Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Pre-Christmas Fun!

I'm baaaaaack!

We did lots of traveling around Christmas, had some people throwing up, but in spite of that, we had a great time with our family!

Here are some pictures of the fun little things we did leading up to Christmas!

Maggie had a concert at school!


She's so adorable!  Sometimes I forget that she has such cute dimples.  She loved singing in her concert and you could see her cute dimples from the audience!

The last day of school before Christmas break was cancelled due to icy conditions (like last year), so there was some snow day silliness!


The girls had a little Christmas concert at church that night.  The ice had melted and been managed by the afternoon, so all systems were "go" for that evening!


Maggie and her friend were so excited to be matching!  

Steph came over, and we decorated Christmas cookies on Saturday night!  We did the same thing last year, so it's become a fun little tradition!


I think making cut out sugar cookies is such a pain, and getting the royal icing just right is a pain, too.  

But, I LOVE decorating them so much that it's TOTALLY worth it!  I seriously think it's so relaxing to squeeze the icing out of the bottle.  

Ahhhh...<--happy sigh!

The girls did an awesome job decorating!


I thought, for sure, that Gracie would just squeeze icing all over, but she was actually very careful about it.  She did the ones with just dots.  Steph and I went back and filled in the cookies without very much icing.  The icing, in addition to being really pretty, also seals the cookie and keeps it from getting dry.

I use the recipes for the sugar cookies and icing from here and have always been very pleased with the results.

Here's another tip: it's good to do something creative like decorating cookies with a crafty friend like Steph; you can always take a peek at what she's doing and copy her find inspiration.

Leah and Maggie got to sleep by the lit Christmas tree on Sunday night.


Gracie will be invited to join them when she is 4.

And, yes, that is a bowl by Maggie.  Thankfully, she didn't need to use it that night.

Lastly, on Monday night, we went to a park that was filled with beautiful light displays!


Our favorite was driving through the tunnel of lights!

That and the girls LOVED getting candy canes when we paid to enter the park :)

I'll show you the Christmas pictures tomorrow :)

Friday, December 20, 2013

If I Wrote a Christmas Letter...(this would be it)

We get so many nice Christmas cards and letters, but I haven't gotten my act together enough to send out our own in...pretty much forever!  

But if I did, this would be it :)

Dear Family and Friends, 

We've had a great year!  

Leah is enjoying 2nd grade!  She's really growing in her love for reading which we are so happy to see.  Academically, she's doing well, but mostly we're happy to hear that she's a good helper and a kind friend.  She's an awesome big sister at home, and every now and then,  we hear her being a peacemaker with her sisters.  She's also started taking her Bible to school and has shown some verses to her friend...very cool!  We pray that she keeps that zeal!

Maggie just had her PreK Christmas concert tonight!  It was so fun watching her sing the little songs and do the little dances.  She loves school, does great with all of her learning, and is a sweet little friend to the other kids in her class.  She is SO tired on school days, though...it takes a lot out of her!  On her days off, she and Gracie play, we read lots of books and play fun games together.  Maggie still keeps us laughing with her silly antics and funny ideas.

Gracie is potty trained!  I think.  Once she decided she was ready, it went relatively quickly.  She is incredibly cheerful and playful!  She likes to make up funny names for people (which is sometimes appreciated by her sisters and sometimes not :)) and do dances with her eyes closed.  She likes running errands with me on Mondays and especially enjoys her reeeeeally long bath on Thursdays when Maggie is in school.  We always appreciate the life and liveliness Gracie brings to our home!

Things are going great with Aaron's ministry, and I've been enjoying helping out in Maggie's classroom and hosting people in our home!  We had an especially full summer with lots of weddings, swimming lessons, and visiting friends.  We're so thankful for the ministry opportunities that God opens up for us and for the people He puts in our lives.

As I reread all that I just wrote up there, I realize that it sounds like we have a perfect little family and a perfect little life.  But, let me assure you, that's not always the case.  The girls fuss at each other sometimes, we get irritated, and we all get worn out and weary.  But, God is always faithful, and we are so grateful that we can find rest and joy in Him.

We hope that you are enjoying this holiday season, and that a midst all of the fun and busy-ness, you take time to reflect on Jesus being born to eventually die in our place.  We are thankful every day for Jesus, our Emmanuel.

Merry Christmas!
Love, 
Aaron, Becky, Leah, Maggie, and Gracie



I'll be back to the blog after Christmas!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

The Christmas Tree Debacle

Mmmmmm...

A real Christmas tree.

The smell can't be beat.  

But, you know what can be beat?

A Christmas tree that falls down.

