A Homemade Family Gift Exchange

This is something the kids wanted to do last year after watching the video Boz's WowieBOZowee Christmas. It was so much fun for our family, that we decided to make it an annual tradition.

On Christmas Eve morning, we pick names for a family gift exchange. The gifts are opened that evening. We have three rules for our gift exchange:

1. You have to make something special for the person whose name you draw

2. You can't sneak off to the store to purchase anything (this one doesn't pose a problem for our family, because our oldest child is only 5)

3. You have to keep your gift and the name of your recipient a secret until gifts are exchanged

We do this in one day because our kids are young and it's difficult for them to a keep secret for too long. Okay, it's difficult for me, too. :)

My kids thoroughly enjoyed this last year. My husband and I made sure we offered help to the little ones. They were bursting with excitement when it came time to exchange gifts. And, after working very hard to make a gift and to keep a secret all day long, they were much more interested in giving than receiving.


Weathering the Storm

"In the bleak midwinter, frost and wind made moan,
earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone;
snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow..."

~In the Bleak Midwinter

The Northwest has been hit pretty hard with recent snowstorms. We've been trying to keep the kids busy here inside. Little ones can only play out in the snow for so long, you know! Here are a couple of things we've done in order to weather the storm:

There's something wonderful about a boy and his dad setting up the electric train to go 'round the Christmas tree.

The kids enjoyed making this Nativity scene out of a paper grocery bag.

What do you like to do when the weather keeps you inside?


Week 4

Here's what we'll be doing next week to celebrate the Christmas season:

Sunday: Light the Angel candle on our Advent log, read "The Eighth Day of Christmas" from the book, The Real 12 Days of Christmas and attend our church's Christmas play

Monday: Read "The Ninth Day" from The Real 12 Days of Christmas and make angels with the kids' footprints and handprints

Tuesday: Read "The Tenth Day" from The Real 12 Days of Christmas, read about the wise men giving gifts to Jesus, make gifts-in-a-jar to pass out to our neighbors, go caroling in the neighborhood and pass out the gifts we made. I love this quote from Lisa Whelchel's book The ADVENTure of Christmas, regarding the gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh..."Who would give such strange gifts to a baby? Wise men would."

Wednesday: Light the Christ candle on our Advent log, read "The Eleventh Day" from The Real 12 Days of Christmas, do our homemade-gift family gift exchange (more on this later), and place Baby Jesus in the straw-filled manger under our Christmas tree

Each child will receive an invitation to a special Christmas dinner, which will be lit by all 5 of the candles on our Advent log and we'll read about the final day, "The Twelfth Day of Christmas" from The Real 12 Days of Christmas


Martha Stewart's Yummy Shortbread Cookies

I make these every Christmas. One of the reasons they're so yummy is because the recipe calls for almost 3 sticks of butter. If you can justify that, give 'em a try...they're out of this world!


Makes 36 bars

  • 1 1/3 cups (2 sticks plus 6 tablespoons) unsalted butter, room temperature, plus more for pans
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 3 1/3 cups all-purpose flour


  1. Preheat oven to 275 degrees. Butter a 9-by-13-by-1-inch baking pan, and line bottom with parchment paper. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add salt and vanilla, and beat to combine. Add flour, 1 cup at a time, beating on low speed until just combined.
  2. Press dough into prepared pan, leveling and smoothing the top. Using a dough scraper or the back of a knife, cut dough lengthwise into nine strips, each slightly less than 1 inch wide. Cut the strips crosswise into thirty-six 3-inch bars. Using the tines of a fork or a wooden skewer, create a decorative pattern on the surface.
  3. Bake shortbread until evenly pale golden, but not browned, 70 to 85 minutes. Transfer pan to a wire rack to cool. Invert pan, and remove parchment. Turn shortbread over, and carefully break, or cut with a serrated knife, into bars. Store in an airtight container for up to 1 month.


Christmas Favorites

Adding even more red to my kitchen
Special ornaments--this one is 24 years old!

Gazing out my kitchen window into a winter wonderland

Waiting for Christmas morning

Decorating the tree

Bringing a bit of nature inside

Homemade ornaments

Christmas sheets for the littles

Pretty white lights

Splashes of color on gray days


Week 3

Here's what we'll be doing next week to celebrate the Christmas season:

Sunday: Begin reading The Real 12 Days of Christmas ("The First Day of Christmas"), and light the Shepherd's candle on our Advent log

Monday: Read "The Second Day" in The Real 12 Days of Christmas, read about the legend of the candy cane, and make candy cane reindeer

Tuesday: Read "The Third Day" in The Real 12 Days of Christmas, read about the star that the wise men followed and make glitter star ornaments

Wednesday: Read "The Fourth Day" in The Real 12 Days of Christmas and read The Tiny Star

Thursday: Read "The Fifth Day" in The Real 12 Days of Christmas, read about the shepherds in the Christmas story, pray for a missionary family, and make sheep with cotton balls

Friday: Read "The Sixth Day" in The Real 12 Days of Christmas and drive around to look at Christmas lights

Saturday: Read "The Seventh Day" in The Real 12 Days of Christmas and bake Christmas cookies


Week 2

Here's what we'll be doing next week to celebrate the Christmas season:

Sunday: Begin What God Wants for Christmas by opening the first gift box, and light the Bethlehem candle on our Advent log.

