Favorite Kids' Christmas Books

Our tree is up, warming scents fill each room, and festive wreathes with big velvet bows are hanging on the front porch. It’s December, and it’s Christmas! This year, we have a new sweet babe who helps us remember to savor the delights of slow and simple.

Our day is busy and our plate is full, but we try to give books a cherished piece of our day. In the chaotic flow of the holiday season, sitting down to read aloud a lovely picture book is soul-filling and grounding.

During these first days of December, we got out a new set of story books! Sometimes it’s my spontaneous craving to see a dreamy smile light their small faces yet other times we sit to read intentionally. Either way, each bed has a throw, so no matter where we plop down to read, we can grab for pillows and blankets to get comfortable.

We purpose to make Christmas a very treasured day, and enjoying these sweet books with the children is part of the anticipation and celebration of the holiday. Some of the books we recommend are from our own shelves, while others we borrow every December from the library.

The Very First Christmas tells the story of Christopher, an eight-year-old boy who no longer wants to hear fairytale bedtime stories. His mother recounts the miraculous events of Jesus’ birth and answers many of Christopher’s questions about Christmas. Christopher and his mother read familiar portions directly out of the Bible at bedtime. Children of kindergarten age or so will thoroughly enjoy the many truths in this little book.

The Christmas Miracle Of Jonathan Toomey must be the most heartwarming read-aloud that takes place in the 19th century. Even though we read the story each year, we still savor every page. Gloomy Mr. Toomey has a broken and hardened heart, but his relationship with Thomas, a seven-year-old boy, and his mother begins to brighten his life. This is powerful and humorous story of hope and joy. The gorgeous artwork will captivate all ages!

The Little Drummer Mouse is a loose rendition of the Nativity story starring a little mouse. Children of all ages will be engaged by the paintings. Everyone will be lost in the details of the artwork and find it absolutely beautiful. This story will both delight and surprise you.

Christmas Farm is a little hidden treasure about Wilma and her young neighbor boy Parker. This little neighbor comes to share the doughnut Wilma makes every Saturday morning. With his help, she plants a Christmas tree farm from seeds which they care for year after year. As Parker gets taller, so do the trees. They count how many trees perish, and slowly begin to make a business together. We always feel as if we can smell the green balsam branches while we read!

Mr. Willowby’s Christmas Tree tells of a tree so, so big, that it needs trimming. The tree top gets passed on to the maid, and continues to be passed on to bears, foxes, rabbits, and a little mouse family. A timeless and adorable children’s story.

The Nutcracker is gem that has fascinated imaginations for over two-hundred years! Written in 1816, it appeals to both little ones and adults’ sense of wonder. This charming tale is worth reading again and again.

The Twelve Days Of Christmas is a traditional tongue twister of a song, and everyone enjoys singing along as we flip through the delightful pages. Jan Brett’s illustrations never disappoint!

The Night Before Christmas is the well-known delightful poem. The arrival of St. Nick on the most memorable night of the year is enchanting. The art work is visually brilliant and full of antique ornaments and toys. A classic poem that reads very quickly as the exciting story unfolds.

The Tailor Of Gloucester is the Beatrix Potter tale of a poor hardworking tailor struggling to finish a beautiful coat for the Mayor’s wedding on Christmas Day. Written and illustrated in 1902, Beatrix Potter’s art is always darling and the story always sweet. This year was our first time to discover this little treasure!

How The Grinch Stole Christmas is still as popular as ever! In classic Dr. Seuss rhyme, it tells of how joy changes everything. The author exposes the greed and materialism of this season through the Grinch, who is so cranky an heartless. Throughout the story, you’ll witness his transformation. A fun, little classic everyone should own!

The Polar Express tells the story of a young boy who embarks on a magical adventure on Christmas Eve. The train’s many excitements lead him to the North Pole for a most fantastical night. It’s a beautiful book all ages will enjoy!

