Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Three Little Treasures

This is just me sharing some photos that didn't make the Christmas card this year, that's all. I'm still on brand though because my kids are my three little priceless treasures. I didn't have to hunt for them. They are gifts from God. Their lives are unwrapping before me every day.

Photo credits to Kelley Trottier.

Sweet and fiesty

Best friends and worst enemies

Strong willed mama's girl

Miss Independent

Worth waking up at 3am for

Bright Eyes

Crocheting credit to Chris Dion


Big Sissy

Knitting credit to Sue Desruisseaux

I've got my hands full

Snuggle Buggler

Little Angel

My three little ladies are precious in God's sight, and in mine. I tell them that every day. I love them always and anyways.  My prayer is that they grow old together. And every day I pray that God gives me the love and wisdom to be the best mom I can be.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Brown Paper Packages Tied Up With String

...These are a few of my favorite things! I'm so overdue to watch The Sound of Music again. :)  Yankee Candle has this new limited edition line of candles inspired by the song My Favorite Things. I recently finished burning Bright Copper Kettles and am saving Warm Woolen Mittens for January (Holiday Sage is burning now - LOVE!) I digress.

So, back to brown paper packages....

Wrapping Christmas gifts is a favorite past time of mine. As in, before kids. Christmas gift wrapping used to be a big, fun project that I put a lot of time and detail into. I'd save every box that entered my house so I'd always have just the right size one for any gift. That was when I had a 3rd floor simply for storage. (When I could have been on an episode of Hoarders. It took me days to break down all those boxes before we moved.)

I was, and still am, pretty particular about my wrapping paper designs. I used to amass as much beautiful ribbon as I could, especially the wired kind, by saving them from gifts I received or scoring beautiful spools full at yard sales and Sally's. I loved stacking up boxes and tying them together. One of my signature wraps involved twine, cinnamon sticks, pine cones, greenery and berries. And I could put together one heck of a gift basket if I do say so myself. With baskets picked up at yard sales and thrift shops, of course. Oh, those were the days. The good ole' days.

For the past six years or so I've usually resorted to my stash of recycled gift bags. I use whatever bag I can fit the gift in and stuff it with plain white tissue paper. If a gift comes boxed then sure, I'll give it a little TLC wrap, but not like I used to.

This year I decided to have a little more fun wrapping again. My idea began with trying to find a use for this large stack of (250) jumbo green vintage tags I picked up on a treasure hunt I shared back in March.

I try not to buy things I don't already have a use in mind for when I purchase them but I felt pretty confident I'd come up with something fun to do with these eventually. I loved the color, shape, and size of these tags as well as the reinforcement detail around the hole.

Shortly after buying the tags, an idea popped into my head. I would use them to craft hand made Christmas cards. I would loop some pretty red or red and white patterned ribbon through the hole, attach a photo of the kids on one side, and write a personal message on the other side. I had been looking forward to implementing this project ever since. Every time I'd visit the craft store I'd check the clearance ribbons for red ones under $1 and started stocking up.

I had the whole project ready to go by October. I just needed a photo with all three girls. In fact, I even brought all my supplies to the hospital when I had my c-section, thinking I'd have time to start cutting/looping ribbon or addressing envelopes. Clearly I was dilusional.

Enter my friend Kelley, a casual photographer with a good eye and a nice camera. She offered to take photos of my girls for my Christmas cards this year. She envisioned a nice photo collage full of cute little poses like the ones she'd been pinning on Pinterest. She didn't know about my project...where I would only have room for one picture of all three girls. So I told her about my idea and showed her the green tags. She totally talked me out of it. The tags are only 3"x6". If I wanted to keep any green border around the that picture I'd mount on it, I would have to print wallet sized pictures and then people would need a magnifying glass to see the kids' faces. And when would I have time to put together almost 100 hand made cards between teaching my Kindergardener and taking care of a newborn? She was right. Besides, getting one great shot of all three girls proved to be near impossible.

My idea was deflated.  I'll admit I was disappointed but it just wasn't meant to be. In the end, Kelley's hard work gave me quite a few options, resulting in my nice little photo collage Christmas card:

A picture of a picture because my scanner is currently out of commission. :(
That left me desperately wanting a new idea for how to use the green tags. Then it hit me. Duuuhhh...Gift tags. Tied with red ribbons (not string).  Around brown paper packages. That was it. Simple and casual. I figured I'd wrap as many gifts as I could that way, excluding the kids (they get cheesy character paper).  And if I ran out of red ribbon, I'd dip into my stash for other colors. So I started saving all my boxes immediately and I came home with a big stack of brown paper bags from my next grocery shopping trip.

