Wednesday, December 30, 2015

A Very Pleasants Christmas

With a move to a new state last week, let's just say Christmas this year was a little different.  The only tree that got put up was our Americana one and we did manage to hang the stockings.  But that was it.  Not very festive, but enough.

This was before we fixed my husband's stocking and hung it right.  I promise we did before Christmas! ;)

Honestly, it came down to the fact that we were just grateful we were together this year.  All six of us.

In many ways it also took the "world" out of Christmas and reminded us to put Christ right in front. Not a bad place for Him to be, don't you think?

We pray you has a beautiful holiday season and pray that you too put Christ in the middle of all you do!

And now for the rest of the story, in pictures...

Horrible picture of me, but me trying to smolder cracked Clarke up!  For those who know my serious husband, this is classic!  And a keeper!  WE are SO THANKFUL to see him laughing in person!


Monday, December 28, 2015

That's What Friends Are For!

This month has been a crazy month for us. Yes, I know you are shaking your head, yes, December is crazy for everyone right?

But behind the scenes here at Family, Faith and Fridays, I have a husband who was deployed for over a YEAR return home and we bought a house and moved to another state.  In the snow , no less. On top of that I started a new position with The Schoolhouse Review Crew.  Oh, and on top of that and most importantly, I was determined to make sure my family was able to have a peaceful (well, mostly peaceful) Christmas, focused on the birth of Christ!

Yep, crazy month.

With a little, nope, A LOT, of help from some friends. we survived and manged to blog, well, they did mostly, through our December series, The Gift Of Christmas!

A BIG THANK YOU goes to these awesome friends and bloggers! And can I just mention that only one of these sweet ladies have I met in person.  They are just that generous and thoughtful! I hope you will continue to stop by their blogs and bless them with the same love you bless me with daily!

December 2nd- Robyn started us out with Prepping for Christmas.  This amazing friend, speaker, wife, mom, and Israel tour guide (she has a few spots still open for their next tour!) will inspire you and make you laugh along the way!  You can find her faith filled and humor infused stories at A Closer Walk.

December 4th- Rebeka at There Will be a $5.00 Charge for whining!  If you have not read Rebeka's blog, go now.  Her humor and realness speak to me.  And make me giggle!  And I am pretty sure we could not live near each other becasue we get nothing done amidst the giggling.

December 7th- Leah at As We Walk Along the Road shared her family's tradition of The Jesse Tree.  I love the idea of creating a family tradition that can be done year after year.  Leah is a powerful prayer warrior that blessed me throughout the past year with her loving prayers.

December 9th- Holly at Gypsy Road taught us how to make a Advent Calendar.  Holly is living my dream life traveling with her family, and makes my sons happy with all of her great Lego-schooling posts!  I think I want her life.

December 11th- Cristi at Through the Calm and Through the Storm shared her Chili and Cornbread Recipe.  As a fellow military wife (who totally gets me) and momma, this is a on-line friend I am determined to meet in person this year if it is the last thing I do!

December 14th- Carol shared a beautiful post about Seeking God that brought tears to my eyes! She blogs at Home Sweet Life, is a very talented writer, and is one of my 34 Weeks of Clean buddies!

December 16th- Tawnee from Adventures in Homeschooling shared all about new traditions you can start with your kids.  You will love this fellow military wife's Random Friday posts.  I may just have to jump on that bandwagon in January!

December 18th- Lori shared her favorite Holiday books.  Who doesn't love books?! You can find Lori at At Home: where life happens, blogging about life, her three girls, and reviewing products.  Another sweet prayer warrior!

December 23- Kym at Homeschool Coffee Break talked about the Gift of Traditions.  I love her advice on simple, togetherness and memories!  Traditions make holidays such special memories.

Wow, I am exhausted!  How about you?

