November 29, 2015

Random Acts of Kindness Advent Calendar (With Free Printable Advent Cards)

Every year since my kiddos were toddlers, we have done what we dubbed "The 12 Days of Christmas Kindness".  We did 12 days of service projects together as a family to help get us in the spirit of Christmas and to help combat the inevitable "gimmes" that the kids get around the holiday. When they were really little, they loved doing this.  It was really fun for them.  We got into a routine and usually ended up doing roughly the same 12 activities every year for many years.  Like tradition.  For some reason, though, that tradition did not grow well with the children as they got older.  They are no longer anywhere near toddler age (they are now ranging in age from 7-12) and the last couple of years, our Twelve Days of Christmas Kindness was DREADED by all.

Last year every single activity we did ended in tears by at least one kid and/or me. It made me angry that my kids couldn't muster up a few hours in the month of December to be good givers of their time.  I took it personally and really got down that they were creating a mutiny over doing service projects, FOR THE LOVE. By the time Christmas rolled around we all had bad attitudes.  Something had to change.

A few weeks ago I brought up Christmas Kindness at the dinner table and Scarlett (who is coming up on her third Christmas with our family) said, "What is Christmas Kindness? I don't know what you are talking about!"  Yep- it had become such an unmeaningful thing to us that she didn't even know it was happening.

I thought that maybe it was time to hang up the tradition.  But honestly, I still see the value in it, so I didn't want to can it completely.  I decided that this year we are just going to shake it up a bit.  We have never done an advent calendar in our house.  I like the idea of the anticipation and ritual of an advent calendar.  And I like the idea of daily random acts of kindness.  So I decided that the right thing for our family this year was to marry the two- A RANDOM ACTS OF KINDNESS ADVENT CALENDAR.

Most of the activities this year focus on things we can do for others by being intentional with our words and our attitudes.  In a house full of mostly tweens, dear 8 pound 6 ounce infant baby Jesus take the wheel with the attitudes (and the eye rolling and the sighing) I may very well need this reminder as much or more than my children, though.  My hope is that this year that these activities will help us get our attitudes in line and that it will bring a general feeling of peace in our hearts leading up to Christmas.

Here's the thing.  I have fabulous, thoughtful kids. They are amazing.  But they are humans and all of us humans sometimes need to be reminded to be kinder, gentler humans.  Christmas Kindness started as a way to take back Christmas- and we still need that.  And the world still needs more goodness put into it... so here we go.

My kids are actually pumped to be doing the Random Acts of Kindness Calendar this year.  They are looking forward to picking a card everyday.  The cards are all in envelopes so the activities feel a little like a gift to unwrap.  There is excitement and anticipation around the whole thing again which already feels like a victory.

Just in case anyone wants to do your own version of our Random Acts of Kindness Advent Calendar, I've made the daily activities available as a free printable for you.  They print perfectly on Avery standard business cards or you can just print on regular paper and cut apart. (unclick "fit to page" before printing if you print on business cards)

For our advent calendar, I used an old wooden Coke crate that I had. It has exactly 24 spaces in it. (This is how I know Jesus loves me- how awesome is it when things work out like that!)

I printed out our 24 random acts of kindness and put them in small gift card envelopes that I found at Michael's for about $9 for 24.  I put an envelope in each hole and put number stickers counting down the days of advent on each one.  If you don't have any suitable kind of box to put the envelopes in, you could just tape them to the fridge or hang them from a ribbon on the mantle with clothespins or any other number of creative ways you could display them.  You could wrap an old kleenex box with wrapping paper and put all the cards inside and randomly pull one out each day.  It does not need to be fancy or complicated.

Each card has an activity and a Bible verse to look up and read.  When you are organizing what activity you should do on certain days, keep in mind that some may be easier to do on the weekends, some would be better for school days, etc.  A few of the activities will require some materials- like sidewalk chalk and quarters or birdseed.  There are also some blank cards to make up your own activities.

