Cheap Christmas Gifts


Need more gifts than you have the cash for?  Well, we do, so I thought I’d share one of the things we’re doing for the kids this Christmas.  It’s a spin off of our chore reward boards, details here.

Here is one of the pages we made.  I think it is pretty self-explanatory.  Once a month each kid gets to scratch off one prize and use it during that month.  “Daddy makes” is shorthand for Daddy will make something for the child, i.e. build them a Lego castle (a big request around here as Daddy IS the master builder ;) ).  O + B are grandparents.  And Master for the night is where they will get to choose what the family does for one night that month.

This way it’s a surprise every month, and we get to spread out the cost of gifts.  Getting six children a $15 present would take $90 which is a lot right now but spread out over the year?  Totally doable.  :)

Giving gifts to your kids doesn’t have to be expensive!  Half of these ideas came from our kids in the past, and they reflect the kids’ main concerns:  spending one on one time with a parent, and getting a special treat nobody else gets.  Kids.  :)

Another cheap Christmas present I’ve made already for the kids is bath bombs (pictured).  These are pretty cheap and easy to make and are totally customizable, plus they make life easier and sweeter!  Kids love their baths and the lavender essential oils is (theoretically) calming and soporific, plus here during winter it helps getting a little oil on their skin regularly.  Here’s a rough recipe:

2 parts baking soda

1 part citric acid

coconut oil (I use about 1 T. to 1 C. mix of above)

1 part Natrasorb (modified tapioca starch that holds oil like lavender and helps it to work in the bath)

Epsom salts as desired, up to 1/3 part

essential oil(s): lavender is the only one I’d use for kids’ skin.  For myself I add up to 1% of some of the skin-safe ones like rosemary bourbon (rose-y smell).

Use 100% alcohol if you can get it, and put into a spritzer; witch hazel also works.  Dampen dry ingredients when they are well mixed until mixture clumps into a ball and stays in a ball.  Then pack as tightly as possible into a mold.  I’ve heard freezing the mold for 10 minutes helps.  Then gently removed the bombs from the mold and place on a cookie sheet somewhere to finish “hardening.”  Once hardened they’re good to save for however long you want!

egg bath bombs

I used an egg container for the above molds, it makes cute egg shaped bombs that smell great!  Keep them on the counter to make your bathroom naturally deodorized!

* Please note: NOT all essential oils are safe for the skin, and having them in a bath can theoretically increase skin absorption!  Please consult EO safety materials before putting _any_ into a bath with you or your littles.  Thanks!

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It’s been a week now since little Caleb joined our family.  We are so blessed!

You can read Caleb’s birth story via the “Births” link above, if you want.

We have been the grateful recipient of a week of meals!  We attended our first Nanaimo church the Sunday before Caleb’s arrival, and the ladies of that church banded together to bring us a week of meals after he arrived!  Talk about showing hospitality to a stranger.  I love God’s family!  :)

So…we’re probably not going to be posting a whole lot of blog entries for a while.  Getting settled with adding Caleb to our other five will be fun, and so far the only difficulty has been limiting the amount of time he is held by a sibling.  Also, it is time to figure out what we are going to be doing for schooling for the next year.  We are mostly settled into our house here now, but there are a few things that still need attending to.

At the end of the week, I am still just so glad Caleb is here safe and sound.  :)

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Moving Happiness

We have just finished moving from Southern California to Vancouver Island, Canada.  It’s been a loooong month.

The trip itself took about a week and a half, since we had some family gatherings.  We were the grateful recipients of Christian hospitality and at least one flies-in-the-face-of-reason, God-thing (the last day, our hitch for the trailer didn’t get on properly although it seemed locked; it stayed that way for over 350 miles of dangerous roads until right before our destination, when it calmly popped off on a safe side road…right in front of strangers who turned out to be MacGuyvers in disguise, who got it all fixed well enough for us to all make the ferry crossing in time!).  It was exhausting, and painful (for me at 8 plus months of pregnancy to sit for so long), but we made it.

