Tag Archives: holidays

A Gentle Reminder

DSCF5054This year, I was going to be ready for Christmas early. I had finished much of my shopping after Thanksgiving, and I was going to have all my Christmas cards addressed and ready to go by the first of December. And to add a special touch, I was going to make the cards or have the children help me make them. I planned on printing photos of the family to include in the cards as well.

But then, one day slipped by, then another, and another, until finally it was too late to send the cards — again. Too late for the cards to arrive in time for Christmas, too late to send a holiday greeting to friends and loved ones that we don’t see very often. Another year, and another missed opportunity.

But is it? I could set my cards aside, and plan on doing better next year. But then, would I let another year pass by before I sent them a note saying I’ve been thinking about them?

But Christmas isn’t a deadline — it’s a reminder. A reminder for people like me who, in the day-to-day busyness of life, too often forget what matters most. It’s a reminder to reach out those we care about and to care about those less fortunate than ourselves. It’s a reminder to do those things we should have been doing all year, but may have let slip by.

And most importantly, it’s a reminder of God’s most precious gift to us, His Son, Jesus. It’s a reminder that He sent Jesus to die and rise again so we might spend eternity with Him. It’s a reminder of His incredible love for mankind, a love He wants us to share with each other.

So the cards may not go out on time this year, but I’ll still send them out — and I’ll remember.

Christmas Programs and Improvisation

missyredboots114This past Sunday was the last Sunday before Christmas, and the pastor of our church wanted the children to do a special program. We attend a very small church, however, and some of the children don’t attend on a regular basis, so planning a Christmas program wasn’t easy. Add to that the fact that we had bad weather on Friday, and it became even harder to put together. Instead of a practicing a skit, then, I offered that my children prepare a few Christmas songs to sing or play on the piano.

We had the same sort of program planned for our nursing home visit this month, and it went well. I had the older children read parts of the Christmas story from Scripture in between the music selections. We didn’t have a lot of time to practice before the church service, but we had done it before, so all would be fine.

Or so I thought. During Sunday School, I was told that on the days the children have a presentation, the pastor doesn’t plan a message. We would have a lot more time, then, and nothing to do in it. I asked my husband, who is very good at public speaking, if he would read the scripture and fill in where necessary. He agreed, and I felt a little better…

…until the service began. My husband started reading the first few verses from the Bible, and I told my oldest son John to get his piano music ready to play. He opened his folder and searched through it, but his two pieces of music were missing!  He panicked and became upset; as I tried to calm him down, telling him not to worry about it, my husband finished the verses. I motioned to him to keep going, which he did, while John went to search in the car for his music. He never did find it, so after he returned we sang a Christmas carol and moved on with our presentation.

After more scripture, my daughter Lillie played her song on the piano, and we sang again. During the third carol, though, my youngest, Luke, decided he would sing directly into his microphone. This would have been all right if he had known the words. He didn’t know any of them, though, and instead made up his own as we tried to sing. My other children started giggling, and I couldn’t help laughing (quietly, of course), so much of that carol went unsung.

After church was over, the children all agreed it was not a good program. “Well,” I answered, “we learned some things. We learned that sometimes things don’t go just right, and you need to improvise. And even when that happens, Christ can still be honored by our efforts. And we learned that we need to be careful when we give Luke a microphone.”

“Yes,” my daughter Cassie answered, “it wasn’t the best program, but it sure was the most fun!”

My Birthday, Jesus’ Birthday

01 birthdayWhen my oldest son was about five years old, we went to a “Happy Birthday, Jesus!” party at the church we were attending. The pastor’s wife read the book My Birthday, Jesus’ Birthday by Holly Davis. It was the first time I had heard the story, but I really liked it at the time.

A couple of years later, we were traveling to visit family when we stopped for a break at a shopping center with outlet stores. In one of those stores, I found that same book on sale and purchased it for our family. And it’s been one of my favorite Christmas books ever since.

The story is actually a comparison between “my” birthday and Jesus’ birthday, or Christmas. On the left side of each spread, the narrator tells about the time she was born; for example, on one page she talks about how her parents carefully thought about and chose her name. The right side of the spread, then, compares it with the time when Jesus was born, as God told Mary and Joseph what the baby’s name would be. The narrator was born in a hospital; Jesus was born in a stable. The narrator’s grandparents came to visit when she was born; the shepherds came to visit the new baby Jesus.

