Beauty Find Friday: Christmas Gifts

Our first Christmas in Arizona was a success. We didn’t get sucked into the bog of homesickness! Keeping busy helped, and choosing to focus on the gifts and blessings we have. Here’s a few:

Our annual youth group Christmas party went well, even though I wasn’t able to get off work until the end, and Brian fell on the ice and got a nice black eye and a sprained/hairline fractured wrist. He’s recovering well, and was able to still take care of all the kids until I got there. The youth group moms provided most of the food, and the youth group girls took care of serving dinner in my absence, and even washed the dishes afterwards!

We spent time with some of our Arizona family on Sunday night, playing games and hanging out with them and their family members who were in town, laughing until we cried. (By “Arizona family,” I mean friends who are our family here. Friemily?)


Christmas morning brunch consisted of our Williams Sonoma Double Chocolate Peppermint pancakes, turkey bacon and scrambled eggs. Our verdict on the pancakes? AMAZING. Not too chocolately, with just enough peppermint!

And Brian got to use his Christmas present from me: 
He’s been asking for that pancake flipper for months. No joke. I also bought him a stand with speakers for his phone. I’m hoping he’ll be inspired to spend more time in the kitchen!

We spent time with my family via Skype on Christmas Day! We got to talk to all of my siblings, my niece, and even my parent’s dogs. Later in the afternoon, we watched Elf, walked the horses, played games, and had Christmas dinner with our other friemily (spellcheck doesn’t like my new word).

Our families sent us lots of presents, and there’s more on the way! I’m happy to extend Christmas for as long as possible.

What did Brian give me for Christmas, you ask? Since he complains about not knowing what to get me, I actually gave him a list this year with two instructions. First, don’t go to Half Price Books and get random books for me, because I have limited reading time, and there’s a few books I’ve been dying to get. Secondly, don’t get a present for yourself and pretend it’s a present for me. I’ve heard of men doing things like that, and I’d rather he just bought himself a present instead of pretending it’s for me.

So, Brian did both of the above.

From the half price bookstore, he bought me a book called Blog: Understanding the Information Reformation that’s Changing Your World, written in 2004 when blogging was in it’s infancy, and the only blogs out there getting noticed were political. I had asked for a book about blogging called Blog Inc.: Blogging for Passion, Profit, and to Create Community by Joy Cho. The blogosphere is a different world in 2013 than it was in 2004. Still, it was nice of him to get me something close to what I asked for.

The second book he got me is Mint.com for Dummies. If you haven’t heard of Mint, it’s free online tracking and budgeting for your finances. And I’m not going to make any excuses here: this was a terrible gift idea. I only use Mint.com’s basic functions since Brian is in charge of our finances. After I opened it, Brian admitted, “That’s actually more for me that it is for you.” Thanks, babe.

And then, he totally redeemed himself.

The Williams Sonoma Baking Book wasn’t on my list either, but since October I’ve been addicted to the Joy the Baker podcast and devouring the Joy the Baker and Shutterbean blogs. Listening to these ladies rebirthed my desire to be a good baker, and seeing the gorgeous photos, now I’m totally sold. 

There’s a variety of skill levels, lots of technique instructions, and photos of every single recipe.

You can bake your own bagels! Who knew?

These are in my near future:

I’m so excited about this book! It’s like reading a magazine. I’ve even been taking it with me in the car to read up on how to sift, and the difference between cocoa powder and Dutch Process cocoa powder. Just kidding, I already knew the difference between those, thanks to the Joy the Baker podcast.

Back to presents. Brian topped it off by buying me a Vera Bradley.

It’s a Vera Bradley tea towel, and it’s adorable! I didn’t think he was paying any attention when I commented on them at the Vera Bradley store a few weeks ago. I should know better!

Just when I’m about to be disappointed, he always totally redeems himself.

What Christmas presents are you most excited about? How are your husbands/boyfriends at gift giving?  

10 Last Minute Christmas Crafts

Need to Christmasify your decor before company arrives? Or do you need to occupy your children with a quick craft? With wide velvet ribbon and glitter, you can whip up most of these Christmas crafts in minutes. If you’ve got half an hour or more, try the crafts involving paint or sewing. All of them are fast and easy, but don’t try do make all ten. Pick a few that will give you a quick feeling of accomplishment.

