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Advent Traditions

I vaguely remember participating in Advent during a few minutes worth of a Church service as a child. It was different from my regular thrilling traditions of Santa and family and gifts. I didn’t quite understand it, but I do remember being intrigued by the sacredness of the candle ceremony.

Once married, with children on the way, it was time to decide what traditions my husband and I would introduce to our new family. He grew up without the game of Santa and I agreed to not use it with our children, albeit a bit grudgingly at first. But if not Santa, then what? It was then that I stumbled across a pamphlet from Focus on the Family, describing the tradition of Advent. It was instantly our new tradition.

 photo AdventButton-1.jpgThe tradition grew, as traditions do and we now have a month full of memory-making traditions that glorify Christ. Though the month is full of activity, we’ve organized it so that it doesn’t feel rushed and there is plenty of rest and peace. We set aside our regular homeschool lessons and do Christmas School through the month of December.  I created a website to share our Advent customs and our lessons plans with you, which you can find at Advent Ideabox. You’ll find all of the details you need on the site. I'll also be sharing our daily advent adventures here on this blog, but for now, I want to offer you a taste of what Advent is.

Advent is a season of hope and anticipation. The word Advent comes from the Latin word adventus which means "coming".  During the Christmas season, we celebrate that Christ came to earth as our Saviour and we celebrate that He is coming again. We carry this celebration and anticipation throughout the year.

It begins each year, four Sundays before Christmas. Customarily, the Sundays are marked with the lighting of four candles, each representing a precious aspect of the season. These candles are usually found in a wreath. My family likes to read from a fictional series called Jotham's Journey each evening and continue to light that week's candle as we read the devotional verses at the end of each chapter.

The Hope Candle is lighted the first Sunday. It is also known as the Prophecy candle. These first week represents the purpose of the entire season: recognition that God kept His many promises regarding Christ's first coming and that He will continue to keep His promises about Christ's second coming. There is a hum of hope in the air.

The Love Candle is lighted the second Sunday. It is also called the Bethlehem Candle. We read each night of that week the prophecies regarding lowly Bethlehem, chosen as the birthplace of our King. We marvel that we, a lowly people, were chosen to be the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit.

The Joy Candle is lighted the third Sunday. It is also known as the Shepherd Candle. With Christmas drawing nearer, joy is inescapable. Advent turns our hearts toward God and reminds us that our Joy comes from Him. We rejoice not in what we are getting, but in what He has done, what He is doing, and what He is going to do.

The Peace Candle is lighted the fourth SundayIt is also known as the Angel Candle. We chuckle at the name because each of the stories we read of messages from an angel seem to begin with a moment of fear, rather than peace. We marvel that peace is possible in the midst of chaos, in the midst of the unknown. We marvel at the peace of God which passes all understanding.

The Christ Candle is the final candle. It is usually lighted on Christmas Eve or Christmas morning. We leave this candle, and what is left of all the others, burning while we read the birth story from the book of Luke.

These rituals are flexible. Some nights, we scramble to read three chapters because Christmas parties and exhaustion throw us off schedule. Some years, my husband worked evening shift and we did our reading in the mornings.

During the week, we sometimes cancel all subjects, focusing only on the lessons from Advent IdeaBox. Other years, we try to work half-days to keep up in math and grammar. This generally leaves us feeling rushed, so we try to keep that schedule relaxed. By the time it is finished, the kids are usually eager to get back into a routine, so the only one complaining about schoolwork is mom.

It's not perfect and we never manage to fit in all of the things that I'd like to include, but we do manage to remember why we're doing what we're doing. And that's the only thing that matters, really.

I'd love to hear about your favorite Advent traditions. Be sure to check back and join us for our family Advent celebrations.

