Every now and then a surprise package will arrive on my doorstep or a friend will drop off an unexpected gift and I tear into it like a child. Receiving gifts is just plain fun. I’ve had a few surprise gifts lately and the bags they came in are sitting under the Christmas tree empty just because I like to look at the bags and be reminded of the thoughtfulness of friends.

To me the best gifts are the ones that reflect the giver…whether it is store bought or made by hand. When we found out FireCracker was a girl some close friends threw me a shower. Several of the girls gave me gifts that they had scoured etsy to find or made by hand….despite that many of them typically do not make gifts or shop on etsy. Their gifts to me reflected how well they know me. It was awesome. My all time favorite gifts are those that are fun for the recipient and benefits those in need.

Giving gifts is a big part of Christmas celebrations for most families. When I ponder what I want my kids to think and feel towards gift giving at Christmas a lot comes to mind, but mostly boils down to FUN. Giving gifts should be fun….it shouldn’t be a drain and one more thing to check off in the middle of a stressful season. However, that is typically how it ends up. I want my kids to have fun giving gifts and deciding what those gifts should be. Like so many things in life this is pretty easy for them….but harder for me.

I love making things. It is a part of me, however I am only recently stepping out and making things for other people. I’ve always been nervous to give handmade gifts…not wanting people to feel stuck with something they don’t like, but feeling the need to pretend they do because I am their friend. Honestly, this blog (your kind words about the projects I post here) has helped me gain confidence in giving handmade gifts.

Shopping for gifts is not fun for me, yet that is what I’ve typically always done. So this year I making more (not all). My kids have been watching me make a lot of gifts. We’ve talked a lot about who they are for and why I am making them. They’ve seen me covered in paint, glue & fabric…having fun. I don’t want to teach my kids that they have to make gifts for the gift to be special…I want to teach them to have fun when they give…whatever that looks like in regards to who they are.

So this year I am having fun with my little “handmade by” stamp (which was a surprise gift itself). I want to give my kids the example that giving gifts – this time of the year or any time – is an extension of who they are….and it can be so much fun. I’m not too good at giving gifts that really reflect the one I am giving it too, but I have a lot of friends that are…and they are teaching me….and one day I hope I am better and it rubs off on my kids. I really hope one of my kids decides their most enjoyable way to give as an adult is to randomly surprise their mom with Anthropologie gift cards. I’ll be a proud mom in that moment.

And if you are getting tired of all these ‘Deep thoughts with Ashley’ posts…I only have one more πŸ™‚

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  • Kirra Sue - Looks beautiful! πŸ˜‰ Loving these posts! I’m gonna make one of your cake plates for a friend this year- so excited!

  • Allie - What good timing — I have my white coffee mugs and my pebeo paint and squeezy bottles ready to [GULP] make something for the family gift exchange. It’s daunting, but at least I can always have my husband claim my little mugs if no one else likes them πŸ™‚
    Thank you for the daily inspiration and reminder to make these hectic days a little more meaningful for the munchkins.

  • amy - Your plates are absolutely amazing…holy cow they are gorgeous! I would be SO happy to be one of your family members and receive those!! Wowsers!

  • RachelC - well said. whether made or bought — the thought that goes in to each gift is what makes it so special for the one receiving and so fun for the one giving. There is nothing better than watching someone receive something special you picked out just for them.

  • Angie - Everything you make is amazing! Be proud of yourself: for your talents, for what you are instilling in your children. You are amazing and have every right to feel confident in your abilities. I have the project posted above on my to-do list. I know my mother would love it. Giving is better then receiving! πŸ™‚

  • Heather - i dont think you should be nervous to give those plates as a gift.. they are lovely!!!! they make me happy just to look at photos of them πŸ™‚

  • Krista @ Blue Eyed Yonder - I adore handmade gifts and I’m head over heels for all the lovelies you’ve made. And the little mechanical pencil-looking topper on your paint bottle is genius! Keep the ‘deep thoughts with Ashley’ coming, they make me smile each day. πŸ™‚

  • Seamingly Sarah - I love the thoughtful posts this week. Yet another reminder in this Christmas haze about what is really important. Thank you for taking the time to put these posts together.

  • Heather - I have been so inspired by your blog! I’ve handmade every gift this year for my family. I’ve made the aprons, the notebooks you made for the kids in Haiti, and I’ve attempted to make these plates. I check your blog everyday to get new ideas. When my husband and I were driving through Tulsa a couple of weeks ago, I tried to stalk you but my husband wouldn’t let me πŸ™‚

  • Sarah - i like the deep thought posts. always inspiring. I’ve been making a lot of handmade gifts the past couple of years. unfortunately, not everyone appreciates them so I have to pick and choose who to make things for. i personally would rather recieve a handmade gift then something someone just went to the store and bought. I know i’m in the minority on that thought but it’s true! i can’t wait until my son gets a little older and starts making me things in school.

