encouragement, homeschool, medical issues, planning

Dealing with Chronic Illnesses Part 3: Dreading December

I’m over at Heart of the Matter Online today. Check out the rest of our wonderful writers!

December is my favorite month of the year because it includes my two favorite holidays: Jesus’ birthday and my birthday. I love the presents (giving as well as receiving), the wrapping, the sights, the sounds, the smells, the anticipation, the caroling, the baking, the planning, the partying—all of it. At least, December was my favorite month until I was diagnosed with two chronic illnesses that have left me overwhelmed and gasping for air with a regular schedule before even adding holiday duties. I hate that my favorite season has become a series of duties.
So, what’s a mom to do? Cancel Christmas? Not likely! Go full bore and pay a heavy health price in January? Not a good idea. How ’bout a balance that falls somewhere in the middle? The following measures can help us experience a more peaceful nativity.
Ten Steps to a dread-proof December, even with a chronic illness:
Think about what really matters. What’s at the top of your list that you just can’t give up during the holidays?
Make a list of the top five items on your what-really-matters list and brainstorm ways to make those happen this year.
Let go of the rest. Yes, I know that’s the hardest part!
Delegate everything possible. The cookies will be just as good if your 13-year-old makes them.    
Simplify the decorations, the baking, the gifts, and most of all your expectations.
Be happy with what gets done and try not to focus on what’s left undone.
Pace yourself. Don’t try to complete your entire list in one afternoon just because you start off feeling great.
Take naps.
Rest often.
Remember the real reason for the season: Jesus. Nothing else really matters.
Now, all I have to do is follow my own advice, and I can return to enjoying my favorite season instead of dreading December!

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My Mamma Raised Me Right

  Is it just me, or are thank you notes (the paper kind you hold in your hand) becoming obsolete? Are they following the dwindling number of friendly letters and Christmas letters and cards that used to stuff our mailboxes? Well, my mum (she’s Canadian, but I thought the southern phrase more apropos for the title) taught me to acknowledge every gift with a handwritten thank you note. If your techno-kids balk, here are some inspirations to help reinstate the good old-fashioned thank you note.

1. Don’t restrict Thanksgiving to a single day or month. On the contrary, the fact that Thanksgiving comes exactly a month before the day when kids get overloaded with new toys, books, and electronic gadgets should prime them for even more thankfulness.

2. Someone—grandparent, aunt, sibling, parent—took the time to pick out a special gift for each child in your home. The least a child can do in return is to take the time to handwrite note acknowledging appreciation for the gift and for the thought that went into its purchase.

3. Yes, grandparents know that little Jimmy just loved the Tonka truck, but writing a thank you note is kind of like saying “I love you.” You know it, but it’s still nice to hear frequently.

4. The Bible leads the way in encouraging thankful attitudes. “Offer to God thanksgiving” (Psalm 50:14a NJKV). “Enter into His gates with thanksgiving, and into His courts with praise. Be thankful to Him, and bless His name” (Psalm 100:4, NKJV). “Giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 5:20 NKJV).

5. You can count writing thank you notes as a school project! Just look at all the subjects you’ll cover: grammar (proper letter forms and written grammar), handwriting, art (if they design their own), spelling, and etiquette (it is good manners to write thank you notes).

6. Let’s face it: the kids will be looking for something to do in between Christmas and New Year’s Day. The novelty of the new toys will wear off about two days after they’re opened and writing thank you notes can help fill in the time gap before you’re ready to jump back into formal lessons in January.

7. Many children enjoy designing their own cards or drawing pictures. The recipients will enjoy seeing those pictures and cards on their refrigerators. This works especially well with children who are too young to write complete sentences; they can draw pictures of themselves playing with their new toys.

How many ways can you say thank you? Shukran Gazillan, Thoinks, Moite! Wado, Xie_Xie, Merci, Danke sehr, Mahalo, Köszönöm, Grazie, Cheers, Salamat, Spasiba, Tapadh Leat, Gracias a todos, Tesekkurler, Thanks y’all! (Other languages courtesy of e-Tailers Digest.)


(It’s a repost because I have to remind my own kids to write Christmas thank you notes every year, and I’m sure you do, too!)

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The REAL Christmas Story

  About that time Caesar Augustus ordered a census to be taken throughout the Empire. This was the first census when Quirinius was governor of Syria. Everyone had to travel to his own ancestral hometown to be accounted for. So Joseph went from the Galilean town of Nazareth up to Bethlehem in Judah, David’s town, for the census. As a descendant of David, he had to go there. He went with Mary, his fiancee, who was pregnant.

While they were there, the time came for her to give birth. She gave birth to a son, her firstborn. She wrapped him in a blanket and laid him in a manger, because there was no room in the hostel.

There were sheepherders camping in the neighborhood. They had set night watches over their sheep. Suddenly, God’s angel stood among them and God’s glory blazed around them. They were terrified. The angel said, “Don’t be afraid. I’m here to announce a great and joyful event that is meant for everybody, worldwide: A Savior has just been born in David’s town, a Savior who is Messiah and Master. This is what you’re to look for: a baby wrapped in a blanket and lying in a manger.”

At once the angel was joined by a huge angelic choir singing God’s praises: “Glory to God in the heavenly heights, peace to all men and women on earth who please him.”

As the angel choir withdrew into heaven, the sheepherders talked it over. “Let’s get over to Bethlehem as fast as we can and see for ourselves what God has revealed to us.” They left, running, and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger. Seeing was believing. They told everyone they met what the angels had said about this child. All who heard the sheepherders were impressed.

Mary kept all these things to herself, holding them dear, deep within herself. The sheepherders returned and let loose, glorifying and praising God for everything they had heard and seen. it turned out exactly the way they’d been told!

~ Luke 2:1-20, The Message

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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.