Our Picture Book Advent Calendar

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Christmas picture book advent calendar waiting under the tree. We wrap our gifts with repurposed grocery bags and decorate with whatever we can find around the house!

Two years ago, when Carter was just four months old, I started collecting Christmas books to create a picture book advent calendar. It was this search for Christmas books that inspired my journey into writing – at the time, I couldn’t find any Christmas books featuring children of color. This led to a strong impression to write books of my own. I have embraced the journey so far!

Our collection has grown and changed over the past two years as I add new books and put some on hold for later years. I’ve made an effort to include books with children of color, classics, religious themes, and humor. Each year, I wrap and number the books and put them under our tree.

Please forgive the Amazon links and if possible, support your local bookstore!  This year’s collection  includes:

An Angel Just like Me written by Mary Hoffman, illustrated by Ying-Hwa Hu: A young African-American boy needs to find an angel for the family Christmas tree but can only find angels with blond hair. He goes on a mission to find an angel that looks like him and discovers that angels, like his friends, can come in many colors.

The Birds of Bethlehem written and illustrated by Tommie dePaola: The nativity story told from the perspective of the birds who witnessed it.

Carol of the Brown King: Nativity Poems written by Langston Hughes, illustrated by Ashley Bryan: Beautiful nativity poetry with stunning illustrations that portray people in all colors.

The Christmas Cookie Sprinkle Snitcher written by Robert Kraus, illustrated by Vip: On Christmas Eve, the Christmas Cookie Sprinkle Snitcher steals all the sprinkles for Christmas sugar cookies! A story told in funny rhymes.

The Christmas Star written by Paloma Wensell, illustrated by Ulises Wensell: Two young children follow the brightest star and bring their favorite toys to baby Jesus. They receive the most beautiful gift in return.

Dream Snow written and illustrated by Eric Carle: A lift-the-flap book in which snowstorm covers an old farmer and his animals. When the farmer awakes, he remembers he has a Christmas surprise for everyone!

The First Christmas by Jan Pienkowski: Beautiful artwork with verses from the Gospels of Luke and Matthew.

Funny Faces Santa Claus by Roger Priddy: Christmas characters, rhymes and big moving googly eyes!

The Giver of Holy Gifts written by Krisanne Hastings Knudsen: A board book describing the gifts Christ gives us. What gift can we give the Savior in return?

How the Grinch Stole Christmas written and illustrated by Dr. Seuss: The Grinch is determined to ruin Christmas from the Whos down in Who-ville.

Jingle Jingle Little Reindeer: A small finger puppet book. Wiggle your finger to help the reindeer get to Santa’s sleigh on time!

Joy to the World written and illustrated by Tommie dePaola: Three beloved Christmas stories in one! This collection includes The Night of Las Posadas, The Story of the Three Wise Kings, and The Legend of the Poinsettia.

King Island Christmas written by Jean Rogers, illustrated by Rie Munoz: Eskimos help a stranded priest reach their village in time to celebrate Christmas.

Nativity Flap Book by Usborne: A lift-the-flap book with the nativity story.

The Night Before Christmas written by Clement C. Moore, illustrated by Mary Engelbreit: Classic Christmas poem illustrated as only Mary Engelbreit can do it!

One Special Night: The Christmas Story Pop-Up Book written by Lori C. Froeb, illustrated by Claudine Gevry: The nativity story told in colorful, moving pop-ups.

The Polar Express written and illustrated by Chris Van Allsburg: A young boy takes a magical trip on a midnight train to the North Pole.

Room for a Little One written by Martin Waddell, illustrated by Jason Cockcroft: Animals welcome each other one by one into a warm stable. A donkey carrying a pregnant woman is welcomed in. That night, a little one is born.

Samurai Santa: A Very Ninja Christmas written and illustrated by Robin Pingk: A young ninja wants to have an epic snowball fight on Christmas but none of the good little ninjas will join him for fear of ending up on Santa’s naughty list. He concocts a plan to get rid of Santa, but will Samurai Santa get in the way?

The Snowman written and illustrated by Raymond Briggs: A snowman comes to life and shares an adventure with a young boy. A story told entirely in pictures.

Snowmen at Christmas written by Caralyn Buehner, illustrated by Mark Buehner: On Christmas Eve, the snowmen come to life and have festivities of their own!

Too Many Tamales written by Gary Soto, illustrated by Ed Martinez: Christmas Eve is going perfectly for Maria until she loses her mother’s diamond ring in the tamale mix. She and her cousins will have to eat all the tamales to find the ring or Christmas will be ruined!