  • mrs.magoo - Those plates came out gorgeous!!!!!!!! Wow. Totally impressed. I want them now πŸ™‚

  • call me Ana - Watching you making your own wonderful gifts made me a little bit jealous (but it is a good kind of jealousy…rsrs). I’ve always enjoyed making gifts and crafts. But for now I’m pretty stucked in a job which takes me all day long and it brings me no satisfaction at all…That’s too bad… So this year I’ll have to go shopping and that’s really annoying…But next year (and that is the most important new year’s decision for 2011) I’ll take over my life again and go back to be a crafter and a full time mom…That’s will be very pleasant and will bring back joy to my life again…Love your blog, your writings and your ideas…Keep going as such an inspiration…

  • amanda torres - I love your deep posts! It’s the only intelligible reading I do in the day. Educate me, man. Educate me!

  • Nicole - So true!
    Love the plates. I am in the process of making a set of plates for each of our children’s godparents and grandparents. So each godparent will have a set of four plates that contains one β€˜handprint’ of each of our three children and the year. They don’t look as clean and well-drawn as yours, but I’m thinking they will enjoy them. If I have a chance, I’ll try posting pics to your FB page when they are all done!!

  • Lindsay - I love those plates. I lOVE them! Did you literally just draw on them with the squeeze tube? I’m going to make a million sets of plates through 2011 and give them to EVERYONE for Christmas next year! You are SO creative!

  • Tammy - I like the deep thoughts! And I know several people who would be overjoyed to receive a handmade gift from you!! And we don’t even know each other… HAHA! πŸ™‚

  • sarah - Beautiful plates. I’m actually making some hot cocoa mugs using this technique as we speak. I’d been holding on to that exact Martha project too, when I saw your post awhile ago I had an ah ha moment and decided to make personalized hot cocoa mugs for my brother and his family (along with some home made hot cocoa mix and if I can muster the strength some home made marshmallows).

    That applicator bottle looks better. I’ve been using the pens, but perhaps I’ll check out the bottled paint and try that applicator.

  • ashlee - I toohope my kids will randomly sorprise me with Anthro gift cards, Starbucks gift cards would be nice as well. I love your posts…and i LOVE my bowl!!

  • Amanda - You made all those plates with all the little perfect dots?! Wow! I can’t wait to hear the story behind how those came together because they are beautiful. Happy Holidays to your lovely family.

  • meg duerksen - i have loved ALL of these posts!
    i love coming here and seeing a positive family working with intention at christmas.
    ashley you are an inspiration to so many women.
    keep up the good work.
    i love your handmade stamp….your ideas….your heart.
    you are fabulous!

  • Jessamy - I completely agree with Meg…
    You are fabulous! Beautiful post.

  • Helen + Bill + Mirys from Brazil - Why “just one more” post like this?????


    I was having so much fun (and inspiration for next year)!!!

    Have you seen my “serie of posts” too?
    It is at http://www.diariodos3mosqueteiros.blogspot.com
    IΒ΄m making a list of the 25 things that are most important in life and you canΒ΄t live without it. A lot of friends are helping but I could certainly use MORE help!

    How about writing us?

    Kisses and blessings.
    Kisses for your lovely Aunt!

    Mirys from Brazil

  • Cassie - Don’t you LOVE Matilda Jane?? I actually modeled for one of the catalogues a couple years ago (random, I know). I can’t wait to have a girl someday to dress up in all of their goodies.

    I love, love, love your heart as a mama. It is so encouraging.

  • CharlaL - Loving the deep thoughts…I was SOOO stressed about Christmas, I make my self sick…I have shingles. Your Deep thoughts have been the EXACT breath of fresh air I needed! Thank you! Looking forward to tomorrow!

  • sarah j - i just have to echo all the other ladies…please don’t feel the need to apologize for all these lovely thoughts! it truly is an inspiration to see how INTENTIONAL you are about what you want to teach your kids. you’re making sure they don’t just grow up learning the status quo–and i think that will make them grow up to be world-changers, in whatever capacity God intends for them as unique and gifted individuals.

    i also especially love the reminder that christmas is only about stress if we let it be…and you are a refreshing example of how to shatter that stressful holiday existence!

