Merry CHRISTmas 2011

From our family to yours...may you have a Merry CHRISTmas and a joyfilled New Year! 

Our Smith Family Christmas photo cards this year...

Blessings in Him ~

And the winner is...

of the Christmas Blessing Giveaway...

Congratulations Kelly &
Merry Christmas...

I hope you love Elsie as much as our family does and all the little goodies to go along with it! 
{Let me know what you think...your Christmas blessing is on its way.}

Blessings ~

As we enter into December...

FOR TODAY...Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Outside my window... still and dark, dew settled on all things in cool of the wee hours

I am’s going to be year-end before I know it which means tax preparations will fill my New Year.  December has started off to be an intentional month of living...intentional in staying focused on Christ through the busyness of the season.  December's calendar is selectively full but not overflowing.  The transition from autumn to winter, Thanksgiving to Christmas having taken place without too many bumps. 

I am thankful for...In my list of gratitude {#43-60}, I am thankful for:

~ growing boys into men...doing the hard things
~ tree planting work opportunities this past week for Austin...acres of saplings
~ planted to replace ones lost in a brush fire this year
~ grace when accidents occur and God's hand of healing {praying for two children this week suffering with a broken bone and another with 3rd degree burns}
~ grace to handle defeat...or at least for opportunities to teach this {two difficult playoff games this past Saturday for Logan, one more to go}

Logan missing the "pull" for this defensive move...the opponant was very fast and avoided having flags pulled throughout the game many times.
~ a girl who has taken it upon her 26 month old self to potty train

~ getting our Christmas pictures snapped today so cards can be ordered {not an easy feat with a home of 10 and varying schedules}

One of several shots...this time Carolyne is the protestor of group pictures.
~ hearts desiring to do "secret acts of kindness" each day...still working on the secret part ;-)
~ dinners at Cracker Barrel {spontaneous and rewarding}
~ the smell of a fresh cut Christmas tree {brought from NC...thank you}
~ a chat with a neighbor this week
~ music opportunities for our young is such a beautiful gift and I'm blessed to have our home filled with it

~ having times set aside to fellowship with friends this month

~ being home with my children each day {even the difficult ones...} and growing together
~ God's grace in my Mom's life
~ God being the Author and Finisher of our faith and not us
~ the last faucet part coming in today {a leaky faucet since October and the part was on backorder...}
~ a lifetime warranty on the faucet {no out-of-pocket expense...a good thing}

From the kitchen...December is a month of above average activities, so our menu will be somewhat loose...loose, but not non-existant.  ;-)  This week will look something like this:

Sunday:  Simple
Monday:  Grilled chicken, rice cooked in chicken broth to flavor, buttered peas and biscuits
Tuesday:  that spontaenous meal out to Cracker Barrel {after taking family Christmas pictures}
Wednesday:  meatloaf, mashed garlic potatoes, steamed dill carrots
Thursday:  lasagna, homemade whole wheat french bread with olive oil dipping sauce, salad, s'mores...maybe with a fire
Friday:  beef barley vegetable soup and bread
Saturday:  chicken and turkey pot pies

From the learning alouds of our Christmas books, lots of nativity playing, still working on division {Alyssa} and fractions {Logan}, instrument practice for upcoming concerts, studying and term papers {Zach} as this semester comes to an end...finals week.

Upcoming plans...plumber coming to replace parts on my kitchen faucet, Orchestra concert {Wednesday night}, football practice {Friday night}, final playoff game {Saturday} with a community parade in the evening...with some fellowship time in the mix of it all...and for added blessings for giving, I am hosting a Christmas Blessing Giveaway {read about it here}

Around the house...things are looking a lot like Christmas ~ our tree is decorated, nativities around the house and little trees in each room, lights hung inside and out, our baskets filled with blessings for others ready for upcoming deliveries and preparations for several hospitality gatherings underway.

One of my favorite things...the smells of Christmas {balsam & cedar Yankee candle scent}, cinnamon pine cones, baking of sugar cookies, coffee {although I don't like the smell}, ummm...

Here is picture for thought I am sharing

Our little miss is already 3 time passes by so quickly!  She's such a sweet blessing to our family, truly adding "Joy".

Blessings ~

This week linked to:

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How We are Celebrating Christmas AND a Christmas GIVEAWAY

It's been a blurr of a year with November over and December already here!  We had a blessed Thanksgiving with Mom and friends joining us.  A joy-filled time of giving thanks and fellowshipping together.

