It Makes the Difference

Emily has started adding, “it makes the difference” to various statements.  For example, when referring to using two different fingernail polishes, “You need to paint the sparkly one first, and then the purple one.  It makes the difference.”

Her phrase has popped in  my head numerous times this week.  Here a few little things that “make the difference”:

Nathan really hates it when we interfere with his play.  I’ve tried to bake with him like I do with Emily, but he does not like being told what to do.  The challenge is finding ways to let him be close but also have 100% control.  I’m only starting to make headway.  Our first kitchen success was a rice tray, which Emily quickly joined in on, and I was able to bake alone (for about 5 minutes).

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For about a year we’ve been slowly reducing the amount of toys we own as well as the amount of toys the kids have access to.  Lately I’ve been pulling out one toy for the day.  We play with it for special time in the morning (15 minutes of my undivided attention) and it stays out the rest of the day.  Nathan and Emily have been playing side-by-side well and there are glimpses of playing together.

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We tried making black bean mint brownies, highly recommended by my friend Faith (check out her instagram account for simple, fast, delicious whole food, plant based meals and treats!!!).  It called for peppermint essential oil. After some deliberation about whether we could use mint extract instead, I remembered that we have a teeny tiny bottle of peppermint essential oil a friend sent to mask kitchen smells while I was in the throws of morning sickness.  There was enough left to add to the brownies, and it definitely made the difference.

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During Christmas break we played games almost every evening once the kids were in bed.  We decided we want our family to make slowing down and playing games a nightly thing (or a few nights a week at least).  Emily and I have been setting up and playing the first half of busytown while Nathan gets ready for bed.  Then I put Nathan to bed while Andrew plays the second half.  It helps us all unwind and it is refreshing to engage with Emily in a different way.

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After reading Sink Reflections last year, I committed to following Flylady’s system this year.  Each Monday we do Home Blessing Hour (Emily says, “I love home blessing hour!” every time I announce it).  We vacuum, dust, wash mirrors and doors, take out the trash, look through magazines, and mop for 10 minutes each.  Some weeks we only make it through vacuuming and dusting before the kids are done.  Usually we manage to get through most of the jobs.  Emily sets the timer, we pass rags around, turn music on, and move!  The level of cleanliness in our house has skyrocketed without taking time  to clean on the weekend!

We also keep the kitchen sink clean, Flylady’s first habit.  I found this under the sink wire storage at goodwill a few weeks ago for $1.  It makes the difference!  I’ve been looking for over a year for one but haven’t been able to fork out the $10+.  I love going to bed with a sparkly clean sink with cleaning supplies stored (which leads to the entire kitchen being cleaned) and waking up with a fresh start to the day.

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Last year Emily and I started a lemon tree and avocado tree from seed/pit.  They are thriving, now that I know to look to the avocado tree for signs of thirst and water them both at that time.  I love having their company washing dishes.  I also recently discovered the overhead light above our kitchen sink.  It almost feels like a candle overhead, so cozy, and I love the mood it sets for our cold winter nights and mornings.

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I’ve been spending 15 minutes each day cleaning in the zone for the week.  I look ahead on Sunday night at the zone missions, write them down, and check them off as we go.  I usually get 3-4 of the 5 tasks accomplished, which is way more than ZERO.  After living here for two years I’ve actually accomplished things that have been bothering me for well over eighteen months:  cleaning out cobwebs, the ceiling fan, scrubbing cupboards, and getting the food off the ceiling that’s been here since before we lived here.  I feel so empowered by following the plan and doing a fun activity with the kids.  We are seeing progress, the house is feeling cleaner, and we are learning skills together.

Kids Knife Skills

Emily and I watched a free kids knife skills class yesterday.  She was trying to cut cheese to make herself a grilled cheese sandwich, so it seemed like the right moment.  Today we made some play dough fruits and vegetables: apple, avocado, potato, carrot, and zucchini.  She got to work cutting with her fingers soldier straight and the knife going through the tunnel.  I love seeing her budding independence.

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In many ways I feel like my role as a mother is becoming a little more clear now that she has skills to learn and interests to explore. I’m learning to observe and study them both and anticipate what I can do to aid or guide them next. It adds a little more excitement to our days.

