Striving to create a home strong in the foundations of love, respect, and God's truths ...

Saturday, December 31, 2011

6 Ways to Say Thanks


Back in the prehistoric era, before email existed, people sent thank you cards.  It was considered the polite thing to do, and nearly everyone sent a handwritten card to acknowledge a gift, service, or visit.

Nowadays thank you cards seem nearly obsolete.  Even after more formal events, like weddings and baby showers, cards are not always sent.  Sometimes thanks are sent digitally, and sometimes this custom is foregone altogether.

But I don't understand that.  When a gift is given, isn't it merely common courtesy - plain old-fashioned good manners - just to say 'thanks?'  Aren't our loved ones' feelings worth the few minutes that a card takes?


So since our children were born, we have sent thank you cards for gifts, visits, and events.  We especially work hard to show our thanks for birthday and holiday gifts.

This practice can actually be very educational - and fun, too.  Here's a few simple ways to do 'thank-yous' that are age appropriate and fun:

  • Take a picture of your young child with a sign that says, 'Thanks.' S/He could be awake or asleep, an infant or a toddler - but any picture of your child will be cute.  Slide the picture into a store-bought card or attach it to the front of a piece of paper.  Write a simple thank you as if from him/her inside.  For fancier cards, you could have your pictures printed professionally as cards.  Many printing companies do this.
  • Let your child paint or color a picture on a blank piece of paper.  On the other side, write their own words saying 'thank you' for the gift.  Include a picture of your child opening or playing with the gift.
  • Have your children create pictures on index cards.  For very young children, write inside a note card for them and include their art.  This is an easy way to send cards for multiple young children!
  • For beginning writers, use big paper and a light-colored marker.  Write a short, simple message for them and allow them to trace your writing with a dark color.  They get handwriting practice and to learn good manners at the same time!
  • Write the notes for your child in a blank note card and let them sign their own name.  Eventually, they'll be able to write the 'love, name' part, and soon a whole sentence:  'thank you for the ___.'
  • Finally, turn the thank you cards into a family project.  Get out paper, scissors, crayons, markers, paints, glue, stickers and gently-used wrapping paper and allow the children to go to town.  You can even make your own envelopes out of construction or other paper for those larger-than-usual creations!

We usually make a few each day until we're finished.  This way the children don't feel overwhelmed and the cardmaking remains a fresh, fun project for the duration.

How does your family say 'thanks?'

Shared over at I Can Teach My Child.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

GratiTuesday - When They Understand


Each year at Christmas I wonder if my kids get it.  We try to teach them what Christmas is really about though our Advent readings, the Jesse tree, lighting the Advent candles, shopping for others, finding special ways to help others, spending time together away from the hustle and bustle - but it seems as if everywhere we go people are asking them what they want for Christmas, if they've talked to Santa yet, what they want for Christmas, commercials telling them to ask for more, etc.

Every year I wonder.

But this year I KNOW.

My neighbor stopped me the other day to ask if I knew that My Big Helper was in the newspaper.  When I replied that I hadn't seen it, she ran to get hers - and there was a full-page spread of about 8 schoolchildren from around the county, mine being one of them.  Each child was asked by a reporter in school about Christmas, and she answered, "It's about Jesus being born."

I didn't even start wrapping presents until just a few days before Christmas this year, and to save myself some sleeping time I wrapped cousin- and husband-gifts while the kids were playing.  My Little Man wandered by as I was struggling with the paper - making a box look pretty does not come naturally to me - and suddenly asked, "Mommy, what does baby Jesus get for Christmas?"

Of course, both kids were very excited about opening their presents but didn't seem to notice that they received significantly fewer (at home) than in other years.  They wanted to open the biggest one first, of course, but they also wanted to give the gifts that they had made before opening any of their own.  They were each excited about giving and making personal gifts for their family members.

So this week, I'm grateful for the opportunity to worship in two beautiful services with my family, to see them happy about lighting the candles at home and hear their voices eagerly singing "Happy Birthday" to Jesus; but most of all, I'm glad they understand.

For more GratiTuesday, visit Heavenly Homemakers.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Christmas Break

Because of the Christmas holiday and the opportunity to spend some time extra time with my family - and our current computer issues - I'll be blogging intermittently over the next week.  Before New Year's, you'll find a great party recipe or two and a few book reviews.  I'll resume my normal blogging schedule after the new year with a giveaway, new recipes, and some crafts.

Have a very Merry Christmas!

12 Pearls of Christmas: Tracey Eyster

Welcome to the 12 Pearls of Christmas!


Enjoy these Christmas "Pearls of Wisdom" from some of today's most beloved writer's (Tricia Goyer, Suzanne Woods Fisher, Shellie Rushing Tomlinson, Sibella Giorello and more)! Please follow the series through Christmas day as each contributor shares heartfelt stories of how God has touched a life during this most wonderful time of the year.

AND just for fun ... there's also a giveaway! Fill out this simple {form} and enter for a chance to win a beautiful pearl necklace and earring set ($450 value). Contest runs 12/14 - 12/25 and the winner will on
1/1. Contest is only open to US and Canadian residents. You may enter once per day.

If you are unfamiliar with Pearl Girls™, please visit www.pearlgirls.info and see what we're all about. In short, we exist to support the work of charities that help women and children in the US and around the globe.  consider purchasing a copy of Pearl Girls: Encountering Grit, Experiencing Grace or one of the Pearl Girls products (all GREAT gifts!) to help support Pearl Girls.

Simple or Sparkle?

by Tracey Eyster

It’s a simple ornament made of thin cheap metal and it looks quite out of place on our CHRISTmas tree. But each year I lovingly and safely nestle it amongst its expensive and sparkly peers, without a care as to how unglamorous it appears.

Many of our CHRISTmas ornaments have a story and an uncanny way of welling up emotion in me, but this certain one causes an intense stir.

You see the ornament is engraved with the name of my grandmother, Sara, and was given to me by my mother, who ordered it from Hospice, after Grandmama’s death. Yes, the  months leading up to her death carry memories of a frail and failing grandmama, but that ornament carries my thoughts to sweet CHRISTmas memories of the past.

