In our last post, we gave a few suggestions for simplifying the Christmas season with young children in the house. Today, I want to follow that up with some ideas that are fun, simple, require very little expense or preparation, and build loads of fun traditions and memories.
1. Do some form of Advent with them. I realize this is the third time (at least!) I’ve mentioned Advent this season, but it is so essential for keeping the season in perspective. We’ve given several suggestions on our Advent post. Maybe you have young toddlers or even babies in your home. I recently heard a fantastic suggestion for Advent-ing even with them! Take a couple minutes each night and sing simple Christmas carols, such as Away in a Manger or Silent Night. This can slip right in to a bed-time routine, but keeps the Christmas Story in front of them.
2. Have a special baking day. If you have little ones that are old enough (personally, I feel like the 3 1/2-4 year old range really opens up options for activities together), set aside a day to tackle one or two special baking activities. If you need something similar, why not create little Christmas baskets for your neighbors with packets of hot cocoa, disposable hot drink cups, wrapped candy canes, etc.? — all things little hands can easily put in a basket.
3. Decorate a small tree with them — just for their room. There are some adorable little Christmas trees out there. My boys had SO much fun picking out a blue tinsel tree this year, choosing a few non-breakable ornaments, and decorating their tree. It’s a fun time to relax a little bit on your perfect Christmas tree decoration standards and just enjoy watching them go to town on their little tree.
4. Set aside an evening to look at Christmas lights. You can definitely go for a drive in nearby neighborhoods to look at lights, but I’d also suggest just strolling through your own neighborhood… This might be a great alternative for youngsters who don’t do well in the car or for those kiddos who are still rear-facing in their car seat.
6. Go caroling to your neighbors. We caroled with my in-laws last Christmas season… just a few neighbors on their street. It’s a fun evening and people really do appreciate you taking a moment to make them feel special.
7. Christmas PJs! One of our favorite little traditions is to choose new pajamas for our kids to give them on Christmas Eve. (You could give their PJs to them earlier in the season, too.) This doesn’t have to be overcomplicated or expensive…. This year our boys are getting matching pajama sets…. that I bought during a “buy one, get one” sale.
8. Collect a stash of Christmas books. We have a small stack of Christmas books that we have out only during December. Some families wrap their Christmas books, unwrapping one each day leading up to Christmas. I love that idea, but this year we’re choosing to keep our books available in a special “Christmas book basket” for simplicity. Again, this doesn’t have to be expensive! All except a couple of our books were purchased at Half Price Books. They have a special holidays shelf in the children’s section, which makes finding great Christmas books easy and inexpensive. Since we intentionally do an Advent program with our boys, most of our Christmas books are purely festive. Some of our favorites are Little Blue Truck’s Christmas, Bear Stays Up for Christmas, Fa La La, and the classic Caldecott medal-winning Polar Express.
Leave a comment below and share your favorite Christmas tradition with your youngsters!
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It’s the first week of November – some of you have been listening to Christmas music for months (some more openly than others), while some of you are stubbornly resisting Yuletide joy until Thanksgiving 2016 is in the books. Regardless, it’s time to start planning for Advent!
Advent is a traditional celebration of Christmas. Traditionally, a candle is lit each Sunday between Thanksgiving and Christmas Day, while special Scripture passages are read which focus on the beautiful meaning of Christmas.
In more recent years, Advent has evolved into a daily study or family time that focuses in very tightly on the Christmas season with the intention of preparing hearts and minds for the wealth of meaning that Christmas offers, making Christmas a season, rather than just a day.
My young family has found deep joy in celebrating this special season. We’d love to share some advent resources that we’ve found helpful, along with some additional suggestions for a meaningful Advent season.
Journey to the Manger. Every year Focus on the Family creates a free Advent resource for families. In 2014 this was their program. It was incredible! Consisting of a large printable poster and 24 smaller characters to add to the poster as Advent progressed, Journey to the Manger walks families through each key player of the Christmas Story with Scripture passages and review questions that even toddlers can participate in. While it’s not free this year (they have a new freebie to share with us all!), Focus on the Family has made this study available inexpensively for families to enjoy.
All the Colors of Christmas. This year, Focus on the Family is offering a new, free advent resource. It offers preselected Scripture passages, fun family activities, and some beautiful printable coloring sheets for children — or the whole family — to enjoy.