  • OrangeFarmhouse - Maike - If you where my friend I would be angry NOT getting anything homemade…

  • kristy taylor - i’m trying more to make handmade thoughtful gifts, but feel nervous about it. ‘will i be viewed as taking the cheap route?’ keeps running through my head. there are those i know will appreciate the thought & effort that goes into a handmade gift, because it really would be easier to buy it & wrap it, but thinking about what’s perfect for that person is something i enjoy thoroughly!

    i’m planning on pushing on more in 2011! πŸ™‚

  • Lindsey Jo - can i just tell you that i think you and your little family are just precious?

  • Leanne - oh my…I want those plates. you are seriously so talented!

  • Barbara G - Just for your information, I love these β€˜Deep thoughts with Ashley’ posts. πŸ™‚
    And, I would actually buy plates like that…

    I love looking for and giving presents. And I love it when I’m with the person, while he or she unwraps their gift. It’s wonderful when they love it.

  • Carolyn - I like everything you post..well except the country music posts! I don’t know much about country music, and I don’t know who that singer you like is..Brad Somebody? πŸ™‚ sorry!! I guess I will use being from a different part of the world as my excuse! Anyways, keep up the deep thinking posts, because they are encouraging to read.
    P.S I have tried a couple of your DIY projects. They turned out really nice! I have also just ‘liked’ your blog on facebook, and I will add a couple of photos of the projects when I have more time…now back to Christmas present wrapping. (apologies for my rambling comment!)

  • Lila - I have really enjoyed these posts and even jotted down some notes about traditions I want to create with my future kids that have been inspired by what you have shared. I have the same handmade stamp and I love it. The plates looks beautiful!

  • Erin Lee - Keep the ‘deep thoughts with Ashley’ coming : ) I love the insight that come with the inspiration <3 Ooh and the plates are fabulous… I need to find porcelain paint in Korea!

  • hearttypat - i don’t think I’ll get tired of our posts!

  • Mindi - I love the plates. And this year I made a lot more of my gifts. Some were fun and some I was sick of by the time I was done with them. πŸ™‚ I would love a tutorial on how to make the plates.

  • sarah k - I’m definitely not tired of the “deep thoughts” posts. These thoughts are GOOD! I am inspired! And encouraged. Thank you!

    My kids are 4 1/2, almost 3, and just turned 1. I’m pretty sure we have a lot of training to do in order to help them understand the real meaning & right heart of Christmas…but your “what I want to give” posts are helping me shape my thoughts about what I want to give–whereas my thoughts had just been gravitating to what I wanted to give in terms of toys, etc. We’re still giving those things, of course, but I am inspired to think and work more toward the most important things I want to give.

    I’d kind of like to give all handmade next year. But with my kids’ ages, I’d better start now. Hmmm, yeah, right… πŸ™‚

  • Aubrey - I also would love to pass on the importance of time that invested in handmade gifts….but share in the hope of receiving Anthropologie gift cards too!!! I think I giggled outloud when I read that. Love it!

  • MelissaM - Yay! You got your Matilda Jane! I bet you are so excited. πŸ™‚

I really love traditions. There is something extra special about the things you only do once a year. As a mom I am enjoying how different the same traditions are each year. We do a lot of things this time of year that we don’t do at any other time. We search for our Christmas tree, we write notes in our stockings, we sleep under the Christmas tree on Christmas Eve Eve (yes that is the night before Christmas Eve)…and numerous more. This time of year I want to be sure I am giving my kids the gift of traditions…special little things we do to celebrate Christmas as a family. One of our traditions just for the sake of fun (and sugar highs) is making gingerbread houses – or at least our version.

When I only had one kid that was able to decorate a gingerbread house I would buy the kits from the store for $10.00. Well these days if I were going to spend $40.00 I’d rather it be on a bunch of these instead of gingerbread house kits! So we go for a cheaper version – graham cracker houses. The first round of our houses this year I couldn’t remember what I did last year to make the houses more stable. Then I remembered HOT GLUE!

Photo Tip: When you want to photograph young kids doing an indoor activity get everything set up before they come to the table. I got all the decorations in bowls, made the houses, set up the table for decorating before I even told the kids what we were doing. I also got my camera settings ready before they came to the table. This will help you be prepared to capture pictures instead of managing chaos.

When doing your prep work it is best if your toddler daughter cannot climb up to the table and attempt to steal the decorations.

My secret graham cracker house weapon…hot glue. Just glue those little crackers together and you have stable homes for all your sugary decorations. It sure beats trying to keep frosted houses in one piece when decorating. It also provides a great reason why your kids cannot eat their creations.

I gave her a mini-house with frosting and attempted to get her to decorate it. Her 2 year old brother did it when he was her age. She, obviously, was not interested in decorating the frosting.

