Sunday, November 29, 2015

Best Christmas Books About Serving Others

One of our favorite, long-standing Christmas traditions is reading Christmas books together.  I've posted many of our reading lists on this blog.  This year, I asked Guy (age 10) to choose our Christmas reading list based on the books we have in our family library.  He came out of my bedroom and announced that he was going to read us the first book.  

He chose "Always Room for One More" by Sorche Nic Leodhas.  He said, "I picked it, not because it's a Christmas book, but because the main character is always opening his home to help traveling strangers.  And because he did that, he was blessed with more.  The lesson is, 'trust the Lord.'"

My parents really started this tradition by reading "The Littlest Angel" to us every Christmas Eve.  It caused me to want to have that special reading time with my kids even more and has lead me over the years to search out the very best books.

We hope that you will enjoy this year's Christmas reading list.  As you can see the stories are mainly focused on serving and bringing joy to others, which is the one thing that really makes Christmas feel like Christmas.  Thanks to Guy for putting this together!  

Here is our 2015 Christmas Book List.  

As you read these books together, ask children to identify what the characters did to serve or give to others.  Click on the links to read more about our favorite books and see some of the crafts we've done over the years to accompany our reading...In addition to crafts (which are fun to give away), you could find some way to emulate some of the service you might read about in our book selections!

1.  "Always Room for One More" by Sorche Nic Leodhas

2.  "Why Christmas Trees Aren't Perfect" by Richard H. Schneider 

(See a craft idea here.)

3.  "The Best Christmas Pageant Ever" by Barbara Robinson

4.  "Christmas Oranges(My favorite version of the story is here.)

5.  "A Christmas Dress for Ellen" by President Monson 

(See a craft idea here.)

6.  "Who is Coming to Our House?" by Joseph Slate 

(Craft idea here.)

7.  "The Puppy Who Wanted a Boy" by Jane Thayer 
(Craft idea here.)

8.  "The Last Chimney of Christmas Eve" by Linda Oatman High

(See our craft idea here.)

9.  "I Believe in Santa Claus" by Diane G. Adamson 

10.  "The Crippled Lamb" by Max Lucado

(See the craft we made here.)

11.  "This is the Stable" by Cynthia Cotten

(See craft here.)

12.  "Christmas is Here" Illustrated by Lauren Castillo

(You could make these snow babies or another nativity.)

13.  "Humphrey's 1st Christmas" by Carol Heyer

(Craft idea here.)

14.  "Christmas in the Trenches" by John McCutcheon

15.  "A Small Miracle" by Peter Collington (Read my review here.)  This book used to be out of print but returned to print in the last few years.

16.  "Christmas Day in the Morning" by Pearl S. Buck (Read my review here.)

17.  "We Were There" by Eve Bunting

(Links to the craft here.)

18.  "Animals' Christmas Eve" a Golden Book

19.  "A Shepherd's Whisper" by Heyward Broun

20.  "I See Santa Everywhere" by Glenn McCoy

21.  "Helping Santa" by Bert Dodson (Here's one way we've taught our Children to help Santa!)

22.  "Santa Mouse" by Michael Brown

(Craft here.)

23.  "Twas the Night Before Christmas" a Golden Book

(Catch visions of sugar plums here.)

24.  "The Littlest Angel" by Charles Tazewell

(Craft here.)


25.  "The Christmas Treasury for LDS Families" a selection of great stories, poems, songs, etc.

26.  "Morris' Disappearing Bag" by Rosemary Wells

***There are more great books about serving and loving others...so many more.  Just flip through our other lists to see them...Including "The Christmas Candle" and many more!  Have fun!

Here are some more Christmas tradition ideas:


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Tuesday, November 17, 2015

The Book of Mormon Challenge FHE

I mentioned in yesterday's post that I had no idea what we were going to do for FHE yesterday, but that I'd figure it out.  Well, I figured it out by sharing that responsibility with my husband who came home to, "I got dinner, you get FHE!"  

Piggy-backing off of a talk given by a member of the stake presidency during stake conference this weekend, we talked about what it really means to hold fast to the iron rod.

