Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Preparing Him Room // Advent with Little Ones

"We reveal to ourselves and others what is important to us by the way we celebrate"
- Noel Piper, Treasuring Christ in our Traditions -

Traditions are embedded deep in our identity. From the earliest seeds of memory, established customs followed year-by-year, or day-by-day, form the foundations of family life. Of all the traditions and customs I remember from my own childhood, those formed around the festive season stand out in my memory...

When we became parents for the first time, five years ago, I realised that creating traditions in our new little family unit was something I definitely wanted to invest in. But thoughtful, purposeful, Christ-centred traditions would take some effort and attention. In a celebration that can so easily get lost in all the hype, sparkle and consumerism, treasuring the truth of Christmas, and making that central in our family traditions, was not going to happen without some serious thought, and so, over the years, with a lot of input from those older and wiser than ourselves, we have set out to savour some traditions that we hope will help our children understand, and cherish, what Christmas is really all about.

I love the magic, the reindeer, the excitement about Father Christmas... and while I want my children to enjoy those things, they are not the things I want them to relish in when it comes to Christmas. Instead, our hope is that our children will see that the miracle of Christmas is not some jolly old man who climbs down chimneys, but rather the God of all the universe, sending his only Son on a rescue mission.

And so, year by year, I rewrite this little collection of traditions that we are forming in the hope that it will help some other families, figuring out how to make Christ central at this "most wonderful time of the year". Each year, it adapts and changes as we do, and each year, it is a joy to add new ideas to the list that have come from some of you! So please do share any further suggestions in the comments!

And on the day before December, I wish you and yours the most wonderful advent!

The Christmas Journey: Kicking it all off...
We are really blessed to be part of a church with some amazingly creative people in it. At the end of November every year, our church is transformed into this amazing, hands on, beautiful experience better known as The Christmas Journey. You can read about a previous visit here. The children travel round different tents - Mary's kitchen, the hillside, the stable, the wise men's tent... and meet the characters. Actors and puppets bring the story to life and our children are mesmerised every year. For us, its the start of the Christmas season, and it's a very special one. Why not Google "The Christmas Journey" and see if anyone's running it near you?! (And if you live locally to us, get in touch and I'll tell you where the next one is!)

The Advent Candles...
Advent candles go way back... like hundreds of years back. Four candles signifying the four weeks of Advent in the run-up to Christmas. Each Sunday, another candle is lit... it signifies the hope, the expectation - the countdown that we're looking forward to a major historical event. This sense of expectation and joy is at the heart of what Advent is all about. Our first candle was lit on Sunday (Advent started early this year!) and we usually accompany it with a Christmas reading (for small children, the Jesus Storybook Bible is fantastic, and records the Christmas story in three parts (we tend to split the first story in half!) The Christmas story is all about light - the light of the angels and the light of the star that led the Wise Men to Bethlehem to meet the Light of the world... light is a really helpful visual for children to understand what Christmas really means!


The Advent Book Box...
We started this tradition for Ava's first Christmas. Every year, on the first of December, the children get a Christmas book to enjoy in the run-up to Christmas. As children, the 1st of December was always VERY exciting for us... it wasn't just the day we got to open our advent calendar, it was also the day we were allowed to pull out our Christmas books, listen to Christmas songs and watch Christmas videos (Raymond Briggs' "Father Christmas" and "Muppet Christmas Carol" being the favourites!) An advent book can be a fun christmassy story, or something more thought-provoking that points back to the birth of Jesus. What a wonderful way to prepare children's hearts to remember the Saviour... more on recommended children's Christmas books to follow!


The Kindness Elves...
Our little friends, Nico and Nati, have rocked up the past two years on the first of the month and stayed around til Christmas. Every morning, they would be discovered by the girls up to some sort of mischief, with an idea of how to be kind to somebody that day - baking for our neighbours, sharing our toys, gathering some items for food bank... you name it! I'm sure they will be making an appearance again this year. They are a helpful reminder that Christmas is all about giving... and not receiving!

