Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Happy Birthday to Me!

Happy Birthday to Me! I am officially old. Well, not really, I shouldn't complain. I thought I'd post a few pics so you can see what I did on my big day! The main event was ice skating, thanks to some tickets my sweet sis got for us for Christmas. Above is a picture of me clinging to the rail as I gingerly scooted around the rink. Don't worry, by the end of the day I had let go of the rail!

I was so proud of my little man- this was his first time ice skating, and he was so nervous to try it he was nearly in tears, but he got out there like a champ and with the help of some buckets, before long he was scooting along all by himself! And he loved it!

Here is Chad and our little princess, who is FINALLY feeling better after having come down with the flu on Christmas Eve (poor little thing!). She wasn't so much a fan of the ice skating, so we just let her watch.

Can you tell I am SO happy she's feeling better?

This is me and my dad, who stopped by this morning on his way to work to give me this very sweet homemade card, and to let me know he's getting me a gun for my birthday. I love you, Dad!

The rest of my family is coming into town at the end of the week for a belated Christmas celebration, so I am excited to see them and celebrate some more! I am so grateful to God for all that I have been given, especially for all the special people in my life who make me so happy. Thanks everyone! I love you!

Monday, December 29, 2008

Makeover Monday: Cleaning in the New Year!

Okay, so we're approaching a new year, and in my house, instead of spring cleaning we do New Years cleaning! My hubby usually takes a week of vacation between Christmas and New Years, and we typically use part of that time together to get our house in shape. I am pretty good with keeping up with the day-to-day tidying in our high-traffic living spaces- kitchen, living room, bedrooms- but the clutter seems to collect in the corners, and especially here- try not to scream- THE OFFICE! (insert screeching violins here)

Yeah, this is the not-so-beautiful part of the beautiful thrifty life. But I have heard a rumor that the "home office" and/or "guest room" in many people's homes has a tendency to end up this way. It is not a place that really belongs to anyone, and it's not a place that's usually seen by the public. Therefore, it becomes the dumping ground for all the paper clutter, wrapping supplies, craft stuff, and pretty much all that stuff that you just don't know what to do with.

Well, our office is also my craft room, and doubles (triples?) as a guest room (there's a futon couch along one wall- not that you could tell...sigh...) when we have company (which, by the way, is usually the only time it's clean). Last year around this time we had guests, so I frantically worked to get this room clean, and I remember how following Christmas after our guests had left, I realized that I enjoyed having a clean office far more than any other gift I had received for Christmas. Over the year it collected clutter again, and got sporadically cleaned again when the arrival of company was pending, but as of this week it looked, yet again, like a bomb had gone off. 

One of my goals for this post was to demonstrate how something that seems overwhelming can actually be quite surmountable, if you start small. This is what I accomplished in this room in less than an hour:

It may not seem like much, and much of the cluttered look is due to my craft supply organization (or uh, lack thereof), but I now have floor space, desk space, and the couch is completely clear as well. 

I'd like to continue working on this room as my pet project over the next few months, and I will be sure to keep you updated. Honestly, I want it to be my gift to myself. My vision for this space is to have it be someplace truly beautiful, relaxing, and inspiring, where I can come to blog, create, and unwind. Already after I took this photo I had my husband help me hang some things that had been sitting under the desk for I-don't-know-how-many years! Included in those things were some awards I've received for musical performance, horseback riding, and academics. I wanted to have them displayed, because as a stay-at-home mom, sometimes it's nice to have a reminder of the "grownup things" you are capable of achieving!

Here are a few other "corners" that got decluttered this week:

My linen closet, aka, "Alternate CVS Stockroom". If you look closely, you can see the labels I put on the shelves. Yep, labels. :-) (By the way, that stack you see in the upper right-hand corner goes up another foot or so. It's mostly composed of toothpaste and feminine products!)

And my laundry room- it may not seem like much, but this is the first time in months that I've been able to see the floor and the top of my washer and dryer. My husband also installed more shelves (you can barely see them in the upper left corner) to hold all the extra cleaning supplies I've accrued from my deals shopping.

So again, it's not much, but it's feeling really good every time we take another load of garbage out to the trash cans, and pack another box full of stuff to take to Goodwill. I have really found that it's so much easier to keep your stuff organized when you have less stuff. As more corners get decluttered, I will be sure to share my successes.

Oh, and for all you guys out there who are wondering why I get my own space, you should know that my husband has his own man-cave down in the garage, with laminate flooring, walls covered in sports memorabilia, big screen tv, recliner, etc. So he's not missing out on anything. ANYTHING.

Have you started any New Years cleaning? Now is the time! Go for it and then leave a comment to share your success!

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Spiritual Sundays: Time for a Check-up!

Back in October I did a Spiritual Sundays post entitled, "Making Home a Sanctuary." Now that the new year is coming upon us, I would like to go revisit a few of the ideas I laid out in that post, and give you a brief accounting of how well I've done with the goals I set.

