“I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day”

I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day

Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet the words repeat
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

I thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along the unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

And in despair I bowed my head:
“There is no peace on earth,” I said,
“For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth he sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail,
With peace on earth, good will to men.”

Till, ringing singing, on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime, a chant sublime,
Of peace on earth, good will to men!

(Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882), 1867)


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Stocking Stuffers: Our Breakfast of Champions

Stocking Stuffer Snacks

A few years ago, I started stuffing my children’s stockings with breakfast. My boys, as a general rule, were early morning risers, and I knew Christmas morning would be no exception. I also knew that on normal mornings, my boys were already “starving” and begging for food before I could even get the light on in the kitchen.

So, I stuffed the boys’ stockings with breakfast instead of candy and junk toys. Back then, I still bought packaged snacks and treats, so I stuffed the stocking with raisin boxes, juice boxes, some packaged granola bars, and fruit snacks, along with new toothbrushes, toothpaste, and other fun surprises. You know what? They loved it. They happily snacked away while we opened presents and played, and they weren’t begging for food as I prepared our Christmas brunch.

Since that first Christmas, I have become much more conscious about avoiding pre-packaged foods. So, I started making a few breakfast items in advance and storing them in the freezer to pull out Christmas Eve. I am going to make an assortment of snacks next week, and I thought I would give you guys some ideas, too.

Some ideas for Breakfast Stocking Stuffers:

  • mini muffins
  • juice or milk boxes
  • fresh fruit (Clementines are my favorite.)
  • sausage balls
  • raisins or dried cranberries
  • nuts
  • granola trail mix or granola bars
  • breakfast cookies
  • fruit leather
  • scones (We like pumpkin and chocolate chip ones.)
  • cheddar crackers (like Cheez-Its but with a kick.)

Check out my Pinterest board for all of these snack-y, breakfast-y ideas and the links to all of the recipes!

(Even if you do not have a Pinterest account, you can still access the links.)


How to Have Christmas Traditions without Losing Your Christmas Spirit

Two years ago, my family decided to spend an evening looking at Christmas lights. We were new to the area, so we didn’t know exactly where to go. After driving aimlessly for about an hour, my husband turned down another side street, heading back to the highway. Suddenly, my oldest pipes up, “Dad! It’s a Braums. We should stop and get some ice cream!” Tired of dealing with light hunting, we decided some ice cream would do us all some good. After our treat, we trekked back out for one more try at light gazing, and we stumbled upon the County Light Festival, a huge display of lights with accompanying Christmas music via radio. It was awesome! Last year, we drove straight to the County Light Festival without even bothering hunting for house lights. On our way through the exit, my then five year old said, “Mom, after this we should go look for that Braums again and get some ice cream!” Thus, our accidental holiday detour became a holiday tradition.

I like to make Christmas a magical time for my kids, but it could easily become overwhelming and expensive and a little stressful. A few years ago, I took a tip from one of my friends for a simple advent activity.

2012-12-08 08.46.20

I wrap all of our Christmas movies and books. I come up with a few fun crafts and events we want to attend. Then, I number everything 1 to 25. The kids open a present everyday leading up to Christmas. Over the past few years, I’ve added a book or movie to our collection, but I rarely have to spend much money to come up with 25 things. I like doing this method because I don’t get overburdened with crafts. We aren’t traveling to a new Christmas adventure every day, and we aren’t spending a ton of money (I also take full advantage of the library books, too. I wrap them up along with our own books.)

So, here’s a list of the books we are using this year:

For crafts, I found easy and fun activities from Pinterest (check out my Christmas Board here)

We are watching three holiday movies:

I also added some fun activities to our list, too. We usually call family members to sing “Jingle Bells.” We are going to have a dinner by candlelight one night, and spend an evening looking at Christmas lights (with a stop at Braums, I’m sure, before the night is over). I’m super excited for this year’s tour because this house is in our town.

We will also attend a Merry Tuba Christmas concert. Have you guys ever heard about Tuba Christmas? Volunteer tuba players from a surrounding area get together and rehearse for about an hour, and then they put on a free concert, usually outdoors, playing Christmas music. It’s quirky, fun and, best of all, absolutely free. You can take camping chairs and a thermos of hot chocolate and spend a morning with the family. Check out the website to find a Merry Tuba Christmas near you.

I hope you all enjoy this great holiday season!

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Get Pocket: A Great App for Book Lovers and Twitter Addicts

Do you guys know about Pocket (formerly known as Read Later)? It’s a favorite app on my iPhone. With Pocket, I can save links to articles, video, and photos from all across the web in one place. With Pocket, I can line up a queue of interesting articles to browse while I’m out and about or winding down at the end of a long day. It’s like having my own personalized magazine.

