Category Archives: Traditions

Advent Devotionals: A [shorter] Jesse Tree

Children's Bible Study

Very, very rare (like, in this house, it’s maybe happened ONCE) is the year when the holidays roll around and everything falls neatly in to place:

  • Christmas decorations put up right after Thanksgiving (and all the boxes they spend the other 11 months of the year in are packed quickly and neatly out of sight until they’re needed to return everything to in the days after Christmas) so that we can maximize our enjoyment of them.
  • Christmas shopping completed early and gifts actually wrapped in advance of Christmas Eve and placed under the tree (with coordinating and thoughtful wrapping) so that we can enjoy the look of them.
  • Just the right amount of Christmas events . . . not so many that we feel stressed out, but enough that we feel we’ve spent quality time with family and friends and soaked in the Joy of the holidays together.

Instead, what’s more likely (in this house, at least) is a frantic rush to put the Christmas decorations up, usually much later than we intended. The boxes for said decorations stay in the Living Room for days (or weeks) until I’m at my breaking point and I find somewhere to shove them. Christmas shopping is frantic and stressful (and I spend December being thankful for Amazon Prime). Gifts get wrapped Christmas Eve . . . if I’m lucky. And, we run madly from one December event to another – school parties, play practices and performances, recitals, etc., etc., all while trying to fit in some opportunities to see lights, visit living Nativity events, bake Christmas treats, do a Christmas craft or two, and so on and so forth.

Sigh . . .

I really WANT this time of year to be slower and more peaceful. Usually, I do better than I’ve done this year. It’s been a rough year all the way around. Lot’s of different reasons – business craziness, school craziness, and just lots and lots of general craziness.

I’ve spent the last two weeks working H.A.R.D. at wrapping some things up so I can move them off of my plate. I’d like to focus on doing a few things well instead of desperately trying to keep a million different balls in the air. I’ve still got a ways to go, but I’m working on it.

iTunes-Cover-ArtAs a result of all the craziness, this is the latest in December we’ve EVER started going through our Jesse Tree devotional series. We just started today. We decided to keep it simple. We just pulled out our Bibles and pulled up the first two podcasts the kiddos recorded last year (when they were 7 and 5). And we followed along. And I’m SO glad we did. It was just what I needed this morning. Easy. And a great reminder of what I REALLY want to be focused on at the moment . . . and it’s NOT the boxes of Christmas decorations sitting in my Living Room that still need to be unpacked or the Christmas gifts I still need to buy and wrap.

And I thought it might you might be like me, and be ready to change your focus for the season, too.

If you are, and you don’t have time to make it through the full Jesse Tree devotional series, I thought I’d make it easy for you, and give you a shortened version. One a day for the ten days left before Christmas. Each one is around 5 minutes long. You can print off the guide and the ornament, if you like, or you can just listen in. Either way, I hope it’s just exactly what some of you have needed, too.IMG_2019

  1. December 15: Creation Blog post with podcast
  2. December 16: Fall Blog post with podcast
  3. December 17: Faithfulness Blog post with podcast
  4. December 18: Timing Blog post with podcast
  5. December 19: Rules Blog post with podcast
  6. December 20: Care Blog post with podcast
  7. December 21: Shepherd Blog post with podcast
  8. December 22: Humble Blog post with podcast
  9. December 23: Righteous Blog post with podcast
  10. December 24: Here Blog post with podcast

And, in case you don’t know WHY it’s called a “Jesse Tree” devotional series . . . here’s the Podcast about that:

Plan Blog post with podcast

Kid-Friendly Family Games


Back in March, we traveled (by Megabus . . . but THAT adventure we can discuss on another post) to Washington DC with both kids and luggage full of winter clothing.  Quick Travel Tip: it is COLD in DC in March. On the upside, it is not crowded, and if you’re up for it, there is ice skating on the National Mall. Very Cool.  Literally and figuratively. But, I digress.

So, we spent a full week eating every meal in a restaurant of some shape form or fashion.  Our children are generally well-behaved and pretty good company, but let’s get real . . . they aren’t perfect. And, after getting up early to get to places at certain times for various tours, hiking all over DC, waiting in lines, being dragged through art galleries they weren’t totally fascinated by, they were TIRED at dinner time. And hungry. And possibly, just a TAD bit crankier than usual.

It just worked out that the hotel where we stayed (the Holiday Inn at the Eisenhower Avenue Metro exit, which we would recommend as a decent mid-priced hotel, if anyone asked) offered free dinners for kids in their restaurant. And the food was nothing fancy, but it was pretty decent. So, every day, we’d time our touring so that we ate lunch out somewhere (usually at a restaurant in one of the museums) and then were back at the hotel for dinner and bed.

