Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Dreaded Santa Question

We somehow managed to avoid discussing Santa until last Christmas.  Our kids had heard of him, and his name occasionally came up, but we didn't have to answer any difficult questions until last year.  So Jared and I had to decide how Santa would fit into the landscape of our Christmas.

Everyone is entitled to handle Santa (and other parenting issues, for that matter) however they feel is best.  I'm just sharing what we do.

My issues with telling my kids Santa is real:
  1. Santa steals the Christmas spotlight from the real reason for the season:  Jesus.
  2. We are lying to our kids.
  3. A fictional character gets all the credit for our carefully chosen and painfully paid for gifts.
My issues with telling my kids Santa is not real:
  1. They will most certainly spill the beans to other kids.
  2. They won't get to experience the full magic of Christmas.
I still remember how it felt to be a child who believed in Santa.  Even though I had real reservations, I still wanted my kids to experience that part of being a child.  I also remember my heartache when I found out the truth (especially since my entire family laughed at me for not already knowing the truth).  So, I want to be careful in how we handle that part.  But that's a problem for a different year.

I also just couldn't see how we could get around the fact that all other kids believe in Santa.  I didn't want to have the spoiler kid who tells all the other kids at school that there is no Santa.  I admit it:  I gave into peer pressure.  I felt that Santa needed to be part of our Christmas in order for us to participate in society.

Santa plays a very minor role in our Christmas.
We don't mind decorations with Santa on them.  We watch movies like "The Polar Express" and "The Santa Claus."  

But we spend most of our time discussing that Christmas is a celebration of when Jesus came to earth.  He came because God loved us so much that he came up with a plan to forgive us so we could be with him forever.  God's plan started long before that first Christmas, but the day Jesus was born was a long-anticipated fulfillment of hopes and longings that ultimately led to our free gift of salvation.  We teach our kids about Jesus.  We spend the Christmas season making and buying gifts for others and doing kind acts for other people. 

Santa's participation in our house:
  1. The kids leave cookies and an adorable hand-written note for Santa on Christmas Eve.
  2. Santa leaves one present for each child under the tree on Christmas morning.  Santa's gifts are wrapped in red and white striped paper, and the gifts from Mom and Dad are wrapped in a separate paper for each child (this year, I found Gingerbread Man paper for Griffin, Marvel superhero Christmas paper for Nolan, and Hello Kitty Christmas paper for Nora).  
I still wish that the Santa issue would disappear and Christmas would be about Jesus alone.  But this is how Jared and I have decided to handle it.  I think our kids understand the true meaning of Christmas, and they get to enjoy the imagination and magic of Santa. 

We don't bribe our kids to behave with threats that Santa is watching.  I want them to behave because I am watching.  We don't get their picture taken with Santa.  I think that's more due to the fact that I don't like crowds, and I'm pretty sure that at least two of my kids would just be scared of the creepy fake Santa.

My sister's kids are older than mine, and they have both unveiled the mystery of Santa.  They started with questions and doubts that were confirmed by my sister and her husband.  But they now enjoy being in the know and keeping the magic alive for the littler kids.  They are happy to keep the secret and love being on the "adult" team.  I hope to make a similarly smooth transition when my kids get older.  I think we can do it since Santa is already a minor character in our Christmas.

And just for the record, we have never promoted the Easter bunny to our kids (they don't really know of his/her existence), and no one has lost any teeth yet.  Although Nolan did have one tooth pulled, and the dentist went ahead and told him that the tooth fairy would put money under his pillow since he was so brave for the procedure.  So I guess we have to keep up that lie when the time comes.

How to handle the Santa issue is a question that each set of parents must carefully consider.  We approached this issue with prayer and tried to make the best decision for our kids.  Griffin still thinks that his Uncle Dave truly can take his thumb off (do you know that trick?), and I want to keep up some of those "magic" or "pretend" ideas.  They are growing up so quickly, and they'll have to face harsh realities soon enough.  For now, I want them to know Jesus and to enjoy the delights of childhood.


