Make Christmas Matter: Birthday Cake for Jesus

Make Christmas MatterIn our house, Christmas is a birthday party. And you know what that means.


Every year, our family bakes a birthday cake for Jesus. This helps us keep our focus on the true reason for Christmas, plus it adds an extra bit of fun to the festivities. Here are a few ways to make your birthday cake activity extra special, and to stretch the value of that cake for all it’s worth.

1. Bake together. In our family, we don’t just eat the cake; we make the baking process a party in itself. First, my girls get to decide what flavor cake and frosting they want, as well as what shape—9×13 pan, two-tiered round, or cupcakes. They help with mixing and measuring and making a mess. Then once our cake is baked and cooled, my kiddos get the honor of decorating it. That means I frost and they sprinkle—and sprinkle and sprinkle and sprinkle. Besides church, this is their favorite activity on Christmas Eve.

2. Purchase a store-bought cake. If you like the idea of a birthday cake for Jesus but you don’t want yet another to-do on your list, buy one. Why? Because it’s a wonderful witness. I once had a Bible study leader who ordered her cake from the grocery store bakery every year simply because it opened the door to share Jesus with others. The bakery staff would remark, what a sweet idea. Other shoppers saw her wheeling a huge bakery box in her cart with “Happy Birthday, Jesus” scrolled in red icing. For some of those people, it was the only moment throughout the season in which they made the connection between Christmas and Jesus.

3. Let them eat cake—for breakfast! Who says Santa is the only reason kids get giddy about Christmas morning? As soon as the presents are ripped open and our bellies start rumbling, we Kopitzkes—Mom and Dad included—light those birthday candles and sink our forks into some gooey birthday cake for breakfast. No lie, my girls get just as excited over the cake as they do about the gifts under the tree. Birthday cake for breakfast is a highlight of our Christmas.

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Now for a special bonus, I thought I’d share with you my very favorite chocolate cake recipe—the easiest, most fail-proof, moist and delicious cake on the planet—recipe compliments of our dear family friend, Mom Judy. Seriously, you can’t mess up this cake. Plus it’s egg-free so the kids can lick the spoon!

Mom Judy’s Jiffy Cake

3 cups flour
2 cups sugar
6 Tblsp. cocoa
2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
2 tsp. vanilla
2 Tblsp. vinegar
2/3 cup vegetable oil
2 cups cold water

Mix flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, and salt in a 9×13 inch baking pan. (Yes, right in the pan—by hand.) Make three wells in the dry ingredients mixture and pour vanilla, vinegar, and water over all. Mix well. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 to 40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Note: You can mix everything in a mixing bowl first if you prefer. I often use this recipe to make cupcakes. Bake them for 18 minutes. Enjoy!

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When Your Kid Is the Naughty One

Nobody likes a bully.

Except, of course, the bully’s mother.

When your kid is the naughty one

Recently my daughter brought a note home from school suggesting she’d become a little too “energetic” in the classroom. No big deal, kids learn as they go. But because her seven-year-old perception of the situation was somewhat sketchy, I decided to talk straight with her teacher.

And that’s when I heard the hard truth.

My child is not perfect.

Of course, I knew that already. But I assumed my daughter’s sometimes devilish behavior was reserved for home—for the natural resistance to Mom and Dad’s cruel demands to brush your hair and eat your broccoli. She might poke her sister in the head with a pencil, yeah, but surely she’d never do that to a classmate.


Let me assure you we handled it—swiftly. In our family, my husband and I place a huge emphasis on kindness, and our daughter knows that. She just needed to be reminded. Don’t we all?

But here’s my fear.

Nobody likes the naughty kid. You know, the kid who elicits raised eyebrows from other parents and sends the teacher digging for Excedrin in the bottom of her purse.

So what if your kid is that kid? Does that mean you failed?

“To discipline a child produces wisdom, but a mother is disgraced by an undisciplined child” (Proverbs 29:15, NLT).

Contrary to popular belief, children are not born innocent. They’re born sinners. Proverbs 22:15 says, “Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child.” That means naughty behavior is congenital. We shouldn’t be surprised when it flares up from time to time.

Yet it’s our job as parents to spoon-feed the remedy.


We love them. We pray for them. Day in and day out, we teach and train and discipline. We model what it means to show kindness, grace, forgiveness and self-control. When they slip up, we remind them, again and again and again. When we slip up, we confess and apologize—again and again and again.

