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Costco at Christmas: When One Day’s Events are Worth a Lifetime of Teaching

Costco at Christmas: When One Day’s Events are Worth a Lifetime of Teaching

I went to Costco today.

Yes, I know. It’s four days before Christmas, so I might be insane. I almost turned around after it took me ten minutes to get into the parking lot, but we needed groceries and we needed supplies for the Christmas weekend and today was just the day our life fit with errands.

Costco wasn’t actually as packed as the parking lot had led me to believe. There is a 5 Below, a TJ Maxx, a PetCo, and a golf store in the same plaza so perhaps that was part of the mayhem.

Before Costco, we went to a local story time that we love. My kids got some books and we all snuggled on a carpet listening to Christmas storybooks. Before the group reading started, the story time reader asked some questions.

“What are some things that your parents think are good for you to do?” she said.

Immediately, my oldest son (age 7) said, “Praising Jesus.” An involuntary laugh came from my belly. I was a little nervous about the reactions. “Praising Jesus” is not so politically correct, you know, and I didn’t know any of those other moms. Also, praising Jesus is a good thing, but to hear my son answer that praising Jesus is something good that we want him to do – something about that just doesn’t sound right to me. I know his heart is right and that he loves Jesus and loves to worship, but  I have an editor in my brain who is constantly trying to put words together in a better way (good for writing, but not always so good for parenting). I’m still pondering that “Praising Jesus” moment of today. Perhaps another post will come about it later.

I talked to my kids a lot about Costco before we went. “It’s probably going to be very busy,” I said. “You need to listen to my voice above all other noises,” I said. “I have a list of groceries, and that’s what we’re getting.”

I had even packed lunches and had my kids eat on the way to Costco so they wouldn’t be starving on our voyage through the maze of giants’ food.

For me, the problem with Costco is that my kids think it’s a playground. They climb on top of the pallets of green beans. They karate kick each other in the wide aisles. They cling onto the refrigerator doors, feet only half-way on the narrow ledge below. They run at the first sight of free samples and often stick around for seconds or thirds. Since I was the cautious friend as a child, always with creative ideas but hardly ever the one to actually carry them out, I am constantly surprised at my children’s adventurous spirits. Their wide eyes and fast feet are always ahead me.

Today, I walked into Costco breathing deep and moving intentionally, trying to prepare myself for distractions and hiccups. The good news is that I wasn’t boiling with annoyance by the time we reached the checkout. However, my oldest son (the one who said that his parents want him to “praise Jesus”) did throw a significant fit about mashed potatoes. Apparently he didn’t get a sample while we were standing at the table, and his brother had grabbed two. Since this oldest child is often picky about food, I asked his brother to share, thinking that if the oldest liked them he could get his own. My middle son gave my oldest a bite, but this was not sufficient to the oldest so he threw it on the ground and ran, pouting.

He is the logical one, the one who loves to calculate and follow instructions and charts. He is the social one, the one who loves to be around people, yet he is the sensitive one, too.

I sat him down next to the stack of canned tuna. I knelt and hoped that I wouldn’t lose my other children in the process.

It’s as if Jesus’ parable applies to parenting: “What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off?” (Mt. 18:12)

If a woman has three children in Costco and one is having an emotional breakdown about mashed potatoes, should she not stop everything and focus on that one?

“You need to stop with the, ‘I want,’ with the, ‘He has,’ and, ‘I didn’t get’ stuff,” I said. “You need to stop this fit right now.” He calmed down. Then I said, “What did you do with the bite of mashed potatoes your brother gave you?”

“I threw it on the ground,” he said, eyes down, face splotchy and scrunched.

This child is the oldest. The one who rushes to answer questions, the one who is always right. He threw his bite of mashed potatoes on the ground. I told him I was sorry, but he had made a choice and he was facing a hard truth. I said there would be more samples and he could choose to take them with gladness or to continue to mope about his lack of mashed potatoes.

Sometimes I wonder at the way I speak to my children. I know my thoughts are winding, poetic ones and often come out with the confusion and many viewpoints. I am trying to speak more clearly, to pause and edit before I give my children directions. Somehow, my son understood what I was telling him and he only mentioned mashed potatoes once more.

We walked out of Costco smiling, and to me that means success.


