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Tips for Christmas Decorating with the Kids

Before kids, I was one of those people who had color-coordinated Christmas tree decorations. None of this hap-hazard hodgepodge stuff for me! Then came the year that I let the little ones decorate the bottom part of the tree. There were bare spots, branches with 3 or 4 ornaments layered on them, and nothing looked remotely planned or coordinated. Yet, it was endearing. My kids have been helping me decorate for Christmas ever since! We’re going to share some of our favorite tips for decorating as a family:

• Start with the Storage

You probably have at least a few fragile or breakable ornaments that you like to put on the top of the tree. Keep these well-packed in a separate box! Mine are in a little red hatbox, and it comes out of the box of decorations before the kiddos are allowed to dive in to the rest of it! Keeping the breakables separate also makes it easier for Mom or Dad to put them on the top layer of the tree while the little ones are kept busy with the bottom branches.

• Embrace the Charlie Brown Christmas Tree Vibe

If your family picks out a real tree, then let your kids come along and help choose one! They may not pick the prettiest one, but just keep reminding yourself that it will look better with lights and ornaments…

If you have an artificial tree, then let the kids help put it together. Yes, I know, they really have no idea how to properly “shape” the fake branches, and a few of them might be stuck in the wrong spot. The kids will have fun helping though, and again, enough ornaments and lights can cover a world of imperfections!

• Salt Dough, Construction Paper, and Glitter! (Oh My.)

Remember all of those Christmas ornaments that you made at school? Things like gluing your school photo on construction paper and then drowning it in glitter? Grab the construction paper and let the kids make some ornaments! (Though I’d suggest substituting glitter glue for loose glitter.)

Kids and adults can all get in on the fun when you make dough ornaments. Basic salt dough works fine, but I tend to like baking soda dough a little better. (Here’s the recipe that I used: http://www.busybeekidscrafts.com/Easy-Craft-Clay.html)

If you’re looking for something less messy, try making candy canes by stringing beads onto pipe cleaners and bending them into a candy cane shape.

Kids will be thrilled to see the ornaments they made on your family’s tree!

• Invest in an Unbreakable Nativity Scene

I have a lovely Willow Tree nativity scene that was a Christmas gift from my mother years ago. Alas, in the eyes of a young child it does look like a new toy! Let’s just say that I was glad to have some super glue on hand that day…

So, when my kids were little, I would set up the plastic toy nativity set on our coffee table. I didn’t want them to think that Jesus’ birth was just something for grownups. The pieces did end up being scattered about the room, but the kids would help me find them all and we could talk a little bit about the Christmas story. Now that the kids are a bit older, I almost miss seeing the occasional dinosaur visiting the manger!

This year, turn on the Christmas music, make some cocoa, and decorate with the kids. Even if it doesn’t look like a magazine cover, you’ll have so much more fun. Not to mention all of the wonderful memories that the kids will treasure in years to come!

Thoughts for Tuesday, November 24th

Outside my windows… the sun sets really early now.

Inside my house… a few new ornaments are hanging out on the shelves and waiting for the tree.

Counting 1000 gifts… the kind words of someone I had contact with through work today were very much appreciated!

Prayers of the heart… for the local people who are finding themselves without a job at the beginning of winter.

What the (not quite so) little ones are up to… seems split between reading and designing a new video game level in Mario Maker.

From my playlist… listening to the audiobook of Boundaries. Definitely giving me things to ponder…

From my reading list… An Amish Second Christmas novella collection. A little more just for fun reading to offset the weighty audiobook listening.

From my needlework basket… still knitting for Christmas! Three out of four sweaters for kiddos are done. Only one more sweater to go… (I’m wishing that I hadn’t decided to use the same pattern for all four now!)

In the learning room… great excitement over protractors! I’d rather do a geometry proof than draft and angle any day, but Mr. Q seems quite content with the drafting!

Random ramblings… I’m looking forward to Thanksgiving and my anniversary the day after that. It will be nice to spend time with family and just slow things down for a couple of days.