1. Begin each day with a prayer- I have been fairly consistent with doing this with the children as part of our morning devotional (it helps having a slightly OCD 4-year-old reminding me every day!) but I have not been good about my personal prayers in the morning. That is something I would like to work on.

2. Prepare for each day the night before- I have been pretty good about doing this, though there were definitely some nights where the dishes didn't get done, my son's clothes didn't get laid out (probably because he didn't have any that were clean) and the house was more cluttered than I would have liked it. I have found, however, that doing those things is like giving myself a gift. When I wake up to a clean house, a son who is dressed, and my things for the day by the door and ready to go, I feel so much calmer and happier. This year I will push myself a little bit more in the evenings so that I have that peaceful feeling when I wake up.

3. Plan dinner ahead of time- this has probably been the area where I would get the "Most Improved" award! Each week I have sat down and planned my menus at the same time I'm planning my grocery list, and as soon as I'm done, the weekly menu plan gets printed off my computer and posted on the fridge. Then, when it's dinnertime, it's a no-brainer to just check the menu.

4. Play some soft instrumental music- During Christmastime I always had the radio on the Christmas music station, and it really brought a cheerful spirit into the home. I think that I will continue to use music to uplift the mood and atmosphere in our home.

5. Light a nicely scented candle- okay, so this wasn't really a goal, but I have done it more often. My sweet sister-in-law and her husband gave us the most wonderfully scented candle for Christmas and I just love the warmth and the atmosphere. Definitely going to continue doing that. :-)

6. Open shades and blinds to let sunlight in- oops, haven't really done that in my kids' rooms. I will work on that.

7. Keep smiling- Oh, it's hard, but how I try!

8. Speak softly- I don't necessarily know if I have gotten better at this, but I have certainly become more aware of the volume level of my voice over the past few months. The thing I most need to work on is when I hear bickering or crying in another room and I'm busy doing something elsewhere and so I just scream for the kids to come to where I am so I can break up the fight. I think I'll try to go to the source of the problem so I can avoid escalating the contention with my tone of voice.

9. Give abundant praise and express heartfelt gratitude- I will admit, I am much bettter about doing this with my children than I am with my husband. I need to make it a priority to focus on all the things he does right rather than nitpick at his shortcomings. I will work on that.

10. Leave extra time- this is an area I still need to work on a LOT! However, I have had a few days when I have just decided that what I wanted to do was not what was best for my family, so I have cut out a few activities so we weren't running around like maniacs, and I think I need to continue to have that kind of awareness of my family's needs. I also need to plan my time better to allow for slower-paced conversational moments with my kids (rather than "PUT YOUR SHOES ON ALREADY!!). That would be good. :-)

11. Display reminders of what you believe in- I actually have a framed copy of The Living Christ sitting in the hallway ready to hang. Seeing images of my Savior on a daily basis helps me to remember to whom I am truly accountable.

12. End the day with a prayer of thanksgiving and a blessing upon your home- I have had the habit of saying my evening prayers every single night since I was a little girl, and I have found that I can't go to sleep without it. That time, those thoughts, and those words are special to me, and I especially see it as a time to express my gratitude to my Father for all that He has given to me. It is a habit I hope I will never break.

From this list I can see that I still have many things to work on; but I can also see that I have done a lot of things really well, and so I am hopeful that if I just keep trying, with the help of my Heavenly Father I will be able to strengthen all my weaknesses. I'll just try to do a little better every day, and with each day my home will become more of a sanctuary, and thus a haven where my family can flourish. I know that it is a process, and there is a time and a season to everything. 

Speaking of a process, I am currently in the process of a massive cleaning/decluttering/organizing undertaking in my home, which should also help with making it a sanctuary. Check back tomorrow for Makeover Monday to see the progress we've made thus far!

What have you done to make your home a sanctuary? What are some of your goals for this for the coming year?

Friday, December 26, 2008

Some After-Christmas Sale Tips

Chances are, if you're reading this then you're interested in saving money, so you'll probably be up for hitting the after-Christmas sales for some hot deals. I happened upon this great website with some really interesting info about the things to look for and how to shop. Just wanted to pass it along...check it out for some great tips!

Photo by Deseret News


Okay, this one is completely random, but I was on a message board and this image was posted in response to someone's all-capped post:

Ha ha! Good one to have on file for those perpetual caps lock abusers. ;-) Happy Day after Christmas, everyone!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas Wishes

Merry Christmas to All...

 ...and to All a Good Night.

A Few Last-Minute Wrapping Tips

Running out of ribbon? Try a few leftover scraps of patterned wrapping paper...

I had originally intended to do a post with lots of great gift-wrapping ideas, but one day I turned around and suddenly it was two days till Christmas! So here is a very abbreviated version, but hopefully you can snag a few ideas for your upcoming wrap-a-thon. 

