Weekly Photo Challenge: Carefree

I apologize.  I have been MIA for weeks now.  Out of the blue, life got a little crazy right in the middle of my summer and fun things were sacrificed to the Tyrant of Busyness.  To get back on the blogging wagon, I thought I’d participate in The Daily Post‘s Photo Challenge for this week which is “carefree”.

care•free  adj1. without anxiety or worry   2.  My four-year old niece, as she plays in the surf on the beach in Corolla (Outer Banks, North Carolina)




The essence of life is not in the great victories or grand failures, but in the simple joys.

Jonathan Lookwood Huie

Please check other great interpretations of the Weekly Photo Challenge: Carefree at the Daily Post.

My Most Favorite Christmas Books For Kids

Christmas is struggling to come to my house this year.  I’m not lying – I still have pumpkins sitting on the front porch.  I’m in the throes of birthing two major projects for school and Mr. Whimsey is working long hours and attempting to purchase his company by dutifully jumping through all the required legal hoops.  And then, as always, there is the house itself.  Stuff is piled, scattered, and relocated throughout the first floor (and everywhere else) as a result of the remodeling process.  Even though we are making great strides – the hardwood floor is almost finished and the French doors are hung – I can’t bear the thought of tossing anything else into the chaos.  Even if it’s beautiful Christmas decorations.

We have managed to pull all the Christmas boxes from storage.  Of course, they are now littered throughout the basement and upstairs hallway.  One of the first boxes the kids always open is the one filled with Christmas books.  I started purchasing Christmas books when Lovey was born and have added new ones to the collection every year since then.  We used to read the books together in the evenings before bed.  Now that the kids are older and bedtimes vary so much, they will often get the books out and read them on their own.

As I looked through the books last night, I reminisced about snuggling my little Whimseys and reading heart warming stories about Christmas together. I also thought about reading chapter books in the dim, quiet hallway outside bedrooms where the kids were tucked in for the night.  As I paged through the books, I could feel the holiday spirit that had been eluding me so far begin to penetrate my worn-out bones.

I’ve decided to share some of my most favorites books.  These choices achieve favored status because of the many wonderful memories associated with them.  However, each book stands on its own as a worthwhile read.  I promise.   (I’ve basically listed them in order of age appropriateness, starting from youngest to oldest.)

My Most Favorite Christmas Books for Kids

1. The First Night by B. G. Hennessy with illustrations by Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher.  The Nativity story is told in simple, almost poetic prose and the illustrations are absolutely wonderful.  The tone of the book is all quiet and stillness and there is a real sense of the holiness of that night.

2. Who Is Coming To Our House? by Joseph Slate with illustrations by Ashley Wolff.  I love the illustrations in this book! (You’ll find this is a theme with me.)  The story is told through the animals as they prepare the stable for the arrival of Mary and Joseph.  It is written with a rhyming cadence that makes for nice out-loud reading.  The animals’ personalities and excitement really shine through the text and the images.

3. Claude The Dog written and illustrated by Dick Gackenbach.  This little story is adorable.  Hidden within its cuteness is a powerful message of generosity, told in a way that even little kids can understand.  Honestly, this is a tear-jerker.  Ace routinely requests this story and listed it as one of his favorites.

4. The Crippled Lamb by Max Lucado with Jenna, Andrea, and Sara Lucado, and illustrated by Liz Bonham.  A small, crippled lamb named Josh stays behind in the stable because he’s unable to keep up with the flock.  The wonderful experience that comes out of this disappointment reinforces that fact that God has a purpose for each one of us.  Seventeen years ago, my sister gave birth to a little girl with almost overwhelming physical limitations.  Just breathing was a constant battle for her.  For thirteen years, we had the pleasure of knowing her and then it was time to say good-bye.  She loved to hear this Christmas story.  I cannot even look at this book without thinking of Molly.  For obvious reasons, it has a very special place in my heart.

5. The Polar Express written and illustrated by Chris Van Allsburg.  This is also a beautifully illustrated book.  Would you expect anything less from Mr. Van Allsburg?  The story is filled with so much mystery, magic, and belief.  As you read, you can sense the silence of the snowfall, the warmth of the train car, and the excitement of the elves. It deserves that Caldecott Medal it proudly displays on its cover.  This is secular Christmas fiction at its very best.

6. Who’s That Knocking On Christmas Eve? written and illustrated by Jan Brett.  The illustrations in this story create such a sense of place – of Nordic wintertime and Christmas.  The story is fun, filled with mythical trolls and pet polar bars.  It simply is a pleasure to read.  This was also a much requested book when Ace was smaller.  We even read it when it wasn’t Christmas.

