How We Do (and Don’t Do) Christmas

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Today I am digging into my blog’s archives and bringing up this little article again. It’s one I wrote last year right before Christmas day and I totally hold to it still. Happy reading!

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I realize that every family has their own traditions and ways to celebrate this season. The signs of Christmas are everywhere as it is less than two days away.

Lately I’ve been pondering this and thinking about how we celebrate Christmas as a family. Please don’t take this post as a personal assault or think I’m getting all judgmental on you. Really, I’m not. Try not to judge me and I won’t judge you, okay?? However, I am really fed up with how commercialized Christmas has gotten and, to be completely transparent, fed up with parents who have bought into this and spoon-feed their children the commercialized version of Christmas.

So, before I go on a huge long rant about Santa, Elf on a Shelf, and people going in to debt to buy their kids a bunch of junk they don’t even need, I’ll just share what we personally do–and don’t do.

What We Do:

-Each child gets around 3 gifts, not a whole pile. Usually I give them each one main thing they really want, followed by two small items they need or something just for fun. (Just as an example, we are giving Andrew a Plasma Ball that he had been asking for, along with an origami book and one other small item.) They also each have a stocking with a couple of little items, usually something like stickers, a new toothbrush, or candy.

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-On Christmas Eve, we attend our church Christmas Eve service. It is typically about an hour long and not late at night. At the service there is usually Bible readings, special music, and we also have communion together. After coming home, the children get to choose one thing out of their stocking to open.

-Christmas morning we typically have a nice hot breakfast before opening any gifts. One or two kids will help Daddy cook for everyone. Our kids are always early risers, so they don’t really get up earlier than usual.

-Before opening gifts, I like to have someone read out loud about the birth of Jesus from the Bible.

-When opening presents, I sort them into piles. Each kid gets to open one gift, then the next one will open one, and we keep going around until all are eventually opened.

-The rest of Christmas day is spent visiting our families and enjoying meals with all of them.

-This next one is new, but something I know some other families do: My children requested just the other night that we make a Birthday cake for Jesus and sing to Him. Sure, I said, so I guess we’ll be baking a cake on Christmas Eve.

What We Don’t Do:

-Make a huge deal about presents. Sure, we exchange them, but the emphasis of our celebration is not about getting stuff. It’s just not.

-Spend a lot of money. I just shake my head at how some Americans indulge their children in material things, but especially on the holidays. I shop ahead during the year, hunt for sales, and even buy yard sale or thrift store items if I think it’s something they will really like. We have never gone into debt or seriously compromised our budget due to Christmas shopping. And yes, we have 5 children and one income. It can be done.

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-Santa. Or Elf on the Shelf. I grew up in a household where Santa was pretty much forbidden. No Santa anything. My parents are absolutely wonderful and I thank them for not putting an emphasis on Santa, but instead placing it on why we really do celebrate Christmas. I won’t go off on a huge tangent about Santa here, but I could. I won’t, and I’m not judging anyone who does do Santa with their kids. I’m not quite as strict as my Dad about Santa and we do have a few Santa decorations and stuff that has been given to us, but we make it clear that Santa is just a pretend character based on a generous man who lived long ago.

-Try to make things perfect. This one’s mostly for the Moms out there. It’s great to try and make things nice for your family. Things like magazine articles, blogs, and Pinterest make me want to have everything “just so” for the holidays. You know exactly what I mean–a perfectly decorated house and tree, perfectly wrapped gifts arranged just right, a perfect Christmas card to send out to friends and family, a perfect array of Christmas goodies and succulent holiday meal, and a sparkling new outfit to wear on Christmas day. Really, do you ever wonder if we just set ourselves up for disappointment when thinking this way? We are imperfect people and nothing is going to be picture perfect when we plan it that way. Sorry to burst your bubble, but it’s just not. I have gotten lots better about this over the years. Seriously, you may just laugh if you saw my kid-decorated artificial tree, not-too-decked-out halls, and non-planned Christmas outfits. But you know what? It suits me just fine and I have embraced my more relaxed approach.

That’s my “in-a-nutshell” version of how we celebrate Christmas. Basically, we try to not emphasize what this world can give us and focus on what God already gave us, over 2,000 years ago.

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The one perfect gift. Jesus.

God in human form, sent here to save us from our sins. All of us imperfect people, undeserving of His grace and love. Not even able to fathom His love for us.

Emmanuel, God with us.

May you have a blessed Christmas and, in the midst of the hustle and bustle of the season, remember why we celebrate Christmas in the first place.

Handmade Christmas 2014: Personalized Initial Pendants

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As of this moment, nearly a week before Thanksgiving, I am proud to say I am well over halfway done my Christmas gift shopping.

