Wednesday, December 13, 2023

Favorite Christmas Books & Traditions for Toddlers

This time of year is a favorite at our house!! Going to the tree farm and picking out a tree, bringing out our tubs of Christmas decor and setting everything up, and starting in on our little list of family Christmas traditions...these memories are priceless from year to year with the start of December! Elliot just remembers last Christmas so he refers to last Christmas as "the first Christmas" which is so adorable. =)

Today I wanted to share with you all one of my favorite Christmas traditions to do with littles. A couple years ago, I heard about this tradition of doing a book a day opening countdown until Christmas Day. It has become one of the kids favorite things! We love books and reading here at our house, but even if your kids aren't into books as much as ours are, this would be a great way to get them more excited about reading and books in general.

For this tradition, you wrap Christmas themed books (or any books, really; I just do Christmas/winter theme) and let the kids unwrap a new one everyday. You can do this with books you already have, books you have purchased to add this year, or even books from the library! I put away our Christmas/winter kids books along with the Christmas decor, every January, so they are new and exciting when Christmas rolls around again. Last year, I got the idea from one of my cousins to use my leftover wrapping paper to wrap up the Christmas books before putting them away. BEST IDEA EVER. It was a great way to use up my leftover wrapping paper from 2022, and then this year I just pulled them out of the box and set them under the tree on December 1st and they were ready to go! Voila! So genius.

Don’t worry that we are past December 1st; you can start this whenever you want! The first year that I did it I only had a couple of Christmas books and I just started it like a week before Christmas. You can do it for as long or as short as you like! 

I always check thrift books first for new titles on my "want" list, and usually I have really good success getting classics and such there. Thrift Books almost always has free shipping as well, and their orders come fast! But last year, I found that for kids Christmas books specifically, most of them were the same price or even cheaper on Amazon. With prime, they came in just a day or two, and then if there was something in it that I didn’t like or want, I could easily return it right away. I still keep my eye open at thrift stores and garage sales, and I check my "want" list on thrift books first, but I will say my overall success with Christmas books specifically has been Amazon. (Note: when you use my link here for Thrift Books, make an account, and spend your first $30, we will both get a free book credit!)

If you are short on cash, or have too many books (although can anyone ever have too many books??) going to the library and getting Christmas titles there, for the month, is an awesome option as well! This is also a great way to try out new titles and decide which ones you might like to then purchase for yourself to have as some of your Christmas staples. 

Now for a few of our favorite Christmas books to start or add to your collections! These are our favorite titles that we have collected over the past few years. I would say most of these books are great for kids ages 1-10, although there are a couple longer ones that even older children will enjoy.

The Giving Manger Christmas Family Tradition Book Set

This one is a bit of an investment but has been my favorite Christmas purchase so far! I got this one just a week or two before Christmas last year and it was an absolute highlight for the boys. They were so excited to do it again this year! The book comes with a kit-a little wooden manger, a packet of straw, and a little ceramic baby Jesus. Every time your child does an act of kindness, they get to put a piece of straw in the manger. The goal is that on Christmas morning the manger is full and they get to add baby Jesus. Last year the boys were constantly coming to me and asking “what can I do for an act of kindness?” But this year they are older and figuring out things on their own and so they come up with their own ideas of what an act of kindness is. It is just the cutest. I love the symbolism and the sweetness and just every single thing about this little Christmas project! The actual book tells the story of a family who practiced this for the month of December, so there are plenty of helpful ideas there to get your kids thinking of things!

The Legend of the Christmas Candy Cane

As I was linking this one, I saw that there is also a movie made from the book! Has anyone seen it?

The Miracle of Jonathan Toomey

This one is a bit over Elliot's and Madeline's heads at this point but all three kiddos sit quietly and seem to love it! 

Mortimer's Christmas Manger

Our kids have this one basically memorized. =)

Humphrey's First Christmas

This is a funny one. =)

Construction Site on Christmas Night

Another favorite with the boys especially. 

The Puppy Who Wanted A Boy

An adorable old classic.

Room For A Little One 

Sweet artwork and storyline.

Brambly Hedge Winter Story

Brambly Hedge stories are so cute and this one is no exception!