Monday: Open the second box of What God Wants for Christmas, and make ice cream cone Christmas trees

Tuesday: Open the third box of What God Wants for Christmas, and read A Little House Christmas

Wednesday: Open the fourth box of What God Wants for Christmas, talk about the true story of Santa Claus from Lisa Whelchel's book The ADVENTure of Christmas and hang our stockings

Thursday: Open the fifth box of What God Wants for Christmas, watch Santa Claus is Coming to Town while drinking hot chocolate with lots of marshmallows :)

Friday: Open the sixth box of What God Wants for Christmas, make snowflakes to hang in the window and watch Frosty the Snowman

Saturday: Open the seventh box of What God Wants for Christmas, and make gingerbread houses out of Graham crackers, frosting and candy (here's another fun site for ideas)


Oh, What a Morning!

I think I'll declare today a pajama day, at least until lunch time. I'm the only one in my jammies, by the way. The kids have been dressed for hours. How did that happen? The morning just slipped away from me! We snuggled and read Christmas books on the couch,

...I sipped an eggnog latte,

...the kids enjoyed cups of frothy hot chocolate with lots of marshmallows.

Ah! The perfect morning! Then something happened, as it usually does. Somebody grabs a toy from a sibling. Somebody screams; somebody hits; somebody runs away and won't come when she's called. Now I'm a frustrated mommy still in my pajamas at 11:00, and it doesn't seem quite so cozy and fun as it did earlier in the day! My latte is cold and everyone is on edge. But then the Lord brings to mind the beautiful Advent Scripture my husband read last night after dinner:

Isaiah 40:9-11

9 You who bring good tidings to Zion,
go up on a high mountain.
You who bring good tidings to Jerusalem,
lift up your voice with a shout,
lift it up, do not be afraid;
say to the towns of Judah,
"Here is your God!"

10 See, the Sovereign LORD comes with power,
and his arm rules for him.
See, his reward is with him,
and his recompense accompanies him.

11 He tends his flock like a shepherd:
He gathers the lambs in his arms
and carries them close to his heart;
he gently leads those that have young.

How timely! I'm thankful that God loves me and carries me close to His heart. I'm thankful that He leads me gently. I'm not always so gentle with my young. What a good reminder to me this morning!


My Little Christmas Tree

We always put a family Christmas tree up in our living room and a mini tree in the kids' bedroom, but last year I added this tiny tree to the kitchen while decorating for Christmas. I've received a great collection of Starbucks ornaments from friends and family. I figure they deserve a tree all their own.


Happy December!

I'm very excited to begin daily Christmas activities with my children. Every night after dinner, one of my kids will remove a slip of paper from our Advent garland and we'll do the activity written on that slip of paper. This week I'm focusing on Christmas trees. You can click on anything in red for the links.

Monday: Make candles out of toilet paper tubes to display in the window (this is to go along with lighting the first candle on our Advent log).

Tuesday: Read The Pine Tree Parable

Make apple cinnamon ornaments

Make green Corn Flake Wreaths

Read The Three Trees

Saturday: Watch The Three Trees

In keeping with the theme Preparing Him Room, this year I've decided to leave the manger of our Nativity scene empty until Christmas Eve. I've cut small strands of raffia to use as hay. Each of my children will place one strand of hay in Baby Jesus' manger every night before bed. On Christmas Eve we'll place Baby Jesus into His nice, soft bed.


Much Better!

I didn't think it was possible! I went through this cabinet today and organized all of my craft supplies. It looks like I tossed a bunch of stuff, but I didn't! I moved a few puzzles over to the kids' bookshelf, and I took the four unopened packages of Crayola art kits and hid them away for Christmas gifts. My kids received these last year, but I don't think they'll even notice! As I was organizing my supplies, a wave of inspiration came over me. I thought of a few crafty projects to do with my kids for Christmas.

So, there you have it...organization, inspiration and a little bit of Christmas shopping done in one afternoon!

Making My Home a Haven

I've decided to join Monica from The Homespun Heart in tidying up areas of my home to make it a haven for my family. Her challenge this week: Making Your Home a Haven. For me, a haven suggests peace and quiet, but I have four very young children, ages 3, 3, 4 and 5. One way I'm able to have peace in my home is by keeping their little hands busy.