I've started making some wrapping progress. Here are some I've pumped out this week:

Hmmm...the tags look two totally different colors when photographed in different lighting.

My sister's birthday is Christmas Day. (Its a milestone year for her.) I often forget to wrap her gift in birthday paper! Oops!

Skinny red velvet ribbon

I hadn't paid much attention to the small print around the hole until just the other day. It says "DENNISON MFG. CO. U.S.A.  8GC"  So I Googled "Dennison Manufacturing Company" with a pretty good hunch about what I'd find and sure enough - it turns out that it was a Framingham, MA based Fortune 500 company that was established in the 1800s and merged with Avery International Corporation in 1991 to form Avery Dennison - the company most well-known for its labels.  That has significance for me considering this recent post! I'm not superstitious, really.

Red gross-grain with white stitching
Quite a few years ago the adults in my immediate family started picking names out of a hat to buy for just one other person will a dollar limit. It keeps Christmas shopping simpler and easier on the wallet. Christmas day becomes easier to focus on Christ and family rather than gifts.This year, I'm buying for my mom.

I did end up needing to dip into some of my other ribbon so I looked into my "ribbons & notions" basket on my cellar stairs.

This sits between my "paints" and "sewing stuff" basket. I don't do much with either!

This was all I had left of Christmas colors.

Green ric-rac, dark green and red gross-grain, and burgandy satin

Wrapping presents is so therapeutic. For me its a welcome creative outlet, not a chore. I finished my shopping today (big sigh!) so I'll be back to having fun wrapping front of HGTV of course.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Its Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas Part II

Yesterday I posted Part I, sharing some of my Christmas decor. Today I continue with Part II to share a few things I do to help my family maintain a correct focus on Christmas.

Music can really put you in a mood. I often hear people say or write about how Christmas music really "gets them in the holiday spirit". I've always wondered what holiday spirit is. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy Mariah Carey's "All I Want For Christmas is You" the first couple times I hear it each year, but then, like most other Christmas jingles ringing overhead in all of retail, it just gets really irritating. And my kids do love the Looney Toons Christmas album their Grammy gave them last year, though only 3 of the songs are about Christ. I try to play Christ-centered Christmas music as much as I can but I'll admit I've found it difficult to come across many Christian Christmas albums that I just really love. (If you have a favorite please tell me!)

My girls also like their Cedarmont Kids Gospel Christmas album. This year I actually bought a CD of an album that my parents had the cassette tape of growing up. Michael W. Smith's Christmas album from back in 1989. Oh yeah. Love it. I have a country Christmas album that's okay. But my favorite go-to Christmas music is Handel's Messiah. The girls and I all love "Unto Us a Child is Born" the best and have been known to blast it on repeat in the house and in the car. Please enjoy our favorite piece as performed by the London Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus while you continue to read the rest of my post below. :)

I break out the nativity sets - a collection which continues to grow. I love how excited my kids get to play with them and re-enact the Christmas story. First they ripped into the Playmobil nativity (that my mom found at Salvation Army a few years back). They had fun with that for a week and only lost a handful of pieces.

Then they moved on to my cheap Job Lot ceramic sets. We've only had a few casualties and one wise man no longer has a gift to bring Jesus. I have yet to break out the nice big resin set my mom recently reminded me she passed along to me so the kids couldn't break it. I love to sneak up on the kids with the camcorder as they are acting out scenarios with the figurines.

How appropriate for them to gather around my Christmas cactus!

This year I went through all the kids bookshelves and pulled out every Christmas story book. I put them all in a wooden tray and placed them on the ottomans in the family room. This encourages the kids to read them (or just look at them) and reminds me to read them with the kids as well. I am careful not to just read Bible story books but to read with them the actual Bible as well.

I've got so many great Advent ideas I hope to do with the kids as they grow older. Two years ago, I created an Advent calendar out of mini-stockings. I searched for cheap little red ones in the stores but could only find cheesy blue, gold and white ones that came with a gold paint pen. So I settled. I used the gold paint to write numbers on them. Not my choice color scheme but they turned out kinda a fugly sort of way, but they function for now. I string ric-rac across the front of a shelf in my family room (where we also hang our big stockings since we have no fireplace or staircase) and I use mini clothespins to hang the Advent stockings across.

