Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Jesse Tree

Each year I'm looking for creative ways to share the Christmas story with the boys, and I'm so excited about what I found this year. I will be up ALL night tonight preparing for it, but it will be worth it! This is one of those things that will be able to be used for years to come, and maybe even passed down from generation to generation.

I got this idea from Ashley at The Creative Place. I googled "Mini Advent Book" and came across her blog, which is amazing!   She created this cute Mini Advent Book for her kids, and last night I got started on it myself.
Unfortunately, my envelopes are not turning out as cute as hers! :)

In the process of creating the envelopes for that project, I emailed her last night and she said she is updating the advent book to include the verses from The Jesse Tree. I first heard about The Jesse Tree last year from Ann Voskamp's blog A Holy Experience.  However, when I tried to print out the downloadable book, I didn't have enough toner for the 68 pages, and the content seemed way over my 3 and 5 year old's heads, so we didn't end up using it.

Ashley and I were writing about this dilemma and she referred me over to this blog, where the author had simplified the Jesse Tree for younger children.  Ashley had a great idea to incorporate the two ideas (the mini advent book & the Jesse Tree), and a new idea was born!

Now I'm working all night to finish the envelopes and stuff them with the Scriptures used from The Jesse Tree blog.  Each reading also has a corresponding ornament, so guess where I'm headed tonight? I'm going to be the crazy lady at Joann's at 9:30pm!

In addition to reading the boys a Scripture passage each night and putting a special ornament on the tree, we're also going to continue a tradition we started last year.  I have an old Starbucks advent-calendar "tree" that has 25 boxes. When all of the boxes are turned over, it makes a cute picture.

In each of the boxes I put a fun activity that we will do each day during the month of December.  My problem is going to be coming up with 25 different activities!! (Enter PINTEREST).

I think those two projects are going to keep me busy for awhile.  Thanks to Ashley at The Creative Place and Catherine at Our Jesse Tree for the great ideas!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Thankful Little Hearts

It's starting to become a Thanksgiving tradition to take our family Christmas pictures on that day (or the day after).  This year we ventured outside my parent's house down a little path that is a protected nature habitat. The problem was, Jaden was not happy.  To make matters worse, Micah had thrown a tantrum for over 30 minutes before the photos about the fact that we were making him wear jeans, and he wanted to wear shorts.  He was still getting over that, so we had 2 very unhappy boys on our hands.  PERFECT timing for family Christmas pictures.

As I wrote about yesterday, this was another one of those things that was just out of my control.  After they got running around, they mellowed out a bit. However, Jaden is already tired of having a photographer mama and so he is not amused by my efforts to take even more photos of him.

The boys thought it would be funny to mess around during our photo shoot after they had finally calmed down.  We got a few cute pictures after bribing them with a treat if they behaved (did I just admit that?), but it was still frustrating at times.

Here is one where they were not listening and decided to run instead of walk with us:

It's funny, if you didn't know the story, you might think this was planned.  "How cute! They're running in front of their parents!" NOT CUTE. I am in the background shouting, "Get back here right now!  1-2-3!"  (Yes, I count too!  So sue me) ;)

Here's another winner:

Here's one of Jaden when we told him to "Smile" -

And when we told Micah to "Smile"-

And then in this one we finally got Jaden to smile (a little), only to have Micah start messing around:

Sometimes I wonder if we are the only ones with difficult children.  No matter how hard we try, I feel like they get mad, frustrated, talk back, or have attitudes.  They also feed off of each other, so one could be in a great mood, only to have the other one spoil it.  I think it's good to be honest with each other about these things, because sometimes I read other blogs and feel like I'm the only one whose kids have issues.  So, there is some honesty for you.

Another issue we have is at dinner every night when there is a big argument about who gets to PRAY.  The boys fight over whose night it is, and before you know it there are tears and time-outs.  Tonight I let them each choose 2 nights of the week they can pray, and we will cover the rest.  That seemed to work out well.   They both pray pretty much the same prayers every night.