CHRISTmas Eve dinners in her home, laughing, singing, gathering and celebrating a year filled with blessings as we remembered the birth of our Savior. CHRISTmas mornings, she was always there participating with glee, in our raucous CHRISTmas happiness. Her gifts were always bank envelopes gently tucked into the pine needles of our CHRISTmas tree, fresh cut from the property she grew up on.

All memories of my Grandmama make my heart swell. You see she was my Jesus with skin on. She lived her life full of joy, serving others and approached life selflessly with an attitude of, “What can I do for you?”

Just months before she left us, even as the Alzheimer’s was robbing her mind she shared her love of Jesus with a sweet little old lady friend, who came to know the Lord – a divine appointment.  The very next day that little old lady silently slipped away to meet in person the One Sara introduced her to just the day before.

 At the time I wept, realizing that regardless of our own frailties and failings, God can still use those of us who are willing to do His work and are well practiced at hearing His voice...no matter our lack of sparkle in comparison to others.

A simple life lived for Him, a simple ornament in memory of Sara...a simple truth for you to ponder.

***

Tracey Eyster wife, mom, relationship gatherer and Creator/Editor of FamilyLife’s MomLife Today is a media savvy mom making a difference where moms are, on-line. Through speaking, writing and video interviews Tracey is passionate about encouraging, equipping and advising moms on every facet of momlife. Her first book, Be The Mom will be released August 2012. You can connect with Tracey at www.momlifetoday.com, her personal site www.traceyster.com or www.twitter/momblog.com.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The 12 Pearls of Christmas: Susan May Warren

Welcome to the 12 Pearls of Christmas!


 njoy these Christmas "Pearls of Wisdom" from some of today's most beloved writer's
(Tricia Goyer, Suzanne Woods Fisher, Shellie Rushing Tomlinson, Sibella Giorello and more)! Please follow the series through Christmas day as each contributor shares heartfelt stories of how God has touched a life during this most wonderful time of the year.

AND just for fun ... there's also a giveaway! Fill out this simple {form} and enter for a chance to win a beautiful pearl necklace and earring set ($450 value). Contest runs 12/14 - 12/25 and the winner will on
1/1. Contest is only open to US and Canadian residents. You may enter once per day.

If you are unfamiliar with Pearl Girls™, please visit www.pearlgirls.info and see what we're all about. In
short, we exist to support the work of charities that help women and children in the US and around the globe. Consider purchasing a copy of Pearl Girls: Encountering Grit, Experiencing Grace or one of the Pearl Girls products (all GREAT gifts!) to help support Pearl Girls.

Enjoy the Ride!

Susan May Warren

We sit poised on the top of a cliff, a near drop off before us, that falls to a rushing river. In the middle, a bridge of snow and ice hints at our destination. My husband guns the snowmobile engine. “Ready?”

 Ready? For a face plant into a tree, maybe reconstructive surgery? To feel my stomach ripped from my body as we plummet down the mountain? Let’s do it!

We live on five acres of woods in northern Minnesota that butts up to a national forest. Hence, our backyard is about a hundred thousand acres. Aside from harboring deer, lynx, fox, cougar and bear, it also makes excellent snowmobile terrain. And not long ago, Mrs. Claus gave her Santa a snowmobile for two.

I love snowmobiling. Flying over the snow, catching air over drifts. I love to drive, to be at the helm of the beast as I weave around trees and over hill and dale, my husband sitting behind me. I also love riding behind my husband as he drives, feeling those powerful arms as he’s muscling the snowmobile into the wilds. We follow unknown trails, driven by a Magellan spirit, hoping that we have enough gas to get us back to civilization. I love hanging on, simply trusting him, knowing that wherever he’s taking me, he’s going
first.

 But there are times, when I see where he’s taking me, and I just have to bury my head in his back. Like straight down a cliff.

 However, my heart cheers, despite the terror as we gun it down the hill, over the river, up the opposite side. And, if we hadn’t let ourselves go, we would have never discovered the beauty of a winter river, a hidden jewel buried deep in the forest. Nor the exhilaration of facing the challenge together.

 Further on, we find an enchanted forest of towering white pine. Catch a view of Lake Superior, discover an old cabin in the woods.

 It occurs to me that snowmobiling is much like my spiritual life. Occasionally, I drive, and it’s me setting our course, weaving through the trees, getting us hopelessly lost. But when God takes the “wheel” and I hang on, trusting Him for the speed and destination, I see the scenery. I trust him to keep me safe. I trust him to bring me home, where there is an eternal supply of hot chocolate.
 
As Christmas season becomes more hectic, what if I let God drive?  Maybe everything doesn’t have to be perfect, and maybe I don’t have to control every tradition, every holiday nuance. What if I just held on for the ride?

 I’ll bet I’ll still get there, and I might even enjoy the scenery along the way.

How have you let go, and “enjoyed” the scenery of this hectic, exhilarating Christmas season?

Merry Christmas!
***

Susan May Warren is the RITA award-winning author of thirty novels with Tyndale, Barbour, Steeple Hill and Summerside Press.  A four-time Christy  award finalist, a two-time RITA Finalist, she’s also a multi-winner of the Inspirational Readers Choice award, and the ACFW Carol Award.  A seasoned women’s events speaker, she’s a popular writing teacher at conferences around the nation and
the author of the beginning writer’s workbook: From the Inside-Out: discover, create and publish the novel in you!.  She is also the founder of
www.MyBookTherapy.com, a story-crafting service that helps authors discover their voice.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Multitudes on Monday - December 19, 2011

This afternoon, as I was preparing to write this post, my computer decided that it didn't want to be on the 'Net anymore, and it still refuses to connect.  So I'm writing on my Jurassic-aged desktop, that fortunately connects happily but quite slowly.  Since my pics are on my laptop, this will be an almost photo-free post.

