#LightTheWorld Countdown for Little Children

I am so excited about this year’s light the world campaign and the opportunity to combine it with our annual tradition of having a Christ-centered advent calendar.  My kids call them circle activities because we use muffin tins to create our calendar so they take a circle off each day to find out what our activity is.  I have been doing them for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter the past couple of years (hoping to add Valentine’s day this year!) in order to keep our celebration meaningful, deliberate, and focused on the Savior.

I’m by no means anti-Santa, I love Santa, we do Santa.  But, I have had to DO nothing in order for my 4 year old and 2 year old to learn about Santa. He’s everywhere- in fact he knows when you are sleeping, he knows when you’re awake…

However, I do have to be deliberate and intentional in making sure they learn the true meaning of this time of year.  It’s not all strictly “religious” but I make sure that we find ways to tie the “just for fun” things back to the Savior.

As I mentioned I love the #LightTheWorld campaign for this year especially.  This time it’s broken down by week:

1- Light the World (global focus)

2- Light your Community

3- Light your Family

4- Light your Faith

As I sat down to start brainstorming our calendar I struggled a little to figure out how we could make sure the kids were actually involved in and understanding global service.  I reached out to friends for help and got some great ideas to incorporate into our calendar.  A really cool idea that didn’t make it on the calendar is the Light the World vending machine.  There is one in Gilbert by the water tower (also one at Temple Square in Salt Lake, Manhattan, London, and Manila- and if you can’t get to any of those there is a way to donate online at that hyper link).  This is a vending machine for charities- you choose to donate a pair of glasses, or a chicken, or clean water, etc!

Additionally- we’ll be kicking off our celebration before the calendar actually starts, I could just add it but it would throw off the perfect 24 spaces on the calendar and that might make my slightly obsessive brain explode.  But, we’ll be attending a local Live Nativity on November 30th at Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church.  It runs the 30th-1st.  There is also the Walk through Bethlehem in Chandler that sounds amazing but as I looked at our crazy calendar for the month I realized I needed to pair down a little and the time and distance on that was going to be a little too much for us this year.  That one runs the 14th-16th.

I’ve had a lot of fun thinking through how to incorporate these ideas for my little ones, and I really hope this helps others find ways to serve and make this season meaningful no matter the ages of your children or if we belong to different faiths- together we can Light the World!

 

1- Jesus said, “Rejoice and be glad!”- We’ll be attending a Christmas party- this is an example of how I incorporate a “just for fun” event and still make it meaningful.  This day has also been set aside as a Day of Service.  We will be bringing food and toy donations to the party as our service for the day.

Week 1- World

2- Jesus speaks to the world through His prophet- watch the Christmas Devotional

3- Missionaries are sent around the world to share the gospel- color pictures to mail to a missionary in a foreign country

4- Refugees have had to leave their homes in other parts of the world and come here to be safe.  Take a meal or other donations for refugee families.  If you’re in AZ then Gathering Humanity is an amazing organization!

5- Jesus created the world- Decorate the Christmas tree and talk about the days of the Creation

6- Jesus is the Light of the World- go to a light display (probably Glendale Glitters for us)

7- We believe in a God of miracles for the whole world.  Tell the Hanukkah story.  I’ve purchased this children’s book which tells the story and has beautiful illustrations.  I include Hanukkah each year for my kids because one of my best friends is Jewish and while we won’t be able to celebrate together this year, I have cherished memories of lighting the menorah with her growing up.  Also, I want my children to know and understand that God loves ALL of His children and provides them with miracles even if they believe differently than we do.  This also fits in so well with the global focus, no coincidence that Hanukkah lined up with week 1 this year, amIright??!

8- Asylum seekers come from different parts of the world and arrive here with nothing hoping to find safety.  Make and donate a backpack asylee kit.  We will have the kids pick the backpack and stuff it with the necessary items (my 2 year old LOVES backpacks right now so this will be a good way to get her involved).  We will be partnering with Gathering Humanity again for this one.  And special thanks to my cousin for guiding me to this idea!

Week 2- Community

9- Donate to the Humanitarian/ Fast offering fund.  We typically just do this online, but in order to get the kids involved we are going to go old school and use the paper slip and envelope and actual cash then have the kids hand it to the Bishop.