Monday, November 26, 2012

Earn Money on Your Christmas Purchases

Ok, let me start by saying this post is sponsored by no one.  These are my opinions and experiences.  I'm just a girl who believes that when you find something good, you share it with people so they can benefit too.

Many of you are going to be making a lot of purchases in the next month (or maybe you're nearly done with your Christmas shopping).  I wanted to share two ways you can earn money back on your purchases.  These are things I already do when I make online purchases, so I can vouch that they are legit.

1.  Ebates and Shop At Home

These two websites pay you cash back for shopping online through their sites.

How it works:  First, go to the Ebates or Shop At Home website.  Then search for the store/website you will be purchasing from.  Click "Shop now" and the store website will open in a new tab.  Then you just complete your shopping and check out as usual.  You will then be awarded the appropriate percentage of your purchase total into your Ebates or Shop At Home account.

Ebates sends you cash back payments ("Big Fat Checks") quarterly as long as you've earned at least $5.01 in rewards.  You can also choose an alternate payment method, such as direct deposit into your PayPal account or an Amazon gift card.  You can even choose to send your payment to a charity or family member.

Shop At Home send payments monthly as long as you've earned at least $20 in rewards.

An additional benefit to using these websites is that you get coupon codes for discounts on all your shopping.  For example, if I go to Ebates and click on Toys R Us (or any other store site), I can see a list of all current sales and several valid coupon codes.  I still always check for coupon codes before I make online purchases.

My experience:  I have had accounts with both of these shopping sites for nearly a year.  I am already very careful about my purchases, and I wait for sales and use coupon codes for additional savings plus free shipping.  So, I'm already getting great deals on everything I buy.  Once I have my online shopping cart how I want it, I just open a separate tab with Ebates or Shop At Home and complete my purchase through their link (using my coupon codes).

I used to check both Ebates and Shop At Home every time I made a purchase so I could see which offered higher cash back.  Eventually, I started just using Ebates most of the time so I could maximize my cash back with their site.  My quarterly checks from Ebates have been $25-30 each.  That's pretty incredible when you consider that I already whittled down my purchase totals as much as possible and then got cash back after the fact.

I haven't quite reached the minimum for payout from Shop At Home, but I am very close.  I just haven't used their site enough.  I did remember to check them a few weeks ago when I ordered from Oriental Trading (when they were running a free shipping promotion) and Ebates didn't offer cash back for Oriental Trading.  Now that I remember their site, I will at least use it enough to earn my $20.

The bottom line:  This system really works for me.  I do a lot of my shopping online.  I am already a savvy shopper and would make my purchases with or without cash back.  So I get great deals at the time of my purchase, and then I receive around $100 per year just for clicking a few extra times before finalizing my purchase.

Added bonus:  Both of these websites offer extra rewards for telling friends about their sites.  I can assure you that my motivation for sharing all this with you is simply to help you earn money the way I have.  But if you choose to sign up with one of these sites, it would be awesome if you could use my link so I can get the tell-a-friend bonus.  The new member (you) also gets a bonus.

For Ebates, click on my referral link:
*You must create an account and make a purchase over $25 within one year.

For Shop At Home, click on my referral link:
*You must create an account and make any size purchase within 30 days.

2.  Earn Amazon Rewards

Jared and I both have Amazon Rewards Visa credit cards.  We use these cards as the payment method for all of our Amazon purchases (we use Amazon fairly regularly for online purchases).  Once we discovered that we were earning rewards (like cash back, but money to be used on Amazon), we started using these credit cards for lots of daily purchases. 

The rewards add up as follows:
  • 3 points per $1 spent on
  • 2 points per $1 spent at gas stations, restaurants, drug stores, and office supply stores
  • 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Every 100 points = $1 in rewards to be spent on Amazon
It may not seem like much, but our rewards add up eventually.  Every few months, we are able to use our rewards to buy something for ourselves that we wouldn't otherwise spend money on.  We have also used our Amazon rewards to purchase gifts for others when we just didn't have money in the budget for extra expenses. 

