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18 Ways Your Family Can Serve Others At Christmas

 

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I want my kids to understand that Christmas is about more than the gifts. At the same time, I want them to see the gift inside of them they can offer to others. We can practice generosity and service all year long, but Christmas provides a unique opportunity to model a giving heart.

The Christmas season seems to blow in like a blizzard and bury us with piles of to-do’s. The key for me is to plan ahead just a little. To determine before life gets too hectic what our family will do.

Serving can be so fun when done together as a family. It’s an easy way to create new traditions that bond your family while giving to those in need. Here is a list of ways your family can serve others at Christmas.

  1. Have a hot chocolate stand and donate the proceeds to your favorite charity. – My kids love having lemonade stands. In the summer, they will host a stand and donate to Blood Water Mission to provide clean water for Africans. I’m amazed at the generosity of the people who stop when they know they are giving to a good cause. People will pay $5 for a cup of lemonade. So how about hot chocolate at Christmas? The kids have fun making signs and setting up the stand. They work hard and keep none of the money but know their efforts have the potential to save lives.
  2. Pack shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child– This is one of our favorite traditions. Each of our boys likes to pack their own shoebox. Many Chick-fil-A locations even have a day to drop off boxes in exchange for a free sandwich coupon.
  3. Purchase a gift for Angel Tree Prison Fellowship -Many children have lost a parent to prison. This is a way to provide a gift to a child whose parent is unable to give them a gift.
  4. Visit a nursing home– One year we visited the nursing home and just walked around visiting the residents while they ate lunch. This was very uncomfortable for me but totally comfortable for my husband. He didn’t hesitate to hug people he didn’t know, and I couldn’t believe how open and receptive the residents were. They loved seeing our boys. Andrew was about 2 at the time, and he easily hugged the necks of strangers and they hugged him right back. Other times we have purchased small gifts such as slipper socks and warm hats to hand out to the residents.
  5. Adopt a family– Many local charities offer ways to adopt a family in poverty that cannot afford to provide gifts at Christmas. This is a wonderful way to lessen what you might spend on your own family and allocate to a family in need. Children can be very involved in this by selecting the gifts, making cards, and wrapping presents.
  6. Host an orphan, or donate to help other families host an orphan. 2 years ago we hosted an orphan at Christmas and explained to our children that rather than use our money to buy gifts, we were going to bring a child who has no parents into our home, love on him, and model to him what family looks like and show him the love of God. This experience changed our family forever. We have now hosted twice, and God has caused our hearts to desire to care for the fatherless in tangible ways.
  7. Pack military boxesBrave men and women serve our country so we can enjoy the freedoms and safety we enjoy. They sacrifice their lives for us. For many in the military, they will not be with family like we may be. Sending a little care package is a tiny way to say thank you for all they do for us.
  8. Blankets to homeless – Purchase blankets and visit an area of town where homeless men and women are likely to lay their heads at night in the cold. Pass out blankets. And pray over the blankets you will place in the hands of ones in need.
  9. Ornaments or craft projects to friends and neighbors – This isn’t a project of serving the needy, but is a way to continue to think of others over ourselves. It’s a fun way to love on the ones we love. The craft store has so many inexpensive projects that kids love doing. Pinterest not required! Just grab a few ornaments, paints, and stickers, and let the kids use their own creativity.
  10. Cookies and apple cider to homeless shelters – Take jugs of cider and plates of cookies to a homeless shelter and pass them out. It might be the brightest moment of someone’s week or season when you enter into their world even for just a moment to love on them.
  11. Provide a meal for a hospice patient – This has become a tradition for our family, which we started about 3 years ago. Contact your local hospice and ask if they have a volunteer list for donating a meal. Our hospice offers the option for Thanksgiving or Christmas and the option to provide a cooked or unprepared meal. In the past we have delivered a cooked meal on Christmas Day. Providing a meal is an obvious act of love and one that is so easy to get the kids involved in. It’s a way to remember that while some of us are in seasons of joy, others are in seasons of grief and pain. We can pray over the meal we prepare and pray for the mouths that receive it.
  12. Serve in a soup kitchen (most have age requirements, so this doesn’t work for young children). Our kids have not been old enough to do this yet, but I look forward to the day we can.
  13. Invite someone you don’t know over for dinner and practice hospitality. Is there a neighbor you don’t know very well? A widow nearby that could use the company? Don’t worry about how clean the house is, don’t worry about the decorations. Open the door wide, invite them in, and love on them through kind hospitality.
  14. Deliver treats to community service workers. Drop cookies at the fire stations, police station, teachers lounge, library help desk, garbage men. We are served all day long by many different people. Our kids need to be reminded how hard others work on their behalf. It’s a small thank you.
  15. Choose a gift from the Compassion or Samaritan’s Purse catalogue – The gifts from these catalogues are so inexpensive when you see the life-changing effects they have. Andrew selected a soccer ball as a gift item one year. Our boys take for granted they can go to a store whenever they want and buy a new ball. To realize some children don’t have a simple ball to play with was shocking to them. One of my boys chose the gift item that provides medicine. And one chose clean water.
  16. Random acts of kindness– everyone loves this, especially kids. It’s a fun way to be a secret santa. There are hundreds of random acts of kindness you can find online.
  17. Dedicate a day to the “little” ways that bless big – We often look for the obvious ways to serve, the soup kitchens, the shoebox packing, but we can’t overlook the little ways we can bless big. Make it a game of finding every chance to bless someone by serving them hope, love, peace, or joy. A child that normally fights back when offended by a brother chooses to disengage, he gave the gift of peace to the family. A child that saw an elderly in the produce aisle and offers to push her cart while she picks her produce, offers the gift of love. A child who sees a sad expression and tells a joke, or offers a giant smile, gives the gift of joy. We have the opportunity to serve constantly. While it is important to look for big ways to serve, it’s equally important to practice serving in the less obvious ways.
  18. Day of prayer– choose a day and a charity or need that God places on your heart and spend the day praying. Prayer changes situations more than anything we can ever do. It shouldn’t be overlooked. Prayer is the best act of service we can offer, and this is something we can model no matter the age of our children.

