Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Christmas Books

One of my very most favorite parts of the Christmas season is reading out loud to my kids from our (ever growing) stash of Christmas stories.  We try to read by the light of the Christmas tree, as if the words and messages of the stories weren’t magical enough. 

My kids love this tradition too.  It makes mom stop all the craziness and sit down and connect – and cry.  They love to see me cry.  Not sure why, but I’ve noticed this season that Hazel and Charlie watch my face more than they look at the pictures.  I’ve read the same books to them year after year, and they know exactly when it’s coming….my voice chokes up and wavers on the exact same passages every time. (I inherited this trait from my dad).   I kind of love it that they know I’m tender, that they remember there’s another side to their crazy, nagging, haggard mom.

My cousin (who has the greatest blog here all about children’s literature) told me she thinks a good children’s book is one that compels the reader to feel empathy.  I agree.  I think the parts of these books that make me choke up are the ones that tug at my empathy strings.  That help me remember and feel connected with something real amidst all this crazy Christmas frenzy.

Here is a list of our very favorites.

The Life and Adventures of Santa Clause by Amelia C. Houghton

My mom sent this to me years ago, it is a fantastic read aloud chapter book that talks about how Santa became Santa.  You won’t want to put it down.  It’s full of old school charm.  The writing is simple enough for Peter to enjoy it, but deep enough for Hazel and Charlie to feel something deeper than what's going on around them.  The ending is just as real and magical as Santa (it doesn’t give anything away). 

Christmas Day in the Morning – by Pearl Buck

Pearl Buck is one of my very favorite authors.  I try to read this one early in the season to get the kids thinking of the real true gifts of Christmas. 

A Small Miracle

If you haven’t discovered this beauty you’re missing out.  There are no words, just a simple easy to follow story about real sorrow and real giving.  It wasn’t my favorite the first time I ‘read’ through it, but every time I tell my kids the story I see more detail, feel more depth. 

This is the Stable

My mother in law sent me this one a few years ago.  It’s simple and short and has such lovely pictures coupled with such a pleasant rhythmic telling of the greatest story ever. 

The Last Straw

Ok, this one is a little hokey, but still it makes me cry.  Probably because it reminds me that Christ can lift my heavy burden (and because lots of times I feel like that camel as I stumble through the Christmas season)

First 2 Chapters of Little Women

I LOVE the first two chapters of this book (Hazel is loving the rest of it right now).  I kind of skip some of the play acting part since my little ones find it a little tedious, but their Christmas morning is full of the magic of giving and thinking of others.  And I love those little women. Every one of them. 

Take Joy – Tasha Tudor

This is a compilation of stories and poems and carols and recipes that we had growing up in our Christmas book basket.  I found it at a library sale last year and snatched it up for a buck.  I’m just reading through it this year and it’s full of beautiful Tudor illustrations and some magical, old school stuff.  My favorite story so far is this one (you can read it online by clicking this link).  It’s called The Holy Night by Selma Lagerlof

Why Christmas Trees aren’t Perfect

This is Hazel’s favorite.  Gives us a good reason to buy the scraggliest  Christmas tree (and cheapest:))

The Polar Express

No explanation here.  Just a good classic.  And, oh, how I love those illustrations.

A Christmas Story by Jay Frankston

This one is a great read for an older child who understands the deeper magic of Santa and Christmas.  (not for little believers).

And, one for me:

Nedra just sent this in the mail.  It’s filled with great 1-3 page essays that are totally helping me navigate Christmas this season.  A compilation of writings from some of my very favorite writers (and friends).

I’m realizing this year that I have a lot of picture books, but would love suggestions anyone has for chapter books, books for my older kids that have great writing, and good, empathy drawing, tear jerking stories.  

Happy reading.



Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Notes from Christmas 2013

IMG_4667Last night I was looking up our Christmas budget from last year to try to make a plan for gifts before I went crazy with Christmas frenzy.  And I discovered that I (smarty pants me) had written myself a little list of reminders to help me remember what went right last year and what I hoped to change for this year.  Here’s some of what I told myself:

Christmas 2013 was awesome, mostly because Hazel helped us all focus on giving more. It was a Christmas miracle. I love that girl. (I really need to write about this Christmas miracle…I didn’t blog enough last Christmas)

Here are a few things that made it great:

- I tried to see myself and our life from the outside in. As if looking through the window into a magical Christmas scene where you don’t hear loud annoying noises, or feel frustration and exhaustion that’s built up inside the characters. I tried to drown out the craziness, the chaos and realize the beauty of the life I was living. Tried to live more in anticipation of the beautiful memories we were making. And it worked. It made me really a happier person during the holidays.

