Monday, February 28, 2011

Bridal Shower - Personalize It!

It can be both easy and hard to throw a bridal shower for someone, depending on how close your relationship is with them. Most of the time such showers aren't very specifically personalized - meaning the themes of the household or traits of the bride-to-be's personality are not included. I see a lot generic bridal shower decor in the party aisles at stores and it can be hard to be very imaginative and creative for the bride. However, I do think that giving the general shower a theme can make the whole event all the more fun and a bit more special and memorable for the bride-to-be.

True confessions: I've only thrown one general bridal shower and it was rather difficult to come up with a theme at first. The husband-to-be was a chess player (very into the game) and the bride-to-be really enjoyed gaming herself and took pride in her future husband's accomplishments. How to incorporate this into the event!? Well, I decided to go the chess route because I could easily put together black & white decor. Also, I wanted to encourage the bride in her encouragement and support of her intended. In a way, personalizing the shower affirms the couple, their mutual interests and hopeful endeavors. Anything that says, "I support your relationship" is a good deal in my book!

I'm sharing these photos not to say, "If you are a throwing a chess themed party, do this" because I rather think that this particular theme is not going to be voted most popular. The entire point of this post is not "How to Make a Chess Cake" but rather to encourage any shower throwers to really make the most of the decorations and accents to compliment the relationship of their future married couple. Affirm them. Bless them. Shower them with every ounce of creativity you can drum up! That's your job. How you pull it off is your decision. I'm only here to encourage you to try to do those things.

Here are some pictures from the chess-themed wedding shower:

1. For the front table I had found some candy containers at IKEA for $4 each. I bought some heart shaped scoops ($2), filled the jars with nuts and candy ($10?) and then found some bride and groom favor boxes at our local Dollar Store ($2 total). The jars have been a good investment - both for storing food in the pantry and for pulling out during other parties and gatherings to share snacks in. Plus, scooping out treats is fun for the guests!

Center pieces were tricky. I had some glass votives on hand already that I filled with chess pieces (already owned) and then I put a candle on the top of the game pieces. I placed the votives on tables with black table cloths and called it good.

3. I tried to stick to black and white foods for the most part, with hints of red. We had strawberries with chocolate cream cheese dip, crackers with brie and jam, yummy muffins and a chess cake. (This was served on white plates that I already owned.)

4. The cake was definitely the highlight of the food table and took me the longest time to figure out how to make! I had to borrow a friend's large cake pan and then made two cakes which had to be placed side by side (and iced over) to create the chess board. Ghirardelli chocolate squares (turned upside down) were called in to make the checkered board and real chess pieces were used on the top! Lastly, I found a ribbon at the local craft store which I used to wrap the sides of the cake with to make it appear a little more interesting and decorative.

This shower did take a lot of thought, work and effort. Throwing ANY kind of bridal shower can be loads of hard work. I do realize this. Adding special touches will undoubtedly increase the workload. But the pay off? The smiles? The words of thanks, letting you know that you did indeed bless? That generally pays you back ten fold. For me, throwing a personalized shower falls under the verse of doing to others what you have them do unto you. When you go through significant life changes that you are excited about, you are hopeful that people will acknowledge those changes and celebrate thoroughly with you! So when you are thinking of and planning for a bridal shower, consider the excitement of the bride-to-be. Do what you can with what you have and make the day as special for the couple (even if the groom is not present!) as you can. It's worth it.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Planning a Baby Shower

from Carrie

Planning a baby shower anytime soon? If you are, you know that this can be a somewhat overwhelming and nerve-wracking thing. Sure, the idea of it may be fun and exciting as you envision blessing the new mom with your talents and creativity. But then you actually have to get started on the work aspect and it can be difficult to work through the details.

I recently threw a baby shower for a friend of mine. This was the first baby shower I had ever thrown and, naturally, I learned a lot about what to do and what not to do.