Tree of Cranes written and illustrated by Alan Say: As a Japanese young boy recovers from a cold, his mother folds paper cranes to decorate a tree. She reminisces about her Christmases in California and introduces him to his first Christmas tree.

When Christmas Feels like Home written by Gretchen Griffith, illustrated by Carolina Farias: Eduardo is homesick after moving to the Unites States from Mexico. His family promises him that he will feel at home by Christmas.

Our Halloween Fruit Family

I’m pretty proud of my budget Halloween costumes this year. I made costumes for our whole family for less than ten dollars! Although Carter refused to wear his grapes, we did manage to pin one on him for the first twenty minutes of trick-or-treating, so I say it was a success!

Carter loved his first trick-or-treating adventure. He loved ringing doorbells. He loved all the decorations. He loved the candy. He loved practicing “trick-or-treat!” between houses, though he inevitably got too shy to say it every time. He loved inviting himself into peoples’ homes as soon as they opened their doors. He makes Halloween ten million times more fun.

We ventured down the street to check out the crazy that is two blocks from our apartment. I’m talking blocked roads, security guards, street hoards and lines-around-the-block crazy (we watched rather than waited in the lines). Pumpkin towers higher than homes, hologram ghosts, live theatrical performances and decorations like you’ve never seen crazy. A Marvel themed set up with kryptonite forests and comic book stands crazy. Famous Silicon Valley people giving away stuffed animals and movie-sized candy boxes crazy.

I’m pretty proud that even in that throng of over-the-top Halloween theatrics, lots of people stopped to take pictures of Andy’s grape costume!

The crazy decorations and theater scenes were mind-blowing and I’m glad we experienced them again this year. But, I realized I’m pretty old-fashioned. I liked going door-to-door on neighborhood streets, scoping out lit up homes and watching Carter run excitedly to their doors. I liked exchanging friendly pleasantries with neighbors. I liked sharing Halloween love with other trick-or-treaters on the sidewalk.

I think it’s the Minnesota girl in me. I grew up sprinting up and down the street with my brother and cousins, filling pillowcases full of candy. I grew up hoarding Halloween candy for an entire year. I wore the same costume every year for five straight years. There were probably lights and decorations, but I don’t remember them. I remember jumping into my uncle’s van to warm up and cover more distance when necessary. We didn’t miss houses. We got candy.

This year was the 25th anniversary of the Minnesota Halloween blizzard; it was the most intense snowfall in a 24 hour period. Ever. Three feet of snow doesn’t stop Minnesotans from doing anything. We trick-or-treated in three feet of snow. I was maybe four feet tall. My cousin Mike face-planted in the snow and his candy went flying everywhere. And we filled it back up by the end of the night. That was the the best Halloween ever.

That’s how I remember Halloween. That was better than all the expensive shows and fancy decorations. Me. My brother. My cousins. Having fun together.

Next year, we will skip the crowds and lines and trick-or-treat the old-fashioned way. Running up and down the street, speeding between homes, admiring creative costumes and getting bellyaches from laughter and candy.

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Our most successful pumpkins so far! They survived until Halloween!

Carter Turns Two

The little booger turned two. Time is going too fast. Here are some things I want to remember about him at this fun age:

He loves basketball and will turn anything – or anyone – into a hoop. This is his primary obsession. After watching the Olympics, he started to jump off steps and say “gymnactiks” and do “pinnies” around on the ground like the men on pommel horse. He also started practicing track starts and running off, telling everyone he’s “so fast!” He loves lights, spinning fans, helicopters, trains and pretending to drive my car.

His favorite color is pink. He loves pink colored pencils, pink crayons, pink flowers, pink clothes, pink balloons, pink balls. He always picks out the pink thing and wants that one. Someone asked me if I trained him to like it to defy gender-norms, but no, he loved pink on his own and I hope no amount of peer pressure will change that.

His favorite lullabies are church hymns, “Amazing Grace”, “Lean on Me”, “Swing Low Sweet Chariot”, three random songs I learned at Japanese camp in high school, and songs from the musical, The Color Purple. He either asks for songs by name (“Lean on Me” = Lemolemolemo, “I am a Child of God” = Im a Chango, “Love is Spoken Here” = I See Mamo) He knows a lot of the words and, on my favorite days, will sing-yell along with me.

