The First and the Last

**Originally posted 12/25/2011**

I’ve found that often in life the pivotal memories, as well as what will become your most cherished photos–the ones that you will go back and live over and that will bring a smile to your lips–are ones that you don’t realize are so immensely important at the time.

December 25, 2008

I knew it was an important Christmas, a Christmas that would stand out in my memory for always. You see, it was the very first Christmas of my first baby, Amber. Of course the magic of Christmas for the first time of the first child is a memory that parents always treasure. You buy special jamies, a special ornament, and take thousands of pictures of the day-capturing every smile and giggle.

What I didn’t realize at the time was that it was the very last Christmas I was going to spend with my beloved Grandpa.

Growing up Christmas revolved around my Grandparents.  Christmas Eve with them was filled with songs, The Christmas Story from the Bible, food, and presents. The next afternoon we piled in the car for a huge Christmas feast and loud crazy fun with all of the extended family again at my Grandparents house. Every year for the 19 years before I got married was filled with these precious traditions. Once I got married and moved far away one of the things I missed the very most was no longer getting to be a part of it all. We were able to spend Amber’s first Christmas back home and I was thrilled that her first Christmas would be spent doing the same beloved traditions I’d grown up with, but thought that it would be the first of many times she’d be able to.

I just assumed that there would be plenty more Christmases to keep enjoying it all.

2008 was the last Christmas I got to spend with my family, and I only got to visit my grandparents a few times since then.

My Grandpa went to be with his Savior and Lord this past April after battling a brief but intense fight with cancer, he never got to meet my little boy who was born in July 2010.

This will be the first Christmas I spend knowing that he is not at home in Wyoming, carrying on those traditions with the rest of my family.

Shortly after he died I came across a picture from that Christmas day, one where he was playing with Amber while I was holding her and trying to “take her ear off” It so typifies him and the fun loving funny guy that he was. Looking back it is a beautiful picture of the circle of life, her first Christmas with me was his last. And so this year I will cherish my children’s smiles and magic, but there are sure to be some tears mixed in with the smiles.

This Christmastime

**Originally posted 12/24/2010**

For the first time in a very long time I am absolutely and entirely excited about Christmas this year! 2 years ago I wrote about What Christmas Meant To Me and the sacrifices that you sometimes make at Christmas. Last year I wrote about Finally Growing Up and how I had finally come to terms with our new lifestyle and Christmas.

This year I’m delighted to say that I can’t wait for Christmas. The thing that I am very most excited about is watching Amber open all her presents and have a wonderful time. I can’t wait to make sugar cookies with her on Christmas Eve and watch the Grinch and go out and play in the snow together. I can’t wait to go looking at Christmas lights and reading the Christmas story and having her open up her new Christmas jammies.
I can’t wait to see her face on Christmas morning when she sees all the presents under the tree along with the huge toy box Bob built. I can’t wait for her to go diving through her stocking and eat candy. I can’t wait for us to get messy as we decorate the toy box with hand prints, foot prints, glitter and paint. I can’t wait to see Tyler attempt to grab at the gifts and drool on his presents while he tries to stuff them all in his mouth. I can’t wait to find out what the present is that hubby stuck for me under the tree after I kept insisting I didn’t want/need anything this year.
I can’t wait to make our Christmas dinner and share it with just the four of us.
I can’t wait to watch my favorite Christmas movies on our new huge tv (hubbies Christmas present) snuggled up to hubby after the kids are in bed.
And I am just so thrilled that I’m finally excited about Christmas again-that we are finally coming up with our own traditions that Amber and Tyler will look back on happily some day!

Finally Growing Up

**Originally posted 12/24/2009**

There comes a time when you’ve just got to grow up.

