Today is Luke’s and my fifteenth wedding anniversary. These fifteen years have encompassed all of my adult life, and I can hardly remember a time before Luke, yet these years have flown. I’m so grateful for my incredible husband, our strong marriage, and the beautiful family we’ve created together. We are spending the day on a little day-date, just the two of us, while my in-laws watch the kids. In the meantime, enjoy a little look back at the many happenings of our family’s December.
|| READING LATELY ||
It was a rather unusual reading month, with only a few “traditional” books including this complicated family story, this hard but insightful memoir, and this helpful take on happiness. I enjoyed this unique compilation of common expressions (that is a mix of coffee table book and game guidebook) and had so much fun reading this favorite aloud to the kids.
I dug in deep with the Christmas reads this month: I read a beautiful illustrated version of this classic (can you believe I’d never read it?!) as well as this tearjerker Christmas novella. The kids and I read this Advent guide that corresponds with our Advent blocks, and this fictional story set at the time of the first Christmas, and for my own Advent reading I read this excellent devotional that takes a look at the historical aspects of Jesus’ birth. This month I also finished my annual devotional that would be a good choice if you’re still looking for a devotional to read through in 2024. I’ll be sharing full reviews of these books in a few weeks (when most of them will be entirely inappropriate for January reading, but we’re going with it).
We have more than sixty (yes, sixty!) Christmas picture books, and we read every one of them—in addition to a number of library Christmas books—at least once this December. We added a few new titles to our collection this year. One especially beautiful book that’s been around for a while but was new to us is The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey, the story of an unhappy wood carver who learns to love and hope again when asked to carve a Nativity scene for a young boy and his widowed mother. It’s a longer book and one that brought on quite a few tears, but it’s a true gem of a Christmas story with a unique premise. Another new title this year was Red & Lulu, the story of two birds whose backyard evergreen is cut down and transported to New York to live in Rockefeller Center. The story itself is quite sweet, and I especially enjoyed the afterward sharing facts about the real Rockefeller trees.
|| WATCHING LATELY ||
Journey to Bethlehem — We had hoped to catch this musical version of the Christmas story in the theater, but it was streaming by the time we got around to seeing it so we made home-viewing an event with special Christmas treats and snuggles on the couch. And it was such a fun watch for the whole family! The movie takes some artistic liberties with the Biblical account of Jesus’ birth, but most of it is true to the Bible and the film preserves the specialness of Christ’s birth and the reality of His deity. There are no content issues (with the exception of some teenage angst from Mary and a chaste kiss between Mary and Joseph following Jesus’ birth, plus a few frightening scenes featuring King Herod). I loved the musical numbers and was impressed with the vocal talent. Some aspects of the film are pretty cheesy, but the kids loved the humor and I admit I laughed quite a bit too. It’s difficult to do something new and fresh with the Christmas story, but this film managed it! Our family also LOVES the soundtrack which was probably our most-played Christmas album this month. My Rating: 4 Stars
After loving the picture book, I convinced Luke to watch the movie remake of The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey with me (it didn’t look like a movie the kids would like, and I was right). The filmmakers added a lot of content to stretch a short books into a 90-minute movie, but stayed faithful to the characters and ideas of the story. It was a quiet film, one Luke said felt “relaxing,” and heartwarming. I don’t know how much I would have enjoyed it without having read the book first, but they made for a nice pairing. My Rating: 4 Stars.
|| LISTENING LATELY ||
I listened to as much Christmas music as possible this season, and added a fun spin to my Christmas playlist (which is more than 48 hours long) by listening to my songs in alphabetical order. There are dozens of albums in the playlist, many featuring the same songs, and I got a kick out of hearing ten or more versions of each song back-to-back and trying to narrow down a favorite of each!
In addition to all the Christmas music this month, here are few noteworthy podcasts I enjoyed this December.
|| MONTHLY KID-ISMS ||
+ After expressing confusion over the Popcorn button on our microwave, since all microwavable popcorn packaging says not to use it: “I feel like the theme of life is DUMB.”
+ When a song ended just as we stopped the car and turned off the ignition: “Some people say there’s nothing perfect on this earth. But I say that’s one of the few things that was.”
+ Describing his feelings when he was in a bad mood one day. “The light is happiness and the darkness is sadness, and I don’t have enough wax to make my candle light up today.”
+ Trying to figure out a set of building instructions. “I feel as lost as an octopus in the North Pole.”
