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10 Thoughts Every Mom Has About Holiday Shopping

This post originally appeared on The Grit and Grace Project.

Holiday shopping. Every year, it’s left to the moms. Well, usually. I pass off a few things to my husband, but generally, I do the lion’s share of our Christmas shopping. I don’t much like shopping in huge crowds, so I’m not usually a Black Friday frequenter – but here’s to you, Cyber Monday! Each year, when I’m going through the list of our family members and close friends we like to get gifts for, I have a series of thoughts that go through my mind… I’ll let you in on my secret questions.

1. Why does anyone need this junk anyway? All those gift kits of men’s “boutique” toiletries, women’s “specialist” manicure supplies, or a box set of cheap, miniature Marvel characters for little boys… does anyone like them? What about those department store “free gifts” when you spend a certain amount? What’s even in those things?! Usually junk, right? It looks nice all wrapped up, but who actually needs it?

2. What’s the point of getting anything for my kids? They are blessed with four living grandparents, all of whom spoil them with gifts and clothes and special time together. My kids are too young to remember who bought them which gift, and so I’m a little jaded about getting them anything from just me and their dad. They’ll have plenty of presents to open even if I buy them nothing. And hey, everything comes in those cardboard boxes they love!

3. Now where did I stash that gift? I’ve got this issue of hiding things from the kids… and myself. I start taking advantage of sales on websites like Zulily in September or so (yes, I’m one of those), so I have to have the top shelf of several to keep the kids from finding them too early. I get bonus points because I have a son with a birthday three days after Christmas, so I’m hiding his birthday gifts as well.

4. Oh, but she’d love to have this, too! I’m so guilty of over-buying for some of our people. When I find more than one thing that’s just perfect for someone, I want to get them all! I love giving good gifts – maybe because it’s not something I’m particularly good at. I find the perfect thing (or five) and I want to get it!

5. Do my kids all have the same number of gifts? My kids aren’t old enough to be counting their presents quite yet, but I definitely look at the piles and see if there’s a significant difference. I know it’s the thought that counts, and that quality is better than quantity, but if my boys have huge piles of presents on Christmas morning, and my daughter only has a couple of things, you better believe she’s going to notice. AND say something.

6. I can’t remember whether I bought that person something… Since I’m often an early shopper, I sometimes forget when I’ve bought someone something. As I mentioned earlier, I’ve got several little spots I hide things, and I frequently spend about a week before Christmas re-finding them.

7. Is this outfit going to fit? I don’t know about you, but every time I’m in a store, looking at clothes to buy for Christmas, or birthdays, I immediately forget what size my child wears, or what they even look like. I hold up a pair of pants (you know, the kind I fold ten of each day) and I can’t tell if they’ll fit my two year old or my five year old. You call it lack of spacial reasoning, I call it holiday brain freeze.

8. Have I eaten today? During the holidays, I’m so overwhelmed with cleaning my house (because I’m usually a host of something or another), cooking something, baking something, grocery shopping or gift shopping, I totally neglect myself. I tend to forget to eat, shower, exercise, and do pretty much anything except my chores, and collapse on the couch with a glass of wine when things finally slow down. So while I’m out in Target, checking items off my list, I often wonder, “Have I even eaten anything besides those samples at Costco?”

9. What in the world am I going to buy for him? Typically, I’m asking this question about my husband. He’s the guy who just buys himself whatever it is he wants. I have to remind him a couple of months before Christmas to please, please just let me get it and wrap it. It won’t kill him to wait a couple of weeks for whatever it is, right?

10. I wonder who is shopping for me right now. It’s not totally selfish to wonder whether anyone remembered ol’ Mom this Christmas, right?

I love everything about Christmas, but these semi-stressful thoughts usually run through my mind every December. Please, tell me I’m not the only one!

Four Great Christmas Books for Young Children

This post originally appeared on Everyday Exiles.

