Acts of Service Day – A New Family Tradition

One of the neatest things about starting a family is getting to start our own family traditions.  Last year we spent a day where we focused on others and doing small acts of kindness around our town. While it wasn’t without the challenges you’d imagine with a 3 and 5 year old, it was a wonderful, feel-good family day… and the beginning of a new tradition.

So this year I was determined, in the midst of the craziness of the holiday season and the birthday celebration of my youngest, to carve out a day where me and the boys could spread kindness and holiday cheer in our community. For me, the connection to Christmas and teaching them the true meaning of Christmas is important. Now 4 and 6, they understood the concept a little better, and they were generally easier to manage than last year. We repeated some of our ideas from before and added a few new ones too. I tried my best to capture photos of day. Here’s what we did:

  1. Made sweet treats for our neighbors and went door to door passing them out. dsc_3292dsc_3298dsc_3295
  2. Stopped by a fire station to give treats and cards to our local fire fighters. They returned the favor by letting the boys play in the trucks for a few minutes.dsc_3314dsc_3304
  3. Went to a local restaurant for lunch, left a big tip for our waiter and Brogan sang Christmas carols for the wait staff.dsc_3318dsc_3320
  4. While at the restaurant, we ran into some police officers. The boys thanked them for their service, gave them some of our sweet treats and the cards we made for them (we had intended to drop them by the police station). dsc_3323dsc_3327
  5. Went to Publix, cashed in all of the household coins we could find (to help fund some of our acts of service) and purchased some animal food to donate. We gave to the feed the hungry initiative when we checked out.
  6. Stopped at a gas station and gave the clerk $10 for the next customer who pulled up to pump 10 (Brogan liked the idea of $10 on 10 lol). dsc_3332
  7. Went to the local assisted living home to drop off homemade cards to the residents.dsc_3334
  8. Visited the library to give cards and sweet treats to the librarians. dsc_3343dsc_3342
  9. Stopped by Home Depot, brought in some extra carts from the parking lot and grabbed a last minute Christmas gift for daddy.dsc_3349dsc_3350
  10. Went to Aldi to leave quarters in all the carts and purchase food for a local food pantry. dsc_3355dsc_3356
  11. Made a stop at the Dollar Tree to purchase toys to give to random kids at the park. While we were there the boys left $1 bills all throughout the toy aisle for other kids to find. dsc_3361dsc_3362
  12. While driving through the parking lot, we came across a homeless woman asking for help. Brogan gave her a care packet he’d made at school (that we happened to have in the van), as well as $5 of his own money that he’d earned the day before. The woman was overwhelmed with gratitude by the sweet gesture, thanked us for our kindness and gave Brogan the biggest hug. This was Brogan’s favorite part of the day… and the most emotional one for me.
    [at this point the wheels started to come off, and so my energy was spent wrangling the crazies and not photographing our last few stops]
  13. Stopped at another fire station to give the last of our treats and cards. Again we were met by the nicest fire fighters who indulged the boys’ love of fire trucks, sirens and walkie talkies.
  14. Swung by the food pantry to donate our food and pet items.
  15. Went to the park to distribute our toys. Found four kids to give to – the parents and kids were surprised and very thankful.

I share this with the hope that our tradition inspires others.

Despite the good intentions for a selfless day, I still had to deal with whining from the back seats and little boys who were occasionally annoyed by the diverted focus away from them. I tried my best to keep them on mission and remind them that while most days we cater to their wants this day would be about others. Did the boys see the big picture in all the things we did that day? Probably not. But there were parts where they could see how their actions brought happiness to someone else, and that made them feel really good inside. While I don’t expect that our one day a year excursion turns them into unselfish little people, I do hope it plants a seed. The seed of a selfless spirit, the tendency to do for others, and the true meaning of Christmas.

In short, the Christmas spirit is the Christ spirit, that makes our hearts glow in brotherly love and friendship and prompts us to kind deeds of service. – David O. McKay

 

A Family Day of Kindness

This past Saturday I put my family on mission. We spent the entire day out in the community spreading kindness and doing for others – we had a Family Day of Kindness. For the last six months or so I’ve been tossing around the idea of giving the kids this sort of opportunity. After reading a blog post by a mom who did this with her children to celebrate her birthday, the notion was laid on my heart. And while December is crazy for everyone, it was important that this experience be part of my kids’ Christmas season because this is what Christmas is all about.  And so we did it. We spent the day being intentional about giving; about putting others first.