A Fixing Day and Our Winter Routines

The transition to winter has been tough for us.  During Spring, Summer, and Fall we fell into an easy rhythm of being outside with friends during the majority of waking our hours.  We tried to continue our schedule as the temperature dipped into the 20s.  Emily doesn’t seem to mind the cold above single digits, but Nathan cries.  We’ve had to surrender to a winter of mostly indoors.

I’m learning to suppress the panic of being trapped.  We’ve had to up our problem identification and solving to make the adjustment.  I’m starting to embrace winter as our season for reading loads of books, playing games, cleaning the house, rotating toys, organizing, and going to museums.  A time to do all the things we don’t even dream of doing when we can be outside in the sunlight instead.

Today we spent the day fixing things.  We’ve acquired quite the collection of things that needed to be glued, sewn, or taped together: laundry stand, sheets, books, wicker basket, a special Mickey Mouse pencil.  Andrew surprised us with designing and 3D printing new stands for the chutes and ladders game so they less than the height of the box when on their sides and can easily be closed.

We also read at least an hours worth of Beatrix Potter Stories all cuddled under a blanket.  Emily is in the midst of a serious developmental spurt of wanting to be independent and yet needing more reassurance and hugs.  Nathan had a flu shot yesterday and has been sick with a fever today.  He slept for 3 hours – an exceptionally long stretch for our 45min-1 hour napper, and spent most of the morning strapped to me in the ergo.

Of upmost importance has been developing new afternoon and evening routines to support a life indoors with active children:

I prepare dinner after nap time/Rest and Read time while the kids are eating snacks.  This keeps them occupied and happy while I’m focusing on food prep and also frees up the afternoon and evening for me.

We begin clean-up for the day at 4pm.  Once the toys are picked up we either read books or play very active chase games together before dinner.  The focus is giving Emily and Nathan lots of attention before we sit down for dinner so that they actually eat their meal and are better able to participate in the conversation.

Dinner starts at 5pm, which leaves time for everyone to pitch in the clean up.  We all clear and wipe the table, sweep the floor, wash the dishes, and clear off the counters.  This usually takes us to 5:45, at which time we jump in a play a game together.  Usually Emily still has loads of energy so we play tag, chase, red light green light, and hide and seek.  A few nights as week we play a board game or card game together, which occurs on the nights when Nathan is ready to head right to bed at 6.

We have the kids both in bed by 6:30 or 7pm, leaving Andrew and I to do whatever we want or need to do in a clean house.  I realized that after a long day I do not want to be working in the kitchen.  I didn’t mind it so much in the summer, but after a full day inside I want to be curled up reading a book, working on a project, or chatting with Andrew. The one exception is I spend about 5 minutes 2 times a week mixing up sourdough bread.

Tonight while Andrew and I were cleaning Emily was silently filling up the top of the washing machine with her favorite things (purse, water bottle, little baby dolls, notebook, lipstick (crayons)) and then brought a blanket over to cover her up.  We saw her with legs dangling, sticking up from underneath the blanket and had a great laugh.  Then we played a few rounds of hide and seek, each taking turns on top of the dryer.

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The most wonderful development to our winter routines would be Nathan’s use of a spoon and fork.  As with all things food related, he figured it out first try.

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And last, my new secret weapon for the winter (that isn’t new at all, my mom essentially earned a degree in fort making with her elaborate designs for us): forts. The curvy boards add an exciting element, whether as a room or a roof. Emily loves imagining in them and Nathan shrieks and yells with delight as he crawls and climbs through them.

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Jackson Family Theme 2017

I spent the month of December reflecting on the past year and planning for the year ahead. Each member of our family is working on establishing small but significant habits this coming year.  Some we are excited about doing, and others we are more excited about the results of future discipline. On Saturday as we were sitting down to dinner a flash of inspiration hit: we need a family theme to carry us through.  I pulled out the scriptures while Andrew served up the food, reading several passages from Alma 37.  After a little discussion everyone nicely went along with my idea to declare Alma 37:6 the Jackson Family Theme for 2017.