He loves my muumuus and pajamas. Specifically, he likes to wrap them around himself or use them as blankets. This started one night when I wasn’t home, but has now progressed to him demanding the pajamas straight off my body for snuggling purposes. He also loves to bury himself under a big pillow before he goes to sleep. It’s twice his size, and has become a bedtime necessity.

He is a sponge-parrot. He soaks up everything he hears and remembers it weeks later. He speaks three languages – Chinese, English and Spanish – and knows when and with whom to use which one. He also remembers names and cars. Sometimes he lays in bed and starts saying the names of everyone he’s ever met. If he’s met you once for at least 20 minutes, he’s probably asked to see you again, said your name before bed and practiced saying it during the day. He also probably knows what kind of car you drive. He does not get that from his mama.

His favorite song is “Shut Up and Dance.” He asks to listen to “Shutup Ance” at least one million times every day. This has devolved into just straight up “Shut Up!” and after several heart to heart conversations about using this phrase, has turned into, “Shut Up!…don’t saaaaay thaaaattt.”

He loves to dance. He climbs on top of his toddler table, squats low and waves his butt back and forth. This is what he calls a dance party. He gets it from his mama.

He loves to pray and read the scriptures. He loves to bow his head and say, “So grateful today” and “AMEN!” with real gusto. When he picks up scriptures, he flips the pages and says, “Jesus God. Jesus. God. And. Prophets. And. Jesus. God.” Then he asks to look at pictures of the temple. Heart. Melting.

His face lights up when he sees me and he runs super fast into my arms yelling, “Mommy’s here!!!!” if we’ve been apart for an hour or more. This is the best. I will probably want to remember that he did this once, because I know it won’t last forever.

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He has changed my life in more ways than I can count. Andy and I can’t imagine life without our little Boogie. He makes us laugh with real joy. He makes us whole and reminds us what matters most. We love him with a love deeper than anything we thought possible and are so grateful to Heavenly Father for sending us this crazy, goofy, sweet, loving angel into our lives.

We had a little birthday party for Carter, themed “Carter’s Having a Ball!” in honor of his love of all things ball related. And his love of dancing. And his love of generally having fun. It really takes a village and we are blessed to have such a wonderful one supporting our family!

On Christmas Traditions

Turns out family holiday traditions don’t just happen out of thin air. They take a crap-ton of thought, intention, planning and straight up work. There is some miraculous, not-so-behind-the-scenes butt busting that happens to get all those presents wrapped and under the tree, stockings stuffed, dinner made, cookies baked, house cleaned (even if it only lasts for five minutes with my tornado son and small apartment) and decorated, tree up , and family adventures successfully carried out.

True to my overthinking self, I’ve spent a lot of time pondering the type of spirit, lessons, feelings, experiences and memories I’d like to create in my family. I’ve landed on something like Christ-centered, service-oriented, magical, spiritual, love-filled, joyful, fun and family-focused. Or something.

I wonder: How to keep Christ at the center of Christmas in a whirlwind of fun activities, food and glitz? How to emphasize the love in a season of giving without succumbing to the materialism and commercialism so blatantly encouraged everywhere? How to enjoy time together without getting too caught up in an ever-growing to-do list? How to preserve traditions of two different families – one Christian, one not – while making new ones of our own? How to have traditions without getting stuck in a rut of doing things just because we always do them?

I dunno. But Andy and I talk about it lots and we’re trying! Here’s where we’ve landed this year…

Traditions We Keep Alive
Christmas tree cutting: I missed it this year because Carter was sick, but I love starting the Christmas season this way. The day after Thanksgiving, the Bay Area Bradshaw clan tromps up into the hills of a Christmas tree farm and makes a day of cutting down our trees together.

Christmas Creche Exhibit: One of the best ways to start the season with a strong focus on Christ. Stunning nativities from around the world are displayed in a truly beautiful setting with live music. Andy and I come multiple times each year and usually volunteer at least once. We love it!

Christmas decorations: We  decorate our tree (it doesn’t take long, we don’t have many ornaments yet!) and house together. We also display the Christmas cards that loved ones and friends send our way. Smiling faces and twinkling lights add to the cheer in our home.

Hosting Christmas Eve dinner: I love hosting my family and close friends in our little apartment.

Progressive gift opening: Andy and I are blessed to live close to both of our families. We spend part of Christmas Day visiting and opening presents with both sides of loved ones.