What a wonderful time of year! December is a month usually full of activities. Oh, there is shopping and Christmas gatherings, the end of sports seasons and final games, concerts and special events, decorating and baking…the list goes on and on.  And if it isn't full enough already...we now have a daughter who has decided it's time to begin potty training...wonderful, yes...however, the first of the year surely would have been better for us.  ;-)

She's doing well for 26 months...just decided to do what sissies do and hopped on AND successfully tinkled.  ;-)  Hersey kiss for the big girl!
 It is a wonderful time of the year and sometimes all this activity can create an atmosphere that actually can rob us of the joy of the season.  In hopes to keep our center of all we do around Christ we have a few "Family Challenges" posted as an encouraging reminder...

It is with intentional effort, this year we have created these family challenges to keep our time focused on Christ and the reason for our joy. The end of November, I made all the necessary copies, laminating things we will do again in the future {new traditions} and made the purchases necessary for being able to begin in December. Some new things we are doing as a family this year to keep Christ in our Christmas are:

1. Reading the Christmas account {Luke chapter 2} nightly with our Christmas Eve reading being done by candlelight…

2. Doing a “Twelve Days of the Nativity” activity beginning on the 13th of the month. This activity was something I found here which will provide a fun way for our children to learn more about the different elements of the Christmas account…especially the younger ones. We are hoping this activity will provide a time for us to reflect a bit deeper on the historical account of Christ’s birth, the events and people involved in that night and a prompt for conversation about what those people may have been experiencing that wonderful night.

These are the cards I printed on plain white paper, added a cover page using Mrs. Grossman stickers and then laminated each page.  To finish, I hole punched the top and ran a ribbon through the stack of cards.

This is the sweetest nativity set...the kids LOVE playing with it, so until we start The 12 Days of Nativity {we have decided to do it BEFORE Christmas starting on the 13th} they are getting joy from it.

3. We have challenged our family to do “Simple Acts of Kindness” each day for members of our family. These acts will involve blessing someone in the house in secret and leaving behind a “Because you are loved…” note to encourage them.
Once again, I made "Just because you are loved..." slips {using Microsoft Word label format}, then printed them out and laminated them for being able to continually using them through the year.  ;D

4. For fun and opportunity to bless someone in our neighborhood, we are also going to be doing a “Ring and Run” outreach based on The Twelve Days of Christmas song. I found a sweet version here {or here if that one isn't working} this year and made a few minor changes to fit our family and gifts we wanted to give. This event is another great teaching opportunity for “blessing others in secret”.

Here's our basket of blessings, labels printed out and attached to each item.  Starting on the 13th, we will "Ring and Run" leaving behind a little blessing for someone close by...

Chocolate...lots of chocolate...doesn't chocolate makes things just a little bit better?  :D
5. Decorating our tree with a focus on Christ…red ornaments {to represent His blood}, ornaments with the names of God written on them {I purchased red shatterproof balls and used a gold permanent pen to write one name of God on each ball…of course, I didn’t write all His names, but selected a few we wanted to focus on}, red stars {to remind of us of His blood again and the star set in the sky to lead to His birthplace} and adorenments the children will be making again this year.
Our tree this year, as a reflection of evergreen {from North Carolina...thank you, sweet friends} as a reminder of Life we have in Christ and red to remind us of the blood He shed.

6. Select a conversation starter at each dinner meal to prompt discussion about different Christmas aspects…from the historical account to what different symbols mean.
This group of questions and some additional ones were taken from Celebrating A Christ-Centered Christmas.  Loved this idea and will make this part of our annual more laminating.  :D

Things we have done and will do again this year include:

1. Having candy canes with the Legend of the Candy Cane poem attached to them at the front door ready to give to those who visit us {mailman, UPS/FedEx drivers, neighbors, other delivery people, etc.} as well as a simple book “For the Joy” by John Piper and a tract from Billy Graham.  This legend is in the form of a Christmas tree or you could use this one to attach to candy canes for giving away.
A shot before the legends were attached to the candy canes.

2. Hide Jesus from our nativity set until Christmas morning and then the first child who awakes that morning gets to put Him in the nativity scene and move the shepherd up to the stable area.
Where is our LORD?  {Hidden until Christmas Day and then the early riser will get to place Him in the stable.}

3. Attending Christmas concerts and Christmas service.

4. Driving through well decorated neighborhoods and trying to find nativity scenes the night before Christmas.

5. Opening one special gift on Christmas Eve {always new PJ’s} so they can wear them to bed and have Christmas morning pictures to remember.

