Gift ideas that are low on cost but big on imagination!

Today Emily was re-reading one of her favorite books and it gave me a great idea.  I wanted to share this with you because it’s a perfect budget friendly gift idea that would be sure to please most young kids.  With Christmas coming, I thought it was the perfect time to share this.

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The book is called Christina Katerina & The Box and is written by Patricia Lee Gauch.    (You probably already see where I’m going with this…)

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As the story goes, Christina Katerina and her mother are both excited when the new refrigerator arrives in its large brown carton, but they are excited for very different reasons. Christina quickly claims the box, where she creates a castle, a clubhouse, and other fantastic playthings with her friend Fats Watson.  Every time her latest creation gets messed up, she simply turns it into something new until one day the box gets wet and Christina’s mother is all too happy to finally throw the box away.  That is, until Fats brings over 2 new boxes from his mother’s new washer and dryer!

This book is full of the imagination that should play a huge part in every child’s life.  Seeing something plain and simple and being able to turn it into something grand is a skill many have forgotten.  It is truly refreshing to see children get excited about something that doesn’t light up, make sounds or use batteries.

Back to my idea…

As parents we always joke that kids would rather play with the box the toy came in than the toy itself, right?  So let’s just skip the toy and give them the box!

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to pair this book with a huge cardboard wardrobe box as a gift for a child this Christmas?  Yes, I’m serious!  Give them a box.  I would bet that most children under 12 with any sense of imagination would love to have a HUGE box as an empty canvas for their creativity!  I know my 9 1/2 year old daughter would love this gift idea – if she didn’t already own the book, that is.  She’d still love the box!  If you really felt the need to dress up the gift, you could include a package of markers or crayons, but don’t go overboard.  The idea is to keep it simple.  Let them use their imagination to create – and re-create – new adventures. 

So skip the battery operated, noise making, video game playing gadgets and instead get to the dollar store for some extra wrapping paper.  You’ll need it to wrap that huge box.  Read the book together and turn them loose to see what they create.

 

My daughter, Emily, has always loved to play with boxes.  She has made everything from row boats to castles and race cars to animal shelters – all from cardboard.  She still tries to keep every empty box that makes its way into the house.  I hope that continues for years to come! 

Here are just a few of our favorites!

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Check out another one of my low on cost, but big on imagination gift ideas:  A Homemade Detective Kit!

Easter Weekend

Happy Easter! 

This year our family celebrated Easter a little different – no egg hunts, no baskets full of candy & gifts.  We decided to just keep it simple and instead just enjoyed a full weekend of fun family time.   I don’t have anything against baskets & egg hunts, but Emily hasn’t believed in the Easter bunny in years so we just decided to do it different this time. 

We spent the day Friday venturing out to the “big city” of Raleigh.  It’s only an hour and a half away, but we haven’t had a chance to go in a few months so it felt like a treat.  We enjoyed the road trip, spent a few hours at Whole Foods (there isn’t one near us), then let Emily play on a playground before heading home.

Saturday we spent the first half of the day at my local Crossfit box.  Rob and Emily came along to watch me during my workout class, and then we hung out to watch a competition known as The Open.  A couple of my friends were participating so we wanted to cheer them on.  Next year, I hope to join them!   We also ran some necessary errands to prepare for Easter dinner.

Sunday morning we celebrated Easter at church, and then we spent the rest of the day celebrating with some dear friends.  We hung out at their house, ate lots of food, let the kids play, went for a nice walk, and enjoyed lots of great fellowship.  We also made a homemade ice cream sundae bar!  We took our Vitamix to their house and Rob made 4 flavors of ice cream – all natural, no dye, no sugar – just frozen fruit & a tiny bit of coconut milk!  We had banana/mango, banana/blackberry, banana/cocoa, and banana/strawberry.  We had an assortment of toppings to choose from to make our healthy ice cream not-as-healthy, and it was so fun!  Rob even made some banana-only “ice cream” for our friend’s baby!

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In case you are wondering, Emily didn’t even miss the egg hunt or candy basket.  She was perfectly content to pick out a few treats at Whole Foods on Friday, and was more excited to spend Easter playing with friends and eating homemade ice cream than hunting eggs. 

