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Thursday, January 31, 2013

Cheesy Hash Browns

Comfort food! Everybody has some. This dish is mine. I got this recipe from a friend a long time ago. We like to have it at least once a month, sometimes twice. It's been a long week of sickness in my house, and I'm praying the worst is behind us. I needed some good comfort food tonight. This is one of those meals where every person is happy, which makes mom really happy. We usually can get 80 percent of us happy, 100 percent is rare. There is nothing like seeing contentment on the faces of those you love. It can ruin a meal you love to know that others are suffering through it. This meal brings happiness all around!

cheesy hash browns recipe
It may not look very pretty, but it tastes wonderful!

You can leave the hash browns out to thaw for a couple hours, or if you're like me and don't decided until minutes before starting dinner, you can do the quick thaw method. I heat the oven to 200°, put the potatoes in the oven on a tray and let them thaw while I prepare the rest of the casserole.

cheesy hash browns recipe
cheesy hash browns recipe

In a large bowl, you mix together:

16 oz. container sour cream
10 oz. package shredded cheddar cheese
10.5 oz. can cream of chicken soup
¼ to ½ cup chopped onion
½ package real bacon bits (optional)

cheesy hash browns recipe

After you have everything mixed together, you can add your thawed hash browns. Mix well, and place in 9x13 greased pan. After it's flattened in the pan, you add 6-8 oz. of cubed Velveeta cheese on top.

cheesy hash browns recipe

Your final layer of the casserole is corn flakes. You can crush them first, or if you're lazy like me, I shake them right out of the box. I make sure the casserole is covered completely with corn flakes. This is my favorite part so I do a pretty good sized layer. Melt 2 tablespoons butter and drizzle over the cornflakes.

cheesy hash browns recipe
Bake at 350° for 30-45 minutes. I think it depends on how thawed out your potatoes are. If you were in a hurry, you might need to cook the casserole a little longer so the middle comes out hot. The edges will always be nice and hot, but the middle is the trick. This meal is a huge winner with my children. Everyone in the family loves it!

Friday, January 25, 2013

Serving God Through My Prayers

Jesus showed that He cared about the problems of others by the words He spoke and the miracles He did. We can show that we care about others by praying for them.

This is a way we can serve our families, friends, and ultimately God.

This past weekend God put a great emphasis on prayer. On Saturday, starting at 10am until Sunday at 10am, our church had a Day of Prayer. It was fantastic!

Worship music was playing. A prayer box was built with several categories, Nation, Miracles, Worship, and more... People added things as they came, and prayed over the requests. Paper and crayons were provided for the kids. It wasn't structured. We came to pray and worship however the Lord led us.

My family took the hour from 7am on Sunday morning to 8am. It was a little bit of a chore to be up by 6am on a Sunday, but we made it to church and were rewarded for our effort.

There was no one else praying at that time, so we had the auditorium to ourselves. You could feel the peace and presence of God. I know that may sound a little hokey to some, but it was something you could almost feel physically upon entering the room. I've spent many hours in this place, and I don't think I've ever experienced anything like this before.

Since we were free to do our own thing, we all chose to sit around the prayer wall. I read aloud a lot of the prayer requests to my youngest who can't read, and then we all chose what we wanted to pray for. We took turns praying out loud.

Slowly we moved around the prayer walls, while some soft worship music played in the background. After the third wall when we had all taken our turns praying out loud for some requests, I started singing out loud to the worship music. My family joined in. It felt right. We sat there worshiping God together in a new way.

I looked at my phone to check the time, and realized we had only 10 minutes left before we needed to leave. (We planned to eat breakfast out, and had to get back to the church in less than an hour for Titus to have band practice and me to get ready for my Kidzone class.) We still had another side of the wall, and decided it was time to move on. Worship. That was the 4th side to the box. God had already transitioned us there.

For the last few minutes of our hour of prayer, we switched the CD to some songs the kids know from Kidzone. We all danced to the music and did our motions, while I sang loudly. I think the motions took everyone's concentration! It was a beautiful morning of communicating with God.

I don't believe it was a coincidence that in Kidzone that morning I was given the suggestion of making prayer books. This curriculum is literally planned out years in advance. I believe God orchestrated it. We all had the experience of God; we needed some practical application for the kids.