We have a Christmas in pictures post going up on the 30th, and then we will start off the New Year with  some move updates, some vacation fun, and more!  Until then,


Friday, December 25, 2015

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

The Gift of December- The Gift of Traditions

During December, my calendar tends to fill up quickly, and my pocketbook tends to empty more quickly. Our family is busy during the holiday season with all kinds of special activities and events, plus decorating and gift-giving, and often traveling. We enjoy all these things, of course, but in the busy-ness, we realized we were probably doing some of those things "just because" and not taking time to appreciate the meaning behind some of them. Leading up last December, my husband and I started really talking about family traditions that surrounded the holidays, and reflecting on those traditions that we had adopted from our own backgrounds. We decided that the childhood memories that were precious to us we wanted to pass on to our own children, but we hoped also to create something that was unique to our family. We wanted to give our children the gift of traditions.
We decided we wanted to create something that would become our own family tradition for the holidays. But where to start? Our guidelines were that whatever we came up with should be simple, promote togetherness, and make memories. 

Simple - Don't work too hard at layering things with meanings and symbolism. If it's elaborate or expensive, it may become burdensome to continue. There is joy in simple things, especially for children. When we asked our kids about some of the things they most wanted to do during the holidays, or the best memories they had of past holidays, we were surprised at the simplicity of the memories and desires that stood out to them. Doing puzzles or playing games together; baking favorite cookies; or playing in the snow.

Togetherness - The whole idea is to bring the family together, so we looked for activities that we could all enjoy together. That doesn't mean that everything we do is everyone's favorite, but because it holds great meaning for at least one of us, the rest of us will take joy in being a part of it. I'm not very good at doing puzzles, but some of my family members love doing that, so I sit down at the table and do my best to participate, simply because they want me to be there. Food is a great way to bring people together, so preparing special dishes or meals together and then gathering around the table to enjoy the food and the company is a centerpiece of many beloved traditions.

Memories - The funny thing about memories is that you can't always plan them. Sometimes they just happen. But you can pass on your family's stories, and your childhood memories, and start asking kids about their favorite things that they remember from past holidays.

So, what tradition did we create for our family? We borrowed from the old custom of the Twelve Days of Christmas. With input from all the family members, we made a sort of "bucket list" of the things we wanted to enjoy together during the Christmas season. Some items on the list were favorites from years past and so already had some tradition attached to them; some were activities that were specific to that year (such as a party we were attending, or starting to shop for a new vehicle); and all were family-oriented, close to home, and relatively inexpensive. We had a very long list to choose from, and we didn't get to do everything on the list, but we believe that we've begun something that will tie our family heritage and childhood memories to the present and create memories too. Maybe our Days of Christmas List will become a tradition that future generations will enjoy, as they create their own memories.

Traditions are a gift. The gift of family identity and harmony. The gift of being connected to our heritage. The gift of continuing the best of that heritage. The gift of spiritual and family values. The gift of shared memories.

Kym is in the middle of the 18th year of homeschooling her four kids, two of whom have graduated. She and her husband of 28 years are Canadians transplanted to Maryland. Kym loves coffee, history, and homeschooling, and you can join her for coffee break at her blog, Homeschool Coffee Break.

Monday, December 21, 2015

The Eagle Has Landed

In case you missed it, after a three week heads up, a month and a half of training, and then 53 weeks of separation, he is home!

This is what happiness looks like.

There is so much I want to say, but just can't put it all into words quite yet.  It has been a long, hard road and I am still processing what it all means to me.  I promise to get back to you on that.

In the meantime-
thank you for your prayers.
thank you for your encouragement.
thank you for your love for our family.
thank you for being the hands and feet of Jesus.

And thank you, Lord, for sustaining us through it all!


Friday, December 18, 2015

The Gift of December- Favorite Books

I am so excited to be able to share with you all today. Michele has been an amazing friend and help to me since I joined the Review Crew. She is always encouraging and helpful. I am so excited to be able to give back to her in this little way as she and her family have such a busy and exciting December.

Candles. Trees. Wreaths. Cookies. Gifts. Carols. All these have something in common. Have you figured it out? They are all traditions. For our family, one of our very favorite traditions is books. Yes, we are a book loving family. Going to garage sales is fun for us but we don't stop unless they have books. We attend the Friends of the Library Book Sale every single time they have it. November is the HUGE one (something like 100,000 books) but they also have one three other times in the year. We get fantastic deals there. And, I always find at least one lovely new book to add to our Christmas tradition.