10- Angel craft

11- Jesus said, “Love thy neighbor as thyself.”  Make little ornaments and take them to our neighbors

12- Nativity Craft- I bought a cute little foam kit at Hobby Lobby.  They have a few different ones depending on your kids skill level (and your capability for handling messes!)

13- Take toy and clothes donations to Maggie’s Place.  One of our Thanksgiving activities was to clean up and clean out the playroom- this is where those will be going.

14- Jesus was born in a stable- go to a petting zoo to see the types of animals that might have been there.  We will be heading over to Superstition Farm.  This might seem silly, but we have done this a few years in a row now and the kids LOVE it.  Two years ago my son ran around the petting zoo yelling, “Jesus, where are you!”  Apparently when I told him we would see animals like the ones that were there when Jesus was born, he figured we would also see baby Jesus.  Last year we went after we saw The Star and they started calling all of the animals the names from the movie.

15- Jesus healed the sick- take treats to the NICU.  Our daughter was a NICU baby so we make sure and take treats to current NICU parents this time of year.  Be aware if you decide on a NICU for service it is best to call ahead and you really will just drop off the treats with the desk.  Small children will most likely not be allowed into the NICU.   We walk to the door together as a family and then my husband takes the kids to a nursery viewing window while I take the treats in to the actual NICU.

Week 3- Family

16- Jesus said, “Ye shall meet together oft.”  Church!  It might seem like cheating because we do this every week anyway, but I call it being creative with my resources.  Also, I think it’s good to periodically talk about WHY we go to church.

17- Light your family- Make little gifts for Grandparents

18- Cards for cousins

19- Jesus asked us to pray together as families- have family prayer and review how to pray

20- Gingerbread Stables

21- Family Movie Night- The Nativity (8 minutes- live action) Christmas Story videos (more very short videos telling the story) Joy to the World (about 45 min total), and we’ll probably do a VeggieTales or The Star

22- Make memories with Family- activity with extended family and open presents with them

Week 4- Light Your Faith

23- Sing Choirs of Angels- sing Christmas songs at church and with our opera singing relatives coming into town!  My husband’s brother is engaged and we will finally get to meet his fiancee this day!  Their common interest in opera brought them together!

24- Bethlehem dinner- I make lamb and other foods similar to what they would have eaten at that time in Bethlehem.  I’m hoping this year to eat it by light of a candle from that era as well.  Then we’ll read the story from Luke 2 and hopefully have the kids act it out!

 

Merry Christmas!!!  I hope this has given you some good ideas to incorporate in your own family’s celebration!

The worst solo I ever did sing: A more realistic holiday update

A week before Christmas I posted a 2017 update for our family, I saw a lot of other people post similar types of updates.  Ours went a little something like this (I don’t post names for privacy/ security, so you just get titles here):

“Family Adventures 2017!
-Husband was asked to serve as the Elder’s Quorum President (president of one of the men’s organizations in our congregation) and is still working for [insert company].
-I started a blog and continue to teach Relief Society (the women’s organization in our congregation) once a month
-Son started preschool, he is LOVING it and learning lots
-Daughter is 15 months now, she’s been walking for a while now and starting to talk a little. Her favorite things so say are, “All done” and “NO!”

We’ve done a lot of traveling this year including-
-Houston and San Antonio with a little jaunt up to Waco
-Husband got to go to Philly for work and took a side trip over to Baltimore to see his brother
-I took the kids and youngest sister in law to Utah to visit cousins
-Utah (again as the whole family) including a family reunion in Lindon/Provo area, Vernal for Dinosaur National Park, petroglyphs at McConkie Ranch, Fantasy Canyon, Arches, and Goblin Valley
-Several trips up to Flagstaff for Lowell Observatory and Sunset Crater
-Sedona
-Grand Canyon
-I went to Utah (so much Utah!) for a girl’s weekend and got to see a life size replica of the Ancient Biblical Tabernacle at the old BYU stomping ground
-Husband took several trips to CA for work, in October we all tagged along and took a day to go to Sea World
-After Thanksgiving we rode out on the Apache Trail to see the ruins at Tonto National Monument”

Based on this it probably sounds like 2017 was really hunky-dory and we are just having so much fun over here.  And we are having fun, and we have so much to be grateful for.  But 2017 was actually a pretty rough year.  I realized after I posted focusing on only the positive that I had actually left out most of the amazing blessings we have received and lessons we have learned this year and in so doing, kinda left God out of our update.  So here’s a more accurate portrayal of how 2017 went.

