Thursday, October 8, 2015

Baby Basics

        As soon as the line on the test shows a positive, most first time parents run out to their nearest baby retail store and start a registry for their new bundle of joy. Unsure of what is a true necessity and after hearing so many conflicting stories from friends and family, these overwhelmed rookies turn to baby websites and online articles searching for hints on what to scan as they spend the entire day scouring the isles of "product pushers r us".

          Naive that these large retailers would ever steer them wrong, their 17 page registry is printed by numerous well wishers and they find themselves the proud owners of 20 bottle scrubbers, a highchair, and some weird sheep that simultaneously shines stars on the nursery ceiling, warms bottles, and dispenses teething tablets. They look around their once spacious dwelling and see what now looks like a distribution center for Graco, Fisher Price, and Baby Bjorn all rolled into one.

          I can look back and write this while laughing now because as a first time mother, my registry was loaded with the "hottest" baby items of the season and practically nothing, well....practical. Since more than 8 years have passed since having our first little blessing, our family's outlook of needs for our entire family has changed and we have now adopted a minimalist and purposeful lifestyle in everything that we do.

          Now that I'm in the closing weeks of my 6th pregnancy, time, trial and error have taught me that babies need really quite little to keep them happy and healthy! While your list of basics may be a little different than mine, here is what we feel is what our 6th little one truly needs on hand!


  • Blankets
    • 3 muslin blankets (these easily work for swaddling, trips out in the car seat, and can be used as a nursing cover as well)
    • 1 knit blanket (This time around, we are having a late fall baby in MI, so something heavier for out and about is nice to have. My sweet grandmother always crochets a beautiful blanket for our newbies!)
  • Breasts/bottle
    • Baby has to eat, right? :) I've nursed all our babies to at least a year and only our first baby ever took a bottle of pumped milk. Again, pier pressure led me to believe that babies NEEDED this pump and bottles have sat in the closet for the next 4 babies.
    • Nursing tops and pads are a nice thing to have one hand as your supply is getting established.
    • A nursing pillow is a lovely addition when breast feeding but any pillow will work to raise baby up to a higher position so your back doesn't get sore while nursing.
  • Burp Cloths
    • Babies do spit up quite a lot, but that doesn't mean you need dozens of expensive cloths. Flannel wipes, blankets, or washrags can be used very inexpensively.

  • Baby Diapers/Wipes
    • From baby number one, we have used Bumgenius cloth diapers. We would use up the disposable stash that the hospital sent home with us and then we've always switched to cloth until our little ones were potty trained. They have saved us a fortune over the years, even when we needed to replace them after 3 babies.
    • We also use flannel cloth wipes with a homemade witch hazel spray on our kiddos' bums. If you are going to be washing diapers you might as well save money and wash wipes as well too!
  • Bed 
    • Opinion on where baby should sleep differ a lot between families, but for us we have always kept our little one in a pack n' play next to our bed until they were ready to sleep through the night(usually around 6+ months) and then moved them to a crib in either the boy or girl's room - depending on their gender. A mini crib or pack n' play can easily work for baby up until they are ready to move to a big kid bed. 
    • 2 sheets are always nice to have layered with a waterproof pad under each layer. If baby has an accident at night, just pull off the top sheet and pad for a clean layer.
  • Baby Clothes
    • 4 footed sleepers, 2 sleep gowns, 4 onesies, 3 pairs of socks. This is approximately what we will have on hand for the newborn-6 month period. A few extra cute outfits will be added in once baby is sitting up and moving about. 
    • Since this baby is a sweet gal (we have 4 boys and 1 girl already) a pretty headband seems like a necessity. ;) (See you can splurge every now and then!
  • Baby Seat
    • You can't leave the hospital without one!

      - BONUS ITEMS -
  • Baby Transportation
    • Stroller - I'm a huge fan of strollers, and with 5 kids and counting we have baggage with us where ever we go, so it is nice to have a place to stow our things and an extra seat for little ones to rotate through while we are out. 
    • Baby Sling - I've also used a sling carrier with all my little ones. It is nice to be able to be hands free if needed and keep baby close, especially if they are fussy.