Then we spent 3 weeks trailering it at Nathan’s parents place while looking for a place to live and a job to support us.  It took right until the very end of my “Ok, now it’s time to panic because I am going to have a BABY” level.  Why does God do that sometimes?  Yet, when we finally found a place to live, it was so clearly orchestrated by God – the landlord had been looking for a while but some kind of computer “glitch” made it so that almost everyone else’s inquiries that he responded to were never answered, until us.  And this in a rental climate where for every house on the market about 20-50 people respond (according to landlords) and houses disappear off the market sometimes in the same day they are listed.  Yet here we are, and in the last week we have been realizing how blessed we are in this placement.

First, God gave us all our “needs” in the house.  Enough bedrooms?  Check.  Fenced yard?  Check.  No carpet?  Check.  And not just that, but our “wants” as well.  _Two_ bathrooms???  Check!  View of the backyard from the main living area?  Check.  Stairs? (one of the kids said this was necessary) Check.  A garden area, already growing things?  Check, and don’t forget the mature apple, cherry and pear trees!  A place close enough so Nathan wouldn’t have to spend sick amounts of money on gas commuting ($5.50 a gallon???), check.  Second, not just our needs and wants, but also extra special little gifts.  The view is great.  We are in Nanaimo, in the Departure Bay area, and we have a sunroom and deck with a view of the Bay.  We’ve never lived in a house with a view before.  It’s nice!  And, we are discovering the distinct advantages of having a sunroom off the dining room…where the children can eat by themselves…;)  The house also has gas forced air heating, which Nathan says will be very nice in the cold humid winter and is apparently quite unusual for at least parts of the island (and much cheaper than the norm, which is electric baseboard heating – other places we looked at renting said to assume electric bills of $200plus a month!).  It is an older house, and even has a laundry chute from the bathroom to the downstairs laundry!  How cool is that??

So we are considering ourselves very blessed.  And not only that, but it looks like Nathan will be gainfully employed at a job he likes doing with (hopefully soon, right now it starts part time) decent hours, working with nice people.

So, the only thing left to stress over is having baby.  My ultrasound due date was yesterday, and the LMP date is in two days.  Yes…I have been stressing.  My nest is finally taking shape but delivering here has been a great big unknown.  But after taking a hospital tour this morning (the hospital is only 3 blocks away!), I am feeling much better.  If I were to count the ways this hospital, and this health care delivery, was improved over my experience in California I would probably sound very snarky and/or make my California girlfriends jealous, so I will leave it at:  It’s better.  A lot.  :)

After such a seemingly long time of praying and not seeing results, being on the other end of God’s lavish grace and earthly gifts is making me feel very spoiled. “Oh ye of little faith!” indeed.  I am writing it all down so that next time, when the future is grim and God seems to be taking a long time to answer, I can remember how good He really is.  :)

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Some recent news articles and moving from America to Canada have me thinking about culture.

Each culture, at each moment, has its rules and expectations that most people would agree with and follow.  Obviously, there are always “sub-cultures” within the predominant culture that can vary widely from the accepted norm.  But in general I think most people would agree on certain topics.  For example, at what age can a child have and carry their own machete?  In Cameroon (and probably many other similar cultures) the age appeared to us to be about 4 years old.  We were told that childrens’ machetes are kept purposely dull until they are old enough to handle a sharp one, but that seemed to be the youngest age of child we saw carrying around a machete.  Now, in North America, most parents would probably answer that question “What?  Are you crazy?  Give a child a machete??”  Or in recent news in America, at what age can a child go to the park alone?  Apparently in some places, 7-9 is not acceptable because in two cases now, parents were arrested and are awaiting criminal charges for allowing their children to be at a park at that age, unattended.  Yet I am sure that many Americans also remember taking themselves to the park, or riding/walking home from the bus/school, at far younger ages and the recent arrests are shocking.  It’s not that the dangers to children have changed significantly in the time period between then and now; in fact, studies repeatedly show that violence has decreased in America over the same period of time (although tragically children are still at the highest risk of abuse or death from family members or acquaintances).  But culture and what is accepted has changed.  But why?