Thanksgiving in Weakness

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. 
2 Corinthians 12:9 
Again and again, I have rejoiced and given thanks for His strength which sustained me during difficult times. Lost jobs, broken vehicles, illnesses...He taught us to trust Him wholeheartedly and to lean on His strength when we felt so weak.
It's easy to depend on Christ as my strength when I'm in the midst of a trial, but what about the times that I'm just being a slug? Is His power perfected in my weakness then? He is glorified in my life when my circumstances say there is no way, yet He makes a way. Can He be glorified in my life when my weakness of character says I will accomplish mediocrity? How can I boast and be thankful for those kinds of weaknesses? In this area, where I feel nothing but shame, God has been challenging my heart. The next verse goes on to say this:

That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, 
in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. 
For when I am weak, then I am strong. 
2 Corinthians 12:10

Yes, it is easy to delight and be thankful in hard times - those times when I know He is growing perseverance and building trust in my life.  But I can't delight that I spent more time on facebook than in God's Word, that I spent an hour soaking in the bathtub instead of reading a bedtime story to the kids, or that I watched another episode of Doctor Who instead of catching up on laundry. This is my weakness. This inability to focus, this incessant pursuit of distractions, this is where I am truly weak. How can He be strong in this?

I am embarrassed that this is an area in which I am weak. I don't want to talk about it. But I am seeing discouraged moms around me who ache because they think they are the only one with children who fight, with a family that has suffered the pain that comes with pornography, with a messy house and sticky pencils in the couch cushions. God did not call us to pretend we had it all together. He didn't even call us to actually have it all together; that would negate our negate our need for Him. Instead, He called us to acknowledge our need for Him, to embrace His mercy, to offer our bodies as a living sacrifice. I can do that privately, but it doesn't help my sister in Christ if I pretend I never struggled. 

Whoever conceals their sins does not prosper, 
but the one who confesses and renounces them finds mercy
I have friends who have no idea what I'm talking about. They struggle against the habit of being busy, fighting their inner-nature to say "No" to over-activity. Some of us have an easier time than others in different areas of our lives. I don't tend to struggle with morality; God said no, so I don't. For others, this is a weak area that takes more than a shrug and an okay. I also have friends who struggle to gain weight. Ha! To me, that sounds like a wonderful problem to have, but to them it is a real problem. We all have our different areas and it's not always easy to imagine the other person's shoes. But chances are, if you are still reading, you continued because you identified with my use of the word "slug".
Let me clarify first that I know God is not putting His stamp of approval on my laziness. Rather, He's been revealing to me my need for His strength in this area. During this season, when I just want to focus on giving thanks to Him for His mercies and many blessings, He keeps interrupting my thoughts with these verses about my weakness. I am not okay with my weakness; if I were, I couldn't really consider it a weakness. But I know that it is. Rather than delighting that I have a weakness, I delight that He is strong where I am weak. He reminds me again and again not to bury myself in condemnation for my failings, but to embrace His Mercy and let Him be glorified in my life in this area.

When a person who struggles with their temper becomes a peacemaker, it is not to his glory, but to Christ's. When a person who struggles with greed becomes generous, it is not to his glory, but to Christ's. When a slug becomes diligent, it is not to her glory, but to Christ's.
I can do all things through him who strengthens me.
- Philippians 4:13

How can I do this thing? Through Him who strengthens me. Not through discovering how strong I am, but through discovering how strong He is.
It does not, therefore, depend on human desire or effort, but on God’s mercy.-Romans 9:16
I can strive and strive, berating myself when I fail, but if I were able to succeed through my strivings, it would be to my glory, not God's.  
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.-Romans 12:1
If my strivings don't get me there, then what can I do? I have to play some active part in changing this weakness, right? I come before Him penitent. I come to Him yielding.
He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of His mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit,-Titus 3:5
I remember where my hope comes from. I remember that what I am really thankful for is His Mercy. I remember that I am renewed by Him. 
Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.-Hebrews 4:16
I remember that I need Him.
It is God who arms me with strength and keeps my way secure.-2 Samuel 22:33
I remember that I am weak, but He is strong .
The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and he helps me. My heart leaps for joy, and with my song I praise him.-Psalm 28:7
I remember the many times He has taught me trust Him in the hard times. I remember that I can trust Him in the easy (sometimes too easy) times.
My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.-Psalm 73:26
I remember that I may falter, but it is not my undoing. I may succeed, but it is not my success. 