With all of these ideas (and the many I didn’t cover), we can’t forget to discuss with our kids why we are doing what we are doing. We aren’t trying to gain recognition. We aren’t trying to be super christian. We aren’t trying to gain favor. We are giving the gifts of Christmas. We are showing the love of Christ when we allow Him to use us to offer love, hope, peace, and joy to another.

Everything we do is an offering to Him. Every act of service is an act of worship.

One beautiful way to keep this visual in your home is to wrap up these “gifts” as gifts back to the Lord in honor of a season that is a celebration of His birth. This can be done by keeping a stocking for Jesus where you write notes on scraps of paper of all the gifts of Christmas you gave in His honor and fill His stocking. Or you can let the kids wrap up notes or packages addressed to Jesus that tell of the gift given for Him. Christmas morning unwrap these gifts to Jesus in celebration of His birth.

All in remembrance of the gift He gave for us. The gift of a son, born to die for our sins, so that we could have eternal life through Christ. The ultimate Christmas gift.

If you enjoyed today’s post, consider subscribing here to receive posts via email. You will receive a free Christmas ornament download that accompanies Seeking Christmas – Finding the True Meaning Through Family Traditions.

Memory Cards – A New Kind Of Fall Tradition

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[box] “As long as the memory of certain beloved friends lives in my heart, I shall say that life is good.” ~ Helen Keller (1880-1968), American author, Political Activist and Lecturer[/box]

With my head in my hands, I sat on the balcony sobbing.  Even the rhythmic sound of the crashing waves was powerless to bring soothing relief.

I tried to put voice to the tormenting feelings.  I knew it didn’t make sense.  I knew it was silly.

He patiently listened to my words, tangled by sobs.  Gently, he touched my hand, “Renee, they are having a great time.  Memories are being made.

In my mind the vacation was a disaster.  It was a first to this particular beach, which I wasn’t fond of.  There was too much traffic, too much noise, too many people, and too much rain.

I expected the trip to look a certain way.   And this didn’t come close to fitting my picture.

I had only my perspective.  What I needed was a perspective shift.  My husband knew that from the kids’ viewpoint, the trip was amazing.  They were coming with a completely different set of expectations.  To them it was perfect.