I'm so excited about our new way of doing Christmas Kindness.  I'm trying not to have expectations that are too high over it- because as we all know, expectation is the thief of all things good.  It may be awesome.  It may get old after a few days.  But either way, it's something we can do together as a family for the Christmas season... and that's what it's all about.  

From my people to yours- happy kindness spreading this Christmas season!

Us on Thanksgiving 2015

November 22, 2015

Love In A Teacup

Today felt a lot like Christmas. 

Our Scarlett Marie came to America when she was 5 from an orphanage in the Democratic Republic of Congo.  She didn't make her way into our family until she was almost 7.  The losses that she has experienced in her short life would bring most people to their knees- but she's still standing.

For many years, our girl felt unloveable, unwanted and alone.  There is a saying: The kid who needs the most love will often ask for it in the most unloving ways.  So many times, as her mother, I'm ashamed to say that I've been overwhelmed with the ways that her feelings have worked themselves out in the life of our family.  It's a hard thing helping a child rewire their thinking to learn that they ARE worthy, that they have value and that no matter what, you will keep being there for them.  Teaching love is hard.  Most of the time it looks pretty ugly.  It looks a lot like work and feels a lot like a battle.  It is a battle we are honored to fight, though, because sometimes the battle is won.

Memories of her life before us are a double edged sword.  There are low lows and there are high highs. I consider being trusted with those precious and private memories a great privilege. We don't share them publicly, because they are hers.  But she gave me permission to share this one wonderful memory...

Every year our family packs shoe boxes for Operation Christmas Child.  Last year, while we were packing our shoe boxes,  Scarlett said, "I remember this one great day when I was in the orphanage and someone brought us boxes of toys!"  We aren't sure if she was a shoebox recipient or if someone just randomly brought toys.  It was such a happy memory for her and she just grinned and grinned stuffing her shoebox remembering that day when the toys came.  The tradition of the shoe boxes felt like it took on a whole new meaning for our family.

A few months ago, I began collecting things for an orphanage for a trip I was taking.  In the process of collecting things, Scarlett had another memory.  "Mom!  One day these people came to the orphanage and they brought us a tea set!  A real tea set made of glass! It was so beautiful! And I got my very own cup that was only for me.  And I was so happy!  I loved that cup so much!!! It broke, though, and I cried and cried."  But more than the crying over the broken cup, she looked back on that memory and remembered that at one time she had something lovely and beautiful and that someone had cared enough to give it to her.  Moments like these make me ever so grateful for the kindness of strangers.  The impact of a small kindness to a child is monumental.  I whispered prayers of thanksgiving that someone somewhere brought a tea set to that orphanage in the middle of the Congo, and that my girl felt like someone cared about her and showed her that she was worthy of that beautiful, delicate tea cup.

Today was the day that we set aside to shop for and pack our shoe boxes for this year.  When I told Scarlett that today was "shoebox day" she just beamed over her morning Cheerios.  In a small unsure voice she said, "Mom?  Remember when I told you about that teacup that someone gave me?  Could I put a teacup in my shoebox this year for some other little girl?"

We picked out the shiniest little teacups ever made because the little girl who gets those teacups needs to feel like the treasured princess that she is.  We made sure that we got some that are strong and won't break because the lovey who gets them does not need any tears surrounding her teacups.  Never in the history of the world have two little teacups been more thought over and prayed over.  They went in a shoebox, ready to be sent out into the world with our prayers and our happy teacup memories. 

This is how I know that LOVE WINS.  Through the battle.  Through the ups and downs.  Through the months and months that are hard.  Because if you keep loving, at some moment the light breaks forth and love multiplies and comes back... sometimes in the form of a teacup.  My cup runneth over.

November 16, 2015

Happy 12th Birthday, Sadie!

Dear Sadie,

Happy birthday, love!  Today you are 12.  It's the last year before the teen years- and yes, I've already had all the tears about it.

