Our 2016 Christmas

Some snapshots of how we celebrated the Christmas season this year.


Last minute Christmas gifts for kids – personalized bath towels

You may not even need to leave the house to make this Christmas gift, which is nice when it’s Christmas Eve and a cup of hot tea and a cozy spot by the Christmas tree is calling your name.  Here is what you’ll need:

  • Bath towel
  • Fabric ribbon (bonus if it has a favorite character or image that the child likes on it)
  • Thread or no-sew fabric glue
  • Sewing machine or sewing needle
  • Straight pins

Set aside about 20 to 30 minutes of your time, depending on if you are hand sewing, using a sewing machine, or applying the fabric glue.

Unfold the towel and lay it out flat. Place the ribbon across the short edge of the towel so it touches each long edge. Pin in place and cut – you should end up with a ribbon ‘stripe.’  Repeat on the opposite short edge.

If using a sewing machine, begin sewing with a straight stitch down one long side of the ribbon stripe. Use medium stitch length. 

When you reach the end of the towel, make sure the needle is in the down position (inserted into the fabric), lift the presser foot, and rotate the towel 1/4 turn. You should now be ready to sew the short end of the ribbon strip. Use a zig-zag stitch to help catch any loose ends from the ribbon.  You’ll only need to front and back stitch few times; it’s a really small spot. 

With the needle in down position, lift the presser foot and rotator the towel another 1/4 turn. The needle should now be along the unsewed, long ended of the ribbon stripe. Using a straight stitch, see the length of the ribbon and repeat the same steps as above to finish the final, short edge.  You’re done!!!

If using a sewing needle, thread the needle and sew the ribbon to the towel, using shorter stitches so the ribbon is securely attached. Knot the thread after sewing both edges and ends of both ribbon stripes. You’re done!!!

If using a fabric glue, follow instructions on bottle to apple glue to ribbon. Let dry as it adheres to the towel. You’re done!!!

I made three of these towels so our kiddos could have their own with a special ribbon on each one.  

Top to bottom: Leah, Madison, Hunter

After searching online for bath towels for kids and being shocked at the price (($20 or more per towel!) I kicked my creative gears into to overdrive and came up with this idea.  The finished product cost around $8 each (towel = $5; ribbon = $3) which is a huge savings and it’s a homemade gift.


It’s not the most traditional Bible verse about the Christmas season, but I haven’t been able to get it out of my head.


God sent Jesus not because we deserved it, but because of His mercies.  He is the reason for our salvation, not us.  It’s so easy to slip in to a human-centered Gospel, where Jesus came for us because He loved us.  Wait a minute…Jesus doesn’t love us?  Of course He does, but that’s not the primary, central, core reason for His incarnation.

Jesus came to earth as a feeble and vulnerable infant because God’s glory deserved nothing less.

God’s heart for Himself and the pursuit of His own glory among all nations is why Jesus was born.  As John Piper says, “It is profoundly loving for Jesus to exalt Himself…it is only Him that truly satisfies the human soul.”

Rescuing us from death.

Guiding us to a path of peace.

Light from heaven breaking into the darkness.

Oh come, oh come, Emmanuel.

Not Your Average Christmas Books

Boy, do I love Christmas.  If my parents did anything right in raising us kids (and they did a lot of things right – they’re amazing!) I’d have to say imparting a love of Christmas would rank right up there at the top.  From hunting for the perfect Christmas tree to cookie sheets full of gingerbread and sugar cookie men decorated with all colors of frosting to Christmas music on repeat (often all year long) to the yearly viewing of It’s a Wonderful Life, Christmas was one of the most special times of year when I was a child.