That trip was 4 years ago.  Today the boys tell us it was their favorite beach trip ever.  They have no idea how I cried on the balcony as they slept for fear we weren’t giving them the memories we wanted to give.  When they share their highlights, I’m amazed that those were the memories that got tucked into the corners and spaces of their hearts and minds.

I realized through that experience that I had spaces in my heart filled with guilt and regret over what wasn’t rather than what was. Not from that trip, but from life in general.

When my boys relayed memories to me from that beach trip, they freed me from my self-inflicted regret.  They simply shared their positive perspective, having no idea of the impact they had on allowing me to let go of my false negative emotions.

Our enemy would love for us to stay in bondage to negative emotions.  Our Redeemer offers abundant life.

Perception affects how a memory is stored in each of our hearts.  Through one simple act, we could potentially release someone from negative emotions that could be holding them down.

What if something as simple as sharing a sweet memory with someone could have the power to release the hurt hiding in their soul?

You see we have no idea how memories recorded in our own hearts are recorded in the hearts of someone else.  Maybe they focused on what wasn’t instead of what was and recorded something entirely different than we recorded.   Maybe it could offer an unspoken forgiveness they secretly desire.

As summer transcends to fall, a fresh start beckons us.  This season I want to start a new fall tradition.  One that can bring a smile to a withered heart.  One that can release guilt trapped in the dark crevices of the soul.  One that can bring a chuckle forth.  One that can lighten the heart, if only for that moment.

Would you join me?

Don’t think too long and hard or too deep and profound.  Simply write 3 memories.  Then write a note to 3 people who share that memory with you.

Some memory cards will bring freedom from pain.  Some memory cards will bring laughter to the light.  Some memory cards will simply remind someone they are loved and thought of in that moment.

Our perspective of a memory is powerful to the heart and soul of another.  Let’s share our joy.  Let’s share what was for us.  It could be just what they need to lose their focus on what wasn’t for them.

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[box] 1 Thessalonians 4:18 NIV “Therefore encourage one another with these words.”[/box]

 

How to Create Seeking Christmas Ornaments

My favorite element of Seeking Christmas is the ornament activity.  When you purchase Seeking Christmas, you will find instructions for using your ornaments each day as well as instructions for downloading here by signing up for email updates.

There are so many ways these ornaments can be created.  I can’t wait to see all the creations from this Christmas season.  Whether you are crafty or not, you will love creating these with your family.

When you sign up for email updates, you will receive your free download.  Ornaments can be created in sizes of 2 inch, 3 inch, or 3.5 inch.

In addition, check the Store page for all kinds of ornament info.

If you are not the crafting type, you may prefer to simply cut out the ornaments, glue the back and front sides together, tie a string and call it a day.  You can take it a step further by putting a slightly larger colored cardstock circle between the front and back pieces.  Or you can even laminate.  This is the simplest and fastest way to create these ornaments.

Some may choose to use photo insert ornaments to display the cutouts.  This involves almost no crafting.

But for the crafting lovers, we have lots of ways you can do this.  And since I’m not crafty, I am really excited for you to share with me your creations!  For now, I will share some of my materials and completed ornaments to spark some ideas for you.

Ornaments can be created with many types of materials.  Below you will see wooden circles, cork coasters, paper mache ornaments, and porcelain.  All of these items I purchased at Hobby Lobby.

For the wooden circles, just pick up a bag of eye screws (located right with the wooden circles at craft stores) and some ribbon or twine.

papermache

corkcoasters

 

woodencircles

 

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After selecting your ornament material, you will print your downloads.  I suggest uploading to a copy center such as Staples, Office Depot etc.  It’s 59 cents a copy.  To me it was easier.  I selected the paper weight (I suggest 110 weight white card stock), uploaded the file, and chose pickup location and time.  Print at home if that is easier for you!

Next, cut out your circles.  The super crafty people will have tools to cut perfect circles.  I used good old fashioned scissors and worked carefully.

Here are the cut outs

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I then spray painted my ornaments.  So fast.  I like short cuts.  Another option is acrylic.  Both work just as well.

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After paint dries completely, you will glue on the ornament cut-outs.  I use Mod Podge because I simply love it.  Just a good all in one glue and sealer.

Apply a coat of Mod Podge to each ornament and place the cut-out on the glue covered surface.

