Families With Grace

Helping Christian moms create homes filled with grace, love & faith

Teaching our children to give

6 ideas to help children learn to live generously

Happy Giving Tuesday! I love the reminder to continue giving, especially during a season that can be consumed with so many distractions and even downright greed.

Giving as a family is incredibly important. We have made it a priority in our family and try to involve our kids as much as possible. However, when I talked to them about it just this morning, they didn’t realize everything we do. They knew some of it, but not all of it. And they hadn’t thought about how some of what we do is giving without spending money. We need to be even more intentional about showing and talking with them about giving and what we’re doing.

I’ve heard people say that children need to be taught how to give, because it goes against our human nature. That’s true to an extent. Just try asking a toddler to share his favorite toy with you! But, I’ve also seen the innocence of my kids when we see someone holding a sign asking for work or food on the roadside. They’d ask why the person was there and why didn’t we help him or her? In their little minds, if someone needs help, you give it. That’s the attitude we have tried to encourage and build on.

I think we all want to teach our kids how to give and how to look out for others. We’ve found a few ways to do that as a family. And we’ll continue working on it and talking about it even more. We have done our best to involve our kids as much as possible.

1. Help kids start a fund for giving.

When our children turned 5, they started getting a weekly allowance based on their ages (a dollar per year). We use an envelope system with them. They have an envelope for saving, spending and giving. For example, at 5, the money is divided each week as $3 for saving, $1 for spending and $1 for giving. And then we talk about how they want to spend their giving money every month or two as it accumulates.

When we first did this with our daughter, I assumed she’d want to just give her money in the offering at church. But when we asked her, she wanted to do something more tangible. So as we talked about it with her, we decided to buy food for a local food pantry. 

Since then, that has taken off. We have matched her money to buy food and so have my parents. And then she had a chance to help distribute food from a food pantry out of a local church. She decided then that we needed to do more. So we talked with our pastor and asked church members to bring in food that we take to the pantry. That’s been three years ago, and we are still involved with that same food pantry. It all started with a few dollars in a giving envelope.

2. Find tangible ways to give.

For us, the food pantry has been a very tangible way to give that has continued. Our kids love going to the store, finding good deals and figuring out things like how many cans of food we can buy with the money they have or how many rolls of toilet paper we can get. We have done our best to ask each time we take items to the food pantry about what the pantry needs most, because we also want to be actually helpful.

(For the record, our food pantry requests toiletries the most throughout the year, because these things are in high demand since they’re not covered by food stamps. During the holiday season, they need holiday dinner type food and cash to buy turkeys or hams.)

Our son has enjoyed working with and helping get things for the food pantry, but he’s had some other ideas as well. We try to encourage them however they’re thinking of giving. Sometimes our kids have thought of giving money to a family member who needed something. Other times they have wanted to give it to church or for a special offering. And still other times they want to give it to a different charity.

Locally, for example, we have an organization that collects money to provide Christmas to families who can’t afford it otherwise. Our church works with this charity (its founder attends our church, in fact) and so does the kids’ school. They love being able to be involved with that, too.

3. Make giving fun.

It doesn’t take much to make most giving fun. For example, my kids find it fun to even be involved in the process of deciding what to buy for the food pantry. Last time around my son used his money to buy a box of Honey Nut Cheerios. It wasn’t what we were there for that day. That day we were focusing on canned foods and toiletries, but it was his money and I’m sure that box of cereal went to good use. Usually on trips to the grocery store, they aren’t involved with the decisions of what to buy since I’m in charge of that. So having a chance to pick things out is fun for them.

Their school does a great job of making giving fun this time of year, especially. For that local Christmas charity, the kids could bring in money to vote for which team of teachers would win a silly race. They could also spend $1 to send a note with a piece of candy to a classmate. My kids each got a kick out of sneaking to the office to do this for each other. 

4. Remind them why they’re giving.

Everyone likes a bit of encouragement and cheering on. Should we give to get credit and accolades? Nope. But, kids do need to be encouraged and reminded of why they are giving. We try to talk about all the families who will be helped through the food pantry or other programs. We talk about what it would be like to come home from school and not be able to find any food in the pantry for a snack or wonder if there would be anything to eat for dinner. And we remind them that their giving is helping some families avoid that reality.

5. Volunteer together.

Just like I was telling my kids this morning, there are also ways to give that don’t involve spending money. In fact, spending your time is just as important. This is an area where we need to work more on our kiddos. They don’t always see the things we do as giving of our time. And that’s OK, but I want to encourage them to do the same. 

While they have helped with the food pantry, there are other volunteer opportunities around the community that they can be involved with as well. We have struggled to do organized volunteer activities the last few years as I’ve had some more intense health issues than usual, but we’ve still found ways. For a year and a half, I taught a children’s Sunday School class and my own kids loved to help me prepare and test out crafts for me.

I also reminded them that giving to others can even be as simple as seeing a friend or family member who needs help with something and jumping right in to assist. Opportunities to give to others abound around us if we just open our eyes to see them.

6. Be an example for them.

Last week, my husband was gone the entire week. He missed having Thanksgiving with us. We missed him tremendously, but we also supported him being gone. He began working with Team Rubicon a couple of months ago as a volunteer. Team Rubicon is a non-profit organization of volunteers that sends people to areas of disaster to help aid in cleaning up and rebuilding. Once he got his FEMA certification, he was ready to go help.

So two Saturdays ago my husband left for Florida to help clean up from the devastation of Hurricane Michael. Before he left, we had a family discussion about it over dinner and let the kids ask questions. They were curious what he’d be doing, but they were also curious why he was doing it.

He told them that he felt like if there was something he could do then he should do it. He also said sometimes you have to let yourself be the answer to someone’s prayer. While giving money is good and helpful, sometimes you need to literally be God’s hands and feet. I don’t think there is any better answer than that as to why to give.

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8 simple Christmas traditions to bring your family closer (plus 2 FREE printables!)

Affiliate links are used in this post, if you make a qualifying purchase via my link, I receive a small percentage of the sale at no additional cost to you. I only recommend products and services I use and love. It helps support my blog, so thank you for your support! Read my full disclosure here.

Sometimes I balk at traditions. I’m not a fan of doing things just because that’s the way we’ve always done them even though it doesn’t make sense and nobody is happy about it. But, I love traditions that are simple and enjoyable. This is never more evident than through the Christmas season. And simple is needed most this time of year since there are so many other demands placed on our time like shopping, wrapping, kids’ programs, family gatherings, school parties and baking.

