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Thursday, December 30, 2010

Double duty

As I posted earlier, I decided that this year I was going to do a bunch of handmade gifts this year for Christmas. We did not solely make gifts, but I did considerably reduce the number of "Made in China" tags that were going to be brought into our home. Part of my motivation for this was to be frugal, and part was to avoid the endless clutter that always happens at Christmas.

I will be posting some of the gifts that I made here, and this is the first of those posts. I have been having difficulty lately in teaching my young boys the need for modesty when getting out of the bath. They like to get out of the tub, dry off in the towel, leave the towel on the floor, and then come out and ask me questions before going to their room and putting on their PJ's. Now I realize that as a parent I can continually tell them not to do that, and I can explain why, and I can even apply a consequence if they disobey, however I don't think in this case a consequence is needed. Instead I asked myself what tools I could give them to help them to remember.

So to both fulfill that need as well as my need to reduce waste, and clutter I decided that I would make them each a bath robe. Now because they are so close in age I aim to keep gifts similar or identical wherever possible. So I purchased red flannel and cream bias tape for both robes. I used a scrap piece of the flannel to try my hand at machine embroidery, which I failed at doing. So to distinguish one from the other I used the remains of some gold puff paint that was leftover from a previous project. Here are the results, and they are a hit with the children. They keep them hung up on the bathroom door so they are always convenient when they get out of the bath.

What do you think? Both functional and fun? These were a bit tricky in spots, but the came out well I think.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Time well spent

Long after this year is gone, after my children are grown and have families of their own, long after our home is empty and far too quiet I hope my children will remember the times like this. The times when all the housework was moved aside, and all my time was devoted to enjoying their childhood.

This Christmas my children were given a rather large Knex set, a 675 piece, battery operated roller coaster set to be exact. The day after Christmas, after Twiggles was put to bed for the night the big boys and I sat down and spent 3 hours assembling the roller coaster, we finished just after daddy got home from work. Once it was assembled it was of course time to turn it on and see if it ran, it took us three test runs to get it to run all the way through, but once we did it ran smoothly and without fail.

The boys were thrilled to see it run, and they were so pleased with all the hard work. It is official, my little boys are growing up! I can remember times when it was difficult to get them to sit still for 15 minutes let alone 3 whole hours, and now they happily sit still working hard to decode the directions and get those pieces snapped in just so.

I treasure these moments with my children, because I know that all too soon they will be gone and my handsome little boys will be big, busy teenagers, and before I know it they will be men with wives and children of their own. I hope there will still be time for Mom even when they are grown boys, but before all of that I know that there is still time to make plenty more memories with my children. I only wish I could keep them small forever, I love to watch the innocent joy in their faces, and I don't ever want that look to fade.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

I just wanted to say

Merry Christmas to all my blog buddies! I want you all to know how special you are to me, and that I look forward to catching up with all of you after the Christmas rush is over. I am currently rushing to finish last minute details, get cookies ready for Hubby to take to work (which is a pain because of all the rules and stipulations placed on them), and trying ever so unsuccessfully to hide myself away until Christmas is over because this time of year I really start to not enjoy people very much.

So to all of you lovely people whom I treasure, even at Christmas, I say Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Advent week 3

We are still working through our advent chain a day at a time, each day reading from the Bible and doing a craft or activity related to the reading.

Day 11: We talked about Jesus being presented with his name in the Temple, and so I gave each child a page with Jesus printed on it and they were set to work decorating his name in any way they'd like. Each child chose what they wanted to use for decorating and got right to work.

Day 12: We talked about the wise men using the star to find baby Jesus and after we decorated patterned star ornaments to hang on the tree.

Day 13: We made cookie gifts to give to others, sorry I don't have pictures of them. We baked a few simple Christmas cookies and put them in little tins from the dollar store, with red and green napkins. Each of my big boys took cookies to their Cub Scout den leaders, and Biga Boy gave cookies to the other boys in his den as well.

Day 14: The boys decorated some large sheets of paper to make their own wrapping paper. We will use this paper later.

Day 15: The boys used the wrapping paper that they made to "wrap" the gift they bought for daddy.

Day 16: The boys made Christmas cards for some of our family, they will give them the cards on Christmas day when we go to my Daddy's for Christmas dinner. I forgot to photograph these, I'll have to get the pictures later and add them, if I can manage to remember.

Day 17: They added some glitter decorations to their Christmas Stockings, making them uniquely their own.

Day 18: We did marble painting on paper Christmas trees. The marble painting makes a very unique design and it was quite fun.

