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Tuesday, December 28, 2010

A Homemade Christmas

Christmas is my very favorite time of year! I love everything about it, except maybe the colder weather. Although I must admit, I visited Mexico a couple weeks before Christmas one year, and it didn't feel like Christmas until I came home to the colder weather outside. So maybe I do love it too.

The reason Christmas is so special to me is because of the giving. I have heard it called "Giftmas" by some, but I feel that no matter how many gifts there are, if there is an abundance, or a lack of them, it's still not about the presents at all. I love the holiday because of the love behind the giving. If you've ever read the book "The Five Love Languages" by Dr. Gary Chapman you'll find that I fit perfectly into the category of "Receiving Gifts." I think sometimes this love language can be mistaken for being materialistic. That is far from the truth! I believe the whole point of the gift is the love, thoughtfulness and effort behind it. If you speak this language, the perfect gift or gesture shows that you are cared for, and you are prized above whatever was sacrificed to bring the gift to you. Christmas just feels to me like everyone is speaking my language. The season is full of love for me, and I especially treasure the moments when I get to give Christmas away.

This year our finances were a little bit tight as we wanted to make it to the end of this year with money to spare. That was not going to stop me from giving, or take away from the acts of love I wanted to bestow on my family and friends. I have never had so much fun getting ready for Christmas, as I did this year. I spent many days and hours laboring with love on my gifts. I always want everyone to know just how special and important they are to me. This is my day to LOVE!

I thought I would share with you all the different projects and homemade things we put together this year. It was a joy to do! To start off, I wanted to show you some of our homemade decorations. We made the paper chain and snowflakes a few years back, and this year we added to it the peppermint candies. I also made a huge star of Christmas to hang in the center of the room. We save it all in a large trash bag in the basement, and I'm sure we will always be adding new things to it each year.

cheap paper Christmas decorations
paper plate peppermint candy decorations I love to make new ornaments for the tree. It makes it extra special when you can walk around your tree naming where each ornament came from. Each one has a different meaning, and they have come from all over the place. Some of my favorites are the ones the children bring home from school each year. It's always so much fun to put the tree together and reminisce about where they came from and what they mean to us. There are many ornaments that have been made in love, and I treasure them.

This year, we made lots of ornaments to give away as gifts. Sometimes it can get rather expensive to purchase a gift for everyone that you love: teachers, friends, family, etc... so an ornament is a fun gift to make! This year we really got into using popsicle sticks! They make some really cute projects.

Popsicle stick snowflake ornament
Popsicle stick snowman reindeer Santa ornament
Popsicle stick penguin ornamentDuring the holiday season, I joined together with some of my closest lady friends for a special Christmas party. One of the activities we all did together was candles. It was a first for all of us, and we were pretty pleased with out how they turned out. My favorite part was the painting of the jars, adding that special touch to make it extra personal.

I made this candle for a really good friend of mine who is a "fancy girl." I added some flowers on our hats and some high heels for our feet. On the opposite side of the candle, it says "Snow Buddies"
baby food jar candlesMy favorite candle I made for myself, is this blue one with a snowman family!

snowman baby food jar candles
Each year it seems like I find a project that seems to take over me. Duct Tape purses was my obsession this year. They are SO much fun to make, and are very inexpensive. As it got closer to Christmas I was hoping I would meet some new friends just so I could make more purses. If you didn't know, you can pretty much buy Duct Tape in every single color. You can even find rolls in leopard print, flames, and tie-dye.

duct tape purse For Ariel's school Christmas party, she was asked to bring a $3-5 gift for a girl. I thought it was the perfect opportunity to make a purse! This one is a bit more fancy then most of the ones I made. It has a cardboard bottom, gathered sides, and a pocket inside.

I made a couple purses to use as gift bags for my girl friends. It was fun to find small items to put inside them, things like hot chocolate, gum, or different kinds of candies.

duct tape purse with rose

This was another special ornament I made for a friend. It was a little more time consuming, so I didn't get to make too many of them. The pinecone was too difficult to paint.