Ugly wrapping, scrap wrapping, no wrapping and wrapping paper piles: Pretty self-explanatory. Runs on both sides of the family. Jump into the giant pile of wrapping paper.

This Year’s Tradition Fails
The Christmas Poo: We really hope this does not become a thing. Right before we were about to open presents, Carter laid a big, stinky poop. Andy went to change him and the next thing I knew he was yelling, “Red alert! Red alert!” I ran in to find Carter flipped onto his tummy, Andy holding one fat leg in each hand, suspending the poor guy spreadeagled in the air. There was poop everywhere. Please please please not again next year.

Lantern lighting: Seemed like a really good idea to join friends as they released lanterns in a high school field à la Tangled. I’ve always wanted to do this. I also like the corny song in the movie. However, after we finally herded dinner guests into our cars and pulled into the parking lot, I checked my phone and saw this message:

Dead tree: Our tree started to brown about two weeks before Christmas. It stopped drinking water. It turned crunchy and all the needles started falling off. It was a major fire hazard. But, we bravely – albeit stupidly? – left it up through Christmas.

Self-Buys: Andy’s family is big into the self-buy Christmas gift. As in, buy yourself a gift, wrap it up and then open it with a big show of exaggerated excitement on Christmas morning. It’s pretty funny, but I’ve always been the biggest hater on this particular tradition. This year I bought DVD stocking stuffers for Carter and Andy, so naturally, I bought myself one too. I wrapped it up, put it in my stocking only to discover on Christmas morning that not one, but two other people (Andy and my mom) also bought me the same movie. Andy almost busted his gut laughing at me. That’s what I get for being a hater. AND, that just goes to show self-buys are stupid. So I guess, this is a win-win for all.

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My self-buy fail. Never again.

New Traditions We Think We’ve Started
Children’s Book Advent “Calendar”: Stole the idea from a former teacher and mentor. Starting December 1, we unwrap and read one children’s Christmas book each night until Christmas.

Elf and The Holiday: Watch both of these every December. I’m siiiinnngggiiinnngggg…..

Cousin gift exchange: Or cousin’s children’s gift exchange to be more precise. Or first cousins once removeds’ gift exchange (I had to look that up). Carter will call them all cousins. It’s not all about the presents, but it sure was fun to be with my cousins and to see how excited the kids got. Lesson learned: little children want action figures and toy-things. Just try to get things that kids will love and stop thinking so hard about it. Hopefully this will come from more experience. Do not want to be that weird, ugly-sweater auntie.

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Christmas in the Park: Downtown San Jose has a fun park filled with lights, displays, rides, games, trees, ice skating, snowman hot chocolate and fair food. Carter loved the lights, the bubble guns and the snow machines!

Also, this happened before we got to the park:

Union Square skating and lights: Andy and I went ice skating with friends in Union Square four days after we first hung out (yes, I remember days of the week and everything. We first hung out on a Friday, we went ice skating on a Tuesday). That night, we also rode glass elevators and snuck into the top floor of the Westin St Francis in Union Square. This became quite an epic winter of adventures and watching every dance movie known to mankind. We tried to repeat sneaking up to Victor’s Palace this year with Carter, but the hotel has gotten wise and requires a keycard for elevator use. Blast. Nevertheless, we try to go up to San Francisco every year to do something Christmas-y.

Flashback to December 23, 2008: Though I was unaware at the time, this was the beginning of Andy & Joanna magic.

December 18, 2015: This year’s visit to Union Square and a failed attempt to sneak back up into Victor’s Palace. At least the gingerbread house was amazing!

Ornaments: We have a pretty naked Christmas tree. We have to put it in a corner because we barely have enough ornaments to spread over its visible parts. Its backside is embarrassingly exposed. So, this year, we asked people coming for Christmas Eve dinner to bring us an ornament. We loved the thought and personality behind each gift. This year, we also started collecting ornaments from our travels. I finally decided to let go of the idea of having a matchy-matchy Pinterest Christmas tree in favor of a colorful tree with lots of meaningful ornamental memories. Good decision, me.

Caroling in bed: This year, Carter woke up at 6 am and Andy and I categorically refused to get out of bed until at least 7. So, we sung all the Christmas carols in bed to keep Carter entertained and distracted. We really really really suck at singing. Incidentally, in our home, despite Andy’s protests, Christmas music turns on the day after Thanksgiving and doesn’t turn off until New Year’s.