As I was putting together my example project for the kids, I started to feel a little convicted. I needed to use one of these books myself. It was such a practical idea; I decided to adopt it as my own.

I printed off a verse for the kids to use on either their front or back cover of the book. "Give all your worries and cares to God, for He cares about you." 1 Peter 5:7

On each of the pages I had the kids write down different people's names that they were close to. I told them to start with each family member, and then start adding on friends and other people in their lives. I suggested a page for Kidzone, a page for church, our pastor, or a page for school. The list could go on and on.

If they already knew what they were going to be praying about, now was the time to write it down. I encouraged them to take their book home, and ask each person in the book what they specifically wanted prayer for. I made the books small so they could easily fit into a pocket and be carried around.

I don't think this has ever happened since I've been teaching; every single prayer book was taken out of the classroom. Not a single book was left behind for me to find. The kids really grabbed a hold of this idea and were excited to ask people what needs they had. When they finished early in my class, I suggested they ask the other kids at their table for prayer requests. Some were quick to fly through this project, and for those, I suggested to use the book now. Pray. Don't wait for later to start, take a moment right now and say a prayer. God is always listening.

When I left my classroom that day I made a promise to God that I would start my own prayer book. So many times I forget what others have asked me to pray about, or I remember to pray one time and then it slips my mind. I didn't want that happening anymore.

make a prayer book

I put together my own prayer book. I wanted to have different sections to my book, to make it easier to find, and to have a little bit of order. I came up with 5 different headings. Amanda (Me), Family, Friends, Church, Nation. Under each heading, I can break it up even further. In the family section I have individual pages for each member. In the friend section I have the names of my friends on the top of each page. That leaves me with plenty of room to write, and I can always give them a new page when it's full.

make a prayer book
make a prayer book

I guessed at how many pages for each tab. You could count out the amount if you want to be precise. To make my tabs, I used about 3 or 4 inches of packing tape for each tab. I placed the piece of paper in the middle. When you go to lay your tape down on the paper, do it quickly. If you do it too slowly, the static force will pull the paper up where you don't want it. I had to redo a few before I figured this out.

The nice thing about having a lined notebook, it helps when you're applying your tabs. You can count lines to find out where the middle is and so forth.

make a prayer book
Once you're done, make sure to use it! I left the beginning of my notebook open for Bible verses, quotes and more about prayer. It's so nice to have everything in a neat little notebook. I wish I had it before the Day of Prayer; I could have added all the prayer requests to it and prayed more than once.

"This is the confidence we have in approaching God:
that if we ask anything according to His will,
He hears us - whatever we ask -
we know that we have what we asked of Him."

1 John 5:14-15

If you know me well, hold me accountable on this. I would really like to prioritize prayer more in my life. And I would really like to serve my family and friends by praying for their needs.

"Pray hard and long. Pray for your brothers and sisters. Keep your eyes open. Keep each other’s spirits up so that no one falls behind or drops out." Ephesians 6:18 (The Message)

Grab a cup of your favorite drink. Pick up your Bible. Find a quiet place. Put on some soft worship music. Spent time alone with God. Share your heart with Him. Listen when He speaks to you. Be ready for change. Stretch yourself.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Birthday Wisdom

Zechariah is having his first sleepover party. Zana is turning 5.

Over and over again he would ask,"Is it time for the party? Did you know Zana is my best friend?"

He was up early before 7am getting dressed so he could go to the party at 7pm in the evening.

Everyone in the family has been affected by his eagerness to go. After school I overheard his big brother passing on some wisdom he had gleaned from years of birthday parties.

Zech, let me tell what you do at a birthday party.

First when you get there, you say thank you for inviting me.

When they give you food, say thank you and eat it, even if you don't like it.

I don't think you're going to do this, but never ever ever throw your cake.

When you leave, make sure to say thank you again and Happy Birthday.

That's all. I think you're going to have fun.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

My Cup Overflows

Imagine being Santa to your kids on Christmas morning. You see their excited faces. You hear their squeals of glee. Magic is in the air. It seems as if nothing can top this wonderful feeling you're given. You've wrapped up your love in packages with pretty bows on top, and names scribbled in adoration. You without a doubt love your kids with everything you've got.

Santa & Mrs. Claus

Sometimes the anticipation can be greater than the payoff. You spend hours shopping for the right gift, dreaming of that look and smile it will receive. If you're anything like me, it's never quite as sensational as you dreamed it would be.

