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Archive for December, 2013


Several years ago, I started the Prairie Family tradition of having the kids draw names between themselves for Christmas gift exchange.  As they have gotten older and have earned their own money, I have had them buy the gifts, and this has been a good way to help them learn the joy of giving.  They enjoy picking out the gifts for “their person” almost as much as they enjoy receiving them.

It gets rather complicated, though, trying to figure out who has whom.  They like trying to keep it a secret so they can play a continual guessing game as Christmas draws near, but since there are only five kids, it usually is not very hard to figure it all out.  So, this year I decided to make the process completely random, and I think I’ll keep doing it that way since it worked out pretty well.  I used a dice simulator on random.org to match the kids up.  The first set of rolls determined the order of the matches by birth order.  Then the second set of rolls determined who that person was buying for.  Yes, I guess that is kind of complicated, but it worked as well as anything else that I have done!  🙂

The kids really do put a lot of thought into their gifts, and they usually do pretty well.  This year, John really surprised Luke by buying him a video game that he really did not expect to receive.  Brock got John a CD of The Scarlet Pimpernel musical along with a boxed collection of Ray Stevens music.  (Yes, this will give a lot of silly songs to add to our repertoire!) Cosette picked out the perfect gift for Brock when she chose a wallet that is made out of recycled sailcloth.  (He likes strange things like that!) Luke got Kara a loom to make rubber band bracelets, and Kara got Cosette a make-your-own music-box kit that is really very cool.

Usually we each open a couple of presents on Christmas morning, and then clean up the mess and enjoy those gifts before opening the rest in the afternoon.  This year was no different, and this slideshow is of the morning celebration:

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Christmas Morning 2013

Christmas Collage

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The title for this entry is really not an exaggeration!  Christmas Eve 2013 was a wonderful and very special day! Because of the way our school schedule fell with finals, we did have to have school on December 24 just so exams wouldn’t carry over into January.  The kids weren’t too happy about that, but once we got through with that it was smooth sailing!

I had arranged with one of the local nursing homes to have our string ensemble come play Christmas carols in the afternoon.  That was such a great experience, and I think it should become a Prairie Family Christmas Eve tradition!  We go to this particular home quite often to help with church services, so we know several of the residents and love performing there.  We had an unexpected fan club on Christmas Eve, though.  I think they wanted our autographs!  Here is a picture of the O’Brien Keys and Strings Fan Club 2013:

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Well, I guess our fan club has room for new members!  🙂  Anyway, there are several of these nice aviaries in the nursing home, and this particular one was right across the hallway from where we were playing.  Every time we’d start playing, the birds would pipe right in there with their beautiful obligatos, and it added to the festivities!

After we finished playing our last carol, we went home so the kids could open their Christmas stocking gifts.  I realized long ago that the actual stockings couldn’t really hold anything–not even a pencil really.  So, we have used substitute gift bags for several years in a row.  Believe me, the kids don’t mind being able to fit more in the bags!  I thought the pictures came out good this year because the kids still had on their black outfits from their afternoon performance.  Made them look all fancy!

Christmas Eve Collage

Now I must say that I don’t have any idea what the girls are doing in the bottom left picture–it’s kind of crazy!  🙂

Our church decided to have Christmas Eve services this year, so we loaded our instruments back into the van and played a couple more carols there. My kids hadn’t been to a candlelight service since they were very little, so that made for a special time that I also hope becomes a tradition.  The service still ended early enough for the Prairie Family to enjoy their annual Christmas movie:  The Nativity Story.

Christmas Eve has become such a special day to me–sometimes I enjoy it more than Christmas Day!  I know the years are quickly approaching when maybe not all of us will be together, so these days are precious.

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New Couch

I am not a decorator–not at all!  Some people are very talented in that area, but I am not one of them.  Nope, I’m pretty much a practical person.  Hey, if it works, why change?!  That’s my motto.  Unfortunately, sometimes I take that to an extreme…

Such was the case with our old couch.  We bought that couch when we moved into our current house 13 years ago.  The only reason we bought one then was because my big old clumsy couch from our previous house wouldn’t fit through the door of this house.  We learned something from that early experience:  in order to get big furniture into our home, it has to come in pieces.  That’s how we ended up with “Old Blue.”

“Old Blue” served us well.  It has been there through thick and thin, and it probably lived past its prime many years ago.  Yes, it got a few holes in the cushions, the middle section sagged,and the stuffing from the arm rests eventually fell onto the floor, but, hey, it’s still functional, right?

The end of Old Blue came quickly right before Christmas.  One of the kids sat on the middle cushion only to hear a big snap followed by a sinking (or collapsing) feeling.  The middle support system completely gave out and now sitting on the couch was the same as sitting on the floor!  LOL! That was it–there was no more excuses to delay!  It was finally time to replace Old Blue.

So, Dan and I searched around and found a very nice shop in a small nearby town that was able to deliver that very day, two days before Christmas.  They had quite a time getting Old Blue out the door since it didn’t come apart nearly as easily as it had gone together 13 years ago!  I must admit feeling a little bit of sadness seeing that old faithful friend departing in such sorry shape, but that sadness quickly passed when they brought in the replacement!

