Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Jocelyn's List of the Best Christmas Books for Young Children 2011

Jocelyn's List 
of the 
Best Christmas Books for Young Children

Christmas is Here (Words from the King James Bible), Illustrated by Lauren Castillo

The Last Chimney of Christmas Eve by Linda Oatman High
Craft:  Snow globe

A Shepherd's Whisper (A Christmas Classic)

The Christmas Candle by Richard Paul Evans

Why Christmas Trees Aren't Perfect by Richard H. Schneider

A Small Miracle by Peter Collington
Craft:  Our Gift to Christ Ornaments

The Littlest Angel by Charles Tazewell

The Crippled Lamb by Max Lucado

The Christmas Orange (I like the version shared here best.)

This is the Stable by Cynthia Cotten

The Night Before Christmas by Clement C. More

Mary's First Christmas by Walter Wangerin Jr.

The Donkey's Dream by Barbara Helen Berger

A Christmas Dress for Ellen by Thomas S. Monson

The Little Drummer Boy by Ezra Jack Keats

The Snowman by Raymond Briggs 
(We love the wordless DVD with its amazingly peaceful soundtrack!)

Christmas in the Trenches by John McCutcheon

Santa and the Christ Child by Nicholas Bakewell

Morris's Disappearing Bag by Rosemary Wells

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Tuesday, November 29, 2011

795 of YOU...

I've got this CD here that I'd like to give to one of you.

It's a talk called "Farm Wisdom for City Folks: What we missed by growing up in town" by John Bytheway (from Deseret Book).  I've listened to it a ton already, and I'm ready to pass it on to one of you faithful readers and friends.

(Can you feel the love yet?)

We'll call it an early Christmas present.

If you are already a follower, just leave a comment on this post to be entered.

If you are NOT a follower on Google Friend Connect, well, just what are you waiting for? Click on the button that says "Join this Site" on the left side of my blog and then comment to be entered.  Pretty simple.
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And You Thought YOUR Husband was Crazy...

Steve told me yesterday when he started putting up the Christmas lights that it would be "blog-worthy".  I don't know.  He must be reading too much Middle-Aged Mormon Man or something, but I guess he was right, because here I am...blogging about it.

Leave it to a man to take his own life into his hands to put up Christmas lights!

Let's get a closer look shall we?  Yes, that's a rope that he's dangling from and nothing else.  He even trusted me tie the knot!

Not right....but at the same time, just so Steve!

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Monday, November 28, 2011

Christmas Is Now Drawing Near at Hand

I received a comment from a reader today who is searching.  He wants to believe in God again and is having trouble finding his way.  I tried my best to answer his questions and point him in the right direction.  Later, I heard this song by Steve Winwood.  It's called "Christmas is Now Drawing Near at Hand" and it can be found on A Very Special Christmas 3 (Track 14).  

When I heard it, it made me stop dead in my tracks.  It's just so beautiful and haunting and speaks right to our world.  It seems so different from most of the classic or modern renditions of Christmas carols that you always hear.  It's just amazing.  

I am dedicating this song to my new friend "C" and to anyone else reading this who might be questioning, who might be searching.  Keep reaching out to God, and He will take your hand.  The Christmas season is the perfect time to ask Him to make himself known to you and to help you to believe again.  It is a gift that He stands waiting and willing to give to you.

Now to give this song a listen, you'll have to click on over to YouTube, however, I've copied the lyrics here:

Christmas is now drawing near at hand
Come serve the Lord and be at his command
And God a portion for you will provide
And give a blessing to your soul beside

Down in the garden where flowers grow in ranks
Down on your bended knees and give the Lord thanks
Down on your knees and pray both night and day
Leave off your sins and live upright, I pray

So proud and lofty is some sort of sin
Which many take delight and pleasure in
Whose conversation God doth much dislike
And yet He shakes His sword before He strikes

So proud and lofty do some people go
Dressing themselves like players in the show
They patch and paint and dress with idle stuff
As if God had not made them fine enough

Even little children learn to curse and swear
And can't recite one word of godly prayer
Who'll teach them better or teach them to rely
On Christ the sinner's friend who reigns on high

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Brown Paper Packages Tied Up with String

We've been home about twelve hours now, and we've already gotten a Christmas tree, started putting up lights on the house, and been to the doctor...and Walmart.  I still can't get over what a stark contrast it is to go from a place of urban poverty to our quiet, lush, abundant countryside...where packages sit trouble-free on my front porch for days, and I can buy a large Christmas tree fresh off the farm for $22.  It truly feels like the land of milk and honey, and I am so thankful to be so much more aware of just how good we have it.  I hope to never lose this feeling of gratitude that is in my heart right now.

