Twelve Gifts of Advent: Waiting for the Promised One

The word Advent comes from the Latin word that means “coming.” Traditionally, Advent is the season of waiting and preparing for the One who is coming. And as amazing as the Christmas story of the babe in the manger is, its meaning becomes a whole lot deeper when we understand the story that came first.

The story of creation and fall, and of the long waiting for the coming of the promised one.

I originally had the idea for this advent devotional a few years ago when we were doing resurrection eggs at Easter time. If you’ve never heard of resurrection eggs, they are Easter eggs in a carton, each with a small object inside. Each object helps tell a part of the Easter story. This simple way of telling the story was fantastic. It was hands on learning for my young son and so simple for me. Once the eggs were assembled, all we had to do each day was open one up and read the corresponding scripture.

This devotional works much in the same way. Each day, you open a gift. Inside the gift is an object that helps to tell the story of Advent – waiting for the coming of the promised one. The objects really help in remembering the story! Do all twelve days in a row, or spread them throughout the season – it’s up to you!


Here’s a video I made that shows everything I put in our boxes…


How to Make the Advent Boxes

Most of the items for the boxes can be found around your house, but for ones you may need to purchase I’ve included affiliate links for your convenience. All you do is wrap up the object and add a tag with the corresponding Bible verse to be read.


Genesis 1

Globe ball


Genesis 3

Tree branch


Genesis 3:15



Genesis 12:1-3

People figurines


Isaiah 6:8



Isaiah 9:2-7

Battery operated twinkle lights


Isaiah 53

Life saver candy


Malachi 4:5-6



Luke 1:5-25

Angel ornament


Luke 1:26-33

Girl figurine


Luke 2:1-21

Baby doll


John 3:16; 19:17-18

Cross made from two sticks

Want to make this even easier?

I’ve put together an awesome resource for you! It’s everything you need to make these gift boxes a fun Advent tradition for your family.

Introducing.. Twelve Gifts of Advent: Waiting for the Promised One – a hands on family Bible study!

For only $5, you get more ideas and instructions, a devotional guide for each day, printable tags, and more!

Here’s an example of day one…

The devotional goes through each day, explaining the significance and making it really easy for you to lead your family to a fuller understanding of everything that came before the baby in the manger. There’s even printable images for you to use if you don’t have time to get physical objects together for the gift boxes!

And I wanted to make it super affordable for you, so for only 5 bucks, it’s a no brainer!

Operation Christmas Child Shoeboxes – Boys ages 2-14

“Oooo! Star Wars!”

“I like this bat and ball!”

“Mom, this toy is really cool! I want one.”

Operation Christmas Child is one of my favorite parts of the holiday season. 

Gently, consistently, I remind my son that these gifts are not for him. These gifts are for someone who may have never received a gift before.

We finish our shopping and return home to pack our boxes. I shared what we packed last year and thought it would be fun to share again!


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This year K wanted to pack 4 boxes (because he is four years old, of course!). We kept it simple and did all boy boxes – a 2-4 box, two 5-9 boxes, and a 10-14 box.

We spread out all our goodies and got to packing…

Operation Christmas Child

First, we divided everything into the appropriate categories.

Operation Christmas Child

Think it’s all going to fit?!


Boy 10-14

Operation Christmas Child

In this box we packed a:

Operation Christmas Child

All snug!

Boy 5-9

Operation Christmas Child

In this box we packed a:

  • Soccer ball
  • Pump
  • Marbles and canvas bag
  • Stuffed animal
  • Assortment of farm animal figures
  • Toothbrush, case, and toothpaste
  • Cup
  • Two pairs of socks
  • Hot wheels car
  • Soap and washcloth
  • Rubber ball
  • Crayons
  • Pencils
  • Harmonica
  • Plastic container
  • Twine
  • Pad of paper

Boy 5-9

Boy 5-9

Operation Christmas Child

In this box we packed a:

  • Soccer ball and pump
  • Marbles and canvas bag
  • Cup
  • Stuffed animal
  • Two rubber balls
  • Assortment of farm animal figurines
  • Soap and washcloth
  • Twine
  • Pencils
  • Socks
  • Notepad
  • Hot wheels car
  • T-Shirt (I realized after I took the picture that the size was a 4-5, so I switched it to the 2-4 box)

Operation Christmas Child


Boy 2-4

Operation Christmas Child

In this box we packed a:

  • Sticker set
  • Puzzle
  • Light up ball
  • Washcloth and soap
  • Toothbrush, holder, and toothpaste
  • Plastic container
  • Harmonica
  • Pencils
  • Crayons
  • Cup
  • Card game
  • Note pad
  • Farm animal figurines
  • Hot wheels toy
  • Stuffed animal
  • T-shirt

This box seemed a little empty, so I threw a few other random things in there later.

Operation Christmas Child

We used clear plastic shoeboxes for the first time this year. One thing I noticed was that it made it really easy to see empty spots you could fill better – so I’ll have to remember that for next year!