Tractor Mac Saves Christmas

Tractor Mac is always a favorite for anything. 

The Crippled Lamb

I grew up with this one and it is such a sweet little story.

The Tale of Three Trees

Old folktale.

Little Blue Truck's Christmas

Typically Little Blue Truck fashion-rhyming and fun!

The Christmas Story

This book is literally the original Christmas story with scriptures taken straight from the Bible! The accompanying artwork is lovely and my children LOVE it! it serves as dual purpose-we are not only reading Christmas stories together but they are also memorizing God's word when we read this book.  I had wanted something like this for a long time and was thrilled when my friends of mine released this book last year. It also comes with a corresponding coloring book. This book is coffee-table quality and literally a work of art. I highly highly recommend!! 

A Snowy Surprise

This is a really fun but simple little story about baking and Christmastime! 

The Last Straw

A bit ridiculous....but the kids love Hashmakaka (the main character camel) and it is a good story overall.

Katy and the Big Snow

I think anything by Virginia Lee Burton is good. This one is no exception! 

The Mitten

Sweet little story of a boy and his grandmother and a whole lot of animals. Oh, and a mitten. =)

Tonight You Are My Baby

This is a new one I just got this year. It feels extra sentimental to me because I very much feel like I can relate to the "tonight you are my baby but tomorrow you are all grown up" feeling. The kiddos are growing so fast and I'm just treasuring each day I get with them being little! 


Lastly...this isn't a book, but I wanted to share about it because it has sure been SO FUN for the kids this Christmas season! I got the kids their own nativity set for their room and wow, do they love it. I knew it would be a hit but it is THE hit of the season so far for them! They set it up in their room and bring it off the shelf to play with it every day. So cute. It is called the Fisher-Price Little People Deluxe Christmas Story Nativity Playset and you can purchase it here

Let me know in the comments below what books I missed that you would add to my list! 

 I am always on the lookout for new titles! 

Happy Wednesday!

 Chels

(Note: All of the items linked in this post, unless otherwise noted, are items that I own and love. Amazon links are affiliate links. Please read my affiliate disclosure here)

Monday, September 25, 2023

Taylor & Susanna's Wedding & Weekend Celebrations Recap

The second weekend of August, we drove down to south central Missouri for my brother's wedding! Taylor and Susanna had a beautiful day and it was such a joy to celebrate them!

The wedding photographer was my sister in law Sarah Bollinger and she did an amazing job with of the photography. All of the professional pictures in this post are courtesy of her, and I highly recommend her as a capable and talented wedding photographer! (Book her here for shooting your wedding! =)) 

The other random phone snapshots are all mine. =)
This was the first Bontrager wedding that wasn’t held in Iowa, so that was different, but a fun experience to have a wedding “out of the hometown town” on the B side of the family! John and I recently purchased a camper, so we took that down and stayed in it while we were there. Needless to say, we love the camper life! =)

Above, we have three happy little kiddos ready to go with snacks and more snacks! =)

We left home Thursday early afternoon and arrived at our Missouri destination that evening, in time for the bachelor/bachelorette parties. 
This was the only picture I got that night, with my youngest sis! 
I don't have a full length picture of my red dress that I wore that night but it is my current favorite and I've gotten multiple compliments on it so I wanted to link it here. It's flattering, breathable, and summery! It also comes in lots of colors and needed no alterations!
My sis and her husband invited everyone to stay with them, so we had most of the family on their property for the weekend! They have a large house with multiple guest rooms and we also had four campers in their driveway. =) We all really enjoyed the extra time that gave us to hang out together! 
There's nothing like waking up in the morning and then starting the day with all your family around! Best of times! Here we have Maddy snuggling with Uncle Huds. 
Just a couple of the many kids =)
Game time with Gramps. 
As I already mentioned, it was so fun that Sarah was the wedding photographer! She did an amazing job and it was really lovely to see her and her husband again and get to be with them here and there over the weekend! We accidentally matched the night of the rehearsal so we had to get a picture. =) 

