2017 Christmas Letter

Our Christmas Letter is going digital! And in true Willis style, it’s a few days late but better late than never, right?

Merry Christmas!

2017 has almost come to a close, meaning it is time for our annual Christmas letter. Admittedly, as parents of four kids, the year flew by. All of the kids have grown so much since last Christmas and it’s amazing to watch.

Arianna is in third grade and turned nine in October. In the spring, she finally got to play on the Kittanning Little League’s 7/8 Softball team (and she can’t wait to get started again). She had her last year as a Girl Scout and then joined our church’s M-Pact Girls in the fall. Arianna loves being a big sister, drawing, playing softball, cooking (and watching Top Chef Junior), and reading. She got a guitar for Christmas and hopes to learn how to play it soon!

Evan is in first grade and turned seven in December. He continues to love playing soccer as part of the YMCA’s sports program and also went to a soccer camp over the summer. He is still part of the Royal Rangers at church and is helping raise money to open an Outpost in Kenya. (This boy has a soul on fire!) He loves being the only boy, watching YouTube kids, adventuring with Daddy, and drawing.

Ava turned two in April. She is our wild one, don’t let her sweet looks fool you! We have to keep our eyes on her at all times as she is mischevious and daring, thinking she can hang with the Bigs. Playpens don’t work with her anymore, she knows how to escape! She loves being read to and hates bathtime.

Isla also turned two in April. She has been known to stare at the pretty girl in the mirror and has a certain way she likes to wear her hair clips. Isla thrives as the baby of the family and often acts like she’s the only kiddo. She loves to laugh and draw, sometimes on the couch (oops!).

We still have our two dogs, they’re aging but still playful when they want to be.

Greg starting working for a pharmacy delivery service in July and continues to drive Uber. He stays home with the twins during the day then swaps parenting duties off for the evening. He ran in the Marathon Relay in May and started a new blog series about his adventures exploring nature with the kids, “Wildlife Wednesdays“.

Becky continues to work as a Salesforce Admin for Excel4apps and has the blog, Thirty-One, Monat, and doTerra to keep her extra busy. She continues to do CrossFit at the Y and has some more distance running under her belt (Half Marathon and 10-Miler).

As a family we love going to our church, taking walks on the Rails to Trails (behind our house), and traveling. This year took us back to Wisconsin and Myrtle Beach.

We hope this letter finds you all well and full of health and happiness. Keep up with us here on the blog to see more of what’s going on in our lives.

Merry Christmas!

Love,

The Willis Family (aka ‘lil Burghers)

Advent Gift Scavenger Hunt

*articles may contain affiliate links* Our dear family friend Ash has been given the Love Language of gifting. This Advent season, she has prepared an adorable Advent gift scavenger hunt for her nephew. We couldn’t help but swoon over it and thought you would, too.

Advent Gift Scavenger Hunt

Over the next twenty-four days (starting December 1), use these clues around your house to give your kids small gifts with this Advent gift scavenger hunt. You might opt to do books for all the days or go for treats, movies, or socks. The value of the gift is completely up to you. The point is to get your child reading the clues, using their imagination, and to enjoy a small gift from you!

With clues like “To find today’s fun it’s time to think. Look for the place where you put clothes that stink!”, your kiddos are sure to laugh and remember this new holiday tradition.

Advent Gift Scavenger Hunt

Can you just imagine the joy on your child’s face when they find the daily gift? Because Ash was so awesome, we are definitely tempted to pull this off with one sharable gift for the four kids.

We HIGHLY RECOMMEND scooping up these adorable advent stickers or this stamp set from Amazon to decorate your labels! This double-sided tape is also a great option for sticking the labels to your beautifully wrapped packages.

Advent Gift Scavenger Hunt

To get your copy of this printable for FREE, simply click here (Advent Gift Scavenger Hunt Labels) to download the PDF. If you LOVE this idea but want to customize the clues, you can download the .docx version of this printable here for just $1.00. (We are donating 50% of the profits to charity this Christmas season.)