I remember to thank Him in my weakness, that He is making me Holy by the washing of the Word. 

Nitty Gritty Words

My friend Lisa asked a hard question: 

How do you hang in there when the going gets really rough?

My first thought was to share coping techniques and practical applications: drink plenty of water and get plenty of rest. Simple advice that us moms often forget. When our kids are cranky or overwhelmed, we check those things first for them. Why not us

Why do I pour a 5th cup of coffee? Or unwind and treat myself with a movie at 11:00 pm when I know I have to be up at 6:00 for the day to function best?

No, that isn't what I do. It's what I know I should do. What do I really do?

I grouch.

My patience level zeros out and I walk around tense and ready to snap. 

I have four children: two boys followed by two girls, four years later. My poor boys were the guinea pigs. I will carry guilt for the rest of my life over my poor parenting choices with them. My girls aren't perfect and neither am I, but they are reaping the benefits from the lessons I learned through the years. Painful lessons, learned the hard way. Especially as holidays near and the going gets really rough, I hope my lessons can help someone else struggling to figure out how to crawl out the trenches. Here is what I've learned.

Time Out
Regardless of how important the lesson is that you need to convey to them, it can wait 10 minutes. Take a time out. You have their entire lives to teach them how to be responsible adults. This one offense will not turn them into serial killers. Cool off for 10 minutes.

Save the big guns.
There are times when an immediate "NOOoooooo!" is necessary: They are about to run into traffic, electrocute themselves, fall into a well, etc. But if they are used to you hollering every time they leave out a lego, they will have tuned out the loud urgency in your tone and yelling will not be effective. 

Mirror, mirror on the wall.

When you can talk to them properly, position yourself so that you are in front of a mirror. The first time I did this, it was by accident. I sat on the end of my bed with my five year old standing in front of me. I had a mirror hanging on the wall behind him and I happened to look up at it while I was mid-lecture. My eyebrows formed an ugly 'V' and my face was contorted with anger. I was spewing, not speaking. It was a turning point for me. I realized then that my child wasn't learning a lesson because of any wisdom I was lecturing with, but with fear of me. I might control his behaviour that way, but I was not impacting his heart to desire good things, just to fear mama's temper. I hung mirrors in every room after that day. 

Resolve your own issues. 
When someone is rude to you and you swallow it down without prayer or conflict resolution, you are tense and ready to let out that frustration on someone else. Your child can easily become your scapegoat without you even realizing it. Ask yourself: are you really that upset that your child broke your grandmother's vase or are you upset because your husband said something unreasonable to you earlier that morning? This was a wake-up call to my whole family. Did my husband say something unreasonable to me because his boss said something rude to him? Learn to stop taking out frustration on other people. Learn to recognize when your spouse isn't actually angry with you, but is need of some extra support and encouragement. Learn to ask, "Are you mad at me, or are you mad at daylight savings time?"

Rather than using correction as your means of teaching them what not to do, talk about things ahead of time. On your way to a party, speak sweetly and prepare them for what is coming. "Aunt Bertha is probably going to give you a gift today. What would be a good thing to say to her after you open that gift? What if you already have that toy at home? Does she need to know that? What if you don't like it? What should we say then?" 

It's not about you.
Stop taking it personal. Your children aren't hiding roast beef behind the couch because they want to drive you nuts. They are figuring out how to get out of eating the roast beef. They are acting like children, not "the death of you." Also, that witty comeback that would have been somehow hilarious on a sitcom? The only audience was your child and they didn't appreciate the humor; they just felt the sting and shame of the words. You entered this parenting gig and now you're here for life. It's about them now. Get over yourself. What is best for them?

