Moving Chairs

When Beach Dad was a youth minister, we had our large youth group meetings in a room that also served as a Sunday School classroom. Every week, we had to meet at the church an hour or two before the meeting started to do things like put away the Sunday School tables and chairs and decorate the room for youth group.

There was one leader who, nearly every week, missed the setup time and showed up just in time for the actual youth group meeting to start, with a different reason for missing setup each time. Finally, when my husband asked her about it and reminded her that part of the youth leader commitment was to help each week, she answered: “I just don’t feel called to move chairs. I really want to meet with the girls one-on-one and to lead their Bible study and to come play the games at youth group meetings, but I just don’t feel called to move chairs. So, I think I’ll just skip that part.”

You don’t feel called to move chairs?!?!

After our initial annoyance, we decided it was simply hilarious.  Is there really anyone who feels specifically called to move chairs? Did my husband decide to be a youth minister so he could move chairs? Did I volunteer with the youth group so I could get my weekly chair-moving fix?

Of course not!  But, moving chairs was a part of loving the students and making the ministry happen.  “Moving chairs” became our reminder to each other that ministry often happens in the little moments.

I was telling someone that story recently, in the context of ministry, and my story basically slapped me on the side of my head.

So. Much. of motherhood is moving chairs. I make meals, I clean dishes and do laundry, I change diapers, I organize and re-organize toys…. And it can be so easy for me to grumble, to say “I want to play with my kids and teach them how to be kind, independent people and to love Jesus, not to do their dirty dishes or clean poop out of the bathtub.  I’m just not called to clean poop out of a bathtub!”

Of course that’s not why I became a mom. As I’ve dreamed of parenting my whole life, I haven’t been thinking “And then I’ll get to make another dinner, just like I did last night! And then I’ll get to wash another load of laundry. Maybe I’ll even get to remove some stains from clothes! What a calling!”

But, as I fulfill my calling as mommy, so much of my day-to-day looks like those mundane tasks. Sure, I have daily one-on-one times with my girls and I get to play games with them and teach them how to love people and love God.  But, the majority of my time is spent doing little, seemingly-trivial tasks like moving chairs.

Often, I feel discouraged by that and like motherhood is a bit of a letdown in the glamour department. Or, I feel like if only I were better organized, I wouldn’t have to clean up so much.  If only…

I tend to focus on the more dramatic moments like explaining the Gospel or taking my daughter to get a cast for her broken ankle (poor girl!) as the real defining moments of motherhood.

But the reality is that the routine, messy tasks of mothering are just as important as the special, dramatic moments. In fact, since they add up to be so much more of our time, maybe they’re even more important than the dramatic moments?

As I serve my family and clean their dishes, their laundry, and their diapers, I’m not only making our house livable, I’m giving my daughters an example of what it looks like to serve Jesus, to live my life out for Him even in the mundane. I’m stumbling through overcoming my own selfishness to put their needs before mine and to repent when I (frequently) fail to do that well. I’m relying on Him to change my heart from a grumbling heart to a joyfully serving one, more and more like His. I’m looking to Him for my example of what it means to really love people. And, just like when Jesus knelt down and washed His disciples’ feet or multiplied a small amount of food to provide for a multitude of people, I’m showing my precious children that I love them and that, only because of Jesus, I want to and am able to serve them.

Perhaps, one of my most effective forms of ministry and witness to my family occurs when I’m simply moving chairs.


I’m linking up to The Better Mom.


Not Alone

Some days, I feel like something must be wrong with me. Being a mom really shouldn’t be this hard. Occasionally, people (without kids) tell me that it’s not hard to be a parent, especially a stay at home one. With statements like “I wish I could stay at home and not work like you do” or “I just don’t see what could be hard about being a mom” and questions like “What do you do all day?” I sometimes start to doubt myself. Is it really that hard to be a stay at home mom? Maybe I’m just a wimp.

Being a mom is my dream job. I’ve dreamed of being a mom my whole life. I babysat any spare moment I could; I taught Sunday School to preschoolers; and I learned all I could about child development and education. When I grew up, I knew I wanted to be a stay at home mom. I absolutely love my children and often feel like my heart is going to burst from so much love as I watch these wonderful children.

