Doin' It Halfway Since 1996

being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus

Tag Archives: Christmas

Why I Heart Christmas: New Traditions Edition

This is No. 4 in the four-part series “Why I heart Christmas”.

Click on the links to check out previous posts, A little Background, The Sibling Edition, and The Husband Edition.

Sorry this post is a little late, folks. We had some last minute house guests, which led to impromptu grocery shopping and house cleaning. And also, I was having a hard time loading pictures and videos. I’d better get the hang of this if I’m going to ever become a serious blogger, huh?

I think this post is my favorite to write of the bunch. I think because it’s so open with possibility. The girls are young and each Christmas brings a new age with new awareness and understanding of this special holiday.

First and foremost, this will probably cause a little controversy, but Hubs and I have chosen to NOT do the Santa thing in our household. The bottom line is because we don’t want to lie to our children, no matter how innocent or fun the lie is. (I need to insert here that in between starting this post and writing this sentence, we went to Chic-fil-A for Kids’ Night. Guess who was making an appearance? Santa. The kids giggled and were giddy. Firstborn Diva Child said, “I knew you weren’t telling the truth! Santa’s real! He’s here!” And Drama Queen Middle Child said, “Don’t you know he’s real mom?” Here’s a little picture from the encounter).

We do several fun things throughout the season to prepare for Christmas.

Like most families, we decorate the Christmas tree. I think my firstborn Diva child is going to enjoy it as much as I do. She loves ornaments. Our favorite is the Peanuts ornament. It’s shows Linus on the stage. We went to great lengths to get this ornament for her after seeing it some friends’ house a few years ago. Long story short, we tried to get it at several stores where we lived and we tried to get it online. They were sold out. I asked my mom to ask around. She called all the Hallmark stores in her city and found one that had the store model left. She drove to the other side of town to pick it up. She mailed us the box. When I received the package, it was empty. I called my mom who called the store who found it stashed somewhere in the back room. Then the battery was dead. So, all in all, when you consider the time spent hunting and procuring it, the gas used going to the store twice, postage, and the replacement battery, not to mention the cost of the ornament itself, we probably spent somewhere in the ball park of $60 to $70 on this ornament. I don’t think about that. I think about how much my girls love it. And how each time they push the button, they hear the Christmas story. Here’s what it looks like and does, in case you were wondering what ornament is worth that much money (FYI, this is a video I took of our ornament).

This year, one of my favorite bloggers, Ann Voskamp from A Holy Experience wrote and gave a free Jesse Tree Devotional, complete with pictures to make ornaments. If you don’t know what a Jesse Tree is, it’s a daily devotional starting at the beginning of Advent. It goes through the history of Jesus’ lineage up to his birth. It helps those of us who are believers see our own lineage of grace. This is the first year I’ve done a purposeful daily advent devotional with the girls. Sometimes I don’t think they’re listening, but they remember which stories go with the ornaments hanging on the pine branches we cut from our huge backyard tree. Here’s a picture of our Jesse Tree, in progress.

I just have to interject here that if you haven’t discovered Ann Voskamp and A Holy Experience, take a few minutes today to peruse her blog. Everything she has ever posted that I have read has left me hopeful and encouraged. Her’s is a quiet voice in the noisiness of the internet. A quiet respite, a salve to the wearied soul. I have read her blog for years and as long as she continues to write, I will read.

In the past I have made these pancakes.

I may try my hand at Rudolph or Santa-shaped pancakes (see we still talk about and do Santa, we just don’t teach that he’s real). We actually have a family tradition that goes along with pancakes. It’s another from my mother-in-law. She reads “Little Black Sambo” (which is about a little boy in India whose mother makes him pancakes out of tiger ghee – you have to read it to understand it). She would read it on Christmas Eve and then fix pancakes for Breakfast on Christmas morning. Then we use Alton Brown’s recipe for Instant Pancake Mix. So good. Yes, pancakes are in order soon.

When I became a mother, one of the gifts my mother gave me for Christmas was “The ADVENTure of Christmas” by Lisa Whelchel. It’s only until recently that I felt that I could use some of the ideas in this book with the kids. There are all sorts of recipes (we’re SO trying Wassail this year), crafts (we might make some “Reindeer Evangelists” – candy canes made up as reindeer), and historical facts and stories about the traditions of Christmas. The artwork is fun and captivating. Most importantly, it takes some of the well-known holiday traditions and points them toward why our family celebrates the season, Jesus. I’m so excited to get to use it this year (here it is on her website, here it is on amazon.com).

