That Whole Advent Book Thing? It FLOPPED.

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By far, the most popular post on my site (in ten and a half years’ worth of writing!) is my list of Jesus-Centered books to use as a countdown to Christmas during Advent. We started this activity in 2012, when Libbie was a new 4-year-old and David turned 2 during Advent.

It has worked, faithfully, for our family every year. The kids got excited about unwrapping a book. They cuddled with us, sat, and for the most part, listened to the story. Even when Joshua was a baby (he was born in March 2013), we all enjoyed the tradition.

I have accumulated SO MANY Christmas books that now I have to choose 25 to wrap. I was definitely scrounging and thrift-store searching that first year! I probably have an extra 20 books (many of the ones that are more “Santa Christmasy”) that I put in a basket under the tree to be enjoyed any time.

This year, I cheerfully wrapped all the books I needed and set the pile in my bedroom. Before December even began, Joshua (3, nearing 4) took a few to his room and unwrapped them. I tried to convince a three-year-old who argues with me about every little thing that these were not presents for right now. I re-wrapped some books.

We started on a good note. Sure, David (who turned 6 on December 20) didn’t want to sit still and was often doing a wiggle dance and singing during the book reading. Or maybe Libbie (8) was in the bath or still doing homework. Or maybe Joshua went to bed and we did it without him.

We had several late nights where we just tossed the kids in bed when we got home. We had nights where we just forgot to open the book. We’ve gotten out of our real bedtime routine with everyone; we’ve always put the kids all to bed at the same time, but with Joshua not napping he’s often ready to go down for the night at 7. Oh, and we had a six-week-old baby when December began. So there was that, too! Many nights I was nursing, dealing with a fussy infant, or just in flat-out zombie mode.

This tradition – the one I was sure was going to be our thing, that my kids would want to pass on to their kids – felt like a total flop this year. 

I truly love to read to my kids. But reading to one child who asks incessant questions, one who is pretty much running laps around the living room, and one who may or may not be sitting on my head, while I also try to keep an eye on baby sister and oh gracious, now they are fighting because someone touched someone else PLEASE JUST GO TO BED RIGHT THIS SECOND.

So um, yeah. Now you know my feelings about that! Having four kids seems to be a new world I was not really expecting.

They read to themselves. I read to them individually as I can. But the whole pile on the couch and all of us read together thing? It just isn’t working right now.

Tonight, I took a deep breath. I told the older three they could color or play quietly while I read. And from my chair, while holding Hannah, I read them the prologue and first chapter of Begin, the first Growly Bear book that I have heard great things about as a read-aloud. And you know what? They did color. Joshua only talked once. Libbie moved closer to me so she could actually hear the story (and made me a note that said “Your the best mommy ever”) (I can forgive her your/you’re error because BEST MOMMY).

Things flop. We learn. Next year, who knows what the case will be? And even if they’re running laps around the room, at least I’m speaking Scripture to them through those Jesus-centered books, right? God’s Word will not return empty. Something will stick in their brains.

And next year, they’ll be 9, 7, 4, and 1. And things will be totally different. And I will wrap those dang books again and see what happens. 

Advent: Hope

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Advent wreath

It’s been a rough week in Chattanooga.

The bus wreck that killed six children has made national news. This accident happened not far from my own children’s school, in the school district where they also ride buses. My fearful daughter is having a difficult time grasping that tomorrow she will have to ride a bus again. Our community is grieving over what seems to be a senseless, preventable tragedy. I have personal connections to two of the girls who died, through friends and acquaintances.

And it just feels like the endcap on a rough year.

In January, I got pregnant. I’m certainly not unhappy about that – I never was, because I truly wanted a fourth child – but it was unplanned and surprising. And expensive, given our high-deductible insurance. It’s been a huge change for our family.

In April, we thought we were going to move to another apartment this summer. When that fell through, it was extremely upsetting for me. We were hoping to have a little extra space for our expanding family (and hard floors for our messy kids), and we had to go back to square one on fitting six people into this apartment. Again, it’s fine – but it was a road bump in the year.

