Friday, December 30, 2011

A Star to Behold

Yesterday we decided to make some stars of our own to decorate our home, and to help the Magi find their way to Jesus.

 This technique is called corn syrup painting- it produces a standard picture, but the paint looks glossy when dry.

You will need: 
Black crayon
Corn syrup
Food coloring
Paint brushes

 The recipe is simple: add a little corn syrup to several drops of food coloring to a small dish. More food coloring makes a darker color, less makes lighter. You can do a lot of neat things by swirling colors together as well since they talk a while to combine completely. Regular paint brushes work well for this project, but you may need to soak them in some water before they come completely clean again.
 Take a black crayon and draw your picture on paper. Glossy paper looks extra neat, but regular paper works well too. Remember to make your drawings "coloring book style," because you'll be painting inside the lines.

Then, use the corn syrup paint to color your drawing in! Use a lot of paint for the best effect.

In honor of Epiphany, we drew a bright star in the night sky, with wise men at the bottom. Be creative- yours may be different.
 Some of us didn't get the memo about Christmas being over :), so a few Christmas trees were done as well. I included this picture so that you can see the gloss of the paint. So fun!
This is my two-year old's finished product. Use your imagination here, folks: yellow is the star, dark blue is the night sky, and red in the corner are the Magi.

Leave them to dry for a long, long, time. Where we used the most paint it took a solid 24 hours, so put your masterpieces somewhere they won't be bothered for a day or so.

Epiphany is coming!

Epiphany means different things to different people (after all, we are Episcopalians!), but for the most part we in the Anglican tradition celebrate it on January 6th and we commemorate the magi arriving in Bethlehem to see- and recognize- the newborn King.

So, how can we celebrate this special event in our homes? I've listed a few ideas below, and included a couple of links for you to check out. There's sure to be something that will fit your family's needs.

*Try baking a coin or small (heat safe) item into a cake. Eat the cake (carefully!) as a family and whoever finds the coin in his or her slice gets to be king/queen for the night. You can call it the Kings Cake.

*Since some denominations celebrate epiphany with the exchange of gifts, you might have a gift "unwrapping" party. Wrap a gift several times with paper, and sit in a circle with your family. Play music, and stop it at intervals just like you would if you were playing musical chairs. When the music stops, the family member who is holding the gift gets to unwrap one layer. Whoever unwraps the last layer gets to keep the present.

*This idea was one to be done in church, but I think it could be adapted for home use as well. Each family member gets a ribbon  or bow, symbolic of his or her gift to God. Take a few minutes to think together about the gifts that you have given God over the last year, or the gifts that you intend to give Him in the New Year. Put the ribbons up somewhere in your home as a reminder of your pledge.

*In order to commemorate Christ's "manifestation to all nations," have an ethnic dinner week! Eat a dish from a different area of the world each night this week as a reminder of Christ's importance worldwide.

(Preceding ideas adapted from Anglicans Online. Visit the link for more ideas!)

*Go through the Christmas cards you were sent this year and pick out ones with pictures of the magi. Cut them out and decoupage them onto a serving tray your family will use for years to come. You can even serve your Kings Cake on it!

*Reuse some of the Christmas wrap kicking around the house- make a special treasure box just like the magi might have brought to Jesus. Reuse a gift box and glue or decoupage wrapping paper, tin foil, stickers or other embellishments to make the box "fit for a king."

Check out this link for some more kid-friendly craft ideas. I'll be doing a few of these over the next week and will post the results.

What are some ways that your family celebrates Epiphany?

Photo Credit

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Top 10 reasons to be an Episcopalian

Did you know that Robin Williams (the comedian) is an Episcopalian? I didn't until I read his top ten reasons why our faith is so great. I agree with each and every reason he gives... and it brought such a smile to my face that I had to share this with you.

Try sharing this with your older children- do they understand each of the references? If not, what a great, light-hearted conversation starter. If so, then have a good laugh together!