- On Christmas morning when the kids woke up too early (5am...which was better than 3 am like last year) instead of trying to control things to make them work out the way I had envisioned, I just let go. I laid in bed and listened to their conversations (trying to record them on my phone since they were so adorable). I remembered all the early Christmas mornings I spent with my siblings and how they bonded us together and I let it be. And it was good. We were tired, but adrenaline takes you through the day....they never crashed, really. well, maybe the next day. But at least I didn't crash it all on Christmas morning by getting mad and trying to take control.

- We stuck to our present limit: Jeff and I each bought just one present (thoughtful) for each kid. They got one big thing from Santa and a book and a few little things plus some stocking stuffers. It still felt like a LOT because of all the gifts from Grandparents, etc.

- Next year it would be so great if I could get the stocking stuff and other little stuff taken care of before thanksgiving. It's just so wild out there at Christmas time. But it wasn't too bad. I should make a checklist early and track everything in there to simplify it. I resisted the urge to go out and buy a ton of more stuff last minute. And we didn't end up with tons of stocking stuffers that didn't fit like we have in the past. A few weeks before Christmas I put stocking stuffers in a Ziploc for each kid so I could see how much I had and what I still needed.

- Our Nazareth supper (click here for more info on what this is) was silly at times, but also very spirit filled and wonderful (Jeff doesn't like this tradition too much) but I think everyone else (but Ezra) does. We sang oh come oh come Emmanuel before we got started and that really brought in the spirit. Heidi gave a really nice spiritual thought too. Chris made funny jokes as usual and between that and Peter's loud toot it was hard to stay serious, but the spirit was there none the less and I think our kids get something meaningful out of it. Caroling afterwards is a must. It makes everyone feel so happy to sing together. It helps if the dinner is totally ready before people arrive. It might also help to assign people parts, send them a reading list, help them to prepare for their part. This would be a good spiritual activity to do during December. I hope I'll make time for it.

- We did a lot of stuff. Jeff thinks it was too much. Too many people over. It was hard work, and a lot of stress, but I found myself more able to really enjoy it than I have in the past. I tried to remind myself over and over again about why I was doing what I was doing. What I was doing it all for. That helped propel my actions with love rather than duty. And love makes everything better.

I’m hoping this Christmas I can practice seeing my life from the outside in.  And that my actions can be propelled by love.  I think focusing on these two things can drive away the frenzy and distractions and free me up to enjoy the moment.  (And I’m also hoping that I won’t beat myself up if I'm not enjoying the moment all the time, because that’s impossible).  


Tuesday, December 02, 2014

the gift

I’ve been thinking really hard over the past few days about how to craft our Christmas season.  How can we focus on Him more?  How can we experience the true magic of Christmas? 

We’re going to limit our consumption.  Read scriptures each day exploring different parts of the big picture of Jesus Christ, the whole arch of his mission.  We’re going to try to read a meaningful Christmassy story each night (hopefully I’ll post some of my favorites) around the tree (this is one of my favorite traditions).  We’re going to try to help the kids focus on giving rather than getting.  And we’re going to do our own simplified version of the 24daysofgiving challenge. 

But what else?  How can I turn the tone around here away from the jealousy, and fighting and unrest that has crept into our family life over the past few months.  How can we turn all of that more towards peace, to joy, to love.   Sometimes it seems impossible, like it would take a huge miracle.  But you know what?  Christmas is miraculous.  Jesus is magical.  If somehow we can focus more on Christ, on living like Him, learning of Him, I think that the miracle will happen.  Of course things aren’t going to perfect around here.  Life isn’t meant to be perfect, but I think an increased, deliberate turn towards the light of Christ will help us see beauty in all the imperfection.

Any ideas out there?   How can I do less, but do the right things?  I would love any suggestions on what you do to stay focused on the real magic at Christmas. 

