Thursday, January 22, 2015

Do-It-Yourself Book Snowballs

While I'm trying very hard to acclimate myself to the world of e-books, there are few things I find warmer and lovelier than an old-fashioned hard-copy book.  I love the look.  I love the feel.  I even love the smell!  And the more the pages yellow and become dog-eared, both signs of a book well-read and well-beloved, the more I tend to like them.

Old books make me happy.

Which is why I tend to use them all over my house as decoration.  I have them on the desk by my bed...

...on top of my dresser....

...high on the bookshelf, (which is already books from floor to ceiling,)...

...and even in the bathroom!  Though I have to confess these two aren't real books, though I love them because they look like the real thing.

But then imagine my delight when I walked into a local library to find it had taken decorating with books to a whole new level!  For autumn...

And for Christmas...

But this was my personal favorite:

We had snowball bushes when I was a kid and these remind me so much of those big, greenish-white balls of blooms we would have in the spring.  When they dried, they were very similar in shape and color to these.

I started peppering the librarian with questions and she was quick to confess these ideas weren't all her own.  Naturally she had come across several book craft ideas in that 'creative promised land' we call Pinterest, but then she had built upon those ideas and made them uniquely her own.  Which was exactly what I hoped to do!  I asked for permission to snap some pictures and then could not wait to get the supplies I needed and get to work!

So how do you make your own Book Snowballs?  Believe me, it's not hard, though it is a little time-consuming.  But I shared the project with my daughter and we had a ton of fun working on it together.  And now both of us have beautiful creations made not from just any book, but from our favorite books, which makes them all the more beautiful in our eyes!

What you need:  

An old book  
3-inch circular craft punch
2-3  styrofoam balls  (I used 1 5-inch ball and 2 3-inch)
Flat end of a pencil or pen
Hot glue gun and multiple glue sticks
Wooden skewers or dowel rods


Start with an old used book.  Not too old, mind you -- a book with brittle pages won't work for this craft -- but one with a little age and some yellowing will be perfect.  Check our thrift shops or your local library's discard section for books.

A Tale of Two Cities is my favorite book ever, but my paperback copy was old and pretty ugly.  Not to mention the fact the guy who wrote the lengthy afterword left me convinced he never actually read the book.  

Now my only copy of my favorite book is gone, but I've been wanting a pretty hardback copy anyway.  And my daughter already has a lovely set of hardback Jane Austen novels, so it wasn't hard for her to sacrifice that awful paperback copy in the picture above.

Carefully tear pages from the binding, no more than 5 or 6 at a time to keep them as whole as possible.  For your information, it took a 350 page book to make three snowballs.  And while, yes, you can certainly use more than one book on a project, keep in mind that the colors of book pages can actually vary quite a bit from pure white to yellow to a weathered tan.  Just make sure the pages of the books you use are similar in color.

Start punching circles from your pages.  My book was fairly small, so I was only able to get two punches per page.  My punch has scalloped edges, by the way, which definitely makes for a prettier snowball in the end.  These punches aren't exactly cheap, but with a 40% off coupon I managed to get mine for $12 at Hobby Lobby.  And I will be using it A LOT, so it was a good investment.

Fire up your hot glue gun.  Hope yours looks better than mine.  I've had it close to 20 years and it looks like it, but it's still working, so I can't complain.

Fold one book circle over the flat end of a pen or pencil, press a bead of hot glue onto a styrofoam ball, and then press your "blossom" onto the glue.  Hold it there just a few seconds to give the glue time to cool and voila!

LOVE being able to read lines on my book snowballs that I recognize and love.  "Recalled to life..."  But if you're using a book you aren't familiar with, don't worry:  Nobody's likely to see and be able to read anything much...

Keep adding blossoms....

...And more blossoms....

...And more blossoms....

...Until your ball is completely covered, keeping in mind that the tighter you place your book blossoms, the fuller your snowball will look and the fewer gaps you'll see up close.

Use thin dowel rods for "stems", pushing them into your ball and then cutting them to whatever length suits your fancy.  I actually had some wooden skewers on hand that worked perfectly because they're sharpened on one end.

