caring for creation while caring for family

Month: November 2016

Christmas Traditions: Christmas Book Countdown on a Budget

I’m doing a new mini-series on some of our favorite Christmas traditions.  I know… I know… it’s not even Thanksgiving yet, but I wanted to post this one early because it takes some preparation if you want to do something similar.

When both my boys were little, I was searching Pinterest for homemade Christmas countdown ideas.  I wanted a visual way to show a 2- and 4-year-old that Christmas was coming.  I came across many ideas that I liked, but my favorite, by far, was the Christmas Book Countdown.

The idea is simple.  You take 24 Christmas books and wrap them all up by December 1st.   Then, each night, you unwrap one book (the kids take turns each night) and read it!  As Christmas gets closer, the stack of books gets thinner.  Soon, it’s Christmas Eve!

We love books, especially children’s books.  I have read to the kids every night of their lives, so this tradition was easy to incorporate into our routine.  The only problem was – it was too expensive!

Buying 24 new Christmas books the month before Christmas can break the bank if you live on a tight budget.

We were a young family living off of graduate student incomes.  I had a few Christmas books in our collection, but I knew that I could not afford to buy 20 more!

So I searched our local thrift stores and found a few more books, but with only weeks until Christmas, their stock of Christmas books was getting slim…

So where can you find Christmas books for a bargain?  The library, of course!

I went on our local library website and searched for children’s Christmas books.  By this point December 1st was rapidly approaching. I put holds on a bunch of books, a few more than I needed in case some did not arrive in time.

Then I wrapped up the books I did own. Our collection was up to about 8.  We started working our way through those books, one by one.  About 5 or 6 days into the month, I picked up the books that were waiting for me at the library.  I didn’t show them to the kids.  Instead I wrapped them up.  They would not be overdue for 21 days and Christmas was closer than that!  Perfect!

Problem solved.

Christmas Book Countdown on a Budget - how to do a Christmas book countdown without buying all the books new!

The collection of Christmas books that I store out of sight in our Christmas decoration boxes each year.

In the following year, I looked for books on clearance in after Christmas sales.  I also searched for books anytime I was at a thrift store.  I was able to collect enough books so that I now own a collection of 24.

Each year I wrap up the same 24 books.  The kids are familiar with them all, but that does not make it less exciting for them.  They look forward to reading them again and again!

And when we put away the decorations at the end of Christmas, I put the books back in the Christmas box.  This way, the kids don’t see the books all year long on their bookshelf.

Christmas Book Countdown on a Budget - how to do a Christmas book countdown without buying all the books new!

All wrapped up and ready for December first – I usually procrastinate and don’t wrap them until the morning of December 1st!

I can’t wait to pull out the books again this year and see the excitement on their faces each night as they unwrap the books, wondering what book they will get that night.  It’s like a little bit of Christmas magic in our house every night of December.  This is one tradition that I never want them to grow out of…

What are some of your favorite holiday traditions?


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A Few of My Favorite Things Giveaway: Celebrating 1000 Instagram Followers

I recently rolled over 1000 followers on Instagram, which isn’t much for veteran bloggers, but is a huge achievement for me! I’m totally doing a happy dance over here!

So, in order to celebrate, I am doing a giveaway!  And, since I am incredibly indecisive (don’t even get me started on baby names – yikes!) I am making this giveaway the winner’s choice!

I am offering the winner of this giveaway a choice of ONE of four of my very favorite books!  Each of these books is somehow related to my blog and they are all really good and life changing!  At least they have been life changing for me!

The first two books go together – they are the Trim Healthy Mama Plan: The Easy-Does-It Approach to Vibrant Health and a Slim Waistline OR the Trim Healthy Mama Cookbook: Eat Up and Slim Down with More Than 350 Healthy Recipes.  I love THM and have been living the THM lifestyle for the last 2.5 years.  You can read about my THM testimony here.  Or how it has helped me (a former sugar addict) give up sugar for good here.

The third book choice goes along with my current minimalism challenge, but it is not really a book about minimalism. The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo has really helped me simplify and organize our small home.  It is not necessarily a book about minimalism, however.  It is really about just keeping only the things that bring you joy or have a purpose.  So, if a lot of your stuff brings you joy, truly brings you joy, then you should keep it. (However, most people find that most stuff does not truly bring them joy – but it is a personal process for everyone.) I am not a minimalist in the starkest sense of the word.  I have a colorful house full of pictures and toys and craft projects – things that bring me, or my family, joy!

