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Traditions!

Y’all know how much I love lists, but there is one thing for which I don’t need a list: our Christmas morning traditions. It’s been pretty much the same since I was a kid. My own kids have taken over waking up their parents way too early.

Christmas stockings are placed by the side of the beds before Santa (aka Mom) goes to bed on Christmas Eve. When I was a kid, we were allowed to open our stockings whenever we woke up–even if it was 3 a.m.! Our kids usually wait until 7 or so and bounce on our bed with their stockings. We groggily open them together, then read/recite the Christmas story from Luke 2. The recitation usually comes from the KJV because that’s the way I memorized it years ago.

After reliving the REAL reason for the season, we troop (or race, depending on the age!) to the tree. Instead of a free for all, the dad (my hubby or my dad, if we’re together) hand out presents a few at a time. That way we can enjoy the opening process and see what each other received. That’s also a good way to stretch out the presents.

As we open our gifts, I make a list of who received what from whom so proper thank you notes can be written. We also munch on the Chex mix and other goodies that were in our stockings. That’s usually our breakfast (hey, it’s just cereal minus the milk!).

Then we laze around and I work on a nice dinner. We usually call the family members who aren’t with us and try to Skype my brother and his family, who live overseas.

Q4U: What are your favorite Christmas traditions?

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The 12 Days of Homeschooling

The Twelve Days of Homeschooling

On the first day of homeschooling, my mother gave to me a calendar filled with dates.
On the second day of homeschooling, my mother gave to me two timers.
On the third day of homeschooling, my mother gave to me a three-hole punch.
On the fourth day of homeschooling, my mother gave to me four binders.
On the fifth day of homeschooling, my mother gave to me five red pens.
On the sixth day of homeschooling, my mother gave to me six bookshelves.
On the seventh day of homeschooling, my mother gave to me seven pretty baskets.
On the eighth day of homeschooling, my mother gave to me eight letter stacking trays.
On the ninth day of homeschooling, my mother gave to me nine lesson plans.
On the tenth day of homeschooling, my mother gave to me ten lengthy lists.
On the eleventh day of homeschooling, my mother gave to me eleven paper clips.
On the twelfth day of homeschooling, my mother gave to me twelve new books.


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Put Your Wrapping Paper Under Wraps

[rubbermaid+containers.jpg]If you have cute, matching, Rubbermaid storage containers for your wrapping paper, bows, ornaments, tree lights, and table decorations, stop reading right now. You heard me! You don’t need me if you’ve got red and green plastic storage totes. This post is for those of you who spend ten minutes digging out the crumpled wrapping paper from under the bed. This post is for those whose cardboard boxes fall apart in the garage as you’re lugging them towards the kitchen. This post is for those of you whose bow collection has multiplied in more places than dust bunnies. You know who you are.


Let’s just get today’s confession out of the way right now. My wrapping paper rolls are not in a special, long plastic container. My bows are not in a red box. My decoration storage boxes do not all match each other. Phew! That almost hurt to type! But, I want you to know that you can get your wrapping paper, bows, tags, and decorations under wraps without spending a fortune at The Container Store (even though that would be really fun!).

I think the rolls of wrapping paper are the trickiest things to corral. First of all, put a rubber band on each end of the roll to keep it from unwrapping itself. This will keep it from getting so mangled that you have to throw away half of it before you even start wrapping. Then, go buy another roll at a Hallmark store or another retail store. You probably need at least another roll to get all of this year’s stuff wrapped anyway. SAVE the long bag that the clerk put it in. Use that bag to store all of your wrapping paper rolls in. Voila! I store my bag of wrapping paper rolls upright in a corner of my (very small) coat closet. The guest room closet or under a bed would work, too.

The tissue paper, bows, ribbon, and tags are stored in a medium-sized plastic storage container. It’s a cheap one not specifically designated as such. All of the gift bags are stored in another storage container of the same size. These are stacked on the floor of my coat closet. Since we moved south, we don’t have snow boots, so this works for us. Again, find and designate a spot that will work for the space you have. The important thing is to store all of this stuff in the same spot so that you don’t waste time hunting it down all over the house. If you wish, throw a pair of scissors, a roll of tape, and a pen into one of the boxes.

Now comes the fun part: the decorations. Yes, this really is the perfect time to start organizing your Christmas decorations. They’re already out (right?), so you can see exactly how much stuff you have. Start by throwing out broken and long-unused decorations. I promise it won’t hurt! If it truly is extremely sentimental (there should only be a few of those), store it in a special place where it can be enjoyed, but not further damaged.

