Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year, especially for people who love to entertain! Opportunities abound for gatherings, parties, soirees, whatever suits your fancy! So, if you have an entertainer on your gift list, it’s the perfect time to give them a gift that makes entertaining easier and a little more fun. So, I’ve rounded up for you the top-ten must have items for entertaining. At price points ranging from $5-$100 you’re sure to find just the right thing to bring a smile to the hostess extraordinaire in your life. Or maybe you just need to pick up a couple of these things for yourself to get through the holiday season! So, without further ado, let’s check this out -…
Have you ever found yourself tearing up and thanking the Lord for bringing something into your life at just the right time?! That was me earlier this fall. I was crying out to the Lord, desperately trying to find a way to keep my family from succumbing to the power of the Christmas rush. Christ was missing from Christmas. I craved something different, something fresh, something – – – authentic. Christmas was starting to slip into the stores and into the media featuring immaculately set tables, families opening giant flat screen TV’s and scenes of traffic jams and shopping madness. When did this happen?!?!?
As I child in the 80’s, I know you still had to be intentional about keeping the Christ in Christmas but I don’t think any of us could see how much more difficult it would get. It’s been 50 years since A Charlie Brown Christmas hit mainstream network television proclaiming the point of Christmas to be the birth of Jesus not a flock of pastel, aluminum trees. I can still close my eyes and see Linus, clutching his blanket reciting the famous passage from Luke. Now, you’re hard pressed to even find a religious Christmas Carol on a holiday special.
As a parent, it hurts my heart. I want my kids to enjoy the magic of Christmas, we aren’t anti-Santa but, most importantly, I want them to understand the true magnitude of the day not just the materialism. So, that’s where I found myself, trolling the internet, desperate for not just resources but a total overhaul of our approach to Christmas. That’s when God led me to an Advent Conspiracy. The Advent Conspiracy is a total paradigm switch on Christmas. It takes the four weeks leading up to the big day and devotes them to the life changing ideas of Worship Fully, Spend Less, Give More and Love All. Wow. Isn’t that what Christmas should all be about?
Advent Conspiracy provides tons of free resources to help you implement the program at home. It starts with a family devotional packet you can use to guide your discussion each week. It’s full of fantastic illustrations and convicting examples that hit the heart of each topic and it’s easy to bring it down to the level of toddlers. As part of their Family Resource Bundle, they also have great printable cards, gift wrap and gift tags that all point to the bigger purpose.
Some of my favorite activities are found under Sunday School in the Church Resources Bundle. There’s a letter with Santa scratched out and Papa God written in its place. Just like a mad lib, you can help your kids fill in the blanks and work through the mental shift of give me more, more, more to being thankful that they have everything they need plus so much more. It also helps them pause and consider the needs of kids who don’t share their good fortune. They also a fantastic worship jar idea where you can fill it with different ways to worship and pull one out throughout the season. And guess what, everything is 100% free. My favorite price tag!
Reprioritizing your Christmas
If you’ve read my previous posts about pre-scheduling your Christmas, Advent Conspiracy is on the same page. They aren’t about turning Christmas into some heavy, pensive season. They want you to have fun, celebrate and make memories with your family. So plan to bake cookies, or look at Christmas lights, or go to a Christmas concert. But they are also going to challenge you to give more of your time and money to those who are less fortunate. Consider things like serving at a food bank or a soup kitchen or spending less on your gifts so you can give the gift of fresh water to a community in another country. A lot of their suggestions are geared for slightly older kids but I think with a little noodling you can bring them down to the toddler level.
Keeping the Story of Christ Always in Mind
Separate from the Advent Conspiracy, we are doing several things to keep the Christmas Story our main focus.
First off, I’ve purchased an inexpensive but realistic plastic nativity. I plan to place this at kid level in my living room. To start, it will only have animals in it (borrowed from our farm set – I’m nothing if not resourceful). I’m going to place Mary and Joseph on one end of the house and the wise men on the other. The shepherds, I’ll put somewhere in the living room, near to the stable.
Similar to “Elf on the Shelf,” these groups will move slowly, a little each night, toward the stable. Mary and Joseph will arrive Christmas eve, Jesus and the shepherds on Christmas day, and the wise men will arrive a few days after Christmas. Each day, there will be a fun, game element to finding where the different groups have moved to during the night but it will give us a new opportunity to talk about the story and what’s happening.
Keeping Christ in Christmas doesn’t have to be as daunting as it seems. There are other people out there fighting the same battles too. Once you come to terms with the fact that you can’t overhaul Christmas for everyone – even your extended family – and focus just on redirecting the celebration for your own family, you’ll feel a big part of the weight lift off your shoulders. So, try some of these ideas with your own family. If they don’t quite work, try something different next year. The point is to keep trying and to keep bringing it back Jesus. Share some of your tried and true ideas for keeping the Christ in Christmas below!