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Today, I want to share a few very special books with you that are truly important to our family.

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The Farolitos of Christmas by Rudolfo Anaya

I grew up in New Mexico. And while that is right next door to where we currently live, it is another world. In just about every single way. So, this book allows us to share ideas and traditions that I grew up with. Luz is a young girl who loves her family very much. But they have been torn apart by war. At Christmastime. Missing her father and trying to help her mother and ill grandfather, keeping up with school and friends, and striving to not lose her hope, Luz focuses on traditions to help her through the struggle. Her friend is putting up a tree with a tin star for the top. Her school is putting on a special performance that they have studied for. And her grandfather will be doing the luminarias? Or will he? He is so sick the doctor tells him to stay inside. But the luminarias are an important tradition. Not just for Luz and her family but for the whole community. What can they do? The importance placed on family and tradition is a big part of what I love so much about this book. Before we started homeschooling, our oldest chose this book as being representative of our family traditions so we took it to her classroom and read it to her friends. We love this book and share it all we can.

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The Night of Las Posadas

Another book from New Mexico is an important addition to our holiday book stack. This one is there because it shows some of the beauty of family and community seen throughout the state and that my mom and dad always showed to others. This is the story of a community's Las Posadas, the procession of Mary and Joseph to the inn to find a safe place for the birth of Baby Jesus. While our family doesn't celebrate December 25 specifically as the birth of Jesus, since the Bible doesn't tell us when that was, we do believe in the importance of Jesus and think this is a great time to share Him with those who may not know Him. So this beautiful story of the procession in northern New Mexico is lovely. This is a tradition among most of the communities in New Mexico. You can find some beautiful photos of these live processions on the internet. We always take time to look at the real Las Posadas and remember Jesus, giving thanks to God for sending Him to redeem us. This book is one way we take time for that each year. And, last but not least . . . I couldn't decide. So I'll do two more.

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The Tiny Star by Arthur Ginolfi

This is a sweet little book that highlights the beauty of each of us. The little star feels inadequate (don't we all at some point?) and unable to be of use. But, unexpectedly, the star falls out of the sky to one amazingly important job. We all have something to do and we need to work at it with all our heart. Colossians 3:17 And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.

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The Donkey's Christmas Song by Nancy Tafuri

This is another sweet little book that helps us focus on our strengths and seeing that we are all different. However, in spite of our differences, we are all special and important. God uses those differences to make beautiful things, including an unusual chorus that bring laughter to a special little baby. May your traditions be beautiful, special, and specially yours. May your Christmas season bring you closer to God.


 photo 62bc5ee0-978f-4631-991b-ea7b41be70a7_zps4cdzbul8.jpgI blog at At Home: where life happens. I have been married for 20 years and have three giggly girls. At home truly is where life happens so that is what I write about.

Thank you, Lori for sharing such beautiful books!  We always love adding to our Christmas book basket each year.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

The Gift of December-5 Christmas Traditions to Start With Your Kids


 Christmas traditions are important. If you didn't grow up with them, you might not realize it, but they are. Some of the best memories I have of my childhood are those that surround traditions. Every Christmas we decorated the house after Thanksgiving. We went to Christmas Eve service as a family and then went to my grandparents house and my grandfather read the Christmas story. We had an advent calendar and looked forward to it every night of Advent. We watched Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer as a family and had popcorn. We had hot apple cider at my grandmother's house while we unwrapped presents. These are traditions that I look forward to. Some more than others but they were dependable and full of memories and love and, most importantly, family. So if you have not started traditions in your home, then you will want to get going. 

Establishing some traditions and making those memories with their kids is an important part of the holidays. They don't have to be big and detailed traditions. They don't have to be expensive or time consuming, but they do need to be thoughtful and consistent. Establishing traditions is easy. You just find something that you enjoy to do as a family and do it. If you enjoy it, do it again next year. And, voila, a tradition is born! You may even have established a few holiday traditions in your home that you haven't even realized.