Once the gifts are opened, a nagging emptiness is left before you. You replay the morning's events and something was missing. Sure kids are happy and content, but there is an uneasy feeling. Almost as if the kids didn't fully appreciate the gift they were given.

Yes they said their "thanks you", and gave hugs, but did they really grasp what was given to them? Could they? Sometimes I get the feeling that my children let a little entitlement creep into their lives. In fact, I believe we all do at times.

Christmas is known for being a time of gifts. It's expected. But just because it's our expectation doesn't mean it's deserved or even necessary. Certain relationships seem to require you to bestow a gift upon another individual. You have closeness, so you therefore must give them something. At least that's what we're taught.

My kids wake up Christmas morning expecting to get lots of presents. We trained them to think like that. Sure, we give them out of love and not obligation, but sometimes it can leave you feeling a little empty. The idea that the gift was expected can take away from the gratitude for it.

I experienced a rather eye opening Christmas this year. I enjoyed my time with my family, and I loved to see the excitement in my children as they sometimes screamed out loud at their gifts. It brought pleasure for me to see this. This Christmas at home paled in comparison with what I experienced in Mexico. I didn't leave there with that nagging empty feeling. My cup was filled up to overflowing.

My children have lived a very privileged life. They wake up Christmas morning knowing there are gifts under the tree. They know their dreams are about to come true. Their list has been purchased and it will soon be in their possession. It wasn't until I watched a different set of kids open gifts that I truly understood what that nagging empty feeling was.

Entitlement. The right or belief that one is deserving of, or entitled to certain privileges. Getting what is due to them.

For the first time I experienced Christmas through the eyes of those who expected nothing at all. It was the most beautiful but also heart wrenching thing I have ever experienced in my life. There were times I could hardly see through the tears in my eyes.

Many of the children we brought gifts to opened a Christmas present for the first time in their life. They had no expectations when they came to us. They had nothing to compare it to.

Before the families showed up at the dinner, we as a team had a couple prayer meetings. The night before we each took turns praying for our families and calling out their names individually before God.

Once the chairs were set up, and everything was prepared, we had another meeting. We walked around the tables praying for the individuals who would soon be filling the chairs. We prayed for the servers. We prayed over the gifts. We prayed through the kitchen.

As we were doing this, I stopped at one of the chairs and felt led to pray for the person who would be sitting there. I prayed that God would bring them safely to us. I prayed that no distractions would keep them away. I prayed for their travels; that nothing could hinder them. While I was praying, my family was on my heart. I specifically wanted my family there. I knew I would be disappointed if I didn't get to see them personally. They had been on my heart for so long; I wanted God to do something. I wanted everyone to show up to receive their gifts. I didn't want anything to keep them from getting all that God had for them.

It wasn't until the end of the evening, when I was walking the mother of my family out of the church and saying goodbye that I remembered my earlier prayer. I have a good photographic memory for certain things, and I remembered that it was actually her chair I was standing at; pleading that God would make a way for her to get there. Out of 45 chairs, I stood behind hers, the one closest to my heart.

My family was the last to arrive for our dinner and Christmas party. While in Mexico you expect everyone to show up a little late, but almost all the families were on time, one even 15 minutes early. I did start to worry they weren't coming. At 30 minutes past the time, my family walked in. I was overjoyed!

I found out later the reason for their tardiness. All the families were from mission churches in surrounding areas. My family was not from the city, and the husband and oldest son refused to come. The mother was on her own with 5 young children. The only way she could get to us was by bus. She was very afraid but did it anyway.

God is so incredible how He orchestrates things. Just at the time she was getting ready to leave her home, I was standing behind her chair praying for her to come no matter what the cost. God gave her the strength to do it. She was not sorry she made the decision.

We asked the pastor to drive her home so she didn't have to worry about getting there with all her gifts. I had carried over 40 pounds of gifts in my luggage for her family, plus we gave each family a large box of food items, toilet paper, including a frozen chicken and other refrigerated items.

We put together a special Christmas dinner for these five families. The menu consisted of tamales, black beans, and mashed potatoes. We had cookies for dessert.

During this time I witnessed one of the girls from my family, Priscila, go up to get cookies. She grabbed a bowl and started filling it up. I immediately thought of my son, and figured this girl was over doing it. She was being rather greedy with these cookies. We didn't have a lot to start with and we were quickly running out.

