Saturday, November 27, 2010

Christmas Gift Tips from Shopping to Shipping

Dear friends,

With so many children, I’ve really had to get organized when it comes to buying, storing, and shipping Christmas gifts. Here are several miscellaneous tips:

Ask each family member to write a Wish List.  Then have them mark each item whether it is "gotta have", "would be great" or "nice but not necessary". Make sure they are specific if they want a certain brand or title of something. Have them copy their final version onto an index card. Using the Wish Lists and your budget (made with your husband), write out a list of what you plan to buy or make for each one. Do each person’s list on a separate index card or notebook page. Also, list relatives and friends, and what you intend to do for them. Finally, list Christmas extras, such as outdoor lights, craft supplies, etc. Estimate prices and add it all up to make sure you won’t go over budget. Allow some buffer for special deals, bad estimates, forgotten items, etc. Then make a list of items for each store that you intend to visit.

Make a Christmas shopping organizer for your purse. Take a manila file folder and open it up so that the crease goes vertically up the middle. Now fold about four inches of the bottom edge up so that makes a pocket. Tape the edges of the pocket on the left and right hand sides. Next, fold the left side in almost half way, and do the same with the right side. Now you have a four panel pocket folder that will probably fit in your purse. Use one section for Wish List index cards, another section for your Shopping Plan index cards, another section for Coupons and Ads and the final section for Receipts. As you buy things, you can check them off your list and add them to a running total.

Wear an extra large hip pack on your shopping trips. This takes stress off your shoulder (if you usually wear a purse) or reduces risk of theft (if you usually leave it in your cart or on your stroller). I like the hip pack because it keeps my hands free for dealing with purchases, packages and children.

If at all possible, go shopping without your children. If you don’t have a teenager or nearby relative who can babysit for you, try arranging with another mom to trade childcare for a few hours at a time. When you do go shopping with children (like when THEY are doing some shopping), remember that stores are very busy and that there may be criminals lurking about waiting for an opportunity to snatch a child. Keep your young ones with you!

Christian books, music and videos make excellent holiday gifts since they can encourage someone in the faith. I have always done a major chunk of my shopping at Christian bookstores, especially using discount cards or coupons.  If you want to get great Christian stuff for a good price on-line, try Christian Book Distributors. 

When you get your goodies home, you have to store them out of sight and out of reach! I label a large paper bag for each family member (either a grocery bag or an old gift bag), open it up so that it stands by itself, and put it on my closet shelf. When needed, I can take it all down and see what I have and what I still need.  I've also been known to stash Christmas presents in a large plastic (not clear) bin in my closet, which is strictly off-limits in December.

When it's time to wrap, work in piles.  If you have several children, you might need to check and be sure you have an equitable amount of gifts per child.  We don't spend huge amounts of money on our kids -- maybe $25 per child -- but I do try to get each of the younger ones several things, even if some of them are from the dollar store.  So some of them may have less packages to open because one or two of their items are a bit more expensive.  When I have finished all of my shopping, I lock my bedroom door and get out all of the presents.  Then I start creating a pile for each child.  I make sure it all looks pretty fair, sometimes shifting an item from one child's pile to another, or deciding that two or more kids can share a larger gift like a game that needs more than one player.  Sometimes, if one child has a whole bunch of smaller items, I bundle them together.  Older siblings often help me wrap, so I just put their stuff out of sight before letting them in the room.

Establish a Christmas wrapping station stocked with paper, tape, ribbons, gift tags, scissors, etc. Give your kids lessons on how to wrap efficiently so they don’t waste too much paper. Or design your own paper and tags with finger paints or rubber stamps. Let your older children assist your younger ones with wrapping presents for Mom and Dad.  If you have bulky or unusually shaped items, try putting them in pillowcases and tying the top with a ribbon.  If you will be mailing packages, be sure to have cardboard boxes and something like bubble wrap to protect the contents.

A few words about postage: You can call the post office at 1-800-ASK-USPS or log on to the web site at to find out the cost for mailing any package. You will need to know the weight in pounds and ounces (use your kitchen scale for this), your zip code and the zip code of the destination. If you stock up on lots of postage stamps ahead of time ($1, 10 cent and 1 cent), you can avoid lots of trips to the post office this way. You can also let your children practice "place value" math concepts by deciding which stamps to use. If your package contains ONLY "media", which includes bound printed matter (books, magazines, calendars, and such, but not catalogs or loose papers), audio cassettes, CDs or videos, then you can send it cheaper but may take a little longer to deliver. You must mark these packages as "MEDIA RATE." Also check the price of Priority Mail -- sometimes it costs only a few pennies more than First Class. And always be sure to allow plenty of time for your packages to get there! If the contents of your package are valuable, check into insuring it. It doesn’t cost that much extra.  Or, skip out on shipping packages entirely by ordering on-line and having them mailed directly to the recipient.

I hope these ideas help make your Christmas shopping season a little easier!

Virginia Knowles

Wednesday, November 10, 2010


When we talk about Thanksgiving, many of us think about the day in November when we get more stuffed than the turkey. Our minds turn to all sorts of cute activities for reminding our families to “be thankful” during this time of year. But as good as this is, it falls far short. Thanksgiving is not just a holiday, but a necessary attitude for every moment of every day.