And through it all, we point our kids to Jesus—the only person who can ultimately free them from the junk inside and fill them with a lasting power to combat the naughtiness.

If you’re doing that, then you are not failing. You’re succeeding.

“No discipline is enjoyable while it is happening—it’s painful! But afterward there will be a peaceful harvest of right living for those who are trained in this way” (Hebrews 12:11, NLT).

Cross-legged stuffed animals

You know when I said nobody likes the naughty kid? That’s not actually true. Because God loves that kid. He is crazy over that kid just as much as he cherishes you and me and our sometimes-but-not-really-angelic sons and daughters. God sees all his children as a beautiful work in progress, and he detects the potential within us.

More than that—he has the power to realize our potential. And as parents, we get the privilege of joining him in the task.

So let’s all offer up a little more grace for each other, amen? For the mom struggling with a headstrong child. For the kid who tripped your kid at recess. For the little girl in every classroom who thought it would be funny to call her friend a booger head.

Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do.

And it’s up to us to teach them. We parents really do have the power to change the world—one precious child at a time.

Are you with me?

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If this post encouraged you, please share it. You might also like What Your Child’s Behavior Says About You, Redefine Your Child’s “Bad” Qualities, and Because We All Get Sent to the Principal’s Office Sometimes

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Make Christmas Matter: Expectant

Today I’m happy to share a post from my friend and fellow M.O.M. Initiative contributor, Julie Sanders. Julie’s new book EXPECTANT: 40 Devotions for New and Expectant Moms offers encouragement and biblical perspective for new mothers.

In EXPECTANT, Julie reminds us of the precursor to the Christmas story—the tale of Elizabeth and Zechariah, who waited into their old age for a child. Are you a mom in waiting? Are you struggling to reconcile the realities of motherhood with your dreams of what you thought it would be like? Julie shares how Elizabeth’s story applies to each one of us. Read and be encouraged!


When it was his turn, her husband Zechariah went to serve in the temple. As if to answer the couple’s shared, but tired, expectations, an angel of the Lord met Elizabeth’s husband beside the altar. The messenger brought news that God would do more than they had asked year after year. Abba would defy their age and destroy what everyone expected, giving them a son. Their prayers had been heard. The aged mom-to-be secretly said, “Thus the Lord has done for me in the days when he looked on me,” (Luke 1:25a).

By the time the news came, Elizabeth had long since laid her expectations to rest. For so many years, she hoped with hesitation turned to heaviness. She waited to feel her womb full with a child long enough for other women to conceive, grow, give birth, and raise their beloveds to families of their own. But her womb and her arms had been empty even as she dutifully welcomed child after child.

Whether a woman embarks on the mothering journey at a traditional time in a typical way, or at a surprising time in singular way, God reveals Himself in motherhood. Children are given under the Father’s tender, watchful eye. God knows the longings and limitations of His own children, and He sees how every mother’s heart is expectant.

Elizabeth conceived as the angel foretold. For his lack of faith, her husband waited wordlessly throughout her pregnancy. He believed in the power of his expectations, instead of the One who exceeds our hopes. Together, the aged man and wife became the humbled father and mother, for becoming a parent has a way of exposing our weakness and sending us to our knees. The elderly first-time mother must have wondered if she could manage an infant in her season of life, but as I share in EXPECTANT, “If He has given you a child to nurture, He can give you the energy and wisdom and desire to raise that child well.”

After most of a lifetime spent waiting and wondering, God did more than Elizabeth could ask or imagine, giving her a son who would be John the Baptist. Her boy was born just before Jesus and was sent to announce the coming Prince of Peace. God exceeded her expectations in the perfect time and in the perfect way.

Could God want to do more than what you expect in your life and in your child’s life? Mothers have the chance to see God do more than a mom’s heart could ever hope.

Loving Father,
It’s easy to expect the normal path of family and mothering. I find myself struggling to have faith when it’s not like I expected. Help me trust You. I need You to lead me on this journey as a woman. Would You go beyond my small expectations and do more than I have hoped?

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Julie-SandersJulie lives where tea is sweet and grits are cheesy. She and her husband of 25 years have two nearly grown kids. EXPECTANT: 40 Devotions for New and Expectant Moms was born when God brought a group of young couples into their lives, just as they began to long to grow their families. Julie loves to teach God’s word to women in her hometown and across the globe; she is passionate about fighting human trafficking and helping women of all tribes and tongues find God’s peace for life. Check out Julie’s blog home Come Have a Peace ( and Marriage Mondays to find reasons for peace and information about her ministry.