As I reflect on this it strikes me that my initial answer of “Because people have just lost their common sense” is probably going to qualify me for charges of hypocrisy.  I don’t even let my children play in the front yard unattended, let alone walk themselves to a park and play there.  Of course, I have my reasons.  And I think that they are good ones; we now live on a very busy road and our front walkway is awaiting repair from the city because a drunk lost control of his truck and crashed it into our front yard last week (before we moved here, thankfully).  So, no kids of mine are going to be sitting out there, not to mention that strangers are walking by every 3-5 minutes all day.  My reasons sound good to me, but I am sure that is true for every parent and that is probably why there are self-proclaimed “good Samaritans” out there getting parents arrested and their children taken away for having unattended park-playing children.

So what is “common” sense?  And does it have any basis in truth, or reality, or “common decency”?  Why does one culture give machetes to their children at 4 and another arrest parents for allowing their children out of their sight for a short time at older ages?

It has been interesting to move from California to Canada (Vancouver Island).  Nathan has been telling me how relieved he is, because of the reappearance of little courtesies: people waiting for him to go in first; people saying Sorry and Thank You; and so on.  It makes him happy.  He certainly fits in better here, both in his expectations of people and his own behaviour.  It is home to him.  As a native Californian, I sometimes get irritated at the same things that make him happy; for example, when nobody wants to be rude at a four-way stop so they all just sit there waiting for someone else to go first.  Somebody, just go first!  ;)  I find Californian driving to be rude at times, but very efficient.  :P  And talking to a co-ordinator for foreign exchange students visiting Canada was interesting.  Apparently, one group only allows their students to be hosted (within Canada) by families that fit certain criteria: no Indians (from India/Pakistan or First Nations), no Asians, etc.  They have their reasons, but Nathan and the co-ordinator were commenting on how culturally offensive it is to a Canadian to even have such restrictions!

I have no answers, I guess, I am just finding it interesting to ponder.  How much of what I think of as right and wrong, good parenting and bad, my expectations on other people’s behaviours, etc, are just a by-product of my culture?  Obviously as a Christian certain things are non-negotiables because they have a Biblical basis and many of those things fly in the face of even my accepted dominant North American culture.  But which is which?


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At 4:15 in the morning I realized, after my usual pee break, that I had forgotten to do something online.  So I grabbed my phone to do it before I could forget about it the next day…and 20 min. later after reading a random blog I realized something, besides that I was starving and wide awake.  So a snack later I am sitting here at 5 am trying to put it into words, because if I wait til morning there’s no way I’ll even remember it let alone have the time to write it down.  ;)

I realized that I have moved on.  I am no longer in the stage of the stay-at-home mommy blogger that I was reading.  No longer in the days of only 1 or 2 kids at home, the days of trying to figure out DIY laundry detergent, laundry systems, homemade organic baby food, green smoothies; the days of trying to cope with a new body image that includes train tracks over half of my belly and the suspicion that things won’t actually ever get better; the days of trying so hard to figure this whole mommy in charge thing day in, day out, when the lack of vitality makes getting a shower a big accomplishment.

Now don’t get me wrong.  I can still have all those conversations w/ my girlfriends who are still in that stage, and I might actually have something to contribute.  I have figured out how to get laundry done for 7 people.  I can make my own homemade lotion and it’s pretty awesome, if I do say so myself.  And green smoothies are a regular item on the menu.   (but…I also buy baby food from the store.  Shh, don’t tell anyone!)  Also, I do “get it” still.  I am pregnant, trying to figure out how my 19 month old is going to cope when she gets kicked out of the bed for the sake of the new baby…sometime soon.  All I have to hear are the words “stomach flu” and my vision goes a little blurry.  But usually I just smile and nod while my younger friends talk about what they’re learning…and I realized that’s not my stage anymore.

