{Reading Report} Children’s Christmas Stories

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If you don’t read Christmas picture (or chapter) books as a family, I encourage you to begin the tradition! Many of my fondest memories from December are those of my mom and dad reading Christmas stories aloud to me and my brothers. And now it is one of my favorite things about having a toddler at Christmastime, although we very much need to start building our Christmas book library! =)

I’d like to introduce you to my favorite children’s Christmas books...

When I Celebrate His Birthday

whenicelebrateThis is a simple board book that I grew up on, and my mom was so thoughtful to order one for Caleb this year! It’s been one of his favorites, he brings it to me often. There’s not much to it, but a little girl shares about how her family celebrates Jesus’ birthday every year at Christmas time, and I love the sweet illustrations.

Christmas at Rumpole Mansion

rumpolini-001It appears to be out of print, which is a shame, because I remember this book the most fondly of them all! With a little prompting, I still have it memorized almost word-for-word to this day. It’s the story of a mouse family who learns the valuable lesson, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” at Christmas time. The illustrations of life in a cozy mouse home are absolutely captivating to little ones. Both my parents read it aloud multiple times every year and I can’t wait to do the same for our kiddos one day!

The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey

The old widower woodcarver is in no mood for making friends. But when a kind widow and her vivacious young son hire him to recreate their precious Nativity set in time for Christmas, gloomy Mr. Toomey’s heart begins to soften and new relationships are on the brink of forming. The paintings in this book are absolutely gorgeous and the narration of the audio book is excellent!

The Legend of the Candy Cane

9780310730125I’m disappointed that this book comes “newly illustrated”, as it would be impossible to improve on the vibrantly detailed paintings in the original. However, the message still stands. It’s about the meaning behind the candy cane–a classic piece of Christmas that tells the story of Jesus’ birth and sacrifice on the cross. This book would make the perfect gift for an unsaved family or for use as an evangelism tool in your own home.

How the Grinch Stole Christmas!

Okay, so you’re probably all too familiar with this classic from Dr. Seuss. But I had to include it because the Christmas season was never complete without my dad reading it aloud to us multiple times. It’s a silly story, but I’m forever endeared to it. The rhyming is catchy and the original animated movie is great, too. =)

Happy Birthday, Jesus!

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I love this board book, which was introduced to me this spring by my sister-in-law Shelby. It’s a well-rhymed poem (not all poetic children’s books actually flow the way they should!) and the vibrant pictures catch Caleb’s eye every time. =)

Miracle in a Shoe Box: A Christmas Gift of Wonder

51XjPSeeL7L._SL500_SL160_This fictional account of two children who are blessed by Samaritan Purse’s shoe box ministry brings good perspective to the holiday season. We are so richly blessed in America, while so many people around the world are living in turmoil and have nothing material to enjoy. I loved this story growing up, and it inspired our family to participate in the shoe box project at least one year that I recall. Reading Miracle in a Shoe Box made picturing the children who would receive our gift that much more special.

{Mommy Journal} The Merriest of Early Christmas Mornings

IMG_4055Christmas morning, shortly before 5:00 AM. This festive tree was my view as I fed my precious 5-week-old baby boy. I was seated alone in my family’s (for once) quiet living room with no illumination but twinkling lights. It was in this very spot that I had experienced the joy and childlike excitement of Christmas morning with my brothers for most of our growing up years. Here my grandpa had promised me one of his new heifer calves. Here my parents had sat one year holding their stockings, eyes barely open, because I had decided to awaken the entire house before 6:00 AM to start the festivities. Here my brothers and I had read a letter containing the news that we would be getting our sixth (and last) sibling. Here we had opened a BB gun, a kite, and a football, all hand-shopped for by my dad. Here I had gone bonkers over the stockings my mom had filled with our Christmas morning breakfast of little yogurts, string cheese, satsuma oranges, and individual boxes of cold cereal.

Now I sat here with my own child, looking ahead to sharing many of the same joyful traditions and memories with him as he grew. My heart could have burst right then and there with the nostalgia and happiness of it all.

I am so excited for the future Christmases, Lord-willing, we get to spend with Caleb and any future children God gives us. Seeing Christmas through the eyes of a child is amazing.

But most of all, I can’t wait to share with him the good news about the baby who spent his first hours in a lowly manger, and what He came to accomplish.

Christmas is merry, indeed.