TIPS:

What fun ways are you celebrating Advent this year?

RULES ON PRINTABLES

The printables on lilburghers are free of charge, however, I do ask that you do not link directly to the PDF file, resell, or use commercially. This is a violation of the terms of the graphics. You may use for personal use as desired.

Valentine’s Made Easy

Being a social media junkie mom means I spend a lot of time on Pinterest and Instagram. I also surround myself with a village of super crafty ladies. And that means that I see a lot of super sweet holiday ideas, especially at Valentine’s Day.

With the move, a busier than I would like to admit workload, and being pregnant, I let Valentine’s slip this year. In the past, we’ve pulled off some cute ones with the help of my Cricut and stamps. But this year? I bought 99 cent boxes of Valentines and felt like a total mom failure.

My heart filled with so much love for my (big) babies when I sat down to have them fill out their cards. Arianna’s teacher advised not to do it all (write the TO and FROM) in one night. I tore her set of 20 apart and asked her to focus on the FROM, writing her name small and in proper Arianna form. Then I went to my office to get Evan’s box prepared. By the time I returned with 20 dinosaur cards split up, she announced her name was on all of them. I got Evan going on his FROM (he is still working on getting away from EVAN with “excited A’s” that take up the whole page, but doing very well) and then showed Arianna her list of classmates. Both finished their 20 at the same time, leaving me behind on the fold and sticker job. Heart melt.

Both of our kids’ teachers said they would not need boxes or bags for collecting, they were doing them at school. Mommy win. Phew. One less thing to fuss over…although I still felt like I failed my kids because we didn’t have pin-perfect love notes for their friends.

So today when both returned home from school and showed off their bags, I cried and cried. My sweeties are in classes of kids who also don’t have pin-perfect moms. There was not one crafty card, and only a few tokens of pencils (and in Arianna’s case, some candy…none for Evan as his head start doesn’t have them bring in candy, THANK YOU FOR NOT FEEDING MY SUGAR BEAR!!!). I was not alone on my island of boxed cards.

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The “from” filled out by 3 and 4 year olds is what did me in most. You could just feel the love and happiness behind them…and it was even greater knowing the impact simple celebrations can have on families of the other kids in his class.

And that’s when I realized that we as Internet parents have done our kiddos some injustice. Sending in over the top treats that just end up all over the floor and later in the trash are just not worth it. But the love? Hearing my 4 year old scream of joy as he read his classmates’ names over and over? Hearing my 6 year old tell me about what makes her classmates and their cards so cool? That’s what it is about.

Do I miss the cool crafty cards? Yes. No doubt. Do I think you kids’ cards are super awesome and share worthy? Absolutely. But are they what is right in my family’s right now? Nope. And that’s just the message of love I needed to bring me back to earth this Valentine’s Day.

Wishing you a day filled with love and happiness…as well as flowers, chocolates, and steak if that’s your thing. But me? My holiday has already  been made by the simple ways my kids are sharing love in their lives.

This Christmas Means to Me…

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Something had been eating at me as we lived out of boxes and suitcases and from house to house in the 6 weeks between the sale of our home and purchase of our new one.

I really wanted to get Christmas started, but I didn’t know why.

You’d think that it would be next year, with getting to watch on wonder as four ‘lil Burghers gather by the tree and squeal in delight.  But that wasn’t it.

It wasn’t until I was around a table with some aunts and cousins, talking about Grandma’s tree star that I really got it.

I wanted to get Christmas started for Grandma. There are a zillion reasons why…

She always decorated her home with gingerbread people graced with each of our names. My mom tended to make her sweatshirts with all of us on it, too. (One year someone fell off and got crushed in our van door and I lost my mind because that’s just horrible to watch a cousin’s apple get crushed.)

She always wrote us cards, individual cards, with a sentiment…sometimes a “Love you” and sometimes more. Grandma had a lot of cards to write.

She always gave us ornaments for our tree, and last year they were accompanied by the note above. If you’ve received an ornament from me this year, it’s because of Grandma. Our kids will have a collection to start their trees with because I plan on adding to their yearly collections, too.

