Monday, October 28, 2013

Operation Christmas Child - Pack a Shoebox

It's that time of year again, time to pack up a shoebox full of toys, combs, candy, art supplies, toothbrushes, socks, and all kinds of goodies; and send it to a child who's likely never received a gift.

If you've never heard of Operation Christmas Child, I encourage you to read here about these little shoeboxes filled with love. Last year Samaritan's Purse delivered the 100,000,000th box! Collection week is usually the third week in November, and you can find your closest collection location here.

Today I thought I'd share a few tips and tricks we use to put together our shoe boxes for OCC. Since we know we will be putting these together in late October/early November every year, we purchase and collect things all year long rather than waiting until the week they are due. Everything goes on sale sometime, and if you plan ahead you can pay half the price or less for the same stuff, which means you could fill twice as many boxes! : ) Here's how we gather things all year long in preparation.

Right after Christmas, stores are filled with all kind of plastic storage solutions, including shoebox size boxes with lids. We pick these up for $0.99 and save them for the next year's boxes.

Going on a vacation in the Summer? If you stay in a hotel save the little individually packaged soaps, they are perfect for shoeboxes.

When back-to-school rolls around school supplies and art supplies are super cheap. Crayons don't expire and I'd so much rather pay 25-50 cents a box than 1-2 dollars a box. We stock up on crayons, watercolor paints, markers, colored pencils and pencil sharpeners.

November 1
The day after Halloween is the perfect time to pick up some half price (or less) candy. Remember to only pack hard candies, nothing that will melt (no chocolate) or go stale. Suckers and Smarties are our fav to send, and we stuff all remaining cracks in the box with candy.

Since we plan everything above, it only leaves a few things to buy right before we pack up the boxes. We stop by the dollar store and pick up some small toys and toiletries.

We found these little dolls at the dollar store, which were the perfect size. I thought a couple of outfits and a blanket would be a fun addition, since half the fun of having a doll is changing her and putting her to bed. : ) I just traced her body onto some scrap paper to make a quick pattern for a dress and skirt.

This one ended up getting two elastic waist skirts and a shawl.

Our last stop was a trip to Walmart for socks and hats. This year I also included some bags from the Target dollar spot, since they always have some kind of kid bag in there and I thought that would be a great place to keep all their new treasures. 

Our boxes are done and ready to drop off. Hope some of these ideas are helpful. Happy shoebox packing! 
- Haley

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Book Review: Preemptive Love

I've mentioned a couple of times that I am trying to make more time to read. Of course I read to our boys all the time and we've tried to really encourage Thing One to value reading now that he can read on his own. There's really nothing that speaks louder to our kids then when they see me trying to squeeze in a few minutes of reading my own book--which I have been doing over the past few weeks with this new book, Preemptive Love.

This book is the amazing real life story of a family who left the comfort and security of their life in the West to pursue peace and life in Iraq. Although not the reason they moved to Iraq, a series of events led them to start a non-profit organization, the first of its kind in Iraq, to provide life-saving surgery to children born with heart defects. This story shined a light for me on the violent history, political struggles, ethnic diversity, and the sheer number of children suffering from heart defects in Iraq. Author Jeremy Courtney describes how he and his wife Jessica had to move from a position of "calculated charity" to "preemptive love: loving first and asking questions later." I love this quote, which I feel pretty much sums up their position:

"People much smarter than I have challenged our way of life and called us naive for thinking the world won't eat us alive this way. The truth is, we've done the math on it, and staying alive is not what we call living."

Wow. So much courage, so much faith. Courtney does a good job of giving you a feel for what the organization has gone though: the triumph of saving lives, the joy of finding unexpected allies (still wondering if you can trust them), and seeing big things come together. But all this is set along side the constant threats and fear, betrayal, and the toll all of this takes on friendships and marriages. When a couple with basically no medical background embarks on an intensely medical mission, there are bound to be bumps in the road and he details some of how they had to navigate those.
"But conviction and naivety are good friends. We nearly destroyed our marriage trying to help everyone else."
He talks about how there was so much distrust, hatred and prejudice to overcome. When they started the program they were sending Iraqi kids to Israel for surgery. Though that wasn't the most ideal solution (and was in fact met with intense opposition), they saw how God used the life-saving surgery to spread seeds of change and peace between the long-time enemies. When someone who shouldn't have a reason to do anything for you does the thing you need most--the thing that even your closest friends can't or won't do for you--it certainly gets your attention.
 "...every act of violence can be spun one way or another to increase fear and ensconce the powerful, but only mercy through a constant campaign of giving itself away, can undermine hate."
I don't want to give all the good stuff away, but I hope you'll believe me when I say this book is definitely worth the read! You can find out more about or get involved with Preemptive Love Coalition here.

Thanks for reading!
- Haley

*Disclosure: Howard Books sent me a free copy of this book, for my honest review. All opinions expressed on here are mine... 'cause it's my blog. : )

Monday, October 14, 2013

A Pretty Porch Every Season

Hi! How's everyone doing this week? We are enjoying having a little less going on, and trying to soak up fall before it feels more like winter. For the first time this week I feel like I can do some of the things I enjoy so much in the fall (like curling up with a good book* more on this later).  