The book continues in this way to the last page, which features a big birthday cake with the words “Happy Birthday, Jesus!” on it. The text, the layout, and the illustrations all make this an ideal book for teaching little ones about Christmas. We’ve used ours so much over the years that some of the pages are coming out.

So today I searched the Internet for another copy, and sadly realized…My Birthday, Jesus’ Birthday is out of print! The only ones I found for sale were way over-priced. I did find it at a few libraries, however; even if your library doesn’t carry it, you could probably get a copy from an inter-library loan service. Perhaps Zondervan  (the original publisher) will print it again, but until they do, I’ll be keeping an eye out for a used copy. This book really is a great find!

Lessons on Parade

JGS_mF_AndHeresSanta…Or perhaps this should be entitled, “Lessons from the Parade?”

This past weekend, we followed a family tradition we began five years ago: we entered the Christmas parade of a neighboring small town. For a small fee, we enter the “Non-Commercial Vehicle” category, decorate our old pick-up truck according the theme of the parade, and dress up appropriately. The children and I ride in the back and toss candy while my husband drives. At the end of the parade, plaques are awarded for first, second, and third place in each category. All in all, it’s a really fun time.

This year, though, the theme was a little harder to develop, so I waited… and waited…and waited for inspiration to hit, which it never really did. We worked hard on the decorations, though, and we thought we had a chance of placing. But the weather was damp, and the duck tape we were using to hold our decorations to the truck wasn’t sticking. We were still rushing around as the parade was about to begin, fixing this, taping that. During the parade, I even had to hop out of the truck and walk along beside it so I could pick up anything that fell off!

We made it past the judges in one piece, though, and they gave us a good score. We took first place in our category (yay!), and we were all surprised. But there were some good lessons learned:

1. Cuteness counts!  My youngest, Luke, was dressed as a chick in an egg, and Lillie, my nine-year old, dressed as a farm cat. I think that helped a lot!

2. Prepare ahead of time! I waited too long to get started on this project. While we finished our design in time, it was stressful trying to get it all done.

3. Enjoy the process!  While the kids enjoyed the parade, they also enjoyed working on it. They painted almost all the props, and Luke especially was proud of his work. To me, this was the best part of the parade this year.

So, are we going to be ready next year? I’ll answer with a “Yes!” — that is, if we’ve learned our lessons!

Counting Down to Christmas

calendarWhen my oldest child was little, I found an advent calendar in a catalog that I really liked. It had 25 pockets with a number on each one; inside the pockets were hidden characters to include in a nativity scene: shepherds, wise men, sheep, camels, Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus. Every day in December, the child pulls out one of the characters from the corresponding pocket and sticks it onto a background. Of course, baby Jesus would be in Pocket 25.

At the time, we didn’t have much extra money to spend, so I made my own calendar using felt for the background, pockets, and characters; fabric paint for the numbers; and Velcro pieces to make the characters adhere to the stable scene. And we’ve been using that calendar ever since. Though I’ve had to replace a few pieces along the way, it’s been one of our favorite traditions for counting down to Christmas.

A friend of mine recently told me of one of their traditions: they make paper chains from construction paper with the days numbered on them, then tape one on each child’s door where they can reach them. Every day, then, the children get to remove one link of the chain. A variation of this would be to put a verse from the Christmas story in the Bible on each link; then, when the children remove the link, they can work on memorizing the verse.

One family we know counted down the days by setting up a nativity scene with all of the pieces except the wise men and their camels. They would set them far away from the display, perhaps on a windowsill or bookshelf. Then, every morning, they would move them a little closer to the scene, until finally, on Christmas Eve, the wise men would arrive at the manger.

Does your family have a favorite way of counting down to Christmas?

Organized Christmas.com

pinkballThis fall has flown by. Thanksgiving was here before I knew it, and now Christmas is on its way. Many people we know already have their trees up and decorations out, but we haven’t even brought out the boxes from the attic. Once we do, it usually takes us a couple of days to get everything set up — a couple of days of chaos, that is.