Take a peek into my craft cabinet! This is ever so humbling for me. It's quite obvious that I just stuff things back into this cabinet when I'm through with them. My goal today is start organizing the mess this afternoon.

*edit* If you've arrived here from The Homespun Heart, please click here to see the final results!


Preparing Him Room

:: photo from Marthastewart.com ::

Are you one of those who won't listen to Christmas music until after Thanksgiving? I used to be, until this year. Recently I've felt a need to prepare my heart and the hearts of my children for the Christmas season ahead. I usually dive head-first into each Christmas season with the traditional day-after-Thanksgiving shopping trip. Don't get me wrong: I'm still looking forward to that day with great anticipation, but every year I say to myself, "Oh! I wish I would have done......with the kids! Oh well. Maybe next year." My plan is to be a little more purposeful this year. The word advent means "coming. " It denotes preparing and waiting expectantly for a guest, so I must start planning now, before Thanksgiving. That is why Christmas music is playing in the background as I type!

As a former elementary school teacher and a mommy of almost 6 years now, I have a growing collection of Christmas books, songs, movies, ideas, crafts and recipes--all of which tell of Jesus' birth. I've organized these resources in order to plan activities for my children during the month of December. I'd like to share some of these ideas here on my blog if any of you are interested. Here are a few resources I'll be incorporating (you may click on each of these links if you're interested):

An Advent Wreath with daily Scripture readings

What God Wants for Christmas

The Real 12 Days of Christmas

The Adventure of Christmas

A homemade Christmas Eve family gift exchange using A Wowie BOZowee Christmas

All of my books, movies, recipes and crafts correlate with the resources listed above. I'm excited to do this with my kids, and I hope you'll consider doing it along with me. I plan on writing the names of each activity on slips of paper and then stashing them into this new Advent Garland.

I'll post more on this later. I suppose I should make my calendar look a little more official before I post it, and not like something my kids got a hold of!

My prayer is that I'll be able to truly adore Christ this Christmas season and that I'll be able to slow down long enough to watch my children discover the glory of Christmas along with me. Do we moms ever get to do as Mary did in Luke 2:19?

"Mary treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart."

Maybe this year...



On the agenda for this evening...

Pumpkin-shaped pizzas and orange lemonade (a drop of red food coloring added to our pitcher of lemonade)...

reading from one of our favorite Halloween books, The Pumpkin Patch Parable...

and pumpkin carving, of course! I always hate to carve into our pumpkins. I feel like I'm saying goodbye to Autumn with that first stab.

Meet the lovely Princess Pumpkin Head.

From left to right...Kitty, Curvy Mouth, Shape Face and Princess Pumpkin.


Advent Garland and Other Goodies

My new favorite is this Advent garland from Cost Plus. I found it while shopping with dear friends of mine who visited this weekend.

Is it too soon for a Christmas post? :)

Any ideas for what to put inside each little stocking, mitten and hat?

Another treat from Cost Plus...a canister of yummy Gingerbread Cocoa Mix.

We found these at the Dollar Store!


Our Little Pumpkin Patch

We made these squatty little pumpkins this morning in our preschool co-op.

To make these little fellows, paint the bottom two-thirds of a small brown lunch bag orange. In order to make the paint spread quickly, I watered down my paint and used a wide-tipped sponge brush. Let paint dry.

Stuff paper bag with paper or recycled plastic bags. Twist the bag closed to make the stem. Secure it with a green pipe cleaner. Curl the pipe cleaner by rolling the ends around a pencil.

If you want to make jack-o-lanterns, have your kids paint or color faces onto their pumpkins before stuffing their bags.


Great Grandma's Apron

When I got home from the dentist this morning there was a package waiting for me on the porch. I was not at all prepared for what it contained. My mom sent me a copy of a book I've had my eye on, and my Great Grandma's apron. My Great Grandma was born before the turn of the century, and passed away when I was a little girl. I have very fond memories of her. My brother and I used to sit up to her kitchen counter on stools and sip root beer from straws. This is one of the reasons I wanted to add this counter to my kitchen.

My Grandpa (her son) passed away this summer, and my mom has been busy sorting through things left behind. She came across this apron in a hope chest. I feel so honored to receive this and to add it to my collection of aprons.

And, speaking of aprons, here's a picture of an apron I made the other night after the kids went to bed. I found two linen nap napkins on clearance last week and thought they would make an adorable apron. The plaid reminds me of candy corn.


Autumn Decor around the House

Don't laugh...yes, that is a dryer hose painted orange and yellow, but it makes a great kids craft and an adorable pumpkin!

My husband brought these flowers home last week. The bowls are for serving up yummy pumpkin soup.

I love to place little pumpkins around the house. That splash of bright orange makes me feel so happy.

I also add leaf garland to railings, mirrors and mantles.

Click here to take a peek at creative Halloween and Autumn decor.