Are you looking for a fun way to be intentional as you pack your OCC boxes with your kids? Check out my FREE OCC Mini devotional! You can access it in the Subscriber Resource Library – to gain access to this free resource and many more just enter your e-mail below!

Need more help packing a shoebox? Check out this ultimate round-up of great ideas!


Did you pack a shoebox this year?

Feeling stressed about the holidays? Make this your new mantra.

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Thanksgiving countdowns, new recipes, fun activities, and perfectly decorated houses.

As I scroll through my Instagram feed, I can feel my chest begin to tighten. The thoughts start playing in my head…

You really should do that.

That’s a great idea.

Why aren’t you doing that?

I wish I had time for that.

I try to muster up plans to execute some of these great ideas I see beautifully displayed before me. Maybe I can squeeze the prep in after bed time. Perhaps we can do the activities quickly after breakfast.

My heart beats faster – but it’s not from excitement. It’s from panic. 

I’m in a season of life right now where I just don’t have time for a lot of extra activities. Honestly, I’m struggling to just get the essentials done. The thought of planning out and executing holiday activities, no matter how amazing they are, makes me feel a bit queasy.

Not exactly how you want to feel headed into a season of joy.

So, if the sight all all the holiday ideas, activities, and stuff is making you feel like crawling into a hole for the next two months. I want to share with you my favorite holiday mantra:

That’s a fun idea. Maybe next year.

Repeat after me: Maybe. Next. Year.

Feeling Stressed About the Holidays? Make this your mantra.

Why This Works

No one likes to feel like they are missing out. Whether it’s getting your house to look just the way you want or doing fun activities with your kids to guide them through the meaning of the season, we want to embrace all the excitement of the season.

However, reality says we only have so many hours in the day. Whether you have impending work deadlines, volunteer responsibilities, or spend your day keeping small children alive you are going to have to say no to some things. Maybe even a lot of things.

Fun things.

Good things.

How do you do that without feeling majorly bummed out?

That’s a fun idea. Maybe next year.

The mantra works for two reasons:

  1. You recognize that it is a fun idea. You don’t roll your eyes or say “pphhht, who has time for that?” You don’t devalue the hard work someone else put into their idea. It’s cool and you admit it. Let others be themselves without feeling like you need to be them too.
  2. You hold onto the hope that – if you still want to – you have the option to do it in the future. You don’t need to throw yourself a pity party because you can’t do allthethings. Screenshot it, pin it, or file it away and revisit it next year. I ogled Truth in the Tinsel for a few years before we were able to do it. And this year it probably won’t make the cut again. However, next year we will revisit and hopefully do it again!

Next time you find yourself pining over a sweet idea, try the mantra and see how you feel.

Stressed about the holidays? Make this your mantra.


Do This Instead of Doing It All

So, you can’t do it all. Then, what do you do?

First, check your focus. What truly matters the most during the holiday season?

I conducted a survey last year asking people what their favorite Christmas memory was. The results were staggering. Almost every single person’s memories revolved around relationships. 

Focus your attention and effort on the relationships around you. Make sure you don’t forget about your relationship with the One whom the season revolves around either.

Then, once you’ve got your focus right, here’s what you can do:

Pick one thing. 

Not one thing for now, one thing for tomorrow, and one thing for next week. Just one thing for now.

Just focus on that one thing.

Maybe you want to be intentional with discipling your kids during the holidays, maybe you really want to make your house feel cozy and festive, maybe you just really want to make time for a nap. Pick one thing and do it.

Once you’ve finished that one thing, revisit and pick another if you feel up to it.

Stressed about the holidays? Make this your mantra.

Give it a Spin

I really hope you give this a try! It might not help with all your holiday stressors (navigating family get-togethers anyone?), but I think it will truly help relieve the pressure of holiday perfection we so often feel.

As I continue my Instagram scrolling, I repeat my mantra a few more times. I put my phone away and attend to the life in front me.

My chest loosens. I take a deep breath.

I think our holidays are going to be just perfect as they are. 

Advent Snacks (A Truth in the Tinsel Supplement) Days 13-18

Advent Snacks for Kids

*Affiliate links included*

In order to extend the learning while doing Truth in the Tinsel, I wanted to come up with a simple supplement. After doing some brainstorming, I came up with Advent Snacks! They are simple snacks, themed after each day in of Truth in the Tinsel, that you can easily make with stuff you probably already have lying around.

These snacks are most definitely not food art! While I think those crazy awesome snacks and the people that make them are amazing, that is not something in my skill set – or time allotment! This is food that you’ll be able to whip together in a few minutes, making it so you can continue to nourish their spirits at the same time as you do their little bodies!

What if you don’t have Truth in the Tinsel? No problem! Christmas is Christmas, and you can just as easily use any or all of these snacks without the TNT eBook. However, if you haven’t given Truth in the Tinsel a shot, I highly recommend it! (You can read my review here)

Here’s the other week’s snacks:

Week 1

Week 2

Week 4


Alright, are you ready to see this week’s snacks? Let’s get started!

