2018 Christmas Books

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Reading aloud is a big part of our family culture. Reading to my kids was important to me before my health failed me. After I got sick, it became an even more significant part of our family life. I read for at least an hour each day to the children. Often I read upwards of two to three hours throughout the day. Reading aloud is something I can do regardless of how I am feeling. It allows me to “travel” with my boys too far away places that I physically can’t go. It provides an escape from my medical issues. Even on days, when pain flares leave me stuck in bed, I can still read to my boys. We’ll curl up together with a book, and I’ll read.

One of my favorite parts of the holiday season is reading Christmas stories, so every year, we gift a new Christmas picture book to each boy. These are then added to our Christmas book basket. The books are given along with their stockings on Dec 6, which is St. Nicholas’ Feast Day. Picking out the books is one of my favorite things to do in the weeks leading up to St. Nicholas’ Feast day. This year I ordered all of the books from Thriftbooks, an online bookstore that specializes in used books.  Here are the picks I made this year.

Paul (10-years-old.): The Race of the Birkebeiners by Lise Lunge-Larsen9290f39f2d13937ca8146a3f2e536b9f2d3bd091
I was unfamiliar with this a book. However, as soon as I saw it, I knew it would be perfect for our oldest. Paul is currently very into all things medieval. So, I knew this was right up his alley. The Race of the Birkebeiners tells the true story of the fierce Birkebeiner warriors of Noway and their struggle to ski a baby prince to safety. They are racing against the elements of nature and human greed, in the hopes of saving the baby prince and bringing peace to Norway. The illustrator Mary Azarian’s provided beautiful woodcuttings that capture the spirit of the story. I am sure that this book will quickly become a favorite.

 

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Thomas (8-year-old): Shooting at the Stars: The Christmas Truce of 1914 by John Hendrix
Thomas is very interested in the tanks, airplanes, and other machines of war. He has been learning about the equipment they used during WWI and WWII. So, I knew that I wanted to get him a picture book that had to do with the Christmas Truce of WWI. There are several pictures books about the truce; I chose this one because I liked the illustrations and the hand-lettered text. This is another picture book which is based on an actual historical event. I can’t wait to share the story with Thomas.

51AEjRHugoL._SL300_Antonio (6-year-old): The Christmas Cobwebs by Odds Bodkins
This book tells the story of an immigrant family, who move from Germany to the United States. They bring with them a box of beautiful glass ornaments. However, a fire destroys their new home/business, and they have to move into an abandoned shack. The father is forced to sell the family’s ornaments leaving the family’s Christmas tree undecorated. However, all is not lost. The family wakes up Christmas morning to find a beautiful shimmering surprise decorating their tree. This is a sweet story with whimsical illustrations. I chose it because the pictures reminded me of Tomie dePaola’s work. He is Antonio’s favorite author.

 

William (4-year-old): The Little Drummer Mouse by Mercer Mayer9372a3861e67eae929069385ff569c16dbdb40d6
I have a Little Drummer Boy music box that is put out ever Christmas. It is one of William’s favorite decorations, which is why I picked this title for him. Mercer Mayer, the author of the Little Critter stories, retells the classic Christmas carol Little Drummer Boy in this endearing book. However, she twists it by having the drummer be a mouse instead of a boy.  The illustrations are bright, cozy and perfect for little ones. It is a great way to introduce little ones to the story of the Nativity in a way that is at their level.

61TBRbxasHL._SX376_BO1,204,203,200_Both Antonio and William are crazy about dinosaurs. Everything is dinosaur this and dinosaur that. With that in mind, I purchased a Christmas book to give them jointly. It is called The Dinosaurs’ Night Before Christmas by Anne Muecke, which is a fun take on the classic poem Twas the Night Before Christmas. As soon as I saw this, I knew I had to give it for my little boys. I can’t wait for them to find it on December 1st along with their chocolate advent calendars.

 

 

 

The last pi3be5e04ee31915dc4d249b767d222e43c7c3397dcture book The Beautiful Lady: Our Lady of Guadalupe by Pat Mora will be given to the boys on December 12, the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. This book is filled with gorgeous illustrations and invites you to learn the story of Our Lady and St. Juan Diego from Grandma Lupita.

 

 

 

 

For those who are interested here is a list of our other Christmas books. I will add links to Amazon for each book, but I am sure most of the titles can be found on Thriftbooks.