I do recommend plastic storage containers for your decorations for two reasons: 1) They are protected from water damage, and 2) They are protected from termite and mice damage. Unfortunately, I tell you these things from experience, but I’ll spare you the gory details. This is a great time of year to pick up red and green containers cheaply. Of course, that’s not necessary, but when my hubby makes his yearly trek up the black hole into the attic, he can tell at a flick of the flashlight which boxes need to come down. Mine have been purchased at different times, so they don’t all match, but they all work! I’m thinking I should really buy another container for this year, though . . .

Anyway, take a look at what all you have and try to estimate how many storage containers you’ll need. Plan on sending your hubby to the store for a few more the day you take down all your decorations since you’ll probably underestimate your needs! The best time to buy Christmas-themes storage boxes is right after Christmas, so be sure to take a look around the store for some when you return that ugly sweater Great Aunt Martha was sure you’d love.

When it’s time to undecorate, blare the Christmas music one last time and pull out your new boxes. Tackle one area of the house at a time. Put similar decorations together. For instance, most of your ornaments will probably fit into one container. Put your tabletop decorations into another box. Store nativity scenes and mantle trimmings in another one. You get the idea. For the lights, put each strand carefully into a separate plastic grocery bag, then put the bags into a box. My wreath and large Star of Bethlehem get stored in heavy-duty garbage bags; there’s no need to buy pricey wreath storage containers.

That’s it! Next year, you’ll be pleasantly surprised to discover how easy your decorations are to find and assemble, and how easy it is to pull out the wrapping paper for a serious wrapping session.

Freebie link for the day: a printable Christmas planner from The Excutive Homemaker. 


Q4: What’s your best holiday storage tip?


(Repost from 12/9/09.)


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Do You Know Where Your Christmas Cards Are?

It’s December 3rd. Do you know where your lights, cards, and nativity scene are? I know, I know! The lights are on our decorated tree, the nativity scene is on the table beside the phone, and the cards are on my desk. But, they’re addressed (yes, I do cheat and print labels on the computer!) and half are written.
Christmas is a wonderful season of giving and sharing, and most of all, of commemorating our Savior’s birth. Somehow, though, these most important things get lost in the hustle and bustle of decorating, overspending on gifts for people we hardly know (as well as the ones we do know), and trying to get everyone to look happy for the annual family photo.
You know by now how much I LOVE lists, so it should not be a surprise that I think lists are a lifesaver especially at Christmas. However, the type of list I am going to suggest just might surprise you. Sit down with a blank piece of paper (or an open Word document, or your personal calendar/organizer) and write down all of the preparations you need to make for Christmas every year. Just make these general items, not specifics like “Buy red sweater for Aunt Mary.” You may wish to keep the list easily accessible for a few days so you can add things as you think of them.
Then take a look at your list and put it in a general sequence that makes sense for you. I could just tell you that you have to make your gift and card lists in October, shop in November, and decorate the first of December, but that might not work for you. So, make your list work for you; don’t work for your list.
After you’ve got your general, yearly list, make a copy of it (or store it on your computer). Then take a look at this year’s calendar. Use whichever one you look at most frequently and pencil in the activities/preparations from your list onto your target date.
That’s it! You’ve got your own, custom Christmas prep guide! While this is generally my method, I must be honest and tell you that I got the idea of writing this post from the Living on a Dime Newsletter. Marybeth Whalen also has a helpful Christmas checklist over at Hearts at Home.
Q4U: how do you organize your Christmas preparations?
(Repost – again! I promise I’ll write some new stuff soon!)