Here are some websites I’ve found with some great ideas for this season:

Check out my friend Sarah’s blog, Mashed Bananas. While she is an incredible writer, she’s even a more incredible mom. Here are a few things she did one year with her kids. Really. She’s uber-mom. Uber-fun-mom. Indoor “paper snow ball” fight? Fun. Homemade snowflakes and hot chocolate? Yum. Then there’s the Santa pancakes I’m totally stealing. Here’s what she did the year before that, a homemade advent calendar made out of match boxes. I’m not nearly that ambitious, but if you are, it’s a super cute idea.

I love what this homeschooling mom (Our Homeschool Fun) has done with her kids. Check out the Christmas Trees made of wooden craft sticks. Love it!

Family Fun Magazine always has creative homemade gift ideas that the kids can do. I actually purchased the supplies to make these fun felt pens last year, but didn’t get to it (we had a lot going on). I think the girls would love to do it this year and give them to the relatives. I also saw these little bowling boys that I thought would be fun to make for my nephews.

And finally, there’s World Vision. We support a little boy named Jose in El Salvador. Because we do, we receive mail from World Vision throughout the year. We’ve been leafing through their Christmas 2010 Gift Catalog trying to figure out what the perfect gift to purchase might be. Do we buy a chicken or a goat or clean drinking water or a Ger for a family in Mongolia? The girls want to buy baby chickens. I’m thinking about a goat. It’s a great way to give to those in need out of the great abundance God has given our family.

While I have always loved Christmas, I think I love it more now. Being a mother and watching my children experience it is far better than experiencing it myself. It is my earnest hope and sincerest prayer that they learn the reason why this holiday is so special. It’s about an all-powerful, infinitely loving, exceedingly just, all gracious God humbling himself into the form of a helpless infant to save the fallen world he so lovingly created. I pray that as our family grows and matures that our faith will as well.

Why I Heart Christmas: The Husband Edition

If you missed Parts I and II of this four-part post on “Why I Heart Christmas”

Click Here for Part I, A Little Background

Click Here for Part II, The Sibling Edition

I love my Hubs. He’s so great. We just celebrated eight years of wedded bliss last month. And while that doesn’t sound like a lot, we’ve ventured further than many couples have. We’ve weathered many storms into which some would never dare to sail. Our waistbands are a little bigger and we have a few more wrinkles. But, for the grace of God, we’re chuggin’ along like a well-oiled machine. My hubs isn’t as enthusiastic as I am when it comes to Christmas. He’s had some cruddy Christmases. However, he loves me, so he lets me blare Christmas music in the house (and he sometimes even pretends to like it). He’ll sit through “White Christmas” if I give him puppy dog eyes (and then promise to watch Rambo or Terminator or Star Trek or Lord of the Rings). He’ll even eat the sugar cookies when I bake them. He’s such a trooper.

He was a Black Friday virgin, and I broke him in. Some of his favorite purchases in past years include a set of walkie talkies (that was before smart phones), a 40-inch Sony television, and then later, the 32-inch he purchased for his upcoming knee surgery. We don’t tend to Black Friday together (yes, I just turned a noun into a verb). Our plan of attack is divide and conquer, which we usually do. Being a former military man, he’s good at logistics and tactical advantages.

In our ten plus years as a couple, we’ve had many memories. Here are a few from this time of the year.

My first Christmas as a married woman was interesting. We had planned to divide our time between families. Pretty routine. However, on December 23, a huge snow storm hit the area where we lived. While a snow storm of that particular proportion wouldn’t cause us to fret now (having lived in Alaska has made us snow-driving experts), at the time, it caused great concern. My husband is from a warm, southern state and didn’t have much experience driving on snow and ice. No businesses are open on Christmas Eve, especially not small town gas stations that lined the road in which we were about to travel. We had planned to leave on Christmas Eve. I was supposed to work, but ended up not going in partly because I was sick, and partly because the roads were so bad. By the time we left our apartment, it was 6 p.m. It’s usually about a five and a half hour drive to my parents’ home. We packed our things, including our geriatric and insane beagle, stopped at Sonic to grab a bite to eat, and headed out in the Winter Wonderland with uncertainty in our tiny, two-seater, rear-wheel drive Toyota pick-up. There are a few things to mention here. Our dog smelled like butt all the time, even after a bath. She sat curled up at the bottom of my seat, so I had no leg room. Missouri is not the best at road maintenance, so the roads were awful. We were both very stressed and anxious, so we fought most of the way. I got confused because the snow made the surroundings unfamiliar and I told my husband to turn down the wrong road, which led us about thirty minutes out of the way (this was pre-GPS, which I don’t think I can live without now). While this doesn’t sound like a very nice memory, it always makes me smile and laugh when I think about it. We were so young and in love and stupid. What kind of idiots go out on bad roads on Christmas Eve, knowing full well that if something happens during the travels, they’d be hard-pressed to find anyone to help? Apparently us. Thankfully, God was watching over us and we made it safely to my parents’ home at 2 a.m. where we were greeted with open arms and a warm bed. My husband told me that the whole ordeal was worth it because my mom’s first words to him were, “Thanks for bringing my daughter home for Christmas.” We haven’t learned our lesson, though. Just recently we packed the kids in the car and took an overnight road trip. We’re gluttons for punishment, I guess.