I have a big red bin full of books I pull out only during Advent and Christmas time. It includes silly ones about melting snowmen, and a couple of those touchy-feely Usborne books for toddlers, but it also includes a few beautiful stories. Of course, like everyone, we love The Polar Express and How the Grinch Stole Christmas, but these are a little lesser known. Here are my favorite books I read with my kids during this season.

Song of the Stars. This Sally Lloyd-Jones beauty is one of my favorite books ever. With beautiful illustration by Alison Jay, it is similar to SLJ’s Jesus Storybook Bible (which has a WONDERFUL telling of Jesus’s birth, by the way) on keeping Jesus at the center of the season, and emphasizing his saving of us all, not just his birth. The story begins with the tangible excitement of his coming, rustling through the leaves and being sensed by all of nature, this gift that would change the world.

Room for a Little One. This one is a toddler book, but it’s so sweet. My kids have loved naming the animals as we go through it, and seeing Jesus’s birth from the perspective of those unsuspecting characters. It’s by Martin Waddell.

Birds of Bethlehem. Now THIS is a neat book, by Tomie de Paola. We see the story of Jesus’s birth from some birds in and around Bethlehem. They are chattering away, sharing stories about how a baby has been born, angels sang, shepherds and wise men visited, and what it all means.

The Gift of the Magi. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t love this story by O. Henry. A beautiful telling of a couple who have nothing to give to each other, but end up showing their love by giving everything. The version I have is illustrated by P. J. Lynch, and is simply stunning. I can’t read it without crying.

What are the most treasured Christmas books in your family?

His Power Is Made Perfect…

This piece originally appeared on Everyday Exiles.

This past week, my family had an awful experience. We went on vacation, and our house got robbed. Burglarized. Broken into and violated and stolen from. A horrid experience overall, also stealing our sense of safety along with the thousands of dollars of possessions we no longer own.

Just let me tell you this: if it has never happened to you, there is just no way to know how it feels. It’s interesting, the process of grieving that you go through after your home is violated in such a way. There’s definitely all five stages, and they manifest accordingly: denial (There’s just no WAY that actually happened. I’m dreaming.), anger (I could REALLY punch that guy in the face for breaking my front door and stealing my stuff!), bargaining (If I had just left one more light on, this wouldn’t have happened. I bet the guy wouldn’t have taken so much if we had hidden it.), depression (I’ll never be safe again. Goodbye, sleep, it was nice to know you.), and finally, acceptance (I didn’t really need those things. They were just “stuff” and my family wasn’t harmed.)

Maybe it’s trite that I’m comparing a robbery in my house to the loss of a person in my life, but I will tell you this: it felt like a loss. It felt like a humiliation, a violation, an inordinate catastrophe, and in the MIDDLE of my VACATION! I’m making light of it for your own benefit, but I’ve cried a fair amount of tears over it, too.

But what do you do when this happens? You miss your stuff, of course, but there’s almost no recovering it. There’s perhaps an insurance claim to file, but even that doesn’t replace what you lost, and it certainly doesn’t replace your sense of (false?) security. So I’ll tell you what I’ve done. I prayed that God would take away my fear, my anger, and my sense of entitlement to those earthly things. I’ve thanked Him that no one was home to be violated in person, and that heirlooms and sentimental items weren’t taken. I’ve thanked Him for our friends who rallied around us, and for the fact we could afford to have an alarm system installed (immediately following the incident). I’ve prayed that sleep would return to my husband and me, and that we would not be looking in the face of every stranger, wondering if they were the robber who had offended us so.

In processing this trauma (yes, trauma) I had realized I feel a certain level of guilt. The “what-ifs” and “if-I-had-onlys”have plagued me since I first found out, and my conscience feels heavy about the fact that it happened at all. I am victim-blaming, and I don’t know how to stop. I feel responsible, indignant, frustrated, and sad. I have even had the thought, “Is this God telling us we have too much stuff, or that we put too much stock in earthly possessions?” But no, I do not truly feel that we are being punished. I don’t believe in a vengeful or hurtful God. I believe in a God who will redeem the situation – a God who will provide me with humility gently as I process, and strength to do what needs to be done in the wake of an awful situation. I don’t possess this strength on my own; God has provided me with strength to explain it to my kids, to file reports and papers, to clean up graphite dust from fingerprinting, and to process with my tribe ad nauseum. You see, God can take my frailty and weakness, and turn it into a place for His strength to shine. 2 Corinthians 12:9 is a verse I have clung to: But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in your weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so the power of Christ may rest upon me.”