  • Baby Swing
    • To many this might seem like a splurge, but as a mom of 2 fussy babies, 1 early riser, and 1 baby with colic for almost 6 months, a swing has been a sanity saver. It allowed me to sleep past 4am with our first baby, kept the cranky babies happy long enough for me to shower and eat something, and gave me a safe place to lay our poor baby with colic while I took a short break while he screamed non-stop from 8pm to 3am every night.

        So this is our family's list for our new little baby. We already owned the stroller, swing, pack n' play, car seat, diapers, wipes, and baby sling from our last 3 babies, but since there is a 4+ year gap between girls we had given most everything else away. Since we purchase so few clothing items for our babies, usually they are all used up by the time they have been washed so frequently and those that aren't, get passed on to someone else. For under $40 we have purchased all the remaining items.

         When I think about how many things we had for our first few children and how overwhelming it was to store, move, and clean those items, how much money was wasted, and how many items just sat in our nursery unused......well it is embarrassing and heartbreaking to think of how many other little ones could have been clothed and cared for with those items and money.

         Providing for a little one doesn't cost the thousands of dollars most magazines portray. If you are expecting your first baby, family and friends are usually more than happy to buy or give you the items you need. Just make sure you are specific on your registry about what items you really need and borrow what you can first. If your baby really likes an item, down the road it might be worth it to spend the money on that bigger item. 

What would you add? What is your must have baby item?

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

On The Road Again: 5 Ways to Make Traveling Fun

Traveling with children is always an exciting experience,  but it can also be a stressful time if you aren't armed with necessities of the road! Here are some things we never leave home without when heading on vacation! 

Snack Tubs
Our family of 6, soon to be 7, are spread out over three rows in our SUV and while I'm very thankful for all the leg room this vehicle provides, it makes it very hard to pass items around or get items back to the kids in the 3rd row. In an effort to minimize the amount of times people have to unbuckle, climb over seats, or spill items on people behind them, we now use snack tubs on trips.

Each child has their own tub, customized to their own personal likes with snacks, drinks, and sometimes even special treats just for our time on the road. We don't snack a lot at home, so this is a super special occasion for all of us! 

I have run the gamut on what I have filled them with on different trips. From things like apples, granola bars, bottled water, and cheese sticks to cookies, gummy bears, juice boxes, and mini donuts. :) No matter what is in them, it really makes our trips go more smoothly when each person has their own tub to pull from right next to their seat. 

I personally love these tubs with the latches on both ends as they keeps everything snug and sound even if the tub gets dropped or we make a sharp turn and they slip onto the floor.

Audio Books & Dramas
There is nothing like a quiet vehicle when traveling down the road and nothing grabs my kid's attention more than a fun story on CD. Some of our favorites are:

  • Adventures in Odyssey's Truth Chronicles
  • Adventures in Odyssey's Bible Eyewitness Set
  • Adventures in Odyssey's For God and Country History Set
  • Your Story Hour CDs
  • Lamplighter Series
  • Audio Classics on LibriVox
  •  Books on CD:
    • Beginner's Bible on CD
    • Madeline
    • Curious George
    • Blueberries for Sal
    • If you Give a Mouse a Cookie
    • Jonah and the Big Whale
There's nothing like a heated game of I Spy, Twenty Questions, or The Alphabet Game to make time fly by while in the car. We also have Travel Bingo cards and dry erase crayons or markers in the car, that are a family favorite.

The license plate game is always fun and we also have magnetic tic-tac-toe and a fun Melissa and Doug wooden matching game that the kids enjoy.

Reading Material & Activity Books
I know that this may not be an option for all as reading in the car makes some people sick; however, my kids don't have this problem, so we love to bring along books, magazines, circle the words, sticker and coloring books.