+ “Where’s Roomba’s Christmas stocking? Why doesn’t he have one?”
+ “Next Christmas I want to get a remote.” Luke: “What will it control?” Kali: “People.”
+ I’m always trying to tell Kali that what’s in her heart matters more than how she looks, so one morning when she said, “my dress is going to look SO beautiful,” I said “Yes! And what is even more important than your pretty dress?” Kali: “My light up shoes!”
+ After hearing Kali comment on an all-pink room in The Grinch that she would like. Sully: “Well we can’t have that room because it’s only a one-person bed and we won’t be cozy in it. We’ll all be snucked together and we’ll be too tight.” Me: “What do you think about having your own beds soon?” Sully, looking concerned: “When we’re bigger? Like when we’re bigger, I think we can. Like when we’re five or six or seven or . . . (counts up to forty). Are those big kid numbers? When we’re those numbers we can not share beds anymore.”
+ “Kali, when you’re a mommy you’re going to be very tired. Because mommies are VERY tired.”
+ As we drove by our previous (old) church, Kali commented “That’s our church that’s getting old.” Sully: “No, it’s just getting old for us. For some people it’s not getting old yet.”
+ Kali, commenting on a nativity scene: “What are those things that the kings are giving baby Jesus?” Sully: “Those are things he can put in his mouth to chew on.”
+ As we were reading the Christmas story: “Why did they ride their donkeys? Why didn’t they just drive their car?”
+ “There’s not nine reindeer, only eight. Because Rudolph isn’t real, he’s just in a movie.”
|| HAPPENINGS & HIGHLIGHTS ||
Our Advent traditions are one of my favorite parts of Christmas, and we savored them this year. The kids rotated through three countdown-type calendars (a Lego calendar, a tree countdown, and Advent blocks that I wrote about here), and each week we lit a candle on our new Advent wreath that I LOVE. The kids are at such great ages now where Charleston is young enough to still find these traditions fun, and Sully and Kali are old enough to understand and appreciate them. I don’t know how many of these just-right years we’ll have so I savored every minute.
We took a trip to Bethlehem! Okay, not the real one, but it sure seemed like it. The neighboring town of Burnet hosts a living nativity that is unlike any others I’ve seen. The event takes place in an actual town designed to look like the original Bethlehem, with narrow streets, a crowded inn, a jail (where those unable to pay their taxes are held prisoner), shops, homes, and of course a cave where Mary and Joseph cradle the baby Jesus. The town is filled with real animals and individuals dressed in traditional clothing and the best part is that everyone stays in character. The townspeople spread gossip that the Messiah has come; a shepherd stands in the town square announcing the good news; Roman guards are an imposing presence as they stand at attention within the city walls; families play games and enjoy meals, craftspeople engage in welding, basketweaving, and whittling; shopkeepers peddle their wares. The kids attended the event with Luke and my in-laws last year and talked about it all year long; now that I’ve experienced it myself, I understand why! The entire experience truly brings the first Christmas to life and gives kids (and adults) a visual framework for understanding the culture and setting surrounding Jesus’ birth. I’m so grateful we got to participate!
We took the kids to Bass Pro Shop to see Santa, and it was an all-around good visit. Santa engaged the kids and they enjoyed putting in their gift requests (though they also wrote letters). Charleston liked asking Santa some questions, including which reindeer is his favorite (Rudolph).
We had one Saturday that was all about the festivals: first the Christmas Festival in our local downtown, where the kids bounced and road the train, played in the snow and sat in a Hummer; then on to the festival in my in-laws’ town for more snow, sliding, and fun. There’s nothing quite like some small town festival hopping to bring on the holiday cheer.
Last Thursday night we drove downtown for a drive-thru lights show at the Circuit of the Americas race track. We’ve done this a few years in a row now and it’s one of our favorite Christmas traditions: the lights are incredible and the whole atmosphere is so festive and fun. We got there right when the event opened at 6:00, which was a good call: we waited a fraction of the time and didn’t have to navigate stressful traffic.
A few other holiday-centric activities this month included: getting into Christmas jammies and bundling our stuffed animals into the truck for a drive around town looking at Christmas lights and checking off items on our Christmas scavenger hunt (we found everything but a sign saying Seasons Greetings!); writing letters to Santa and attaching them to our “magic reindeer” for Santa to come collect (I cannot explain the magic of this, but the kids’ letters were gone in the morning and replaced with candy, and Santa honored the requests presented in their letters, so it seems to have done the trick); and watching Charleston sing in his holiday performance at his enrichment program.