Despite my computer craziness, this week I'm thankful for:


- an abundance of homemade applesauce

- finishing 8 loaves of spiced applesauce bread for neighbors and teachers

- My Little Man finally liking to color! and asking me to color with him. Yay for dino coloring books!

- My Big Helper the Elf in her school's Christmas program

- My Little Man enjoying time with friends

- making a new friend myself

- a happy Christmas bonus from that temporary job

- a great weekend with family

- a wonderful Christmas Family Date Day with my immediate family, enjoying old activities and trying new ones

- the slowing of the schedule as Christmas approaches

- the great new book that came in the mail

- the sight of my two kids, side by side, sporting their ice skates, excited about getting on the ice for the first time

- My Big Helper making dinner for everyone by herself for the first time on Saturday - and loving it!  I love knowing that she's learning skills she can use as a grownup and that she's having fun, too.

For more Multitudes on Monday, visit A Holy Experience.


GratiTuesday - Christmas Family Date Day


I love traditions, and Christmas Family Date Day is one of my favorites.

Each year, just before Christmas, our family skips town for the day and spends the whole thing together.

We always begin doing some kind of simple service project, with a way to give back to someone else.  This year we made cards and bookmarks (in advance) and delivered them to a local nursing home, visiting with the residents as we pass out our goodies.

Then we headed further away to the city, where we took the kids shopping and let them pick out a small gift for each other.  We headed to a nice restaurant (with a very generous kids' deal) for a fancy lunch.

After that we went to a dinner/movie, where we skipped the dinner part and paid a matinee special price to watch Dolphin Tale, a true story about a boy and a dolphin. Since our kids - and especially my Little Man - love sea creatures, this was great.



Finally, we headed to downtown Raleigh, where WinterFest was in full swing.  On the top of a parking garage downtown an ice rink had been built, and with lights in the trees nearby, it was beautiful.  I hadn't ice skated in years, but my kids - and even my husband - had never been.  When they saw the skaters, their eyes lit up, and they eagerly asked to try it.  We took to the ice until it got really crowded, and then headed out for a simple supper and home.  

It was a wonderful Christmas season day - with not a single bit of shopping for self or decorating or dishes, but instead a day away from (most) of the commercialism and a grand adventure together.

Making memories with my family is one of my very favorite things.  

I love that God gives us these out-of-our-ordinary, creative days to "store up in our hearts."

For more GratiTuesday, visit Heavenly Homemakers.

Menu Plan Monday - December 19, 2011


Christmas is almost here!  With Wednesday being the last day of school, we're all excited for a break from the busyness and a chance to (really) focus on the reason for the season.  We're planning some dedicated movie nights (especially The Nativity Story) and some family game time by the tree.  At the end of the week, we'll be getting ready for our traditional "Happy Birthday, Jesus" party on Christmas eve.  With a full weekend of cooking behind me and another one coming up, I'll be keeping things simple this week.

Dinners:




- My Big Helper's leftover lasagna - yum!
- chicken corn soup, applesauce, Christmas cookies
- tacos, corn, applesauce
- chicken stir fry with rice and veggies
- chicken corn chowder

One day this week will be dedicated to making Christmas cookies.  I'm planning to make old-fashioned sugar cookies for My Big Helper's treat bags, big breakfast cookies for her school party, Ritz cookies, snickerdoodles, and the best chocolate chip cookies ever.  I'm not sure what else I'll get into.

For our party, we're making:
- smoky bacon cheeseball and crackers
- party ham and Swiss sandwiches
- fruit salad
- birthday cake
- Christmas cookies

For Christmas dinner, we'll have:
- turkey breast
- filling
- mashed potatoes
- baked corn
- new variety of green bean casserole
- fruit salad
- birthday cake

What's on your menu this week??


For more Menu Plan Mondays, visit OrgJunkie.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

The 12 Pearls of Christmas: Elizabeth Musser

Welcome to the 12 Pearls of Christmas




Enjoy these Christmas "Pearls of Wisdom" from some of today's most beloved writer's (Tricia Goyer, Suzanne Woods Fisher, Shellie Rushing Tomlinson, Sibella Giorello and more)! Please follow the series through Christmas day as each contributor shares heartfelt stories of how God has touched a life during this most wonderful time of the year.

AND just for fun ... there's also a giveaway! Fill out this simple {form} and enter for a chance to win a beautiful pearl necklace and earring set ($450 value). Contest runs 12/14 - 12/25 and the winner will on
1/1. Contest is only open to US and Canadian residents. You may enter once per day.

If you are unfamiliar with Pearl Girls™, please visit www.pearlgirls.info and see what we're all about. In short, we exist to support the work of charities that help women and children in the US and around the globe. Consider purchasing a copy of Pearl Girls: Encountering Grit, Experiencing Grace or one of the Pearl Girls products (all GREAT gifts!) to help support Pearl Girls.



Why I Decorate for Christmas

By Elizabeth Goldsmith Musser

An old cassette tape of Christmas carols—received in a package twenty years ago when we had first arrived in France as missionaries—fills our den with delightful piano music as I place one more ornament on the already over-laden Christmas tree.  This one is a little white wooden rabbit with pink ears that move back and forth.  It actually doesn’t look much like a Christmas ornament, but I bought it for our baby Andrew when my husband Paul was in seminary, and I was working for less than minimum wage in the library.  This ornament was literally all I could afford.

As I hang it on the tree today, I get goose bumps and then a rush of warmth.  And that’s why I decorate for Christmas.  Not to impress but to remember.  I remember those lean, lean years, and God’s faithful provision for us.

There are the cross-stitched ornaments I made our first year in Montpellier—for the boys (for by now we had two sons) and Paul and me.  How I ever had time to do that, I don’t know.  I remember our puny little tree—the kind they sold in France back then—in a pot so that it could be replanted later.  We perched that tiny tree on a small table out of baby Christopher’s reach.  I guess I watered it too much, because about halfway through December, it started smelling and then stinking, and it rotted there on Christmas Day!

I smile with these memories.