Do you get out a calendar on December 1st and count down the days until Christmas? Tradition.
 Do you make cookies with your kids and decorate them and take them to grandma's house? Tradition.
 Do you make a gift for a needy family and take it to them at Christmas? Tradition.
Do you make hot chocolate on Christmas eve and watch a movie or read a story? Tradition.

So think about it? Do you have a family tradition for Christmas? Is there something your kids ask about as they look forward to the holidays? I was actually surprised at some of the traditions we had established as they weren't necessarily intentional but have become one of the favorite parts of Christmas for my kids. So if you haven't gotten a few traditions going for your family, here are some ideas to get you started!

file1791315420853  COUNT DOWN TO CHRISTMAS- I know I have mentioned it several times, but counting down the days until Christmas is a fun tradition for you and the kids. (And, I must admit, allows you to easily answer the incessant questions of 'how many days until Christmas, mom?") You can count down the days in many ways. You can make or buy a fancy calendar or simply mark off the days on a regular calendar. We have tried many different ways. We have had candy for each day (not my favorite because I don't like to encourage candy before bed but they sure loved it!) We have built a Lego Christmas village one piece each night until completed. We have done the paper construction paper chain with a Bible verse on each chain link that is removed each night. We have added an ornament to the tree each day and, this year, we are doing a Jesse Tree. No matter what you choose to do, have fun with it. Do the same each year or do something different each year. Either is establishing a tradition.

READ A BOOK -We read an Advent or Christmas story book each night before bed during December. I get at least one new book every year. And in our house Christmas Eve is a two story night with the Christmas Story from the Bible and The Night Before Christmas book (my 1955 Golden Book edition that was read to me). Making reading a tradition is fun and you can find some great seasonal books at the library if you need more ideas.

SERVE OTHERS- One of the best traditions you can do is serve others in some way. Since the Christmas seasons is about giving, why not give to others. You can do this in any way you choose but making it a tradition will pass on the 'reason for the season' - that it's better to give than receive. You can serve a meal at a shelter. Prepare and deliver a meal to a shut in. Visit a nursing home. Take cookies to a neighbor or sick friend. Send letters to your elderly family. Visit at Veteran's Home and take some Christmas cards. Or just do some random acts of kindness. Anything is helpful and appreciated and teaches your kids that Christmas is more than receiving presents from Santa. Be creative and have fun doing for others.

DECORATE TOGETHER My kids LOVE to decorate. Well, at least my oldest. She enjoys making decorations. So we make it a tradition to decorate together. She makes a new decoration or we make it together and then we spend some time putting it in a fun place and talking about what else we need. Homemade ornaments and construction paper snowmen are great. Keep them, make a scrapbook and then look back over the old decorations. You will be glad you did.

FIND ONE SPECIALTY DISH AND COOK IT TOGETHER A fun thing to do as a family is to find one specialty dish that you will bring or serve to Christmas day and bring to all those other holiday pitch ins and then perfect it, make it your own, and find a job for each person in your family when preparing it. Then the whole family can take part in making the dish together. If everyone takes part in the dish, it makes it that much more special and will become the go-to dish for you throughout the holidays.

There are so many more traditions that you can establish. Don't be afraid to start one but don't try to start 10 just this week. Just pick one or two things and see what your kids like. You may be surprised at what they will enjoy doing together! No matter what you have established as a tradition, know that your kids love it. They will remember it and they will likely try to pass on the joy they found in it on to their family someday. And every time they make those cookies or read that story, they will think of their childhood and the wonderful memories they have of those traditions.
Tawnee and her husband Chris are a Navy family land-locked in Indiana. They have 4 awesome, crazy, and creative kids. She blogs about life, parents, and the adventures of homeschooling her family at Adventures in Homeschooling. Visit her blog or on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.

Monday, December 14, 2015

The Gift of December- Seeking Christ

Many, many thanks to my sweet friend Carol, who blogs at Home Sweet Life, for this beautiful post!  May it inspire you to set the extras aside and earnestly Seek Christ!  Thank you Carol!