To use, first, you download the free Pocket app on your phone. Then, you go browse the internet or check your Twitter feed. I’ll walk you through how it works:

Let’s say I check my Twitter feed and see an interesting book list.

Using Pocket, I can simply swipe my finger to the left on a tweet,

click on the ellipses, and then click Read Later.

Then, when I have more time to read, I can open my Pocket app (or go to getpocket.com on my laptop) and read everything I saved. The interface is clean and super easy to read both on the phone and on the laptop, even more so than going directly to the sites themselves. See?

I also use the Pocket button on my internet browser to click and save things I want to read.

I previously used my Evernote account or Pinterest to save articles; however, I like using Pocket because it is simply a consumptive tool for reading. I use Evernote as my second brain (my children stole my first one), so I don’t like clouding up my brain with articles, videos, blog posts, etc. Pinterest is mostly something I use for ideas.

So far, I have only seen one drawback. I cannot use the swipe feature on my Facebook feed when I am on my phone. Other than that, it’s a great tool to use for people who are on the internet all the time!

Disclaimer: Pocket doesn’t know who I am. They are not paying me to say nice things about them. I simply love this little app and wanted to tell my friends!

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Apologizing: When It’s Just a Sorry Excuse

What I Should Have, Could Have, Would Have Said.

I have a bad habit. I over-apologize. I apologize for everything, even when something doesn’t matter. Even when I’ve already apologized once for it. Even if the reason I’m apologizing is completely mundane and ridiculous. I’ve even apologized for over- apologizing. It’s such a bad habit.

Sometimes, “I’m sorry” means other things. Sometimes, I really mean, “Excuse me.” Sometimes, I mean, “Wow. I’m really a klutz.” Sometimes it’s something to say when I don’t have an excuse. Or when I don’t feel like explaining my excuses. I know I’m not the only person who does this. I know because I encounter women who have the exact same problem. We’ll be having a normal conversation, and suddenly, we are in a game of Apologize Red Rover. It’s a bit crazy. I especially notice it when other women keep over-apologizing to me. And I realize how annoying it is. Then, I remember I do the same thing. All the time.

I’ve tried kicking my apology habit, especially since my little four-year-old mimic has started his own version of apology on steroids. He’s taken to doing something he shouldn’t, like cutting his own hair, yelling at his sister, dumping over his water – normal four-year-old stuff, and saying, “Oops! Sorry. Sorry-sorry-sorry.” It’s almost a song. Or a chant. He says it while running to his next activity. Sometimes, I think I do the adult version.

So, what’s the takeaway? Why is saying, “I’m sorry” a bad habit? Aren’t I offering repentance? Aren’t I taking responsibility for my mistakes and actions?

Well, a true apology is remorseful. I offer contrition for a wrong doing. I offer repentance for injustice caused by my own hand. I don’t need to apologize for inconvenience. I really don’t. Why should I have to apologize, show contrition, offer repentance, just to get out of someone’s way?

Apologizing for everything cheapens true repentance. I’m learning to only say “I’m sorry” when it’s needed. By not having a quick apology in my back pocket, I have to start thinking more about my initial actions. Am I perpetually late? I can either get used to it and accept it, or I can start getting somewhere earlier. I can’t constantly make a commitment and then apologize for not following through.

In the same vein, I don’t need to apologize for my children misbehaving. Have you ever done this? My kids misbehave in public. A lady in the same aisle of the store makes a face. I offer a mumbled apology. In my vast six years of parenting, I’ve learned this particular situation rarely deserves apology to a stranger. Essentially, I have two choices: I can either redirect my children’s misbehavior, or I can leave the store if my children are that much of a disturbance. Rarely, do I need to apologize for my children (with the exception of a child throwing a dozen eggs in someone’s face or something). Just saying, “I’m sorry” to annoyed passersby says, “Hey, I know they are misbehaving, but I can’t do anything about it.” And that’s just not true.

I’m learning to apologize only when I know I’ve actually hurt someone’s feelings. If I apologize first, I might make something into an issue that may have never been a big deal in the first place. Wasted words often cause more damage than silence. Sometimes I don’t need to say anything at all. Using “I’m sorry” many times is just something to say when I don’t know what to say. When I feel an urge to apologize, even if I don’t know why, I’m usually better off keeping my mouth shut in the first place.

