Friday, November 15, 2019

Our Favorite Christmas Traditions

Our family loves to celebrate Christmas.  We love everything about this festive season except maybe the stress from the over commercialization that has really tried to take away from the true meaning of the season.  I have really tried to adopt traditions that will help our family remember what this season is all about.  Namely, our faith and belief that Christmas is the time when we celebrate the birth of our Savior Jesus Christ.  While we do allow our children to experience the magic of believing in Santa while they are young, we also want them to be aware that the real magic of Christmas is in the gift that was given over 2000 years ago for us all.  We hope that our Christmas traditions help to inspire you to make Christmas magic this year!
  1. Picking out a Real Christmas Tree

Since my husband is a forester and has a thing for trees, only a real tree will do.  We are also from North Carolina where the best Christmas trees are grown.  Many of the White House Christmas trees come from the North Carolina mountains.  Frasier firs are the number one Christmas tree in our opinion.  Thankfully, Georgia seems to agree and gets its trees from North Carolina as well.  Our kids love running through the trees while we pick out the best one. 

2.  Decorating the Christmas Tree and House

The kids love hanging our special yearly ornaments and their special ornaments on the tree. 

Our tree is very traditional with sentimental ornaments we have collected through the years from our travels or a special ornament from each year since we were married.   

We hang our stockings from the mantle awaiting a visit from the man in the red suit. I have also enjoyed using colored lights on our tree for the last few years because it just feels festive and fun for the kids. 
3.  Visiting Santa

I love our pictures with Santa through the years as our family has grown.  No, our kids don't always want to sit on Santa's lap but that's okay.  We don't usually encourage our kids to sit on stranger's laps, right?

4.  We do have an elf!

So truthfully, if I had known six years ago that I would have five kids and may be stuck doing this elf thing for many many years, I probably would have chosen differently.  Our elf has become progressively less active over the years and does not move nearly as much as he used to.  Haha!  He does bring the kids sweet snacks and notes that remind them to be good and to remember the true meaning of the season. 

He does tricks like hanging our underwear in the place of our stockings.

He toilet papers our tree.

5.  We decorate gingerbread houses together.

I love this special time together.  Our boys really enjoyed being creative with their houses.
6.  We go see Christmas lights.

Last year, we visited our local botanical gardens that puts on a beautiful light display every year.
7.  We attend a Candlelight Christmas Eve Service

We love this special time to sing Christmas songs like "Joy to the World" and "O Come All Ye Faithful" as we light our candles to remember the birth of our Savior. 

8.  Reading the Christmas Story on Christmas Eve

We read an age appropriate story of the birth of Jesus to the kids on Christmas Eve night before going to bed.  This helps keep the focus more on Jesus than on the excitement of Santa.
9.  Putting Out Cookies and Milk for Santa

We do still put out a plate of cookies and carrots for Santa and his reindeer to keep some magic in the experience for our youngest children.  Our oldest has learned that Santa is not real, but he understands that we must keep the secret for his younger siblings. Our youngest boys snuggle in the bed to fall asleep before Santa visits.

10.  Santa Visits!

I found an app that will put a picture of Santa dropping off presents in your home.  My almost four year old thought this was pretty awesome because he was obsessed with "hohoho" last Christmas.

11.  Santa leaves a special letter

Santa's letter is another special way to remind the kids of the true meaning of Christmas before the excitement of the presents overshadows it. 

12.  Opening Presents!

While all of the Christmas season seems to lead up to this moment, I really feel like it is such a small part of the whole event.  It is just a few hours of fun compared to a month of family celebrations and traditions.  I do love watching the excitement on my kids' faces as they see what Santa brought them though.
13.  We celebrate with family

Some years we travel to visit family but since our family had a big gathering earlier in the month, our family came to visit us after Christmas. 
14.  We enjoy a yummy Christmas dinner together

We enjoyed a delicious home cooked meal of turkey with lots of sides.  Even the baby liked it!

15.  We sing Happy Birthday to Jesus and blow out his candles on his birthday cake!

Some years we bake Jesus' birthday cake but sometimes we just have to buy a cake from the store.  The point is to celebrate Jesus' birthday with our kids.  Happy Birthday, Jesus!