EXPECTANT is available at Barnes & Noble and Amazon. Connect with Julie on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

Make Christmas Matter: Acts of Kindness

Christmas is not about me.

Say it with me now.

Christmas is not about me.

We can know this in theory, but beneath our pile of presents to wrap and recipes to bake and household decorations to hang, it sure can feel like the family’s holiday cheer depends on us.

Newsflash, mommas. Jesus didn’t come to frost cookies. He came to love lost people.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

Make Christmas Matter

Could it be? Real holiday cheer is as simple as showing God’s love to others. One of the most effective ways I’ve found to do this is through acts of kindness.

What is an act of kindness? It’s anything from a simple, spontaneous gesture to pre-calculated generosity designed to show genuine kindness to another person—either someone you know, or a stranger. These acts of kindness might include delivering a meal to a neighbor, making cards for nursing home residents, passing out candy canes to store clerks, and so much more.

My inspiration for acts of kindness comes from fellow blogger and author Courtney DeFeo’s “Light ‘Em Up for Christmas” campaign. She provides wonderful resources including a planning guide and printables to help families spread joy and generosity.

Using many of Courtney’s suggestions, my daughters and I came up with this list.

Kopitzke Family Acts of Kindness for Christmas 2014

1. Shovel snow for our neighbor lady
2. Bring treats to the police station on Christmas Eve
3. Tape money to a bubble gum machine (with a note)
4. Tape money to the parking meters downtown (with a note)
5. Write a special letter to an out-of-state friend
6. Hide money in a library movie (with a note)
7. Donate a bag of toys to charity
8. Call cousins, aunts/uncles or other family members to say you love them
9. Leave a note and a treat for the mail carrier
10. Bring treats to the doctor and dentist offices
11. Pay for the people behind us in line at Starbucks or McDonald’s
12. Take a treat to the school janitor

Now, as a mom, my underlying question of course is—what are my kids learning? Are these acts of kindness impressing on their hearts and teaching them that indeed “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:25)?

Well, yesterday, at a random, unexpected moment, I got my answer. Sitting at my desk in the home office, I overheard my four-year-old in the living room tell her babysitter: “Did you know Christmas isn’t all about presents? It’s about kindness and how we celebrate God’s birthday!”

Praise God. Christmas is not about me. Let’s teach our kids to be kind and generous, amen? Join me and Courtney and thousands of other moms around the country as we Light ‘em Up for Christmas!

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For some tear-jerker stories about acts of kindness in action, visit to read about Curlie and Charlie and so much more.

Local moms! Meet Courtney in person at the Appleton Alliance Church Moms’ Workshop on Saturday, April 18 from 9 a.m. to noon. She’ll be our keynote speaker on the theme “Virtues, Love and Laughter.” Mark your calendars and click here to register!

The Case of the Purple Car: A Lesson in Stewardship

I searched everywhere. In the toys bins, under the sofa, behind a box of waffles in the freezer—but that Little People rollercoaster car was nowhere to be found.

We need that car, darn it. Without it, the carnival set isn’t just incomplete—it’s non-functional! How else is my daughter going to shuttle her mini molded friend down the track unless she has the purple car? Where is that car?

The Case of the Purple Car | Teaching Kids About Stewardship

By the end of the day I was convinced the thing grew legs and walked out the door. So I logged onto eBay and found a used replacement—for $11.95 plus shipping. That’s probably more than the entire set cost originally, but hey, I considered it for a moment.

And then my brain snapped back into my head.

Seriously, Becky? You’d pay 12 bucks for a three-inch piece of plastic? There was a day not too long ago when you didn’t have $11.95 in your purse to buy toilet paper until the next paycheck. Now that you’re married with kids and a savings account, is a dollar worth less than a dollar? Where is your perspective, woman?

Like many moms, I sometimes fall prey to the temptation to give my kids everything. I am neither rich nor poor by American standards—I clip coupons, for goodness sake. I’m frugal. I am!

Yet what money I do have I’m more likely to spend on my precious munchkins than on myself. Their toy room is stocked, our pantry welcomes every variety of Annie’s organic Bunnies snacks, and I shell out a small fortune for music and swimming lessons without blinking an eye.

Is that wrong?

Not necessarily. We all want the best for our kids.

But what is “best,” actually? Having stuff, or having a heart of gratitude for affording and receiving the stuff?