Can You See What I See? The Night Before Christmas is a collection of picture puzzles to search and solve on every page. This is a favortie book to have in the car or carry in your bag because it’s perfect for holiday travel. Definitely a fun treasure-hunt! It’s actually Nathan’s favorite, I think : )

Each year we discover a new treasure! What are some of your family’s favorite Christmas books? Share your favorite titles in the comments below…

with love. Damaris

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The Place for Silence – A Simple Christmas Day Challenge

One theme that has stood out to me this Christmas season has been the episodes of silence in many of the accounts and events leading up to and resulting from the birth of Christ. Fitting with the celebration of our Christmas season, we often focus on the singing, laughing, and joy of Christmas. There was certainly lots of that to go around, but at advent there were also very poignant, very personal moments of silence – some self-motivated (think Mary’s pondering) and some imposed (think Zechariah’s muteness).

In the hurried, jingled, tinseled days of Christmas, in the news-cycle, buzzfeed, post-frenzied lives we often slip into;

join me in this challenge:

BE SILENT.
PONDER.
FALL PRONE & worship.

Read for yourself the accounts of that first Christmas, and let God speak through them.

Quiet the day and ask others to share in your amazement at such a miraculous, mysterious salvation.

Find a moment away and plant seeds of wonder in your child’s heart.

Luke 2:19 But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.

Luke 1:18-20 And Zechariah said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.” (19) And the angel answered him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. (20) And behold, you will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time.”

Matthew 2:11 And going into the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh.

When do we shut our mouths in silence at the chorus of God’s majesty? The incomparable wonder of God’s proclamation of redemption smothers my foolish heart and drowns my ignorant speech. “I am undone!” says Isaiah the prophet. I am put in my place – a place of receipt, a place to lie flat and not stand, a place to be silent.


DISCLAIMER: Damaris says that I sound like the Grinch – “all the noise, noise, noise!” Maybe there’s truth to that – Hah!

Let me not forget that this exhale of silence, this moment of awe is effectively a calibration of my spirit – a moment to gather in all the truth of who I really am in the great universe of God’s scheming. A realignment that fits me into my true place – as the creature…then….then…I can sound. Then we can sound the pure ring of praise from mere creature to exalted creator, from freed prisoner to righteous ransomer, from lowly shepherd on a hillside to searing radiance of a glorious God. These responses all have their place and will find their voice as witnessed in Mary’s magnificat (Luke 1:46) , the wisemen’s joy at finding the Messiah (Matthew 2:10), and the shepherds jubilation:

Luke 2:20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

May an awesome silence lead our families to an awesome celebration of the Christ child this Christmas!

a thought from Nathan


We Wish You a First Christmas!

From our family to yours, we wish you a“First Christmas”!

Our prayers as a family this advent season seem to have focused on the desire for God to grant us the freshness of sight of that first Christmas.

Amidst all the festivities of the season, the pageantry, the stockings and growing skirt of presents under the tree, even the familiar carols and Scripture passages; we flail out for rescue. Our hope lies in revisiting His Christmas anew:

May He shock us with His glory like those shepherds cowering on the night hillside.

May He bewilder us with His mercy like old Zechariah.

May He humble us with His favor like young Mary.

May He bolster us with His strength like obedient Joseph.

May He draw us with His inextinguishable light like those searching scholars from the east.

Let us all together flee with desperate need to the overwhelming graciousness of the Immanuel, God with Us!

One recent resource we found that helped our family to these ends was this video produced by VidAngel. It is a fresh, poignant reminder of the tangible need of each of us and our children for God’s divine intervention into our darkened world, and of the welcome light His Son has brought!

a thought from Nathan


Time For Tea and Cookies!

These sugar cookies are a delicate salute to Christmas. Nothing speaks tradition more than cut-out cookies! The hint of citrus keeps this recipe from being anything but dull. These favorite cookies are my mother-in-law’s recipe, which I have treasured since my first Christmas as a wife. The cookies are soft and delicately sweet, and I’m sure you’ll find them to be jolly good! The children and I made this recipe twice this week. They’re so good that the first time we made them, we didn’t even wait to frost them!

Over the years, I have learned that aesthetics don’t improve the taste of sugar cookies. So I brought out the frosting for the children to have their creative way with the shaped cookies while I sat on the kitchen bench and read ‘Twas The Night Before Christmas.

I’m also sharing with you a delicious spiced tea that is sure to keep you warm and feeling all festive. Not to mention how cozy your house will smell! It makes quite a bit, but it keeps in the fridge for a long time. I make a large stock pot of it, and serve it for two different gatherings warmed up in the crock pot or simmering on the stove.

