Monday, January 6, 2014

finishing up my gifts for the year ~ part II

So, I didn't actually make it to 1000 gifts in one least not on paper (or the computer screen technically).  But, there's no doubt that 2013 has been a blessed year for us.  Blessed doesn't mean it has been all sunshine and flowers though...there have been a few really, really low points during this year among all those amazing high points.  The thing I have learned from spending my time counting blessings though is that from each of those hard moments comes some nugget - or even mountain - of good.  I know that for every moment I haven listed here - all 854 - there are two more that I didn't write down, maybe didn't even see.  Life is beautiful, and counting gifts this year has reaffirmed that for me.  I look forward to another year of counting gifts each day (in fact...I've already started)!

813.  finding Christmas cards from friends and family in the mail!
814.  fourteen December graduates from our school!
815.  Discovering Christmas lights with Gavin
816.  Wrapping up gifts for my children and family
817.  homemade hot chocolate
818.  sharing the Home Alone movies with my children
819.  mixing, rolling, cutting, and baking Christmas cookies as a family
820.  Trees and fields blanketed in ice - "They've been carved from ice!" exclaimed Logan
821.  Discovering Bas Pro decorated for Christmas with the boys
822.  An indoor carousel ride on elk and deer
823.  Coming out of store to find it snowing!
824.  Logan catching snowflakes on his tongue
825.  Frosting and sprinkling Christmas cookies with Logan and Gavin!
826.  Starting a new tradition:  Christmas Eve boxes for the boys loaded with hot chocolate, popcorn, movies, and new pjs!
827.  A Christmas Eve service by candlelight
828.  Watching the boys dig into their stockings with glee on Christmas morning!
829.  The expression of pure surprise and joy as Logan opened his gift of dinosaur bones - exactly what he wanted more than anything this year!
830.  The perfect gift from Justin
831.  Opening presents with Mimi and Papa
832.  Christmas dinner - calm and relaxing with Mimi, Papa, Gigi, Great-grandpa, Aunt Holly, Uncle Mike, and cousin Spencer
833.  Logan sitting with Spencer learning how to play a video game
834.  And one more round of presents for everyone!
835.  Very tired boys tucked into bed early, and Justin and I busy building Lego sets and a ninja turtle lair!
836.  Waking up to sounds of my excited boys as they discover their Legos and lair all built and ready to play with!
837.  Two boys discovering the secrets and fun of the ninja turtle lair together...for a long, long time! 
838.  A safe and "quick" drive up to Iowa
839.  Logan and Gavin climbing and sliding down piles of snow with Grandpa and Aunt Dannielle
840.  Logan and Gavin getting to open presents with their cousins at Grandma and Grandpa's house
841.  Finding out my brother and sister-in-law are expecting another baby!
842.  Catching up with extended family at my grandma's Christmas gathering
843.  Holding my cousin's tiny baby boy
844.  Discovering another cousin is pregnant after years of hoping!
845.  A White Elephant gift exchange among cousins, aunts, and uncles
846.  A trip to the hospital to see Grandpa Jeff - recovering well from a recent lung transplant!
847.  Sharing pizza and gifts together!
848.  Logan hugging tightly the "Herkey the Hawk" stuffed animal he had begged for on our last visit to see Grandpa Jeff (Way to go Grandpa Jeff!)
849.  "My logs! My logs!" shouted by Gavin as he discovered a gift of Lincoln logs from Grandpa Jeff
850.  Exploring the hospital with our guide - nurse Dannielle - and catching up more with her!
851.  One last family dinner out (minus Dannielle who was still working - boo!) before everyone left for home
852.  Sharing hugs good-bye with my brother, sister-in-law, niece, and nephew
853.  Hanging out with Mom and Dad just talking about everything and anything on our last night in Iowa
854.  New Year's Eve at home with my little family - Good-bye 2013!  It's been great!

The 2013 Book List

I think this is everything I read this past year - I'm not always so good about making sure it all gets written down these days!  There are a lot of books here, so I figure I'm pretty close to having them all.

I'm not sure I read any books this year that I would consider super-awesome-oh-my-goodness-everyone-should-read-this-book.  For fiction, I might have thought that about the Divergent series...until I read the last book and felt totally let down.  Despite that, though, it's a good read, and I totally do recommend it you're planning to go see the movie this spring.  As for nonfiction...Kisses from Katie was probably the highlight of my reading - I happened to really enjoy that one!'s the list!

(And in case you're curious...I do keep a reading list each year.  Here's 2012 and 2011!)