Day 13 – Bethlehem


Advent Snacks day 13 - bethlehem

A house of bread made to represent Bethlehem (which means “the house of bread”). I used butter and honey toast with a little door cut out to make it. You could add some little windows too!

Day 14 – Stable


Advent Snacks day 14 -stable

For day 14 we made a simple stable snack. Just form the stable out of pretzel rods and add some peanut butter “dirt” and coconut “hay.” While making this snack I realized it would have been perfect if I would have had some animal crackers to add!

Day 15 – Manger

Advent Snacks day 15 - manger

This manger snack was made with a grilled cheese sandwich! Just cut in half to make the bed/trough and use the leftovers to make the legs. The baby Jesus head was made out of apple cut into a circle and it was finished off with some shredded cheese “straw.”

Day 16 – Cloths


Advent Snacks day 16 - cloths

Day 16 is about Jesus being wrapped in swaddling cloths. For this snack, I wrapped a cheese stick in some deli meat. However, you could also wrap cheese in a tortilla, wrap a hot dog in bread, or wrap bread/tortilla around a banana.

 Day 17 – Sheep


Advent Snacks day 17 - sheep

I think this is quite possibly the cutest snack we’ve made so far! For this adorable little sheep, all you need is some popcorn for the body, pretzel rods for the legs, and a pretzel crisp for the face (a regular pretzel would probably work too!). Tip for the popcorn when you only want to make a small amount – place a single layer of popcorn kernels on the bottom of a microwave safe bowl with a small pat of butter. Cover with a plate and microwave until the popping slows down. Sprinkle with a little salt and you are good to go!

Day 18 – Angels


Advent Snacks day 18 - angels

Okay, so these little guys are pretty cute too! To make these angels, peel an orange and separate the slices. Cut small chunks of carrot so they lay flat. Use the oranges for the wings and add a cheerio “halo”!

That’s all for Truth in the Tinsel days 13-18! Look for the next six days coming soon! Let me know about your favorite TNT supplement in the comments below!


St Nicholas Day 2015

St. Nicholas Day 2015

When K was just a baby, we decided to add the celebration of St. Nicholas Day to our Advent traditions. We have loved observing St. Nick’s day as an alternative to “doing Santa.” We get to do some fun traditions, learn about history, and focus on giving like the real St. Nicholas did. I wrote more about celebrating St. Nick’s Day here.

This year was our third St. Nick’s day and, even though it is too late for you to try out this celebration this year, I still thought it would be fun to share what we did!

Stockings and A Special Breakfast


For St. Nicholas day, the main two things we have done (and plan to continue doing) are stocking gifts and a special breakfast. We do stockings on this day instead of Christmas morning and it has been a great way to spread out the gift giving a little bit. I usually fill the stockings with small gifts and some chocolate coins. You can read more about what was in our stockings this year here.


We also have a special breakfast that is a treat my mom used to make for Christmas – Scandinavian Kringler (or as we always called it, “kringle”). So yummy.


St. Nicholas Neighbor Treat Baskets

During the time St. Nicholas lived, there was a great famine and much of the surrounding area lived in poverty. One of the things that he was known for doing was placing baskets with grain, fruit, and other food on people’s doorsteps during the night, so that they would have food to eat.

A while back I had read about remembering this act of service by putting together baskets with treats in them to give to your neighbors. This year I decided we’d give it a try!

St Nicholas Day gift baskets

For our baskets, I found these awesome metal buckets for only a few dollars on clearance at Hobby Lobby. There were four left, so I decided we’d do four baskets this year.

Over the week, K and I had fun making some Christmas treats to put in our baskets. We made chocolate covered pretzels, chocolate chip cookies, Chex mix, and a loaf of bread for each basket. We packaged everything in fun treat bags I found at the dollar store.

I finished the baskets off with a paper on St. Nicholas and a coloring page for the kids in the family. Subscribe at the bottom of this post to gain access to the free printables.

We delivered our baskets to some of our neighbor friends on the morning of St. Nicholas Day.

St. Nicholas Day baskets

Shopping for the Food Bank

One of the sweetest things happened while we were preparing our gift baskets. I asked K who he would like to give the baskets to and was surprised when he didn’t immediately start rattling off the names of his friends.

He was obviously thinking hard on the question, so I asked “Maybe to some of your friends?” In kind of a confused voice he said mentioned two of his friends and said that he wanted to give the basket to them but, “they already have food to eat.”

Then it dawned on me. “Did you think we were giving these baskets to people who didn’t have any food?” I asked. He nodded his head yes. He was listening closer than I thought!

I explained to him that while I didn’t think we could give our baskets to someone who didn’t have any food, there was something we could do. I told him about food banks and asked him if he wanted to buy some food for one. He said yes and even wanted to use his own money!