Because the first gift didn't have a bow, it wasn't wrapped.  But it was miraculous.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving!


thanksgiving card 20142 

This year we are thankful for all of it.  The good, the bad, the happy, the sad.  Life is rich in all it’s craziness.  We’re just thankful this year for the ride.

Friday, November 21, 2014

enjoy it. because it’s happening.

IMG_2505I’m going to stop myself before I start waxing all philosophical about how great family life is because I feel like I’m a broken record.  Almost all photo shoots feel pretty chaotic as they’re happening.  Family life is chaotic as it’s happening.  That’s why I’m so thankful for for the chance to freeze it with my camera.  To stop motion and take a closer look.  There’s always lots of light and beauty and love in the chaos.  (shoot, there I went, waxing, I’m going to stop now).  Just do me a favor and look at how beautiful these moments are. Even the really real ones….especially the really real ones. IMG_2534 IMG_2553 IMG_2349 IMG_2488 IMG_2569 IMG_2586  IMG_2665 IMG_2711 IMG_2679 IMG_3014IMG_2852   IMG_2900 IMG_2952 IMG_2822IMG_3002   IMG_2847 IMG_2850 IMG_2911 IMG_2927  IMG_2959 IMG_3018IMG_2982 

Enjoy it.(Merely) Because it's happening (and that's all the reason enough)

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Thankful Heart coming your way (finally….sorry).

Thanks so much to everyone who entered this little giveaway!   I loved reading through all your comments.  Really, it’s worth going back and reading those comments.  So many great idea!  I was so inspired by so many of them and have tried to incorporate some into my thanksgiving season.  I really feel like my week has been so much happier.   Thankfulness and happiness are indeed inseparably connected. 

I’ve probably thought about what Angie said 50 times this week as I’ve tried to enjoy the rays of light I see and the loud (sometimes happy) sounds in my home:

This time of year, I always think of Helen Keller. She wondered "what would happen if a ray of a ray of light" came into her darkness, or a sound rang through her silence. "What would happen?" she thought many a time. "Would my heart stop beating for very excess of happiness?"  We seldom give pause to give thanks for everyday blessings. 
count your blessings.

I picked two winners at random.  Drum roll please………

Blogger taggteam said...
Life is crazy with kids, but I learned about gratitude from a companion on my mission. Her prayers were so beautiful and so full of gratitude about the simplest things that I would often take for granted. Now, at dinner we all share something that we are grateful for. At times, my kids have to really think about it until I mention about their bed, or our yard or our 3 bathrooms. (We just moved from a tiny apartment in NYC.) Also at night I will tell them why I am grateful for them. Granted, it's harder on some nights than others, but it changes my heart and brings me closer to them.
9:32 AM


Blogger Monica Geary said...
I am always saying quiet 'grateful prayers' when going about my busy day and try to keep a gratitude journal throughout the year. We also do a Thanksgiving tree as a family which has always been fun to look at the answers over the years.
4:20 PM
Please email me at saydriaatgmaildotcom with your address so I can get the books shipped out to you asap. 

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

peace like a river – sneak peek

IMG_1185I loved meeting and photographing this family.  These twins and their little sister were radiant.  Full of energy and light and goodness and love for each other.  And I am completely in love with their back yard.  The light, the colors, and, oh, there’s that river running through it.  Life just feels more peaceful in the presence of a river.

We had a great Halloween afternoon, playing to keep warm while I snapped away.  IMG_1193 IMG_1198 IMG_1239 IMG_1281 IMG_1294 IMG_1321  I’m trying not to comment too much on these photography posts….because I don’t even know these people.  But I really think you can tell a lot from a photograph, and I sense a pretty unique bond between these two twins.  Made me think of me and my little brother Jonah.  We always used to pretend we were twins.  IMG_1338 IMG_1341 IMG_1452 IMG_1578 IMG_1590  IMG_1637 IMG_2247IMG_1957  IMG_2070 IMG_2153

IMG_1637  IMG_2060   IMG_1919


Aren’t families beautiful?  I am in love with family life, especially through the lens of my camera.

I  really do love my job. 

(one of these days I’ll find the time to figure out how to easily post these to my photography website….)


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