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I hope this scripture will be written on our hearts as we live the principle this year.  I hope we will be encouraged and strengthened by the words as we do the little things each day.  I also need a reminder for me in the day to day to be buoyed up in this phase of life with little kids.  The days are full of small and simple tasks.  Sometimes I feel frustrated with the lack of progress and lack of energy.  Yet the time I spend loving, nurturing, teaching, encouraging, coaching, cleaning, scrubbing, soaking, washing, fixing, finding with and for our kids is the most important work I will ever do.  I often feel the joy and gratitude that comes with being a mother, but when I don’t I want to turn to these instructive words.

I pulled out the Liahona I got in Israel for another visual reminder of Alma’s teachings about small and simple things.

“And now, my son, I have somewhat to say concerning the thing which our fathers call a ball, or director—or our fathers called it Liahona, which is, being interpreted, a compass; and the Lord prepared it…And it did work for them according to their faith in God; therefore, if they had faith to believe that God could cause that those spindles should point the way they should go, behold, it was done; therefore they had this miracle, and also many other miracles wrought by the power of God, day by day. Nevertheless, because those miracles were worked by small means it did show unto them marvelous works…For behold, it is as easy to give heed to the word of Christ, which will point to you a straight course to eternal bliss, as it was for our fathers to give heed to this compass, which would point unto them a straight course to the promised land…And now I say, is there not a type in this thing? For just as surely as this director did bring our fathers, by following its course, to the promised land, shall the words of Christ, if we follow their course, carry us beyond this vale of sorrow into a far better land of promise.” (Alma 37:38-45)

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I designed a print for our front room where we can look at it all year.  I would love to share it with you – click here to download.

Today Tried Hard to Be Bad, But It Was Rather Good

By 8:30pm last night I just knew today would be bad.  Nathan had already woken up and begun his screaming routine.  Usually we get a couple hours of sleep before spending the second half of the night with him in our arms. At 7am I was already angry and done with all the screaming. But today would not accept its destiny.

Andrew, who took care of the majority of the night wakings last night, got up with the kids so I could sleep for an hour.  When I did join the troops at 8am I discovered a text from a friend who I haven’t seen in a couple of years.  She was driving through and wanted to know if they could stop today and say hello!

There were meltdowns and tantrums.  It took us ages to get out the door to do something fun with the kids.  They weren’t thrilled when we did arrive. We got less than good news about health insurance premiums.  I spent 40 minutes on hold on a necessary call and never got through. There were more meltdowns.  Rest and read time was interrupted by a girl who didn’t want to stay in her room.

We played a new cooperative kids board game with Emily and it was actually really fun (Busytown, if anyone is looking).  Andrew was able to leave us at the gym to go home with a friend so he could squeeze in a nap. Nathan loved the foam pit. My friend came and the kids played well together while we visited.  She mentioned a parenting epiphany that we used moments after they left to turn the evening around.  We are going to go to bed with a mostly clean house. We played a fantastic round of chase: girls against boys. Nathan gave me a big open mouth kiss tonight when I was putting him to bed. Emily offered a heartfelt apology and sweet hug.

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Today tried hard to be bad, but it was rather good.

 

Iowa Christmas 2016

We headed to Iowa on Tuesday, December 20.  To give a play by play of the 8 days we enjoyed there would be a novel, so here are the highlights.

Before leaving town we picked up a museum pass from Imagination Station that gives us access to 300 museums around the world, including two in the Quad Cities.  On Wednesday we went to the Family Museum with Derick, followed by another trip with Derick and Christine a week later.  The set up was incredible and we all enjoyed exploring the town and water table.  Emily loved trying on all the different pairs of shoes at the shoe store.  Nathan enjoyed holding the animals at the vet. Emily and Andrew made a present for Aunt Hannah at the maker lab.  Derick and Andrew made a huge lego tower that Emily stayed inside until it was time to head home.

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We went to the John Deere Pavillon to take family pictures.  While I was taking pictures, everyone explore the big green equipment.

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We let Emily stay up with us one night and watched Elf together.  Emily snuggled with Aunt Christine and Uncle Brian in Christine’s bowl chair while Andrew and Derick worked on the other couch, oblivious to the holiday flick.