Then there was the Christmas he was away. At war. In Iraq. A deployment changes things. It made me appreciate things I had taken for granted. While I sat around the fire pregnant with our second child and enjoying the festivities with my family, hubs was far away, living a very different every day life. That Christmas, behind the woman who was opening presents and smiling, was a worry. A worry that the holidays brought more fighting and more danger to the other half of my heart who was so far away. A worry that I may never have Christmas with my husband again. Thankfully, he did come home 11 months later. Others didn’t. And even though it’s been three years since the deployment, and even though he doesn’t say anything, I know that he thinks of his soldiers on each holiday we celebrate, including Christmas. We don’t have to say a word. I smile knowingly, grab his hand and kiss his cheek. It’s my way of telling him, “I’ll hold your hand while you miss them. I’m thankful for every day I get to spend with you.” Here’s a little sidenote/exhortation: The Christmas he was deployed (and the entire deployment really) opened my eyes to the reality that life’s too short to spend on petty differences. Take time to appreciate your loved ones. Let them know you care. Write a note. Give a hug. Say, “I love you.” Even when it’s hard to do. ESPECIALLY when it’s hard to do. Life is fragile and fleeting. Don’t take those moments for granted.

The next Christmas, after coming home from Iraq with a torn ACL and having knee surgery shortly after, we decided to still fly home. A flight home from Alaska with a two year old, a nine month old and a gimpy husband with a knee brace and crutches isn’t pleasant. It’s worse than a day-long trip in the car. Trust me. I’ve done both. I prefer the car. But he needed to see family. He had to see family after all he had been through. So we braved it. My father-in-law had ice for his knee as soon as we got in the car at the airport. I think we were still going through the transition period of the homecoming (it takes about six months, and even then, nothing is the same). I don’t remember too much about that Christmas except for his resolve to get home.

That was the last time we spent time with family during Christmas. The last two years we were “stuck” in Alaska, but made the most of it sharing our Christmases with good friends. This year, we’re back in the lower 48 and have plans to celebrate with family once again.

Which leads me to the 4th and final post of this “series”, New Traditions. This year has been so much fun because Firstborn Diva Child and Drama Queen Middle Child are so excited for Christmas. They begged to put up the tree. They picked out our outdoor decorations. Wait. I’m getting ahead of myself.

Come back tomorrow for “Why I Heart Christmas: New Traditions” to see what our young family is doing this year to celebrate the coming of the King!

Why I Heart Christmas: A Little Background

For as long as I can remember, Christmas has been my favorite holiday. Today’s post is the first of four that will outline some of my fondest memories of the holiday.

So, sit back. Grab a cup of hot chocolate or a glass of eggnog. And take a walk with me in my Winter Wonderland, delusional as it may be. Just an FYI, I’ll be watching The Secret Santa episode of the Office, from Season 2 via Netflix. So, if there are any “That’s what she said” references, you’ll know why.

I’ll admit it, I’m a Black Friday junkie. For the last two Thanksgivings, I have stayed up all night to get some deal or another on Black Friday. My family has been doing Black Friday sales since I was a kid. This year, I drug my family out to stand in line all night to help me purchase gifts for my girls. My parents, as grandparents, are just big pushovers. They’ll do anything for their grandchildren AND my dad can’t resist a good deal. While some people abhor Black Friday, I find it fun. I may have to go to a Support Group for it in the future.

But that’s not why Christmas is my favorite holiday. There are some much more significant reasons why I love Christmas. Of course, the most obvious reason I love Christmas is because it celebrates the birth of my Savior and God’s incredible grace to a dying people. That is why I celebrate Christmas. But I also have so many warm and fond memories associated with this time of the year that make it the best for me.

I have two favorite Christmas songs. One is “Wonderful Christmastime” by Paul McCartney and the Wings.