6. Mark & I purchase “three gifts” for each child to be opened on Christmas Day. This is to represent the three gifts that were presented to Christ from the Wiseman. {They do get more than three gifts…due to them giving presents for one another, receiving them from other family members and friends, but our gifts to them are limited to three.}

7. Hosting a Christmas gathering at our home. In the past we have done things such as a craft day here or Christmas gift making time with other families at our home. Other ideas could include a Birthday Party for Jesus, a couple’s night, or even hosting a time to watch someone else’s children to allow them to Christmas shop. The point for us, whatever the event, is to show hospitality to others.

8. Lots of baking…for family, friends, neighbors, coaches, music instructors, pastors, etc. This year may pose a slightly higher challenge with having a new baby in the home {and now 4 who are 5 and under...}, but we will do what we can. Last year we had our nieces join us for two baking days, in which we made family cookie/cake recipes and then sent home some of what they helped bake…lots of fun.

9. Send a Christmas photo card and family newsletter to all our family, friends and those who are close in distance recapping our year. I have done this for the 22 years we have been married…some years more in depth than others due to time, but it is always a blessing to connect with those that aren’t near in distance and encourage those who are. Our family so enjoys reading the cards and newsletters we have received and seeing how families have grown each year.

Something else we have done with all the cards and newsletters we receive at Christmas is to place them in a basket on our kitchen table AFTER Christmas. Each night through the month of January, we each select a card from the basket {randomly} and pray for that person/family that evening. This has been a sweet tradition for us to purposely pray for others and to hear the things our children lift up about the person they are praying for…

What family traditions do you have? How do you spend the month of December? How do you keep Christ as your focus during a season so full? Your comment will be a blessing to me and to those visiting. May your month be filled with joy!

P.S. In honor of Christ and Christmas, I would like to host a Christmas Blessing Giveaway. It’s my way to encourage and thank you for visiting here.  What is the giveaway? A Christmas gift basket filled with items to bring joy to you this month. All entries must be received by 11:59PM EST on Monday, December 12th.  A winner will be randomly chosen on Tuesday, December 13th. The winner will be announced on my blog and then upon receiving mailing info, the gift will be mailed to the blessed winner and hopefully received by Christmas {depending on our postal delivery...}! 

How to enter {one entry for each item you do below}?

1. Leave a comment {as mentioned above}.

2. Do a Christmas related post and link back here…be sure to mention my giveaway AND include your post link.

3. Join above as “Those Encouraged”…even if you are an email subscriber, click to follow to gain another entry THEN leave a separate comment saying you have joined.

And what will this basket consist of???

Elsie's Christmas Party, Wonderful Names of a Wonderful Lord, For Your Joy, Handel music CD, metallic silver note cards and matching envelopes for you to embellish, snowflake stickers, a names of God bookmark, and a little sweet surprise...may it bring joy to your Christmas!

Linked to:

Women Living Well Wednesdays
FOR TODAY...Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Outside my window...somewhat muggy for an autumn day ~ where did our cool breezes go? Where did the 70 something temps go? I had to turn the air on to get the stickiness out…ugh!

I am thinking...about a lot of things. My mind is like an Energizer bunny…it just keeps going and going and going, especially this time of year.

I am thankful for...

#31 ~ great dental appointments today {five of the children had appointments today and all had great reports},

#32 ~ Sam’s Club {our six week run today after dental check-ups and I am hoping to not go again until after the first of the year…well, maybe for a Christmas shopping trip but not to stock up},

#33 ~ Growing up {Austin got his learner’s permit today yesterday…where does the time go?},

#34 ~ snickerdoodle cookies and the boy who loves to make all things cookies,

#35 ~ Operation Christmas Child {our way to give to those who would not otherwise have and praying that the Gospel message would be shared to each child}

Drop Operation Christmas Child shoe boxes off between November here to find a location near you.

#36 ~ easy meals {Shrimp Alfredo tonight last night and Texas toast…yum}

#37 ~ visits with friends

#38 ~ improving stamina for mom these past few days

#39 ~ nature sightings {yesterday a bald eagle chasing another bird until it dropped the fish in flight at which time the eagle caught it and flew to a nearby tree…and today yesterday a huge red-headed woodpecker} ~ lovely pictures of His creation

#40 ~ opportunities to serve others and hopefully be a witness of His grace

#41 ~ buzz cuts for boys

#42 ~ using leftover veggies to make a nice side dish for dinner…thanks to a friend’s yummy recipe

I am praying for…upcoming weekend events ~ football, a wedding and fellowship time; next week’s activities ~ Thanksgiving dinner here; for yielding hearts to live out the Gospel; a mouth that is SLOW to speak…and ears that are QUICK to listen; a young family going through a challenging time; Mom; the Lord to provide a window of opportunity to spend with a couple friends next week

From the learning rooms...well, I’ve worked on this post for 3 days now…so much learning has been taking place, hence the delay in getting THIS done. I am contemplating shutting down for the rest of the week to just do Thanksgiving stories, activities, and all things related. I think we could all use this time away from our SCHEDULE and focus on history, gratitude and preparations.