We’ll start at the end and work our way around:

At the beginning of December our ward choir director approached me and asked me to sing a solo as part of our special Christmas Sacrament meeting program on Christmas Eve.  I love to sing and am always happy for the opportunity so of course accepted.  She gave me the song- Star of Bethelehem– which to be honest, I have never particularly liked.  It’s fine, don’t get me wrong, I have just always thought it was a little cheesy.  But, again, I was happy to sing it.

The week before Christmas Eve (on my husband’s birthday/our anniversary) I caught the cold from Hades.  I mean this thing has morphed more times than a Power Ranger- it’s still lingering 2 weeks later.  I never anticipated that I would be sick for a whole week (let alone 2) but with how much other craziness was going on (I’ll fill in those details later), I got to the Saturday night before Christmas Eve and the cold had settled all of it’s mucus in my nose and sinuses.  This makes singing a little tricky but it was a little too late to try to find someone else to cover for me.  I practiced it a few times, and though I knew I wouldn’t be at my best, I sounded fine.

The next morning I practiced with the accompanist, it sounded fine, not as great as I knew I could do, but fine.  When it came time to get up to sing in the program, I don’t know what happened.  The snot shifted weird or something, but I could hardly get a note out.  I had very little control over what my voice was doing.  That’s a very humbling place to be as a singer because your body and your voice are just not doing what you want them to do.

Then I got to these lines:

“A sweeter face I ne’er will see
Than of those loving eyes smiling up at me.
I found a King, I found a Friend,
That night in Bethlehem”

Since becoming a mom, singing about the Christ child has become very emotional for me. My kids have been giving me a run for my money lately, and maybe that added to it.  But thinking about Christ as a baby, and then referring to Him as our friend, I just lost it.  So on top of being sick now I was emotional which is just really not a great combo for beautiful singing.

I tried to get it together, which I probably could have done better if I weren’t also ill, but then came to these lines:

“And though I stumble and fall I can hear someone call,
“Do not despair, your star is still there.”‘

And I thought about the struggles we’ve been going through which pale in comparison to some of the other struggles going on in our congregation.  We have three members dealing with very serious cases of cancer.  One of those is a child.  And there are many other serious trials that people from our church family are struggling with.  So I completely lost it again and barely tripped along through the rest of the song.  I’m telling you it was the worst singing I think I have ever done publicly.

But…

Afterwards several people thanked me and told me they had been crying through it right along with me.  I think that if I had not been sick and therefore more humble than my typical self, and had not become emotional, it would have just been a simple (and maybe a little cheesy) song.  It might have sounded nice, but the message and the impact might have been lost.  I think we all needed a good cry together.  If I hadn’t been sick and emotional I know I would have missed out on a blessing and a lesson, and might not have been able to deliver the message that Heavenly Father needed delivered in that moment.

And that’s kind of representative of how 2017 went for us.  So here’s a summary of the craziness we have faced this year:

January- my husband woke up with his uvula so swollen that he couldn’t talk or swallow, and could only breathe through his nose.  Emergency room visit #1

February- husband had surgery to hopefully fix the issues that caused the great uvula debacle of January.  I also finally decided I was sick of being in constant pain following my second pregnancy and started physical therapy.  Which was very helpful, but finding a babysitter once a week (times 8 weeks) for 2 kids was a little bit stressful.

March- actually I think this month was ok over all

April- my anxiety hit a pretty high point due to some external stressors including my husband’s business trips, I gained back any and all weight I had lost post pregnancy

May- We started solids with baby girl and her stomach did not agree with certain baby foods.  She started waking up in the middle of the night with horrible gas pains and would scream for about 3 hours. Every. single. night.  Hoping to help clear her out I started giving her pear juice, and more pear juice.  Turns out pears were one of the problems.  We didn’t sleep for a month.

June- lots of traveling, fun, but taxing.