I remember sitting in the car on Christmas Eve, waiting for my mom to finish loading all the holiday goodies so that we could begin the festivities at my Grandparents’ home. The radio was playing Christmas music, of course, and this song came on. I remember being so excited (because I still believed in Santa Claus then). Christmas was about to start! All the anticipation that had been building for weeks in my child mind was about to pay dividends. I listened to the song, loving the electronic sounds, the British accents, the children singing “ding dong ding dong”. It’s a good song. Now, every time I hear that song I can’t help but smile. The song embodies all the anticipation and excitement of Christmas for me. I once told my husband that I equated his coming home from Iraq to the anticipation and excitement of Christmas morning when I was a kid. It’s just a great feeling.

My other favorite song, in case you were wondering, is “Sleigh Ride” by Boston Pops Orchestra.

No real memory associated with this song, I just like it a lot. And it can’t be any other version of these songs, it has to be the songs by these artists, or it doesn’t count in my book. Christmas doesn’t start for me until I hear both of these songs. I used to listen to the radio waiting with baited breath to hear either or both of these songs. Now that there’s such a thing as youtube and itunes, Christmas can start whenever I want, even in July.

I ALWAYS helped Mom put up the tree. Many ornaments held special meaning for her, which meant they held special meaning for me as well. Even this year, when I put up my tree, there are a few ornaments that make me think of people, places, and times throughout the years. One ornament we hung on the tree this year was given to us by a little girl who was a friend of my niece’s (our niece lived with us for a few months). She came from a somewhat troubled family who was in a difficult situation. While the ornament itself isn’t anything special, I remember hanging it on my tree last year thinking that I would always remember who gave it to us. I would hold on to it and say a prayer for their family every time I pulled it out of the box (because we weren’t the sort of friends who would keep in touch). When I hung it on the tree this year, I thought of her. Each time Lil’ Linus pulls it off the tree and I return it to a naked branch, I say a little prayer. There’s one ornament left that Hubs and I gave as gifts at our wedding. I have a few ornaments from my childhood. I have a strange knack for remembering the people associated with certain things (like I can almost tell you who gave us all of the wedding gifts that we still own). And so it is with the ornaments on my tree.

When I was a child, my family had many Christmas traditions. Both sides of my family lived in town, so Christmas often began as early as the 23rd (I have two siblings who have birthdays very close to Christmas). On Christmas Eve, mom’s side went to the Candlelight Communion service. After, we went back to Grandma and Grandpa’s house for a light dinner and gifts. Grandpa often gave a speech. We took turns opening our gifts.

Then we went home (and sometimes we fell asleep in the car). “Santa” needed us to go to bed so he could visit. Mom and Dad would put our stockings out. My sister and I were joking about this the other day. Now that we’re parents ourselves, we understand that this was more of a survival technique. IF When we got up too early, we were only allowed to play with what was in our stockings. This allowed Mom and Dad AT LEAST thirty more minutes of sleep.

Mom always made cinnamon rolls from the tube (i.e. Pillsbury). That was the only time of year that we got to eat them. So they were always a special treat.

After Dad finished his morning run, we opened our gifts. We usually wore some new article of clothing we had received. Then we took the twenty minute drive to Dad’s side of the family, where we opened more presents. After a huge feast, we’d either take a nap or take a walk. Then we’d head back over to Mom’s side of the family just to say “Merry Christmas!” and snack some more.

There were other traditions thrown in here and there. My dad reads the Christmas story from the Bible before we open gifts. One year we went around Grandma and Grandpa’s neighborhood and sang Christmas carols to all their neighbors. We did that for several years. After presents on dad’s side, we went bowling a few years in a row. Then there were a few years where we all went to a movie.

Christmas has always been a time of celebration and family togetherness. I’m sure there was drama here and there. But I was unaware of it as a child. Christmas was (and still is) a magical time for me.

Mom and Dad made sure we understood why we celebrated Christmas. They gave us the best gift a parent can give their child; they gave us the gift of truth. That a perfect and holy God became a tiny baby, was born under inauspicious circumstances, and came out of love to save the world he created.

Come back tomorrow to hear more about Christmas with my siblings (I have two brothers and two sisters).

Santa’s Been Naughty!

When you live in a consumer based society that has too much stuff and not enough time or creativity to really go out and purchase gifts for your loved ones (or co-workers), what do you turn to? White Elephant gifts of course.