My outfit: Bracelet, this one. White jeans, Old Navy white pixie style, thrifted. Black tank, this one. I'm not going to link the shoes because I have tripped in them all three times I have worn them including a massive wipeout on the stage rehearsal night! They are cute but I realized that night as I was trying to think how I tripped so badly, that it had to have been the shoes! The front part just seems to catch on things. Anyhow, I threw them out after that night and haven't tripped since!
I have the black tank in two different colors and I really love it! It is flowy in all the right places but still slimming. I also have the pants in two different colors and I love the thicker texture material but also the extreme stretch. 
The boys enjoyed hanging out with Uncle Kory during the rehearsal! 
Axton and Elliot were just delighted to be ring bearers for the wedding. They became fast friends with Susanna's nieces, who were the flower girls. 
Maddy looking at pictures with Uncle Joshua during the rehearsal. 
Wedding day! 
Behind the scenes of the bridal party pictures.
It was so fun to reconnect again with this dear friend who was also a bridesmaid! 
She was one of my personal attendants for my wedding almost six years ago!
My handsome baby brother! I am so proud of Taylor and the man he has become. I have seen him grow and mature and become more like Jesus so much through this past year! Susanna is a gem of a girl and we all love her so much.  I say it every time I get a new sister in law, but seriously, with each of them, I could not ask for better!
Ready to go!
So sweet!
During the ceremony, there was a bit of a situation with the unity candles. They were burning very fast and the flames were super tall. As the speakers waxed eloquent, the whole little fire show that was happening kept me highly entertained. (I had a great view from across the stage) Thanks to John and Ike, who kept trimming the candles down without putting them out, the church did not go up in flames, and I don’t think the bride and groom had a clue what was going on. The unity candle was lit later on and all was well. 
Kinda pretty cool to get to kiss the hottest groomsman. =)
Elliot and his little girl were just so cute!
After the ceremony we did full bridal party and family pictures.
Really really love my amazing siblings. Each one of them is such a gift in my life!

Story of the dresses....I’ve had my eye on this dress for my mom for a long time. So when she told me she was looking for a dress for the wedding, I sent her this link immediately. This is a gorgeous dress and is sold in multiple colors. (navy, cream, etc) It runs true to size; my mom was wearing a size 6 in the color Cassis. I think originally it was sold at Macys and Dillards, but now you can find it on Amazon as well as the brand website, Adrianna Pappell. And it is currently on sale on Amazon! I personally think it would make a stunning bridesmaid dress too! It would also be a perfect formal dress to have on hand for those few and far between events where you want to have a formal dress in your closet!
                       
The bridesmaid dresses were these dresses in the champagne color. 
Pros: they were fully lined, the neckline was adjustable. (there was a little snap to close it but if you wanted to adjust higher or lower you could just use a safety pin and that worked fine) 
I liked how they had sparkle, flutter sleeves, etc and a more formal look than traditional maxi dresses, but were quite comfortable as well. There were quite a few nursing mamas in the bridal party so the nursing-friendly fit was nice!
Cons: they weren’t super flattering. I wore shape wear and that helped but it was still hard to get a slimming look with where the waistband landed. My dress also kept snagging on my bracelet so that was a bit of an issue.
Still, they were the perfect bridesmaid dress for Susanna and she loved them and we all felt beautiful in them as well! It was also super handy that they were amazon dresses so we could order and return to get the correct sizes etc. 
(Note: Pros and cons are listed as I feel it important to give them when I'm writing a review/linking to a product!)
My earrings were these earrings from Shein, for just $3! I was thrilled with them. I don't usually wear big glitzy earrings but since the style for this wedding was more on the formal side of things, I decided to step out of my box a bit. I loved them, =)
Bracelets were gifts from the bride!
My shoes were these suede ones in the nude color; however, I do not recommend them at all as I had a huge blister by the end of the day plus the suede material just soaked up any dirt it touched. They ended up being cute but super impractical and uncomfortable, so this link is not a recommend from me. =) I always forget to read the reviews before ordering stuff and I probably should've read those first with this purchase. Oh well, they served the purpose and worked for the day!
Getting a good family picture afterwards was a bit of a process but at least we got all five of us in the frame, mostly. =)