And, finally, because without Christmas with Grandma, I really am not sure I’d have what I do today. Grandma and Pappy welcomed us to their home every December, often on Christmas Day after 12 to 20 hours of driving through snow to the beach because it was 6 days my Dad usually could fairly safely take off before the new year. We would spend those days in Surfside with a walk or two on the beach, driving the Boulevard to see lights (hotels used to do that), and enjoying a warm Christmas week together. During these days, I fell in love with the Myrtle Beach many of you may not know…the local side of it. It gave me courage to spread my wings and eventually move there and close a chapter of my life and start a new one with Arianna and Greg.

And because this year, for the first time in a long time I will not get to go for winter in SC or get to enjoy moments with Grandma, I think I really wanted to get Christmas started early and let it last.

As we hung the ornaments, I cried a little. It’s easy to forget the little things until you realize you won’t have them again (at least not in the same way as before). And this year, the little things came in the form of four glittery ornaments in envelopes that we got for the last time last Christmas. But it prompted me to pick up some for us this year, as well as a chirping cardinal to remind me of my Grandma Peterson. Because even if in the moment you don’t realize what it is, someday you will. And it will be bittersweet, like this Christmas will be for me.

Gingerbread House

Tonight as Greg was leaving for work, I decided a fun pre-bedtime activity would be to build a gingerbread house. It’s been on the counter for a week, torturing ‘lil souls who just wanted to eat the candy and frosting.

Or torturing their Mama who wants all the sweets.

I didn’t read the instructions, just pulled the house out of the box and got to work. When I couldn’t decipher what piece was what, I did what any woman do and read the directions. Even then, it wasn’t clear to me this was going to take almost an hour and a half and the pieces just wouldn’t quite fit together. This bothered all three of us and our OCD. Especially when I picked up the front of the house and it fell apart. I almost threw the whole thing in the trash, cried, and stomped off…but I remembered I am the mom and needed to show them accidents happen and we would work around it.

Patiently, my two ‘lil ones watched as the house came together, fell apart, came together. (It was kind of like the whole home buying process all over again…grand visions…minor setbacks…small victories…then living in something you can call home.) I quickly snapped a photo as proof in case it fell (and rushed the kids off to clean the Oreo from their lips before letting them share in the glory).

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They really just wanted that candy.

The directions said to let the icing set for 15 minutes. I went for 20 and told the kids 10. We had to leave the room after 2 because all three of us were scared to breathe lest the house would fall.

Finally, after an eternity of waiting and watching Arianna play stack cup 1000 times, the timer went off and we were in full on decorating mode. Pro tip (ha), use a rubber scraper to spread the snow “cause that’s how we do it in America, Mama” as Arianna advised.

Icing in our hair and on our jammies, the house was done. And as of this post, she’s still standing. Let’s hope Daddy gets to see it before the great fall…

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Elf Pets: A New Tradition

(*articles may contain affiliate links*) This Christmas, for the first time in our kids’ lives, we’ve introduced an Elf on the Shelf to our family. But there’s also a new friend, too! Her Elf Pets Reindeer Friend has joined us. It’s a new tradition that our kids are eating up.

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Time Out! Before you read more about our Elf Pets and Elf on the Shelf, I have to tell you a secret of the mom trade. You’ll need to be prepared to make the Elf do all the things because the kids are hearing about the other cool elves at the school. I suggest you head over to Amazon and pick up this Kindle book of Elf on the Shelf Ideas or this kit with elf-sized props. And if your kids have figured out your handwriting for the notes? This Magical Merry note kit is a must. Have them on hand before you dive into the tradition! 

I’m sure you’ve heard of the Elf on the Shelf holiday sensation. Our elf, Lily, can’t be touched by the kids and she watches over every day to make sure that they are on Santa’s nice list. At night, she “reports” to Santa on how the day went and moves to another location if things are going well. A book came along with Lily, and the kids’ eyes lit up as they heard about her magic and the rules to welcome her into our home.

