Scenes From Our Tree

“Our tree is not beautiful,” he told my family.

“It sure is, baby. We just have some work to do,” I assured Evan.

Last Thursday, I happened to leave my husband a note. A to-do list. At the end was a reward if he happened to get the tree up and decorated. I’ll give him that the tree was up and decorated, but Evan was kind of right.

Here’s what it looked like as they put it up:

And Arianna reflecting on what more needed done after Evan proclaimed it wasn’t beautiful:

We clearly had some work to do. Not only were all of the ornaments only at child-height, but there were so many memory filled ornaments to be added. The kids and I got to work while Greg worked on the outside before last weekend’s snowstorm.

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And then, once the angel was on top, we agreed. It was finally beautiful.

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The Sparkle Box

Disclosure: I received a copy of The Sparkle Box in exchange for an honest review. All opinions, as always, are 100% my own.

It’s the week before Thanksgiving, and my family is already hard at work on holiday traditions of giving. Our tree will not be up for a few days, weeks maybe. Our hearts are ready to give to various toy drives, food drives, and more. This year, we’re starting a new tradition thanks to Jill Hardie’s The Sparkle Box

The Sparkle Box
Source: The Sparkle Box

With a themed message of giving gifts to Jesus by doing good deeds, this book is a great addition to Christian faith families. Although our family is a blended faith, we thrive on the message of Christmas and will be using the book to teach our kids even more about giving for others.

The story is rooted in the meaning of Christmas – giving to others. Sam and his family give in various ways, and his excitement over the sparkling box under the tree builds. As an adult, I was able to predict that inside the box would be messages of the giving, but my kids were surprised at the connection of the story and the contents of the box opened at the end of the book. Powerful, beautiful. Teaching children what a gift it is to do good for others as a gift to Jesus is a moving thing.

Here’s a bit more information from the press release:

The Sparkle Box is a compelling holiday children’s book based on a Christmas tradition that author Jill Hardie, her husband and their two children began eight years ago. Every year, the Hardie family places a Sparkle Box under their Christmas tree as a gift for Jesus on His birthday.

Jill wrote The Sparkle Box to spark a new Christmas tradition within other families—one that honors the true meaning of the holiday. ASparkle Box is included in the back of the book and can be easily put together by children as they think of their own gifts to give during the holiday season.

The book shares ideas of special gifts that families and children can give in honor of Jesus’ birthday. These gifts—such as giving warm blankets to the homeless and food for the hungry—can then be jotted down and placed in the enclosed Sparkle Box, to be opened on Christmas morning.

This Christmas, we’ll be reading the story of The Sparkle Box on Christmas morning after we sing Happy Birthday to Jesus and before we check out Santa’s cookie plates and the gift pile. It will be a new, well-loved tradition, and I can’t wait to spend the next few weeks making the memories that will go inside.

To purchase the book yourself, you can find it in bookstores on online at Ideals Books for $19.99. The Sparkle Box website includes ideas for making this a Christmas to remember, for all families (not just those who have “stuff” or money to give). 

 

Jack O’Lanterns

On Sunday, the kids and I went to the Pumpkin Patch. I had grand dreams of a Pinterest-worthy post; however, my camera, cold hands, and still feeling under the weather had other plans.

The kids, however, enjoyed themselves regardless.

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And at the end, they picked out pumpkins to turn into Jack O’Lanterns. Arianna taught me that we’re raising her right. The pumpkins she (they) picked were not by any means pretty, but in her eyes, they were. Spots, ground markings, and all, she loved them lots.

Tonight, we had plans to make the Jack O’Lanterns; however, Greg is not feeling great and my heart is just not really into doing much this week. As Greg and I discussed the plan to cut them or not, Evan made the decision for us, attacking the pumpkins with markers.

“I made them beautiful,” he yelled from the kitchen.

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I kinda agreed.

Greg kinda agreed.

Arianna did not. She wanted true Jack O’Lanterns. (We’ve only cut them one other time when we were in Williamsburg two years ago) and painted some that year, too.)

Her demands were met. And now maybe I’ll have Pinterest worthy pumpkin seed roasting posts to share, since the kids really want to eat the seeds.

I think we did pretty darn good for not really wanting to do this, what do you think?

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Spooky

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As Halloween approaches, we are cautious with Evan. He’s very afraid of anything mildly spooky, including the neighbor’s (fake) spider web which he helped hang last week.

There are certain stores he won’t even go in, because he’s seen something spooky there. When he does encounter something spooky, he claws at Mama, burying his head. (I really learned my lesson the day I took him in the costume store at the mall to show him the Jake costume and he caused quite the scene.)

It’s a good thing he’s afraid of some things that go “bump”, but I don’t remember Arianna being as cautious as he’s been. And it’s even harder when his sister seems to like the creepy and scary things (like when we went in the costume store and she giggled and pushed the “TNT” button on the clown in a box several times and asked if she could touch a creepy “chucky”-style baby).

Trick or Treat should be interesting. So far, we’ve put off decorating in any way and buying costumes. We allow him to avoid the stores (or at least aisles) when at all possible. Any other tips for helping a two-year-old overcome fears (like that jack o’ lantern above, or plastic spiders)?  Please share in the comments below. 

A Memorial Day Memory

At our family Memorial Day, my mom told us about an encounter she had with Arianna earlier in the day. It is a precious reminder of how our lives are twined with generations before and a precious Memorial Day memory. Today, the ‘lil Burghers thank all of the Veterans for their service and remember those whose lives were lost for our country. 