I’d be lying if I said that had been easy. But part of my weakness and His strength is that I can ask Him again and again and again to help me let go of the anger and pride I feel, and He will gently lead me to humility and forgiveness. His power is indeed made perfect in my ever-embarrassing and stubborn weakness.

Fall Things

Y’all. I have fallen straight off the blogging train. I haven’t written anything for any place in a good little while, and to be honest, the break has felt nice. So here I am, telling you’ve what I’ve been up to  since I haven’t been writing.

School is under way, schedules are in place, and I am pretty darn happy. For me, each day is different, and that’s just how I like it. I love to know that my Monday is different than my Tuesday, because I HATE being bored. For instance, Tuesday mornings I usually work at the church during the boys’ preschool hours. Thursday is my beloved women’s Bible study. The other three days a week sometimes are full of laundry and dishes, or special hang-outs with friends, or breakfast dates with my hubby, or a nice, long run (especially if the weekend was too crazy to squeeze it in). I’m race training right now for a half marathon on October 13th, and another on December 1st. I’m SO EXCITED that the weather has cooled down – at least for the moment. Today I ran ten miles (like I said, it happens if the weekend is busy!) in the sub-70-degree weather and I was about 45 seconds faster each mile than the last few long runs I’ve done. Why, you ask? I wasn’t as hot or dehydrated. Take that, summer running!

But along with the scarves and boots to come, I love the change of season that happens now, too. Things just feel different. I am bored of hot weather and swimming pools. The summer garden is almost defunct (except you, okra!) and the AC unit is ready for a break, though that’ll be a couple more weeks yet. But I’m excited for new things, new people, new experiences, including running those fall half marathons, the trip to Colorado I just returned from (I’ll try to write about it soon, also!) and my new podcast with three of my favorite women (Check us out wherever you listen to your podcasts! It’s called You’re Invited, @youreinvitedpodcast on all the socials.) The inspiration for new content is here, along with my favorite type of weather and flavor profile. I mean, y’all know about the love I have for warm apple cider and bourbon, right?

So latch on to this fall feeling. Break out the flannel, find an Oktoberfest beer you love (comment for suggestions!), and embrace the change of seasons around here. It’s not so bad, really. Even if you don’t like being cold, you’ve got a little while yet. Enjoy the feeling of in between… because that’s what fall is, isn’t it? In between the summer swelter and the winter snow. Between the 4th of July and Christmas is this perfect little window of fall. We’re here, y’all. We’re here.

10 Chores That Young Kids Can Do

This piece also appeared on The Grit and Grace Project.

One of the things I’ve tried to establish early in in my parenting is my desire to raise responsible children who contribute to their community (be it their family, classroom, society, etc). In our culture, this can be difficult… they’re busy, they want to watch TV, or they’re used to being told “You’re too young to do that.” But I’ve got 9 things my kids can and should be doing to contribute to the housework load.

1. Help unload the dishwasher. My kids do their plastic dishes, their cups/bottles/all those parts, and all the silverware (not including sharp knives). I just ask whichever of them is around when I need to get it unloaded, and almost always, they’re eager to help.

2. Put away their laundry. This one is a big one. We often watch some TV before bedtime, and I set a timer for 4-5 minutes at a time, and we pause the TV, and everyone puts some clothes away. Sometimes it’s their own clothes into their own dressers. Sometimes it’s towels, or something of mine or Hubby’s that I have them carry to our room for me to put away later. They’re quite good at helping, and they’re learning to keep their drawers organized… or everything won’t fit!