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Then you seal with a coat of Mod Podge.  Simply paint it on, trying to stay in the same direction.  Let dry about 20 minutes before doing the other side.

Finished products

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[box] If you enjoyed today’s post, consider subscribing here to receive posts via email. You will receive a free Christmas ornament download that accompanies Seeking Christmas – Finding the True Meaning Through Family Traditions.[/box]

Family Fun Fridays

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For many families the weekends are cherished times.  With intentional planning, it can be a time to slow down, reconnect, and protect your time together.  Since certain seasons will prove to be easier than others at having relaxing weekends, it’s important to be intentional when we can.

Sometimes simply naming something provides all the specialness you need.  Name it, add a little extra touch, and see how far it takes you.  Our children aren’t of driving age.  They are still young enough to be with us more than their friends.  But we still find that even at their young ages, we need to protect our time periodically and simply be.

Fridays at our house have been named “Family Fun Fridays”.  The week is over, activities are done for the most part, and everyone can slow down.  Now instead of Friday nights just existing and whatever happens happens, they are anticipated greatly.

2 components make up our Family Fun Friday: Activity and Food.

We made a master list of family fun friday activities.  Your family can come up with activities geared towards the ages and interests of your own children:

  1. Game night
  2. Wii night
  3. Pillow Fight
  4. Nerf Gun Fight
  5. Bingo Night (with prizes)
  6. Watch home movies
  7. Theme night
  8. Kapla Block building competition (or Legos)
  9. Hide and Seek
  10. Indoor campout (or backyard campout in the summer)
  11. Craft night
  12. Service night (do an outreach project together)

Keeping the meal simple allows you to enjoy the time together without the stress and hassle of preparing dinner and having a big mess to clean up.  Having an element of the evening that always stays the same provides that tradition building component where the children know what to expect and excitedly anticipate it.  Homemade pizza is a simple meal that can actually become part of the activity of the evening as well.  It can be as simple or as creative as you would like it to be.  The kids can take part and make their own, you can get a little gourmet, or you can keep it simple like we do!  Trader Joe’s pizza dough and sauce, some pepperoni and cheese is all our little guys want.

It’s less about what you do, and more about that you do.

Protect those Family Fun Fridays.  Try your best to say no to things that will interfere.  We’ve had to turn down outside invitations in order to keep this time special.  Our kids appreciated seeing that we valued our time with them above our other interests.

Set up a system for selecting the activity each week.  We put all ideas in a hat and take turns each week selecting from the hat.  This prevents every other Friday from being a Wii night!

Make sure that phones, ipads, computers, and all electronic devices do not receive an invite to the family fun night.  The distractions that come with them will prevent your family from connecting and truly living in the moment.  It’s ok if your Facebook friends don’t know what you are doing on Friday night (or whatever night your family chooses).

Above all else cherish every second of your family fun nights.  You will never have that exact night back again. Make a memory every chance you can!

Love You Forever

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Life is changing.  Quickly.  I always knew it would.

These boys.  They don’t stay little long.

Quiet bedtime routines are rare in a house of 3 boys.  Bedtime used to be such a sweet, soothing time.  It is no longer.  They are older, bigger, rougher.  But their hearts are still little, soft, and gentle.

I hear the loud footsteps before I see the boys.  Giggling, chasing each other down the hall, as they tug back and forth their towel.    Another sings and splashes loudly his favorite Christmas carol, with words he feels are a better fit.  The volume is loud.  Boys are loud.  Closing my eyes, I take a deep breath and thank God they are healthy enough to be this loud, that I even have them at all.

Retreating quietly down the steps, I leave them to their wild play.  I need to retreat from the chaos, steal a few minutes of peaceful calm so I can be gentle with them at their heart’s most tender time of the day.

I glance around the kitchen.  It’s a mess.  It’s ok.  Deep breath.  Banging, thumping, squeals echoing down the stairs.  It’s time to reign them back in.

Slowly walking up the steps, I can hear them.  “Here she comes, hurry.”  Whizzes of little boys throwing dirty clothes into the basket, running to brush teeth, and leaping into bed.  As I round the corner, my littlest has a beaming smile.  He’s 4 but thinks he’s 9.

“Here’s my story.”  He hands it to me.  My shoulders drop as I reach for this old familiar book.  This book that I received as a gift while pregnant with Jacob.  This book that had my husband in complete sobs the first time he read it to our child.