Profound ponderings… “Today me will live in the moment. Unless it’s unpleasant, in which case me will eat a cookie.” – Cookie Monster

Caught on film…


Thoughts for Tuesday, November 17th

Outside my windows… flurries yesterday! None of it stuck though, so we are still bare ground up here.

Inside my house… plans for a certain IT staff’s birthday are in progress! (And that is all that I will say for now!)

Counting 1000 gifts… I’m so thankful for the job that I have. I know I say it often, but it’s true. Not only do I get to work from home, but the folks I work with have become dear friends.

Prayers of the heart… a local business may or may not be closing down. While we wait to find out, we are praying for the people who work there.

What the (not quite so) little ones are up to… an essay about coal, statistics, and early American history.

From my playlist… Goodbye from Audio Adrenaline. Thinking a lot about Mom lately…

From my reading list… reading through the Age of Faith series by Tamara Leigh. Taking a break from “serious” reading to just read for enjoyment this week.

From my needlework basket… a reversible hat knit with sock yarn on tiny needles… Whatever possessed me to think that this was a good idea?

In the learning room… yesterday we did the whole baking soda and vinegar “volcano” thing. I was taken by surprise when Little Guy was quite freaked out by the “lava”. I thought all kids loved this experiment!

Random ramblings… There is so much on my mind of late. A good deal of it is better left to my journal for now. I’m unsettled enough for the insomnia to return. Then, I see a world gone mad in the news stories, and the burdens of my heart seem small compared to them. Yet comparing the weight of our burdens will not encourage any of us I imagine. Perhaps it is better to admit that we are all troubled by something, and whether it’s big or small, we can take comfort in lifting all of them to God in prayer.

Profound ponderings… “I write. Though whether that helps me keep my sanity or makes me lose it, I will never know.” – Unknown

Caught on film… That one time that I did really well in poker…


Starting Fresh: Breaking the Cycle of Dysfunctional Relationships

I looked back through part of my family tree and saw a pattern of dysfunctional, unhealthy relationships that stretched back generations. I was so sure that I was doomed to repeat the same pattern in my own life, that I determined I would never marry or have children of my own. I couldn’t stand the thought of hurting people I loved in the same way that I’d been hurt. It wasn’t until a pastor said these words to me as a teenager that it occurred to me I could do things differently.

“It can stop with you.”

All relationships are dysfunctional to some degree simply because all of us are imperfect sinners. Yet some are so deeply dysfunctional, even downright abusive, that the fallout from them can last a lifetime. Maybe you know that from experience. Now, you just want a fresh start, a chance to break the cycle of dysfunction. And you can.

Looking Back

When we’ve been through something awful, our first reaction is often to “stuff it”. Just box it up and don’t think about it. That’s what I did. I tried to bury everything that had happened, every hurtful word. I mistakenly believed that doing so was “moving on”. I made excuses. I told myself that it was wrong for me to feel angry. I felt guilty, scared, and ashamed. Beneath all of that, the anger still simmered away for years. Ignoring something is not the same as dealing with it.

Unpacking all of that baggage during counseling stirred up a lot of strong emotions, and it was hard to handle sometimes. Something unexpected happened though. When I admitted that I was angry about what happened to me, I was finally able to start letting go of that anger. I was able to start figuring out how to forgive. And for the first time… I felt like I could breathe.

Looking Around

When we’re kids, we assume that the relationships we see modeled in our family are the norm for everyone. As we grow up, our tendency is to pattern our own relationships after the ones we are most familiar with. When our relationships were mostly healthy, this is a good thing. When some of those relationships were dysfunctional or even abusive, it’s a different story. This does not mean that you are destined to continue the cycle of unhealthy relationships though!

I knew that I didn’t want my kids to spend their childhood tiptoeing on eggshells. I didn’t want them to hide in the corner of their bedroom because the yelling and arguing scared them. I didn’t want them to believe that all of the emotional turmoil in the house their fault. That meant that I had to learn how to communicate with my husband and kids in healthy ways, even when I was frustrated or upset. It didn’t come naturally to me, and it’s not always easy! There are times when I’m impatient with one of them or when I say something that I shouldn’t have. That’s when I have to swallow my pride and ask for their forgiveness. No excuses, no blaming them, just owning up to my own mistake. I prayed many times that God would help me do things differently, and He has!