3. Clean up their toys/pick up their rooms. I don’t make them do this all day every day. We frequently have toys left out, even when we go to bed sometimes. But I do ask them to keep things fairly organized (in labeled bins!) and mostly off the floor. If it gets too out of control, we spend a morning or evening cleaning EVERYONE’s room. But I help, not really facilitate. They know what to do.

4. Bring dishes from the table to the sink. I like having them help clear the table. That way, they can’t just get up whenever they feel like it. They tell me they’re full, and I say when they can get up, take their dishes to the sink, get their hands and faces clean, and go play.

5. Gather/Sort/Switch over laundry. I have them bring their dirty laundry to the laundry room, and often to sort it, help me start a load, help me switch it to the dryer (they’re a little short to get in my top-loading washer), and bring it out to be folded.

6. Clean the table/windows/doors. I let them loose with a roll of paper towels and the Method Glass Cleaner. Boom. It’s not as streak-free as when I do it myself, but they learn that their contribution is valuable at any level.

7. Sweep/pick up crumbs. My kids really like to sweep, and I have a handheld broom and dustpan for them to get everything up off the floor. We try to do this once a day (but then again, it depends on the day).

8. Weed, water, and harvest in the garden. They love this one, simply because they love being outside. We’re teaching them to recognize weeds, and the right way to pull them up (getting the WHOLE weed). They’re also learning when our vegetables are ready to pick – or to eat right off the plant, in the case of several tomatoes and cucumbers!

9. Pack lunch. This one I’m going to start soon. Once I’ve given a good idea of what a healthy lunch looks like, I’m going to have things semi-prepared for my kindergartener to grab a few things to put in her lunch box each morning. I’ll choose a bit, and let her choose her snack and a few add-ins. That way, she’s more excited about eating it because she picked it.

10. Help make the bed. I haven’t set a good precedent about this one, but I often find myself having them help, even if it isn’t first thing in the morning. Having lots of decorative pillows can make the job cumbersome, but pulling up sheets and blankets and putting the animals on TOP of the blankets is pretty darn easy. As is helping Mom or Dad strip the bed and change the sheets! My kids like the putting-on of the pillow cases the best!

What are some things your kids to around the house? Are there other chores I should start my kids on early?

Married with Kids – It’s OK Not to Like Your Spouse Sometimes.

This piece originally appeared on Perfection Pending.

This is what being married with kids looks like – sometimes you don’t like each other and that’s okay.

Sometimes, I think back to the first couple of years after my husband and I got married. It was so… easy. We didn’t fight like many newlyweds might, over who should take care of dinner or why there were clothes left on the floor next to the hamper. However, when we started having kids, we realized the times of things being quite that simple were over.

For starters, we were exhausted. Correction: we are exhausted. There hasn’t been a day (that wasn’t some sort of child-free vacation) that has gone by since 2012 that both of us have felt “well-rested”. Either one of us gets the rest, or neither of us do. Which, as you can imagine, leads to some stress in our household, and our relationship.

But what we’ve figured out (and learned from wise friends) is this: even though some days you don’t like each other, it’s important to still love each other, and furthermore, to show it.

You have to prioritize your marriage, even though in a lot (let’s be honest, most) situations, you’ve got to put your kid – or all your kids – first. Their needs seem more pressing (butt-wiping, feeding them, keeping them from falling off ledges, you know the drill) and so you neglect the other relationship in the household while you’re meeting the more immediate needs – or simply, the ones that are shouting at you more loudly.

You see, there are more than a few reasons to take care of your marriage, even when it means putting aside the other stuff for a little while at a time.

One of the most, if not THE MOST  important reason to show the love, spread the love, and take care of your marriage even after you have kids is because those kids are always watching.

You’re setting the number one example of a marriage in their eyes, and you want it to be a positive and healthy one, right? Set an example for them of the importance of marriage, the teamwork it requires, and the love that it stems from. Show them a healthy relationship so they know what it looks like. Even have healthy disagreements in front of them sometimes; they need to know about that, too. They don’t need to see only the “good stuff” or they’ll have unrealistic expectations. Healthy dialogue, PDA (yes, affection is important to show!) and the importance of spending time alone together are important things for your kids to know about!