In the photo above, I used plain brown paper for the wrapping, and then I used strips of patterned paper as a faux ribbon, then added a cream net ribbon around the outside. My sister-in-law is very into nature and "going green" so I thought she would enjoy the natural look.

This photo is the "before" picture, to illustrate a wrapping technique to crisp up the edges of your gifts. Simply pinch the corners and run your fingers along the edges...

And your gifts will have a nice professionally-wrapped look to them! It's hard to tell from the photos, and it's a subtle effect anyway, but I think it's a nice touch.

Here is the finished gift- just added a little ribbon and it's ready to go. This is my favorite wrapping paper, by the way. 

Merry Christmas, and the best of luck to you and your wrapping!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

A CVS Christmas!

What $1.67 can get you at CVS...

CVS brought Christmas a few days early with their 2-day Free After ECBs sale! My local CVS didn't have everything in stock, but I still brought home a good haul. Here are the numbers:

- Got $75 worth of merchandise
- Did 4 different transactions
- Spent $1.67 out of pocket
- Have $27.15 in Extra Care Bucks to spend next time!

And here is the list of what I got:

- Halls Natural cough drops
- Listerine mouthwash
- Benefiber drink mix
- Zantac 150 heartburn medicine
- 2 Arm & Hammer Essentials starter kits
- EAS Carb Control shakes 4-pack
- EAS Carb Control bar
- ZipFizz energy drink mix
- 2 Sally Hansen nail polish
- Excedrin Express Gels
- Chapstick (filler)
- 2 L'Oreal HIP metallic eyeshadows
- SlimQuick Energy Boost

It was a little bit brain-bending trying to get through all the transactions, but with a little faith (and almost certainly divine assistance) I came out on top, and I am very pleased with the results. :-)

As a side note, for those of you who are intrigued by the "couponing life", January will make 1 year since I started, so I will be starting a series sometime next month about how I began, my strategies, and a few tips and tricks to help out beginners. Don't miss it!

Did you take advantage of the 2-day sale? How'd you do? Leave a comment and share!

Elegant (and easy!) Chocolate Truffles

I discovered this recipe in a magazine a few years ago, and it is so easy and so elegant and so SO delicious that these truffles have become a Christmas tradition for me. In years past we have made them for friends and family (in lieu of cookies or fudge) and this year I made them for all of the Primary teachers at church as a gift from the Primary Presidency of which I am a member.

Here is the recipe:

- 8 oz. cream cheese, softened
- 3 cups confectioners (powdered) sugar
- 3 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips, melted
- 1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

Beat cream cheese in a large bowl until smooth. Gradually beat in confectioners sugar until blended. Mix in melted chocolate and vanilla until mixture is uniform in color. Refrigerate for 1 hour.

Form into 1" balls, then roll balls in coatings to cover. Coatings can include colored sprinkles (red and green sugar sprinkles are really pretty), powdered sugar (that's my favorite!), nuts, crushed peppermint (I crushed up some candy canes using a rolling pin), or another layer of chocolate (allow to cool until hardened). Makes about 60 truffles.

Pictured below is the packaging I made for my truffles: each roll contains 4 different truffles wrapped in wax paper and wrapping paper with a note on the outside; then I tied the ends with ribbon.

As you can see from the platter pictured at the top of this post, these can also make a very festive treat for any holiday gathering. I have also tried variations in white chocolate, which were delicious as well.

For more homemade Christmas gift ideas, click here.

To see what others are talking about this Tuesday, check out the Lazy Organizer's Talk About Tuesday blog carnival!

Have a beautiful thrifty day! (And a very Merry Christmas!)

Monday, December 22, 2008

Makeover Monday: Reflecting Roses

Junky catch-all mirror before...

As I mentioned on my Christmas Home Tour post, I like to see something beautiful when I first walk into my home, and this mirror had become something of an eyesore. It has a great little box on the front, which looks silly when it's empty, but can look junky when it's full of random stuff: mail, keys, rubber bands, etc. So I decided to fill it with something beautiful. It reminded me of a window box, so I went to the Dollar Store and found some pretty red velvety roses to brighten up the space. I know, faux flowers are not exactly a high-end decorating item, but I thought these were very pretty and for $4, they were a great bargain as well! 

I chose the red roses because they would fit in nicely with my Christmas decor, and they will be seasonal through Valentines Day as well. When spring comes, I can fill it with a new variety of blooms. Either way, now I smile whenever I walk through my front door!

For more Makeover Mondays, click here!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Spiritual Sundays: Inviting Him Back In

Notice, there is no handle on the outside of the door...

Over the last few weeks I have written about how we seem to have lost Christ in our Christmas celebrations, and about how He has given us the greatest gift of all. Today I wanted to address a few ideas for how we can bring Christ back to Christmas, and celebrate Him especially during the Christmas season- but not only during the Christmas season. Here are a few of our Christmas traditions, as well as some traditions I have heard about from other families, and things I hope to incorporate into my family as well.