Sour Cream Sugar Cookies

  • 1 cup sugar

  • 1/3 cup butter, softened

  • 1/4 cup shortening

  • 2/3 cup sour cream

  • 1/2 t lemon extract

  • 1 egg

  • 2 2/3 cups flour

  • 1 teaspoon baking powder

  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda

  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Preheat the oven to 375F. Cream the butter and shortening with the sugar with a mixer. Add the sour cream, lemon extract, and the egg until incorporated. Roll out the dough on a well dusted surface (powdered sugar or flour both work well) to 1/4 of an inch thick or less. Cut into desired shapes and place on parchment-lined cookie sheets. Bake in the middle rack for 7-8 minutes or until the bottoms have just a hint of gold. Allow the cookies to cook on the pan before handling. Frost the cookies and decorate to your liking!

Winter Spiced Tea

  • 5 cups of water

  • 5 tea bags

  • 1/2 cup honey (sugar works fine)

  • 1/2 cup lemon juice

  • 5 cups apple juice

  • 5 cups cranberry juice

  • 2 cinnamon sticks

  • 2 star anise

  • 1 teaspoon coriander seeds

  • 1 teaspoon whole cloves

  • 1 teaspoon cardamom pods

Make an aromatics bundle with the coriander, cloves and cardamom: wrap them in a piece of cheese cloth or a coffee filter tied with food safe cord (butcher twine). If you don’t have a way to make a little bundle, just add all the spices right into the pot (we do it this way most often and serve it with a few seeds that settle at the bottom of the cup). You can use other spices that you might have on hand. Bring water to a boil in a large pot. Turn the heat off and add tea bags. Stir in the honey until dissolved and remove tea bags after 5 minutes (when steeped). Add the remaining ingredients including the spice bundle. Garnish with a slice of orange or lemon. Enjoy it both warm or cold!

with love. Damaris


Winter Wonder

Mid December is snowy and bright with predictable bitter cold nights. We make attempts to combat our drowsiness by playing Christmas music all day and allowing ourselves to fade at 4:33. All the candles in the windows light up, we light the lamps, and we light the oven. It smells like beef stew, and the large emerald Dutch oven’s fullness reminds us of our empty stomachs. Barn chores already done, Eva lights the candles on the long table. This farmhouse’s glowing across the frosted snow offers a welcome and speaks of rest. But this evening, I am not in step with the ambience. My heart is all undone, stretched thin across the many things that need my attention.

While dusk dims the rooms, I feel my heart wax in the frustration of bad piano practices and forgotten laundry baskets. Regretfully, I lash out short answers, scolding remarks, and impatient commands. I can’t blame this on the winter blues – this is my lack. Why is it so much easier when Nathan is home?

In preparation for the busyness that we all know this season brings, I had committed to go through December with complete enjoyment. Making things beautiful and special during the holidays is rewarding far beyond my effort, but now it’s obvious to everyone around that I need to take time for some peace. I know that my body and mind need a little rest. It’s not a bubble bath, a TV show, or calling a friend that can soothe my undone heart and mind. I will take a few, unusual, before-dinner moments to be with God. He will remind me that He came to be my Counselor, my Prince of Peace.

These are some of my treasured verses about God’s peace that I pray encourage you too:

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.

John 14:27

I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.

John 16:33

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.

Matthew 11:28

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.

Romans15:13

And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.

Colossians 3:15

Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times in every way. The Lord be with you all.

2Thessalonians 3:16

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:6,7

Casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.

1Peter 5:7

Great peace have those who love your law; nothing can make them stumble.

Psalm119:165

May the Lord give strength to his people! May the Lord bless his people with peace!

Psalm 29:11

You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.

Isaiah 26:3

“For the mountains may depart and the hills be removed, but my steadfast love shall not depart from you, and my covenant of peace shall not be removed,” says the Lord, who has compassion on you.