I also have a lot of gifts made and at least most of the way ready to go. What a good feeling!

Today’s handmade gift idea is one I just did for my 3 nieces as well as my daughter. All are between the ages of 6 and 9.

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Each pendant has their first initial, along with a little charm that contains a pearl and their birthstone.

Though I have a lot of experience making jewelry, this is one style I have not done yet, so I have a learning curve to go through.

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For starters, I picked up a package of these pendant backs and clear fronts at Michael’s.

I typed out each girl’s initial in a couple different fonts, using a fairly large font size. I had to experiment with several before getting one that I thought looked just right for the round pendants they were to go on.

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I then cut out a margin around each letter and glued the flat side of the clear topper, pressing it down onto the paper so the letter was centered. I used a clear tacky glue that’s supposed to be multi-surface, but I’m not sure what the best kind would be. It looks a little foggy while still wet (like pictured above), but clears up once dry. After it feels pretty dry, trim the paper to the edge of the circle so nothing is sticking out. Then use the same glue to bond the back and front together.

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I added a jumpring to the top of the pendant, then strung it on a necklace cord.

I also beaded a crystal with each girl’s birthstone color along with a faux pearl onto a headpin. Then I used pliers to make a little loop to attach it to the cord or the jumpring as well. One could also do this onto a necklace chain of whatever quality you choose.

Overall I liked how these turned out and would love to experiment more with this style of jewelry.

Made with love and hopefully a hit at Christmas!

Handmade Christmas 2014: Glittered Lightbulb Ornaments

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Well, here I go again with the colored glitter. Lots of it.

This time around I used up some old style light bulbs that we had kicking around in the garage and gave them a completely new look.

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Add some twine and a little charm and the result is a pretty, repurposed Christmas ornament.

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As you can see, I did them in a variety of brilliant colors.

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The process for these is fairly straightforward and you don’t need a ton of supplies either.

To make one of these pretties, first dig up an old style light bulb, either one that burnt out or one you don’t plan on using.

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I used a sponge brush to apply a thin layer of Mod Podge over the entire surface of the bulb.

While it was still wet, I held it over a plain piece of paper and shook glitter over the whole thing. It takes a LOT of glitter to cover one of these. After a minute or so, shake off the excess onto the paper, then funnel it back into the glitter container. I allowed my bulb to completely dry on a piece of paper towel while I glittered others.

To finish, cut maybe 12″ of twine or jute, tie a loop in the middle (to hang ornament), and wrap around the top of the bulb. Hot glue a thin layer as you go. As I did this, I placed a charm so it kind of hung down the front a little.

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I had bought a pack of charms that look like old keys, but you could use whatever.

Overall a semi-quick and simple little project. Very easy to make a bunch at a time as well, which you know I love!

Not sure which one is my favorite yet, but I think they turned out kind of adorable.

Fall 2014 in Pictures

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If I could choose a brief description of this fall, I would say it was “busy but beautiful.”

Here are a few pictures I have chosen that show a little of what we’ve been up to:

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I’ll start with my absolute favorite one. This I snapped with my phone camera one evening a couple weeks ago. I had a crazy day and took a little walk right near sunset. The sight of this literally stopped me in my tracks. I just had to capture the Stop sign in the foreground with the beautiful sky in the back. I felt more than a nudge from my Creator telling me, “Rachel, you just need to stop right now and worship me.” So I did.

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A lot of my time has been taken up with leading our school’s PTO. Though I had a couple of years in as Secretary, this was my first year as President with a completely new group of officers. Our one and only fundraiser for the year is a Race for Education, which we do in early October. To say I put a lot of time and effort into this is an understatement. But it is worth it.

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Our theme was “Wild Safari,” so our group had a lot of fun with making it all themed out for the kids. It was an awesome day!

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My poor husband dressed up as a gorilla and stayed in this costume most of that day. The kids loved it and enjoyed chasing him around.

I’m told he must really, really love me for doing that. He does.Thankfully.

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Our family has been really into hiking whenever the opportunity presents itself. We have had a number of gorgeous weekends to take advantage of and lots of pretty trails within reasonable driving distance. This is just a little snapshot of the kids checking out something on one of the trails.

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A shot of my husband sitting atop a huge rock at the end of one of those trails overlooking the Susquehanna River. It is named “House Rock,” due to the fact that it’s huge.

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My daughter is in her second year of violin, which she is pretty into. This is my sweet girl serenading us one evening.

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Not a very good picture, but this is my oldest son flipping acorn pancakes. Yup, you read that right. Acorn pancakes–as in, made from acorn flour. We took it upon ourselves to experiment with making acorn flour. A long process, but it turns out good! Next fall I would like to do more when the acorns first start dropping. We have a bit left that I put in the freezer to use in another recipe.

