Shopping for Shoeboxes

Shopping for shoeboxes -- where to get great stuff for your Operation Christmas Child boxI totally missed the back-to-school sales this year.

That’s a bummer, because those sales are where I normally stock up for the shoebox-stuffing party our family hosts each year.

Fortunately, Michaels came to my rescue with a coupon for 25% off your entire purchase — including sale items.

I headed straight to the dollar bins at the front of the store, where I found a slew of great stocking and shoebox stuffers, many of which were already discounted 50%.

That means that, with my coupon, most of the items I bought were only 37-cents.

About a month ago, I bought all the items in this picture for less than $10. Most of them were pretty girl-specific, but that’s okay, because Michael’s is running the same offer this weekend, October 2-4.

So I plan to return to stock up on boy-stuff, too.

Want to join in the fun? Follow this link to get your coupon: 25%-Off at Michael’s

If you’ve never stuffed a shoebox for Operation Christmas Child before, I highly recommend it. You can visit their website for a list of what can (and can’t) be included.

If you have stuffed a shoebox before, tell me: What’s your favorite thing to include? And where do you like to shop for the goodies that go inside?

How to Write a Thank You Note

How to Write a Proper Thank You Note | An easy-to-follow guide for both children and adults from When it comes to appropriately expressing appreciation for a gift, it’s hard to beat a handwritten thank you note.

Some folks will tell you that a phone call or an email or even a simple spoken “thanks” at the time of receipt shows sufficient gratitude — don’t believe them.

Although any of these options would better than nothing, none will leave the lasting impression of a handwritten note.

This courtesy has largely fallen by the wayside, but that just means you’ll stand out all the more when you abide by the time-honored tradition.

Some of the children in our family are huge letter-writers, but others need a little more encouragement.

One of my sons has been procrastinating on this task for months now, so I thought a little review of how to write a proper thank you might be in order.

What follows are the guidelines I (try to) teach them.

What Am I Supposed to Say?

A proper thank you note will, at a bare minimum, contain at least three sentences. Here is an acceptable outline you can follow:

Dear __________,

Thank you for the __________. I am looking forward to __________. I appreciate your __________.


This same structure can be used in any number of circumstances:

  • Dear Mr. and Mrs. Smith,
    Thank you for the Barnes & Noble gift card. I am looking forward to reading the books I bought with it. I appreciate your thoughtfulness.

  • Dear Grandma,
    Thank you for the sweater. I am looking forward to wearing it this fall. I appreciate your knitting it for me.

  • Dear Aunt Betty,
    Thank you for the waffle iron. My husband and I are looking forward to eating homemade waffles. We appreciate your coming to our wedding.

  • Dear Sally,
    Thank you for the puzzle you gave me for my birthday. I am looking forward to working it with my family. I appreciate your friendship.

This is just a bare-bones outline, but it will suffice even if you elaborate no further.

Note that in each case, the gift is clearly identified. You should make every attempt to do this.

Resist the urge to vaguely write, “Thank you for the gift.” If your note is too generic, it will sound lazy — as if you copied the same exact wording and sent it to everyone.

Of course, this outline should just be considered a starting point. More is always welcome.

Look at how much warmer and more personalized these six-sentence thank you notes sound:

  • Dear Mr. and Mrs. Smith,
    Thank you so much for the Barnes & Noble gift card you sent for my graduation. You know what a bookworm I am! I’m looking forward to reading the books I bought with it: WONDER by R.J. Palacio and THE FAULT IN OUR STARS by John Green. Have you read either of those? I’ve heard great things about both and am so excited to finally be able to enjoy them, now that I don’t have any classes to study for. I really appreciate your kindness and generosity.

  • Dear Grandma,
    Thank you so much for the beautiful sweater you sent me. What a surprise it was to get it in the mail this afternoon! It fits perfectly, and I’m looking forward to wearing it this fall. I love the color and pattern you used—and that wonderfully soft cotton yarn. You did a terrific job on it. I appreciate your knitting it for me and will think of you every time I wear it.

  • Dear Aunt Betty,
    Thank you for the new waffle iron. It is exactly the one we wanted. My husband and I are looking forward to eating lots of homemade waffles. It will be so much fun getting to cook them ourselves in our very own kitchen. We appreciate your coming to our wedding to celebrate our special day with us. Thanks again for being there, and for the wonderful gift.

  • Dear Sally,
    Thank you for the puzzle you gave me for my birthday. I’m looking forward to working it with my family. We’re all puzzle fanatics, as you know, but we’ve never tried piecing together a 3-D puzzle before. It looks challenging! We’ll probably set it up in the dining room instead of the kitchen table, just in case it takes longer than usual. I appreciate your friendship and would love for you to come help us assemble this thing!

Whether you write a few sentences or fill up the entire card, your note is sure to bring a smile to your recipient’s face. Who wouldn’t love finding a bit of sunshine amid all the bills and sales flyers stuffed in the mailbox?

Are you a letter writer? Do you want to be?

Tiny Prints thank you cars

Happy Constitution Day!

On September 17, 1787, our nation’s founding fathers met to sign the document they had drafted in the preceding weeks of the Constitutional Convention.