pine cone skiing snowman ornament
Each year I find a special ornament for my children. It usually has something to do with their interest for the year, or their personality, or just something special I know they will like. I don't like to spend a lot of money on them, so I search many stores before I find the right ornament for the right price. For Ariel, I found a really cute brightly colored knitted owl. I found Gabe a music note that he always draws when he writes his songs, and I spray painted it red, his favorite color. Zechariah was a little bit more difficult to find the perfect thing for. I searched and searched and nothing stood out to me. I love it to have meaning, hence my earlier talk about love languages. I finally found a really cute ornament for him at the Christmas Decor store in our mall that was a small laptop with a Santa hat sitting on top. He loved it, and I loved it... until I caught a glimpse of the price, $9.95!!! That may not sound pricey to you, but I got Ariel and Gabe's for $2 and $1. I really try to watch my money, so I was very disappointed as we left the store with no ornament still. Then I had a wonderful idea-- paper mache! I could make it for him, and even personalize it a little bit more. I ended up making Zech his very own miniature laptop ornament, complete with Mario and Luigi on the screen! I think it turned out really cute, and Zech loved it. He actually sat and tried to play it for awhile when he unwrapped it on Christmas morning.

Mario Luigi DS Christmas ornament paper mache
For Jesus, we always make Him a special birthday cake. The kids love to sing Him "Happy Birthday," and we all take turns blowing out one candle for Him. This year I made Jesus an apple dessert pizza. It was soo yummy, and the kids each took turns as they blew out their candle telling us what present they would give Jesus this year. Both Ariel and Gabe know how much they need to work on getting along with their brother/sister, so they each promised to try to not fight. A wonderful present for mom too!

Gabriel worked really hard at school making us this BEAUTIFUL macaroni wreath to hang on the wall. I loved it, and told him I was certain we would be hanging it up every single year!

spray painted gold macaroni wreath
Ariel weaved these colorful coasters for Titus and me. They each had a note attached saying, "Number 1 Mom" and "Number 1 Dad". She really wanted to paint on a couple of coffee mugs the same thing too, but I stopped her before she had the chance to finish that. I told her the paint probably wouldn't hold up in the microwave or when they were washed. My coaster is the larger yellow and green one. (My favorite Colors)

These next two pictures are probably my largest time consuming presents. I worked for SEVERAL weeks on the boy's gifts. I wasn't sure how much money we were going to have for presents this year, and I wanted them to be able to open a very special gift so they know just how special they are to me. I made them both paper mache superheros' to hang up in their bedroom. Gabriel has a red half of the room with black spiders crawling on the walls for Spider-Man. And Zech has a big Batman emblem on his side of the room. They were SO excited when they opened these presents. It was difficult to do it as slow as I wanted them to. I didn't need any arms, legs or fingers breaking off before they got to hang them up.

spider-man paper mache pinata
batman paper mache pinta
I went to a few stores looking for a Batman costume, and couldn't find a nice one, in the right size, in my prize range. So I decided when I made the paper mache Batman's cape, I would just sew an extra for Zech to play with. He loved it! As soon as he opened it he went flying around the room. What's really neat, later on Christmas, he opened a present from my mom and dad that was some footed pajamas. It looked just like what Batman wears. So with the cape and the pajamas Zechariah got his Batman costume after all!

Now since I put so much work into gifts for my boys, I knew I had to come up with something extra special for Ariel too. Ariel has had this Little Mermaid blanket all of her life. It was a gift at my baby shower for her, so it's just always been there with her. It was a homemade blanket that Mikaela's "Grammy" (Great Grandma) made for Ariel. Through the years I've tried to talk her into getting a new blanket, or maybe tossing the Mermaid blanket because it was starting to look pretty scary. The back of the blanket was a white fabric, and it was tearing off the back and turning very yellowed and stained. Nothing I said would convince Ariel of getting rid of it, she loved it so much. She's been using it for 9 1/2 years after all! So... a week before Christmas I convinced her it needed a wash, and I secretly brought it to my mother's house where I sewed a new back onto it. The blanket looks beautiful again, and it still holds that special feeling for Ariel! It was a rather funny thing, me taking the blanket from her. When I told her to throw it in the wash, she gave me an evil look and said, "Nooo! You're not throwing it away!" I promised her I would do no such thing, and took very good care of it. She only asked me one time during the week if it was done washing, and I made the excuse that it's a very busy time and I would try to do my best to get it back to her!

baby's first Christmas 1982If you couldn't tell, this is my baby ornament. I happened to be sitting on the couch at my parents house right where it was showing on the tree. I couldn't resist taking a picture of it!