July- discovered nodules in my thyroid, had several suspicious moles removed two of which were found to be moderately concerning (don’t freak out there’s still severely concerning and pre-melanoma before you get to melanoma)

August- got said moles removed which meant no lifting for a while (that’s really easy when you have 2 small children), got in to a thyroid specialist (pretty sure I just like lived at the doctor this year- this started a round of monthly blood draws and doctor visits)

September- husband experienced some unsettling symptoms and ended up in the emergency room again- turned out to just be a complex migraine

October- car started making some weird noises

November- husband got a nasty cough that turned into chest pains that turned into another visit to the ER.  Everything with his heart was fine- they sent him home not knowing what the problem was.  With 3 ER trips in a year I decided we needed to start weeding out what could be causing him to get sick so often and decided to start with a mold test.  Look no further, we found mold.  Which as it turns out could cause ALL of the random symptoms he had experienced.  Just after Thanksgiving we started the mold removal process which meant emptying our playroom and having it tarped off.  Weird car noises constantly looming.

December- Just keep that construction zone in the back of your mind, lots of noise, lots of workers in and out of the house and coordinating schedules.  Then the heater broke, luckily it was an easier fix than we were worried about.  Then husband left town again for work.  I don’t do very well anxiety wise while he is gone in general, but on top of everything else it was really rough.  I had several commitments in the evening which meant finding babysitters which is nice for the break but the act of finding them was contributing to my anxiety.  And then to top it off, the afternoon before daddy got home, the 3 year old did this:
IMG_20171214_154758 (2)

Then I started getting that dreadful cold I referred to earlier.  Happy birthday/ anniversary honey, I feel like death warmed over!  However, we did have tickets to the Nathan Pacheco concert for the day after the Birth-aversary.  At this point we were both sick but decided it was worth venturing out.  We went to a Thai restaurant right next to the Mesa Arts Center.  We got seated right away and our order was taken quickly and then we waited and waited and waited.  Eventually when I was already starting to get anxious that we were going to have to rush through our meal, our waitress came over to inform us that she had forgotten to put in our order.  She offered to put it in right away but it would be another 25 minutes.  No time for that so we got Subway for our romantic anniversary date.  The concert was AMAZING.  But, a mom and her teenage daughter sat in front of us.  For the first 3 songs, the mom, not the daughter, had her phone out constantly taking pictures and recording with her phone screen in my face.  PSA- this is technically illegal as it’s copyright infringement and there were signs posted, but it’s also really rude and distracting to the people behind you.  After the third song I leaned forward during the applause and tapped her on the shoulder and said, “I’m really sorry, but could you please keep your phone off, the light is really distracting.”  She responded, “Oh, my phone’s not on.”  “Well, it’s been on during the songs.”  Seriously??  Why was your first inclination to LIE?  You could have just said, “Oh, I’m sorry.”  Again, this was not the teenager, this was the 40 year old woman.  I could go on this rant for a while, but I’ll save that for another post.

We got to the car afterwards and headed towards my parents’ house to pick up the kids.  Now there’s this place along 202 Red Mountain Freeway where I have broken down several times in several different cars.  I’ve run out of oil, had a tire blow out, and run out of gas.  This stretch happens to have about 3 miles with no exits.  While in this stretch my car made a clunk noise and started losing speed and would not accelerate.  Got to the next exit and thought we would just turn into the nearest gas station, oh there aren’t any within 3 miles of the freeway there.  Managed to hop the car along the last 8 miles to my parents’ house.  They got it in to the dealer for me the next day and we discovered that it would cost more to fix than the worth of the car.  Something about spark plugs like exploding, I don’t really know much about cars, but bad things happened.

So needless to say I am kinda ending this year as a hot mess.

But, through all of this there have been amazing blessings and tender mercies.

Through all the ER and doctor’s visits, people have willingly and gladly stepped up and watched our children.  It’s hard to have had to ask for help so many times this year, but it’s beautiful to know that we have amazing friends, family, and a church family who will help us on a moment’s notice.