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Christine and Emily often disappeared to to hair and nails.  Christine corrected my current braiding technique and taught me another type of braid.  Now I just have to practice!

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There was lots of roughhousing and gymnastics with Uncle Derick and Aunt Christine throughout the week.

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There was also an abundance of music.  Brian played his new oboe, Mom and Brian prepared for their Sunday musical number, and Emily sang and danced around the house.  She watched frozen twice while we were there and was usually singing, “Let it go!”. Mom, Christine, and I spent time one evening singing a number of Christmas songs.

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We played Nertz almost every night.

On Christmas Eve we had the sister missionaries over for dinner.  Partway through the meal we got on the topic of bonfires and smores.  Next thing we know Christine and Dad are in the car heading to the local gas station to buy firewood, graham crackers, chocolate, and marshmallows.  We are hoping a Christmas Eve bonfire becomes a yearly tradition. Emily ran all around the snow with a big stick going on bear hunts, going to Kisty’s house (inspired by a friend that moved a year ago), and finishing up her work in California (inspired by a friend’s recent move).

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After the fire we returned inside to continue with our usual festivities: acting out the nativity, playing bells, and having pie for dessert. Emily disapeared during dessert and we found her cuddled under a blanket pretending to be Mary with baby Jesus in the manger.

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Christmas Eve was like all the other nights for Andrew and I these days – we were up for a couple hours with Nathan during the night.  He  ended up falling asleep in the early morning hours and sleeping until 8:30am.  Instead of starting Christmas morning at 7am as usual we delayed until he joined us. Emily was content to eat breakfast and Derick, Brian, and Christine didn’t seem to mind the extra sleep either.

Instead of putting names on presents this year, Mom put numbers.  We went from youngest to oldest picking a number and then giving it to the person to open. Emily was happy to help everyone open presents that invited her to join.  Nathan loved the stocking from his orange and playing with the new balls from Grandma and Grandpa Moose.   Both kids love their new duplos, puzzles, and signing time movies.  Derick gave everyone a spoon with a clever personalized note about how to use it (always ending with to escape from jail or eat cereal) to help alleviate the lack of spoons in the drawer when everyone comes home.  Brian and Christine gave gifts of experiences and time, including free babysitting so Andrew and I could go on a date, and Derick, Brian, and I taking Christine on her first double date.

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We had pancakes, bacon and eggs for an early lunch and then went to church.  Dad spoke and Mom and Brian had a special musical number.  After church we raced home to talk to Aunt Hannah on a mission in Alaska and Andrew’s family!

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On Monday we turned our double date into a family outing, sans Grandma Moose.  Derick, Brian, and Christine helped Emily while Andrew and I switched back and forth between holding Nathan and skating with Emily.

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On Tuesday Andrew and I went on a date to the Putnam Museum, leaving the kids with Brian, Christine, and grandparent support.  We made a high flying pneumatic rocket while reminiscing about the first homework assignment we worked on together as a married couple which was building a rocket. We also made a stop motion animation, built a bridge, learned about food consumption around the world, and explored the midwest’s caves and prairies.

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On Wednesday we all went to the Arsenal Museum in Rock Island.  It is the second oldest war museum in the United States. We learned a lot about the history of the arsenal and America’s history.  Emily’s favorite part was building a replica fort and trying on clothes.  Nathan enjoyed a nap in the stroller.

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Wednesday night we were up again most of the night with Nathan, so we were a little slower out the door Thursday than we planned. Andrew pushed through and got us heading in the right direction.  It was an incredible Christmas for the books, one that was the perfect balance of adventures and hanging out.

Moose Family

With all of us together for Christmas, we jumped at the chance to take Moose family pictures.  We took advantage of the empty, warm John Deere Pavillon as our location. Armed with a tripod and our camera we set off in hopes of good pictures with the remote and timer.  Thank goodness Dan the security guard was there and willing to help actually snap the photo after I set up the shot.  It was a fun hour as we took an assortment of group shots and head shots for everyone.  Andrew got particularly creative when he took over for our sibling shots and suggested we bring out our inner peacock.  I’m grateful for this herd!