I think I’ve finally reached that point.
I used to get so upset when things didn’t go perfectly and exactly as I had planned them, especially around the holidays.
I loved that growing up we had the same wonderful traditions from the beginning of December till the end of December that we did year in and year out for as long as I could remember.
There was the Nutcracker in early December.
Then the church Christmas Program that everyone in my family played a part in every year.
Homeschool Christmas parties, church Christmas parties, and when I was a teen the annual Christmas banquet.
Seven layer cookies and fudge were our holiday treats.
The Grinch, It’s a Wonderful Life, and the Black and White Christmas Carol were our classic holiday movies.
Everything topped off in glorious fashion with the candlelit service at church on Christmas Eve and then our crazy loud amazing time and Grandma and Grandpa’s house reading the Christmas story, opening presents, eating food, laughing and singing.
Christmas morning was filled with tons of toys and goodies which we’d open much too early.
Christmas afternoon meant back to Grandma’s with said goodies in tow for a huge turkey feast.
It was all beyond wonderful.
But it’s hard to establish traditions, to make yearly memories, to revel in the holiday glory when each year you spend Christmas in a different place. When each year you’re either traveling to visit one family or the other, or you’re stuck in whichever state you’re calling home at the moment.
The first few Christmases this really bothered me. I liked normal, familiar, wonderful. I didn’t like new and different and lacking. I really struggled with my attitudes.
This year it didn’t even occur to me till today, but I haven’t once stopped to have a “poor me” attitude. I’m not mourning the fact I didn’t get to go home to Wyoming during the holiday season at all (first time since  I’ve been married) I do terribly miss my family, but I’m overjoyed at the fact that we’ll get to spend Christmas with Bob’s family who we rarely get to see.
I don’t care that they run things differently, or that I won’t be opening up presents on Christmas morning. All I care about is that Bob will get to be with us this year, he’ll get to be with his family, and I’ll get to watch Amber open her presents.
I guess that means that, really truly for the first time, I’m being able to focus on what Christmas is truly about. It’s about getting the focus off of yourself. After all if Jesus had been only concerned about himself He would have never left the glories of Heaven to become a helpless tiny baby in a smelly barn.
My prayer is that this Christmas you’ll stop and also remember what it is truly all about. Spending time with family, with those you hold dearest.
And remember your Savior, who thought nothing of himself, but everything about you and your eternal destiny.

What Christmas Means to Me……

**Originally posted 12/18/2008**

Christmas Beads

 My Pastor at the church I grew up in asked me if I would give a testimony for our candlelight service on Christmas Eve. I decided I would share it with all of you as well!

What Christmas Means To Me

I spent the first 19 years of my life in the same house here in Rock Springs. Every Christmas we did the exact same wonderful traditions. On Christmas Eve we would go to the candlelight service here at church. Then it was off to Grandma’s house where we ate, sang Christmas Carols, read the Christmas story, and unwrapped a few presents. When we got back home I remember the excitement I always felt trying to fall asleep–even up to when I was in college! The next morning us kids would all wake up early, usually an hour or so before my parents told us we were “allowed” to–and go open presents. Of course the presents are everyone’s favorite part! Then in the afternoon it was back to Grandma’s house for a big turkey feast.

When I got married the dynamics of Christmas totally changed. Suddenly Christmas was one of the only times each year I got to see my family and when we came back we had to try to divide our time and attention between two families. One year I got very, very sick; and last year we weren’t able to come back at all because I was too far along in my pregnancy. This year I’m so excited to celebrate my baby Amber’s first Christmas, but sadly her daddy is in North Carolina serving his country in the Coast Guard and will have to miss it. When Christmastime comes and everything isn’t perfect or it’s not as you remembered it, it’s easy to get discouraged and upset and not enjoy it. But having these last few years I’ve learned that as much as you love traditions and spending time with family, sometimes you just have to step back from it all and look at what Christmas is really about. If you think about it, Christmas is really about sacrifice and heartache. Can you imagine how hard it was for God to send his only son to this sinful world in the form of a helpless little baby? Can you imagine how much Heaven must have missed him? Can you imagine the love God has for us that He was willing to give us that sacrifice? So this Christmas, enjoy your traditions, love your family and be thankful you can be with them, but don’t forget what Christmas really means to me–and what it should mean to you.