So here's the deal.  This was the year of Sadie.  For real, you conquered life like a boss this year.  I'm just ridiculously proud of how you spread your wings and yet managed to stay true to yourself.  You overcame a lot of fears this year and tried a lot of new things.  You are a creature of habit so this trying new stuff thing kind of took me by surprise.

The two biggest things to happen to you this year were you deciding to be baptized and you deciding to open a business.

Your baptism was one of the greatest days of my life.  You asked your Granny Sadie to baptize you and it was such a special day for our whole family.  You read your testimony with tears in your eyes and made me so very proud.

And then you decided that you wanted to open your own business.  For months you studied recipes and practiced them and learned about food science.  Then one day you came downstairs and showed daddy and me this extensive business plan that you had written about wanting to open your own bakery.  It had stuff in it like profit margins and operations costs and we were like, "WOAH".  When you want something you go at it all the way.  So you started baking and our friends and family and your teachers started buying stuff and now your mixer never stops whirring and you've got a full fledged little operation going.  Plus, your stuff is so YUMMY!  You've got a gift!

You started middle school this year.  It's like you are growing up right before my very eyes.  It was super evident the night you went to your first school dance.  You were just stunning!

I worried when you started middle school that you would turn into an angsty brat.  I'm not sure why I thought this- people warned me about these middle school years.  But darling- you are just becoming more and more fun with each passing day.  You come home from school and you still trust me with your big feelings.  You've surrounded yourself with friends who are good people.  You've got a good head on your shoulders and you are soldiering through this middle school gig like it ain't no thing.  The other thing that happened this year is that you NEVER STOP TALKING.  Ever.  For some reason this was the year you got all the words.  I kind of love it.

Keep being brave and kind and slooooooow it down with the growning up!

I love you!

Sadie's Birthday Interview

**** The tradition in our home is for me to "interview" the kids each year on their birthday.  You can see Sadie's other interviews by clicking on 20142013,  2012, 2011, 2010, 2009.)  I love watching how their answers change over the years but how the fundamental aspects of their personalities stay the same. ****

Me: If a genie would grant you only one wish, what would it be?
Sadie: That I could have my own bakery- an actual shop.

Me: What do you want to be when you grow up?
Sadie:  A baker.

Me: Do you want to get married when you grow up?
Sadie: um hmm.
Me: Do you want to have children?
Sadie:  yeah
Me:  How many?
Sadie:  Three.

Me: Do you feel different now that you are twelve?
Sadie: Not really.

Me: What is your favorite color and why?
Sadie:  I like the color orange because it's really pretty and yeah, it's just pretty.

Me: Who is your best friend and why do you like them?
Sadie:  Lucy and Kaylee are my best friends because they are a lot like me and they are always there to help me when I'm having problems. It's just fun to have them keep me company.

Me: What is your favorite TV show?
Sadie:  Once Upon A Time

Me: What do you like most about school?
Sadie: School is not really my favorite right now.
Me:  Why is that.
Sadie:  I don't know. It's getting hard and boring and there's a lot of homework and there's no recess, which stinks. And you can't sit next to your friends.

Me: What is your favorite thing about yourself?
Sadie:  That even though sometimes things don't work out the way I want them to I keep trying to make them work the way I want them to.  Even if I know they won't work out.  I don't give up.

Me: What do you think is the most exciting thing that's happened to you this year?
Sadie:  Probably going to Hawaii.  And then starting the bakery.
Me:  That's a big deal- starting your own business.
Sadie:  Yeah, it's fun to do that kind of stuff.

Me: What is your favorite song?
Sadie: I like a lot of songs.  I like Adele and Taylor Swift (as always).

Me: What is your very favorite thing to do?
Sadie:  Bake and play with my friends.  Or even better, bake with my friends.

Me: What is your favorite thing about Noah?
Sadie:  He enjoys playing with me and I like to play with him.  We have so many things in common.

Me? What is your favorite thing about Miles?
Sadie:  He's very energetic.  He doesn't like to stop playing so it means I always have someone to do something with when I'm bored.

Me:  What's you favorite thing about Scarlett?
Sadie:  Ummm,  having a sister is hard sometimes.