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Simple Gifts

It is indeed more blessed to give than to receive, but if we’re not careful, our wallets may suffer at Christmas time. So, how can we bless others with gifts without busting our bank accounts? Let’s take a look at the financial, practical, and attitudinal aspects of gift giving.
Financially, it makes sense to plan ahead so that we have enough money set aside to buy presents not only at Christmas, but also throughout the year for birthdays and other events. Here are some ideas to get you started:
ü  Start saving in January 
ü  Make a list of who you purchase gifts for and the amount you spend on each person 
ü  Add 10 percent to the total amount to have a little cushion for anyone you might have forgotten, then start putting away an amount each month so you have it by the time sales come along.
ü  ING accounts (online) are great for this as they will take out a predetermined amount each month if set up to do so.
ü  Buy a little bit at a time (gifts and special food items) instead of having one huge spending spree, unless you’ve saved up for it
ü  Resist over accumulation of presents or décor just because it’s on sale, or it’s cute, or whatever. Before you purchase anything, pause and ask yourself, “Do I (or the person on my gift list) REALLY NEED this?”
ü  Purchase Christmas-themed items (decorations, cards, cookie containers, etc.) the day or week after Christmas when they’re on sale.
ü  Don’t overspend. I know, that’s a duh statement, but it seems to be the hardest to implement (at least for me).
It is possible to simplify the actual gifts and the gift-giving process without losing the blessing of giving to others. Here are some simple gift ideas to get you started:
ü  Make gifts, ex. baked goods, photo gifts, and customized playlists
ü  Give experiences (ex. dancing lessons, glider rides, etc.)
ü  Do the same or similar things for everyone on your list, that way you don’t have to think of a new thing for each person (ex., purses, scarves/hats, board games).
ü  Some families, especially those with many members, choose names out of a hat and only purchase one nicer gift instead of many smaller gifts.
ü  Some families choose to buy gifts only for the children.
ü  Some families set a dollar limit for each gift they purchase for each other.
ü  If you love the Black Friday sales, but not the craziness of getting up in the middle of the night and waiting in line for three hours, join websites such as blackfriday.com. and put everything you think you want in the shopping cart and the online shopping starts for you automatically
In order to fully appreciate the simple gifts, perhaps our hearts need an attitude check. Do we really need to go into debt just so our kids can have the latest and greatest version of X-Box or Wii or iPad? How do we adjust our attitudes so that we can focus on the Greatest Gift of all this Christmas season? Here are a few thoughts to point us in the right direction:
ü  Get rid of stuff you no longer need or use (give away, throw away, sell)
ü  Have the kids go through their toys and donate some to needy children and throw away broken items
ü  Focus on people, not stuff
ü  Volunteer as a family at a homeless shelter, veterans’ hospital, or nursing home
ü  Sponsor a family through social services
ü  Participate in Operation Christmas Child or Angel Tree
ü  Be a bell ringer and/or a donator for the Salvation Army
By adjusting our finances, our gift expectations, and our attitudes, we can enjoy the simple gifts of Christ’s birth and the blessings we already have. Remember, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning” (James 1:17, NKJV).

This article is also over at Heart of the Matter Online today.

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Be Happy With January’s Credit Card Bills

Yes, it is possible to be happy when your credit card bills arrive in the mail after Christmas. Really. How? By not overspending in November and December! It really is possible to give gifts to people who are important to you without emptying your wallet.

First of all, make a list of everyone to whom you absolutely must give a gift. Discuss with your spouse and children to see if perhaps some people on the list could be “downgraded” to a card. Decide ahead of time with your spouse how much money you have to spend on gifts this year. If it helps, put that amount of cash in an envelope and only use it when you buy presents (I realize that’s not practical for everyone though). Be careful to spend only the agreed amount.

Secondly, you may have to limit the number of gifts you give to each child (or parent, or spouse). Mary Beth Whalen wrote an amazing article featured on the From the Trenches of Motherhood blog last [year]. It’s entitled “Easy Tips on How to Buy Christmas Gifts Without Blowing Your Budget.” She introduces a nifty three gift concept as well as several other cost-cutting ideas.

Thirdly, consider making some Christmas presents this year. Every grandparent, aunt, and uncle loves handmade ornaments or pictures of the children in hand-decorated photo frames. I’m making a bunch of fleece scarves and hats for people on my list this year (thanks to TOS’s Nancy Carter for the directions and ideas). Check out Kaboose, All Free Crafts, and Family Fun for more fun Christmas craft and gift ideas.

Now go flip through those Black Friday sale catalogs sitting on your coffee table! 


Drop me a note and tell me about the best bargain Christmas gift you find this season.

Yep, I admit it. This is a repost from November 23, 2009. What can I say? Reposting is about the only way I’ll get anything up on my blog for the next few weeks because my schedule is CRAZY!

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Christmas Traditions

Y’all know how much I love lists, but there is one thing for which I don’t need a list: our Christmas morning traditions. It’s been pretty much the same since I was a kid. My own kids have taken over waking up their parents way too early.

Christmas stockings are placed by the side of the beds before Santa (aka Mom) goes to bed on Christmas Eve. When I was a kid, we were allowed to open our stockings whenever we woke up–even if it was 3 a.m.! Our kids usually wait until 7 or so and bounce on our bed with their stockings. We groggily open them together, then read/recite the Christmas story from Luke 2. The recitation usually comes from the KJV because that’s the way I memorized it years ago.

After reliving the REAL reason for the season, we troop (or race, depending on the age!) to the tree. Instead of a free for all, the dad (my hubby or my dad, if we’re together) hand out presents a few at a time. That way we can enjoy the opening process and see what each other received. That’s also a good way to stretch out the presents.

