Scratching for Revival

I haven’t scratched out thanks on the keyboard since December. A heart full of thanks and mental lists of gifts, while fresh for a time without the scratching, have dulled and faded in the last few weeks. And my Mondays in particular, instead of being full of joy, full of Him, have seen me dragging, grumpy, and sleeping overmuch in attempts to revive. A gentle word from a friend today helped me remember what I’ve been missing. And so, two naps and a shower into the day, as the light fades and I listen for the sound of my man pulling in the drive, here I sit, scratching for revival.

Gifts # 180 – 202
Pristine snow
Being washed white
Winter sunshine

Cozy hibernating family days
Snow “decor”
A walk with my man
Sledding with the Blessings
A new-to-me monitor from our next-door-friends

The release of a long awaited book
Swagbucks money with which to buy it
Friends’ newborn and awaited babies
Gingerbread house fun

Friends to encourage and challenge
Sleepy cooing
A sweetly developing little man

Young people with developing dreams and goals
Examples of walking faith (just one example here)
Progress on Projects
Locks of Love

Fellowship found
Unending Love
Relentless pursuit
Grace to help in time of need

holy experience

Welcoming 2011

What we had thought would be our big New Year’s bash wound up being a delightfully cozy evening with family and a few friends.

We romped,
played (games and with favorite Christmas gifts),
And were reminded of what is needed as we face a new year:

I like Ann’s habit of seeking a focus word for the year. While I considered not sharing mine just because it seems to be “the thing” to do, I realized that that’s no good reason for deciding whether or not to share! Within the first few days of the new year, PW posed a question about what her readers goals were for 2011. It was part of a giveaway, so I naturally found myself in the comments box. I had been praying about a focus for the year, and as I sat with hands on keyboard, it came out with such clarity and simplicity:

To accept and to give more grace.

Ahh, grace. Truly, it is the story of my life.
And my prayer for this year is that I may “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.” (2 Peter 3.18)

P.S. I’m seriously lagging on blog updates, but hope to get “caught up” soon.

Christmas Pictures

Mostly a for-the-grandparents post, with cute pictures and brief concluding thoughts…

Christmas Day Pictures

Handmade sibling gifts – It was a blessing to be a part of the making of these gifts of love!

From their parents – handmade lapdesks and thrifty books

Gifts from and to a dear friend, who would like a quiet corner of the internet, but who was a very special part of our Christmas day. We love you, girl!

Gifts from G’pa and G’ma Smith

Christmas Dinner and Games. Fun times!

A few days later, we had Second Christmas when a box arrived from Papa and Mama Byrd

Books for the Blessings

Journals for the Blessings (and a bus for Stephen)

Assorted goodies for J&L and Andrew

We’re thankful to our parents for honoring our desire for a simplified Christmas this year. We love you all and are so thankful for your support over the years. We have the best folks around!

December This-and-That (A Poly-Pictured Post)

A conglomerate post in which I shall gather “strings” from December not covered in other (existing or future) posts:

Dad Smith’s Birthday
The day after we arrived home from Florida was Dad Smith’s birthday. We didn’t make it out of bed for church, but Dad and Mom Smith were gracious enough to join us here for supper, catching up, and ice cream/cake so that we didn’t have to haul ourselves out and about. Except Jonathan, who did a post-trip grocery run, including buying a birthday cake – what a man!
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Butchering Christmas Tom
Dad and Mom Smith also came over a few days later to help butcher Christmas Tom so he would be ready for the big day. For the sake of my more sensitive friends, I’m not including any shots that are too exciting. 🙂

Cuddling Kitties
Last winter, this was our dog Juilin’s chair. This winter, he is relegated to the little rocker while the cats hog the comfy chair. But aren’t they cute?

The Monday following Christmas, we enjoyed the snow with some friends who came over to sled and play. I didn’t get as many pictures as I would have liked, but here’s a taste of the fun:

At two days shy of his 8 month birthday, Andrew tried his first not-Mama’s-milk food. His response was pretty varied, but I think he’s decided that sweet potatoes are okay.

Giveaways

I have, over the years that I’ve been reading blogs, entered a multitude of giveaways. I’ve pouted inwardly more than I’d like to admit over not ever winning one.

Well, for reasons beyond my ken, my losing streak has been broken, and broken soundly.

I’m not wanting to brag about winning, but I am wanting to brag on these wonderful people who have hosted and given. Please check out their blogs and products!