But being a mom is hard.  It’s a constant call to die to self, to give just a little bit more when I feel like I have nothing left to give. It’s a constant struggle to jump in when I don’t want to and to not jump in when I do want to. It’s working all day – and sometimes all night – to love and pour myself empty for other people who can’t give much in return.  It’s persistent guilt that I’m too involved or not involved enough; too protective or not protective enough; too lenient or not lenient enough. Someday, it’s going to be driving away, hoping and trusting that I have sufficiently worked myself out of a job.

Ultimately, it’s constant surrender to trusting God and resting in Him because – no matter how great or terrible of a parent I am – ultimately, my children’s safety, education, salvation, and overall well-being are in his hands.

It’s this weird balance between being called to do my best, but knowing that my best is entirely insufficient.

So many days, I feel like I’m going it alone.  As I look around mom’s groups and church, it seems like most moms have their act together. Sure, there’s another harried mom in the grocery store sometimes, or every once in awhile someone besides me will carry their screaming child out of the sanctuary.  But, a lot of times, when I talk to other moms, it seems like they’re doing just fine. They seem to know what they’re doing, to not mind the never-ending demands, and to be able to give of themselves endlessly.

But, for some reason, Sarah Mae and Sally Clarkson wrote a book for moms called Desperate. Did they write a book just for me?  Nope, it’s in the top 50 books on Amazonsince it came out… so I must not be the only one.

Knowing that – despite how it appears – I’m not alone in my thinking, I’ve been a bit bolder in my conversations with other moms.  And, slowly, we’ve started to share reality.  Other moms – some who I’ve known awhile and others who were practically strangers two weeks ago –  and I have shared how we love our children deeply and count them among our most wonderful blessings.  That each of our children is a miracle and we are so thankful.  That we each desire to eventually have more children, but often wonder if we’re insane because we can barely handle what we’ve got.

This journey is so much harder than we had expected and than anyone else seems to think it is.  And, usually, we feel completely alone.  Most days, it’s nearly impossible to finish a sentence, let alone a conversation, with a friend. We’re never alone, but we still feel so lonely.

Sometimes we don’t want to answer that we’re “fine” when someone asks how we’re doing.  But if we tell how we’re really doing, we might come across as needy or weak… We might be rejected.

Often, we don’t know what we’re doing, but feel like we have to pretend we do.

We look around and see moms who are patient, creative, gracious, productive, and balanced and we feel inferior.

We’d love mentorship of older women, but we look around our churches and aren’t even sure who to ask. We’re afraid we’d burden them, but if someone younger asked us to mentor them, we’d be honored and thrilled… and terrified because we don’t know what we’re doing.

We each struggle to embrace the beautiful truth that we are the moms God chose for each of our children.

And, most amazing and surprising to me of all is that recently, I sat in a group of moms who barely know each other as we all confessed just how much we compare ourselves. It turns out we each have looked at every other mom in the room and thought “She has it all together. Look how she ____.” We’ve even mentioned the other moms’ awesomeness to our husbands.

And each of us feels like I do – “how could anyone ever possibly think that about me?”

Through these authentic moments in conversation, these moms and I didn’t break-through in our parenting. We didn’t solve the un-solvable riddles for sleep, food, or obedience dilemmas. We don’t know what we’re doing any better than we did yesterday. But today, we know we’re not alone.  And, today, if you’re feeling alone in your mothering, I pray that you also will know that you are not inadequate and alone.  There are other moms out there who feel just like you… and I’m one of them.


I’m linking up to: Five Days Five Ways & Consider the Lilies.


This morning, I woke up feeling defeated by the day before it even began. I stayed in bed as long as possible and as Beach Dad left for work, I whispered to him, “I just don’t think I can be a mom today.” It wasn’t that anything big had happened; my girls had been perfectly sweet all morning and it was just something within me that was making me want to pull the covers back over my head. I guess I just had enjoyed the weekend so much I wasn’t ready to jump right into Monday, especially on our first full week of “normal” since Christmas. Plus, over the weekend, I reached out to invite other moms to do a book study with me and I felt really overwhelmed and panicked about the idea of leading it. So, Beach Dad hugged me and prayed with me before he left and I entered the day feeling hesitant, but slightly renewed and ready to at least give it a shot.