As we open our gifts, I make a list of who received what from whom so proper thank you notes can be written. We also munch on the Chex mix and other goodies that were in our stockings. That’s usually our breakfast (hey, it’s just cereal minus the milk!).

Then we laze around and I work on a nice dinner. We usually call the family members who aren’t with us and try to Skype my brother and his family, who live overseas.

Q4U: What are your favorite Christmas traditions?

P.S. – Happy Birthday to me!! 🙂 Nope, I’m not telling you how old I am, but I will tell you that one of my birthday traditions has been insisting that my birthday be separate from Christmas and that my presents be wrapped in real birthday paper instead of Christmas paper.

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FREE Christmas Music Download!

Merry Christmas from the folks at Codex Publishing! Please enjoy a FREE GIFT from us: a download of the American folk Christmas song “I Wonder as I Wander.” Please visit our Web site in order to access your totally free mp3 download.

Many of the Christmas carols we sing today have been around for several hundred years. I assumed this was the case with “I Wonder as I Wander” until I did a bit of research on it. This haunting melody was first heard by composer John Jacob Niles in 1933 when he visited the Appalachian town of Murphy, North Carolina.

Accounts differ, but the Morgan family was a poor, homeless family trying to collect enough money to buy enough gas to drive out of town. Various people had gathered to help them collect the money, John Niles among them. The Morgan’s young, unkempt daughter sang a few lines of this Appalachian folk song, and Niles paid her a quarter each time she sang it in order to try to capture the lyrics. He was only able to glean fragments, but later rounded out the first verse and added verses two and three.

I wonder as I wander out under the sky,
How Jesus the Savior did come for to die.
For people, just people like you and like I,
I wonder as I wander out under the sky.

When Mary bore Jesus, ’twas in a cow’s stall,
With wise men and farmers and shepherds and all.
But high from God’s heaven a star’s light did fall.
And the promise of the ages it then did recall.

If Jesus had wanted for any wee thing
A star in the sky or a bird on the wing,
Or all of God’s angels in heav’n for to sing,
He surely could have had it, for He was the King.

Sources:
* Amy Schumaker @ Suite 101
* Wikipedia

Additional resources:
* Sermon highlighting the song on Lifeway
* Midi music file and PDF sheet music file
* Maureen Hegarty singing with cool pictures on YouTube

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Sane Holiday Homeschooling

The following article appears today in a guest column over at Anne Elliot’s blog and in her weekly newsletter. Thanks for hosting me, Anne!

Is it possible to homeschool sanely and still celebrate the Christmas? Yes! How? My two best tips are to make lists and to start early. I love lists! I make lists of my lists (yes, really). I keep a running list in my Palm Centro (hand-held organizer, but a notebook will do) of every person for whom I regularly buy gifts. As I hear hints or think of gift ideas, I make a note of it. I make a note next to the item after I’ve bought it. This works for birthday presents as well as for Christmas gifts. People who receive our annual Christmas letters/cards/pictures (depending on the year) are on a master database on my computer. Every year, I update the list for cards received and sent the previous year, and who we’ll be sending cards to, then I print it out to check off names as new cards roll in. In early November, I print out address labels for the cards (I update my computer’s address book as needed throughout the year). By the end of the month, I’ve written the letter or pulled out the cards I bought at the after-Christmas sale the previous year. The cards are in the mail the first week of December.

Throughout the year, I buy gifts for family and friends as I see things that would be appropriate. Since none of our family lives close by, all of their gifts are bought and wrapped early in the fall. They get mailed anywhere from mid-October (overseas) to early December (stateside). All the rest of the gifts are bought by the first week in December. I usually wait until the weekend before Christmas to wrap the gifts because I don’t like to put them under the tree too early, but it’s written in my planner. My husband takes the kids out for an afternoon while I do the wrapping. I put on my favorite Christmas music, pour myself a cup of hot chocolate, and think about how each person will enjoy opening his or her gifts from our family.

By early November, I’m working on my menu lists for any meals or parties that I’ll be hosting. The calendar is updated daily, and the food and necessity shopping lists are updated as needed. I start buying things like pie filling or chocolate chips early and a little bit at a time. That way, my food budget doesn’t get too blown out of proportion. Also, if a guest asks what she can bring, I’m able to make a suggestion and then make a note of her contribution right on my menu.