The Advent Calendar/Manger Scene...After weeks of hunting for a very particular advent calendar I had in my head a couple of Christmasses back, I realised it didn't exist, and resorted to making it myself. It has been a labour of love over these past three years, but I'm thrilled with it now that it's finished, and the girls love it every year. Hidden in the advent calendar each day is a little artefact/figure to add to the manger scene. We build up the scene as advent goes on, with Jesus being placed in it on Christmas eve. As the scene builds, the story unfolds with an accompanying verse bringing the next part of the Christmas story. After hunting everywhere for a nativity set that had 24 parts, I gave up and decided to go with the 8 piece one I had, and make my own extras. Good old Fimo did the trick and its lasting us well.


The Storytelling...
On the evening of Christmas day, after spending the afternoon at my parents, we head back to our house for the retelling of the Christmas story. Using the verses from the advent calendar that are put together to tell the full story, Dave and I use the figurines to re-enact the Christmas story. The girls sit and watched mesmerised, and I'm looking forward to the day where they will be able to do it themselves! Throw in some carols as you tell the story and you have your own little nativity every year. The children love it!

The Gift to Jesus...This was an idea I picked up from Noel Piper's book "Treasuring Christ in our Traditions" (highly recommend!) What are we actually celebrating at Christmas? Jesus birthday! And yet so often, we forget the birthday person! Jesus said "I tell you the truth, whatever you did to the least of these brothers of mine, you did to me"(Matt 25:40), so we can use our "gift to Jesus" to bless an individual, a family, a missionary or a charity. Doing this, again, helps the family remember that it is Jesus' birthday we're celebrating, and stops it from becoming purely a present-opening. We did this with the girls for the first time last year, and it really was special. A small financial gift to them, which they can choose how to pass on. The money is purely for them to think about how they can bless somebody else this Christmas. We are keen for them to understand that the giving is more important that the receiving. This year, I ordered this little craft kit from Baker Ross, so they can make some little gift boxes to keep their gifts in!

And those are our advent traditions!

I'm not sharing these ideas because I think we do it right, or our way is the only way, but just in case you find yourself in the position I did four years ago of asking; "How do I point my little ones to the real meaning of Christmas this year?"

Maybe we can share some ideas!

Have fun!

Friday, 18 November 2016

November Favourites // Little Loves

In this season of social media silence, I have revelled in appreciating the artistic gifts and creativity of others... it was only a couple of weeks ago that I stumbled across this quote below and it really struck a chord with me...


I stuck it on our blackboard straight away, and there it still remains. A daily reminder.

There is something so refreshingly satisfying about recognising beauty around us, for no other purpose than savouring the beauty of the thing, admiring the skill of the artist and giving glory to THE creator who gave the gift in the first place. I am always on the look out for new musical artists, great reads and thought-provoking creativity... and so on that note, after a long time away, I thought it was about time I returned to little loves and shared some of the things I've been enjoying listening to, reading, watching and appreciating... I love a little recommendation from others, and so I thought I'd share in case any of you wanted some new creatives to follow and watch.

And as I said, if there's anyone I'm missing out on, go ahead and let me discover them by leaving a comment below!

Our November Favourites...

Read // Getting lost in those pages...

Reading feels like a bit of a long lost love at the moment... my very favourite hobby, and yet one I seem to have far too little time for these days. And yet, we have at least managed to instill daily read aloud time with our little people, and it is one of my favourite times of day. Little girls, cosy in their jammies, tucked up in bed, staring at the ceiling and taking in words from my own childhood. We have been revelling in the delights of the effervescent Pollyanna (by Eleanor H. Porter) over the last few weeks, playing her infamous "glad game" and really truly learning what it means to be thankful in every circumstance. I love exposing the children to rich, wholesome children's literature... there are so many life lessons to be learnt from heartwarming characters like Pollyanna Whittier (click on the picture for more info!)

For myself, I have been pouring over the pages of an old classic "The Home Beautiful" by J.R.Miller with highlighter in hand... there is SO MUCH wisdom in these pages. It was first printed in 1912 and is just timeless on issues of marriage and parenting and home life and cultivating sibling relationships... ah... I can't recommend it highly enough. There is so much goodness in it, that I'm needing to take my time. Reading a chapter, pondering and chewing it over for a week or so, and then reading some more. But its one of those books I feel is sharpening me, and challenging me and making me think more about being purposeful about those key relationships in my life... and that's always a good thing. (Click on the picture for more info...)