St. Nicholas Day food bank

The day before St. Nicholas Day, we pulled the money out that he had saved in his wallet and counted it. While he is getting good at counting, the concept of a five dollar bill being equal to five one dollar bills is still a little foreign to him. At first he said he wanted to use all his money, but he quickly took that back! Then, he counted out six of his bills to use, keeping two for himself. I was impressed with the decision he made, giving generously, yet keeping a little for himself. He even said, “I’m going to have to get some more money!”

We left the saved money at home, and took his wallet to the grocery store. After roaming the aisles making his choices (aided a little bit in choosing healthier options), it was time to pay. I could feel the tension in him as he handed the money over, but in the end I had one joyful little giver.

The items he bought are loaded in a box, ready for us to drop off at the food bank next time we are out. The whole experience was such a fun time and great learning experience. I think this will become a new St. Nick’s day tradition!

PS Since he is still young enough to not know any better, I did take the little fella’s hard earned money and slipped it back in his wallet. 🙂

Do you celebrate St. Nicholas Day? What are your traditions?

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Stocking Ideas for a 4 Year Old Boy and a 6 Month Old

Stocking Stuffer Ideas for a 4 Year Old Boy and a 6 Month Old

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We do our stocking gifts on St. Nicholas Day and, because of that, our stockings have already been bought, packed, opened, and enjoyed! So, I thought I’d share what were in my son’s stockings in case there are any of you still working on some last minute Christmas stocking stuffers!

Four Year Old Boy Stocking Stuffers

1. Crayola 10-Count Ultra Clean Expression Stamper Markers

K absolutely loves all kinds of arts and crafts projects. He spends a lot of his day at his craft table creating. Since the only markers he really has are our favorite Pip Squeak Skinnies, I decided it would be fun to include some “fancy” markers in his stocking. I remember having stamp markers when I was a kid and I knew he would love them too!





2. Crayola Glitter Markers

K has just recently become enamored with glitter. And while I have a high tolerance for messy projects and do own an assortment of glitter – that is just not something I want to tackle regularly. When I saw these glitter markers, I knew they would be just perfect!





3. World of Reading Star Wars Ewoks Join the Fight: Level 1

I bought my little Star Wars lover both Ewoks Join the Fight and AT-AT Attack  easy readers. They are still a little above K’s reading ability, but with a theme he loves so much, I’m sure he will have extra motivation to learn the words!






4. Fisher-Price Nickelodeon Blaze and the Monster Machines Blaze

Like many little boys, K absolutely loves cars. I saw this cute little truck and I knew he’d love it, even though he has no idea who Blaze is! It was only five dollars and looked to be a pretty sturdy little car. K decided it looks like a monster truck Lighting McQueen!




5. Minifigures Super Heroes Figure

At not even four year old, the Lego obsession has already begun for K. He has a bin of assorted blocks passed down from my brothers, but I thought he would enjoy some more people to play with.

Lego purists – look away! Being four, I knew K would not care about perfect figurines, so I bought both this Super Hero set and a Star Wars set of cheap knock off Lego mini-figs. He loves them.

Unfortunately they ship from China, so it does take a couple weeks for them to arrive. You might not be able to get them in time for Christmas, but I still recommend taking a look!


6. Chocolate Coins

Each year, I usually include chocolate coins in K’s stocking as a nod back to the St. Nicholas Story. However, this year I couldn’t find them at the stores I was at and didn’t have time to track them down. Since I thought the ones on Amazon were a little pricey, we just went with a bag of Christmas themed chocolates.





Six Month Old Stocking Stuffers

1. Disney/Pixar Cars Easy Grasp Flatware

The nice thing about gifts for a baby, is that they really have no clue what is going on. So, you will notice that most of Baby J’s stocking stuffers are practical baby items that I needed to get anyway. First up, this cheap but sturdy set of silverware. The fact that it is also Cars themed probably means that big brother will use them whenever he can. 🙂





2. Simba Suction Plate with Spoon & Fork Set

Isn’t this little plate set so cute? It is more like a cross between a plate and bowl – perfect for my little guy that is all about eating “real food” these days!




3. Squooshi Reusable Food Pouch | Baby Starter Kit

Speaking of cute, aren’t these adorable?! Baby J tried one of those applesauce pouches recently and actually did a pretty good job with it. So, I decided to get him some refillable ones. He has already used them and they are great! Really easy to clean too!





4. Baby Buddy Baby’s 1st Toothbrush

I guess after all that eating you need to brush your teeth, right? Even if you do only have two! 🙂

This was the first toothbrush I used with K and loved it enough to buy it again for Baby J.





5. Fisher-Price Little People Wheelies

Little brother has a strong desire to play with everything that big brother plays with – only problem is, everything Baby J plays with, also is going to go in the mouth! I scored two of these cute Little People cars at Once Upon a Child for a couple dollars and they were perfect for his stocking!




6. Little People Sofie & School Bus

This cute little bus and person is another deal I found at Once Upon a Child for a few dollars. J loves it (K does too!) and it is safe for all the baby slobber he can throw at it!