Mitch Albom
The Time Keeper

Jefferson Bass
Carved in Bone

P.C. Cast & Kristin Cast

Cinda Williams Chima
The Warrior Heir
The Wizard Heir
The Dragon Heir

Cassandra Clare
City of Fallen Angels
City of Lost Souls
Clockwork Angel
Clockwork Prince
Clockwork Princess

Andrea Cremer

Sylvia Day
Bared to You
Reflected in You

Janet Evanovich
Eleven On Top

Becca Fitzpatrick

Sue Grafton
Kinsey and me

Jane Green
To Have and to Hold

Charlaine Harris
Dead Ever After
After Dead

Julia Heaberlin
Playing Dead

Elin Hilderbrand
Summer People

Amanda Hocking

William Joyce
E. Aster Bunnymund

Lauren Kate

Richelle Mead
Vampire Academy

Brad Meltzer
The Inner Circle

Lauren Oliver
Delirium Stories

James Patterson
Along Came a Spider

Kathy Reichs
Déjà  Dead

Beth Revis
Across the Universe
A Million Suns
Shades of Earth

Veronica Roth
Free Four:  Tobias Tells Knife-Throwing Scene
The Transfer:  A Divergent Story

Mary Ann Schaffer & Annie Barrows
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society

Neal Shusterman

John Steinbeck
Of Mice and Men


Rob Bell
Love Wins

Robert Brooks, Ph.D., & Sam Goldstein, Ph.D.
The Power of Resilience

Wayne Cordeiro
Doing Church as a Team

Katie Davis
Kisses from Katie

Jim Gaffigan
Dad is Fat

Jen Hatmaker

Susie Larson
Your Beautiful Purpose

Dr. Kevin Leman
When Your Best Isn’t Good Enough
The Birth Order Book

Phil Robertson
Happy, Happy, Happy

Si Roberston
Willie & Korie Roberston
The Duck Commander Family
Ann Voskamp
One Thousand Gifts
The Greatest Gift

1 Samuel
2 Samuel
Song of Songs

Monday, December 23, 2013

A Christmas House Tour

I really, really love getting to decorate the house for Christmas.  We don't have a ton of decorations, and we don't go all out, but I love what we do do.  Every year I try to add something or change something up a bit so its not the same old, same old.  This past spring we got some new furniture and completely rearranged our living room, so decorating for Christmas was a bit of challenge. 

But...we pulled it off, and when we were all finished, Justin and I looked around and decided that this was our best work yet.  (Yes, we do tend to think that every year.  But still...this year is the best!)  Let me show you...I'm sure you'll agree!

Let's start at the front door.  Though not one single thing here is new...everything here has been repurposed this year making this a "brand new wreath."  What I love most about it though isn't how it looks...I love the fact that Logan and Gavin helped me do it all:  beads and ornaments!

Next to the front door is our desk...nothing fancy here.  It's the last thing I decorated, so it has all the "left overs," but I think it turned out nicely.  Best thing here is our Jesse Tree.  While the tree itself is not new, the idea of a Jesse Tree is.  I topped it off with one of our little wooden crosses, and filled our coffee bean jar with each day's ornament.  This little tree here is probably my second favorite Christmas decoration simply because of what it represents (my favorite is coming up later!).

And the tour continues!!! 

Up next is the "TV area" of our living room.  The TV stand is part of the new furniture we bought this spring.  Turns out it is an excellent place to put stockings, and it also provided me with one more little nook to tuck a few Christmas decorations!

This is also where we decided to let the boys put up their little tree this year.  We set the tree up, but they (mainly Logan) decorated it all by themselves!

This year I decided to start a new tradition with our Christmas books.  I wrapped each one up, numbered them, and put them under the boys' tree.  Each night they've gotten to open another book!  I like having this tree to put them under, too, because it gives this new tradition a separate home from our main tree (coming soon!).

While the boys' tree sits in the TV area, it also is in front of our sliding glass door.  It looked beautiful after it snowed!  We also hang a huge garland above this door and decorate it with ornaments (this year I bought new ones - one of my very few splurges this year).  Then we hang a wreath on the door - one Logan picked out last year!

The splurge for new ornaments on the garland was well worth it, because I had a few leftover that Justin then turned into a pretty center piece for our table!

Coming up next is the black cabinet I received for Christmas last year.  I combined it with an old table cloth, a short strand of lights, and some Pinterest inspiration to get this:

And now we come to the back door.  Here is where you find my favorite Christmas decoration:  the Nativity.  This year we hung a wreath above it, and Justin placed a very special cross inside.  The boys helped me set up both Nativity sets, and Logan told me the entire story of the birth of Jesus while we did it!


This area is also where we hung the boys' Advent calendar, and of course, the door was perfect for yet another wreath!