The final book choice has been really instrumental in my parenting choices. Simplicity Parenting: Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier, and More Secure Kids by Dr. Kim John Payne has really helped my husband and I simplify our lives to be the best parents we can be.  This means less after school activities, less noise toys, less screen time, and less temper-tantrums.  It also means more quality time, more imaginative play, more family time, more secure kids.  It is a must read for today’s parents!

How to enter to win your choice of one of these books?

Simple – you can enter both on my Facebook page or my Instagram account.  Follow the rules outlined in the post on Facebook or on Instagram to enter.  And make sure to give my pages a “like” or “follow” while you’re there!  It’s as simple as that!  The giveaway is only open to US residents – so sorry!  And it closes at 9 pm Pacific Standard Time on Saturday, November 19, 2016.

Good luck!


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Christmas Traditions: Christmas Tree Hunting in the National Forest

I’m starting a new mini-series on some of our favorite Christmas traditions.  I know… I know… it’s not even Thanksgiving yet, but I wanted to post this one early because it takes some preparation if you want to do something similar.

I love Christmas.  In fact, I am guilty of listening to Christmas music way before Thanksgiving every year – like even in the middle of summer if the mood strikes!  As a kid, we would often have a Christmas CD or cassette in the boom box by our pool.  Swimming and jingle bells, anyone?

I don’t decorate until after Thanksgiving is over, however.  I may be singing Christmas carols before Halloween, but there is no visible evidence until after we have finished the Thanksgiving dishes.  After that – it’s fair game!

Out come the decorations!

Out come the wreaths, lights, and garlands!

And it’s time for the hunt for the perfect Christmas tree!

Christmas Traditions: Christmas tree hunting in the National Forest. Only $10 for the permit! -

Addamay’s first Christmas tree trip at 6 months old.

We are not a fake Christmas tree family.  And we take our Christmas tree hunting seriously.

By hunting, I don’t mean searching the corner lot for the perfect tree.

And, by hunting I don’t mean cutting down our tree in the midst of a perfectly manicured tree farm.

By hunting I mean hunting for our tree in the National Forest with our United States Forest Service (USFS) Christmas Tree Permit and legal places to cut map!

Christmas Traditions: Christmas tree hunting in the National Forest. Only $10 for the permit! -

Finding the perfect tree for Christmas 2015

Until about 12 years ago, I didn’t know you could buy a permit to cut a tree in our local National Forest.  I don’t even remember how we first found out about it.  But in December of 2006, my hubby and I drove to our local USFS office and bought a $10 permit.  Then we drove up the hill in search of the perfect tree.

We’ve been doing the same thing every year since then!

We LOVE this Christmas tradition for many reasons.

  1. It gives us a great excuse to spend the day exploring nature.  It is about a 90 minute drive from our house to our favorite spot to find our tree.  Then we hike around and search for the perfect tree.  We bring a picnic lunch, a thermos full of hot cocoa, and plenty of Christmas music.  Sometimes there is snow (in California that is a big deal!)

    Christmas Traditions: Christmas tree hunting in the National Forest. Only $10 for the permit! -

    Searching for the perfect tree and enjoying the snow! We are in California, so sometimes this is all there is…

  2. It is cheap!  Christmas trees from the corner lot run anywhere from $15-$100+.  Cutting your own tree at a farm usually costs $50-$150.  But cutting a tree from the National Forest only costs $10 for the permit.  The first time you cut one, you will need to invest in a good saw – we like a pruning saw for the job, and some rope to tie down the tree.  It does take more time, and costs money for gas, but the memories and experiences are worth it.

    Christmas Traditions: Christmas tree hunting in the National Forest. Only $10 for the permit! -

    Taking a hot cocoa break

  3. Fresh trees last longer!  Cutting a tree yourself that you then water daily makes them last so much longer.  We try to get our tree on Thanksgiving weekend and usually don’t take it down until New Year’s Day.  And although we do lose some needles, we really don’t lose too many in that time!  The tree still looks and smells good in January!