By the time we’d arrive at the dinner table, the kids were FAMISHED, and as I might have mentioned, TIRED. It was a recipe for a complete disaster. Seriously. And after having a FANTASTIC time (best.trip.ever!) as a family during the day touring DC, we really did NOT want to end the days with melt downs.  This game SAVED us:

Spot it!

I am absolutely serious. It was the PERFECT game to stick in my purse and pull out as we waited for our dinner to arrive. It’s small. It’s simple. It doesn’t require anyone to get particularly loud or rowdy. There are no small pieces, just the cards inside the tin. My 4 year-old could play, and while he might not be quite as quick on the draw as we adults were, he got the hang of it, and could hold his own. It was also a BREEZE to pick up off the table in about 2 seconds when they were walking up with our food. Even now that we’re home, it’s still a great game to throw in my purse if I think there’s a possibility that we’ll be hanging out somewhere waiting.  I really can’t recommend it enough.

For this same trip to DC, I also purchased this VERY simple game:

Pass the Pigs

I’ll be honest – I thought the premise was RIDICULOUS when I read it. Really, just totally ridiculous. But, it’s fun. Lots of fun. And, not just because we have an emotional attachment to Arkansas (Whoo, Pig Sooie!) We passed A LOT of time on our 3 and 4-hour layovers (again, we should really discuss the Megabus adventure separately at some point) playing this game, and really enjoyed it. It’s another one that is simple to pick up and start playing, and easy to transport in your purse, but it DOES have small pieces (the pigs!) that can be lost if you’re not careful. I wouldn’t take it to a restaurant like I would with Spot It, because my children (one of them, in particular) can get a little over zealous with the pig tossing. I’d really hate to have to retrieve a pig from another diner’s dinner. It fact, I probably wouldn’t. I’d send my husband to do it. They are HIS children, after all.

For Christmas 2011, we were trying to find some games that we could play as a family that wouldn’t bore the grown-ups in the family to death. My husband did some research and found this jewel:

Hey That's My Fish

It’s an awesome game, because it’s really fairly easy to understand and easy to play, but challenging to play well.  My children were both able to play it (my son was 3 ½ and my daughter was 5 ½ at the time), although they are still working on really developing the ability to strategize when they play it. But, that doesn’t really matter. We still play it and we have a GREAT time. Plus, while we play, we love to say repeatedly, and in ridiculous voices, “HEY, that’s my FISH!” Note: What’s available on Amazon is a smaller version of the game. We have the Deluxe version, which we purchased at a game store. Interestingly, there’s a VERY well reviewed app out there for Android based on the game. I haven’t tried it, but since I just realized there’s one for Android, I went searching for the IOS version, and I am TOTALLY going to give it a try! Since I usually REFUSE to pay for game apps unless I feel they are VERY educational, my son is going to think I am a cool mom for at least 5 minutes at some point tomorrow. Woohoo!

Last year, for his 4th birthday, my son received this:


He became obsessed. So did the rest of us. It’s not necessarily a competitive game, since only one person can play at a time, but it is fun to compare how far we’ve each been able to get through it, or to discuss the areas that were causing us issues. I’d also point out that there’s a Rookie version of Perplexus, but we opted to go with the Original Version for him, even though he was only 4.  He’s never made it all the way from the very beginning to the end (I’ve only done it myself once), but he enjoys the game very much and even at 4 he had the hand-eye coordination to do nearly as well as an adult. So, I’d recommend this version for a variety of ages.

A couple of years ago, my husband and I visited Mozambique to spend some time with our friends who are missionaries there. They play LOTS of board games. No cable TV, unreliable electricity, and intermittent internet makes board games a great go-to resource for entertainment), so really THEY should be writing this blog post, or at the very least, approving it. But, they have much more important things to attend to, and really, all I’ve got to do is this (and a pile of laundry so high we may all be crushed under it soon, but this is MUCH more fun), so I’ll just tell you about the game that they introduced us to, and that we subsequently bought when we got back to the states:

Ticket to Ride

This is the one game I’m going to recommend here that my kids are not yet old enough to play by themselves. There really is just too much strategy and it’s a little too complex. I’ve seen 10 and 12 year-olds who are able to play alone, but it’s just a little much for the 4-7 year-old age bracket. So, when we play, we play as teams, and the kids mostly help us execute the moves. They still have a really fun time, and I figure they’re getting a head start on being some serious competition in a few years.

Later, I’ll come back in a separate post and let you know about some more “educational” gems that my kiddos have come to love over the years.

This blog post contains affiliate links. 

I’m a total loser


Some of my favorite memories of my childhood involve being a loser.