My daughter can color for hours and can't get enough of stickers so time just flies when she is in her own little world. One of my boys loves anything WW2 or Nascar, so he will obsessively read a race program or a tank book for hours on end. My rambunctious fellow loves hidden pictures hunts, knock knock jokes, and to read Bible stories so his go to is his Clubhouse Jr Magazine. Invest in what your kids enjoy and you will have a peaceful car trip.

Videos and Movies
This last one is always one I'm on the fence about. I grew up in a time where you kept yourself busy in the car with some of the above items or looked out the window and enjoyed the scenery and happily lived to tell about it, so I hesitantly add this last one. This is one we rarely pull out but on longer trips I have to admit it has been a nice perk.

We have a double screen set of DVD players that attach to our headrests and can reach all the way back to the 3rd row so no one misses out on the fun! It's nice to pop in a Veggie Tale movie, let the zombie stares ensue, and hubs and I get our own quiet date in the front row!

There are many ways to make a car trip more fun, what are your family's favorites?

Monday, February 23, 2015

These Are a Few of My Favorite Things!

Since I've only been homeschooling for around 8 years, I'm obviously no expert when it comes to all things learning at home. However, there have been a few things that have worked amazingly and consistently well for our family and I think many of these items would serve most homeschoolers well. So, I'd love to share them with you!

  • Shared supply caddy - when we first started our journey into homeschooling, like many families, I tried to copy the government run school system (even though I've never experienced it myself). I bought supplies for each kiddo,  got them their own little pencil boxes, and had them carry them back and forth from the closet to the table where we worked. This was a very futile exercise.  The boxes just became places where random little toys began to hide out, not to mention there were just too many supplies floating around and that was with just 2 kids! I looked into the future and saw 25 boxes of supplies overflowing with junk and knew I needed to find a better alternative.  
    I headed to Hobby Lobby and found this great caddy with 3 divided areas on one side and a large open area on the other side. It holds our crayons, markers, scissors, pens, tape, and glue sticks perfectly!  Toss in a ruler, some permanent markers, some extra erasers and we are ready to go! 3 days a week you will find it plopped right in the middle of our table as we create, explore, and discover new things together!
    Ours looks just like this except it is a dark woven basket. 

    • Twistable crayons - I'm obviously not a fan of clutter and messes, so normal crayons are my nemesis. Sharpening them, the peeling paper, broken bits and pieces......ahhhh! It's enough to make minimalists shudder in fear. ;) Twistable crayons have been such a great choice for our family. They are basically impossible to break in little hands, they obviously twist up instead of needing to be peeled and sharpened, and they don't make a lot of mess on the container they are stored in. Again, this item is something we've used successfully for over 4 years.
      Combine the fun of mini Twistables Crayons with stimulating special ...
      We have 24 colors to choose from!

  • Well Planned Day Homeschool Planner - I love to be organized and having a functional planner is a must, but one that is also beautiful is a nice bonus! I've used this particular planner for 3 years and every year after researching alternatives, I always head right back to and buy my planner for the upcoming year. While the price seems steep to some, the ease of use, great articles, and handy sheets for documenting all those random things you do that count as homeschooling makes this a must for us! From January through March 31st, they always have a wonderful presale with at least 20% off their products, so that helps offset the cost. Planners start shipping mid February, so my 2015-2016 planner should be here any day!

    Affiliate Link

    • Mechanical Pencils - Going along with the entire mess thing that traditional crayons bring, many of those same problems rear their head with regular pencils. My kids love getting character or themed pencils, but I cringe. Not only do I greatly dislike character products (Yes I finally did give in and allow my daughter to have Hello Kitty underwear) but I know I’m going to spend the next hour basically sharpening these inferior products down to little nubbins in order to get the pencil ready to write.  So I bought a pack of mechanical pencils and never looked back!  All three of my big kids know how to load new lead into their mechanical pencils, so this helps in them being able to complete their work as independently as possible. Mechanical pencils also allow you to insert new erasers when one wears down vs traditional pencils that are basically useless once an eraser is gone. I’m sure I may receive some backlash from traditionalists :)  Maybe I’m ruining my kiddos or their hands will be all gnarly and crippled by age 9, but for right now these have worked great for our family!
    BIC MVP41-BLK Velocity Comfort Grip Mechanical Pencil
    These BIC Velocity Pencils are our favorite