1. Sweater pillow.

You’ll need:

  • A sweater. I bought mine at Savers for less than $5.
  • A throw pillow.
  • A sewing machine.
  • 30 minutes.

First, chop off the sweater’s arms and collar. Then, turn it wrong side out, and sew it closed. Since my sweater has a zipper, I sewed it shut all the way around, and then unzipped it and turned it right side out.  Don’t sew over your zipper; your sewing machine won’t like that! Just hop over it. If your sweater has buttons, this will be even easier! After you turn it right side out, pop your pillow inside. Thirty minutes, including threading a bobbin and setting up a sewing machine. Done!

2. Glitter Letters.


You’ll need:

  • Wood letters. Mine cost 99 cents each at Hobby Lobby. 
  • Glitter.
  • Glue.
  • A paint brush for spreading the glue.
Spread the glue on each letter, sprinkle with glitter, and let dry! This craft takes fifteen minutes tops, so there’s plenty of time to clean up the glitter before your husband gets home (cough cough). 

3. Sharpie Mugs. Easy to make, but bear in mind, you do need to let the paint dry for 24 hours before baking. So, make these the day before last minute. Here’s the full tutorial.

More Ideas:

4. Paper Trees. Use scrapbook paper, construction paper, newspaper, or  gift wrap scraps to whip up a forest of pine trees. 

5. Baby Jesus Ornament from Wild Olive (these would also make a nice small gift!)

6. Infinity Scarf. These infinity scarves probably take less than an hour each.

7. Gold Painted Animal Ornaments from A Beautiful Mess.

8. Wide ribbon is all you need to Christmas-ify one of your throw pillows.

9. A bright and merry doormat, also from A Beautiful Mess.

10. Display your Christmas cards using wide ribbon. Don’t have a spare shutter lying around? A friend of mine tied the ribbon around her kitchen cabinets and attached the cards with clothes pins. Super cute!

For lots more craft ideas, here’s another post from A Beautiful Mess you’ll enjoy: 20 Quick DIY ideas.

Happy quick crafting!

Last Minute Christmas Cards Tutorial

This year, I’m finally sending Christmas cards! Christmas postcards, to be exact. 

Besides being quick, photo postcards also have the advantage of being easier on the Christmas budget. Photos don’t cost much to print, and postcard stamps are cheaper than regular stamps. If you haven’t had time to send Christmas cards yet this year, try this method using regular old photos to send a picture to the grandparents, or send New Years cards!

You’ll need:

  • 4×6 photos. 
  • A sharpie.
  • A ruler. 
  • Postcard stamps.

1. Order Prints. Upload a photo of your Christmas tree, Christmas cookies, or a recent family picture, and order a handful of 4×6 photos from your favorite printer. Mine cost me $7.50 for 50, including shipping to my door.

 2. Using the ruler, draw a line down the middle of the back of the photo. Then, draw four lines for the recipient’s address on the right side, like so:

3. Write a message on the left side, and fill in the recipient’s address on the right.

4. Slap on a stamp in the upper right corner, and drop in the mail. You’re done! Christmas cards accomplished!

P.S. I discovered a slightly easier way of doing this. Upload your photo to Amazing Mail, and pick a post card size, enter your message and the address, pay, and they’ll actually print and mail the postcard for you within two days. It’s not as cheap as printing the photos yourself, but it might be worth it for the time saved!

Inspiration: Carry On Closet

Remember Fashion for Freedom? I’m still working on cutting my closet to 100 items. I’m having some trouble figuring out how to have a wardrobe that works for multiple seasons and occasions. When I saw these videos posted by the Ethical Fashion Forum of Antithesis‘ new line of versatile, ethical clothing, they totally inspired to rethink how my clothes can be worn together. Plus, I always enjoy stop motion videos!

Carry On Closet from Antithesis on Vimeo.