Arrange your snowballs in a vase or Mason jar.  I filled mine with strips of burlap, but you could also use decorative stones, marbles, buttons, dried beans, or even sand.

But, then again, these snowballs are just as pretty without stems at all!  My daughter loved the look of a single snowball on this Mason jar.

In her room she set her Pride and Prejudice snowball on the base of an overturned wine glass.  She plans to add a couple more at different heights.

But these would also be lovely hanging from the ceiling.  Just tie thread or fishing line around a stick pin and press it into you snowball, then suspend it from the ceiling with a thumbtack or a small hook.

And just so you know, the 5-inch ball took me just over 2 hours to complete and the 3-inch balls just over 1 hour apiece, so I didn't do this all in one sitting.  But it was a fun project to do with Polly Wolly, especially since we were turning our favorite books into something beautiful for our home.

I'm anxious to use the same concept to make an entire wreath.  And I'd love to try using hymnbooks or sheet music.  Or colored maps!  And I may try making book snowball ornaments for the Christmas tree next year.  When you're decorating with something you truly love, the possibilities are endless.  

Now, I know there's a box of old books out there in the garage somewhere.  They haven't been touched in years, let alone read, so I'm thinking they're perfect candidates for some snowball-making...

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Thursday, January 15, 2015

Disciplining MOM with the Rubber Band Method

So you may have read the post by Jackie Masek at LJSkool about disciplining children via the rubber band method.  And just to head off any misunderstanding here if you haven't read it:  We're not talking about snapping little kids' wrists with rubber bands when they misbehave.  Instead it's all about encouraging good behavior by recognizing good behavior, and moms moving a rubber band from one wrist to the other in acknowledgment of a child's good deed, kind word, or act of obedience.

I loved the idea when I read it, though initially I did take some issue with the semantics involved.  Did praising good behavior really qualify as a form of discipline?  I'm afraid for a few moments I was still living in the dark ages of discipline = punishment for bad behavior rather than recognizing discipline as what it really is; any sort of training intended to mold character or alter behavior.  

Taking notice of a child's qualities and virtues and offering a few words of praise can do much to mold and alter them and their behavior, but it can do just as much to alter ours!  We have this terrible tendency as moms to focus on our children's faults and failures -- the things that still need to be fixed in their character and attitude -- rather than looking for the good in each of them and extending to them the kind of grace we want God and others to extend to us.

Which got me to thinking:  I needed to use this whole rubber band idea in a totally different way.  Personally, I felt like the discipline needed to start with ME first.

You see, I would love to try to convince you that I am always a patient mother, always thinking clearly in my dealings with the kids and reacting to them in a controlled and reasonable and sensible manner.  I mean, I'm a homeschooling mom!  And everybody knows homeschooling moms are blessed with this supernatural gift of patience, right?

Yeah, except that we're not.  Or at least I'm not!  And a lot of days I feel like a pretty rotten mom.

Because as much as I love my children and as thankful as I am for each of them, sometimes, particularly when I'm tired or busy or especially preoccupied, I can get awfully grouchy with my kids.

If I take the time to be aware of my moods, I can usually feel it building.  It's not like I go into some kind of mental fog and suddenly I'm standing at the end of a mom-eruption wondering how on earth I ever got there. I know when I'm tired and I know when I'm grouchy and yet I allow myself to fall prey to my emotions and I snap at a child or, worse, start yelling, sometimes over an issue that is of valid concern, but just as often over something that is not.

Listen, I'm not of the camp that believes merely being angry with your children is a sin.  I've read a few articles by well-meaning moms who left the rest of us feeling like we have sinned against our children just in being angry at them, when anger is actually very normal and natural.  Even Jesus got angry -- really angry at the money changers in the temple -- and yet the Bible insists He never sinned.  Sometimes we will get angry at our children --  like when they blatantly disobey or when they willfully do something that could harm themselves or someone else -- but managing that anger and never allowing it to control us, not even for a few seconds, moms, requires some careful discipline of ourselves.

Which brings me to the rubber bands I'm wearing on my wrist today.  I have three of them and they are there, not for my children's discipline, but FOR MY OWN.