On October 24, I won a cloth diaper giveaway hosted by Tsh at SimpleMom.net. When Tsh sent me an email asking me which of the four sets would be my preference, I chose SustainableBabyish after much deliberation because the set that they were giving away had an option for either a regular/short wool cover or some wool longies (be still, my heart!). As it turned out, I was able to have my first choice of companies, and heard from the folks at SB within a few days. Unfortunately, at the time, the page for the starter kit being given away did not note the additional charge for the longies (a charge that makes total sense, just one that I couldn’t fit in our budget at the time). After some emailing back and forth, the kind folks at SB offered me the option of a pair of “seconds” longies if I would prefer them over a short wool cover. I was all over that. And, incidentally, the product page for the starter kit in question now reflects the price difference, for which I’m relieved for future customers.
So, on November 17, I received my package. And oh my. These diapers. They are the softest ever. Every time I come to one of them in the diaper rotation, I get all excited because they are just so soft and cushy. I wish I had clothes that soft! I just think they’re wonderful. And the pair of longies? I sure can’t find any flaws in them. A little lanolin sample would have been a lovely touch since their covers are not pre-lanolized. I finally bought some lanolin and it is in transit. So looking forward to getting this pair of longies in use!
Honestly, my experience with this company’s representative was less than stellar. But I think it was an individual thing, not a company-wide issue. And oh the diapers! They make the negatives fade in my mind. I would (obviously, from my gushing) highly recommend them. Thanks for the fabulous gift, SustainableBabyish! And many thanks to Tsh for organizing/hosting such a generous giveaway.

Then in November, I was surprised by a second giveaway notification – this time from The Grocery Shrink. She was giving away not one but three of her ebooks. I’d looked longingly at her books before and been so impressed that she helps you shrink your grocery budget while eating real whole foods. She also was including a hands-pampering set from Mary Kay – fun bonus.
We had some miscommunication, and then there was my horrid memory and holiday busy-ness. I totally forgot about downloading the books. And I didn’t receive her email about the hands set. I finally emailed her tonight to thank her and apologize for not doing so earlier. I’m going to download the books as soon as the Man isn’t playing on online game in which he might die if I clog up the satelite connection. 🙂 I’m sure that you’ll be hearing about them, because I plan to make use of her ideas.

On December 7, I won this giveaway at Adventures of a Gluten Free Mom. It was for a copy of the cookbook Go Dairy Free by Alisa Marie Fleming and (bonus!) a potato ricer. I’d been thrilled about getting a digital copy of the book, but was delighted when Heidi informed me it was a hardcopy.
I haven’t had a lot of time to examine the cookbook, but it is definitely more than just recipes. It looks like a wealth of information on this world that sometimes still feels new to me. Alisa’s blog, Alisa Cooks, has been a tremendous help and encouragement as I’ve learned the ropes of eating without dairy, and I’m thankful to have this hard copy resource as well.
I’d never used a potato ricer before, but I have been glad to have it. Perfect timing with Andrew beginning to try some veggies. Besides making mashed potatoes with it for the fam, I’ve run sweet potatoes and carrots through it for Andrew (freezing them in half cup portions for easy use). Works like a dream.
Oh, and the dairy free fudge recipe Heidi links to in the giveaway post? Fabulous. Totally made my Christmas season, as far as treats go. And my family said they thought it was just as good as “their” fudge.
Thank you, Heidi, for the gifts, and thank you, Alisa, for letting your readers know about the giveaway!

Also on December 7, oddly enough, I went visiting some new blogs after posting my Sweet Shot Tuesday picture. I like to visit some of the other bloggers who have posted pics and give enouragement, so I picked a few that I liked from the thumbnail linkies and went to comment. I loved the hands picture at the end of this post at sandwichINK – it reminds me of my dear grandparents. I dashed off a note to Kaye letting her know I appreciated her pics and post, and thought no more of it. Totally missed the giveaway business.
The next week, I received an email about having won a giveaway. I had to follow the link to Kaye’s blog to figure out how that had happened. What a fun and wonderful surpriseto have $15 to my credit at Amazon! Thanks, Kaye!

So that’s my giveaway roundup. Please visit these fine folks and, if they have products that would be a help to you, consider purchasing from them.

Christmas/Advent Thoughts

Some post-Christmas thoughts on the Advent season and our developing family traditions as we seek to keep our focus on the Christ who was born to die that we might live eternally. Not prescribing or mandating for anyone else. These are simply some ways He is showing our family His grace at Christmas.

