I'd like to introduce you to a little visitor to our home. His name is Sparky. He's an Elf... on a shelf.

 If you haven't seen/heard of Elf on a Shelf all you need to do is go on Pinterest to see a plethora of ideas on how this little guy can show up in your home. To summarize though... each morning you put your elf in a different area of your house doing something that he supposedly did over night. Some can be a bit of mischief he got into, some can include a gift for the kids and some can provide an activity for your family to do together. Fun right?

Sparky here had a little letter of introduction for his first visit.

 The kids were immediately drawn into the imaginative play.

Apparently they ran out of time for painting in Santa's workshop and Sparky needed a little help with a family of Nutcrackers.

The tall one is quite nostalgic of Nutrcrackers. This activity was for him.
( I love that they are making the Nutcrackers have a little conversation here :)

Sparky needed help painting and help we did!

I love seeing how different my kids can be at times. The boy one dropped his paintbrush on his shirt which was kind of the end of the world... or at least this painting time. The girl one though painted her Nutcracker, her nails, her apron, her leg, her hand, the table, her daddy, etc.

The tall one is actually pretty artistic. He's also a bit of a perfectionist in art. He spent a good 2 more hours painting his guy then the rest of us :)

And here we have a little Nutcracker family and an afternoon of memories.

And just because I wanted somewhere to put this picture... her is the boy one.. contemplating something in the morning sun. It's such a blessing to capture these moments. I love him.

Sunday was the last day to bring in your shoebox gifts for Operation Christmas Child.  Samaratin's Purse is such a great organization and the shoebox initiative is an amazing idea. What I love so much about it is that it is a wonderful way to involve children in giving and also provides a good opportunity to open their eyes to the poverty that many children live in.

During breakfast one day I started talking with my kids about what I had been reading in the Word that morning and summarized that Jesus wanted us to be generous. Whatever you have done for the least of these, you have done for me... challenging.

Later in the day we watched a couple of videos on YouTube about Operation Christmas Child. There was even a Veggie Tale promo where Larry packs a shoebox and accidentally gets sent with it :) They were great for showing the kids the children that would be receiving their boxes and the type of conditions that they live in. They also saw Mom cry at every video - oi.

As a family we made a date to go shopping for our shoeboxes. Each kid bought for a boy/girl their own age and the tall one and I each shopped for a teenager. The next morning we set about packing our shoeboxes.

First we sorted it all into piles for each child.

It's always a struggle to fit as much as you possibly can into a box! I packed for a 10-14 year old girl... sometimes I feel lost on what to buy teenagers... this year I figured I'd try to add a crafty element to the box. I picked up a small sewing kit along with some fabric and also made 3 headbands to include in the gift.

We managed to squeeze everything into our boxes (including a custom Christmas card in each) and they were almost ready to go.

One of the most important things we pack into our boxes is prayer. Each of us grabbed our box and took turns praying over it and for the child that would receive it.

I know it's too late to physically pack a shoebox but you can still give one by "Building a Box Online" on the Samaratin's Purse Website. Also be on the look out for various community initiatives in your city such as Christmas Hampers and the Angel Tree. Here in Estevan you can pick an ornament off the Angel tree in the Walmart and buy a gift for a local child in need. I believe the trees go up around December 5.

Christmas trees always make me happy but I must admit... my pink tree makes me extra happy.

Every year we put up our tree on the Remembrance Day weekend. That day we take the kids to pick out their special ornament for the tree, usually us adults get one too :) Kai picked an adorable little cupcake and since Hanny was napping we picked out a Buzz and Woody mini lunch box ornament that I am positive that she would have grabbed herself given her current obsession with Toy Story.
The kids had a blast helping hang the ornaments and wrapping themselves in lights.

We gave I'm sure at least 8 time outs (for hurling glass ornaments across the room and other general over tired misbehaviour) and Dean suggested during the 5 minutes it takes to string the lights up that "I don't really feel like finishing decorating tonight. How about we just do it tomorrow." like he does every year while stringing lights. 

I calmly suggested... "Maybe you could try for one year not to quit before we've even started decorating Mr. Debbie Downer." or maybe that's what it sounded like in my head and may have come out more like "How about you try to not to ruin tree trimming night EVERY YEAR!"

Ha ha - I said it in jest because he totally knows he does it. And he always ends up decorating with me until the end and then we cuddle and just look at the lights :)

Here's the classic toddler style of three of the same colour ornaments all on the same branch.

Notice the sweet fibre optic lights? My sis in law and her boyfriend bought them for us from Ikea. Kind of killing me not to put coloured lights up on the tree but they didn't look good and the green cord was really distracting.

I grabbed my fav crazy afgan from Elsie to throw on the chaise. My anthro afgan wasn't flowing with the seasonal colour scheme and this one works perfectly!

I thought the chaise needed a little something else so I whipped up this Christmas pillow today. It says "Ho", I hope you can tell... as in "Ho, Ho, Ho Merry Christmas". I thought the blue doily looked kind of like a snowflake and I made a mini bunting from my peppermint ribbon.

I saw the idea to hang the ornaments in the window on Pinterest. Love it.

Love this sign. I snagged it at Real Deals in Minot for less than $2.