Unwrapping the Greatest Gift. This incredibly beautiful book compiled by Ann Voskamp is essentially an exquisite children’s Bible, highlighting the most iconic stories of the Bible and pointing towards the coming of Jesus in the manger. This was our approach for Advent last Christmas. Very simple, it required little to no preparation or supplies, but yet was meaningful.
The Jesus Storybook Bible. A similar idea, the Jesus Storybook Bible has just enough stories in this collection to read one per day in December leading up to Christmas. A favorite of our children year round, this book focuses heavily on the promise of a Rescuer and Redeemer, keeping hearts and mind constantly focused on the full meaning behind Christmas.
She Reads Truth Family Bundle. This year, we’ve selected the Family Advent Bundle from She Reads Truth. In this bundle are special, deeper study guides for mom and dad, with some really fun story cards for the kids. We’re looking forward to seeing how this plays out with our family this year, but I love the idea of my husband and I separately studying the same passages in our own devotional time and then bringing a simplified version to our kids at dinner time or before bed. The children’s cards feature lively, colorful graphics with key Scripture passages and questions (made for several levels, which you can choose depending on the ages of your kids).
Good News of Great Joy. Maybe your children are older, no longer live at home, or you’re simply looking for a solid individual devotional for Advent. Good News of Great Joy takes a slow walk through the Christmas Story and then spends time focusing on all of the important “whys” behind Christmas. This one is available to purchase as a hard copy, but Desiring God has made the digital copy available for free download.
Prophecies of Jesus’ Coming and Fulfillment. Another idea is to, as a family, read an Old Testament prophecy of Jesus’ birth and the text marking the fulfillment. There are many resources available for this approach (I’m willing to bet that there’s an iPhone app out there, too!) You can find one approach to this advent program here.
As a bonus, I’m excited to recommend four Christmas albums for you to enjoy as a family! What a great way to set a festive mood and keep the truth and richness of Christmas in front of you!
Joy – An Irish Christmas. A couple of years ago, my husband and I saw this incredible couple – Keith and Kristyn Getty – perform their Irish Christmas program. Keith and Kristyn refer to themselves as “modern hymnologists”, writers of new church music that is drenched in theology, Gospel, and soundness. And since they’re both from the lovely country of Ireland, their music has a distinct flair throughout. We love this album for the joy it brings and the truth is keeps in front of us.
The Sounding Joy. Though this album is intended for children, it’s a favorite of all of us in our home. Simple, folksy, and easy-on-the-ears music with favorite Christmas carols and less common Christmas spirituals.
Prepare Him Room. If you’re looking for an album that is deep and worshipful, this is a great one to add to your collection. As a half-and-half mix of traditional Christmas hymns and original songs from Sovereign Grace, this one drives the depth of the season to the heart.
Seeds of Christmas. Our boys have enjoyed the energy of the Seeds Family Worship albums and this year they’ve added a new one to their selection. Seeds of Christmas is an EP with six Christmas songs – with lyrics taken directly from the Bible and styled for the enjoyment of children.
Leave a comment below and tell us your favorite way to prepare your heart for Christmas!
Disclosure: This post contains Amazon Affiliate links. Should you order through these links, we will receive a referral commission off your purchase from Amazon. Don’t worry- this does not affect the purchase price of the product. Thank you for helping support this blog so that we are able to continue creating fresh content!
My family lost the furry member of our family this month. She meant a great deal to us, and just how much so probably wasn’t even realized until we had to let her go. You see, she had come into our lives at a moment of transition. The oldest child in the family had just moved out on her own, and the family was adjusting from the day-to-day of living as a family of six to living as a family of five. It was the perfect time to add another member of the family to the home.
Mia was her name. She was special in so many ways. She had a lineage of national and international champions, and she was bred for greatness. A small genetic defect that effected her height and made her a little too short for the AKC standard for Labrador Retrievers is what brought her into our family at ten months. With her prospective future of being a champion in her own right being forgotten, she became a champion of sorts in our own family. I’ll never forget how excited I was when I found out we were finally getting a family dog. My mom poured over information online, and I was so happy to help her look into breeds and breeders. When it came up that a Labrador Retriever breeder we had been looking at had a 10 month old puppy that was for sale after no longer be eligible to be a show dog, we decided to take her, and she was a perfect fit for our family.