Love You Forever

“No, Mom, that book makes me cry.”  My eyes find his.  This boy who wants to grow up yet doesn’t.  This boy who still shares every tiny detail of his life with me.

“I know, it makes me cry too.”

Andrew is curled up in my lap like he does every night for his story.  Zachary is nestled close into my side.  And Jacob is across the room on his own bed with his own book in hand.

We read the account of this new baby and this mother who holds him and sings this song to him, “I’ll love you forever, I’ll like you for always, As long as I’m living my baby you’ll be.”  I use the same sing-song voice I’ve used every time I’ve ever read this book.  I swayed back and forth with Andrew in my lap like I’ve swayed my boys every time I’ve ever read this story.

We read the account of when the boy turned 2 and he drove his mama crazy.  The older ones laughed, “Just like Andrew!” And Jacob gently lays his book aside and makes his way gradually closer.

Then we read when the boy was nine and Jacob shouted, “Just like me!”  That mama rocked him back and forth, back and forth, back and forth.  And Jacob moved closer.  Now he is perched on the bunk bed ladder peering down at us reading beneath him.

Then he was a teenager.  Zachary chuckled at his strange friends and strange clothes.  They no longer could see themselves in the story.  But I could.  And that mama rocked him back and forth, back and forth, back and forth.  Just like she always did.

The room was very quiet now as all 3 boys listened closely.  They listened as the teenager grew into a man and moved away.  We read how she picked up that grown man and rocked him back and forth.  Andrew piped up, “Hey, he’s not a baby anymore.  He’s a big man!”

Jacob was quiet.  His face serious as he studied the picture of that mama, old and gray, rocking her great big boy.

Then she got sick and she needed her boy to take care of her.  And he did what she had always done for him.  He rocked her back and forth, back and forth, back and forth.

And he carried the tradition on with his new baby daughter.

Even the smallest of traditions make a lasting impression. That mama sang a simple song as she rocked her baby.  Yet it developed into so much more.

Traditions provide bonding opportunities.  In a world that is chaotic and distracted, family traditions provide stability, acceptance, belonging.  And love.

More than anything our little ones need to know they are loved.

And my 9-year-old boy, the one who is so much like I was as a child, this boy who in the last year has decided he doesn’t need to be read to, climbed into his bed and called out to me, “Hey mom, can you start reading to me every night again?  I mean, I still like just reading to myself, but can you start reading to me again?”

“Of course.  It’s always been my favorite thing to do with you.”

Traditions form a tight grip.

A Sweet Storytelling Tradition & Giveaway

(Photo courtesy of Rebecca Kryshtalowych)

One of my favorite times of the day is bedtime.  It is a sweet time of the day when the kids have quieted down, and their hearts are softened and eager to give and receive.  Sword fights have ceased, the little boy smell has been washed clean and replaced with a fresh scent, the brotherly bickering has ended, the heavy running feet have slowed to soft little tiptoes, and the loud demands have been replaced with softer tones sharing stories and asking questions.

One of my very dear friends, Rebecca, was over one day with her son James, who is great buddies with my youngest son, Andrew.  Rebecca was telling me about their bedtime routine and how James would tell stories and include Andrew in his story every night.  Rebecca and her husband Greg have a bedtime story tradition with James where they begin the story and let James create the rest of the story prompting and guiding him when needed.  What a sweet way to go to bed at night!

Here is what Rebecca shares with us about their family’s bedtime tradition:

“We always start the story…’once upon a time there was a small boy named…’ and then, James will say his own name. We continue to feed him “ideas” and he fills in the gaps with people, activities, places, etc. For example—

 Once upon a time there was a small boy named:  James

And another small boy named:  Andrew Robinson (he ALWAYS says this one next!)

And his other friend:  Mallory

 One day they decided to play: baseball with blue bats

they met at the: baseball field

 and so on and so on…James develops the story with a little guidance from us. It’s fun and different every day. And, James loves it! The reason Greg started to do this is because James wouldn’t let us sing him songs before bedtime. He didn’t like it….our tradition with Andrew was to sing songs to him after we read bedtime stories. So, we have a different tradition with each child”

For so many reasons, I just love this tradition.