Here are some things I would suggest doing if you are preparing to plan a shower for a friend and new mommy-to-be:

1. Do not limit her guest list. Tell her that up front. Allow her the freedom and privilege of inviting the people who are closest to her and whose presence would be meaningful to her. This might mean your guest list is only five people. It might mean there are 80 people on the list! So be it. It's her day to be blessed and your day to do the blessing. I realize that you might have space issues but do try to resolve them as best as you can. When you are the one having a baby, it's hard to think of limiting your friend list and who you want to have come and celebrate the new arrival alongside you. Try to accommodate as many as possible. (And don't freak out if the original guest list is long! It's unlikely every single person on the list will show up on your doorstep!)

2. Ask her for the guest list at least one month in advance - names and addresses! This allows you time to work on the invitations and mail them out three weeks before the actual shower date, giving the guests adequate notice so that they can make the time in their schedule to attend the shower.

3. I prefer mailing out invitations myself. I think it's more formal and special that way. However, if you know your friend well and if the guest list is long, ask if there are any guests on the list that wouldn't mind receiving a hand-delivered invitation. I don't think that's a rude question, but a fair one. But before you ask - do try to be aware of whether or not that question is offensive. I STILL think receiving an actual invitation is more special than an e-mail invite. (Personal preference.)

4. Ask the mommy-to-be the following questions as you prepare the invitations:

  • Would she prefer to have her shower before or after the baby's arrival? (Allow her to decide!)
  • Does she know the gender of her baby, or will this be a surprise?
  • Does she have a theme selected for the baby/the nursery?
  • Has she, or is she, planning to register somewhere? Obtain the required registry information so that you can pass that along to her guests.
  • Would she like someone to lead a devotional or would she prefer to just allow her guests to mingle?
  • Does she like baby shower games or would she prefer those to be avoided? Are there any games in particular that she would rather not have take place at her shower?
  • Would she like to open her gifts in front of her guests, or would she prefer to open them later on with her husband? (Allow her to decide!)
5. Find out if any relatives will be attending the shower and think of special ways to acknowledge their presence and role in the life of the mother-to-be and the newborn child. Will a New Grandma be there? Make a note of it and prepare in advance to introduce her to the other guests so that they are aware of the family relationship.

6. Ask the guest of honor if she has any food allergies or aversions. You certainly don't want to get caught serving something that she would be sick at the sight of!

7. Plan your menu. There are lots of resources online for helping you select an appropriate menu to suit the theme the mother has chosen for the baby (i.e., Classic Pooh, Princess, Baseball, etc.). Make it fun! Take some time to be creative. She will remember this day!

8. Ask for RSVP's to help you plan for the food - but don't bet on them. Sadly, most people fail to follow through with RSVPs these days and so give it your best guess and estimate. Plan for more food than you think you might need. Leftovers are A-ok and the mom-to-be might appreciate some snacks to take home to the father-to-be if there are extras. (No doubt the father-to-be would be delighted to help polish off the food from the festivities!) Also, I recommend against putting a deadline on RSVPing for the event. It is inevitable that someone will want to come to the shower but forget to RSVP and then at some point will notice there was a deadline requesting information on their presence. In my opinion, it's bad form to cause a guest feel like they are unwelcome to come because they accidentally forgot to let you know that they wanted to come before your imposed deadline kicked in.

Do your best to plan, but plan to be flexible.

9. If possible, ask for a volunteer in advance to sit next to the mommy-to-be and take notes during the gift opening (i.e., mark down who gave what.) Have the supplies laid out and ready to go, (including a trash bag!), so that the present opening process goes as smoothly as possible.

10. Take the time to introduce yourself to each guest that you are hosting and personally thank them for coming. It's just polite. (If there are a lot of people, this might not be totally possible, but if you can - do.)

All these things and more (I'm certain!) can be done to make this showered-upon blessing experience a wonderful one for the new mother. Keep a smile on your face (even if you are tiiiired) and remember the day is not about you - it's about blessing another and celebrating life together!