- A new kind of advent calendar- I love the idea of a Jesse Tree, and recently I found a different version of this in the December issue of the Friend Magazine. With this sort of advent calendar, each day leading up to Christmas you look up a different scripture having to do with Jesus Christ. This is something that I have done a little bit of (though not consistently) with my kids this month for our morning devotionals. They get excited to get further along, and it's a great way to tie in the excitement with Jesus.

- Make your own decorations- Last year for a Family Home Evening activity, I printed up some scenes from the nativity story for our family to color- angels, shepherds, baby Jesus, etc. I took the pictures and hung them up as part of our Christmas decorations. I think it would be neat to do this every year and save the pictures so you can see how your family has grown as the children's coloring skills improve.

- Give a gift to Christ- As a family, have each person think of something they would like to work on during the coming year and write it down as their gift to Jesus. Ideas could include being nicer to siblings, reading scriptures, saying daily prayers, giving more service to others, etc. Place each note in a box and wrap it. The following year, open the gifts and see how you've done, then write new notes for the next year.

- Have a candlelight walk- On Christmas Eve, we like to turn out all the lights in the house except for one down by the nativity scene. After the kids have their pajamas on, we start in their rooms and light candles, then walk quietly downstairs to visit the Christ child in the manger. There we read the nativity story from the Book of Luke, and we sing Silent Night. It's a great way to peacefully bring the focus back to our Savior.

- Limit the gifts- I read about one family who decided that if Jesus received 3 gifts at His birth, then that was enough for their children on Christmas as well. They limited each child to 3 thoughtfully chosen gifts, reminding them that the Savior is first above all.

- Give gifts of the heart- Celebrate the love you have for family and friends by writing heartfelt notes to them. Rather than spending time and money on finding the perfect gift, instead spend the time to write them a letter about how much they mean to you. Notes and letters with genuine words can mean so much more than an expensive gift and a quickly scribbled card. These also make great stocking stuffers.

- Give gifts of time- This time of year can get pretty crazy, so set aside some time each week for a family activity. Have each family member write down something that they would like to do together as a family, whether it's watching a movie and having popcorn or driving around to look at the festive lights, then each week choose something to do. There's no better way to celebrate the Christmas season than spending quality time with your family.

- (And the Grand Finale) A different sort of gift exchange- I have a growing extended family, and buying gifts for everyone is getting increasingly overwhelming, both timewise and moneywise. This year we put a budget limit on gifts, but it still seems sort of crazy to me, especially when we all already seem to be so blessed- we all have roofs over our heads, food to eat, clothes to wear, jobs, and transportation. So my suggestion for my family for next year was this: let's take all the money we would have spent on Christmas gifts for each other and use it to help others who are less fortunate throughout the year. We will keep our good deeds a secret until Christmas, and at our annual get-together, rather than exchange gifts we will share our experiences helping others. We can even focus our efforts on a particular family member; for example, my mother absolutely loves horses (hers and everyone else's!) so I could donate bags of feed and maybe a few hours of my time to an equestrian rescue facility in her honor. My sister-in-law is very eco-friendly, so I could maybe plant some trees in her name. It would be like doing a family "Big Give" (like Oprah's Big Give), and it would be fun to see how creative we could be, and how far we could make our money go, not to mention the joy we would get from serving others. I am very excited about this idea, and I can't wait to see how it progresses over the years.

My favorite thing about this last idea is that it celebrates the true reason we exchange gifts- if Christ was on the earth, we would give Him gifts for Christmas. But He is not, yet He has said, "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me." We give to others because by bringing joy to our brothers and sisters, we bring joy to our Savior. What better way to celebrate His birth in a meaningful way than by giving to those who need it the most?

Dear Friends, I sincerely hope and pray that this Christmas you resolve to invite Christ back in. How sad it would be to have a celebration of His birth where He was not invited as the honored guest! These are just a few suggestions that can get us started on the right path, that He may know how much we treasure Him and the ultimate gift He has given us through the example of His life and His death. 

Does your family have any special Christmas traditions that are focused on Christ? Please leave a comment and share!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

My Christmas Home Tour

Welcome, blog readers, to the virtual tour of my Christmas decorations. I love sparkly lights, and since I always enjoy sharing the things I love with you, I thought I would take you on a virtual tour of all the sparkly lights in my home. :-)

The first stop is the staircase- I always love to light the staircase because it is the first thing that I and my guests see when we walk in the front door, and it just gives off a warm welcoming glow.

This is the wreath that would have greeted you as you entered. I made this wreath the first year my husband and I were married, because I couldn't find any wreaths I really liked that didn't cost an arm and a leg. I simply used a wreath form, some ribbon and doo-dads, and a little hot glue, and voila! A beautiful wreath that we have used and loved every Christmas for the past 7 years. The jingle bells at the bottom are my little reminder of home, where every year my family would hang real sleigh bells on the door. Every time the door would open and close, I'd hear the bells jingle, and the sound of it always puts me in the Christmas spirit.

