Category Archives: Notes About Holidays

How to Pack a Shoe Box: Tips from a 4-Hour Volunteer

This afternoon I had the great privilege of volunteering at the local Operation Christmas Child processing center. (side note: If you are not familiar with the ministry of Operation Christmas child, I encourage you to learn about it — it’s pretty amazing. Each Christmas, OCC oversees the shipment and distribution of thousands upon thousands of shoe boxes to needy children around the world — shoe boxes assembled by everyday folks like you and me and filled with hygiene items, school supplies, toys, and other goodies. You can check out their website here).

I happen to live just a couple of miles away from the local OCC processing center warehouse (where all the shoe boxes are dropped off, inspected, packaged and shipped from), but for whatever reason had never volunteered there until this afternoon — and I have to say, it was a lot of fun!

My job today was to inspect the shoe boxes. For obvious reasons, each shoebox that is sent to OCC needs to be inspected before it is sent off. My job today was to look for and remove banned items such as liquids, war-related items, food, etc. (removed items were then placed in an “inappropriate items” bucket to be distributed to other local ministries, if they could use them) and also to add “filler” items to any boxes  that were a little sparse (my counter was stocked with baskets full of extra toys, supplies, t-shirts, etc. to add to the boxes as needed).

I found it to not only be a fun experience, but an educational one. I saw a lot of boxes during my little shift, I got some ideas and learned a few things about what works/doesn’t work, and I think I picked up a few do’s and dont’s for packing shoe boxes. So, for whatever it’s worth, I thought I’d share them here for your own use (or at least for my own reference next year! :)):

  • DON’T send any non-candy food items — this even includes things you probably wouldn’t consider “perishable” — like fruit snacks, goldfish crackers, granola bars, beef jerky, etc. Also, no cough drops or supplements (There will be a lot of ministries in the Twin Cities receiving bags of Ricola after my shift today…I’m just sayin’). 🙂
  • DO send candy of many varieties — For whatever reason I’ve always only send hard candy, like Lifesavers. Meltable chocolate (such as M&Ms) are still out of the question, but things like Skittles, gummies, gum, Tootsie Rolls, etc. are acceptable.
  • DON’T send liquids of any kind — this includes the obvious things like mouthwash, shampoos and lotions — but also some not-as-obvious things like certain roll-on deodorants and even those bouncy balls with water & glitter inside them. (By the way, toothpaste is OK :)).
  • DON’T send used items of any sort — even if you are just wanting to share that which you no longer need, this isn’t the place to do it. Used items just go straight in the bucket.
  • DON’T send anything porcelain. ‘Nuff said. And, why yes, I did have to remove a mini porcelain tea set from a box today. 😦
  • DO add variety to your box— add a good balance of toys, hygiene items and school supplies…try not to go too heavy on any one of those 3 categories (try not to pack a box of ALL toys, for example).
  • DON’T send war-related items — the definition of this is anything with a gun or weapon on it. It’s not a “politically correct” thing; it’s a “many-of-these-kids-live-in-war-torn-countries-and-weapons-don’t-exactly-say-“merrychristmas”-to-them” kind of thing). Even things that you may not think of as “weapons” — for example, today I had to remove a plastic gun that “launched” (shot out) little airplanes. It was cool, but it was a gun, so…had to go. 😦
  • DO be creative with what you put in the box. I got so many neat ideas today! Everything from play doh and little games to hand-knit items (great idea!) to a deflated soccer ball & pump. One person was even able to fit a fleece blanket in their box by putting it in a “space bag” (one of those bags you vaccuum seal shut). It was so fun to see the different things people chose to give!
  • DON’T let your 3 year old pack a box…alone. Otherwise you might end up with a box containing approximately 12 used McDonald’s toys and a pencil. Not that I saw a box like this today, or anything. Ahem.
  • DO remember the older kids, especially the boys. The most boxes we seemed to get during my shift were aimed at 5-9 year old girls. The fewest boxes we got were, by far, for 10-14 year old boys. Something to consider as you are selecting an age category/gender to pack your box for.
  • DO include a “cuddly toy” — just because every kid needs a toy or doll to cuddle with. Just my opinion. 🙂
  • DON’T include an Austin Powers DVD in your box (OK, so this didn’t actually happen THIS year, but it did happen to one of my siblings when they were inspecting boxes a few years ago. And…seriously. It’s just wrong on so many levels.)
  • DO follow your heart as you select items for your box — Today I found some toddler sized clothes included inside of a box labeled for a 5-9 year old girl. I approached the supervisor and asked her if I should re-label the box to be for a toddler, and she said “No…we really want to honor the intent of the giver as much as we can. Let’s just pray that this box goes to a girl with a little sister who needs those clothes.” Another neat story I heard today was about 2 twin girls in a village. Due to an oversight, not enough boxes were sent to this village, and the girls were asked to share a box. Much to their surprise, when they opened it, they found 2 of every item — even 2 dolls. ~Chills~. So..if you feel like maybe you are supposed to put an extra toothbrush or a certain toy in the box, just do it. You never know who it might bless. 🙂
  • And, most importantly, DO PACK A BOX — and PRAY FOR IT, TOO! It’s amazing to hear the stories of little lives that were changed through this simple yet tangible way of helping others and sharing Jesus’ love. There are still a couple days left to drop them off this year, if you live near a processing center…or you can even “assemble” a box onlinehere.

