Saturday, December 25, 2010

Stocking Stuffers

During last Christmas season Cade was very into making me proud of his healthy choices.  We were walking through the candy aisle in some store, and he declared with much enthusiasm that he didn't want candy in his Christmas stocking.   And even went so far as to add, "I'd rather have Popi's chicken salad in my Christmas stocking."

Well, of course I couldn't pass that one up.  Too cute.  Somehow chicken salad has become a signature recipe of my Dad's and all the kids love it.   I told Dad, and he was all over having a little rubbermaid container of chicken salad for each of the kids stockings.

Well this Christmas my parents are in South Africa visiting my brother and family (they relocated there for a few year with Heinz).  That chicken salad had already become a relied upon tradition would never have crossed my mind, especially with the recipe calling for quartered grapes.  (Really now?  Who has time for that?)

But as soon as we pulled out the stockings after Thanksgiving, Bode's eyes lit up and he turned to me and said, "Remember?  Santa brings us chicken salad for our stockings!"

So here I am in the kitchen before the crack of dawn on Christmas morning quartering grapes.  And tucked in or under every stocking is Santa's gift.
Oh, the funny things we do for our kids to make Christmas magical.

May your day be filled with love, and the knowledge of the true miracle of Christmas.  That God humbled Himself to be born into this world, so He could show us how to truly love, and then made the ultimate sacrifice to pay for our sin, that we might have a relationship with Him.  To be His children and His friends. Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!

Merry Christmas everyone!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Simple Christmas Traditions

I am finally content with our Christmas traditions.  It's our 20th Christmas as a married couple and our 17th Christmas with children.  I guess it's about time.

I have learned my limits, and no longer come into the season with goals to make new ornaments for the Jesse Tree or bake ten types of Christmas cookies or have special gift boxes to open each day for the twelve days of Christmas (all failed experiments from my past).

I am good for one big day (or weekend) of decorating, and whatever does not get done then will not get done at all.  Our tree doesn't have a theme or much organization.  Just a lot of white lights and all the ornaments added over the years.  Each year we buy each child a new ornament that they can take with them someday (sniff!) to start their own tree.

I'm not really into crafts.  But I print out Christmas coloring pages and crossword puzzles and phonics worksheets and math worksheets to do "Christmas School."

I am really, really good at reading (impressive, I know!) Christmas books and buying a few new ones each year to add to our collection.
(I'll list some of our favorites at the end of this post.)

I'm also really good at buying a fun variety of Christmas cookies at Trader Joe's.  I buy a new kind every week in December!  But we only bake cookies once or twice.

I love making Jesus the center of it all.  One of our favorite long-standing traditions is to set up the manger scene with the animals and shepherd, but the baby Jesus gets hidden away until Christmas morning.  Mary and Joseph "travel" throughout the house on their way to Bethlehem and the kids love searching for them every morning.  They move from bookshelf to counter to under the piano... in no real order... throughout the season.  On Christmas Eve they will be in the stable.  And on Christmas morning at least one small child will melt my heart when the first thing they ask is "Is baby Jesus here????"

(Even this simple tradition isn't always perfectly done.  "Mom, Mary and Joseph haven't travelled since yesterday."  "Oh, okay, sorry, uh, close your eyes!"  And then I stomp all around the house to throw them off track as I move them to their new spot. )

Here they are today, hidden in the base of one of the advent trees.

I do love the Jesse Tree, but I finally had to break down and buy the ornaments.  You can read more about it here (minus the part about homemade ornaments), but it's a daily advent devotional that takes you through the highlights of the Old Testament and the geneaology of Christ.  The name comes from Isaiah 11:1:  "Then a shoot will spring from the stem of Jesse, and a branch from his roots will bear fruit."  It's a beautiful reminder of how much we need Jesus - He is our Rescuer!

I love our very traditional stockings.  Even though we've added many over the years, they all go together.

I love having at least one nativity that the kids can play with.  It's fun to walk through the living room and see that the animals have been rearranged.  They might even be on the roof.  But I know the kids hearts are thinking about the real meaning of Christmas as they play, and they always ask such good questions.

Most of all, I love to take time to be quiet.  To turn out all the lights except for a few candles and the tree lights and sing carols on the couch.  To have days with nothing planned except to sit and read Christmas books.  And reflect on the beauty of God's precious gift to us.


Picture Books:

Christmas in the Country by Cynthia Rylant
Apple Tree Christmas by Trinka Hakes Noble
Christmas with the Mousekins by Maggie Smith
Mr. Willowby's Christmas Tree by Robert Barry
The Legend of the Candy Cane by Lori Walburg
The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey by Susan Wojciechowski
One Wintry Night by Ruth Bell Graham
The Pine Tree Parable by Liz Curtis Higgs
Christmas Day in the Morning by Pearl S. Buck
Silver Packages by Cynthia Ryland
A Little House Christmas (Holiday Stories from the Little House Books)

Chapter Books:

Jotham's Journey
Bartholomew's Passage
Tabitha's Travels
The Best Christmas Pageant Ever

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The Best Before and After EVER!