It’s early November and I have one thing on my mind – Christmas. Not because I can’t wait to turn up the Christmas carols and bust out the tree but because I’m determined to slow down and enjoy Christmas. In this world of holiday parties, Santa sightings and gifts that cost hundreds of dollars, it’s easy to become overwhelmed with the holidays. The season becomes a blur of stress and commitments with the only thing to show for it being a credit card bill as long as your arm.
As moms, we’re expected to make Christmas magical for our kids – to make lasting memories and traditions. What if we took that charge seriously? What if we dug into the real things that make this season special and got rid of the fluff. What if we had our Christmas “work” done by December 1 so we could actually focus on the things that matter? It’s not a pipe dream and I’m here to tell you how to do it!…
Food while camping can really make or break a camping trip. It’s easy to forget components or end up spending way too much time on meals, taking away from the fun time! Here are some tips that have made all the difference for us!
Keep it simple!
My husband and I find great joy in food! Not just eating it, we love tackling tough recipes and making the “best” something. But camping isn’t the time for gourmet cooking or a giant smorgasbord. Keep it simple by sticking to dishes that are familiar and camping friendly. Consider how many dishes it will take to prepare the meal. The fewer the dishes the less time will be spent on clean up later….
Congratulations! You’ve done it! You’ve made the commitment to explore the great outdoors, toddlers in tow, on a camping trip! This is going to be a great experience for your family but there will be some challenges. One of the big challenges is keeping your kiddos entertained. Just like us, modern children are a little too used to TV at the push of a button. Even if you think you’re good about limiting screen time, you may be surprised how “lost” your kids might be in the wilderness. Just like you, they’ll need some time to hone their “unplugged” lifestyle. There are some good, old fashioned activities you can bring to help them be more successful. Remember, to have a nice balance between structured activities and unstructured time. Boredom is actually really good for kids. It forces them to self-entertain and get creative. I like to give these activities out one at a time to encourage the growth of their attention span and rewind from their normally overstimulated life….
Whether you tent camp, tent trailer camp, or full on trailer camp, there are some simple systems you can put in place to make getting on the road as easy as possible without the “shoot, I forgot the . . . .”
I grew up in a family of campers, my mom taught me how to camp, just like her mom taught her. Just like housework, mid-century camping prep fell largely on the women and it still does a lot of the time. I find that figuring out how to feed my family and be prepared for a variety of unfortunate circumstances takes up the bulk of my time getting ready to camp. Otherwise, it’s pretty much a normal family trip. I have a three-pronged approach to camping with ease and, my friends, I’m going to share all the nitty gritty details with you today….
It’s Sunday afternoon. You finally settle into the car – hot, grimy and achy after two nights of mediocre sleep. You are desperately in need of a shower, as is everyone else in the car. You lean your head back against the head rest as you pull onto the freeway and a smile crosses your face. You aren’t thinking about the multiple skinned knees you bandaged, or the debates you had with your son about playing with the campfire, or the challenges of setting up and breaking down camp with toddlers. You’re thinking of all the magical moments in between.
I’m not going to sit here and tell you that camping with toddlers is easy. Let’s be honest, nothing with toddlers is easy. But the most rewarding things are often the things that take some extra work and some extra sacrifice….
I think you’d be hard pressed to find a holiday that is higher pressure than Valentine’s Day. I’m not sure why but, for whatever reason, how you spend the evening of February 14th seems to be a status maker to a lot of people. At the risk of inciting a riot, I’m going on the record and say that’s stupid. It’s your love, your Valentine and your Valentine’s day. So let’s stop thinking about how we should celebrate Valentine’s Day and start thinking about how we’d like to celebrate.
Who’s Your Valentine?
The first question to ask is, who’s your valentine? Who’s your main squeeze? You BAE (I think that’s what the kids are calling it these days)? Is it your husband? Your boyfriend? Your sister? Your mom? Your best friend? Maybe it’s your whole little family? Whoever it is, that’s going to significantly influence your Valentine’s Day plans. You need to consider if that person is a romantic interest or more a platonic love. Are they introverted or extraverted? Do they love to go out or prefer to stay in?
What’s the tone?
You know your Valentine, would they prefer something over the top hearts and roses or would they be more impressed by an activity less on the nose? If romance is in the air, does that mean a gourmet candlelight dinner or does that mean an evening of dancing? If it’s more togetherness and prioritizing the other person, would you rather do that just the two of you or as a group?
