getting ready for Christmas – gifts & fun stuff

I love, love, love Christmas.  I love the advent season, reading the prophesies and New Testament scriptures about Jesus’ birth, and reflecting on how Mary must have felt.  We know the reason for the season at our house!

But, I really love the fun stuff, too.  I love the traditions (both religious and not), the gift giving, the decorations, the tree, etc.  Today I’m just talking about the fun stuff.  Once we get going with the Jesse Tree, I’ll post about the spiritual stuff.

First, here are a few things I have out already to help my kiddos get in a festive spirit:

Here’s our mantle.  Honestly, I’m not that great at seasonal decorating.  My every day style is sort of eclectic cottage, and this is not too different from my regular mantle (which I don’t change very often).  But, it has a few festive updates, like the nativity and those pine cones in the vase.  Once we get our Christmas books down, I may trade out a couple of those books on the right for some red/green ones.  Also, that canvas is our Christmas photo from last year.  I intended to order another canvas of a picture from the beach this summer, which fits with my colors in the room better, but never got around to it (and never saw a good enough coupon).  Now I’ll probably wait until I have a great picture of all 4 kids before I spend money on another canvas, but this one is nice with its Christmas-y colors.
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I got this little felt tree set at Target during after Christmas clearance last year, and obviously just hung it up.  I hope those creases go away, I really don’t want to have to iron it!  I think it would be easy to make something similar yourself, maybe even to give as a gift to a family with young kids!  I know my kids will be excited to play with it throughout the next month. DSC_0121

I decided a couple of years ago to donate/sell most of my knick-knack-y Christmas stuff and simplify my decorating with things that truly mean something to us, mainly including photographs.  So, now I keep an eye out for silver frames on sale throughout the year and use Christmas photos from past years as our main decor.  I really love it, and the kids love to see their pictures, too. DSC_0122

Now on to gifts!  My primary love language is gifts, which I know some people see as materialistic, and it is sort of hard for me to put into words why it isn’t materialistic.  Maybe it is, I don’t know.  I do love to receive gifts, but even more than that, I love to choose things for people that I think they’ll really love.  Thoughtful, personal gifts don’t have to be expensive!

I do gifts a little differently each year for Christmas.  This year, we’re having a pretty practical/thrifty Christmas – both because we are penny pinching for the adoption, and because we felt like we went a little overboard last year.  We want the gifts to be fun and magical, without being the main thing, which can be a hard balance to find, and I admit that we don’t always get it right!

Each of our kids is opening 4 gifts from us this year, plus stocking stuffers.  Some of the packages will contain more than one thing, like one box with Legos, Lego Book(s), and a Lego t-shirt.  I chose a paper to represent each child, and will wrap their gifts in that paper and number them so I remember which order I want them to open the gifts.  It adds to the fun for the kids, because there aren’t packages with their names under the tree, so they are SUPER curious about what is in the packages!  It wouldn’t be that hard to figure out whose paper is whose, but they don’t ever figure it out – I’m sure they’ll start to in future years!  On Christmas morning, I tell them which paper is theirs, and they’re super excited.  Here are some of their presents for this year: DSC_0116

I will not put them all out right now, because I need to build a little suspense, and I don’t want them getting too curious yet. I’ll bring them out a couple at a time after we get the tree up.  For now, they are in my closet, along with a bag of stocking stuffers for each of them.  So far, they aren’t too bad about trying to snoop, but I know I’ll have to be a little sneakier once they’re older and taller! DSC_0123

Some of the packages go along with each other.  Like, for this year, we tried not to get too many toys, so #1 for all three kids is some bird guides, bird coloring books, and a bird feeder.  (Most of the books were used from Amazon or Half Price Books and cost very little.)  They’re all really into birds right now, so we’re trying to cultivate that interest a little bit.  I tried to make #4 the one I think they’ll be most excited about.

For our other gifts, like to extended family, I wrapped in all the same paper.  I love this red with white polka dots and bought all of it that I could find for 75% and 90% off after Christmas last year.  Looks extra cute with green curling ribbon, but I can’t add that yet, because my cat will eat it all before Christmas!  They will be so cute under the tree.  Here are our extended family gifts, and a couple of the kids’ gifts to each other (which they bought with their allowance and helped me wrap).
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So, some of you are thinking, “SHE HAS ALL OF HER CHRISTMAS SHOPPING DONE?!”  Yes, I try to be done before Thanksgiving, in case I need to find something on Black Friday, and so I can start wrapping after Thanksgiving.  Don’t think I’m superwoman or something – I’m not.  Shopping throughout the year is fun and therapeutic for me, plus it just works better with our budget.  There’s not a right or wrong way to do it!