Day 19: We had planned to make Styrofoam Christmas Ornaments, but I discovered I didn't have the supplies, so we will make these later. I'll visit the craft store later this week and pick up the materials.

Day 20: Make Christmas Cookies to share, we've been doing lots of that lately, and oddly I've not been able to remember to take pictures of the cookies before we've given them away. So you'll just have to trust me that we've been making them! :)

Sorry this update is so long, life got a little crazy and I forgot to make the update. I hope you are enjoying our pictures and activities as much as we are! After Christmas I will post a final update with our last 5 days of activities, give you something to look forward to.

Friday, December 17, 2010

I finally put up the tree.

This year with Twiggles being so little and considerably more curious than either of my other two children ever were at this age Hubby and I decided that we would put up our tree the week before Christmas to both save our sanity and protect Mr. Curiosity. So we pulled out all the Christmas decorations the week after Thanksgiving and we decorated the house in places Twiggles couldn't reach (which for being only 2.5 feet tall is most of the house). I had suspected that our several year old artificial, pre-lit tree was broken but couldn't be sure until I removed it from the storage closet. It was in fact broken.

So, Hubby and I began the tree debate...another skimpy, wimpy looking artificial, as unless you are willing as I am not to spend well over 150.00 on a tree they all look pitiful, or should we purchase for the first time ever a real cut Christmas tree? Well, we debated the merits of both, the real tree smelling so fragrant, having such full branches, being even more sturdy because of the wide base of the stand. The artificial being cheaper as it's reusable, not being able to do nearly as much damage should it be pulled or knocked over by the aforementioned Twiggles, oh and a fake tree being much easier to clean up after as well. In the end my frugal side won out and we decided to purchase an artificial tree.

Yesterday I went with a neighbor friend (whom I just recently met) to search out a tree, I saw a tree that was similiar to what I had previously (6 foot tall, slender, skimpy, and wimpy, with a weak base) for 67.00 and I was not impressed, nor was I willing to pay that much for so little. At the next store we visited, which I love their deals usually, I found a lovely tree with more round branches, and fuller, less wimpy, 6.5 feet tall, and flocked tips (which was different than our usual tree) however when I got to the counter to pay for it I discovered that it was not in fact included in the sale that was advertised in the same department as the tree, and being frugal I was not willing to pay 80.00 for a tree! Off we went to another store, where I was disappointed to see the trees looking so cheap, and yup you guessed it wimpy, I didn't even bother checking prices.

In desperation I called my husband and asked him if a real tree would be OK this year as I could not find a fake one that I liked. He said a real one would be fine if I wasn't able to find an artificial. Well, before I gave up I thought I would go and check out one of the newer local Goodwill stores. When we got inside I saw only one tree and it was probably 9 or 10 feet tall and would NEVER fit inside my little apartment. Then my friend suggested we check the back of the store near housewares. We did in fact find a few trees there, the first one to catch my eye was a nice little tree, it was about 6 foot, a little on the skinny side, but it did have very full branches and it was pre-lit, I checked the price tag 39.99 a very reasonable price for a tree.

Then, from the corner of my eye I caught a glimpse of a bigger tree and I had to go and look. It was splendid, it was 6.5 feet tall, the branches were very full and "fluffy" looking, the tree looked like a real tree, it was round, and tree shaped, and the branches covered the center "stem" oh it was perfect in every way, then I looked inside the tree and discovered that it was not of the new cheap hinged style where you just shake it all loose, but rather it was individual branched that must be slid into place one by one! I caught my breath this tree was so beautiful, and I had to have it. I checked the price tag, only 39.99, the same price as the pre-lit skinny tree, this was going to be my tree, so I asked my friend to wait right there by the tree while I go and get an employee "don't let anyone take my tree" I begged her. I went to the front and had someone paged, he came and put my name on the tree, it was mine! Now all I needed to do was pay for it and then get some lights to put on it and take it home to be decorated!

I paid for my tree, picked it up in the back and then headed off to another store to find lights (Goodwill only had clear lights and I prefer colored lights), I found lights and they were on sale, but I wasn't sure how many I would need. I picked up 4 boxes of 100 count multi lights and headed home with my beautiful tree!

Just like in my home growing up the boys and I put the tree together, placing each color coded branch in it's respective slot, all the way to the top when Hubby put the top of the tree on. Then I lit the strands of lights to test them and be sure the twinkler bulbs were working (yup, I also must have twinkle lights) and he would wind them around the tree. After working only the second strand on the tree Hubby says "we're gonna need more lights, Jess" so off to the store I go. I purchased 4 more boxes of 100 count multi lights and back home I went.

