that I can remember being so absolutely devastated for someone. I don't know what to say-which is a completely foreign feeling to me. I don't know what to do, which isn't. I have cried so much that my head is still hurting.

And this is only the beginning. If I feel this way, I know I have absolutely no comprehension of how my friend is suffering. And there is no end in sight.

But God is sovereign. He did not look away during this time. He has known about this since the beginning of time and He is not surprised by a single thing that occurred. I was sorely tempted to ask "Why?" but I realized that I don't want to know. There will be no making sense of this in this life.

I just keep praying that the Lord will let me be there for my friend. That He will keep meaningless things from coming out of my mouth, that I will be filled with compassion and tenderness. That I will be a blessing and not a stumbling block.

And I have to believe He will answer those prayers. That I can be His love, that He purposefully included me in this situation because He knew that He could fit me for the task. And I will be grateful for that. And I will pray for my friend without ceasing...

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Racecars and Shoeboxes

This year Josie and Carson started attending Awana at a different church. We had attended (and I had taught) on post at the chapel for the last three years, but with Joel getting out it was time to find a new program. We absolutely love the new one! It is huge and does a lot of the things that our smaller club couldn't do. One of those things is the Awana Grand Prix. Josie got into the spirit of things by pretending to "drive".
This is Carson's car. Neither car was the prettiest, nor the fastest, but they both enjoyed coloring them. Next year we will do paint, but we didn't have time to make them too fancy this year.
This was Josie's. There was some pretty stiff competition in her division. Fortunately, I think it was the dads who were the competitive ones, the kids just wanted to have fun and enjoy looking at the cars!
Josie and Carson were thrilled to be asked to hold the flags for the opening ceremony! We were a little nervous about them touching the ground, but they did just fine.
Each racer was allowed to place his or her car on the track for each heat. There were three heats, and for Carson's division there were five groups. For Josie's there were eight!
Josie got some encouragement from Cubbie Bear while placing her car.
And their off! The race was so quick you couldn't hardly see the cars.
The whole thing was very professional, with a digital track and scores posted electronically on the leaderboard as soon as the last car cleared the finish line. The speeds were translated into miles. Josie's car was one of the slowest ones, at 155 mph. The fastest car in her division went 214 mph! Carson nor Josie won, but they did have a good time. I am little frightened at the amount of "ideas" Joel has for next year...
Later on the kids packed their shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child. This is without a doubt one of my favorite holiday traditions. I packed my first box at age 13, and I haven't missed a year since.
Carson had a little trouble figuring out why we were buying gifts for someone he didn't know, but once he understood, he really got into it. He tried to buy everything in the store for his "friend". He really wanted to send his friend a ball, and he hand-picked the stuffed moose he sent. It was very sweet.
Jocelyn was so cute. She wanted everything to be just perfect for her box, and in the end it was so full it would barely close!
She specifically wanted to put flip flops in her box. I am so praying that some little girl in a foreign country has turquoise flip flops on her wish list. And a stuffed puppy.
She drew the sweetest card to put in her box, I had to take a picture. She really loves doing it as much as I do.

So that is just a little of what has been going on here. We have been busy, busy as usual. I don't think it is going to get any slower with the holidays coming. I guess I better just resign myself to it at some point that this is normal!


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