Now before you go imagining this picturesque day of my family out spreading kindness and Christmas cheer – where everyone was smiling and happy and selflessly giving of themselves for the benefit others – please remember that I have a 3 and 5 year old. That is not how it went down. For starters, I got my children in and out of the van (and car seat) 11 times in about 4 ½ hours. 11 times people. And with one child who will not under any circumstance willingly go into the car seat on anyone’s timetable but his own, let me just say that I deserve some sort of award for my patience and the fact that none of the four letter words in my head came out of my mouth. It made me tired. But we persevered – safely and all buckled in – ha! I kept their interest by making it a game, urging them to complete one “mission” so we could hurry on to the next one. But herding 2 little boys is about like herding cats and so “come on!” and “keep it moving!” were the phrases of the day (as were “come back!” and “don’t touch that!” and “you better not run into that parking lot!” and “I’m going to call your father!” – but I digress).  I started singing this hurry-up kind of song to pick up the tempo, which of course thoroughly annoyed one of my boys… so he made up his own song that I should sing instead. And of course my other son hated the new song.  Did I mention I was tired?

Trying to get kids to buy in to the idea that the world doesn’t revolve around them is tough. Kids expect to always get something. And while telling my kids no is not a new thing, the blatant “you get nothing, but you will give to someone else” was pretty in their face – especially at our stop at the Dollar Tree. I handed each boy a few dollar bills and told them to place them in the toy section so that other kids could purchase toys. “So can I get a toy?” they asked. “Nope. Today is about giving to others.” Oh. My. Gosh. Talk about a meltdown. You’d have thought I told them they were never getting another toy in their life. In a matter of moments I turned into, and I quote, “the worst mommy ever!” and the day turned into, and I quote, “the worst day of my entire life!” It was affirmation that the kindness outing was needed.

But the day was not all bad. Absent all the ins and outs of car seat… and trying to get them to leave the fire station (after the firemen so graciously let them play in the trucks)… and the Dollar Tree episode, there were bright spots that warmed my heart and I pray leave at least a small impression on them as well.

So here’s what we did all day…

1) We made homemade cookies and delivered them to 12 of our neighbors

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2) Left a card and homemade sweets for our mail lady

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3) Randomly purchased $10 in gas for a stranger

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4) Put quarters in the carts at Aldi and left a bag full of quarters for later

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5) Delivered handmade cards and a treat basket to the fire station

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6) Dropped of a bag of food at the local food pantry

7) Left dollar bills in the toy section of the Dollar Tree

8) Left our waitress an extra-large tip at lunch

9) Dropped off handmade cards and treat basket for the local librarians

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10) Placed a card and flowers at the grave of my husband’s grandparents

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11) Walked the halls of the nursing home delivering hugs, handmade cards and homemade cookies

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12) Went to the park and gave away bubbles to other children

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13) Stopped by another fire station and delivered more cards and a treat basket

While I gathered a lot of the ideas from the blog post that inspired me, I asked the boys for their input as well. Brogan came up with the idea to visit his great-grandparents’ grave and leave a card – and told daddy what to write on the card – I just love his little heart! Beckett wanted us to give treats to the firemen, and also suggested that we talk to everyone we saw. They really can be the sweetest kids.

Fortunately the idea of random acts of kindness is more prevalent now than ever, but people still have a hard time comprehending that someone will do something for them without the expectation of anything in return. When we were at the gas station, I asked the boys to pick a number (bad idea – 2 boys and I needed 1 number – I’ll rethink that next year, ha!) and I told the clerk that I wanted to put $10 in gas on that pump. She kept saying, “that pump is empty” and I responded, “I know, I want to put $10 on it.” To which she asked, “what kind of car are you driving?” And then I repeated that I had already purchased my gas, and wanted to buy gas for a stranger. It just didn’t register. And then at the park, as the boys were trying to give away bubbles, they would walk up to a kid and say, “would you like some bubbles?” and either the kid or the parent would kindly say thanks, but no thanks, you can keep your bubbles. And the boys would deflate and I’d interject, “we came to the park for the sole purpose of giving away bubbles, please feel free to take them if you’d like them.” And then they’d get it and graciously accept the bubbles. And the boys just lit up when they did.