This will be my 10th Christmas as a mom. These Christmas traditions have evolved through the years. Just like the birthday traditions I told you about, these are simple, fun and build great memories.

Countdown to Christmas

Though my 9-year-old understands the concept of time now, my 5-year-old doesn’t as much. He’s good with smaller amounts of time, but knowing how many days are left before Christmas is helpful for him. Plus it’s just fun to keep track together.

I have a FREE Countdown to Christmas printable that my own family uses. For each day of the month, you can put a sticker over the number or X out the number — whatever you prefer. My kiddos love stickers, so we are going the sticker route. Each number is star shaped, so hitting up the Dollar Tree for some star stickers works super well for this.

We usually do our countdown in the evening after dinner but before bedtime. We alternate which kiddo puts on the sticker each night, and then on the 25th they put it on together.

To open the PDF to download or print,
click the image or click here.

Wrapped Christmas books

This is another Christmas tradition we started early on and LOVE around my house. We love books, and we really love to unwrap gifts. Thanks to programs like Scholastic book club, gifts from family and my own finds, we have enough Christmas books to last us from December 1 through 24. Now we have a few extras, but in the early days, I also included some general winter books as well. You can even use library books as long as you keep track of which are library books and need to be returned.

The week before December starts, I pull out our Christmas books and get 24 of them wrapped. It works perfectly if you have an even number of kids so they can rotate through who opens a book each night, because everyone wants to open them!

It also is great for toddlers who really want to open wrapped presents they see appearing under the Christmas tree or other places. They get a chance to open a gift! This is one we do near bedtime since we then read the book for bedtime. We combine this Christmas tradition with the next one, so each book has a Bible verse attached to it. 

Daily Bible verses

For us this works well paired with the books. I print out and cut into squares Bible verses that take us through the Christmas story, which I have for you as a FREE Advent Verses for Children printable. I fold and number each one and attach it to a book. Then the kids find the right number for the right day to open.

What I love most about this is that it makes sure every day we are taking at least a couple of minutes to talk about the real reason for the Christmas season. And each evening, before we read the verse, we review what has happened in the story up until that point. It is a great way to reiterate or teach the Christmas story to kiddos.

If you don’t do the books, you can just go through the verses on the page and mark them out as you read them. You could even cut them into squares and put them in an Advent calendar you already have. Do whatever works best for your family!

To open the PDF to download or print, click the image above or click here.

Radio ornament

Back in 2012 my parents got us this cool North Pole Countdown Christmas ornament from Hallmark. Each day starting December 1, you turn the radio dial to hear a 60-second update from the North Pole. It’s cute, funny and clever. The kids enjoy it, so we do that usually when we do the other Christmas activities, but sometimes we do it in the morning. It just depends on the day.

Christmas light tour

I love seeing Christmas lights decorating houses and so do my kiddos. As a kid, my parents would drive around and show us Christmas lights throughout the city. Even once I was an adult, my mom and I continued doing that and often included my grandmas as well. Now that I have kids, we definitely keep up this Christmas tradition. Usually we do this a couple of times throughout the Christmas season.

We will go to the more formal, organized displays and we will also just drive around places we’ve heard about where people have decorated their houses well.

For us, we keep it simple and just do it whenever we have a chance. I know some families do things like go in their PJs while sipping Thermoses of hot chocolate. That’s totally fine, too. That just doesn’t seem to work out for us (plus I’m the only member of my family who really likes hot chocolate!).

Cookie decorating party

I am the cookie baker in my family and have been since high school. I love making Christmas cookies. When my daughter was 3, I decided it would be fun to involve our families in decorating cookies with us. So one evening near Christmas, I invite over my parents and my in-laws, and we decorate sugar cookies with colored icing, candy and sprinkles. The last couple of years I’ve only made two or three dozen sugar cookies, so it doesn’t take us long. The kids have fun and our families enjoy visiting. We usually order pizza for dinner and make an evening of it.

And if you’re not a cookie baker or don’t have time, buy pre-made sugar cookie dough and roll out some shapes. You could even just make all circles to decorate with store-bought icing. It doesn’t have to be complicated to be fun!

Cookie breakfast

Like I said, I’m the cookie baker in the family. One of my favorite things to do has been on Christmas Eve morning to eat a couple of those homemade cookies for breakfast with a nice, cold glass of milk in my living room with only the Christmas tree lights on.

Once my kids were old enough, they joined me in this Christmas tradition. In fact, I didn’t give it all that much thought until my daughter was 5 or 6 and brought it up to me at the beginning of December how much she looked forward to our cookie breakfast. It was one of her favorite things about Christmas. I’ve learned that the smallest traditions can bring us together and make the best memories; this is definitely one of those traditions!

Christmas Eve PJs

My kids like to open one gift on Christmas Eve. Usually we open gifts with their grandparents on Christmas Eve and save the gifts among the four of us for Christmas morning. Regardless, they still love getting to open a gift at home on Christmas Eve before we head out.

Since I have always loved having new pajamas for Christmas (and still do!), I combined the Christmas Eve gift with new PJs, so they open new PJs on Christmas Eve. They are old enough to be onto my ploy now, so sometimes they can also convince us to pick out one more gift to open as well. They don’t tend to be as excited for new PJs as I am!

Looking for more Christmas ideas? Check out these posts!

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God’s promise of gentle leading for moms

One Sunday a couple of years ago, I ended up getting a sermon within a sermon. Both messages were awesome. One came from my pastor who was continuing his series about golden calves. The other came through a verse that was part of our Scripture reading for the day. It’s a verse that I hadn’t noticed before but it struck a chord with me on that day.

He tends his flock like a shepherd:
He gathers the lambs in his arms
and carries them close to his heart;
he gently leads those that have young.
— Isaiah 40:11 (NIV)

That last sentence sprang to my attention: “He gently leads those that have young.” I stopped and re-read it wondering if it said what I thought it did — what I needed it to. It does. Tired mama of small children, God sees you! He gently leads you, because He knows having young children isn’t easy. That was what I needed to hear as I was looking forward to a really difficult and busy week without much relief. God knew it. My pastor facilitated it. And my heart was renewed because of it.