God was gracious and we had a wonderful morning. I felt like I had supernatural patience and truly delighted in being around my kids. In fact, I’d say that my morning that started out so hopeless-seeming was one of the best mornings we’ve had in awhile.

I felt so encouraged and so reminded of the power of prayer. I don’t think that my prayer was a magic fix-all or that, if I just prayed more often, I could suddenly become a perfect mom. But starting my day off realizing that I am entirely dependent on God for strength and patience was exactly where I need to start everyday. And, I was reminded of a quote from Paul Miller’s A Praying Life that also came up in yesterday’s sermon – “If you are not praying, then you are quietly confident that time, money, and talent are all you need in life.” Consider me convicted.

Later in the day, as I reflected on our morning and how thankful I was that God had given me grace to turn it around, I started to look into more information for that book study I was so freaked out about. I went to the website and this quote popped up as a “pre-written tweet” — “For those who have ever whispered, ‘I just can’t be a mom today.'” For real?!

So, apparently, it’s good that I’m going to read this book.

The book is Desperate: Hope for the Mom Who Needs to Breathe and it’s Sally Clarkson & Sarah Mae’s new book (Sally also wrote Mission of Motherhood & Ministry of Motherhood, if you’ve read those… which I haven’t yet). I love Sally Clarkson’s blog and her heart for motherhood, and I’ve been excited about this book coming out for awhile now.

It just came out today and over the weekend, in a fit of insanity/feeling like I needed to just stop being so scared and do what I’d wanted to do for a month, I posted on my MOPS group’s Facebook page about gathering a group to read through the book together. I’ve gotten some interest and it seems like it’s going to actually happen, which is totally awesome! The book sounds great and it’s written with the intention that moms would read it together (it even includes discussion questions and there’s a free small group study guide). I’m excited to get to know some other moms and to read through this book together. I’m praying it will be an encouragement to all of us and a good opportunity to form authentic friendships with other moms.

But, I’m also totally freaked out about it. I was worried no one would be interested and I’d feel rejected, but – yay! – that’s not happening! And now I’m worried about the logistics and the leading and the whole being-authentic-in-person thing. It’s a lot easier to type out authentic words on a semi-anonymous blog than it is to sit in a room full of women and share my heart. I truly want to be an authentic person, though, and I have a passion for loving other moms. I crave real fellowship and am so excited for the opportunity to pursue it as we read Sally Clarkson & Sarah Mae’s encouraging words to us.

I’ll be posting here as I read, so if you want to read along, I’d love to discuss the book with you too. Or, if you want to lead your own small group that’d be awesome! If you buy 5 or more books this week, you’ll get a DVD Companion study and a couple fun art prints like the one above (just order through Amazon or wherever and then send a copy of your receipt and your mailing address to and they’ll mail you your goodies. As far as gathering a group, I just emailed a few friends and posted on my mom’s group page with a suggestion of day and time, and then hoped someone answered. You can do it, too! 🙂

Are you in?


[If you purchase through the Amazon link, I’ll receive a small amount as an advertising fee.  Otherwise, I’m not compensated for posting about this – I’m just really excited about this book!]

I’m linking up to Hey Mommy, Chocolate Milk.

John 11:35

I’ve been silent this week as I haven’t been sure what to say after last Friday’s tragedy. My heart is heavy and I’ve taken a break from the computer for the past few days. As my heart has ached for the families, children, and communities affected, the verse that has continuously come to mind for me is John 11:35.

john 11:35

After Jesus found out his friend Lazarus had died, the Bible tells us: “Jesus wept.” Jesus went on to raise Lazarus from the dead and make things right again, but before doing that, He looked at the awfulness and tragedy of his friend’s death and He simply wept.

He didn’t jump into what needed to change, He didn’t continue on pretending that nothing had happened, and He didn’t even say “Don’t worry; I’ll make it all right again in about 5 minutes.” He wept.

So, this week, as we all try to process and recover from such sadness, I pray that our nation will take time to just weep for the lives stolen and innocence lost. But, I pray that we’ll weep with the hope of knowing that Jesus will make all things right one day.

