Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas!

I truely hope that in the next few days, you will be able to spend time, enjoying the company of your loved ones.  I also hope that you will be able to reflect on the miracle & magic of the season, which doesn't come through Santa (as this picture suggests!), but that comes through the extraordinary events that happened in a dirty, smelly stable, when God became man.

As a kid, one of our Christmas morning traditions was to eat breakfast & read about the story of Christmas before unwrapping our presents.  Many years, my dad would read the chapter, "In a Moment" from the Max Lucado book God Came Near.  That chapter is definitely one of my favorite readings about the birth & life of Jesus.  I found a pdf version that includes several different Max Lucado writings about Christmas.  I would encourage you to check it out, & especially read chapter two, "In a Moment".  I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Here's the link:  It Began in a Manger

Christmas Traditions

Every year, I try to have all the Christmas chaos contained by the first few days of December.  By that, I mean I try to have the house decorated, ornaments made, gifts purchased & wrapped, & Christmas cards mailed.  I figure that when all the details are finished, I can sit back & enjoy the Christmas season with my family!

We have started several traditions over the years, & most of our December weekends are spent fulfilling them.

The Friday & Saturday after Thanksgiving, our village hosts "Hometown Holidays".  This was the first year we were able to go, but we had such a good time, I'm hoping we can make this a tradition (as long as we are in town for Thanksgiving).  Local businesses host different activities & give away samples of their goods.  They also give free vintage fire truck rides to the holiday train display.

{Hometown Holidays}

Usually, the first Sunday in December, our old church hosts a Family Christmas night, in which you go to different rooms as a family & create Christmas crafts, play games, & listen to Christmas stories & music.  Our children always love to go to this, & it is so neat to look back each year at all the ornaments they have created from Family Christmases past!

{Cookie decorating at Family Christmas a few years ago}

One Saturday morning every December, my son's school hosts a free "Pancakes with Santa" breakfast.  The kids enjoy going to this & after eating, they can shop for cheap gifts for their families at the Elf Shelf.

{Pancakes with Santa}

Each year, the Macy's downtown puts on Macy's Downtown Dazzle.  We love to go downtown & enjoy all the free holiday festivities (They repeat them every Saturday!).  There are horse drawn carriage rides, gingerbread displays, pictures with Santa, cookies & a story with Mrs. Claus.  Of course, the highlight is watching Santa, his elf, & reindeer rappel down onto Macy's rooftop, which is followed by a fireworks display.  This definitely makes the holiday seem magical!

{Mailing letters to Santa}

{Sitting on Santa's lap}

{Story time with Mrs. Claus}

{If you look really closely where the spotlight hits, you can see Santa & his helpers waving...They rappelled down from the taller building on the right}

Last year was the first year we did the "Minivan Express".  I originally saw the idea on Confessions of a Homeschooler & if you go to Erica's site, you can print off tickets to the minivan express.  For our "Minivan Express" we ate pizza & watched the movie The Polar Express.  When the movie was over, we had the kids go upstairs & get ready for bed as usual.  Earlier in the day, my husband had decorated the inside of the van with Christmas lights.  While the kids were in the shower, I popped popcorn & made hot chocolate & put it in their seats in the car.  Then, as soon as my kids pulled down their covers, they found their golden tickets!  Once they had their tickets, my husband, (who was now downstairs & had cued the DVD) began blasting the scene where the train pulls up to the little boy's house from the DVD.  It seriously sounded like the train was pulling up to OUR house!  Zeke was extremely excited, but Elie was terrified & had to be carried downstairs kicking & screaming!

{Bad quality, but they have found their tickets & Elie is beginning to panic!  She's actually walking to the window to see if she can see the train!}

Once we got them downstairs, they got their tickets punched & got in the van which was decked out with lights, Christmas music, & snacks.  Then, we went to a drive through nativity & looked at Christmas lights.

{Minivan Express}

Another yearly Christmas tradition is to go to the local conservatory & check out their live animal nativity & beautiful poinsettia displays.  Believe it or not, but the kids actually really enjoy this!