Wow, what a change!  I had no idea just how bad the old couch looked and how uncomfortable it was until we got in “New Tan!”  Imagine being able to sit down without being swallowed up!  What a deal!

Seriously, though, I am so thankful for this new couch.  I have such a great husband who really takes care of us, and we are blessed.

(Now we only have one more hand-me-down piece of furniture left in our living room.  Maybe it’s days are numbered as well,  Nah……It’s still functional!  At least today it is! )

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Boy, all of our Christmas decorating was way behind schedule this year!  We did get it all done, but it was close!

The Prairie Family had fun picking out what to put on our stocking buttons again this year. Each year, each person picks out something special about that year to symbolize on a button that is pinned to the stockings.  Each year, the buttons accumulate and the stockings get fuller and fuller! It has been a fun tradition that we started the first year that Dan and I were married, and I’m glad that it has continued.  I am also glad that several years ago I put together a list that I update each year with explanations of what the buttons mean.  There are so many buttons now that it would be impossible to remember them all without my cheat sheet!

Here are what each member chose this year:

Dan: Paint Your Wagon; he really enjoyed playing Mike Mooney in the CCC spring musical.

Lois: String Quartet; Our family grew a lot musically through our string ensemble.

John: CCC Choir; He loved being part of this group!

Brock: Barbershop; He has enjoyed learning to sing barbershop style.

Cosette: Piano; She has generally loved piano, but has especially appreciated getting our upstairs piano this year.

Luke: Jolly Ranchers; He loves those things!  🙂

Kara: Sewing; Kara has loved learning to sew this year at a very special teacher’s house!

So, another year has come and gone, and another year is highlighted on our stockings.  2013 has certainly been a year of blessing and fun!

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It has been a long time since I have posted anything about adoption, but it is a subject that still is, and always will be, dear to my heart.  Our lives wouldn’t be complete without the miracle and beauty of adoption, and I think about that every day.

Anyway, I was recently contacted by one of my former American Heritage Girls Trailblazer families who are  no longer Trailblazers because they have started a troop with AHG.  The reason they emailed me, though, wasn’t necessarily about AHG.  They wanted to let me know that they have recently committed to adopting two beautiful girls from Eastern Europe.  The mother is putting together an adoption handprint quilt for a giveaway in February that the family is using to benefit the girls waiting for them.  She remembered our sweet Kara and wondered if we would want to participate in this giveaway.  How cool is that?! Of course, I was quick to say yes!

So, she gave us instructions on how to prepare a handprint block for her quilt, and we got it all ready and mailed off to her.  Fortunately, we had a practice block before we did the real one because our first trial did not work out very well!  The second one came out much better, so that’s the one that we sent.  I always think Kara’s special hands make cute prints and art projects–don’t you agree?! 🙂

Kara enjoyed being a part of this project, and it was a good reminder for us all what a blessing adoption is.  It is worth every penny and every struggle that is part of the process.  I once read a statement that might sound strange to someone who has not adopted internationally, but I can certainly relate to:  people who think that money can’t buy happiness have never paid adoption fees!  I love this girl–forever!

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Genesis Collage

I am just finishing my second year on the board for our county’s food bank.  It is truly a blessing for our family to be involved with this great organization.  We have met amazing people and have learned a lot about love.  I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

The food bank operates year-around and has several special projects.  Our biggest project, by far, is the annual Christmas basket distribution.  We plan and work on it for months, so it is a rewarding day when those baskets go out the door to families.  This year the board decided to break the project up into committees, and I think dividing it up helped ease the load on everyone–and helped us all to understand and appreciate the processes involved.  I was a little hesitant when I found out I was on the volunteer/contacts committee.  I am not one who likes to make phone calls and ask people to do something, but since this was the task given me, I decided to do my very best.  I was in for a wonderful surprise!  Finding volunteers was probably the easiest part of this project!  I had a calling list of people who had helped in the past, and, believe it or not, of those who were still in the area, I had 100% willingness to help again!  Isn’t that incredible?!  Not one person said no!  And that’s how the whole project went:  everytime I needed people to help with this or that, everyone was eager and willing to jump right in!  What a blessing–I couldn’t believe it!  I had never experienced anything like that!

I can’t begin to express how happy I was when the community volunteers came and served with such joy.  It was a moving experience–something I will treasure for the rest of my life. And it didn’t end there!  Many members of the community lined up to help fill those boxes.  They gave time in a busy, busy season to help others, and it was wonderful.

We were blessed to be able to give out around 200 boxes this year–we have such a giving community.  Everything–the food, the money, and the work–is all donated.  It was very cool to see families walking out the door with toys, bikes, and food for their families for Christmas.  It was definitely a precious highlight of my holiday season.

One of the greatest parts of being involved with the Genesis food bank is being able to get to know and work with the other board members.  Those people are amazing–truly amazing.  They give, and give, and give.  And not just at Christmas, but all year around.  They volunteer to work several times a week, and yet they do it happily, willingly, and with true servant hearts.  In many ways, they are like family to me, and I love them all.  They have each taught me so much about the joy of serving others, and I owe them so much.

So, I thank God for Thomas County Genesis, and praise Him for how He so greatly blesses the work there.  He is good–all of the time–and my life is so rich!

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