I wrote in early December about a couple of our Advent traditions and how blessedly they have helped us focus more on the Saviour during the season in which the world celebrates* His coming. Ann Voskamp‘s Jesse Tree book was such a helpful addition to our following of the story of redemption this December, and I loved being able to recommend it to folks. Our family Advent Wreath tradition continues to evolve, and I am prayerfully considering putting together a free downloadable Advent Wreath resource for next Advent season.

We wound up planning a trip to visit my folks and family in Florida during the third week of December. It wasn’t my first choice for timing, but God’s timing has this way of being better than mine, and He came through again with perfect timing and a wonderful trip.

I knew in November, as I looked ahead to December, that I was going to have abundant opportunity to stretch-and-release my expectation and perfectionism muscles. The Father was gracious in helping me to relax, to enjoy the moments, and let go of many less-than-important things that I ordinarily would think of as important.

So, our house was not dressed-to-the-nines this Christmas. When the Christmas boxes were brought down, a couple of them hid in the attic and avoided us altogether! I didn’t unpack my beloved Christmas dishes; the doors and bookcases didn’t have lights and garland; the wall hanging were not re-done for Christmas; we got out just a couple of ornaments for each family member; etc.

But oh the fun we had! And how our hearts worshipped our Creator made flesh!

We caught up on our missed week of the Jesse Tree and Advent Wreath during the week before Christmas. We also did some fun things that we’d either not done before or haven’t done for years.

We made salt-dough ornaments



We baked and decorated sugar cookies


We strung popcorn for our tree

I don’t remember ever doing this before in my life and I loved it. Davey popped two batches of popcorn in our air popper, and the next day we started stringing (I’d read that it works better if the popcorn has a bit of time to get stale before stringing). We would put a section on the tree whenever it seemed like it was getting too long, and put the last piece up Christmas Eve day. Definitely planning to do this again. And maybe we’ll string cranberries next year, too.
We let the Blessings hang Christmas lights in their rooms. They loved it, and it reminded me of college days.
While in Florida, I put up and decorated Papa and Mama’s tree for them. It was such fun!

Simplified Homemade Gifting
A college friend of Jonathan’s unintentionally inspired us to a handmade Christmas this year. The Blessing’s sibling drawing led to some creative thinking (on both their part and mine), and they really enjoyed both the making and the giving of their gifts. I made lapdesks for the older seven Blessings, and cheated on the handmade theme when I saw a collapsable baby gym at the resale shop for $2 for Andrew (needed, cute, and cheap). We also gave used books that we had gotten throughout the year at library book sales and thrift stores. Stockings were simple… mostly fruit, nuts, a bit of candy, and a couple of trinkets each. We also made gifts for other family members (so of which still need to be sent, so I’m not talking about them even though I don’t think my brothers-in-law read my blog) and friends.
We have always sought to have a minimal number of gifts so that the focus is not on “the haul,” but I was surprised at how much freedom I found in the additional simplicity of this year’s gifting plan. Yes, I spent quite a lot of time helping Blessings work on gifts and making gifts myself. But gift-making as a labor of love is so much more enjoyable than shopping, in my opinion. Even when it keeps you up into the wee hours for several nights before Christmas because you didn’t plan ahead well enough. It also was easier to not get carried away with impulsive buying. To walk through the stores with their shelves of Christmas-targetted gifts and feel no stress? That was wonderful. And it freed me to worship and enjoy being with my family. Definitely a tradition I’m interested in continuing.

Tree notes: We bought our first fake tree of our married life this year. Last year, there was just too much stress over water-damage concerns. And since we were gone for a week, it was great to come home to a tree that was still in great condition. Instead of putting our Jesse Tree ornaments in a separate location, we hung them on our Christmas tree (and loved it that way) this year. Incidentally, we also purchased the second fake tree of our married life this year… the day after Christmas. It’s a smaller tree that was 50% off and will be a lovely Jesse Tree.

Whew, thanks for sticking with me through this long post (if you’re still reading!). I felt the need to “jot down” some thoughts, and I pray our journey is an encouragement to you.

*Yes, the worldly celebration is mangled and twisted, but isn’t it amazing that His coming is proclaimed and honored amidst the greed? Just a tiny foretaste of “every knee shall bow,” in my opinion.