10. No snake handling.
9. You can believe in dinosaurs.
8. Male and female God created them; male and female we ordain them.
7. You don't have to check your brains at the door.
6. Pew aerobics.
5. Church year is color-coded.
4. Free wine on Sunday.
3. All of the pageantry - none of the guilt.
2. You don't have to know how to swim to get baptized. 

And the Number One reason to be an Episcopalian:
1. No matter what you believe, there's bound to be at least one other Episcopalian who agrees with you.

Episcopal pride, folks! (Do we need a cheer for ourselves? Hummm...)

Monday, December 26, 2011

Have you taken down your Christmas decorations yet?

I admit it, I have. Taken down my Christmas decorations, I mean.

I don't think I've ever done it so quickly, but this year the advent wreath was made so early, and the tree fell down so many times prior to Christmas... well, it felt like we were hanging on by a thread at the end, so I must admit that it was a bit of a relief to get all of the dying greenery out of my house.

That isn't to suggest that I want to dispense with thoughts of Christmas- quite the opposite, in fact. I want to linger, to remember, to cherish these warm memories of family, generosity, peace, prayer, tranquility and belonging for the rest of my days. There is something magical that happens at Christmas- beyond the presents and the day off from work- something so silent and so powerful that we can't quite describe it. Something- or someone perhaps?- comes into our hearts to gently draw us to our knees in awe of one another, our world, of creation, of our God...

So here's a glimpse of our family's memories. I am keeping out our nativity because of course the wise men haven't yet arrived to see our newborn king. For the next week they will journey closer and closer, even as Christmas becomes farther and farther from us, to continue the miracle which was begun yesterday. In our family we will continue to read a story and say a prayer by candlelight each night to remind us of the great miracle that happened so many, many years ago...

...and to keep the memories of Christmas, and all of the miracles that happen each year on that day, close to our hearts for just a little bit longer.

Merry Christmas to you all.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

'Twas the Night of Jesus' Birth Story and More

Tony at Ministry-To-Children has generously shared a few free resources that families may find helpful, or at least fun, this Christmas.

Here he has re-written 'Twas the Night Before Christmas to be 'Twas the Night of Jesus' birth. It's a free download and might be a fun read for the family on Christmas Eve!

Here he has posted a "Jesus brings peace" coloring page.

Note: the King James translation of Isaiah 9:6-7 is as follows:
6For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.
 7Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this.

Below, he has provided some Angels and Shepherds coloring pages, also for free!

Thank You Card Templates

Ministry-To-Children has posted a free set of great thank you card templates for kids to use this Christmas.

I printed these out to use with our children because they are cute and small- not too overwhelming for younger kids, but still a wonderful way to reinforce the concept of gratitude!

Happy card-writing!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Joys of the Season?

This is a wonderful time of year. It really is. We are blessed to spend time with family and friends, to live out our traditions, to pay forward a bit of joy in our communities and watch smiles spread across the faces of strangers. There is nothing better than getting into the Christmas spirit, is there?

On the other hand, there are the hardships at this time of year. How many cookies do I have to bake? The Christmas lights aren't working? Another Christmas party? How much are these presents going to cost? How far do we have to drive to visit the family? The list goes on, doesn't it? It can be hard to remember the feeling of joy that we, as Christians, are supposed to feel at the pending birth of Christ. It can be very hard to remember how blessed we are that God sent Jesus to us, and that His coming was to be the end of our sorrows and strife. It doesn't feel like that when Junior has a cookie swap tomorrow at his Boy Scout troop which he didn't mention until right now...

But we owe it to ourselves, our families, and most of all our God to remain joyful (or at least hopeful until those cookies are done). We are doing important work as we go through even the more stressful of the holiday traditions. What we are doing matters on a larger scale than the success of one or two cookie swaps, holiday parties, or gift wrapping marathons. We are celebrating our Savior's birth, after all, and what could be more cause for celebration than that?