I was behind schedule in getting these up this year as you can see by our starting date:

Each day, the kids take turns emptying the daily Advent stocking. Inside each one is a little piece of blue paper with a reference to scripture that I read outloud and a piece of chocolate for each child. I have quite a few resources for suggested daily Scripture readings for Advent so I just pick from those.

Some daily readings are prophesies about Jesus to come. Some are from the story leading up to and including Jesus' birth. Some are about who He is - our King, our Savior, our Judge, our Shepherd, our Servant. The challenge is to hold the attention of my 5 year old and maybe my 2 year old as these verses are read and then to explain them in terms they can understand and apply. Sometimes I wonder if any of it is sinking in but I cling to Isaiah 55:11 that reminds me God's Word does not return empty and it will accomplish what He desires!

After reading great reviews about some Advent devotionals for kids I ordered a few story book devotionals, hoping to go through one with my oldest daughter this year.

"Mom, how come there's no pictures??? I don't want to read this book anymore." After a few days of struggling to keep her attention with multiple-page pictureless chapters, I gave up. Guess she's still a bit young for that one...will try again next year.

Yeah, I've got a couple of things on my wish list this year, as if a new mini-van wasn't enough. I want new curtains for my dining room and a new camera. That's it. Strange, my kids each came up with only two things they each wanted too. After going on a few work errands with my mother-in-law, who's a Realtor, one item on my oldest's wishlist is a lockbox!  Her younger sister just says she wants one too even though she doesn't know what it is. :) Needless to say neither of them will be getting a lockbox for Christmas.

My goal is to get my girls to think more about giving gifts than getting them. My oldest already told me what she got me because she was so excited. So I'm working hard to keep her great idea for dad (which she is making) a secret. I also include the girls when I take a gift tag off the tree at the bank. I read them the options and let them choose who we will buy for. And they come shopping with me to help pick out the gift for this stranger their age who would otherwise not get many or any presents.

As with most everyone, I feel the pressure of Christmas tradition obligations. In some ways I'm thankful that I have my hands full with an infant these days and I am forced to pare down my to-do list because I don't have the time. I did send out Christmas cards this year. I am attending several Christmas parties (yay - nights out without kids!!!). I still have lots of gifts to buy.

Every year I spend a few days baking, including at least one whole afternoon meticulously decorating cookie-cutter sugar cookies. I always do up plates or tins of goodies for people. But not this year. My oldest and I already spent one afternoon making cookie-cutter gingerbread cookies (thank you Betty Crocker bag mix) since she's been begging me for months. We didn't frost or decorate them and we've already eaten them all. :)

Last year I filled each of the Advent stockings with little gifts for both girls each day. Not this year. A Hershey kiss will suffice. Last year I decorated the shelf that I hung the Advent stockings from like it was a mantle. Glass jars full of various red glass ball ornaments silver coated pine cones. Not this year. I didn't bother unpacking any of it.

For me, especially this Christmas, less certainly is more. Less decorations, less traditions, less obligations, less distractions. More Christ. More Prince of Peace.

Below is a poem prayer I wanted to share. It's written by Renee Swope of Proverbs 31 Ministries and it arrived in this devotional in my email inbox this morning.

The Manger of My Heart

This Christmas, Lord, come to the manger of my heart.
Fill me with Your presence from the very start.
As I prepare for the holidays and gifts to be given,
Remind me of the gift You gave when You sent Your Son from Heaven.

The first Christmas gift, it was the greatest gift ever.
You came as a baby born in a manger.
Wrapped like the gifts I find under my tree,
Waiting to be opened, to reveal Your love to me.

Restore to me the wonder that came with Jesus’ birth,
when He left the riches of Heaven and wrapped Himself in rags of earth.
Immanuel, God with us, Your presence came that night.
And angels announced, “Into your darkness, God brings His Light.”

“Do not be afraid,” they said, to shepherds in the field.
Speak to my heart today, Lord, and help me to yield.
Make me like those shepherd boys, obedient to Your call.
Setting distractions and worries aside, to You I surrender them all.

Surround me with Your presence, Lord, I long to hear Your voice.
Clear my mind of countless concerns and all the holiday noise.
Slow me down this Christmas, let me not be in a rush.
In the midst of parties and planning, I want to feel Your hush.