In the parking lot, the oldest son said, “Sorry, mom, for throwing a fit about mashed potatoes. Sorry [brother]. Sorry [sister].” This was not a perfect day, but since no person is perfect, neither can our days be. Still, we praise, as my son said at story time. I recently read a blog on “homeschooling in the grocery store,” including scavenger hunts and math games to give your children. I have considered that side of shopping, but for me, the grocery store is as much a place for character building as it is for mathematics. With or without charts and calculators, we’re learning both every day.

5 Reasons to Build Tiny Gingerbread Houses (With a Free Pattern!)

5 Reasons to Build Tiny Gingerbread Houses (With a Free Pattern!)

Every year, Christmas comes no matter what.

Every year, with joy and lights and wonder. And now that we’re adults, Christmas comes with oh so much more. It’s still exciting and wonderful, but there’s also much to do.

I know I’m not the only one who feels this way…

Every year, a list forms in my mind: make ornaments, buy presents and wrap them up pretty, practice random acts of kindness, sing Christmas carols, watch all the Christmas movies, do a Jesse Tree.

These are all things I want to do with my family, but everyday family life is already pretty full. Adding anything extra can make us feel quite busy, and busyness is never the goal. Do you agree?

Yet there is one Christmas tradition that I truly love, one that is scattered trough my childhood memories. It’s the gingerbread house. It’s the mixing of dough and the rolling it out and the cutting of shapes. It’s the handiwork, the teamwork, the using of all my senses. We would pack on too much candy and by the end of the night everyone would feel sick because we’d all eaten way too much sugar. Perhaps what I really love, though, is simply the smell of gingerbread. Put molasses and cinnamon in anything, and I am game! Yum!!

My oldest son asks every year if we can buy a gingerbread house kit. It starts as soon as they hit the shelves and it never stops. While I know this would be the easiest way, I am a stickler for the homemade and I tell him no because we can make one at home with much better ingredients. This year, I got to spend some one-on-one time with him measuring and cutting and creating our pattern (a tiny architecture/STEM lesson wrapped up in the most wonderful aromas!)

Here’s a little peak at the house pattern all cut out and taped together (just with a little bit of tape, since we would be disassembling it to trace onto our dough):

I had plans to try out some healthier gingerbread house dough, but when it came time last Friday to actually make the stuff, I used my trusty Joy of Cooking recipe. (I’m sure that if you want to make your dough, you can use whatever basic cookbook you have, or use the first basic recipe that comes up on google. Perhaps this one from King Arthur Flour. They never let me down.)

One thing I decided to do this year was to cut out enough dough for each person in my family to make their own personal gingerbread house. This would ensure that no one was fighting because someone was messing with their design or because someone’s hands were in the way or whatever.

We gave each of our children a paper plate and a little bowl of candy and we let them decorate their own houses. We sat down alongside our children and decorated our own houses too. Of course, I don’t have photos of our process but hopefully the last two sentences gives you an idea of how we did this.

So, I had the idea to build tiny, individual houses but I wasn’t sure how it would work out. Truly, it was great.

5 Reasons to Build Tiny Gingerbread Houses:

1.) Individual Creativity. No one fought over what kind of design to make because everyone was allowed to do whatever they wanted to their own house.

2.) Fairness. My husband had the brilliant idea to ration out the candy into individual bowls (I used washed yogurt containers, which I always save for things like painting and to-go lunches and now, for building gingerbread houses). This way, everyone was sure to get the same amount of goodies and no one complained that “So-and-so ate all the peppermints.”

3.) Preventing Candy Hangovers. Everyone got an appropriate amount of candy and could do with it what they wanted. Our smallest child ate most of her candy while the rest of us were decorating our houses. We had figured that would happen, but in the end it was fine because she had the same as everyone else.

4.) Structural Integrity. I seem to recall gingerbread houses being finicky, and the roof caving in or the foundation cracking. However, my idea to build tiny gingerbread houses had the added benefit of lighter-weight pieces. Therefore, the house itself wasn’t so complicated to put together and it was absolutely structurally sound.

5.) Easy Icing Glue. Because our tiny houses were not so heavy, we were able to use a simple powdered sugar + milk icing to build them. That’s right, no egg whites! We just made sure the icing was kind of thick so that it would dry faster. We sat down together to build the houses, went downstairs to watch Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, and came back upstairs to do our decorating. That 45 minutes gave the frosting enough time to dry so the candy could be applied without any collapsing. (Note: Because our children are so little, my husband and I basically put the houses together. We applied the icing and helped the kids position their pieces so that everyone would actually end up with a house and not a big pile of crumbs.)