Micah:  "Thank you God for our dinner, and our house, and our cat.  Amen."

Jaden:  "Thank you God for our dinner, and for our house, and our cat, and our driveway.  Amen."

We always stifle a laugh when he says "driveway" because it's so cute, but tonight I asked him about it.  Micah replied, "He thanks God for that because we get to ride our scooters up and down our driveway when we play outside." Jaden nodded affirmatively.  It's the little things.

It got me thinking - am I thankful for the little things like that?  Am I thankful when my boys argue and fight?  Am I thankful when they throw tantrums and won't smile for pictures?  Am I thankful that they are brothers who love each other still, and have the privilege of growing up together?  Am I thankful that even when things aren't going according to plan, they might still be having fun?

Am I thankful for the things that normally go unnoticed, like our driveway?

I'm thankful that little eyes see things that big eyes don't see, and little hearts feel things that big hearts overlook.

I'm thankful that even though our photo shoot didn't go as planned, we still had some fun and ended up with smiles on all of our faces.

Mama just needs to be thankful, and take a chill pill.

P.S. A special thank you to my sister for her patience and photography skills!!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Out of My Control

Do you ever feel like God is continually trying to teach you that you are not in control?  I am in that season, and it is tough sometimes.  It seems like every day I'm faced with some new challenge that reminds me that I am not in control of my life, and I just need to deal with it.

Take Thanksgiving day, for instance. I planned ahead and ordered our family meal from Sprouts this year.  Confirmation letter received, I was to pick up our meal on Thanksgiving Day at 10am.  We decided to go as a family to pick it up, but when we arrived we found no cars in the parking lot.  "Warning - Warning!!" my mind started to shout.  Martin parked the car and I rushed to the front doors.  They were locked.  Nobody was inside.  I stood there for probably five minutes with my face and hands pressed to the glass doors, looking inside for any signs of life.  Nothing.  Nobody.

I walked back to the car, fighting back tears.  I was so confused and overwhelmed.  Just the thought of having to go to a grocery store and pick up a 12-pound frozen turkey with all the fixin's was enough to make me have a nervous breakdown.  We sat in the car and tried to figure out what went wrong.  After the 10 minute drive back home, I checked my email again, and then made a phone call to Henry's Market.  The man on the phone read my name and order right back to me, and said it was there waiting for me.  Henry's and Sprouts recently merged, and both addresses were on the same street within 1 block from each other.  PHEW!  I cannot tell you how relieved I was!

Back in the car we went, and I just about kissed the deli guy who worked there.  I was SO happy!  The whole "charade" took about an hour because of driving back and forth to the house.  During that time, I felt so helpless, so mad, so frustrated.  But it all worked out in the end.  Once again, something was out of my control, and I just had to wait.

It is a test of character, waiting is.  A test of our faith.  A test of perseverance and patience.

Something else happened out of my control this month. Our church decided to consolidate with another church.  That might not be a huge deal to some, but when your husband is one of the pastors of the church, it is a huge deal.  It means his job will be changing a bit, he will have even more responsibility, our time together as a family will be affected.  It means that we're leaving our building and the comfortability of the church we've known and loved for 9 years, and we're going somewhere new.  Change is hard.

It is a test of character, change is.  A test of our faith.  A test of perseverance and patience.

Tomorrow is our last Sunday at our church, before we all move together to the new church.  Our "family" of 150 is growing to 350.  Our staff of 3 is growing to a staff of 6.  The faces I have come to know will be mixed in with 200 faces I don't know.  Once again, I'm faced with a situation that is out of my control, and it is scary.

I know more situations will come that are out of my control; in fact, this is only 2 of hundreds that have happened this year.  But with each situation, I hope and pray that my character is deepening, my patience is growing stronger, my trust is becoming more secure.

Tonight I'm thankful that when things feel out of control, I can put my trust in the One who is in control.

Whatever situation you are in that is out of your control, take a moment to stop and breathe. With every breath you take, say "I will trust in You."  We are learning valuable lessons, and although they are not fun, they are drawing us closer to Him.

