Advent 2016

As I sat and contemplated how I wanted our family’s advent observances to look back in November, one word kept coming up in my mind: counter-cultural. Everything I want to teach and experience with the boys during advent and Christmas is just different from what I am told I should think is important by media, facebook, and more. We don’t do Santa or elf on the shelf. Not because I think those things are horrible. No judgement here. But Christmas is about the incarnation, and with so much in this world already out there vying for our attention, anything that distracts from that is just….well…in the way.

I always wondered how the boys would react to our different traditions once they were old enough to realize that our family does advent and Christmas a little differently. This year, Elias started kindergarten and that day finally came. He asked me on the car ride home:

E – “Do we do elf on the shelf?”

Me – “No. ”

E – “Why not? It sounds really fun.”

Uggh. I had such a sinking feeling at first. But then hope. Because I could share with him my decision making process for why. And I hope that it has helped him have a deeper appreciation for the things we do.

So what does our advent look like? I wanted it to have three components:

  1. Spiritual Development
  2. Service
  3. Fun

One of the things we are doing for spiritual development is a family Jesse Tree. Each day during dinner we light the advent wreath. Then once the meal is finished, I read them the scripture for the day and we talk about it. Finally they get to color an ornament for our Jesse Tree. We made our Jesse Tree on the first day of advent. Elias was proud because it looks like it is from minecraft.

Each day we also read two stories. I wrapped them up in wrapping paper so each day the boys get to open one. One of the stories is about the nativity story in some way. The other is a fun one such as the nutcracker, etc. I got a lot of books from the library to wrap up, and we also have a pretty good collection ourselves. This has been great because we are getting to read so many different books.

Also for spiritual development I enlisted the help of some good and wise friends to help me pull off this advent spiral with our family group at church. Each child got to walk into the spiral alone searching for “the light of Christ.” Then they brought the candle out and set it along the path, symbolizing them bringing the light into the world. It was a bit chaotic with so many young kids, but a beautiful tradition I’d like to try again.

For service we have done things like buy food for the food bank and donate it, and purchasing clothes for a foster closet. I had other plans that were ruined by the snow so perhaps next year we can try those again.

We’ve fit in a lot of fun as well. We celebrated St. Nicholas Feast Day by putting chocolate coins in the boys’ shoes. Caleb even got to try his first chocolate candy! We also made a gingerbread house for the first time ever!

We’ve seen Christmas lights, made garlands, decorated our Christmas tree, and cut out paper snowflakes, and the boys will eventually participate in the Christmas pageant at church.

I’m hoping that the boys are growing and learning about Jesus’ first coming so that under all the tinsel and wrapping paper of “the big day” they can have a seed of hope and love to carry with them, and they will know the true meaning of the gift we have been given in Jesus, and ultimately, they will be more prepared for his second coming.

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Early Christmas With Nana

Nana is going to Spokane for Christmas this year, so she asked us to celebrate with her early. The 17th was our day! Nana came over early so that Nathan and I could go to our bell choir rehearsal. Then we hung out together all afternoon. When Caleb woke up from his nap we exchanged gifts.

I really wanted to boys to be able to give gifts this year. In Sunday School their theme is the Little Drummer Boy, and they are learning that gifts don’t have to cost money. I helped them make gifts for many family members. It was fun to see how excited they were to watch Nana open the gifts they had made her.

We got Elias a microscope for Christmas. He is so into science these days! Nana got him the slides for it. We let him open the microscope early so he would have something to do with the slides from Nana. It was a lot of fun watching him learning how to use it. Each time he got one into focus he’d say “Mom! Come look at this! It’ll knock your socks off!”

Then Nana spoiled us by bringing her traditional family meal….Christmas burritos. She cooked it all up for us and it was delicious. Finally we had a good ol’ fashioned game of Pie Face. Nana was so tickled that at first she didn’t believe it was a real thing. She really got into it, though! It was a hoot! Here is Simon after getting hit with a minor portion of Reddi Whip.

We always have fun with Nana!


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Snow 2016 (continued)

We had more snow than we bargained for the last week or so. It still was hardly anything…but for Portland, it was enough to really mess things up. The boys had snow days on the last two school days before winter break. We were quite disappointed! It did make for some more fun in the snow, though, and this time there was enough for some sledding on our street!

I got all of the boys bundled up and pulled them all around on the sled. It was so cute I just had to stop for a picture:

Luckily for me there are a lot of older kids on our street (upper elementary and middle school aged), and some of those girls are quickly approaching babysitting age and want to prove how good they are with the kids. I was relieved from sled pulling duty and instead got to watch them pull my boys around and have a blast. One of Elias’ classmates also came down the street and they had a snowball fight.

Caleb lasted for an hour or so in the cold, but after that this was the look I got:

It was time to go inside!

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Zoo Lights 2016

Tonight we were ready for some more Christmas light viewing. This time we chose the zoo. As soon as Nathan was home from work we were off. The night was almost perfect. Cold and clear, and family together.