Simple Steps:

***Things you will need to make your own gingerbread houses: Dough, candy, powdered sugar and milk, bowls, paper plates.

1.) Print my FREE TINY GINGERBREAD HOUSE PRINTABLE . Cut out your pattern (I made my pattern pieces with an old cereal box. You can make your pattern pieces with paper, but something heavier will be much easier to work with.)

2.) (Optional) Build the house using your pattern and a few pieces of tape. (While unnecessary, I found that this helped my son and I both see what we were about to do with the gingerbread and to make any adjustments we wanted.)

3.) Make gingerbread dough and roll out to about 1/4″ thickness. I used one recipe of gingerbread dough and we made 5 tiny houses with it, and we had leftover dough that I froze for later use.

4.) Using your pattern, cut out enough pieces of gingerbread to make as many houses as you need. You will need 2 pieces of roof, 2 pieces of side, and 2 pieces of front/back per house Basically, my printable makes one house.

5.) Bake the pieces of gingerbread. When transferring your shapes to the baking pan, be gentle because they will stretch a little (another benefit to tiny houses: if the pieces aren’t perfect, the icing will still be able to hold the house together!)

6.) Once the cooked dough is cool, mix together a few cups of powdered sugar with a little bit of milk (remember, you want the icing thick, so don’t add a lot of milk. A good rule of thumb is to add one tablespoon at a time until your icing is smooth and spreadable.) Now you’re ready to assemble your house!

7.) Once your house is assembled, get out your candy and have at the decorating!

8.) Take lots of pictures and let me know how your houses came out!!





Is it really possible? I mean, Christmas is a day. December 25. And days always begin and end without human help.

But as humans, we so often act like we need to do all these things to make Christmas. We need gifts and trees and cookies and we need to drive around looking at lights and we need the happy music and the steaming cocoa.

In my household, we have Christmas traditions. They’re pretty usual. We make forgotten cookies. We watch all the movies. We look at Christmas lights. We give as much as we can. We have fun. This year, I thought we’d also spread  Christmas kindnesses across our community, and we’d make a Jesse Tree to remind ourselves of the bigger story. We started the tree, but have not been faithful, and my almost 6-year old reminds me daily. “Mom. We forgot to read our Bible story.” We’re stuck on Moses.

Surely, I thought, I can just incorporate kindnesses into our wintertime life. “Hold the door for the person behind you.” “Pay for someone’s coffee.” “Let someone go ahead of you in line at the grocery store.” I even sat down and made a list with my children. A whole list of completely plausible ideas. And we talked about why we wanted to show kindness.

“What is kindness?” I said. And we decided that kindness means considerate and willing, nice and helpful. We wrote our list and have done none of it. Not even the simple, free things. Because life happens without trying.

December 25 will come.

This year, the forgotten cookies crumbled. Our tree topper didn’t light. Our children have cried and screamed and talked through all the Christmas movies. When we drove around to look at lights, we had to stop for gas and for air in the tire. Our 4-year old was being nasty and my words weren’t getting through to him so I took him out of the van and sat him on the curb to have a little chat. It was really fun. (Not.) Really? Don’t you know this is Christmas? I thought. The roads for the best lights in town were blocked off, so we left that neighborhood early and got dinner at a food truck. Our kids hated it and ended up eating bananas instead. Our Jesse Tree is empty.

By trying to make Christmas, it seems I have unmade it.

But our tree is up (no topper). Our ornaments are hung (except one that likely got thrown out with our last tree). The air is cold. Forgotten cookie crumbs are filling a box on top of our fridge.

And my boys are not being kind or selfless like I want them to be. Like I want. “I” is such a selfish word.

Really. Do you have to do that? It’s Christmas. 

But is’t not Christmas. It’s only December 16. We’ve got nine more days.

Nine more days to make up my lack of follow-through. Nine more days to get it right.

Then, I wonder if we need that Jesse Tree anyway, or that list of Christmas kindnesses. Do we need cookies that hold their shape? Whether eaten by finger or spoon, they still do the sugary trick. We have tried. And now we’re going out of town for a pre-Christmas vacation, and we won’t be home to complete any of the things on our list. Really, we’re out of time for preparation.

Only one kindness has been done. This is one truly random, unplanned kindness that lets me know that my children understand the true meaning of Christmas.

It’s Jesus. It’s a savior. It’s peace on earth. Good will toward men. It’s glory to God. It’s the best gift ever wrapped up in cloths and presented by angels. It’s everything before Him and everything after Him. It’s unfailing love and a call to do the same. Peace on earth. Good will toward men.