Steve brought a bat up from the garage, which was sort of like an iron rod and had the children try their best to hold on to it with both hands.  Then they tried pulling each other off of it...and things got silly from there...like so, so silly.

It was fun.  We sat down and looked at a picture representation of Lehi's dream and we read scriptures about what the Iron Rod represents. We established that the rod of iron represents the word of God.  We talked about what it means for us personally to hold fast to the iron rod.

After some ideas were offered, Steve challenged each member of the family to read the Book of Mormon on their own.  We've read it twice now as a family and are on our third time around, but now that three out of four children are now readers, it's time they focus on acquiring the word and the habit of reading scriptures for themselves.

Little Honor (age 3) suddenly started singing, "I will go, I will do..."  I guess that she was first to commit to the challenge!

Steve printed out Book of Mormon reading bookmarks to help us track our reading, and so far the children are pretty gung-ho about the challenge.  Previously, we have had little family parties (like our Book of Mormon Party) or taken special trips (such as our trip to the Hill Cumorah Pageant) each time we have finished the Book of Mormon as a family.  The same will be true this time, although this time we'll celebrate each time ANYONE in our family finishes the Book of Mormon on their own...so everyone will benefit.

Among other things, I'm hoping that this boost in personal scripture reading will help increase harmony and cooperation between siblings in our home.  Stay tuned!!

So, just a PS, here.  Scarlett just walked in from school and informed me that she gave away a Book of Mormon to her friend today.  She had asked Steve last night if her friends could participate, and he said yes.  I love my little missionary kids!  Autumn, pictured here, was also excited to show me how much she read today! Stay hungry, children!! :)

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Monday, November 16, 2015

Learning from General Conference as a Family #LDSConf

How fun to see my recent post on the LDS.org blog featured on the front page of LDS.org today!

You guys know how much we focus on General Conference in our family, and now this is needed more than ever.

Hey, it's 4:40pm where I am right now, and I might not know yet what we're going to learn about in FHE tonight, but I ALWAYS know where to look...to the words of the Prophets found in General Conference.

Following the suggestions outlined in my article and with the help of the Spirit, I'm sure I'll be able to come up with a lesson quickly that is focused on just what our family needs right now (and moving forward!)

Studying GenConf can be a blast!  Check out my article today!

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Friday, November 13, 2015

Turkey T-shirts

I saw these t-shirts on Pinterest and could not resist making them with the family at FHE this week.  In a world where holidays are being celebrated less and less in schools, this old-school mom is doing her best to keep holiday fun alive!  

We bought these basic tees at Walmart, along with materials needed for the craft: craft felt and heatbond.

We "eye-balled" all of the pieces for the face and feathers and arranged the faces during FHE.  Then I finished ironing them on and then stitching around the pieces on another night. (You can see the tutorial here.)

Truth be told, Autumn was my most excited turkey.  Scarlett had to be bribed with gum to wear hers to school...which could have something to do with the fact that she bought a t-shirt just a little too small for her and the shirt was a boy cut, which she didn't like either!

Guy was pretty proud of his t-shirt, although he opted not to have tail feathers.  He added eyebrows to his face, making it quite expressive!

Here was a picture I took at family scripture study this morning.  I feel like someone's watching me now...all the time with these shirts!  Gobble! Gobble!

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Thursday, November 12, 2015

Gifts Kids can Make: Sharpie Shoes

Just dropping in to share another easy gift kids can make.  We're probably slightly behind the curve when it comes to this whole sharpie shoe decorating craze, but they're really fun and Scarlett is enjoying using her drawing skills to create Christmas gifts for her siblings that they can actually use and wear!

We ordered Keds off of Amazon, because that was easiest for me.  (Scarlett bought them with her own money, so it's truly a gift from her.)  I gave her a pack of sharpies in a variety of colors and she went to town.  I asked her to think of what each sibling might like.  What are their favorite things?  Favorite colors?  Interests?  And she incorporated those things into her designs.

All of the gifts the kids are making for each other are coming out really nice, and it's fun to watch them think of what would make the other siblings smile.  Hopefully this helps you come up with fun ways to teach children to give this Christmas!  There are all kinds of ideas for sharpie shoe design inspiration on Pinterest if you need it!