OK, so that’s my list. I hope it’s somewhat helpful! And if you have any other suggestions (or corrections!), please share them in the comments!


A Major Award!

In the words of the dad from A Christmas Story, I have just won a major award!

2, actually!

No worries, though, honey –no leg lamps will be gracing our bay window this holiday season. Instead, I — or the children, rather — will be the proud owners of this bear from Stuffington Bear company:


and a this Tutu from Lil Diva Designs:


You see, a few days ago I entered a photo caption contest on MCK Mama‘s blog. I’ve never entered one of her contests before, but I couldn’t resist the prizes.I mean, an adorable bear for our little boy, and a tutu for our upcoming little girl…hard to beat. Here was the photo that needed captioning:


My caption:
Cindy Loo Who is back. And she’s ticked.

Somehow, I won…and just got emails from both companies that my prizes are on the way. Woot-woot!

Pardon my gloating. It’s just that I won a major award!

I wonder if the boxes will be marked “Fragile”…

(never seen “A Christmas Story”? Then nevermind…and do yourself a favor and go watch it right now. Go. :))

A Christmas Survey For You

OK, my friend Aimee recently emailed me this little holiday survey.

I love surveys.

I’m weird.

Anyway, I thought it would be fun to put on my blog — and, on the off chance that you’re just as weird as me (or bored; either one works…) I invite anyone reading this to take it yourself and post it on yours! If you choose to participate, be sure to leave a comment so we can all check it out. Enjoy!


1. Wrapping paper or gift bags? for Christmas, paper all the way. Any other time of the year — bags, bags & more bags. 🙂
2. Real tree or Artificial? I SO prefer the real tree — but this year, for many reasons, we stuck with our trusty artificial. Sigh. It’s still lovely, in my opinion. 🙂
3. When do you put up the tree? soon after Thanksgiving
4. When do you take the tree down? First week or 2 of January
5. Do you like eggnog? Does it have sugar in it? Then YES! (name that movie)
6. Favorite gift received as a child? Lots of favorite gifts…my dollhouse, the Santa Bear my grandparents hid in the closet…
7. Hardest person to buy for? My grandma
8. Easiest person to buy for? My 14 year old sister. She always supplies a very handy list. 🙂
9. Do you have a nativity scene? Yes, I am the proud owner of a WillowTree nativity set. It used to grace our bay window in the living room. Now that we have a 1 year old, it’s gracing the very top of a cabinet. 🙂 It’s OK, I still love it.
10. Mail or email Christmas cards? Mail! This year we are opting to send out our “family letter” with our birth announcements when the baby comes in April, though…so if we do send out a Christmas card it will be by email.
11. Worst Christmas gift you ever received? The stomach flu, Christmas Eve 2005 (our first married Christmas). Awwww. ‘Twas a lovely night before Christmas. I think I caught almost ALL of the Christmas Story marathon on TBS that year…
12. Favorite Christmas Movie? It’s a Wonderful Life, Charlie Brown Christmas Special, A Christmas Story, Elf, Home Alone…so many!
13 When do you start shopping for Christmas? Right around Black Friday
14. Have you ever recycled a Christmas present? Nope. 
15. Favorite thing to eat at Christmas? Rice pudding at my grandma’s.
16. Lights on the tree? yes!
17. Favorite Christmas song? O Holy Night
18. Travel at Christmas or stay home? Stay home, though since I’ve been married the tradition of traveling to Iowa sometime around Christmas has been fun.
19. Can you name all of Santa’s reindeer? Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen,
Comet, Cupid, Donner & Blitzen and of course Rudolph
20. Angel on the tree top or a star? Star
21. Open the presents Christmas Eve or morning? Family on Christmas Eve; Santa on Christmas morn.
22. Most annoying thing about this time of the year? Overcrowded stores and grumpy shoppers. And those beautiful European people at the mall kiosks who thrust lotion samples at you and tell you “they have a question for you”.
23. Favorite ornament theme or color? hmmm…don’t really have one.
24. Favorite for Christmas dinner? Again, rice pudding. Gotta have the rice pudding.
25. What do you want for Christmas this year? a fun holiday for my boy!