This year at our BIG family Christmas, we revived an old family tradition. When I was younger we used to do "Secret Pals." I think it was started a year that my family didn't have a lot of money, and it just became a favorite that we kept up. I remember one year when I was about 8 or 9 years old, I got my dad's name. I spent hours working on a special doll house for him. I was very interested in "The Little's" books, and wanted to make him a Little's House. It's funny now as an adult to think back on how upset I was that my father didn't ever play with the house I made him. He just let it sit on his dresser. ☺

A couple weeks before Christmas we all drew names for our "Secret Santa's". If we had done it further from Christmas I don't think the kids would have been able to keep it a secret. We still bought all our normal gifts for each other, but this present was different. We had to actually make the gift. It was okay if you needed to buy the supplies to make it, but you couldn't just purchase them a gift. It must be homemade. It was such a neat experience. I LOVED seeing all the things my family made. We are all a very talented, creative group of individuals.

This is done in a random order; I think how we opened them.

I was Gabriel's "Secret Santa." I made him a notebook like he loves to make. The first part was a story that was 50 pages long!! I only wrote a couple sentences on each page, and had full color illustrations. After the story I added some other things he likes to make notebooks of... like tally marks, counting, math problems... and Maze World

Since the story was 50 pages long, these are just a few random pages out of the story. The title was, "The Alien Baby". It was about Amanda and Gabriel who find an alien baby in the bushes and they are transported through a black hole to another world, where Spider-Man comes to the rescue and saves them.

I really enjoyed making it for Gabriel!

Zechariah was Mikaela's "Secret Santa". I helped him make his gift. When I asked him what he wanted to make her, he said, "a toy snowman". So this is what we came up with. What's really impressive, I drew the outline for the snowman and Zech filled in the picture. He is very good for a three year old!!! It was so cute when it came time to give the gifts. He went over to Mikaela sitting on the floor, cupped her cheeks with his hands, and said very excitedly, "Kaela, I paint you snowman!" I don't think you can tell from the photo, but the jar is actually a homemade candle too!
snowman painted on jar candle

paper mache coffee mug pencil holder
Gabriel was Titus' "Secret Santa" and made a paper mache coffee mug, with my help. He painted it red and on one side wrote "Dad. I love you" and the other side said "mug". It was a dad mug.

Titus was Zechariah's "Secret Santa". He worked really hard and made this AWESOME rubber band gun. I think it probably was Zechariah's very favorite Christmas gift. It's made out of a block of wood and a clothes pin. When you open the clothes pin, it shoots a rubber band. You have to be very careful playing with it though. Titus was telling me how well it aims and he held up his hand for me to shoot. It was a little off and gave Titus a good sized welt on his forehead. Whoops!

rubber band gun with clothespin

My mom was Ariel's "Secret Santa". She made Ariel some sugar cookies in the shape of an A and J, and then a whole container full of peanut butter balls, Ariel's favorite cookies. They are almost all gone already!

Stefanie was my mom's "Secret Santa". She made these very beautiful construction paper flowers. They are very delicate, but so pretty!

paper flowers in glass bottle wrapped in twine

My dad was Shaun's "Secret Santa". He made Shaun a very special picture for his wall. It was very sweet and brought tears to all the women's eyes.

It reads:

Shaun loves God and serves in the Children's department at church
e is a very intelligent and moral person
Amazing are the productions Shaun makes at church
Uncle Shaun loves playing with his niece and nephews
Never lets anyone down

King James Version Proverbs 22:6
Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.

Shaun was Stefanie's "Secret Santa". He used his great editing skills and made her a very touching family video. It had Dave Barnes song "God Gave Me You" as he had pictures of Stefanie flashing on the screen. It also made you cry! It was very sweet. If you're friends with any of my family on Facebook, we are all tagged in the video.

Ariel was my dad's "Secret Santa". She worked really hard on a couple different art projects. She made him a poster with some Christmas bells on it drawn with chalk. She also painted and glued together a snowflake ornament. Both were very pretty!

Mikaela was my "Secret Santa." She made me this gorgeous bracelet I'm showing off in the picture below.

The secret Santa's were a bit hit, and I'm sure we're going to do the tradition again next year. This was the first time we've done it since I've been married. It was very meaningful, and special. I always treasure the homemade gifts the most, because you can see the love and sacrifice that goes into the making of it.