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“Grammie, what is Memorial Day about?”

My mom explained the holiday to her, in the best way to explain such an important day for our country to a 4-year-old. She let her know that today is a day we honor the memory of those who have lost their lives for the USA.

“Like my Pappy Peterson and Pappy Great-Great?” she asked. While these men did not pass away as service men, they did lose their lives. Arianna has been “talking to” both of them since she was a young baby, and the connection she made today was a precious reminder of the impact they have on our ‘lil girl.

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Following our family gathering, we were tucking the kids in bed and Evan asked for another song. Our choice? A rendition of a mash-up of “Proud to Be an American” and “God Bless America”. Tonight, we honor and remember. Thank you.

Memorial Day Flags

Leprechaun Trap 2013

Repeating a year in Pre-3 means that Arianna got to make herself another Leprechaun Trap in school. (Translated, Mama gets to use some creativity if she allows the time and Arianna watches with glee, assisting on few tasks.)

I realized too late that I had thrown out last year’s version (saving anything salvageable) and that we had to start fresh. No worries, we still had her Valentine’s box at hand and plenty of green tissue paper. Arianna gave her idea for vision–no ladder this year, a tunnel to crawl through that was covered in vines. Good thing I save paper towel rolls!

With our vision, tape, gold, rainbows, and shamrocks, off we set to build our masterpiece.

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As Arianna would say, “How do I think?” My favorite part? Her “FREE GOLD” sign. Win.

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Mysterious Ways

My parents always reminded me that God works in mysterious ways. They sure were right.

When we took toys to Stuff a Bus in November, we stopped at the Steelers Store first. I found a cute plastic dinosaur that I just knew was going to make some ‘lil kids’ Christmas. See it down there in the bottom left?

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Well, my parents picked one up for ‘lil Man and give it to him with his “McStuffins” costume. By far, it was his favorite toy (especially compared to the lantern, no hard feelings, huh?). It seriously made his Christmas.

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By the way, if anyone knows the lyrics to the never ending song this thing plays, send them my way. We can’t get the tune out of our heads, but it sure is catchy.

How Santa Lost (Sort Of)

If you follow along over on my personal Twitter, you’d know that I was just a little bit beyond irritated last Wednesday evening. The time was set for me to have some ME TIME. I decided that returning one non-working toy would be a simple fix, so I headed to Monroeville to exchange a toy bought on line.

After waiting about 20 minutes in the customer service line, I find out they don’t have the like item in stock (although it said they did online before I left). They decided to put in a call to the Ross Park store and see if they had one in stock (since the computer said yes). The super kind lady behind the counter waited on three other customers while waiting for someone to answer. No one did, so I decided to get my butt in the car and cruise across town and give it a try.

Thirty minutes later, I found the identical toy on the shelf and was upset to find out that the lantern was also broken in that one. Taking both to the (empty!) customer service desk, I tried to work out an alternative with the employee. There may have been another lantern (without the extra items) somewhere in the store. Sadly, it didn’t turn up. I asked if we could test and exchange the batteries. They didn’t have the right screw driver and said I could try to use a smaller one, but if I broke either toy I’d be responsible for damages. I gave it a shot, then they didn’t have batteries to test OR buy. Ticked, I just stood at the counter as the line grew five people deep. I stared, silently. Finally, after about three minutes, I asked, “Do you think it’s an issue that your store sells broken products and doesn’t sell batteries for the toys they sell?”. The response was, “No, a working toy is your responsibility. You shouldnt’ve bought it broken”.

The problem?!?!? I DIDN’T BUY IT BROKEN. It was shipped to me broken. NOT MY CHOICE.

Pushing tears back, out the door I went and dialed customer service. I waited 16 minutes before anyone answered. When they did, I got the same story PLUS a “if you want to return the toy to our distribution center, you can, BUT you are responsible for shipping and this toy isn’t in stock so you’d only get it back IF ANY EVER COME BACK IN”. Really? Yes. You really expect me to cause my two year old to cry? Well then. I asked if they could send me batteries. No go, they don’t sell them. Seriously?!?! I asked, “Do you care that you just lost a loyal customer over a $12 toy and 3 batteries?”. They answered, “No, have a good night”, and the call was done.

Okay, I went crazy mama for sure. But, the toy only was defective because the batteries didn’t work. Greg found some for $12 (the cost of the TOY!) but I was able to score a 10-pack for $6 on Amazon. Guess what? They arrived on Friday and worked. The toy was fixed.

So, you’d think Santa won again, right? I mean, the boy wanted the following…

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Okay, so the lantern wasn’t on the list, but he did verbally say he wanted one, like his Pop Pop had. And, he got every thing on that list except for the parrot (another battery fail at a small mall toy store, don’t get me going). Instead, he got this sweet rabbit that does the same thing.

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And you want me to get back to how Santa lost? Alright, alright. (Sorry, this turned into a “Greg Story”–oh, you don’t know what that is? Let me tell you about the time I sat on the dock and listened to him tell the story of the ants sometime.)

Here’s how Santa lost. Go ahead, laugh. He could care less about the damn lantern, thanks to having a multi-tool like Unca’s. Rawr.

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How Santa Gets In

On Christmas Eve, Arianna told me that “If you don’t have a chimney, Santa has a key that he uses to get into your house”. I had no idea what she was talking about, because we have a chimney. I just smiled and nodded, like you often have to with her.

Tonight, when checking out ABC World News, there was a spot about American-made gifts, and what do you know? The Wendell August Forge Santa Key was shown. It was like a sign that she needs this for her hope chest, right?