Families With Grace

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

Two easy ways to save money shopping online

Affiliate links are used in this post, if you sign up for program(s) via my link, I receive a commission at no 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.

Online shopping is awesome. It’s especially awesome this time of year for busy mamas trying to get their Christmas shopping done in the midst of the chaos of everyday life — not to mention trying to keep your kids from seeing what you’re buying for them! I remember the days when my oldest was an itty-bitty and I could totally sneak Christmas gifts into our cart without her noticing. Those days are long behind us now that she’s 9 and her little brother is 5.

Add in the fact that I also have some chronic health issues, and online shopping is pretty much ideal for me. I love it! I also love saving money. Raising a family is expensive, so I’m all over anything I can do to take it easy on our budget. I’ve found two services that help me earn and save money online, doing the shopping that I usually do anyway.

This is hands-down my favorite program because I get cash back. In the last year, I’ve earned just over $100! Ebates pays actual cash every quarter into my PayPal account (which I can use to pay online or transfer to my bank account for free). It’s super easy to use. You sign up for the program, install a little “E” into your toolbar and then click it any time you are getting ready to make a purchase online. (And if you aren’t super tech savvy, no worries. Ebates walks you right through it and you can easily have it installed within a couple of minutes!) Ebates works with so many stores and online vendors, that I seldom come across a retailer I’m buying from that isn’t partnered with them.

Here’s how it works: Ebates partners with online retailers. When you activate your Ebates’ rewards by clicking the little “E” in your toolbar before you pay for whatever you are purchasing, you earn a percentage back on your purchases (minus the shipping cost). Some places are low at 1 percent, but surprisingly, many go up to 10 percent or higher, especially this time of year. (And even those 1 percent earnings add up!) Ebates’ percentages tend to be higher during busy shopping seasons. I ordered some toys for my kids from Walmart last week and earned 5 percent cash back on them. I’ve seen Walmart at 10 percent back. Here are some of the offerings currently:

  • Kohl’s: 6 percent
  • Shutterfly: 2 percent
  • Walmart: up to 10 percent (5 percent on toys right now)
  • Carters: 5 percent
  • eBay: up to 2 percent
  • Macy’s: 10 percent
  • Groupon: 6 perecnt
  • TicketMaster: up to 5 percent
  • Zulily: 5 percent
  • Florists.com: 24 percent
  • Blue Apron: $20 back
  • Hello Fresh: $10 back
  • Marriott: 12 percent
  • Holiday Inn: 4 percent

I mean, seriously! That adds up quickly. I have had an issue once or twice where something I purchased didn’t get the cash back added to my account. Ebates’ customer service was super responsive and quick to correct the issue when I contacted them and had my order number handy. It’s only ever come up with Walmart.com, but I also order a lot of products from Walmart.com. 

Hotels take some time to have the cash back added. The cash back is added to your account once the retailer confirms that you have paid for and received your item. This take some time with hotels, but it can add up quickly. For example, booking a stay at a Marriott right now for $150 a night for two nights would earn you $36! Ebates also offers coupons exclusive to its customers.

In the two years I’ve been a part of Ebates, I’ve earned a total of $153.39. My largest quarterly payout was $49.49. In the last year, my totals were more around $20 per quarter, which isn’t too shabby. It’s not a huge amount, but it comes in handy, and it’s money that comes to me for shopping online and doing exactly what I’d be doing anyway. It’s so easy to use that it seems silly to me not to. Even my smallest amounts earned add up quickly. It also doesn’t interfere with any promotions or rewards through specific retailers. Earlier this year, for example, I ordered a desk and some other large items from Kohl’s. I earned Kohl’s cash AND got my percentage from my Ebates.

To sweeten the deal just a little more, if you sign up through the links on my page, you’ll get $10 added to your account when you make your first purchase! Just click here or anywhere you see “Ebates” in this post.

