Friday, November 30, 2012

Our Christmas Countdown

For awhile now, I have been trying to figure out a fun tradition to help count down the days until Christmas. My kids are at the age where they start asking, sometimes multiple times per day, the age-old question "How many more days until Christmas?" I guess that's why advent calenders are so popular. You know, the ones with the tiny, stale pieces of chocolate in them?

Last year I briefly considered jumping aboard the Elf on the Shelf craze. At first it seemed like a fun tradition that the kids would love. But the more I read about it, the more I realized that I didn't particularly care for the basic premise: the Elf sits on a shelf watching the kids during the month of December and reports back to Santa if they are good or bad. In reviews that I read, parents said that it really helped improve their children's behavior.

That's great and I am not criticizing anyone who loves Elf on a Shelf, but I have been challenging myself lately to think long-term instead of short-term when it comes to my parenting style. Would I prefer the immediate gratification of being able to say "Stop that [unpleasant behavior] or the Elf will tell Santa and you won't get any presents!" or would I rather model and encourage thoughtful, caring behaviors in my children, keeping in mind that my ultimate goal is not kids who behave perfectly short-term when a reward is dangled in front of them, but instead future adults who are kind, self-motivated, and look for ways to help others.

Okay, off my soapbox now!

Once again, this year the desire for a fun Christmas countdown tradition was in the back of my mind. So when one of my Facebook friends posted a link to 75 Ideas for a Simpler, Greener, more Intentional Christmas, #9 caught my eye. And a couple of days later, when my friend Brandy posted a link to a beautiful advent calender on her Gems of the Soil etsy shop, an idea was born.

So now, I am excited to announce the Kirkpatricks' First Annual Christmas Countdown!

I purchased one of Brandy's hand-made advent calenders for my family. This picture is from Brandy's etsy listing. Our personal advent calender will have crimson stitching and our last name will be embroidered across the top. I will post pictures soon!

photo courtesy of Brandy Lewis

Each day, there will be a slip of paper in that day's pouch for my kids to pull out and have me read to them. On the paper will be a Christmas-themed activity for us to do together. Some days it will be something simple like drinking hot cocoa and reading Christmas books or driving around looking at Christmas lights, and other days it will be a little more ambitious like the Christmas party we are hosting for our preschool-aged friends and their moms in a couple of weeks. Several of the activities will be service-oriented, and many I hope will help me teach my kids the true meaning of Christmas.

I am very excited to do this with my kids, and I invite you to follow our little Christmas Countdown journey with us as I blog about our activities every day in the month of December. Ambitious? Yes. Worth it? I believe so!


If you would like to follow along, bookmark this post. As I blog about each day's activity, I will add the link below:

Day 1 - Christmas Tree Hunt
Day 2 - Christmas Veggie Tales, kettle corn, and Sandy clean-up
Day 3 - Christmastime in New York City
Day 4 - Our First Gingerbread House
Day 5 - Christmas Stroll
Day 6 - Decorating the Tree and Candid Mom Confessions
Day 7 - Giving to Others
Day 8 -Giving to Others Part 2
Day 9 - Making Snowflakes
Day 10
Day 11
Day 12
Day 13
Day 14
Day 15
Day 16
Day 17
Day 18
Day 19
Day 20
Day 21
Day 22
Day 23
Day 24

What are your favorite holiday traditions?

Monday, November 12, 2012

My Memories Suite 3 Giveaway


I am very excited to announce my second giveaway! I was recently given the opportunity to review the digital scrapbooking program called My Memories Suite 3. I was intrigued, mostly because I have so many digital pictures just waiting to be printed and put in an album. I dabbled in scrapbooking years ago and enjoyed it, but it never seemed practical to have all those papers and supplies floating around my house, sure to be ruined by my three kids before they ever became a beautiful scrapbook!