Psalm 73:28
"But as for me, it is good to be near God. I have made the Sovereign Lord my refuge; I will tell of all your deeds."

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Fun Pinterest Projects for Thanksgiving

Today Micah had to stay home from school since he is sick, and unfortunately he had to miss his Thanksgiving party at school.  Now, normally I don't consider myself a crafty person (in the "kid's art" department, anyway), but had recently seen some cute Thanksgiving crafts on Pinterest.  Here are a few we decided to do today, that were easy and fun to do:

I didn't have the exact supplies that were in the above photo, so improvised with what we had on hand. The boys loved this!

Our next project was the Pinecone Turkey from this photo:

This site was so cute!!  Instead of crayons, we used pipe cleaners.  

Hey, we tried! :)

Since I was going to Micah's school to pick up his homework, we decided to make his teacher a Thanksgiving gift.  This is what we wanted to make:

I got all the supplies recently at the dollar store, and it cost $4 total (not including the flowers, which I already had). Here's our version:

For lunch today, we made "Turkey Sandwiches" - another cute idea I found on Pinterest:

Here's our version :)

I know it looks like a lot for one day, but each project was so easy and only took about 10 minutes each. Lastly, for dinner I decided to make a brussel sprouts dish I saw on Pinterest.  I have never eaten or made  brussel sprouts before, but the photo looked good so I thought we'd try it!  It was SO GOOD.  The boys didn't touch it, of course, but we thought it was surprisingly amazing. Here it is:

Thanksgiving is still 2 days away, so you still have time to do these fun projects with your kids.  Hey, they may even like the brussel sprouts!!  

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Power of Goodbye

A few weeks ago I read Jaycee Dugard's autobiography "A Stolen Life."  In it she details the circumstances surrounding her kidnapping and over 18 years in confinement.  It is an easy book to read in that it is written very simply from her point of view, yet one of the most difficult books I've ever read because of the first-hand testimony of what happened to her.

Jaycee described how angry she was with her mother because her mother didn't kiss her goodbye before she went to work (on the morning Jaycee was kidnapped).  That one act stuck with her during her 18 years held captive, and she thought about it continually.  For a little girl, there is power and love in that simple act - the active of a hug and a kiss and the words "goodbye."

Photo courtesy
Today as I dropped Micah off at school and hurried back down the hallway to the parking lot, one of his classmates came towards me, shoulders trembling and heaving sobs.  Grief overtook this little 6 year old boys' body, and he could hardly walk.  I bent down and asked, "What's wrong, honey?"  He replied through sobs, "I didn't get to say goodbye to my mom."  I know his mom, and she would be sad to know he was so distraught.  I turned around and walked him to class where the teacher embraced him.

Those words can haunt a heart:  "I didn't get to say goodbye."

Whether someone we love has left us for a few moments, or for a lifetime, it is good for the heart to have closure of some sort.  Just ask the person who has lost a loved one suddenly.

Although I have not lost anyone to death without the chance to say goodbye, I have felt this pull at my heart various times throughout my life. Once was when we moved during my Sophomore year of high school, and I was only told 3 days before we left. I didn't have a chance to say goodbye to my friends in the way that I wanted to, and for years had dreams about wanting to go back and say goodbye to them.  About 10 years later I was able to return to that town with my husband, and thankfully was able to get some closure at that time.

So, what is the moral of the story?

We are people who need closure.  We need to take time to let people know we love them; that we'll miss them.  I was reminded today (again) to cherish the times we have with our loved ones- to not always be in a hurry.  Hurriedness can hurt little hearts. It cannot always be avoided, I know, but little moments like taking the time to say goodbye are affirming and comforting.  Take time to stop and look them in the eye, and let them know you love them.  Take time to say goodbye, even if you'll see them again soon.

Take the time to tell someone you love them before it is too late.  Two years ago I took time to write my grandmother a letter and say "thank you" for being in my life. She wasn't dying; she wasn't sick; I just knew that I would regret it if I never told her.  This week I spoke with her and she told me she re-reads the letter all the time.  It's the little things, like saying "I love you," and like saying, "goodbye."