Anyway, since we are thinking about the quickly changing seasons, I thought I'd just share how I use a couple of planters on our front porch, through all the seasons by just making a few changes. I took a class once where we had to practice putting together vignettes (or shop/window displays). I got to learn about what most people find visually pleasing and what makes things feel complete, or balanced. Interesting stuff. Just when you think you'll never use what you learn in school...

Here's our porch with summer flowers, and fourth of July flags. This one is kind of a no brainer, I know. Plants in pots, genius! But planting the taller delphinium in the large pot really expanded the impact of these two fairly small pots. 

Once we get a frost or the plants are getting tired from a long hot summer, I cut or pull them out and use the pots to set up a little pumpkin patch. Having the varied heights provides more visual interest than just piling pumpkins up on the porch, and the red and grey pots add some color too. 

For winter this last year I saved the lower branches we trimmed off our Christmas tree and arranged them into a large and small bunch for each of the pots. I stuck the bunch right into the dirt. I surrounded the base with pinecones and added some beneath the pots to anchor them visually. Then I used a pack of small silver Christmas bulbs that have wire attached to them, and twisted the wire around the branches in several places. You can usually find these bulbs near the silk flowers at Hobby Lobby, or in one of their many Christmas aisles. By doing neutral colors I think this says more "winter" than "Christmas," so I left it up 'til March, when I was ready for some spring color.

I didn't take a picture of this one (sorry), but in the spring I dump out the dirt to replace it later with fresh potting soil. While the pot is empty I drop in a new, large potted annual that I plan to transplant into the garden once the weather warms up. A lot of times it seems like garden centers get in some beautiful plants well before it's appropriate to plant them out side (in our region anyway). This way I get to have color on the porch, but I can bring it in if it's going to be a cold night, then when it warms up for good I can transplant the annual to the garden and fill my porch pots with a mixture of smaller plants and colors.

I hope you are enjoying Fall this week. I am reading a great (brand new!) book that I can't wait to tell you about, hopefully at the end of the week. See you then!


Monday, October 7, 2013

Make a Difference: Samaritan's Purse - Disaster Recovery

Hi Friends! How are you? Things are still pretty crazy around here. Much of our town is getting back to normal after the flood, but neighboring towns (and some neighborhoods still in our own) are so very far from normal.

This week we had the opportunity to go with Samaritan's Purse Disaster Recovery teams to some of the hardest hit areas of our state. Volunteers from our area and around the country come together to help homeowners dig out mud, remove debris, spray for mold, and so much more. This was the first time I had seen the worst impact of this flood. It's hard to find words to describe places we've visited often. 

We have been supporters of Samaritan's Purse for a long time. I've posted about their Christmas Catalog, which allows you to donate to specific community projects around the world with everything from agriculture to building hospitals, to clean water programs, to soccer balls for kids. [Shop the 2013 Christmas Catalog now.]

I've also posted about Operation Christmas Child. Now is the time to start putting together your shoeboxes, by the way : )

I also LOVE their new(ish) program in Alaska, called Operation Heal Our Patriots, ministering to our wounded veteran's and their spouses.

But if all that wasn't enough, I am an even bigger fan of Samaritan's Purse after having seen their US Disaster Recovery Teams in action. It was so humbling to spend a day surrounded by people who had come from all over (at their own expense) to spend one to three weeks doing hard, dirty manual labor for eight hours a day, and then sleep on an air mattress at a local church. The paid staff is small, most everyone that comes is volunteering their time and efforts, to put my community back together. Did you even know there were such unbelievably generous people out there? When I say manual labor I'm talking shoveling out houses two to four feet deep in mud and working through pile after pile that looks like this, all day. (This is someone's front yard by the way.)

There is so much debris mixed with cars, board games, books, sod, curtains, barbed wire, clothes, everything you can think of piled together four and five feet high. To look at it you would think it insurmountable. But when a team of 40 Samaritan's Purse volunteers come together, under the direction of an experienced leader, you would not believe the transformation we saw on so many properties. Homeowners who had no hope of salvaging their homes, now have hope; now see some light at the end of what will be such a long tunnel.

In addition to their site expertise, I was so impressed with how the Samaritan's Purse staff looked after their volunteers. Safety is a huge priority, as well as the emotions the affected homeowners are going though. Volunteers are encouraged to take time to just talk with and listen to the homeowners' stories. So often a work crew can come in a get a job done, but that coupled with actually caring for the people whose homes have been nearly or totally destroyed was an amazing combination. They truely carry out, small things with great love. When you combine 40 small thing, you get big results.

I'll wrap this up with a huge thank you to Samaritan's Purse. Thank you for coming to the rescue of my neighbors. As much as we want to help, we could not accomplish anything of this magnitude without the amazing organization and experience you have brought. Thank you volunteers from Buffalo, NY to Waco, TX, to Los Angeles, CA; thank you for giving up weeks of your time, and days of such hard labor and good nights rest. 

If you'd like to be part of helping your neighbors in the US who are devastated by natural disasters in the future, you can sign up to volunteer here (visit this page after a disaster for updated opportunities), or give to Samaritan's Purse Disaster Recovery here

Thanks for reading!
- Haley
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