From the kitchen...tonight ~ Squash casserole {thanks to my friend’s recipe} as a side dish with rice buttermilk biscuits and stuffed chicken. This week’s menu:

Sunday ~ was SIMPLE…leftovers

Monday ~ “Tortilla Night”!!! VERY happy children!

Tuesday ~ Shrimp Alfredo and Texas toast

Wednesday ~ above

Thursday ~ Baked ziti w/ spinach asiago chicken sausage and garlic rolls

Friday ~ ?...leftovers

Saturday ~ Santé Fe soup topped with shredded fiesta blend cheese, sour cream and Fritos chips…yummy!

I am wearing...white cotton skort, black tee, bare feet and hair pulled back in a simple clipped ponytail

I am creating...Thanksgiving plans and memories as I list a simple agenda and menu for the day…still looking forward to carving out some time for sewing skirts this coming week.

I am going...contemplating taking the children to a historical lecture tomorrow afternoon about the Roosevelt’s, to the Dollar Tree and to the nail salon {using the last of my gift certificate from my birthday…thanks Zach} later today tomorrow evening, and errands Friday afternoon with football practice in the evening…the weekend will comprise of picking up our pork order from a local farm Saturday AM, football directly after that {their last game before playoffs in December}, a much anticipated wedding and sweet fellowship, then church and maybe more fellowship time on Sunday.

I continue reading...just the Bible and read alouds to the children.

I am hearing...the vacuum running in the garage, the AC {yes, it had to be turned on due to sticky humid weather}, a girl just getting up from her afternoon nap and children stirring in their afternoon activities.

Around the, clothes purging and organizing {I feel like I just did this…they just keep growing!}, Thanksgiving Day preparations and lots of paperwork for the business.

One of my favorite things…the smell of the air when it is crisp and cool, fireplaces burning and a nice cup of hot {warm} cocoa…okay, that was three.

Here is picture for thought I am sharing…

Blessings ~

 Linked to:




Food Storage for Large Families

This week I’m linking to 4 Moms: 35 Kids ~ How Moms of Many Manage and posting on the topic of food storage for large families.  See links at the bottom to their sites for more ideas on making the most of your food storage area, maybe get some storage ideas and money saving tips.

Why have a food "pantry"?
Living in a hurricane possible location, having food on hand and a plan for keeping our perishables from spoiling in a power outage is just sensible. Building a food pantry has cost benefits for our family, too. As most large families, feeding the crew can be expensive if you don’t plan and budget appropriately for it. For this reason and others, I try to buy based on the best unit price and for certain foods will buy based on the healthiest choice. With the savings over time having a food pantry provides, healthier purchases can be made on certain foods while staying within our overall weekly budget. Basically speaking then we have three reasons for having a food pantry: cost benefit, preparedness benefit and nutrition benefit. Every family who has a food pantry will reflect the needs and priorities of that family with amounts of what to have on hand, the types of foods selected to store and the space allotted for doing so factors to consider.

How do we build our food "pantry"?

As a large family, saving money and stretching the ever-decreasing valued dollar is a weekly endeavor. Over time and as our food budget permits, I make purchases when items are on sale, using coupons when available, but mainly focusing on the bottom line…the best unit price. I will buy extras of those sale items {only purchasing the items we like and use} and store them in our food pantry. This method helps to build having extras on hand of the items we consistently use. When meal planning, I have attempted to keep our meals simple, drawing from recipes that use normal, everyday ingredients. Having a meal plan helps to save money and save food waste.

Where do we make purchases from to build our food "pantry"?

1. Buying in bulk {i.e. Sam’s Club, Costco Wholesale Club, etc.}

2. Purchasing through a food co-op {i.e. BreadBeckers, Montana Wheat Company, etc.}

3. taking advantage of buy one get one free offers

4. using store and manufacturer’s coupons or competitor ads being match by select retailers {Wal*Mart will match any valid competitors ad for the exact item, Publix will accept select competitors’ coupons and some stores double coupons…ask your local grocery or discount chain in your area to see what they will do}

5. purchasing meat from local farm for no hormones, no antibiotics, grain/grass fed purposes {i.e. beef and pork}

Other options could include: purchasing from local farmers or farmer’s markets for fresh/organic produce or even an organic produce co-op, growing your own fruits and vegetables or bartering with those who do, and discount food chains or outlets.