What goodies are in your kid’s stocking this year?

Advent Snacks (Truth in the Tinsel Supplement) Days 1-6

Advent Snacks for Kids

*Affiliate links included*

It’s December 1st, can you believe it?! I’m so excited because that means it’s Truth in the Tinsel time! This is our first year participating in TNT and I know it’s going to be awesome! We did our first ornament today and K was begging to go on to the next day!

In oder to extend the learning a little bit, I wanted to come up with a simple supplement to Truth in the Tinsel. After doing some brainstorming, I came up with Advent Snacks! They are simple snacks, themed after each day in of Truth in the Tinsel, that you can easily make with stuff you probably already have lying around.

These snacks are most definitely not food art! While I think those crazy awesome snacks and the people that make them are amazing, that is not something in my skill set – or time allotment! This is food that you’ll be able to whip together in a few minutes, making it so you can continue to nourish their spirits at the same time as you do their little bodies!

What if you don’t have Truth in the Tinsel? No problem! Christmas is Christmas, and you can just as easily use any or all of these snacks without the TNT eBook. However, if you haven’t given Truth in the Tinsel a shot, I highly recommend it! (You can read my review here)

Here are the other week’s snacks:

Week 2
Week 3
Week 4


Alright, are you ready to see this week’s snacks? Let’s get started!

Day 1 – Light

Advent Snacks - day 1 light

Day one is all about Jesus being the Light of the World. This snack is super simple. Just stick a birthday candle in whatever you’ve got handy. We used a muffin.

Day 2 – Kingdom

Advent Snacks - day 2 kingdom2

Day 2 is about how Jesus is the king of all the world. For this snack we made a graham cracker and peanut butter castle (where the king lives!). You can set up the snack like the above picture if your child is older and let them assemble the castle. Or, assemble it yourself and give it to them. My castle is below for an idea.

Advent Snacks - day 2 kingdom

Day 3 – Zechariah

Advent Snacks day 3 zechariah

If you’ve got any experience with kid snacks, you’ve probably seen these apple teeth. I had actually never made them before, but I decided they’d be perfect for Zechariah and him not being able to talk!

All you have to do is cut two thin slices of apple, spread some peanut butter on one, stick on some marshmallow “teeth,” and put the other apple on top. It’s not exactly the prettiest looking thing, but when we were testing these snacks out, K thought it was awesome. 

Day 4 – Gabriel

Advent Snacks - day 4 gabriel

Day four we learn about the angel Gabriel coming to visit Mary. For this snack, I cut an angel shape out of a cheese quesadilla. It was pretty easy! Just cut in and down on the top, making a circle shape in between for the head. On the bottom, cut up and in two lines and slightly separate, making the body. The halo was made with a “string” of string cheese.

 Day 5 – Mary

Advent Snacks - day 5 mary

Day 5 we learn about Mary! For this snack we made a simple Mary out of pretzel rods and apples. First, break the pretzels and arrange into a triangle shape, adding arms and legs. Then, slice of the side of an apple and place on the triangle for Mary’s pregnant belly. Slice the apple again, cutting a circle for the head. We added two chocolate chips and a small piece of string cheese to make eyes and a mouth.

Day 6 – Mary and Elizabeth

Advent Snacks - day 6 mary and elizabeth

Day 6 is about Mary and Elizabeth’s time together. For this, we made a snack representing Mary traveling to visit Elizabeth – A PB&J road! All you do is make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich (or whatever kind of sandwich you want), cut off the crusts, and then cut into narrow strips. Then arrange your pieces into a road. You can leave it like this, or use peanut butter to stick on two small pretzel “people” to represent Mary and Elizabeth.

That’s all for Truth in the Tinsel days 1-6! Look for the next six days coming soon! Let me know about your favorite TNT supplement in the comments below!


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Operation Christmas Child Shoeboxes (5-9 Boy, 5-9 Girl, and 10-14 Boy)

What We Packed In Our Operation Christmas Child Shoeboxes

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In honor of the last day of this years National Collection Week for Operation Christmas Child, I wanted to share what we packed in our boxes this year!

You will notice that our boxes are really full. When we got home from shopping I was like “Holy cow! Am I going to be able to fit everything in our boxes?!”

I almost searched the house for a another box to use. However, I decided to try and get everything to fit – and I did! I just barely got the lid closed! I figured if the packers at the collection center can’t get everything back inside, then some of our extra can go to a box that’s a little empty for whatever reason.

Or maybe whoever gets our boxes will need the extra items for someone at home! You never know how God is going to work things out!

Anyways, if you are trying to maximize the space in your box, I took step by step pictures for two of our boxes that show how I fit everything in there.

