Thursday, December 18, 2014

Ringing the bell: a favorite Christmas tradition

I am heading up to the airport in just a little bit to pick up a friend, Tricia, who is going to be staying with us over Christmas! Tomorrow another friend, Stacey, is flying in and then in a few more days Tricia's husband is flying in. We're going to have so much fun!!

I wanted to pop in right quick and share some pictures from what has become one of my favorite Christmas traditions with my kiddos-- ringing bells! When I saw that the temps were going to be in the upper 50s on Saturday, I signed us up. 


In addition to taking turns ringing the bell, the kids handed out candy to the Walmart shoppers. They kept saying, "it's free! it's free!" 


And both kids were awesome bell ringers. 


The two hour shift wasn't all smiles and eager servant's hearts, but in the big picture we've accomplished what I had hoped to achieve. Several individuals made sure to tell me that the kids really made them smile; one gal said they just turned her entire day around. We did have fun and fortunately most people thought the rambunctiousness and enthusiasm was endearing. 


We collected $210.44 during our two hour shift. I don't have hard evidence, but I am convinced that people give more when cute kids are around. I am so glad that the money will be used to help those in need around our community and that my kids have been a part of that!


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Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Favorite Devotional and Bible Story Book

I have found myself lately telling everyone I know about a couple of books that we super love. I have even bought multiple copies for multiple kiddos this year for Christmas! I wanted to go ahead and share them because I think you'll love them too! 

First is the Hide & Seek Devotional by Stephen Elkins. 


I'm going to try to keep this concise and not go on forever about this book. We'll see how that works out. But first, here's what Amazon has to say:  
This book contains 52 Bible stories, devotions, verses, prayers, and a link for a free audio download of Scripture memory songs children will love singing along to. Narrated by Kirk Cameron, this full-length album reinforces the Bible verses and helps children commit them to memory.

So there are 52 "lessons". There are 26 verses from the new testament, one for every letter of the alphabet. The same goes for the old testament. 



Each letter has a verse, a story, a song, a practical application, and a prayer. The story and the song can both be downloaded once you purchase the book. It's full of so much good stuff! 



One of my favorite parts: it ends every story pointing us to check out scripture... and we do!



So that's the rundown of the book. Now, this is how we use it: We do one "letter" a week. We'll start with the verse and the story on Sunday. We'll go over the practical application, too, though the kids are pretty fidgety by the time we get there because we spend time practicing and repeating the verse. But then, we just spend the rest of the week going back and talking about the story and application. That's it! It's so simple, but it really sinks in!


What I love about our "system" is that we drive each topic into the ground so it sticks! We aren't just moving along from one verse/story/application to the next every day. The songs are catchy and the topics are easy to talk about. We have the kids repeat their verse each day on their chore chart and the applications just naturally come up in conversations because the book does a great job of applying scripture and it's meaning into the lives of children (and adults who are humbled at the simple lessons that we are still working on!). 

Ultimately, I want my kids to know and love scripture. But even more, I want spiritual topics to be natural and easy-- just a part of life! I want my kids to know that God's Word is relevant outside of the 5-10 minute window that we sit down at night to read the Bible. Using the scripture and the book's applications it's so easy to talk about the lessons in our day to day life. Most of these conversations lasted probably 2-3 minutes. Nothing lengthy, nothing super deep- just natural conversation. Even when I think that the Bible verse is a weird one to have kids memorize, it turns out that we all needed to apply it to our lives that week. 



I love hearing my kids repeat the verses they've memorized. And I love watching my kids make connections from scripture on their lives. Remember Jackson's birthday survey? He made a list of things he wanted to be when he grew up. And then he said, "But God might have a different plan, so I'll just have to see!" This topic came from the scripture:
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways," declares the Lord. Isaiah 55:8-9
Throughout that week, we had talked about God's plans and Derek and I were able to share personal examples from when God's plans turns out different that our own, but how God's plan is always best! We talked about the jobs Derek wanted to have when he grew up, but things worked out differently. And we shared with them about how we thought we weren't going to have any more babies and God surprised us with Caroline! Without the book to give us the scripture and provide the application, I'm not sure we would have just thought to openly share our personal stories and testimony of God working in our lives, just like we want God to work in their lives.


Let it be said, I'm far from a perfect, spiritual mom! In fact, we've yet to be super consistent ever since Caroline has been born. Honestly, the kids miss it and have asked for it. We need to start it up again on a more permanent basis! This book is far from God-breathed words of scripture, as well. However, I'm continually trying to be the best mom (in lots of areas) and this is how and what I've utilized to help teach my kids about the Bible. You may have this same book and utilize it completely differently and that's okay! We have found it to be super helpful to get in the Word with our kids. 