Decorate. Eat. Decorate. Eat. Decorate. Eat.

This is one of those activities that I kind of would prefer to do by myself, but my kids won’t let me. I wonder if I could convince Chris to do a graham cracker house decorating night as a date…not sure he’d be as excited about it as I would be.

If you are wondering if my kids are still in their pjs for this….yes, they are. The best light in my kitchen is in the morning….and I wanted pictures. No sense in putting clothes on them before they made a grand sticky mess!

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  • Jack - I love the photos of the children covered in icing! So cute!

  • Laurie J - hot glue–why didn’t I think of that?! we had the houses crumbling, frosting covering the world MESS while we did this over the weekend (but still FUN) The only thing I got right was using graham crackers instead of the $10 kits–I hear ya on the 4 kids =$40 part!

  • Cassie - How fun! I can’t wait til our little guy is old enough to do crafts.

    And I have a bunch of “those,” and they are wonderful for just about everything you need a tiny bowl for πŸ™‚ Go for it!

  • stacey - we love doing this as well! if you’d like a little tip, we collect the little personal size milk carton’s (you know the small square one’s from school cafeterias?) they work like a charm! slop the frosting on, add crackers, wala! (ps i have a great frosting recipe that solidifies like a rock when it’s all said and done…let me know if you’d like it!) happy Christmas to you and your family!

  • tasha roe - genius on the hot glue!! it is totally my bff!

  • amanda torres - I read all these really wonderful posts, and I somehow my devious side says this, “What I Want to Give: Time (to myself)”. Pretty awful, I know. I love all these activities. We do gingerbread houses on Christmas Eve. I will definitely use the hot glue. Definitely!

  • Julie B - Ooh I will have to try this with the older kids, Regan will be my little decorations eater. I like the photo tip, although I find it to be a great mom tip also and I think I would use any excuse to hot glue πŸ™‚

  • Kim - Gingerbread houses are definitely tradition! Every Christmas Eve, each family (my sister actually asked about individual houses this year, but with 22 houseguests, I think it a bit much, yeah?) decorates a house. Last year, we did pull out the hot glue, but the house was later disqualified, because it has to remain totally edible πŸ˜‰ I would be interested in Stacey’s solidifying frosting though πŸ˜‰ Anyway, we have a time limit and once all is decorated, we line them up and Christmas day all the guests for dinner (total could be 40 ) anonymously vote on their favorite house, decorators cannot vote! My sister’s husband used to be the judge, but after her family winning two years in a row, we switched the judging method! LOVE the idea of sleeping under the tree on the eve eve of Christmas, we may just be starting a new tradition this year! πŸ™‚

  • Trinity - The 3rd grade class makes these at school and they also use the little milk cartons! Hannah was so excited to do them this year because their class collected 49 packages of candy to decorate with! That is a lot of candy and it made her very happy! I love traditions too and love hearing what other people’s traditions are….love this whole week of what I want to give!!!

  • ashley jensen - Hmmm never though of that! Graham crackers are a great alternative instead of gingerbread! My daughter loves to decorate cupcakes (which is just a glob of icing in one spot) so she would LOVE this. I should make my husband participate too! “Those” bowls are stinkin’ cute!

  • Megan - Love the houses, they’re on our list for next week. What a great picture of firecracker…looks like she likes the icing!

  • Angie Weaver - If you melt down sugar in a pan it works just like hot glue. You just dip the edges of the graham crackers in the melted sugar and stick together. Just watch out because the hot sugar burns twice as bad as hot glue! I have been loving your posts lately. They are so full of meaning!

  • lauren - we still kick it old school over at my house and make them from scratch with the royal icing.. but this is my first year with 3 babies and graham crackers and hot glue souund like a great idea!!! :)but then how will i secretly pick off of them after the kids are asleep…? πŸ˜‰

  • Krista Lund - we will be decorating houses on Sunday! I can’t wait!

  • Krista @ Blue Eyed Yonder - I just love the idea of “camping” out under the Christmas tree on Christmas Eve Eve. My husband and I did that one year, but it was due to a little too much egg nog! πŸ™‚ Thanks for sharing your traditions.

  • Stacey - Thanks for this awesome tip! Never would have thought to do that!

    Merry Merry Christmas!

  • Stephanie - We made these graham cracker houses this week! They turned out great! I love reading your Blog!

  • Caroline - Your blog just makes me so happy! I love it! πŸ™‚

  • Jacqueline - I just made these houses this week with my kids on one of their snow days… but we used frosting…and the heavier ones collapsed… i can’t believe i never thought to use my glue gun! brilliant! round two…

  • Lila - The photos of your children and the way you capture the light are amazing! I have been contemplating gingerbread houses lately, trying to decide whether to go for the big one or stick with the graham cracker version that I have done in the past. Your post has me leaning toward graham cracker :).