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What you may be unfamiliar with is Elf Pets, a new addition to the Elf on the Shelf family. Elf Pets™: A Reindeer Tradition allows children to help Santa fly his sleigh on Christmas Eve by filling the reindeer’s heart up with Christmas spirit. As the book reads, kids are encouraged to touch, hold, and love on their Reindeer (ours is named Olaf) so that he knows how much hope and joy there really is in the world. (You can read more about this new product and get your own Elf Pet here.)

Elf Pets
Our Elf Pet, Olaf

Since we just have one reindeer, we’re doing a nightly swap of who gives love at night. Evan got to sleep with him first because Arianna had a “naughty list moment” that Lily happened to witness just before bed the first night Olaf joined us. He took his job seriously, worrying that Olaf wouldn’t be warm enough under Baseball Blanket or that Evan’s love for his tags would overshadow his love for Olaf. We worked together to find the ideal snuggly spot and Evan was thrilled.

We’ll definitely be enjoying the magic of Lily and Olaf throughout this season and anxiously waiting to welcome them back next year. If you are joining in the Elf fun this year and need some ideas about how to get creative with your new addition, check out ElfOnTheShelf.com for a photo gallery of ways you can engage your new friends in holiday fun (and make sure you are following along on Twitter @elfontheshelf!). Don’t have one yet but are looking to add an Elf or Elf Pet to your family? We suggest you adopt one now. (Update! The 2016 Christmas season has brought along a Saint Bernard, too. We’ve yet to get one, but I’m sure once the kids find out, they’ll be begging for one.)

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Lily, making mischief!

Happy Magic Making!


Christmas Morning

Our Christmas Morning was full of love and laughs.

The day started with keeping Evan as occupied as possible until my parents, Jack, and Arianna arrived. (She spent the night at their house to ensure Santa came there and here after church.) When they got here, the amount of presents under the tree was insanely overwhelming. The adults settled in with coffee and prepared for a repeat of Christmas 2009 (which took four hours to complete, thanks to an OCD one-year old).

Christmas Tree
Our Tree

The kids, however, were quite excited. We sang Happy Birthday to Jesus then cuddled on the couch to read “The Sparkle Box” (which brought tears to my eyes as we recounted all the things we’ve done in the past year). We checked out Santa’s cookie tray, then let these two loose.

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Did you notice the small, tall-ish coordinated boxes at the front of the tree? Let’s call them a Santa (Mama) win. They noticed RIGHT AWAY that they each had four and that they were “Matchy-Match”, so decided to open them first. To prepare for Disney, I purposely bought them princesses and princes in the set. They loved them.

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Evan especially loved Prince Phillip (above) because he was my first boyfriend/husband/baby daddy. The Beast was also a hit – he’s an “action figure” that transforms from Beast to Prince. He actually was the first to pick up on the fact that the other three coordinating boxes MUST hold three more princes…and Arianna’s would hold princesses. So stinkin’ smart!

Arianna and that face. Sigh. She was overly excited about all four (Belle, Tiana, Ariel, and Aurora). She had bigger things to get to, like tearing through her gifts in 35 minutes flat. This was no four hour tour today, and she was a total mess about it.

Evan, on the other hand, was very meticulous about his unwrapping. He would tear, take trash to Pappy, then look at the gift. His eyes filled with wonder as he checked it all out, admiring Arianna’s gifts, too. He probably could tell you every single thing we all got this year.

After a blessed morning opening gifts, we enjoyed ham (recipe from my friend Denise), scalloped potatoes (Suzie’s recipe), and corn casserole (Ella’s recipe). Just a ‘lil  bit later, the kids and my parents loaded up the truck and headed to Myrtle Beach. Greg and I relaxed and enjoyed a movie compliments of three new toys (that hubby of mine deserves being spoiled).

Our Christmas tree light is still shining brightly, even as I write this. This year was a fantastic year of love and memories, and we thank you all for being part of it.

How did you spend your Christmas morning? Feel free to link up in the comments!