Still...feel free to take it down a notch. Really! We are teaching our children how to celebrate Christ's birth, and they will emulate what we teach them. So, remember that while God initiated celebrations to show Him favor (check out Leviticus if you don't believe me), He never said that we should kill ourselves to do it. What God asks of us is to show Him favor, to worship Him beyond all others, and to show one another love in His name. If that means baking cookies to you, then do it. If that means going to a neighbor's Christmas party, do it. If that means traveling, crafting, caroling... then do it. He is worth it, and so are the little ones in our lives whom we are teaching to love and respect Him.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Adorable Kids Christmas Story Movie

Check out this beautiful rendition of the Christmas story done entirely by children at St. Paul's in Auckland, New Zealand. It was shared with me by a fellow parishioner this week as something that all kids should see this Christmas, and I agree! What a heartwarming way to remember the reason for the season!

Maybe we could do this with a few of our local kids? Parents, what do you think?

Christmas Trivia Games for the Family

Here's a great way to interact with your children while reinforcing the important ideas about the Christmas story... and to brush up on the specifics yourself!

Try these quizzes- how many can you get correct?

A Christmas Quiz: online, 10 questions, free
Quizmoz: online, 14 questions, free
Christian Bible Reference: online, 6 different Bible quizzes with varying questions, all marked with "easy," "moderate," or "difficult" ratings

Christmas Camel Race Bible Board Game: printable from the internet, as many questions as you require, multiple players race to get their camel to Jesus first by answering questions correctly, cost $6.95

Enjoy some family fun with these!

Photo Credit

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Sneak Peek of Godly Play Christmas Lesson

For those parents who are interested, here is what the Pre-K/K class and the Grades 1-2 class will be experiencing tomorrow (Sunday).

Go here to view the video lesson.
You can watch this alone to get a sense of what your children are experiencing in Sunday School, or you can watch it with your child to reinforce the concepts and to ask if he or she has questions for you.

Good Behavior is Hay in the Manger


Here's a great idea to promote good behavior and Jesus-centered focus during this last week of Advent:

Each time you catch a child in your home doing something "good," or "godly," add a handful of hay to a homemade manger (ours is a used shipping box). That way, by Christmas morning Baby Jesus will have a comfortable place to sleep, and you will have illustrated the concept of preparing our hearts (and the world) to receive Christ through good deeds.

Photo Credit

Making Christmas Ornaments

While we were working on our Advent Action card about fixing the broken ornaments on our tree, we discovered that many of them were beyond repair. Oh no! I set out to find some ornament tutorials to give us ideas to make our own. Here are a few of our favorites:

I loved this idea from Thrifty Mama- making your own ornaments out of fabric scraps! Of course, I love any idea which promotes re-purposing items we already have around the house, but I liked that this was an easy one for little hands and it can be used year after year. And did I mention that it's so pretty?

Go here for the full instructions.

Here's another fun one from Diamond In The Stuff...

...and another take on that from Flea Market Style.

If you don't like those, try this link to Everything Etsy, which has links to 100 different ornament tutorials. There's no excuse to have broken ornaments on the tree now!

Friday, December 16, 2011

The Power of the Ordinary

Before you read this post, watch this YouTube video. Really.

Why did you just do that? I'll tell you. That (really good) rendition of The Little Drummer Boy was performed by a teenager in Canada with no professional music experience. He performed the music himself, his little sister shot the video, and he edited the final piece on his laptop computer. He uploaded the video to YouTube and it "went viral" (had hundreds of thousands of views in a matter of days).

So why put this story on a blog about living a Christian life? It's not really the video that is the greatest part of this story, although it IS really good. No, I was so touched by this story and inspired to share it because of the reason Sean Quigley made the video in the first place: he was looking for a way to spread the word about the real meaning of Christmas. He is a Christian teen just trying to do his part to spread God's message using his own gifts and talents. Such a humble goal, with an inauspicious start, has now made international news headlines and has reached nearly one million people worldwide!