A General Update – December 2013

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Christmas Dinner 2013

Blog’s been quiet…a lot’s been happening…Christmas trip to visit loved ones, a couple of good old-fashioned flu bugs, holiday festivities, a trip to SeaWorld, and life in general. The break has been a very special time to share extra time together and catch up with friends and family! A few updates…

Follow-Up On My Good Intentions

I know you’re all on pins and needles to see if I followed through with my good intentions. ;) I scaled back my unrealistic plans and took small plates of brownies and chocolate to ten neighbors, along with a Christmas gospel message. It wasn’t as grand as I’d originally planned, but I love that even in a very simple gesture, God is sovereign and His truth is what changes hearts, not my presentation.

How Christmas Dinner Went Down

Remember my Christmas menu plans? I miraculously followed through on almost all of them. But due to our plane being canceled without warning and arriving home Christmas Eve Day at 6:00 PM instead of 10:30 AM, we didn’t have a nice supper that night, or the bacon with breakfast. The cinnamon rolls and all of Christmas dinner, however, still happened. The virgin orange strawberry mimosas were a hit; I’ll definitely be making those again! So easy, fresh, and tasty. Hooray!

A Short Break From Blogging

In keeping with my blog commitments, I am taking January off from blogging to work on getting myself back on track with consistent quiet times. This was an area of failure for me over Christmas break, with my Bible study ending until mid January and no plan in place for a replacement. I’m hoping to get an accountability partner here to help me stay consistent and I figured a 31-day blogging respite would help while I hopefully grow more disciplined. If you think of praying for me in this area, that would be wonderful! Because a dormant blog tends to attract spammers and deter readers, I have pre-written a few posts that are scheduled to automatically post over the next several weeks.

Happy New Year!

When I’m back in February, I’ll hopefully blog some of my goals, etc. for the new year and maybe some reflections on 2013. It was a wonderful, hard, good 365 days. God’s love, care, and grace were so evident in big and small ways and I am praising Him for another year of life and breath here on earth. Happy New Year, friends!

Christmas Letter 2013

If you have a church mailbox in Washington, or I saw you in person while here, hopefully you received a Christmas letter and picture. If not, you can read it here! =) With all the busyness of visiting friends and family, addressing and mailing everyone on our normal list just didn’t make it into the schedule this season. {You can click on the letter to view a larger version. The original hard our contact information on the bottom left; if you need that, feel free to let me know in the comments section.}

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{Poetry} It’s a Red Cup Filled with Coffee

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It’s a red cup filled with coffee
And a candle burning bright
It’s a sugar cookie wrapped with love
On a cold and starlit night
It’s the Hallmark movie channel
And footprints in the snow
It’s a Christmas pine with popcorn
And presents set below.
It’s gingerbread and peppermint
And eggnog by the fire
It’s classic carols sung with joy
And stories that inspire

Aaannnnd…I didn’t really get any further than that. At least yet. If I finish it, I’ll let you know.

I love this time of year, for so many reasons. One of the most recent is that December is our wedding month. Sharing our first married Christmas just seven days after our wedding was one of the most magical memories I have. This year is really different from all our past Christmases. We’ll be headed to Washington to visit family soon, but returning before the holiday so we can still share our own little family traditions, especially Christmas morning. I feel so blessed that LA really feels like home now, so I can say that we’ll be home for Christmas…

Merry Christmas to you and your family! If you missed my more meaningful poem about what the holiday really means, catch it here.

{Poetry} The Savior of the World is Here

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The Savior of the World is Here

Jesus Christ, the newborn child
A sinless baby—undefiled.
Holy God in flesh displayed
And in a manger, humbly laid.

Sent to darkness, He the light
Yet in a stable cold tonight.
Baby Jesus, King of Kings
The way to God, this infant brings.

Tiny hands, so soft and sweet,
Youthful brow and tender feet.
Soon to bear the nail and thorn,
The mocking crowd; the brutal scorn.

He soon will face unrivaled pain—
A rugged cross, His blood will stain.
And men, once full of awe and praise
Will suddenly with hatred blaze.

Yet for tonight, this baby boy,
A gift from heaven, brings great joy,
A message loud and long and clear:
The Savior of the world is here!

Abigail Joy ~ December 2007

Observations from Mary’s Song

Photo from the movie The Nativity.

And Mary said: “My soul exalts the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior. For He has had regard for the humble state of His bondslave; for behold, from this time on all generations will count me blessed. For the Mighty One has done great things for me; and holy is His name.”

Luke 1:46-49

I noticed several beautiful things about Mary and this part of her response. (Full passage is Luke 1:46-55.)