A recent comment from my four-year-old suggested perhaps I’m not instilling the value of stewardship in my children as well as I could. A few days ago, I caught her seated at the kitchen table, casually snapping all her crayons in half.

“Why are you doing that?” I shot her a classic what-is-the-matter-with-you mom look. “Those are new crayons!”

“It’s ok, Mom,” she shrugged. “We’ll just buy more.”

Whoa. Where did she get that idea?

Three guesses: me, me, and me.

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19–21).

I really don’t want my heart to be in the aisles of Toys R Us. More importantly, I don’t want my kids to think toys are the real treasures in life. This attitude can grow into adulthood, when we covet the latest electronic gadgets, designer clothing, luxury cars, shoes, shoes and more shoes—as if those objects can fill a void.

How then do we teach our kids to appreciate material blessings?

By storing up all the things that aren’t material.

Love, patience, sacrifice, kindness, sharing, laughter, hugs—these are the gifts I want to give my kids, far more than I desire to see another Fisher-Price gizmo enter our house.

I know it’s hard, especially this time of year, to keep a heavenly perspective in the midst of shiny packages and half-off sales. That’s why I’m making Christmas matter and inviting you to join me. It’s why I’m intentional about demonstrating gratitude, mercy, kindness and generosity for my kids. I don’t do it perfectly, of course. Nobody does. Which is why I also pray daily—not just for my children’s hearts, but for my own.

All good things come from God.

He gives, and he takes away.

Let’s praise him either way.

When I logged off of eBay, all my stewing over a lost toy made me itchy for God’s wisdom and grace, so I reached for my Bible. And wouldn’t you know it? There, stashed inside my Bible case, sat a little plastic car—just waiting to be discovered.

God, you’re funny. Next Sunday, I think I’ll give my kids some extra money for the children’s offering at church—$11.95 to be exact.

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And speaking of stewardship . . .

If you’ve been here with me a while, you might have noticed a few changes to the blog—namely, ads. My goal is to make this blog self-sustaining so I can dedicate more time to encouraging you here. Will you support me? Click here to discover how!

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Make Christmas Matter at

Subscribe to the Time Out Make Christmas Matter campaign! Click here for details.

P.S. If you liked this post, I invite you to subscribe to Time Out by e-mail.
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If this post encouraged you, please share it. You might also like The Older I Get, the More Money I Cost, In Defense of All Those Presents, and Make Christmas Matter: Gift Idea Exchange

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Make Christmas Matter: Nativity Scenes

Make Christmas MatterThere’s something magical about the manger scene. Every year I love to watch The Nativity Story because it brings the Bible tale of Mary, Joseph and the newborn Christ child to life on my living room TV screen.

Yet to make the magic last longer than a two-hour feature film, my family has a tradition of setting up two nativity scenes each year—one on the mantel (my favorite, the Willow Tree collection) and another in the play room (our Little People nativity set, a beloved toy for the past five years). Both of these nativity sets help us focus our hearts on Jesus as we make the scenery of his birth a focal point in our home.

Here are some fun ways to enhance your focus on the nativity this year.

Traveling wise men. Set up your manger scene but place the wise men far away—on the opposite end of the mantel, or even in another room. Each day, move them a bit closer to the stable. By Christmas Day, the wise men have finally arrived to worship the holy child. (Yes, I know according to biblical accuracy the wise men actually showed up two years after Jesus’ birth, but every nativity scene incorporates them so have some fun with it.)

Manger scene activities. I’ve come across some great free printables and nativity crafts online lately. Fellow blogger Sarah at My Joy-Filled Life is offering a free collection of nativity printables for new subscribers to her blog (I subscribed!) including a bingo game, stick puppets, preschool worksheets and more. And thanks to Pinterest I also found this list of 21 free nativity printables from Smart Girls DIY—for crafty moms. (I am not one. God bless you if you are.)

The best gift. When setting up your nativity, leave the baby Jesus out of the scene. Wrap him in a gift box for the kids to open on Christmas Day. Then invite them to complete the nativity with this most beloved central character—our Savior. He is the best gift of all!

How do you make the nativity story a central part of your Christmas season?

P.S. Join the Make Christmas Matter series! Subscribe to Time Out by e-mail.
Each new member of my e-mail list receives a whimsical 8 x 10 printable for your home or gallery wall designed by Megan Hagel exclusively for Time Out subscribers. Plus, if you sign up during our Make Christmas Matter 2014 campaign, I’ll also send you a bonus printable of Christmas conversation starters for families.
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If You Want to Believe in Santa Again

I mailed wish lists. I set plates of frosted cookies on the counter. I kept watch out the living room window, hoping to spy reindeer tracks in the snow.