I get three chances during the day and that's it.  Any time I slip up and snap at one of my children or, heaven help me, I find myself yelling at one of them, I move a band from my left wrist to my right.  And I'm not talking about raising my voice to get their attention or being stern, both of which are completely appropriate and necessary at times.  But there is always a distinct difference between that and being downright grouchy with one of my kids and I always, always know when I've crossed that line.  There is a right way and a wrong way to handle all the crazy issues that can arise with my children in the course of every day.  And these rubber bands, these simple little reminders, are acting as silent warning signals for me.

To slow down.  To take a breath.  To remain calm.  To handle the situation my kids just dropped in my lap in a controlled and reasonable manner, rather than acting on emotion and the impulse of the moment.

And stopping to think that way, all because of three silly rubber bands on my wrist, is helping me so much.  I haven't mastered this yet, mind you, but I'm progressing.  I've even kept all three bands on my left wrist all day a few times!  Thank God for small successes.  And you know what's amazing to me?  When I'm calm and in full control of my emotions, even when I'm angry, my children seem to have so much more respect for the things I have to say.    

Obviously some days are harder than others, but I'm learning.  Thanks to prayer and three rubber bands, I think I'm seeing my own character molded and my behavior altered for the better.

It's called self-discipline.  And I needed more of it as a mom, both to help me be more Christlike, (because my children deserve Christlike treatment from me the same as anyone else,) and to help me be a more effective parent.  And I'm so glad something as simple as rubber bands could help me start making steps in the right direction.

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Thursday, January 8, 2015

8 Tips for Managing Oily Skin

I used to think oily skin was a curse, though the older I get, the more I realize it has its benefits:  Oily skin tends to look younger longer, a fact I've had confirmed to me twice by doctors, one of whom also told me the oiliness of my skin made it stronger and far more elastic than normal.

Great!  I'm determined to focus on the positives.

Because oily skin has also meant I've dealt with acne issues and unsightly shine for most of my life.  The problems began in my pre-teens, but I fully expected them to be gone by my 20s.  It didn't happen.  Well then surely by my 30s.  But wrong again!  Now, even as 40 draws ever-closer I still struggle with some of the same skin problems I was dealing with 20 years ago.

But you can't deal with a skin issue for this long without learning a thing or two about it!  In fact, I wish so much I had known 20 years ago what I know now about dealing with oily skin.  And that's not to say I have completely conquered my skin problems!  I certainly have not, but the flare-ups are definitely far less frequent and they are almost always the result of me letting up in one of the areas I have listed here.

Now let me make it plain I am not a dermatologist and I can't begin to diagnose or suggest treatment for persistent skin problems or severe acne.  If you're suffering from either of these, I recommend seeing a doctor.

But I do want to share with you a few of the simple things I've learned to help me cope with oily skin and control breakouts.  The information might be a welcome help to your teen. Or to YOU, if you're like me and all grown up, but still battling a problem most of your friends left behind 20 years ago.   I think we all wish we could stay young forever, but I must confess this is hardly the way I wanted to do it!

Regardless, in dealing with oily skin, it's important to...  

1.  Wash your face regularly.  But don't overwash!

A regular regimen of gently exfoliating and washing your face to remove dirt, dead skin cells, and excess oil is important.  I recommend an oil-free cleanser, a whole host of which are available at your local drug or discount store.  I don't spend a lot on my cleansers, (the more expensive ones have never seemed to work any better for me than the cheap ones,) but I am adamant about using them consistently.  I don't go to bed at night or begin my day in the morning without first washing my face.

But be cautious about washing more often than once in the morning and once at night.  I used to think washing multiple times per day was helping to bring the oil in my skin under control, but what I was actually doing was stripping my skin of natural oils, which only prompted my body to produce excess oil to make up for it, thus worsening my problems.

2.  Be cautious in your use of all skin care products, including those that are labeled gentle, all-natural, or organic.

Sometimes the products we use to help control the oil in our skin actually contribute to excessive oil-production and acne.  Products containing a high percentage of alcohol can dry out your skin, which, again, prompts your body to over-produce oil.  Ingredients like benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid can do the same and are too harsh for some skin types.  Oils and other ingredients in some products can clog pores, leading to acne issues.