When she got back to the table she set them in front of her little brothers and sister. She sat down and watched them eat the cookies. After the bowl was empty she went back to the counter to fill it up again. This time she did the same thing again. She watched them eat. After the third time of going up to the counter she finally took a cookie for herself. This was my first glimpse into the hardship this family had suffered. Here I was immediately jumping to the conclusion that she was being selfish, because it's what I was used to. I have lived a life of privilege.

The time finally came for the gifts. You could tell the anticipation was getting to everyone. I found a few children perusing the table of gifts trying to find what might belong to them. I think we adults were just as excited to give out our gifts as the kids were to receive them.

We had the gift table organized into families and then separated into a pile for each child. At this point, we each started carrying the gifts over to the families at the table where they sat. I gathered my gifts for Alondra, the youngest in my family.

I knew each kid by name without needing an introduction. I had stared at their faces in a picture for so long, I knew them by heart. I still came to Alondra and asked her if she was who I thought. She shook her head yes. It was then that the overwhelming realization began to set in for these children.

My arms were full of gifts. This girl received a doll, a Barbie, a purse, some hair things, socks, underwear, shirts, flip flops, a book, and a bag of candy. It wasn't just one present for her.

The families had no idea the amount they were about to receive. I could tell from all the children's faces that they thought I was holding gifts for the entire family, not just for one child. As soon as I began to set down all her presents, I was watched like a hawk, their eyes round as saucers, their mouths open in the biggest grins and laughter would spill out. Each time I would walk back over to their table and kneel down in front of a child, the anticipation was so overwhelming. I couldn't help but cry. I smiled at them through my tears. Being Santa had never felt like this before.

When I had all my gifts handed out, I was able to watch them open and peak timidly at their presents. This was nothing like I was used to.

By the time I was done, each child had their gifts organized into a perfect pile. Wrapping paper was not flying around the room. It was as if they didn't even know what to do with the presents.

The youngest girl, Alondra, was one of the kids I had bought a present for. I found her this cute little baby doll that can fit in the palm of your hand. When you pull the string attached to her hand, her arms and legs kick like a real baby would. I couldn't wait to see her open it.

She peeked at it, but wouldn't take it out of the wrapping paper. I kept telling her, her sister and her brothers to open their gifts and they would nod their head, "sí". But they didn't tear off the wrapping paper. It was as if they wanted to keep it a secret, prolonging the moment. They peeked at every gift, but left the wrapping paper on.

What Alondra did open was her socks. She jumped up and down in excitement as if holding the greatest treasure in the world. She ran to her mom to show off the socks. The 12 year old boy, Eduardo, in my family opened his shoes. He was a very serious boy who hardly smiled at all. But when he saw that he was given shoes, he tore off the wrapping paper and the biggest grin appeared. His entire countenance changed. The gifts these kids chose to treasure were the clothes and shoes, the necessities of life.

My kids would have thrown those aside as if to say, really mom, you wasted wrapping paper on that? These kids hugged those items close to their heart.

Through it all, a smile never left the face of my mom, Idania.

When these families arrived they were all very serious. They didn't know what to expect and appeared a little hardened by the life they had lived. They relaxed a little through dinner but it wasn't until the gifts were handed out that their faces changed. Everyone in the entire place was smiling. The biggest, most intimidating men surprised me with their laughter and smiles. Several of them before leaving the church had to either shake hands or hug each of us on the team, telling us a very heartfelt, "Gracias". One father even took the time to say in English, "God. Bless. You." It was broken apart, but said with great feeling. I had never felt so truly blessed by God as I did at that moment.

One of the boys in another family, who was 15, came with a very intense demeanor. He didn't smile back when you smiled at him, and he had a cut under his eye. When I took a photo during dinner, he jumped as if hurt. I quickly decided to back off from my pictures. It was a little later that I could tell he was trying to get in my pictures and video. He was posing his 18th month old nephew. When he opened his gifts, a shirt and a new pair of shoes, he immediately went and changed clothes. He left with the new shoes on his feet.

I have never been so happy to be a part of something. You could see the change immediately in these families. For one night we brought peace, laughter, joy, hope, and love. They came into the building as one person, and they each seemed to leave as an entirely different person.

That is exactly what God's love does to each and every one of us.