So I agreed to do the review, curious to see if this could be something that would be useful for my blog as well as my family photos. The first thing I made was my new blog header (see above). Cute, huh? Considering it was my first time using the software, I was surprised by how quickly I was able to make a fun, Thanksgiving-themed header. The resolution for my photo was a little fuzzy when I uploaded it to the blog, but I believe that was due to the resizing that blogger required for the header. I am looking forward to making a Christmas themed header and experimenting with it to see if I can improve that aspect a bit.

Next I made a couple of scrapbooking pages to get a better feel for the program. For a novice scrapbooker like me, I was really pleased with how they turned out! And the My Memories Suite program seemed pretty intuitive to me to use. They have lots of basic background papers available for free with the program, with more detailed and fancy kits available for download through their website. They aren't free, but seemed really reasonable priced especially when compared to scrapbooking paper which can only be used once, whereas the digital kits can be used as many times as you'd like! And a lot of them are so beautiful!!!!

Here are several examples of the pages I made with the program:

photos by Rachel Smith Photography, Aurora, CO
photos by Rachel Smith photography, Aurora, CO

photos by Rachel Smith Photography, Aurora, CO

Aren't they gorgeous? I can't wait to put together a photobook. There are so many things you can do with this program beyond scrapbooking, like blog graphics and headers, calenders (how cute of a Christmas gift would that be?!), and movies with pictures and music.

I am especially excited because I have been given the opportunity to give one of my readers a free copy of the software as well! To enter the giveaway, simply visit and check out their digital paper packs and layouts, then come back and leave a comment saying which one you liked the best! Make sure you link your comment to your email address so I have a way to contact you if you win!

And if you don't win, or if you don't want to wait to get started with the program, use the coupon code STMMMS5458 to get $10 off the My Memories Suite 3 software!

Happy digital scrapbooking! :)

Void where prohibited. I was given a free copy of the My Memories software in exchange for my review, but my opinions are my own. This giveaway is sponsored by My Memories, and they will be providing me with a code to give to the winner to redeem on their website for the free software. The giveaway will be open until Monday, November 26 at midnight Eastern Time, at which point I will select a winner using

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Are you prepared?

On our third day of our recent five day power outage, we decided last minute to book a hotel room with points. As we scurried around packing overnight bags for everyone, my husband asked me if I wanted to bring my oils. At first I said no, since I have several little bottles of my favorites in a pouch on my keychain. Then I decided to bring my box of oils, just in case.

I was definitely glad I did, for sure enough, Hannah had a tummy ache just an hour after checking into the hotel. I was able to quickly pull out the Digestzen, rub a little on her belly, and help ease her discomfort. It felt great to know I had solutions to most common ailments right at my fingertips, but it got me thinking:

Was I prepared in other ways for the storm or other natural disasters and/or emergencies?

Unfortunately, the answer was no. Even though our church counsels us to be prepared for emergencies by having 72 hour kits prepared and to build up to a year's supply of food, in my own family we have been sadly lax in heeding that advice. We had very little in the way of food storage and what we did have wasn't easily prepared using our available cooking methods (the grill). We ended up eating a lot of peanut butter sandwiches, dried cereal, and fast food.

We also didn't have 72 hour kits prepared. Even though we didn't have to evacuate, it would have been nice to have these ready even when we decided to book a hotel at the last minute.

Since we feel there is no time like the present to start, we have since purchased a generator and are working on plans to start building our food storage and other emergency preparedness measures.

What have you done to prepare for emergencies? Do you have any food storage tips or other ideas for us as we get started?

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Dinner in a Pumpkin

As you read in my previous posts, our Halloween was a little thrown off due to Hurricane Sandy. Fortunately, we were able to participate in our church's Trunk or Treat party the Friday before. I snapped this picture on my phone before we left the house that night.

Cinderella, a very healthy skeleton, and the Red Power Ranger
Sadly, this was the only picture I got of my kids in their costumes, but aren't they cute?