Joy to the World: A Collection of Christmas stories and songs by Tomie dePaola (includes The Night of Las Posadas, The Story of the Three Wise Kings, and the Legend of the Poinsettia)
Bambinellei Sunday: A Christmas Blessing by Amy Welborn
Jacob’s Gift by Max Lucado
How to Catch Santa by Jean Reagan
The Twelve Days of Christmas by Gennady Spirin
Saint Francis and the Nativity by Myrna Strasser
Pretzels by the Dozen by Angela Elwell Hunt
Christmas Around the World by Mary D. Lankford (One of my favorite Christmas books. This is my copy from my childhood. I met the author and she signed it.)
The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey by Susan Wojciechowski
Room fo a Little One: A Christmas Tale by Martin Waddell
The Donkey’s Christmas Song by Nancy Tafuri (one of my all-time favorite Christmas books. It’s a really simple story but so heart warming.)
Merry Christmas, Curious George by Margret and H.A. Rey’s
The Legend of Saint Nicholas by Demi
Santa’s Crash-Bang Christmas by Steven Kroll and illustrated by Tomie dePaola (this can be a tough book to find but so worth it!)
Joseph’s Story by Patricia A. Pingry
Talking Eagle and the Lady of the Roses by Amy Cordova (Another story about Our Lady of Guadalupe and St. Juan Diego)
The Visit of the Wise Men by Martha Jander
Little Star by Anthony DeStefano (This is a very unique take of the story of the Nativity and the meaning behind putting a star on your Christmas tree.)
Bethlehem by Fiona French. (We have the Revised Standard Version of the Holy Bible, Catholic Edition. There is also a King James version.)
The Miracle of Saint Nicholas by Gloria Whelan
The Winter Story of Brambly Hedge by Jill Barklem (We have a beautiful treasury of the Brambly Hedge stories.)
Country Angel Christmas by Tomie dePaola
The Crippled Lamb by Max Lucado
A Little House Christmas Treasure by Laura Ingalls Wilder
The Gingerbread Baby by Jan Brett (board book)
The Night Before Christmas by Clement C. Moore (Board book)
Clifford’s First Christmas by Norman Bridwell (Board book)
Dear Santa by Rod Campbell (Lift the Flap Board Book)
Little Blue Truck’s Christmas by Alice Schertle (Board Book)
Felicity’s Surprise by Valerie Tripps (American Girls)
Josefina’s Surprise by Valeria Tripps (American Girls)
Kirsten’s Surprise by Janet Shaw (American Girls)
Addy’s Surprise by Connie Porter (American Girls)
Kit’s Surprise by Valerie Tripps (American Girls)
Molly’s Surprise by Valerie Tripps (American Girls) *All the American Girl stories are audio books, purchased through Audible.
Jotham’s Journey: A Storybook for Advent by Arnold Ytreeide. *I am going to put a disclaimer that we haven’t actually read this yet. We were gifted it several years ago and the story was way to intense for my boys at the time. I think our oldest was 7 at the time. I am going to try and read it this year to just my older two boys (almost 9 and 10.) It is a great story but not appropriate for kids under 8.)


Reclaiming Joy

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Advent and Christmas are my favorite time of the year, or it used to be. Three years ago, my father died on December 6, the Feast of St. Nicholas. It was my favorite celebration in the season of Advent, marking the start of the Advent/Christmas season in my home. We always celebrated the feast day in style. St. Nicholas would come to visit the night of December 5th. He filled Christmas stockings for the children to find in the morning. Over the course of the day, we would read books about St. Nicholas, watch movies about him, talk about him, do activities, and spend time in prayer. In the evening, we would have company come over to share a meal with us. I would prepare a big feast with traditional Dutch foods such as Runderlappen. It was always a beautiful day.

That was until my father died. I received the call that he had passed in the wee hours on the morning of December 6, 2014. He was battling terminal lung cancer and had entered hospice care the previous day. However, I never imaged he would pass so quickly. We didn’t celebrate St. Nicholas’ Day that year. The boys received their stockings, only because they had already been laid out the night before. I spent the day laying in bed, alternating between crying and sleeping. Mark canceled dinner.

For the next two years, we didn’t celebrate the Feast of St. Nicholas beyond stockings. I just didn’t have it in me. 2016 was terrible, I had one of the worse chronic pain flares of my life, and ended up in the ER. After that, I mostly gave up celebrating. I was furious with my dad for having the audacity to die on one of my favorite saint’s feast day. (Which I know is unreasonable on my part.) I didn’t know how I would ever reclaim the joy of St. Nicholas Day.

This year my oldest two sons’ expressed that they missed our St. Nicholas celebrations. They wanted more than just stockings. I had no clue how I was going to pull off a happy day of fun. How do you reclaim joy from death? Losing my father devastated me, I had no clue how I was supposed to come back from that.