I think one of the hardest struggles for many home school moms is dealing with grumbling and whining. Wouldn’t it be quite something if we could just sit them down and give them a single lesson about contentment, and “voila!” -- our homes would instantly enter a state of bliss where our children would always cheerfully and sweetly gush their gratitude for all our efforts? We work so hard at teaching them (way beyond the 3Rs), training them (to have upstanding moral character), feeding them (hopefully healthy food) and so much more. What a rude awakening when they start to complain that “all” their friends (“even the home schooling ones!”) get to eat potato chips and Pop Tarts everyday or are allowed to watch whatever they want on TV or have their own fabulously decorated bedroom or that their mother does their laundry (all new designer clothes) for them! Or they think their school work is boring because you haven’t planned thrill-a-minute (as in “expensive” and “time-consuming”) activities every day. Or you are trying to help one child with a complicated lesson, and another one gets frustrated because you can’t help him at the exact same time. Or you patiently try to explain some concept to them, and when they still don’t get it, they vent on you. Don’t think you are the only one who faces this problem! I hear it all the time for other home school moms, and I’ve seen it in my own home. (You didn’t think we were perfect, did you?) To tell you the truth, for all our efforts, we did expect a little more credit and respect. And they SHOULD be grateful. It’s no credit to their own character if they’re not.

Notwithstanding the way they should be, I’d like to address the moms here. As I tell my children, they have responsibilities to act rightly regardless of what others are doing. And the same goes for us. No matter how our children respond to us or what their attitudes are, we need to set some things firmly in our own minds if we want to keep going and still retain our sanity.

First is that we are not home schooling to win the daily applause of our children. We are doing it because we care about how they turn out in the long run and because we have felt called to take primary responsibility for their training and education. When you are challenging someone towards excellence, it’s a very stretching experience for everyone. It goes against our human nature, which wants to be coddled and entertained and free to indulge its own desires. Our children will not always appreciate what we do -- at least not now. It’s tempting to give in to their demands and be over-permissive just to gain their approval, but that’s a trap! It’s our job as parents to set and enforce limits (see Hebrews 12:7-11). But while we should be seeking to influence their attitudes and behavior in the right direction, we must also grant them the dignity of forming their own opinions. (That’s hard for those of us who tend to be “control freaks.”) When your children approach the teen years, you know they will have to start dealing directly with God himself if they are going to go any further in the faith that we have attempted to hand down to them.

Second is that we cannot base our contentment -- our own sense of gratitude and well-being -- on either people or things, which will always disappoint us. That’s difficult to learn for those of us whose identities and images are so bound up in being home school moms. After we put all this time and energy into something, we want things to go just how we planned. In other words, “If I do this step and that and follow this character-building curriculum, my children are guaranteed to be smart, healthy, happy, hardworking, friendly reverent and perfectly obedient -- and I’ll have the reputation as a Super Saint!” Don’t get me wrong -- having great children is a very noble goal and we should try our best. But in the meantime, life goes on! As fervently as we desire to see our children mature, and as much as we rejoice when they do take a few steps in that direction, we just can’t look to them and their progress as our sole source of satisfaction and meaning in life.

The one thing that will satisfy our hungry souls is a deep and abiding relationship with our Gracious Creator. Despite our own sin, our grumbling and our shame, the Holy Father stooped to redeem us lowly ones through the sacrifice of his Son, Jesus Christ, the only perfect child to ever walk the face of this earth. Our souls will find rest and strength in him alone. It is he who will give us the courage and endurance to keep pressing on. It is he who can open our hearts wide so we can truly be THANKFUL for his grace, no matter what is happening around us, all year long.

“Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus.” 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

“Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” 1 Corinthians 15:58

“One thing I ask of the LORD, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to seek him in his temple. For in the day of trouble he will keep me safe in his dwelling; he will hide me in the shelter of his tabernacle and set me high upon a rock.” Psalm 27:4-5

(This post is from my archives!  It was written in November 2000.)

Monday, November 8, 2010

My Life is But a Weaving - Making Sense of the Loose Ends of Life

"My Life is But a Weaving"

My life is but a weaving
Between the Lord and me
I do not choose the colors
He worketh steadily.

Oftimes he weaveth sorrow
And I in foolish pride
Forget he sees the upper
And I the underside.

The dark threads are as needful
In the Weaver’s skillful hand
As the threads of gold and silver
In the pattern He has planned.

Not till the loom is silent
And the shuttles cease to fly
Will God unroll the canvas
And explain the reason why.

- Author Unknown


I'm in the process of writing a fairly substantial article called "In the Middle of the Story" for my Hope Chest e-magazine, and it made me think of this poem. There are different versions of it, with the verses in various orders, but the message is the same. We may have lost hope in the middle of our life stories, but we don't know the endings yet. It will all make sense on the other side. Until then, be of good courage! "I don't know what the future holds, but I know Who holds my future!"

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Many blessings,
Virginia Knowles