The next stop is the living room, where all of the stockings are hung by the chimney with care, and sparkly lights glow everywhere! That tiny stocking in the middle is for my son's teddy bear, Bobby. He is a member of the family. Oh, and of course I have my vase of ornaments on the mantel as well. 

To the left of the mantel sits our very cool fiber optic Santa. This guy has special meaning for me, because it was one of the first Christmas decorations that my husband and I bought when we first got married. I love the way he shimmers and sparkles, and the light from his lantern makes a really neat patterned shadow on the wall.

Alas, our Christmas tree! Which, by the way, has now fallen down twice. We had a few ornament casualties, but I think that now it's stable- knock on wood! You probably can't see it very well, but we also have a "Santa Express" train that runs around the bottom. That's my son's favorite part. :-)

I have saved the best for last. This is my nativity, which was given to me as a Christmas gift by my high school seminary teacher. I have always loved its simplicity and beauty, and since my teacher recently passed away, it has grown even more special to me. Whenever I look at it, I think of her wonderful example as a follower of Christ, and how hard she worked to try to get a little bit of gospel knowledge into our thick teenage heads. It holds place of honor on our end table under a lamp that shines light on it, and I love the way Baby Jesus is so brightly illuminated in this photo. The scene just looks so peaceful and loving.

May you all have peace, love, and beauty in your homes this holiday season. 

Swag Bucks Code! Get Your Free Swagbucks!

Search & Win

This is for all of my awesome Swag Friends out there- thanks to you guys, I am only 40 bucks away from a sweet gift card, and I am happy to see that so many of you are having as much fun collecting Swag Bucks as I am!! At the rate you guys are winning them combined with the ones I win every day, I should be getting that gift card in a few days!

Anyway, to show my appreciation (and to get more Swagbucks) I wanted to pass along a code for one FREE Swagbuck- just go to your "Your Swagbucks" page (or click on the box that says how many Swagbucks you have) and enter code SWAGGERNAUT (codes are case-sensitive, so use all caps) to automatically add one more Swagbuck to your account.

For those of you who haven't started with the fun yet, you can sign up here and start winning SwagBucks just by doing internet searches. Then, you can use your swagbucks for gift cards for Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Target, and many more popular stores. Also, if you get your friends to sign up under you then you earn another Swagbuck every time they earn another Swagbuck

Have a Swaggy day! ;-) 

Friday, December 19, 2008

Funny Friday: Some Last-Minute Gift Ideas

I am a big fan of Dave Barry, so I have to share this one- Dave Barry's Holiday Gift Guide.

And don't forget "Dave's Unconditional Lifetime Warranty: If you purchase any of these gift items, and at any time during your lifetime you experience any kind of problem whatsoever with the item, simply place it in its original container and toss it in a dumpster. We will take it from there."

 Treat yourself to a laugh today! Enjoy!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Need a Last-Minute Gift?

80% off Savings on Dinner of the Month Club Purchase. Code SANTA. 12/16/08 thru 12/21/08.

If you've never purchased a gift certificate from restaurant.com, now is the time to do it! $25 restaurant gift certificates are on sale for $2. To read about the $15 date my husband and I had using our restaurant.com gift certificate, click here

Because these gift certificates are more like coupons (you usually have to spend at least $35 to use a $25- but that still means that a really nice dinner will only cost you $10!), I think they're great for hostess gifts, holiday tips for babysitters, hairdressers, or anyone else you'd like to show your appreciation for without purchasing a big-ticket item. 

Just click below- only $2!!!
 Happy Holidays, everyone...

Makeover Monday (A Day Late): Wrap it Up!

I apologize that this Makeover Monday turned into a "Makeover Tuesday", but my sweet husband needed the camera yesterday so I was unable to snap these beautiful photos. :-) And since it's Tuesday, I thought I'd add this to the Talk About Tuesday blog carnival from the Lazy Organizer. Welcome!

I am pleased to say that all of my Christmas shopping is done, with the exception of a few stocking stuffers. Thanks to amazon.com, all of the gifts I have purchased have been arriving with regularity in boxes on my doorstep, and I have not had to set one foot inside a mall or crazy department store. (By the way, you can still get Free Super Saver Shipping on orders over $25 at amazon.com, and if you order by tomorrow you can still get your items in time for Christmas!)

So now I am facing quite a few gifts in need of wrapping- luckily, not as many as last year since I did such a good job sticking to my Declaration of Independence and carefully selecting only a few quality gifts for each of my children. :-) However, the presents do add up, and they must be wrapped. Upon assembling all of my various wrapping supplies, minus ribbons and bows, this is what I had to face:

Well, rather than going out and spending $10 or more on a fancy wrapping organizer, I decided that a garment bag would do the trick:

It holds all the rolls of wrapping and some folded-up gift boxes, and with a hanger in the top it hangs neatly in the closet. Just add on a plastic shopping bag with all of the tools and accssories- scissors, tape, tissue paper, tags, etc.- and I have a portable wrapping center that cost about $1.50. :-)

Here is the bag hanging up:

No more running around searching for tape and scissors; no more wondering where that one roll of Santa paper went- it's all nice and neat and can be hung up and tucked away in a closet until I need it. 

