Monday, October 31, 2011

How to teach your kids the real meaning of Christmas - Advent. 31 Days of Christmas Wonder (day 29)

When our girls were little, we did a lot of life together with my friend, Kae, and her kids. Kae taught me about Advent. Growing up overseas, it was not a part of my Christmas experience.

Kae's dad was a Lutheran pastor in the Midwest, so it was a big part of her Christmas season. I picked Kae's brains for hours, to help me decide how our family would celebrate Advent. Advent calendars, Advent candles, Advent devotionals . . . so many decisions.

Remember, my thoughts on ideas. Sometimes, you take the ideas just as you hear it. Other times, you adapt them. And sometimes, you do not do them at all.

I took all the great information from Kae and adapted it to meet my desires for our little family. Here what I ended up with.

1. Advent calendars. If the girls got one as a gift, they put it on their bedroom door and opened a window every morning. But I wasn't involved in it.

2. Advent candles. We wanted the lighting of candles to be a part of our celebration. But, (I am a little goofy.)  I do not like the traditional Advent candle, where you light one each week and they are all different heights. (See, I told you.)

Instead, we had two pillars candles that we lit. This way, both girls got to light and snuff a candle. (No fighting over whose turn it was.)

3. Advent devotions. I was looking for something very simple, that took no preparation. And I wanted something we could do each night. Focus on the Family had the perfect book for our family. (Family celebrations: Meeting Christ in Your Holidays and special Occasions by Ann Hibbard.)

It came with the pattern for a cool felt banner with a Christmas tree, and a felt ornament to add each night to represent what we were studying. So fun. Once that was made, we did this year after year . . . with no preparation.

Our family loved reading the same Scripture passages, memorizing the same verses and saying the same prayers . . . year after year. We also used her book for our Thanksgiving and our Easter celebrations. Each one had a banner. I. loved. doing. this. When we had company for dinner, we just included them.

I have heard great things about the Jesse Tree Advent devotion, too. You can get a free download of this from Ann Voskamp. (I got to hear Ann speak last week and talk with her afterwards. She is really amazing.Thanks, Shelly.)

How does your family celebrate Advent?

Saturday, October 29, 2011

How to teach your kids the spiritual meaning of Christmas - Nativity Scenes. 31 days of Christmas Wonder (day 28)

As parents we wanted Christmas for our daughters to be fun and memorable. We wanted to include in our traditions and fun . . . our spiritual heritage.

As followers of Christ, it was our desire to teach our girls the historical and Biblical accounts of Jesus Christs' birth. I found three really great and easy ways to do this. Today, I will share the first one with you.

Collect nativity scenes.

We collected two types of nativity scenes.

          1. In our travels around the world we
          were always on the look out for nativity
          scenes. These were more of the folk style
          that represented the country we were 
          visiting. I personally, prefer small things,
          so I collected 6 - 8 inch versions. These 
          were on display in our home . . . but not
          for little fingers to touch.

                  2. My second collection (which was so fun) was
         any nativity scene I could find that was
         not fragile. The girls spent many hours
         playing with them. We welcomed little fingers.

         Let me tell you about a few of our favorites:
         (sorry, I cannot show you pictures, remember, the break in.)

                    *I made a felt banner. All the nativity
                 characters, including the animals were
                 made of felt and were finger puppets.
                 (my creative friend, Rainy, designed this) The finger
                 puppets also stuck to the felt banner.

               *Remember the Lillian Vernon catalog?
                 I ordered a tiny wooden nativity, that
                 brought hours of fun.

               *My sister found a cool set at the fair.
                 All the pieces were cut out of plain
                 wood. Nothing was painted.

               *Paper nativities do not last as long, but 
                 are so fun. The one we had was from 
                 Lion Press, and we bought it in Scotland.
                 Last year, when I was replacing 
                 everything, I found The Christmas 
                 Manger , by H A Rey. (yup, the author of
                      Curious George.) Super cool.

I also have a collection of nativity ornaments (which were not stolen). And a collection of nativity books. Yes, nativity scenes were a big part of our fun. I guess that is I love Kate's picture so much.

You can start or add to your collection, by ordering this adorable card and framing it. You can see Kate's new website and some of her Christmas collection at Enjoy.

image credit:The Christmas Manger        

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Countess of Blessington. 31 days of Christmas Wonder (day 27)

I have been a little addicted to my Celestial Seasonings tea this week. And I am enjoying the quotes too. Here is the latest . . .

     "Happiness consists not in having
     much, but in being content with
                       ~Marguerite Gardiner,
                                   Countess of Blessington

I am most drawn to the Countess of Blessington. Who wouldn't want to be the Countess of Blessington?

It got me thinking about some of the ways that we can be a blessing at Christmas.

Christmas is such a lovely time to offer hospitality to others. My favorite definition of hospitality is "opening your heart to the needs of people by using what God has given you to meet those needs."