Here are some pictures from our after-church photo shoot.  Considering it had been dark and rainy all morning, these turned out pretty good.  So thankful the sun decided to come out!

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(We can’t have a photo shoot without a silly picture!)

 

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My sweet girl, growing up!

 

As I talk about Easter, one of my favorite songs makes me think about my grandmother.  She went to be with our Lord a few years ago, but this song was one of her absolute favorites.  It’s called “Because He Lives” – Enjoy!

 

I hope you had a blessed weekend with your family as well!

Happy Thanksgiving!

I know I’m a few days late, but I wanted to share with you how our family celebrated Thanksgiving this year.  It was our first Thanksgiving completely on our own as a family of 3.  For most of our marriage, we’ve celebrated Thanksgiving with our parents – usually with both sides of the family coming together for one wonderful celebration.  Last year, Rob was deployed so it was just me & Emily and unfortunately we were both way too sick to enjoy the day at all.  In fact, we even turned down invitations to join friends and spent the day watching movies and recovering instead.

This year we were excited to have Rob home to celebrate with us! We did extend the invitation to some friends and some of Rob’s co-workers but everyone had a place to go, so we enjoyed our small family Thanksgiving.

Operation Holiday Cookies for Soldiers

That’s the official name Emily assigned to our new family tradition!  We started the day by making 16 dozen cookies of various types and delivering them to the soldiers that were working as gate guards on post.  We spent the morning mixing, baking, cooling, sorting, & packaging the cookies.  Then, we spent almost 2 hours driving around to 11 different gates on post and to the Staff Duty desk to hand out plates of cookies and our “Happy Thanksgiving” wishes.  It was a beautiful day, a relaxing drive, and lots of quality family time!

I just have to brag on our family! We worked like clockwork in the kitchen!  We kept it simple by making “Cake Mix Cookies” – a recipe I got from a dear friend of mine years ago.  Emily took her post in front of the KitchenAid mixer and made every single batch of cookie dough herself. She was rocking!  After the dough was ready, she passed it off to Rob who scooped it out onto the cookie sheets and put them in the oven.  When they came out of the oven, I took the cookie sheets and transferred the cookies to the cooling racks.  ‘Round and ‘round we went like an efficient assembly line, with Christmas music playing in the background!  In between rounds, I worked on punching holes in the disposable plates and decorating them with ribbon.  When all the cookies were ready, we lined up again and worked together to load the plates up with cookies. 

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Emily was super fast handing them out, so I didn’t get a great picture – but you can see from the soldier’s smile that they were well received!

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Emily even made all those cookies without licking the beater once since they were not gluten-free!  Don’t worry, we did make a GF batch of cookies afterward for her to enjoy – I’m not mean! Actually, I was quite impressed that she was so into making the cookies for the soldiers that she didn’t even mind not licking the beater. 

 

Thanksgiving meal….Southern style!

For our main meal, we went completely untraditional this year.  It’s not uncommon for our family to stray from the traditional turkey & dressing.  We’ve been known to have enchiladas, lasagna, or even go out to eat on Thanksgiving in order to keep it fun and different.  This year, I guess we were feeling our Southern roots a bit because we decided to make fried chicken, biscuits & gravy!  Rob and Emily had been having some cravings and we decided it was a great day to indulge them.  Once again we utilized our excellent teamwork – Emily made the biscuits, Rob fried the chicken, and I made the gravy!

We indulged, but didn’t go crazy.  The biscuits & gravy were both gluten-free, and the fried chicken was even a Paleo Fried Chicken recipe!  It was delicious!! So much so, that we’ve already made it again but with veggies instead of biscuits this time. 

 

MMM, gravy!

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Ready to dig in!

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What would we do without timers on cameras?

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Silly family!

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She asked me to take her picture again because you couldn’t see her tongue in the first one.

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Happy Thanksgiving from our family to yours!

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Summer Highlights Part 1

Yes, I know it’s already autumn, but I’m catching up on posts and wanted to share some highlights of our summer with you.  It feels like it just flew by in the blink of an eye.  We had such a mishmash of things going on! 

