Over the River and through the Woods

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The bags are packed. The Christmas presents are finally wrapped. The snow has come, but we are going North to Grandma’s (and Grandpa’s and Nana’s and Papa’s)!

This is our 7th attempt to get together with my family to celebrate Christmas, and introduce everyone to Abby…outside an isolette. All week Lydia has woken up from every nap and bedtime yelling, “Grandpa Grandma’s House!” and we’ve had to remind her, “yep, in three days…two days…tomorrow”.

To prepare for the trip, Lydia dressed up in her “going North outfit”, my fancy schmancy raincoat (from the time I went to Africa), a small purse from a dear friend (containing her toy cell phone and a hair bow), and Mom’s high heels (which Mom never wears, but Lydia puts to good use).

There is a long car ride in store. Fun to be had. Pictures to come.

We are ready.

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DIY: Homemade Herbal Tea Bags

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As I’ve mentioned in other posts, the Taylor family decided to do all homemade gifts this year. For Dan’s Dad, we decided to make homegrown herbal tea. Way back in the spring time we bought a couple of herbs: peppermint and lemon balm. Despite our frequent moves and time in the hospital we managed to grow and harvest enough to make enough tea bags for one Christmas gift. If we’d been more diligent about harvesting our plants, or if we’d had better growing conditions, I’m sure we could have made a lot more.

The first step, once the plants were growing well, was to harvest the leaves periodically. I snipped off shoots and leaves with some kitchen scissors and set them on cookie sheets to air dry. You could also use a dehydrator, the oven, or hang them upside-down in brown paper bags, but I chose the lazy way.

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By December I had a nice collection of dry leaves. It only took me one night to put them all together, although it was a late night. I made ten tea bags and it probably took a couple of hours. To make your own tea bags, you’ll need:

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-herbs of your choice (I used lemon balm and peppermint)
-coffee filters
-mortar and pestle (optional, totally unnecessary)
-sewing machine (also optional, but speeds up the process considerably)
-white thread
-card stock
-sewing needle

I smashed my leaves up up in a mortar and pestle, but you could also just use your fingers.

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Next I cut out my tea bags from coffee filters. I took apart a store-bought tea bag and cut my own to match, but you could just eyeball it. The exact dimensions aren’t extremely important.

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Now fold your coffee filter in half, hotdog style, and line up your edges. Don’t flatten the fold down, because this is just a temporary fold. Sew with a 1/4 inch seam all the way across. Trim your thread.

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Next you’ll open up the tea bag and fold it with the seam on top.

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Flatten your seam open.

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Was that too confusing? Here’s a picture that shows the process, top to bottom:

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Now for the fun part! Fill your tea bag.

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I found the best way to do this was to pour about half a tea spoon in to the tea bag, shake it down toward to bottom (pinch the end so none falls out), then pour the second half in. This way the tea is distributed throughout the tea bag, which is important because the next step is to fold your tea bag in half, hotdog style this time.

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Looking good, right? Now, you’re going to fold down your corners and the top opening as seen here:

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Back to the sewing machine, if you’re using one, for the tea bag string. Start in the center on top of the tea bag and sew down a few stitches. Don’t forget to backstitch here too. Then pause with your needle all the way down. Rotate the tea bag 180 degrees and sew back up.

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I actually had a friend cut out and make my labels from card stock. These are the little tabs that hang off the end of the tea bags. I copied the store-bought tea bag method of attaching these but it was unnecessary. You can just tie them on, but for completeness I’ll show you what I did:

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Tie a knot where you want the tag to rest. There’s my knot:

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Cut a small notch in your tea bag tag.

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Then thread one strand of the thread you just knotted into your needle. That’s only one strand, not both. Poke your needle carefully through a little bit below the notch you just made.

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Pull all the way through until your knot is resting against the tab. Pull the other thread down through your notch and tie the two strands together. Trim your extra thread.

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I put mine in a couple of little magnetic tins with their labels showing:

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And there you have it. Homegrown, homemade tea bags, start to finish.