I am not a fan of the line of thinking that nobody understands what I’m going through in life or how hard it is, because I have been down that path and found it to be a bunch of nonsense. Just after grad school, I spent my early 20s in a horrific, years-long flare of interstitial cystitis, a chronic painful bladder condition. I was laid up on the couch, inside more than out and trying one medical procedure and appointment after another to try and get my bladder into manageable condition again. I felt woeful. I felt sorry for myself. I felt like nobody else understood. And that line of thinking only made me feel worse. I have been down that path again in the years since when other hard times have inevitably come. In the last few years, though, I have seen how I’ve let that stinking thinking cloud my thoughts.

Life is hard. Everyone has a story and a struggle. We all have stuff we deal with. And maybe my stuff is different than yours. But that doesn’t mean we can’t relate to each other having a struggle. We all know what it’s like to have something turn our lives upside down. As mothers, we all know what it’s like to get up each day and try again to make it a good one and find that balance of getting things done and spending time with our children. We all know how sometimes just making it through the day is an accomplishment. We all know how sometimes we want to hide in the bathroom for five minutes of peace and quiet just to get away from the fray. We can relate. We are more alike than we are different.

And God knows that, too. He knows and understands us even better than we do ourselves. He’s been involved with mothers of young children since Eve first delivered Cain and Abel. If ever a young mother needed help, it was Eve. She was the first to do it. She had no sisterhood of mothers or even her own mother to talk to or learn from. But she had God and what more help can any mother ask for than that of our Divine Creator? He saw her needs. He has continued seeing the needs of mothers ever since. Years later this verse was penned to remind mothers of young children that God sees them and leads them.

I particularly like that this verse promises to lead us gently. The last thing I need in my life right now is more complication or even more forcefulness. I battle to make sure my children are listening to me. And to make sure they are taken care of, have clean clothes, food packed for lunches and homework done. When they were younger, the battles were certainly longer and more intense. Like during the toddler phase when they wanted their own way all the time no matter what. Or during the newborn phase when they decided sleep at night wasn’t a good idea. Or during the preschool phase when they wanted to test their limits.

And that’s just the abrasiveness I face with my children. There are lots of other things coming at me from work stuff, family relationships, finances, major life decisions and more. I don’t need more conflict. I don’t need a heavy hand. I need a soft place to fall. I need a gentle hand on my back guiding me the way I should go. That is just what God has promised in this verse and what He continues to do now — years and years after that verse was written. His Word stands strong and true even in 2018.

I am left feeling thankful and awed. He knew the struggle and had a response for me. I’m sure there are different ways to interpret this verse; that’s usually the case with Bible verses. All I know is what this verse said to me. It gave me a promise to hang on to. It gave me hope to know that God sees me. God understands. More importantly than other people understanding our plight (and trust me, others really do understand more than you might think), God understands our plight. He sees our hearts. I feel like every year I learn more about who I am and how I tick. These are all things He has known about me since I was in my mother’s womb.

I praise God for the promises in His Word. Self-pity gets me nowhere. Reassurance that God is always with me keeps me moving forward. Come, Lord, and continue to gently lead me.

Never want to miss any Families with Grace content? Sign up for our mailing list and receive a FREE tip sheet on 10 ways you can start living as a family with grace right now! It’s chock-full of good, practical ideas to help bring peace to your home. Don’t miss out! Go here now!

15 Christmas gift ideas under $25 for almost everyone on your list

Find a Christmas gift idea for most of your list!

Affiliate links are used in this post, if you make a qualifying purchase via my link, I receive a small percentage of the sale at no additional cost to you. I only recommend products and services I use and love. It helps support my blog, so thank you for your support! Read my full disclosure here.

Christmas shopping starts pretty much after Thanksgiving, and Black Friday deals have changed to weeklong deals. No matter how you feel about it, Christmas shopping season has arrived and with it the need for a Christmas gift idea for everyone on your list.

15 Christmas gift ideas under $25 for almost everyone on your list Pinterest image

I’ve never enjoyed being out in the hustle and bustle of holiday shopping. It stresses me out. A lot. In fact, the week after Thanksgiving, I usually plan to avoid any in-person shopping.

However, I LOVE online shopping. I’d say at least 75 percent of my Christmas gifts are bought online. I love most being able to sit in my house and find all sorts of good deals and favorite products that I can order and have show up at my door.

But even with that said, I still have to know what to get and that can be the biggest challenge of all! Coming up with Christmas gift ideas can be difficult.

So, I’ve put together a list with some of my favorite products that would make great Christmas gifts or stocking stuffers for less than $25 each (most are well under $20). I’ve got something for pretty much everyone on your Christmas gift list from your mom to your kids’ teachers to your husband to your best friend.

And if you want to snag a couple of these items for yourself, go for it! They are all priced well to be easy on the budget.

For your best friend or mom (or yourself!)

For a year, I’ve been carrying this Befen Leather Wristlet Clutch Smartphone Crossbody Wallet in purple. And I love it! It holds my phone,  everything I’d carry in a wallet and then some. It has three sections inside plus an outside pocket. The inner sections are all covered with a zipper so nothing falls out and the outside pocket, which is designed for a cell phone, has a magnetic snap to keep it secure.

Inside, I use one section for my cash and primary cards. Another side holds my less used cards and some coupons. A third zippered section in the middle is great for my other stuff like medicine, nail clippers, hand cleaner, ink pen, bandaids and lipstick.

I started out carrying this purse inside a bigger one. But I soon realized this smaller purse works almost all of the time. Nowadays, I seldom carry a larger purse. The purse is my go-to, everyday purse. And even when I do take a larger purse for some reason, the purple one fits right down inside of it so I don’t have to switch everything in and out.

Of all the purses I’ve ever carried, this one is my favorite. It’s concise and functional. I’ve been carrying it for a year and it is showing only minimal wear, which is remarkable considering all I put it through. I also love that it’s so light I can wear it across my body all the time.

So when I’m grocery shopping, I don’t have to worry about wandering away from my cart and leaving my purse unattended, because it’s on me. It makes my achy fibromyalgia shoulders and back happy as well.

For your kids’ teachers (or pretty much anyone!)