In the Luke 2 account of Jesus birth, we read of shepherds who followed the instructions given to them by angels to seek out the Christ Child. In Matthew 2 we read of the Magi (Wise Men) who followed Christs star to find Him, prepared to worship Him. Where are we looking to find Christ today? Are we earnestly seeking Him? Do we begin with what we know, or the instructions weve been given and pursue Him to know Him better? Are we prepared to offer our worship when we find Christ?

During this season of the year when many traditionally celebrate Christs birth, are we willing to peel back all the trappings of man that have been added over the years and Seek Christ?

The shepherds saw Christ as a newborn babe and returned to their lives glorifying and praising God for all they had seen and heard. When was the last time you left an encounter with Christ and took that Joy into your life glorifying and praising God for all you saw and heard?

The Wise Men came prepared to worship the King. They brought gifts, they stopped to ask for directions, their whole goal at this point in their lives was to find and worship Christ. They adored Him! Where is our adoration? Where are our gifts? The Wise Men saw Christ as a young child (not a baby as the shepherds had,) and yet their reaction was just as great. They worshipped the Christ Child and presented Him costly gifts.

When we find Christ today is it a random encounter, or are we earnestly seeking Him? Do we come bearing gifts, do we worship? Today we find the Risen King, something different than the shepherds or Wise Men found, yet should our response not be the same as theirs?

Worship Christ.

Give Him the costly gifts of our time, our families, our devotion, our very lives.

Today I challenge you, as well as myself, to return the focus of the season to Christ. Start each day by earnestly seeking Christ. Return to your life after each encounter full of adoration and praise for all you have seen Him do in your life and the lives of those around you. May your chief goal this season not have to do with material things, but with finding and worshipping Christ.

May the Babe in the manger, the Christ Child in the home, and the Risen King bring you peace this season. May you remember that Glorifying God is the chief end of man. May your life be forever changed by the peace and joy that can only come from Jesus Christ!

Come, let us adore Him.

In Christ,
Carol :)

Micah 6:8
He has told you, O Man, what is good;
and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

Carol and her husband Kurt make their home on the Midwest with their two High School aged daughters. You can learn more about their daughters Eclectic Experiential Education at Home Sweet Life.

Friday, December 11, 2015

The Gift of December- A Christmas Eve Meal

Cristi is a fellow military wife ,mom and blogger I have gotten to know over the past few years.  She blogs about her life and homeschooling, as well as special needs at Through the Calm and Through the Storm.  I think I want to eat at her house on Christmas Eve AND Christmas Day!

 Thank you Cristi for joining us today!

As a fellow military spouse, I don't have a lot of set in stone holiday traditions. I'm not tied to specific events at specific places, particular decorations that must be displayed in my house, or even celebrating on December 25th. When given the choice, though, I do have a few meals that have become Christmas traditions at our house.

For Christmas Day, I serve grilled steaks and baked potatoes. A few days before Thanksgiving this year, my oldest daughter commented that she was looking forward to our Christmas dinner even more than the big meal I was planning for Thanksgiving. (If you'd like to hear how a deployment more than twenty years ago started my family's steak tradition, I blogged about Christmas Dinner as one of my "years ago" stories last year.)

Although it's not as dear to my heart as our Christmas Day meal, we also have a traditional Christmas Eve meal -- chili.

Cristi's Easy Chili Recipe

1 - 1.5 lbs ground beef
2 cans pinto beans
1 large can crushed tomatoes
1 can Spicy V-8
1 - 2 Tbsp chili seasoning (see below)

Brown the ground beef and drain. Add beans, tomatoes, V-8, and chili seasoning. Simmer for at least 15 minutes. It works well in the crock pot, too.

Homemade Chili Seasoning mix 

4 Tbsp chili powder
2 1/2 tsp coriander
2 1/2 tsp cumin
1 1/2 tsp garlic powder
1 1/2 tsp onion powder
1 tsp oregano
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper

Mix and store in an airtight container. I usually use a recycled spice jar for ours.

My husband prefers to eat his chili served over Fritos and topped with lots of shredded cheddar cheese. Since my family used to always eat cornbread with our chili, I'll share our easy cornbread recipe.