*photo credit

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Writing a Tribute

In one of my favorite books Bird by Bird, Anne Lamotte offers a challenge in the last chapter. She talks about writing not for the sake of ever getting discovered or published, but to show a friend how she is appreciated, to celebrate grandpa’s 90th birthday, to console a grieving neighbor. Words are always powerful, even if they are never famous words.

Writing can be a great gift, not only in your own personal life, but in how you use your words for others. I don’t always have the money for a thoughtful gift, but when I don’t have money, I use words. I write a note for a birthday or a Christmas gift. Most of the time I write a note to my husband for our anniversary, too.

In our current culture, we don’t always take the time to tell others how important they are, and sometimes it’s hard to do that face-to-face without feeling uncomfortable or getting weepy. A tribute provides a way to express your thoughts in a way that is just as intimate.

So, how should you write a tribute?

1. Make it specific: Provide a tangible reason for honoring your recipient. Think of a specific story to capture the beauty of your loved one.

2. Avoid the cliche: Don’t say things like, “You’ve always been there for me” or “You’ve always had my back.” Yes, we all know what it means. So, you don’t need to repeat it. Refer back to #1 and come up with something original, specific.

3. Make it genuine: Use your own voice. If you aren’t a sappy and sentimental person by nature, don’t write that way. If you aren’t a great joke teller, don’t open with your best one-liner. Make your tribute honest and real.

4. Don’t wait for a special occasion to give someone a tribute: If you want to offer someone praise through words, don’t wait to write it for a birthday, anniversary, holiday, or a funeral. If you have words to give, give those words freely with love and consideration.

About five years ago, my cousins and I wrote a tribute for my grandmother’s funeral. Each of us wrote something about Mama Lill, and each of us added a unique spin. In general, we all talked about her cooking, her patriotism, her love of family. One cousin did a top ten list, my brothers told stories. I wrote an extended metaphor about how life was like Mama Lill’s kitchen (*cough* English major). We also spoke the truth. You see, my grandmother could be incredibly blunt, plus she excelled at guilt trips. She could hint that you needed to lose weight and then in the same breath question why you hated her cooking when you put down the second piece of pie. Trust me, she had a gift.

At her funeral, all of the grandkids wrote something that reflected her personality without glossing over her … frankness. We all loved her dearly, and none of us spent any time covering up her faults. Instead, we embraced her unique spirit and outlook on life. Her funeral was a great send off.

Paint the picture of the person you know – with flaws and all. Find the good within and share it. Use your creativity in every day moments.

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On the Day Before Thanksgiving: Our Month of “Famine”

wheat is ready to harvest...

Not too long ago, I mentioned some of our turbulent times as of late. Among dealing with my mom’s sickness, a new job, and a move, my husband and I had to go a month without pay in August. In mid-July my husband and I learned that his first paycheck at his new job would be in September. His last paycheck at his old job would come in July (The reasons for this are weird and take too long to explain.) So, we needed to make one paycheck last for two months.

Normally, this would be doable. We would take a month or two to build up our savings. We would use our emergency fund we already have in place. But we had just spent almost all of our savings on car repairs. And house deposits. And pet deposits. And moving expenses. And we had two weeks to find extra money, not a month.

So what did we do?

We received our full security deposit back from our old house. We sold our appliances (our new house came furnished). We sold some other things on eBay. Our family members gave Tyler an especially nice birthday present and helped in other ways, too. Still, my heart stayed anxious. I even felt frustrated and angry at times. In the midst of this frustration, I finally stopped and thought:

You know what? During our month of “famine”: 

1. We slept in an air conditioned house every night during the hottest part of the summer.

2. We drank clean water straight from the faucet and took warm baths and showers as often as we liked.

3. We stayed connected to our friends and family through iPhones and wireless internet.

3. We had plenty to eat every single day.

4. We drove to see my mom and attend a dear friend’s funeral.

5. We even ate a fancy dinner for two at one of our favorite Houston restaurants for our anniversary (a sweet present from my aunt and uncle).

We were never impoverished.

God provided for us. Abundantly. More than we could ask or imagine. You know what else?

We are wealthy. Period.

What have I learned through this time of “famine”? I know that I have too much. I have spent so long learning to live frugally that I sometimes forget how to live generously. How can I be generous? How can I use the blessings we have been provided and bless others?

We are taking steps to do just that. My husband and I have always given money to our church, but we are moving beyond that. We are no longer spending our time wishing for bigger storage barns for all of our stuff. Instead, we are learning to open our eyes to the world around us, and in return, we are opening our pockets and sharing what God gives us.

I wish you all the best of Thanksgivings. May God bless us all throughout this holiday season.

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