    Happy Holidays!

    p.s. LOVE those Atom Art Bowls!

  • Ashlee - Jammies are the best! I just got my tonsils out yeasterday and have no intent on wearing real pants anytime soon! Also, those little milk cartons that they sell milks in at schools work great to stabilize gramcracker houses.

  • Kelly - We do this every year too. It’s an after Christmas tradition we do with my in-laws in January when they come to visit for Christmas:Part 2. But instead of doing numerous little houses, I make up a big sugar cookie house and all together we transform it into a perfect candy cottage. It’s fun!

  • katie - You make me feel better about planning activities for my daughter around the best lighting for pictures! She’s too young for graham cracker houses this year, but I’ll file the hot glue tip away for next (or maybe the next…) year! Love the pictures you captured! Your kids have the most expressive eyes!

  • Jess - Your hot glue advice is genius! My gingerbread houses will never be an epic failure again!
    I love that you planned this for the morning light – the true mind of a photographer! Hehe!

  • nori - how smart! i love the hot glue idea!
    and firecracker is so cute all covered in frosting!!!

  • Sarah - My secret to making successful gingerbread houses is not only hot glue but a milk carton underneath. (like a big half and half one) We’ve been making these since I was a little girl, about 20 yrs, and hot glue the graham crackers to the carton and then to a piece of cardboard covered in foil. That way you can make sidewalks, bonfires, trees, and such!! I love all your Christmas traditions!

  • giozi - Ohh I don’t have really a tradition and now I would like to start with some things that I’m seeing via internet.
    Ohh I wanted to eat it too, is ther another way to paste them? πŸ™

    I only had a Christmas bow with bombons but this year I don’t want to take a risk. Would not last an hour with my littles.

    I love second close up of your girl. She has your eyes !!!


  • Colleen - Your children even look cute with icing all over them! It looks like they had a great time… such a great memory to file away.

  • Naomi - Oh my gosh, Firecracker looks exactly like you in that second photo of her eating the frosting!

  • Melissa W - Awesome idea with the hot glue! I’ll definitely be trying that out this year! Firecracker is such a sweetheart. πŸ™‚ Love all your photos! πŸ™‚

  • Melissa - What a great idea! Thank you for sharing!

  • Michelle - Great traditions!! Like a couple other comments, small milk cartons work perfectly! My daughter’s kindergarten class used these and we even used the icing (easy peasy recipe) to “glue” the graham crackers to the sides of the container and rooftops. All edible, because of course they want to eat them!

  • ria - I think pj’s are the perfect attire for gingerbread house decorating. Sweet pics.

  • Leanne - brilliant! I should tell my sons teacher about using hot glue. she is going to be putting together 20 houses for the kids to decorate for next Tuesday. Can you say CRAZY?!

  • Lori - love it – thanks for sharing the tips!!!

  • maria - the hot glue is genius, definantly trying it this way next year, thanks for sharing!! and merry Christmas!!

  • bb - this year at school, my son’s entire 2nd grade made gingerbread houses. they started with empty (single serving) milk cartons. they iced the bottom of the carton and attached the carton to a paper plate. next, they iced the rest of the carton and then placed graham crackers on top of the icing (which acted like glue — and the cartons are in the exact shape of houses). they then used icing to attached candy, etc.. to the houses. i was amazed at how well it all stayed together. just thought i’d mention it in case you ever want to forgo the hot glue gun (the 2nd graders were able to do their entire project themselves and the houses didn’t fall apart since they were leaning against milk cartons).

  • Julie O'Dell - So stinkin CUTE!

  • the whyte house - oh, that ornery face! precious!

  • Heather - Ashley, I love your blog! Can I have coffee with you sometime? πŸ™‚ Oh wait…that’s impossible with four little kids! We have a lot in common…though I’m a just a couple of years ahead of you. I too am from OK (though I live in TX now). I too have 3 boys and 1 girl. I too am a pastor’s wife. And I too love family traditions, but we’ve yet to do gingerbread houses. Next week is craft week at our house, so I’m so glad I read to GLUE them together! πŸ™‚ I’ve been posting on my blog about our favorite family tradition…new ornaments each year…and it’s been fun to go back and write about what each one means!
    Blessings to you!

  • Heather - Oh…and BTW…you’ve inspired me. We’re going to ring the bell at Hobby Lobby next week! SO EXCITED!