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Jackson Christmas 2016

We have traveled every year for Christmas, but it is important to us to create our own traditions.  Last year we celebrated our Jackson family Christmas after New Years.  This year we had Christmas on December 19.  For our Christmas Eve we had a candlelit dinner and talked about Jesus Christ’s influence on our life this year.  We put the kids to bed and got to work setting up for the morning.

This year we wrapped all of our presents in free newspaper remnants and red string that will probably last a lifetime.  Our economical solution fulfilled a lifelong dream of brown paper packages tied up with string!  I arranged everything under the tree while Andrew prepared stockings.

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We also had to include a focus on Andrew’s present and it’s cleverly designed wrapping.

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When the kids woke up in the morning they patiently waited upstairs while I started a load of laundry (diapers just can’t wait!).  Emily was full of excited giggles as she came down the stairs and discovered stockings.  Both kids were really excited about their oranges. Nathan was really excited that his water cup fit in the stocking and put it in and out a number of times.

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We paused to read the books that were set out by the stockings.  Nathan was really really hungry so Andrew slipped him a piece of chocolate.  He loved it and seriously ate it until it was gone and brown was all over his hands and face.

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Emily was able to find gifts under the tree for everyone looking for the first letters of everyone’s name.  She did not hesitate in opening her own gifts and was happy to help Nathan with his.  He was more interested in putting other things into the wrapping paper or pulling his present in and out than playing with his new things. Emily made sure we didn’t get stalled for too long. Nathan also made sure to keep things tidy by handing us the paper he did rip off.

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Andrew’s sister Hannah is on a mission in Alaska right now.  She had us for Christmas this year and sent us some incredible gifts all the way from Alaska – socks for Emily, an alaskan knife, sourdough starter, a moose ornament, and raw honey sticks.  Her thoughtfulness and generosity were humbling and touching.

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We didn’t get too far into opening presents before Nathan could think of nothing but food – particularly chocolate now that he’s had a taste of it.  Emily really didn’t want to stop for breakfast, so we pulled out our Let’s Playground mat (now gathre) and had a Christmas picnic. Andrew opened his much anticipated gift: The Everyday Backpack while the kids ate.

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Nathan was as excited about the packing materials as Andrew was about his backpack!

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We returned to kids opening gifts, enjoying each one as they unwrapped it.  Emily received a notebook and crayons from Grandma Blomquist.  She and Nathan immediately sat down to write.  Nathan enjoyed playing with his toy truck, rolling it back and forth. We got Emily a harmonica but we should have gotten two – Emily and Nathan both love playing it constantly.

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My present this year was an exercise bike so I can continue cardio workouts when it is too cold to take the kids out for a run.  Andrew insisted we didn’t need to put the big box under the tree and surprised me with a model bike, carefully crafted in secret with the kids. He also assembled the bike bike for me after we were done opening presents.

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The part Andrew and I were most excited about was watching the kids open their curvy boards.  Emily and Nathan took to them immediately.  In the first 24 hours of play they have been crawled under, over, rocked on, spun around and around on, turned into a bed, a baby doll crib, a writing desk, a cashier spot, a rocket ship, and a tunnel.  Success!

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The most humbling part of Christmas was the secret santa gift that was dropped on our door step a few weeks earlier.  We were amazed when we opened it to discover very personal and generous gifts.  It brought the spirit of gratitude and the desire to give more into our little Christmas morning.  Thank you, secret Santa, for your example of generously giving.

A Special Christmas Season

This year I felt the spirit of Christmas permeate our hearts and home. Participating in the #LIGHTtheWORLD initiative gets a lot of the credit. Emily eagerly awaited each morning to flip a square over and watch a movie about it. I love seeing all the different ways Christ blesses our lives and how we can be as he is. We did not always do something out of the ordinary each day, but I gained an important perspective on what I do as a mother, wife, and friend on a daily basis. It often falls into the tasks and roles that Jesus carried out. We also try to point out to Emily when she lights the world like Jesus does. I am grateful for her example of acceptance and enthusiasm for Jesus Christ.

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Nathan also figured out how to climb up on chairs and stab things with all sorts of utensils during December.