All in all it took 700 itty, bitty, multi-colored, twinkling bulbs of joy to light up our New To Us Christmas tree. After lights of course comes decorations, and boy does our tree have that! I am still not convinced that there are enough decorations on the tree, as I really love a well decorated tree, but there are lots of shiny glass balls, sparkling snowflakes, shimmering drums, bright tin stars, swirly candy canes, lovey plaid shapes, and some other assorted decorations on the tree. I am currently trying to decide if it needs more ornaments, or nice red bows on it's tips, or if it needs "Angel's Hair" (which Hubby has threatened to dispose of the tree if I put on that Dreadful Stuff as he calls it).

So without further adieu I present to you the Birbitt Family Christmas Tree, lovingly decorated by Birbitt, Hubby, Pumpkin Noodle, Bigga Boy, and Twiggles!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Winter Surprise!

While we were out trying to get some good pictures of our Christmas decorations I looked over beside me and what did I find?

I couldn't believe that I actually caught a picture of it sitting still! I have never before seen one sit still! Now tell me, where else but Arizona can you see a hummingbird in December! Living in the desert definitely has it's advantages. I love being able to see my most favorite bird in all the world year-round.

Advent Update

As promised here is an update on our Advent chain journey. So far this has been a great adventure for the family. Even little baby L gets in on it sometimes, when it's not too difficult, but most days we do our crafting at his nap time, or after he's gone to bed for the night.

Day 5 we created a "Making Straight Paths booklet" to symbolize our sinful ways, walking our own path, then inside a straight road to symbolize our following Jesus, a heart for his love, and a cross for our salvation through his death. The Picture shows both books, one is closed and one is open.

Day 6 was supposed to be Writing the family Christmas Letter, but we don't do that (mostly because I rarely remember to send out more than a few Christmas cards), so instead we used a foam craft kit and made photo ornaments. S chose to create himself in a snowglobe, and B chose a Christmas Tree.

Day 7 was a candle craft (Jesus is the light!), well I have a problem with giving my 6 and 7 year old children candles (can we say fire hazard?) so I purchased a couple of LED tealights that are battery powered and we put those inside a baby food jar (empty of course) and wrapped it in tissue paper. It makes a beautiful light next to our nativity set!

Day 8 we read about Mary and we made a little nativity craft, sorry no pictures of this one as it was edible. We put peanut butter on a slice of bread and used pretzel sticks to make a "house" shape on the bread, then we put marshmallows and raisins for the people.

Day 9 was about the Shepherds learning of Jesus' birth so our craft was a lamb. For this one we Painted their hands black and put the print on paper, then they used their fingers to paint white paint over the black to make the body of the sheep. All three of them did this one, though little L needed quite a bit of help. L's is on Orange, S's is on Yellow, and B's is on green. :) I love them!

Today is Day 10 of our chain and we will be making a candy cane, from either peppermint scented paint or peppermint scented clay, I've not decided yet. However this one will be done later after the baby goes to bed.

I hope you enjoy our Advent Adventures and don't forget to check out Hubbard's Cupboard for the complete Advent Chain we are using!

Remember that even though we don't Celebrate Christmas on the actual day of Jesus' birth, and that some of the traditions are pagan in origin, the real reason for the season of Christmas is to Celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

"He came from Heaven to Earth to show the way, from the Earth to the cross my debt to pay, from the cross to the grave, from the grave to the sky, Lord I lift your name on HIGH!"

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

A Christmas Cookie Favorite

This is a cookie recipe that I just LOVE, and it's so simple and quick to make. They are lower in fat than most cookie recipes because they include no butter, and yet the cookie doesn't stick to the pan. My children love them, my hubby loves them, I love them, and I don't feel guilty serving them up for breakfast. I will reproduce the recipe here for you if you'd like to try them. They are a soft cookie, not chewy, just soft, and are best eaten within a day or two of making because they get sticky after that.

Fruit Cocktail Cookies

1 can (2 cups) of fruit cocktail in SYRUP (this is important), drained but RESERVE the syrup
1/2 Cup Brown Sugar
1/4 Cup Granulated Sugar
1 egg
2 Cups flour
1/2 tsp. Baking Powder
1/2 tsp. Baking Soda
1/2 tsp Cinnamon
1/4 tsp. Ground Cloves
1/2 Cup Chopped Walnuts (optional, but very nice for a little texture contrast)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F

Cream the Sugars, and egg together until the mixture lightens in color.
Add the fruit cocktail (I like to halve the grapes) and mix well
Then in a ziploc bag mix the dry ingredients together
Alternate adding the dry mix, and the reserved syrup until all combined
Stir in walnuts

Drop by teaspoons onto an ungreased cookie sheet and bake for 10 - 12 minutes until golden in color.