Why My Daughter Loves the UPS Man

**Originally posted 12/15/11**

For those of you who don’t know Amber, she’s my feisty hysterical little 3 going on 13 year old.

The other day the UPS man came and while I was signing for the package she chatted with him. Once he left she informed me, “I just love him.”

Last night this was explained when she told me this randomly as I was rocking her before bedtime, “Ok Momma, Amber is going to tell you the truth AND the story. Ok, Santa turned into the Post Man and he brought the boxes for Mommy that had the Christmas presents, and that’s how it works.”

So there you go–the UPS man is really Santa who is in conspiracy with me and therefore Amber loves him. Makes more sense than the whole chimney thing anyways!!!

Unconventional Holiday Gifting

 Once upon a time there was a girl who loved all the of magic of Christmas. She loved the lights, the sparkles, the music, the movies, the books, the presents, the treats! In fact-she was hard pressed to find anything about the holiday that she DIDN’T love!

Then she married a boy who was, well, let’s just say that his view on the “most wonderful time of the year” was slightly different.

If you hadn’t guessed by now–of course I’m referring to me and my sweet hubby Bob! One of the biggest ways that we differ is that I love getting presents on Christmas day. If I didn’t have at least *one* present to unwrap on Christmas I think I might cry (true story). Hubby, on the other hand, is one of those guys who if he wants something anything and we can afford it-he buys it. He’s also very picky uh, particular about what he likes. He also doesn’t enjoy opening presents–he’d much rather have the experience of going to the store and picking out something for himself (he finds it a lot of fun!)

 The first few years we were married I got frustrated because I would try so hard to wrack my brains for something that he would love for Christmas-only to have him end up buying it for himself or never ever using what I did buy him. After this happened a few times I decided that I would tweak how I gave him gifts. Though it felt like completely unconventional holiday gifting to me, I told him that I wanted him to tell me what he wanted for Christmas–and then I wanted us to go buy it together (at least a few weeks before Christmas).

Surprisingly, it worked great! We always have a great and uh…..interesting time….(look above!!!) when we do his Christmas shopping together. He has fun browsing and trying to decide just what he wants “from Santa” and then selecting and playing with his new “toy”. He always gets so excited he makes me drive on the way home so he can rip whatever we got out of the package and start fiddling with it right away!

This year we headed to Academy Sports & Outdoors which is one of Bob’s new favorite stores since we moved here a few months ago-it pretty much sells anything and everything that he loves! Ever since getting out of the Coast Guard he’s missed getting to “play” with guns every day so he’s been browsing all kinds of guns–both real and air–since we got here. We decided on a Daisy Winchester Air Pistol Model 11. When I think of BBGuns I automatically think of Daisy Outdoor Products since we had a Daisy BB Rifle growing up that we would play with anytime we went up camping. I got pretty good at hitting that empty soda can if I do say so myself! I’ve always felt that some of the best memories that can be made are when you’re doing outdoor family activities-what can I say, it’s the “Wyoming Girl” in me!

Bob really liked the fact that this pistol weighs 1.9 lbs because it gives it the weight and feel of a real gun. The CO2 power makes it pack a punch and amps it up well above the level of a pump BBGun and makes it a suitable present for a 16 year old or a 28 year old! It also has a 16 shot bb clip that means he can hit up a target multiple times before reloading.

After picking up his Christmas present Bob wanted to go peek at “the real thing” Yeah–for 1/6th of the price I sure liked the price tag on the pistol we got Bob a whole lot better than this one!

Of course he couldn’t wait to get it out of the package so even though it’s freezing (for Texas that is) we went out and shot it today. Right now we’re living on 5 acres so it’s pretty cool that we can just head out back to shoot!

