gift giving this christmastime

My friend Beth hosts a Favorite Things brunch each December where each friend invited brings a favorite thing around $15. We then swap gifts, and the morning basically turns into an awesome infomercial for favorite nail polishes, fair trade items, shampoos, teas and coffee mugs and this year, a hair brush that everyone wanted to go home with. The picture above is the gift I brought, the prettiest wrapping job of my life. Inside was a little Kelly Rae Roberts print called Shine that I adore.

It is a super fun morning filled with quality conversation, great food and we each go home with something special. It's one of my favorite parts of December.

But gift giving is a funny thing. I like the favorite things party because you come with something that you love. It makes for easy shopping! Some people are really hard to buy gifts for. My friend Amanda, who runs the Soul Sisterhood, recently told me that she thinks everyone should take the Love Languages quiz to discover their love language and then the gift giver should try to give gifts to fit the receivers love language. A person's love language (how they receive and feel the most loved) might be through actual physical gifts. But another person might have the love language of Quality Time more than a physical gift. So you could take them out to lunch or spend an afternoon together. (That's my love language.) Rory's love language is Acts of Service and Quality Time. The perfect gift for him would be to offer to help him with his garden this spring. The other two love languages are Physical Touch (gift card for a massage!) and Words of Affirmation. I have nephew who I think has this one, because he loves reading the long notes I write in his birthday cards and has told his mom how he anticipates a card from me! I know those words of encouragement and acknowledging who he becoming mean the world to him.

I've been thinking about this concept with each gift I'm giving this year. Trying to think through the receiver's love language. And it is a joy! You know what I'm giving Rory? (He doesn't read my blog posts if they get too wordy, so I'm not too worried...but if you are reading, Merry Christmas!) I'm ending our membership to the Y! Ha! I haven't been very good about going the past 6 weeks (mostly because the flu and strep are rampant and I can't muster up the courage to drop my kids off anywhere they don't have to go...) and he's quietly been bringing it up. So before he can say one more thing, I'm going to cancel. He's going to love it! (And I may very well join again in February...) But for now he'll see it as the gift of $70 a month back in our savings and a wife who values a dollar saved.

The other gift I'm giving Rory has already begun. He has said for years that he wants to watch all three Lord of the Rings in a row with me. And now all three Hobbits have been added to the list too. We started this marathon last night and will break the whole thing up into 90 minute chunks. And even though Orcs don't really scream christmastime to me, I know this is a Christmas we will never forget. Best of all, he's so pleased that I'm watching with him. 

We are celebrating with the Harrington side of the family this weekend and I'm so excited to give a few of my gifts. I can't blog about them yet, but I will! But I am most excited to start The Christmas Box tradition that we've done in the Groves family since I married in. We're beginning this one with the Harrington's, and I'm so excited to do it with both families. Because my love language is Quality Time and The Christmas Box is the definition of Quality Time. 

lois walfrid johnson

This summer while at Mount Carmel Family Bible Camp in Alexandria, my mom introduced me to a woman named Lois. Lois was thrilled to meet another female beekeeper. She had kept bees for many years of her life but had never once met another woman beekeeper. Lois wanted to talk shop, wanted to know how my hives were doing, and all about our hobby farm. We became fast friends.

At some point it came up that she writes books and I was excited about that, since I hope to do the same one day. We also discovered that we both graduated from Gustavus and so we had that whole world in common too. But most obvious was our shared love for the Lord. Sharing a conversation with her was like slowly recognizing a kindred spirit with every word spoken. Lots of "I know! Oh I agree! It's so true!"

That night after evening worship, Lois handed me one of  her books to read. And she had one for Rory too. So that night, with our kids babbling in the room next to us, Rory and I sat up in bed reading our first Lois Walfrid Johnson books. They are written for adolescents, but there we were, in our 30's turning our pages as fast as we could. We were sucked in.
Lois writes about young kids who are learning to deal with real life issues. She does this with a Christian worldview, tying in truths from the Bible and showing how the young protagonist comes to believe God's word is true. It is stunningly done. So endearing. And so good.

I've been reading The Adventures in the Northwoods series this week. It's a story about a 12-year-old and her mother, moving from Minneapolis to Rice Lake in 1906 when the mother marries a Swedish farmer who had recently lost his own wife. The first book talks about what it means to be a forever family, what it means to have a new Papa, what it means to be loved without condition. I'm now in book 4 and I cannot put these books down. They're just so good.

And by good I mean they are well written, but they are also so moral. And truthful. So solid. After I read Lois' first book I told her that more than anything I felt grateful that she is putting out so much GOOD into the world. We know a lot of other messages vying for our kids attention, but this is the stuff you want your kids to read and to get excited about.
What has been most fun is "introducing" her to many of my friends with kids in elementary and middle school and how many of them already know and love her. She's new to me, but not to most mom's. Her tagline is, "a trusted friend of families" and she is! Families trying to teach moral, upright and honest children will LOVE Lois Walfrid Johnson.