Every once in a while I did wonder how those elves could replicate Barbie’s dream house exactly like the one sold in stores. Eh, no matter.

Because back then, Santa was magic. And I believed with all my heart that he loved me.

If You Want to Believe in Santa Again

Today, of course, I’m a grown woman with two kids and a Christmas tree of my own and let me tell you, this Santa business? Overrated. Nothing but toy store hype. I no longer mail wish lists; I save them in my Amazon cart. Cookies are fattening, and reindeer don’t click! click! click! on the rooftop—they get cut into tenderloins after my husband’s hunting trips.

I mean come on, people. As if there’s really some big benevolent grandpa in the sky, just waiting to shower us with gifts.

Only a child could believe that.


“But whatever is good and perfect comes to us from God, the Creator of all light, and he shines forever without change or shadow. And it was a happy day for him when he gave us our new lives through the truth of his Word, and we became, as it were, the first children in his new family” (James 1:17–18, TLB).

Hmm. Maybe we grown-ups should believe in Santa again.

Not the chubby guy in the red suit. I’m so over that.

But the idea of a loving father figure watching over us, delighting in us, happy to grant us blessing after blessing—that is not fiction.

That’s faith.

It’s what Christmas is all about.

If You Want to Believe in Santa Again

The real magic of this holiday began two thousand years ago in a barn, when God sent his Son to you and me as a helpless, wrinkly, newborn child. The angels—like elves, if you will—they sang over him, worshiped him, and to this day they still tend to the people the babe came to save.

Seems incredible, doesn’t it? Kind of like flying reindeer and a toy factory on the North Pole. But there’s a key difference between Santa and Jesus. When you sit in the Savior’s lap and decide to trust him with your heart’s desires, something amazing happens.

He crosses your name off the naughty list—forever.

Wow. Could there be any better Christmas gift than that?

So this year, whether your family observes jolly ol’ St. Nick or not, try tuning your heart to the real Father of saints. He doesn’t plunge chimneys or disappear when we reach third grade, nor does he need a sack full of shiny gifts in a sleigh. He has already given us so much more than we deserve.

I believe that—with all my heart. Will you?

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Make Christmas Matter at

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P.S. If you liked this post, I invite you to subscribe to Time Out by e-mail.
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If this post encouraged you, please share it. You might also like Honey, Sweetheart, Sugar PieSurviving December With Small Kids, and The Sound of Snow Falling

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Make Christmas Matter: Advent Calendars and Countdowns

Make Christmas Matter“Mom, how many days until Christmas?”

My kids start asking this question in October. I’m relieved when December 1st finally rolls around and I can give them a visual answer—the Advent calendar.

Advent calendars and countdowns are a special way to focus on the birth of Jesus and to infuse some everyday fun into the season. Best of all, there are so many varieties available to buy or create yourself that you can make your family’s Advent activities as unique as you are. Here are some ideas to create a buzz of anticipation for the big day.

Countdown Rings
In our house, rather than a calendar, we create a classic paper chain and call it our countdown to Jesus’ birthday. Every morning, my girls take turns tearing off a ring. This simple activity is a daily reminder that we’re looking forward not just to a holiday called Christmas or the presents it will bring, but to a birthday party. And at a birthday party, everybody knows the birthday boy is the star of the show. I love how this easy and inexpensive craft can focus our hearts on the central meaning of Christmas.

Last week during my group Bible study, my friend Lori shared an idea for making those countdown rings even more fun and meaningful. (Thanks, Lori!) Before she assembles her paper chain, she writes a special activity on each ring. When her kids tear one off, they read their “assignment” for the day—and of course, every task involves an exercise of faith or family fun. Examples include “read a Christmas story,” “decorate cookies,” “pray for Grandma,” or “dance to a Christmas CD.” The point is not to add more to-do’s to your list, but rather to reinforce the love and merriment of Christmas with your kids. Choose easy activities that are age-appropriate and won’t overtax your daily agenda. Then have a blast building memories all month long.