Having grown up around guns and hunting my entire life, and then as a military spouse, I’ve always been comfortable around guns and enjoy shooting them because I have a healthy respect for them. We keep all our guns locked in a closet in the house and both of the kids know that if they ever see a gun anywhere they are to NOT touch it and immediately come and get an adult. I firmly and deeply believe in the 2nd amendment and feel that people who are in healthy families who are around guns are actually far safer than those who are not—you all just need to be aware of the proper use and treatment of weapons. In our house you don’t point even an unloaded bbgun at someone-it’s just something you don’t do!

A little bit of an unconventional way to give hubby his Christmas present? Yes. Does it work for us? Absolutely! And really I think in creating a happy marriage-that’s the best thing you can possibly wish for!

You probably know, I am a member of the Collective Bias®  Social Fabric® Community.  This shop has been compensated as part of a social shopper insights study for Collective Bias™ and Daisy. As always I only bring you the best and my honest opinions! #CBias #SocialFabric #bb4me
 
Nicole Elliott

Christmas Literature for Children

Christmas Literature for Children

Since I’m a huge book lover-along with my kiddos-it’s no surprise that we also love Christmas books-reading them is a great tradition and they also make perfect gifts. Here are my very favorite books you’ll find in our personal Christmas Collection-we love them all and I’d highly recommend them-you can click through on the titles to read others reviews on Amazon and add them to your own collection!

The Snowman's Song: A Christmas Story
(you might remember My Review a few years ago!)

 

The Usborne Christmas Treasury (Usborne Miniature Editions)
A super fun hodge-podge of a Christmas book that includes a sweet version of Biblical Christmas Story, the story of the (real) St. Nicholas, Twas the Night Before Christmas, the story of Cinderella (though I’m not sure why that’s in there?), The Little Fir Tree (a sweet little story about a tree who becomes a Christmas tree) and a condensed version of the Nutcracker. It’s just right for Amber at 4 and it also includes several fun, easy craft ideas (shown step by step) and Christmas songs! Right now at $5.50 it’s a steal and definitely worth adding to your collection!

 

The Littlest Christmas Elf (Little Golden Book)
I’ve mentioned before that I Don’t Like Santa and that post still rings true. However this is one of my very favorite Christmas books ever! We had it when I was little and it brings back such nostalgia that I just had to find and purchase a copy! The story of Allister the little elf with big dreams who finds that he gets in the way and “can’t do anything right” once he arrives at the North Pole. Luckily he makes friends with a nice old elf named Nicholas and well…I won’t ruin the ending! A great story that helps teach that you’re never too small to be a big help! Used copies (like the one I purchased in great shape) start at a penny!
I actually received this book as a present when Amber was born. The gift giver explained that although she knew it would be years till I could use it she just loved it so much that she felt every family needed to have a copy. Of course that got my attention! This is the story of 2 little children who go to visit their Grandpa during Christmastime. While looking for decorations they end up finding all sorts of different items and the Grandpa describes how each item portrays an aspect of Jesus character (the manger, the door, the vine, the giver of living water, etc). This book is beautifully illustrated and I’ve never seen a book with such depth and truth written in a way that a younger child could understand-now I know why I was given it and I’m excited as this is the first year I’ll get to read it to Amber!
christmas backdrops
 There are so many great Christmas books but it’s hard to find many board books. I love this one because while it includes the well known Away in a Manger the rest of the lullabies are either English Traditional or Czech. They have poem like rhythms that are fun to read and that toddlers love-the CD (if included) is pretty fun–a little tinkly and “baby nursery music” sounding but over all sweet and nice. You can get a used copy for .99 cents!
Tonight You Are My Baby: Mary’s Christmas Gift
When I became a mother myself Mary’s role in Jesus life became so much more real and special to me! How would it have felt to hold the King of King in your arms? This book dives into those kinds of thoughts with beautiful phrases like, “I swaddle you in cloth, safely nestle you in hay. The sheep and cows are calm as I bow my head and pray. The precious donkey that brought us safely here Nuzzles you so softly, sensing God is near.” Deep enough in thought that it touches my heart with each reading the sweet rhythms also keep Amber & Tyler’s attention. I love that it easily also draws out discussion of how the babe in the manger is the King of Kings!