Me:  Tell me what your perfect day would look like.
Sadie:  I would be playing with the neighbors and spending time with Noah and we would go out and go to the mall and we would go and take a bike ride in the park. And there would be NO SCHOOL!

Me:  Tell me what you think your life will look like in 10 years.
Sadie:  I will probably be looking for a house and trying to look for a job.  But not a job that I don't like cause that's no fun.

Me:  What do you want your mark on the world to be?
Sadie: I want people to remember that I was always fun to be around and that they could come to me for advice.

Me:  What do you think was the most difficult part of the last year.
Sadie:  Probably school and then dealing with my siblings.  Cause some of them don't always agree with what the others are thinking and they make us fight.

Me:  What is one of your favorite memories from the last year.
Sadie:  When I smashed whipped cream in Uncle Bradley's face last night.  I think I'll remember that for a long time. and earning money from my bakery.

Me:  What do you think about boys?
Sadie:  All the boys at my school are so gross.  I don't like the boys at my school.
Me:  What about boys at other schools.
*** child lights up like a Christmas tree***

Food: Probably steak or Louisiana Chicken Pasta from Cheesecake Factory
Book: The Hunger Games series and a book called Stealing Freedom about the underground railroad
Movie: Elf
Activity to do on one on one time with a parent:  shopping with mom or playing softball with daddy
Activity to do with friends: just talking- we have so much to say to each other everyday
Sport: softball


 Happy 12th Birthday, Sadie!

November 10, 2015

Happy 9th Birthday, Scarlett!

Hey Scarlett!

Happy Birthday, little lady!  Gracious, what a year!  Lots of ups and downs this year.  Mostly this year, I think you need this reminder:

You are loved.  You will always be loved.  Even on no good, terrible, horrible, very bad days you are STILL LOVED.  Nothing is going to change that.  I know that people have told you this in the past and they didn't follow through with that promise.  I'm going to keep proving it to you.  You can test me on this (and OH HOW YOU LOVE TO, LOL!) and I'm not changing my mind, mmmkay?!  I'm gonna love you like a sappy John Legend song and there's not one thing you can do about it.  Are we square on that?

You've had a big year.  You finished second grade and started third grade.  You started participating in an after school program and it has been so good for you.  You've made lots of friends there.  You function really well when you are surrounded by structure- so having the same routine every day has been a blessing in your life.

You grew tremendously this year.  I think the total for the year was 5 inches and 25 pounds.  It's like you just exploded toward the sky.  You went from a scrawny little twig to a half grown woman.  You are pumped about it because you've decided that you'd like to be a basketball star.  We signed you up for basketball and you are counting down the days until it starts.  We are keeping our fingers crossed that it's all you hope it will be.

One of your favorite things you did this year was go to church camp with your friend, Claire.  You all were gone for an entire week.  There was swimming and games and Bible study and lots and lots of playing.  You can't wait to go back.  I loved camp so much when I was a kid and I'm so excited that you love it so much, too.

You are the sleep champion of the world.  We tease you all the time about how you can fall asleep anywhere.  The world could be falling apart around you and when you get tired, you just kind of fold over like a lawn chair.  Daddy has been keeping a running tab about all the crazy places you fall asleep.  It's a huge source of entertainment for us :-)

You've decided that you'd like to be famous.  One day you told me, "Mom, you know how I always need so much attention?  I think I should probably be a pop star so I can get all the attention I want."  You are an insightful little thing.  This year for Halloween, you decided to be Taylor Swift.  All your fantasies came true!  Plus, you just looked completely adorable. 

Scarlett, I have no doubt that big things are in store for your future.  I look at all you've been through in your short life and can't help but wonder how it's all being knit together to change the world.  You are precious and you try harder than anyone that I know. That spirit in you that doesn't quit will serve you well.  It is a gift and I can't wait to see how you use it.  I just feel like you have this amazing power in you and when you figure out how to harness it, you will be unstoppable.  You are fierce and fiery and a big ball of sass, but you are also sweet and a deep thinker.  Put it all together and you are ready to tackle whatever lies ahead of you.  Keep plugging away, my love.  I'm rooting for you!