The fun thing about being away for six days is 1) coming home with a suitcase full of clean clothes (thanks, Christie!) and 2) finding all of these lovely boxes on my front porch.  Our to-be-decorated tree already has gifts under it! 3) seeing my surroundings with fresh eyes.

Meanwhile, Steve tells me that he's going to put up the lights in an unprecedented way this year.  All I know is that it involves a lasso and The Dangerous Book for Boys.  Notice, ladies, that there is no Dangerous Book for Men, because Men are just boys in bigger bodies! be continued...

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Saturday, November 26, 2011

The Baptism

We've made some wonderful new friends while we've been visiting Grandma and Grandpa (aka Elder and Sister Christensen) here in Atlanta.  And that's mainly, because Steve and Christie have made so many great friends here while on their mission.  Everyone just adores them!

Tonight, we attended the baptism of this beautiful family, the ones we hung out with on Thanksgiving.  They've already taught me so much, so it was neat to see them all take this big step in life together.  

I've got more to say about the friendships that we have enjoyed while on our trip, but it's late, and we've got a long drive tomorrow...and I'm still sort of processing my thoughts on the experience that we have had together as a family over this Thanksgiving.  So much to much to internalize and ponder.  

I guess I will just say that this trip has been an unforgettable experience.  It's been fun.  It's been memorable.  And it's focused our minds and hearts on what really matters.  And for that I am most thankful.
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CNN Headquarters in Atlanta

You didn't think I'd go all the way to Atlanta and not pay a visit to CNN Headquarters???

I brought Autumn along, who reminded me just what lured me away from the big lights of television...all so I could let my little girl honk on my nose whenever she feels like it!

XOXO to all of my CNN buddies!

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Friday, November 25, 2011

Blue Friday

As you can see from the was amazing!

We got a VIP tour from Eugene, who is in Steve's parents' ward.

We bypassed all the traffic at the lower exhibits and went right up to the ballroom, which has special huge viewing windows of this amazing tank filled with predator fish and sharks.

The aquarium ballroom is normally booked with special events and not open to the public, but it wasn't booked today, so we got to enjoy this amazing view of the tank, and had it basically all to ourselves!

It was both beautiful and breath-taking, and I hope that this is the closest my little darlings will ever come to these particular fish.

(The glass windows are two feet thick.)

Hello, Mr. Leopard stingray.

This is Eugene showing us the surface of the tank, which is basically the size of a football field.
(Most people never get to see this part of the aquarium either!)

Hello, Whale Shark.  You are majestic, but you scare me, so let's not get any closer.

Here are Steve and the kids petting some rays and sharks.

I petted one too.  They felt sort of slimy and squooshy.

(Steve adds that they liked being petted.)

Here we are waiting for the dolphin show to begin.

We sat in the splash zone, but, I think we got wetter during the 3D movie.

The kids saw Santa at the aquarium too and had their "picture made" as we Pennsylvanians like to say.  Santa was so sweet with the children.  I so enjoyed watching their interaction and listening to them ask for A) a baby doll S) baby doll stuff and G) Star Wars Legos.  I love their simple wishes, and hearing Autumn say, "Thank you, I love you, Santa!"

We are making wonderful memories together with Grandma and Grandpa!  What fun!

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Thursday, November 24, 2011

Pie Always Tastes Better

I thought I'd give you a glimpse into our Thanksgiving Day here in sunny Atlanta,
and share a quick thought or two...

The kids are so happy to be spending time with Grandma and Grandpa Christensen who are serving a mission faithfully, here in Atlanta, Georgia.

We enjoyed meeting their neighbors, another set of couple missionaries, who told us--when my in-laws were out of the room-- that Steve and Christie had definitely earned their way into heaven.  (Not his exact words, but something like that.)  He described them as brave--incredibly brave.  Their comment left me a little puzzled, but by the end of the evening, I began to understand why they said that.

We spent the morning prepping for a simple but delicious Thanksgiving meal.

Then there was this horribly pathetic episode where all of my kids cut their fingers while pealing potatoes, and I sprayed hand-sanitizer into their wounds thinking it was disinfectant.  (Yay, mom-of-the-year award for me! Not at all!)  No pain, no gain, right?  Moving right along...