“Whether it is for business, studies or simply leisure, nowadays many of us travel extensively. With the strict one-bag policy reinforced by low-cost airlines, the need for a compact and versatile wardrobe is becoming essential. Carry On Closet is a transeasonal capsule collection of multi-functional pieces that can be worn in countless different ways. A cape becomes a one-shoulder top or a skirt, a dress transforms into a top, a coat unzips into a crop jacket or even a waistcoat. Effortlessly stylish and practical, it all fits in a cabin-size suitcase. Bon voyage!”

 My favorite: the bag that turns into a rolling carry on suitcase.

Are you doing any travelling this season? What size suitcase do you take to fit everything you need?

Homecoming

Yesterday’s post was scheduled earlier this week and published before I had any idea of the tragedy taking place in Newport, CT. After I got online, I couldn’t stop refreshing the news pages, looking for more information, some motive, some reason Why.

Today I opened my Advent reading and read a fitting passage from Isaiah 60:1-5.

Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples;

It feels very dark in the world today. Two shootings in a week, and several senseless shootings in the past few years of innocent people.

…but the Lord will arise upon you, and his glory will be seen upon you. And nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising. Lift up your eyes all around, and see; they all gather together, they come to you; your sons shall come from afar, and your daughters shall be carried on the hip. Then you shall see and be radiant; your heart shall thrill and exult, because the abundance of the sea shall be turned to you, the wealth of the nations shall come to you.

The imagery of the sons and daughters coming home breaks my heart.

But there is hope for the future, a joyous homecoming.

“Imagine a homecoming so joyous, so radiant—so full of love.
Verse 5 tells us: “And your eyes will shine, and your heart will thrill with joy.” [NLT]
Even if this season of homecoming brings feelings that are heavy, there is a homecoming to cling to. A promise from our heavenly father we can hold fast to this season.
Is the holiday season–or the thought of homecoming–something that makes you cringe? Perhaps it brings about deep hurts caused by our broken humanity.
Sister, I believe sometimes we need to get a bit more specific in our prayers–He wants us to talk with Him as we’d talk with our closest friend.
Pray that He would be your focus this season. Pray that you would maintain an eternal perspective when the pain wells up. Remember His promise in John 14? Verse 3 tells us: And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. [NIV]
Now that is a promise.”- Advent, She Reads Truth

Beauty Find Friday: Winter Wonderland

“IS THAT SNOW???” Brian stared fixedly out the window. It did indeed appear that flurries of snowflakes were falling outside our apartment yesterday, but before we got too excited, we remembered that it was 70 degrees out and snow would be impossible. We decided it was just dust stirred up by the landscapers. Sad day.

For today’s Beauty Find Friday, we can’t get more “every day” than the weather! But when you live in Arizona after growing up in the Midwest, you really do appreciate a white Christmas. Now, as Brian put it, “We just have tan Christmases.”

So let’s take a moment to marvel at the every day beauty of snow, the unique way that moisture and cold air form delicate bits of lace that when combined, create a thick white blanket.

Does it snow where you live? Take some time today to appreciate the beauty of it!

Life is Short, Embrace Joy!

Yesterday I participated in National Dress Day, along with approximately 736 women who wore dresses to raise awareness for cancer.  I wore a gray dress, for brain cancer. 

When I saw the date of this event, December 9th, I knew I had to participate. If you’ve read my blog for over a year, you might remember that my aunt passed away from brain cancer a year ago, last week. 

I really don’t remember much about last winter besides the funeral. We found out that she had cancer in September, we flew home for a few days, we came back to Arizona, and suddenly, a couple weeks before Christmas, she was gone. 

Sentimental Soul Photography

“Joy Brace earned her name early in life, having inherited her mother’s sparkling eyes and easy laugh, and having somehow channeled a good deal of her father’s personality, especially his serenity during the difficult times of life. Her birth certificate reads, “Florilla Joyce Crawford,” but she was Joy from the beginning… More than a thousand people attended her funeral service, held at Faith Baptist Bible College, Ankeny, Iowa. Many testified how she spent the last months of her life spreading joy.