And then there are the gifts. I have much of my holiday shopping already completed (whew!), but we plan to take treats to our neighbors this year. And what about Christmas cards? It’s been nice keeping up with friends on Facebook, but there are others who haven’t joined that I need to get in contact with.

How to do it all, and without much stress? I’m finding help at OrganizedChristmas.com. If I had started back in August, I could have worked the Holiday Grand Plan — an 18-week schedule for organizing and cleaning your home in time for the holidays. There’s also a 6-week Christmas Countdown beginning the first of October so your holiday preparations are done by December 1. Though I missed those dates, it’s okay — there are still a lot of resources on the site for a late-comer like me.

Under the section entitled “Simplify Holidays”, you’ll find links to articles and free printables for just about any aspect of the season that’s overwhelming you. You’ll find tips and resources for creating a holiday budget, setting up a Christmas calendar, writing Christmas letters, and cutting down on clutter. These pages also include ideas for frugal gift giving, holiday cooking, decorating, and simplifying traditions. There’s even a section about teaching children how to give.

So if you (like me) are feeling a bit behind these days, don’t. Visit Organized Christmas, find some good ideas, and enjoy the season!

The Christmas Stick

01 christmasWith Thanksgiving almost here and Black Friday following close behind, I’ve (finally) begun thinking about Christmas. If you’re like me and starting a little bit later this year, you might want to put The Christmas Stick on your gift list. It’s a brand new book, and one that the whole family will enjoy.

Written by Jack Marryn, this Christmas story has something for everyone; children will love the pirate adventure and colorful illustrations, while parents will appreciate the lesson it conveys. The main character is a boy who finds only one gift for himself under the Christmas tree: a stick. He’s sure Santa has made a mistake, but he follows his dad’s directions and goes outside to play, taking his stick with him. He soon discovers, though, that the stick can be anything, from a spyglass to a boat to a sword. And he realizes it’s just what he asked for — “the best gift” for him.

The author adds a note at the back regarding the inspiration for the story, and it’s one I’m sure most parents can relate to. While Marryn was waiting for his son who was at a birthday party, he took his daughter to the park and gave her a very “special” stick. She played with that stick for hours, even taking it home with her that night. I love to see my children playing outside, too, with just the objects they find on the ground and their imaginations.

Not only would The Christmas Stick make a nice gift, but it could also be the start of a new holiday tradition. A friend of mine purchases a Christmas book every Christmas season to share with her family, so every year their collection grows by one book. During the holidays, they read them aloud together. By the time the children are adults, the collection will be one they’ll cherish.

Remember, though, if you plan to give The Christmas Stick as a gift this season, be sure to include a couple of sticks with it — one for your child… and one for you! 🙂

The Best-Laid Plans

img_1852We began this past school year in early August. I printed off calendar pages and marked in our school days to 180. I planned for our breaks around holidays and family visits. By all calculations, we would be finished in early to mid-May.

Now it’s mid-May, and I’m looking again at the number of school days we have left – more than a few. I’m also looking at the amount of work we still need to finish – also quite a bit. So what happened? To paraphrase John Steinbeck, the best-laid plans of this homeschool mom often go awry.

Each year, I plan out our school days, and each year, life always alters those plans. This year we had some health issues, family issues, and financial issues to deal with, all of which didn’t work into my scheduled days. So, once again, we’ll be schooling into the summer in order to be ready for the next school year in the fall.

But that’s one of the advantages of homeschooling. Life brings challenges to everyone, but when you’re homeschooling, you have the time to step back from the studies and work them out. If you’re child has a behavioral problem, you can cut back on the math assignments and deal with it. If a struggling friend needs someone to talk with, you can delay the history lesson for a day. If a family member is facing a health crisis and needs extra help, you can pack up the kids and the schoolbooks and lend a hand.

I know I’m easily distracted by minor things that come up, and I need to be diligent in helping the children get their schoolwork done. But as a homeschooler, I can also feel the freedom to take care of bigger problems when I need to, knowing that there’s always the summer to catch up. I just have to convince my children that year-round schooling isn’t so bad.