I hope you enjoy this cookie recipe from my past as much as I enjoy it in the present. Really if you are a parent who doesn't mind sweets for breakfast ( I don't on occasion) this is a fairly healthy start, it's got fruit, nuts (protein), and considering that it makes 36 or so cookies, not a whole lot of sugar.

You could also add raisins, marachino cherries, different nuts, or dried cranberries. I like these cookies with pecans as well if you can get them for a reasonable price, but I don't recommend almonds, the flavor doesn't quite work.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Memories of Christmases past...

I have so many Christmas memories as a child, so very, very, many, far more memories than one blog can possibly hold. I have memories of decorating the trees, yes trees, we had two every year. I remember that each year tree decorating was done on the Friday after Thanksgiving because Daddy would be home, often working a double shift on Thanksgiving, he would always have Friday off. So Friday morning Mommy would get up and make breakfast for us all, and then Daddy would bring out the Christmas Tapes (yes you read correctly I said Tapes, as in cassette tapes), out would come the containers full of decorations, and the organized chaos would begin.

First Mommy and Daddy would unravel each strand of lights and plug them in to check every bulb, while I was busily separating decorations according to the room they would be put up in. Then Daddy alone would put each and every strand of lights up on the tree, and then while Daddy had another cup of coffee Mommy and I would put ornaments on the bottom 2/3 of the tree. Daddy would then put up the smallest ornaments on the top of the tree and add the star. Then we would all put the angel hair on the tree, and I would put the Skirt around the bottom.

After, while I was tacking up my stockings, and carefully unwrapping our fitz and floyd reindeer candle holders to place on the table Mommy and Daddy would put up the other indoor decorations that were high up and needed a ladder.

This was Black Friday for us every.single.year. That is what I remember, and I cherish those memories so very much. I can only hope that someday my children will look back on our Christmas traditions with as much fondness, and joy as I do my own Christmas memories.

I thought I would share a few pictures with you all, I hope the quality is ok, these were scanned into my computer from hard copies, because I was born before digital imaging existed, yes I know that is a scary thought, but none the less it's true.

This one is Christmas 1985 - I was 3 and this picture was the next to last Christmas we celebrated in this house. It was small, had very little space, and was directly across the street from a cemetery.

This one is from 1988 - I was 6 and this was our second Christmas in the larger house. The house needed a lot of fixing up, and over the years it changed greatly, but we loved this house.

These two are both from 1989 - I was 7, and this is one of the few pictures we ever took of the second tree. The first picture is the living room, before we removed the sliding glass doors, and added insulation, hence the kerosene heater to keep us toasty warm.

The second picture is 'den' where the main entrance of the house is, and the reflection next to the tree is not a mirror, it is a window a very large and drafty window. This room was my bedroom for a time while Daddy remodeled my own bedroom and I can tell you I was thankful to get my room back, this one was drafty, and unpleasant until it was remodeled. Also I really disliked the hard floor, as there was no padding under that terribly ugly carpet. It was however prettier than the wood flooring in the rest of the house, that had all been painted a very unsavory shade of brown. :(

This picture is from 1991 - I was 9, and this is the only picture I could find of me actually opening the presents (that was mostly kept on VHS), notice my Daddy's system for opening presents. I always had a blanket to sit on, because the floor was cold, and there was always a trash bag next to me for putting my wrappings in. Mommy always sat in her chair and handed out the gifts, Daddy was usually on the sofa, except here he was taking the picture, and Christmas music was always playing in the background.

You'll notice that the tree looks very similar from year to year, but it was always a beautiful tree, and it always sat in the same corner of the living room. You'll notice in the back of the tree in 1991 that there is a table with a train set, that train set was Daddy's project each year and each year it got more and more detailed, one year he even added a skating pond that looked just like real ice. The memories I can remember, I could fill all of blogland with all my memories, but I just wanted to share a few with you all.

Our memories are ours forever, no one can ever take them away from us, and most of mine fill me with joy. I hope you too have joyful memories of childhood traditions, and the beauty that always seemed to fill your homes from year to year.

Happy Remembering blogland...