“Heaven is coming–and it is sooooooo much better!!” she had written in a recent blog post, quoting Romans 8:18: “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.”
Joy called this her “eternal perspective,” explaining to friends how her brief illness had changed the way she viewed her life. “What a fantastic thing to know that what I do today can have an eternal impact!” she wrote on Nov. 18. “People are the only ‘things’ you can take with you! Thank you to all who are praying for us, your prayers make such a difference! Please continue to pray for spiritual victory and grace for my family. I would not be honest if I didn’t say it is difficult for all of us some days. Of course, we continue to pray for healing, and above all, that God would be glorified!”

‘Joy didn’t just endure suffering; she embraced it,’ her brother Duke said at the memorial service. ‘And in embracing it she remained joyful to the end.'”

Embrace Joy, Embrace Suffering

Some of you may also be missing relatives or friends this season. This season is supposed to be a season of joy, but it can be a season of deep sorrow. 

One of the many things I learned from my aunt is that life is short. So embrace joy. 

Yes, feel the sadness. But choose to remember the good things. Don’t let yourself get too busy or too stressed or too caught up in the Christmas “stuff” that doesn’t really matter. Make time for people. Make memories this season that will last a lifetime. 

One of my fondest memories of Aunt Joy is sitting around the table at Nana and Papa’s house with the French book she’d given me for Christmas, going over the pronunciation. I’m pretty sure I owe my obsession with France and French culture to her. When visiting Nana and Papa, I’d get to sleep in Aunt Joy’s old bedroom. She had hung a giant eiffel tower poster on the wall over the bed, along with a few other souvenirs from her missions trip to Corsica. I think that poster inspired me to want to visit Paris someday.

Aunt Joy also loved singing and acting, so in my head, I dedicated my performance yesterday in our church Christmas program to her.

I didn’t know Aunt Joy and I also shared a love of scrapbooking until the funeral, when many of her scrapbooks were displayed. Book after book was filled with everyday moments, like children losing teeth, or new puppies, or having friends over for dinner. One book in particular stood out to me; it was filled with Christmas cards, the cards received throughout the years. That’s a big part of why we are sending cards this year. I want a visual reminder of this year, and I want people to know we love them.

At the end of my life, I hope Aunt Joy and I share more than just a middle name. I hope we share a passion for life, people, and living with joy.

Life is short. Embrace joy!

Beauty Find Friday: Christmas Details

For some time, I’ve wanted to host a recurring feature that had something to do with the blog tagline, finding beauty in the everyday. So today’s post is the first of possibly many Beauty Find Fridays. Hey, we can call it BFF for short!
My pictures depict everyday things quickly snapped on my ipod. Here’s why they’re beautiful to me: 
A couple weeks ago, I came home from work with a terrible headache, dreading the pile of dirty dishes I left in the sink and the general disarray all over the house, and coming up with something for dinner. Instead, I came home to a clean house with clean dishes, groceries had been bought, and a dinner plan, which was then executed by my hard-working and thoughtful husband. 
In addition to all that, he decided to try decorating for Christmas, and had hung a string of white lights from lamp to lamp, over the mirror, as shown. My first reaction was to laugh, but seeing Brian’s hurt face, after all he’d done for me that day, I told him it looked great, and I decided not to take it down. To me, it symbolizes that Christmas, and marriage, is never perfect, but it’s pretty amazing anyway.  

Brown paper packages tied up with string! I used some of the ideas from this post.

A couple of my favorite ornaments: a camel carved from bone, given to Brian by his uncle when he was stationed in Egypt, and a tiny wagon with little fuzzy bears inside. 

This free printable, and another cool camel ornament.

Our blizzard of blessings, which include our jobs, marriage, ministry, an evening at home, mentors and friends, and families who also celebrate Christmas. 
Now it’s your turn! Where do you find beauty in your week? Share your beautiful moments with us in the comments!

Advent: Slowing Down the Season

I am observing Advent for the first time this year. I’m not from a liturgical background, so this is all new to me. If you remember, two years ago, I wrote four reasons to celebrate Lent, even if you’re not Catholic. I didn’t celebrate Lent this year, and I could definitely feel the difference when Easter came around. I wasn’t mentally and spiritually prepared to truly enjoy the meaning.

Hence, I decided to observe Advent.