We made good use of the double stroller because Simon has a little bit of the sniffles and wanted to be cuddled under the blanket for most of the time. He did perk up when we offered him some of a warm elephant ear for a snack. He refused to be photographed, but enjoyed it very much. Elias was very excited about the elephant ear as well and was happy to hold it up for the camera.

As we got to the bright red lights I told Elias it was my favorite part and he said, “I can see why!” Here you can seem my boys just ahead enjoying the lights.

We warmed up in the elephant lands indoor exhibit where we saw elephants playing and talking to each other. When we got to the light tunnel we had to go for the obligatory family selfie. Simon was not enthused about the camera, but I promise he was really enjoy the lights.

We also met up with some “animals.” Simon jumped up out of the stroller to go give hugs and high fives…and actually smiled for me!

We capped off the evening with a ride on the train. Another fun zoo lights evening in the books!

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Snow Day!

Last week we had our first snow days of this winter season. Growing up in Portland, I know to be grateful for any snow we get….because some years there isn’t any at all. However, I have to say that having such pitiful snow for a day off school was pretty disappointing. The boys could barely make snow angels and they definitely could not really do much sledding! We all had a blast while we were out in the snow, but after we came in I was told that we would be needing a trip to the mountain for some REAL snow ASAP.

Here are some pictures of the boys:

Simon had fun trying to catch snowflakes on his tongue.

Caleb was a roly-poly ball of outer garments. He could barely move, and his boots kept falling off and taking his socks with them. Poor baby was so snug except for bare feet in the snow! I kept trying to put the boots back on and they kept coming back off. He enjoyed watching his brothers play, and crawled around a bit, but mostly looked like he was just trying to take it all in.

Here is Elias making a snow angel. He lasted longer than any of us out in the snow, and ended up playing by himself in the backyard for awhile.

Nathan got to work from home on the first snow day. He came out for a bit on a break to play. You can seem him in the background smirking after giving Simon a snowball to throw at me.

Ah… family fun! These are the days I want to remember.

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Our First Visit to The Grotto

I’ve wanted to visit the Portland Grotto’s Festival of Lights for years now. This year when I was doing a little planning for our family advent time, I decided to make that wish a reality. This afternoon I packed a picnic and a bunch of warm clothes, and we headed out the door as soon as Nathan was home from work…..into a lot of traffic.

The boys enjoyed eating a picnic dinner in the car and listening to seasonal music. Simon and Caleb both fell asleep too…it was the classic late afternoon/early evening drive that is just too hard to stay awake for.

When we arrived it was freezing and everyone was tired. There were a lot of tears from the youngest two. However, we managed to get everyone bundled and were ready to go in a mere 15 minutes.

I have to say, while the grotto is a relatively small display of lights compared to others in Portland, their festival is just perfect. It is exactly what a Christmas lights display should be like. They had some family fun with puppet shows and a small petting zoo. The lights are beautiful. There are choirs performing. And the focus of the whole thing was the advent of Jesus. I just loved it. I’d love to bring the boys back when they’ll have the attention span to actually listen to a whole choir concert.

Here are some images from our time there:

20161205_175648All five of us saw a real camel for the first time. It was huge!

20161205_181046Lights! Beautiful lights!

20161205_182111“Can we do a funny face picture?” – Elias

20161205_182654Family Selfie Attempt:

20161205_182724At the very end we passed a man playing the hammered dulcimer. All three of the boys were transfixed. He was a really nice guy and played a game with the boys where he played a song and they had to name it. They did pretty well. At the end Simon was clapping and both of the older two were singing along. When we decided to leave, Elias said he didn’t want to because the music was too beautiful.

20161205_183748Caleb was transfixed too:

20161205_183824All in all it was a wonderful time and I’m really glad we went. We clambered into the van to get warm and listened to the Bob Dylan Christmas album all the way home. It made for a later night than usual, but it was worth it!

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Christmas Tree 2016

On Saturday we went on our annual Christmas tree hunt with Ama and Baba. As usual we went to Furrow Farm a few miles from our house so that Nathan could cut down our tree himself. We got all bundled up and had my parents snap a picture while everyone was still all fresh and bright eyed.


It took us a while to find “the one.” This was the first year that there were four opinions for our family instead of just two. It also seemed like the pickin’s were a bit more slim than usual for the size of tree we wanted. Despite some minor difficulty settling on a tree, we had a great time! When we found it, the boys had a fun time watching Daddy cut down the tree.

20161203_094244Later in the afternoon after the tree had dried out a bit in the garage, we brought it inside to decorate. It’s our family tradition to listen to Manheim Steamroller while decorating the tree…a tradition that came from my childhood.

Elias really wanted to put the angel on the tree. At first I thought he was too young, but when I thought some more I realized he could do it just fine. The angel was my grandmother’s and was passed down to me.

20161203_190217The boys just loved decorating the tree. They were pretty careful, and “only” broke two glass ornaments. I know some friends who just don’t do glass ornaments now when the kids are little. Maybe I should save mine since they are also inherited from my grandmother and are antiques. In the end, though, I would just rather enjoy them. The boys both apologized to me about the ornaments. I tried to convey that while the ornaments are important to me and we need to be careful, they are just things in the end, and people are more important than things.