  • Lamination Machine - When we first got this machine, it sat in the closet for quite a while before getting any real use. I think it seemed really expensive to use or maybe I wasn't sure what really needed to be preserved from little hands that love to wrinkle things.....I don't know. But it wasn't long before this little machine was making more regular appearances and now I can say in all honesty our Scotch Thermal Laminator gets used every week, sometimes a couple times a week. It's been a great investment! It frequently goes on sale for $18 and has lasted us over 3 years and is still going strong. The refills can be found at most stores like Wal-mart or Meijer and even off brand lamination pockets/sheets work wonderfully in the machine. I use it mostly for unit studies or printable activities that I want multiple kiddos to use down the road.
    laminator olympia a 296 incl pouches 2x a4 2 x a5 2 x business card ...
    This Scotch Laminator is a little workhorse! 

    • Wireless Printer - I work completely off of a laptop, so my office consists of me sitting on the couch, usually watching an old classic movie, with the computer sitting on my lap and the printer sitting in a completely other room on the top of my dresser.....high tech, I know! Anyway, since we got our wireless printer, life has been so much easier. I used to have to work on something, then stand up, walk to the bedroom, plug in my printer, wait for it to connect and then print.  I can now print documents, activities, school projects, and photos all from the comfort of my couch. It's always on and available and I can quickly print off a worksheet that ties in with our lesson or a lesson plan for our Bible or history. It's obviously not a necessity, but it sure is a nice little perk!
    We have a HP Envy 4500.
    • The Bible - This may be last on my list, but it is definitely not's actually TOP of my list of favorite things! I personally believe that NO homeschool will be successful without this key tool. Not only is it the first ever written parenting help book, but it gives key guidelines on HOW to homeschool your child and EVERY child. No need to sort through different curriculum styles or put your child through rigorous tests to find your child's learning style. Through simple, easy examples it gives parents ALL the tools they need to raise their children to be successful in life!

      Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.
      Deuteronomy 6:5-9

       For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?
      Matthew 16:26
    What are a few of YOUR favorite things that make homeschooling great?

    Thursday, February 5, 2015

    No, I'm not.

    I saw a post on FB the other day to blog post asking, "Are you a fun mom?" I didn't need to click on the link to know the answer to this question. Every once in a while? Yes. Regularly? No.

    It's such a shame too, because I used to be a really fun gal, but after I got sick, I turned into the "lets-get-things-checked-off-and-if-at-6pm-mom-isn't-dead-on-the-couch-I-will-let-you-get-something-out-that-doesn't-make-a-mess-I-will-have-to-clean-up-and-I-will-WATCH-you-have-fun" mom. Disappointing I know. 

    We even got our school work done ahead this week, due to a co-op snow day, and still the thought of the effort and time it would take to have that extra fun, seemed overwhelming. My hubby said yesterday, "We will get everything cleaned up and our school work finished for the week and tomorrow you will be free to have fun with mom!" They looked at me and I looked at them. I think we were both aware of the disappointment that phrase held.

    It's easy to get sidelined with the "have to do's" and not be able to get to the "need to do's". Sometimes we just need to stop our work, enjoy life, love our kids in a tangible, hands on way, and have fun! Good clean fun, and if you are really brave, maybe some dirty fun too!!!

    I highly encourage you to stop today and be the FUN MOM!!!

    Here's what is happening at the Howard House today!!!! 
    What are you doing today to enjoy, love, and have fun with your children?

    Saturday, January 10, 2015

    Pre-sale Event!

    Pre-sale Event!! 

    Click on picture below to take you to the sale! 
    Don't miss out, sale ends March 31st!