Without further ado, the boxes…

5-9 Girl

What We Packed In Our Operation Christmas Child Shoeboxes

What’s Inside

  • Two packs of stickers
  • Flip flops
  • Small storage container
  • Two pairs of socks
  • Two pencil sharpeners
  • Colored pencils
  • Pencils
  • Bandana
  • Doll
  • Small ball
  • Alphabet blocks
  • Washcloth
  • Necklace and bracelet set
  • Hair ties
  • Toothbrush/toothpaste set
  • Headbands
  • Crayons
  • Notebook
  • Soap
  • Eraser

How It All Fit!

First, we placed in the bandana.

What We Packed In Our Operation Christmas Child Shoeboxes

The stickers went on the bottom.

Great ideas for packing Operation Christmas Child Shoeboxes!

Followed by the storage container with the lid underneath and the notebook to the side. Then, I started filling up the container with soft items.

Great ideas for packing Operation Christmas Child Shoeboxes!

I squeezed as much as I could into that small container.

Great ideas for packing Operation Christmas Child Shoeboxes!

I slid the pencils in the back behind the container and the toothbrush set in the front of the container. Then, I started placing the remaining items on the left side of the box and a few more small things in the container.

Great ideas for packing Operation Christmas Child Shoeboxes!

Once it was all in there I set the flip flops on top.

Great ideas for packing Operation Christmas Child Shoeboxes!

And folded the bandana overtop.

Great ideas for packing Operation Christmas Child Shoeboxes!

We wrote a message on the inside of our box too! 🙂

Great ideas for packing Operation Christmas Child Shoeboxes!

Make sure to add those rubber bands to make sure it stays closed!

5-9 Boy


Great ideas for packing Operation Christmas Child Shoeboxes!

What’s Inside

  • Flip flops
  • Plain t-shirt
  • Soccer ball
  • Pump
  • Pencils
  • Dolphin toy
  • Toothbrush/toothpaste set
  • Small plastic container
  • Three cars
  • Two pencil sharpeners
  • Notebook
  • Four small washcloths
  • Small ball
  • Eraser
  • Bandana
  • Rubber bands (not pictured)
  • Soap (not pictured)
  • Twine (not pictured)

Great ideas for packing Operation Christmas Child Shoeboxes!

There it is all snug in there! This one took some fiddling to be able to fit both the big soccer ball and the flip flops – but it worked!

10-14 Boy

Great ideas for packing Operation Christmas Child Shoeboxes!

After I found out that this age group is the one with the least boxes packed, I knew I had to pack one! I still can’t believe how much I was able to get in this box! My only regret is that I wish I would have snuck in a few more toys – big kids like to play too!

What’s Inside

  • Bandana
  • Two screwdrivers
  • Two rolls of duct tape
  • Small tarp
  • Notepad
  • Two rolls of twine
  • Two pencil sharpeners
  • Two erasers
  • Pencils
  • Rubber ball
  • Small playground ball
  • Bungee cords
  • Toothbrush/toothpaste pack
  • Small storage container
  • Rubber bands
  • Two microfiber towels
  • Soap
  • Ball pump

How It All Fit In

Let’s break down this one too…

Great ideas for packing Operation Christmas Child Shoeboxes!

I again started with the bandana on the bottom. Then, I folded the tarp and put that on the bottom too.

Great ideas for packing Operation Christmas Child Shoeboxes!

I put some of the small things, like the sharpeners and erasers at the end of the tarp and then put the container on top.


Great ideas for packing Operation Christmas Child Shoeboxes!

Once again, anything squishy went in the container – the ball, bungee cords, towels. Taking things out the packages to save space is key! I slid the toothbrush pack in the back and the screwdrivers in the front and the pump fit next to the plastic container.

Great ideas for packing Operation Christmas Child Shoeboxes!

Using a little rearranging, everything else found a place where there was room.

Great ideas for packing Operation Christmas Child Shoeboxes!

Wrap it up with the bandana and squeeze that lid shut!


Great ideas for packing Operation Christmas Child Shoeboxes!

Yay! All our boxes all packed up! Another great year for Operation Christmas Child. I think this next year we are going to pick up shoebox gifts as we see them on sale and keep them in a tub until it’s shoebox time again!

Great ideas for packing Operation Christmas Child Shoeboxes!

Great ideas for packing Operation Christmas Child Shoeboxes!


Looking for more shoebox inspiration? Check out my giant round-up of everything Operation Christmas Child

The ULTIMATE Operation Christmas Child Round-Up

Want some help making your shoebox packing a meaningful and memorable time with your kids? Download my FREE mini-devotional! Go here for more information.


Gifts for the Whole Gang – Family Gift Guide

Family Gift Guide -

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For Christmas, I always wanted to get one big gift for my kids that was a “family gift.” Something that everyone could have fun using together. Now that baby J is here, this is the first year that we’ll actually be able to do that!

Since buying a gift that spans multiple ages can be tricky, I wanted to gather together some ideas for those of you that do the family gift too. I hope you find the perfect gift!

Gifts for the Younger Ones

1. Foamnasium Gymnasium

I had to put this on the list first because this is the gift we decided to go with for the boys this year!