Yeah, we had one of those, and it quickly converted me to getting a faux tree.

I think faux sounds much more fancy than fake or artificial.

Plus, it's French.

Joyeux Noel to us all.

(5 years of French just paid off :))

Anyway, we got our tree at Menards, like we always do.  This isn't a tradition...it's purely for the sake of convenience.

We lugged it inside, and as Aaron was getting it situated, I gave the girls their Christmas dresses.  

The time came for me to hold the tree up so it was straight and Aaron turned the screws in the tree stand.

Technically that would work.

Except for the part where it didn't.


So, we cut off the bottom few inches of the trunk to get to some fresh wood that would hopefully be more stable.


Yeah, that didn't work as much.

It was literally falling over...leaning against the window like it was drunk or really dizzy.


I feel like I should mention that I don't have these unrealistic expectations for Christmas trees.  They certainly don't have to be perfect.  I pretty much just want the branches to hold ornaments and not fall on my head.  Or on my children.

I'm also a supporter of the wonky Charlie Brown-esque Christmas tree.  But, even those don't, you know, crash.

Anyway.

The girls didn't really know what to think.


Maggie appears to be running away from it...


...but she really just thought it was hilarious to try to not let me take her picture.

Leah, on the other hand, became very attached to the tree.


Apparently it only took approximately 15 minutes for the tree to become "very special to me."  And, "it's my friend."

At first Aaron and I thought she was kidding.  Because, really, it was in our living room for a really short amount of time.  We didn't even decorate it.  

We were making jokes and stuff...I probably mentioned lighting it on fire, because that's kind of a go-to over the top, silly comment that I make.

Let's just say that didn't go over real well with the 7 year old contingency in our house.

Then we told her that we were going to get an artificial tree that we could use year after year, so it really would be like a friend that you see every year at Christmas.

Side note: sometimes I can't believe they things that come out of my mouth.  I really never thought I would be referring to Christmas trees as friends.

By the time the debacle was over, it was time for bed and time to put the Christmas tree outside.  

We went to Menards the next morning and got our faux tree and decorated it with the girls!

Gracie got to be the star put-er on-er!


I made that star out of paper plates when we first moved in to our house.  I think we'll probably use it forever :)

Oh, and here's a tip that a friend told me today!  After you put up your tree, you can store the gifts in the Christmas tree box.  Apparently kids who snoop around for their gifts never think to look there!

And, in case you were wondering, if you get a bad tree from Menards, you can totally take it back.

Gracie and I did!


I'm not going to lie...I felt kind of awesome dragging a tree back into Mendards!


Clearly, Gracie did, too!

Now doesn't this look nice?!


It was Aaron's idea to get the bigger, colored lights, and I'm totally a fan!  It's a little different and retro cool.  Super fun!

Have a great Thursday!  

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

We Aren't Doing Much for Advent (plus a Christmas Tradition)

When Aaron and I got married, I remember putting all this pressure on myself to immediately develop and implement several meaningful Christmas traditions.  

Apparently I thought that was my wifely responsibility/assignment/job.

The only tradition I could scrape up was making a recipe for white hot chocolate that we got with some mugs as a Christmas gift.  

I mean, how perfect is that!  Every year I could make this white hot chocolate having gotten the recipe on our first Christmas...awwwwwwww!

I even kept the recipe card and wrote the years that I made it.

Until about 3 years in when we both admitted we didn't really even like the white hot chocolate!

Womp, womp.  Christmas tradition fail.

I then realized that you can't really force a tradition.  I mean, you can set the stage to increase Christmas tradition likeliness, but it's not like a math equation...


Christmas music+recipe+snow+nobody crying=meaningful family tradition

I finally quit trying to force a tradition.  

Now, lest you think I'm a scrooge/grinch person, we still decorated sugar cookies, read Christmas books, listened to Christmas music, drove around and looked at Christmas lights, etc.  I just gave up trying to make something unique to our family and decided to wait and see what came about organically.  

Enter Leah!

We were decorating the tree one year when she asked if she could wear her Christmas dress while hanging ornaments!

You can bet I pounced on that one!  She wore her Christmas dress and it was all very fun and adorable!

The next year, I remembered and was so excited!

We got all the stuff out for decorating the tree, and I said, "Leah!  Let's go get your Christmas dress on and you can decorate the tree!"

She was not having it!

Noooooooooooooo!

I figured that forcing my daughter to wear a fancy dress (which would probably make her cry) wasn't exactly within the scope of happy family traditions. 

But, all was not lost!  I tweaked the tradition a bit, and now we have one :)


When we start setting up the tree (which is easier said then done...check back tomorrow for that story), I have the girls sit on the couch and cover their eyes.