The publisher recommends this book for ages 4-8. Jackson is 6, Isabelle is 3. When we started doing this book this fall, Isabelle surpassed all my expectations in terms of participation, scripture memory, and understanding basic principles. She stays right on track with Jackson in memorization. She doesn't always make the application connection, but she tries. With her, I just love that she talks and asks questions about the Bible and it's stories. I often simplify some the application, so this would be a great for older kids too. 

Okay, moving on to the next book! This is a book that I won during a fun little giveaway at MOPS this fall when the speaker did an Oprah-inspired giveaway of her favorite ways to talk about and teach spirituality to our kiddos. 

It's called The Big God Story by Michelle Anthony. Here's what Amazon has to say:
In this fast-paced journey through the Old and New Testaments, kids will hear the stories of the Garden of Eden, the great Flood, the Promised Land, the kings of Israel, the holy baby born in a stable, and some unlikely friends who started a new church. Each part of the narrative highlights a different aspect of God’s faithfulness to us. Ultimately, readers will see how they fit into God’s big story of love when they write their names in the book on the last page! This beautiful picture book also teaches children about God’s promise of a Redeemer through the visual portrayal of a glowing star and the insightful connections back to the person of Jesus on almost every page.
What it boils down to, is that this book is 32 pages that probably takes 5 minutes to read. It starts with creation, talks about Noah, Abraham, Joseph, Moses, Joshua, Judges, Kings, Daniel, Esther, Nehemiah and then proceeds to Jesus birth, his life, his crucifixion and resurrection and then his return. I suppose I should have mentioned this was a spoiler alert! 

What I love about this book is that it presents God's story all in one setting-- from the beginning to the end. It highlights how everything in the Bible has to do with God's plan to send his son and for us to accept his gift of salvation. The ends with an invitation to become a part of God's Big Story, too! 

Again, the publisher recommends this book for ages 4-8. Isabelle loves this book and she is excited to give it to her cousin! I'd say it's a perfect book to read at any age! Ages 0-99+. 

I have two copies of each of these books wrapped under my tree. I know they aren't as thrilling as opening new toys (and don't worry, I threw in some toys for the recipients, too!) but I'm just so excited to think that these tools can be used to teach and mold the spiritual lives of some of my most favorite little people!

What books and/or resources do you use with your kiddos?

(This post isn't sponsored and these aren't affiliated links. I just love these books and wanted to share! All images are from Amazon.)

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Friday, December 12, 2014

Crafty Christmas Decorations

So back when Derek was in Chicago, I was overcome with craftiness! I wanted some kid-inspired Christmas decorations that would last a long time. I came across this idea from an appropriately named blog, Pinterest told me to.... I had to make some tweaks because we needed a canvas big enough for 5 feet and I also really wanted to have a nativity picture in there too! Oh, and I bought glitter paint. I wanted to glitter all the things, but I tried to keep it it simple. 


The tree is made from Jackson's handprints (bottom two rows) and Isabelle's handprints (top three rows). Their thumbprints make the ornaments!


Here are our snowman feet! Left to right: Derek, Jackson, Caroline, Belle, and me! The trickiest part of this project was coming up with the hat and scarf accessories. I am a great copy cat crafty person. But when I need to make up ideas on my own, it stresses me out! Like who should wear what? What paper should I use on who? My sister Laura helped me with my decision making.  I love how it all came together though! 


I kind of winged this picture. It's Caroline's little foot!


Isabelle's hand! I had a really hard time trying to figure out how to make the project completely even between the kiddos. Eventually, I conceded that it just wasn't practical and I wasn't brave enough to try to get a handprint from Caroline. Belle did this picture because she stays awake longer than Jackson at night and I wanted to finish the project. :)


I love having kid projects on my walls and I love that the canvas dresses it up so it's nice enough to be on our family room walls. 


The tree that's on my wall is actually the second one we made. After I made all of the pictures, I texted a pic to my mom and she asked if she could have one. So I brought her the original and we made another. 


One of my favorite bloggers is hosting a Christmas Tour Of Homes and so while I was taking pictures of our handprint project, I thought I'd take a few shots of some of Christmas decorations this year. I love having a tree in front of a window so people can see it when they drive by. We put it in corner for the first time this year and I love the open space in our family room.


A new thing I did this year is that I bought some simple ornaments and hung them in front of the windows and I love the simple touch of Christmas that it adds! I even added some to the kid's room because it's just so simple and fun. 


Here's a shot of another family room wall. That painting on the wall is one I made last year when my sister and I went to a canvas painting party! 


You can see my Willow Tree nativity in the book case in the picture above. I love having nativities throughout the house. We have three in the front room and a magnet set on the fridge. The kids are always rearranging them (except for my nativity-- no little hands allowed!) and I love seeing how they've been set up. 