  •  Creativity is ignited in the child.
  • The child has a say in what will take place.  His little voice is being heard in a positive light.
  • It’s the same but different every night.  Same setting, different story.
  • You have the opportunity to learn and understand your child better when you are hearing what is in their heart and mind
  • Could be a great tool for the child who isn’t as verbal or doesn’t express feelings well verbally

I’d love to hear some of your bedtime traditions.  Please feel free to comment to share your thoughts with us!  One lucky commenter will receive Rory’s Story Cubes.

Comments must be submitted by Sunday night at 11:59 pm.  Leaving a comment gives you one chance to win.  Leaving a comment with links to posts on twitter, Facebook, pinterest, or your blog referencing this post will give you two chances to win.  Winner will be drawn at random and announced Monday.

Would a $50 gift card kickstart summer for you?

As a grand opening of sorts for Barefoot Walks, I will be giving away a $50 American Express gift card to a lucky commenter.  Use it to bless someone in your life, use it for a family vacation or outing, use it however you desire.

What is Barefoot Walks you ask?  Step on over to the menu pages at the top of the page to read About Me, Why Barefoot Walks, and Traditions.

Barefoot Walks is all about the journey to create moments, memories, experiences, and traditions with your family.  It’s about recognizing the moments that are right before our eyes.  It’s reaching out and grabbing them before they slip away.  It is a journey, a walk, we can take together to inspire and encourage one another.  It’s a step at a time.

This walk is not just for those of us in the child rearing stage of life or just those of us with children.  Grandparents, aunts and uncles, empty nesters, we want you to take this walk with us.  This stroll is for anyone who desires to create moments, create memories, capture hearts, and invest in the lives of the ones they love.  When you invest this time, you are providing security, stability, acceptance, and strength to the individual, which they will carry on to their own families one day.

Barefoot Walks is an attempt to help you (and me) focus on the joy in the moments we are given.  Focusing on the simple things, the beautiful things this life has to offer.  Joy is all around us.  Joy is a choice.  Even when life looks messy, beauty is there, waiting to be discovered beneath the mess, dusted off, and beheld.  You will be my accountability partner.  I promise to be genuine, truthful, and authentic with you.  I can’t write from the heart if I’m not living it out.  I fail time after time.  I mess up constantly.  Thankfully, there is grace and mercy from our Heavenly Father.  And though I feel unworthy and ill-equipped to write or to inspire, the Lord has laid it on my heart.

Through Barefoot Walks I hope to encourage you in your quest to spend time with your loved ones.  Therefore, I vow not to post something that will take you 30 minutes to read.  I will not fill your inbox with more resources than you have time to muddle through.  I want you living, experiencing, creating, loving, and making the most of every single moment our Lord gives us.  I will try not to post more than twice a week, unless you beg for more of  course 🙂

My prayer is that my blog will not become a distraction to your moments.

So, let’s take a little barefoot walk together, shall we?  Each step along  our walk leaves a footprint.  Our footprints create a path to a legacy.  When we reach our destination, we can look back on the richness of the moments in our past with a sense of peace and satisfaction rather than regrets and sadness.

It’s never too late to start your barefoot walk.  Let me repeat:  It is never too late.  Even if you have adult children.  Even if you have grandkids.  It doesn’t matter.  We all have moments in our life to behold.  We all have people who love us and we love back.

Ok, so let’s kick it off.  Here is the nitty-gritty:

In order to qualify you must :  leave a comment AND include which of the following you participated in with link backs.  If you do all, you increase your chances!

  • Post on your Facebook page and become a friend
  • Tweet this and follow me on Twitter
  • Pin this on Pinterest
  • Subscribe to BW via email subscription
  • Post on your own blog with a link back to Barefoot Walks
  • Send an email to your friends sharing Barefoot Walks
  • Be the second to comment and you are entered for 2 chances (my comment doesn’t count 🙂
  • Be the last to comment and you are entered for 2 chances

You can leave your comment on any post I’ve posted or any page (About Me, Why, etc).  You can leave any comment you like or you can comment on your favorite summer memory or tradition to this post.  Don’t forget to include which of the above you participated in with the links.

How many chances in all could you potentially have? 8!!  Comments must be submitted by 11:59pm Thursday night.  Winner announced on Friday.