  • Carolyn - I love the photos of your girl with icing all over her face – especially the first one! She looks just a little bit uncertain…kind of like “should I be eating this?”
    Good tip about getting everything ready before commencing activities with kids. I should remember to do this more often.

  • Kari - So adorable…I don’t blame her for eating her house. Also love the glue…I use hot glue on everything. XOXO

  • Jackie - If you use a milk carton as a frame, it is even easier. The child-size cartons that they give during lunch work perfectly, but you could always use the quart size and just cut off the bottom. Use a serrated knife to cut the square cracker into two triangles for the ends.

  • Catherine - I love, love traditions too. And I love reading your blog. It makes me happy. πŸ™‚ We call Christmas Eve Eve Christmas Adam, because Adam came before Eve right?

  • Robyn - something that works just as good as hot glue – hot, caramelized sugar! I had to help make 40 little graham cracker gingerbread houses for my daughters kindergarten class the other night, and they had an electric skillet, put some sugar in and cooked it til brown and liquidy. you just dip the edges in and stick them together. it works amazingly!!! no collapsing houses, and it dries super fast!

  • lindsey - at the preschool where i work they use empty milk cartons to stick the graham crackers to with icing and form the house.. it’s works well and still “edible”
    p.s. beautiful pics (as usual)!

  • Better than Expected « One Small Happy Family - […] been contemplating making gingerbread houses (using graham crackers) with the girls when I saw this blog.  I was inspired by her ingenuity to use hot glue to keep the graham crackers from […]

  • Yanet - Ashley,

    One thing we’ve used in our family are the little individual milk cartons to hold up the house. We use the icing to make it stick. In other words, we spread the icing on the outside of the milk carton then put the graham cracker on top of that. Make sense?

  • kathy carr - At my daughter’s school they also fixed graham crackers to milk cartons with icing, but they did it THE DAY BEFORE so they would be more stable. Genious. I would have totally used hot glue if I was in charge. But what I did not anticipate was my 3 year old hiding it in her room and eating it!!! Glad they used icing!

  • Kelly - this post is full of such good tips! Thanks!! The photo tip, glue gun tip, managing chaos, staying in pjs . . . great stuff. Kelly

  • Becca Rojo - We use melted almond bark. It is edible and hardens really fast for a stable house and easy decorating. Keep it warm in the crock pot so you don’t have to run back and forth to the microwave.

  • Joy - I second the milk carton suggestion. It makes is very, very easy and then they/you CAN eat it! (minus the milk carton)

This season of the year can quickly become a mad dash from one event to the next. If I am not careful I know it will be about surviving instead of enjoying. When my kids look back at the month of December from their childhood I don’t want them to remember it as rushed and fast paced. Right now I don’t want them to see me harried and in a frenzy….which when that happens it also means my patience with them is basically non-existent. So, I am learning to say “No.” We don’t have to be at every party or participate in every event. I want to protect my family from the crazy stressed out version of me that can come when I say “Yes” to too many things.

We still have a full calendar, but on that calendar are also days that are scheduled for absolutely nothing. Without reserving time for nothing on my calendar, I’d probably fill it in with busyness. In those reserved slots for nothing my kids have discovered a new game this Christmas season….it involves a doll stroller, a wall to crash into, 1 sister and 3 brothers that will be highly dramatic when crashing to provoke their baby sister to produce the deep belly laughs that only they can get out of her.

This Christmas I want to give my kids enough down time to be together and and crash into walls

….because sibling induced belly laughs are the best.

FireCracker loves to wear this hat. She will pass by a mirror just to admire herself. It makes me laugh everytime. I think it has something to do with how her brothers go overboard telling her how cute she is when she wears it. They are such great brothers to her. It really makes me wish I had a big brother….or 3.

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  • Lindsay - You need to frame every one of those pictures. Really big! Those are priceless. Oh, gosh, I know I’m saying things but I feel speechless πŸ™‚ Awesome pictures.

  • Amy - love it!!

  • Anna Marie - Those photos make my heart melt. How neat for her to have three adoring big brothers. She is a very lucky girl! I would love to see a video clip of that belly laugh. Baby/toddler belly laughs are one of THE best things in life!

  • RachelC - Too cute! Who knew one of those toy strollers could hold the weight of 3 big brothers! BTW — I always wondered what it would be like to have a big brother. It totally rocks having a younger one…….especially now that we’re older.

  • Laurie J - Looks like a fun game my kiddos would embrace if we had one of those strollers…I love that it’s your daughter pushing her big bros around!

  • amanda torres - I love everything about this. Her ornery tomboy side clearly masked by her girly style. Such a well balanced girl. I love the look on youngest bro’s face. It’s like he’s participating because it’s his duty, and the other brothers have taken their turns. Oldest bro’s face is classic also. You can tell he sets the tone for how you treat a lady.