The last few months have flown by so quickly. I feel like we’re all celebrating Christmas in October, because mentally, that’s what month it feels like it should be. Before December began, my calendar was filled with Christmas parties to attend, plan and host, Christmas program practice, Christmas shopping, Christmas card mailing, Christmas crafts, and all the fun activities on my winter bucket list. If I don’t do something, this month will pass in a glittery blur of stress, spending, rushing, and peppermint flavored coffee.

Enter: Advent. According to the ever reliable Wikipedia:

Advent is a season observed in many Western Christian churches as a time of expectant waiting and preparation for the celebration of the Nativity of Jesus at Christmas. The term is an anglicized version of the Latin word adventus, meaning “coming.” It is the beginning of the Western liturgical year and commences onAdvent Sunday….

Latin adventus is the translation of the Greek word parousia, commonly used in reference to the Second Coming of Christ. For Christians, the season of Advent anticipates the coming of Christ from two different perspectives. The season offers the opportunity to share in the ancient longing for the coming of the Messiah, and to be alert for his Second Coming.

Waiting.

That’s a great perspective shift for this crazy rushed season.

I’m practicing this expectant waiting by following a daily Advent Bible Reading plan along with the She Reads Truth community. The first reading started with the fall of man in Genesis, the reason we need a Savior. Then I read God’s promise to Abraham, and the prophecies about the Messiah in Isaiah. From now until Christmas, I’ll be following the thread of the promised Savior through the Bible until it culminates with the arrival of Jesus. It’s only a few days in, so there’s still time to jump in and join!

I’m also combining two of the suggestions for my winter bucket list. Sage suggested cutting out paper snowflakes and hanging one up on the wall every time I do a new good habit, and Tara suggested counting down my blessings every day until Christmas. I’m combining them by taping paper snowflakes to the wall with blessings written on them. By Christmas, our walls should be covered in a snowstorm of blessings!

This Sunday in our children’s Christmas program, I’ll play the part of the Sunday school teacher who is in charge of the Christmas program (a play within a play situation). According to the script writers, she is a “very put together type of person,” who is “all business.” The children in the program all know the Christmas story forwards and backwards and are just going through the motions because “we do it every year.” But, there’s a new kid at church. He’s supposed to play the part of a shepherd, but he’s not really sure what a shepherd is. In fact, he’s never heard the Christmas story. Eventually, his questions cause everyone to pause and consider why they’re doing this program, and in particular, why they kneel at the manger.

That’s when I say:

You’re right Sam. This is just a doll. It’s not really Baby Jesus. But we dress up every year and act it out like this because Jesus once was a real baby who was born in a barn. And when we act it out, we remind ourselves of the story and what really happened. 

The most important part of the story is not just that He was born, though. Jesus is God- but was born to do a job that only He could do. He came to die on a cross and save everyone from their sins – the wrong things they have done. He came for you- and you, and you, and you, and me. And because He came to save us, He deserves all of our love- and that’s why we kneel.

Whatever your Christmas traditions may be, I hope you’ll take the time to kneel at the manger, and worship the King who came to save us, and deserves all of our love.

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Isaiah 9:6

5 Creative Present Wrapping Ideas

Want to go beyond store bought wrapping paper and stick on bows? Here’s a few of my favorite ideas. The best part? You can make these with recycled stuff you have around the house!

1. Embellish your gifts with Recycled Paper Flowers from How About Orange.

How About Orange
2. You’ll discover loads of ideas in this post for Eco-friendly and Green Gift Wrap from Simple Mom.
Simple Mom
3. Brown paper packages are my favorite, so I’m definitely going to use some of these ideas from A Pair of Pairs. 
A Pair of Pears
4. Add these DIY Adorned Glittered Clothespins from Creature Comforts to your gifts for a touch of sparkle and whimsy.
Creature Comforts
5. For a limited time, you can purchase reusable gift wrap like this at a reduced price from Pure Citizen! Chewing the Cud’s reusable gift wrap is handmade, organic, fair trade, and vegan. And also, beautiful.
How do you creatively wrap Christmas presents? Share your ideas in the comments!

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