7. The Littlest Angel by Charles Tazewell with illustrations by Paul Micich.  This story describes a small angel boy who has trouble behaving like an angel once he gets to heaven.  He wants to do boy things instead.  God chooses this littlest angel’s gift to give to Jesus on his birth day.  This is a very sweet story with many grown-up lessons underpinning it.  For me, because I have two boys, the entire story resonates clearly and emotionally.  It also reminds me that Jesus was once a boy just like my two “angels”.

8. The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by  Barbara Robinson.  I first heard this story in fourth grade.  Mrs. Fisher read a chapter of it to us every day after recess.  I loved it so much I couldn’t wait to share it with my kids.  The story revolves around the Herdmans, really rotten kids from a highly dysfunctional family.  They single-handedly turn a church tradition upside down and in the process pull off the best Christmas pageant ever.  There’s a lot of humor with a good dose of subtle morality.  The gift of a ham for baby Jesus?  Why not?

9. On Christmas Eve by Ann M. Martin.  This is the second Christmas chapter book we read as a family about a girl named Tess who was determined to see the real Santa.  Vintage setting of Christmas in 1958.  Infused with magic.  Lots of snow. Uplifting story.  What more could anyone ask for?  This is a very satisfying family story especially as a read-a-chapter-aloud-at-bedtime book.

10. A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens.  The granddaddy of Christmas stories and my favorite of all time.  The dark mysterious feel of most of the book, the ghosts, and the magic would be entertaining enough.  Mix in the concepts of forgiveness, salvation, and redemption and I’m hooked for life.  I confess that I haven’t read this one out loud for all the kids.  We started to, but it ended up being too spooky for bedtime.  Lovey and Buddy have since read the tale on their own.  Ace thinks he might try it this year – maybe.

I realize that there could be some serious disagreement with my choices.  Even among my family members I’ve heard some adamant disapproval.  Lovey would like to see The Last Straw, Holly Claus, and The Story of Christmas added to the list.  Buddy lobbied for How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Santa Paws, and The Tale of the Three Trees.  Ace’s favorites include Olive the Other Reindeer and Santa’s Favorite Story.  I agree with all these recommendations but there has to be a cut-off point somewhere, right?

Are there any books you’d like to add to the list of Most Favorite Christmas Books For Kids?  We are always looking for stories to add to our collection.

Fun Friday (Part 1)

Summer vacation has officially begun in our corner of the woods.  This means that Fun Fridays are back in full swing as well.  What is a Fun Friday?  It’s a boredom buster.  An end of the week celebration.  An educational experience wrapped up as playtime.  A reward for good behavior.  It’s always fun.  And it usually happens on Friday.  I honestly forget how this tradition started several years ago, but I think it might have had something to do with aimless, bickering kids and the words “I’m bored”.  Every Friday during summer break we (my three kids, my niece, and I) have a little adventure.  Sometimes these adventures are free – a picnic at Long’s Park and playing at the Castle playground, a hike at Kelly’s Run, a homemade Wipeout course in the backyard, Chocolate World.  Other times we spend some money – Indian Echo Caverns, Wheatland (President Buchanan’s home), the Amish Farm and Home.  Sometimes we invite others to join us.  Sometimes not.  Fun Fridays happen only if chores are done, behavior is acceptable, and instruments are practiced.

When I first came up with this idea, it was a tool to maintain my sanity during those summer months of endless togetherness.  I never thought it would become such an anticipated and beloved tradition.  We start talking about Fun Friday ideas in April and everyone has input.  This is such a favorite that my niece, who is old enough to stay home by herself, still wants to come over so she can participate in Fun Fridays with us.

Tomorrow is Friday.  The first Fun Friday of the summer.  And because we have a big weekend planned, this Fun Friday is pretty mellow.  We’ll be headed to the Fractured Prune for some custom doughnuts for breakfast and then off to the library to stock up on reading materials for the next two weeks.  The kids were already on the Fractured Prune’s website tonight designing the doughnuts they are going to eat tomorrow.  Their enthusiasm is contagious.

Fun Friday Ideas

The Science Factory

The Tabernacle

Valley Forge

Rockford Plantation

Longwood Gardens

A movie(s) at Kendig Square

A day trip to the beach

Riding bikes on the Elizabethtown/Mt. Gretna bike path

Miniature golf


Renting a boat at Muddy Run

I think I’m looking forward to Fun Fridays as much as the kids this summer!