We have been generally satisfied with Amazon and can find all sorts of items on their website.  Examples of items we have purchased on Amazon include:  toys, shoes, Halloween costumes, diapers, batteries, toiletries, electronics, and even food.

Again, I am not being compensated by anyone to say these things (I wish I was!).  I just always appreciate when other people share deals with me so I can use my family's money in the smartest way possible.  I want to pass along any deals or tricks that I find.

Happy Christmas shopping!


Saturday, November 24, 2012

Random Acts of Christmas Kindness

Christmas is a great time to be intentionally kind to people.  It can be especially challenging when our schedules are crammed, our budgets are blown, and people everywhere seem to be rushed and crabby.  But it really is a good opportunity to show the very same love and kindness that brought Jesus to earth, which is afterall what we are celebrating this time of year.

Last year, my family participated in RACK:  Random Acts of Christmas Kindness.  I read about the idea on a website called TSJ Photographry.  Click here to read about it and download all the ideas.

We couldn't pull off a new activity every single day, but we did several per week.  The idea spread amongst my adult Sunday school class, and I thoroughly enjoyed hearing what everyone was doing for their acts of kindness. 

I started by making a list of people to whom I could show kindness.

1. Estranged family member
2. Postal worker
3. Garbage man/woman
4. Recycling man/woman
5. Yard waste man/woman
6. Librarians
7. School teachers
8. Waiter/waitress
9. Pastor Brock
10. Kim Brock, Praise team, choir, orchestra
11. Church children's staff
12. Youth pastoral staff
13. Church office staff
14. Church custodians
15.  Store workers (grocery, pharmacy, retail)
16.  Gas station attendants
17.  Bank tellers
18. Schwan’s man
19. Neighbors
20. Nursing home residents
21.  People waiting at hospitals
22. Church Secret Sister
23. Church Pray for a Child
24. People in line at drive-thru
25. People in line at stores
26. Babysitters
27. Hair stylist
28. UPS/FedEx workers
29. College students
30. Shut-ins
31. Coaches
32. Co-workers
33. Parents at your child’s school
34. Owners of parked cars

Then I searched the internet and spent time thinking about it, and I gathered a list of possible gifts/services to give/do.
1.     Individually wrapped candy
2.     Candy canes
3.    Cookies/bars
4.    Cinnamon rolls
5.    Bread
6.     Cupcakes
7.    Chocolate-dipped pretzels
8.    Hot cocoa mix
9.    Trail mix
10.  Chex mix
11.    Seasoned oyster crackers
12.   Quarters or dollar bills
13.   Gift cards:
a.     Starbucks
b.     McDonald’s or other fast food
c.     Walmart
d.     Kroger
e.     Walgreen’s/CVS
f.     Hobby Lobby
g.     Gas station
14.  Ornament
15.  Devotional
16.   CD
17.  Bible ( has cheap ones)
18.  Non-perishable food
19.   Hat
20.  Gloves
21.   Scarf
22.  Umbrella
23.  Coffee
24.  DVD
25.  Calendar
26.  Bible verse cards
27.  Crossword puzzle or activity book
28.  Children’s book
29.  Magazine
30. Chapstick and/or hand lotion
31.   Ice scraper
32.  Travel pack of tissues
33.  Flowers/plants
1.     Shovel snow
2.     Scrape ice off cars
3.    Pick up trash
4.    Return carts
5.    Babysit kids so parents can shop
6.     Make dinner
7.    PRAY!
8.    Wrap gifts
9.    Help decorate
10.  Hold doors open
11.    Carry bags
12.   Offer ride
13.   Winterize home or car
14.  Walk someone’s dog

Finally, I compiled my list of ideas that I thought I could pull off with my kids, schedule, and budget.