And remember that what works for one won't necessarily work for all.  I've used products with benzoyl peroxide for most of my life with no problem, but we quickly discovered that my daughter's skin is far too sensitive for it.  And just last year I decided to try a special skin-cleanse using organic coconut oil. (I mean, it was organic.  And it was coconut oil!  Naturally that meant it would be great for my skin, right?)  Well I ended up having a horrible reaction that I could only get under control after a trip to the doctor and a round of antibiotics.  Obviously we won't be trying that again.

Just don't assume that any and all products designed for skin will be right for your skin.  And any time you try a new product, use it sparingly and in a small area first, just until you're sure it isn't going to further your problems.

3.  Change your pillowcase often.

This is one of those simple things I desperately wish I had thought of as a teenager!

Most people change pillowcases whenever they change their sheets, which is maybe once every week or two.  If you have oily skin, however, you should be changing your pillowcase far more often than that!

Personally, I never sleep on the same side of a pillowcase twice.  Never.  Maybe that sounds obsessive, but think about all the oil, sweat, dead skin cells, hair care products, and saliva that wind up on a pillow during one night of sleep.  Multiply that and all the bacteria in it over several nights and suddenly you have a legion of acne-causing microorganisms where you lay your head and face every night.

Sleep on one side of your pillow one night and the other side the next.  After that your pillowcase should be washed.  If you're one of those nighttime pillow-flipper-squeezer-scrunchers, (I just made that up, but I know these people exist:  I'm married to one of them,) then you need to change your pillowcase every night.  Yes, I said every night.

But, Tanya!  Don't you go through a lot of pillowcases doing that?

Yep.  But I've picked them up off clearance racks and at yard sales until I have a pretty good supply for myself and my daughters.

And by the way, a pillow cover is also important because everything that gets on your pillowcase will soak into your pillow as well.  I found some waterproof pillow covers for $3 at a local discount store and I wash those every time I change my sheets.

4.  Drink water.

Of course I'd heard that drinking water made for clearer skin, but I didn't want to believe it because I really don't like drinking water.  I just don't.  But there is no question:  When I'm drinking water regularly, my skin looks better.

I actually began drinking water more in an effort to be healthier and to save on calories, not to help my skin, but I began to notice a difference almost immediately.  The more water I drank, the clearer my skin was.

I still drink coffee, milk, and the occasional Coke, and I can't say I always manage eight glasses of water per day, but I've read that as little as two cups daily can make a significant difference in the health and clarity of your skin and I have absolutely found that to be true with my own skin.   

5.  Eat your veggies.

There's no doubt in my mind that adding more fresh vegetables to my diet has helped my skin as well.  A quick Google search will turn up at least 1000 websites or blog posts listing out just what vegetables you need to eat for clearer skin, but here's a quick list of my favorites:                

Broccoli.  They call this a super food and I believe it.  No kidding:  I feel better and look better when I'm eating broccoli regularly.

Green leaf lettuce.  Green and even red leaf lettuces are packed with Vitamin A, which offers great defense for your skin.

Spinach.  Ditto on the Vitamin A, plus K and C which can also be good for your skin.

Beets.  Yes, I know beets may be an acquired taste, but I love them and they are packed with vitamins that can contribute to skin health.  Some people believe they are blood cleansing as well, which is only even more beneficial to your skin.

Avocado.  Okay, I realize avocado is actually a fruit and not a vegetable, but I'll slip it in here just the same.  I won't even begin listing the skin health-promoting vitamins and minerals in avocado, but, believe me, this oily little fruit can do great things for your oily skin.

6.  Use your hair care products wisely.

This should be common sense, but I think sometimes we're in too much of a hurry to give it much thought.  But most of the products we use in our hair will find their way onto our face as well.

Washing meticulously with some expensive cleanser to clear your pores really doesn't do a lot of good if you're coating your face in hairspray afterwards!  Some will recommend styling your hair before washing your face, but that just doesn't quite work with every style.  Try covering your face with a clean towel or hiding it in your sleeve before using hairspray.