There is power in goodbye.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Fun in Oak Glen

Last weekend we took an overnight trip to one of my favorite field-trip places growing up - Oak Glen. It is here in this tiny mountain town that you can step back in history and pick apples from the trees, visit a colonial style village and an old school house from the 1800's.  These places are a bit hard to find in Southern California, so I was really looking forward to this trip.

We left on a Friday and drove the hour and a half up the mountain, and when we got there we were pleasantly surprised that it had just snowed!!  It could not have been more beautiful. Freezing cold, but beautiful.

Our first stop was Riley's Farm, where they have an old gold mine, a colonial house, gift stores and a restaurant. There were some people dressed up there in "traditional garb" entertaining the guests.  We ordered our hot corn chowder and a huge sandwich, and headed back to the car to eat lunch because all of the tables were wet and it was so cold outside.   My sister met us there and brought scarves and gloves with her, which helped a ton.

Next stop was the old school house, which I grew up going to every year and still remember it like it was yesterday.  I was so bummed that it was closed, because my boys have never seen an old school house before and I thought they'd enjoy it.  Apparently they close the school on rainy, snowy or wet days. The boys had fun anyway and had a short snowball fight.


We went further up the road to Riley's Farm at Los Rios Ranchos.  The Riley family owns many of the groves in Oak Glen, although they are each independently operated. At this farm, you can press your own apple cider (for $15 a gallon), buy a huge apple pie, visit a petting zoo, or hike their nature trails.  They have a huge gift store where you can sample all of their jams, apple butters and apple breads.

We stayed there awhile and then drove even further up the road to Oak Tree Village - an interesting, eclectic, odd, dirty, outdoor-swap-meet type place. We all got the creeps there.  Not sure exactly why, but it's weird.  I still have memories of going there as a child and seeing their "zoo," which is overpriced and not worth it. This stop was where we picked up some hot chocolate with whipped cream to prepare for our drive back down the mountain.

After about 6 hours of sight-seeing, we were all tired and ready to go.  We headed into a nearby city where I had made a hotel reservation for the night, and the boys were SO excited.  They have always wanted to stay in a hotel and could not stop talking about it. I found a great deal and we got a huge room with breakfast included for only $80.  AND it was right next door to my favorite restaurant- The Old Spaghetti Factory.

The boys made some funny comments about the room, like when Micah went in the bathroom and saw the hair dryer on the wall. He exclaimed, "Mom! You can call people from in here!"  (He apparently thought it was a phone).  Jaden opened the closet, saw an ironing board and said, "Hey!  There's a surf board in here!"

We played musical beds that night because the boys moved around a lot in their queen sized bed and almost fell out a number of times.  It was fun, though, and they can't wait to stay in a hotel room again sometime.

The next day we enjoyed the hotel breakfast together, which was a gigantic breakfast. It included made-to-order omelettes, biscuits and gravy, cereal, bagels, juice, waffles, etc...   We were full all morning and had a late lunch on the way home.

I can't wait to go back - the short getaway felt like more than 1 night because there was a lot packed in, but it was a lot of fun and so worth it.  It was cheap, too!  If you live in Southern California, I highly recommend Oak Glen!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

5 Tips for Fabulous Christmas Pictures

This summer I closed my photography business, and I have to say that I'm so excited to not have a rush of photo shoots coming up.  Although I enjoyed doing them, it was a lot to handle and so the slower pace this holiday season will be nice.

In fact, I'm so out of the photography mindset that I don't even want my own family to take Christmas pictures this year.  Pictures just keep piling up and piling up around here - so much so that I have 3 external hard drives FULL of pictures!  As we get closer to Thanksgiving, though, we'll see if I change my mind - I can't picture going a year without a family photo shoot :)

Speaking of family photo shoots, this is the time when many people start taking their pictures for Christmas cards.  Here are 5 quick tips for getting fabulous Christmas pictures, no matter who your photographer might be:

1) Get your outfits ready in advance (as in, not the night before or the morning of, but about a week or so in advance).  Choosing 4 colors is nice; it provides for some variety.  For instance:

A good place to get some ideas is on Pinterest. Type in "family photo wardrobe" ideas and many selections will come up.