We also fit in some holiday baking: nothing elaborate, but I don’t have the kids in the kitchen with me as often as I should and they always look forward to joining me to bake around Christmas. We did M&M cookies, gingerbread cutouts, and peppermint cookies (that were supposed to be shaped like candy canes but that plan was abandoned). By the end we were covered in flour and I remembered why kids-in-the-kitchen is an exception and not the rule for us, but I’m glad we made it happen.
Our church had TEN Christmas Eve services across two days, so we opted to serve on Saturday evening (Charleston helped me in the nursery and Luke headed up the production team). While we served, the twins got to have a birthday party for Jesus in their class! We were home in time for dinner and sleeping under the Christmas tree, an annual tradition that never works out quite as well as we hope it will. . . . At least we made some memories!
Christmas Eve was pretty perfect. We woke up early and attended the candlelight church service as a family. It was a beautiful service with all my favorite carols and a lovely presentation of the Gospel. Few things are better than worshiping the Lord with my kids and husband at Christmas time! We came home to a movie marathon and some gingerbread house construction, then did our Santa preparations: milk and cookies for Santa, carrots for the reindeer, and a note for good measure.
Christmas morning with kids is just the best (minus the early part: our kids were up before 5, though we managed to hold off the celebrations until nearly 7:00). The kids were thrilled to see that Santa had visited, filled their stockings, left a note, and delivered the requested gifts (Frozen dresses for Kali, a nerf gun for Charleston, and Paw Patrol remote control cars for Sully). The kids appreciated all the gifts we got them and I loved the James Avery jewelry they got me. A highlight was seeing the kids open their gifts to each other, especially the elaborate cards that Charleston made for his siblings. They LOVED them and were just so sweet to each other the whole morning.
Christmas afternoon was spent with my in-laws. We had a nice Christmas “linner” then opened gifts: the kids all got roller skates, so once the gift exchange was over we went outside for some skating practice which was a pretty hilarious way to end a delightful holiday.
|| ICYMI: DECEMBER ON THE BLOG ||
LIFE & FAITH
Reevaluating “I am realizing that sometimes I can become so in tune with my self-perceptions that I am blinded to who I am becoming. I latch on to a version of myself that was once true and forget to reevaluate. To be holistically aware of myself means making space for all versions of myself, including the ways I have changed.“
Joy to the World! (December Verse—Psalm 96:12-13) “There is ordinary time. AND THERE IS CHRISTMAS—all because a baby was born in an inauspicious town, in the most unconventional of ways, two thousand years ago. That one holy night utterly transformed everything—for the month of December, and for all of eternity.“
Faithful 12.23—The King Is Coming! “Praise God that humans are NOT the protagonists of this grand story! Advent invites us to zoom out from the intimate Biblical narratives to study the overarching story of God, the true hero of Scripture and of eternity. He is our Creator God who set the earth into motion, breathed life into humans and gave us dignity, purpose, and worth. Mankind rejected our Lord, not once or twice but endlessly. But the Lord remained faithful. He did not turn away. Instead, He drew near.“
What I Learned in 2023 “In all of this I have witnessed God’s faithfulness, carrying our family through times of questioning and anticipation as well as times when dreams have begun to come true. I have no doubt He is continuing to work beneath the surface in our family even now, paving the way for what I will learn in the year to come.“
JUST FOR FUN
“Optimism and hope are radically different attitudes. Optimism is the expectation that things—the weather, human relationship, the economy, the political situation, and so on—will get better. Hope is trust that God will fulfill God’s promises to us in a way that leads us to true freedom. The optimist speaks about concrete changes in the future. The person of hope lives in the moment with the knowledge and trust that all of life is in good hands.” ~ Henri Nouwen
“You could more easily catch a hurricane in a shrimp net that you can understand the wild, relentless, passionate, uncompromising, pursuing love of God made present in the manger.” ~ Brennan Manning
“Look to Jesus this Christmas. Receive the reconciliation he bought. Don’t put it on the shelf unopened. And don’t open it and then make it a means to all your other pleasures. Open it and enjoy the gift. Rejoice in him. Make him your pleasure. Make him your treasure.” ~ John Piper
I have one more post for you this year: a 2023 Highlights Reel that I’ll be sharing on Saturday! Until then, enjoy these final days of the month and of the year!