There are so many people that would love to be in your home this holiday season. Have you thought about inviting . . .

your neighbors

your kids friends

your pastor and his family

international students (Did you know that 80% of international students are never invited into an American home while they are here?)

your coworkers

the women in your life (of all ages)

college students away from home



Who are you inviting into your home this Christmas season?

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

RED CUP DAY . . . A Childers' Tradition. 31 days of Christmas Wonder (day 26)

We love beverages. WE LOVE RED CUP DAY. (What, you do not know what RED CUP Day is? RED CUP day happens at the end of November. It is the first day Starbucks begins using their Christmas cups to serve coffee. Each year the cup has a different design.

Imagine how much our family would love this "kick off the Christmas season" tradition . . . that includes a beverage. We practically run to Starbucks on this day. RED CUP day makes me happy. And if we can all go together . . . such joy.

This is how simple it is to have a meaningful tradition in your family:

          1. find something you all enjoy (keep it simple)
            2.  do it every year

Traditions are so fun . . . especially RED ONES.

image credit: Christy sent us this picture one of the years we were not together on RED CUP day.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

A Cup (or two) of Christmas Tea. 31 days of Christmas Wonder (day 25)

A Cup of Christmas Tea is a lovely read aloud for all ages. It is a sweet story of a lesson learned on honoring the older in our midst. And the illustrations make you desire a great cup of tea.

Today, I have two favorite tea recipes for you.

The easiest sparkling pink punch ever recipe:

2 liter bottle of clear soda - 7 up, Sprite etc. (diet or regular)

2 Celestial Seasonings zinger tea bags (raspberry zinger is my favorite)

A few hours before you need it, carefully open the chilled soda. "Stuff" the tea bags in the bottle, add the cap and return to the refrigerator until you are ready to enjoy this delicious beverage. Simple. Simple. Simple.

I have served this so many times, I could not keep track. And every time, people love it. I get a lot of "what in the world is in this delicious drink?"

My friend, Melia, taught me this trick.

Herbal Iced Tea (I love cold drinks year round.)

4 Celestial Seasonings Lemon Zinger tea bags
4 Celestial Seasonings Red Zinger tea bags
4 cups pure apple juice

Steep the 8 tea bags in 4 cups of boiling water for about 10 minutes. Discard the tea bags. Combine the tea with the apple juice and refrigerate until cold. Serve over ice.

This recipe is from Ina Garten's Barefoot Contessa Family Style. Dave loves it when Ina comes out with a new cookbook, then he know what to get me for Christmas.

Enjoy these easy and delicious drinks.

image credit: A Cup of Christmas Tea

Monday, October 24, 2011

Busy days and a giveaway winner. 31 days of Christmas Wonder (days 22,23,24)

Life got a little busy and crazy (and fun) this week. For just a moment it actually felt like December. So . . . I did not even make it to my computer to post on Saturday and Sunday. (I even had my post written already.) Today is a big catch up day. (Please come back tomorrow for the promised beverage recipes.)

Today, I thought we could use a little visual inspiration, since I was not able to post this weekend. Off to pinterest I went and did a search for Christmas. I chose just a few I liked. Enjoy.

Hop on to my pinterest for more.

And now . . . a giveaway winner!

The winner is Bonnie of FROM A WRITER'S KITCHEN, who happens to live in Chicago's suburbs. I love Bonnie's food/lifestyle blog. Great recipes and she is also a wordsmith. Perfect combo. Bonnie leaves the most thoughtful comments on my blog.

We recently discovered we both liked Nicolas Mosse pottery from Ireland. This led us to . . . we should have coffee together someday. I will deliver this darling American Girl outfit in person. Bonnie has an American Girl doll, but she was not sure if she was a Cubs fan or not. :-)

Thank you, blogging friends for your prayers for my family and friends having surgery. Everyone is recovering well. We still await some test results, so please continue to pray. You guys are the best.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Can you have a Merry Christmas without caffeine? 31 days of Christmas Wonder (day 21)

Can you have a Merry Christmas without caffeine?

Celestial Seasongs say a resounding . . . YES.

I have decided to go off of caffeine. Probaby not forever, but at least for now. (give my liver a break) So I headed to Target to get some Celestial Seasonings Zinger Tea.

I found a sample box with
Raspberry Zinger
Country Peach Passion
Wild Berry Zinger
True Blueberry
Black Cherry Berry.

Brewing 2 bags of each flavor in a small tea pot makes a rich concentrate that I like to mix with my ice water. Try it . . . it is delicious.

Next to the sample box . . . I discovered a pot of gold. Celestial Seasonings Holiday Tea . . . CANDY CANE LANE.

"This delectable holiday blend starts with naturally decaffeinated green tea and adds unmistakable seasonal flavors like cool peppermint, creamy vanilla and a dash of cinnamon."