Last night I tried a new dinner idea, new to us anyway! One of my friends on facebook had mentioned making "dinner in a pumpkin." I thought that sounded interesting and googled it. I came across a five star rated recipe with common ingredients so decided to give a try. The original recipe was from, titled Teri's Dinner in a Pumpkin Recipe, although I tweaked it for our tastes.

The result was a tasty casserole. The pumpkin was a little undercooked, so we didn't eat as much of it as I think we would have if it had been softer. But overall, it was a fun and yummy meal!

While cooking, the filling puffed up and pushed the lid of the pumpkin off!
Dinner in a Pumpkin
printable recipe
serves 4

1/2 lb ground beef
1/2 lb hot ground sausage
salt and pepper to taste
2 Tbsp pumpkin pie spice, divided
2 Tbsp brown sugar, divided
2 cups chicken stock
3/4 cup rice
1 medium sugar pumpkin
1 can cream of mushroom soup
1 can French-cut green beans
1 cup fresh sliced mushrooms (or a 4 oz can mushroom pieces and stems)

In a skillet, brown ground beef and sausage then drain. Add 1 Tbsp each of pumpkin pie spice and brown sugar, and the rice and chicken stock. Cover and cook at medium-low heat for about 20-25 minutes, or until rice is soft.

Preheat the oven to 400. Meanwhile, cut off the top of the pumpkin and save it. Remove the seeds and stringy pulp. Combine the rest of the sugar and pumpkin pie spice, and rub it into the sides and bottom of the inside of the pumpkin. 

Add mushroom soup, mushrooms, and green beans to meat and rice mixture and stir until well combined. Spoon into pumpkin. Place top on pumpkin and set on a baking sheet. Bake for 1 hour and 15-30 minutes, or until the pumpkin is tender.

Serve hot with pieces of the pumpkin. Enjoy!      

Saturday, November 3, 2012


We have power! We are just thrilled to be back in our home with electricity running again (including heat).

I'm working hard to catch up on the dishes, laundry, and vacuuming that didn't happen all week. But I wanted to hop on to update everyone and also to let you know that I put some new family pictures up on the About page, so check them out!

Have a wonderful weekend everyone!

Friday, November 2, 2012


I am typing this on my iPad at the beginning of day 5 without power due to the effects of Hurricane Sandy in our area. We feel very blessed to have suffered no injuries or damage to our belongings in the hurricane. Other than having no power, we are doing just fine.

Last night my patience was wearing thin and my attitude towards our situation was poor, so I decided to sit down this morning and write a little list of things I have been grateful for during this time. Our house is cold, the food in our fridge and freezer has long gone bad, and the laundry and dishes are piling up, but in the midst of it all have been tender mercies that have kept us warm and encouraged.

So in the spirit of Thanksgiving, which is rapidly approaching:

Today I'm thankful for

1) Our kind friends with power who have offered hot showers and the use of their washing machines and dryers!

2) The extra hotel points we were able to redeem to get a warm hotel room for a couple nights with power so that Jared was able to keep working. (Points are gone now and it's supposed to get below freezing tonight so hopefully we get power soon!!)

3) My sweet kids who have had great attitudes through it all and kept me smiling with their innocent questions and observations. Two of my favorites:

Hannah (trying to turn on a floor fan after power had been out for two days): "Uh-oh, this button is broken!"

Nathan: "Is my birthday before or after the lights turn back on?"

4) My wonderful husband who has continued to work, take care of us, and make sure that our friends and the people on his sales team are safe and have their needs met. Not to mention his tenderness in taking care of me last night when I smashed two fingers in our garage door while trying to close it manually (seriously, worst pain ever!)

5) The realization that I had on Wednesday night that all five of us were together in that little hotel room, safe and sound. And that was all that really mattered.

My prayers are with those who lost beloved family members due to the hurricane. May our God wrap His arms around them and comfort them with His love and tender mercies in this time.