It was a treat to cook with my mother-in-law.  She is such a fantastic and capable cook, and she would NEVER spray her kids' wounds with hand-sanitizer...ever.  It's weird to see her cooking in this tiny apartment-sized kitchen, when I've seen her in action in her well-stocked home kitchen, which she knows like the back of her hand. But she did a fabulous job!  

Here is my grandmother's cookbook full of secret family recipes!  To keep her memory alive this year I made her famous (but very secret recipe for) cranberry ice garnish. 

Oooh, secrets!!...but HERE is a story that I CAN tell you.

After enjoying a lovely meal together, sharing what we are thankful for, then making a craft, reading some special Thanksgiving books, listening to some mission stories, and giving a few gifts, I was ready for some PIE!

Actually, truth-be-told, I was ready for pie before I took my last bite of turkey!

But by the time everything else had been done, Grandma and Grandpa really wanted us to go visit a family they had been teaching who are schedule to be baptized this Saturday.

Now, I wasn't against going. I actually thought it sounded like fun...BUT...I WANTED MY PUMPKIN PIE!  And I wanted it first.  (I had already warmed it in the oven, people!)

But...I was the only one who felt this way.

So we loaded up in the car and drove over to this family of soon-to-be converts to the church.

The family consisted of a single mother and her four children.  She was a good lady.  She was a proud, self-sufficient woman.  They lived humbly.  And that is a huge understatement.  Their neighborhood was poor, in fact this whole area is probably mainly in poverty, (the poorest area in Atlanta).  However this good woman took great pride in decorating her apartment and making her house a home.  She is quite the guardian of her hearth...even using an old crutch to secure the front door at night while they sleep.

Anyway, we played "the candy bar game" together.  We laughed together, stole candy bars from each other, and had a lot of fun.  A lot.

As we headed home, I felt that we had done the right thing, in the right order, and in the right way.  And I felt a tinge of guilt for thinking that my desire to eat pie should trump such a visit, or even come first.

As we drove home, passing one title pawn shop after another, I started to understand what the other set of couple missionaries had said about my in-laws.  They truly are brave.  They go into places that many other people wouldn't dare...two little, old (sorry!), white people carrying a message of love to those who might hear it.  They bring the gospel, but mostly they bring a very Christ-like love...the kind of love that causes them to interrupt their Thanksgiving celebration in order to bring cheer to someone else...and not even see it as an interruption.

Some day, I hope to wear a badge just like this one.  And I hope to wear it as honorably as my mother and father-in-law do.  

Thanks, Mom & Dad, for the perfect ending to a perfectly lovely Thanksgiving Day...
...and for setting such a beautiful example for me!

PS - Remember that scholarship fund that helps single mom's get a degree to help better their situation?  Well, you can still donate to it.  So what are you waiting for?  Black Friday?  I mean, I already ate the last piece of pie...

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Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Our Thanksgiving Advent

We filled out our daily Thanksgiving Advent Calendar this year with little slips of paper with things we are thankful for on them...but I had to take them all out and pack them, so we can read them at Thanksgiving dinner in Atlanta this year!

We are visiting Grandma and Grandpa who are serving a mission there!

(Hey! No peeking until dinnertime!)

Have a Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

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Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Let No Mouse Put Asunder

Guess who tied the knot earlier today?

That's right!  Mousie Boy and Mousie Girl.

Autumn came over to me as I was packing for our trip and said, "Mousie boy and Mousie girl are getting married."  So of course, I had to stop packing and spend time making appropriate wedding attire for our little bride and groom!

I am going to be in so  much trouble when Steve gets home.


I need to stop procrastinating and pack the car!

(Can I please have that hour back???)

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Thanksgiving Songs for Kids

We went to Scarlett's Preschool Thanksgiving Program.  Scarlett's favorite part of school is learning to sing lots of fun songs.  A few weeks before each program, Scarlett surprises us by singing her cute little songs throughout the day and teaching them to us as well.  I enjoy hearing her sing them in our home most of all, because as was the case yesterday, I could barely see her in the program, but in our home, we get a front row performance every time.

Although I couldn't see her very well yesterday, I could definitely hear her!  Last year, her teachers always positioned Scarlett in the center of the group, because she knows the words so well and sings out loud and clear!

Here are some of the songs that she learned this year.  (The I'm a Little Turkey one was a little rough, because the kids had trouble keeping the beat...clapping while singing, not yet their forte!)  But it's fun for me to watch all my kids trying to master this new skill and having such joy on their faces while doing it!


I'm a Little Turkey
(Sung to "We Will Rock You)

I'm a little turkey.
I'm a little turkey.