I look at the other ornaments on the tree.  Many were purchased—one for each boy—when we attended conferences around Europe, and that makes me smile too.  Getting to travel on a missionary’s budget to exotic places!  There are the waxed red bear and red baby carriage from Wales, the brightly painted clay sun
and moon from Portugal, the blue and white porcelain windmill and wooden shoes from Holland, the hand-blown glass Snoopys sitting on gondolas from Venice, and the delicately decorated eggs from Prague.

Other ornaments include the little pinkish shiny ball ornament with Paul’s name written in glitter—I think he made it when he was about six , and the little red velvet bows, bought at Michael’s after Christmas one year for a dollar.  They bring a unifying theme to the tree.  I say this, smiling, because our tree is, and has always been throughout the years, a hodge-podge of our life.  And I like it that way.  I don’t think I could ever have a ‘theme’ tree.  Mine is a ‘memory’ tree.

The music plays softly in the background and I smile through tears, remembering God’s incredible faithfulness to call and keep us here in France for so many years.  Heart- breakingly hard years, overwhelmingly joyful years—the same years, the same amazing God, our keeper.

Before we left for the mission field, I memorized Psalm 121 in English and in French, and over the years I have held on tight to those last beautiful words of the psalm:  The Lord will guard your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forever. (NASB)

Of course He will.  He is God with us.

We decorate to remember Christmases past, our lives, our legacy, and mostly, for those of us who have embraced Christ, we decorate to honor and praise Him for coming to us—Emmanuel!  We make our homes ready to receive the Christ Child, with soft music and candles burning and the sweet flickering of angel wings on an over-laden evergreen.

***
ELIZABETH GOLDSMITH MUSSER, an Atlanta native and the bestselling author of The Swan
House, is a novelist who writes what she calls ‘entertainment with a soul.’  For over twenty years, Elizabeth and her husband, Paul, have been involved in missions work with International Teams.  They presently live near Lyon, France. The Mussers have two sons and a daughter-in-law. The Sweetest Thing (Bethany House, 2011) is Elizabeth’s eighth novel. To learn more about Elizabeth and her books, and to find discussion questions as well as photos of sites mentioned in the stories, please visit www.elizabethmusser.com and her Facebook Fan Page
www.elizabethmusser.com

Friday, December 16, 2011

What is Real Food?

At the end of October I bought three tomatoes for sandwiches while we had company.  Over the course of the weekend, we ate two - but I forgot about the third.

About three weeks later, I realized that it was still on the counter, and it still looked like a perfectly acceptable tomato.

Now, this struck me as very strange.  When I grow a tomato, I've got a short time frame - only a few days - to use said tomato before it turns into a rotten, buggy mass of mush.

This tomato still looked great, though.  One of the kids even mistook it for a for an apple from a distance.  So I had to leave it there to find out how long it would last.


Finally, about a week ago, the tomato began to look a bit dented.


Now it looks like this - a full SIX WEEKS after I purchased this tomato!  I'm not sure what they're putting in tomatoes these days, but something is keeping this tomato in shape - literally.  Somehow it's not even drawing bugs!

For me, the Great American Tomato Experiment is over, and this tomato is headed back out to the garden, but it does make me wonder.  I don't always buy fancy organic foods or find everything on a farm somewhere, but  I do buy lots of foods in their natural state.  I expect those vegetables to act like vegetables.

If whatever is inside that tomato causes it to act so strangely, what is it doing to our insides?

The 12 Pearls of Christmas: Sandy Ralya

Welcome to the 12 Pearls of Christmas!



Enjoy these Christmas "Pearls of Wisdom" from some of today's most beloved writer's (Tricia Goyer, Babbie Suzanne Woods Fisher, Shellie Rushing Tomlinson, Sibella Giorello and more)! Please follow the series through Christmas day as each contributor shares heartfelt stories of how God has touched a life during this most wonderful time of the year.

AND just for fun ... there's also a giveaway! Fill out this simple {form} and enter for a chance to win a beautiful pearl necklace and earring set ($450 value). Contest runs 12/14 - 12/25 and the winner will on
1/1. Contest is only open to US and Canadian residents. You may enter once per day.

If you are unfamiliar with Pearl Girls™, please visit www.pearlgirls.info and see what we're all about. In
short, we exist to support the work of charities that help women and children in the US and around the globe. Consider purchasing a copy of Pearl Girls: Encountering Grit, Experiencing Grace or one of the Pearl Girls products (all GREAT gifts!) to help support Pearl Girls.

Where is Comfort and Joy Found?

By Sandy Ralya

The year 2006 ushered unwelcome emotions into my life. My husband was unhappy in his job, two of my grown children were making poor choices, my mother-in-law was showing signs of Alzheimer’s, extended-family issues were surfacing, and I was writing a book. Things only got worse. Much worse.

Early in 2007, I was asked to represent the mentoring ministry for wives I founded, Beautiful Womanhood, and lead a women’s conference in Uganda, Africa. My husband wasn’t sure if traveling to Africa was a good idea, so we committed it to prayer. While we were listening for an answer, I sensed God asking me to fast from spending, except for groceries, for thirty days. Sometimes you know that you’ve heard God’s voice
because you’d never have come up with those words on your own. This was one of those times. I’d never heard of a fast from spending. Tom needed no convincing that a fast from spending came directly from the mouth of God. He still gets excited just thinking about it!

During the fast, it became clear I had used spending as a way to gain a comfort fix. When I was spending money, I felt carefree and lighthearted. Instead of dwelling on the unpleasantness in my life, I was thinking of my purchases and how they would bring me pleasure. Not until I stopped spending did I realize how short-lived the fix really was. During the fast, when I felt the urge to spend—to anesthetize my pain—I pictured myself running into the arms of Jesus, the Great Comforter. Oh, what comfort I received!