I share this experience not in search of recognition or kudos, but in hopes that it will inspire someone – just as the blog post I read inspired me. Our experience was not perfect. My kids were not perfect. I was not perfect (but close because seriously, 11 times out of the car seat and I didn’t lose it!). There was more that I wanted to do, and I’m already thinking about how to make next year better. But the point is that we did something. We live in a world where most things aren’t free and if it seems too good to be true, it usually is. This makes me sad about our world. There are so many lessons that I want to teach my children – one is what it means to be the answer to someone else’s prayers. And while I don’t believe that all of our acts of kindness met this criteria, maybe one did. My hope is that their little hearts were softened by making others feel good. My hope is that they begin to realize that life shouldn’t be all about me, me, me – that greater joy comes in giving than in receiving. My hope is that this experience planted the seed of selflessness that will allow God to use them for His purpose. Seeing them boast with pride as they handed out their own handmade cards and got big smiles in return brought me so much joy. I could see that they were getting it – the true meaning of Christmas.

French Toast Casserole

Breakfast casseroles are a must-have during the holidays. We enjoyed this French toast casserole at my in-laws this Christmas and it turned out delicious! It was really easy to make – we were able to make this the night before and throw it in the oven in the morning. This was my first time making this but it won’t be my last!

French toast casserole

French Toast Casserole

1 loaf crusty sourdough or French bread, cut/torn into 1″ to 2″ cubes
8 eggs
2 cups whole milk
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 tbsp vanilla extract

Topping
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tsp cinnamon (plus more to sprinkle on top)
1/4 tsp salt
1 pinch nutmeg
1 stick cold butter, cut into 1/2″ cubes

1.) Grease a 9″x13″ casserole dish with butter. Add cubed bread evenly to dish.
2.) In a medium bowl, mix eggs, milk, whipping cream, brown sugar and vanilla. Pour evenly over the bread. Cover tightly and refrigerate overnight.
3.) In a separate bowl, mix flour, brown sugar, cinnamon, salt and nutmeg. Add butter pieces and cut them into the dry mixture using a pastry cutter until the mixture has the texture of small pebbles. Store in a ziploc bag in the fridge.
4.) When it’s time to bake the casserole, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Sprinkle topping over the bread and then sprinkle some additional cinnamon on top. Bake for 45 minutes.

Adapted from Suburban Epicurean’s French Toast Casserole 

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Day 18, 19 & 20 – Balloons, Briefs and Marshmallow Messages

The latest misadventures of Max…

Aside from the fact that Becket is obsessed with balloons and went nuts to get the “buh-ga” (his 18-month-old word for balloon), we’ve been successfully creating magic each morning without dramatics over the favorite toy that’s off limits for the day. Just 5 days left this year!

18 - Hot Air Balloon

19 - Max in Underwear

20 - Marshmallow Message

Click here to see what else our elf has done this year.

It’s Ugly Christmas Sweater Time!

So this year, Blake and I both had company Christmas parties with an ugly Christmas sweater theme. I go big or go home, so it had to be perfect. And so when I stumbled upon a couple’s sweater concept that included one end of the a reindeer barfing holiday cheer, and the other end crapping it, I knew I couldn’t go wrong. And so you have our ugly sweaters…

Couples Ugly Christmas Sweater

I picked up the sweat shirts at Wal-Mart. I cut out the reindeer from a canvas brown fabric in 8 pieces (head, torso, bottom, tail and 4 legs). The antlers and feet are felt. I initially thought I would iron on the fabric, but it didn’t seem sturdy, so I stitched it using a multi-colored cross stitch thread. I hot glued everything else. I bought all of the decorations at the dollar store – it’s a mix of clay Christmas ornaments, metallic table scatter trees and snowflakes and then some glitter covered holly leaves and angels. I worked about an hour on it each night for a week but it was well worth it! And while we didn’t win either of our sweater competitions (we failed to properly promote our sweaters), I was very pleased with the final product.

Couples Ugly Christmas Sweaters

Day 15, 16 & 17 – Toilet Paper, Guitars & Reindeer Cars

The last couple days of Max shenanigans looked like this…

15 - Toilet Paper Roll

16 - Guitar

17 - Reindeer Cars

We’ve been running into some trouble with Beckett – when Max is within his reach, he wants him… and sometimes grabs him, which is problematic because Brogan’s worried he’ll lose his magic. We’ve tried to explain that when little brothers don’t know any better, it’s alright, and obviously Max has not lost his magic yet. The explanation works for now.

Click here to see what else our elf has done this year.