My point is this: anyone, including young people, can do amazing things with God in your corner. I encourage you to watch the video and to share it with others to help Sean inspire people everywhere with the true meaning of Christmas!

Click here to watch the news broadcast and interview with Sean Quigley. "I just want people to remember what Christmas is all about," he says in the interview. "It's not about Santa, it's not about presents. It's about the birth of Jesus Christ."

Photo Credit

Angel Craft

This one is for the younger set- preschool and kindergartners who like getting messy will appreciate this task!

For complete project directions go here.

Nativity Silhouette Art Project

This one is for older kids, or a younger child with a lot of grown up help. These are just so beautiful!

For complete project directions, go here.

Advent Task: Feeding the Birds

One of our Advent Action Cards this year was to create a birdfeeder to help our little bird friends on their way south... or more likely to help out the squirrels who are still around. :)

Today we are preparing our hearts for Jesus' coming by showing love and compassion to animals. Here's the link to our project this year!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

A Holy Experience Free Gratitude Calendar

Normally I would have waited to share this link until after Christmas, when the "buzz" has died down some and we begin to reclaim some of the calm... and of course as we start to think about our New Year's Resolutions. I always welcome this time of year (I know, I'm nuts) because I really love the excuse to log a bit of time spent in prayer and personal reflection. I continue to be amazed at how God can build me up greater than I could ever be on my own, and I love to look for ways to try to build upon what He has given me... to remember who I have to thank for my many, many blessings in life.

Ann Voskamp is a blogger and author whom I adore, and who generously gives of her time and talent to share the purpose of God's word with the world. She's isn't Episcopal, but she shares her earnest struggle to be close as she can to God and live as much as she can in His light; I find her honesty and humility to be nothing short of inspiring. Check out her blog here, and check out her book, One Thousand Gifts here.

She is currently offering a free 12 month calendar of gratitude, complete with inspiring photography (hers) and scripture to help Christians to begin the new year with our priorities in line! I had to share the link so that anyone (like me) who needs that daily dose of God's word to help keep things in perspective could be sure to take advantage of her generous offer! You have to scroll down the page a bit to see the offer, but it's there and it's beautiful!


Free Nativity Preschool/Kindergarten Download

There's a great free Nativity printables set at 1+1+1=1 this week. It's appropriate for tots, preschool and kindergarten, depending upon which activities you use. You print out what you'd like to use and not what you don't! We printed the whole set and found that there was a little something for everyone in our family included- even the baby found something to munch on! :)

Monday, December 12, 2011

Christmas Party Brings Out the Spirit

This would have been the greatest (!) place to share some pictures from our wonderful youth church Christmas party yesterday, but amongst all the hustle and bustle of activity and food preparation I forgot to bring my camera! That's OK, the memories will just have to live in our hearts.

For those who don't know, I paired up with some amazing middle and high school youth group members both from our church and other local churches to provide parents with an afternoon of free babysitting. The point was to let them have some free time during such a busy time of year (and maybe get some Christmas shopping done without little eyes peeping), while the kids got to hang out with their church friends and participate in a bunch of fun activities to celebrate the season in their own way.

I was told many times that I was crazy for doing this- we had 32 kids (aged 10 months to 18 years) in the undercroft and we needed to keep them all busy for four and a half hours! Four. And. A. Half. Hours. How would we make it happen?

I confess that I fell into doubt a couple of times just before the activity began, and wondered how I could ever have gotten myself into this mess? But, as usually happens just about the time I start to think THIS TIME I've really gotten myself in over my head... the grace shown through. I've heard it called a million things- "God breezes," "epiphanies," "moments of truth," but to me it's simply God's grace coming through to little old me waaaaaay down here on earth. It comes through in those moments of uncertainty and calms the heart just enough to allow one to take the bull by the horns once more.