One night, I told good friends my experience of gaining comfort through the power of the Holy Spirit rather than money. I exclaimed that I had never felt so comforted. One friend then told us about a dream he’d had shortly after hearing about the invitation from Uganda. After the dream, he had awoken and recorded the following thoughts:

“. . . this is for Sandy. Christ’s redemption of women is beautiful. Beautiful Womanhood is a result of redemptive wholeness. The visuals the ministry uses on the books, etc., are like a piece of beautifully veneered furniture. There is something going on with the ministry to the brokenness of abused women. In Uganda, there are hurting, abused women, and something is connecting their need and Beautiful Womanhood. Though there is nothing wrong with veneer, it is only the topping—the covering, and without
good structure it is shallow and will not hold up. It is time to add a new depth to the ministry.”

Then these verses came to my friend’s mind:

All praise to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. He is the source of every mercy and the God who comforts us. He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When others are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us. You can be sure that the more we suffer for Christ, the more God will shower us with his comfort through Christ. 2 Corinthians 1:3-5 NL

When my friend was finished sharing, everyone in the room broke down in tears, praising God for His work in my life. I’d learned to listen and God had spoken. I’d obeyed, and He’d acted. When He acted, I was changed.

Needless to say, I packed my bags and experienced some of the best days of my life in Uganda—offering God’s comfort to His troubled women.


Sandy and her husband Tom have been married since 1980 and live near Grand Rapids, Michigan. They have three adult children and a growing number of grandchildren. When not writing and speaking, Sandy enjoys shopping at yard sales for vintage clothing, cooking, travelling, and drinking really good coffee (black is best) with her husband. For more information, contact Sandy at ssandy@beautifulwomanhood.com. Subscribe to Sandy’s blog at www.beautifulwomanhood.com/blog. Find Sandy on Faceook at Beautiful Womanhood. Follow Sandy on Twitter @MentoringWives.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The 12 Pearls of Christmas: Sibella Giorello



Welcome to the 12 Pearls of Christmas!




Enjoy these Christmas "Pearls of Wisdom" from some of today's most beloved writer's (Tricia Goyer, Suzanne Woods Fisher, Shellie Rushing Tomlinson, Sibella Giorello and more)! Please follow the series through Christmas day as each contributor shares heartfelt stories of how God has touched a life during this most wonderful time of the year.


AND just for fun ... there's also a giveaway! Fill out this simple {form} and enter for a chance to win a beautiful pearl necklace and earring set ($450 value). Contest runs 12/14 - 12/25 and the winner will on
1/1. Contest is only open to US and Canadian residents. You may enter once per day.


If you are unfamiliar with Pearl Girls™, please visit www.pearlgirls.info and see what we're all about. In short, we exist to support the work of charities that help women and children in the US and around the globe. Consider purchasing a copy of Pearl Girls: Encountering Grit, Experiencing Grace or one of the Pearl Girls products (all GREAT gifts!) to help support Pearl Girls.


Advent
By Sibella Giorello


Consider the bride's walk down the aisle. We all know where that woman in the white is going but somehow waiting for her to arrive at the altar is an essential part of the ceremony. In fact, the waiting is so essential that even cheapskate Vegas chapels include wedding marches.

Why?

Because the wait adds meaning to the moment.

At Christmas time, we tend to forget this essential truth about anticipation. We're lost to shopping malls and checklists, rushing toward December 25th so quickly that we forget the quiet joy of the month's other 24 days -- and then we wonder why we feel so empty on the 26th, amid ribbons and wrapping paper and our best intentions.

Because the wait adds meaning to the moment.

And that is why Advent is so important to Christmas.

I'm as guilty as the next harried person. This Advent was particularly tricky because just six hours before it started, I was still trying to finish a 110,000-word novel that was written over the course of the year -- written while homeschooling my kids, keeping my hubby happy, and generally making sure the house didn't fall down around us.

It's an understatement to say my free time is limited. But waiting adds meaning, and Advent is crucial to Christmas, so I've devised several Advent traditions that are simple, powerful and easy to keep even amid the seasonal rush.

When my kids outgrew the simple Advent calendars around age 7, I stole an idea from my writer friend Shelly Ngo (as T.S. Eliot said, "Mediocre writers borrow. Great writers steal." Indulge me.)

Here's how it goes: Find 24 great Christmas books, wrap them individually and place then under the tree. On the first day of Advent, take turns picking which book to open. When we did this, we would cuddle under a blanket and read aloud -- oh, the wonder, the magic! We savored "The Polar Express," howled with "How Murray Saved Christmas," and fell silent at the end of "The Tale of The Three Trees" (note: some of
the picture books I chose were not explicitly about Christmas but they always echoed the message that Jesus came to earth to save us from ourselves and to love us beyond our wildest imagination. In that category, Angela Hunt's retelling of The Three Trees definitely hits the Yuletide bull's eye).

This Advent tradition lasted for about five years. It gave us rich daily discussions about the season's real meaning, without being religious or legalistic, and it increased family couch time. But like the lift-the-flap calendars, my kids outgrew the picture books.

Because the wait adds meaning, and Advent is crucial, I prayed for another way to celebrate anticipation of Christmas. By the grace of God, last year I found an enormous Advent calendar on  clearance at Pottery Barn. Made of burlap, it has large pockets big enough to hold some serious bounty.

But my husband and I didn't want the kids focusing only on the materialist stuff for Advent -- we already fight that on Christmas day. We decided to fill the daily pockets with simple necessities and small gift cards. We also printed out the nativity story from Luke 2:1-21 in a large-sized font and cut each verse out. From Day 1 to Day 21, there is one verse to read aloud. The kids memorize it, then get to open their present (again, on alternating days for each person). Then we tape the verse to the wall in order. By Day 22, all the verses are on the wall, in order, and the kids now try to recite the entire nativity story from memory. That's not as  difficult as it sounds because they've been memorizing one verse each day. Still, the entire recitation -- verbatim -- usually requires Day 23 and Day 24. Whoever does memorize the entire thing -- without
mistakes --  earns a bonus gift of $25.

Does that sounds extravagant?

It is.

Because we want our kids to understand that God came down and humbled himself and taught us about love right before He suffered and died on behalf of the undeserving -- which is every one of us.

"That's" extravagant.

And in the waiting, we find even more meaning.

