The Strategic Homemaker

learning to follow the Father, care for the clan, and redeem the resources


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Second Children and Things that Don’t Belong on Christmas Trees

We got to spend Christmas with this new addition:

5-IMG_7647 4-IMG_7700A pretty blessed Christmas, I’d say.

I noticed some differences between my experience preparing for and having the second kid as opposed to the first.

First child:

–7 hour labor

–Nursery ready weeks in advance

–I read 5ish parenting/newborn care books while pregnant.

–no pacifier given until at least 2 weeks old

Second child:

–1.5 hour labor (Any hospital more than 10 minutes away has been ruled out for future kids.)

–what nursery?

–I reviewed a breastfeeding website a week before due date and skimmed through the hospital discharge instructions before leaving.

–given a pacifier the first day home.

Finally, this was our Christmas tree this year. Try to spot items that don’t belong on Christmas trees, including, but not limited to, a half-eaten candy cane, baby doll juice cup, a cut piece of a paper towel roll, and a Clifford keychain.

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Merry Christmas from us to all of you! Best wishes for a new year in which you “walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God!”

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Advent for Preschoolers and Very Pregnant Ladies

Last year, I mentioned that I had prepared a calendar of activities to help us look forward to Christmas. One of my friends commented on that post about Truth in the Tinsel, an advent plan specifically for preschoolers, and totally focused on Christ’s coming. We have been doing that this year, and we LOVE it. Basically, there is a Bible passage for each day, and then a simple ornament to make that emphasizes part of the passage. Below are some reasons why I love it.

–It is free. (Well, you need to buy the E-book, but I haven’t spent any money on the crafts.)

–It is flexible (as opposed to trying to schedule activities into a calendar destined to be thrown up-side down with a newborn).

–It doesn’t take much time each day.

–It repeats the same Scripture a couple different days with a different emphasis on the ornament, which is really good for helping a preschooler learn a story with a lot of details.

–It focuses on Jesus.

–PG looks forward to it every day, especially making the craft and hanging it on the tree, and she remembers the significance of most of the ornaments.

Here are some of the ornaments we’ve made for it so far:

1-IMG_7630A candle (symbolizing that Jesus is the light come into the darkness)

2-IMG_7631a crown (symbolizing that Jesus is king)

3-IMG_7632Zechariah (with tape over his mouth).

4-IMG_7633Mary and Elizabeth with pregnant bellies.

We’ve also been using the advent wreath my brother-in-law made me for my Christmas present last year, but we’ve only been using that on Sundays, and doing a more adult-appropriate reading with that (from John Piper’s Good News of Great Joy).

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Anyway, it has been a low-stress Christmas season for us thus far, but with a definite emphasis on Christ, both aspects of which I have really been enjoying.

Let me know if you’ve been doing anything for advent that you really love!

Next post, we hope to have a new member of the family!


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Six Strategic Gift Ideas

I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving. We spent the day with some good friends, and enjoyed celebrating and thanking God for our many, many undeserved blessings over the past year.

And now it is almost December! I mentioned last year, when talking about PG’s Christmas presents, that I don’t want our Christmases to be all about stuff. However, I do appreciate meaningful gifts, and I have 6 strategic gift ideas for you. I love all these things, and have been blessed by being gifted with two of them in the last 2 months.