RACK Ideas
1. Mail Christmas cards
2. Help family/friend decorate for Christmas
Bake cinnamon rolls for church staff
4. Attend church Christmas program
Make homemade Christmas candy and take to the neighbors
Take hot cocoa to bell ringers
7. Color a Christmas picture
8. Leave Thank-you note and treat for waiter/waitress
9. Look at Christmas lights & give award for the best house
10. Make Christmas cookies
11. Visit Santa & take him a gift
Leave a $10 gift card to Wal-Mart in the front door of a random house in the Pekin Housing Authority
13. TOYS for TOTS
14. Do a Christmas craft
15. Make teacher gifts
Tape quarters to a parking meters
18. Tape quarters to vending machines
19. Take food to the food pantry
Leave a small gift card for postman
Leave a small gift card for the trashman
Drop off a treat at the library
23. Christmas movie night w/ friends
24. Take a gas station attendant a gift
25. Invite someone to Christmas church service
26. Baked goods to the fire station
27. Baked goods to the police station
28. Bring carts in to Wal-Mart from the parking lot
29. Pay for the car behind you in a drive-thru
30. Leave a Christmas card in a shopping cart with some candy attached
31. Write thank you cards to Gretta, Terri and Cheryl
32. Write thank you cards to children’s teachers
33. Take some magazines, games, and treats to the waiting rooms at the hospital
34. Take fresh baked goodies to a convenience store worker on Christmas
35. Send a care package to Jason Riggs
36. Send a card/gift to your Pray For A Child and/or Secret Sister
37. Pay someone’s library fine
38. Buy gifts for needy family
39. Visit someone in a nursing home or a shut-in
40. Stick card/treat under windshield wipers

·         Leave a card to explain that your kindness is due to God’s love.
·         Explain to your children that God loves each person and wants us to be kind.
·         Keep your eyes open.  There are people all around you who need to know that God loves them and that Christmas is more than overloaded schedules and overspending.
·         Pray and ask God to use you to touch someone each day.
·         Invite God into your driving, shopping, talking, etc.
·         Remember that these ideas and projects are not meant to be stressful but to restore Christmas joy!
·         Check out these blogs for the original inspiration and printables:

Ideas for your cards:
·         You are a child of God, and we pray that you would experience His love.
·         Write/print your favorite Bible verse
·         Please enjoy this treat and know that someone prayed for you!
·         Use purchased Christian Christmas cards
·         The Legend of the Candy Cane found here:

I hope all these ideas are helpful to you and get you thinking about how you can spread true Christmas joy this season!


Tuesday, November 20, 2012


A couple weeks ago, I was a bridesmaid in a friend's wedding.  I have known my friend Rachel since I was a freshman in high school.  She was in junior high, and I was assigned to lead a discipleship group that included her.  We have been great friends ever since.

I previously mentioned, as I ranted about my overwhelming to-do list, that I had to alter my own dress.  It was one of the most challenging projects I have taken on (definitely up there with the Easter play costumes from this spring), and it built my confidence as a seamstress.

I had to:
  1. Shorten the straps
  2. Take in the waist
  3. Move the belt loops
  4. Take up the hem
  5. Add fabric to the neckline
Here I am in the finished product on the big day--with the beautiful bride!

Once I got home that night, I had Jared take a few shots of me in the dress before I took it off.  I wanted to have something to show for all my hard work!  (Plus I don't imagine I'll be wearing this dress again...No offense Rachel!)

Here, I added lines to show where the original neckline was:

And now without the lines:

I used the material I cut off the hem to fill in the bust.  Before this fix, you could actually see a couple inches of my bra.  Not pretty.  So I overlapped the fabric strips to mimic the existing style of the top.

I loved the pockets on the dress.

I borrowed earrings from my sister, wore my favorite necklace that has my kids' names on silver discs, and found the shoes at Payless for $20. 

My sister did my hair at 8:40 that morning, and these pictures were taken about 8:30 that night.  My hair was a little funky in a few places (the bridal party pictures were taken outside on a very cold, windy day), but I was pretty impressed with how well the curl held up.

This was one of those projects that stressed me out every day for quite some time, and it all ended up working out just fine.  My dress didn't burst open at the seams as I walked down the aisle (yes, that was an actual fear of mine). 

I also have to share the super fun gift that the bride gave me.  She created individual gift baskets for me and the other two bridesmaids, each tailored to our hobbies.  Here's mine:

She gave me a basket of sewing goodies!  It included fabric bundles, pretty pins, and ribbons.