However, somehow I had to find a way. I turned to prayer. I spent the two weeks from Thanksgiving to December 6, praying. I prayed for joy. I prayed for the ability to live in the moment. As an insurance policy, I called some friends and invited them to dinner, knowing I would feel bad if I canceled. I may have also done a little retail therapy in preparation for the day. Stockings sort of overflowed this year.

stockingsHowever, I did manage to pull off our traditional St. Nicholas Day celebration, for the first time since my father died. We read several books about him, including a new one. We watched the CCC of America movie, Nicholas: The Boy Who Became Santa. (All their titles are amazing, and I highly recommend them.) We spent time in prayer and talking about everything we had to be grateful for. Lastly, I cooked a terrific meal of twice baked potatoes, Runderlappen, corn, salad, and rolls. Our friends brought Speculatius cookies. Everyone ate and laughed. The children played. The adults visited. At the end of the night, as I was tucking in my oldest son he told me, “Mommy, I am so glad we celebrated like we use too. Thank you for putting aside your sadness to be my mommy and make the celebration happen,” those words cemented the joy I worked so hard to reclaim. It will help ensure that I can find joy year after year on December 6th. I will always mourn my dad, but now I know I can miss him and still celebrate St. Nicholas Day with my family.

Here is a list of some of our very favorite books about St. Nicholas.

If you want to learn more about St. Nicholas and how to celebrate his feast day check out the St. Nicholas Center.


Birthdays Galore Without Going Broke

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It’s birthday season in our house. We have three birthdays between January and April. Needless to say by the time we get to the end of April this momma is birthday out. However, birthdays are important in our house. For example with one son born so close to Christmas I always want to make sure his birthday doesn’t get lost in the celebrating of Christmas. With their birthdays so close it can be tempting to celebrate them at once but I want them each to have their own special day.

Growing up birthdays were a big deal in my family. My father use to wake me up at 5:24am every birthday to wish me happy birthday. He said he wanted to say it at the exact moment his greatest joy was born.(Funny part of it was that my birth certificate says I was born at 5:24pm. He swore it was a misprint.) Even, after I moved out he would still call me at exactly 5:24am my time. That meant for the 5 years we lived in a different time zone he was actually waking up at 4:24 his time to call me. His birthday call is probably one of the things I will miss the most now that he is gone.

For most parents birthdays are an extravagant expensive occasion. It is an occasion were hundreds of dollars is spent. I am part of several mom’s groups and I think for most a birthday party cost somewhere between $500-$1000 by the time they pay for the party and gifts. I just can’t wrap my mind around spending that much on a child’s birthday. You times that by four and Mark might very well have a heart attack. Time and time again I hear parents say kids have to have these fancy parties. It’s what ever one else is doing. They expect it. You build your child’s expectations.

Our children always enjoy their birthdays and  we are not spending $1000s of dollars on them. The birthday boy gets to pick where they would like eat for dinner that night. (It’s almost always chic-fil-a) We do cake, ice-cream and gifts together. They pick a family activity to do. In past years we’ve had movie night at home, visited museums and picnics at the park. As they get older we start having small low-key parties at our house. Nothing fancy. We invite a few friends over: play and share cake with them. The kids have a great time. The stress is low for me and it doesn’t break the bank.

So, here’s to making birthdays special and remembering that to make them special it doesn’t need to cost a fortune.


Easter Baskets 2014

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Easter is only a few weeks away and that means it is time for Easter baskets. I find great enjoyment out of putting together Easter baskets and things of that nature. However, with 3 kids it can become time consuming and expensive! Last year I switched to a family basket instead of individual baskets. It was wonderful! This is a tradition we will be continuing this year.

Growing up my Easter basket as a kid was filled completely with candy. From the start I knew that wasn’t how I wanted to approach Easter baskets. I wanted them to be fun but not filled with junk candy; that was bought just for the sake of filling the baskets. Thankfully, this approach was already well established by the time we found out Thomas needed to be gluten free; since, it’s hard to find seasonal candy that’s gluten free. Though, Peeps candies (including the chocolate covered ones) are!

I like to fill the Easter basket with stuff that was already planned purchases for the most part. That way there isn’t a lot of extra money going out the door. There are certain staples that go in every year like sidewalk chalk. My kids adore the stuff and we use it all up by the end of the summer. So, each Easter I replenish our supply. This year’s basket will have:

The Easter Egg by Jan Brett. (I picked this up last year on after Easter clearance)
The Weight of Mass: A Tale of Faith by Josephine Nobisso (school related)
The Adventures of Sir Lancelot the Great (The Knight’s Tales Series) by Gerald Morris
Butterfly garden (school related)
– a new matchbox car per kid
Sidewalk chalk (I scored a better deal on Amazon than what the price was at our local Walmart)
Thermos Funtainer water bottle for each kid. (I picked these up at our local Walmart/Target because they were significantly cheaper than on Amazon.)
-Octonaut’s DVD

So, what is going in your kids Easter baskets?