  1. SEEDS CDs. I mentioned these before, but I really do love them, and my sister-in-law randomly sent us a first of October gift with all the ones we didn’t have. They’re in the car, so whenever PG and I go anywhere we listen to them, and I’ve basically had verses stuck in my head the past couple of months. Each is a pack of two, so you can give one away or split with someone, and if you buy the seven pack, the CDs are only $5 each.                                                                                                                                              
  2. Verse Wall art. I was wanting to make one of these signs like on the Between You and Me Etsy Shop for the last year, and a differently sister-in-law randomly decided it would be a good graduation/housewarming/birthday gift for us, which was awesome, especially because I had no idea when I would get around to it. ( I think she may have looked on my Pinterest Boards, because seriously this and the above were the perfect gifts for me, and I didn’t even request them!) We had to do some serious warp control after it arrived, because going from Georgia to Rhode Island was a crazy weather difference, but after some steaming and re-drying it is looking good. Plus the Etsy owner was willing to re-make it if we couldn’t fix the warp. Talk about great customer service!1-IMG_7608
  3. Gourmet foods. If you’re giving a gift to someone who avoids splurging on their groceries, this is a great gift. Summer sausages, fancy cheeses and crackers, chocolate, gourmet teas or coffees, nuts, etc. will really be considered a treat.
  4. Photo gifts. For the past few years, I’ve gotten us a package of family photos and a package of PG photos at Target, Sears, Olan Mills, etc. and distributed them to family members.  All the grandparents are happy, and it is really cheap. This year, my package of PG’s photos was $7.99 at Target. (Go online for coupons.) It had enough pictures for us, two sets of grandparents, two sets of great-grandparents, two great-great grandparents, and wallets for all the aunts and uncles. I am waiting until the new baby comes to get family pictures. TSH’s parents request a photo calendar every year with pictures of all their children and grandchildren, so those duties get rotated around. I do not recommend the blanket photo gifts however, as one year, TSH’s parents were given a giant blanket with a huge picture of them on it. It was kind of hilarious, especially because they were wearing the same clothes as in the picture, but I don’t think they figured out where to use it. TSH’s Dad, who has recently gotten into the Ebay business, says he will sell it to the highest bidder…
  5. The Light Has Come advent book. For something novel and fun for kids, this book is super cool. The author, who happens to be one of my friends, cut out elaborate paper snowflakes with symbols that tell the story of the gospel. Each page has a list of symbols to find, as well as corresponding Bible passages to read during the advent season. You can check it all out on his website.

6. A homemade quilt or other homemade blanket. I did actually make something by hand for one of my sis-in-laws this year, but I am getting to the point where I am ready to pay someone else to make stuff for me to give, and the winter is a great time to give a quilt as a gift! Katherine at the Rhymes with Smile etsy shop is the girl who taught me to quilt, I have seen and used her quilts in her house, and my daughter has a quilt made by her, so I can attest that her quilts are beautiful. And her prices cannot be beat. Honestly, it can be hard to make your own quilt for these prices, and the blogger Crazy Mom quilts recently listed some of hers for sale at 10 times the price. Crazy! Although, I admit, they are pretty fun.

Let me know if you have any other great gift ideas. I am almost done shopping this year—my nesting instinct was apparently to get everyone’s Christmas presents bought and wrapped before December—so I just need to pick up some stocking stuffers at the last minute.


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Christmas Superlatives

Whew, we are finally back! We’ve been out of town for 3 weeks, first for Christmas (visited 24 family members), and then for a job interview, with stays at friends’ houses breaking up each long driving stretch. It was pretty fun, but I am glad to be back home, getting in the groove again, and preparing to come up with some New Year’s goals. (I do not consider Jan 1 a deadline for these things, especially, when you won’t be back home for the first 9 days of January.) Anyway, there were some fun times over the Christmas break, and I assigned superlative awards to give you a good idea.

Most miles traveled by a family member one-way to get there: Carrie and Toby won this one, beating our 812 miles out with 1247.  Ang and Dave would have won with 5084 miles, but they opted to Skype in. Couldn’t blame them.

Best hand-made gift: Carrie and Toby won this also, hands down. Carrie had painted a picture for Jan with red and blue birds representing female and male descendants, and Toby made me an advent wreath using logs from their backyard. (We draw names on this side. Each year a different person gets to pick the theme, which this year was “family.”