One of the other bridesmaids received a baking basket (cake pan, frosting bags and tips, and cupcake liners) and the other received a knitting basket (fancy yarns, a new pattern, etc.).  I just thought it was so clever of Rachel to give us personalized gifts like that.  Perhaps her ideas will inspire you to put together little personalized baskets for people on your Christmas list.


Saturday, November 17, 2012

Thanksgiving Free Printables

I realize it's a bit close to Thanksgiving, but in case you need some last-minute inspiration, I've rounded up some cute free printables.  Some will help you set your table; others can be framed for decoration.  If none of these suit you, just search the internet for "free printable Thanksgiving" and prepare to be overwhelmed. :)

Click on the link below each image.

Grateful Heart *available in multiple colors

Thankful Heart *multiple colors

Harvest *multiple colors

Leaf *multiple colors


*Oh, that cursive font used for "Give thanks" makes me swoon!

Happy almost Thanksgiving!


Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Christmas Pants

I'm a girl who loves family traditions, and the Christmas season provides hundreds of opportunities for them.

One such tradition in our little family is our tradition of Christmas pants.  Each year I make matching pajama pants for the five of us to wear on Christmas Eve and Christmas morning.  I used to choose one overall fabric or one that had a boy color version and a girl color version for me.  Then when I finally had a daughter, I branched out to choosing one fabric that the boys (Jared, Nolan, and Griffin) would love and a completely different, and very girly, fabric for me and Nora.

This year we chose this fabric for the boys:

It's so very Griffin.  We call him our monkey boy, and he loves music.  Previous years have reflected Nolan or Jared more, so the boys were happy to agree on this fabric this year.

This is the fabric for me and Nora:

There are a lot of other fabrics that would have been more fun or more of a reflection of Nora, but I already had enough of this fabric on hand.  I decided to embrace the money savings and not get too grumpy about not having a more personalized fabric.

This one is pink and blue, a combo I love.  Plus the ice skates remind me of the fact that Jared and I went ice skating on our very first date.

I always choose flannel so the pajama pants are nice and comfy.

I have a pattern on hand for adult pajama pants, and I have several different kid-size patterns.  Pajama pants are VERY easy to make.  I could make them in my sleep at this point.

This year I have a new tool at my disposal:  my serger.  I used my serger for the construction of the pants.  It made everything go so much quicker, and the seams all have a nice finish.

I also added tags this year!  In previous years, I just marked the back with a marker dot or hand-stitched a few stitches in a contrasting thread on the back waistband.  This year, I had two custom-printed ribbons that I bought from Pick Your Plum.

Everyone but me got a tag that says "Handmade" with a little heart.  I just used pinking shears to cut off a portion of the ribbon and sew it into the back waistband.

For Nolan and Griffin's pants (which are exactly the same size!), I used a fine-tip Sharpie marker to draw their initials in the hearts.

The other roll of ribbon says "Mother Mae i," which is the name of my Etsy shop.  I ordered this ribbon months ago with the intention of making tags for my homemade items that I sell in my shop.  However, I've been so busy with regular life that I haven't made anything for my shop in quite some time.

I thought it was time to start using that ribbon for something, so I used it for my tag in my pants.

Here are the completed boys' pants:

And the girls' pants:

I always just buy cheap solid-colored t-shirts to go with the pants or wear coordinating t-shirts we have on hand.  I'm out of steam by the time I make 5 pairs of pants!

I tend to get a bit cranky about making all these pants around this time.  It's so much work, and it doesn't even count toward my long list of Christmas gifts that I need to make.  But then when I see everyone all snuggly in our matching jammies on Christmas Eve, it's totally worth it.  Plus everyone wears them year-round after Christmas.

I always cut the kids' pants extra long and fold the hem a couple of times.  When they start to get too short, I pull out the stitching, unfold the hem, and just put in a smaller hem or finish the edge.  I just lengthened the boys' pants from last year to give them a little more life.  The elastic waistbands still fit them fine.

This is just one of many Christmas traditions that we enjoy as a family!