I’m drawn to the women whose eyes show battle lines from years of effort.  The ones who need gentle prodding to talk about themselves, how they have made it so far.  The ones who look pretty put together but who have coped with things I’m still only vaguely in dread of (4 girls hitting puberty??).  I want to talk to them, I want to know how they made it this far.  I want to know how, after 10 years of child-rearing, you can keep going and not be the burnt out shell you feel like but still get excited over homemade playdough creations.  I’m in the middle and it’s hard.  I want to hear from the ones who actually have made it through that it is possible to make it through!  And without (hopefully) having children too scarred.  I am realizing that all DIY projects aside, it’s my sinful nature and my children’s sinful nature that is the biggest problem and that can’t be fixed with a new system.  All those books of the ilk of “how to have a new child by Friday” make me almost nauseous w/ cynicism.

I need to be reminded that it is by grace alone that we are saved, not by our own works.  And that grace is new every morning, because great is HIS faithfulness, not my own.  I am tired.  And there’s still a long ways to go…

That’s the stage I’m at.  So I’m going to keep looking for those women, and keep trying to remember the lessons learned in the trenches the hard way, and above all keep trying.  For my kids’ sakes, and my own.

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False Guilt

shoeThis is a picture of our shoes. 

For the past several months, a combination of VERY tight finances and a dog that is just emerging from puppyhood has meant that 3 out of our family of 7 have been wearing shoes that most people would probably just toss (the other 4 have been making do with 1 pair of shoes).  However, since we couldn’t really afford to replace them, we made do and were only occasionally embarrassed when someone noticed the teeth marks (actually, it’s fairly surprising how few people notice your shoes…another thought for another day). 

This week we got our tax refund money, and after taking care of some important things, my thoughts turned to shoes.  So I spent a night or two on ebay putting in bids on brand name, but used, shoes to replace the chewed ones.  After actually winning all of the auctions (yay! gotta love holiday weekends!) and paying for all of my choices…the guilt set in.  I spent how much on shoes?!?? Granted, the total amount I spent on shoes for 4 people, even though name brand, is probably less than most men would spend on a pair of dress shoes, but it seemed like an awful lot of money to me once it left our bank account!

And that got me thinking…why, really, am I feeling guilty for replacing broken shoes for my family?  Is this true or false guilt?

Let me explain.  I believe that part of the result of having a “sin” nature, having been born with a proclivity for evil (Genesis 6:5), means that humans have “seared” (burnt like steak) consciences.  Some of us do not feel guilty for doing things that are, actually, wrong and that we should feel guilt over.  I can think of a few stellar examples but will not share them.  However, I think everyone can think of someone who did something awful and somehow doesn’t seem bothered by it in the least.  To me, this is a True guilt.

Then there is False guilt.  This is the guilt people feel over doing something that is not actually wrong, or the guilt felt over a circumstance that a person actually had no control over.  This is the kind of guilt that makes someone puke up a meal because they don’t believe that they deserved to eat it, or the guilt that a hostess feels over having a luncheon ruined by rain.  This kind of guilt is FALSE.

To believe in this distinction, of course you have to have an objective set of what is actually right and what is actually wrong to think/say/do.  Obviously a debated topic but I am going to skip over all that and say that since I am a Christian, I am going with the belief that it is what GOD says is right and wrong that is important, and that information can be found in His word to us, the Bible, and in the life and actions of His son, Jesus.  Proverbs 30:5 says that, “Every word of God proves true; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him.”  Works for me.  :)

So should I go with my “feeling” of guilt over buying shoes or should I check what the Bible says?  Again, if my heart is as wicked as the Bible says, can I trust it to tell me if I have actually done something wrong?  I believe that the answer is no. No matter what I feel about something, whether it is guilt or assurance that I was in the right, I have to check my feelings against the Bible.