    Affiliate Link

    Wednesday, December 31, 2014

    Starting Out On the Right Foot

    I love the new year because it means a chance to start fresh! A clean slate.....and a great time to reset our homes and change them into a wonderful refuge! If your family is like ours, you've just been inundated with an onslaught of new toys, gizmos, clothes, and gifts that now need new homes. If your home was already feeling crowded and cluttered, these new items may be just the things that finally pushes  you over the edge or being frustrated to overwhelmed with the state of your home!

    I'm a firm believer that ever item in a house needs a permanent(uncluttered) home and if homes are at a premium, then the only solution is to evict some items to make room for those items that are really treasured and loved. I want to add here, that sometimes the item that needs to leave may be something you just received. SHOCKING, I know! Many times we receive things that we don't like, enjoy, or need and while we should be thankful for the kindness of the giver, we don't need to keep the item. This is a great opportunity to bless someone less fortunate!

    Have nothing in your house

    that you do not know to be useful
    or believe to be beautiful.
    -William Morris

    I've always loved this quote and feel that it really is the basic question we should be asking ourselves when we go through items to decide whether they make the cut. If we keep items around that we don't enjoy or use these items are basically sitting their taking up space, causing us stress, and adding work to our already busy schedule. Everyone wants to organize what they have, but the truth is you can only keep organized what you have space for.....clutter and excess cannot be organized.

    Photo Credit

    There are many ways of getting rid of that excess, but I'm going to share some of my favorites.

    • Go big or go home! 
      • This one is my favorite, I'm an all or nothing kind of gal! This decluttering method kills two birds with one stone because you are purging and cleaning at the same time. It starts off with taking everything out of the room and placing it in another area, such as the hall. If this seems too overwhelming, use this method on one area within a room, such as a dresser. Take everything out, clean the space, and then only bring back into the room the items your really use and love, and put everything left over in your donate box or trash box! I love doing this method because once you've finished the space, you have a beautifully organized, minimalized, and sanitized space. It's like an entirely fresh start!
    • Challenge Purging!
      • When I first started my adventure into decluttering and living a minimalized lifestyle, I did the 40 bags in 40 days challenge. Not only was it the encouragement and support I needed but it also gave me an attainable goal to reach. By breaking it into small chunks it didn't overwhelm me or take to much time out of my normal day with my littles. It helped me reach my goal, and once I got started I quickly exceeded it. I got to know the donation place guy by the first name! The bags of things could be trash, donations, or items to sell. Just get stuff into those bags and once you start you see and feel the weight of excess lift and you are inspired to give things away you never thought you would part with.
    • Hanger Switcharoo
      • Clothes have always been a hard item for me to part with. Because I'm tall it is hard to find items that fit well and when they do, I like to hold onto them. But just because an item fits the body it doesn't mean it looks good on you, that you like it, or that you ever wear it. This is basically the easiest way to purge...ever. Simply turn all your coat hangers around backwards and as you wear an item turn the coat hanger around. At the end of 6 months or a year whatever items are still in there backwards, simply grab them quickly and toss them into a bag. Unless it is a special occasion item or maternity item, if you haven't worn it in that long, there's a very good chance you never will and someone else could benefit from that item.
    These are just a few easy techniques I've used and still use yearly to keep my house from feeling full and overwhelmed with stuff. I hope these ideas help you in your quest to start the new year off right!

    What are some of your favorite ways to purge your home of unwanted items?

    Tuesday, December 30, 2014

    Curriculum: 2014 -2015

    Every year before the school year begins, I always sit down and share my curriculum picks for our family. Well this year that never happened. The school year started off with a bang, we got engrossed in our studies, life, the lovely fall weather, and our homeschool co-op and it just slipped out of my mind.