Thriving Family “Journey to the Manger”
Thriving Family is Focus on the Family’s award-winning marriage and parenting magazine, and my personal favorite. This year the folks at Thriving Family are offering free downloads of Advent resources for families. These include an Advent poster, Bible character cutouts, daily faith activities and kids’ puzzles. You can click here to download them directly from


Favorite Store-Bought Advent Calendars
If you’re not a do-it-yourself-er, Advent calendars are widely available to buy this time of year. You can pick up a basic chocolate calendar at your corner grocery store for a couple of bucks, or invest in a longer-lasting option. Some Advent calendars that my mom friends have recommended to me are the Little People Advent Calendar (which I just discovered is 50 percent off at Family Christian today through Friday, yay) and a wooden/magnetic Advent calendar by Kurt Adler (thanks to my faithful reader friend JoLynn for suggesting this one; I found it on Amazon).

No matter how you do it, Advent countdowns are a fun and memorable way to focus your family’s heart on Jesus. Starting with day one, a countdown sets the tone and helps remind the kids (and their parents) of the reason we anticipate Christmas. In my case, none of that prevents my girls from fighting over who gets to tear off the next countdown ring (you did it yesterday, no YOU did!) but thankfully we have an entire month to emphasize God’s love for us—and how we should, in turn, love one another.

“But when the right time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, subject to the law. God sent him to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law, so that he could adopt us as his very own children” (Galatians 4:4–5, NLT).

P.S. Join the Make Christmas Matter series! Subscribe to Time Out by e-mail.
Each new member of my e-mail list receives a whimsical 8 x 10 printable for your home or gallery wall designed by Megan Hagel exclusively for Time Out subscribers. Plus, if you sign up during our Make Christmas Matter 2014 campaign, I’ll also send you a bonus printable of Christmas conversation starters for families.
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Make Christmas Matter: Gift Idea Exchange

Make Christmas MatterWhat’s that you say? This is supposed to be a series about meaningful Christmas traditions? Surely shopping does not apply. Ah. In my world, giving Christmas gifts is not only great fun, but it can also be a very meaningful way of teaching my kids about God’s love. I wrote all about that here last year.

But on a less profound level, I decided to launch our Make Christmas Matter series with a gift idea exchange for a few practical reasons:

1. Priorities. Years ago, a mentor mom told me she finishes all of her Christmas shopping in November so that December can be dedicated to family time. Free from the pressure of comparing sale prices and making last-minute trips to the mall, she spends her weekends baking cookies with her kids and touring the neighborhood lights displays. This suggestion stuck with me, and most years I do aim to get the bulk of my shopping done early so that as Christmas Day nears, I’m thinking less about material things and more about Jesus, resting, and building family memories.

2. Stewardship. Um, hello, Black Friday. Who doesn’t want to save major moolah on toys and electronics and whatever else is scrawled on the kiddos’ wish lists? By shopping early, I’m able to research customer reviews, make a careful plan of what to buy within budget, and snag some great free shipping deals.

3. Solidarity. We’re in this together, moms. If you rave about a favorite family board game, you’d better believe I’m going to check it out on Amazon. And when you come to my house and your kids can’t get enough of my indoor trampoline, I’m all too happy to tell you where I got it and how it saved my life through last winter’s sub-zero play dates. So let’s share our best gift ideas, boost the chances that our kids will L-O-V-E what’s under the tree, and save each other some precious time and energy.

Now in the spirit of shopping with girlfriends, I thought I’d give you all a peek at my favorite finds for the kids this Christmas season. These are items I’m excited to place under my tree this year, and well as some of my family’s best tried-and-true toys from years past.

And, please return the fun! I’m always interested in hearing about new, unique, or family-proven toys, games, and other enriching gifts for my chickadees—and my nieces and nephews. Share your favorite ideas in the comments (click here if you’re reading this via e-mail) or on my Facebook page! Bonus points to anybody who can suggest what to get my two- and four-year old nephews. ;)


Favorite Finds for Christmas

Fashion Plates Deluxe Kit — Remember these? My sisters and I used to play with the original fashion plates; in fact, they were a favorite Christmas gift back then, too. My seven-year-old daughter is into fashion design lately, so I’m excited to give her this modern version of the classic fashion plates.

Spirograph Deluxe Design Set — Another classic. My seven-year-old loves drawing and coloring, and I have high hopes that this gift will entice her to lose a little interest in screen time this winter.

Teeter Popper — My four-year-old is constantly trying to stand and surf on bouncy balls and laundry baskets. So when I saw this new Teeter Popper, I added it to my shopping list right away. It’s supposed to help kids develop motor skills and balance while giving them a safe way to surf indoors. Plus the base is loaded with suction cups, which make a fun popping sound on hard surfaces (like the kitchen floor, where I’m seriously hoping my daughter spends a good 20 minutes at a time riding this thing so I can make dinner without interruptions). I’ll let you know how that works out.