My other favorite online money saving resource is Honey. Just like with Ebates, you sign up and then add the icon into your internet browser. When you get ready to check out at stores, Honey will pop up and ask if you want it to try coupon codes for you. I used to stop and search through a couple of sites looking for coupon codes. After I got Honey, I did the same thing and found that it had more codes than I could find. It’s saved me a few times with codes that have come in handy. 

For stores that don’t have any coupons, Honey also offers points through their Honey Gold reward system. While it doesn’t work with quite a vast array of retailers as Ebates does to earn points, it works with most major ones and lets you earn points based on a percentage of your purchase. When you get to 1,000 points, you can redeem them for a gift card to retailers like Walmart, Target, eBay and Macy’s.

One other bonus to Honey over Ebates is that you don’t have to have a PayPal account. The rewards aren’t quite as high with Honey, but they are still pretty good. I truly use both every time I shop online, which is frequently!

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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.

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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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Spiritual truths from my children — and Big Foot

While my job as a mom includes teaching my kids spiritual lessons and Biblical truths, I am surprised at how often they actually teach me something instead. Just this week I learned something from each of them at different times on the same day.

I was scurrying around making dinner after our usual after school busyness of getting home, doing homework, emptying lunch boxes and packing lunch for the next day. It was the night of the week we have to eat early before they have gymnastics and parkour classes. It was also a night I was flying solo because my husband was helping his parents. I was cracking some eggs to make egg sandwiches (super gourmet, I know! LOL) when my mind started wandering.

I excel at being anxious and getting ahead of myself. I started down the path of worrying about what-ifs and all sorts of fun thoughts like that. My daughter came over to show me an image she’d made. She recently got the Bible app on one of her electronics and has enjoyed the daily verse. That afternoon she realized she could click a button and make an image of it.

She came up beside me at the stove and showed me her image of 2 Corinthians 12:9, “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” (NIV) She went on to tell me that she really liked that verse and thought of how true it was that God is so big and strong even when we are so weak. Then she skipped off to play a game.

I flipped the eggs and realized she was right. The stuff I was worrying about? God is bigger than it. All of it. I don’t need to worry. I am weak, but He is so very strong.

Later that evening, I took my son to his lesson, and we chatted in the car on the way there and home about Big Foot. He has worried a few times about the existence of Big Foot after a video he watched months ago. I assured him a few times that Big Foot really doesn’t exist. We talked about how people imagine things and make mistakes. We even talked about if Big Foot somehow does exist, he doesn’t live anywhere near us and the city.

Yet, a few minutes after I got him tucked into bed, I heard his door open. Sure enough, he was worried about Big Foot. I reminded him of all we had talked about. I told him I could promise 1,000 percent that he didn’t need to worry about Big Foot. He agreed, but wasn’t quite confident enough to be alone. He asked if I’d sit in his room for a bit. I told him I’d stay for a moment and sing him a song, which usually helps him settle in.

First I said I’d sing “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star,” but then I changed my mind. I told him instead I was singing “Jesus Loves Me” to help him remember that Jesus is bigger and stronger than Big Foot, even though Big Foot doesn’t exist and Jesus does. We talked about that for a minute about how big Jesus is. My son mentioned that Jesus died, and we talked about how excited the bad guys must have been until He rose again on the third day and showed them He can’t be defeated. (As a 5-year-old boy, my son is very much loves scenarios when bad guys are defeated.) So, I sang the song, added in “Jesus Loves the Little Children,” listened to his version of “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” and then left his room.

Boom. Just like that I realized that my son and I were alike. While it seems silly to me to worry about Big Foot, who doesn’t exist, how silly it must seem to God for me to worry about things that haven’t happened and might not even happen. And the same thing that comforted my son is the same thing I need to remember: Jesus is bigger than all of it. He is bigger and stronger. He is on it, and I have nothing to fear. I have nothing to worry about.

I can tell you I was left that evening knowing God was teaching me a lesson I was living like I had forgotten: He is bigger than everything, and I need to trust Him. I need to give my worry and anxiety to Him — sometimes over and over and over because I am so very good at picking it back up again.