In the blogging world, for sharpening, thought-provoking, quality writing, no-one comes close to Bethany Douglass for me at the moment. Her blog, Cloistered Away, is a little online haven and you just want to go and glean wisdom and I always leave feeling refreshed. If you haven't ever been there, do it! I promise you'll get as inspired by Bethany's thoughtful, purposeful style just as I have!

And in term's of reading of the best kind, I have been wallowing in the lengthy delights of Psalm 119 for the past 3 weeks (yes... it ACTUALLY is that long!) and I'm still not finished! I've been using Tim Keller's fantastic devotional "My Rock, My Refuge" to help direct my thoughts, but genuinely... this one Psalm just has SO much to chew over. Inspiring, helpful stuff that is rooting me firm in Scripture amidst some pretty chaotic going's on around here at the moment. Its loooong (176 verses long!) but each verse is full of treasure to be unearthed!

Watched // Admiring a fine picture...

There are so many angles on this "watched" category, and rather than taking one, I'm going for all of them... but I think it'll be worth it, so stay tuned!! My eyes see so many images over the course of a day - photographs, film, illustration and real life! So here goes...

Instagram - Is still and I think will always be my favourite little online community... its lovely to find kindred spirits all over the world, and the lovely Sarah over at @timeourjoy has become one of those for me. Her Instagram account is utterly gorgeous and well worth a follow if you want beautiful images, seeing the beauty in life's little moments, but also a healthy dose of reality. And she's just such a lovely person to boot!

TV - The incredible Netflix drama "The Crown" absolutely steals this month for me. I've always been a royalist, and never have been quiet about that fact, but boy, it's given me a whole new respect for our Queen. She's lived a pretty eventful life, and yet has remained firm and steadfast throughout (a quality she famously attributes to her faith in the Lord Jesus). So inspiring... and I'm a sucker for a bit of historical drama!

- Art - Literally, nothing comes CLOSE at the moment to the illustrations in the D'Aulaire books. I've been reading "Leif the Lucky" with the children, and I actually want to wallow on each page... so incredibly beautiful. If you haven't read any of the D'Aulaire's books with your children, you MUST invest. Seriously! They are a little on the pricey side, but worth every. single. penny.

- Real Life - the biggest delight has been seeing the hugest grins on our Jonas' face as he has begun to take off on his own. He's still wobbly and has that definite toddler toddle, but its delightful just to sit and watch him take so much pride in his newfound freedom! First steps... so precious!

Made // Creative hands...

I have started dabbling in crafting Christmas decorations already (yes... I know its still November), but we've been preparing for our women's Christmas Craft Night up at Church and so I can't give too much away just yet... but I'm excited... this year's crafts are all super cute and made from reusable and natural materials.  I will share once I can!

I've also been making up lots of oil blend concoctions to diffuse around the house. I found, over the summer, that having some essential oils diffusing just added a sense of calm and serenity to our home that is sometimes lacking when you have three under five! As soon as the morning sickness hit though, I had to bury them... I couldn't bear the smell of anything at all... but this week, I've whipped them out again and been diffusing lavender and eucalyptus to my hearts content. I have a post in the pipeline about some of my favourite oils... and a little bit about the health journey we've been on, but finding time to write is proving difficult these days! Watch this space!

Wore // No longer hiding...

Something other than my green jumper. Seriously, it was the only thing that even remotely hid my ever growing bump, but after three weeks of wearing it, washing it, wearing it, washing it on repeat, I was glad to be able to show the bump off to the world and not feel the need to keep it under wraps any more!

Such a relief!

Heard // A little music...
Click for the links... all absolutely fantastic and pretty much forming the soundtrack to my life at the moment!

- Sovereign Grace Music Acoustic Sessions

- Lauren Daigle

- The Overscheduled Life - AtHome06
^^^ SO helpful and thought provoking! Now just to put some things into action!

Oops...that was mammoth... I guess that's what happens when you go silent on the social media front for a while! But seriously, that's been our November.... now I would LOVE some recommendations for things to read, listen to and watch as we gear up for the advent season... the season of waiting and expectation and excitement!

I hope you find some gems to love for yourself in the above!