Give Great Gifts to Dads

frugal gifts, christmas gifts

If there’s one demographic that’s harder to shop for than moms or teenage/20-something guys, I think it’s dads. Seriously. I adore Beach Dad and want to get him an awesome gift, but most things on his wish lists cost hundreds of dollars (like the surround sound speakers he wishes would be under our Christmas tree). And, even if it doesn’t cost a lot of money, dads often buy themselves the gift before we have the chance to!

A few times growing up, we bought my dad a Christmas present only to return it a few days later when we discovered he’d bought it for himself the week before Christmas. And, his birthday is the week after Christmas, so it’s doubly hard to shop for him!

If you’re struggling to find an affordable gift Dad will love, here are some of my ideas:

Hot sauces – If he likes spicy foods, you could get him an assortment of hot sauces to try at home. Or, Buffalo Wild Wings sells their sauces so he can easily make wings or other spicy recipes at home (We have a buffalo wing dip we love!).

Restaurant/bar gift card – Speaking of Buffalo Wild Wings, a gift card to a guy-friendly place like Buffalo Wild Wings makes a great gift, especially if he doesn’t have the chance to eat there often. You could either turn it into a date night focused on things he loves to do or you could send him out with the guys to watch the game and eat wings.

Grill tools or seasonings – This Maverick RediFork Thermometer ($22.80) is a digital grill thermometer/grill fork that includes an easy-to-read display and flashlight for if he’s grilling at night. As far as seasonings, we’ve made homemade dry rubs and bought gourmet seasonings at Williams-Sonoma. Our favorite is this Ultimate Burger Starter. You could also get him some nice cuts of meat from Omaha Steaks (or just visit the local butcher counter and get nicer steaks than you’d normally buy).

Knife Sharpener – This makes a great stocking stuffer. We have this one that is only $4.69 on Amazon. It’s not the fanciest knife sharpener available, but it has served us well the past few years and I’d certainly buy it again, especially for that price!

Griddler – I got an older version of this Cuisinart griddler for Beach Dad’s first-ever Father’s Day and it’s awesome. I bought it because we had just moved to an apartment that didn’t allow a grill and we’ve used it to “grill out” and to make delicious paninis. For grilling, it’s not quite like the real thing, but it’s a good substitute and the grilled sandwiches are awesome. This version also has flat griddler plates so you can make pancakes or eggs too. I also recently found out you can get griddler waffle plates for this, which is awesome and just might be making it onto my list soon.  (My favorite thing about this specific griddler is that the grill plates are removable and dishwasher safe!)

Poker set – Even better, offer to host a poker night at your house. You supply the appetizers and beer; he takes the night off to relax with friends.

Bow tie – This is a fun twist on the stereotypical gift of a tie for dads.

homemade gifts for dad

Lazy day on the couch – Beach Dad rarely gets the chance to veg out on the couch and watch an entire game. So, one year, Beach Girl “gave” him an afternoon of watching football with her (which lasted about 5 minutes) and then I gave him plates of food and the chance to watch the game in quiet.

Beer or Liquor Sampler Pack – A lot of stores sell individual bottles of beer so you can make a variety pack of different beers for Dad to try. This Christmas tree out of beer bottles is a fun way to present the gift.  You could also get him a few small bottles of unique liquors for him to try or a larger bottle of one of his favorites.

Decanter set – Speaking of liquor, my husband got a monogrammed Pottery Barn decanter and glass set similar to this one as a groomsmen gift and loves it. It’s classy and affordable ($29).

Electronics case – If he’s like my husband, the dad on your list would probably love to get a Kindle Fire or iPad Mini, but if those aren’t in your budget, you could get him a case for the electronics he does have. You can either sew your own (I have a tutorial here) or you can browse kindle cases on Amazon.

Headphones – Beach Dad loves listening to music while he is working or exercising, so good headphones make a great gift for him. My friend Hannah raves about these Sony In-Ear Headphones and says they’re comparable to the more expensive Brookstone ones, but only cost $10.56 on Amazon.