Think outside the box
Think about what really shows your love. If you’re familiar with the Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman, you know that people give and receive love differently. Chapman offers a free quiz to discover yours and your Valentine’s but the five categories are Words of Affirmation, Acts of Service, Gifts, Quality Time and Physical Touch. Once you’ve identified your Valentine’s you can factor that into your plans. For example, if quality time is the most important, an extended activity free of interruptions with phones put away is going to really show them you care. If it’s physical touch, a couple’s massage might be a good start. If it’s Words of Affirmation, don’t skip the thoughtful inscription on your Valentine’s Day card. You get the idea. Don’t put a lot of effort into an aspect of Valentine’s Day that the other won’t fully appreciate. If gifts ranks lowest as your Valentine’s love languages, don’t spend hours agonizing over the perfect gift.
Pick a Day
Remember, Valentine’s Day is more of a season. Most people would prefer a thoughtful, personalized Valentine’s Day outing – even if it can’t be on Valentine’s Day – over the traditional Valentine’s Day dinner out just because that’s all you can squeeze in on the day of. If you choose to make arrangements on a day other than Valentine’s Day, make sure you communicate that to your Valentine in advance (especially if it’s occurring after Valentine’s Day). There’s nothing worse than feeling forgotten or underappreciated on the day. If you want to keep plans a surprise, you can still let them know the timeline without totally blowing it.
Make it Happen
So, what does all this planning look like in real life? Here’s what we’re doing for Valentine’s Day. As I’ve mentioned, my husband isn’t a Valentine’s person so we have always kept it pretty low key. Now that we have our two kiddos, we’d both rather do something memorable as a family rather than a fancy night on the town. Our Valentine tradition is getting a deep dish, meat lover’s pizza we never let ourselves get the rest of the year. We use paper plates and napkins so no one has to do the dishes. We turn the lights down low, light some fancy candles and turn on the Michael Bublé. Because he’s a quality time person, we’ll minimize distractions by putting the phones away and just enjoy our little family. There’s a good chance we’ll round dinner out with a Dairy Queen Ice Cream Cake because that’s one of my favorites. I know, some of you have your mouths hanging open. How could that be Valentine’s Day? How is that different than any Friday night? The answer is that it just is. I can’t explain why but it’s perfect for us and it is special. We’ll all feel loved and no one will feel like Valentine’s Day passed them by. This kids will love the novelty of it, I’ll love the not having to clean up and Chris will love the understated nature of it.
What about you? What do you do to celebrate Valentine’s Day? Has this blog caused you to rethink any of your plans or ideas? Let me know in the comments below!
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Breakfast has always been my favorite meal! There is something about a lovely, big breakfast to start the day that just makes everything right. When I started my family, my love of breakfast expanded to include themed breakfasts and Valentine’s Day is no exception. It really takes very little effort or planning to make the morning meal extra special. Here are a couple of ideas we’re trying out this year:
Heart Shaped Cinnamon Rolls
I’ve seen these heart shaped cinnamon rolls made using refrigerated dough all over the internet. They looked delicious and met with my criteria for morning baked goods – high on “wow” factor, low on effort. I decided to test these out using normal cinnamon rolls and Pillsbury Grands! Cinnamon rolls. The way they are produced and the size difference led to two very different final products but both were very cute.
For the traditional cinnamon rolls, I used a well-greased 9×9 pan. I attempted to “unroll” each to reform them into a heart and discovered they aren’t so obviously rolled. You end up just having to break the roll apart at the top to form the two “lobes” of the heart. I placed them in the pan, alternating up and down so they would help hold each other in the heart shape as the expanded. When they were finished baking, I used the provided icing and a selection of Valentine sprinkles to add a little extra bling. I was very pleased with how they turned out but some were definitely more heart-shaped than others.
For the Grands! cinnamon rolls, I used a round cake pan, also well-greased. These rolls were actually rolled in the way I expected the others to be. It was a lot easier to unroll it half way and reroll it into the shape of a heart. The only downside to this variety is the cinnamon filling was tricky to keep in the roll as you worked with it. It tended to flake off and was hard to readhere to the roll as your reshaped it. I placed these in a circle with all the points toward the middle. It made a very pretty presentation. After baking, I finished them off with same icing and sprinkles. I thought these kept their more obvious heart shape but they weren’t quite as tasty because they’d lost so much of their filling in the heart shaping process. Plus, they were quite large.
If I had it to do again, I would stick with the smaller original cinnamon rolls. They are a better portion size and taste better in the end. They may not come out as reliably heart shaped but they are still very recognizable and my kids loved them! Don’t be afraid to let your kids get out the stool and lend a hand. No one has quite the flair with sprinkles as a preschooler.
