Monday, December 15, 2014

Christmas Around Here

It's only fitting that I'm drinking peppermint hot chocolate as I'm writing about Christmas around here :)  

I had this great idea that I would have all of my Christmas shopping done and gifts wrapped by December 1st.  Let's just say that didn't happen.  Between birthday parties, Gracie cutting her own hair, being the Mystery Reader in Maggie's class, small group, and a super fun Thanksmas party, I'm still finishing up.

And, I'm okay with that!  

I'm slowly learning that things don't have to be perfect to be meaningful or special.  I'm not one of those women who compare themselves to the perfection they think they see on pinterest or in magazines, etc.  Rather, I compare myself to the idealized version of myself and family experiences that I store in my brain.  I'll go ahead and say that it's equally unhealthy.  

So, here's what Christmas is looking like at our house this year!

Our Christmas season always gets started the weekend after Thanksgiving when we go to a hotel with my family. 



As always, we had a great time!  I got a jump on my Christmas shopping (before abandoning my efforts for a couple of weeks), and Aaron and the girls swam their little hearts out!

I also took pictures of the girls sleeping at the hotel, because I just can't help myself.



Perhaps I could consider this a Christmas tradition? 



On a side note, the bed Gracie is in is amazing.  It's a blow up toddler bed and has really come in handy!  

Once we got back, we started Advent...a couple days late.

We are doing something really special for Advent this year that I have affectionately titled "Advent by the Seat of My Pants."  No, there will not be an e-book coming out detailing my strategies ;)

We got the beautiful advent calendar cards from Naptime Diaries, and I hung them up all fancy-like on twine.



Not pictured: the 4 extra holes I put in the wall because I had a really hard time getting things level.

To achieve Advent by the Seat of My Pants excellence, you basically wait until the last possible second to figure out what activity you are doing for the day and then somehow manage to sneak a post it note with the aforementioned activity on the back of the Advent card while your children aren't looking.  This takes skillz, my friends, skillz.  Yes, skillz with a z.

We also read a short verse or 2 each day before our activity.  I get the verses from here.  Leah reads the verse from her Bible and sometimes we talk about the verse more than others.  It's fun talking about why the shepherds were afraid of the angels or how it's significant that Jesus was born in a barn.  We really desire for the girls not to take the details of Jesus coming to earth for granted! 

I'm not going to pretend that our Advent activities are particularly spiritual or full of hard hitting Gospel truths.  They aren't.  But, I'm letting go of the pressure to put meaning into every little thing we do.  I don't make Christmas Gospel-centered; it already is!

For one of our Advent activities, the girls got their Christmas dresses 



right before we decorated the tree.



Thankfully our tree went up without incident this year...unlike last year.

Like always, Gracie got to compare her hand to Aaron's hand when he was little.



Like always, Gracie made a silly face :)



While we were decorating the tree, I realized that we have another tradition which is me making snarky comments about our ornaments.  

Before you become appalled at my snarky comments, please consider 2 things:
  1. I appreciate the ornaments and the people who gave them to us.  
  2. I fully expect that our daughters will be making fun of the ornaments we got them.  I'd actually be a little disappointed if they didn't.
That being said, take a gander at these lovelies...


I can't help but say things like:
  1. Nothing spreads holiday cheer like a one-eyed nut with mop hair.
  2. A ping pong playing Santa really helps me reflect on the real reason for the season.
  3. Clearly a red-eyed blue dinosaur wielding a candy cane reminds us all how Jesus was born to be our Rescuer. 
  4. "Angels we have heard on high, sweetly singing...ruh roh, Shaggy!" 
  5. Clearly my love for all things chalkboard began with this ornament purchased at a craft fair in 1989. I especially appreciate the un-centered Christmas sentiment written just this side of legible.  
But, really, look at these little lovelies <3


We also just celebrated our 2nd annual Thanksmas!

We had such a fun time celebrating with friends!  We had an awesome meal which incidentally has moved me totally over to Team Ham.  I am bidding a whole turkey a fond farewell.  We visited, played games, and had a fun gift exchange.  

Here are the ladies <3

Becca ,Steph, Jenny, me, Bri, Hannah
Seriously some of my very favorites!

After the girls went bed, the ladies decorated sugar cookies!



I don't love making sugar cookie cut outs or royal icing, but it's always more than worth it.  I think decorating with royal icing is so relaxing and fun.  This is the 3rd year that Steph and I have been decorating them together, and I hope we don't stop any time soon!  I use (and love) the recipes here.

That's some of what's been going on in the Christmas department around here!  We are still looking forward to decorating cookies with the girls (after I push through the pain of baking them), driving around and looking at lights, reading The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, eating a meal by candlelight, etc. etc. etc.  

Ultimately, I love most of all that this is a time of year that begs us to slow down and celebrate Jesus.  Jesus coming not just to earth, but to a simple, stinky stable.  He came in the most humble of ways to live a simply remarkable life that led to His redeeming death on the cross.  Our Emmanuel living the life we couldn't live to die the death we couldn't die.  That's why angels sang and kings bowed down...our hearts should do the same.

How are all things Christmas going with you?  And, please, I can't be the only one making snarky comments about ornaments!  What are some of yours?

I'm linking up to Share My Christmas with Kristi et al...

Friday, December 5, 2014

Project 365: #47 and #48

It's been a whirlwind around here with Thanksgiving and Maggie's birthday!


Day 325:



Mags is cooking up a storm!


Day 326:



Just getting ready for bed...


Day 327:



Aaron getting his baptizing on...