The Littlest Angel

Another beloved Christmas story from my childhood–this book is one of my all time favorites and as soon as I saw the new version I snatched up a copy for Amber! The story of a young Jewish boy who is sent to Heaven when he is only 4 years old it is a charming tale of God’s unconditional love and the power of a pure child like heart and faith and how the Christmas Star that lead the way to Jesus came about. Definitely should be read as an allegory/fable (as, no, I don’t believe people become angels when they die). This new edition has different pictures than the one I grew up with-and while they are beautiful I will still always have a soft spot for the 1980s version!

So there are all my favorites! What are your favorite Christmas Children’s Books? Please let me know in the comments!

Nicole Elliott

Easy Christmas Decorations

Of course most people do the normal Christmas decorations of a tree, wreaths, and ornaments. It’s always fun to switch it up a little bit–so I wanted to throw some fun ideas of easy, unique Christmas decorations you can try!

We move knick knacks around but rarely do we switch out our art work for something related to the season. Why not turn a beautiful or funny Christmas photo to canvas from Easy Canvas Prints? It would be an easy, beautiful switch that dresses up your walls!

Another fun & easy idea would be to order a festive banner from BuildaSign.com that says Merry Christmas. Hang it up on Christmas Eve in the living room or kitchen as a fun surprise for the kids-or use it to dress up a basement or patio that might otherwise be lacking in Holiday cheer!

I’m also in love with this wreath! Simple and cheap enough that I could do it easily! We have a ton of extra ornaments that never make it on our tree because we don’t have enough room–now I know what to do with them!!

As you should know by now I get waaaaay too many magazines! So I fell in love with this super simple, super gorgeous craft that reuses old magazines and turns them into these gorgeous Christmas trees!

Happy Decorating!

Nicole Elliott

Holiday Memories with Hickory Farms

Christmas Gift Guide


 Some of my  best memories from growing up revolved around Christmas-especially Christmas Eve. Each year we had the exact same agenda–first we’d attend the Candle Light Christmas Eve service at church, then it was off to squeeze far too many people into far too tight a space at my Grandparents house.

Family Christmas Eve
Christmas Eve 2008 — last time we had a big family Christmas Eve

There was always lots of laughter, silliness, presents, singing, Bible reading (the Christmas story ), and –of course–food! (My Grandma is 100% Italian–so we have a love of eating and being loud and crazy that runs throughout the family).

Romero sisters
Me (as a red head), Amber as a baby, & my sister Hannah

 While there were always the sweeter goodies the most popular snacks were usually platters from Hickory Farms–I don’t think there was a single one of us who didn’t love their Beef Summer Sausage & cheeses! A few years ago after I was “all growed up” and moved away my Grandparents sent me a Hickory Farms box for Christmas–it made me smile as it brought back many Christmas Eve Memories!

Hickory Farms

  
These days Christmas has radically changed for me as I have our my own little family and what was once my immediate family is now the extended family and the extended family–well, if we were all able to manage to get completely together for a holiday I don’t think we’d find any house big enough to fit us!

One of the things that hasn’t changed is Hickory Farms involvement in my holidays–time and time again over the years I’ve purchased it as a present–for my dad, my grandparents, my in-laws, a gift exchange. It’s the perfect gift to give someone you have no idea what to give–because everyone likes Hickory Farms–right??!! 

Hickory Farms  Home for the Holidays Gift Box


Hickory Farms is also the perfect military gift–their amazing new Home for the Holidays Gift Box includes all the best of Hickory Farms–sausage, crackers, cheeses, mustard & more! Best of all it ships for FREE free to APO/FPO addresses worldwide. If you’ve had a loved one deployed or living over seas you realize what a HUGE deal this is! It warmed my heart to know that a company that I have fond memories associated with is founded on great, gracious principles like supporting our military! 