Also be aware that in-your-face styles...(maybe there's a better way to say that, but you know what I mean; styles that tend to hang around the face more)...may contribute to acne problems, particularly if you use mousses, gels, or other serums in your hair.  That stuff will get on your face and potentially clog pores.  Really, the fewer products you use in your hair, the better for your skin overall, which may force you to a trade-off:  Awesome hair, problem skin or not-as-awesome hair, clear skin.  The choice is yours.

7.  Hands off!

I think we usually know this, but it's not always easy to put into practice.  We carry more bacteria on our hands than on any other part of our bodies, and yet any time there is a blemish in our skin, our first reaction is to touch it.  Or worse, pick at it.  And of course all we're doing is introducing even more bacteria every time we do so.

But keep in mind that other seemingly harmless habits can contribute to skin problems as well.  Resting your chin in your hand or leaning a cheek against your palm can lead to acne, too.  The same is true of things like massaging your face when you're tired or frustrated, or even rubbing your nose a lot!

Be aware of these things when you do them and STOP!  Train yourself to keep your hands away from your face.

8.  Stop looking for a miracle cure for your oily skin.

There are plenty of people out there willing to fork out hundreds and even thousands of dollars for products in the hope they will magically correct their skin problems.  Some are even willing to try medications with scary side effects, or undergo procedures that involve risk and offer questionable benefit, all in the hope they might conquer their acne issues.

I don't fault people for seeking help and hoping to find it.  And I'll even concede that sometimes people do, indeed, find a product or medication that seems to improve things for them.

But I also know that I've tried more products myself than I could ever list here, including some of the well-known, (and costly,) products you've seen on commercials or read about on websites, and none of them were as effective as making a few minor changes to my lifestyle and habits.  Period.

The best remedy for the problems associated with oily skin is not a special cleansing formula or a miracle medication.  It's all about simple change.  And patience.

Not to mention focusing on the positive!  Like the fact I'm 28 and don't look a day over 25.

Or am I 29 now?  I forget.  With skin this youthful-looking, it's so easy to lose track... ;)

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Thursday, January 1, 2015

Making Family Goals for the New Year

Whether you're talking guns, horseshoes, or basketball, you're not likely to hit something you're not aiming for.

And the same applies to goal-reaching!  It's time for everyone to talk about their New Year's resolutions, and while goals for the new year can be a wonderful thing, they really aren't much good if they don't also include a plan to see them accomplished.  That's probably why so many New Year's resolutions are broken: There was a goal, but never a plan.  

While personal goals are always the first to come to mind, it can be a good idea to set some family goals as well.  And as moms are typically the "grease" that makes the family wheels turn, making, (and accomplishing,) family goals is most likely to fall upon us first.  

So what goals do you have for your family in 2015?  It may be some of these...

  • Spiritual Goals

To begin or improve regular family devotions.    

To do more to encourage personal devotions.

To memorize scripture as a family.

To find and participate in areas of ministry through the local church or elsewhere.  

  • Educational Goals

To encourage better study habits.  

To motivate personal study and individual learning.  

To begin homeschooling.

To improve your homeschool.

  • Financial Goals

To focus on paying off debt.

To begin or increase savings.

To begin or improve budgeting.

To teach children to save.  

To teach children to budget.  

To encourage children toward entrepreneurship.

  • Health Goals

Cut fat and calories from the family's diet.  

To cook more meals from scratch.

To eat at home more often.

To begin exercising as a family.

  • Household Goals

To teach the kids to do more household tasks.

To begin regular chores for each child.

To add responsibility in areas of or edit regular chore lists.


Once you have some goals in mind, the next step is laying out a plan to accomplish each one.  And let me add that starting with baby steps is usually the best way to go.  If you've never been used to saving money, for example, suddenly trying to save 50% of your income is likely not the wisest move.  If you or your kids have never read their Bibles regularly, a sudden commitment to read 10 chapters a day is probably not going to go well.  Usually abrupt and dramatic changes are destined for failure, so set small goals and build on them.  Slowly.

And write it all down. 