Music – This is, hands down, the safest gift to give my husband. He literally cannot get enough music. His favorites this year include:

(Oh my goodness… I told you he can’t get enough! Guess I know where all his flex spending goes now!)

Concert tickets – Honestly, concerts aren’t exactly my idea of a good time. They don’t seem that different to me than listening to a CD. But Beach Dad absolutely loves concerts and a gift of concert tickets (and the chance to either go with me or a friend) is one of his very favorite things. And, they can make a pretty frugal gift, especially if you get tickets to a smaller venue or a less popular more unique band.

Beer making kit – We have a few friends who brew their own beer and it seems like a fun hobby! Amazon has the Mr. Beer Home Microbrewery System starter kit for $38.29 and each year, you could get him different kits to try an assortment of home-brewed beers like this St. Patricks Irish Stout Brew Pack.

Magazine subscription – Another gift you can keep giving year after year is magazine subscriptions. I got Beach Dad a Wired ($19.99) subscription for his birthday the first year we were married and it works out well to renew the subscription as the Gift That Keeps On Giving every year! Other magazines Dad might like would be: Popular Science (only $5 now through Christmas!), Family Handyman ($10), Popular Mechanics ($12), and Car & Driver ($10). [Prices are for a one-year subscription.]

Keychain – Beach Dad has asked for a new keychain the past few Christmases, but I haven’t been able to find a nice, inexpensive leather one that is simple enough. If you do find one, though, it should only be about $20.

homemade gifts for dad

Breakfast in bed – I’d like to get this gift! (Like my awesome drawing skills?)

Gift certificate for an experience – You could give gift certificates for him to play mini golf or frisbee golf or to a driving range or shooting range.

Stock car racing – I got a Groupon for Beach Dad to go stock car racing for Father’s Day a couple years ago. It seemed super fun and I felt like a cool wife giving it, but when we showed up to the track, it was Sketch. Thankfully, the car had broken down and Beach Dad told me later that he hadn’t really wanted to go anyway because the track was craptastic. But, if you can find a good track, that’d be really fun!

Movie passes and extra money for concessions – If you’re like us, seeing movies at the theater is a rare (but coveted) occasion. The chance to see an action movie in the theater while enjoying popcorn and Coke would top Beach Dad’s list of preferred “experience” gifts.

Date Night Jar – This is a fun idea that I found on Pinterest. Make a jar filled with popsicle sticks that each have a date idea on them and are color-coded for how much time/money they involve. When it’s time for a date night, y’all can just pull out a popsicle stick (say, a red one for an at-home, free date or a white one for a “fancy” night out) and the decision of what to do is made for you!

Pocket knife or multi-tool – Help Dad be prepared for anything with either a pocket knife or multi-tool. Our favorite brands are Leatherman ($25.99 for a multitool) and Victorinox ($14.95 for a Swiss Army knife).

Books – In a shameless plug for my favorite high school history teacher (who is now a full-time author), I’d recommend books by Tony Williams including The Jamestown Experiment: The Remarkable Story of the Enterprising Colony and the Unexpected Results That Shaped America ($6.40) and America’s Beginnings: The Dramatic Events that Shaped a Nation’s Character ($14.99).

Money clip – Beach Dad got this monogrammed money clip from Levenger a couple years ago and it’s still in perfect condition. ($45)

homemade gifts for dad

“Dessert of the Month” club – Enroll Dad in a “dessert of the month” club as you promise to make him any dessert of his choosing for the next 6 months. I packaged up a couple dessert cookbooks for Beach Dad to choose his desserts ahead of time in hopes that it would actually happen… all he wanted were chocolate chip cookies each month haha!

Geek Dad – This book is filled with fun, geeky projects that dads can do with their kids. ($11.56)

Wi-Fi SD Card – This SD card lets you wirelessly and automatically transfer pictures from your camera to your computer. (This is actually an awesome gift for the whole family and we love ours!) ($34.99 for a 4 GB card)

Something from my list of gift ideas for teenage/20-something guys.

[I’ve included prices for some of these gifts, but they’re subject to change. This post includes affiliate links and if you purchase through them, you’ll be helping to support Thanks!]

I hope these ideas are helpful as you try to spoil Dad (on a budget) this Christmas.  Please make sure to check out other posts from my Give Great Gifts on A Bare-Bones Budget series and subscribe to stay up to date.