If you read my previous gift guides (here and here) then you’ll know that I was debating whether or not these would be worth the price. We finally decided to go for it and bought this set and also this tunnel.

I am super excited and I think my boys (almost 4 and 6 months) are going to love them and play with them for years!

2. Radio Flyer Full Size All-Terrain Steel and Wood Wagon

If we hadn’t received a hand-me-down wagon (like this one) recently, then a wagon would definitely have been on our list of gifts to consider.

A friend of mine has this all-terrain model and I love it. The big wheels are awesome. My family had a Radio Flyer wagon when I was growing up and, I assure you, it was very well loved and used!

3. LEGO Education DUPLO Brick Set

Although the package says that Duplo are good for up to age 5, I know from personal experience that kids even older than that enjoy playing with these awesome blocks.

If you are looking for a classic building toy that your kids will use for years and years, this is it!

4. ThinkFun Zingo

Looking for a fun and easy game to play with your little ones? Give Zingo a try!

It’s a fast paced version of bingo that is perfect for kids up to about age 8. Although I’ve played it before, it is not a game we currently own – I’m going to have to change that soon though!



5. Fisher-Price Imaginext Eagle Talon Castle

The Imaginext play sets are so. fun. There are so many different ones to choose from, but I thought this castle looked like something I know my son and his friends would absolutely love.

This also reminds me of my childhood and the hours and hours my sisters and I spend playing with our doll house (similar to this one). Toys like these that involve the imagination are ones that kids will continue to come back to for a long time!

6. Wooden Train Track 52 Piece Pack

When we bought K his train set, we decided to go with this off-brand set of just plain tracks. That way, we got more for our money and he didn’t have to worry about fitting together weird specialty parts. I have never regretted this decision and these tracks have gotten tons of use over the last few years!

I anticipate them continuing to be used for a long time. Baby J already likes to play with them – well, chew on them at least! Just pair them with a pack of trains (like these) and it will be a perfect gift!

7. Melissa & Doug Deluxe Standing Easel

Do you have some little art lovers in your house? Then an easel might be the perfect gift!

We have an easel and it gets used at least every week, if not every day!

Don’t forget the paint!




8. Costumes/Dress Up Clothes

Boys, girls, young, and old – everybody knows that playing dress up is tons of fun!

What a fun gift it would be to get a big bin full of dress ups, old costumes, play silks, props, and Goodwill finds! It would provide hours and hours of imaginative play!

9. KidKraft Vintage Kitchen

On the topic of pretend play, how cute is this play kitchen?! I know that if we had room for one, my kiddos would love having a play kitchen.

Who knows? Play kitchen now, cooking your meals when they get a bit bigger? A mom can dream, right?! 🙂



10. Movies

Get together a movie (or two, or three), pair it with some new jammies and a big popcorn bucket and some candy and you’ve got a super fun gift and family night in the making!






Gifts for the Bigger Kids

11. Nerf Guns

Looking for a fun gift that will get the whole family playing together?Pick up a couple of these and some extra darts and have an epic nerf battle on Christmas morning!


12. LEGO Classic Large Creative Brick Box

You can never go wrong with more Lego!

I love this box because it supplies all the pieces your kiddos need for open ended building. And, just like the box says for ages 4-99, it’s perfect for the whole fam!


13. Apples to Apples Junior

Looking for a fun game to spice up family game night? Try Apples to Apples Junior! Super silly and will get the whole family laughing – if you’ve never tried it, I recommend giving it a try!




14. Skywalker Trampolines 12-Feet Jump N’ Dunk Trampoline

Our neighbors have a trampoline and it is one of the kids favorite things to do! It is such a fun way to get out all that extra energy!

I think this trampoline looks extra fun with the sweet attached basketball hoop. If you live in a mild climate like us, it might be the perfect outdoor addition!


15. Flexible Flyer 60″ Flexible Flyer Sled

Do you live somewhere a bit more wintry than us? Then perhaps a great family gift would be something that gets you outside enjoying that pretty snow!

This old fashioned style sled looks like tons of fun and *almost* has me pining for winter weather. Add some new mugs and a bunch of hot chocolate and you’ll have an awesome gift!

16. Wii

While I am usually not a huge fan of video games, I am kind of on the fence about the Wii. With more active and kid friendly games, if I’m ever going to spring for a video game system, it’s probably going to be a Wii.

If we ever live somewhere where there is a more harsh winter, I’d definitely look into one for some winter entertainment. Maybe it’s a good gift for your family this year!

17. Puzzle

Is your family a fan of being a little more low-tech? What about a big puzzle?

Cozy up around the dining room table, maybe with a plate of Christmas cookies, and put together this cute doggy picture. Just make sure to grab one of these so that you can put it away until you’re ready to work on it again!

18. Lifetime Pro Court Height Adjustable Portable Basketball System

I have so many memories from my childhood of playing basketball with my dad in the driveway. Playing one on one, P-I-G, and just shooting hoops – so much fun was had.