Sibella Giorello writes the Raleigh Harmon mystery series which won the Christy
Award with its first book "The Stones Cry Out." She lives in Washington state with her
husband and children, and often wishes there were 36 hours in a day.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

12 Pearls of Christmas: Suzanne Woods Fisher


Welcome to the 12 Pearls of Christmas!




Enjoy these Christmas "Pearls of Wisdom" from some of today's most beloved writer's (Tricia Goyer, Suzanne Woods Fisher, Shellie Rushing Tomlinson, Sibella Giorello and more)! Please follow the series through Christmas day as each contributor shares heartfelt stories of how God has touched a life during this most wonderful time of the year.

AND just for fun ... there's also a giveaway! Fill out this simple {form} and enter for a chance to win a beautiful pearl necklace and earring set ($450 value). Contest runs 12/14 - 12/25 and the winner will on
1/1. Contest is only open to US and Canadian residents. You may enter once per day.

If you are unfamiliar with Pearl Girls, please visit www.pearlgirls.info and see what we're all about. In short, we exist to support the work of charities that help women and children in the US and around the globe. Consider purchasing a copy of Pearl Girls: Encountering Grit, Experiencing Grace or one of the Pearl Girls products (all GREAT gifts!) to help support Pearl Girls.



A Christmas of Kindness

By Suzanne Woods Fisher

"You can give without loving, but you can¹t love without giving." Amish proverb

I do it every year.

I plan for a simpler, less stressful Christmas season and, every year, by Christmas EveŠ I'm exhausted! After our delicious and very-time-consuming-to-make traditional Swedish meal to honor my husband¹s relatives (think: Vikings), it's time to head to church. I'm embarrassed to admit it, but the last few Christmas Eve's, I have sent my husband and kids head off without me. The pull to spend an hour of quiet in the house feels as strong as a magnet.

 It's odd. My children are young adults now. Wouldn't you think that Christmas would be simpler? Instead, it's just the opposite. Jugging schedules to share the grandbaby with the in-laws, trying to include our elderly parents at the best time of day for them, dancing carefully around recently divorced family members whose children are impacted by the shards of broken relationships.

The thing is: you can simplify your to-do list, but you can't really simplify people. We are just a complicated bunch.

Here's where I borrow a lesson about simplicity from the Amish. It's easy to get distracted with the buggies and the bonnets and the beards, but there's so much more to learn from these gentle people if you're willing to look a little deeper.


Yes, they live with less "stuff" and that does make for a simpler, less cluttered life. But it's the reason behind it that is so compelling to me: they seek to create margin in their life. Not just empty space‹ but space that is available to nourish family, community, and faith. Their Christmas is far less elaborate than yours or mine, but what they do fill it with is Š so right.

oh

Christmas comes quietly on an Amish farmhouse. There is no outward sign of the holiday as we know it: no bright decorations, no big tree in the living room corner. A few modest gifts are waiting for children at their breakfast place settings, covered by a dishtowel. Waiting first for Dad to read the story of Christ's birth from the book of Luke. Waiting until after a special breakfast has been enjoyed. Waiting until Mom and Dad give
the signal that the time has come for gifts.

Later, if Christmas doesn't fall on a Sunday, extended family and friends will gather for another big meal. If time and weather permits, the late afternoon will be filled with ice skating or sledding. And more food! Always, always an abundance of good food. Faith, family, and community. That is the focus of an Amish Christmas.

And it's also how the story begins for A Lancaster County Christmas, as a young family prepares for Christmas. A winter storm blows a non-Amish couple, Jaime and C.J. Fitzpatrick, off-course and into the Riehl farmhouse. An unlikely and tentative friendship develops, until the one thing Mattie and Sol hold most dear disappears and thenŠ Ah, but you¹ll just have to read the story to find out what happens next. Without giving anything  away, I will say that I want to create a Mattie-inspired margin this Christmas season.
Mattie knew inconveniences and interruptions that come in the form of people (big ones
and little ones!) are ordained by God. And blessed by God.



Creating margin probably means that I won't get Christmas cards out until the end of
January, and my house won't be uber-decorated. After all, something has to give. But
it will mean I make time for a leisurely visit with my dad at his Alzheimer's facility.
And time to volunteer in the church nursery for a holiday-crowded event. And time to
invite a new neighbor over for coffee. Hopefully, it will mean that my energy won't get
diverted by a frantic, self-imposed agenda. Only by God's agenda‹ the essence of true
simplicity.



And that includes taking time to worship Christ's coming at the Christmas Eve service.
You can hold me accountable! This year, I will be there.




Suzanne Woods Fisher is the bestselling author of The Choice, The Waiting, The
Search, and The Keeper, as well as nonfiction books about the Amish, including
Amish Peace. Her interest in the Anabaptist cultures can be directly traced to her
grandfather, W. D. Benedict, who was raised in the Old Order German Baptist
Brethren Church in Franklin County, Pennsylvania. Suzanne is a Christy Award
nominee and is the host of an internet radio show called Amish Wisdom and
her work has appeared in many magazines. She lives in California.
www.suzannewoodsfisher.com.


Tuesday, December 13, 2011

GratiTuesday - A Fancy Daughter Date


In first grade, I took a field trip to the Roosevelt Auditorium at Penn State to see The Nutcracker.  

I don't remember too much - I was only 6 - but I remember the red velvety seats, straining to see over the tall guy in front of me, being in awe of the costumes and the dancers.  The sheer beauty.

A few years ago I found out that The Nutcracker is danced each year in the Triangle, and I've wanted to take My Big Helper, but with high ticket prices, it hasn't happened.

Until now.

Soon after beginning this temporary job this fall, I remembered the ballet - and thought that maybe the job would last long enough to save the money.

It did.

I found a youth performance in a nice theater downtown - less expensive than the Broadway version, better than the in-a-gym kind - and bought tickets.

The day before the performance I made a card inviting her to come and bought a single white carnation.  My Little Man and I delivered it to her school, where they later delivered it to her.