Okay, I gotta go now. I have gifts to wrap, people!

Check back later this week for some nifty gift wrapping ideas...

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Spiritual Sundays: The Ultimate Christmas Gift

Over two thousand years ago, a child was born in a humble stable in Bethlehem, born to live a perfect life and to die a perfect death out of love for all mankind. Today I would like to consider the perfect gift that He has given to each of us through His Atonement.

The Atonement had always been something of a mystery to me. Growing up, in church I would hear all about how Jesus saved us from our sins, and that because He died for us, we can all return to live with our Father in Heaven again. But I never understood how. I couldn't make the connection between His suffering and death giving us eternal life. Fortunately, earlier this year I read a book called, "The Peacegiver" by James Ferrell. 

In this book, the author uses a story from the Bible to metaphorically illustrate the Atonement. One day as I was reading it while eating my lunch, I paused for a moment to go get something from the pantry and I remember stopping dead in my tracks, as the words I had been reading seemed to suddenly fall into perfect order, like pieces of a puzzle, and I could finally see the whole picture. I was so stunned, I immediately called my mother to share my insight with her.

What I learned that day in the kitchen is that as spiritual beings we live within a spectrum. On one end of the spectrum is total sin, or spiritual death, where Satan resides. On the other end is perfection and exaltation where Heavenly Father resides. The area in between these two extremes is like an obstacle course, with various temptations designed to test our spiritual strength, causing us to either fall back toward spiritual death or overcome and move closer to perfection. When Christ suffered for all mankind, He took a journey from the presence of the Father all the way through every obstacle (temptation) to the very edge of spiritual death and then turned around and passed back through every obstacle to return to exaltation. And throughout it all, He remained spotless and perfect. He never faltered on any temptation; He passed through each test with flying colors.

We are not perfect. We approach these temptations, these obstables, and we struggle. We falter and we fall, as we often try to manage them on our own. But because Christ has been through every possible obstacle we may face on our journey, He is a perfect Guide. He is standing right with us, and His hand is extended. He knows the best way to ford the river, to climb the walls, and to pick through the minefields of sin and temptation, yet we think we can do it on our own. What we don't understand is that we can't possibly climb that wall or ford that river on our own- these obstacles are designed to require two people to overcome them. We were never meant to take the journey alone, and we can only reach our Father in Heaven by taking Christ's hand that He offers us through His loving Atonement and letting Him pull us up and carry us over.

A few weeks ago I was asked to give a talk in church about Salvation and Exaltation, and as I was writing the talk, I was blessed with another deeper understanding of the love Jesus has for each of us. We often hear of Christ "suffering for our sins", and I think that many of us view His suffering much like suffering that we endure. But I realized, His suffering had nothing to do with the pain our sins caused Him- His pain was purely out of His sorrow for the pains our sins would cause us. It's like a mother whose child is about to fall from a great height. She reaches out her hand to catch him, and in doing so she cuts a deep gash in her arm. At that moment, she could care less about the pain in her arm- she cares only for the danger her child was in, and for the fear he was feeling. Her pain is not her own, much like the Savior's pain was not His own. 

The most beautiful part of this gift our Savior has given us is that He doesn't care how weak we are. He doesn't care if spiritually, we can barely put one foot in front of the other. He loves us so much that all we have to do is ask and He will gladly carry us over every obstacle. To Him we are precious and amazing and beautiful, and He wants desperately to help us, to take us in His arms and bring us safely home, yet so many of us push Him away. But no matter how many times He is pushed away, He loves us still, with a fierce and unwavering love that is without end. We may pridefully go our own way, but the second we humble ourselves and ask for Him, He will be by our side in a heartbeat, with nothing but love and guidance. What an incredible blessing and gift that is.

So this Christmas, I would like to celebrate this gift- the Ultimate Gift- that Christ has given us. It is His love, His love that has made it possible to return to our Father in Heaven despite all of our shortcomings and weaknesses. His love that reminds us that there is nothing in this life that we cannot overcome with Him by our side, if only we invite Him in. His love that sacrificed all that He had and ached for all we would have to suffer if not for Him. 

There is no way that I can ever give enough to Him to repay His gift to me, and so all I can offer is my heart, and my outstretched hand to accept His eternal gift of love. I will vow to forgive others, for I know that His gift was for them as well. And no matter how many times I may feel that I have been offended by another, my anger and hurt are unfounded because I know that whatever anyone else may take away from me, my Savior is there to give it back, for He has paid for the offender's sins as well. I will strive to share His love with those around me, that they too might be willing and able to accept His gift. I will try to live as He would have me live, that His gift to me might not be in vain.