Isaiah 54:10

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Isaiah 9:6

with love. Damaris


Christmas Simmer Pot

Few things have been bringing me more joy these blustery winter days than listening to Handel’s Unto Us A Child Born from the Messiah masterpiece. My kids surely think my heart will burst as I sing along with my eyes closed for focus. To perfect the moment, this simmering pot has been steaming for hours now on the stovetop, adding warmth and sharp aroma to a day spent at home. Just like the world outside my windowpanes, the simmer pot is delicate and woodsy. It’s is all the smells of the season in one pot. The amazing aroma also looks lovely. There’s no better combination than citrus, spices, and some springs of nature. This simmer pot is a beautiful way to enrich your space with homemade Christmas scents (in lieu of pricey candles) and also adds a little needed moisture to the dry winter indoors. If you’re feeling restless on this very still Monday, a simmer pot will undoubtedly warm up your senses.

  • one sliced, whole orange

  • a large handful of cranberries

  • a couple cinnamon sticks

  • a few bay leaves

  • rosemary sprigs (or cuttings from your Christmas tree)

  • a large pinch of whole cloves

Fill a large pot with water and add all the aromatics in. Simmer for hours and hours adding water as needed. This makes a fun kitchen experiment when you switch things up by using what you have or choose your preferred winter scents.

with love. Damaris


Our Very Own Holly

Who remembers when Scrooge wakes up thrilled by Christmas morning, calls to the boy in the street to buy him the biggest goose at the market, then heads to Tiny Tim’s house to surprise the little family with the most opulent celebration they had ever experienced? Well, it wasn’t a goose that showed up on our doorstep last week, but maybe the next best thing – a Christmas PIG!?

Meet Holly, Larry’s next best friend (if the sheep will allow it)! A farmer from around the corner, who operates a petting farm (with a fantastic business model – it’s mobile. He brings the farm to you, and his 20 ft. trailer actually looks like a miniature barn and silo!), apparently wanted to relocate his little ‘wilbur’ after the petting farm season wrapped up. So, what a blessing, we are now the proud (and rather clueless) owners of our very own 3 month old Yorkshire sow.

Last Monday was welcoming day at First Fruits for Holly. I raced home from work, threw some chore clothes on, and helped our farmer friend get Holly acquainted with her new pen in the barn. With little time to prepare, we just converted the old sheep pen into Holly’s pen. Alexander and William were a big help in getting the pen to work. While sheep often get a bad wrap for being “dumb”, it is actually quite nice for the shepherd – sheep stay put. They stay in a pen with little complaint. Pigs are a different story. Our temporary home for Holly (now 17 pounds) will do for a little while – we took some salvaged galvanized roofing sheets that were laying around, set them on edge on the barn floor, and screwed them to the inside of the pen. Now Holly can root around all she wants, she can squirm and squeal, but she won’t be able to get out of this pen for a while. This is definitely a temporary measure, though. At a weight gain of 15 pound per week. Holly will need a permanent pen with both physical and mental (electric) barriers pretty soon. Right now we’re thinking that, if we get a break in the weather, we can run some quick fencing around the garden plot and let Holly till the garden for us until planting season. I scored an electric fence charger off of Craigslist (the go-to farm supply store). I have the fencing and posts – now just for some sun to melt the foot of snow (my mental barrier)!

And, really, this is how so much in life happens. There is certainly virtue in planning and preparing, but sometimes you just have to ‘go with it’. You can probably think back to twists and turns of your own family’s that follow this rule. Sometimes you figure things out along the way, together. And those are the real-life adventures – the best times and the best memories that your family creates and owns. I have a feeling that the “…remember when you and Mom…” and the “…I can’t believe we ever…” conversations that Damaris and I look forward to having around cups of coffee with our kids many years from today will now include stories of Holly, our Christmas pig.

some thoughts, Nathan


We'll Make Cocoa.

While writing this post, I found out that today is National Hot Chocolate Day. Coincidental?!

Our family loves celebrating these snowy days with mugs of hot cocoa! Making a big pot of homemade hot chocolate is easier than remembering to always be stocked up on those little packets of the powdery mix. I’m sure you’ll agree that homemade hot cocoa is waaaaay better! In just a couple of minutes, you’ll have a rich, comforting cup of hot cocoa goodness waiting for you and everyone else coming in from the cold this winter. This recipe is a sumptuous chocolate treat without the heavy richness that sometimes keeps me finishing other mugs of specialty drinks. Enjoy this classic hot drink that’s the creamiest dreamy hot chocolate with a hint of warmth from a cinnamon stick and splash of real vanilla!