Looking Up

The relationships we grow up with do affect how we relate to God.

Instead of picturing God as a loving Father who saw me made whole through the blood of Jesus, I imagined Him as a critical, just waiting to wash his hands of me the moment that I didn’t try hard enough. I felt like I had to be good enough if I wanted God to actually love me. I couldn’t have been more wrong. God does love me, imperfections and all, and he loves you too! He doesn’t expect us to measure up, because we can’t. Yet we were so precious to Him, that he sacrificed His Son in order to save us. To save you.

I’m still very much a work in progress, but God isn’t finished with me. He’s not finished with you either. Our past is only part of the story. He has so much more in store for both us!

“’For I know the plans I have for you’–this is the LORD’s declaration—‘plans for your welfare, not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.’” – Jeremiah 29:11 HCSB

Author’s Note: Dealing with issues like this can be painful and traumatic. Seeking help from a reputable Christian counselor may be necessary. If you or your doctor feel that this would benefit you, please don’t hesitate to seek the help that you need.

Thoughts for Tuesday, November 10th

Outside my windows… The leaves have fallen off the trees, and the sun sets earlier now.

Inside my house… there is a new microwave. My IT staff was using the old one to heat something up yesterday and it decided to never quite turn itself off. Unplugging it and plugging it back in didn’t change this. We’ll try to fix a lot of things, but we draw the line at microwaves… A replacement was in order.

Counting 1000 gifts… extravagant grace. I don’t know why God chooses to show us such amazing grace, but I’m so thankful that He does…

Prayers of the heart… praying that I won’t become so caught up in things that do not matter, that I miss the things that do.

What the (not quite so) little ones are up to… finishing the morning tea break. Yes, all but one of the kiddos love tea!

From my playlist… the latest song from The Piano Guys. I still love good instrumental music!

From my reading list… An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth by Chris Hadfield. I’ve been listening to the audiobook edition of this one. There’s some really valuable lessons in there for everyone in my opinion. I think this one will go on the high school reading list for the kiddos.

From my needlework basket… three out of four Christmas sweaters are done. There are advantages to using the same pattern for each sweater, but by the time I’m on sweater #4, I’m a bit tired of knitting it…

In the learning room… So far, Math U See has been such a help! I can’t explain the relief that switching curriculums has brought to both Munchkin and me! I still don’t recommend switching curriculums haphazardly, but in this case, it was definitely the right choice.

Random ramblings… Let’s not rush through Thanksgiving. I can use the reminder to slow down and be thankful for what I do have. We really do have so much to be thankful for, and it’s too easy to lose sight of this. I’m just as guilty as anyone here! Let’s slow down this year and appreciate all of the things we’ve been given, rather than focusing on all of the things we haven’t.

Profound ponderings… “Be thankful for what you have. Your life, no matter how bad you think it is, is someone else’s fairytale.” – Wale Ayeni

Caught on film…


Overcoming Insecurities: What I Wish I Had Known 20 Years Ago

When I was young, there was one person in particular whom I wanted to impress. I desperately wanted to make them proud of me. I thought that if I could only be good enough, smart enough, and helpful enough that it would prove to them that I was worth loving. I based my value on the opinion of someone who couldn’t seem to see anything except what I was not. A soundtrack of every negative thing they said about me played in my mind. And I started to believe all of it…

I was convinced that I couldn’t do anything well. I was sure that no one would ever truly want to be my friend, let alone love me. Worse, this warped view colored my relationship with God. I may have said aloud that salvation was by grace alone, but deep down, I still believed that I had to be good enough to deserve it. I was one of the most insecure girls you could imagine.

My mistake was becoming so fixated on the opinion of one person, that I forgot the words of Romans 8:1-2 NIV, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.”