Here are some of my favorites…

In July, Hubby did his very first jump as the Primary Jumpmaster on the plane!  He’s done lots of jumps, but now that he’s a Senior Parachutist he was eligible to perform the PJ duty.  He had a great time, and landed beautifully & safely!  I wasn’t able to get too close to the drop zone, but I did manage to get a picture of him on his way down. 

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Also in July, we had some dear friends come visit us from Texas!  We adore this family so much.  The mom is a dear friend of mine, Emily & her oldest daughter are the best of friends, and our hubbies get along great too.  What more could you ask for?  We relaxed, chatting up a storm, and enjoyed time at the beach.  Emily was giddy with excitement to see her friend – it had been a year and a half!! That’s FOREVER in kid years! I loved getting to spend the time catching up with my sweet friend too – I sure do miss her.

Here are the girls (and little sister) in their “Best Friends” t-shirts I made for them – so cute!

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Fun in the sun!

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I didn’t get one of the husbands together – oops!

 

In early August, Emily went to a HORSE CAMP for a week!  For several years, the grandparents have opted to give Emily a camp or membership or something along those lines as a birthday present instead of more toys.  It works our wonderfully for all of us!  This year she attended a local Horse Camp.  I was so excited to find one nearby – only 20 minutes from the house.  She spent 9-5 Monday – Friday on a farm riding horses, doing crafts, shooting BB guns, doing archery, feeding/watering the horses, and even mucking out the stalls!  She had a great time! Anytime she can be outside in nature and around animals, she thrives!  I used the time she was away to do some chores, run errands, and read a lot, and get a haircut.  I should have spent that time writing and blogging, I know, but somehow the days just got away from me.

Emily in her cowgirl hat, bandana, and t-shirt – all souvenirs from camp!

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With her horse of the week

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Feeding one of the little ponies

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Check out those knees after a day’s work!

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Dreaming of her own farm…

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Isn’t she beautiful?

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Rob’s birthday is in August and this year we celebrated by attending a Strong Bonds marriage retreat.  Strong Bonds is a chaplain-led program designed to help strengthen the Army family.  They provide (free) retreats for single soldiers, married couples, and even wives/kids of deployed soldiers.  Rob, Emily and I got to stay in a really nice resort style hotel a couple hours away from home.  Friday night they provided childcare while the couples sat through sessions about making our marriage better.  Saturday was a free day – they provided breakfast and lunch, but families were on their own for dinner and could spend the entire day doing whatever they wanted!  Go see local sights, hang out in the hotel room or at the pool – just enjoy time as a family.   On Sunday there were more sessions again with provided childcare, and then we all headed home a little after noon. 

We had a great time!  Emily loved playing with the other kids, and Rob and I enjoyed our time together as well.  Saturday we went to the Greensboro Children’s Museum that was participating in the Blue Star Family Program (so it was FREE!), then we went to Whole Foods for lunch and to wander around a bit.  One thing we really miss about Texas is Whole Foods!  Where we lived in TX, we had 8 of them within a 25 minute drive.  Here, the closest one is an hour away and it’s tiny compared to the Texas ones!  This one in Greensboro was really nice, so we just took our time looking around and picking out a few snacks.  We spent Saturday afternoon/evening at the pool – mostly in the hot tub because the pool was COLD!

 

Celebrating Rob’s birthday at the hotel! 

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We have been using that same birthday banner for years and it’s become quite the tradition.  We even sent it to him when he spent his last birthday in Iraq, so of course we brought it to the hotel.  He got chocolate covered espresso beans, and some “Pop Chips” from Emily.  One of their favorite books is “Hop on Pop” by Dr. Seuss, so she always loves to get those for him. 

I have no idea why he’s holding a banana.  That wasn’t part of the present.  Maybe we just returned from breakfast?

 

Emily is getting better at taking pictures.  A little blurry, but still cute.

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At the Children’s Museum…

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Making memories & loving life!

I have a dream!

Today is the day that we honor the life of Martin Luther King, Jr. – a man who stood up for his beliefs and wanted better for the world around him. He dared to dream of something better – a world where people would love each other for the people they were, not judge each other by the color of their skin.  He dreamed of people treating each other with respect, kindness, and equality.