This post contains Amazon Affiliate links and 
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Thursday, 17 November 2016

Little Bits of Life // A Little Update

I noticed last night that I haven't blogged since our little announcement on the 5th... that's 12 days! The longest ever silence, I think, since I started blogging regularly five years ago. It has been good to take a little break... good to allow my body the rest it seems to desperately need right now, good to spend time just soaking and savouring days with these little people of mine, good to just enjoy life for the sake of it, and not feel the need to document it all... good to spend time with pen in hand, hovering over my private journal, rather than fingertips clicking away at this public one.

But I have missed it too. Blogging has become such an unexpected and joyous gift. Somehow the process of writing and sharing has helped me, so many times, to get my own thoughts clear, to regain perspective, to point me back to the Saviour... its been a creative outlet, and a place for me to document these days... the ones that feel so long, and yet fly by with ever-increasing speed, it seems.

And so, as the exhaustion seems to be passing, the bouts of nausea seem less and less frequent, and the building work enters a new phase, I'm feeling the call back to this little space. SO many ideas... so little time to actually write and record and edit and publish. There really are not enough hours in the day.

And so I thought I'd fill in the gaps... our little boy is finally WALKING and is in his element and thoroughly revelling in his newfound freedom. At 17 months, he was OH so ready! He continues to be the source of much delight and joy and is beginning to display a very quirky but fun sense of humour. His language is coming on gradually... a few words here and there, but he finds ways around it a lot of the time. It has been a lesson in patience for both of us. For him, the incredible frustration of not being understood, for me, the need to adapt to a child who, at 17 months, cannot tell me what he wants - after two girls who were speaking in sentences by this age, its been quite a steep learning curve for me!

The girls are thriving. Ava is a sponge for learning and just wants to drink it all up. I so hope it is always that way with her. She has such a thirst and delight in knowledge, and spends pretty much the entirety of her free time either in role play with her little sister, or pouring over some workbook. She is an incredible big sister, and has so much patience and time for both her little siblings. I thank God for the caring, nurturing personality he has given her, which serves her in the role as eldest sibling so well.

Heidi is our little drama queen, spends most of her time dressed up and can often be discovered using her "american" accent (which is highly amusing!) She is a delight to us, and the comedian of the family and just seems to have grown up so much these past couple of months. No longer our baby girl, but a real little lady. She comes out with the most brilliantly hilarious things and is loving having her own little posse of friends at Nursery.

We have had a fair share of rollercoaster days these past few weeks - sick bugs, tantrums, morning sickness, living on a building site, living off the bare necessities while the vast majority of our kitchen is packed up in boxes... it hasn't always been fun, and it certainly hasn't been the easiest phase of life... but in it all, the faithfulness of God holds firm. The anchor in the ship that's been feeling a little tossed at times has held fast, as he always does, and situations and circumstances that have at times threatened to overwhelm, haven't. He is enough. Always.

And so we hit the half way mark of November, and things begin to ramp up as we begin preparations for Advent. Life is chaotic and busy and frantic... and yet our hearts are oh, so, so full...

Saturday, 5 November 2016

Behind the Silence // A Little Announcement

You may have noticed things have been a little quieter round here lately. It's partly just life with three small children, partly that we are living in the midst of a building site...

But mostly, its been because my body's been pretty busy expending every last ounce of energy growing this little bumpy...

Our fourth little person will be joining us in May next year. We're all excited... the girls especially so. They are bounding around, clutching their scan photos while I'm still feeling pretty exhausted and nauseous most of the time.

But oh, what a blessing.

What a good gift from the Lord.

We love this little one so much already...

Happy weekend everyone!

Thursday, 3 November 2016

Adventuring // Gathered Thoughts of the Value of the Great Outdoors

Invigorating. Refreshing. Soul-satisfying. Getting out in the great outdoors. There is little in life which does as much for me when it comes to being rejuvenated - heart, mind and soul. Breathing deep gulps of crisp autumn air, space to think and talk and ponder, the crackle of twigs and the laughter of children...

And yet, so often, getting me out the front door is a battle of my will. I am a homebird... I cherish the delights of a cosy home, a scented candle and the chatter of playing children. At this time of year, I need to remind myself of the value of fresh air and freedom for myself and my little ones.

Last week, we spent the day with dear friends exploring the beautiful Scotney Castle in Tunbridge Wells... A castle, woodland, a moat and a pumpkin hunt. The perfect haunt for some invigoration, refreshment and soul-satisfaction.