May we all remember the Ultimate Christmas Gift, and celebrate this Christmas with an attitude of deep gratitude for all that He has given us.

To learn more about my beliefs as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, please visit www.mormon.org.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Super Savings Saturday: Chocolate, Toys, and Holiday Shine!

$0.07 chocolate at CVS!

I had a slow start to my "deals shopping" this week, but once I got going, I got some great stuff! 

As you can see from the photo above, I took advantage of the Hershey's deal at CVS. I bought 7 bags of Hershey's Bliss at $3, making it $21. Then I used 2 $2.25/2 coupons from the 9/14 paper insert which brought it down to $16.50. Lucky me, I had also picked up several $1/1 coupons from a "blinkie" inside Walgreens a couple of months ago, so I was able to use 3 of those which brought the total down to $13.50. Add in my $3/$15 CVS coupon and the $10 in ECBs I got back from doing the deal, and I walked out of there with 7 bags of chocolate for $0.50 total!!! Do I need that much chocolate? No. Do I want that much chocolate? Yes. Will I keep all that chocolate? No, I'm planning on using it to put in little gift baggies for my friends with a poem. :-)

Moving on to Walgreens (see photo below), I took advantage of their great deal on the Arm & Hammer laundry detergent, and while I was unable to get the coupons for these to print, I still picked them up to qualify for the $5 RR when you spend $25. I also grabbed 2 Maybelline lip products which were B1G1, and I got the more expensive ones (I wanted something I liked for my husband's office Christmas party tonight) and I only had 1 $4/1 coupon for those. And of course, I grabbed the 2 3-packs of Scotch tape which were free after rebate. I used a $6 RR from last week to help pay, and even with my lack of coupons and getting the more expensive lipstick, my total was still only $4.67 (which I paid using my gift card) and I got back $5 in RRs for next time. I can't complain!

Spent $4.67, got back $5!
My final two conquests were getting $90 worth of gifts for my daughter on Amazon for $30 (they have some killer deals on toys right now!) and spending $3.76 on some really cute address labels for our family and getting back $5 from InboxDollars. Read more about that here.

By the way, my Swagbucks earnings are starting to add up- yesterday I won 10 Swagbucks at once doing a search! It was a pleasant shock to see that "10" pop up! I am now up to 83 Swagbucks- getting close to getting a nice gift card. If you haven't joined yet, you're missing out! Sign up here.

How did you do this week? Score any great deals??

Friday, December 12, 2008

Funny Friday: Oh, the Messes She Can Make

Okay, so these images may not be laugh-out-loud funny, but if you're a mom, you should at least be able to offer an empathetic sigh.

My daugher is messy. Every day, and in every way, she is just messy. See Exhibit A: The Cupcake:

I personally see this photo as a very accurate representation of my daughter's personality as a whole.

Exhibit B: When Markers Attack:

I can't get mad at her for being creative, can I?

Exhibit C: Mud Monster:

I hate to say this, but yes, her mouth is open. And full of mud. I am guessing from her expression that she has realized that this was not a wise move on her part.
Exhibit D: When Markers Attack II: Red Revenge:

At least in this one she seems to be smiling apologetically, as if to say, "Yep, Mom. I did it again. Oops."

Oh well. I love her, whether she's covered in mud, food, or even if she's all different colors. She's still my little princess and I will probably be cleaning her up for the next 16 years. :-)

Please say I'm not alone in the mess department here- any messy kid stories or photos to share?

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Free Address Labels Plus $1.24 Profit with Inbox Dollars!

Remember my post last week about Inbox Dollars? Well, I wished I had some exact numbers for you to show how great the deals can be, but I didn't. Fortunately, another great offer popped up in my inbox today- order select FREE products from Vista Print, get $5.00 from Inbox Dollars. Well, I ordered a really cute set of 150 sticky return address labels that I custom designed with cariacatures of each family member (even the cat and the dog!) and I only paid for the shipping which cost $3.76. I chose the priority shipping option (most expensive) so I could get the labels in time to use them for our Christmas cards. 

So basically, I made $1.24 off the deal, and I will now have some super-cute address labels! The only advice- stick with the free stuff! After you place your order, they will show you a ton of other customized products you can purchase, and a million other offers you can do. Just skip 'em and get your free stuff!

Sign up for Inbox Dollars today and get a $5 sign-up bonus when you sign up here

Ahh, I love freebies...

Monday, December 8, 2008

Off-Topic But Important

This post will definitely be off my usual subjects, but I know that the majority of my audience is like me- female, likely a mother, probably a mother to young children- and so I have decided to address a topic that has become important to me recently. The topic is women and guns. 