Then, I give each girl her Christmas dress.


And when I tell them to open their eyes, they are very excited!


They put their new dresses on, decorate the tree, behave in a very excited way, and engage in little girl silliness.


You'll notice in the above picture that Gracie is wearing a different dress than was on her lap.  I brainlessly bought her the wrong size dress! 

Maggie ran to her closet and gave Gracie her Christmas dress from last year.

I make it a personal policy to not use hand me downs for Christmas or Easter, which I know is kind of silly.  I guess it's my way of ensuring that they younger girls have things that are special and unique to them.  Sometimes it seems like Leah is the only one who gets much that's actually new.

Well, Gracie clearly does not share my sentiments, because she was PUMPED to have Maggie's dress from last year!

Problem solved.

So, yeah, that's our tradition!

The other quasi tradition we have is reading The Best Christmas Pageant Ever.


I've been reading the book every Christmas since I was in high school.

Plus, I cry at the end every.single.time. and the girls look at me like I'm a crazy person.

But, I think that's part of the tradition :)

Additionally, we aren't doing much for advent.

Last year I had an activity for every day in December leading up to Christmas.  Many of the activities were actually things that we would do anyway, they were just more special because they were written down on a note card and put in a fancy little envelope.

I just couldn't get my act together enough to make the list this year.

Pretty much the only advent thing we're doing is reading The Jesus Storybook Bible in order every night.  If you read 1 story a night in December, it lines up perfectly to end with Jesus' birth on Christmas.

I felt bad about it for a little while, but then I got over it.  

I realized that a lot of the things we did last year were certainly fun, and we're still doing them.  But not many (if any) really had us eagerly anticipating celebrating the birth of Jesus.  They were pretty much just activities to help us enjoy the season.  

Which is good.  It's good to enjoy the season, but not by way of an angry mommy forcing her kids to do some random craft.

Sometimes I think that as mommies who love Jesus, we put this insane amount of pressure on ourselves to make everything meaningful and Gospel centered and if we don't, our kids won't have a Biblical worldview or won't want to follow Jesus or...all the bad things.  

But, we forget that we don't add meaning to Christmas.

We don't make Christmas Gospel centered.

It already is.

I'm not saying that we should be lazy and ignore teachable moments.

I'm not saying that we embrace materialism at Christmas.

I'm not saying that we promote Santa and forget Jesus.

(I don't really even like Santa that much and the girls found out about him from a cashier at Walmart!)

I am saying that we need to chill out.

Jesus doesn't want us to put the focus on Him with our self effort bathed in guilt and perfectionism.  

He's already the center and the meaning.  

We just need to slow down and ask Him to give us eyes to notice


For a really good perspective on traditions and "needing nothing," check out this great post by Kristi from and babies don't keep.  She gave me lots of good things to ponder!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The Best Christmas Music You're NOT Listening To...

In the beginning of December last year, Leah and I went to Andrew Peterson's Behold the Lamb of God concert.  Aaron was supposed to come with me, but Gracie had just broken her leg, and we didn't feel comfortable leaving her with a sitter at that point. 

To say that the concert was amazing would be a gross understatement.  

I have the Behold the Lamb of God CD, which I like, but hearing it live was...simply put...incredible.


I feel like one of those people when I say, "You have to hear it live!  It's just so much better!"

But, really, you have to hear it live, because it's SO much better!

The album tells the story of Jesus birth and plan of redemption, starting in the Old Testament.  There aren't very many stand alone songs, in my opinion, and to get the picture you really need to listen to the whole album straight through. 

AP always does this tour with Jill Phillips and Andy Gullahorn (they're married to each other) and some other musicians.

Sally Lloyd-Jones of The Jesus Storybook Bible sometimes tours with them, too, which is a huge indicator of awesome-ness in my book!

Anyway, I picked up the Christmas CD by Jill Phillips and Andy Gullahorn (cleverly titled "Christmas") when we were there.


And that, my friends, is the best Christmas music that I'm guessing you're not listening to.  

There are several Christmas songs on the album that we all know and love and then there's the best song.  

I'll wait while you listen to this youtube video.  For some reason I couldn't get it to load on here.

Are you back?

I realize that it isn't the most traditional Christmas song ever, but I love the story behind it...which I didn't understand at first.  Then I read this article which helped me understand that the song is based on a story.  The song kind of weaves between talking about the wounded woman in the story and Mary, the mother of Jesus.  Isn't it achingly beautiful?