Over the years, God has graciously sent scripture, books, people, songs, and so many things into my life that helped me see myself the way that God does. I learned that the biggest key to overcoming insecurities is this:

Base your worth on the fact that you were created in the image of God, and have been redeemed through the blood of Jesus.

“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” – Galatians 5:1 NIV

I spent years living in fear and insecurity. That motivated me to do everything I could to win the approval of my parents, my peers, and God. I was working under the assumption that I had to earn grace, and in doing so, I completely missed the fact that it had already been given to me. I carried around a burden that Jesus had already freed me from. Letting go of that burden allowed me to feel like I could breathe for the first time.

How much of your insecurity is rooted in the idea that you must earn God’s grace? You can’t earn grace, and you don’t need to! Jesus loved you enough, exactly the way you are right now, to die for you. Even more amazing, He came back! He overcame death. If He can do that, then He can free you from your insecurities. God loves you, insecurities and all, but His love means that you don’t have to live with that burden anymore.

“For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” – Ephesians 2:10 NIV

When I was a teen, I wanted to change the world. I had big dreams, but all of them involved me helping people. I was called a foolish idealist. I was told that I needed to grow up and face reality. My dreams became smaller and smaller until I just wanted to find a way to get by. That foolish idealist in me never completely gave up. It turns out that God had plans for her, and, in ways both big and small, God has allowed me to help people. That core vision in me never changed, because it was the one that God created me for. Today, my life is quite different from all of those big dreams of mine, but it’s even better.

Does your insecurity hold you back from the amazing things that God has planned for you? When you’re driven by your fear and insecurities, you will do only what you think you must. When you are driven by love, and a passion for God’s plan for your life, then you will do so much more. Find that core vision that God has for you. Seek His plan for you, and when insecurity threatens to hold you back from stepping out in faith, remember that you were created by God for this. If He has called you to something, then it’s because He has prepared this task for you.

I know that when you look in the mirror, it’s too easy to see every flaw and fault. Yet, when God looks at you, he sees a young woman who is loved and cherished. In God’s eyes, you are so very dear.

Author Interview: John W. Otte

Earlier this week I reviewed John Otte‘s latest book, The Hive, here at Teish Knits. John graciously agreed to let me interview him as well!

Teish Knits: What inspired you to take the leap into writing novels?

John W OtteJohn Otte: I’ve always been a storyteller at heart. There’s a reason why I love the Gospel of Luke more than the others, and that’s because Jesus is depicted as a storyteller. I’ll never be the master that He is, but I love following in His footsteps by telling stories that hopefully point to a deeper reality.
I’ve “gotten serious” about my writing lots of times. When I was in junior high, I wrote a Gary Stu-style sci fi adventure that I was convinced would catapult me onto the bestseller list. Thankfully, that one has been lost to the ages. In high school, I was going to write a mystery series about a teenage detective that also has mercifully vanished. But no matter what the idea was, I always wanted to share my stories with the world.

TK: What’s your favorite scene from The Hive?

JO: Some of my favorite scenes are between Scorn and Hopkins, the apartment AI. I like the way the banter between the two worked out, especially right after Zain arrives. I won’t say more than that, but those are some of my absolute favorite scenes.

TK: The universe you’ve created for Numb and The Hive is intriguingly complex politically. Did you have a vision of what this looked like before starting the books, or has it grown out of the stories?

JO: A lot of it has grown organically as the story has grown. To be quite honest, there are big chunks of the backstory that I never really figured out. I knew that the Ministrix was a corrupt, despotic version of the church. I knew that the Praesidium was an atheistic government with no moral compass. In both cases, they were caricatures of how atheists view the Church and vice versa. But that was just a starting point. While I like to outline my stories pretty thoroughly before I start writing them, I seem to explore the storyworlds with the readers.

TK: You are a self-professed geek. What’s the geekiest thing that you’ve done? (Or at least willing to admit to!)