    Well, I didn't want to just gloss over our curriculum this year, because, well frankly, we love it! It's been fun, interesting, easy, and enjoyable and the kids have learned so much! Without further ado:

    Group Learning:
    Grant (age 7): 
    Paige (age 3): 
    So far we are loving learning as a family and the Beautiful Feet core has worked great for everyone. We enjoy cuddling together every day on the couch as we read great classic books, adventure stories, and other great read alouds as we journey through early American history. Most of the other items we are using in a group setting tie in with our history core. So as we read about history we are also drawing Indians, writing about the Pilgrim's voyage, building log :common houses", coloring maps of England, Holland, and the new world, journaling about the character qualities these brave adventurers displayed, and discussing what we are learned from their success and mistakes. It has taken our learning to such a practical level that allows us to apply what we've learned in our every day lives!
    While plans may change, we hope to continue using many of these resources next year and continue learning in such a relaxed and easy format. I hope to review more of what we are using this year and share some things we hope to adventure into in the future! 

    What things are you using this year that you just love and want to share? 

    Monday, December 29, 2014

    Showing Gratitude

    While the art of writing a thank you note has mostly gone out of style, in our family taking the time to show gratitude for all the wonderful gifts they received for Christmas is not only in good taste, but is also a practical learning and character building lesson!

     It reminds our children that someone took time, effort, and money to choose a special gift just for them and now they should take time and effort to show how grateful they are in return! Even though we take a short break from formal schooling for Christmas, learning happens every minute of the day. So before we plunge back into our normal routine, we take time to focus on writing thank you notes to teach a practical skill that, I believe, every adult (and child) should have in their arsenal of good manners and habits.

    Thank you notes also incorporate the use of handwriting skills, phonics and spelling, using formal greetings and salutations, grammar, punctuation, the art of addressing an envelope, and many more skills that could be taught from a worksheet, but are much more easily taught in this practical form.
    Thank you notes in our home greatly change from year to year based on the age of our children and their current skill levels. When my first little guy was 2, I simply had him color and paint on a small piece of cardstock and I wrote the note on top of his masterpiece. As my littles have gotten older I've had them draw a picture of what they were thankful for, had them trace notes that I've "dotted" out, had them fill in the blanks with the item they received and their name, to now writing the note completely themselves.

    If you are wanting some thank you notes that your kids can work on today, here are some links to some cute cards you can easily print off, fill out and get in the mail!

    Do you think writing thank you notes is an important and thoughtful skill for kids to learn?

    Saturday, December 27, 2014

    A Resolution for Change

    I talk to many women that feel overwhelmed in their jobs as wives, moms, teachers, and homemakers and in most of those discussions their chief complaint boils down to being overloaded with too much stuff, too little space, and not enough time.

    For some reason, in this current season of life, God has called this former pack-rat to help other families battle clutter, disorganization, and help return their homes to a place of rest, a haven from the world. It was never anything I planned on doing.  It's not like I grew up neat, organized, or fact the exact opposite is true. Ask my mother about the state of my room while growing up and you'll hear things like....bologna peels under her bed, tiny bits of toys being hoarded, and pieces of papers with the most insignificant doodle being saved and treasured. Seriously, I was the poster child for hoarders anonymous!

    I'm very thankful that God uses broken people and can turn their weaknesses into strengths! He has enabled me to move away from my dependence on things and the false security they offer, to the never failing, never ending security HE offers. That void that I once filled with stuff and busyness is now filled with His love!

    In my casual conversations I hear things like, "My home is a stressful place", "What I do is never enough for my husband, we are always fighting about stuf", "I don't even know where to start with getting my time organized", and "I feel like all I do is clean up". It's hard to hear, but I've also been there, so I know how they are feeling.

    People keep things for many reasons. Some are sentimental, some people feel stuff brings security, some people are just not organized or have a creative type of personality. Things (or STUFF as I lovingly call it) are not bad or sinful in themselves. It's when we hold on to them too tightly, hoard them, or turn them into our idol. 1 John 2:15 reminds  us to "not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him". It's a pretty straight forward warning to keep our eyes on our ultimate Home and on laying up our treasure Above, not here where they quickly decay, are lost or broken.....remember you can't take it with you! 

    So why are we wasting so much time on cleaning, storing, moving, and organizing items with no eternal value? Why are our days filled with tasks that we don't enjoy, that don't benefit our family, or bring us closer to God? While being a good steward is an important in and of itself, I'm asking why do we have so many things we don't use, need, or even like?  Well that's a personal question we all need to answer for ourselves. 