Mia was beautiful…absolutely stunning. With her chocolate eyes and beautiful, black fur, she was a quiet girl from the beginning. Her mild temperament fit our family to a tee. After some discussion, it was decided she would sleep in my room. She didn’t need to sleep in a crate for long, and soon, we were fast friends. I loved having her in my room. Even her loud snoring endeared her to me. She was shy at the beginning…it took our family two weeks to hear her bark for the first time. She was outside, at the fence, and she let out a single bark at the mischievous poodle mixes next door. You’ve probably never seen anyone as excited to hear a dog bark as we all were in that moment.
Mia was so gentle, yet we discovered her massive strength quickly. She would run “laps” around the house when she got really excited, and hearing her bang into the wall reminded one just how strong she really was. Her wagging tail made a bang-bang-bang noise against the dryer. I remember the first few weeks after we got her…my brother & I would get her up at 6 am and we were convinced her tail wagging over “breakfast!” would wake the entire house. When she was young, she would nip in excitement. Her bite was strong, so we taught her the term “nibble” and she would literally nibble at her toys or the hem of our clothing in excitement. One night, she took off chasing something in the backyard. We promptly heard a “squeak!!” and immediately called her in. She looked kind of funny, and we suddenly noticed a little brown leg sticking out of her jowls. We told her to “leave it”…and she spit out a bunny. The bunny was completely unharmed. Mia had caught it, but she hadn’t hurt it. She was just so careful with it. On more than one occasion, we discovered that “indestructible” toys weren’t so indestructible, and she liked tearing the stuffing out of more than one toy with a squeaker she especially wanted to get at, yet she was so very gentle with everything living she came in contact with. When my niece was a newborn, Mia was gentle and cautiously excited…it was like she completely understood it was a baby and that she needed to be very gentle.
Mia loved comfort. She discovered she could jump on my bed at night, and despite her large size, she jumped with the stealth of a cat and never woke me in doing this (save one time…which was hilarious. She looked at me guiltily and jumped off promptly). I would simply wake up the next morning to see a large ball of fur at the end of my bed. Once I accepted her sleeping on the bed, she began jumping up on the bed as soon as it was bedtime. I woke up with her face next to mine, on the pillow, on more than one occasion as she grew to love the comfort of sleeping in a bed. She loved her “cozy corners” in the house and would always work to fit herself it a corner- even if it was a bit too small. She loved the blanket she slept on when I eventually moved out and she no longer had a bed to sleep on, and she loved laying on the rugs around the house.
Mia loved food. She really, really, really loved food. She had a bit of a weight problem at the beginning of her life, as those eyes sucked everyone in to give her just a taste. In time, we learned to scale back, but it was always a joy to give Mia a little taste of something. She loved popcorn, peanut butter, and the taste of grilled meat my dad occasionally treated her to. Whenever I would make gingerbread cookies (which contain molasses), she would stand at the entrance to the kitchen and drool away. Something about the smell of molasses drove her crazy, and she would even try to enter the kitchen, from time to time, which was very unusual behavior for her. She loved getting peanut butter in her Kong, and pizza crust was her favorite. For the dog that ate everything, I about laughed until I cried when she spit out lettuce.
Mia was a genius. She had lived at the breeder’s home prior to making her home with us, so she was used to ten months of being with a bunch of other dogs and going where she pleased. My mom wouldn’t stand for Mia wandering underfoot in the kitchen during mealtimes and during food prep, so Mia quickly had the opportunity to show us how smart she was. The complex concept of “no kitchen” soon was a familiar one, and Mia understood and held to the boundaries of the kitchen. We were all so impressed that it wasn’t long before we started teaching her more tricks. When she was about five years old, I added up all the commands and terms she knew, and the number was around 300 at that time. I would approximate that she knew roughly 450 commands and terms by the end of her life. She was brilliant. She was so obedient, she would sit with food on her nose until you said “Okay.” One time, something happened and we had to go take care of it at the other end of the house…we came back, having forgotten about the trick, 40 minutes later, to sweet Mia with a pool of drool by her paws and the food still sitting atop her nose.