Rain for Roots CD: “The Kingdom of Heaven Is Like This” — If you’re an Ellie Holcomb fan, you’ll love this sweet album of children’s music by Ellie’s band of fellow singer/songwriters, Rain for Roots. I heard her sing one of the tracks live in concert a couple weeks ago, and I made a beeline to the promo table to buy this CD for my kids. Each song tells a parable of Jesus from the Bible, with lilting melodies that children (and parents) will enjoy. We love new music in our house. You, too?

Praise Baby CD: “Born to Worship” — And speaking of music, this disc is our tried and true bedtime CD. My girls have fallen asleep to the praise songs on this album since my firstborn was a baby. It’s a wonderful compilation of classic praise and worship songs, sung like lullabies. A sweet gift for young children.

Connectagons  These connective building disks come in a variety of shapes and styles. My seven-year-old wants the butterfly set. They’ve scored very high customer reviews, and I’m on board for any toy that doesn’t require batteries or WiFi.

Hot Wheels Elimination Track — We bought this toy for my nephew last Christmas. Recently, the cousins got together and had blast racing Hot Wheels and Matchbox cars down the elimination track (together! multiple ages! peace and harmony, hurrah!). It seriously kept them occupied for an hour or more—and I’m talking about kids as young as age three. Amazing.

Switch and Go Dino Bots — My four-year-old is a dinosaur fanatic. And lately she’s really into cars. So when we discovered these Dino Bots on a play date last week, I immediately added them to my Christmas list. They’re both a dino and a car in one.

Potholder Loom — We got this potholder loom for our older daughter last Christmas and she loved it so much, it has become a staple birthday party gift for her classmates. It’s surprisingly accessible to young hands (I’d say age 6 and up), and my daughter enjoys creating different color combinations then giving potholders to her teachers, friends, and family members. The best part—the potholders actually work! They resist heat and work great as trivets. This particular kit comes with enough loops to make two potholders, but we also bought the extra bag of loops, which makes eight additional potholders.

UNO Moo — Hands-down my favorite preschool game. I’ve been playing UNO Moo with my girls since my younger daughter was two years old. It’s very simple to understand yet educational and fun for the entire family. My seven-year-old still enjoys a good round of UNO Moo on family game night. And so do Mom and Dad.

The Cupcake Game — Want to teach your kids the value of patience? Play the Cupcake Game. The object of the game is to collect all the ingredients for your cupcake recipe, using a spinner to randomly select which ingredients you can gain from the pantry. When the spinner lands on the rotten egg, you have to relinquish one of your ingredients. Fun, easy to understand, and slightly maddening. But my kids enjoy it.

Crayola Marker Maker — This one is a request from my seven-year-old, my artsy girl. Kids can formulate 16 markers of their own color creations. I fear we might end up with 16 brown or gray markers and a puddle of mess, but I encourage the creativity. Plus the ink is supposed to be washable. The Marker Maker comes highly rated on Amazon, and after some digging I snagged it on for nearly half off, plus it comes with bonus refills! (Use promo code 445305 for free shipping on a $35 purchase through December 4. I nev-uh pay for shipping.)

Long-sleeve Art Smock — My friend Heidi designs these stylish and highly functional long-sleeve art smocks for kids. Each one has a waterproof laminated front and easy enclosure in the back. Heidi has several smocks and other items in stock, and she takes custom orders as well.


American Girl Doll Dress from Kathie’s Fancies — If you have an AG doll fan in your house like I do, please visit Kathie’s Fancies on Etsy for a beautiful collection of home sewn, one-of-a-kind fancy doll dresses made by the ultra talented Kathy, a.k.a. Nana (my mom!). She once ran a custom bridal sewing business, and she made my wedding gown, which is one of my favorite memories from my wedding. Quality is not the question. Which dress should you choose? Well, that’s more like it.