  1. She has a high view of God and His character. She calls Him mighty and and holy.
  2. She does not complain about the responsibility God has assigned to her, nor about the inconveniences and trials that being a pregnant virgin has brought, but actually praises Him for choosing her to bear His Son.
  3. She looks past the present and can see the long-term blessings that God will bring to her down the road through this Child.
  4. She knows she is nothing compared to God, but she does not focus on her inadequacies. Instead, she dwells on Who God is, the great things He has done, and the amazing ways He is choosing to use her in spite of her humble background and sinful human nature.

There’s much more, but that’s what jumped out at me. I can learn a lot from Mary’s example. She is full of humility and meekness, yet does not wither away in self-pity or “low self-esteem”. She recognizes God’s mighty hand in her life and trusts that what He is doing is just right for her. It seems like the ideal balance of humility and confidence in God; I feel like I usually bounce back and forth between those extremes. I’m sure Mary had her moments of pride and doubt…but this song of praise inspires me. How can I be applying these principles to the everyday moments God has for me?

The Gettys loosely put the Magnificat to music and I’ve almost got it memorized from listening to it so much. I love to have these lyrics floating around in my head throughout the day. Here’s the YouTube.

{GF Recipe} Corn Souffle & Holiday Menus

I don’t know about you, but I’m having fun planning my Christmas Eve and Christmas Day menus! Cooking gluten free, and avoiding dairy when possible, makes the prep time a little more involved so I try to get a jump start on it. If you’re interested in seeing some of the ideas I’ve collected, here’s my Christmas Dinner & Breakfast 2013 Pinterest board.

corn souffle

My favorite special holiday recipe that I started making a few years ago is Corn Souffle. I originally got it from a church friend (Mary S) and improvised it a little. Here’s my gluten free version. I stole the picture above from Cinder Says because I keep forgetting to take a picture of mine, but it usually comes out looking about like that, although I like to brown the top a little more.

This is a delicious side with turkey, ham, or roast beef dinner. It’s like a very moist, creamy cornbread. I don’t love cornbread but I love corn souffle! Grated cheese can be added, and the milk and sour cream amounts can be changed depending on your taste. It’s a pretty fail-safe dish, but bake-time can vary so allow for some extra time. Enjoy!

Gluten Free Corn Souffle

1 1/3 cup and 4 teaspoons Gluten-Free Cornbread Mix
1 can cream style corn
1 can regular corn, drained
2 eggs
1/2 c. sour cream
1 stick butter, melted

Mix all ingredients until blended. Pour into a CorningWare baking dish or similar. Bake in 350 degree oven uncovered for 1 hour, or until top is golden brown and knife comes out with crumbs instead of batter. Best served hot, but it reheats well.

Good Intentions: Reaching Out During the Holidays

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I’m a girl of a million good intentions. It’s said that “it’s the thought that counts.” That’s partially true. But what if I thought of offering to help my new neighbor move in, but never did? That thought was lovely while it dwelt in my apartment, but it didn’t do much good staying there.

I’m writing this post for two reasons.

  1. As a sort of accountability for myself and extra motivation to follow through with good intentions I have for reaching out this holiday season.
  2. To encourage you to consider doing something similar for your neighbors or others.

We live in a low-income area, in a fairly trashy apartment complex. I say “fairly” because “trashy” is oh, so relative. There are much worse places to live in LA, but there are also much better ones. Our complex houses very few Caucasians and lots of smokers, broken families, single moms, and at least one pot addict who, apparently, hangs out in close proximity to our bedroom window. All these ingredients combine into one perfect recipe for an awesome evangelistic opportunity, right down the hall.

Over the summer, I had a few opportunities to connect with neighbors at the pool, a popular hangout spot on hot afternoons. I shared the gospel with one and followed up with a home cooked meal for her a few days later. And my evangelistic efforts ended there. That was September. It’s now midway through November and I’ve done little more than smile and say “hello” to smokers on my way to the laundry room. I’m ashamed and convicted. So I’m going to use Christmas as an excuse to knock on my neighbors’ doors.

My plan is to make a bunch of Christmas cookies (hopefully with my Christian sem wife neighbor, Masha) and distribute them along with a solid tract and an invitation to our church, which is conveniently only a mile away from where all these people live. I’ll post after the Christmas season about whether or not I followed through with this. (That’s the accountability part.)

How about you? Do you know unbelievers who might be easier reached over the holidays? It’s a rather sad, empty time for many, especially those with rough relationships or broken families. Consider how you might use a little Christmas cheer as a tool in sharing the hope and salvation found only in Jesus Christ.

I know it seems a little early, but these things take forethought or they’re often never more than good intentions.