Well, I'm pretty sure that's how we spend the Christmas season each year!  Of course, we also love to snuggle on the couch & watch all the classic Christmas movies.  The best part about doing all these things is just being together as a family.  In a month that is usually chaotically busy, I'm glad that most of our chaos is from all the fun we are having as a family!

What are some of your holiday traditions?


Cheap & Easy Photo Christmas Cards

Last year, I came up with what I think is a great way to save money on photo Christmas cards.  In the past, I have always been too cheap to spend $15 or more on photo cards, plus the cost of stamps.  Until last year, I had been buying boxed cards & adding a 4x6 picture of my kids inside.  Then, I realized, with the cost of cards & photos, I was spending about the same amount as I would on photo cards!  As I tried to problem solve a way to reduce my Christmas card costs, an idea hit me!

I placed my kids in front of the Christmas tree & desperately tried to get a good picture of them:

When I realized a "good" picture was not in our future, I told them to act silly & snapped some more pictures.  When I saw this picture, I knew it was the one:

{Not the greatest picture, but pretty funny!}

Then, I opened the photo in Picasa (a free photo editing download) and edited it in Picnik (which is part of Picasa's editing tools).

There, I messed with the effects, added a frame, & added text until I came up with this:

Then, I uploaded the picture to a local photo lab, which happened to have 4x6 prints on sale for ten cents each & picked up my "photo cards" one hour later!  They even threw in the perfect sized envelopes!  So, for about $5 I got 50 photo cards & envelopes!  (I'm curious to see if I'll get free envelopes this year too!  Otherwise, I'll just go buy some!)

I was pretty happy with my resourcefulness & we got a lot of compliments on our Christmas cards!

So, what do you think?  Have you ever tried this?

Stuffing the Socks

I love having cheap & easy gift ideas on hand, so I thought I would share with you what is going in my kids' stockings this year!

Here is what is inside my five-year-old daughter's Christmas stocking:

{Little Girl Stocking Stuffers}

1. Play-Doh (Wal-Mart)
2. Purple Sparkly Nail Polish (Wal-Mart)
3. Silly Putty (2 pack from the party section at Wal-Mart)
4. Princess Stickers (Dollar Tree)
5. Princess Hair Headband (Dollar Tree)
6. Betty Crocker Chocolate Chip Cookie Mix
7. Grow a Mermaid (Hobby Lobby)
8. Rayovac Flashlight with batteries (Wal-Mart)
9. Chocolate Jello Pudding Mix
10. Grape Jello Gelatin Mix
11. Trident Gum (4 pack at Dollar Tree)
12. KooKoo Birds (Wal-Mart)

Here are the contents of my seven-year-old son's stocking:

{Boy Stocking Stuffers}

1. Generic Rubix Cube (Dollar Tree)
2. Play-Doh (Wal-Mart)
3. Silly Putty (Wal-Mart)
4. Jumping Beans (Dollar Tree)
5. Rayovac Flashlight with batteries (Wal-Mart)
6. Jump Rope (Wal-Mart)
7. Diving Submarine (Dollar Tree)
8. Disc Shooter (Dollar Tree)
9. Vanilla Jello Pudding Mix
10. Orange Jello Gelatin Mix
11. Trident Gum (Dollar Tree)
12. Pez Dispenser (Dollar Tree)

Most of the items are self-explanatory, but I feel that I must mention a couple of things about these "stuffers".  This year, both of my children asked for Easy Bake Ovens (my son said he just wanted one in a boyish color!).  Unfortunately, for my children, I refuse to buy them a gift that is just going to cost more money every time they want to use it!  Plus, it's not like they could really do it on their own, they would still need my help, so why not learn to bake for "real"?  (You know, with mixes & stuff!)  Anyway, that is why I decided to give them the Jello & cookie mixes.  These are inexpensive, easy to make, & require just a few staple ingredients.  Plus, I'm pretty sure most of the work can be done completely by my children with little help required from me!

I know jump ropes are popular gifts for Easter, but I always try to give my kids a gift or two that they can use in the winter time to get some of their energy out, especially on days where the weather or daylight doesn't cooperate enough for them to play outside!  Last year, I gave my son a soft, rubber Frisbee, which is great for throwing in the basement!