Happy Halloween!

We had a great day today. We started the day off with a Caribou date with my mom and sister (and technically my other sister, too, since she works there :)). I had my first pumpkin pie latte (decaf, of course), which I thoroughly enjoyed, while the little man did some damage to his blueberry muffin. We then went home and both enjoyed a lovely naptime. Well, technically I laid on the couch like a slug and watched the end of “Pride & Prejudice” (the Keira Knightley version) which I’d been working on while folding laundry for the past few days (this is my new trick for actually getting that horrid household task done — do it while watching a beloved movie). Today I didn’t fold any laundry because I wasn’t feeling very well at the time, and nothing can really cure what ails me like some Jane Austen. Hence the reason I laid there like a slug.


…after we were well-rested and well-fed, I transformed the boy into a very cute, blonde little Superman and we headed up to my grandma and aunt’s house to show off his costume and enjoy some good company, oatmeal raisin/chocolate chip cookies and juice. It was a lovely time! We completed our mini Halloween tour by stopping by the hubby’s classroom, where a Halloween party was in full swing. It was a bit of a chaotic scene, but fun nonetheless. M’s students sure love doting on our little guy! Very sweet.

We then came home (after a quick stop at my parents to borrow their camera — there’s nothing like missing your camera charger on Halloween!) and as soon as 6:00 hit, I proudly created and donned a tin-foil hat and earrings. Each Halloween, our local Chipotle (only a few blocks away!) gives away free burritos to any customers wearing any type of tin-foil attire. Upon learning of this deal, I quickly decided that this would be dinner tonight (a low-cost, prep-free dinner that the husband would LOVE? Um, OKAY!!!).  I took upon myself the task of heading to Chipotle to get the food — a free burrito for me and chicken tacos for the hubby (he’s not a burrito guy). Here is a picture of me all dressed up & ready to get my free mexican food:

Sadly, however, my tin-foil accessorizing was in vain. As soon as I pulled into the parking lot of the Chipotle, I noticed that the line extended well past the doors of the restaurant and down the sidewalk in front of the strip mall. So, knowing how hungry my husband was, and not wanting to spend my Halloween waiting in line for a burrito, I sadly threw in the towel and drove to the grocery story across the street where I picked up a delicious rotisserie chicken. And some skim milk, too, since we were out. Exciting, no?

After dinner, father and son went trick-or-treating. This was not an original part of the plan, but I’m so glad they went! I’m told that little boy really got into it (as expressed by letting out a delighted “growl” whenever anyone came to the door). They then returned home and we spent the next 20 minutes or so watching him run around our driveway excitedly — picking up leaves, waving “hi” to the jack-o-lantern, playing with the bags of candy in his pumpkin bucket — while we laughed and M caught some of the best video footage to date. I’ve never seen my son so hyper…so full of laughter. I found it difficult to believe that he had NOT consumed any sugar this evening!!!

After a quick and fun visit by Grandpa & Grandma D, we then went back into the house and put our little Superman to bed — he fell right to sleep. The flow of trick-or-treaters at our door slowly eased up, and after a group of 16 year old boys came to the door, and instead of “trick or treat” (or even “hi”) greeted me with “Can I have a Reese Stick?”, I decided it was time to blow out the jack-o-lantern, turn off the lights and call it a night (but don’t worry —  I did make him say “trick or treat” before he got his Reese Stick. It is my favorite candy, after all, and I wasn’t going to give my last one away to anyone unworthy!).

All in all, a fun and memorable day — hope yours was, too! Here is a slideshow that captured our evening. 

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