Family Christmas morning: Cinnamon rolls and other goodies for breakfast. Read Luke 2 while eating. Andy cried and bore his testimony of Christ to Carter as the little one was busily stuffing two fistfuls of waffles in his mouth. Present opening together just the three of us. Snuggles. Reminder to self for next year: buy bacon.

DIY gifts: We wanted family gifts to be really thoughtful and meaningful without deriving all their value from cost. This year, I made Carter alphabet magnets and Andy framed photos for me in a collage for our wall. Poor Andy didn’t get a DIY gift this year, he got a mini blu tooth speaker. We loved our DIY gifts; they were our favorites to give and open. Will make it up to Andy next year.

Gag gifting: My brother Dave got us a Squatty-Potty while we wait for his real gift which has yet to arrive. Clearly, he must be repaid.

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Also, this gift was also from Dave. Highlight of Christmas dinner:

Puzzles: Andy really really wants us to start this one. He bought us a 100 piece Nativity puzzle this year that we finished in ten seconds while watching Star Wars. Hopefully next year’s will be a little more advanced for a couple of puzzle masters like us.

Ideas for the Future and/or Things I’d Like To Try
Nativity re-enactment: Lots of families we know play dress up and re-enact the story of Christ’s birth. Seems like a pretty fun thing for kids – and maybe even the kid-like adults.

White envelope gift: Inspired by this story. Ignoring her description of the “inner-city” kids; I like the idea and want to try it.

Christmas cookie party and gingerbread houses: This is purely selfish.

Train of Lights: We’ve tried getting tickets for the last two years but they’re always sold out. One day we will prevail!

More SF lights: Apparently there is a lot of cool lighting stuff that happens in SF in early December. From lit up boats to cable cars to houses, it seems pretty dope. Would like to experience some of it. This year it was raining so we gave up trying.

Ugly sweater: Worn plenty of ugly sweaters in my life, but never been to an Ugly Sweater party. Someone please invite me to one.

Fancy-pants party: Have always wanted to get all dressed up for a fancy Christmas party somewhere. I know, shocking. But, it would be fun just once.

Bradshaw Summer Olympics: Saw a hilarious video of people at a family Christmas party playing a ridiculous game involving ping-pong balls, tissue boxes tied around waists and a lot of gyrating and pelvic action. Was inspired. Andy and I want to hold an annual Summer kick-off field day BBQ with stupid games and even stupider prizes. Coming Summer 2016.

Love Christmas time. Already counting down the days until next year!

 

 

Getting Crafty for Christmas

The holidays bring out the DIY in me. Something about them just makes me want to bust out my hot glue gun, Modge-Podge and construction paper and surf Pinterest to my heart’s content. Judging by this gem that reappeared last year after decades in hiding, this urge is not a new one.

Oh heeeeyyyy, five-year-old Joanna. I can’t tell if you’re mad or sad or happy. Or whatever. But, sweet headband.

Clearly, I was some kind of ornament-making prodigy. Look at the perfectly rounded cutting and the painstakingly aligned doily-thing. Observe the intentional fade of my fingerprint. Notice the perfect centering of my photograph. Either I was a DIY genius or I had a very very very patient teacher. I’m inclined toward the former.

I think the Christmas-time DIY urge is born from a blend of a) being eh…frugal, b) trying to be more environmentally-conscious and c) a real genuine urge to create stuff because it makes me happy. I’m not sure DIY-ing everything actually saves me money, because even though I try to be thrifty, I sure am a sucker at Michael’s. Plus everything takes forever. But, it really does make me happy!

Gift wrapping is a good example. I don’t buy wrapping paper and bows because it seems so wasteful. I wrap gifts in brown grocery bags and try to use whatever I find around the house to decorate the boxes. Except when I discover some hideous wrapping paper in my garage and have to use it so it’s not wasted (see ugly-paper wrapping in pictures below).

Our Christmas tree star is made out of twine, old plastic bags, cardboard, glitter spray and tons of hot glue. I found the directions here.

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Last year, after Carter’s birth, I decided I was going to learn how to use my sewing machine so I could make our family some stockings. I found my inspiration here and got a lot of help with sewing and patterns from my crafty pal, Katie. They turned out a little lumpy, but that’s just personality, right?

And, of course, the ornaments.

Bonus: Here are Andy’s contributions to our Christmas DIY decor: An awesome pinecone Christmas tree that he made with students years ago, and his version of a homemade bow. Note the tape straight down the middle. He’s got mad skills, that one.

Here is Carter’s DIY contribution from last year.  

 I love Christmas time!