I love you,


***Every year, I interview each of my kids on their birthday.  Usually, I ask the same questions every year so that I can watch how their answers change (or don't change) from year to year (2014) (2013).  Sometimes I toss in a few new ones so that I can make sure to catch their little quirks and thoughts!***

Mom:What do you want to be when you grow up?
Scarlett: A rock star.
Mom: Why do you want to be a rock star?
Mom:  Cause I like to dance and I like to sing and I like to dress up because rock stars dress up.  They put on, like, dresses and shirts and pants that are really pretty.  So that's why I like them.

Mom: Do you want to get married when you grow up?
Scarlett: Yes.
Mom:  What kind of person do you want to marry.
Scarlett:  A smart person and a happy person.

Mom: Do you want to have kids one day?
Scarlett:  Yes!
Mom:  How many
Scarlett:  Three. Two boys and one girl.

Mom: What is your favorite thing about yourself?
Scarlett: I'm brave.
Mom:  Tell me how you are brave.
Scarlett:  Well, I'm brave, like, I can go on roller coasters and I'm brave to stand up for myself.
Mom:  Tell me about a time when you've stood up for yourself.
Scarlett: Actually, I stood up for somebody else.  One time someone was being mean to somebody and I said, "Can you please stop being mean?"

Mom: What is your favorite thing to do at school?
Scarlett: Writing.
Mom:  What kinds of things do you like to write about?
Scarlett:  I like to write about my family.

Mom: What is your favorite joke?
Scarlett:  Knock knock.  Who's there.  I mean disrupting cow.

Mom: How do you like to spend your free time?
Scarlett:  I like to play school and play with Noah.

Mom: What is your favorite thing about mommy?
Scarlett: My favorite thing about mommy is mommy is happy and when she doesn't like somebody she still is nice to them but she will always like people no matter what.

Mom: What is your favorite thing about daddy?
Scarlett:  He is funny and he is relaxing.

Mom: Who are your best friends?
Scarlett:  Jaylen, Emma, Maddie and Rian.
Mom:  Who would you say is your best friend?
Scarlett:  Jaylen

Mom: What is your favorite holiday?
Scarlett:  Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Mom:  What do you like most about those holidays.
Scarlett:  Well Christmas is God's birthday and Thanksgiving is just time to spend with your family.
Mom:  Do you like spending time with your family?
Scarlett:  Yes, I most like to go to GranMary's because David is the tickle monster and I just like their house because it's really pretty.

Mom: What is your favorite thing about having brothers and sisters?
Scarlett: They are happy.
Mom:  What's your least favorite thing about having brothers and sisters?
Scarlett:  Sometimes I don't like how they treat me. But I still love them.

Mom: What do you think that high school will be like?
Scarlett:  I think I'm gonna like high school.  I think it's gonna be joyful and a happy place to be.

Mom: If you could go anywhere in the world, where would you go?
Scarlett:  I would go to Holiday World (amusement park)

Mom: If you could make up your perfect day and do anything you wanted, what would you do?
Scarlett: I would go to my friends' house.

Mom:  Do you feel older now that you are nine?
Scarlett: Yes.  Well, I feel taller and I feel a little bit smarter cause I'm nine and in third grade.
Mom:  What's your favorite age you've ever been.
Scarlett:  Hmmm, seven.  Cause I have lots of memories.  We went to vacation and I have lots of memories of our family together.

Mom:  Tell me one thing you hope happens this year while you are nine?
Scarlett:  I hope we get to go on another vacation with my whole family.

Current Favorites:
color: red
movie:  Curious George
TV show: Say Yes To The Dress
food: rice and beans
candy: Twix
book: The book you made me about my adoption
song: Wildest Dreams- Taylor Swift
ice cream: chocolate


Happy Birthday, Scarlett!

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