And, if you have any other ideas, please leave them in the comments. Beach Dad has received nearly all of these gifts in the past and I’m stuck for his gift this year!

I’m linking to: Life as MomFive Days Five WaysShabby Nest, Fingerprints on the Fridge, and At the Picket Fence.

Advent for Children

“My mom used to do stuff for advent with me, but this year, she’s just so busy with shopping, wrapping presents, and getting ready for our family to come visit for Christmas, she doesn’t have time. Maybe next year.”

Years before I’d ever celebrate advent with my kids, a sweet little boy I babysat told me this. He belonged to a family that clearly loved Jesus and delighted in celebrating His birthday. I know without a doubt that he and his siblings knew what the celebration of Christmas is all about. But my little friend’s frank statement helped me realize that, when I became a mom, every December would be a struggle for me.

I love to buy Christmas presents, fill boxes for Operation Christmas Child, and make batches and batches of Christmas cookies. As far as a time to be “too busy” for reading my Bible or talking to my children about Jesus, December is the peak time of year for distractions and busyness.

But for what? What do I want my children to think Christmas and its season are all about? Obviously, I don’t want them to think most about getting gifts, but even giving, sharing, and loving are not enough. I want my children to know Christmas and all its festivities are ultimately about Jesus.

I want my children to see that I prioritize celebrating and anticipating Jesus’ birthday above preparing for it.

For the past couple weeks, I’ve been planning out our celebration of advent. This year’s calendar worked out pretty nicely for moms like me who love to plan but are constantly behind. I feel like I got a bonus week between Thanksgiving and the start of December to figure out what we’ll do as we celebrate Advent.

[Before I jump into my ideas, though, I want to say something… Seriously, don’t feel like you need to do all of these. When I look at lists like this one, I often feel overwhelmed or like I’m so far behind, I should just give up. Analysis paralysis is not my friend!  Last year, we did about 7 days worth of advent activities, haphazardly spread out over the course of the month, and it was still really special. This year, I ended up over-planning because I was on the ball for once and then my MOPS group’s meeting was all about advent this week.

If we end up actually doing even half of this, we’ll be doing extraordinarily well. So, please, if you’re like me and look at all the options and feel overwhelmed, just choose one and jump in. Your kids won’t know anything about what you’re not doing. They’ll just be thrilled to do what you are doing!]

With all that said, if you’re still looking for ideas, I’m excited to share with you these 5 easy, fun, (mostly cheap), and meaningful ideas for how to celebrate the advent season.

advent for children

1. Truth in the Tinsel – This ebook is by one of my recent favorite bloggers, Amanda White from  The story focuses on the Christmas story so each day, you’ll read the Christmas story and make an ornament with your child. The short discussion ideas she includes are awesome – I’ve been encouraged just reading through them in preparation! – and the crafts are such that a preschooler (or elementary-age student) can do them. I think Beach Baby (who is 15 months old) may even be able to do some of them. One of my favorite things about this is I don’t have to make the ornaments ahead of time… I just have to show up and the fun happens with my kids. (There’s also an option to use printable ornaments that your children simply color if you’re short on time, are traveling, or have younger kids.)

advent for children

2. Advent Boxes – I made these using little boxes from the Dollar Tree and a couple Sharpies. The boxes came in packs of 10 for $1, so I spent a grand total of $3 on these and will be able to reuse them next year. (The boxes are sold as party-favor boxes in the party supply aisle.) I printed the “prompts” for Truth in the Tinsel on red and green paper and put one in each box. I’m going to put them all in a basket and think it’ll be a fun way for Beach Girl to practice her numbers as she finds the right box for each day. I’m also going to stick some stickers or candies in a few of the boxes as an extra-special surprise.

advent for children

3.  Family Activity Advent Calendar – I made this garland at MOPS this week and each day’s paper has an idea for a special activity ranging from “listen to Christmas music” to “go see a Christmas parade.” I wrote mine on sticky notes and stuck them to the back of the garland so I can reuse it next year and swap them out as needed. (I don’t want to commit to the “stay up late for a pajama dance party” weeks in advance, just in case we all need to go to sleep early that night!)  Making this garland took under 2 hours and was really easy, even if you’re not crafty. Just use festive paper, baker’s twine, and tiny clothespins. I think it turned out so cute! Even though I already made the boxes, it’ll be a fun way to present the activities and I decided to hang it over my couch in the spot that’s empty because we got better at budgeting. Next week, I’ll share a list of all my ideas for December fun that are filling this calendar.