How do you celebrate Christmas?  Do you have a favorite tradition?  Leave us a comment to share!

Saturday, October 19, 2019

Our Top 10 Best Fall Family Bucket List

Until the last almost three years, we have been blessed to live in areas where we could easily experience the beauty of the Fall season.  We love traditional Fall activities and want to share a few of our favorites with you.  These activities are great for families of all ages and sizes from one to infinity.  We hope you are inspired to get out there and explore!

  1. Visiting a Farm
Visit a fun farm with lots of photo opportunities and kid-friendly activities. Kids love driving tractors, riding cow trains, and being measured to see how tall they have grown.

Giant corn pits to play in are another popular activity at many farms.  While a bit messy, it is still better than a sand box.

Many of the farms you can visit may also have a hay ride that may take you to a field where you can pick a pumpkin.  Usually, this is a good opportunity to rest your legs, grown ups!

2.  Do a Corn Maze as a Family

We have experienced some fun mazes over the years, some more challenging than others.  I recall one where we were "lost" for a couple of hours inside.  Kids will love following the clues or answering riddles to find their way.

Little ones will just love running through the corn stalks.

3.  Pick out pumpkins at a pumpkin patch or roadside stand.

I love stacks and piles of big orange pumpkins.  Don't forget to take some good pictures of the kiddos sitting in a big pile of pumpkins.  One of our favorite pumpkin stands had a huge pumpkin "mountain" one year.  The kids loved it!

4.  Carve the Pumpkins

This may seem like a messy and "dangerous" activity for younger kids, but you can make it safe and fun for all.  Let the smaller kids help clean out the pumpkin guts.  They will love playing with the messy treasure inside.

Our carvings over the years usually are picked by our kids.  When we lived in Charlotte, we had big Carolina Panthers fans so my husband carved one into a pumpkin.  I have carved Mike Wazowski from Monsters, Inc. into a pumpkin.   

5.  Pumpkin Painting

Painting a pumpkin can be a messy but safer alternative to carving.  Our kids have enjoyed painting their smaller pumpkins they usually get at the pumpkin patch.

6.  Apple Picking

The North Carolina mountains are an excellent place to go apple picking.  The town of Hendersonville south of Asheville becomes the apple picking capital during the Fall.  I love to make homemade applesauce and apple pie.  I love apple butter, but I have not attempted making that treat yet.

7.  Jumpin' in the Leaves

I just love the joy on kids' faces when they are jumping into a big ol' pile of leaves.  It kind of makes the work of raking the leaves a little more worthwhile. 

8.  Go on a Nature Hike and Scavenger Hunt

We loved these nature trails close to our old home in Charlotte, North Carolina.  I made the kids a little Fall scavenger hunt with bags to collect their treasures.  They also insist on using hiking sticks.

9.  Go for a Leisurely Fall Drive

A drive through the countryside or in the mountains to see some gorgeous Fall colors is a must.  A lazy Sunday afternoon is the perfect time for this activity.

10.  Dress up for Halloween
Once we started having more than one kid, dressing them in themed costumes was a must.  Their first year, they were a pirate and parrot duo and another year, they were a policeman and his little prisoner.

One of my favorite themes was Ghostbusters when my oldest was a ghostbuster and his little brother was the signature ghost.  I handmade the ghost costume and the no symbol.  After adding more kids, we started dressing as a family.  I loved our Harry Potter year with Professor Dumbledore, Professor McGonagall, Harry, a dementor, and cute little Dobby the Free Elf.

Another favorite costume year was Pac-Man (we love the 80s) and I was a pregnant Mrs. Pac-Man with a little ghost in my "mouth." 

This one was definitely a fandom year when I made everyone dress like Doctor Who characters.  My second son really wanted to be a Dalek so I made his costume.  I was the Tardis, my third son was the Doctor, the baby was Baby Stormaggedon "Dark Lord of All", and my husband and oldest son were the other evil villains, the Silence and a Cyberman.

What do you enjoy doing in the Fall?  What is your favorite season?  Do you have any favorite costumes for Halloween?  We would love to hear from you.