I love to look at the "science" aisle in Hobby Lobby & have found some great stocking stuffers there.  Last year, I gave my son a small "make your own snow kit" & a "make your own bouncy ball kit".  They were each only about a dollar or two & I actually saw both of those items (different brands) at Dollar Tree this year.  He loved doing both of those! 

So, what's going in your kids' stockings this year?  I'm always looking for ideas!

Teacher Christmas Gifts

This is what we made for the kids' teachers for Christmas last year:

{Teacher Travel Mugs}

Last year, I bought a few "Color a Mug" travel cups from Dollar Tree.  Then, I purchased some black & white polka dotted vinyl & hot pink vinyl stickers from Hobby Lobby.  I traced the paper template from the cup onto the back of the vinyl & cut it out.  Then, I added a vinyl letter sticker of the first letter of the teacher's last name to the black & white vinyl & inserted it into the cup.  Inside the cup, I added a Starbuck's gift card & topped it with a hot pink bow to match.

I also gave the teachers a snowman ornament the kids made by putting their white hand print on a ball ornament & adding details to make the fingers look like snowmen.

{Snowmen Ornaments}

This year, as seems to be the theme, I decided to take a more simple route!  I simply grabbed some takeout boxes from, where else, but Dollar Tree.  I filled them with red shredded paper & a $5 gift card to Little Caesars (where you can get a large "Hot & Ready" pizza for $5 which includes tax!) & a $5 gift card to a local cupcake bakery.

{Take Out Teacher's Gift}

{The Wrapping}

I topped the boxes with an easy snowman ornament the kids made from a Popsicle stick.  (We make ornaments every year!)

{Popsicle Snowman Ornament}

So, what are some other good ideas for teacher gifts?  Feel free to leave a comment with the link to your gift ideas!  I always love to file away great gift ideas!

Linking here:

Christmas Mantel

Here are a few quick pictures of my family room decorated for Christmas.  Sorry for the bad quality pictures, I waited too late to take them!  (And if I wasn't such a lazy blogger, I would probably re-take them!)

{Family Room}


{Ornaments hanging at various heights from the curtain rods}


The Front Porch at Christmas

Here is my front porch, simply decorated for Christmas:

Normally, I add greenery around the door, but this year, with a new baby coming in just a few months (& a ton of projects to finish before that time...) I decided not to spend any extra time decorating!

I took a few empty boxes, added some bricks inside, & wrapped them with "waterproof" wrapping paper from Dollar Tree.  I also found the large bows at Dollar Tree.  It has rained on them for at least five days, & they are still holding up very well!

To finish off the outdoor decor, I threw some clear lights on the front bushes & called it a day!
Linking here:

Dining Decor

Here's a few pictures of the Christmas decorations in my dining room & morning this year.

{Dining Room}

Since the dining room is still very unfinished, I decided I didn't want to spend any extra money decorating the space (especially since we are going to start making over this room during Christmas break!).  For the table, I used a plate from my wedding china & added a hurricane vase (I'm blanking right now, but I think that's what it's called!) & filled it in with a tree topper that I got from Dollar Tree last year.  Then I filled it with some mini gold ornaments.  Around the hurricane, I added some pinecones & a few pieces of artificial pine.  I also added some glass candle holders with silver ball ornaments.

{Dining Room}

On the buffet, I added some greenery decorated with ball ornaments & berries & I placed another Dollar Tree tree topper inside an apothecary jar.
{Morning Room}

In the morning room, I placed $3 wreaths from Wal-Mart on the windows with suction cups & tied a bow around them.  I really like the way they look, but this picture does not do them justice!  (Hmm...maybe I should have taken pictures earlier in the day, when the sun wasn't streaming through the windows!)

{Morning Room}

On the table, I placed candles & a tree on three silver trays (from Dollar Tree) & added assorted sizes of green, gold, & silver ornaments.  Pretty simple to do, but I think it looks very elegant!

Linking here:

The Lettered Cottage     Photobucket    


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