Here is our 2016 tree:


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Getting Crafty For Advent 2016

I’ve been neglecting a few hobbies and responsibilities the last week or so in order to get crafty. I am only allotted a small amount of time each day after the boys go to bed in order get things done like pay bills, spend time with my husband, and pursue hobbies I enjoy (among countless other things). Since advent was approaching, I really wanted to make an advent calendar for both my nephew, James, and my son, Caleb.

If you have been a long time fan of the smithfam blog you may remember that every year around this time I get on my soap box about advent. Advent begins four Sundays before Christmas (not December 1st). This means advent can be anywhere from 22 to 28 days depending on what day of the week Christmas falls. You cannot find an advent calendar anywhere…even in Christian stores…that has anything different than 24 (or maybe 25) days. So I decided when Elias was little to make my own. It’s become a tradition.

You can see Elias’ here, and Simon’s here.

This year I wanted to make one for both Caleb and James. However, it took a lot longer than I expected, and James took priority. Caleb is a bit young anyway, so he will have to wait.

My inspiration this year came from Luke 2:8-14

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
    and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

I was reminded recently at my Bible Study how much of Jesus’ birth story speaks to us about social justice. This passage really brings it home for me.

So I went about designing an advent calendar to depict this passage. I embroidered the numbers on the pockets, and cut out the little felt shepherds, sheep, and angels, and then sewed them on by hand. It was a lot of fun thinking about my precious nephew with each stitch.

As usual, my mediocre sewing skills did not do my imagination justice. However, I was proud enough of the work to present it to my nephew, James, earlier this afternoon.

20161126_222456Hopefully he can enjoy it for years to come, and it can help him prepare for the advent of our Lord.

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Caleb Turns 1!!!!

My baby turned one year old on Friday. I was feeling very sentimental. It is very bittersweet. He is growing so fast! However, Elias said something at dinner today about wishing Caleb was a newborn again, and although I miss it, I realized I don’t wish he was a newborn. I am really enjoying him right now…just how he is. He fills our lives with joy every day.

Caleb’s birthday morning started out with breakfast and balloons. Then we showered him with a few presents. He liked the wrapping paper and tissue paper more than anything else, but liked his gifts too. We got him a cross for his room and some puffs to snack on. Here he is exploring a new piggy bank toy.

20161125_084412Elias and Simon put on a puppet show for Caleb with his new puppets.

20161125_085754And Caleb also really enjoyed his new toy from Uncle Greg and Auntie Shaina. He can’t walk on his own, but he can walk around if he is holding on to his new walker!

20161125_090855In the afternoon we just took it easy and played at home. We also got to Skype with Auntie Shaina and Uncle Greg. Then, we met cousins at Chang’s Mongolian Grill for a birthday meal.

20161125_181543We came home for more presents and birthday cake.

20161125_19001720161125_190404Elias and Simon helped me bake a cake in the afternoon, and then they decorated it. Caleb was very excited to be sung to.

20161125_192555Then was the best part. Caleb got to try is first chocolate! (And almost his first sugar). At first he looked a bit unbelieving.

20161125_192746Then he happily tried it.

20161125_192847I’m not sure what happened while I was serving everyone else…but the meal did not end happy. It’s his birthday. He can cry if he wants to.

20161125_193247After dinner we took a family picture with Nana.

20161126_183337I think he had a great first birthday!


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Happy Thanksgiving 2016

What a wonderful Thanksgiving weekend we’ve had in the Smith household. It has been full of bustling, giggling children, family, friends, and we’ve also had a bunch of downtime with just the five of us. A perfect mix of life giving things!

Our weekend started with meal prep. We hosted the big turkey meal. Nathan and I had most of the food finished by late morning. The turkey was in the oven, and things were humming along. I gave Elias an all important job: making place cards. When I was a little girl, my grandma always let me make place cards. She had this way about her that made me feel like it was the most important part of the day. I loved doing it, and she made me feel like a star. I wanted to continue the tradition. I think Elias loved making the place cards almost as much as I did!

20161123_191340Our family was scheduled to arrive soon so I made some quick things to snack on. A fruit tray, and a cracker and sausage/cheese tray. I’ll admit to having a bit of a pinterest failure moment. I was going for a turkey display:

20161124_111847 20161124_111842Oh well. Judging by what these plates looked like a few minutes into the visit it was the taste that counted…not the presentation. At least it all tasted yummy!

Caleb enjoyed re-meeting his Auntie Erin and Uncle Jared (and cousins). He’s seen them twice before but is too young to remember. He was just waking up from a nap and gave some quite skeptical looks at first, but warmed up very quickly.

20161124_120053The kids got right down to playing. It’s like they just saw each other yesterday. It’s one of the best things about this group of youngins.

20161124_120606Later Great Grandma and Grandpa showed up. It was Caleb’s first time meeting Great Grandma, who just moved home to Oregon from a seven year stint in Indiana.

20161124_134128We also took a four generation picture of the Smith fam.

20161124_184440The meal was great (if I do say so myself) and the company was even better. We have much to be thankful for!

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