I really start shopping for Christmas right after Christmas, because that’s when there are the best deals on toys.  I keep things in a box in my closet all year round, and just throw things in as I get them.  If you aren’t a Target person, you have to trust me on this – I know they aren’t the cheapest for groceries or a lot of other things, but in my opinion, their Clearance can’t be beat.  Most of the gifts for the kids this year are either from Amazon or from Target Clearance.  So, the box in my closet gets full, and sometime around October, I dump it out and see what I have.  Rarely, something I’ve gotten a few months ahead is no longer of interest to my kids – that doesn’t happen often, but if it does, I just donate that toy to a local mission for their Christmas Store.  I see if I have a similar amount of things for each kids, and if not, start looking for things to fill the gaps.  If I end up having too much for one child, I may save something for his/her birthday, save it for a gift for a niece, nephew, or friend, or donate it.

I also don’t buy everything new.  Some of you are totally turned off by that, and again, there’s not a right way to do it.  But, for example, my daughter is receiving several used dance and dress up items that I got at Goodwill throughout the year.  She doesn’t know or care that it’s from Goodwill, she’ll just be excited to open a box of dance and dress up things on Christmas morning, and I spent next to nothing.

On Christmas Eve, we like to keep the focus on Jesus and the church service, but they are so eager that we sort of compromised on having one family gift to open right before bed.  It has new pajamas for all of the kids, a Christmas-y book for them to read in bed, and hot cocoa mix and marshmallows.  I also put their special ornament for the year in this family gift, and let them hang in on the tree before bed.  Some years, their ornament represents a hobby or interest for that year, and other times it’s just a simple initial, etc.  I keep their ornaments in their own special boxes and let them hang their own ornaments each year.  That way, they’ll have special memories of their ornaments and will have a small box of their most special ornaments to take to their new home when they move out on their own someday.

So, on Christmas morning this year, I’ll just see how things are going, and will tell a child to find their number 1 gift, etc, at the right time!  They are also getting small gifts for each other, and we got one joint gift of a couple of (used) movies and games with an IOU for a once a month game or movie night.  (My older son’s love language is quality time, so we have to be creative about touching that one, too.)  Other years, I’ve figured out what order I wanted to do everything in, and have a numbered list and all of the packages numbered.  Then, opening Baby Jesus for the nativity and reading from Luke would be #1, then stockings #2, breakfast #3, one child’s gift is labelled with a #4, the next child’s #5, and so on, with some fun activities mixed in.  Some years planning that seems really fun to me, and some years (like this year), it seems sort of tedious, so I just let myself decide each year the way I want to do it.

And, yes, we do stockings and Santa at our house.  I know people have strong opinions about this one way or the other, and I don’t really want to start a debate.  I respect people who choose not to do Santa, and I get it.  What works for us is talking about how Santa is a fun tradition, and when they start asking questions that cannot be answered without being dishonest, we honestly answer the questions, while keeping the tradition.  Stocking stuffers at our house are not big-ticket items, but their stockings are pretty full.  This year, it’s things like sunglasses, gum, fun toothbrushes, joke books, a purse, chap stick/lip gloss, small Nalgene water bottles, paint, crayons, markers, a new package of underwear, etc.  Some fun things and some practical things.  I shop for this stuff throughout the year, too, and throw it in the same box as the other stuff to organize before Thanksgiving.  School supply clearance is great for stocking stuffers!

If anyone took the time to read/skim all of that – tell me how you save money on gifts at your house?  How do you organize gifts on Christmas morning?  What fun traditions and decorations does your family use to get in a festive spirit?

so much better than hawaii.

We recently had our 10th anniversary. Over the years, when we thought we’d have “more money” by our 10th anniversary (whatever that even means), we imagined we might go to Hawaii for our 10th, or drive up the California coastline, which I really want to do someday.

But, here we are, with a toddler who has hardly ever been away from her mama, and in the middle of an international adoption. We’re living on a very strict budget day-to-day, and have just enough in our adoption account for our next payment and the postage to get it there.

I asked my husband to just be in charge of it. I was overwhelmed and didn’t even know what I wanted to do.

He found a guest house at an amazing ranch, driving distance (and close to grandparents!), for really cheap. We hiked, swam, read, explored, tubed the Guadalupe, window shopped, ate great food, lounged in the hot tub, and just enjoyed three solid days and nights of each other.  It was wonderful. It was totally not what I would have planned, and probably about 200x better because of it.