Referencing the system of government outlined and established in this Constitution, Benjamin Franklin wrote that he was amazed “to find [it] approaching so near to perfection as it does; and I think it will astonish our enemies.”

And to the degree that our leaders have been willing to abide by the Constitution, I believe what Franklin said was true.

But to abide by the Constitution, one needs to know the Constitution.

That’s why, when my husband was at the Texas State Republican Convention last sprint and spotted two beautiful little hardbound copies of The U.S. Constitution
and The Declaration of Independence, he brought both books home for me to use in teaching our children.

Free printable for Constitution Day

Unbeknownst to him, we already owned both books. Great minds think alike!

We think it’s important for our children to be familiar with the Constitution. Although we’ve never asked them to memorize the whole thing, we have had all of them memorize the Preamble.

I gave our printable a facelift in honor of Constitution Day. Click here if you’d like to print a (free) copy to use with your own family.

In the meantime, I hope you have a blessed Constitution Day!

Vitamix vs. Blendtec: Which is Best for You?

I saw my first Vitamix demonstration at the Texas State Fair when I was about eight years old. From the moment I tasted those little sample cups of soups and smoothies, I knew I had to have one of these machines.

One of my favorite things about the Texas State Fair? The Vitamix demonstrations!

Two decades, one husband, and four children later, I finally got a Vitamix. It has served me faithfully for TWENTY-ONE YEARS and is still going strong.

Vitamix Blenders are amazing!

It came with two large containers — one with a dry blade for grinding grains and one with a wet blade for doing everything else. Unfortunately, during our last move, the wet container was lost.

Rather than spending $150 on a new container for my old Vitamix, I splurged and bought a brand new Blendtec for $400. And my trusty Vitamix — still just as strong as the day I bought it — went to live with a friend.

Blendtec Blenders. How to they compare to Vitamix?

I will tell you, my kids love the new blender. Blendtec has pre-programmed buttons that make it a cinch for my little ones to use. And it absolutely pulverizes ice into a much finer powder than my old Vitamix ever managed.


It’s smaller size means it fits neatly under my kitchen counter, ready to use. I like that.

Kitchen counter

But it does have a few drawbacks. Although the container is shorter than the standard Vitamix version, it has a slightly larger capacity — 88 ounces or nearly 3 quarts. This was a big selling point for me, since with twelve children, I tend to make big batches of everything I serve.

What the Blendtec demonstrator failed to mention, however, is the fact I would need to use less than half the total capacity if I wanted the blender to work properly.

Whenever my kids or I overfilled our Vitamix, it meant having to use a little more tamper action to get everything to blend. When we overfill the Blendtec, food sprays out from the four corners of the lid and gets all over my cabinets and countertops. Ugh!

So, although there are lots of things I like about my new Blendtec, there are also lots of things I miss about my old Vitamix.

Trying to decide whether to invest in a Blendtec or a Vitamix? This post will help you decide...

For one, the Blendtec is slightly more powerful, but it is considerably more noisy than a Vitamix.

Also, while the fact that a Blendtec will only make 2-3 servings at a time makes it a great choice for singles, newlyweds, or smaller families, it means a big family like mine must make 4-5 batches if everybody wants a serving.

Trying to decide whether to invest in a Blendtec or a Vitamix? This post will help you decide...

I miss my Vitamix’s much larger usable capacity. So what if the thing was too tall to fit under my counter? The fact I had to store the container next to the base instead of on top of it was not nearly the hassle of having to make multiple, multiple batches of every smoothie I serve or clean up the mess that happens when I try to process too much at once.

Additionally, I don’t know how long the Blendtec will hold up. Both machines come with a 7-year warranty, but my Vitamix had a 21-year track record of faithful service with no signs of quitting. It will take two more decades for my new Blendtec to prove that sort of dependability.

So which is right for you?

Both are great machines. Both do a great job, not just on smoothies, but on a wide variety of dishes. The price is very comparable. So it really boils down to the size crowd you’re feeding, the sensitivity of your ears, whether you want adjustable dials or one-touch digital programing, how important it is to you that your blender fit under your kitchen cabinets, and whether you prefer your ice crushed or powdered.

What do you think? Are you Blentec user or a Vitamix fan? Tell me why in the comments below.

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. When you purchase through these links, our family receives a small commission (at no extra cost to you), which helps defray the cost of maintaining this website so that we can continue to provide free printables and other resources to our readers. So thanks!

Free 2015 Scrapbooking Calendar

I just finished uploading the calendars I’ll use in my children’s scrapbooks next year.

Screen Shot 2014-09-12 at 11.58.25 PM

These are great for micro-journaling. I draw a new set every year, then fill in them in with a short, one- or two-sentence synopsis of what the family did each day.

free printable scrapbooking calendars from

Then once each month is complete, I make enough color copies for each of my children to have the full set in their scrapbook.

free printable scrapbooking calendars from

This saves a lot of time, as it means I only have to write everything once.

free printable scrapbooking calendars from

If you’d like to try it yourself, you can download the rest of the months for 2014 here and all of 2015 through the links at the end of this post — and all for free. I hope you’ll enjoy these. Happy Scrapbooking!

Use these links to print the 2015 scrapbooking calendars: January-June and July-December. If you are looking for a 2015 calendar without any frou-frou, check here.