She was so very excited - she climbed in the car after school, yelling, "Thank you, Mommy!"

That night she chose her outfit before going to bed.  When she woke up the next morning, she came running into my room, her tights trailing behind her, saying, "Is it time to get dressed, Mommy?"

When finally it was, we got dressed, did her hair, sprayed some perfume, and chose her jewelry.

We grabbed a quick dinner and then headed off to The Melting Pot for a fancy dessert.  My Big Helper loves chocolate as much as I do - and she loved that restaurant!


Her eyes grew enormous when they brought out our pot of chocolate, and she had fun tasting each of our dippables in the chocolate.


The minute she finished dessert, she asked to head to the theater.  We got there a bit early, but she couldn't wait any longer!


We were super excited to learn that there was a real live orchestra performing with the dancers!  I never expected that with kids performing!


The ballet was fabulous.  The children were brave, the costumes amazing, and the sets beautiful.  The musicians were flawless, and My Big Helper was in awe throughout the entire two-hour performance. She actually complained during intermission because she thought it was over!


Most of the time we live very simply.  We don't eat out much, we try to keep 'stuff' to a minimum, and we're not into appearances. But sometimes, love just needs to show off its extravagance, and we did that this weekend.  I loved being able to escort my daughter to her very first ballet experience, and it was a night we'll never forget.

Today she brought home my original invitation from school, and inside she replied.

"Mommy, when can we do it again?"

I love knowing that my daughter wants to spend time with me.

That is priceless.


For more GratiTuesday, visit Heavenly Homemakers.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Menu Plan Monday - December 12, 2011

This is our busy week of the Christmas season!  With our annual Christmas Family Date, a school music program, and a few other goodies on the schedule, we're going to be hopping.  I'm shooting for simple plans this week and hoping to get a few extras baked and either delivered or in the freezer to free up time during the week of Christmas.

Breakfasts:
- Applesauce pancakes
- Scrambled eggs, toast, oranges
- Cereal, bananas
- Applesauce muffins X 2
- Strawberry banana smoothie bread X 2

Lunches will be our usual assortment of leftovers and sandwiches with cheese or yogurt and sliced fruits or veggies.

Suppers:
- Chicken, sweet potatoes, applesauce
- Dinner out for our annual Christmas Family Date
- Barbecue, steamed broccoli, harvest cake


- Spaghetti with bolognese sauce, garlic bread


- Pizza, carrot sticks


- Lasagna, Italian herb bread, broccoli


- Parmesan Potato soup, breadsticks

What are you cooking up this week?




For more Menu Plan Mondays, visit OrgJunkie.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Multitudes on Monday - December 12, 2011


This week was a busy one, but the kids and I each got to have special time together.  


My Little Man and I made a simple nativity set.


We also went to see A Christmas Carol with friends.


He had his last day of preschool before Christmas break, so we made cookies for treat bags to share with his friends.


My Big Helper accepted my invitation for a night at the ballet together.


My Little Man served as Ishkatay and built a fire with my on Friday night.


While My Big Helper and I had a girly fun night, the men headed for the woods.  My Little Man loved his new coveralls!


Despite a super late night, we were up, dressed, and ready for church - early!  We visited a new church, and the kids chose to stay for Sunday school, and they left us to be escorted by the teachers eagerly.


We made Christmas cards to deliver to a nursing home on our upcoming Christmas Family Date.


A night at the theater with My Big Helper - it was such a fun night!

So often I feel as if I'm missing special time with my kids, despite the fact that I'm a SAHM and that's the whole reason I'm home.  This week, though, we made sure we got lots of special time, and in this season that so often involves loads of 'stuff,' this was priceless.

What blessings have you been given this week?

Saturday, December 10, 2011

"Shadow in Serenity" by Terri Blackstock




Carny Sullivan, the child of carnival folk, found the stable life she's always wanted in Serenity, a small town with a big heart.  She and her son settle in for the long haul and so are very upset when Logan Briscoe breezes through and promises to build a theme park. Claiming that Briscoe is a scam artist, Carny warns the people of Serenity about the dangers of investing their money with him.  She begins to spend time with Briscoe in an attempt to find out the truth - but can she uncover it before the townspeople lose their life savings or she loses her heart?

Shadow in Serenity had an unusual start.  Written by Terri Blackstock nearly 17 years ago, it was penned at a time when she was writing romance novels.  After dedicating her work to the Lord, she began purchasing the rights to her past work as they became available and rewriting them.   Because of these rather distant origins, the tone of this book does not match Blackstock's current work - it's much more lighthearted and romantic - but with the same undertones of faith that she's been writing for years.

I always enjoy reading Blackstock's books.  Not only does she create interesting, realistic characters, but there is always a lesson to be pulled away from each one. Shadow in Serenity is no different; Logan Briscoe's story will make each reader ponder the possibilities of whether people can really change.  Blackstock hopes that her readers will turn the last page and know "that no matter what they've done, no matter how dark their past is, they can be redeemed. Some of the greatest people in the Bible committed heinous crimes. David and Paul were both murderers. Even worse, Paul murdered Christians. And David murdered the husband of his mistress, because she was pregnant with his child. In 1 Corinthians 6, we're told who will not inherit the kingdom of heaven, but then it says, "Such were some of you. But you were washed clean ..." I love that. He's talking to the redeemed, people who were once criminals and sinners, but they didn't have to stay that way."

Terri Blackstock has sold six million books worldwide and is a ”New York Times” bestselling author. With over 25 years of success as a novelist, Blackstock's most recent novel, “Vicious Cycle,” debuted on the ”New York Times” bestseller list. The first book in the Intervention Series, “Intervention” is a “New York Times” bestseller and a 2010 Carol Award Winner. Other Blackstock favorites include ”Predator” and “Double Minds,” as well as the Restoration Series, the Newpointe 911 Series, the Cape Refuge Series and the SunCoast Chronicles series. For more information, please visit www.terriblackstock.com.

I received a free copy of Shadow in Serenity from Shelton Interactive in exchange for an honest review.