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Best gift surprise: Bill had drawn his own name in the name-drawing and not told anyone. He got some gourmet pies (peanut butter and key-lime) as his “family-themed” present and shared with all of us.IMG_5637

Most practical gift: (Actually, I got a lot of practical things, but this one had the cutest and most presentable picture with it.) This stool with storage space for PG. PG loves standing on her stool to brush her teeth and wash her hands, although now we have to keep her from inserting the head of the toothbrush into the drain of the sink.IMG_5838

Cuddliest person: This little guy wanted to be held all. the. time. With enough people around to hold him, he hardly cried at all.IMG_5684

Most popular person: This went to Uncle Paul, the children’s storyteller at the Christmas Eve service at my aunt and uncle’s church. 4 of my siblings and my cousin used PG as an excuse to come sit at the front and listen to Uncle Paul.

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Most illnesses recovered from: This little gal had a horrible cough and ear infection, but was not slowed down at all in energy or appetite. We wouldn’t have known about the ear infection if she hadn’t gotten conjunctivitis also, which was pretty itchy for her.IMG_5665

Most listened to CD: the most listened to musical CD was Keith and Kristyn Getty’s “Hymns for the Christian Life” which I got for Christmas, but the main thing we listened to was Agatha  Christie’s novel “Elephant’s Can remember.”

Most stackable: These Melissa and Doug nesting blocks kept PG entertained for miles in the car on the way back from the job interview.

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Best book read over break: Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. This book was fascinating. Especially for someone who likes data that reveals interesting things.

What was a superlative of your holiday? Next week I’ll share my goals for the new year, and by next Friday I’ll know where we’re going to live next year. Exciting things ahead!


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The Christmas Gift Strategery

I mentioned before that we had listened to an interview with Phil Vischer talking about Christmas. (Sadly, I couldn’t find the original interview online–available through Focus on the Family’s podcasts, but here is the DVD he was being interviewed about.) He talked about its history a little bit, and said Christmas was actually a couple of holidays merged into one. (Disclaimer: I didn’t do my own research to determine the validity of these claims, but you have to admit, the current Christmas does seem like it should be a couple different holidays.) The two celebrations are for Jesus’ birth, and Saint Nicolas Day, a day where kids celebrated a man who loved kids (and God–we’ll give him the benefit of the doubt), and gave money to help kids stay out of slavery.  St Nicolas’ Day is where the gift giving traditions come from. I’m not really sure why I feel the need to point that out, except that the gift-giving tradition we settled on continues to merge the two holidays.

We don’t want PG to grow up thinking Christmas, or life in general, is about getting stuff, but it sure is fun to give gifts to people, and your children, especially.  This is what we decided, based off this blog post.  You can read there for a longer explanation, but here’s the short version. PG will get three gifts based off the three gifts the wise men brought baby Jesus, plus a stocking. A gold gift–something she wants (or a toy at this age). A frankincense gift–frankincense was used in the temple, so this is something to further spiritual growth. Finally, there is the myrrh gift. Myrrh was used for medicinal purposes, so this is something for the body (e.g. clothes, shoes, etc).

For PG’s gold gift this year, we got her a xylophone. The girl is not into books much, but she loves all things music. To save some dough and the earth, I got the xylophone at Once Upon a Child, a kids’ consignment store. [Warning, slight rant: There were about ten xylophones there, but only one with the eighth note.  I had to pay a dollar extra for the xylophone that had the final note of the scale. Why would someone make a xylophone that you could not play an entire octave on? You just can’t resolve a full scale with only seven notes. Anyway… oh yeah, and none of the twenty toy guitars there had any strings. What is up with that?]

For PG’s frankincense gift, I got her the Seeds of Purpose CD, Bible verses put to music that I mentioned here.

For the myrrh gift, I got her some toddler training pants. We won’t be using them by Christmas, but I am foreseeing sometime in the next year.

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As for her stocking, we’ll fill it with Goldfish crackers, Craisins, socks, toothbrushes, and hair barrettes.

That’s it. a Christmas that doesn’t break the bank, should still be fun, and hopefully sets some traditions we can maintain in the future. Do you have a system for your gift giving?