2)  Plan for morning or late afternoon. The lighting will be best at this time, and you'll avoid those harsh afternoon shadows.  Don't plan it too close to dinner when your kids might be tired and hungry.  However, between 4-6pm is usually a great time for family photos.

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug

3) Keep it quick.  30 minutes or less is best.  After that, kids get squirmy, smiles start looking stiff, and everyone gets tired.  You should have a good selection of photos within 30 minutes; and really, who needs 100 photos anyway?

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug

4) Take the most important pictures first.  If your #1 priority is a picture of just the kids, get those shots first.  Smiles will be freshest and the energy will be the highest.  If a family photo is your #1 priority, get that shot first and then do the kids afterwards.
Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug

5) Bring snacks, candy, stuffed animals, or anything that will make your child smile or laugh.  Yes, this is code for "BRIBE THEM."  It sounds terrible, but it works. I did a photo shoot with one family whose 2 year old daughter screamed almost the entire time - except for when they whipped out some marshmallows. Then she smiled big and proud for us!

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug

These may seem basic to you, but you'd be surprised how many people aren't sure what to do, or come unprepared.  I hope these tips help you as you plan for your photo shoots this Fall!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Burlap Wreath

Ah, favorite month of the year.  As a friend said today, "November is like the Thursday of the week."  This is the month where the autumn scents are at their finest, the wind makes everything smell fresh and clean, and you are reminded to be thankful for all the blessings in your life. I also like November because it is the "calm before the storm" of Christmas flurry and activity, of "give me" lists, and parties galore.

November seemed the perfect time to make a fall burlap wreath.  I had seen these on Pinterest and thought I would attempt to make one myself. It's not perfect, but it was relatively easy and I like the "rustic" look of it.  Best of all, it only cost about $5!

It is Tuesday, so I'm joining Home Stories of A 2 Z's "Tutorials and Tips" link up party today.

Home Stories A2Z

What you will need:
-A 12" wreath form (I used a pool noodle - another idea I found on Pinterest!)
-One yard of burlap
-Hot glue gun (and lots of hot glue sticks)
-Any embellishments you want (I used ribbon and silk leaves)

Step 1:
-Make your wreath form.  I used a pool noodle that had been cut in half and taped it with clear packing tape.

(Please excuse the poor quality of the photos - it was after 9pm at night and I used my point and shoot).

-Cut your burlap in 6" strips. It doesn't matter which direction you cut.

Step 2:
-Using 4 strips of burlap, wrap around your wreath form, and secure with hot glue.

Step 3:
This was the most challenging part.  Take a strip of burlap and fold it in half.  Start to make folds with your fingers.  Place on the wreath and secure with large dollops of hot glue :)  This is messy, but you want it to be secure.  Continue gathering and folding all the way around the wreath with your remaining strips, using hot glue underneath and in between the folds of the burlap.  This is where your many hot glue sticks come in handy.

Step 4:
Cut off the loose strings and ends of the burlap wreath.

Step 5:
I chose a brown ribbon and hot glued it to the burlap wreath, in a ripple-type manner.  I thought this added to the rustic look. At the end, I finished it off with a simple bow.

Step 6:
Add your embellishments.  For this wreath I used a few small silk leaves as an accent.

This wreath is simple, but looks great on our front screen door.  To secure it to our screen, I used wire that was strung through the back of the wreath into the screen.  The wreath is not heavy, so it is not pulling on the screen door.

(Oh, our screen door is ugly, you think?  I agree. What is with those peacocks?  We are renters.  Not much we can do about it, but it does add to the rustic look, I guess!)  :)

Enjoy your new fall burlap wreath!