JO: Oh, wow. Let’s see here. Be part of a World of Warcraft guild? No, that’s probably too tame. Been a panelist at Salt Lake Comic Con? No, still too normal. If I had to pick just one thing, it’d be the time I gave a wedding toast in Klingon. I tell the whole story over at my blog (link: http://johnwotte.com/geek-confessional-i-once-gave-a-wedding-toast-in-klingon/).

TK: What advice would you give to aspiring young authors?

JO: Just keep writing. The best way to learn how to write is to do it. You’re going to make mistakes. Some of what you write is going to be abysmal. There will be days where you’ll feel like all you’re producing is garbage and you should stop. But through it all, just keep writing. Every day, if you can.

TK: If there is one speculative fiction book that you enjoy reading over and over, what is it?

JO: Okay, I’m going to throw you a curve. Rather than go with a book, I’m going to go with a video game, namely Mass Effect 2. The Mass Effect franchise is fantastic, and it tells an incredible story. Out of the three games, the second one is my favorite and a big part of why is because it tells such a fascinating story. It may not be a book, but it’s just fantastic.
If we were going to just go with books, there are a lot that could qualify. So many good choices. If it was a series, I’d go with Michael Stackpole and Aaron Allston’s X-Wing books. I used to read that over and over again.
Or here’s another curveball: Paul Maier’s A Skeleton in God’s Closet. It’s not speculative in the strictest sense of the word (there are no real fantastical elements to it, but the story is definitely speculative). It’s a story about what might happen if archaeologists found Jesus’ skeleton during a dig in Israel. Fascinating book.

TK: When writing, do you prefer music or quiet?

JO: Quiet is usually the best for me, but I do like to listen to music at times when I’m writing. But what I’ve found works best is if I listen to instrumental music with no lyrics. Otherwise, I get distracted.

TK: Thanks for stopping by John!

The Hive

Don’t forget that The Hive is releasing tomorrow! You can pre-order it on Amazon today though!

Thoughts for Tuesday, October 13th

Outside my windows… it’s sunny and surprisingly warm considering it’s October in Maine!

Inside my house… I’m loving the yoga ball as an office chair! It’s perfect for a perpetual fidget like me. I’ve offered to get one for my IT staff, but he assures me that he’s happy with his office chair.

Counting 1000 gifts… coffee mug memories. Sometimes the best memories are ones of sitting at someone’s kitchen table and sharing coffee with them.

Prayers of the heart… for friends and family who are having surgery this week. Some planned, and some not.

What the (not quite so) little ones are up to… the kiddos are playing outside while the weather is nice. One is even outside in shorts. In October. In Maine. Yeah, he’s a Maine kid for sure!

From my playlist… Viva La Vida.

From my reading list… The Wedding Chapel by Rachel Hauck. Another advance reader copy that I’ll be reviewing here at Teish Knits next week! In the meantime, be sure to read the review of The Hive that I posted and stay tuned for the author interview coming later this week!

From my needlework basket… Last week I finished the word’s ugliest bulky orange sweater. This week I finished a not-ugly orange sweater for a Christmas gift. Little Guy loved my ugly orange sweater and asked me to knit him an orange sweater too…

In the learning room… The kids discovered two baby snakes in the backyard yesterday. They grabbed their field guide and identified them as Eastern Worm Snakes. Good field guides are well worth the investment!

Random ramblings… I was at the store last week and they had some Christmas decorations already out. It’s funny. Now that Mom’s gone, I look through the Christmas decorations as soon as the stores put them out. She loved decorating for Christmas, and always wanted to look at the decorations as soon as they were displayed! Now, I look too. Every year. I usually end up sitting in my car shedding at least a few tears too. Nearly seven years later, and the missing her is still there. Oh, it’s not nearly as raw and sharp as it was at the beginning. More like the ache of an old scar. You’ve adjusted to living with it, but some days you notice it more than others. I still think it’s a good thing to miss Mom though. I’ve talked to other people who’ve lost loved ones, including parents. They tell me that you never stop missing them, and that missing them just means that you loved them.

Profound ponderings… “The biggest communication problem is we do not listen to understand. We listen to reply.” – Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Caught on film… the baby snakes that the kids caught! (They stayed outside…)


Book Review: The Hive

Cyborgs, hackers, and priests… Oh my!