  • Lindsay O'Donnell - I’m the oldest of four kids (I’m 26; the youngest is 18) and I can honestly say sibling-induced belly laughs really are the best! πŸ™‚ My sister and brothers are my favorite people on the planet, and it looks like the same goes for your kids!

  • Sarah - what a wonderful post and great pictures as usual! i’m making a resolution to slow down next year and try to enjoy life rather then making and checking off my ‘to do list’ with too many projects like i’ve been doing! it’s time to enjoy the simplier but more meaningful things in life!

  • Jen - do i have to say that you have some precious little children. i love the holiday spirit!

  • Liene - So precious!

  • anne c - this is great! I wish I had 3 big brothers too!

  • danielle - oh my goodness how adorable – i can hear the laughs through the computer πŸ™‚ i love love that last picture of your youngest – just adorable. there is nothing like sibling love!!!!!! I am one of 5 kids and i have two myself and i get so much out of seeing them hugging, kissing and laughing together!

  • christine - thank you for posting! i love watching the relationship of your eldest son & your daughter develop… it’s so sweet. pictures of the two of them always brighten my day. πŸ™‚

  • Cate O'Malley - I am right there with you on enjoying the State of Doing Nothing. Every week of the year, on our calendar, Tuesday is Family Night. We go nowhere. No one comes over. We make no plans. And just enjoy every moment of it.

  • the whyte house - Those kids crack me up! I know what you mean about time. Looking back at all the photos I took of my kids last fall/winter, I can see that we have been seriously lacking on the together time this year. The next 12 months are going to be filled with deployment readiness junk, so making time for the family has become even more important.

  • ashley jensen - Belly laughs are the absolute best! On Sunday my daughter was pushing fake flowers around in her stroller and it made me think of FireCracker. Oh and cant you just see her as a teenager with a potential boyfriend and how her brothers will be right there to protect her!

  • Mariah - So fun! I love to watch my boys play together. They make eachother happy like no one else can.

  • Krista Lund - these photos put a big smile on my face. what a way to start the day πŸ™‚

  • BriBedell - I have 5 big brothers! (Three sisters too) But there is nothing in this world than laughing and having a good time with your siblings! I say you should never go through life without a sibling!

    PS. Firecrackers outfit. Adorable. Can you share where it is from?

  • Julie B - My kids are 7, 5, 21 months and 6 months…boy girl girl boy. The oldest boy dotes on the littlest girl and the oldest girl dotes on the littlest boy. It is so sweet. I love their connections and how they enjoy making the little ones laugh. I really love watching them play together (when they are being nice, lol). We crash into a lot of walls and couches and all sorts of things here too! Hopefully we can maintain our patience this Christmas right? I know mine will be tested!

  • Mallory @ R. Simple Life - Can I just say, you have the cutest kids in the world.

  • Amy - Oh my. That last picture is just too precious for words. I always wished I had a big brother too… I think it took me a few years to figure out that if it hadn’t happened by now, it wasn’t going to happen! πŸ™‚

    By the way, Ashley — I haven’t had the chance to do any of your DIY projects, but I just wanted to say that seeing those posts has inspired me to just sit down whenever I can and do my own. Thank you!

  • Helen + Bill + Mirys from Brazil - Ashley: I just LOVED THIS SERIE “What I want to give”!!!!

    I started a serie on my own (in my kids’ blog) that is about the “25 priceless things in life”. The absolute WANNA HAVE in life. But it is about attitudes, fellings, memories…

    IΒ΄m thinking about a “What I want to give” serie for next Xmas time!

    Kisses and blessings!

    Mirys – http://www.diariodos3mosqueteiros.blogspot.com

  • Kristine - Hysterical! I love the boys being willing to love her where she’s at, even if that means being the “baby.” πŸ™‚ Merry Christmas!

  • Tess S - baby belly laughs are the greatest. so much joy. i love the idea of scheduling nothing to do. great post, ashley!

  • Molly - Wow, Firecracker looks so much like you in these photos! Adorable!

  • tasha roe - this message was meant for me today. with only 11 days till christmas i am getting stressed trying to “fit it all in” and yet i am leaving the important stuff out.
    ps- i have that same rug from target. love it! it hides EVERYTHING!! pps – little firecracker is awesome!

  • Stephanie - I love this post, it is easy to see that all of them are having so much fun, especially the camera-woman. Great pictures, and thank you for sharing. Your blog is awesome!

  • Kate @ Songs Kate Sang - Oh, she is precious! Have a wonderful day!