Find a different hill.
Consistency is very important for their sense of security. They hide roast beef under the couch because they are learning where the boundaries are. Teach them gently and firmly. "Here's the line. I love you enough to create lines". Do NOT take those line-pushing moments as personal power plays. Your job is not to prove to them that you are the boss. Acting like a responsible, loving adult will prove to them that you are the proper parent in the relationship. Sometimes we need to work our way through things until a lesson is fully learned. They really need to 'get it'. Not every misdemeanor is a hill to die on. They are learning opportunities. There will be more. Many more. You have years to teach them. Those years fly quickly though, don't fill them with battles.

Make Memories.
Your children will remember the most random things for the rest of their lives. Build good memories. When you are 67 and they are telling your grandchildren about their childhood, will they smile fondly as they remember you? Will they resolve to be nothing like you? You will mess up; you're human. Don't make messing up your standard operating procedure. 

It is unavoidable that your children will see you do it all wrong. They can learn so much from the way you handle your mistakes. Tell them that they way you responded to them was wrong. Tell them you are sorry and what you are specifically sorry for. Ask their forgiveness. My boys were young when I had my come-to-Jesus parenting process. I sat them down and repented for years of a grumpy mommy. They were 7 and 5 years old. Today, they don't remember those early years. They've both told me that they remember me telling them I had been a grumpy mommy, but they don't remember why. Trust me, it isn't that things weren't as bad as I perceived them. It is that we had a true new beginning and God restored the years the locusts ate. 

Forgive yourself. Parenting is hard. Do your best and strive for better each day. Get help if your best isn't healthy for your child. My nights have often ended with repentance. When guilt continues to keep me awake and crying, I remember that God has forgiven and that guilt does not come from Him. There is therefore no condemnation... I resolve to do better and pray for specific strength and help. Believe it or not, nursing feelings of guilt can sometimes assuage our conscience. We are punishing ourselves with those feelings of guilt and that makes it less bad. Don't feel bad enough to walk around condemned. Feel bad enough to repent and change it. Accept the forgiveness God offers. Forgive yourself. Walk in the new beginning.

©2012-2013 Simblissity Cottage. All rights reserved. 
All text, photographs, and other content may not be reproduced or transmitted in any form without consent from the author.

Deal Alert!

I know it's early to think about Christmas, but A Christmas Carol is free for Kindle AND you can add the professional audiobook for only 49 cents! 

This makes a great family listening activity for Advent afternoons.

For Narnia and for Sarah!

Sarah Grace requested a Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe birthday party. She asked nearly a year ago, but I was sure she'd change her mind (I really hoped she'd change her mind) so I didn't pursue any plans for such a thing.  Because really, Narnia? How on EARTH?? And then her birthday was here. She still wanted it. She had complete confidence that I could pull it off. I had zero. I had been in denial for so long, I ran out of time to put much thought into it. But some lovely friends helped me out and Pinterest came in very handy. We did it! First, guests entered through the Wardrobe/Front Door.

Their first view was of a dreary snow scene (old sheets)....always winter, never Christmas.

Next, they turned into Mr. Tumnus' dwelling (our living room). They enjoyed some hot chocolate while listening to a small clip of the audiobook.

 I think Chris looks kind of like the actor who plays Mr. Tumnus. I told him he should welcome them, topless, but he didn't go for it. Next, we washed up and rolled Turkish Delight in powdered sugar. I thought this would keep us busy a bit longer, but no one liked it, so one strip of the candy was enough.

Turkish Delight was very surprising to me. Edmund was willing to trade his integrity for it. It had to be good, right? I just knew it was going to be a yummy caramel and chocolate treasure. It is actually a very squishy gum drop. It's main ingredient is cornstarch and it tastes like it. 
Next, the girls designed their own royal crowns, glamming it up with sequins. I love that Sarah Grace has to stick her tongue out when she concentrates.

My big girl, now 8 years old.


She had a book exchange instead of presents, so each girl went home with a book from her friends' shelves.