The best part about yesterday, however, was that the grace didn't come from inside my heart- it came from the children that I spent the day with. It came from watching the older kids so tenderly and carefully watching over the little ones: helping them to play kickball, helping them to glue the eyes on their reindeer, and helping them to decorate their Christmas cookies. It came from younger children playing respectfully with peers, and from the littlest following along innocently behind, enraptured by the commotion. The other adult chaperones and I were able to enjoy ourselves so very much thanks to the huge hearts of our parish children!

We've been talking a lot about Advent lately- in youth group, in Children's Chapel and at home. Father Tim even talked about ways that we can prepare our hearts for the coming of the Lord last week during his sermon with the children. Watching the kids interact with one another with such love and respect yesterday was all I needed to see to prove the efficacy of our teaching and goals as a Christian community.  I realized that it didn't matter if each little activity went off perfectly as planned because a bigger goal was accomplished: the children of our church spent an entire afternoon serving one another in the Spirit of God, preparing their hearts for Christmas.

(I think they had some fun, too!)

Friday, December 9, 2011

Book Review Tool for Tweens and Teens

I just happened across a wonderful tool offered by Thriving Family Magazine (have you subscribed yet?) which allows you to critically evaluate whether or not a book is a good choice for your teen or tween. It provides a description of the story, then outlines the following topics as they are described in the book: Beliefs, Messages, Sex, Violence, Language, God's name taken in vain, and Other Negative Behavior. You can browse books using their alphabet index to determine which books would be interesting for your child and supportive of your family's values. Parents can use the online tool or check out the printed magazine, which reviews new books with each issue. (The last issue (October/November, 2011) reviewed The Witch of Blackbird Pond, The Sweetest Thing, and Shine.)

Photo Credit

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Whose birthday is it?

Our family had a great conversation last night as a result of one of our advent devotions. My son asked quite unexpectedly, "Hey Mom, if Christmas is Jesus' birthday then why do we get presents? Shouldn't we be giving Jesus the gifts?"

Well, you would think so wouldn't you? After all, we are all the recipients of gifts on our birthdays- often many, many, many gifts. So why, on the anniversary of the greatest birthday of all, should we shirk the celebrant and still give ourselves the gifts? In the way that only a five year old can, my son brought to light a very important part of this season that we seemed to be missing.

So we talked about it. "What kinds of gifts might Jesus like for his birthday?" we asked ourselves. After we got past a few of the more immediate responses (my daughter thought he'd like a princess and my son a Transformer), we decided that since Jesus teaches us to love one another, it might be a good gift for Him if we did something(s) to help other people.

Our children are already required to give 10% of their weekly earnings to a charity of their choice, and they've made some great choices in the past including giving that money to the church, to our local animal shelter, etc. But it felt like we needed to go beyond what we normally do in order to commemorate our Savior's birth in a special way. So... what to do, what to do?

We decided to sleep on it, after some discussion. After I put the kids to bed I was checking email and my favorite blogs when I came across this quote at Monkey Munch: 
“And anyone who welcomes a little child like this on my behalf is welcoming me."
  Matthew 18:5
They have decided to sponsor a child through World Vision as a present to Christ, and it seems like a pretty good idea to us too! I've also talked to a few families who are giving cows, wheelbarrows, chickens, etc. through Heifer International in the same spirit.

No matter what your family chooses to give Christ for his birthday, I urge you to take a moment to consider it during this very busy season. I believe that we give to Christ in the spirit of simply giving gifts to one another, but perhaps we can all reach out a little past our circle of friends and family this Christmas in Jesus' name to help those who need our gifts most.

What do you do in your family to give a birthday gift to Christ?
Photo Credit

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Amazon Free Children's Book Download

Amazon is currently offering a free download of the book The Other Wise Man, by Henry Van Dyke. This download is specially designed for the Kindle, but you can download a free application here that will enable you to read it on your PC. See the full post of this deal here, at

Find more free Christmas-related ebooks here.