Easy Cornbread

1 3/4 cups + 2 Tbsp cornmeal
2 Tbsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
2 eggs
2 cups buttermilk

Mix and bake at 425 degrees for about 20 minutes. I like to melt a bit of bacon grease into my cast iron skillet while the oven is heating up and then pour in the cornbread mix. Yum!

Note: I usually add two tablespoons of lemon juice or vinegar to a milk substitute (flax, coconut, or rice) to make a buttermilk substitute. If you can find it, you can use 2 cups of self-rising cornmeal in place of the cornmeal, baking powder, and salt.

Regardless of whether you have fancy holiday traditions with elaborate seven-course meals or just simple ways of enjoying the season, I wish you and your family the very best!


Wednesday, December 9, 2015

The Gift of December- Advent Calendar Craft

One of the things we do in our home each year is an advent calendar type activity. Through the years it has varied, from paper calendars with doors, to a special advent tree, and lately special advent stories.  But one of our most beloved advent calendars is a homemade one we have, much like Holly's you see here!  It is never too late to add this to your tradition- I know it will provide years of beautiful memories for your kids, as it has mine!  Thank you Holly for your Advent Calendar tutorial!

When I was a kid, we had these chocolate advent calendars.  Every night, we opened a little door and got a piece of chocolate for the evening.  It was lovely, and gave us something to look forward to each night.  The holiday season was always a busy time, and this was one thing that we could count on being the same each day.
I've always loved the idea of advent calendars.  For children, it's some semblance of routine in the madness.  For adults, it's a daily reminder of what the season is all about....and no, it's not about the gifts behind each door.

As a new mother, I wanted to create a lasting family tradition.  I had a large box of scrap cloth and took a notion to make our own advent calendar.  This isn't your average one, either - this thing is about 3' x 5' long!! 

We had just moved into our first house, and hung curtains.   The living room curtains had to be cut down, and this was a leftover piece of one of them.  So, the backing is made of curtains, but you could start with a larger, sturdy piece of cloth - fold it over about 2" and sew across the top to create room for a hanging dowel.  

I started with the month, at the top, but you can use whatever header you'd prefer.  Everything on this calendar is free-handed.....I drew it out on the cloth first, and then cut it carefully.  When you're sitting in front of CSI, or The Voice, or whatever keeps you boob-tubed at night, is a good time to be drawing and cutting.   

Cut out twenty-four different squares approximately 4" x 4".  Pick a different design for each square and sew them to the front of the squares.  (I made sure to dedicate a square to each of the kids, and used both religious and secular images.)  Cut out your 24 numbers and sew those onto each square as well.  Sew the header onto a large piece of fabric to go across the top.  All of this hand-sewing will take some time, but done carefully, will last a lifetime.  Do not sew down any of the larger pieces until all of the fine-work is done! 

You're going to want to piece the squares onto the fabric in a somewhat orderly fashion.  I recommend playing around with a ruler and some chalk to draw a grid of where you want them sewn.  Each square is going to open up to create a pocket, like the one above.  The top edge of each square needs to be folded over and sewn, about 1/4".  This will prevent fraying.

Once you have figured out where to place each square, use pins to pin everything into place.  Start by sewing down the header at the top of the calendar.  Then start on the squares.  Fold the other three sides of each square over 1/4", and sew down onto calendar fabric.  Take it one square at a time...don't rush!  When you're sewing, switch your machine from a straight stitch to a sturdier stitch (choose from whatever options your machine has).  This will help ensure that excited hands don't rip the pockets off!

It took some time, but your advent calendar is done!  Instead of getting their treats at night, we do the advent calendar each morning.  This way, if there is an event that night, such as caroling, they get to look forward to it all day.  On November 30th, we hang our calendar and the "elves" fill the calendar with the following goodies :
  • lollipops & small candies (usually from Halloween)
  • event notices (if we're going Christmas caroling or to see a play)
  • one thing from the Christmas bucket list (free printable)  

Aren't able to make your own right now, but want a neat advent calendar?  Try one of these :

     Holly is a 
road-schooling mother of two active boys!  While traipsing across the country, she creates Lego-themed school and enjoys meeting up with other families.  Find her at Gypsy Road, Educents, or on Facebook.