Among the myriad of other reasons to nourish your relationship with your spouse, I think the next biggest reason is this: one day, your kids will be grown and live in their own homes, and it’ll be just you and your spouse. Again. Alone.

Don’t wait until then to try to fall deeper in love with your spouse.

Don’t wait until there’s not the glue of parenting young children binding you.

Don’t wait until your lives have been growing apart for years to really cherish your relationship with your spouse.

I won’t say that won’t work – but I will say I bet that it’s harder that way. Communicate with your spouse, about big stuff and small stuff. Practice honesty – even when it hurts.

Say “I’m sorry.” and “I forgive you.” Do the easier things too, like dating your spouse! Have date nights or early breakfast together. Chat on the phone when you’re in the car. Send sweet text message to each other during the day.

Take a weekend away somewhere from time to time if it’s possible for you. Those things aren’t reserved for “dating” relationships unless you let that happen. “Dating” your spouse is a way to rekindle, reconnect, and intertwine your lives again when you feel like you haven’t been so “together” recently.

Make time in your schedule and room in your heart for your spouse. Even when you’re exhausted, feeling frumpy, and thinking it’s the last thing you want to do. Chances are, you’ll be so glad you did. Make sure to kiss, to chat, to hold hands, and to have sex! Those things are important… Don’t let them wait until the kids are gone.

Currently: March!

I can’t believe it’s already March, y’all. Where has this year been flying away to? I didn’t expect 2018 to go so quickly. Anyway, here it is, basically a full week into March, and I suppose I really am ready for spring. I’m linking up for today’s edition of Currently with Anne in Residence and Sarah of Foxy’s Domestic Side. I hope you’ll comment or link up, and join us! Here’s what I’m up to currently…

Planning || a trip to DisneyWorld in April! I’ve been reading up on more tips (I mean, we went two years ago, but now we’ve got another kid and different ages!) and scheduling our character meals and fast passes. This time we’re driving, so I’m also planning how to survive a car trip that long (Google maps say 8.5 hours, so probably more like 10) with the three babes. I’ve got an amazing travel gal I plan with, so if you’re local, drop me a line and I’ll share her contact info! Here’s a photo from our last trip – I can’t believe they’re so much bigger now!img_8239

Seeing || a few little sprouts of basil in our indoor garden! The hubs (and J!) planted a bunch of seeds about two weeks ago, and we’ve been watering away, hoping they’d grow inside – and they did! When they get big enough to transfer (and it’s warm enough for long enough) we’ll move most of them outside into the beds, or into small pots to share with friends. Here are our basil babies!

Making || sausage balls and healthy muffins! Part of the meal planning (I use that term quite loosely) of the month will be those two breakfast and snack staples. Everyone’s happy to eat them at any time of day, and that works for me! I usually try to do healthy things (the muffins always are) but the sausage balls are a comfort food treat for everyone.

Pretending || to be excited about summer. To be totally honest, I’m getting a little nervous that I won’t be able to occupy everyone sufficiently once school is out. They’re all getting big enough that I know I’ll be spending a LOT of time out of the house, which is good, and we’ve got a few camps we’re thinking of doing, but I don’t want to spend too much money just to keep them busy. I want camp to be a special treat type thing. I know I have things I want to do with them that are just for us, too, so I don’t want so many camps that we’re always apart. I just get nervous that they’ll get bored of me after a few weeks!

Wearing || my Chacos. The first hint of sun in NC makes me wear nothing but Chacos till the snow starts again. I mean, almost. I’ve got happy feet when I’m wearing incredibly comfy and cute, supportive and rugged-approved sandals. ALSO I found a pair in J’s size on our local buy, sell, trade Facebook group… and he loves them! I am so happy one more person in my family loves them!

Drop a line and tell us what you’re up to currently!