Discovering nodules in my thyroid was scary because I thought it might mean surgery, but it meant that I had to see a specialist instead of my primary care doctor.  The specialist immediately looked at me and said, “Let me guess, they keep telling you that you are ‘low side of normal’? Well, if you’re developing nodules then obviously that’s not good enough for you.”  I’ve literally been saying that for YEARS!  He suggested trying to up my meds in lieu of removing my thyroid.  I immediately started losing weight, the swelling in my thyroid has gone away, and the nodules are not growing- as long as they stay their current size they are fine.  So this medical problem ended up being a blessing in disguise.

I wasn’t sure what I was going to do about having the moles removed and not being able to lift for a week.  You don’t exactly get sick leave from your children.  As I was trying to figure out what on earth to do, my little brother ended up deciding to move back to Arizona to search for a job, which meant that he didn’t have a job yet when I had to have the procedure so he was able to come and be my nanny.  In general having him back has been a huge blessing to our little family.

And the mold/heater/car issue.  All of those right on top of each other.  People often ask, “Where is God?” when they go through a significant trial.  It’s hard to keep perspective and rarely are we given the opportunity to see how bad things COULD have been.  Not that we should constantly dwell on that while going through trials, but when He does help us with the perspective it can be very strengthening.

The mold issue was bad, and initially we weren’t sure if insurance would cover very much of it.  We were being faced with the possibility that this would decimate our savings.  Then our heater went out on top of that, which was a possibility for another $4k right there.  And on top of that the car was not sounding good.   We are pretty big savers and avoid debt as much as possible so this was really scary.  We talked it over and agreed that we would keep Christmas gifts really small as we couldn’t justify spending more money when we were so unsure of how things would work out.  I immediately felt a burden lifted realizing that I didn’t have to spend effort on finding gifts, and I did have a box of books in the closet that I had been saving so there would be at least some gifts for the kids.  Then we found out that heater was actually a very simple fix, only about $100 instead of $4k.  Then we found out that the insurance company was going to cover almost all of the mold/ water damage remediation.  We still have some out of pocket expenses but nothing compared to the total.  The car died close to my parents’ house and they work at the same school together so they were able to loan us one of their cars without any extreme inconvenience on their part.  And while we did have to get a loan for the new car, which was something we had hoped to avoid, it’s not the end of the world.  Plus we got to upgrade to a van which has already been a blessing on many occasions.

With this set of trials we have been able to see how devastating everything COULD have been, and yet at each turn it has turned into more of an inconvenience.   We have seen the hand of God helping us through.  Kind of like how that song wouldn’t have been as meaningful if I hadn’t been sick and emotional, if we hadn’t gone through these struggles we wouldn’t have necessarily recognized all of these blessings.

I’m grateful for the challenges because of the blessings they highlighted, I’m also grateful for the positive and fun things we experienced.  But overall, here’s to 2018 being far less interesting than 2017!

Christ-centered Christmas Advent Activities

Last year as we were coming into the Christmas season I had a few strong impressions from the spirit which lead to some resolutions.  One that I needed to be a more deliberate mother, that we needed more structure in our lives.  The other that I needed to focus on keeping this holiday about Christ.  With absolutely no deliberate action on my part, my children will learn about Santa.  Santa is everywhere.  Shows, decorations, songs, EVERYWHERE.  Let me be clear that I am by no means anti-Santa, and he does visit our house.  BUT, because everywhere else we get inundated with Santa and commercialization, I felt very strongly that I needed to come up with meaningful and fun activities to make sure my kids understand that this holiday is about Jesus.

If you look at my Thanksgiving advent post I explain a little bit of how I put together these activities.  But for a quick recap, I keep it simple, there’s candy involved, and I use dollar store muffin tins with circles of construction paper to make the calendar.  I don’t have December’s put together yet, but here’s a picture of November’s for reference- just imagine red and green paper instead.IMG_20161031_151857448

Some of my activities are based on the #LightTheWorld campaign from mormon.org, but I struggled to come up with activities for a 3 year old and 1 year old that fit with each scripture.  I also did not go in the order of their calendar at all just because certain activities would work better for us on different days of the week.

You’ll notice that I included a day to celebrate Hannukah, I did this for a few reasons:

  1.  One of my very best friends is Jewish and she has inspired me to want to teach my children to love and respect other cultures.  Also she’ll be visiting right after Hannukah ends, so we’ll get together and have a belated Hannukah bash!
  2. My thought for that day is that we believe in a God of miracles.  The story of Hannukah contains a beautiful miracle and it’s fairly simple for children to understand.
  3. I want my children to understand that God loves and gives miracles to EVERYONE, even those that believe differently than we do.