If you don’t know what a White Elephant Gift exchange is, check this out. White Elephant has also been called Dirty Santa, Crazy Santa, Yankee Swap, and Thieving Santa. All have the same premise. Pick out a silly present that you yourself would never wish to receive, wrap it, and bring it to the gift exchange. Then everyone who is participating draws numbers and the first person picks out a present to unwrap. They unwrap the gift. Then the next person can either choose to steal the first gift, or unwrap another gift. And so the game goes on. Sometimes there’s a theme to the exchange. Sometimes the gift isn’t silly, but purchasing a gift under a certain price (that’s when it’s really interesting because there are usually gifts that someone really does want and then there’s a lot of fighting over the most popular items). Sometimes, usually dependent on the maturity level of the participants, rules are established (like presents can only be stolen so many times or the first person gets the last choice).

I may be tipping my hand to those who I will be participating with this year (I’m doing a regular White Elephant exchange and a 80s themed White Elephant exchange), but I figured it was worth a post to share some of my White Elephant ideas. I have participated in a White Elephant gift exchange for almost every Christmas of my adult life. I even did it as a kid. In my third grade class. To this day, I don’t believe that they stopped having Christmas parties at public schools just because it was politically incorrect, but because Mrs. Stevenson’s 3rd grade class Christmas party debacle of 1986 proved that eight year-olds can not handle a White Elephant-esque gift exchange. We all wanted the homemade stuffed animal in the shape of a huge nerd (the candy). It was purple. Only one person got to go home with it. It wasn’t me. Or the kid who was a Jehovah’s Witness because his parents weren’t sensitive enough to take him out of school early that day, but made him sit through the festivities in the corner of the room while the rest of us enjoyed sugar cookies and presents (sidenote: who thinks it’s a good idea to give a classroom full of kids sugar cookies? I guess me, because I’m planning on doing it for my daughter’s Kindergarten party). It ended with a black eye and three crying little girls.

Anyway, White Elephant exchanges aren’t for the faint of heart or those who get their feelings hurt easily. Because when it comes to stealing a present you have to remember, it’s not personal, it’s just business. I mean, did you ever see the Season 2 episode of The Office where Michael turns the Secret Santa gift exchange into a Yankee Swap because he got an ipod and he realizes that he overspent? Then he’s mad about getting a home made hot pad from Phyllis and practically makes Pam (who was supposed to get Jim’s teapot gift with personal items) give up the ipod? If you haven’t seen that one,  you should. And it totally illustrates my point about White Elephant not being for the immature. Here’s a clip to whet your appetite.

So, if you’re going to a White Elephant gift exchange this year, here are some of my expert gift ideas (okay, so maybe I’m not an expert, but just go with it):

MRE (Meals Ready to Eat, or as joked about in the Army, Meals Rejected by Ethiopians) – having been a military family, it’s fun to watch civilians open up the brown plastic package and say, “What is this?” Then it’s even more fun to watch their distasteful looks when you explain it to them. Unless the recipient is a survivalist. Then they hoard it like bottled water and bags of rice.

A big box of McDonald’s Happy Meal Toys – this is especially fun if the toys are really retro, because then everyone can take a walk down memory lane. Speaking of, what was your favorite Happy Meal Toy? Mine was this Nickolodeon microphone. We got it on a family road trip to Colorado and we had the most fun interviewing each other about what we saw as we drove through the  mountains. My mom still has it.

An industrial sized can of any type of vegetable – I remember one year that someone gave a huge can of beans at a gift exchange I was doing. The only problem was that the expiration date was sometime in the 1970s. Yuck.

A gift card – if you want to be unoriginal AND have the most fought over gift, get a gift card. But, don’t be lame and get a gift card to Walmart or Target or even Amazon. At least be a little conscious and get one from somewhere different, like a shop on  here or a company with a cause like this one or this one.

Some random garage sale item – okay, I saw this earlier this summer and ALMOST bought it, but didn’t. It’s a quilt made of bras. Tacky, yes. White Elephant gold? Absolutely.

An office toy – One night on a date, hubs and I stopped by Micro Center (the place where all nerds, geeks and prodigies gather to purchase computers and electronics. Seriously. The clientele there on any given night would shame a Star Trek convention). They had this really fun gun that shoots pellets from potatoes. I think it’s so the IT guys (because that’s who shops there) can keep their jobs while taking their passive aggression out on posters of their co-workers that they have hidden all around their offices. By the way, I really love my husband to let him go to Micro Center on our date night. Truly, Madly, Deeply.

So those are a few of my suggestions. I’d love to hear what your favorite White Elephant Gift ideas are. What have you received that was White Elephant genius? Or a complete fail? I’d love to hear your stories!

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