    While the answer will be different for all of us, the solution is usually the same - we need less stuff, fewer commitments, and more time with God.

    As we move into the new year I hope we can all focus back on what God has called OUR families to. That we can find a way to drop the excess and get back to the basics of life so that God is in the forefront and the worldly stress quietly fades away.

    Wednesday, December 24, 2014

    Blessing Bags

    While participating in new and unknown activities throughout the year can be fun, there is nothing like a family tradition to bring joy, happiness, and memories into the lives of our loved ones. Not only is it fun to see our children remember these special times from the past, but it's such a blessing to hear their little voices share the wonderment with younger siblings who have yet to participate in the experience!

    One of our family's most loved traditions started about 5 years ago. I don't even know how it officially began, but it was a mix of our family's interest in the reaching out to the "urban outdoors-man" and our love of helping and serving others. For a long time, we had talked about the best way to help homeless people we saw out on the street and allow our children, at a young age, to help others, and to give in a way that didn't enable the homeless to use our gift on negative influences in their lives.

    And through this discussion Blessing Bags were born!

     They have changed and grown over the years. Some years many family members have participated in purchasing, assembling and distributing the bags, other years it has only been our immediate family, while other times family has sent money or items to stock the bags. Some years the bags were the size of a gallon ziptop bag, sometimes a huge laundry bag, and sometimes somewhere in between. The beauty of the bag is that it is the heart of giving that determines what the bags look like each year!

    After 24+ days of hectic Christmas preparation, filled with shopping, sewing, baking, and cleaning,  our attention is brought back to our amazing Savior and the awesome gift He came to give! It pulls us away from the distractions and the secular things, and focuses us on spreading His love to those who need Him most. It is also a wonderful time for our children to step away from the toys and goodies they've received that day and see how truly blessed they are....there's nothing like the realization that these special people are living on the street to make their "needs" turn into wants and even over abundance!

    The fun begins with a shopping trip!! Most of what we need can be found at Dollar Tree (man I like that store! ;).  We start off by picking the bag we want to fill and deciding on how many we want to fill that year. This year we decided on 12 bags. I recommend packing bags in multiples of 6, 12, 18, etc., because most things at Dollar Tree come in multiples of 3 and 4's making it easy to pack bags without leftovers. Once we have the bag, we purchase things that will fit inside them.  Here is our list from this year:

    • Christmas card and candy cane
    • Bible/Christian literature
    • Gloves
    • Socks
    • Hand warmers
    • 3 in 1 shampoo, conditioner, body wash
    • Deodorant
    • Shaving cream
    • Razor
    • Lotion
    • Toothpaste
    • Toothbrush and holder
    • Comb
    • Band aids
    • Q-tips
    • Wet wipes
    • Washrag
    • Travel mug
    • Hot chocolate packets
    • Instant coffee packages(1 cup size)
    • Lemonade packages(1 bottle size)
    • A water bottle
    • Hard candy
    • Gum
    • Raisins
    • Granola bars
    • Crackers and chicken salad
    • Honey bun
    • Cookies
    • Popcorn
    • Food in a cup
      • Mac and Cheese
      • Oatmeal
      • Noodles

    The Kiddos assembling the bags!
    The wonderful part about the bags is that they can be given out any time of the year as well. Our goal is not just to teach our children about giving God's love at Christmas time, but through the entire year, throughout their entire life! We make smaller versions of these bags in 2 gallon ziplock bags that we keep in our car all the time. Anytime we run into someone holding a sign on the side of the road that needs help, we have a real, tangible expression of God's free gift that our kiddos can hand out the window with a "God bless you!" to close the deal!

    Family traditions are a wonderful way to instill great memories into the lives of our children, but most importantly they are a fantastic way of instilling the love of God into their hearts. Make sure that during this busy season, you are focusing on what is important, what will last.....Jesus, the TRUE Reason for this Season(and every season)!