4. Jesus Storybook Bible Advent Readings – If you’re not familiar with the The Jesus Storybook Bible, it’s a children’s Bible that focuses on the Bible as One Big Story rather than a bunch of little stories. After telling a story like David and Goliath, it points to Jesus, who later came to defeat real giants for us. Both my girls love it and it’s seriously an amazing devotional for adults.  I’ve grown so much in my faith and understanding of God from reading it. At MOPS this week, a friend pointed out that the Jesus Storybook Bible has 21 Old Testament stories and 3 New Testament stories leading up to Jesus’ birth – perfect for advent readings!

advent for children

5. Playmobil Nativity Manager with Stable – I love the idea of my kids being able to play with their nativity scene and act out the story, so was thrilled when my brother gave my kids this fun nativity as an early Christmas present. I’m sure we’ll be having fun telling and re-telling the story all month!

So, there it is… my can’t-believe-I’m-so-far-ahead list of advent ideas. What are y’all doing for advent? Or, are you like I usually am and just starting to think about planning? I’d love to hear from you!

*This post contains affiliate links. If you purchase through them, you’ll be helping to support

I’ve linked to: Life as Mom, Five Days Five Ways, Shabby Nest, Naptime Crafters, At the Picket Fence, Homemade Ginger, I Heart Naptime, and Fingerprints on the Fridge, and Hey Mommy, Chocolate Milk.

[Update: You can read my list of the fun Christmasy activities we’ll be doing throughout advent here!]

Give Great Gifts to Couples

budget gifts, christmas giftsIt can be easy for me and Beach Dad to neglect our most important relationship – our marriage – as we meet the needs of the little people around us. Some of our favorite gifts have been gifts that have encouraged us to enjoy shared experiences and to take time for each other. We also love to give these gifts to the couples we know and hope these gifts will encourage and bless their marriages. You might consider these gifts for married siblings, grandparents, friends, or pastors.

Some of our favorite budget-friendly gifts for couples include:

Tips to Romance Your Husband or Tips to Romance Your Husband – We got these little books ($5.99 each) at a Weekend to Remember marriage conference a few years ago and they’re each filled with creative ways to show love to your spouse. A set of both could be a fun gift.

Coffee Dates for Couples – This book (also $5.99) is also from the Weekend to Remember and has ideas for conversation starters and date ideas. We’ve given it with a gift card to a coffee shop and our friends loved it!

The Meaning of Marriage by Tim Keller – I just started this book and it’s awesome. I’ve heard many people say it’s the best book on marriage ever and, so far, I’d agree. It’s $16.34 for the hardcover version or $12.99 for the Kindle.

Gift card for meal/treat place – Whether it’s a fancy dinner out or just a trip to an ice cream shop, the chance to go on a date on someone else’s dime is always a special treat! Before we had our own kids, we gave our friends who usually paid me to babysit a free night of babysitting along with their gift card.

Marriage on the Rock – This book is awesome. It’s not well-known, but I read it over four years ago and absolutely loved it. I’ve reread it many times since and our marriage has been really blessed by it. After outlining God’s vision for marriage based off of Genesis 2 and Ephesians 5, author Jimmy Evans walks you through the most potentially difficult parts of marriage – finances, sex, communication, in-law relations, and parenting – with practical tips for honoring God and your spouse in each of those areas. You can get the Kindle edition for $10 or a hard copy used from Amazon for less.

Board game – Beach Dad and I love to play board games. They’re our most popular choice for an at-home date night and some of our best friendships have formed while playing board games around the dining room table. These are a bit more than my $20 budget (usually $25-40), but we get them for 2 people and, for us, the “cost per use” price is really low. We love Settlers of Catan but it’s not as good for 2 players. Ticket To RideSmall World, and Carcassonne are similar to Settlers but work great with only 2 players (or more, if you have company).