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DIY: A Calendar for the New Year

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Last Christmas Dan’s family decided to do all homemade gifts for 2013. For Dan’s Mom, Lydia (with some help from Mommy) made a “handmade” calendar with finger paint. She had a lot of fun doing it, and (although I wouldn’t recommend doing the whole thing in two days like we did) I would highly recommend this as a fun activity/craft/project for other little toddlers.

My original idea was to print off a homemade calendar and then do the painting and get it all bound at Kinkos for about $5. However, I caught a deal online for a $5 photo calendar. So I ordered a photo calendar but left all the photos off so I had a nice template for our painting.

Once our calendar arrived we took the pages apart and made our handprint paintings for each month. I didn’t take pictures of each month at the time, but I still have the links and pictures where we got our ideas.

Side Note: While you can make all these pictures just like the ones shown below, we had only purchased a finger paint set of four colors: red, yellow, green, and blue. With some adaptation to the colors in the pictures below and some half-hazardous mixing, we made it work. We left out any black or brown and we left the white portions unpainted since everything was on a white background.

Here are the pictures we used:

January – footprint penguin

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For the penguin we just left the belly unpainted. To do so, I cut out a piece of paper in the shape I wanted and taped it to Lydia’s foot. Then, after she had paint on her foot, I removed the paper to leave the belly unpainted. For older kids, it would probably work better to tape the cut out paper to the calendar and remove it after the painting is done. For younger kiddos with less gross motor control, I recommend taping the paper to the foot.

February – handprint hearts

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March – handprint four-leaf clover

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April – handprint bunny

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We did the bunny on the top left.

May – handprint Very Hungry Caterpillar

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For the eyes we cut out two ovals and taped then on Lydia’s hand. Then we removed them once her hand was painted to leave the eyes unpainted. (similar to the penguin painting technique)

June – handprint goldfish

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July – handprint American flag
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We used a white gel pen to draw the stars. Alternatively you could use white paint or stick on some star stickers. If you want to get real fancy you could use the stickers the same way we used the belly cutout for the penguin, but that could get pretty tricky!

August – hand and footprint lobster

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September – handprint apple tree

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October – handprint fall tree

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November – handprint turkey

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December – handprint Christmas tree

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Here’s Grandma’s reaction as she opened her calendar:

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I think she liked it. Happy Painting!

Our Christmas…a Poem

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Christmas stockings, Christmas lights
Christmas music played at night,
Angel ornaments made by (great) Gramma
(no we don’t believe in Santa)

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Dancing on our living room floor
Snow falls just outside the door
Taylors come to celebrate
And all the presents are homemade

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Cookie cutter biscuits, those are neat
Hurry up, it’s time to eat!
Exchanging gifts is so much fun
We made something for everyone.

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A calendar made with Lydia’s hands
so Grandma T can keep track of plans
Grandpa got some special tea
Grown and homemade by Mommy

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Too soon it was time to go
So no one gets (too) stuck in the snow
Goodbyes are always very sad,
but there was more fun to be had.

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Christmas morning is coming quick
The roads are getting pretty slick
Christmas eve we head out the door
because we need just one gift more.

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Christmas morning comes at last
The night did not pass all to fast
Except for Mom, hope she’s not crabby
She was up with hungry Abby

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Christmas pjs, pretty dresses
Lots of wrapping paper messes
Candles in the morning dark
The party is about to start!

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Lydia can’t believe her eyes
A big girl bed! What a surprise!
Now Daddy reads some from God’s word
Stockings are second, presents are third

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Abby’s gift: to be snuggled all day,
She wouldn’t have it any other way
Mommy got a pretty coat
Daddy got some workout clothes.

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Christmas came and Christmas went
But the best gift was still heaven sent
Baby Jesus come to earth
We love to celebrate His birth!

Meaningful Traditions and Christmas Noise

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On Saturday night I was sitting on the couch holding Abby and looking at our Christmas tree. I was remembering the message brought to the shepherds by the angels on that very first “Christmas” night (of course, I have to include this in the KJV. Thanks to Charlie Brown, it’s hard not to believe these were the exact words spoken by the angel, in English and everything.)

Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

What triggered my thoughts about those angels and their message? We had just celebrated the Taylor family Christmas with Dan’s parents, brother and sister-in-law. In addition to their own gifts they had brought gifts from Dan’s grandparents. And every year Dan’s grandma makes each of her family members an ornament. A lot of the ones on our tree are angels, and those special ornaments had started my Christmas reminiscing.

In the background we had an “all-Christmas, all the time” radio station playing. And at that moment the song playing had nothing to do with shepherds, angels, or Baby Jesus. It was probably either a love song or something about Santa Claus. To me, right then, it just sounded like noise.

There is a remarkable difference between the deep and true story of Jesus birth, and special traditions that help us remember it, and the emptiness of Christless traditions.

A couple of years ago I became slightly obsessed with starting some Christmas traditions…meaningful traditions. I asked families in our church what they do, I asked Dan for ideas, I even searched online. And slowly we have started our own traditions.

We have our Christmas moose. There’s nothing especially Christmasy about him except that he promotes a lot of family fun and laughter.

We put up our tree and decorate as a family. And we take out the ornaments one-by-one and remember the story behind them. Most of our ornaments are those special one stitched by Dan’s grandma. I’ve also taken a page out of her book and combined it with an idea from my dad and cross-stitched an ornament each year to symbolize something significant that happened.

No, these traditions don’t directly tell the story of Jesus birth. However, the love and joy our family shares are only possible because He came. I’m still developing some even deeper traditions to instill Christmas truths in our kiddos.

One of the traditions I’d like to start is one that a friend does with her family. Each December she wraps up 25 children’s Christmas stories. Every night the kids pick out a book, unwrap it, and read it together.

I’d like to ask for input from some of you readers. I’m hoping that, in the next year, I’ll be able to start our own Christmas story collection. However, I want this tradition to be something that will instill honorable qualities and Christmas truths in our kiddos. Top-notch books with good pictures too. Any ideas?

And, just for fun, I’d love to hear what Christmas traditions you enjoy most or enjoyed as a child. Opening pajamas every Christmas eve? Swedish meatballs and pickled herring Mom’s oreo ice cream dessert at Christmas dinner? What were and are some of your favorites?

Taylor Christmas Letter 2013

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Hullo there,

Let me introduce myself. In the summer of 2008, Justine was a counselor at Lake Ann Camp. During the last week of the summer, one of her sweet young campers gave Justine a stuffed moose from the camp store. That’s me. Not much happened in my lonely life until two years ago when Justine went crazy decorating for Christmas. Between the tree, the green blanket on the couch, and the plaid stockings on the wall, she decided the home looked a little like a lodge, and she threw me into the mix. That happy year I was renamed “The Christmas Moose”. (Although I’m pushing hard to become an all-year moose, as the 11 months in a box aren’t too exciting).

Well this year, I’m proud to say, the Taylors have given me the honor of writing their Christmas letter. So, here I go!

It’s been a year full of changes for the Taylor family. Can you believe it was only a year ago that they were living in their little apartment on campus at Eastern Michigan University? Dan was working many hours as he held an internship while taking classes toward a Master’s degree. The little munchkin (she’s since been upgraded to “the Big Girl”) was much more of a baby as she had little hair, very few words, and she still army crawled everywhere.

Early in the year Lydia pleased everyone by walking for the first time, just the night before she was scheduled to start physical therapy because she wasn’t walking! Because she was wearing a purple layered tutu from her Aunt Steph at the time, the tutu has been dubbed “the power tutu”. You can watch her first steps here.

Lydia has come a long way since those first steps. She has learned many new words, begun memorizing her first Bible verses, and developed her signature Munchkin Laugh. Lydia is a sweet helper, and awesome big sister, and cute beyond words. See?

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I just love that little Munchkin.

Well, anyway, Dan was gone a lot at the beginning of the year and we all missed him. Yes, even me. Even with that little Munchkin army crawling around, then walking on her knees, then on her little legs at last. In the spring we were all thrilled when he graduated with a Masters degree in Math. That’s right, he is now a master of mathematics. Feel free to call him for help with your math problems or your kiddo’s homework.