And as we surged through these and other sad events, there was this crazy election. I don’t consider myself to be a very political person, but this election was enough to get me to cast a ballot. The results were, to me, somewhat baffling. I’ve cried. I’ve been perplexed. I’ve been scared for the future of our country and what I thought it was and what, apparently, it really is. (I certainly do not wish to have any political discussions here. So please don’t argue with me about politics, because that isn’t the point.)

And now, on this first Sunday of Advent, we are confronted with hope.

Advent wreath
source: rosalynlouise

I stared at the candles on our Advent wreath tonight. That one lone candle, burning, its friends unlit, waiting. We hope and we wait for the joy, peace, and love. And we wait for Christ.

There’s been a lot of waiting for me in 2016, between the election and a pregnancy and the pushing back of some dreams. Not all of it brought joy. But I think of the surge of emotions after Hannah was finally born, all 8 pounds and 5 ounces of baby, finally freed from my body and her own little person. Pure joy, bright like fire. All the hope fulfilled, as we saw her perfect form and tiny fingers and toes and everything doing what it was supposed to do.

I’m trying, desperately, to lean into hope right now in Advent. It’s not an easy parenting season for us; our kids are all reacting to the new baby in their own way. It’s a time of being needed in four places at once, of stuffing Hannah into her carseat again, of going to the grocery AGAIN. It’s waiting to see how we will adjust to life with four kids. It’s also much nursing, cuddling, loving, reading books, and relying on God’s strength instead of my weakness.

Hope refuses to buckle and instead believes we will find that new normal. It sees the promise of children grown to responsible adults instead of every speck on the carpet. It fills my heart and lets me lean into the everyday joys.

In Advent, I’m saying yes more. Because in Christ, God said yes to us in every possible way. The fulfillment of all hope.

 

Panic at Christmas

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It appears I took an unintentional blogging break here. We hosted Thanksgiving this year – my parents came into town, and my sister and her husband spent a lot of time here, too. (They live in Chattanooga.) It was so nice not to have to travel for a holiday! We still had lots of late nights and crazy family time, but being at home helps the kids readjust easier.

I’ve also been battling a sickness that keeps coming back, which may account for my lack of writing and the vast amount of Jane the Virgin episodes I’ve watched in the last two weeks. Thankfully I felt mostly better over Thanksgiving, but then it seemed to come back with a vengeance. Argh. I am not sick very much, and it’s frustrating not to feel well when there is so much to be done.

1121740_christmas_gifts_2

But, see, I think the real reason I haven’t written is because I want to write about Christmas. And this year Christmas seems to have me a little panicky.

It’s not that I’m worried about making it magical, or buying the right gifts, or the fact that my kids will probably ask me why we don’t have Santa gifts or an Elf on the Shelf (again).

It’s just that it seems like IT WAS JUST CHRISTMAS.

Seriously. Where did the year go? How can it be Christmas again when I so vividly remember last year’s celebration? Wasn’t it just summer?

And then I get into the MY KIDS ARE GROWING SO FAST AND SOON JOSHUA WILL BE THREE AND THEN HE WILL BE 18 WAHHHHHHH!!!!

I wasn’t even sure I would want to do the Christmas things this year at all, because it seems like I just took down the tree. I have, of course. I’ve put them up, the big tree and the stockings and nativity and wreath and all the things that will fit in our little apartment. And I’m listening to Christmas music, even though it’s been in the 60s outside and it feels wrong.

I still don’t feel it.

But what I do feel is Christ. I actually made an Advent wreath for us this year, and on Sunday we lit the first candle of Hope and sang “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.” I shared in my Sunday School class about the traditional Hope passages of Scriptures, those being taught in liturgical churches around the world on the first Sunday of Advent. We talked about acknowledging pain, and how that is a part of hope. We wait, and waiting is not easy, but in it we hope.

I don’t have any great proclamation about how my heart has changed. I am still feeling panicky about the kids getting older and the years going quickly. I am still not feeling especially Christmasy. But I am also convinced that Christ is with me in this “wait” – these years that may seem both long and fleeting. And, like Brené Brown says, what gets me through is leaning in to the good, sweet moments. Breathing and not rushing and holding them when they want to hug and cuddle.