Saturday, September 7, 2019

Grayson ~ 2 1/2 Years

I have really been so behind in documenting our lives and in capturing the precious moments of my youngest children's lives.  Grayson is my fourth born son, and I hate that means that I have very limited time to spend with him.  In those moments that I can steal for just him, I usually just want to spend them holding onto him as tightly as I can and cuddling my precious baby boy.  Of course, he doesn't really like that very much as he is a tough little man who wants to play rough with his big brothers.  I do love when he gets tired and sleepy and wants to cuddle or when he sweetly holds his little arms out wanting to hold his baby sister.  His favorite things seem to be watching Octonauts either on television or on the kindle, being chased around the house and wrestling with the older boys, and drinking lots and lots and lots of liquid beverages (which does make potty training a little tricky).  I stole a few moments with him outside in the yard to take some sweet pictures of him just doing whatever he wanted to do.  I love how expressive he is.  I also needed his picture in these Oshkosh overalls before he outgrew them because all of his brothers wore these too.  They are my favorites!

How grown up does he look with his little hands in his pockets? 

Ugh, pay no attention to how bare and ugly my porch looks.  It really needs some love this year! 

Grayson checks out the few azaleas left on the bushes. 

Sweet sweet smile. 

He loves to point out everything he sees.  

Checking on the grass or looking for critters. 

"What's that?"  He says that a lot. 

"What, mom?  What do you want me to do?"

Okay, I will just look cute. 

And pretend like something is stinky by holding my nose. 

Beautiful boy

Blowing kisses. 

He likes to roar like a lion. 

Oh my goodness, what could be cuter than a little boy holding his overall suspenders?

Yep, he is very mischievous. 

Now how do I take these off?

I just love that face! 

Of course, we had to do an epic comparison of all the boys wearing the special overalls.  

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Words from a Mother's Heart

These thoughts were on my mind today as I sat feeding my sweet baby girl.  Our baby girl Maggie was born at almost 35 weeks with some minor complications from prematurity and genetic issues, namely a very mild cleft palate in the back of her mouth.  Her cleft palate just prevents her from being able to nurse effectively so she had to learn to use a special bottle that did not require her to use as much suction.  For me, nursing was not just a means of feeding my babies but also an important means of bonding with them.  I was so sad I would not have this experience with Maggie and worried that we would not be able to bond as closely.  I didn't get to hold my baby girl the first day of her life as she was whisked away to NICU and then she was on monitors in the incubator and receiving IV fluids, oxygen, and later blue light therapy for a slight case of jaundice.  At first, I didn't know how severe any of her conditions were, and it is so scary seeing your baby like this.

I longed to hold her in my arms but was scared of hurting her.  The next day, I finally had the opportunity.  I was so nervous, but I also desperately wanted to connect with her.  It was hard to hold her close with cords and monitors hooked to her.  She was being fed through a feeding tube at the time so I didn't have the connection of feeding her.  The next day, I arrived to find she had regressed slightly to needing the blue light therapy and worried it was because I had held her the previous day.  My husband finally had an opportunity to hold her that day, but the next day, we needed to let her stay under the blue light so that hopefully she would overcome the jaundice more quickly.  Thankfully, by five days old, she had progressed so beautifully, she was off of everything, including the blue light, IV fluids, and even the incubator warming bed.  We were so excited and hoped to soon bring her home.  I was able to hold her as long as I could stay in the NICU but that still wasn't enough.  I couldn't stay all day and night and during nurse shift changes.  I also still hadn't fed Maggie.  We finally tried feeding her a bottle, and I got her to take most of her first bottle feeding.  I feel that feeding a baby by breast or bottle is an important bonding time.  Babies need to trust the person feeding them.  Even though Maggie learned quickly to use the bottle for me, other nurses would not have success because they were not familiar with Maggie or her special needs.  Maggie did not know them and, thus, did not feel safe with them.  I became frustrated that I was not allowed to stay more to handle her feedings.  I thought my baby would come home within a week since she had progressed so well, but days turned into weeks.  At about 3 weeks old, Maggie had regressed in her feedings from being confused by so many different hands trying to feed her.  She quit taking the bottle even for me for a few days.  I finally got my baby to take the bottle again for me, and I refused to leave her.  I demanded as kindly as I could that we be put into a room where I could stay with her and that was finally accomplished.  My baby girl was ready to come home four days later just before she was four weeks old!  I knew in my heart this was because she thrived on her mother's love.  Babies need to feel spiritually nourished as well as physically nourished.  They need to feel safe and loved, and the most natural place for that is in a mother's loving arms.