I read John Otte’s book, Numb, when it first came out. I found myself completely intrigued by the politics between the Ministrix and Praesidium. Not to mention the stories of the people whose lives became entangled in the political game being played! So when it was announced that another book was releasing in the series, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on a copy of The Hive!

The HiveZain is a young cyborg who suddenly becomes detached from the Hive and everything that she’s ever known. She’s alone, unsure of how the world works, and pregnant to boot. (The Hive sometimes uses members as surrogate mothers for outsiders who desire to “purchase” a child.) Her search for a way back to the Hive leads her to a hacker known as Scorn. Both of them are caught in the middle of a conflict between some of the biggest forces in the galaxy, and each of them wants Zain’s child.

The Hive may be the second book in the Ministrix series, but it’s not necessary to have read Numb in order to enjoy reading it. Though fans who have read the first book will look forward to revisiting a familiar universe! I was a bit concerned about the two main characters being teenagers, and whether it would make the story less interesting to a reader in her mid-thirties. That turned out not to be the case, and I did thoroughly enjoy reading through The Hive! My favorite part of the book was how Zain’s longing for the sense of “belonging” that she had while she was part of the Hive ended up being the beginning of her spiritual search for a better “collective”. There are very strong Christian themes throughout the book, but they fit in well with the overall story and don’t seem forced.

The one thing that disappointed me a little bit about The Hive was that while it took place in the same galaxy as Numb, there didn’t seem to be much else linking the two books together. That being said, The Hive certainly ended with the possibility of more of the story being told in another book. If there are additional books in the series, perhaps they will tie some of the threads from each book together.

I definitely had fun reading The Hive and hope that there are more books coming in this series. Fans of both science fiction, and political intrigue books will enjoy this latest book in the Ministrix series by John Otte. While this is a clean read, I’d still recommend it for older teens and adults simply because some of the themes touched upon are more than younger readers are perhaps ready for.

Stay tuned for my author interview with John Otte coming on October 15th!

Note: I received an advanced reader copy of this book from the author in exchange for my honest review. All opinions expressed are completely my own.

Book Review: Grandma Was Right after All!

The older I get, the more often I hear myself saying the same things to my kids that Mom said to me! I think that’s why the title of this book by John Rosemond caught my eye: Grandma Was Right after All! It turns out, my mom was right about a lot of things, and I didn’t exactly appreciate that while I was growing up.

There’s plenty of good advice mixed in with the pithy sayings that most of us will recognize our parents or grandparents quoting. As much as I always disliked the phrase, “Because I said so,” you really can’t reason with a 4-year-old intent on getting his own way. No matter what you say, sometimes they just keep arguing… How many of us haven’t, “Learned our lessons the hard way,” and been left to deal with the consequences of our own actions, no matter how unpleasant. Admittedly, these “hard way” lessons are the ones that have stuck with me the most. That saying, “You’re acting too big for your britches,” may or may not have been directed at me a few times… And if only I had a dollar for every time Mom told me, “Life isn’t fair,” well, you get the picture!

I love my kids dearly, and I do enjoy being around them. I sure hope that they like to be around me too! Unfortunately, I also have the responsibility to parent them. That’s not always easy! Telling them, “You made this bed, and now you’re going to have to lie in it,” and then stepping back and letting them do just that will probably not make me popular. Looking back though, I’m glad that Mom did that for me. This is the kind of “big picture” perspective that you’ll find in Grandma Was Right after All!

Now, I didn’t necessarily agree with everything in the book, but there is a lot of good advice to be gleaned from it. My one big concern is that the book overall came off as a bit harsh. Yes, sometimes our kids do need to learn their lessons the hard way, but we need to balance this with relationship-building and making sure that we show our kids how much we love them too.

Overall, I enjoyed reading Grandma Was Right after All!, and I did find some great suggestions in the book. Not to mention laughing over some of the all-too-familiar phrases from my childhood!

Note: I received a complementary copy of the book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review. All opinions expressed are my own.