I can also promise you that whatever is you’re facing, whatever you’re worried about, whatever you’re scared of, Jesus is bigger than it all. He is bigger and stronger than Big Foot. He is victorious! He has defeated death and the grave. Nothing is bigger than that. Nothing is more impossible than that. We just have to let it go and trust. We can lay our burdens on His shoulders and know He can bear them when we surely cannot. Be reminded of that today just like I was this week. Bask in His power, His love, His victory and His grace.

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!

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!

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!

3 trendy small appliances worth the cabinet space

These three small appliances make my life easier!

The links in this post contain affiliate links and I will receive a small commission at no cost to you if you make a purchase after clicking on my link. I was not given any of these products or asked to review them. All opinions are solely my own.

Nobody wants to take up kitchen counter or cabinet space with small appliances they won't use. But these three small appliances are more than worth it! #AirFryer #InstantPot #StandMixer #GiftIdea #HomeCooking #SmallAppliances

I’m protective of my kitchen cabinet and countertop space. I must be convinced something is worth it and I’ll actually use it to try to find any precious space for it. Some small appliances are trendy and just used for one thing, which makes them hard to justify. But others are totally worth it. 

With that in mind, I’ve put together a list of three trendy small appliances I have in my kitchen that I love and use regularly. They are all worth the space they take. All of them are great Christmas gifts (in fact, two were given to me as Christmas gifts!).

Air Fryer

Last Christmas, my mother-in-law gave me an air fryer. I’d never heard of air fryers before and wasn’t sure what they were all about. Since she literally writes cookbooks and is all the time coming up with her own recipes, I took her word for it that this was something that would work well. And she was right! We use our air fryer on average of once a week.

Our family likes crispy food, but we are also try to be health conscious. Instead of deep-frying foods like french fries, we opted to bake them. Usually oven-baked fries take a good 25 to 30 minutes to get crispy. The air fryer, though, does it in about 10 to 15 minutes. They come out crispy, but not greasy.

We’ve used it for french fries, sweet potato fries, chicken nuggets, mozzarella sticks, taquitos, tater tots, french toast stick bites and pizza rolls.

I keep the cooking chart from the manual handy, because oftentimes the air fryer instructions are different than what’s on the package as far as temperature and times go.

That said, I also have to tell you how easy the air fryer is to clean. The basket has a non-stick finish and everything easily wipes out of it. I was shocked at how easily it cleaned up the first time we made pizza rolls in it and some of the inner gooeyness leaked out. I thought I’d be scrubbing for a while, but one swipe and it came off. Nice!

The only additional tip I follow is to shake the food about every five minutes like it says to do in the instructions. It really does help the food cook evenly. Otherwise, the top pieces almost burn while the bottom ones stay soggy.

Stand Mixer

Six years ago, I was incredibly pregnant with my second baby at Christmas and on modified bedrest when my parents gave me a KitchenAid Artisan stand mixer in empire red. I couldn’t wait to use it, but wait I did because of the whole modified bedrest thing. Since then, however, I have had plenty of time to use it. I’ve fallen in love with it and even named it. Based on its beautiful ruby red color, I refer to my stand mixer as Dorothy. My kids talk to her and I make her talk back. I use Dorothy for so many things!

When I asked for a stand mixer, I didn’t even really know all I could and would do with it. I just knew it would help with my baking. Now, I use it to mix all kinds of things like cookie dough, cake batter, muffin batter, brownie batter, cookie bar batter, bread dough and pizza dough. I also use it to easily shred chicken.

Since getting Dorothy, I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia, which makes stirring for a while sometimes painful. Dorothy helps me out! 

I had also never made any yeast bread before Dorothy. I decided to give it a try. Dorothy and I have journeyed together to really learn how yeast doughs work and how to best make them. I can now bake homemade yeast bread, rolls and pizza dough easily. This is saying quite a lot for me since I once  ruined Hamburger Helper so badly in our early days of marriage that we had to go to McDonald’s for dinner.