 We tried this on a weeknight, so only one friend was able to stay the night (one of the perks of homeschooling.) They posed in the beautiful fur coats loaned to us by friends.

Finally, they piled up on the couches and watched The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe until they fell asleep. I fell asleep before they did. Gracie says it was her best party ever. 
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Sewing Lessons - a review

I have wanted to learn to sew for years. I built a beautiful Pinterest board full of sewing projects just waiting for me to learn how to sew. I've had several people try to teach me, but very little from these lessons managed to "stick". I did eventually learn how to thread my own needle without calling my mom and how to sew a semi-straight line.

 photo rosies2_zpse8168139.jpgMy daughters love to create things and asked to learn to sew, but I didn't know where or how to start. When I discovered Rosie's Doll Clothes Patterns, I knew exactly where to start and I was so relieved to have someone guiding me through it. We signed up for Rosie's How to Make Doll Clothes Video Course. It gives us a year's membership to her site, which contains over 130 videos teaching you how to sew clothing for 18" dolls (standard American Girl size) and for Cabbage Patch dolls.

The course is intended for ages 8 and up. My 8 year old took to it very well. My 10 year old struggled a bit. It requires paying attention to a level she is unaccustomed to. I was very proud of her for persevering and she was very proud of herself for not giving up and for always trying again (and again, and again. Even though it was difficult for her to make her hands do what they wanted to do (and to watch her younger sister do it with ease,) she kept going and the look of pride on her face when she finished her first skirt was priceless. It helps that the course is made up of many short videos of Rosie, speaking with a mesmerizing Australian accent and giving simple step-by-step instructions. Though there were times that we had to sew, rip seams, and sew again, it was only a small task at a time and was never overwhelming for this family of beginner seamstresses.

Just look what they were able to do, completely on their own!


The videos begin with the most basic of instructions. This is a sewing machine. This is how you thread a needle. This is how you print a pattern. It covers everything. Each step is covered in a separate video and each video averages around 3 minutes each. I love this! This makes it very easy to scroll ahead if we already know something. We can jump right into the things we need to learn. In no time at all, you are sewing real doll clothes! We skipped very little since we are so new to this, but each video is clearly labeled for those with more experience. Sewing doll clothes is apparently a bit different than regular sewing, so the videos could be very helpful for someone wanting to learn a new technique. They are beyond helpful for someone wanting to learn any technique. I'm amazed at how quickly we've come along with this course.

The membership is for one year, but the videos can be worked through in 6 weeks, yielding around 8 hours of instruction time. We slowed it down a bit more than that, but my girls are already about halfway through the videos and have sewn two pieces they are quite proud of: a halter top and a sarong for their Heart for Heart Girls. I learned right along with them and the girls are planning to give my outfits

In addition to the fabulous lessons in sewing, enrollment in the course also comes with 8 free patterns, featured in the picture below. These were all downloadable PDFs and came with a printable pattern, printable instructions, and step-by-step videos of Rosie creating each outfit and explaining everything.

 photo doll-collage-large_zpscbbc4c2d.jpg

A fabulous feature to this course is that the videos are not in Flash, therefore we can watch them with the iPad propped up on the table right beside the sewing machine. This feature had to take some time and effort to make possible and it is much appreciated.

 photo Rosies_zpsc853bd7c.jpg

The one year online course is available for $47.85. Another option is to order the DVD for $67.02. As most of the videos are foundational skills, I don't know that you would have much need for a DVD unless you had younger children that would one day want to benefit from the course. This means keeping a DVD unscratched in a house with young children. If this idea doesn't scare you, please email me and tell me your secrets.

In addition to the course videos, you can also purchase more doll patterns for around $5.00 each, or 10% off if you buy complete seasonal sets. These printable patterns include instruction pages and online videos which cover each step of each outfit.

I think we're ready to tackle that Pinterest board I've been saving!

Click to read more reviews from the Schoolhouse Review Crew