Mia also had a mischievous streak, which rarely showed itself. Having earned the term “Perfect Puppy” in our home, the times she acted up are truly memorable, and we laugh about them to this day. We hadn’t had her more than a few days when she tried to eat a side of ham off the counter. My dad’s “NO!” from across the kitchen was all she needed to know to never try that again. She showed her digging skills shortly after arriving in a truly astounding show of digging mastery. She went in a 360 around a spot in the yard where a stump had once been, and literally, within just a few seconds, she had made a hole about two feet deep. We watched in stunned amazement only a few short seconds before realizing that was problematic behavior, and, once again, a single “no!” is all it ever took for Mia to know to never try that again. She truly could have “dug to China”, as one person once said about the Labrador’s digging ability. Lastly, she jumped up on the dining room table, after a couple treats sat on the table for a couple days. We had all forgotten, but that smell must have tempted her out of her mind…she finally gave in and we all couldn’t believe our eyes when we walked out of the hallway to see our full-sized Labrador Retriever on top of the dining room table, gobbling down the treats.
Mia was a comforter. I remember when I had the virus from hell and eventually had to go to the hospital to rehydrate. For those two weeks, she stayed by my side. I remember when my mom had an allergic reaction and Mia faithfully stayed by her side as she lay on the couch all evening. We would call her “Nurse Mia” in those moments…she would get so silent, sit down riiiiight next to you, and simply put her head down right by you and look up at you with those large, feeling brown eyes. After surgeries, sicknesses, and diseases….Mia was always there. She never pushed you or hurt you…she truly helped nurse you back to health.
Mia’s eyes could talk. It’s one of the things we miss most, now. Mia could look at you and you could see the depths of her soul and it is as if she could read your heart. I remember going through a tough ending of a relationship, one of those moments most teenagers go through. I sat one the floor of my bedroom and cried, holding onto her neck. She sat there and let me cry for as long as I wanted. She didn’t go away. She didn’t lay down. She sat there and let me cry, as if she understood.
Mia was a part of our family. She was there as every child in our family became an adult…from the oldest child getting on her feet and eventually getting married to the youngest child preparing to be on her own. She saw all of us transition into adulthood. She supported my parents and she supported us. She was always there. My niece and nephew loved her. She was faithful and true, and she was our friend.
Mia spoiled us. I have always loved dogs, but, especially as I became an adult and traveled and met friend’s dogs, I found that no dog was like Mia. These dogs jumped and yapped and nipped. These dogs didn’t hold your gaze. These dogs weren’t Mia. Mia, in my biased opinion, was the dog of all dogs.
Mia’s health began declining awhile ago, as she aged, but it wasn’t until this year we started seriously realizing the time was nearing. A couple weeks before we said goodbye, she really turned a corner. It became real and tangible and certain- she wouldn’t see 2016. I’ve lived on my own for several years now, and I have my own family and my own home. I couldn’t believe the impact the news had on my heart. I’ve always loved Mia, and I would tell anyone she is “my girl”, and that hasn’t changed since I got married. She was such a huge part of my life that my first social media account (in the times of MySpace) was “miasroomate” (misspelled in my young age). I taught her tons of the tricks she knew. I was impacted to the core to realize I was going to have to say goodbye. As I considered why, I realized the vital role in our lives Mia had taken.
Mia had been a gift from God for a season of transition in the lives of everyone in our family. In a large way, all four children in our family transitioned into adulthood during Mia’s time in our family. Mia was there for the ups and downs of growing up. She was there when we cried, and she was there when we laughed. She was there when we hurt, and she was there when times couldn’t be better. She loved us with an unconditional love that truly reflects God’s love for us. And when it was time to put her down, it was time to show her that same love.
We didn’t want to say goodbye. Most of us got to be there, and we all sat with her, hugged her neck, cried, said goodbye, and were there with her as she drew her last breath. It was hard. It brings tears to my eyes now. But we knew she was in pain and it was time, and for all the times she was there for us, it was time to be there for her.
The memories of Mia are sweet. I now have the table she jumped on top of to get the treats, and her nail marks are visible, in the right light. There is a certain understanding between people who have lost a dear pet, and it is something that is hard to understand without going through it yourself. It’s a bittersweet camaraderie of sweet memories and pain-filled moments of knowing it is all in the past.
I can’t say I know how to best come to closure over all Mia meant to me and my family, but I believe celebrating what she meant and the way God blessed us though her is a great way to start. This single post can’t sum up all Mia meant, but it can forever be a memory of some of it. In the words of my father….Mia, “Thanks for the memories.” We will always love you and thank God for the time we had with you.