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As part of Joy School Emily and her friends learned a little Nativity play. They practiced for two weeks before performing it for us at the beginning of December. As December has continued on we have played Nativity countless times. Emily is an incredibly nurturing Mary who has the entire account memorized. The many times daily reminders of the birth of Christ has left me lots of time to ponder about his entrance into the world, for which I feel grateful.

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Church was canceled on the 19th in Indiana because the church parking lot resembled an ice skating rink. We invited a few friends and neighbors over to sing Christmas music at 10am. We sang through the majority of Christmas songs in the hymn book and children’s song book. After an hour we had warm sourdough bread, cheese, apples and oranges as a little lunch. We finished the morning off with singing popular Christmas songs (with Jingle Bells being the number one requested song) before everyone returned home.

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We had many Christmas projects in the works this December which filled our evenings. Andrew and I talked while we sanded, glued, knitted, designed, and researched. We finished the curvy boards using a homemade beeswax olive oil finish.

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Emily and I made the finish during the day so it would be cooked and ready to use at night. That in itself was a fabulous experience. While I chopped the beeswax Emily was adamant that she did some hand sewing. I set her up with scrap fabric, a needle, and thread for her first sewing project. It lasted just long enough to get beeswax in the jar and set up the stove.

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A few years ago I found a pair of knitted baby shoes that I wanted to make. In April I decided I would learn how to knit and make the shoes for a friend. It was an off/on process for a couple of months. I learned how to knit following these tutorials (very clear, brief, and easy to watch certain parts on repeat). I started with this basic pattern for the shoes and then sewed them together with ideas from this tutorial for felt shoes. Once the shoes were finished I added metal stamped circles with initials into the laces of the shoes. It was my first experience with metal stamping as well as knitting, so I had to take a picture to document before sending them to a good home.

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For our family we made everyone a wood ornament. I designed them in illustrator (thank you pen tool and pathfinder!!) and Andrew took the file and laser cut them on campus.

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Emily learned Away In A Manger and Fairest Little Jesus Child. She has been singing them all month at random times and I love hearing the sweet singing unexpectedly.

There has been lots of make up application during nap time.  I can’t seem to find a safe place to put the markers that Emily can’t find and climb to.  She had no idea that she had actually drawn all over her face and was surprised when I showed her in the mirror all of her efforts.

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We took a Saturday afternoon to make fudge and deliver it to friends.  Andrew and Emily were the tag makers while I cut and wrapped the fudge.  It was incredibly cold and icy outside and we slid all around the neighborhood.

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While I was out mailing a christmas package and buying a few final presents, Andrew cut Nathan’s hair – his first real haircut.  I came home a cried for a bit.  Andrew graciously let me trim around his ears to let me be part of the process.

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The freezing temperatures has forced our time to be spent primarily indoors. This has led to dance parties throughout the day to try and expend the extra energy.  Emily insists we are in a purple palace.

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“If thou wouldest believe, thou shouldest see the glory of God”

We have been watching #LIGHTtheWORLD videos each morning followed by a bible video.  Emily’s absolute favorite video is Lazarus being raised from the dead.  My first impressions were on how Jesus knew how to meet each individual’s needs.  With Martha he listened to her testimony and taught her a little more about the resurrection.  With Mary he wept.  For the crowd he prayed aloud and taught them of his relationship with God.

Today I was struck with Martha’s testimony.  She knew that Jesus could have healed her brother.  She knew that whatever Jesus asked that God would give him.  She knew that her brother would live again in the resurrection of the last day.  She believed that Jesus Christ was the son of God.  She believed that some day all would be well again.  (Luke 11:20-27).

She had no idea that in a short period of time she would be with her brother again.  Her pain and troubles would be healed that very day.

I’ve been wondering what areas of my life could be healed this very day too.  What things do I assume can’t be fixed until the resurrection of the last day that Christ is willing to help with?  What constraints have I placed on his power?  Like Mary and Martha once did, do I assume that Christ’s opportunity to help me is four days past?

“Said I not unto thee, that, if thou wouldest believe, thou shouldest see the glory of God?” (Luke 11:40).