I love my stand mixer so much that I couldn’t even bare to pack her for the six months we lived at my parents’ house while our home was being built.

The one potential drawback about the stand mixer is that it is heavy. I leave mine in the corner of my countertop so I’m not lifting it up and down in and out of cabinets. The bowl and attachments are dishwasher safe. I’ve washed them in the dishwasher many times.

You can also buy additional attachments and accessories for these mixers to make homemade pasta and other goodies. I haven’t actually tried any of those, but according to friends and cooking shows they work well.

Instant Pot

Last Christmas, Instant Pots were all the rage. A couple of months after Christmas, I found a good price on an Instant Pot Duo Mini. I decided to give it a try. Everyone I had talked with about them had told me the joys of cooking things so quickly in them, but mostly I heard about dishes like pot roast, pork chops and beef. My husband and son won’t eat much meat at all, so I don’t make a lot of meat. I decided that the mini Instant Pot would work well for my family of four since I didn’t plan to cook large meats in it.

The first thing I made was boiled eggs. Seriously, it is awesome for boiled eggs! My Instant Pot takes about 5 minutes to come to pressure for them and then cooks them in 6 minutes. And the shells come off incredibly easy.

Then I decided to try making chicken breasts in it. I hadn’t made them before, because my husband won’t eat them.

I now regularly make chicken in my Instant Pot for my daughter and me. It cooks quickly and if it’s frozen, I don’t even have to thaw it first! I shred it up in my stand mixer and it’s perfect for sandwiches or to add to pasta dishes or whatever. My daughter likes it most with some barbeque sauce or honey mustard (or both!) mixed in and then just eats it with a spoon. The shredded chicken works especially well for her when her teeth are sore from her braces. I send in her hot Thermos for lunch, too.

Pasta is the only thing I’ve tried and not liked in the Instant Pot. The pasta tasted fine, but it seemed like more trouble than it was worth. I ended up with hot pasta water going everywhere and the time it took to come to pressure and cook was pretty comparable to boiling pasta on the stove.

I’m still working on finding additional Instant Pot recipes for  my non-meat eaters, but even just for the boiled eggs and chicken, I am happy to find room in my kitchen cabinets for my Instant Pot mini. They’re that easy — and good!

What small appliances do you love?

Let’s stay in touch! 7 easy ways to connect with Families with Grace

Connect with Families with Grace through email.

The Families with Grace mailing list is an awesome way to stay up-to-date on the latest posts as well as get some exclusive content! As soon as you sign up, in fact, you get my awesome tip sheet with 10 easy ways you can start living as a family with grace right now! It includes small changes that make a big difference in the happiness of your family, which is something we all desire. The tip sheet is chock-full of good, practical ideas to help bring peace to your home. You don’t want to miss it!

In addition to the helpful tip sheet, you will then start receiving our weekly email updates on Wednesdays that give you additional content as well as link to our recent posts. Don’t miss out! Go here now!

Follow Families with Grace on social media. 

Social media is a great way that I can get to know you better and you can get to know me better. I post usually once a day across the platforms. I include links to new posts as well as other tidbits of my life and topics relating to Families with Grace. You can find Families with Grace on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Pinterest.

Follow Families with Grace on YouTube.

I’m posting videos on YouTube! Lots of my blog posts now have videos at the bottom of them going over the content of that post. All of those videos are on the Families with Grace YouTube page.

Follow Families with Grace with Bloglovin.

If you haven’t heard of Bloglovin, check it out. It’s a cool page that lets you basically set up a news feed of blogs you want to follow. You can change around your notifications however you prefer. It’s a great way to stay current and not miss any of your favorite content!

You can find a permanent link to Families with Grace’s Bloglovin page on a laptop or desktop by scrolling down a bit and looking at the right-hand column. On a mobile device, just keep scrolling down after posts and find the link.