Friday, December 9, 2011

Cindy Woodsmall's Latest: "The Christmas Singing"

I recently read and reviewed The Christmas Singing.  It's a wonderful story of forgiveness and trust!

The trailer was just released, so I thought I'd share a bit more information about this book.  (You can read my original review here.)


If you'd prefer to check out the book itself, you can read the first chapter here.

You can also buy the book directly from WaterBrookMultnomah.com, and if you do so by December 20th, you can receive 30% off with the code CHRISTMAS11.  (Psst!  The code is good on all book purchases from this site until 12/11!  Yippee!)

Happy reading!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Win a Life Application Study Bible from Tyndale House!

Want to win a great Bible - and maybe other great prizes, too (including an iPad)?

Until December 24th you can enter to win from the new New Living Translation's Facebook page.  Just 'like' the page and then click on the 'Enter Now' button at the bottom.  The form takes only seconds to complete and you'll be entered to win these and other great prizes.

Everyone that signs up gets a free download copy of the Life Application Bible Study – Book of Luke!



By visiting the giveaway entry page (located on the NLT Facebook page, the link is under the profile picture) and entering your name and e-mail address you'll be entered to win the following prizes:
  • One random person each day will win a Life Application Study Bible Family Pack (Guys Life Application Study Bible hc, Girls Life Application Study Bible hc, Student's Life Application Study Bible hc, Life Application Study Bible hc, Life Application Study Bible Large Print hc).
  • One Random person each week will win an Apple iPad 2!

Visit their page and join the fun!



A Simple (Frugal) Nativity


I've been wanting to make a nativity with my kids, but it's hard to find materials that are simple enough for their young fingers to handle.  When a friend told me about this flowerpot variety, I knew it was perfect!

You'll need:
3 small flowerpots
a few fabric scraps, in a variety of colors
glue (we used Elmer's)
3small balls
masking tape (optional)

Gather your materials.  I shopped waaayyyyyyy ahead for this buy purchasing the flower pots at the Dollar Tree back in the spring.  My three are very small but came as a set, so the price was great!  We paid $1 for this whole project.

Having shopped so long ago, I couldn't remember if I had purchased small styrofoam balls or not, so My Little Man and I rolled some spare yarn into balls.  For the third, we covered a Ping Pong ball with the same yarn.

Flip two pots upside down.  Glue or tape one ball each to the top (was the bottom) of the pot.  This forms the heads of Mary and Joseph.

Next, wrap the third ball in a scrap of fabric.  Tuck it into the third (upright) flower pot.  Our ball seemed a bit too low to be baby Jesus, so we put a cardboard scrap underneath the ball to prop it up a bit.


Choose two fabric scraps to wrap around Mary and Joseph.  Our scraps were a bit raggedy, so My Little Man asked to trip up the edges a bit.

Using your glue, attach the fabric to the pot.  With two more scraps and more glue, create head coverings for Mary and Joseph.  (The wet spots you see in our pictures did dry and can't bee seen - it was just glue from this step.)

My Little Man chose to stop at this point.  He liked the look of his Nativity without a face, but if you choose to continue, use whatever materials you'd like - googly eyes, yarn for hair, beads, buttons, etc.

While this Nativity isn't suitable for preschool playtime as the clay pots are breakable, it's definitely something that I'll be dating and displaying every year - and if you did want to let your kids play it, you could always do this same thing with simple plastic cups.


Have you ever made a Nativity with your kids?  What kind of materials did you use?






”I

"Smitten" by Colleen Coble, Kristin Billerbeck, Denise Hunter, & Diann Hunt


Smitten, Vermont, is a logging town with a threatened future when four best friends come up with a solution to save the town:  renovate and Smitten's reputation into that of a honeymoon paradise.  Not everyone is on board with this plan, however, and each woman faces conflicts of both the practical and romantic kind.

Written collectively by four veteran authors and best friends, this collection is fun and romantic.  The book transitions smoothly from one story to the next, with each featuring a different main character in a different season.  The quirks of the friends render them likeable and friendly, just like the girls next door.  Together, they are generous and faithful, caring and creative.

My only problem with this book was with a subplot from the very first story.  A resolution was never found for an issue that aroused my curiosity, and I would have loved to wrap up this loose end.

Smitten is a wonderful lighthearted read.  I can't wait for the sequel!

I received a free copy of Smitten from Thomas Nelson in exchange for an honest review.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

GratiTuesday - A Most Precious Gift


One day last week My Little Man and I spent the morning running errands.  It was one of those crazy days where you want to be home but need to be out getting stuff done to enjoy the time at home.

As the list of errands dwindled, I grew more excited.  Time at home with My Little Man, playing a game or reading some stories, was nearly in sight.

We pulled into the library for a quick trip inside, and I climbed out.  I opened My Little Man's door and as I grabbed our things, he turned and bent down.

Thinking that he wanted to play and that there would be more time to play outside when our errands were completed, I tugged on his hand.

"Come on, My Man," I complained. "We're almost done and then we can go home.  Let's go."

My Little Man hopped up and slowly turned around.  He walked with me, matching my steps, as we crossed the parking lot and headed for the front door.

Suddenly he reached up, and in his hand was a small yellow flower.  A dandelion.  Freshly picked from the small patch of grass between our car and the street.

I stopped.

"It's for you, Mommy,"  he said quietly.

And I knew that I was hurrying too much, that I was missing the beauty even in the errands.

And then it was worse.

"Do you know, Mommy, why I like to give you flowers?"  My Little Man asked.

"No, why?"  I asked, as we stood there, right in the middle of the library sidewalk, leaves blowing around us.

"Because I love you.  That's why, Mommy."

Today I'm grateful for my sweet Little Man and his spontaneous flowery gifts.  I'm grateful for the love that prompts him to seek out gifts for me.

Mostly, though, I'm grateful for this gentle reminder that even in the busyness, we're still together.  Still loving.  And that time is still passing.

I want to make the most of it - and make each moment a gift.

For more GratiTuesday, visit Heavenly Homemakers.