"Whoever is a believer in Christ is a new creation. The old way of living has disappeared. A new way of living has come into existence.

God has done all this. He has restored our relationship with him through Christ, and has given us this ministry of restoring relationships."
2 Corinthians 5:17-18

When God's love comes into our lives, it changes us. We are made new. The past is gone, and we only have the future to look forward to. Because of this great thing that God does in us, we can't help but let it overflow into the lives of others. We want to reach out because He reached out to us first. God is a miraculous God! He does things beyond our dreams.

I knew God called me to go to Mexico for Christmas this year. But that doesn't mean I always wanted to go. There were several times before I left that I began to regret my decision. Selfishness started to creep in and I wanted a normal family Christmas. I didn't want to reach out to others. I wanted to stay home with my family. I had to force myself to put one foot in front of the other. I ignored my feelings and trusted my instinct that God had spoken a message to me. Who am I to argue with God?

I am so glad I was obedient to God's call. It was life-changing for me. As soon as I arrived in Mexico my whole attitude changed. I had that quiet assurance again that I was doing the right thing. I didn't know what would happen that week, but I was there to partake. God was going to show up! I believed Him when He spoke to me. Not once did I even have time to miss my family there; I gained a whole new family.

My perspective was altered. I realized again how blessed of a life I lead. I have all my needs provided abundantly. I am rich because of God. It was such a wonderful feeling to be used to reach someone else. Nothing at all can compare to the peace that fills you when you are following God's call. You may be fearful at times, and doubt yourself, but in the end you ultimately need to trust. You won't be disappointed in God. My cup overflows with blessings... and His unfailing love will pursue me all the days of my life.

In case you missed my previous post, Bucerías Mexico, I have included a short video of the trip there.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Kids Say the Darndest Things

This week Zech and I found a really cool Darth Vader mask at Goodwill. Zech has been obsessed with Star Wars for the past couple of weeks. If he gets to choose a movie, he wants to watch one of the original Star Wars. It must have Darth Vader.

As we were checking out at the register, Zech was pretty excited about his mask. He told the lady, "Do you know somebody is actually called Darth Vader?"

She smiled at him.

"Even it's on a Star Worlds movie. I even have a game of it."

She seemed impressed.

"It was a Darth Vader mask!" He said with a somber tone.

"Ohhh... He's the bad guy, right?" she questioned.

Zech corrected her, "Actually, no. He's really not. He's just the father."

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Bucerías Mexico

The kids are back in school and things are settling down. That leaves me with time to write. I've been waiting for an opportunity to tell you how God worked when we traveled to Mexico. I am very excited about what God did in me and through me.

Do you ever suffer from the after blues? You know when you've done something really amazing or you've gone somewhere awesome and God showed up? It can be hard to adjust to normal life again because you feel different. And everyone around you is not different; they're all still the same. I call it the after blues. You have the you before you went, and you have the you after you went. Life can be hard to adjust to again. The honeymoon stage has to end and you must get back to the reality of life.

To me it is just another example of how we need to cling to God in all times. Through the good and through the bad, through the up and through the down. Feelings can never be trusted 100 percent, but God can be. I am so thankful I have that hope in Him. I know that while I may struggle today, tomorrow is a new fresh day.

I am so excited to tell you all about the week of my life spent in Mexico. It was AMAZING!

The team consisted of 5 ladies, along with my daughter and the 6 month old son of my friend. Two of the ladies that went on the trip were new to me. I had very limited conversations with each of them before we left. I was a little nervous about spending so much time with people I was unfamiliar with, but God was in control.

This team of ladies was incredible! We may have all started out as acquaintances, but soon we became friends. I am so glad each of us was willing to say yes to God for this trip. Everyone added something individually to the whole of the group. I loved it! Getting to know everyone a little better was a big part of what made this trip so successful.

We were all away from our families at Christmas time, a very family focused time of year. I would say that it was difficult, but I think we drew closer together because of it, and relied on each other as a family would. We kept so busy, we never had time to think about what we were missing out on. We were only reminded of what we had right there together.

We enjoyed a couple prayer meetings, a time of Bible reading, some worship, and the greatest time of talking into the late evenings. It was a girl retreat that I desperately needed and clung to. We had the most extraordinary time of opening up our hearts to each other. We talked about our fears, our over-comings, and areas we needed to stretch in. It was a safe environment with teasing, laughter, and even some tears. God showed up! How many of you know when a bunch of girls get together there can be a few trials and hurt feelings? I never sensed any of that on this trip. It was a time of friendship that opened the door for growing closer to each other! If that was all we got out of it, I would have been content. But God had WAYYYY more in store for us.