I wonder, if he were around today, how he would think we were doing? Have things gotten better since his lifetime?  I think we can do more.

This week, I encourage you to spread kindness and love to others.  Reach out to someone and make an effort to get to know them from the inside out, instead of the outside in.

I love this conversation that took place between a dear friend of mine and her daughter:

Mom: Do you know why you have off (school) on Monday?
Daughter: Because it’s Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday.
Mom: Do you know who he is?
Daughter: He’s the guy who made it ok for me and Nadia to be friends.

What a perfect way to sum it up!

If you can, take some time (17 minutes) today and listen to MLK Jr.’s famous “I have a dream” speech below.

Christmas Blog Carnival – Day 2

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The topic for Day 2 was my “Favorite Christmas Dessert”, and we were supposed to share the recipe.   I don’t have a specific recipe, but I do have a dessert tradition that is definitely my favorite to share with you all!  Every year at Christmas, we make a “Happy Birthday” cake for Jesus and sing Happy Birthday to Him.  Every year we choose a different flavor or shape to keep it interesting.  One year was a chocolate cake, another year was a white-chocolate layer cake with fruit, and a few times we’ve used a fun tree-shaped pan I have.  I think we need to try a brownie or cookie cake, or maybe this popcorn cake! Doesn’t that look fun? 

Lovebug and any other kids that are around get the job of decorating the cake.  We use icing, and then an assortment of decorations – sprinkles, chocolate chips, candy coated chocolate candies, coconut – all fun for little hands!

Here is our tree-shaped cake from a couple years ago!

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It’s a special tradition and something we all look forward to every year.  I love watching my daughter get so excited as she helps me plan and prepare for the most important birthday party of the year!

 

Merry Christmas and Happy Birthday, Jesus!

Christmas Blog Carnival – Day 1

This week Wives of Faith is hosting a Christmas Blog Carnival! I loved participating in this last year and am excited to do it again because it’s a great way to meet other wives through their blogs.

Today’s topic is: Favorite Christmas Movie

It’s so hard to pick just one favorite, so I’ll have to give you my top 3.

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I love to watch this old classic movie every year with my husband!  It’s a great story about a man who thought the world would be better off without him, but he was shown how untrue that was.  He realizes that even though his dreams for himself didn’t come true, he truly had a wonderful life!

 

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This is just a great classic that I love watching with my daughter.  I love the story behind the misfits and the lesson of loving each other for who they are.  Plus, it has Burl Ives singing!

 

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This is a fairly new movie, but I love it! It shares the story of the real Saint Nicholas without telling kids that there is no Santa, so it doesn’t “ruin it” for those that still believe.  My daughter doesn’t believe in Santa – she just asked so many questions that she learned very early that he wasn’t real, but we love the real story of Saint Nicholas and how the modern Santa is a way for people to carry on Nicholas’ tradition of giving gifts to others anonymously.

Christmas Advent

December is upon us (did that seem to sneak up on anyone else?), and we are now in the season of Advent.  Advent is the time of waiting and preparing to celebrate the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ, on Christmas Day.   In order to count down this period of time, our family uses a wooden calendar with little doors that are opened one at a time each day leading up to and including Christmas Day.  It was a gift from my parents years ago and one that we treasure still.

We’ve hidden all sorts of things behind the doors – candy, ornaments, pieces of paper with activities to do, pieces of a LEGO set to put together on the last day – all great fun! This year each box holds a mini ornament for Lovebug’s Christmas tree in her room and a piece of paper with a scripture for us to read from her Bible.  A few of the days might hold a candy or activity surprise, too! 

Lovebug opening door #1 on December 1st:

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If you haven’t already started an Advent calendar, it’s not too late! If you don’t have one, you could even make one with envelopes in a basket, each numbered with the dates remaining till Christmas. 

