Christmas Pictures

Mostly a for-the-grandparents post, with cute pictures and brief concluding thoughts…

Christmas Day Pictures

Handmade sibling gifts – It was a blessing to be a part of the making of these gifts of love!

From their parents – handmade lapdesks and thrifty books

Gifts from and to a dear friend, who would like a quiet corner of the internet, but who was a very special part of our Christmas day. We love you, girl!

Gifts from G’pa and G’ma Smith

Christmas Dinner and Games. Fun times!

A few days later, we had Second Christmas when a box arrived from Papa and Mama Byrd

Books for the Blessings

Journals for the Blessings (and a bus for Stephen)

Assorted goodies for J&L and Andrew

We’re thankful to our parents for honoring our desire for a simplified Christmas this year. We love you all and are so thankful for your support over the years. We have the best folks around!

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Christmas/Advent Thoughts

Some post-Christmas thoughts on the Advent season and our developing family traditions as we seek to keep our focus on the Christ who was born to die that we might live eternally. Not prescribing or mandating for anyone else. These are simply some ways He is showing our family His grace at Christmas.

I wrote in early December about a couple of our Advent traditions and how blessedly they have helped us focus more on the Saviour during the season in which the world celebrates* His coming. Ann Voskamp‘s Jesse Tree book was such a helpful addition to our following of the story of redemption this December, and I loved being able to recommend it to folks. Our family Advent Wreath tradition continues to evolve, and I am prayerfully considering putting together a free downloadable Advent Wreath resource for next Advent season.

We wound up planning a trip to visit my folks and family in Florida during the third week of December. It wasn’t my first choice for timing, but God’s timing has this way of being better than mine, and He came through again with perfect timing and a wonderful trip.

I knew in November, as I looked ahead to December, that I was going to have abundant opportunity to stretch-and-release my expectation and perfectionism muscles. The Father was gracious in helping me to relax, to enjoy the moments, and let go of many less-than-important things that I ordinarily would think of as important.

So, our house was not dressed-to-the-nines this Christmas. When the Christmas boxes were brought down, a couple of them hid in the attic and avoided us altogether! I didn’t unpack my beloved Christmas dishes; the doors and bookcases didn’t have lights and garland; the wall hanging were not re-done for Christmas; we got out just a couple of ornaments for each family member; etc.

But oh the fun we had! And how our hearts worshipped our Creator made flesh!

We caught up on our missed week of the Jesse Tree and Advent Wreath during the week before Christmas. We also did some fun things that we’d either not done before or haven’t done for years.

We made salt-dough ornaments



We baked and decorated sugar cookies


We strung popcorn for our tree

I don’t remember ever doing this before in my life and I loved it. Davey popped two batches of popcorn in our air popper, and the next day we started stringing (I’d read that it works better if the popcorn has a bit of time to get stale before stringing). We would put a section on the tree whenever it seemed like it was getting too long, and put the last piece up Christmas Eve day. Definitely planning to do this again. And maybe we’ll string cranberries next year, too.
We let the Blessings hang Christmas lights in their rooms. They loved it, and it reminded me of college days.
While in Florida, I put up and decorated Papa and Mama’s tree for them. It was such fun!

Simplified Homemade Gifting
A college friend of Jonathan’s unintentionally inspired us to a handmade Christmas this year. The Blessing’s sibling drawing led to some creative thinking (on both their part and mine), and they really enjoyed both the making and the giving of their gifts. I made lapdesks for the older seven Blessings, and cheated on the handmade theme when I saw a collapsable baby gym at the resale shop for $2 for Andrew (needed, cute, and cheap). We also gave used books that we had gotten throughout the year at library book sales and thrift stores. Stockings were simple… mostly fruit, nuts, a bit of candy, and a couple of trinkets each. We also made gifts for other family members (so of which still need to be sent, so I’m not talking about them even though I don’t think my brothers-in-law read my blog) and friends.
We have always sought to have a minimal number of gifts so that the focus is not on “the haul,” but I was surprised at how much freedom I found in the additional simplicity of this year’s gifting plan. Yes, I spent quite a lot of time helping Blessings work on gifts and making gifts myself. But gift-making as a labor of love is so much more enjoyable than shopping, in my opinion. Even when it keeps you up into the wee hours for several nights before Christmas because you didn’t plan ahead well enough. It also was easier to not get carried away with impulsive buying. To walk through the stores with their shelves of Christmas-targetted gifts and feel no stress? That was wonderful. And it freed me to worship and enjoy being with my family. Definitely a tradition I’m interested in continuing.