A basketball hoop is definitely something that we will want to purchase when our boys are older!



19. Book Series

Does your family enjoy read-alouds? Then what about a great book series for your family gift?

I found this nice set with both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, but there are plenty others you could choose from!




20. Star Wars: The Complete Saga

What about movie night for the big kids (and the kid at heart!)? We are in full on Star Wars obsession over here with the new movie being released soon! This complete set would be an awesome gift for any Star Wars loving family.





Do you do “family gifts”? What’s on your list?


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Teaching Your Kids the Christmas Story (Truth in the Tinsel Review and Giveaway)


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Christmas is one of my absolute favorite times of the year. Christmas music, shopping for gifts, decorating the tree, cookies and hot chocolate – I love it all. And of all the great things that the Christmas season brings, there is nothing that compares with finding memorable ways to share the true meaning of Christmas with my kids. (In fact, I had a whole series devoted to it last year)

That is why I am so excited to share with you today this amazing Advent resource – Truth in the Tinsel!

truth in the tinsel cover

I have actually known about Truth in the Tinsel for a few years now. I thought about trying it with K last year, but he was only just turning three and, being pregnant, I was keeping things extra simple. So, I knew this year was finally going to be the year we were going to do it!

I purchased my copy a few weeks ago, so that I’d have time to read through it and get everything prepared for the coming Advent season. As I read through the crafts, K would look over my shoulder – getting more and more excited and wanting to know when it would be time to get started.

So What is Truth in the Tinsel Anyway?

Good question! Well, let’s get the the down low straight from the source. On the Truth in the Tinsel website it says…

“Each day Truth in the Tinsel will lead you through a passage of scripture, a corresponding ornament craft and talking points for you and your kids. It’s more than a devotion — it’s a meditation and hands-on learning for kids. It’s more than a craft-book — it’s a memory-builder for your family. It’s more than an e-book — it’s an experience and adventure in God’s Word!”

You can also read more in the guest post Truth in the Tinsel author, Amanda White, wrote last year or go to the Truth in the Tinsel page!


Things I love about Truth in the Tinsel

Great Directions
Everything is so perfectly laid out for you. Supply lists, clear instructions, tips, alternate calendars, links to all the templates you’ll need – it couldn’t be any easier.

Simple Crafts and Activities
We love to keep things simple around here. I want crafts that my child can actually do, not things that I have to do for him. These fit the bill perfectly. Simple enough for a little one, yet fun enough for an older child too, these crafts are perfect for the whole family.

Although I encourage you to give them a try even if you think you’re not the crafty type, you can also get printable ornaments to decorate. Perfect for those extra busy days (cause who doesn’t have those during the holiday season!?) or when you’re just not feeling like doing a craft.

truth in the tinsel ornaments cover

Tells the Whole Christmas Story
Starting in Isaiah and ending at the cross, Truth in the Tinsel tells the grand story of Christmas in a way that is perfect for helping kids to remember. If you’ve been around here for any length of time, you’ll know that I love doing Bible activities that help my kids to really experience the story with all their senses.

Oftentimes I have to come up with these activities on my own (like Play Through the Bible or Hero Training!) , but with Truth in the Tinsel all the work is done for me and all we have to do is have a blast doing it.


A Few Truth in the Tinsel Tips

Get the book early
I know, I know, it’s not even Thanksgiving yet, so why are we talking about Christmas already anyway? Well, for me at least, the key to a smooth Christmas season is taking some time pre-Christmas to get prepared.

By downloading the ebook a few weeks early, you’ll have time to read it through and make a plan for how and when you’re going to do it. This will help you feel less rushed and let you be able to enjoy the process more.

Prep the crafts
To make things go even smoother, I’m hoping to take an afternoon and prep all the Truth in the Tinsel ornament crafts at once. I’ll put all of the ready to go supplies in individual bags and store them together in a tub. That way, when it’s time to do the day’s craft, it’ll just be grab and go!

It’s the process, not the product
The point of doing Bible crafts with your kid’s isn’t to end up with a magazine worthy ornament in the end. The point is to let the crafting be a way to help impress God’s word upon your child and to use the experience to open up time for great discussions.

Don’t worry if your ornaments turn out looking a little wonky, your child is just going to love that they made it themselves!


Well, are you ready to get your copy yet?

Then you’re in luck! Amanda has generously offered a copy of Truth in the Tinsel AND a copy of the printable ornaments to go to one lucky Simple Life. Messy Life. reader! For your chance to win, all you have to do is enter the contest below.

However, if you think Truth in the Tinsel is something that would be great for your family and you are ready to get started – don’t hesitate to go grab it now!

I know exactly how it goes where you’re like “Yes! That sounds awesome. I will get that later for sure.” Then you blink and it’s halfway through December and you completely forgot (oh wait, maybe that’s just me!). Don’t let that happen!

The good news is that Truth in the Tinsel is super affordable. Plus it is great for all ages in your family and you can continue to use it for years to come.



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