Her books would be great for read aloud at bedtime for all ages. And all kids read at different levels, so I think they'd fit any age. Probably geared most toward 3rd-8th graders...but even that seems too narrow a reading audience. Because I'm 33 and love these books.

You can learn more about Lois at her website:


The Freedom Seekers series is a six book series, and each book is about 250 pages. It takes place around 1857 "when rivers were the highways of the time. Libby, and her father, and their friends faced life-and-death questions that are still crucial today:
-Who can I trust?
-What do I care about?
-What does it mean to be a never-give-up family?
-How can I live my belief in the freedoms sought in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States?
-What practical skills do I need to develop?
-How can I make choices based on biblical principles?
This series centers around The Underground Railroad.

The Viking Quest series is a five book series, and each book is about 200-250 pages. This series travels from Ireland to Norway, Iceland and Greenland, then sails with Leif Erikson to the New World. In this series the main characters help establish the first North American settlement by Europeans- five hundred years before Columbus!

The Adventures in the Northwoods is a ten book series, and each book is just over 100 pages. The story takes place in Northern Wisconsin where the main character learns to deal with peer pressure, family relationships, works toward a dream and learns the value of giving a person a second chance.
This is the series I am currently reading and I can't put them down at night. :)

Hallmark Town

Last Thursday night our community bundled up and met up on our main street for a wintertime block party of sorts. We went last year and it was bitter cold and I remember thinking I wouldn't do it again with kids. But this year the weather was a balmy 30 degrees so we gave it another shot. And let me tell you, it was magic.

When we were looking for a parking spot we drove past the Moravian church where there was a living nativity singing carols, all lit up by spot lights. Mary and Joseph smiled and sang, happily caroling with the people gathered. We got out of the car and looked down the four blocks of sidewalks lined with luminaries and spotted Santa in the bank where he gave us cookies and hot chocolate. Then we found an outdoor petting zoo with a calf, goats, ducks, sheep and a friendly farm dog.

Horse-drawn sleigh rides were cruising up and down the street lit up with christmas lights. We walked into the Armory where local vendors were selling swedish treats, children's books, honey, maple syrup, and all sorts of handmade goods and crafts.

Then we went into the candy store and toy shop where two old men were playing carols on the banjo and violin. They started playing Away in a Manger and Ivar sang the lyrics with them. The musicians were so happy to have a brave little soloists and Ivar sang every word looking right in their eyes. And I was one very proud mama.

We got to see Olaf the snowman and Rudolf and Frosty walking in the street. There was a barrel fire to warm up by in the park and every shop had great sales and window displays and cookies. We went into the fish store and ate peanut butter cookies and picked out our favorite fish in each tank.

On the way back to the car Rory went ahead with Ivar. And Elsie and I trailed behind while she looked inside of every. single. luminary. Looking at the candle inside, watching it flicker and glow.

And the best part, the part that makes it an actual Hallmark Town, is that I knew so many people. It was a magical night, but it really was the felt community made the night merry and bright.

christmas spirit

I was watching a cooking show with the kids when a commercial came on of all of the food network hosts wrapping christmas lights around themselves. Ivar saw it and told me, "Well that's a good idea! We can dress up like Christmas trees!" I thought he'd forget about it, but he was faithful in telling me throughout the next day-and-a-half, "and remember, we have to dress me like a christmas tree."

So I got the leftover green felt I had from making my advent sucker tree, and made Ivar into a christmas tree. He was so pleased.
Ivar has enough Christmas Spirit for everyone. He is so excited about every part. When we were unpacking our christmas decorations, he pulled out a carebear ornament and told me excitedly, "Oh mom! I know this from the last time!!!" His memories are being formed, and he's (maybe for the first time) experiencing the joy of tradition and remembering.

Another night we were walking down the main street in our town after dark and he stopped dead in his tracks. "Mom!" he said, "this store has a Christmas tree!" And sure enough, the t-shirt screen printing shop in our town had a three-foot tree in their front window. We walked a little further and he shouted, "They do too!" And it was true. The eye doctor next door had a tree in their window as well. In fact, every store front was decorated and Ivar was delighted by it all. His awe and wonder was palpable and contagious.

And it has been all season. What a joy to be four!

field trip

Last week we loaded the kids up and drove a mile down the road to our friend's farm. We know Becky and Brian from church and have always wanted to see their place. Every time we talk it is obvious we have a similar vision for our hobby farms. They are about fifteen years ahead of us in what they've tried and figured out and it was so fun to see all they are doing.

We saw their hens, horses and pigs. They had recently raised turkeys but they were processed just before thanksgiving. I was most interested in the pigs. I want to get a few next spring. Ivar was terrified and hated that they kept snorting at his boots and that they grabbed my mitten. Overall he was not a huge fan of the large animals, but Elsie could not get enough. The joy on her face when she was petting the horse made me wonder if she'll be a horse girl. I never was, but I had many friends who were nuts for horses. So far she does have a thing for My Little Ponies... Time will tell.