This Christmas, Jesus, come to the manger of my heart.
Invade my soul like Bethlehem, bringing peace to every part.
Dwell within and around me, as I unwrap Your presence each day.
Keep me close to You, Lord. It’s in Your wonderful Name I pray.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Its Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas Part I

How about it's beginning to look a little bit like Christmas in my house, and that's just the way I like it.  I have not amassed boxes and boxes of Christmas decorations. I have a small collection of trusty winter and Christmas treasures I pull out each year, most of them with a bit of vintage flair. I alway stick with the same true red, white and green color scheme.

I'm a sucker for vintage tableclothes, only I don't use them on my dining room table every day like I did before my oldest started eating at it with us. I do rotate through my smaller ones, giving them each turns on the little drop-leaf table (that I got with 4 matching chairs for $25 at a yardsale about 10 years ago) in my kitchen under the window. So at Christmas I cover it in this retro Christmas tablecloth that I picked up at a little antique shop that used to be in Blackstone years ago. She had the BEST linens. I almost cried when she closed shop.

I just LLOOVVEE this era.

Maybe some day I'll have enough kitchen cabinetry that I won't need to use the space under this table as a pantry of sorts.

My dear friend Heather, who more than shares my appreciation for vintage linens, passed along a coordinating runner when she was cleaning out her stash of family linens in preparation to move recently. So that is now in my kitchen on this buffet that I got for $40 at a yard sale a couple of years ago.

The pull knobs on the buffet are adorned with acorn jingle bells I picked up eons ago at Hallmark during their after-Christmas 75% off clearance sale.

I hung some of the bells on my $5 yard sale window frame in the bathroom too:

A Balsam Fir tea-light Yankee Candle burns in this little galvanized tin lantern. I've had this so long I have no idea where I got it.

And because there's no such thing as too much galvanized tin, two of these topiaries sit on the ledge on my front porch; one on either side of the door.

I have a small collection of vintage Christmas and New Year postcards I'd purchased for cheap at antique stores years ago and I usually tuck them around vintage treasures in my kitchen.

These other three cards are nestled on a kitchen window ledge:

Ugghh. This is why I want a new camera. Oh, to be able to focus again!

The following vintage greeting card is one of my most treasured Christmas decorations for my kitchen. My BFF found it among her grandmother's belongings and sent it to me one year for Christmas. Even though I'm not a big fan of Santa, I love it.

Over the past couple of years, I've added a few new winter decorations I've come across in my treasure hunts. Take these ceramic deer for instance. I was in line at Salvation Army one day when these caught my eye on a nearby shelf. They already had the red ribbon around their necks. So simple and peaceful.  And dirt cheap.

I think they need to lay in a bed of greenery for a little contrast.

I've also incorporated my love of birds into my winter decorating over the last couple of years. I've always used the same simple fake wreath on my front door. It came with the pine cones and I added a red and white gingham bow. Last year I stepped it up a notch though. I bought some cheap birds and nests at the craft store and simply nestled them into the wreath. Sweet! I mean....Tweeet! (Sorry.)

I've also picked up some post-Christmas clearance bird and feather ornaments. I oogled before Christmas but refused to pay pre-Christmas prices so I waited patiently for the deals.

Covered in peacock feathers

I haven't found an angel or star I love to top my tree...not that I've actually been looking much. So a bird is perched on top instead.

I've tried to remember to buy ornaments as souvenirs from our travels, though I often forget.

We got this from our visit to Hearst Castle.

One my oldest made with her picture in preschool and one we got on our trip to Sequoia National Park

I try not to go over the top with the Christmas decorations because they can be a distraction from my focus during this season. In fact, this is only the second year we've had a Christmas tree in 11+ years of marriage. Last year we had a small potted tree and this year I downsized even more to a $17 table-top tree. It took the kids and I a matter of an hour max to set up, light, and ornament the tree. To the blasting of Handel's Messiah, of course. I really don't want to spend more time and money than that on the Christmas tree. My hubby actually prefers we had no tree at all. He'll admit, he's a little Scrooge. But the tree is not our focus. For me, it's just an excuse to buy and display the bird and feather ornaments a place to gather the presents under. :)

Our little table-top tree. Its more than enough.

What is our focus? Christ! Emmanuel - God with us. Tomorrow (or some day soon) I will continue and conclude with Part II of this post by sharing a few of the things I do to help my family and I maintain this focus.
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