With the end of Dan’s college career, the family packed everything else up (I was already in my box) and we moved to a big condo in Ann Arbor, right next door to Dan’s new job. The company he has been interning for hired him full time and he has been working there ever since. We loved living so close to work! Dan could come home for lunch, and was still home for an early dinner.

It was a good thing too, because Justine wasn’t feeling too well at the time with another munchkin on the way!

Lydia spent a few days in the hospital after coming down with some sort of stomach bug, but the whole family got sick after her hospital stay and didn’t seem to get better. Finally it was determined that the place was moldy and was making everyone, but especially Dan, sick. The family quickly packed up again (who am I kidding? The family didn’t pack up at all, but the ladies from Bible study came over and packed everything up. Sweet ladies they are too.)

It was off to Plymouth for a lovely, flowery summer home. The place was already fully furnished and the yard was landscaped with constantly changing flowers and plants. There was a park nearby and the Munchkin and her Mommy enjoyed the playground almost every day.

Everyone had warned Baby Number Two not to come until after the summer ended, because the home was only a short-term solution and there was another move planned in September. But that little Munchkin didn’t listen and she surprised everyone by coming even earlier than her sister. But you can read all about that here if you haven’t already.

Well, you all know what the next three months held, so I won’t repeat it here. The family was apart and gone a lot while our new baby, Abigail spent 82 days in the NICU of two different hospitals.

And you know what happened because of all that? I didn’t get taken out of my box until nine long days after Thanksgiving. I guess I won’t hold it against them, because it sounds like they didn’t want to stay at the hospital that long.

Well, now we’re together again, me included. And we love it. There is a lot of smiling and laughter. There is a lot of Christmas music and dancing and spinning around the living room (“swimming”, as the older Munchkin likes to say). And we all are going to be together on Christmas and for a whole week afterwards too (Dan gets the time off work).

We do love to be together.

So that was our year, in a long nutshell. As I wrap this letter up I just want to tell you all to take the time to enjoy your togetherness this holiday season. It’s a gift not everyone gets to enjoy. Don’t forget that we’re celebrating the birth of another baby, Baby Jesus, who came to be the savior of the world. And, if you talk to Dan or Justine anytime soon, put in a good word for me so that maybe I’ll get upgraded to the all-year Moose.

Merry Christmas to you all, on behalf of the Taylors.

Wasted Seasons

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Two and a half years ago, after Lydia was born, we missed the best weeks of summer. They happened while we passed our time in the hospital. After Abby was born I kept hoping she would come home while the weather was still nice. I love fall. And I wanted to really enjoy it with Abby at home.

Instead, the days, then weeks, and even months passed and the season went with them. Occasionally, during a drive to pick up Dan from work, I would notice the brightly colored trees lining the highway. Those were the in-between moments when I was able to enjoy fall…just a little. There was no apple picking, no pumpkins, no walks in the crunchy leaves for us. I kept telling Abby, “You have to come home before it gets cold.” She didn’t.

Somewhere in there I was having a conversation with a friend at church. She had just gone through her own share of troubles that had “interrupted life”. It was after this conversation that I noticed a running theme. A lot of people were going through different difficulties that were interrupting their life. Mold problems in the home, sickness, hospital stays, unemployment…and our lives were all put on hold until the troubles passed.

And I realized that day that I have to stop putting my life on hold, because what I thought were interruptions in life were actually the seasons of life slipping away while I neglected to enjoy them.

So I made a renewed effort to make the most of my season. I tried to enjoy the leaves during our in-between drives. I took Lydia to the hospital garden and watched her balance as she walked along the short stone wall. And I captured a precious moment in the picture above when Lydia marveled in one of the first snows of the year while looking out from Abby’s NICU window.

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I realized that three months in the NICU were not a chunk of my life just wasted. Life is too short for me to decide certain seasons are “interruptions” in the real thing. “That’s life”, as the saying goes, and I have to make the most of it or it will slip away from me unenjoyed.

Now we’re in a new season. It’s a lovely one. Abby is home and Christmas is coming. But, like all seasons, it has it’s own difficulties. For now, though, I’m remembering my lesson. If I was too absorbed in the difficulties, I wouldn’t have time to enjoy this cuteness:

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