Wednesday, December 24, 2014

All Aboard The Polar Express

One of my favorite things about this time of year is our (almost) annual Polar Express Party. There have been years here & there when I just didn't have the time or extra brain cells to do one more thing during this season but I have thoroughly enjoyed the tradition.  It all started with my oldest, Max and 2 friends when he was on Pre-K.  We decided to invite a few kids over for hot cocoa & popcorn in their jammies followed by card making and it was an instant hit. My kids have asked to host one every year since.

We are gearing up to host another one in just a few days. As tempted as I can be to go over the top with theme & d├ęcor (thanks Pinterest for all the ideas) I have learned over the years that less is more when it comes to this event.  This year, we are expecting between eight & twelve kids, including mine and for sanity's sake, simplicity is key.  The kids won't remember anything but the food anyway.

This has been so fun for us and if you think you might want to give it a try with your own kids or even a few extras, here is what a typical party looks like for us.

I usually plan for at least 3 hours to make sure the kids have plenty of time to craft, watch the movie and stuff their faces with Christmas goodies. This year's menu includes Hot Apple Cider, Hot Cocoa with marshmallows and/or whipped cream, store-bought Christmas shaped cookies, take & bake pizza and popcorn with red & green M&M's for during the movie. I bought Dollar Tree paper plates & napkins in Red & Green and I am using Nestle Hot Cocoa Mix from a can.  In years past, I have exhausted myself searching for the perfect recipe and then making home-made hot chocolate from scratch, baking dozens of sugar cookies the day before and then trying to keep my cool while letting the kids "help" frost them at the party.  I guess you could say I'm learning to "Let it go".

I will be making Apple Cider in the crock pot, but it is super easy and one of my favorite drinks, so it's totally selfish actually.  All you need is 2 quarts of store bought apple juice and a few cinnamon sticks. Toss them in the crock pot and cook on low for 6 or so.  Easy peasy, my kind of drink. 

We have also done lots of fun and somewhat involved crafts in previous years and I admit I have loved that part, too.  We have made fingerprint reindeer ornaments, photo frame wreath ornaments from painted puzzle pieces & canning jar lids and gone through more glitter than I care to remember.  This year, I chose to purchase some foam Christmas shapes and stockings from Michael's craft store at 60% off and will have Christmas coloring sheets on hand as well old Christmas cards, markers, glue & glitter for the kids to repurpose them into something new.

As a mom who likes things to be done a certain way and often wears herself out trying to meet unrealistic expectations, I am very excited about this new, laid back style.  My kids are thrilled to have friends over and stay in their jammies all day.  I am thrilled to be able to enjoy the day and seize the moment rather than fretting over every detail and wearing myself out before the day even begins.

So what are you waiting for? "All aboard!"

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

For When You Don't Have All The Answers

"What do you feel God is trying to teach you right now?" That was one of the questions posed to a table full of amazing women recently and I immediately felt my face burn knowing that I would have no good answer. 

What was God trying to teach me? I could barely remember how I had even gotten to the meeting, and I was being asked to evaluate my current spiritual state and give a report at what in the world the God of the universe might be trying to teach me in this season of survival and sacrifice.  Now, the heart of the wonderful woman asking wasn't a harsh one. There was no judgment in her question, simply curiosity and an invitation to wonder, think, assess. 

So, here was my I straight up lie to save face? Or embellish? Do I give some scripted "Christianese" answer or do I be the real, honest woman that I am often not brave enough to be?
The truth is, I didn't know all the women at the table all that well and we are in leadership of sorts, so shouldn't I have some great, inspiring answer to bestow upon them? In that moment, I knew I needed to just be real and I'd like to say it was born out of some conviction to be more vulnerable and available to people, (that would be a great lesson, no?), but really I was just too tired to try and save face.

I admitted to these awesome women that I really had no idea what God was trying to teach me. I mean, I didn't even know what I was cooking for dinner.  We talked a lot about the seasons we were all in, some similar to mine and some very different.  I was able to honestly say my not knowing was not from a lack of not trying or not listening.  There were lots of suggestions and ideas about how to seek out those lessons and encouragement to not be discouraged if I wasn't 100% sure of God's plan for my life at every moment. The important thing was the seeking, the asking and the growing.

If I continue to strive to grow and learn, keep moving forward and being sensitive to the fact that God may show His plan in the least likely of places, I am moving in the right direction.  It is so easy to feel lost at sea when weariness seems to slow the days and blur them together.  The wonderful, beautiful truth is we don't have to always have the perfect answer. We only need to keep our hearts open and our eyes focused on Jesus and one step at a time, He will get us where we need to be.

Sometimes what God is trying to teach us is that we really have no idea what He is trying to teach us and that we need only depend more fully on Him each day...and not be afraid to admit it.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Think outside the box this year {literally} for your special someone

Thanks to the brightly flashing Santa sign at our local Wal-Mart, I now know that Christmas is only 20-something days away...thanks.  The list of things to-do before that time, whether they be "want to", "have to" or "need to"- feels suffocating at times. In truth, there really is only one task that puts me in a cold sweat and it's probably not what you think - shopping for my husband. 

Don't get me wrong, he isn't hard to please or picky and is always gracious no matter what I get him, big or small, but with the double whammy of his birthday on December 24th and Christmas the 25th the pressure is on.  Eric does so much for us. He works hard, is diligent & faithful, and puts his family first always.  I want him to know how much he is appreciated and a great gift has always seemed the answer.  A few years ago, I saw an article from The Dating Divas on Pinterest and thought about a new approach.

The whole idea is basically a spin on the 12 days of Christmas.  Every day, you give your hubs a small, wrapped gift to correspond with the day.  For example, two pairs of socks on the second day, $7.00 for coffee on day seven or a CD with 12 songs on it for day twelve.  The gifts don't have to be expensive or extravagant, but I can tell you the thoughtfulness and excitement of a getting a small token of love tucked into his lunch pail each morning was evident.  I created little stickers for each day and printed them beforehand so it was easy to stay organized and remember what each gift was.  By day 5, it would be impossible to keep up if I hadn't been organized and pre-purchased all the items.  Depending on your Christmas traditions & whether you open gifts Christmas Day or Christmas Eve, you will want to start your 12 Days of Christmas either December 12th or December 13th. There really is no wrong way to do it.

Another idea I have seen floating around that I really like, but haven't had the resources or extra energy to put together, is a gift called The 12 Dates of Christmas.  You basically pre-plan 12 months (1 year) of dates for you and your sweetheart and put it under the tree or in his stocking on Christmas morning.  Again, these dates don't have to be extravagant, but should be pre-planned and pre-purchased.  Ideas could be coffee and grocery shopping without kids, a matinee movie date, Redbox movies and popcorn after the kids go to bed, a few hours at the shooting range or dinner at your favorite restaurant.   Think of things he likes to do, but you might not normally be up for. It is his gift after all.  It's a great idea to make a little coupon book and attach gift cards for each date or fill 12 separate, sealed envelopes with the details of the planned date and some cash/gift cards. That way, each month is a surprise and he can't look ahead :) 

So yes, I still want to find the perfect gift but I am realizing more often than not that all my hubby really wants is a wife who is invested in him and a little effort on my part shows him more about my love for him than anything I can buy at a store. 

Originally published over at Douglas County Moms