I looked up at him at some point during the trip and said,
“This is so much better than Hawaii.”

Living life with him is the greatest gift I could ever want.
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“Love’s flames are fiery flames – the fiercest of all. Mighty waters cannot extinguish love; rivers cannot sweep it away.” Song of Solomon 8:6-7

Project Big Girls’ Room

Project Big Girls' Room

Little Miss learned how to climb out of her crib, so we had to transition to a big bed a little sooner than I anticipated. It has spurred on a pretty fun room make-over. We didn’t find out her gender before she was born, so I’ve never done a super girly room. Turns out, I sort of love pink and purple! I won’t give too much away yet, but it’s going to be lots of fun and perfect for the two most precious little girls on the planet!

happy fall, y’all.

happy fall, y'all.

Yes, we really say y’all.

Fall is my favorite season, and November is probably tied for my favorite month. The weather has been gorgeous, we’re having fun planning (and buying at 70% off) our costumes for next year, and we are starting to listen to Christmas music. I love this time of year!

Happy Fall, from Princess Peach, Mario, and Luigi!

Trip Packing for my Husband – the fun stuff

I usually pack for my husband.  It’s just easier since I’m at home and I’m the one who does most of the laundry.  I have been known to forget things, though, like socks AND church clothes on our most recent weekend out of town.  Oops.

He will be leaving soon for an international mission trip, and I was going to write a post about the more practical side of packing him for that.  Then I found plenty of good info about that on pinterest (search, “packing for a mission trip”), so I decided to skip straight for the fun part!

Gifts and Words of Affirmation are my primary love languages.  That means care packages, cards, and things like that are pretty much my favorite things on earth.  He’s going to be gone 11 days, so I started gathering little things for him here and there several weeks (read: pay checks) before his trip.  One day during nap time, I spread everything out on the kitchen table and started brainstorming.  I tried to mix up light-hearted and sentimental, plus mixed things from the kids in here and there.  I included little gifts or photos on some days and not others.  Some days I wrote out a long-ish letter, and other days just a quick note.  Here are examples of a couple of the more elaborate days, including a travel day:
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Then I put everything into an envelope, labelled it, and got it organized in something that won’t take up too much space.DSC_1595 DSC_1596

Also because he’s using a carry on, I had to be careful not to include anything that won’t get through the check points, and to just close those manila envelopes with the brad, so if they need to open them, it won’t tear them all up.  You can see in the top pic that several of the days are just an envelope or even a folded piece of printer paper.  Not every day is fancy!

Seriously, I love doing this for him.  I might enjoy it more than he does.  He’s sort of the King of Understatement, so it’s hard to gauge how he actually feels about things like this.  But, hey, he doesn’t wonder whether or not I’m proud of him and crazy about him!

Okay, here are some other ideas for what’s in the envelopes:
-scripture cards with the verses written out
-activities for the plane, like a deck of cards, puzzle book and pencil, etc.
-snacks/candy/gum
-a short note w/ a list of relevant scripture for him to look up
-travel sunscreen packet and lip balm for a day he’ll be outside a lot
-photographs of our family
-list of reasons why I respect/admire him
-notes/pictures/hand prints from the kids
-cards: miss you, sappy, funny, a little spicy, etc.
-notes encouraging his leadership on the trip, etc.
-mini photo album

Here are pics of a few pages of the little photo album I made.  These are at Dollar Tree, Target, or Walmart, and are really cheap.  I just used stickers and paper I already had, so it wasn’t an expensive project!  It was probably my favorite thing, and I kept it light and funny, so I think he’ll get a kick out of it.
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(And even left my scribbled out spelling error because I know he’ll laugh about what a terrible speller I am.  Ha.)

Here’s another fun thing.  I read on one of the blogs I found on pinterest that it might be a good idea to take your own pillow case.  I wrote a note, prayer, and Psalm 116:7-11 on a plain pillowcase that I had lying around.  I’m sure most of you reading are much craftier than I am and could do a cuter job with this:

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Okay!  I think that’s all I’ve got!  What do you do when your husband/wife is traveling, especially when communication is going to be minimal?  I think some of these ideas could be modified for a deployment or longer-term mission trip, and I’m hoping to do something like this for my kids when we travel to Ethiopia.  I’d love to hear your ideas!

If you’re really just here to hear about our adoption, don’t fret!  I know I haven’t updated in a little while, but we have been working hard on our dossier, and will hopefully be posting an exciting update soon!

rollin’ in the dough

rollin' in dough

We have a Summer Bucket List 2013 with about 45 fun things (and some learning things) that we want to do this summer. We’ve marked off 8 of them so far and have a couple in the works. We’ll see if we can get them all done!