Below is the basic recipe that’s especially kid-friendly, but adding a drop of peppermint extract, a pinch of cayenne, or substituting some of the milk for a flavored coffee creamer makes for a delightful variation. Next time you look out the window, and it’s dreary outside, cheer up! Have yourself a merry little cup of hot cocoa!

Homemade Hot Chocolate

  • 2 quarts of whole milk (you can substitute half and half or even heavy cream for 1 or 2 of the 8 cups)

  • 1/3 cup cocoa powder

  • 2/3 sugar

  • 2 tablespoons vanilla

  • 1 or 2 cinnamon sticks

In a medium pot, warm all the ingredients while whisking. The cocoa will dissolve completely. No need to bring it to a boil, but keep it on simmer for the cinnamon stick to open up and flavor the hot cocoa. Sometimes, we don’t wait- ha! Ladyfingers, biscotti, or marshmallows make delicious fun additions when serving. Leftovers can be stored in the fridge for days! Just reheat and enjoy ’til it’s gone!

with love. Damaris


If It's Not Too Late…A Shopping Guide!

Over the last twelve years of parenting, we have purchased or crafted many presents, and found that some toys ended up in the trash broken or in a donation box a few months later. I’m sure we’re not the only ones who have felt the frustration of wanting gifting for children to be both fun and valuable?? Of course, add into the mix the opinions of what is ‘valuable’ to a 9 year old, and it really can get exasperating! hah!

All these items below our children own – still own, and they use again and again. Isn’t that what we want them to do with all the well-thought-out and purposeful presents we gift them? Nothing makes me more happy than to watch them use these toys and tools over and over, year after year!

This guide includes presents appropriate for our seven children – from the little toddler to our oldest who is 12. You’ll notice that the guide includes many simple gifts that are practical, useful, and for their enrichment. For example, our girls use their donut pan and cookbook while having conversations with me and each other, and learning the importance of cleanliness, precision, and proper temperatures, and how materials can be blended and mixed to create new textures, aromas, and tastes. Most of all, they will understand that mistakes can be quickly forgotten with the next batch of donuts!

For our boys, carving shapes out of wood or simply reducing a stick to a single toothpick (or knife) has been a popular pastime for centuries, and could sometimes be a necessity. Carving teaches them about the properties of wood, taking proper care of tools, and using proper techniques for safety in addition to experiencing the pleasure of handling one’s own smooth, carved creation. I hope you’ll find an idea or two for some affordable gifts that enrich your children, enhance their skills and build their creativity! Obviously, I didn’t attach pictures, but each item does have a link- I hope this is helpful for your family!

Girls –

Boys –

Both

with love. Damaris


Holiday Bucket List

Is anyone else feeling behind on all the holiday stuff? Presents, decor, tree, wreaths, outdoor lights, cards, family pictures, BREATHE! But really, all we have to prepare for this Christmas is our hearts. Daily advent readings are such a cure for all the distressing about to-does! You can find readings for your simplified advent here.

When I begin to feel the overwhelm, I try to see it all thought the eyes of a child. When our hearts are full of wonder, it’s easier to delight in the small things – we enjoy what we already have and are more ready to share it with the loved ones that surround us! When we celebrate the simple things, we can find rest and even recharge during the holiday hullabaloo. Since I’m a list-maker extraordinaire, I’m sharing today our Christmas bucket list! We plan to enjoy these favorite activities during the school/work break of the holidays. Most of these we do every year and anticipate them for weeks, but some activities are new additions which may well become a special tradition. Here it goes… our holiday bucket list:

  1. playing board games with a mug of hot chocolate

  2. sleeping “under” the tree

  3. baking wheels of brie

  4. making bread loaves for all the neighbors on our road

  5. going to Panera for coffee and bagels

  6. making chocolate bread pudding

  7. trying our hand at a lattice apple pie

  8. eating croissants and chocolate for breakfast

  9. watching special Christmas movies

  10. baking and frosting cut-out sugar cookies (recipe in an upcoming post!)

  11. Cracker Barrel brunch and sitting by the fire to play checkers with Dad

  12. making monkey bread

  13. Christmas caroling at neighbors’

  14. making cream puffs

  15. taking the kids treasure hunting at a nearby antique mall

  16. enjoying huge cinnamon rolls on Christmas morning

There you have it! It’s the most wonderful time of the year!

with love. Damaris