If you are interested, here is our list of Bible verses that we are reading each day:

Day 1 – Read Isaiah 7:14 and Micah 5:2

Day 2 – Read Matthew 1:18-24 and Luke 1:26-33

Day 3 – Read Luke 2:1-7

Day 4 – Read Luke 2:8-14

Day 5 – Read Luke 2:15-18

Day 6 – Read Luke 2:19

Day 7 – Read Luke 2:20

Day 8 – Read Luke 2:21

Day 9 – Read Matthew 2:1-2

Day 10 – Read Matthew 2:3-6

Day 11 – Read Matthew 2:7-8

Day 12 – Read Matthew 2:9

Day 13 – Read Matthew 2:10-11

Day 14 – Read Matthew 2:12-15

Day 15 – Read Galatians 4:4-5

Day 16 – Read Ephesians 2:8-9

Day 17 – Read 1 John 4:7-16

Day 18 – Read Ephesians 2:12-22

Day 19 – Read John 7:37-38, and 14:6

Day 20 – Read Matthew 28:19-20

Day 21 – Read John 8:12

Day 22 – Read John 9:4-5 and Matthew 5:14-16

Day 23 – Read Psalm 98:1-6

Day 24 – Read John 1:1-3, 14 and Romans 6:23

Day 25 – Read Psalm 100, Revelation 3:20-21

 

It’s the most wonderful time of the year!

Black Friday: Where greed prevails over decency

I am in shock.  I’ve been watching a few videos online of Black Friday footage shot by people right in the middle of the chaos, and I am in complete shock.  I know this isn’t the first year this has happened, but I just can’t get over the lengths people will go to and the depths to which people will stoop just to acquire more STUFF.

I don’t mind the people who camp out ahead of time.  If you don’t have kids or if you have someone to watch your kids, and you want to make a day out of it, have a good time hanging out in your camping chairs with friends, & score a great deal then go for it! If they’d let you bring a grill it wouldn’t be much different from tailgating, and I think it could be a lot of fun.

Or maybe you are a night owl (or early bird) and you want to enjoy a day of shopping with your siblings, friends or spouse – then by all means, have a great time! If you can enter the store calmly, get what you want, and get out without accosting anyone or putting your own life in harm’s way – why not?

However, those are not the people I’m referring to!

The 80s song Material Girl by Madonna comes to mind, and 25 years later things are so much worse!

In one Wal-mart, a lady PEPPER SPRAYED her fellow shoppers in an effort to get an edge on the competition in the electronics department.

Seriously? She came to the sale armed with pepper spray!

In another report, I read that impatient shoppers “the next aisle over started shouting and ripping at the plastic wrap encasing gaming consoles, which was supposed to be opened at 10 p.m.” because they couldn’t stand to wait another 5 minutes.

At one Toys-R-Us location, “Employees attempted to hold back the scrum of shoppers and pick up merchandise even as customers trampled the video games and DVDs strewn on the floor.”

TRAMPLED?  They just walked all over the very items they were there to purchase.  I wonder how much money the store loses in damaged items on this day every year.  Whatever happened to having respect for other people and their property? Common decency seems to be a thing of the past, and it’s terribly disheartening.

And here in our own city of Fayetteville, shots were fired at the local mall.

One of the videos I watched shows a crowd of Wal-mart shoppers tearing into a stack of waffle irons like they were starving people who had just received a shipment of food.

 

WAFFLE IRONS, people!  These are NOT a necessity of life. They were on sale for $2.84, and were regularly $17.  A savings of $14 that I would have gladly paid to AVOID that chaos even if I wanted the contraption, which by the way actually has awful ratings & reviews online.  All that effort for a waffle iron that probably won’t even work right.

I just can’t imagine.

 

I would much rather my friends and family give me a dozen homemade cookies on a plate from the dollar store as a gift.  I’ll take a gift from the heart & made with love any day over a gift that was gained by pushing, shoving, and clawing over other people.

Here is another video showing some of the chaos.  I have no idea what these people are so desperately trying to get their hands on, but I can think of NOTHING materialistic that I would act like that for, even if it was FREE.

 

Then, let’s assume that you get in the store and manage to get what you want without causing physical harm to yourself or anyone else.  Then what?  Then, my friend, you get to wait in line to check out.  At this point, you better hope you brought a battle buddy with you because you WILL need to use the restroom at some point before you are done.  With all that coffee you had to drink before heading out, I guarantee it, and if you think these people are going to save your place in line then I have some ocean front property in Arizona to sell you.