Brian Regan hilarity – Brian Regan is my favorite comedian and I’ve gotten my entire family hooked on him. If you haven’t heard him before, you have to find some of his stuff on YouTube. He’s hilarious and clean. A few years ago, Beach Dad and I had the chance to see Brian Regan perform live, which was awesome, but his CDs and DVDs are almost as good (and much less expensive!). Our favorites include his Brian Regan Live CD or MP3 ($16.78/$8.99) and Standing Up (DVD) ($11.44). By the way, his The Epitome of Hyperbole video is free over Amazon instant video if you have Amazon Prime.

Passes to An “Experience” – You could gift them with passes to go rock climbing, mini-golfing, or bowling together. Beach Dad and I went bowling a few weeks ago and we had so much fun being goofy and reconnecting as we got gutter-ball after gutter-ball!

Something for A Common Interest – The chance to pursue a hobby together is an invaluable gift for a couple. If the couple on your list loves to camp or hike, you could get them a tent or whatever else it is people who camp like. (I’m obviously not a camper.)  But Beach Dad and I just got a very generous gift card to Lowe’s from my brother- and sister-in-law and we’re psyched. Building furniture and other DIY projects are some of our favorite shared hobbies, so we can’t wait to shop Lowe’s once we move into our new house.

Night away at a hotel – This is obviously more expensive, but an extra-fun gift for parents!  I often see good deals on Living Social or Groupon.

Christmas Memories Book – We received this as a wedding gift and it’s a fun way to remember Christmases year after year. It includes space to write about Christmas visits/visitors, special gifts, meals, “what we want to remember,” and – my favorite – a family Christmas photo. The book has room for 20 years of Christmases and it’s already fun to look back and see how our family has grown and how each Christmas celebration has been unique and special. I made a homemade version as a gift and the homemade touch was fun but, honestly, after all the supplies and hours it took me to make the gift, next time I’d just buy the same book we have. (Ha! If you buy directly from Amazon, the book is $500, but if you buy a like-new version through one of their third-party sellers, it’s only $19.99… I’d go that route.)

Anniversary Memories Book – Similar to the Christmas Memories book, this would be a fun way to keep records. Our anniversary is right near Christmas, so we write about our anniversary celebration in the Christmas book and I can’t recommend a specific book for anniversaries, but if you know of a good one, feel free to leave it in the comments!

Date Night at Home Gift Basket – This could be a movie pack with popcorn; a bottle of nice wine and chocolates; or a game night pack with a board game and some beer & fun snacks for while playing a board game.

Fondue Dates A fondue pot costs more than my normal gift-giving budget, but fondue date night is one of our favorite at-home date night ideas. The pot costs about as much as one dinner at the Melting Pot restaurant would, so this makes a great gift if your budget is a bit bigger than mine. You could also include my recipes for cheese fondue and meat fondue or this Fondue and Hot Dips cookbook ($8.95).

frugal gifts“I Love You Because…” Frame – We made this picture frame at MOPS a few weeks ago and I’ve loved writing (and reading) sweet messages to/from Beach Dad. Simply design (or find) something that says “I love you because…”, print it out and cut it to size. Stick it in a 5×7 picture frame and use velcro to attach a dry erase marker on top. (I’m sorry I don’t have a link for our cute design. They already had it printed out for us at MOPS and I can’t find it anywhere. I’m not sure if my MOPS craft  coordinator designed it herself or found it online. I know there are a lot of frames like this all over Pinterest, though.)

[I’ve included prices for some of these items, but they’re subject to change. If you purchase through my Amazon affiliate links, you’ll be helping to support Thanks!]

Have you ever received a gift that truly blessed your marriage? Any other ideas for gifts couples would love? Please share in the comments!

Please be sure to check out other posts in my Give Great Gifts on a Bare-Bones Budget series (including gifts for moms, teenage/twenty-something guys, and active kids), or subscribe to stay up to date.

I’ve linked to: Life as MomFive Days Five WaysShabby NestNaptime CraftersAt the Picket Fence, I Heart Naptime, and Homemade Ginger.