Don't run screaming to another blog, I am not going to go all G.I. Jane on you. I just want to briefly share my story and encourage you to keep an open mind. A couple of years ago, just before my little girl turned one and my son was 2, my husband and I were awakened by our house alarm at 4:30 am. We could see from the system touch pad screen in our room that the front door had been opened. My husband grabbed his gun and stationed himself at the top of the stairs, pointing the gun down toward the opened front door while I called 911 and grabbed my baby daughter and took her into my son's room at the end of the hall. 

We were fortunate that the intruder was scared off by the alarm, but the whole experience left me feeling extremely vulnerable as I realized how defenseless I had been in that room alone with the children. What if something had happened to Chad? How would I protect myself and my children? Those thoughts are what propelled me into eventually concluding that I needed to have my own gun, and I needed to know how to use it and be comfortable using it.

Shortly after that unnerving night, my husband took me to the target range to shoot his gun. However, it was heavy and very awkward for me to use, and in his excitement he glossed over most of the safety instructions, basically just telling me to point and shoot. I didn't do so well, and the experience made me feel even worse about my situation, making me question if I could ever really successfully defend myself using a gun.

Fast forward to this past July, when my brother e-mailed me a Craigslist posting he had seen looking for a female who was considering purchasing a gun for the first time. I looked into it, and it had been posted by the National Geographic Channel as part of their preparation for an upcoming show about guns in America. I responded to the ad, and after a series of e-mails and phone calls with the producer, we scheduled a weekend for filming. 

To make this long post shorter, the show will be airing tomorrow night (Tuesday Dec. 9th) at 10pm on the National Geographic Channel. My story will be one of many, but I am hoping that it is portrayed in a way that was true to my experience as I worked with the crew over the weekend of filming. They took me to a gun show where I had the opportunity to talk with some very nice and helpful people who began to 'show me the ropes' of gun usage and ownership, and then they hooked me up with a fantastic instructor who took me step by baby step through gun safety and, eventually, actually firing the gun. 

My whole perspective changed completely over the course of those two days, and I am certain that there are other women out there who probably feel much like I did in the beginning- anxious, trepidatious, and even just scared- who could watch this show and realize that they don't have to feel that way. A gun is a tool that is available for you to use to protect yourself and your children, and if you treat it that way and embrace knowledge rather than fear, then you can stop being a victim and take responsibility for your life and your protection.

To read more about my experiences with filming, check out my entry on the National Geographic Channel Blog.  For a brief synopsis of the show, check out National Geographic Explorer Episodes: Guns in America.

Let's hope I don't make myself look like a complete dork. ;-) 

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Spiritual Sundays: What Happened to CHRISTmas?

The Nativity from Reflections of Christ by Mark Mabry

During my long post-Thanksgiving drive last weekend, I was listening to the radio and hearing a lot of Christmas music, which I love. But as I listened, I started to get really annoyed. I think the song was, "Joy to the World":

Joy to the world, the Lord is come
Let Earth receive her King
Let every heart prepare Him room...

As I listened to these words, I was frustrated, because here was a radio station that usually played all sorts of rock songs and love songs, and every other kind of random song- why was it that radio stations can only play music about Jesus Christ at Christmastime? If we really want earth to receive her King, and for every heart to make room for Him, then why only think about Him once a year? Why does the world only celebrate the "reason for the season" during the season? 

Our Savior has given us everything- He came to earth as a man and suffered all pains and afflictions so that all mankind could be saved, and mankind only seems to notice for one month out of the year, and unfortunately, even that one month has gotten so polluted with the bells and whistles of celebration that most people have forgotten what we're even celebrating. That's what bothers me.

If you think about it, it was really quite the clever plan that Satan devised. He took the celebration of the sacred birth of Jesus Christ and said, "Hmm...how can I turn this away from Christ and instead focus it on all my favorite things- selfishness, greed, stress, pride, and frivolity?" So then he took the part of Christmas that was supposed to celebrate our desire to become more Christlike- the giving of gifts- and made it all about the gifts rather than the giving. Christmas has become all about the gifts. It's about shopping, wrapping, baking, trees, and decorations. It's about making lists of things you want to get, and lists of things you have to buy. It's about giving a gift that's better than everyone else's, and most likely spending more money than you have to do so. Somewhere along the way, Christ got forgotten amid all the shopping and wrapping and partying.

So I would like to challenge you to put Christ back in your Christmas. And I will offer you two places to start. The first is a beautiful piece of prose entitled, "Mary's Dream." I loved this so much that I sent it out to our friends and family last year as our Christmas card.

The second is a bit of homework in preparation for next week's Spiritual Sunday post- I would like you to visit Reflections of Christ. I will warn you ahead of time- this will probably touch your heart and perhaps make you cry. It is a slideshow of some incredible art photography of the Savior's life set to music, and it is one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen. It touches me every single time. I think that watching this is a beautiful way to truly celebrate Christmas.

"For God so loved the world that He gave His only Begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life."- John 3:16

For more about what I believe as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, check out www.mormon.org.
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