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Wednesday, November 11, 2015

The Miracle Maker: a family-friendly film

A few weeks ago, my children and I sat down to watch the new movie "The Miracle Maker."  We were asked to review it.  As for me, it was a good movie for Sunday viewing.  I appreciated that it was wholesome and had some good old-fashioned humor.  My kids, however, found some parts overtly funny, especially the parts where the children were a main feature.  

So, afterwords, I asked my children to review it.  I also asked them what they thought the movie was about.  Here's what they wrote:

Guy (age 9) thought the movie was awesome.  He thought the main theme was having a change of heart...and how that change can change not only your circumstances, but those of others around you.

Scarlett (age 8) said, "I think you should watch this movie, because it takes place in a small and poor town."  She liked the character Oliver, a curious boy who collects rocks and never speaks.  She says, "Mr. Booth was rich and the whole town was scared of him," but what she liked best was that while watching she said, "I felt the spirit very strongly."

Since our family's media motto is "Tune in to the Spirit," this movie met our standards very well.  Considering how hard it is to say that about any entertainment these days, this is reason enough to recommend this movie to my readers!  

Most of the movie, in my mind, is not overtly about Christmas, however the message that serving others and looking outside of yourself in your hour of need is always a good message, especially during the holiday season.

My personal take-away from the movie is that so often, we desperately look outside of ourselves for someone to fix our problems when more often than not, the miracle is inside of each one of us waiting to be released...sometimes just by an encouraging word by another.

In the final scene the Miracle Maker responds to the charge that he made all of the good things happen in the town.  He says, "I simply moved a few rocks and planted a few seeds."  

Each of us can do that this holiday season and always when we choose to soften our hearts, to forgive another, to try and say a kind word, or serve others in small, every day ways.  This movie illustrated how doing and saying the little things can create a miracle!  

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Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Thanksgiving Hostess Gift

Like many of you, we're focusing on showing gratitude for others as a family this month.

We talked a little bit about who we should show gratitude to and what we should show gratitude for...and practiced a few ways one can show gratitude.  

We wrote thank you notes, took cookies to a few friends who have helped us recently, and the kids and I made hostess gifts to bring to family in a few weeks.  

We saw this hostess gift idea at The Idea Room.  It's very simple to create.  I bought the wooden spoons at Walmart, the kitchen towel at Target, and I already had the other tools needed.

Using metal letter stamps, we stamped words like "blessed" and "thankful" and her last name on the handles of our wooden utensils.  Then we used a skinny permanent marker to make the letters stand out a little more.

I used a piece of masking tape to try to make my lines straight.  It helped, but I'm not great at this kind of stuff, so it's not perfect!  But it's really a foolproof craft for the most part and quick to create.  I'm hoping my sister will enjoy them!  I know she's working hard to facilitate a nice Thanksgiving for all of us, and I want her to know how much I appreciate and love her!

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Sunday, November 8, 2015

Talking to Your Children About the New Policy on Baptism

First let me say...I've had a very busy few weeks over here, so I didn't really hear about the new policy change for the baptism of children until probably later than some did in their social media feeds this weekend.

I thought about why almost no one in my feed was talking about it even though it was trending on FB...Some reasons I came up with are: 1. Most of my friends are not LDS and 2. The ones who are LDS must be "ship-shape & Bristol fashion" a la Elder Cook's definition. Or there's always 3. I have friends who don't read the Washington Post or 4. Many didn't know how to react (or didn't want to do so publicly.)

Anyway, I read a tiny bit about this issue online while traveling to and from the temple yesterday, but I didn't really need a formal explanation.  I had already been wondering how to teach gospel truths to children when the world keeps moving farther and farther from truth.  I've already heard people at church backing away from teaching truth about family and gender because they don't want to offend.  I've already had this question in my heart when I think about sharing the gospel with friends who have gay, married family members...not wanting to offend, but also not wanting to ignore a prompting or judge anyone as "not ready to accept" the gospel.  In other words, I already recognized what a difficult road it would be ahead without more direction from a prophet of God.