Tree notes: We bought our first fake tree of our married life this year. Last year, there was just too much stress over water-damage concerns. And since we were gone for a week, it was great to come home to a tree that was still in great condition. Instead of putting our Jesse Tree ornaments in a separate location, we hung them on our Christmas tree (and loved it that way) this year. Incidentally, we also purchased the second fake tree of our married life this year… the day after Christmas. It’s a smaller tree that was 50% off and will be a lovely Jesse Tree.

Whew, thanks for sticking with me through this long post (if you’re still reading!). I felt the need to “jot down” some thoughts, and I pray our journey is an encouragement to you.

*Yes, the worldly celebration is mangled and twisted, but isn’t it amazing that His coming is proclaimed and honored amidst the greed? Just a tiny foretaste of “every knee shall bow,” in my opinion.

Gratitude for Memories Made

So many thanks from our visit to Papa & Mama in Florida and the E&R Byrds in North Carolina.
This week is so full with the wonder of His coming… I’ll let the pictures speak my gratitude for last week.
(Click to see larger pics)

holy experience

Creation Museum Trip ~ Day 4 – Sat. Oct. 9 ~ Last Day

Saturday was our last day at the museum, and we had originally talked about leaving in the early afternoon. More on that later.  Heh.  We struck camp and had the van loaded by around 10.30, and ate breakfast on the way to the museum. Not as early as we had hoped, but still pretty impressive for the 12 of us and all our gear.

Our first workshop on Saturday was the Buzz about Bees workshop with Doug Nelson, a home schooling dad of seven whose family business is bee keeping. Doug is also the bee keeper/educator for the Creation Museum. We are interested in adding bees to our repertoire at some point, so we soaked the bee workshop, and were thrilled at the opportunity to go out to the museum’s bee hives later in the afternoon to watch and learn even more.

The Snakes Alive workshop was also a hit with our family, since Jonathan has all of us trained to appreciate snakes and other reptiles. Rick Teepen has an extensive collection, taught us some interesting things about the animals, and best of all, has a passion for Jesus Christ and brought out some very practical spiritual truths.

A highlight of the day for this newly-dairy-free mama was a Chai Latte from the Palm Cafe at the museum. I normally avoid soy like the plague, but I couldn’t resist this one time treat. It was yummy!

Some shots here and there around the museum on Saturday:

Worlds of Creation, the other current planetarium show, highlights the wonders of our solar system. Here is the Smith gang waiting in line for the show:

After our late afternoon trip out the bee hives, we made our way to the bookstore for our final visit. Some of the Blessings and Jonathan spent birthday money from Papa and Gramma Byrd. Instead of leaving early, we “closed down” the museum before hitting the road, so we arrived home around 3am. That’s just how we roll.

It was a fun, memorable, and educational trip. I’m already looking forward to the next time!

Creation Museum Trip ~ Day 3 – Fri. Oct. 8 ~ Campground/Museum Fishing Night

 Our original plans for Friday were to spend some time checking out the neat state park at which we camped.  There is a bison herd there, hiking trails, and an outdoor museum about the mastodon.  Alas, due to a fluke with the campground office, we wound up needing to move to a different campsite on Friday, which changed our plans for the day significantly.

We “slept in” until 8.30 Friday, then enjoyed a breakfast of bacon and eggs cooked on the campstove (firewood at the campground was quite pricey).  After breakfast, we struck camp, hauled everything to the other end of the campground, and set up camp again.  It took several trips, was quite an ordeal adventure, and I was thrilled with everyone’s attitudes in the midst of the inconvenience.