In addition to the activities listed below we also have Nativity picture books, one from Usborne and the others I think I just grabbed from Toys R Us, and I found some Nativity printables on Pinterest and turned them into magnets for the magnet board in the play room.

I don’t have all the dates set in stone, but here’s my list of thoughts and activities.  Activities based on Light the World have a little star.

  1. Jesus created the world and all of nature.  Decorate the Tree.
  2. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad.* Attend the Southwest Family Christmas Party (my mother in law works for Southwest and you should all be jealous because their family party is so much fun!  But I felt like this Light the World activity should definitely be matched up with a party, so if you already have a holiday party to attend, just pair it with this scripture!)
  3. Jesus speaks through His Prophet and Apostles.  Watch the Christmas Devotional.
  4. Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.* Make ornaments to take to neighbors (I’m using foam and felt snowflakes that I got from Target last year because they are super easy and low mess, but substitute whatever craft floats your boat.)
  5. Nativity sticker scene, again, I picked up a pack of stickers last year at Target.
  6. I was in prison and ye visited me.* Take treats to a police station.
  7. Make gingerbread stables for Family Home Evening.
  8. Jesus is the light of the world.  Go to Glendale Glitters. Here’s an example of doing something fun, but still keeping it Christ-centered by linking the lights back to Him.
  9. I was sick and ye visited me.* Take treats to the NICU.  If you want the long story for why we pick the NICU you can read that post here.  Short story, my daughter was in the NICU for 10 days.  We took treats last year, and I plan on continuing the tradition as the kids grow up.  If you want to do a NICU near you just know it’s best to call ahead and you really will just drop the treats off, young children will most likely not be allowed in.  But, being there even for the short time we were, was lonely and stressful, I can’t imagine being there during the holidays, so NICU parents are definitely a group that could use some cheer.  You could pick any group of ailing individuals, visit someone who recently had surgery, etc.
  10. Jesus gave us temples.  Got to the Mesa Temple Lights.
  11. Family Home Evening, movie night with Nativity movies.  Bible Videos-Nativity, Collection of short Christmas videos, Joy to the World
  12. I was naked and ye clothed me.* Drop off donations to Maggie’s Place.
  13. We believe in a God of Miracles.  Tell the Hannukah story, light candles, play dreidels, etc.
  14. Jesus gave us families.  Make ornaments for grandparents.
  15. Visit a Live Nativity.  There’s a few I’m considering but need to figure out some dates.  Here’s some links to help you out.  Walk through Bethlehem, Grace Glendale
  16. Because of Jesus, our family can be together forever.  Make wreaths (circles have no end.)
  17. Ye shall meet together oft.* Go to church.
  18. Make more ornaments for friends and family.
  19. Family Home Evening- Caroling
  20. For I was an hungered and ye gave me meat.* Donate food, either to a food drive or take a meal to someone who is sick, or a refugee family.
  21. Wisemen still seek Him.  Do a wisemen craft.
  22. Jesus was born in a stable with animals around.  Visit a petting zoo.
  23. Go to see The Star in theaters.  We aren’t huge movie goers, and part of me is wondering if I’m crazy to take a 1 year old and a 3 year old to a legit movie theater,  but I feel like it’s important to support this film so that more like it can be made!  Also, my friend’s son is one of the animators so that’s pretty cool!
  24. Bethlehem dinner.  Last year we started this tradition, and it definitely went over my son’s head, and I think he was sick and didn’t eat anyway, but by golly we are going to stick with it.  We’ve decided to do Christmas Eve on our own as just our little family.  For dinner we eat the type of food that was eaten in Bethlehem.  We had lamb with pita bread which I bought from a Middle Eastern market (you should find one, it was a really neat experience).  We had goat cheese, I cheated on this and bought the stuff wrapped in cranberries from Costco, so maybe less authentic, but sooo good.  Then we read the Christmas story and used our Nativity magnets to help act it out, as the kids get older we’ll have them do the acting, but for now we just use the pictures.

Merry Christmas!