Dad, a year or two ago over a cut throat game of Trivial Pursuit

Dad, a year or two ago over a cut throat game of Trivial Pursuit

My dad was absolutely fantastic about playing checkers with me, starting sometime around when I was 8.  After we’d gotten pretty good at playing a basic game of checkers, he had a desire to learn how to play chess, so we basically learned together.  And, here’s the important part – he never, ever LET me win. In fact, on the VERY rare occasions when I did, in fact, beat him, he would grin and look at me and say, “You gotta let the little kids win sometimes.” And I would grin and laugh with him, because we both knew it was a joke and that I’d won fair and square.

Now, of course, I’m all grown up and married with two kids of my own.  My husband enjoys games of ALL sorts, and so do both of our children.  My son, in particular, would play a game all day, every day, if he were permitted to.  Over the years, we have often heard the sweet voice of a three or four year old asking, “Will you please play a board game with me?” Let me tell you, that is hard to turn down.  Of course, all too often, we do, because we’re busy, but we try to make a point (and my husband is SO much better at this than I am) to play games with both of our children fairly often.

I know that there are all sorts of studies out there about game playing and why it’s valuable, but I’m just going to tell you the things I’ve observed for myself. No highly pedigreed sources here.


A momentous occasion: Playing their first board game with no adult help.

A momentous occasion: Playing their first board game with no adult help.

Playing games teaches good sportsmanship.

I’ve told you that my son absolutely LOVES to play games. Mostly, he really, really likes to win.  I don’t blame him.  I can be pretty competitive myself. So can my husband. Pre-kids, we’d play games against each other and do our fair share of good-natured trash-talking.  So, our son comes by the desire to win honestly, and we really can’t hold that against him. There was a period of time when he would BEG to play a game, and then have a meltdown at the end when he wasn’t the winner.  (See first paragraph. I’m a big fan of winning fair and square. Plus, even if you’re inclined to let a kid win, it gets complicated when there are two involved in the game.)

We’ve been pretty clear with him over the years that if he can’t be a good sport when he wins AND when he loses, we don’t enjoy playing with him. And, if we don’t enjoy playing with him, we won’t be doing it for awhile. He has come a long way. That’s not to say that he’s not still VERY competitive. And it’s not to say that we don’t have to sometimes remind him that good sportsmanship is required. But, these days he’s generally able to lose with grace and realize that there’ll always be another opportunity to “skunk” one of us again.

Playing games teaches math skills.

I’ve still got fairly little guys, and over the years, they have learned so much math simply from playing games.  Early on, it was just rolling the dice and counting steps, and that was great and a real challenge for a three year-old.  As they’ve gotten older, some of the games have involved more complicated math, or math to help you choose the better of two possible pathways.  Games can also teach patterning, matching, and money recognition.

Playing games teaches logic and strategy.

Just tonight, I was listening as my husband played against both of our kiddos in one of their favorite games, Guess Who? (in my next post, I’ll tell you about some of our favorite family-friendly games over the years). I listened as he explained to them why he’d asked a question the way he had and how it helped him to get better results than some of the questions they’d been asking. I think I actually heard the light bulbs click on in their heads as they discussed with each other what to do next. And of course, there’s logic and strategy in so many different games, especially the tried-and-true favorites checkers and chess, the only slightly more exotic  Tic-Tac-Toe and Connect Four , and even in a simple game of “Go Fish.”

Playing games creates great memories and strengthens family bonds.


I’ve already told you that some of my favorite memories from my childhood are of playing my dad in checkers and chess, but on into my teenage and adult years, our extended family would get together for holidays and play lots of games.  I can look back and remember so many times that we laughed until we cried, and I share with those family members the memories of funny phrases or things that happened during those games. Those are wonderful bonding moments, and I want my children to get to have them to!


Please note that I use affiliate links in this post. I mostly do it because it seems to be the cool thing to do these days.  If you happen to actually use one of them, it would really be a hoot.

First Day



So, we started our homeschool year today.  Was it perfect and smooth? Why, no, it was not.  My Kindergartener, who has anxiously been awaiting this day (mostly in anticipation of our traditional ice cream smorgasbord for lunch) and who was absolutely giddy while doing his back-to-school supply shopping the evening before, deflated and lost his enthusiasm shortly after realizing that we were going to be doing a little (and really, just a little) actual school work before we switched to the “celebration” portion of the day.  Trying to get him to complete anything was, to say the least, a challenge. His sister, a Second Grader, declared for the first time that I can ever recall that she “hates math” and showed about that same level of disdain for everything else.  Lovely. Especially, since I’ve bragged on her math confidence and competence repeatedly in recent months.  Sigh . . .

But . . . we did start our day with a new Bible Study and I have to say that IT was a success.  And, I felt so good about it that even after the whole challenging morning was over, I was able to walk away from the day counting myself abundantly blessed instead of excessively


frazzled.  I am so thankful that we don’t have to rush out of the house to get somewhere EVERY morning (we do rush out SOME mornings).  Most mornings, we are able to make time to sit down and spend time together praying and learning from God’s Word.



Note: This post contains affiliate links.