I love stainless steel tumblers. I’m not sure love is a strong enough word, actually. I use one every single day. I love it for ice cold water, because that’s what I drink most, but these cups work well for anything hot or cold. And they’re the perfect Christmas gift idea for pretty much anyone, including your kiddos’ teachers, babysitter, postal carrier, hairdresser, best friend, mom and on and on the list goes. Really, who couldn’t use a cup that keeps their beverage hot or cold all day long?! When these cups first came out, they were mostly plain stainless steel, but now there are all sorts of fun options.

The first one I love is this BUILT 30-Ounce stainless steel tumbler in Rose Gold Glitter because I love sparkle! It comes in almost other colors, too, but the rose gold is gorgeous. And I am a fan of the 30-ounce size, because it holds enough to not have to constantly refill, but it’s not so huge it’s hard to carry.

If you’re gifting to someone who doesn’t like sparkle (which baffles me that such people exist!), check out these cool 30-ounce Stainless Steel Vacuum Insulated Tumblers in a wide array of prints and color options. I love the Starry Night one, but there are colors and prints that would work for any gender and all sorts of interests.

For your baking friend

Honestly, I don’t buy many cookbooks any more because of the plethora of recipes online. I love Pinterest for organizing them! However, after reading so many of the Hannah Swensen cozy mystery books by Joanne Fluke (which I recommend if you are looking for easy, fun books with intrigue), I kept wanting to try the recipes included. The main character in the series owns a cookie shop and there are all sorts of yummy recipes as a result. As the series progresses, the recipes go beyond cookies to breads, cakes, pies and savory dishes as well. I decided I might as well just buy the Lake Eden Cookbook. I’m glad I did.

I’ve used multiple recipes from it and even found my favorite ever chocolate cake recipe in its pages. It is one cake I gladly make from scratch because it’s easy and so scrumptious. You don’t have to be a reader of the book series to appreciate the recipes. The cookbook has some text written about the characters, but I’ve never read it! (And I enjoy the series.) I just really like the recipes most. The cookbook is basically compiled like it’s from a variety of small-town folks who appreciate good, filling dishes that don’t use a huge amount of ingredients or things that are hard to find. It’s practical and also has very detailed directions for each recipe.

And if you feel like going further with this Christmas gift idea, add some nonstick Rachael Ray bakeware like I told you about in the pumpkin bread recipe would go well with the cookbook. While an entire set of the bakeware starts around $40, you can get a 9×13 rectangle pan or a set of 3 cookie pans (these cost more than $20 by 99-cents) for less.

For your fellow mom (or dad!) friend

Can we all just agree that kids are messy eaters? We are constantly battling crumbs at our house. At 5 and 9, my kids are old enough to get in on the action with sweeping the floor and wiping down the table as part of their chores. A couple of months back, my husband ordered up a mini vacuum that’s made crumb clean-up easier. It sweeps up crumbs from the table and is perfect for little hands to use! It eliminates the struggle of trying to wipe crumbs from the table into your hands to carry to the trashcan. I have trouble with that myself sometimes; my kids struggle even more.

This little vacuum, however, works well. We use it on our kitchen table and chairs. We got a new table and chair set a few months ago when we moved, but the bristles are soft enough that it doesn’t leave any scratches or marks on my table, which was important to me, too. Any parent with kids would love this! And being able to use a gadget helps the kids get more excited about helping with clean-up.

For your geek or gamer friend (or husband)

I’m going to be honest and tell you this is on my wish list for Christmas and may end up being something I order for my husband (here’s hoping he misses this post!). I know we’d both love either one of these fun coaster sets. I just have to decide which one. 

First are the Paladone Nintendo NES Cartridge Coasters. How cute are these?! They look like old school Nintendo cartridges that any kid from the 1980s would love. I kind of want to order them and see if I can blow into them to get them to work. (And if you understand why I’m saying that, this is totally something you should order!)

The other set of cool throwback coasters I found look like floppy disks. They are so cute! There are a few different option of these available, but I like this six pack of floppy disk coasters the most because they don’t have anything written on the label. You could totally use a Sharpie and customize the labels for yourself or just leave them blank. They come in more fun colors than I remember any of my floppy disks ever being!

For your husband, dad or brother

A couple of years ago, my husband first ordered a multi-tool to carry in his pocket. When that one broke, he ordered this Gerber Splice Pocket Tool. It comes in handy all the time. He uses it for all sorts of things from cutting down straws for our kids at restaurants to opening packages or other random tasks that come up. Men tend to like tools that have so many components and options and this one certainly does that. It’s a great Christmas gift idea for pretty much any guy on your list.

For your daughter or niece

When my daughter was almost 6, we got her ears pierced. Once she was able to start changing her earrings, we learned pretty quickly that anything not gold-plated made her ears break out in a rash. Both my mother-in-law and one of her sisters are the same way. They basically have an allergy to metals. We even tried the hypo-allergenic metals and silver-plated. All of them hurt her ears.

However, buying gold-plated jewelry for my then kindergarten-aged daughter to wear to school wasn’t something I had expected. I went in search of earrings she would like but also I wouldn’t have to stress about getting lost. Looking locally, I didn’t find a pair of gold-plated, girls’ earrings under $50, which seemed steep to me. I decided to check out Amazon and was so pleased to find a variety of gold-plated girls’ earrings for under $20. They make a nice gift for any age. These dangly, multi-colored flower earrings are one of my daughter’s favorite pairs that work well with different outfits. They are priced well for a stocking stuffer!

And just like her mama, my daughter loves sparkle. One of her other favorite pairs are these colorful hoops that are not too large and come in various colors. My daughter has these small hoop earrings in blue and wears them often. They are small enough to work for girls, yet large enough to work for women.

Another great find for girls is this unicorn tape dispenser. My daughter loves unicorns, which is why we got it for her. I knew she’d like the tape dispenser and use it, but I didn’t count on how much she would use it! It’s been a few months and she uses it at least a few times a week. It was definitely worth the price we paid and looks cute on her desk as well.

For your son or nephew

I’m not sure boys ever stop loving dinosaurs and fierce animals. I mean, they really are cool. My son loves dinos and wolves of any type! This Untamed Dire Wolf Fingerling is right up his alley. (My husband also thinks it’s pretty awesome.)