Any additional suggestions? Leave them in the comment section below!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Ministry of Showers

Guest post by Barbara H. from Stray Thoughts

A bridal or baby shower is a way to “shower” the honoree with gifts she might need for her upcoming wedding or baby. Expenses for setting up housekeeping or raising a child can be overwhelming, and anything the friends and family of a bride or mother-to-be can do is a big help.

It seems attendance at showers has generally declined over the last several years. At our church, people who don’t attend often leave gifts for the honoree at a designated table in the lobby, and that sometimes is overflowing. And though that is incredibly generous, it is nice to honor the bride or mother-to-be with our presence as well as our presents as a show of support and a way of ministering to them. People just feel more loved and cared for when people actually come to these things. You know how it is when you’re planning an event: one of your major concerns is whether anyone will show up. It’s sad to me when people make the effort for an event like this and for the honoree when people don’t come. Recently I heard of a baby shower where only three people came besides the young woman’s family. I dropped by another one a few months back for a young woman who had been gradually fading away from church attendance, and only one other lady from the church had come. How likely is that fading to continue when it seemed to her like no one cared? What an opportunity that would have been to show love and support and welcome to her, to show we cared and wanted her fellowship. It’s in these ministries in people’s personal lives where they feel interested in and cared for, not just during the hand-shaking time at church.

Besides ministering to the honoree, I am ministered to during the devotional time. At most Christian showers, one of the ladies has been asked ahead of time to share something from the Word as an encouragement to the person being honored, whether having to do with marriage or mothering. It almost always helps everyone listening as well as the honoree. At one bridal shower I attended, the hostess, who was a younger wife, commented that it blessed her to see many ladies of every age nodding their heads during the devotional time. The devotional time usually encourages us in our roles, cheers us on the way, or helps provide course correction.

Sometimes there is an opportunity for guests to share encouragements and advice with the honoree whether by verbal testimony or writing a note on a 4×6 card or some other creative way of sharing. At my baby shower several little notes were gathered that I was instructed to save until I was in labor, and it was nice to go through them. I felt in both marriage and motherhood that I needed all the help I could get! As an attendee I often go a little blank when asked to share something (it’s nice to be forewarned so guests can be thinking about it ahead of time), but almost always the Lord gives me something that I trust will minister to the honoree.

I also love fellowshipping with the other ladies there. If you feel you don’t really know many people at church well, attending this kind of activity can provide opportunities to get to know people better. It’s ironic that sometimes we’re reluctant to go because “I don’t know them very well” when going would help in that department (I know — having just moved to a new area and attending a new church, I’ve wrestled with these conflicting feelings myself).

Personally, I even love the silly little games when they have them. And I get to eat hors d’oeuvres and cake! I especially love brunch showers with all the neat breakfast casseroles and pastries.

Some showers are designated as “drop-in,” where guests can stop in at any time during the event and stay as long or as short a time as they want to. But even at those showers which are not drop-in, usually the games, devotional, etc. occur at the beginning, and it is perfectly acceptable for someone to drop in during the second half when everyone is just eating fellowshipping, and watching the honoree open presents if they can’t come for the whole event.

Speaking of opening presents, that reminded me of an article or post I saw somewhere saying that shower honorees should not open gifts at the shower because it is boring for the guests and puts pressure on the honoree to act pleased at every gift when she may not like every gift. But I totally disagree. Most people I know enjoy oohing and aahing over the gifts, and I don’t know many brides or mothers-to-be who have to act like they like gifts they don’t want. If that were the case, I would agree that this is all a big waste of time.

On the other hand, occasionally a gift does not suit for whatever reason, even with the advent of registries for showers (which are an immense help, in my opinion) and it is thoughtful to include a gift receipt with the card. I feel that once I give a gift, it belongs to the other person to do what they want with it and I should not get my feelings hurt if they receive three toasters and return mine. I don’t always remember to do this, but sometimes I specifically pray for guidance as I buy a gift, to avoid wasted time and frustration and inconvenience.