Once we got the foodstuff to our new campsite, I started cooking lunch.  We had an easy version of sloppy joes that I cooked in our biggish cast iron pot.  Three pounds ground beef, a couple cans of pork n beans, and a bottle of KC Masterpiece BBQ sauce.  Plus an egg left over from breakfast that would’ve gone to waste if we hadn’t used it.  Yummy.

We made it back to the Creation Museum in time for the late afternoon showing of the Created Cosmos planetarium show.  We had seen it last year, but the extent of God’s creation is beyond comprehension and the CC show does a fantastic job of showing off the vastness of His universe.

Friday evening after the museum closed, there was a special Members Family Fishing Night.  The Blessings did some fishing, I did a lot of camera-play, we roasted brats and marshmallows over the fire, and the Blessings got to ride Gomer the camel.  It was a fun and special time.

Another grocery stop for Saturday’s food and some more sushi, and we were on our way back to the state park for another (slightly less frigid) night of camping, our last this trip.  The Blessings went straight to bed, and we grown-ups weren’t far behind.

Creation Museum Trip ~ Day 2 – Thurs. Oct. 7 ~ At the Museum

Highlights from Thursday:

Buddy Davis day!  We planned our trip to coincide with a day when Buddy Davis would be at the museum.  We enjoyed the workshop where we learned from Buddy how to draw and to sculpt pteranodons, as well as gaining knowledge about pteranodons and other dinosaurs.  Later in the day we attended a concert by Buddy, which was a treat.

In the Dragon Legends Theater, a video about dragons and dinosaur runs on a loop.  The theater is small, cozy, and a perfect quiet spot for nursing.  We watched the video once as a family, and I enjoyed it multiple additional times throughout our visit.  If you ever visit the Creation Museum with a nursling, the Dragon Legends Theater is your friend.

The Dinosaur den is an area of the museum showcasing a multitude of dinosaur sculptures (the lion’s share of which were sculpted by Buddy).  The family checked it out while I fed the little fella.

Our initial tour through the bookstore was on Thursday, prepping for a purchasing visit that would come just before our departure.  So much fascinating stuff.

On our way back to the campground Thursday night, we stopped at “our” grocery store – groceries for dinner/Friday, dark chocolate (with no dairy!) and sushi for a treat.

A farkle game with the four oldest Blessings was a fun end to the day, though we were all shivering by the time we concluded the game.  The night-time temps were in the low to mid 40s and we were glad for our blankets.  Andrew slept in many layers in “bed” with Jonathan and I.  He probably stayed warmer than I, but I was glad we could keep him warm and comfy.

(Trying out the WP slideshow feature below… I like it except that it doesn’t look like you can click on individual pics to see them in a larger size.  Any thoughts on picture format?)

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Creation Museum Trip ~ Day 1 – Wed. Oct. 6 ~ On the Road

Our trip to the Creation Museum with Dad and Mom Smith began early Wednesday morning.  When Dad and Mom arrived about 9, we had most of our packing done and the van emptied and ready for packing (Jonathan worked late the night before, so emptying the van was a last-minute job).   The goal was to leave by 10.00, and we drove out of the driveway the first time at 10.35, a record for us.  Then we went back for the coats. 

After having new tires put on the van while we took a family walk to Dollar General, we got on the road for real.  Until the first stop 20 minutes later for gas/potty break.  Such is travel with a large family, and I wouldn’t trade it.

It was a beautiful day for a road trip.  A rest area where we stopped (Goshen Rd Rest Area in Illinois, for the curious) was a nice spot for a few pictures.  Later we saw an interesting vehicle adapted from a motorcycle and … something.  We arrived at our destination – Big Bone Lick State Park in Union, KY – after dark, set up our campsite, and had a yummy supper before settling in for the Freezing Cold Night.

(Click on the pics below to get a better view)

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