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 ~

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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!

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