Like this for example. The angel is "up in heaven" and they wanted Chief (our fish) to see the nativity, too! 


And for added cuteness, here's baby Caroline sharing her excitement for Christmas! :)











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Wednesday, December 10, 2014

It's the most wonderful time of the year! (2014)

We got into full time Christmas mode right after Thanksgiving. It's my most favorite time of year! I'm pretty sure I say that every year and that I name my blog posts accordingly... but it's true and it fits, so I'll just go with it!

We decorated the tree and put up Christmas lights on the day after Thanksgiving. Now, in terms of lawn inflatables, Derek and I have never really seen eye to eye. I feel it's basically a victory to have put this off as long as possible, but we did welcome a new Christmas decoration this year-- an inflatable Yoda for the front yard. Even though it makes me roll my eyes every time we drive home, it also makes me smile because the rest of my family absolutely loves him.

Yoda has become so much more than a lawn ornament-- he is now a friend to Belle. She'll ask, "Mom, can I go say goodbye to Yoda?" when we are loading up in the van or "Mom, can I to talk to Yoda?" She'll play with him in the front yard and literally just talk to him about her day. I did catch some video of her showing me her fighting moves that Yoda has taught her. I couldn't make this stuff up if I tried!


We made our annual visit to The Bass Pro Shop to see Santa and to check out the store. Jackson asked for "Transformers and awesome toys." Isabelle asked for "a real life reindeer." Hhhmm... I'm working on getting her heart set on something else! 


Last week, Jackson had his first school performance! His class sang a Christmas medley. The kids were pretty humorous to watch. There were obvious parts of the songs they didn't know as well and so it got really, really quiet. But then they'd just pipe back up as soon as they were familiar with the words. Jackson has really grown out of his anti-participation in choir and it's so fun to watch. Look at my handsome little fella!!! 


I have done the majority of my shopping online this year and I'm not sure I can go back to trying to doing my Christmas shopping in stores! I mean, to sit on my comfy couch where it's cozy and warm... and then for the package to arrive in two to five days-- it's genius. I love it. And the good news is that I'm pretty much all done! It feels really good to be done with the shopping so I can spend the next few weeks just doing fun Christmas things with the kiddos. I do need to take them shopping for Derek but we have to hold off on that as long as possible because there is a certain three-year-old who is a terrible secret keeper! :)

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Sunday, December 7, 2014

Water park weekend

Over the past two weeks, Derek has been out of town most days for a big conference up in Chicago. He came home super late Thursday night and we loved having home and spending the day together on Friday. This weekend was his army weekend so he left the house before the sun came up on Saturday morning. The annual FRG Christmas lunch was scheduled for today and so Derek and I decided that the kids and I should come up a day early to have some special family fun time!

So, the kids and I made a trip up to St. Joseph yesterday! We checked into our hotel and waited for Derek to be released around dinner time and we had all evening together. It felt like a nice little vacation for the kids and me. Poor Derek still had to go into work both days this weekend so it wasn't quite a vacation for him, but he was super glad to have some family time in what is normally a weekend away from us. 

We booked a super fun motel that's really close to the armory. I haven't ever been, but it boasted about a water park and a nice military discount, so we booked it. I joked with my mom earlier this week that I thought it'd be nothing more than a 3 foot pool with a slide. But it turns out, it was actually a pretty cool little water park! 








The big kids had so much fun. It was Caroline's first time in the pool! She was pretty chill about the whole ordeal despite the noise and water splashing in her face from her big siblings. 

We took a break from swimming to grab some dinner and check out a neat light display at Krug Park. Again, the kids loved it. 



After we passed by the lit-up nativity scene, Jackson told us that the Bible says Jesus will come back to earth some day. And then he asked if we knew when he was coming. I told him that the Bible says that no one will know when Jesus is coming back and that it'll be a big surprise. And Isabelle chimes in and asks, "Will he say boo?" Ha. I'm still laughing at that. 

We headed over to the armory for lunch (after swimming squeezing in a quick swim this morning, of course!). Santa even came to visit! The kids absolutely love getting to hang out at "Daddy's Army Work."


Whenever we have family days up at the armory, Home Depot always comes by with boxes of building sets for the kids! It's such a small little gesture on their behalf, but my kids love it. It means a lot that they support our military kids! 


We had such a wonderful weekend! I feel like I say this all of the time, but spending time with my family is my most favorite thing in the world. And my heart is just so full when we get to do fun things and make special memories. 

That being said, I'm also looking forward to getting back to our normal weekly routine. Only it won't quite be a normal routine because we have a lot of cleaning to 1) catch up from being behind while Derek traveled and 2) get ready for our friends who are coming to visit over Christmas! Less than two weeks-- I can't wait!!!

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