And just for fun, here’s a picture of her eyeing Santa suspiciously from the safety of my lap:

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Christmas Ornaments and Little Girls

(Sorry, no electric bill update yet. The TSH has been busy.)

One Christmas tradition we started last year was giving PG an ornament. Last year we got her a Precious Moments “Baby’s First Christmas” figurine, but this year, I made her a half-eaten gingerbread man. Here was the tutorial I used. It came out great and went really fast. IMG_5483

Then I tried to embroider her initials with the only hand stitch I knew–the back stitch, and decided I really needed to learn some new stitches. But even that didn’t turn out too bad. IMG_5484

Finally, I was enjoying watching this sweet little girl color today. So thankful for her!IMG_5498

Next post, I’ll let you know what we decided to do about her Christmas presents this year…


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The Advent Plan

I spent some time yesterday thinking about and reading ideas about Christmas presents and activities, to teach your kids about the real meaning of Christmas, and create some fun memories. Then last night TSH and I listened to a podcast where Phil Vischer was interviewed talking about celebrating St. Nick and Christmas as two different holidays. He also pointed out that for Christians, Easter should be the really big deal of the holidays, so I’ll need to come up with a plan for that when we get a bit closer. Anyway, I’ll share what we decided to do about Christmas gifts later, but today is advent calendar day. This is because December is only 1 day away, so I needed to get on the ball!

I saw a link to this DIY advent calendar, titled “DIY Advent Calendar for Broke People Who Line Dry Their Clothes.” I was like: “Hey! I am broke, and I line dry my clothes! This is the advent calendar for me!” and it really was. I had every single thing needed around my house. Basically, you cut out little trees from green paper, write numbers on them, and glue them to clothespins. Then you attach pieces of paper with activities to the clothespins, and every day you do the holiday activity that is on the paper. I put gold wrapping paper around the tree that represented Christmas, to set it apart. Here it is in all its glory:

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And then I made my list of activities. Which needed to be 1. free  2. within 20 minutes of driving, and 3. appropriate for a 15 month old who doesn’t tolerate long books or more than 5 minutes of movies. The 3rd category got stretched a bit, but here is what we came up with (some ideas are taken from here and here):

Dec 1: Open gift with new ornament (I made PG one–will talk about in a later post) and put on tree.

Dec 2: Color Christmas cards.

Dec 3: Make Christmas cookies. (Try not to eat them all: need for next two days.)

Dec 4: Christmas song/dance party with two little girls

Dec 5: Take cookies to Daddy and co-workers at work.

Dec 6: Read Christmas story in Jesus Storybook Bible.

Dec 7: Town Lights Festival and Parade

Dec 8: Family Christmas pictures

Dec 9: Starbucks holiday drinks (free due to Bing rewards and birthday)

Dec 10: Go get food for food drive somewhere–still need to look into this.

Dec 11: Make Christmas cards with little girls.

Dec 12: Take Christmas cards to people.

Dec 13: Sing Christmas carols.

Dec 14: Drive-Through Live Nativity

Dec 15: Watch Muppets Christmas Carol.

Dec 16: Church Christmas Cantata (and free holiday pops concert earlier that day if we are really inspired)

Dec 17: Get Christmas book at the library and read it.

Dec 18: Act out Christmas story with Nativity set.

Dec 19: Listen to Christmas CDs,

Dec 20: Give Christmas cards to cousins.

Dec 21: Open Christmas presents with cousins.

Dec 22: Make sand angels.

Dec 23: Read “Piper the Hyper Mouse: Twas the night before Christmas.”

Dec 24: Go to Christmas Eve Service and Uncle Paul’s Storytime at Aunt and Uncle’s Church and to their house afterwards.

Dec 25: Christmas! Sing “Happy Birthday to Jesus.”

P.S. Our electric bill from mid-October through mid-November finally showed up, so TSH may be here Monday or Tuesday with a guest post letting you know the results on our electricity savings experiment.

P.P.S. This has been a sad day for our family. Pray for us this weekend and coming week please.