With my favorite. 
Madeline with auntie Liz

Madeline's dress set (comes with matching bloomers) is this one from Walmart, and her hair bow is this one
Her shoes are these. (You can see them a bit in the pic below, above Axtons head)
She already had the shoes and hair bow before the wedding, and has worn the dress many times since! I don't often buy Walmart clothes for my kids just because the quality tends to not be great; however, this little dress had actually popped up on instagram in an ad and I fell in love with it! When I was picking her clothes for the wedding, I went with it because it was muted enough that I felt it would coordinate well with our other colors. 
These little outfits for the boys were so adorable! The church that we attend is pretty casual, so their typical "dress clothes" are shorts and polos, and I am so not used to seeing them in formal wear. They just looked totally different in their little wedding outfits and they were super proud of themselves! The cutest!
Grey dress pants link. I searched high and low for dark grey pants that weren’t like tents, as I like more fitted pants for my boys.These were still a little wider than my preference but they were better then any of the others I found! They definitely ran large; I sized down for each of the boys. 
White button shirt link. Axton already had his that I thrifted so I only had to buy one. I tried to find one at a thrift store for Elliot but had no success so I finally got the best deal I could find on Amazon.
Brown shoe link. I bought Axton's new for him about a year ago and then thrifted the very same ones for Elliot this summer! I love these shoes because they work great for dressy or casual. The boys could wear them with this dressy outfit, but they can also wear them barefoot with their shorts and polos on Sunday. Another plus of these little shoes is that they don't seem to scuff and tear like other regular dress shoes. Highly recommend!
Grey suspender/bow tie set link. Again, I tried multiple different sets, but these were the best fit, color match, and price! The boys were SO proud of them!!
Tan dress socks link. I knew I had to get them dress socks but also wanted to get the most “bang for my buck” so I found these in a pack of two brown pair with the rest being white that they can wear other times.Perfect.
The whole tribe. We keep expanding from wedding to wedding! Our last family wedding over two years ago had us numbering 26 and now we are at 33! Each of these people hold such a special place in my heart! 
The reception was beautifully decorated and such a laid-back, relaxed party! 
Maddy enjoying herself at the reception. =)
Hanging out with one of my dear cousins. 
As always, a highlight of family weddings is all the friends and family one gets to connect with again!
The last picture I got before my phone died. =)
This was the ride back to the house after the reception. =) It was a little crowded but we managed! For the four of us in the backseat, our spouses had already taken our vehicles and our kids back to bed quite a while earlier (BLESS their hearts!) so we could stay longer. 
We haven't had this set of people in a car ride for quite some time, if ever, and we had just a great time laughing and getting lost. =) Someone mentioned that we all had something in common with dad and mom: all of us currently have three kids in our homes. =) Haha!
Madeline kept making this face at John when he told her she needed to take a nap.
As one of my friends told me recently, "that girl has got some SASS." =)
That she does. =)
Here we have a very fitting picture to very accurately portray how we all felt after the weekend: happy and TIRED. =)
Congratulations Taylor and Susanna! We love you both!

-Chels

Sunday, June 11, 2023

Mary & Sam's Wedding & Weekend Celebrations Recap

And just like that we have another beautiful family wedding in the books! 

Memorial Day weekend was a lovely one, and for our extended family on the Maxwell side, the highlight was definitely Sam and Mary's wedding. It was such a chill and happy day, and since those two words perfectly describe both Sam and Mary, it was extra fitting that their day should be relaxing, joyful, and sweet in every way. 