If you haven't noticed (which I wouldn't if I were you and/or had never been in my house before), I'm kind of taking you in a big circle.  Really, all this means, is we are now headed back into the "formal" part of the living room (I use the term "formal" very loosely hence the quotes) and back towards the front door where we started.  Up first:  the book shelf.

And now we come to the Christmas tree:

This year it found a new home in the corner instead of centered in front of our big window, and I have to say that I really like it better this way!  Decorating this monster tree is always Justin's job, but he didn't get to go it alone this year.  Despite wanting very little to do with helping Logan decorate their tree, Gavin would not be stopped when it came to decorating this tree!

That must be why it turned out so beautifully...

P.S.  Enjoy this picture of our tree fully lit.  I know I am.  It seems that we jinxed ourselves over Thanksgiving by telling our family how awesome our tree was, that after five years of use every single pre-lit bulb still worked.  Since then, four strands of light have burned out.  We replaced the first, but have since resigned ourselves to the fact that the tippy top, the bottom, and the middle of the back of the tree have gone dark.  Come take down time, we will be unwinding every inch of lights so we can replace them next year.  Yay...  (That "yay" is filled with sarcasm and loathing by the way.)

Introducing Tony!

Tony* is our family elf - you know, from the whole "Elf on a Shelf" phenomenon.  Last year was our first year to have an Elf on the Shelf, and there were a lot of hiccups in the process.  For instance, Tony often forgot to travel to the North Pole at night and report to Santa.**  Oooops...bad elf!

So...I had high hopes this year to whip Tony into shape.  *Ahem*  I wanted to start the whole thing off with a bang, so I wrapped Tony up (my mother-in-law had bought us the fancy box set with elf and book from Barnes & Noble last year, so this was easy) and let the boys work together to unwrap him on November 30th.  We read the book again, named him again (see * below for clarification if necessary at this point), and found a good home for him to start off his adventures.

So far Tony has been very successful at remembering to travel back to the North Pole each night (I told you I would whip him into shape!).  He has been found in our Jesse Tree ornament jar...

...writing a letter to Santa...

...and hanging from the ceiling fan by candy canes.

At this point I find it necessary to point out that our elf, Tony, is a very well behaved elf.  He doesn't make messes or anything like that.  There are two reasons for this:

  1. Since the whole point of having an elf is to encourage children to behave, it makes sense to me that the elf should also behave and set a good example for the children.
  2. I don't like messes.  Any little mess I try to make will be increased ten fold by my three fat cats during the night.  Plus, I don't want to clean up any mess...even a little one!  Let me repeat:  I don't like messes.
(NOTE:  The first reason is the one I give when I'm trying to look like an awesome parent.  The second reason is the reason I give when I'm being really honest with myself and others.  Yes, it is all about me.)

Okay, now back to Tony's journey through our house so far...

Occasionally I try to place Tony Tony shows up in places that hint towards whatever activity I have planned for the boys that day.  For instance, the day he showed back up holding an apple in our fruit basket was the day I was taking the boys shopping for our "Feed a Family for a Day" charity:

Then, right off the get basically, Tony almost forgot to visit the North Pole (see ** below).  Luckily, Justin "reminded" Tony to get going and he ended up back in our house here which had absolutely no connection to the days activity because, well, I hadn't discussed the day's activity with Justin before hand...

Since then, Tony has been a pretty reliable elf popping up in a variety of places around the house:

At Day 11 there was almost another mishap...Tony forgot to take his trip until about 4:30 in the morning which is coincidentally the time I get up to go to the gym... 

Then he was back on track again and has been trucking along nicely...though he's starting to run out of creative places to perch and that whole "go to a place that hints about the day's activity" has all but died completely.  What can I say?  Tony's creative juices - like mine - run out after awhile!  

Our adventures with Tony so far have been a trip!  I love listening to the boys hunt for him each morning and their excitement at finding him (well, as long as that hunt and those squeals of glee come after 6:00 a.m. anyway).  Tonight Tony is going to make his way over to our Nativity scene and hang out with Baby Jesus as one more reminder to my little ones of what Christmas is really all about.

...And then after that he's going to gorge himself on sugar cookies and milk, write a thank you note to the kiddos on the magnadoodle, and pass out.  After all, my his job will be done until next year!

*I don't remember what we called Tony last year...whatever name Logan picked out I forgot to write down, so we had to rename him this year.  His name is now Tony, as in Tony Stark a.k.a. Iron Man.  My boys may be a little obsessed with super heroes...

**Meaning I constantly forgot about him until the next morning when Logan would shout, "Mommy, Tony didn't move last night!"  Crap....