A shower is also not the time to criticize the choices of the honoree. There are multitudes of appliances and equipment available for both brides and babies that were not even thought of ten or twenty years ago. If you think someone doesn’t really need a particular item on their registry, simply buy them something else on their list. At one bridal shower I was horrified to hear the wedding planner carry on about brides who register at two or three stores when it was her opinion that they should only register at one. I did not think that was a big deal – who among us finds everything we need at one store? Besides, some people might be able to get to one store more easily than another, so a number of choices is probably a good thing for guests. But at any rate, this is a time for encouragement and support, not for disparagement.

My purpose in pouring out my heart on this topic is not to heap guilt on people whose lives are already piled up with a number of obligations. We all have days or even seasons of life like that when we cannot add even one more thing. But if you can possibly go, I encourage you to. It really is a blessing to the honoree and her family and the hostess. To me it is an expression of hospitality even if the event is not in your home: a hospitality of open-heartedness and welcome of other people and their cares and concerns.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Introduction to This Week's Posts

'Tis the season! We're coming up on SPRING when we are inevitably invited to various baby and wedding showers for friends and relations. These events can be thrilling, stressful and - let's face it - time consuming!

Instead of approaching this season with dread and/or excuses - we'd like to take a few days here to encourage ourselves and the rest of you to take the time to celebrate LIFE with those who are undergoing radical life changes.

In an effort to "rejoice with those who are rejoicing" (Romans 12:15) this season, we welcome you to journey with us this week and share your own thoughts as we move along.

The more that join in the celebration of life, the merrier. Hopefully, too, you'll find special ways to let the women in your life who are undergoing change feel your support and presence during this time. No more excuses.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Valentine's Ideas to Share?

We enjoyed sharing some of our ideas for things you could make and do to celebrate Valentine's Day with those you love.

I've seen so many V-Day posts pop-up around online, I thought it would be fun to share what you did with us! Did you write up a post talking about what you did to celebrate Valentine's Day? Tell us about it! Leave a link below and hop around and glean some more ideas from others. (Don't forget to leave comments letting the others know what ideas they had that you've been inspired by!)

Happy Valentine's Day...once again! ;)

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Entertaining Angels: Stories and Ideas for Opening Up Your Heart and Home

from Crystal

As I mentioned in a previous post, after writing up my challenge of showing hospitality to strangers I came across the book Entertaining Angels: Stories and Ideas for Opening Your Heart and Home by Annie Chapman and her daughter Heidi Chapman Beall and knew I had to get it.

I figured it would be all about how to show hospitality to those you don't know, but I was totally wrong. It's that and so much more! Some of the areas it covers are being joyful (but wise) givers, being prepared for spur-of-the-moment hospitality, caring for people in good times and bad, planning for "the Mount Everest" of all parties (a wedding), what to avoid (as the guest or hostess) and much more. The book is full of scriptural references, recipes and practical application to help us all grow in showing the love of Christ through service to others. On one hand it is very light hearted and fun to read, but it also hits some hard topics that are beneficial to think upon and be prepared for.

Throughout the book Annie references a survey she conducted and includes some the responses. These responses were some of the highlights of the book for me, because you are getting more than one point of view on the particular subject. The survey questions ranged from topics like "What would your response be if you were asked to give a baby shower for a girl who is pregnant and not married?" to "Do you reach out to your neighbors during the holidays?". The two authors leave no hospitality "stone" unturned and we all can greatly benefit from reading what God has put on their hearts to share.