As my baby is now a healthy and thriving five month old, I sit feeding her a bottle with these grateful thoughts in my heart.  Maggie often does not want to take her bottle unless she can see my face now.  She needs to know I am there with her.  I do not know what would have happened to her if I had not fought to stay with her and attempted to handle her feedings.  I know that there are many babies born every day who do not know the love of a mother and babies who do not thrive in the NICU because they do not receive this basic love.  Babies know when they are abandoned, and their health shows it.  Now, I am not saying that love has to come from a biological mother or father.  In absence of that connection, babies can develop that same connection to another loving caretaker.  I am a huge supporter of adoption!  I was adopted although as a much older child.  My biological mother did want me and try her best to care for me and for that I am truly thankful.  When she could not care for me because of mental illness, I am also thankful that a loving couple chose to become my parents.  Motherhood is always a choice.  Even though we give birth to a child, we still may not choose to be mothers.  We have to make the conscious decision to care for our children and put their needs above our own.  It is a sacrifice.  When my heart thinks of any baby born into this world who is abandoned and left cold and alone and not cared for, my heart breaks.  No child deserves that treatment!  We are all born innocent and full of potential.  A friend recently posted a sad story of an infant found abandoned in the woods.  People who lived nearby actually heard its tiny cries and were able to save it, but it could have ended so much worse and often does.  I just can't imagine what a tiny infant thinks and feels as it is left lying cold, alone, and hungry.  I do know that a baby does feel.  It feels joy and comfort, and it feels pain.  My only consolation to those babies who lose their lives by being abandoned without ever knowing a loving touch is that they are immediately in the arms of Jesus in heaven and awake to never know pain, sadness, hunger, or any discomfort ever again.  I don't know why I wrote this post except that I needed to get these words written before they were lost forever.  My heart is so full of love for my own babies, but it cries and bleeds for the motherless babies born everyday.  No babies deserve to be unloved!

God will not forsake these babies! 

Sunday, June 2, 2019

10 Things to Do with Kids in Savannah, GA

Savannah, GA is often thought of as an adult vacation spot.  It is well-known for its historical and cultural sites and for its fabulous southern eateries.  However, living in the area for over two years with our crew of kids has allowed us a unique perspective and opportunity to explore what Savannah has to offer more fully.  If you plan a trip to the Savannah, GA area with your children in tow, have no fear!  There is plenty to keep those little minds occupied and to weary those little feet for a good night's sleep.  Here are 10 of our favorite things so far:

  1. A Walking Tour of Downtown Savannah
Check out the beautiful Cathedral of St. John the Baptist which dates back to the 1800s.  There are tons of historical buildings, monuments, and sites sprinkled all over the city. 

The Old Savannah Cotton Exchange is another historical landmark in the city located in the historical riverfront district.

Be sure to explore spooky and historical old cemeteries like Bonaventure and Colonial Park dating back to Colonial America.

2. Historic River Street

Be sure to watch your step if you choose to walk down one of the historic and narrow stairways to the riverfront area.  It is amazing to imagine people using these steps and walking along the cobblestone streets over 200 years ago.

If you choose to visit Savannah during one of our popular holidays like the 4th of July or New Year's, you may witness fabulous fireworks on the river.  New Year's Eve may be a more adult-friendly time to visit since the festivities revolve around drinking alcohol.  Savannah's recent New Year's tradition involves raising a big cup like the ones you are allowed to carry around the city with alcoholic beverages from various establishments.

3.  Ride Savannah's Georgia Queen Riverboat

Visit for more information.