It went beyond the gifts to embrace feelings of warmth, creativity, imagination, and generosity.  My mom was known to hunt through summer garage sales for Christmas presents, wrap them in July or August, and have a sizable pile of gifts by early September stashed away in her bedroom.  I thought all moms prepared for Christmas like that until a friend came over one day when I was in high school and couldn’t stop commenting on all the Christmas presents.  Already wrapped.  In summer.  It started to dawn on my that maybe my family did Christmas just a little bit different than everyone else.  Because my mom shopped so early in the season (technically ‘the season’ hadn’t even started when she shopped!) we often ended up with wall-to-wall presents, three or four deep surrounding the tree on Christmas morning.  Growing up in a family of five kids helped – even if we only received a few gifts each it looked like Santa’s entire sleigh had unloaded in our living room.

One of the best ways I know to get myself in the Christmas spirit is to curl up with a book that transports me right into the middle of that most festive time of year.  While names like Narnia or Dickens might be a the top of some people’s lists for a holiday read, I recently came across two books that might be lesser known but still left me with a longing for all things calm and bright.


When I first read the title and subtitle of this book, I’m pretty sure I did a double take.  Jazz?  Santa?  Con man?  What is this book and why have I not read it before?  This true crime narrative takes you on a journey through turn of the century New York and one man’s attempt at playing Santa Claus for an entire city.  The author is a distant relative of the main character, a do-gooder turned con-man who stirs up the Christmas spirit through an entire city only to see his empire come crashing down around him.  It also traces some of the history of Christmas as we celebrate it today and how this slice of history helped solidify some of our present day traditions.



Recently I was listening to one of my favorite podcasts and heard this book mentioned as they were discussing A Christmas Carol.  Arguably one of the best known works of literature about Christmas in history, this book about the book (it’s true – I read books about books…so much so I actually have a list of favorites just in this category alone!) tells the story of how Dickens came to write such a timeless classic.  I’m currently about halfway through it and I’ve learned so much about him as an author and this period of history in England.  It’s also warming me up to possibly revisit this era of literature.  If you listened to my recent interview on WSIRN’s podcast, you know that a bad encounter with Dickens a freshman English class in high school turned me off to all things Victorian when it comes to books, but I think it’s time to give this era another chance.  Dickens did, after all, help my favorite holiday be what it is today.  Without him, where would I be?  Haha! 🙂

What about you?  Have you come across any books that put you in the Christmas spirit that other people might not know about?

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Christmas Countdown: our Library Book Christmas Advent

We love our library.

We love Christmas.

So when I read this post about using books as a countdown to Christmas, I had an “aha!” moment.  Why not combine our two loves and have a Library Christmas Book Advent?

Quick sidenote: I know that the term “advent” is often used a way to look forward to the Christmas festivities.  I also know that the original meaning of “advent,” historically, is a deliberate and though-filled practice of preparing hearts and minds for the coming Christchild.  In this post, I use “advent” as a way to build excitement for Christmas day, but I also understand the reverence that these weeks leading up to December 25th (and beyond) hold for many Christians.  We embrace both – yes, and.

A quick internet search of ‘best children’s Christmas books’ gave me more than enough options (also, this website is a great resource for quality, classic Christmas book and toy ideas) so I hopped over to my library’s website to reserve as many as I could.  I tried to choose only books that had no holds on them so they would be ready as soon as possible.  Soon there were a handful waiting for us and I was giddy to break out the tape and scissors to wrap them up in the shiny new Christmas paper and stash them under the tree.

The Mitten was one of my favorite books to read to my siblings when I was younger.  I love how it’s a story within a story.


Our dining room table turned into a makeshift gift wrapping station as the kids splashed in their nightly shower.  I wrapped as fast as I could.  Never was I so happy that books have perfectly square corners!



The kids couldn’t believe it when they came downstairs –  presents to open before Christmas?!?!  It was like Christmas morning…but even better because it was going to happen every night until Christmas (and I loved it because it was free – libraries for the win!).  We already have a rotation for who chooses the bedtime story, so it was Hunter’s turn to pick a book.  He carefully selected the one he wanted and they raced up to bed to open it.  It was I Spy Christmas and the kids loved looking through each page and trying to find all the hidden items.  Each night since then (minus two nights when we ran out of books and had to choose from our own Christmas books stash), the kids have loved choosing a ‘present’ and opening it at bedtime.  Plusalso, it makes the bedtime routine go by relatively smoothly as they are all looking forwards to what’s underneath that shimmering wrapping paper.