On a calendar or a notepad, whether paper or digital, jot down a few ways to start working toward your family goal.  If you've never done family devotions together, maybe you can start out reading the Bible with the kids just one night a week.  If that's your plan, write it down, and include details like where in the Bible you plan to start and how much you plan to read per night.  Decide a general time you would like to begin and where in the house you plan to do the reading.  It might even be a good idea to at least consider what changes you might make if the time and place you choose doesn't work well.

Perhaps finances and health concerns have you wanting to eat at home more often.  If you're used to eating meals out five times a week, maybe you can start out eating at home just one extra time per week.  If that's your plan, write it down, and even write out what meals you plan to cook for the first month and add a list of whatever ingredients you may need from the grocery.

I actually keep an old-fashioned notebook that is my catch-all for ideas, information, and notes of all kinds, from books I hope to read and homeschooling resources I want to look for, to Christmas and birthday gifts I intend to buy.  I am lost without my notebook, though my husband introduced me to a notepad on my smartphone, one I am delighted gives me the option of handwriting my notes with a stylus.  Here I can record ideas or jot down notes for future reference.  You might prefer a whiteboard in your hallway or a simple sheet of paper on your refrigerator.

I'm a list-maker and handwriting notes helps very much to cement things in my mind.  Recording everything on digital calendars or notepads works better for some people, and that's fine!  The point is to record your plans somewhere where you will see them and be reminded of them often.  

Then implement your plan.

They say it takes 30 days to develop a habit, but I'm not so sure it always takes so long.  But it's certainly true that we can think up brilliant ideas and write them all over our houses and in every notebook and calendar we own and still they will never help us reach our goal if we don't put them into action.  

This is where some discipline comes in, though I don't usually find baby steps so overwhelming that a lot of discipline is even necessary.  But consistency is important, and flexibility is key if one method of implementing a new idea doesn't seem to be working well.  Sometimes all it takes is a little tweaking of our plan and we can meet with success.

So want a little glimpse into a couple of my family goals for 2015?  Here are just two:

  • I hope in our family we can continue to improve upon healthier eating.  In the course of the past year we have made some very positive changes for our health: I'm buying far fewer processed foods, we've greatly reduced our soda intake, and I've learned to incorporate more vegetables into our diet than ever before.  My kids have come to like a greater variety of fruits than they used to, so I'm determined to do a better job of keeping fresh fruit on hand and buying a different fruit each time I go to the store, just to keep their choices interesting.  I also want to try whipping up some snack-size versions of those cute salads-in-a-jar I've seen on Pinterest, for those times when my kids want a quick snack, but aren't in the mood for fruit.
  • To further encourage reading in our home, (and to help a little with the chaos of the bedtime routine,) I also want to start getting the kids to bed 30 minutes earlier and allowing them to read for a while before I tuck them in.  Rather than try to do it every night, I think I'll start with just one night a week, probably Monday, until it becomes more of a habit, then we'll see if we can try it more often.


Just like any other New Year's resolution, family goals for the new year don't have to be big or complicated.  In fact, they're more likely to be accomplished if their small and practical.  Good things can be accomplished in our families this year with just a little strategy and some determination.

So what goals do you have for your family this year?  How do you plan to reach your goals?

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Thursday, December 25, 2014

Tradition and Our Christmas Letter 2014

Yes, I'm one of those Christmas letter people.  I think folks either love Christmas letters or hate them and that's perfectly fine.  We all have our preferences.  

Sometimes I want very much to simply sign our names to a stack of Christmas cards and be done with it, but writing also brings me incredible pleasure and joy, whether it provides either to my readers or not!   And so I choose to write a little something rather than send out a traditional card, and I try very hard not to overdo the family news and bore people in the process.  This year, in fact, I may have left the family news a bit under-done!

But that's okay.  Christmas isn't about us anyway. 

I lost count of the letters I sent out, but I still missed so many of you.  For that I apologize.  If your letter didn't come in the mail, please read it here and know it is still sent your way with all the love and good wishes of our hearts this Christmas Day.


December 2014

Dear Friends:

I don’t know that I fully understood just how much Christmas traditions can vary from family to family until a friend told me she grew up opening all her gifts on Christmas Eve night.