So... enough with the mushy girly stuff. You want to know the details right?

Christmas Eve we arrived in Bucerías, Mexico (about 30 minutes from Puerto Vallarta) around lunch time. We stayed in the church, La Fuente Riviera's, upstairs apartment. This was recently completed and we got to be the guinea pigs. By the last night we were there, we were granted hot water for our showers. We certainly take things for granted here!

Pastor Keith, picked us up from the airport and fed us lunch. The food in Mexico was wonderful. I love Mexican food, and it was authentic! We ate tamales three times, enchiladas twice, and fish tacos once. It was all so delicious. There was a little miscommunication for our food plans. We were supposed to cook for ourselves. We didn't get the message until our 3rd day there. God always provided our meals! We were never without.

The first night, on Christmas Eve, we were invited to an outdoor Christmas dinner party at the pastor's beautiful home. Afterwards, we headed downtown and sang Christmas carols (in English). Hot chocolate and desserts were provided. It was so much fun and put us all in the Christmas spirit. It's hard to remember it's Christmas time when you're wearing shorts and sweating, although it does get cooler in the evenings.

Christmas day was spent at the beach! Talk about out of the ordinary. My daughter played in the waves and didn't want to leave. This was her first time visiting the ocean that she remembered. (When she was a baby she played in the ocean in Florida.)

I have to give some thanks to God here. Ariel was so excited to be at the ocean, it didn't even occur to her that the waves might knock off her glasses. And sure enough, the first big wave sent her glasses flying off her face (you can see it in the video below). Thank God, Ariel was able to catch them. My daughter is considered legally blind without them. If they had been swept away into the ocean she would have been in real trouble. There is no way we could have replaced them in Mexico, and she would have needed to walk around the rest of the time blindly. (We hadn't even been there 24 hours yet!) She would have been in a foreign country and wouldn't have been able to see a foot in front of her face. Can you imagine how disappointing that could have been for her? God is good! We may have lost an earring of hers in the ocean, but the glasses made it home safely.

We had a lunch of pineapple, cookies, chips, and Pepsi, provided by a lady we met at the Christmas party the evening before. We happened to visit the exact same spot of the beach as them, and God provided our lunch through her. It certainly was no turkey, or ham dinner, but it was very memorable and sweet.

Lorree created this manger scene.

After our unique lunch at the beach, we headed back to the apartment to do some serious gift wrapping. Just a reminder to those who may not be familiar with the reason for this trip to Mexico; our church adopted 5 families there for the holiday. Each kid received a toy and a clothing item. The parents also received a gift. Many of the people in our church signed up to buy these gifts. We asked everyone to label who the gifts were for when they returned them, but not gift wrap them. That would be done when we arrived. We knew customs wouldn't approve of our gifts already being wrapped.

All 5 of us ladies "adopted" a family of our own. We brought the gifts for our family in our luggage, we wrapped the gifts for our family, we prayed over each of them individually by name, and we presented them with their gifts at the Christmas dinner. This adoption personalized these families to us even more. We may not have purchased all the gifts, but we had carried them, and felt responsible for them.

Wrapping Christmas Gifts

After 3 hours of continuous wrapping, the gifts were done. My family was the Perez family. I still pray for Martin (Papá), Idania (Mamá), Martin, Eduardo, Júlio César, Jesús Geovany, Priscila, and Alondra. Each of them are very special to me. Each of them are now more than a name to me. I have faces that I will never forget.

While some of you probably sat around a beautifully decorated tree on Christmas, full of bright lights, maybe an angel on top or a star to light the way; we had our special tree of pine cones. We made do with what we had. It was our very own winter wonderland.

Before we left on the trip, we each drew names for a secret sister gift exchange. It was our Christmas celebration for the day. We read the Christmas story aloud, sang a Christmas song together with a YouTube video, exchanged presents, and shared our favorite thing about Jesus.

While our Christmas celebration was simple and sweet, their Christmas celebration would be wildly extravagant. We wanted to overwhelm these families with the love of God. I think we succeeded... but more about that later. If you notice the picture below has gifts on 5 different shelves. Each shelf represents a different family. My family is the top shelf.