It. is. delicious.

Check out any box of Celestial Seasonings tea. They are always good and the box has fun art and great quotes.

The Candy Cane Lane quote is

"Let us love winter for
it is the spring of genius."
                                    - Pietro Aretino

PS. Come back tomorrow for two of my favorite (and easy) drinks for the holidays. And guess what? They both use tea.

image credit:
(I lost the site for the adorable tea cup.)

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Day 19 ~ Need an easy and inexpensive gift idea? (who doesn't, right?)

As a young pastor's wife, I got invited to tons of wedding showers. With not a lot of wiggle room in our budget, I had to come up with an inexpensive gift . . . that still was a hit at the shower.

This gift that I came up with, is also great at Christmas time. It would be a fantastic:

* hostess gift for your bosses'
Christmas dinner

* gift for the week you spend
 at Grandma's house

* Christmas gift for a college student,
 newlyweds, teachers or anyone . . . for
 that matter.

What is this inexpensive and easy gift, you might ask?

It is a . . . pie plate. Yup, a pie plate.

I stock up on pretty ones, whenever I see them on sale for $5.

Now here is the fun part . . . I hand write on cute recipe cards, my favorite pie recipes. Tie a little ribbon around it and - bingo, the easiest, inexpensive gift that still has wow factor.

(you know which one I would choose)

And because we are talking about Christmas and pies, here is a little gift for you . . . my recipe for

Everyone . . . can use a darling pie plate.

PS. There is still time to enter my giveaway - a Cubs baseball uniform for your American Girl doll.

image credit: lime green pie plate, stack of pie plates

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Need a gift idea? 31 days of Christmas Wonder (day 19)

Do you ever want an extra special gift for an extra special person? Today I want to share with you one of my favorite gifts for my extra special person. This gift could be introduced by Julie Andrews singing . . . These are a few of my favorite things.

A gift basket full of my current favorite things!

my favorite mechanical pencil
(up & up brand at Target)

my favorite index cards
(up & up spiral-bound index cards, Target)

my favorite pen
(sharpie, Target)

my favorite organic spices
(archer farms, Target)

my favorite fall tissue box
(you guessed it, Target)

my favorite magnet
(curly girl designs)

my current favorite reads
(A Common Life by Jan Karon)
(Savvy Chic: The Art of More for Less by Anna Johnson)
(one thousand gifts by Ann Voskamp)
(Grace for the Good Girl by emily p. freeman)
(The Intimate Mystery by Dan Allender and Tremper Longman)

I made a favorites basket for my sister Sue on her birthday a couple of years ago. That basket had my favorite cleaning supply, garden gloves, cd, and soap.

Tomorrow I will be sharing a gift idea I have used 40 - 50 times. It is super easy, super cheap and always well received. See you then.

What would you include in your favorites basket?

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Two winners and a new giveaway for American Girl fans. 31 days of Christmas wonder (day 17)

We have two winners of . . . The Wonder of it all card by artist, Kate Brand. (suitable for framing) And the winners are two lovely bloggers . . .

Doris Fahnestruck


Congratulations on a little early Christmas gift. Please e.mail me your addresses. (my husband drew your names)

Now . . . for our second giveaway.

Do you remember this picture? It was taken at the Field Museum this summer when my family was visiting. (mine is the hand with the most freckles)

We also went to a Cubs game and it was American Girl night. And I was able to get a Cubbies uniform for your American Girl (daughter, niece, next door neighbor...)

Cute, eh?

For a chance to win, leave a comment on today's post. I will draw a winner next Tuesday.

On a personal note, I would love your prayers for my dad's wife, Dorothy and my dear friend, Becky, who are both having surgery tomorrow. And my sweet friend, Cathie, who is recovering from surgery. Thanks.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Two ways to prevent selfish kids at Christmas. 31 days of Christmas Wonder (day 17)

All kids love Christmas, right? And all kids love presents, which is one of the fun parts of the holidays. (I love buying presents for our daughters.) 

As  parents, we wanted our girls to love getting presents, but we wanted them to be even more excited about giving presents. 

Two ways to prevent selfish kids at Christmas:

1. Since our girls were really little, we spent hours every December making homemade gifts for everyone on their list.

Little fingers, coloring pictures of baby Jesus, gluing pieces of flannel blanket to cover baby Jesus, and adding star stickers to the sky. 

Of course the projects got more complicated and fun as they got older. And now those same fingers make homemade quilts etc. (You want to be on Christy and Jenny's gift list.)

My point . . . the girls were more focused and excited about giving gifts to their favorite people, than they were about what they were going to open themselves. (and I just have to say, as adults, they are two of the most generous people I know, and not just at Christmas.)

2. The second way we focused on giving to others was our yearly participation in Operation Christmas Child. What fun we had every year, shopping for things to fill our shoe boxes. And talking about and praying for the child that would receive that fun box.