    Christmas Traditions: Christmas tree hunting in the National Forest. Only $10 for the permit! -

    Clayton helps Daddy bring the tree to the car. Notice the bright pink permit attached.

  4. You can choose more “expensive” trees.  Red firs, often called Silvertips, are the most pricey trees at the Christmas Tree lot – at least they are at ours.  And they are absolutely lovely!  Once we found a good place to find some nice ones, we’ve been getting one every year.  That’s a savings of over $100 on a really nice tree.
  5. Extra boughs from the bottom part we cut off at home to fit the tree in the house (the tree always looks so tiny in the forest!) are wonderful for decorating!

If you live within driving distance of a National Forest, I encourage you to look into this tradition for yourself.  It is so much fun! Just Google to find out if you can cut a Christmas Tree near you.  Not every National Forest has this option – it is more common in areas with lower populations.  And it also depends a lot on what kinds of trees grow on USFS land near you.

Christmas Traditions: Christmas tree hunting in the National Forest. Only $10 for the permit! -

Tying the tree to the top of the car. Thankfully, we haven’t lost a tree (or a child), yet!

If you live near the Plumas National Forest in Northern California like we do, here is the link to buy your Christmas Tree Cutting permit.  Some forests allow other vendors to sell the permit, as well.  Our local forest used to do that, which was very convenient, but it doesn’t do that anymore.  I mailed in to get our permit a couple weeks ago and have already gotten the permit and map back in the mail.  Very efficient for government service!

Christmas Traditions: Christmas tree hunting in the National Forest. Only $10 for the permit! -

Our “perfect” Silvertip Fir Christmas Tree all decorated at home.

I’m so excited to head up the hill in a couple weeks in search of the perfect tree for Christmas 2016!  I will be sharing pictures when I do!signature

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THM Pregnancy Update: 23 Weeks

I can’t believe it’s already been over 5 weeks since my last pregnancy update!  Time is just racing by this time.  (Check out my other pregnancy updates here).

Not too much has changed this time around.  I’m still much more tired this second trimester than normal, but I think the three kids and homeschooling, added to my husband working very long hours at the moment, is to blame.  But that is life at the moment, so…

I had my 20 week appointment with my OB before I had my 20 week ultrasound, so there was very little to discuss.  It was a simple in and out appointment.23-weeks-preg

My ultrasound happened at 21 weeks and we had to go to the hospital for it since that is the way our new insurance provider does things.  I changed the appointment to a Saturday so the whole family could come.  Other than our two year old being very loud in the waiting room and scaring a grumpy elderly lady away, it was a fun trip.

The ultrasound tech was very sweet and let me know that everything looked great from her end (which my doctor confirmed).  Our little one was very wiggly and hard to measure because he or she just would not sit still.  I thought this was funny because at that point I had not eaten in over 3 hours and I didn’t have anything sweet.  This little one is just a mover!  Lord, help me!

Our 2.5 year old is never still either! Another girl?

Our 2.5 year old is never still either! Another girl?

I wanted to know whether we were having a girl or boy, but my husband and I had agreed to wait this time, so I was good and didn’t ask while he wasn’t in the room!  As it turned out, little one was too wiggly to cooperate anyway, so the tech was really glad we didn’t want to know.  It would have been a challenge for her to find out and she didn’t even try.  So, I guess not finding out the sex was meant to be…

People have been asking me what I think we’re having.  I have never had a strong feeling with any of my kids and I don’t with this one, either.  I have been leaning towards girl this entire pregnancy, though.  I don’t know if that’s because I would love another little girl and I think two boys and two girls sounds perfect, or because my last pregnancy was a girl,  or…  However, I do feel confident that whatever this little one is, that he or she is meant to be in our family.  I believe that God’s plan and spacing is perfect, so I’m not fretting about it.23-weeks-selfie

I’ve been too busy this month, but made an effort to cut back on our extra curricular activities this last week.  We have still gone to all the boys’ classes and AWANA, but other than that, we stayed home.  I can’t get away with that every week.  My social kids would go crazy, but I realized I need to do that more often.  My oldest, especially, won’t like it.  However, this is just a short season and he will survive without as many play dates with friends for a few months.

So, any guesses or strong feelings about the gender of this little one?  I’d love to hear!


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