For me, this little matter of buying new shoes ended up being a fairly simple one to analyze once I actually thought about it.  The Bible says that believers should take care of their families or they are worse than unbelievers (1 Timothy 5:8).  It also says to be a good steward of what God gives you.  I chose to buy used shoes that will last a long time, so I think that qualifies as taking care of the finances God has given us.  So in the end, my feeling of guilt over buying shoes for my family is, according to God’s word, a feeling of false guilt.  Phew.  :)

But it also reminded me of an important truth of Christianity.  Christianity says that even though our hearts are evil, Jesus Christ died to take away the just punishment for our sins and if we believe in him, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Romans 8:1.  Therefore, “let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.” Hebrews 10:22.  We should feel the guilt of our sins, of doing things that actually are _wrong_, but if we are Christian we need to remember that He has taken away our guilt in front of God.  Once forgiven, those sins should not and cannot condemn us anymore!  Our hearts have been cleaned.  While it can be tempting to allow guilt for past wrong actions to haunt us (and our adversary, the devil, is always happy to accuse us), we need to remember that in Christ we have been forgiven!  Hallelujah!

Happy Palm Sunday.  =D

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Magnum Opus

I don’t think that many of the world’s best writers have been women with a lot of kids.  Well, make that women with a lot of kids who also homeschool their kids.  Can you imagine?  “I want to write the world’s most erudite, insightful novel on the condition of man.  I know, I will gather a passel of small children and lock myself away in a small house with them and WRITE.”  Ha!

There isn’t anything wrong with that.  I, for one, have always believed that you shouldn’t write unless you actually have something to say.  And in the midst of the crazy of raising children, it is an accomplishment to even finish a sentence (ha, this particular sentence was just interrupted by child 1 asking if we can make bicycles out of scrap metal for a homeschool project.  Answer: No. ;) ).  I assume that most of my homeschooling crazy compatriots are expending most of their energy raising their “magnum opuses”, not writing them.  I wonder, how many of the world’s best writers had their mothers as their primary teachers and caregivers?  :D

That is not the reason that I haven’t posted a blog entry for months.  Without going into gruesome details, this summer has been extremely hard.  And we had nothing to say that we wanted to say publicly.  In fact, today marks my “semi-retirement” from full time work cleaning houses to half-time work, half-time staying at home homeschooling the kids.  It also marks Nathan’s retirement from full-time caregiving to half-time caregiving, half-time student.  And this summer of being away from my kids most of the day has made me realize a few things.  First, it is a lot easier to hear your own thoughts when you are alone.  Second, most of my thoughts are actually very plebeian.  Third, I am an extremely jealous mother.  It has been hard missing those precious “firsts” of our youngest baby, even when it is my husband who is seeing them instead of me.  And fourth, I never want to be a career woman.  I am definitely not cut out for it.  Although it has been easy to lose sight of in the stress of raising my kids, I actually do want to be home with them.  I am now “aspiring” to be a stay-at-home mom again (full time)!

This past weekend marked 10 years since Nathan and I covenanted with each other and God to walk the path He has laid out for us, together.  Both of us struggle with a desire to run away when things get tough, and this summer has been one of the toughest.  So for our anniversary, we ran away…together, and with all 5 children and my mother (and 2 dogs)!  We went tent-camping in the San Jacinto mountains, near Idyllwild.  For three days we mucked about in the dirt, rolled around on air mattresses, went to bed at 8pm and woke up at 6 am (yes – all of us), and remembered what it is like to just breathe.  I always wonder what my children will remember about our life.  Will this weekend be a memory of splashing in a pool, riding a horse, seeing the views, building dams, climbing rocks?  Or will they remember puke, not-their-favorite camp food, hysterics when thunder closed the pool, bee stings, “this is vacation and I don’t have to do chores” arguments, chasing after runaway dogs?  I hope to be sitting in my rocker one day hearing them reminisce, chuckling softly to myself at the vagaries of how time sweetens memories.

So.  With the new school year upon us, perhaps I will find (carve) some time out to write.  Perhaps not.  But I hope that you, the random public and family and friends, will perhaps understand a little better if you don’t see a magnum opus of blogging on this site.  ;)  Pray for us!  :D

Our campsite in Idyllwild

Our campsite in Idyllwild

Our dogs, Kona and Roxy

Our dogs, Kona and Roxy

PS – homeschooling does have its advantages.  We loved going camping the weekend _after_ Labor Day, it was practically empty and we had the best spot!  :D

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