Last week we went to Costco. Among other things, we bought a box of gummy snacks. They are a treat for my children, and that day I had splurged on organic ones. I gave one gummy pack to each child after seat belts were buckled. We made our way to the line of cars sitting stopped at a red light. Crowded and waiting to turn. To go home. And my 6 year-old said, “Mom. What does that sign say?” pointing to a woman on the curb wearing drab cloths and a shivery frown. A woman ignored.

“Pregnant and hungry. Anything helps. God bless,” I read.

I’m seeing these signs everywhere now.

“Oh,” said my son. “Can we give her something?”

“I don’t have any cash,” I told him, “What could we give?”

“Gummies!” he said, and he reached back into the trunk, stuck his hand into the box of gummies and grabbed a handful. As many packages as his fingers could grip, and he handed them to me. His precious gummies.

This kindness wasn’t even on our list.

But I rolled the window down anyway, letting in a chill, and I handed the gummies over. The organic ones, given in an organic way to a woman who said thank you and walked away and stuffed her hoodie pocket with them.

We search for meaning, for ways to make Christmas special. But meaning is only found in the manger, where animals roam and hay is scattered. Where life exists opposite from humans trying.

Life is not a human creation, but a gift.

So maybe I’m not actually failing at Christmas.

Somehow my children know, though they don’t often act like it, about peace on earth and good will toward men. They know about generosity and love and glory to God in the highest. They know.

Still Giving Thanks

Still Giving Thanks

Thanksgiving is over. Are you still full?

We made a turkey, cranberry chutney, two loaves of bread, and four pies.

We asked our boys what pies they wanted, and one boy said “Mince Meat Pie.” After some questioning, we deciphered his actual wish. Mint Pie. We searched for recipes. We crushed up Oreo’s. We purchased cool whip and Andes. The result was delicious. Like thin mints. In a pie. We called it “Mint Meets Pie.”

We were with our wider family all day. We saw friends. We gave thanks. We broke bread.

And somewhere in the middle of it all, I had the thought, how perfect that Thanksgiving precedes Christmas. 

Then, right before we prayed over our feast, my sister-in-law said the same thing.

How perfect. 

It is no accident that before the season of gifts is the season of thanks. That before our focus is yanked toward sale signs, we fill ourselves up with one gift that is greater.

Hopefully our focus never actually makes it to the sale signs. They can provide terrible distraction unless we are filled with thankfulness. I know I need some work in that area. Some reminding. Constant reminding.

It is better to give than to receive.

A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones. (Prov. 17:22)

The words, “Give thanks,” lined the aisles on boards and posters. Now, the signs say “Cheer” and “15% off.” But cheer doesn’t connect with numbers. The most wonderful time of year turned into something akin to dust.

Can Thanksgiving continue?

As in, “Thanksgiving is our dialect.” (Eph. 5:4)

Are you still full?

Do leftovers remain in your fridge? Do you have so much turkey that you need to freeze some, make a pot pie or two, a big pot of soup, a casserole?

And how does our Thanksgiving feast translate spiritually?

Our tradition of abundance.

I’m wondering.

And while I wonder, I’m reminded of words that my 3 year-old son spoke a few months ago. Words that pierced me. I wrote them into an entire blog post, or I thought I did, but those words are missing now. Either I never actually wrote them down, or I have misplaced them. I have been searching because I wanted to share them. And at the same time, I am thankful for the loss. Often, it’s not the words but the spirit of them anyway. Often, the original thought lives on.

“Mom, how do you spell Grace?” he said.

Grace. The name of my youngest child. A girl who smiles and mimics and loves to be a part. A girl who squeezes when she hugs and sings when she wakes. A girl who was given the name Grace partly because it is the only female name my husband and I have ever agreed on, and partly because Grace is the most beautiful word, and now it’s a word that we speak over and over, every day. We will never forget.

When my son asked me how to spell Grace, I knew what he was asking. The answer, “G-R-A-C-E.” But the only thing in my head was “In order to spell Grace, you have to spill Grace.”

In order to understand Grace, we have to recognize the need for it. And I’m speaking both about my daughter and about the free and unmerited favor given. Two things that God has given purely because He is good.

We receive the gift of Grace when we realize it is given freely. But Grace is made whole when we give thanks for it. Because it’s better to give than to receive. And when it’s all intertwined in a great big Holy circle…

Well, are you full yet?