Well, that’s all folks. A brief snapshot into just some of what has been shaking around here. Like I said, busy but beautiful. I have LOTS to be thankful for!

Handmade Christmas 2014: Folded Antique Music Ornament

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Hey everyone!

So I am slightly obsessed with things made out of either vintage sheet music pages or book pages.

I have done a number of previous crafts on here using this as a medium, usually for Christmas.

This is my latest trial set of projects and I have to say that I made quite a few.

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Definitely one of those things that once you make one, you are eager to do more.

They are fairly simple to pull off, and I promise that those who are supposedly “uncrafty” can still make these.

You can buy old books or hymn books at yard sales, used book sales, thrift shops, etc. I scored several antique music magazines from the 1920’s-1930’s at a local antique store for a couple bucks. They are awesome! I could seriously frame some of the ads in them for decoration, but that’s for another day.

Here’s the process I followed:

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I ripped out some pages and cut same-sized rectangles out of the paper. I stacked three together, lining up the edges, and folded them accordion style, or like a fan. It’s important to keep your folds approximately the same width.

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Next step is to separate them and fold each accordion in half, like in the above picture.

Glue together the middles of each so they all turn into a one-piece fan shape.

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Finally, to complete the circle, glue the three (or you could do a fuller one with 4) fan shapes together where they meet.

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You could leave them plain, but I chose to put some kind of embellishment in the center. Some have a bit of burlap with a sparkly snowflake on top, others have a glittery word like “Joy,” and some have little pictures from that old music magazine that are backed with cardstock. Cutouts from vintage Christmas cards would be really cool too I would think.

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Another option that looks neat is to make another layer that’s larger and place it underneath. Just use much larger pieces, or even a full page, to fold. I love the look of these, and you could go really big to make a wreath.

For any size you choose, just make sure to back it with something for stability. I used canning lids that had been used and washed, hot gluing them to the back. For the larger ones I used a round plastic lid that had been on an ice cream pail. You could use a circle of cardboard or something else that’s sturdy though.

Happy crafting! Stay tuned for more handmade Christmas ideas.

Handmade Christmas 2014: Glitter Magnets

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If I’ve seemed rather sparkly lately, there’s a clear explanation for it.

(No, for those of you who tell me I need another baby, I am NOT pregnant!!)

I have been testing out a few Christmas projects that involve glitter.

Inevitably, no matter how careful I am, I always sparkle for the rest of the day. Glitter ends up on my face, in my hair, and on my clothes.

This is one of the projects I really have had fun making.

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They are a snap to make and end up looking downright amazing.

The process is such that you could knock out a bunch of these in one sitting.

For starters, you need to purchase the flat backed glass gems that come in mesh bags. I usually get mine at the Dollar Tree.

You also need Mod Podge, a foam brush, and different colors of glitter!

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Lay out the glass gems so that the flat side is up. I like to glitter over pieces of scrap paper so I can salvage unused glitter back into its container (and so my table doesn’t end up looking like a sparkly mess).

Brush the entire flat side with Mod Podge, then sprinkle heavily with glitter while it’s still wet. This is where you can do a bunch of one color at a time. Give it a few minutes, then tap off the excess and lay glass onto another sheet of paper. Funnel the first paper into your glitter jar so all that extra good stuff gets saved for another use.

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Now is the time to fire up your hot glue gun. I buy packs of round magnets at Wal Mart or the craft store to glue on the back.

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When all are dry and ready, flip them over so that the rounded top is up.

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The result? The sparkliness is magnified and looks really cool.

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This is a great project for kids to help with–or at least to shake on the glitter.

I have packaged these in groups of 4-5 stuck to a canning lid, then bagged in a cello bag with ribbon. They would be a cute, easy, and inexpensive little Christmas gift.

Shine on!

Rachel

Canning Jar Band Pumpkin

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Today is a revisit to one of my past favorite fall projects. This particular one is from just over two years ago. Enjoy!

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I am such a huge copycat sometimes and this little project is no exception. Granted, I do have a lot of at least semi-original ideas, but some are just imitations of other cute ideas I’ve seen and just put my own little twist on. To be fair, I always try to acknowledge my source of inspiration and I am incredibly grateful when others do the same for me. For this project I completely fell in love with Simply Klassic Home’s canning lid pumpkin¬†and knew I had to try making one.

This was a snap to make and only used a few materials, all of which I had on hand.

For the stem I rolled a length of burlap and glued down. I trimmed this up a bit as well.

Then, simply gather a bunch of canning jar bands of the same size and run a string or twine through their middles. Gather and tie around the stem. Arrange bands so that the tied portion is covered up and there are no major gaps.