I look at our tree and remember the Light of the World, and how much He deserves to be honored, every Christmas, every moment.

Christmas tree

Let’s Talk Cookie Baking

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Check out The Cookies of Christmas

by Jessie Weaver at Foodie.com

One of my favorite Christmas tradition is making and decorating sugar cookies. My mom thinks I was about 4 the first time we did this, and I can’t remember a year from my childhood when we didn’t roll out the special sugar cookie dough and spend hours piping icing onto cut-out cookies. We made everything from ornaments to Nativity scenes to reindeer – and one year, I remember, Bob and Larry from Veggietales and a Santa dinosaur.

I’ve tried to carry on this tradition as an adult. It makes an awful mess, but I love it. This may be Cookie Week here, because I want to share the sugar cookie dough recipe I use, plus Monday morning you’ll see my cookie recipe for the Secret Recipe Club Cookie Exchange.

But y’all. My mom was missing out on a lot of things to make her life easier when it came to cookie baking. We never used parchment paper or silicone mats. I never touched a cookie scoop until one of my co-workers bought me one for my birthday well into my married life. My mom didn’t know the wonders of the stand mixer until very recently.

I hope you have learned about all those tools! Not to mention, you need a very thin spatula to take cookies off the sheet. And having a multi-level cooling rack helps, too.

I’ve been making cookies like a fiend lately. It helps to have a whole dorm of high-school boys as taste-testers! That way I don’t weigh 6,000 pounds, and they get a taste of homemade goodies. I even took requests this year for the kinds of cookies they wanted. (Chocolate chip, some kind of Reese’s, and snickerdoodles.)

Above I’ve shared some of the recipes I’ve made or planned to make this year. I found as I was bookmarking on Foodie that I am kind of obsessed with crinkle cookies and anything involving peppermint!

What is your favorite kind of Christmas cookie?

This is a sponsored post in conjunction with Foodie.com, a great site to bookmark recipes. 

Our Other Favorite Christmas Books

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So you know all about our favorite Jesus-centered Christmas books. We are faithfully unwrapping one a night. The kids LOVE this tradition, and it’s so neat to have an actual tradition for our little family.

Although I try to stay away from books featuring greedy kids and “you better watch out, you better not cry” mentalities, we do read some books that mention Santa and aren’t really Jesus-focused.

Here are some of our favorites that fall in that category.

Bear Stays Up for Christmas by Karma Wilson – We just love Bear and his friends in the woods. We just came off a season where the kids were fairly obsessed with Bear Snores On, so this is a good transition book.

Snowmen at Christmas by Carolyn Buehner – I love the creative and fun snowmen in these books. Snowman Santa appears, and they also sing about “the birth of a King.”

The Jolly Christmas Postman by Janet and Allan Ahlberg – This is possibly the most fun book ever. In each envelope, there is something interesting – a card, a note, a puzzle, a game, a flip book. The premise is nursery rhyme characters sending each other stuff for Christmas through the postman. I’ll admit that I got this when my kids were WAY too young, and they’ve destroyed most of the add-ons. We may have to buy a new copy in a year or two.

It’s Christmas, David! by David Shannon – If you have a child named David, he will either love or be traumatized by the mischievous David in Shannon’s books. My other kids think it is HILARIOUS that David gets in so much trouble. (Fictional David, that is.) Poor David just can’t seem to make it through the holidays without finding new rules and wondering if he’ll get a lump of coal.

Little Porcupine’s Christmas by Joseph Slate – There’s no Santa in this one, but it’s not really Jesus-focused either. Little Porcupine desperately wants to be in the Nativity play, but the other animals don’t think he belongs.

Christmas Cookies: Bite-Size Holiday Lessons by Amy Krouse Rosenthal – The author helps define big words and concepts as they relate to cookies around the holidays (like, “Disappointed means, I tried to make it look like a star, but it didn’t turn out at all the way I expected”). A sweet way (ha!) to talk about new vocabulary.

Do you have any favorite Christmas books lately?