I stared at her, dumbfounded.  Seriously?  You mean, no miserable night of sleepless suspense?  No mad dash to the Christmas tree upon the first trickle of morning light through a bedroom window?  Clearly no one ever taught her parents the proper way to torment a child in the name of holiday tradition!

Of course I was only startled by it because their family’s tradition wasn’t ours.  What was acceptable and meaningful to them wasn’t so to us.  And that was okay!  Our family had its own unique traditions.

Like a fire on Christmas morning.  Why it was necessary to have a fire in the fireplace on Christmas, I don’t really know, except that it’s warm and cozy in a very nostalgic kind of way, and who doesn’t want warm coziness coupled with a bit of nostalgia on Christmas morning?  So what if we had perfectly good central heat?  So what if our artificial tree, constructed of and decorated with a whole host of very combustible materials, sat dangerously nearby?  So what if it was 65 degrees outside and the ham in the oven had already warmed the family room to a toasty 78?  We would have a fire if we had to prop open every door and window in the house just to breathe! 

It was tradition.  And you don’t mess with tradition. 

I have a few very faded memories of waking up on Christmas morning at my grandparents’ in southeastern Kentucky, but when I was still very young we began a new tradition of staying home for Christmas, just the four of us.  I liked that best.  We would open presents and later Mom would pull out the fine china and stemware for our Christmas dinner, a tradition I have not carried on for the sake of that same set of china now in my possession, and not for fear of my kids’ clumsiness.  For fear my own!  

But I remember well a Christmas Day when someone else joined in on our celebration.  I forgot the details of the situation long ago if I ever knew them at all, but, for whatever reason, an elderly woman from our church would not be able to join her family for Christmas.  Mom invited her to come for the day, the leaf was added to the table, and a fifth place was set for the afternoon. 

Now I’m about to shed a less-than-favorable light upon myself here, but I hope you can extend some grace my way and forgive me in the end, because I remember plainly how much I did not want her there that day.  At all.  I resented her presence.  A dear, gentle, lonely old woman was joining us for dinner and all I could think about was how she was, in my estimation at least, ruining our Christmas tradition.

Now I knew that was wrong of me.  I remember squirming under the weight of feelings I knew were selfish and unkind.  And while I was smart enough to keep my opinions to myself, I smoldered silently through Christmas dinner, made utterly miserable by a grumpy mix of selfishness and guilt. 
Someone had messed with my Christmas tradition.  And I didn’t like it. 

Of course it didn’t take long for me to realize on that Christmas Day so long ago that one needy woman’s “intrusion” really wasn’t an intrusion at all.  Our Christmas tradition had not been ruined; just altered.  It wasn’t exactly as I wanted it, but it could be warm and wonderful and blessed just the same.

See, traditions are a wonderful thing, but we have to keep in mind that most of our traditions are really just glorified habits.  They are special and meaningful and memorable, but they’re usually imperfect and they are always, ALWAYS subject to change. 

Sometimes life messes with our traditions.  A wedding.  A move.  A birth.  A death.  All of these things and a hundred more like them can force an adjustment to our traditions, whether we like it or not, and we can choose to begrudge the fact and be utterly miserable, or we can accept what we cannot change and strive to build new and potentially beautiful traditions. 

The key is remembering the foundation upon which our Christmas traditions are built.  As much as we love and honor all the quirky family customs, we know Christmas is not about any of those things.  We are hopeless, helpless sinners where there is no Savior.  But on Christmas Day our advocate and redeemer was born and because of His birth, His death, and His resurrection, we can have life more abundant.  That is the reason for all joy and hope and peace at Christmas and we can partake of it always, whatever Christmas traditions we have, (or don’t have,) to go along with it. 

“He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest:  and the Lord God shall give unto Him the throne of His father David:  And He shall reign over the house of Jacob forever; and of His kingdom there shall be no end.”  Luke 1: 32-33

This, my friends, is the unalterable part of Christmas.  Nothing can change it.  Nothing can diminish it. 

So we rejoice this season in His coming.  And in thanks for His goodness in the year now past, we wish God’s blessings upon you in the year to come.  A very Merry Christmas to you all!