Not to mention I can’t wait to devore this gift box–I’m giving it as a family gift but you better believe I’ll be mooching a little (hey it’s one of those kinds of gifts!)

Hickory Farms  Home for the Holidays Gift Box



Do you have any special holiday memories that involve food or any really cool traditions? Please leave me a comment and let me know what they were/are!

Just in time for the holidays one lucky reader will win a  Home for the Holidays Gift Box of their own!

 
a Rafflecopter giveaway
Nicole Elliott

10 Holiday Planning Tips

As much as I was still pretending it was summer, the snow in the air today convinced me that it is time to put away the flip flops, tank tops, and shorts and start focusing on the fun aspects of Fall and Winter–the holidays of course! Here are my top ten holiday tips to ensure a happy, festive, stress free time!

1. Come Up With a Game Plan
One of the best things you can do to ensure holiday success and not stress is to sit down and make a plan. Give yourself deadlines for each item on your list–when do you want all the gifts ordered by? When should you have them all shipped to make sure they get to everyone on time? When in your schedule works best for family pictures? By having dates planned out and then entered in your calendar (whether paper or digital) you can approach everything in orderly manner.

2. Make a Spreadsheet

Something I’m doing this year that is a great idea is to make a spreadsheet for everyone’s gifts. I created an easy spreadsheet in Google docs that has the name of the person, the idea of the Christmas gift, a column for if it’s purchased, one for if it’s wrapped, one for if it’s shipped, and a column for price. This helps me right now as I browse and brainstorm for gifts, and then helps me keep track of what I need to do next with each persons gift. This will also be great for keeping us in budget! If you’re the kind of person who buys gift throughout the year this would be invaluable as it would help you keep straight what you’ve actually purchased! If you’d like to see how this works out step by step and how to create your own check out this post: Budget Guide for Holiday Shopping

3. Schedule Pictures
Unless you want to be scrambling on Facebook last minute to see which one of your pictures you could possibly use for a Christmas Card I highly suggest getting your family pictures taken in October!

4. Order around discounts
If you start early enough you should be able to purchase most your gifts and most definitely your Christmas Cards at a discounted rate! Many of the businesses already have all their Christmas cards available and offer up to 50% off in months like October. I especially LOVE this design from Storkie.com!

5. Use a Menu Planner
I have been using the FlyLady holiday menu guide since I got married and it is AMAZING! It helps me know when to buy groceries, what to do in the days leading up to Thanksgiving/Christmas for the meal, and walks me step by step on cooking the huge feast the day of. I have been able to cook delicious feasts for my family thanks to it!

6. Ship Early
To avoid the crazy not fun Post Office lines in December ship your gifts early! One thing that I love to do is to ship my gift directly to the person it is for if I order it online. I usually ask someone else if they will wrap and give it to them, and allow them to do the same with gifts for my family. Shipping is so expensive it just seems silly to pay it twice!

7. Get Creative
Many of my friends have expressed not knowing what to do with all the photo cards people send them. I always make a collage of them either on our fridge or on a wall, then afterwords I have a photo album (one of the ones with the sticky back pages) that I put them all in. It’s great to have hard copy photos of all our friends!

8. Start traditions
In order to make putting out decorations fun and not a hassle make a tradition out of it. Pick a day every year to get them out and make an event of it, make h0t chocolate, put on festive music, bake some goodies, and have the whole family help!

9. Sit back and relax!
In the week leading up to Christmas if you’ve done all of the above you should be able to just sit back and do fun things like watching favorite movies, playing in the snow, and baking!

10. Hit the sales
Once Christmas is over hit up the after Christmas sales. You can find Christmas decorations, wrapping paper, gift tags, and gift sets like perfume extremely discounted. Take advantage of this and stock up for the following year, it’ll be one less thing to deal with 12 months later!

I wrote this blog post while participating in the Storkie holiday blogging program. I received compensation for my participation. All opinions are 100% mine.