My favorite parts of this book were her examples of how they showed hospitality to people they didn't know very well or at all. After struggling with whether or not to let our unknown guest stay at our home, it was really great (and scary) to read her accounts of how that worked out for her and people she knows. Annie has had to leave early from a night out with friends to play hostess to a Christian Singing group whose tour bus broke down in their town, hosted a Thanksgiving meal in her home for homeless men and knew of a college teacher who loved to have students over to her home. Everyone was blessed in the instance of the Christian singing group, but the other two encounters were just too sad/scary and definitely has me heading her advice "...we made the decision to be more careful after that, especially when we had children at home. I urge you to do the same."

Entertaining Angels was a quick and easy book to read, that I finished in three weeks. I hope you can find a copy and enjoy it too!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Love Box: A Valentine's Day Idea

from Crystal

Here is a fun project I've been putting together just in time for Valentines Day. I am calling them "Love Boxes". It's just a fun, easy, customizable project for anyone to do. You could even do a similar box in any theme you can think of for other holidays and celebrations.

First find a box to use. I really wanted to have a heart box, since mine is for Valentines and this turned out to be really tricky! I checked all the stores I regularly shop at and couldn't find a single one. Finally I found mine for 99 cents at Goodwill!

Next think of what yummy treats and goodies you can fill your box with.
Mine is filled with a baggy full of conversation hearts, homemade pretzel wands, a foam heart garland, pencils, this old fashioned garland, a free printable card, and the awesome heart shaped pot holders (available here) that I sewed.

Lastly, to make this more of an inspirational gift rather than just a box of stuff, I attached little verses and hymns typed out in pretty fonts (not pictured) that are about God's love for us. Also, inside the card I wrote in Phil 1:3; I thank God every time I remember you and a little note for the recipient.

I used the following verses/hymns with these items:

  • Attached to pencils: "To write the love of God above, would drain the ocean dry" Love of God Hymn
  • Attached to potholders: "Love the Lord your God, with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength" Duet. 6:5
  • Attached to foam heart garland: "God demonstrates His own love for us, that while we were still sinners Christ died for us" Rom 5:8
  • Attached to old fashioned garland: "that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love" Eph 3:17
  • Attached to pretzels: Grace be with all those who love our Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity. Amen. Eph. 6:24

I hope this quick overview is inspirational to you!

Monday, February 7, 2011

A Family Valentine's Day!

guest post by Amy H.

Valentine's Day is an opportunity to show hospitality to your family as well as others! Here are a few ideas to make February a memorable month! The best part? You probably already have everything, or at least almost everything you need! Happy planning!

*Prepare Hearts. Choose either a verse or passage from the Bible about love and memorize it together. Display the verse or passage so it is always before you: on an index card, hung on the fridge, or even framed as a decoration. As you memorize, meditate and apply the verses together. Taking time to prepare your heart is the most important part of making Valentine's a special blessing for your family and for others.

*Decorate your home. Think through your Christmas and 4th of July decorations for red, think about what you already have that you can use! The candle decoration is new for us this year, and I already had everything! Ribbon, scrap book paper, construction paper hearts, candles, and festive candy are all items that you can add to decorations you have and will make your home special for Valentine's Day! I take pictures of my seasonal decorations once we've decorated, print them, and keep them in my bin of decorations. The next year the kids and I decorate together. The kids use the pictures to help them know where to put the decorations. They have definite ownership and the decorating goes very quickly!

*Think of others. Each year our family sits down together and creates Valentine cards. We put out supplies: cards, stamps with ink, crayons, markers, construction or scrap book paper, scissors, glue and have at it! Everyone works together to make one-of-a-kind Valentine cards. As we make them we talk about who we will send them to. Of course, we quickly come up with family and friends, but then we think a little harder. Who do we know that could use a little extra encouragement? Valentine's Day can be a difficult day for singles. Do you know anyone who has lost their spouse? Anyone who might struggle with loneliness during this season of "love"? We take time to pray specifically and send them a Valentine! Other times we make special treats like Valentine candy, cookies, or breakfast bread and take them personally to others. Valentine's Day is a wonderful opportunity to invite others over for a play date, dessert, or a meal. Lavish others with love, as a family!