  (Note: the several professional pictures in this post were taken by Sarah who, along with Christopher, photographed the wedding)
Celebrations kicked off the week before with a couple of showers. We hosted a family one here in our backyard. Our new deck got finished the day before and was the perfect addition to a party. 
Burgers and hotdogs, with many fixings and sides!
The weather was perfect and it was such a fun evening celebrating Sam and Mary!
I've hosted a couple of pantry showers now and they are officially my favorite theme for a bridal shower. We did themed baskets (like Mexican, breakfast, baking, condiments, etc etc etc) for the gifts so there was a lot of variety and all the staples were covered. 
These little ones stayed super happy playing in the sand all evening.
Wedding week we enjoyed pop in visits from family and friends! The kids are always a fan of their aunties and any friends they might bring along!
Above, we were enjoying a rousing game of Alphabet GoFish, which is the boys' current favorite.
On Friday, I had offered to Sam and Mary that I would feed any of their friends who were in town early and wanted a place to hang out. I told John afterwards that it was truly the easiest kind of hosting ever-everyone knew each other and were having fun together and all they needed was a hot meal and a spot to eat it. Providing food and atmosphere is kinda my thing anyways so we were set. =) We had about twenty people present and it was a great time. 

Note: people often ask me how I can host like this with having three very active little ones. An in depth answer would require more time, but for now I'll tell you that often, and especially for big groups, the key is to plan ahead and make ahead. I made the spaghetti casseroles ahead of time. I made the bread ahead of time, and sliced and buttered it and wrapped it in foil so I could just pop it in the oven to warm while I was baking the other food. The veggies were a frozen veggie blend that I put in a pan and covered with Italian dressing before baking. I did make the dessert the morning of (pumpkin cheesecake bars, recipe from this cookbook, which I might add is one of my favorite cookbooks of all time) but I had the dry ingredients already mixed the night before and the other staples like chocolate chips, canned pumpkin, etc. set out on the counter. I prepped the coffee ahead of time. And I used paper supplies so that after everyone left I could put my kids down for naps and have minimal cleanup instead of loads of dishes. 
The rehearsal dinner Friday night was a laid back taco theme. 
There was lots of chatting and relaxing as we looked forward to Saturday!
Bedtime stories with Tia Anna the night before the wedding. (John got the kids this book at Sams Club recently and it is a current favorite!
I had the honor of doing Mary's hair. My sister in law Anna (Jesse's wife) did all the florals for the wedding including the hairpiece we used in Mary's hairstyle. 
How I love each and every one in this tribe! 
I honestly have so much fun dressing these little kiddos! It makes it even more fun that all three of them just adore new clothes, whether we get them from goodwill or amazon or elsewhere. =)
Boy's shorts: Children's Place, these // Boy's polos: Kohl's off-season clearance last winter // Boy's Sperry's: thrifted
Madeline's dress: Carter's brand, purchased at Sam's club last winter on off-season clearance // Madeline's sandals: Carters brand, these // Madeline's hair bow: from this pack // Nail polish: Piggy Paint brand
Family picture time!
(I got my dress from Fehrnvi last year, but I don't think it's sold there anymore)
A few random shots ahead of wedding time!
A selfie with a few of the sisters!
The flower girls were adorable.
The music was beautiful.
Maddy enjoyed cheering energetically whenever the need arose during the ceremony. (she also had a couple bonus clapping sessions as well =))
Hanging out at the reception afterwards!
The other newlyweds =)
Cake cutting!
Some of the nieces were in charge of a Photo Booth so of course we had to participate!
After the short reception, we hosted a big get together in our backyard for anyone who wanted to come. We had done something similar for Sarah's wedding and Sam and Mary asked if we'd be willing to do it again. Again, it was perfect weather and a great way to end out a perfect day!
After most people went home, we started a bonfire and brought out coffee, tea, and smores supplies for all the young people who were left.
30 pizzas is a lot of pizza and there were a lot of boxes to load for the trash the next day! Elliot was impressed with the stack.
Memorial Day morning found us putting out flags at the front of our yard. I love starting little traditions like this with our kids and teaching them at a young age the importance of honor, respect, and gratitude for our country! 

Boy's shorts and shirts: thrifted // Shoes: Keens, garage sale and poshmark finds
Madeline's dress: gift from Nana, from Carters // Sandals: these, Carters brand // Hairbow: from this pack
Maddy really loves being the baby of the cousin tribe. 
She adores her cousin gang and the feeling seems to be very mutual. 
We are so thankful for the sacrifice given and legacy left by John's grandpa!
And how we love and treasure our beloved Gigi! 
Such a blessing to be able to celebrate, remember, and honor together.

And that is a little rundown of our weekend! 
-Chels