Advent Action Cards

Today in our church was Family Sunday. This is a time, once a month, when children come upstairs and worship with the adults as part of our regular service. It's a time when we celebrate all together as one collective community, and a time when children learn about the worship service that they will be part of when their time in Sunday School and Youth Group is over. It's a beautiful tradition that I am very thankful my children get to be a part of.

Since today was Family Sunday, our rector asked all the children up to the altar to discuss Advent. Instead of using a traditional sermon, Father Tim uses this time to talk with children about some of the major changes/events/traditions in the church. Today, he wanted to talk about Advent and I must say that kids were pretty on the ball! They volunteered that it was a time of waiting for Jesus, and a time when we had to prepare our hearts for His coming. A couple even shared how the season is celebrated in their own homes. I found it interesting however, that when Father Tim asked them about what we needed to do in order to prepare ourselves- spiritually- for Christmas, kids were a little less sure of themselves. They seemed to be thinking out loud up there at the altar, "well, Christmas is Jesus' birthday, and Advent is when we wait, and we light candles..." but it seemed to trail off there. It became clear to me that we need to be more explicit with our kids about how to prepare our hearts and minds for the coming of the Lord- not just as a reminder that he came to earth over two thousand years ago, but also that he will come again.

Thus, the idea of Advent Action Cards was born. Good thing I Googled the term before I put out this blog post- it turns out that I am not the only one to ever have thought that kids might need a little more practice in the physical, daily application of Advent! Here are some great resources that I uncovered in my search- all provide daily tasks which kids can do to help put them in touch with the idea of preparing their hearts for Jesus' coming. (Implement as you like- print out cards to keep in a bowl that kids draw out each day, or put them in a calendar and let kids open one each day...)

Express Life has some great suggestions here,  and Loyola Press offers some great printable options here,. Homeschooled-kids offers this interactive calendar which depicts a scripture and related activity for each day in Advent.

Here are my family's Advent Action Card tasks:

1. Donate some toys we don't use much anymore to our charity of choice
2. Make thank you notes to use after Christmas
3. Help decorate the house for Christmas
4. Make/fill bird feeder for birds migrating south
5. Put together a care package for a deployed soldier and mail it
6. Smile at someone who looks like they are having a bad day
7. Make personal Christmas cards for grandparents
8. Fix ornaments which are falling off the Christmas tree or broken
9. Choose old towels and sheets which can be donated to our local animal shelter
10. Bring a dozen eggs to our neighbor (we have chickens- baking cookies does the same trick!)
11. Share a toy with a sibling (even if you don't want to)
12. Make homemade hot chocolate and drink it together
13. Light the advent wreath candles and let each child say his or her own prayer of thanks for our blessings
14. Read a Christmas story together. Or two. Or three
15. Bake cookies for our church Christmas Fair
16. Set up the Nativity Set
17. Watch The Nativity Story (2006) as a family
18. Gather evergreen and holly from the woods and fill flower boxes outside with it
19. Tell one friend about the wonder of Advent and the true meaning of Christmas
20. Finish making the Jesse Tree ornaments that we didn't get to last year

So you noticed there were only 20 ideas, and that doesn't cover the entire season of Advent? True- but I'm only thinking of this idea now, so next year I'll have to come up with a few more to add to our repertoire! :)

I hope your family finds the time to share even a few of these tasks, and is able to focus just a bit more on the real "reason for the season" this year!

Photo credit

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Poinsettia Christmas Lesson

The Ministry to Children group has posted a wonderful Christmas lesson about the legend of the poinsettia, as told in the story Legend of the Poinsettia, by Tomie dePaola. The lesson is complete with follow up discussion questions to the story, a word find, and an art project.

This is a great post because it can be done with one child, two, three, ten or however many you happen to have around you!

Minstry to Children Free Advent Coloring Pages

Ministry to Children has posted a set of FREE Advent coloring pages for kids to enjoy. You can visit the link and print out any or all of the great original coloring pages to help kids remember the reason for the season!

My oldest daughter went to town on these today! Have some fun!