A Book Review

It's no secret that I love music, I mean I really, really, LOVE music. Some of my favorite songs are hymns, I just love the sound of them, and the words are so honest and uplifting. I also LOVE to read, as I'm sure you all know. So you can imagine my joy when I was offered the opportunity to review a book all about hymns, hymns for Christmas, hymns for Easter, and Hymns for everyday!
Ok, so without further ado let me tell you a bit about Then Sings My Soul by Robert J. Morgan. The cover is so beautiful, it just begs to be opened up and read. I especially love the Treble Clef on the front cover. The book is printed on nice thick paper, with a jagged, torn edge look.

The content is wonderful! Each two page spread has the music for the hymn on one page, and a write up of the story behind the song on the second page. It's a real eye opener! There is so much more to my old favorite hymns than I ever would have thought. So many of these songs were written during times of trial, tragedy, hardship, or loss for the authors, and they turned their troubles into something beautiful to be treasured for years and years to come! I opened the book late in the evening with the intent of just browsing through it to see what was in store for me when I began reading it the next day. I ended up staying up into the wee hours of the morning reading half the book in one sitting, I just could not put it down! I was enjoying each and every story behind the hymns, even hymns I myself had never heard before had such fascinating tales to tell, and I just could not resist reading "just one more page". When I did finally put it down I went to bed dreaming of what I would find in the pages the next day. The book is roughly 300 pages and I read the entire book in just two sittings! There was just no putting it down. I found this book to be even more engaging than many of the suspense and mystery novels I enjoy. The best part is that unlike the mystery novels, I was learning something about songs, but even more than that I was learning that sometimes my problems aren't so big after all, and that if these people could be joyful during their hardships, then I could certainly put a smile on my face even in the hard times. This book was both educational, and uplifting, and it is for sure going up on my shelf to be read again! That is the highest compliment a book can get in this house, to be made a part of the permanent collection.

Disclaimer - I was provided a free copy of this book from BookSneeze in exchange for my review on the product.

We decided to try something new this year

Normally, each Christmas season is filled with a little Christmas baking, lots of Christmas reading, and lots of Christmas Crafts. In the past I have always just picked up lots of books at the local library as well as from our own home library, and as for the crafts well let's just say Google is my best friend. :)

This year a cyber-friend posted some great Christmas links on a favorite Homeschooling forum of mine. I visited the links and found one that really stood out from the others, what I found among the long list of Christmas links was a real treasure. The link was for a treasury of Christmas activities, crafts, readings, and the best part was the it was all centered around the real reason for the Christmas season - The birth of Jesus! So hubby and I fast got to work rewriting the bible verses given to match our KJV Bibles ( I just LOVE the language and poetry of the KJV), and then we printed the pages, cut them apart, glued them into some colored construction paper, and assembled them as a paper chain all per the directions.

Now each day the children pull one link from the chain, I read the Scripture quote on the page, Daddy reads the Bible passage (On days when there is no Bible passage but rather a story I will read the story and Daddy will read the Scripture Quote), and then we all sit down as a family to make the craft or do the activity.

Day 1 of our Advent chain our activity was to set up our Nativity set, which we did of course, but then we also decided to go one step farther and paint a Nativity Scene on our windows for all to see!

Day 2 we made lovely paper angels with tissue paper wings. The boys particularly enjoyed using the glitter!

My purple angel got cut off the photo a bit, but I'm sure you'll forgive me, as I was taking the image blindly because my camera was stepped on and broken (that's a whole 'nother post). Hubby made the orange angel, S made the red one, and B made the blue one, L opted out of the angel making but that large puddle of paint beneath the angels is his creation.

Day 3 we made a second angel craft, this time we made hand and footprint angels, of which I don't have photos, but trust me they are adorable! What a keepsake those are because they are a part of my precious children.

Day 4 (yesterday) we created Whisper Tubes to help us celebrate the joy of the season.

I apologize for the blurriness of the last picture, again because of the broken camera we were taking pictures with one of our MP3 Players and obviously the quality is considerably lower. Again L decided that he would not participate in this activity but rest assured that we are including the dear boy as much as he will willingly allow. While we all were doing this activity he decided that he would try and eat a couple pom pom's, a perfectly acceptable food group for a 17 month old!

Today we have not yet done our advent activity of the day, but I will update you if not daily then at least once a week with what we have read and done for our Advent Chain. I have to say they boys are enjoying their crafts, I am enjoying the crafts, and we all look forward to the scripture reading each day. I think this is the best advent project yet! I suppose after the holidays I'll have to get to work writing my own advent chain for next year with all new crafts and activities, or maybe we'll just do the same one and simply make different crafts, who knows?

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