So, although I wasn't immediately aware of the policy change requiring children of parents living in gay relationships to wait until the age of 18 for baptism...I was able to understand it fairly quickly, as it made sense to what I've witnessed in Primaries at church and in my own life, as I've continued my personal relationships with my gay and lesbian friends and their children.

Before I say any more, here is Elder Christofferson's explanation for the reasoning behind this new policy, and my read on his explanation is that it's about what's best for God's children and respect for and deference to their family units:

On this blog, I try to always point people to the best source of information.  As my husband and I like to say, "never drink downstream."  If you want to understand anything, read what the prophet and his apostles are saying, pray about it, ask God for understanding, and keep reading your scriptures.  There's no truth filter on the Internet...there isn't a way to check credentials on the bloggers you read unless you know them personally...so make sure you go to the correct sources as you navigate this and other issues.

In addition to reading the church's official statements, I read two blog posts yesterday that helped shed light on the topic for me by 1. reminding me that God loves all of His children, that He has a plan for each of us, and that no blessing will be withheld from those who seek them.  And the second post reminded me that the Lord has denied baptism for groups of people in the past...even in New Testament times, for His own purposes and reasons, which aren't always readily apparent to us.  It also reminded me that testimonies that are worked hard for (and waited for) are usually deeper, more cherished, and more enduring. (Click here to read the two posts I am referring to: Posts 1 & 2)  Read them...then keep reading here, if you choose...

When I was in college, almost 20 years ago now (whaaaat???!) I was blessed with the unique experience of living with and collaborating with a lot of gay, lesbian, and bisexual people who became at that time in my life some of my closest friends.  I TRULY loved them.  Although I was still growing in my testimony, I was solid in the gospel for an 18-19 year old.  Because of my relationship with them, I learned one thing that has stayed with me...I learned how to love and be nourished by friends, period,...regardless of differences in lifestyle and beliefs.

I am still friends with most of those people.  One girlfriend of mine in particular is now married to a woman, and they have one child together.  After the birth of her child, we reconnected on FB, and I noticed that she began "liking" the fun things I share about the ways we try to create a loving home together in our family.

After a while, I grew slightly nervous.  What if she saw me post something about family that offended her?  I wouldn't want to hurt her at all.  However, I knew from our history together that she already knew that I love the Family Proclamation and stand by it's principles.  So, I appreciated her support of me that much more and made an effort to make sure she felt supported and loved by me as well.  When I see her posting something loving about her child/family, I "like" it.  I make sure she knows that I respect her efforts as a mother to create a loving and secure childhood for her sweet girl.

I posted something on the FB page for this blog yesterday with this quote, " As members of the Church it is our privilege to love these children and support them the best we can. To show them the Savior's love and remind them that all the blessings the Lord has are theirs, and will one day be bestowed upon them, even if not at the present time. The members will be the ones to make the time until their baptism sweet, and a blessing in their lives." (Source)

I know lots of parents and children in same-sex family units who deserve our love and respect.  It's God's prerogative to direct His church and to, through his prophets, say who He will open baptism up to and when, but it is our privilege, our great privilege, to love others and to actively seek for inspiration on how to best show that love...the Savior's love.

I already feel that call.  I am probably not coming even close to fulfilling it, but I'm trying and I'm open to more understanding from God as to how I can do this.  This is the part of this whole policy change that I am concerned with...doing my part to love others.

Earlier this year, I remember hearing someone complain that they grew up LDS, but didn't know Joseph Smith had lived the law of Polygamy until they read about it in the news as an adult.  Honestly, it was hard for me to fathom that someone could not know about this, since I never felt in the dark about it.  I grew up in the church, and it was not news to me! (Although, I know everyone's experience is different.)

While I was in church today, I wrote down all of the teachings from our most recent General Conference that could possibly help us understand and accept the policy change as presented by the leaders of the church....There were many!

I wanted to blog about all of them...however this blog post is long enough and I haven't gotten to my main point yet!

So, after lunch (after church today), I decided to lead our family in a discussion about the recent policy change.  I should say, I facilitated the discussion...I allowed my children to lead it, based on their responses to questions.