Another Christmas gift idea for boys (or girls!) of any age are these mesh squishy balls. My son first got one a few months ago. Our whole family liked it so much that I ordered a 12-pack and both my husband and I keep one at our desk. They work well to add into a gift or make great stocking stuffers. I’ve found them to be great to play with while I’m thinking or even while I’m listening to someone talk. I did accidentally pop one of these guys and slime oozed out, but so far neither my husband nor kids have done that, so I may have extra stress I’m working on! 🙂

Looking for more Christmas ideas? Check out these posts!
25 gag gifts that are clean

8 Ways to cope when holidays are hard

Dealing with grief during the holiday season

Thanksgiving and Christmas are coming. They can be times filled with family and good food. But, they can also be filled with grief, aching hearts and shattered dreams. Oftentimes, it’s a mix of both. You may be heartbroken over some things, yet work to enjoy the time with the family or friends you are with. Dealing with grief during the holiday season is difficult.

The older I get, the more I find the bittersweetness in holidays and other big events. It really is all such a mix. With that in mind, I’ve put together 8 ways to cope with grief during the holiday season.

8 Ways to cope when holidays are hard: Dealing with grief during the holiday season

1. Give yourself some grace.

I’m going to start with this one right out of the gate. Grace is what we need most when we are grieving or struggling with something. Other people often extend it to us, but we don’t always give it to ourselves. If you are struggling with grief during this holiday season, recognize that and ease up on yourself. Don’t beat yourself up for not cooking this year or crying in the middle of dinner because someone is missing. Do your best and accept that your best good enough, even if it’s different than usual or different than you want it to be.

2. Let go of traditions that are painful or impossible.

It may be for just one season, but if you have a tradition that is causing you much stress and anxiety, let it go for this year. Explain to others, if necessary, that you just aren’t up to it this year. Most of the time, they’ll understand.

3. Avoid social media.

Nothing is worse when struggling to make it through a holiday than logging onto Facebook or Instagram and seeing posts and photos of happy people with perfect holiday celebrations. Even if you know in your head that you are only seeing the highlight reel and nobody has a perfect life and family, your heart often can’t handle it. I remember during one difficult holiday season, I went dark from social media for a few days. I didn’t regret it for a moment.

4. Get creative.

Sometimes you have to find a new normal, even if it’s a temporary one. One of my most thankful Thanksgivings was 12 years ago when my dad was just released the hospital the day before after a two-month stay in which we weren’t sure he’d live. My husband, parents and I sat at their kitchen table and ate lunchmeat sandwiches and chips. We were grateful that my dad was alive and home. That simple meal was delicious.

5. Pray about it.

Praying for help and strength to get through a difficult holiday helps you remember Who to turn to and focus on. Prayer can help remind you that God is there, He is with you and He will give you the strength that you need. Don’t hesitate to ask others to pray for you as well. Sometimes we don’t even know the words to say or what to ask for when we are in the middle of heartbreak. The prayers of our family and friends can buoy and strengthen us so much during those times.

6. Utilize Bible verses and breath-prayers throughout the day.

Find a Bible verse that comforts you — maybe it’s your favorite verse or maybe not. Dwell on it. Memorize it. Repeat it. Use it! God’s Word is powerful. Find a verse you can turn into a breath-prayer. Breath-prayers are one or two sentences that you can say over and over under your breath, almost without thought.

A couple of years ago, we were facing an incredibly difficult situation with a loved one. I clung to part of my favorite verse, Isaiah 41:10, and prayed, “God, strengthen and uphold us.” Simple, yet powerful and needed. For so many years I’ve loved that verse for the first part reminding me not to fear. But the second part of that verse was just what I needed for a breath-prayer 25 years after I first learned and loved the verse.

I had no clue when I first started finding comfort in that verse as a child going down a dark hallway that one day in the future I’d need the rest of that verse so desperately, but God did!

7. Set realistic expectations.

Go into the holiday season with some forethought. Along with missing people or dealing with a major stressor over the holiday season, sometimes dealing with our family members can be incredibly difficult. I have had times where I’ve imagined conversations I’d have with loved ones and how we’d get along so swimmingly. And then I’ve been heartbroken when that didn’t happen.

Don't be so busy thinking of what you are missing that you overlook what you have.

When you plan ahead a little in your mind, you can manage your expectations to help your own self. For example, if you know someone isn’t going to treat you well but you can’t avoid being with them, do your best to prepare yourself for the situation and how you will react in love and peace. 

8. Count your blessings.

I know that can be challenging sometimes. Some holidays are just stinking hard. Grief is hard whether a loved one has died, is away by choice or is away due to other circumstances. But in the midst of the heartache, there is still good. Remind yourself of the blessings you have.

Start with the most basic of things like being thankful for the clothes on your back or the air you’re breathing. Work from there and you will usually be surprised by how many things you can come up with. Remember also the people who love you. Sometimes missing someone else can make you appreciate those you have even more. You don’t want to be so busy thinking of what you are missing that you overlook what you have.

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10 Ways to be kind to your family today

Celebrate World Kindness Day from the inside out!

Happy World Kindness Day! Today is a day created to remind the world to be kind to each other. The focus is on making the world a better place through acts of kindness. I love that idea! It goes right along with my passion and Families with Grace. 

While you’re looking for and thinking about ways to be kind to those you encounter, don’t forget about the people you encounter most: your family! Sometimes being kind to those who live under the same roof as you can be harder and take more sacrifice.

For example, buying a coffee for the car behind you at the Starbucks drive-thru is kind, but it doesn’t require much time or effort. There is minimal sacrifice involved other than the few dollars extra that you pay. (And totally do something like this if you can; it really is a kind thing to do!)

But finding ways to be kind to our families can be a little more involved. My kids, for instance, wouldn’t think twice about me paying for their food or drinks because I always do since they are 5 and 9.

I’ve come up with some ideas for you to apply to your family for World Kindness Day — and the other 364 days of the year! Give them a try, let me know what you love and share some of your ideas as well.

1. Write a note.

Maybe it’s because I’m a writer, but I love a handwritten note. Even just a few sentences on a piece of paper that say how much you love and appreciate someone can make their day. Text messages or emails work, too, if that’s more your speed or works better for your family. 

2. Bake a favorite family treat.

I think my love language is food! LOL Seriously, though, there’s something about cooking or baking something special for those you love that is good for your soul. And they’ll love it, too!