Over on my office hutch resides my random little winter wonderland :)

A few months ago I found this 4 foot doily at Salvation Army. I bought it not really knowing what to do with it but who can pass up a 4 foot doily? Thankfully it makes a pretty sweet tree skirt!

 Yay for Christmas!

The thing about committing to a pink Christmas tree is that it kind of changes what other decor you can use for Christmas. Most of the traditional red and green is just not going to cut it in the whole scheme of things. So, I've been attempting to collect and create pink and other complimentary coloured Christmas decor.

(Disclaimer: All of these pics are from my iphone because I was too lazy to haul out the K-5)

I am quite liking my pink wreath. I don't think it's big enough to earn front door privileges but it'll be cute somewhere in the living room.

 Next up I made what is now becoming my yearly Christmas Organizer. I saw the idea last year on Under the Sycamore and I believe she linked to Eighteen 25 who actually created it and shared a tutorial.

I love them - such a huge help during the crazy season!

Basically start with a notebook from a dollar store, cover it with pretty paper (wrap the closure ribbon all the way around before the paper goes on though.)

Glue envelopes to the front and back covers to hold receipts and coupons.

Cut tabs and label them with your planner categories then staple them to about 3 sheets of paper.

My categories are:
The List (gift ideas)
Cards (where you keep everyone's addresses)
To Do

I found cute little sparkly deer at Dollarama that I thought might look good if I added pink glitter. I'm kind of counting this project as a DIY fail. I don't love them. I may try spray painting them next :)

 Now for a little more randomness. Gluesticks and I attempted a few more wreaths. Here is hers... tied a small twig wreath to the center of her green wreath and garnished with fabric/twine rosettes. Looks great!

I attempted a burlap wreath. I liked it the night of but now I don't love it. The staples are falling out and it just isn't going to go with my colour scheme this year. Another fail.

And the last piece of random... an iphone pic of my final gallery wall placement. I love it! Looks like a few frames need to be straightened but I love how it spans the entire wall. I love the mix of frame colours and prints! It makes me happy and tells a story (even though the randomness of it makes some of my friends - ahem - Erin - cough cough twitch.)

In September I had the privilege of shooting Zacch and Michelle Vandenhurk's wedding. They are super cool, laid back and willing to go for anything. My kind of clients! They let me shoot all of their portraits on an industrial loading dock. The results? Fabulous!

Enjoy your sneak peek Zacch and Michelle!

First off, their adorable daughter Natalie. So flipping cute :)

The loading dock in all it's glory :)

She is so STUNNING!

Congrats Zacch and Michelle!

Yesterday I had the good fortune of hosting the lovely Jenna Holmgren for "Take a Kid to Work Day". I have had past students join me in the classroom in years prior but this was my first time having a student come and see what life is like as a "stay at home mom/photographer/columnist/blogger".

Our morning started off how mine normally does... breakfast at the table with my littles (still in their jammies) and reading the Word. Right now we're reading through the "My First Message" that I downloaded for my Kindle and iphone. I highly recommend it!

I introduced Jenna to the wonderful world of Pinterest and had her pick a DIY project for this blog post. She has good taste and chose to make felted head bands. So - we packed up the kids and headed off to Sally Anne in search of some 100% wool sweaters. We were there before the store opened and felt really cool waiting for them to open the doors :)

We read a little tutorial on felting at The Magic Onions.

First we needed a pillow case and golf balls.

Our 100% wool sweaters!

We threw them into a pillow case and tied it up. This is to catch all the fibers that will come loose and the golf balls apparently help with the felting process. All you do next is throw it into the wash and wash with the hottest water possible. I listened for changes in the laundry cycle and before it drained and rinsed I reset the agitation phase twice more.

While we waited for the sweaters to felt I gave Jenna a quick lesson on how to use an SLR camera. Jenna learned the full joys of being a multi-tasking mom as she had to learn the camera while we played kitchen with Hanny and Sonic with Kai.

Jenna caught on to everything super quick, she's a natural. We took the kids on a little walk so she could practice and she did amazing!

Here are a couple of her shots.

 I also set her up on Lightroom so she could get the feel of post processing. Here is one she processed of Hanny.

O.K. back to felting! Here are our mini sweaters! Time to cut 'em up!

I drafted us a pattern. Our template was 24 inches long, 4.5 inches at the widest part and tapered to 1.5 inches at the ends.

In order to get it symmetrical cut a 24" x 4.5" rectangle, fold it in half and then taper the ends and then cut.

Jenna wanted to use the super cute teal/gray chevron print but none of our pieces were long enough to do the entire length. Instead we cut the middle (front) section from the chevron and then cut matching end pieces from the gray sewed them all together.

Next she cut out irregular flower shapes and stacked them for embellishments. She made two flowers (one larger) and sewed them on with yellow embroidery thread (to match the gold button she used on the back) in an "X". They are darling.

For a closure all you need to do is fit the headband and mark where you want the button. Sew it on. Then draw a box where the button hole should be and sew around in a zig zag stitch and then cut a slit down the middle. I've never done a button hole before but it was easy peasy.

I adore how it turned out! Great job Jenna!!! We headed outside to do a mini shoot of her creation.

How stunning is she?

Love the detail. It all looks so great!

Thanks for spending the day with me and the kids Jenna - we had a blast! Also, stay tuned as Jenna will also become a published author next week as she is writing my ifamily column for me!