I hadn't immediately considered that it might be important to talk about this with my kids...as it might be "over their heads" or not pertinent to their young lives. However, as lead by the Spirit and as our discussion unfolded, I could see that this was a very important thing to talk about with them, as it directly affected my children and their friends of baptism age.

I started by stating that the church had instituted a new policy which required children living with parents in a gay relationship to wait until the age of 18 in order to be baptized instead of at the age of 8.  I also mentioned that there are and have been other groups of people to whom baptism was restricted for a variety of reasons. (This WAS news to them, so we talked about that a little bit).

I asked the children how they felt about the news that some of their 8 year old friends would not be able to be baptized.

Scarlett said, "Sad."

Then I asked Guy if he felt prepared to be baptized when he turned 8.  He said yes.  I asked him why he thought that he was prepared.  He said, "Because you and Dad taught me."

I asked him if they thought this would be the case if we had not taught him for 8 years prior to his baptism and if he had not had our example to follow.  He said, "It would be possible with help from Heavenly Father, it would be possible."

Scarlett chimed in that her friend L has two mothers.  I asked her if she thought it might be hard for L to make a baptismal covenant at age 8 if she had to learn over and over again at church that her family situation was wrong.  Would it be hard for her?  Would she feel torn between her faith and her love for her parents?  Would it be hard on her parents?  Would it be more fair for her to grow up and make that choice when she was older?  Would it fair for her to make such an important covenant if it would come between her important parental relationships?

The kids seemed to see that young children and parents need to have a loving relationship with one another, and that Heavenly Father's decision to withhold baptism is one of kindness and preference for the parent/child relationship.

I then asked the kids how they should treat friends in that situation.  Should you treat them differently?  

"We should treat them with kindness" was their answer.

I then reminded Scarlett of a little friend from class a few years ago who was a little bit different.  Scarlett, without any fanfare, was always kind to this little person...even defending him when others pointed out his faults or laughed at him.  His mother, who believes very differently from me on quite a few important points, thanked me on two separate occasions for the kindness that Scarlett showed to her son and for her friendship to him.  I'm betting this woman does not know that we are at odds on various issues.  All she knows is that Scarlett was a friend to her son when others were not.  And that has meant the world to her.

I encouraged Scarlett and the other children to continue to do everything in their power to show love for others.  This is their part and they must always do it.

Steve then asked the children how they might respond if asked about the new policy.  They gave their best attempt at an answer...from "God loves all of His children" to "it would be a hard thing for children to be asked to believe in something not taught at home."  Their answers showed us how much they did or did not understand our discussion.  It showed where we needed to do more teaching or they needed to do more growing, but for the most part, they grasped the reasoning behind the new policy, and they understood what their duty is to their friends: to always love them.

Then we went through a few of the items on the list I had made during church, which outlined doctrines taught during General Conference which might help us to better understand the new policy or any other new teaching from the prophets.

After reading a quote from each talk, I asked the children to take turns explaining how they could apply each principle to help them accept new policies from church leaders.

They included: 

Elder Martino's talk: Pray, He will answer you...you might have to wait for the answer.
Pres. Uchtdorf: Go to the correct sources for answers (trust the true experts)
Cook: Are you ship-shape & Bristol fashion?  When trials come, if you're doing the basics, you'll endure.
Ballard: God is at the helm (of this church)

My list included many (many) others.  But we did not get to them.

We ended with an "upstream/downstream" lightning round from Steve.

He explained why farmers/ranchers say that one should "never drink downstream"...because water that is downstream from where livestock feed can become tainted.  It's not pure.  It's better to go to the original source for truth.  Steve presented a list of situations and asked the children to respond.  For instance, people are talking online about an issue...You can either read what people are saying or read what the prophet is saying about the issue.  Which one of these is "downstream" which is "upstream?"  He had a lot of funny examples, which the kids enjoyed and which helped prepare them for situations they will surely soon encounter in their lives!