I could see this tradition being one that we revisit each holiday season.  Here are some tips that have helped me choose good Christmas books for our advent countdown:

  1. Choose books with top-notch illustrations.  Especially if you’ll be reading at night time, pictures that draw kids in and capture their imaginations are just what you want.
  2. Choose books that go easy on dialogue or text.  Our kids are 6, 4, and 2 years old, and too many words mean too many wiggles, pinches, or elbow-jabs when trying to patiently wait to turn the page (what is it with turning the page?  it’s like some crowning achievement that each kid grapples for on a nightly basis, as if it puts them one level above their siblings for a fleeting moment).  Some of the best books do have a lot of text, so feel free to abbreviate or summarize.
  3. Choose books of different sizes.  Strictly for aesthetic reasons, a pile of colorfully wrapped gifts under the tree just looks nice when they are all different shapes.
  4. Choose vintage titles when possible.  There’s something about those 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s classics that evoke the perfect feelings of nostalgia.  Isn’t that what Christmas time is all about?
  5. Choose books that tell the real Christmas story.  Sure, snowmen and elves and gingerbread houses are great (and we love all those aspects of the holidays!) but these nightly books are a perfect opportunity to reconnect with the One Gift that changed all of humanity and history.

Here are some of the books that we’ve read so far, as well as some that are waiting at the library to be added to our pile:

Honestly, I might love this advent countdown as much as the kids do.  Maybe next year I can make a bookish advent for me, too?  I could live with pretty presents like these ones leading me night-by-night through the Christmas season.  A girl can dream, right?

Use this link to browse Amazon for any of the book titles mentioned above.  100% of proceeds go directly to support our nonprofit work in Mexico.

To Grandma’s We Go – vintage board game

We LOVE Richard Scarry books, so when we found this book at the library we were so excited.  As we read before bed last night, we discovered it included a board game as part of one of the stories.  The following morning we pulled the book back out and sat around the table to play.

I might have squealed with delight when I saw this pocket inside the front cover.  It’s not often I find a real library pocket for real library cards.  Goes to show how long this book has been around and how loved it must be by many readers.

The game was simple – roll a die, move your character (we used Playmobile figures like these ones but from an older set), and see who arrives to Grandma’s house first.  At first everyone was into it, and then Leah quickly decided she want to hold the die instead of roll it whenever it was her turn, and Madison declared she was “So cold!” and couldn’t move her arms out from underneath the blanket she wrapped around herself.  Which meant Hunter and I played the whole game, with everyones’ turns and game pieces, all the way through until the end.

she’s a third child.  she knows how things go down.  which is why the die wouldn’t leave her hand.


Some of the game spaces had instructions on them, and Hunter was able to read most of them out loud to us.  I love watching him able to sound out words that are beyond his reading level.  He is confident enough to give it a try and also very aware of the context of what he is reading, so he often guess correctly.  For example, one of the squares said, “Merry Christmas!  Move 5 spaces.”  After he sounded out “merry,” he immediately shouted, “CHRISTMAS!”  He may not have read the word, but he sure did feel proud at figuring out what it said.


Plusalso, we totally skipped homeschool today so I’m counting this as his reading for the day.   I mean, right?  Totally counts.


In the end we all made it safely to Grandma’s house, if a bit upset about who go there first.  Leah won, but she had long forgotten what was going on and was off destroying something else across the room while we weren’t watching.  Hunter kept accidentally re-rolling his die to get higher numbers, which made him mad when it actually rolled a lower number and allowed Madison to finish before him.

I was the goat.  I got there last. 🙂

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