And this is the line you will be waiting in:

 

I just don’t think there is an amount of money that would make entering Wal-mart on Black Friday worth it to me.  Some of the smaller stores, sure.  If we were planning to buy a flat screen TV anyway and we could get one for $199 instead of $800, then ok, I can see leaving the kids with friends or family and giving it a shot.  In the end though, if I don’t get it – so what? Nothing except saving the lives of my husband or daughter are worth losing life or limb over.

For the record, I stayed home and shopped online in my jammies! I ordered a few small gifts and bought an outdoor trampoline online for not a whole lot more than Walmart’s “in store” price.  I even paid $9 extra to have it shipped to me so I didn’t have to go to the store and pick up the 2 heavy boxes!  It’s not even a Christmas gift, but just a family gift we’ve been planning to purchase for when Daddy gets home – something for us to all enjoy together, and I was able to get it on sale!  The rest of my in-store shopping will take place next week while most people are back at work and the crowds are smaller – I hope.

Let’s don’t forget, as we are out shopping, what this season is truly about.  It’s not a time of year to collect more belongings.  It’s not a race to see who can get more toys.  It’s a time for celebrating the birth of our Savior & King by showing love to others and bringing peace to a world that so desperately needs it.

As you watch those videos, is that how you would want people to celebrate your birthday?

“For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.” 1 Tim 6:10-11

Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against wanting to have more and more things. Life is not made up of how much a person has.” Luke 12:15

“Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” Eph 4:32

“Don’t do anything only to get ahead. Don’t do it because you are proud. Instead, be free of pride. Think of others as better than yourselves.” Phil 2:3

Give me a break!

Why is it so much easier to give others a break, to cut them some slack, to extend grace to them – but it’s so hard to do it for yourself?

I have been fighting a chest cold for the past week and it is wearing me out.  I absolutely despise coughing! It hurts, it’s annoying, and it always seems to be at its worst when I’m trying to sleep or talk on the phone.  My energy is a fraction of what it usually is because my body is so busy fighting off the bad guy germs while running on missed sleep, so I haven’t been able to do many of the things that I had in mind to make this Thanksgiving special.

Without Hubby home this year, I wanted to work extra hard to make this a special holiday for myself and Bug.  I had plans for Thanksgiving homeschool lessons, fun turkey crafts, days of baking, lots of yummy food and sharing the holiday with friends.

Unfortunately, I haven’t felt well enough for any of that.  We are behind on the school lessons we were working on, we haven’t done the crafts I had planned, I haven’t made a single pie, and we ended up making the decision to stay home on Thanksgiving instead of going to join friends.

Why do I feel so bad about that?  Why do I feel like I’ve somehow failed as a mommy or a homeschool teacher because I didn’t get it all in?

Maybe I just feel bad because I’m sick and that always makes me emotional. I’m know I’m also really missing Hubby as this is our first Thanksgiving apart, and the closer we get to him coming home the more I seem to miss him!!

I’m trying to remind myself that I don’t have to be SuperMom! Lovebug and I are actually really looking forward to the Thanksgiving Day we have planned, so I just need to let that be “enough”.  She doesn’t care that we aren’t having turkey, cranberry sauce, & stuffing.  In fact, SHE picked the menu for tomorrow, so I know she’ll love it!  Besides, we’ll have those foods again at Christmas!

So what if we didn’t get in a particular homeschool lesson about Thanksgiving? We’ve put a lot of effort into a Thanksgiving Journal over the last few weeks, and we have a stack of Thanksgiving books to read while cuddled on the sofa.

I’m torn. As I see all of my friends posting about preparing the Thanksgiving meal, preparing the turkeys and all the fixins – part of me is sad that I don’t have my husband here so we could be enjoying all of that cooking and craziness together.  The other side of me is feeling very relieved that this year, I just get to sit back and take it easy.

I always tell Lovebug, “Your best is always good enough for me”.  This year, my best needs to be enough for me too.

“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” 2 Cor 12:9