I've saved for the very end, a gift I've spent the past year working on for my father. I call it "Seasonal Inspirations". Titus wrote a program to run it as a screensaver. For the past 4 seasons, I have driven around in ALL kinds of weather to take photos of nature. I have over 150 pictures of each season and at least 25 pictures with scripture verses on them. My dad loves pretty pictures and pretty things. Whenever you're out in the fall, or spring or summer, you'll hear my dad commenting on how beautiful the trees look, or the flowers are. I wanted to preserve that for him. Sometime I might do a blog post of several of the photos I took, but here is just a sample of one from each season.

psalm 145:9 the lord is good to all
James 1:17 every good and perfect gift is from above
Ephesians 2:13 you who were once far away have been brought near
Psalm 46:10 be still, and know that I am God
I pray that you had a wonderful Christmas too, and were able to feel loved by someone who is special to you! Merry Christmas!!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Johnson Cottage

One of my children's favorite things about Christmas is our special Christmas weekend we spend together. In the past years, we've taken the kids out of school on Friday, and then spent the next day or two packed with Christmas activities. This year was a little different, and not as busy as the years past. Unfortunately, I was sick the weekend we chose to do it, so that changed the whole thing. It was still very special, but a little less busy, and more relaxing. Not really a bad thing, if you ask me.

We started our trip to the cottage by doing the traditional thing, opening a gift. The kids each got a new Christmas movie. Ariel received the new Veggie Tales movie, "It's a Meaningful Life." Gabriel got an older Veggie Tales Christmas movie, "The Toy that Saved Christmas." And Zechariah opened a new Hermie Christmas movie, "Fruitcake Christmas." Throughout the next two days we took turns watching their movies. By the end, we knew that Christmas was not about the gifts, and it was not about having fruitcake to eat, and it was not about being famous. Christmas is all about JESUS!

Over the past couple weeks, I had been reading aloud to everyone Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol." We finished the last chapters of the book together and watched the George C. Scott version of the movie. It is my favorite one because it follows the book so accurately. If you haven't seen it yet, I would highly recommend it!

After a full night of sleep, uncomfortably on the couches smushed together, we awoke to some very delicious breakfast apple pizza. It's a favorite of mine that my mom made for Christmas breakfast when I was younger.

Titus spent the next couple of hours proving what a wonderful father and husband he is. I required some sleep, so Titus baked cookies with all three of the children. It was quite a nice treat to lay on the couch and hear my husband working patiently with the kids in the other room. They made some delicious jello cookies together, and even rolled them into different shapes. I loved that they didn't even try to make them Christmas cookies, just whatever cookie cutter they liked best. Gabe used the alphabet cutters to spell the word "MATH".

jello Christmas cookiesI awoke to these two cookies waiting for me. I loved that Titus made them especially with me in mind.

You can see the various shapes that the kids chose to do!

After the cookie mess was all cleaned up, we got to work on some very fun Christmas crafts. Each of the kids made a snowflake ornament to give away.

Popsicle stick snowflake Christmas ornament Titus and I worked on some ornaments I was making for my friends Christmas gift bags. I love how each of them turned out. I think the reindeer is my favorite since Titus made it.

Ariel is very talented and wanted to make a penguin ornament. I copied someone else's idea to make my ornaments, but Ariel made her penguin using her own ideas. It turned out so cute, I think!

The next crafty activity on our list was gingerbread houses. Ariel says that this is always her favorite part of the cottage. Zechariah got to make a house for the very first time. He was a lot of fun to work with, except for the fact he tried to keep eating the candy as it was going on the house.

Zechariah's house... with my help!

gingerbread house with graham crackers icing
Ariel made her house entirely by herself. She was very proud of her results!

gingerbread house graham cracker icing candy
Titus helped Gabe build his house, but Gabriel was the sole decorator.

gingerbread house graham cracker icing candyAll the houses turned out great! We love to be creative and use as many different kinds of candy as we can!

We all shared Gabe's favorite dinner of chicken noodle soup while we watched "The Nativity Story" together. I love to watch this movie. It's so good! After the movie was over, we decided we needed to read the story for ourselves. We added a little bit of a twist, by acting it out at the same time. Ariel read for us Luke chapter 2, while each of us took turns acting. Sadly, Gabe fell asleep at the end of the movie, and was too tired to be awakened for our play.

The first time we read the story, I played Mary and Zechariah was baby Jesus. Notice Valentine is sitting there pretending to be a stable animal too!

I love this! Ariel jumped into the part of an angel while Titus grabbed a mop to be a shepherd.

We had to go through the story one more time so Ariel could play the part of Mary. She seemed to really enjoy riding on her donkey to get to Bethlehem.

They are worshipping the baby "pillow" Jesus. Zech was done acting!

It was a perfect end to our time at the Johnson cottage. We always enjoyed spending time in each other company and this is always a highlight of our year.


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