4.  Visit Savannah's Original Candy Store

While there are a few other locations for River Street Sweets, this is the original location.  If you are lucky, you will get to see them making fresh salt water taffy and making and passing out samples of their famous pecan pralines.  On a hot day in Savannah (those are pretty common), you may enjoy a yummy ice cream or gelato treat.  They have great flavors!

5.  Eat Lunch or Dinner at The Pirates' House (you may want to make reservations here because it is always busy)

Little ones will enjoy the sites in this historic old restaurant and will enjoy dressing up like a pirate too.

6.  Take a stroll through Savannah's largest and most famous park, Forsyth Park

The Forsyth Park fountain is a beautiful neoclassical design that serves as a perfect centerpiece to this beautiful park with its wide paths lined with moss draped live oaks. 

On a hot summer day, your little ones will enjoy cooling off in the large splash pad area adjacent to the concert pavilion where there may be a summer concert happening.  If not, you can use the covered stage as a cool place to hang out and have a picnic. Don't forget towels and swimsuits!

The kids will also love this huge playground with some unique and fun equipment.  My kiddos always love a merry-go-round, and the large saucer swing is a hit too.
7.  Visit Tybee Island, Savannah's Beach

Don't forget to take advantage of Savannah's close proximity to the ocean.  Just across the inlet from the city is the island of Tybee, a small local attraction that has plenty to offer.  The kids will love seeing this large shark mouth outside of a local beach shop and will love getting their feet wet in the ocean while you may enjoy swinging nearby.  Parking may be limited during peak seasons, but the beaches are enjoyable here nearly year round.
8.  Eat at The Crab Shack on Tybee Island
We just happened upon this little gem on our first visit to Tybee when we were looking for a place to live.  It was January and pretty chilly in the area, but even this open air eatery was warm and toasty inside.  The cool decor and yummy plate of low country boil makes even a cold January day feel like summer.
9.  Visit Fort Pulaski National Monument

On your way out to Tybee Island, you will pass the turn off for this national treasure.  We love taking our kids to our national parks and landmarks.  The kids have their National Passport book to collect their passport stamps at these national treasures too. 
10.  Visit the Savannah Children's Museum

Shortly after moving to the area, I needed to find something to do to celebrate my 2 year old's birthday.  I found this little gem which is easily accessible to tourists as it is next to the Visitor's Center in downtown.  It is also connected to the Railroad Museum which may be an interesting site for older children and adults. For our younger children, a day at the Savannah Children's Museum was perfect.  The museum is located in the ruins of an old brick factory building preserved for historical significance while being made safe for children to play around.  There is a maze and all kinds of nooks and crannies for kids to hide in. 

I hope you enjoyed learning about Savannah's many kid-friendly sites to explore, and I hope you will take advantage of the southern hospitality this city has to offer.  Happy travels!

Saturday, May 25, 2019

Evan's Soccer Season ~ 2018-19

This fall, Evan wanted to play more competitive soccer so he tried out for our local soccer club's select 11U team.  Several of his friends and church buddies were also on the team.  The team went through some changes throughout the season with a coach change and losing some players.  Evan really advanced a lot throughout the season.  He initially played mostly defense and was instrumental to the team in stopping the opposition.  He started playing more offensive positions and was very fast getting the ball down the field.  The coach switches weren't always easy for the team as they learned what a new coach expected of them.  The team really had to work on learning to play together as a team, and by the end of the season, their team game was much improved.  This team didn't play in any tournaments, but it was a good team building year.  We hope they can advance to the next level next season. 

Our little pro soccer player.  

Going head to head for the ball. 

Go #2! 

Evan just exudes confidence on the soccer field.  It is definitely his best sport. 

Huge kicks to get the ball out of the hands of the opposing team. 

Fighting for the ball. 

Handling the throw in. 

Get that ball, E! 

He looks like a pro kicking the ball. 

I love watching my boy in action.  

Ready for an early morning game. 

Go Evan! 

They either wore navy or gray jerseys.  

Blocking the opposition. 

My handsome soccer player. 

I love his face when he is enjoying the game! 

We finally caught his goal on camera when he played the striker position.  Go Evan! 

The team wrapped up a good season of growing together as a team.  The coach gave them a good pep talk to end the season. 

And a team photo was a must.  Go Raiders! 


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