Pets mean so much to us. They are truly furry members of our families. We celebrate our pets and all they mean to us. We love them…and then we let them go. Yet, it is so worth it. I am so glad I had Mia and I am so thankful she was a part of my life for the season I got to have her.
Dedicated, with love, to Mia…March 13th, 2003-July 1st, 2015
to her cousin Bingley…May 29th, 2002-July 19th, 2005
Ten little fingers. Ten little toes. Tiny baby bundled in a blanket. They just cuddle with you and lay in their little bed.
And then something called “mobility” comes. All of a sudden you see danger signs and caution tape everywhere!
As a mama of a rambunctious 2 year old and a crawling, pulling-up 6 month old, I know a little bit about what household dangers are and how to make your home safe without feeling like you live in padded cells. Whether you are a mama, grandparent, baby sitter, or you just occasionally host friends with young children, here are some helpful baby-proofing tips….
Cover the plugs. You can get dozens of little plug covers for just a couple of dollars and it takes just a few minutes to install these in your entire house.
Cleaners. This is a two-part tip:
Use “green” cleaning products. My favorite is the Thieves Household Cleaner from Young Living because it’s incredibly versatile, effective, and affordable. You can also find some natural cleaning products at your grocery store (Target has a growing selection), health food store (such as Sprouts), or online (Soap.com is a good resource).
Keep your cleaners out of reach. Either use a cabinet latch on your cleaning cupboard or move your cleaners to a high shelf. Even crawling babies can get into cleaners.
Corners. Take a quick walk through your house and look for corners that may find little heads. Kitchen tables, coffee tables, and fireplace hearths are common boo-boo culprits. You can find foam corner and edge protectors (that even match the surface of your furniture!) to ease the impact.
Baby gate. Whether you use it to keep the baby in or keep the baby out, this one is a must-have. You can use a gate to keep younger mobile babies in their room playing while you get dressed for the day, to keep babies out of an area that is set up for a project or job (like ironing… that’s so tricky with a little person around!), or to keep pets and children separated. When not in use, store it in a linen closet or utility room.
Crib height. One day you will walk into your baby’s room and be shocked to find that he is not on the same side of the crib that you left him in. Equally shocking is the morning you walk in to find him standing up in his crib. Make sure you lower the crib mattress when this shocker occurs so Baby doesn’t fall – or climb – out!
Tilting hazards. Bookcases, dressers, TVs, lightweight buffet tables, and more can all look so attractive to little people who are just starting to pull up and walk. Again, take a quick walk through your home to find the furniture pieces that look precarious and anchor them to the wall to eliminate tipping hazards. (These days many pieces of furniture come with anchoring hardware, but if not you can easily find what you need at Lowe’s or Home Depot.)
Doors. A set of knob covers is going to come in handy! Three of the doors in my home have knob covers: the pantry (because I have a curious toddler), our closet (because otherwise our shoes end up all over the house – thank you, favorite toddler!), and our home office (because Daddy needs quiet when he works from home).
Bath safety. As your little ones become bigger, outgrowing their infant tubs and moving to the “big tub”, there are a couple things you’ll find helpful. A tub spout cover will help give some cushion so little noggins aren’t bumped too hard. Sticking a non-slip tub mat will help give little limbs some traction. Finally, if you child is sharing a bathroom with you, make sure items like razors (self-explanatory) or glass accents/candles (you do NOT want glass shards and slippery feet in the same room) are moved far from their reach.
These are not baby-proofing as much as safety tips, but hopefully they are still helpful for new parents.
When cooking, make sure that pot and pan handles are pointed toward the counter or the interior of the stove. For exploring toddlers, handles hanging over the edge are pretty tempting. It is NOT worth serious burns to learn this tip.
Keep plastic sacks off the floor and out of reach.
Keys look like such fun toys! However, they have all kinds of jagged edges, which are particularly dangerous for teething babies who stick EVERYTHING in their mouths. (These are a super fun alternative!)
The pull strings on window blinds pose a big strangling hazard. Take a glance at your windows. If any of the windows are lower to the ground – or if the cord comes to toddler level after raising the blinds, you can install a small Command brand hook right next to the window so the cord will be out of the child’s reach.
Store medications out of reach in a medicine cabinet or upper kitchen cabinet. (Go one better and find natural wellness options, like essential oils and homeopathics!)
What is your favorite home safety tip? Leave a comment and tell us!