Last week, we made our own Play Doh. I hadn’t done this since I was little, and it was so fun and nostalgic! The smell instantly took me back to childhood.

Here’s a link to the recipe we used – it turned out perfect! http://www.kristanlynn.com/2011/09/best-play-dough-recipe.html

little art project

We were perfectly content in our 1200 square foot house, when God dropped this 2000 square foot one in our laps to make room for this baby #4 that we didn’t know we were going to have.  It needed quite a bit of TLC.  We tried hard to use what we already had to furnish and decorate it, and really haven’t had to buy much!  One spot that needed a little something, though, was the kids’ bathroom.  It’s also our guest bath, so we wanted to keep it neutral.  We painted the walls one of our favorite colors – Valspar Moose Mousse, and added simple white and tan accents.  The kids’ towel hooks will be on one wall, but we still needed something on the wall above the toilet.  (We must be good friends now – we’re talking about toilets.)
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I got some cheap canvases at Walmart, and mixed up some acrylic paint I already had to make the perfect color.
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I had a little helper assist me in painting the canvases this solid tan.
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After it had completely dried, we put these doilies on top of the canvases and spray painted the whole thing white.  We waited just about 20 seconds for the paint to set, and then removed the doilies.

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Ta da!  A cheap wall project (under $15) with just a hint of ethnic flair.  Perfect!

I got my original inspiration about a year ago from this site:
http://shealynnbenner.com/2012/05/tutorial-7-spray-painted-doily-canvas/

fun little craft

I saw this craft online a while ago, and it reminded me of something I did as a preteen.  I loved it then, and thought it was pretty great now, too!  I made little Africa shaped paper ornaments that are scented and have seeds inside – so they’re plantable.  It took most of the evening, but I was also putting kids to bed, and if you just wanted to make one batch it could be a lot quicker.  A couple of heads up before you go check out the directions – you do need some sort of screen or mold to press them into, and she recommends using a blender that you won’t also be using for food.  I didn’t know those things in advance, so I had to get a little creative.  (Is it called creativity to take the torn screen door off of the sunroom and use it to press scented seed papers?!)

Anyway, here are the basic steps, and you can get more detailed directions here, where I found my directions.

They turned out really cute!  We’re going to use them to tuck in our adoption thank you notes.  I hope people will like them!

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date night

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We want to have date nights often, but it never ends up working out more than once every couple of months.  We’re trying hard to stick to our budget, our schedules are always crazy, and it’s hard to plan ahead and find a sitter.  We’ve talked about how we need to be more deliberate about our time together after the kids are in bed, even if we can’t get out of the house.  We don’t watch tv in the evenings anymore, so that helps; but the internet (for me) and work (for him) can suck us in if we’re not careful.

This week, I finally got our cute little sun room all set up to be a special spot for us!  We had a “date night” out there a couple of nights ago.  We fed the kids early and put them to bed, then ate our dinner out there and played a card game.  It was really fun (even though he kicked my tush at Ratuki)!  Having our own little niche in the house made it feel more like a real date, I think.

After all, we’re only going to have more kids, busier schedules, and a tighter budget, so I’m thankful we are getting into the habit now.  I think it could be a really good thing!

What do you do to reconnect with your husband/wife when you can’t get out of the house for a date?

sportin’ some spirit

I really wanted all of us to be able to sport some cool Africa shirts, but we couldn’t really spring getting all 5 of us shirts from our shop.  So, of course, I turned to Pinterest.  🙂

I picked up a bleach pen and some cheap tee shirts for the kids.  I traced a printed out Africa with the bleach, and put a little star around where Ethiopia is.  I let the bleach set for a little bit, maybe 10 minutes, then rinsed and washed them.  The green one might need another layer of bleach, but I think the blue one turned out pretty cool.

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Oddly, the orange one didn’t work at all!  I left the bleach on for about 20 minutes and…nothing.  So, I traced again with some puff paint that I already had on hand.  It’s maybe a little more girly that way, anyway.  (Don’t forget to hang-dry puff painted tees.)
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Voila!  Cool, cheap, quick Africa shirts!  I want to do some applique ones for the girls (ha! my first time to say that!) at some point after I get some practice at it and figure out my ‘new’ vintage sewing machine.  But this is a fun option for the boys, for sure.

Total cost for all three – $13.41 (okay, plus tax).  My day = made!

Here’s the site where I found the instructions.