Where do we store these savings and how?

I have posted on storage ideas in the past here, but this week I will cover more specifically our food storage areas.

1. Meats ~ if bought in bulk from the grocery or wholesale club, then we will repackage it into freezer bags based on our families’ consumption and date the package, remove air and lay flat in our upright freezer {maximizing the space}

2. Can goods and boxed items ~ I keep opened and a base amount in our inside kitchen pantry…I’ll call this my working pantry and my surplus is kept in our garage storage area.

     a. First, my kitchen pantry storage:

          i. Items such as pasta, dry beans, baking supplies, snacks, dry cereals, etc. of which we would use on a frequent basis are kept inside and stored in glass jars like these or these {both made in the USA}, Tupperware storage containers like these, plastic storage bins, or food buckets.

          ii. When my base count gets low, I will refill that item into its storage container {i.e. Pastas are removed from their manufacturer packaging and put in the labeled storage container designated. Dry beans are emptied from their packaging and kept in glass jars. Snack items such as popcorn, animal crackers, snack bars, crackers, etc. are removed from their manufacturer boxes and stored in their designated containers. This allows my kitchen pantry to stay organized, gives me a visual on when my stock is getting low {since the containers are clear} and keeps food from spoiling, as their containers are air tight.

     b. Next, my garage storage area {you can read a little about it here}:

          i. I now have floor to ceiling adjustable wall shelving {thanks to my dear husband} for storing my extra can items, boxed items and room for my 5 gallon buckets underneath {these are the ones with air-tight gamma lids on them}

          ii. I have used the old storage shelf for putting wheat buckets, canning supplies and seasonal kitchen supplies on.

          iii. I have a couple wire rack shelves for storing bulk paper products, storage containers and baskets {for our ongoing organizing & re-organizing projects in our home}, hospitality items {i.e. drink containers, trays and divided platters, chargers, etc.} and bulk drinks {water bottles, flavored juices, etc.}

3. Perishables ~ Items I will stock up on such as milk, eggs, cheese, in-season fruits and veggies are kept in our kitchen refrigerator with extras kept in our garage refrigerator. This method allows me to take advantage of sales, thus saving money in the long run.

For our large family, doing items 1-6 above are beneficial for our pocket books as well as our health. Side benefits from having a food pantry include having food during slow economic times {aren’t we there now?}, for preparedness in response to natural disasters {hurricanes, flooding, power outages, etc.} when trips to the store may not be possible and even ministering to others who may be in need.

I draw from the Scriptures in providing for our family without becoming out-of-balance or extreme. Our faith and trust is in the Lord to provide therefore, our trust and hope is NOT in our food pantry or earthly possessions. Here are a few to verses to encourage you as well:

  • A slack hand causes poverty, but the hand of the diligent makes rich. He who gathers in summer is a prudent son, but he who sleeps in harvest is a son who brings shame. Proverbs 10:4-5 {not to be one who would seek riches of this earth, but on the contrary, one who is willing to work so their future is secure}
  •  She is like the ships of the merchant; she brings her food from afar. She rises while it is yet night and provides food for her household and portions for her maidens. She considers a field and buys it with the fruit of her hands she plants a vineyard. She opens her hand to the poor and reaches out her hands to the needy. She is not afraid of snow for her household, for all her household are clothed in scarlet. Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she laughs at the time to come. She looks well to the ways of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness. Proverbs 31:14-16, 18, 20-21, 25, 27 {to be a woman who is resourceful, is profitable in her undertakings, is giving, is aware of the needs of her own family and insures those needs are met, is a preparer and secure in the days ahead and works diligently for her family}
  • Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Matthew 6:19-21 {the balance…not to be so consumed with a food storage pantry and its contents…or anything else for that matter, that it becomes the hope and source of faith and trust ~ not to replace the Lord who is over all}

Basically, my hope is to be the best “keeper of my home” as possible, drawing from the Lord’s word for how to do that, gleaning from others so that we can be good stewards of what He provides and trusting in Him to provide for all our needs as He sees fit to do.

May you seek His direction for ways to maximize what space He has given you and His wisdom to prepare as He leads you.

Blessings ~

Linked this week to:

Visit Kimberly, Connie, the Headmistress of the Common Room, & Kim C