I'm a little turkey.
plump and round
I fluff my feathers and I strut around
I have a beak and a big red waddle
I open my mouth and
gobble, gobble, gobble!

Have You Ever Seen a Pumpkin
(Sung to Have you Ever Seen a Lassie)

Did you ever see a pumpkin, a pumpkin, a pumpkin
Did you ever see a pumpkin that grows on a vine?

A large one, a tall one, a round one, a small one.

Did you ever see a pumpkin that grows on a vine?

Pumpkin, Pumpkin Pie Yummy 
(Sung To Peanut, Peanut Butter and Jelly)

First you take the pumpkin and you pick it,
You pick it, you pick it, pick it, pick it.
Pumpkin, Pumpkin Pie Yummy! Pumpkin, Pumpkin Pie Yummy!

Then you take the pumpkin and you carve it,
You carve it, you carve it, carve it, carve it.
Pumpkin, Pumpkin Pie Yummy! Pumpkin, Pumpkin Pie Yummy!

Next you take the spices and you mix it,
You mix it, you mix it, mix it, mix it.
Pumpkin, Pumpkin Pie Yummy! Pumpkin, Pumpkin Pie Yummy!

You put it in the oven and you wait,
You wait, you wait, you wait, you wait.
Pumpkin, Pumpkin Pie Yummy! Pumpkin, Pumpkin Pie Yummy!

You take it out the oven and you bite it,
You bite it, you bite it, bite it, bite it
And you chew it, you chew it, chew it, chew it, chew it. (Sing like your mouth is full)
Pumpkin, Pumpkin Pie Yummy! Pumpkin, Pumpkin Pie Yummy! 

Thanksgiving (Sung To: Where is Thumpkin)
Thanksgiving, Thanksgiving
Here it comes, here it comes.
Turkey on the table, turkey on the table.
Mmm-good, mmm-good.
Cornbread muffins, chestnut stuffing,
Pumpkin pie, ten feet high.
We were so much thinner, before we came to dinner.
Me-oh-my, me-oh-my!

The Pilgrims Sailed the Ocean Blue

(Sung to the tune of Mary Had a Little Lamb)

The Pilgrims sailed the ocean blue, ocean Blue, ocean blue. 
The Pilgrims sailed the ocean blue, to find a brand-new home.
They landed near Plymouth Rock, Plymouth Rock, Plymouth Rock.
They landed near Plymouth Rock. That’s where they made their home

It's Good to Give Thanks
(Sung to If You're Happy and You Know it)

It's good to give thanks to the Lord
It's good to give thanks to the Lord
It's good to give thanks, it's good to give thanks, 
It's good to give thanks to the Lord.

It's good to give thanks for our food.
It's good to give thanks for our food.
It's good to give thanks, it's good to give thanks,
It's good to give thanks for our food.

And our family's favorite:

The Turkey is a Funny Bird

The Turkey is a funny bird
His head goes wobble, wobble
But he can only say one word:

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Monday, November 21, 2011

A Mayflower Craft that ROCKS!

I had a bunch of super cute kids in my house on Saturday morning, so we decided to do a Thanksgiving craft together.  Hop on over to Chocolate on my Cranium to read my guest post about my absolute favorite Thanksgiving books and find out how to make your own Mayflower craft that truly ROCKS!

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Saturday, November 19, 2011

My Joy and My Great Thanksgiving

"In the Wilderness" by Ron DiCianni
I stumbled upon this depiction of Christ earlier this week, and it made me gasp.  I'm not sure I can come up with the words to describe what feelings this painting stirred up inside me, but when I saw it, it brought me to a new understanding of Christ and what he suffered for me, or rather, it cemented what I had learned from reading about him in the scriptures. 

I saw this picture and immediately thought, "Ah, he really does understand."  

I appreciate this depiction of the darkness that looms and weighs so heavily upon us here in mortality.  Of course, what Jesus Christ endured trumps anything we will ever be able to imagine experiencing in our lives, yet we are each allowed an opportunity to experience pieces of what he suffered.

But why?

Elder Kent F. Richards, when speaking about how The Atonement Covers All Pain said this:

"In the Book of Mormon, Alma also prophesied that 'he shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and...he will take upon him the pains and sicknesses of his people...'That his bowels may be filled with mercy...that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities.'

"Late one night lying in a hospital bed...I read those verses over and over again.  I pondered: "How is it done?  For whom?  What is required to qualify?  Is it like forgiveness of sin?  Do we have to earn His love and help?  As I pondered, I came to understand that during His mortal life Christ chose to experience pains and afflictions in order to understand us.  Perhaps we also need to experience the depths of mortality in order to understand Him and our eternal purposes."