  • Leslie @ top of the page - Good job! It is hard to say “No” to friends and church and teachers….I too cut out a lot of committments this month so as not to be overwhelmed. I’ve had some miserable, overburdened Decembers in the past. But our families come first, and if that means dropping things so as to protect our own hearts, then so be it. I love your intentionality and mindfulness about what you want your kids to remember, by the way.

  • Kimber - Firecracker’s outfit is spot on adorable! way to go mom πŸ™‚ and what a great thing to remember: to take time to be a family this holiday season!

    ps- i saw you have a nativity at the bottom of the tree…adorable and what a brilliant idea, the best gift under the tree for sure πŸ™‚

  • heather - brother induced belly laughs are the best!
    p.s. i schedule home time too. it’s the only sure fire way i can make sure it really truly happens. and it’s so good for the soul,
    especially little souls. πŸ™‚

  • Rachel - Super cute pictures! I was sitting here thinking about our little stroller like that. My two girls love to give rides in it…so much that I have had to add strong rubber bands because the material is about to give out! I also noticed your “what God wants for Christmas” set. We love ours! It has been such a great way to teach our girls the true gift of Christmas.

  • Emilie - I work retail, and I see so many customers coming in and out in such a hurried frenzy. It makes me sad! I love the days (like today) where I can go meet friends for lunch, pop my head in a few stores, and come home to a cup of tea or something like that. Also, I admire the way that your boys take care of Firecracker – I can’t wait to have some munchkins of my own!

  • Becca R. - this is so sweet! it brings tears to my eyes because i wish everyone did a whole lot of nothing and just spent time enjoying each other instead. this is our 1st Christmas since we lost our newborn son in August, and i don’t want to be caught up in all the craziness. i just want to be with my husband and my oldest son (big brother) and enjoy their presence as we remember our littlest. i’m hoping we can keep our focus on what Christmas is truly about…Jesus! love the hat by the way…i am a crocheter (is that a word!?!) πŸ™‚ Merry Christmas to you and your family. love reading your posts.


  • LeAnne - I can hear her laughs! So cute, all of them!

  • hearttypat - aww.. its great that Firecracker has 3 such great brothers! i love that last picture on the right, gives me a warm fuzzy feeling!

    and indeed, where did time go to!

  • giozi - This is one of the most beauties post. I love it. I love their smile. Your gil’s smile is amazing, this have not price.
    Your right we need to feel good to be good with our children.
    Now I’m thinking about christmas card to my family, costumes for the school, christms supper with friends, and then I don’t wat to be stressful. I need a diary πŸ˜€
    Kisses for your little ones. A huge for you. Be relax πŸ˜€

  • Kristin S - From photos and stories you share, it seems biggest brother and firecracker are going to be best buds forever.

  • leanne - I love this. my boys also spoil their little sister with love. and I love that she wants to dress so adorable all the time. bonus for you!

  • Sydney - These pictures make me cry! Your children are absolutely the sweetest things! You are very blessed!

  • e l l a - These are so cute Ashley.
    Firecracker is so cool πŸ˜‰

  • Kat - My older brother is 6 years older than me, so we really didn’t play together a lot – but I still love having an older brother to watch out for me! πŸ™‚ I hope one day when I have kids that my girls will have some older brothers too!

  • ria - Thanks for reminding me how important down time is. You have the sweetest little family.

  • Becky - I recently found out that I am pregnant with two boys (my first kids) and have been worried about having two (probably crazy) boys first, but when I read your blog I feel so encouraged and excited! I am so impressed by your style, especially the photos that capture your children’s spirt and activities.
    Moms are always tempted to make their kids all look at the camera and smile big, but the pictures on your blog tell more about your family than any traditional family portrait could. I plan on taking a leaf out of your book!

  • kari - such cute photos. I can’t believe the great lighting you’ve achieved indoors. XOXO

  • Zhanna - I LIVE for those deep belly laughs!!!!! And can your children get any cuter?????

    Your blog always warms up my soul!

    Also, I agree, this season can easily suck us into a mode of busyness and this year I am choosing to take it easy and be a homebody a bit more πŸ™‚

  • Beth - I look for your blog every day and am so disappointed when you don’t have pictures of your kids. Love the way you dress firecracker. Or maybe she dresses herself. Keep on doing this please. You have such a wonderful heart.

  • Kelly - I love this series of what you want to give, Ashley! Amen and amen. Kelly

  • Tamra - I LOVE these pics!! That is the cutest stinkin hat!! Suits her personality that I see in the photos. I especially love the last picture where your 2nd child is lookin right at her and sharin a little giggle!