*Make meals special. Valentine's breakfast could be pink pancakes (a few drops of red food coloring in the batter) or pancakes with strawberries and whipped cream. How about strawberry milk with a Twizzler for a straw? For lunch, use a heart cookie cutter on sandwiches, or make heart shaped grilled cheese with tomato soup. Hot chocolate with a scoop of strawberry ice cream, whipped cream and a drizzle of strawberry syrup and Valentine sprinkles, or even heart marshmallows makes for a special afternoon treat! Or how about strawberry banana smoothies? Even Valentine dinner is a family affair at our house. Sometimes we have a nice meal, other times we have heart shaped pizzas! Dessert makes the evening special, too. We've had fondue, red velvet cake, and even ice cream sandwiches rolled in Valentine sprinkles. My goal is to take favorite meals of my family and add a little Valentine touch, even if it's a small touch it is special! With all our meals we enjoy Valentine napkins, candles, and music in the background. The conversation around your table will make the meal memorable! Talk about what you love about each other, qualities you admire in each other, and even brainstorm ways you can tangibly demonstrate your love within your family and to others.

*Show your family love. Children seem to love balloons and they're inexpensive! Buy a pack, blow one up--without tying it off--and use a Sharpie to write a short message to your child. Then deflate the balloon and put it by their plate at a meal. They'll love blowing it up, reading your "love note", and then playing with the balloon! If you don't mind the craziness, go all out and write notes on the whole pack! Have lots of extra crayons around? Use a valentine cookie pan and melt them into Valentine shapes! Print some coloring pages and color together, or invite friends over and send them home with their own set. Plan ahead and request some Valentine books from the library or a Valentine's movie for free. Spend time together, they'll know they're loved!

*Shop and prepare for next year! I often stock up on decorations, paper goods and fun activities for my children at sales after the holiday. I have founds straws, pads of paper, sunglasses, erasers, play-dough, paper goods, etc. all on great sales! Then I save them and I'm ready when Valentine's Day comes around the next year! I love having extras--so when we enjoy play dates or company I am prepared. After Christmas sales are a great time to think about Valentine's Day, too! This year I found boxes of chocolate on a great deal after Christmas, so these will be little gifts to share with guests (great table favors), teachers, and of course, my family! By preparing now, you'll be ready to bless your family and others next year!

How do you make Valentine's Day special with your family?

Friday, February 4, 2011

Solitary Hospitality Challenge :: Conclusion

from Stephanie

I did it. I set aside January 8th for a morning of solitary hospitality or a spiritual retreat. With my husband's blessing, I drove to my local library and sequestered myself in one of their quiet rooms. Sequestered might be too strong of a word for a room with glass walls that are connected on 3 sides to other glass encased rooms.

So, there I sat in the little glass room with my Bible, scripture memory note cards, journal and a couple of other books. I always write my prayers out in my journal (it keeps my mind focused) so I poured out the thoughts and emotions to God in the journal. The time was well spent and good.

But... strange.

The silence of the glass room was deafening. The urge to people watch was a huge temptation. And the chairs were incredibly uncomfortable.

What did I learn from the experience?

I learned that I am too accustomed to noise and chaos! Sitting still in a silent room, knowing that no one would disturb me was uncomfortable. I think this type of retreat requires discipline and is a learned practice.

Did the experience meet my expectations?

I'm not sure. I don't really know what I expected. Certainly not an audible voice but some kind of direction or vision for the year. That didn't really happen. Which is OK but not really what I hoped would happen.

Will I do it again?

Maybe, but probably NOT at the library.

Many of you commented on the challenge post that a solitary retreat was something you need to do. Were you able to make the time for solitary hospitality in January? Were you able to use any of *carrie*'s solitary retreat tips? If so, please share your experience in the comments or blog about it and leave us the link to your post.