The Holt Family

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Mom's Permission Slip for Some BREAK in Her Christmas Break

Christmas break begins when we finish school tomorrow and I am so ready for a few days off!  I'm a list person, and so I began my TO DO list some time ago as I started thinking out the things I need to accomplish in the next two weeks.

Over Christmas break I need to:

  1. Make Christmas goodies.  
  2. Distribute Christmas goodies.  
  3. Make any last-minute Christmas purchases.
  4. Make any final Christmas mailings.
  5. Find places for new Christmas toys and gifts.
  6. Catch up on my grading. 
  7. Do basic mid-term assessments for all four children.  
  8. File all unfiled schoolwork. 
  9. Record my high schooler's mid-term grades.  
  10. Make preparations for two new second-semester courses for my high schooler.  
  11. Deep clean both bathrooms. 
  12. Do some closet-cleansing.
  13. Sew the valance for my daughters' bedroom.
  14. Reorganize two of the cabinets in the kitchen.
  15. Clean out from under my bed in anticipation of a new mattress purchase.  
  16. Take down Christmas lights and decorations.
  17. Organize Christmas decorations.  
  18. Catch up on laundry.
  19. Edit and share Christmas pics of the kids.
  20. Update my blog.
  21. Redecorate my Sunday school classroom at church.
  22. Organize the storage closet in the youth chapel at church.

Really, this is the skeleton version of my list.  Several of these items have multiple components, of course, but I'm sparing you the gritty details and keeping my list at a reasonable length.

These are the things I NEED to accomplish over break.  Now let me share my list of things I WANT to do over Christmas break...

  1. Read.
  2. Write.
  3. Sleep.

Listen, I will confess to you that the last few weeks have been long and a little harrowing.  My kids are in need of some down time and, truth be told, so am I!  Sometimes the routine and the lessons and the day-to-day begin to get the best of you.  Then throw in all the busyness of the holidays and the Christmas parties and plays and the shopping and the wrapping and the family get-togethers and the obligations that can run a mile-long.  Before you know it you have a recipe for high-stress homeschooling!  

At this point in the year I think every homeschooling mom is ready for a break.  Some year-rounders even take the entire month of December off, which would be ideal if it didn't mean sacrificing a month of summer!  Personally, I can't bring myself to make the trade.

But then you make it to Christmas break and there are a million things you NEED to accomplish in those few down days.  And some of it will have to be done.  There's no choice in the matter.  

I have to catch up on the grading.

I have to do some prep for second semester.

I have to deep clean the bathrooms.  Have to.  And the Christmas decorations can't stay up all year and the new presents will have to find homes and I really, REALLY need to clean out from under my bed!

But just as the kids need a little time to enjoy their new gifts and spend a few days in unstructured, unscheduled, unplanned play, a little down time can be good for us moms, too.  

We need time to decompress.  To clear our heads.  To resolve ourselves to going at homeschooling again after the first of the year with new vigor and new determination and new drive.  If we know occasional breaks are good for our kids, why do we struggle so much to accept that we need them, too?

I know you have things to do.  I know stuff like the cooking and cleaning and laundry can't be set aside just because school is out of session.  I know you want to cram as much sense of accomplishment into your Christmas break as you possibly can, but consider this your permission slip to put some BREAK into your Christmas break. 

Relax.  Put your feet up for a little while.  Ignore the mess and shove the obligations from your mind.  At least for a little while.

Read.  Take a bubble bath.  Take a daytime nap.  Work on those fun crafting projects you laid aside months ago.  Hit up the post-Christmas clearance sales.  Go antiquing.  Arrange for a babysitter and meet a friend for coffee.  Whatever it is you enjoy, spend a little time doing it.  

Have some fun.  Tell them I said you could.

As for me, I'm going to finish the book I'm reading.  And, if possible, maybe squeeze in a little unpressured, unrequired, unobligatory time for writing.  And maybe I can sleep in a little, too.

I have lots to do, but I will be trying, TRYING, my fellow homeschooling mom, to put a little BREAK into my Christmas break.  I'm hoping so much that you'll do the same.

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