This is my favorite part:  
Every sin that she suffered at the hands of men
Every single disgrace will be washed clean again
I will love her completely and when I am grown
I will carry her out of that tenement room
I am doing a new thing and soon you will see
I am coming among you and my name shall be
Emmanuel, Emmanuel

I haven't been sinned against in any traumatic way, for which I am extremely grateful.  But, I know people have have been sinned against...real life experiences that make me want to throw up and weep and never let my daughters out of my sight.  

And, what I love about Jesus is that He washes us clean.  

He loves us completely.

He makes things new.

Jesus is Emmanuel...God with us.

For the last few years, Jesus being Emmanuel has been so meaningful to me.  I even was telling my Sunday School kids about it this week.  God didn't have to set it up the way He did.  He could have just zapped Jesus down as a grown up, had Him die on the cross, and then resurrect after 3 days.  Boom.  Done.

But, instead, Jesus had an earthly mom and dad and brothers and sisters.  He worked a job, had a boss, had friends, and, in all likelihood lost His earthly dad (we never read anything about Joseph during Jesus' ministry, so we can reasonably infer that he died).  

I love that Jesus did the things I did, so He knows what it's like to be me.  He was sad, misunderstood, betrayed.  He can intercede for us and the complexity of our lives, because He lived an incredibly complex life.

Jesus can make anything new.  From the situations that are the most dramatic to the most simple...He redeems.

We listen to this CD a lot in the car, and now Leah sings "I Will Find A Way" along with me.  She asked me what the song was about last week, and it was interesting trying to describe what "sinned against" means to an innocent little girl.  I mostly focused on Jesus making things new, plus I fake coughed to cover up some crying, as the song literally moves me to tear every time I hear it.

...especially when I'm driving Leah to school on a hectic morning.  It could be argued that I'm tired :)

If I had a million dollars, I would buy you all this CD/download of this album.  But, alas, we'll have to settle with listening to things on youtube :)

Oh, and while we're on the topic of Christmas songs, you know how "Away in a Manger" is, well, kind of lame, but it's so stinking adorable when a bunch of little kids sing it?  A friend of mine posted this on facebook the other day, and I thought it was excellent.  

So, now when I hear my little ladies singing "Away in the Manger" at church on Friday night, I'll think about how Jesus was willing to give up everything to begin His earthly life by laying in a stinky, rough, non glamorous manger because He knew how desperately we need to be rescued.  

That makes for a very Merry Christmas indeed!

Friday, December 13, 2013

Thanksmas 2013

I know I didn't make up the term, "Thanksmas," but I don't know who did!

Whoever thought of is was smart :)

In case it needs some clarification, Thanksmas is a little combination of Thanksgiving and Christmas. 

For us it meant sharing a holiday meal with friends! 

We all celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas with our families, of course, and certainly wouldn't want to miss those.  But, it's fun to celebrate good friends and the bond we have in Jesus!

We started out with a holiday meal!


I made ham.  The last time I made ham, Maggie was literally like 3 weeks old, so it's been a while :)

In case you were wondering, hacking ham off of the bone and tossing it in a crockpot with a tiny bit of water works really, really well!  I cut it into smaller pieces and put a glaze on it before broiling it for a few minutes.  

Delicious!

I won't be waiting 5 years until my next ham making experience!

We had some veggies and dip and I made biscuits and a potato casserole.  Bri made classic green bean casserole (pretty much the perfect comfort food) and an amazing crockpot macaroni and cheese.

Steph made dessert!


This is quite possibly the most disgraceful picture of anything chocolate, but please don't judge the deliciousness by my less than stellar picture.  It was chocolate cheesecake deliciousness.  And oreos.  So good.  There's one in my fridge that I should eat before someone else remembers that it's there!

Before the girls went to bed, Maggie wore Aaron's hat...


and so did I!


After the girls went to bed, we settled in to watch National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation!


I was the only one who'd seen the whole thing!

You know how sometimes you watch a movie when you're young and then you watch it again as an adult and you wonder why you thought it was so funny/endearing/suspenseful/romantic/whatever?

Not the case with this movie.  It's still very, very funny!

We had such a fun night!

Here's hoping that this was our First Annual Thanksmas, because I know I'd love to celebrate again next year!

And the year after that, and the year after that, and the year after that...

:)

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Thanksgiving Weekend

For as long as I can remember, my family has gone to a hotel and done Christmas shopping Thanksgiving weekend.

It's a super fun tradition that I've looked forward to for a long time, and now it's something that our girls anticipate all.year.long!

The weird (or quirky if you will :)) thing about this weekend, is that the last 3 years, something bad has happened.

I'm happy to report that the streak has ended!

I mean, the less broken legs the better, right?