Here are some yummy recipes you can try:
Fudgy brownies
Peanut butter cookies
Toffee cookies
Pumpkin bread
Oat and honey granola
4-ingredient whipped pudding pie
Peanut butter honey nut cereal clusters
Banana bread

3. Do someone else’s chore.

Our family is big on everyone has their own chores and is responsible for their own belongings. We’re trying to teach responsibility and all that jazz, but every so often taking someone else’s dishes to the sink for them or putting their dirty socks in the hamper is just plain kind and appreciated.

4. Go around the dinner table and share things you like about each other.

My family has done this randomly a couple of times. We’ve also done it on birthdays and focused on one person. Everyone loves to hear what other people like about them. Challenge your family to say three nice things about each family member that have to be more than their appearance. 

5. Ditch electronics, snuggle and chat.

What is kinder than giving someone your undivided attention? Even better, snuggle together on the couch and talk about your day. Try to do more listening than talking. The gift of being heard is priceless.

6. Banish complaints.

Decide to spend the entire day without complaining or grousing. Sometimes we get in the habit of seeing and talking about only negative things. Banish the negative and embrace the positive for a day. Your whole family can do it together or just you can do it. Either way, the shift in even one attitude can shift the attitude of the entire family.

7. Buy a small gift as a surprise.

Stop by the Dollar Tree for a small toy or trinket. Or stop by a gas station and pick up a favorite candy bar. You could even get a $5 gift card to a favorite fast food restaurant. Just find a little something your loved ones love and leave it somewhere for them to find like on their pillow, desk or usual end of the couch.

8. Join together to be kind.

Sometimes the best gift you can give your loved ones is the gift of learning to appreciate how good it feels to give. Talk about a family project you can undertake together to help someone else. Make a card together for an extended family member going through a hard time. Or go shopping for and deliver food to a local food pantry. Or bake cookies and take them to the local fire department.

9. Get crafty.

Homemade gifts can really be the best ones. I have always enjoyed cards and crafts my kids make me, but I’ll never forget how excited my daughter was when I made her a card to go with her small gift for preschool graduation because I’d forgotten to buy one. She thought it was so awesome that her mom sat down with construction paper and made one for her. It doesn’t have to be an elaborate craft (unless that’s your thing, then go for it!). Just a little something can go a long way.

10. Say thank you.

This seems too obvious, but I’m thinking of saying thank you for all the small things that we expect our families to do and don’t often comment on. Thank you husband for taking out the trash. Thank your kids for putting their clothes in the hamper. Everyone loves to be appreciated!

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5 tips to keep your marriage strong with a newborn

Advice for your marriage with a newborn

When our daughter was born in October of 2009, my husband and I been married for just over 10 years. We’d weathered lots of life’s storms together including chronic illness, extended family health scares, death, job loss and financial devastation. Through it all, we remained a team, ready to take on life’s challenges together. We strove to work together and not against one another. We hadn’t, however, navigated marriage with a newborn.

Nothing prepared us for parenthood. My husband and I knew it would be hard. We weren’t young. We weren’t naive, but it was way harder than we expected. I’ve yet to meet a new parent who said otherwise. It’s sort of a total system shock. While becoming a first-time parent is a great and exciting event, it’s also highly stressful — especially when you figure in the hormones, the sheer exhaustion and the total upheaval as life as you knew it.

We learned some lessons the first time around with a newborn. So when we had our son in January 2013, we were able to better adjust. Both of my babies were completely different kinds of babies. They are still different. But these tips, which I first wrote just before our son was born, helped keep our marriage with a newborn strong both times.

1. Don’t keep score. 

In the early months of our daughter’s life, I kept a mental score of who did more. It was me — always. After all, I was the one who got up with her all night, I was the one who was pumping for her around the clock, I was the one whose body was still healing and on and on and on the list could go. However, I was failing to notice the things my husband was doing. He was waking up at night, too. After working long days that involved a three-hour total commute, he’d come home and take over so I could snooze. He was changing diapers. We both did a lot. 

I realized I resented him as he slept while I sat in a dark living room pumping more milk after having changed, fed and gotten the baby back to sleep. I have lots of reasons why I felt this way (hormones, exhaustion, etc.), but none of them justified it and it was hurting my relationship in silence (well, mostly in silence save for a few bursts of passive aggressiveness — a trait I work to stifle because it’s hurtful).

Once I got over myself and realized keeping score was only making things worse, I was able to accept my new role as a mother and milk provider and appreciate the things my husband was doing. I realized sometimes he did more and sometimes I did more. As long as we were both making an effort to do the best we could, I couldn’t complain. Keeping score only makes things worse for your marriage with a newborn.

2. Let each other express emotions freely, without judgment. 

When you’re exhausted and dealing with a baby who isn’t cooperating, sometimes you’re just plain angry at your squalling bundle of joy. It’s neither rational nor reasonable. But, it happens. Being able to share that with your partner and have them understand, take over if necessary and not judge you helps you move on and move past it.

I struggled a lot in the early days with my daughter. I thought I was failing her and wasn’t cut out to be a mother. My husband never judged me. He supported me, encouraged me and helped me move past it. I whined and cried about being tied to a breast pump and never being able to have a normal life again, and he was patient to encourage and support me.

When I was weary from our son not sleeping at night for the first three months, my husband left me a note to find in the middle of the night. It reminded me I wasn’t alone and could wake him up if I got overwhelmed. 

3. Take time for each other. 

I’m not talking big, elaborate dates. Some of our best times in those first couple of weeks after our daughter was born were when one set of our parents would come over and watch the baby for a couple of hours so we could rest. We’d head straight to bed, set the timer so we didn’t sleep for 18 hours straight like we felt like doing and snuggle in for a nap together.

We didn’t have compelling conversations about being new parents. We didn’t whisper sweet nothings in each others’ ears. Instead we just enjoyed rest together. As time went on, we carved out time for more like quick dinners at fast food restaurants without a baby in tow. No matter what, though, making time for one another is important for your marriage with a newborn.

4. Accept help from the outside. 

This goes along with number three. It’s hard to make time for each other when you’ve got a baby demanding help and attention so often. Add in that during times the baby sleeps you have to deal with things like laundry, pumping, showering, sleeping and eating, and there’s very little time or energy left for much else. Having help from others is fine. Maybe it’s a friend who will come and hold the baby for a while. Or maybe you have retired parents around who love to snuggle with their grandbabies.