My go-to for holiday breakfast is usually pancakes. I love to dress them up easily with just a little food coloring – green for St. Patrick’s Day, orange for Halloween, etc. This year, I decided to break with tradition just a little bit and attempt heart shaped pancakes. My husband is actually the pancake pro in our house so I knew there was no way I was going to pull off free hand heart shapes. But, by using a well-greased metal (silicone would be okay) cookie cutter, I got an even better effect. The trick to this method is not to over fill your mold. Fill the hearts just as thick as you would for a regular pancake and use a small spatula or the back of spoon to spread the batter out towards any edges it doesn’t reach naturally. Once the batter starts to bubble and you can tell the pancake is looking well set around the edges, use a small pair of tongs to gently lift off the cookie cutter. Then, flipthe pancake just like you would normally do to cook the other side. Voila! Beautiful heart shaped pancakes! I used a pairing knife to cut a small heart out of the pat of butter for a little extra. Serve this up with a side of fresh fruit and your Valentine’s favorite coffee or juice. Who wouldn’t feel loved with such a treat in front of them?
Do you know what’s also great about these dishes? You can also serve them for dinner, or lunch, or dessert! So if the idea of getting a big breakfast going on a weekday morning seems daunting, you can always do it for dinner instead or save it for Saturday morning.
Do you have a traditional Valentine’s Day breakfast in your family? Is there another breakfast food that you think would be perfect for making “heart-shaped”? Comment below! I’d love to know what you’re doing in your home.
I believe a major component of hospitality is putting someone else’s needs ahead of your own, even if it means you are uncomfortable for a while. This thought crossed my mind recently as I lay awake feeling a bit guilty for not visiting my grandma in her nursing home more often. She lives about an hour away, in the town my parents live in, but I still don’t make enough of an effort to go visit her. She’s lost a lot of her mental sharpness. Every visit just serves as a reminder that there really isn’t much of my grandma left. Plus, it’s just an unsettling environment and my kids are always on edge.
But here’s the honest truth. When I walk into that nursing home with my babies, those residents light up like the Fourth of July. They love kids and far too few kids come to visit.
It’s important to me that my kids feel comfortable around people of all ages. That means sometimes going out of their comfort zone to be Jesus’s hands and feet to the world. So, we’re all going out on a limb this Valentine week and visiting Grandma’s nursing home with valentines in hand for 30 of her fellow residents!
Inexpensive but Memorable Valentines
I’m pretty pleased with how my valentines turned out and they whole thing cost me less than $10 thanks to the Dollar Store. I purchased several stems of red and pink silk roses and cut them up to be individual roses. Each stem has 4-5 roses on it so you can get several flowers for just $1. Then I used white cardstock tags on little string from the office supply/craft section and wrote “Happy Valentine’s Day” on one side. On the other side, I stuck a foam sticker that looks like a Valentine Conversation Heart. I found these in the Valentine section. That candy was a staple of our grandparents’ generation. I remember my Grandpa and Grandma sending me and each of my cousins a box every year. When those elderly people see a red or pink flower with a conversation heart sticker on the tag, they’ll know in a heartbeat that it’s Valentine’s Day.
Connecting with a Nursing Home
If you’d like to recreate this activity, here are some ways to get started. First, if you have a nursing home you’re already associated with, that’s a great option! Call ahead and let them know what you’d like to do. They may even be able to provide you with the names of the residents who would most appreciate the gift. If you don’t already have ties to a nursing home, use your social media connections to locate one in your area. Always contact the administration ahead of time for permission. Most nursing homes are thrilled when people reach out so you shouldn’t have any problems getting the go-ahead. If you just aren’t ready to take the full plunge with a nursing home, think of other seniors in your life. If you have seniors in your neighborhood who seem isolated, they are the perfect person! You could also call your church and see if there are any elderly attendees who would appreciate a drive by. This approach might actually end up being a bit more work in the end but your recipients will be a bit more familiar. I think it’s fair to say this activity could be done anytime between February 1-20 and still be in “Valentine Season.”
Helping Kids Gain Perspective
As I researched for this blog post, I was a little surprised to find how little information is out there for ministering to seniors. Of course, there is page, after page, after page about parenting and every aspect of child-rearing. Is it any wonder that our kids feel the world revolves around them when even the internet seems to hold them in the center? My challenge to you, even if this isn’t the right activity, is to be looking for ways to help your kids see beyond their life place this year. Whether it’s interacting with someone much older than them, or someone who doesn’t look like them, or someone who lives in a far-away place, find a way to help them understand how big the world is and that they are only a piece of a bigger whole. Help them understand their responsibility for showing love to others and helping keep the whole thing afloat.
Have you ever reached out to senior-citizens in your life? Either in a nursing home or just in your circle of influence? What did you do? How did they react? Do you have any other suggestions on what to do with kids? I’d love to know what you’re up to! Let me know how your expanding your kids’ horizon and meeting the needs of the underserved in your neighborhood!