We began sponsoring Adanu at the Trees of Glory care-point in July.  The picture below was taken in June.
This next picture was taken in November.  Just five month later!
I can not get over the difference.  I had e-mailed Karen, our contact with Trees of Glory, telling her I couldn't wait to get a new picture of Adanu when she (Karen) went to visit in November.  I wanted to see Adunu's smile!  And I couldn't wait to take that sad picture down.  

But I had to leave it up on the fridge.  It's lower now, and to the side of the new picture.  But I can't get enough of seeing those two pictures next to each other.

What a difference sponsorship makes!

In the new picture Adanu is holding the care package we sent with Karen.  All the love we could stuff into a gallon size ziploc bag.  A new shirt, other small gifts, and letter and a picture of our family.

18 more kids are joining the care-point, and need sponsors!  Please e-mail Karen if you can help.  $34 a month makes a world of difference in the life of a child!

Below is more information from Karen's blog about Trees of Glory.

"Trees of Glory" care-point is located about a 2 hour drive North of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.  It is a semi-mountainous area of Ethiopia that has been greatly affected by famine and drought  The care-point is located on 27 acres of land that can eventually be developed to help the care-point become more self-sufficient.  There are 13 buildings on the property that are being renovated to provide shelter for the kids when they visit the care-point.

The local government identifies the neediest and most destitute children in an area, and provides the opportunity to attend a care-point to meet their basic needs.  84 orphaned and destitute children have been assigned to "Trees of Glory" as we develop a sponsor program here.
Most of these children are orphans, and are living with a relative or guardian that is barely able to provide for their basic needs.  As a result, many of the children are severaly malnourished, and are vulnerable to illnesses like malaria and pneumonia.  Local livestock owners employ many of the children as herders, and pay the child's guardian a meager wage of about $12 per year.

Your sponsorship will provide your sponsor child with nutritious meals every day, along with clothing, medical care, Christian discipleship and EDUCATION.  Without a sponsor, these kids will never have the opportunity to go to school and they will continue "working" to pay for the roof over their head.

Ginia, with Children's Hopechest, spent a day with the kids at "Trees of Glory" in May 2010 and she emailed me: "Trees of Glory is WONDERFUL. It's a 2 hour drive into the mountains from Addis. We gave kids bread and bananas today. Most of the kids are orphans and are living with relatives or on the streets. They work as "herdsmen" of sheep and cattle. The relative is paid 120 ETB (equivalent of about $12 dollars) for year by livestock owners for the kids to work. It's very sad. Simret's (the director) vision is very big. She is a beautiful Godly woman. Very sweet and you can feel the presence of God in this place. There are no Christians living in the area. They are mainly Ethiopian Orthodox and live by superstitions and witchcraft."  A sponsor program will make a dramatic and lasting impact for the kids at "Trees of Glory"!!

If you are interested in sponsoring a child at "Trees of Glory", please contact me at and let me know if you have a preference for a boy or girl, one child or a sibling group of 2.  I will email you with a child's photograph and biographical information and instructions on how to register as that child's sponsor. 

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Crazy Fair Trade Day

Today was a serious test of my new commitment to buy only fair trade. 

As a community group we have adopted some families who are hurting for the very basic needs.  Our part was to do pajamas, maybe a few sweatshirts.  I wasn't too worried;  I knew I could find something online that was fair trade.  But then I got an email that everything needed to be turned in by this weekend!  I looked around a little this week, but didn't have much time.  Today had to be the day.

I was headed out to Sherwood for a birthday party at Safari Sam's.  My plan was to drop off the boys then hit a consignment store.  Which I hoped existed but I hadn't found anything on my google search.  So I called my friends at Sweetest Thing Cupcakes and got the name of Pitter Patter in Newburg.  Yea!  

But then I got a phone call from Courtney.  She needed 5 Christmas presents for a gift exchange.  Tonight.  Okay.  I can do this.  God, I pray I can do this.

Pitter Patter was a great success.  I pulled every quality item I could find in each of the two kids' sizes:  jeans, pajamas, shirts, sweatshirts, mittens, hats, scarves.  It was a load.  And the price?  Less than taking the family out to dinner.  I think I like this thrifting!

Then a quick cup of coffee and yummy gluten-free cupcake with Ann at Sweetest Thing (it WAS on the way back to Safar Sam's).  And supporting local businesses, double yay.

Got the boys and headed to the new Finegan's Toy Store at Bridgeport.  I wanted to have at least one brand new shiny toy for these kids.  But EVERYTHING was made in China.  Almost.  I finally settled for Playmobil advent calendar toys.  Made in Malta?  I don't know, but I had more hope for that than China.  And the boys had the most fun there playing with a remote control helicopter toy!

Now back to the Courtney challenge.  Five moderately priced gifts.  After dropping Bode off for a Noni and Popi date and before Cade's basketball game, we stopped at a craft fair but there was nothing that teenage girls would find exciting.  I wish hand crafted stuff didn't look so, well, hand crafted.

But I found what I needed at my beloved Market of Choice.  Along with the best price on organic grass-fed beef in town, they also had.... Fair trade wool hand warmers!  You know, like gloves, but with the tops of they fingers missing so they can still use their phones, itouches, etc.

All devices that use conflict metals, a whole 'nother issue.

But anyway!  It was a successful fair trade day, and I'm thankful.  But tired.