Whatever the case, it’s OK to ask for outside help. In fact, I’d say it’s even necessary for your own sanity and the sake of your relationship. Asking for help doesn’t mean you aren’t good parents or can’t handle having a baby. It just means you’re human, recognize you sometimes need a break and understand you need to stay connected to your spouse to stay sane through this journey.

5. Always be compassionate and respectful.

Sometimes in order to be compassionate with our spouse, we have to remember that it’s not all about us. Our spouses are people, too, with their own wants and needs. Remaining compassionate when you’re exhausted and overwhelmed is hard.

But remember your spouse is just as exhausted and overwhelmed, and sometimes he needs you to give him some grace and vice versa. Both of you will mess up. Both of you will get short with the other and need them to just drop it and understand you’re coming from a place of exhaustion, not anger.

That said, being respectful to each other is key as well. Sometimes people are kinder to complete strangers than their own spouses. Not cool. You can never take back words once they have been said. You can apologize, but the words have left their mark. Try to remember that when the baby is crying, you’ve been up for 19 hours and you just realized you’re out of clean sleepers because your spouse forgot to do the laundry like he said he would.

(And, because my husband reads my blog, I must point out I made up this last scenario. I don’t think it happened to us, but I couldn’t think of an actual example, though I know these types of things happened.) You’re both doing your best.

Parenthood isn’t easy. The newborn days are rough. They’re hard on each person and relationship. At the end of the day (even when that’s 2 a.m.), the important thing is that you have this new, tiny life that came from the two of you. It’s awe-inspiring and overwhelming at once.

And, as someone whose youngest baby is turning 6 in a couple of months, I can assure you that the newborn days do pass and pass quickly and one day you’ll be able to sleep again.

Surviving a season of waiting

What I learned about God’s faithfulness in the nine years it took to sell my house

Seasons of waiting are hard. About 10 years ago, we were selling our house to move about an hour away to the bigger city where my husband’s office was. I was also pregnant with our first baby, so we had a bit of a deadline.

First we had our house for sale by owner and sold it. Then the buyer backed out. We decided to list with a realtor. We told the house again. And again the buyer backed out.

Surviving a season of waiting

We were beyond discouraged. I especially struggled with it because I have anxiety issues and the added pregnancy hormones didn’t help. We even ended up in small claims court a few months later with one of the buyers over earnest money. It was ridiculous.

Of course, people criticized my home throughout the process, because that’s how selling a house, especially one built in 1960, works. I was discouraged and beaten down. I didn’t understand why God not only shut the door once, but twice and then slammed it shut extra hard for good effort. Why were we having to stay put and make my husband drive 75 minutes away (one way) each day while dealing with a newborn? It wasn’t fair!

Finding a new focus

As time went by, I realized that I needed to let it go. And I needed to change my thoughts, because they were starting to consume me. I worked to shift from thinking about how discouraging it was to make myself pray, “God, thank you for keeping us where we need to be.”

Soon I meant it, because that was the other thing. I really DID believe in my head that He had shut the door on our move for a purpose. My heart was just struggling to get there.

Eventually, it got better, but I still had a bit of real estate PTSD. As time passed, we decided to just stay put and not move out of town. My husband got to work from home more often, we had a second baby and I had some new health struggles. We also loved being in the same city with both sets of our parents. I really was grateful to still be in our house.

But, I still had that little voice in my head telling me that I’d just always live in that house. Going through getting my hopes up for moving again just didn’t seem worth it. I told my husband that I would live in that house until I died unless God dragged out of there by force. (I can be a bit dramatic…)

Moving forward

So at the beginning of 2015 when my husband suggested we go and talk with a local builder about possibly building a house in the school district where we wanted our kids to go, I laughed.

Just like Sarah with Abraham when he told her that she’d have a baby in her advanced years, I didn’t believe it. I told my husband I couldn’t get my hopes up and be disappointed again. Throughout the years, I had made peace with our house and I didn’t want that peace ruined again. I didn’t think I could handle more disappointment.

We talked with the builder. We ran numbers and, despite all my hesitation, we decided to move forward with selling our house. This time we weren’t looking to leave the city where we had grown up and both of our sets of parents live. Instead, we found a location closer to the interstate for my husband’s commute. We also liked the school district.

Jeremiah 29:11

I did a lot of praying and talking with God. Finally, I had a peace and a glimmer of hope. I felt like God was confirming the move and promising me that I would one day live in that new house.

So, we organized our house and again put it up for sale by owner near the end of March 2015. A few people showed interest, but as time went by and life got more hectic, we listed with a realtor in May.

We signed a contract for six months, which would take us up until the beginning of December. I wasn’t all that worried, because God had promised me He was on it. However, I also wasn’t incredibly hopeful that our house would sell. I just made peace that no matter what happened, I’d leave it in God’s hands and be OK with it.

Waiting some more

In that entire time from March until December we had zero offers. Nada. None. We had some showings. We had open houses. And we had no interest. We decided to take a break for Christmas. We intended to put the house back on the market in the spring of 2016, but life got in the way. I had more health struggles. Life was just challenging. In the back of my head, I remembered God’s promise, but I didn’t fully believe it any more. 

Then came 2017 and as the months passed, my husband pushed me into listing the house again. As I prayed about it, God reminded me that when He makes promises, He doesn’t break them, so I needed to move forward in faith.

We made a few more changes and updates. We rented a storage unit and moved out some furniture. I knew from the beginning that we needed a realtor and I had one in mind who had followed up with us time and again. So when we were ready, I called him.

Moving forward — again

We got the house on the market in July. At the end of August, I had surgery with a specialist about five hours from our home. We left the house ready to show. Sure enough, the day after my surgery, just after we checked out of the hospital and headed to our hotel, our realtor called with an offer.

Surviving a season of waiting

Overwhelmed, we ran the numbers. It was a good offer. We accepted it, but also accepted that the buyer wanted possession at closing in 30 days. We weren’t sure how that would happen since I couldn’t lift anything heavier than a gallon of milk for a couple of months, but we trusted it would work out.

I felt peace about it all. The buyer’s last name was Buckles, which was the name of our dog who passed away in the middle of the house selling business back in May of 2016. I knew God gave me that as an extra sign we were doing the right thing.

With help from our family and friends we got packed and moved out within a month. Most of our stuff went to storage. Some went with us to my parents’ house. We lived with them for six months before being able to move into our new home in April of 2018.