Their Christmas Gifts

Now it wouldn't be a mission's trip if there wasn't a little work involved. So far we all felt like we were on vacation. Wednesday was a day of hard labor. Two of us worked on deep cleaning the kitchen. We started from the top and worked our way all the way down to the bottom. We scrubbed ovens, fridges, all cupboards and food containers! It was work, and not the most pleasant task. They had suspicions of mice invading the area, so we were getting rid of all evidence and helping to prevent future encounters.

We painted, and we cleaned all the bathrooms in the building. We swept and mopped classrooms and the main auditorium. We did laundry, and scrubbed down doors. By the end of the day we were exhausted, but felt good that we had earned our keep!

Thursday morning we went shopping! You cannot go to another country without visiting the tourist area. We were given 4 hours to shop and we made the most of it. We walked around downtown Puerto Vallarta. It was so much fun and we all got lots of souvenirs for our families back home.

It was nice to see a little bit of home 2,000 miles away!
After our shopping trip, it was back to the church to get ready for our dinner. This was the reason we were there! You can imagine the excitement and nervousness of us all. Our week was just now getting to the part we had been anticipating for months. I couldn't wait!

The five families were from mission churches around the city. Only one family attended the church we were at. None of them knew each other, and none of them were really aware what they were in for.

That's all I'm going to say for now... God was amazing to me on this trip! I knew He would be, and I'm excited to tell you about it later. Before I leave, I will share with you a video I put together. You can see all the highlights of our trip, and even see the joy on the faces of those receiving our gifts.

"You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill.

If I make you light-bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I’m putting you on a light stand. Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—shine!

Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven."
Matthew 5:14-16 (The Message)

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Homemade Family Christmas

I'm a week behind in my tradition of posting all our homemade Christmas gifts. Last week I was in Mexico, and the past several days have been spent recuperating from the Christmas season. Isn't it funny how we run around so much we wear ourselves out? I've been enjoying having a fresh schedule with no obligations. It's been a very laid back few days. I've been able to sleep in till 9am and I'm almost embarrassed to admit I haven't been getting out of my pj's until lunchtime. Almost. It's been wonderful!

I'll jump right in! We'll first take a look at the Christmas ornaments I made this year. I have the tradition every year of finding a perfect ornament that represents the hobbies and interests of each of my kids. When they are grown they will be allowed to take all these ornaments with them for their own tree. That's at least 18 ornaments! A good start for a collection. All of the homemade ones they make in school and other places will be saved for my collection.

trouble board game Christmas ornament

I had a difficult time finding a board game ornament for Zech. I stalked a few EBay auctions and eventually decided to make it myself. The prices were too high and I was able to make the ornament for free. Paper mache and paint is cheap, and you typically have the supplies on hand! For the glue paste I use a ratio of 1:4, flour to water. For this small project I measured 1/4 cup flour to 1 cup water. It made so much paste I looked for more things to make! If you're wondering, the playing pieces are tiny craft pom poms. I coated them in the paste and left them to dry on the paper mache game. Once they were dry, I painted them different colors.

Holy Bible Christmas ornament

I wanted to make something special for the kids in my Club2190 class at church. Over the past few months we've worked on several different Bible verses. I came up with these cute little Bible ornaments. I made 4 different verses and gave them out randomly. I made all of them out of the leftover glue paste and some cereal boxes. I printed out the Bible verse on white paper and positioned it where I wanted it for my final paper layer. Once it was dry, I carefully painted around the verses.

Holy Bible Christmas ornament
During this Christmas season most of my focus was on Mexico and the gifts I would be bringing there. I didn't have much opportunity to make a lot of my gifts like I usually do. In fact, I had purchased supplies to make gifts for my friends, but ended up not having enough time. I'll be saving those to make for birthdays now!

mini marshmallow shooters

I only was able to make each of my kids one thing. For my boys I put together marshmallow guns! They were a huge hit! I also made the marshmallow guns for all the older boys that we gave gifts to in Mexico. (None of them had seen anything like it before!) I was surprised on Christmas morning that my daughter wished for a gun too. I figured it was a boy thing.