Gold bubble dress for American Girl dolls

Bazoongi Indoor Trampoline  — Last but not least. Everyone who comes to play at our house asks where we got our trampoline. It’s a huge hit with all the kids, and it burns plenty of energy on rainy or snowbound days. My girls have been jumping and leaping and dancing on their trampoline for four years now, and it has taken every ounce of abuse without showing any wear. The padded and sleeve-covered handlebar is an excellent safety feature, and the base canvas covering protects little toes from the sturdy coils (we’ve never broken one—a coil or a toe, ha). In our house, the rule is only one jumper at a time. The only bummer is, the trampoline has a weight limit of 110 pounds so I can’t jump on it. But my girls have plenty of years still ahead to enjoy this sanity-saving toy. At 48 inches, it’s big enough to give the kids ample jumping space, yet still small enough to fit in the corner of a room.

Now it’s YOUR turn! What are your favorite toys and games? Anything special you’re excited to hide under the tree this year? Share in the comments or on the Time Out Facebook page. Blessings, happy shopping, and enjoy the spirit of giving!

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Why the Elf Is Not on My Shelf

I know. Some of you love your elf. It’s a favorite memory-builder for the kids, and you probably already created a Pinterest board of clever ideas for where to hide the little guy this year.

That’s great.

For you.

But I just can’t do it. Can. Not.


Because as much fun as you have with your elf, for me it’s just another thing I’ve gotta add to my Christmas to-do list. And I’m determined to scale back this year, for the love of Jesus.

No, really. For the love of Jesus.

Why the elf is not on my shelf

Here’s the thing. We all have choices, right? You wouldn’t dare think of yanking the elf, but you might skip the white elephant lunch at work. And I might blow off the cookie exchange but there’s no way I’d miss volunteering for the school Christmas party. And so on. Of all the Christmas traditions and activities out there for us moms to grab, nobody does them all. We each decide what’s more important and what we can let slide.

But I don’t think we do it well enough.

My December agenda is jam-packed with anything from church brunches to gift wrapping parties to nursing home singalongs. Some to-do’s are non-negotiable, I mean, I can’t exactly ditch the mandatory school Christmas concert, nor would I want to.

But what about the stuff we add to our holiday calendars that causes more stress than joy joy joy?

Is it time to cut it out?

In my job as a freelance writer, I recently interviewed a family counselor on the topic of holiday stress. She said the secret to a merry Christmas is goal setting. Determine one or two objectives you want to accomplish this Christmas season, then filter all your activities through them.

For example, let’s say your goal is to relax and spend quality time with family. If addressing 100 Christmas cards helps you reach that goal, then by all means do it. If not, uh, fuh-get-about-it.

Or maybe your goal is to give to the needy. Will spending half a day stringing lights on the trees in your front yard help you accomplish that? Hmm. Probably not, unless you’re collecting canned goods from every car that drives by to gawk.

Think about it. Examining our Christmas to-do’s in light of one or two key goals—it’s life changing. Sanity saving. Brilliant and freeing!

And really, really hard.

Because so many of us have been duped into thinking we need to do it all—the shopping, the baking, the parties, the family outings—in order to make the most of this fleeting, magical season.

But I don’t want to make the most of it.

I want to make less of it.

Less on my to-do list, less running, less stress. I want room for laughter, snuggling, and stillness—to relish in the wonder of a God who willingly plummeted from his heavenly comforts to receive us as a helpless child in a manger. He did that for me. He did it for you.

So my goals this Christmas? (1) To celebrate Jesus, and (2) to build memories with my husband and kids. Technically the elf on the shelf could fit into that second goal. But I have sugar cookies to bake. Nativities to assemble. Paper countdown chains to cut, staple, and hang.

So I’ll leave the elf to you, my friend. He’s your thing. And I have mine. And together we are going to enjoy a very merry Christmas that matters.

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6).

What are YOUR one or two key goals this Christmas season? Read more about mine below!

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Make Christmas Matter at

Fun news! I’m excited to announce a special Time Out Christmas series—Make Christmas Matter. Every Wednesday until Christmas, I’ll share a bonus post on my favorite fun ways to celebrate our faith during this hectic season. These will be in addition to your usual Monday encouragement. And—as an extra bonus, watch for a Make Christmas Matter series kickoff post tomorrow, Tuesday, Nov. 25. I had so much good stuff to share, I ran out of Wednesdays. Go with it, people. Literally—go here to read more details. I’m so excited to welcome you on board the Make Christmas Matter campaign! See you back here tomorrow!

P.S. If you liked this post, I invite you to subscribe to Time Out by e-mail.
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If this post encouraged you, please share it. You might also like Surviving December With Small Kids, If You Give a Mom a Minute, How to Love Your Family More Than Your House, and Why I Stopped Folding My Underwear

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