So in case you, like me, have a hard time persuading yourself to arouse yourself from your home comforts as Autumn transitions to winter... I thought I'd share some of my favourite words of wisdom as to why it's always, always worth it...

"The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands" Psalm 19:1, The Bible

"The world is the true classroom. The most rewarding and important type of learning is through experience, seeing something with our own eyes" Jack Hanna

"The observant child should be put in the way of things worth observing" Charlotte Mason

"Ask the animals and they will teach you, or the birds in the sky and they will tell you; or speak to the earth and it will teach you, or let the fish in the sea inform you. Which of all these does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this?" Job 12:7-9, The Bible.

"Children will tend to value what you value, so start noticing nature yourself, taking a few minutes each day to become aware of the other-than-human world around you" Scott D Sampson

"Children need experiences, not entertainment, in play. The more kids can do, see, feel, and experience for themselves in play, the more connected they will feel to the world, and the less overwhelmed." Kim John Payne

"Believe one who knows: you will find something greater in woods than in books. Trees and stones will teach you that which you can never learn from masters" Saint Bernard de Clairvaux

"You are worried about seeing him spend his early years in doing nothing. What! Is it nothing to be happy? Nothing to skip, play and run around all day long? Never in his life will he be so busy again" Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Emile, 1762.

A little encouragement from wise ones who have gone before... So let's don our cosy layers and get ourselves, and our little ones, adventuring In the great outdoors this Autumn... Learning all there is to learn from life's biggest classroom...

Who's with me?!

Monday, 31 October 2016

Just where we're at... // Me and Mine in October

It's the end of October! How, oh how did that happen?! Somehow November brings with it the preparations for the "C" word and I'm just not quite sure I'm ready to get into the festive mood just yet... there is still so much to do. I feel like we're living in a constant state of chaos at the moment. Our garden resembles a building site (though the walls of the extension are up, and the roof's going on at last - hooray!) and we're beginning the slightly overwhelming task of packing up our kitchen before the entire back of our house is destroyed next week. Three school runs a day is proving exhausting, and two hours in the morning just isn't long enough to get anything done!

But despite that, we're good!

Half term was a welcomed and much-needed break. We filled it with little adventures, trips to National Trust properties (before our membership runs out today - sad day!), new shoes (and first shoes!) expeditions, visits to friends and birthday parties. And of course, our annual trip to the pumpkin patch... and where better a place to get your monthly "Me and Mine" shot?

And so there we were, in a sea full of people and pumpkins, with my camera dubiously balanced on the biggest, flatest pumpkin I could find, David positioning the children, while I clicked and ran... very professional we are around here!

It was only afterwards, looking back at the photos, that I realised just how representative these photos are of our life right now... slightly chaotic, haphazard, last minute...

but happy! (Even if Jonas doesn't look it!!)

Me and Mine in October!

The Me and Mine Project

Thursday, 27 October 2016

Pumpkin Patching // Living off God's Green Earth

It's become a yearly tradition now... a trip to the pumpkin patch, a few token photographs of children piled high on freshly picked balls of orange. Two little girls who know the ropes, and one boy who looks decidedly unimpressed! Even with breadstick in hand! But nevertheless, we braved the cold with lovely friends and set out on our expedition...

And it wasn't long before he was smiling along with the rest of us...

There is something wonderful and joy-filling about pick your own farms. Somehow it seems to satisfy some deep-down yearning in us to get back to our roots, to work the land and live off God's green earth. There is something wonderful about using your hands, drinking deep gulps of fresh air while standing knee-deep in worm-filled earth and hoiking out a carrot or two. It doesn't compare to the satisfaction of harvesting your own crop, but there is something delightful about picking vegetables straight from the ground before returning home to cook them into some delicious soup or stew...

A slower pace... a morning spent appreciating that food doesn't simply land on our table... its a journey. The provision of God, the labour of farmers and gardeners... the effort of some small people getting grubby hands while pulling a stem of brocolli for tea. A new kind of appreciation...

And so much learning to be done... finding the biggest, the smallest, the heaviest! Recognising variety in size and shape and colour... why do some thrive and some die? All questions forged by little minds and answered in the classroom of the great outdoors...

Exploration of every kind...

The joy of discovery...

And the wonder of watching, of taking it all in...

Just an average day at the pumpkin patch!