Right!

We didn't have to leave until after lunch on Friday, and it was so nice not being rushed!

The girls had time to just do the usual...



while I packed without being in a frenzy!

We got to the hotel a little after 3:00 and as soon as we got settled in, the kids and the dads hopped in the pool, while the ladies visited on the side.

Another long standing tradition is seeing a movie on Friday night.  My parents watch the kids while my brother, sister-in-law, sister, Aaron, and I go see a movie.

This year we saw Captain Phillips.



Aaron and I hadn't seen any commercials for the movie (and, seeing as I pretty much live under a rock, I didn't follow the real story in the news), so we didn't know what to expect.

We got to the theater shortly before the movie started, so there were only seats up front.

I had to go to the bathroom during the movie and totally thought I was going to be sick.  I didn't really attribute it to the movie, I figured I was getting sick because something always happens during this weekend.

There was another woman standing by the door to the theater.  And, because I am me, I started talking to her.  I asked if she was watching Captain Phillips.  She said she was, but that she had to walk out because she was sitting in front and was getting motion sickness from the filming style.

A-HA!

Mystery solved!  

I wasn't getting sick, I was just feeling sick because the movie took place at sea and was filmed in bumpy documentary style.

Crisis averted!

We all enjoyed the movie, although I think I would have enjoyed it more at home and not on the seasickness inducing big screen!

Saturday was filled with fun shopping and hotel hanging out!

The girls love standing on the catwalk looking down over 



the lobby!




We went out for pizza



and came back to hang out in the lobby while the kids did crafts



and we drank fun drinks like this.



The V8 v-fusion sparkling tangerine raspberry is insanely awesome!

Leah and Maggie slept well on Saturday night!



Gracie was kind of another story. 

She decided that she was pretty much done with her pack and play.  

Gracie is little for her age and the pack and play we brought with is bigger than the average pack and play.  Technically she fits, but I think she feels too grown up for it.

Gracie and I whispered and made up songs and gave each other hugs until I had developed enough relational currency to have her be happy to lay down.

She went to bed late and was up early!  I couldn't sleep either, so I took her down to the lobby/breakfast area.



We hung out for quite a while.  

And, you know the TVs in common areas in hotels?  I swear they're always on news or sports.  

Not this one!

We were there first so it was on PBS kids :)

I never realized that the TV station was pretty much a first come first serve thing.

We were certainly first come :)

Gracie ate some Froot Loops



which was special, because I don't buy them.

The icing on Gracie's cake on Sunday was that she and Charity had matching shirts!



My mom gave them to each of them for their birthdays last year, and Laurie and I just happened to pack them!

Charity and Gracie (I think it's funny/cute that they have virtue names :)) are only 4 months apart (Charity is older)!  You'd never guess to look at them.  Charity is tall for her age, and Gracie is a little peanut!

Maggie and Charity came to the hotel in matching shirts (not from Nana) on Friday, but I didn't get a picture of that.

We had such a fun weekend, and, as always, it went by way too quickly!

The ride home was pretty good, too.  Long drives are always hit or miss for us.

The ride was made even BETTER when one of the girls had to go to the bathroom.  Aaron had the genius idea to stop at a Caribou Coffee Shop!  We always forget that there's one about half way between our house and my parents' house.

I like a red Starbucks cup as much as the next girl, but the cheerful aqua Caribou winter cup simply just can't be beat!



Gracie was pretty tired on the way home...she could barely eat her Jimmy John's :)



We made it home without any overwrought crying, so it was a successful drive in my book!

Thanks for a great weekend, Mom and Dad!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

10 on 10 December

It's time for another 10 on 10!

Making lunch for school...



Doing hair...



Making "the good hot chocolate" for Mom2Mom...



I'm not going to lie, I skipped an hour when the speaker was speaking, because I would have felt a little weird taking her picture :)

Table decorations and my friend Kathy's arm during our discussion time :) ...



Unpacking my stuff from Mom2Mom and finding one of the ornaments Maggie and Gracie got...



Cutie-palooza aftermath...



Hacking up a ham to fit in the slow cooker for our First Annual Thanksmas...



Maggie was so happy to be up from her rest...



Leah was going through her drawer-of-"special"-things...



Homework time...



I was with Gracie all day, but for whatever reason, she didn't end up in any pictures.  Hm.

It was a good day!  Picture taking ended before our Thanksmas meal...more about that on Friday!

Previous Posts:
Chocolate Chip Bars and The Sound of Music
Maggie's Birthday Week
The Doctor Prescribed Crocs
Maggie Turns 5

I'm linking up here:

ten on ten button