To make the gun you need 1/2" pvc pipe. 1 - T fitting, 2 - 90 degree elbows, 1 - cap, 12 inch pvc pipe. I had my husband cut the 12 inch piece into two 3-inch sections, and three 2-inch sections. It should be pretty explanatory how I put it together from the picture. Since I was making one for each of my boys I wanted them to be able to tell them apart. I painted the middle connecting pieces to add a little color and for them to easily recognize which gun was theirs.


For Ariel I made her a planket, not to be confused with a snuggie. You probably can't see very well from the picture, but the pillow and blanket are actually sewn together. It's made more for travel purposes. I wanted her to have something special to take on the airplane, but it also can be used for a long car ride. If she was sitting up you could see it looks a lot like a bib. The pillow is sewn on the bottom corners with the middle left open for her head to fit through. This totally eliminates the problem of the blanket falling down. It also is a very convenient pillow case that can hold the blanket after you roll it up. This is not an original idea to me; I found the tutorial here at The Crafter's File Box.

That pretty much ends the creativity by me, but wait, it's still not over. We have my entire family Christmas to go through. Each year my extended family draws names at Thanksgiving and we make homemade gifts for each other. (Secret Santa's)

painting with dipped pencil eraser

Zechariah drew his daddy's name. He was so excited to make this picture for Titus. We found a coloring page online, and printed it out on card stock. Instead of painting it with a paintbrush, we dipped the eraser of a pencil in paint and filled the picture with circles. It's kind of like using a stamp. It was very easy for him and the result is a professional looking painting. Zech couldn't wait for his daddy to open the gift!!

Ariel drew Zechariah's name. She made a paper mache ba-bomb from Mario. We used a large lid for the top, along with a piece of jute rope for the fuse. The body is a balloon, and the feet were first made out of play dough. Ariel had her first experience with paper mache here and I think she did a great job with it!

ba bomb paper mache

Titus drew Ariel's name and made her a wooden penny flyer. Unfortunately it is missing so I don't have good picture to share with you. I hope to soon change that! This gift was perfect for Ariel. Lately she has been making all kinds of paper airplanes and designing them after different birds.

Gabriel drew Mikaela's name and made a very stylish jean pocket purse. The funny thing, the pair of jeans we chose to make the purse out of was an old pair of Ariel's jeans that in fact were a hand-me-down from Kaela. How appropriate! We all had a good laugh that she could carry around a purse that used to hold her butt and her cousin's butt! I had suggested these pockets to Gabriel because I thought the design was really cool.

To make the purse, Gabe first cut the pocket off of the jeans and embellished it with some gems. Then he sewed on some purple ribbon to each pocket for the handles. The last step is to sew around the edges right sides together and then flip it back out. Simple and cute!

I love it! Mikaela had my name and made me this mug. She drew pictures on the outside representing each person in my family. I am the camera, Gabe has a notebook, Ariel is the bird, Zech is a DS, and Titus has the computer. I can't wait to have my cup of tea in it!

I drew my sister's name. I already shared how I made her Bananagrams earlier this week.

DIY bananagrams

My mother drew Gabriel's name and wrote him this French Fry Factor story. It's an encouraging story about our Pastor and a time when he stepped out in faith. God honored that and did an amazing thing because of it. The book is started for Gabe so he can add his own "French fry" stories of God's miracles to the pages. If you know Gabe, he spends all his free time writing stories!

My brother had my mom's name and made her this wall hanging. It's been a theme verse for her for a long time. If you can't read the picture it says, "For this you have been called, For Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example that you should follow in His steps."

I don't have pictures of the last two gifts. My sister drew my dad's name and is still currently working on his gift. My dad made a website for my brother to post his videos at that he puts together. I'll have to find out what the address is for it and share it with you! My brother is very talented when it comes to putting a video together and adding special effects!

I received one of the nicest Christmas gifts this year. It wasn't bought at a store and you could almost call it homemade. One of my friends who moved away several years ago came back for a visit. I hadn't seen her in over 2 years! This was such a wonderful gift to me that I couldn't put a price on it. I didn't get to spend a lot of time with her, but the few hours I got were a huge treasure for me.

There are people who drift in and out of our lives. Life is always changing and we have to change with it. Every once in a while God blesses us with a friend who time means nothing to. They are the ones who you can pick right up where you left off as if no time has passed at all. It is those friends who are hand-picked by God!
I love you, Jaime! You made my Christmas so much brighter!

Jaime, Rachael, Amanda, Stefanie


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