I am glad that our girls learned the truth of Jesus' words, "It is more blessed to give than to receive."
(Acts 20:35)

PS. It is not to late sign up for my giveaway. I will announce the winners tomorrow.

Linking with

image credit: gift, Operation Christmas Child

Sunday, October 16, 2011

31 days of craziness. 31 Days of Christmas Wonder (day 16)

31 days . . . is a long time. Blogging every day is . . . a little bit crazy. 31 days of Christmas Wonder has not gone exactly how I had pictured it in my head. I was going to be so organized and schedule way ahead each week. This has not happened. But I am having fun. And I hope you are hanging in there with me.

Did you know there are 746 other "31 dayers" writing every day during the months of October? And believe me, there is something for everyone:

how to be more positive

eat your veggies

dress well

become crafty


sell your home


travel Europe

get organized

nourish your soul

get it together

find joy

make a quilt

get your groove back, and

732 other topics.

Pop over for some great reads. Make sure you do not miss #176, which is Christy's 31 days of Culture Shock

31 dayers . . . we are half way there. WE CAN DO IT.

See you tomorrow for some more great Christmas thoughts.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Friday, October 14, 2011

Mounds Bars. 31 days of Christmas Wonder (day 14)

Do you have a specialty that you have to make in order for it to feel like Christmas? We do. If I only make one goodie for the holidays . . . it has to be Mounds Bars

When I was in college, my parents where still in Viet Nam. So I spent summers and Christmas vacation with the Smith family. Shirley was an awesome cook and Mounds Bars is just one of her recipes that I love.                    

Mounds Bars

2 cups graham cracker crumbs
1 1/2 cubes of melted butter
1/4 cup powdered sugar

Mix together and press into a 9 X 13" pan. Bake for 10 minutes at 325 degrees.

Mix 7 ounce package of coconut with one can sweetened condensed milk and spread over baked crust.

Bake for 15 more minutes.

Remove from oven and spread with 6 ounce package of chocolate chips and a 6 ounce package of butterscotch chips, that have been melted in a double boiler.

Cool and then place in the refrigerator for 20 minutes to set the chocolate.

Try them this weekend . . . an early Christmas gift to your family.

image credit:mounds bars

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Christmas collections. 31 days of Christmas Wonder (day 13)

While I am basically a simple girl at heart, I do enjoy the special things I have collected over the years for my home and holidays. I rarely have a list or a specific idea of what I want . . . I just know it when I see it.

All of our summers of travelling to Europe with Royal Servants (a short term missions experience for students), provided me with many wonderful opportunities to shop in different countries.

my favorite shopping market in Krakow, Poland

Each summer, I shopped with my heart. If I saw something that I loved, I bought it. (if it fit my budget, of course) I did not need to know where it would fit in my house. When I shopped from my heart, I knew it would find a perfect place in my home.

Well, this year my heart has found two things that I want to add to my Christmas collection.

thing one:

I add a new cd to my collection every year . . . and this is it for 2011. The Christmas Waltz has been released already for our enjoyment.

thing two:

This book, illustrated by one of my favorite bloggers, is on my list, because it incorporates the true meaning of Christmas for children. Read more about this fun book on Sarah's blog. (Sarah has amazing free downloads for kids on her site.)


What are you adding to your collections this year?

PS. Have you signed up for my giveaway?
image credit: snowmen, krakov market, she and him, a christmas goodnight

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

One of the Reasons I Love Christmas. 31 days of Christmas Wonder (day 12)

Six years ago today, I said goodbye to my adorable mom, Hallie, for the last time. It is a moment one never forgets. Three days earlier, she had received an emergency room diagnosis of cancer. She died suddenly and unexpectedly from the complications of a blood clot.

My husband was on a mission trip in Africa and Jenny was in Chicago at Moody Bible Institute, but Christy and I were able to be there at her bedside, along with many of my family members.

I remember intentionally focusing on what my mom's hands looked like. She had beautiful hands with long slender fingers. She always wore a stunning black star sapphire that my dad had given her. 

I remember thinking of all the amazing things those beautiful hands had done over the years . . . creating homes in different countries, creating journals and scrapbooks, creating quilts and homemade cabbage patch dolls for her grandchildren and so much more.

My mom was a bit of a Christmas wonder herself. Even though she grew up in a very difficult home, she created a wonderful home for us. And Christmas was one of her favorite times of the year. Her sewing machine was super busy then. 

So one of the reasons I love Christmas  is  . . . my mom taught me to. Thanks, mom. I love you and I miss you. I look forward to an eternity of Christmas days together in heaven. 

A favorite picture of my parents.

PS. If you would like to read more of my mom's story, click on "Remembering Hallie" at the top of my blog.

Linking today:

Mary Engelbreit picture
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