I added a green felt leaf for some of the pictures and tried it without for others.

As you can see, I didn’t try to clean up or pretty up my canning bands.

Some are newer, but others are well-worn and loved.

Happy Fall Y’all!

Rachel

 

“Gather” Mini-Grapevine Wreath

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Well, apparently I’m on a bit of a wreath kick again. They really are one of my most favorite things to make.

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This time around I went for a grapevine one, just to mix things up.

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It is adorned with these little flowers I made from a cute orange & white houndstooth print fabric.

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Across the top I formed the word “Gather” using scrabble tiles. They are mounted on a rectangle of burlap, which I let peek out around the edges. The burlap is on another rectangle of felt for a little stability. Everything is hot glued onto the grapevine.

I used just a basic gold ribbon for hanging.

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All in all, a quick little project that turned out sorta cute.

Blessings to all,

Rachel

Criss-Cross Fall Wreath

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Howdy everyone!

I’ve been a little MIA lately, but it’s all been for a good reason.

School started and I’ve been in PTO mom mode, dealing with beginning of the school year craziness and preparing for our big yearly fundraiser coming up in several weeks.

This is how I deal with stress:

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I make stuff. No surprise, eh?

I also take lengthy walks, pray for wisdom and sanity, drink too much coffee, and eat comfort foods.

But I digress. About the wreath…

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Again I went with a yarn-wrapped style. This time I picked out a brown with neutral flecks of color in it.

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For the flowers I used different neutrals as well, then added in a little pop of pink. IF I had some coral-y orange I may have thrown in a bit of that too for interest. I placed a rectangle of burlap underneath them all, leaving a bit to peek out near the middle. A couple of buttons were used for accents. To make this more interesting, I used a buttery light yellow yarn and criss-crossed it around the portion of wreath not covered by flowers and such.

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And since I hadn’t busted out my trusty chalkboard for pictures in awhile, I thought this would be a good shot.

Happy Fall Y’all!

–Rachel

Summer Memories 2014

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Forgive my randomness, but I am putting up just a variety of pictures taken this summer. They are not in chronological order, but capture some things I would like to remember this summer by.

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One small sampling of the many green beans (and purple beans) we picked and then froze.

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A cute little turtle that my husband found when mowing and “rescued” for my kids to fuss over for a few hours. They then released him back into his habitat.

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I had the fun experience of taking my twins to a combine demolition derby. (Yes, such a thing does exist. I live in southern Lancaster county, this is what we do for fun;))This was one of their favorites. Do you recognize what movie he comes from?

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My older boys were learning the art of doing lashings and made me a cool trellis-type thing for some of our tomato plants.

Photo: Feelin' saucy on this fine day.

A spectacular batch of spaghetti sauce, probably our best ever. We’ve learned that using a giant can of tomato paste thickens it up perfectly. Roasted garlic also adds a nice touch!

Photo: Kilby Cream!

I don’t think I’ve ever taken a selfie until this past year (and no I haven’t taken hardly any, I think it’s slightly narcissistic). To the young folk this is apparently a life skill. This one was at one of my favorite ice cream haunts.

Because ice cream is very important to me. Amen.

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Each of my kids had a chance to attend summer camp, even my little boys. We are fortunate to have a fabulous Christian summer camp just a few miles away from our home. They all had a grand time!

Photo: Our crew at one of many pretty spots within Black Moshannon State Park. A summation of our week there: lots of hikes, swimming at the lake, too much great food, pontoon boat tour, campfires, reconnecting with an old friend and making some awesome new ones, family time, and sharing a wild blueberry patch with a Black Bear!

Our family vacationed at Black Moshannon State Park, in central-ish PA. We rented a cabin within the park for a week, which is what we did last year at another State Park. On the day we left we also celebrated our fifteenth anniversary, Woohoo!!

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Just a little snapshot of the lake at the park. The water really was almost black, but not dirty.

(Not pictured: The looks on my husband and big boys’ faces when they hiked and ran into a black bear when stopping to pick wild blueberries. Apparently the bear was doing the same thing! I so wish I could have seen it play out.)

Photo: Picking Lima beans...along with cantaloupes, beets, berries, corn, tomatoes, and some peppers. Feeling extremely thankful for this provision in our lives!

Two of my kiddos picking lima beans.

A cowboy themed party we attended just last weekend for a friend’s birthday. They had a little photo area where my hubs surprised me by pulling this off. Probably one of the best pictures of us ever!

What can I say? We do still enjoy smooching on each other.

Another snapshot of the shooting range at the same party. My crew was all over that!

Hope you had a wonderful summer!

Rachel