Okay, that covers Christmas, but what about school? Well, I do try to make the kids’ workloads a bit lighter for the month. We focus on the basics and on the subjects that persist in making the workbooks have thirty-six weeks of work in them. I make sure my lesson plans are done right after Thanksgiving so they know what to expect. All the parties, cookie baking, decorating, and shopping trips are good incentives for the kids to finish their schoolwork early during the day. As far as housecleaning and other chores go, we do things the same way we do the rest of the year: everyone has assigned chores each day. A few things do get left undone, but even the very organized homeschool mom can’t do everything. We incorporate fun activities and ministering to others (nursing home sing-alongs, delivering cookies to our pastors, etc.) into our school days as well. For younger children, baking all those Christmas goodies can certainly count for math (measuring) and home economics.

We do take off the two weeks right around Christmas and New Year’s Day, though. Those two weeks are just enough to give us a relaxing breather, but not long enough to forget too much. We’re refreshed and ready start school again early in January.
Remember to slow down long enough to celebrate the birth of our Savior this Christmas season. Take time to read the Christmas story from Luke and to sing some traditional Christmas carols around the piano. Those are two of our favorite Christmas traditions.

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Get Your Wrapping Paper Under Wraps

If you have cute, matching, Rubbermaid storage containers for your wrapping paper, bows, ornaments, tree lights, and table decorations, stop reading right now. You heard me! You don’t need me if you’ve got red and green plastic storage totes. This post is for those of you who spend ten minutes digging out the crumpled wrapping paper from under the bed. This post is for those whose cardboard boxes fall apart in the garage as you’re lugging them towards the kitchen. This post is for those of you whose bow collection has multiplied in more places than dust bunnies. You know who you are.

Let’s just get today’s confession out of the way right now. My wrapping paper rolls are not in a special, long plastic container. My bows are not in a red box. My decoration storage boxes do not all match each other. Phew! That almost hurt to type! But, I want you to know that you can get your wrapping paper, bows, tags, and decorations under wraps without spending a fortune at The Container Store (even though that would be really fun!).

I think the rolls of wrapping paper are the trickiest things to corral. First of all, put a rubber band on each end of the roll to keep it from unwrapping itself. This will keep it from getting so mangled that you have to throw away half of it before you even start wrapping. Then, go buy another roll at a Hallmark store or another retail store. You probably need at least another roll to get all of this year’s stuff wrapped anyway. SAVE the long bag that the clerk put it in. Use that bag to store all of your wrapping paper rolls in. Voila! I store my bag of wrapping paper rolls upright in a corner of my (very small) coat closet. The guest room closet or under a bed would work, too.

The tissue paper, bows, ribbon, and tags are stored in a medium-sized plastic storage container. It’s a cheap one not specifically designated as such. All of the gift bags are stored in another storage container of the same size. These are stacked on the floor of my coat closet. Since we moved south, we don’t have snow boots, so this works for us. Again, find and designate a spot that will work for the space you have. The important thing is to store all of this stuff in the same spot so that you don’t waste time hunting it down all over the house. If you wish, throw a pair of scissors, a roll of tape, and a pen into one of the boxes.

Now comes the fun part: the decorations. Yes, this really is the perfect time to start organizing your Christmas decorations. They’re already out (right?), so you can see exactly how much stuff you have. Start by throwing out broken and long-unused decorations. I promise it won’t hurt! If it truly is extremely sentimental (there should only be a few of those), store it in a special place where it can be enjoyed, but not further damaged.

I do recommend plastic storage containers for your decorations for two reasons: 1) They are protected from water damage, and 2) They are protected from termite and mice damage. Unfortunately, I tell you these things from experience, but I’ll spare you the gory details. This is a great time of year to pick up red and green containers cheaply. Of course, that’s not necessary, but when my hubby makes his yearly trek up the black hole into the attic, he can tell at a flick of the flashlight which boxes need to come down. Mine have been purchased at different times, so they don’t all match, but they all work! I’m thinking I should really buy another container for this year, though . . .

Anyway, take a look at what all you have and try to estimate how many storage containers you’ll need. Plan on sending your hubby to the store for a few more the day you take down all your decorations since you’ll probably underestimate your needs!

When it’s time to undecorate, blare the Christmas music one last time and pull out your new boxes. Tackle one area of the house at a time. Put similar decorations together. For instance, most of your ornaments will probably fit into one container. Put your tabletop decorations into another box. Store nativity scenes and mantle trimmings in another one. You get the idea. For the lights, put each strand carefully into a separate plastic grocery bag, then put the bags into a box. My wreath and large Star of Bethlehem get stored in heavy-duty garbage bags; there’s no need to buy pricey wreath storage containers.

That’s it! Next year, you’ll be pleasantly surprised to discover how easy your decorations are to find and assemble, and how easy it is to pull out the wrapping paper for a serious wrapping session.

Freebie link for the day: a printable Christmas planner from The Excutive Homemaker. Leave me a note with your best holiday storage tip!