While we enjoyed this time together discussing this with our children, it was a serious topic, and I could see how important it was that WE talked with them and taught them about this now...instead of later, say when they were older.  It never ceases to surprise me when my children open up and share what they really know about the world and how much they already experience in their daily lives and relationships with others.

I would encourage you parents out there to sit down in a family council or FHE and share your feelings and thoughts on the topic with your precious children.  

They are already wise and understand much.  They are already compassionate and have the capacity to teach us all.  Ask them the questions that the Spirit leads you to ask and help them unlock even more of that love and wisdom with which they are endowed as God's children!  And give them the tools, the principles, to help them navigate these new policies (and future new directives from prophets) for themselves.

Have a good night!

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Monday, November 2, 2015

Great Expectations!

I just wanted to interrupt your Monday with this important announcement:  I AM PREGNANT!!

And we are all thrilled.

Our children, Steve, and I have been keeping our little nest egg to ourselves for a while, but now that I'm 18 weeks (I had to check!) I'm telling more people.

The Lord has truly smiled down upon us with the wonderful family He has sent our way, one beautiful baby at a time.  Every child is a blessing--a miracle.  A take-your-breath-away moment, followed by years of work, and lessons, and learning and growing together.

What a blessing it is to be a Mother.  I love it.  I love this plan that God has for His children and for me...for all of us individually.

Can anyone guess our due date??  It's a good one!

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Sunday, October 25, 2015

Service SOS

My Saturday started out like this...

And just got more interesting from there...Steve cut down about 4 large pine trees in our yard the other weekend, because they had become overgrown and past their prime...and were looking too hideous to save and crowding out the other plants.  He found a really good deal on some large evergreens to replace them and had them delivered.

When I finally laid eyes on them, I realized that they were absolutely enormous...and this was not going to be a one-man job.

In addition to this huge job we had created for ourselves, it was Autumn's birthday.  I knew that this was going to be an all-day job if I didn't call in some back-up.

But who do you call when you've bit off more you can chew?  We don't have family around, and most people have pretty busy Saturdays...so I went on to the FB page for our ward's Elder's Quorum and put out a plea for any Elders in Israel who might want to come help us plant trees on our property.

I was amazed at the pretty immediate response...first from a young man who came over right away and helped dig holes and clear another tree...and second, from a very stalwart family who could make it over later in the day.

When they realized that the trees were so much bigger than they'd imagined....instead of walking away, they stuck it out...and despite the huge challenge it was to move the trees into place (each being between 1000 and 1800 lbs!!) they stood with us until the job was finished.

And although it was no walk in the park, I was amazed by how often I could hear them break out in laughter about something.  They had such a good attitude.  I knew they were working hard and probably would have bruises to deal with...yet they looked at it as a team building exercise and as an opportunity to serve.  They were all such an amazing example to me...of men who understand what it means to hold the priesthood...it means family.  It means no one gets left behind.  It means doing unpleasant tasks because you know that serving others is paramount...and it's what Christ would do.

Here are a few pictures of the two biggest trees that got planted.  It's so fun to see how beautiful they are and how well they fill in the landscape.  Our neighborhood was a Christmas tree farm, once upon a time, so it's fun to replenish these old, old trees with new, healthy ones...and boy, did it smell like Christmas as the guys got those trees rocking!!  Made me so happy!

By the evening, we were exhausted, but so grateful, and we let Autumn name the trees!

The next day (this morning) was the Primary Program.  We were all so tired from all of the work and festivities of the weekend.  I needed to pick up a friend for church, the kids were fighting over their Lucky Charms and not getting dressed.  I went out to leave and my car wouldn't start.  The battery was dead.  I called my friend Cammie right away, hoping to catch her before she left for church.

She came over right away and completely saved us by loaning us her minivan to get to church, while she and her children piled into their other car. 

I was pretty annoyed and frustrated and tired today, but grateful that my friend also knew the meaning of being a Latter-day Saint and that is that we leave no man behind.  Steve said later as we were dissecting the events of the weekend...that perhaps all of these things happened to show us and our ward members that we really are there for one another.  It was a good lesson...and every time we look at those trees we will remember the ward members who are like our real brothers...and my friend who is really like a real sister...and always be grateful.

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