Reflecting on the process

It was a nine-year process to get to this house. This house certainly isn’t what I thought I’d have when we started the process. It wasn’t where I thought we’d live. I hadn’t dreamed of living here. And yet, it is perfect. It isn’t a mansion, but I don’t need a mansion. I call it my dream home, because it is.

Our new home is better than anything I had imagined. It fits our family and needs well. The location is terrific. And the school system is a bonus we didn’t even need because our daughter got into an excellent school through the local university that allowed our son to go there as well when he started kindergarten. 

It was a long wait, and I wasn’t good at being patient. I’d love to say I knew all along when God kept closing the doors that He had something better in store. My head knew it, but my heart didn’t feel it. I felt discouraged and downtrodden so often throughout the entire process. More than once I was ready to give up and not dare hope or dream for more. I didn’t see where I was going.

Had I been an Israelite wandering through the desert for 40 years with Moses, I’d have been on the Committee of Complaints and Doubts.

Surviving a season of waiting

But, you know what? God showed up. God knew exactly where He was leading us. He knew what would be best for our family before we could even begin to think of it. He knew.

I’m left in my new house in awe, praising and trusting God! And I’m left marveling at His gifts, which are truly beyond what I deserve. I am thankful for His grace and mercy.

God’s faithfulness and goodness

I share this long story because I want to encourage you if you are in a season of waiting where you’ve been praying, waiting and spinning your wheels. Even when we know waiting is God’s will, it can be so very hard.

I have another much, much more serious situation that I’m waiting for an answer to. It’s been going on since the beginning of 2015, and so far we don’t have an answer, but I trust God has a plan. He always does even when we can’t see it. He has a plan even when we whine and grouse because it doesn’t look like we thought it would. 

My friend, if you are in a season of waiting right now, know that God hasn’t forgotten you. He isn’t hanging you out to dry or leaving you flailing in the wind. God is with you and He is working in ways you can’t even imagine. He does have plans for you and hope for your future (see Jeremiah 29:11). Our Father has plans for your good and not your decimation. He is there, my friend. Just keep hanging on and watching for Him. 

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Easy slow cooker potato soup

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When my husband and I got married 19 years ago, we got two slow cookers. One came in a carrying case. The other was stainless and could double as a deep fryer. I kept both. I didn’t use either one for many years.

A few years ago, I got out the stainless one and used it a few times to make cheese dip. Once I tried making a pasta dish that turned out so horribly we ate frozen pizza. Then four years ago, I came across a recipe for potato soup and decided to give it a try. It was a hit with my family and quickly became my daughter’s favorite thing I make. 

Last fall, we moved and since we had to put all of our belongings in storage for six months, I decided to get rid of my stainless slow cooker. It was OK, but it was hot to touch on the outside, didn’t have a removable bowl and was hard to clean. I knew I had the other one in the attic that had a carrying case, so I wasn’t worried. 

Fast forward to two weeks ago. I decided to get out the slow cooker that had been moved into the cabinets of my new kitchen. I was going to make nacho grande soup (another favorite) and make sure it worked well. I had also signed up to take potato soup into a carry-in at church later in the month. I opened the box (for the first time in 19 years, mind you!). I pulled it out and found that it was a slow cooker, but it was quite small. Ack! It fit my nacho grande soup, but I knew it wouldn’t be big enough for the potato soup.

So I went on a mission to find a new slow cooker. I didn’t want to spend a huge amount of money because I don’t use my slow cooker a huge amount. I just knew I wanted the interior bowl to be removable for easier cleaning, have a strap for easy travel and maybe be red to match my beloved stand mixer. I opted for a 6-quart oval Crock Pot brand slow cooker.

My beautiful new Crock Pot all ready to be used on my kitchen counter. I’m in love!

This past weekend, I did indeed use it to make potato soup for the church carry-in and found that this one would actually fit a double-batch of this soup. While a double-batch would be way too much for my family of four (we have some leftovers with a single-batch), doubling up would be easy enough for large gatherings.

I’m loving my new slow cooker. And I love this potato soup recipe. It really is my favorite of all-time. It is simple, it is easy and it is so yummy. Its ingredients are easy on the pocketbook and without using heavy cream, it’s relatively low-fat as well. It’s ideal for busy nights this fall!

It starts with frozen hash browns — and that means no peeling potatoes for hours on end. Open the bag, and dump them in! I usually get the southern style, which are little square cubes.

Frozen hash browns make this recipe so easy!

Next, you add in 28 ounces of chicken broth, which you can get in two 14-ounce cans or measure out 3-1/2 cups from a box of chicken broth. I usually use low sodium, but I’ve also used regular chicken broth. It tastes fine both ways. Along with the chicken broth, add in a can of cream of potato soup. If your grocery store is out of it, you can substitute cream of chicken soup with no issue. Top it off with some black pepper and stir.

This is how it looks as you start to cook. It will thicken a bit as it cooks and the potatoes soften.

Cook it on low for five hours. At around hour four, soften the cream cheese. I usually get it to the point of being almost creamy. Stir it into the soup and continue to cook on low for another 45 minutes to an hour. Serve it up topped with shredded cheese and bacon bits. We love to have a total carb fest and eat it with french bread!I’ve served six adults and two small children with this recipe before. If you need much more, I do think it would double well with a large enough slow cooker. If you do have leftovers, just store them in the fridge. This soup reheats incredibly well. My daughter always wants to have leftovers so she can take it for her lunch. My mom has frozen it before with good luck, but I’ve never had enough left that my daughter would let me think of doing that!

Slow cooker potato soup

Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 5 hours 45 minutes
Total Time 5 hours 55 minutes
Servings 8 -12 servings

Ingredients
  

  • 1 30 oz. bag frozen hash-brown potatoes (I use the squared, southern style)
  • 2 14 oz. cans chicken broth (regular or low-sodium)
  • 1 10.75 oz. can cream of potato soup
  • 1/3 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 1 8 oz. block cream cheese (very softened)

Instructions
 

  • In a slow cooker, combine potatoes, broth, soup and pepper. (Honestly, I don’t usually measure the pepper. I just do a few turns on the pepper grinder and call it good.)
  • Cover, and cook on low for 4 hours.
  • Stir in cream cheese, cook 45 minutes, stirring occasionally, until combined.
  • Top each bowl with shredded cheese and bacon bits, and enjoy!