This last line of this quote from Elder Richards is perhaps the most treasured truth that I have received in the last year, and I am so thankful for it.

As I look around me and think of the suffering of others, my friend who recently lost her mother, the many children who were victims of abuse at the hands of evil, power and lust-hungry men, the woman who has seen her dreams of bearing a child dashed by miscarriage, the young woman who suffers of a broken heart because of the infidelity of her companion... I know that Jesus Christ has actually experienced their pain.  I don't know the specifics of how, but I know that he has.

And strangely enough, there is great joy and thanksgiving in knowing that he knows. He understands, and that he can and will comfort us as we walk through our trials in mortality.

Last week, the missionaries stopped by to pick up some dinner that I had made for them, and in exchange they fed me.

They were inquiring about my efforts to share the gospel.  I had heard from two people that day that they were not interested, and I was feeling sad about that in my heart.  One of the elders opened up his Book of Mormon and read the following passage to me:
27 Now when our hearts were depressed, and we were about toaturn back, behold, the Lord bcomforted us, and said: Go amongst thy brethren, the Lamanites, and bear with cpatience thinedafflictions, and I will give unto you success.
 28 And now behold, we have come, and been forth amongst them; and we have been patient in our sufferings, and we have suffered every privation; yea, we have traveled from house to house, relying upon the mercies of the world—not upon the mercies of the world alone but upon the mercies of God.
 29 And we have entered into their houses and taught them, and we have taught them in their streets; yea, and we have taught them upon their hills; and we have also entered into their temples and their asynagogues and taught them; and we have been cast out, and mocked, and spit upon, and smote upon our cheeks; and we have been bstoned, and taken and bound with cstrong cords, and cast into prison; and through the power and wisdom of God we have been delivered again.
 30 And we have suffered all manner of afflictions, and all this, that perhaps we might be the means of saving some soul; and we supposed that our ajoy would be full if perhaps we could be the means of saving some.
 31 Now behold, we can look forth and see the afruits of our labors; and are they few? I say unto you, Nay, they are bmany; yea, and we can witness of their sincerity, because of their love towards their brethren and also towards us.
 32 For behold, they had rather asacrifice their lives than even to take the life of their enemy; and they have bburied their weapons of war deep in the earth, because of their love towards their brethren.
 33 And now behold I say unto you, has there been so great love in all the land? Behold, I say unto you, Nay, there has not, even among the Nephites.
 34 For behold, they would take up arms against their brethren; they would not suffer themselves to be slain. But behold howamany of these have laid down their lives; and we know that they have gone to their God, because of their love and of their hatred to sin.
 35 Now have we not reason to rejoice? Yea, I say unto you, there never were men that had so great reason to rejoice as we, since the world began; yea, and my joy is carried away, even unto boasting in my God; for he has all apowerball wisdom, and all understanding; he comprehendeth all things, and he is a cmerciful Being, even unto salvation, to those who will repent and believe on his name.
 36 Now if this is aboasting, even so will I boast; for this is my life and my light, my joy and my salvation, and my redemption from everlasting wo. Yea, blessed is the name of my God, who has been mindful of this people, who are a bbranch of the tree of Israel, and has been clost from its body in a strange land; yea, I say, blessed be the name of my God, who has been mindful of us, dwanderers in a strange land.
 37 Now my brethren, we see that God is amindful of everybpeople, whatsoever land they may be in; yea, he numbereth his people, and his bowels of mercy are over all the earth. Now this is my joy, and my great thanksgiving; yea, and I will give thanks unto my God forever. Amen.

There's a lot to love about this passage of scripture, but at this time in my life, it just speaks to my heart.  The first line makes me wonder about Jesus Christ.  How many times did he become depressed and feel like turning back?  And yet he didn't.  He carried on through the weight of everything.  He bore the sins of the entire world, with the added pleasure of insult added to injury, and humiliation rewarded to him for his great humility.

And why didn't he turn back?

Like Ammon and his companions, he suffered all of these afflictions that he might "save some soul".  He would have done it, even if he knew that just ONE PERSON would hear his message and be saved.  Truly there has never been greater love in all of the land.  I hope that some day I can possess that love too.  But for now, it gives me strength to know that the Savior bore our pains with patience and did not turn back.  That he understands what we go through, and that His joy is full, because of the souls that he has brought back home.  And our joy will also be full if we bring save it be one soul to him...our own.

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