Day 328:



Singing, dancing, playing <3


Day 329:



When your mommy writes a food blog, you get to take pictures with some pretty random stuff :)


Day 330:



Contrary to Gracie's silly face, we had lots of fun making turkeys with candy corn, oreos, mini peanut butter cups 


Day 331:



Enjoying what I call a "nibble platter" of leftovers from Thanksgiving lunch for dinner!  Notice anything different about Gracie's hair?


Day 332:



Fun times at our annual weekend after Thanksgiving get away with my side of the family!


Day 333:



Fun time out for pizza with the whole bunch of us!  


Day 334:



Ah, the best part of just about any day <3


Day 335:



Gracie kept busy making crosses by putting painters tape on paper and then cutting them out, because "everyone should know that Jesus died on the cross!"  <3


Day 336:



Happy Birthday to sweet Maggie!!!


Day 337:



Maggie and I conquered the Puzzle Challenge!  We combined 2 24 piece puzzles and put them together without looking at the pictures :)


Day 338:



This is not a comment on this production of Peter Pan, but, um, that's a really weird story.  My favorite part was probably the Walmart commercials with Melissa Joan Heart and her husband and kids :)


Do you have anything going on this weekend?  We are having Maggie's birthday party with grandparents on Saturday and then a Minnie Mouse birthday party with friends on Sunday!  Whew!  A fun and full weekend around here :)

If you have some Christmas shopping planned for this weekend, here are some gift guides: for girls, for boys, and books (partnered with a game or stuffed animal)!

Monday, December 1, 2014

Gift Guide: Books + Fun!

We've talked about gifts for girls.  We've talked about gifts for boys.  Now it's time to talk about books as gifts!  I especially love giving books as a gift with a "tie in" or toy associated with it.  I hope that makes sense, but if it doesn't, here is a list of some of my favorite books and a small toy or game to go with it!




Fancy Nancy
I LOVE Fancy Nancy!  I love that she's, well, fancy without out being snobby.  I love that she dresses creatively.  I love how the books teach vocabulary.  I love that when Fancy Nancy and her friend, Bree, have a disagreement or misunderstanding, it's resolved well at the end of the story.  I also like that the books have different price points.  There are hardcover books that run about $12 and paperbacks that are in the $3 range.  There are also a lot of Fancy Nancy games, and we have the card game, Positively Perfect Parfait, and Fabulous Fashionista.  The Fabulous Fashionista is by far their favorite!  My mom got them the card game, but I inexplicably found the other 2 at Menards.  




Max and Ruby
I have a few questions about Max and Ruby.  Where are their parents?  Why do they live alone?  Why is Max's vocabulary so limited?  Do they know Bugs Bunny?  Is Ruby quite possibly the bossiest bunny ever?  There are lots of Max and Ruby books.  We have Funny Bunny Tales and Snow Bunny Tales, and both of those books include 3 stories.  Wouldn't it be fun to give a kid a Max and Ruby book with Max and Ruby!?!



We also have several Max and Ruby DVDs that I've picked up at Walmart.


LaLaLoopsy
I impulse purchased a mini LaLaLoopsy doll as a Christmas gift for Maggie a few years ago, and she loved it!  The dolls are "sewn" out of old clothes which then determine the doll's personality.  They've since expanded their selection of dolls (they even have ones that poop charms...I mean, I can't even...), but my favorites are the mini dolls that come with a little sister.



Maggie and Gracie play with the mini dolls all of time.  I love listening to them make the dolls talk and go on adventures.  They each have bigger dolls, too, which are also super fun.  There are plenty of LaLaLoopsy doll books.  And while they are by no means going to be winning any literary awards, they are nice books with cute, predictable stories.


Houndsley and Catina
I cannot articulate to you just how much I love Houndsley and Catina. Houndsley and Catina are a dog and a cat (duh) who are different than each other but are very good friends. Each book has 3 chapters which are essentially 3 stories that have a common thread and a sweet lesson or takeaway at the end. The books have a lovely cadence to them which make for a beautiful read aloud.  We have all four books:  Houndsley and Catina, H and C and the Quiet Time, H and C and the Birthday Surprise, and H and C Plink and Plunk.  



The illustrations are incredibly sweet, too.  Now, because I am a crazy person, I hunted down beanie babies that looked like Houndsley and Catina.  Meet Bones the Dog and Flip the Cat:



Even though it doesn't look like it in the picture, the beanie babies are the same size and of equal proportion to each other.

If I was going to get all bossy with you, I would peer pressure you into getting the Houndsley and Catina books :)


High Five Magazine
Aaron's parents got Leah a gift subscription to this magazine when she was 4 and now they get it for Maggie.  



High Five is basically Highlights for littler kids and way better.  It's bright and cheerful and fun!  My favorite feature is a monthly short story about twins Tex and Indi.  There's always a search and find that's in color and easier than the one in Highlights.  The girls consistently enjoy "That's Silly" which is pretty much finding hilarious things wrong with a picture.  Plus, I don't know a child who doesn't like to get mail!

I don't have a toy to go with High Five because you don't wrap anything up :)


Bonus Ideas!
Backpack:  My girls love backpacks!  Whether it is a mini backpack or a drawstring type backpack or an old school back pack, they love them!  Pop some books in a backpack and make the kid in your life happy.
Flashlight:  Throw a flashlight in the backpack with a book and the kid will love you FOREVER!  My girls love having their very own flashlight and find all sorts of reasons to use them in fun and creative play.  Don't forget to include batteries!

What are some of your favorite books to give as gifts?

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Gift Guide for Little Guys!

Yesterday I told you all about gifts for the little ladies!  But, I don't know a THING about little boys!  So, I'm super excited to introduce you to Amanda from Queen of the Land of Twigs 'n' Berries, because, as a mommy of 2 little guys, she's the expert!  She's a fellow lover of Melissa and Doug, too :)

Take it away, Amanda!


As a mom of two little boys, many people approach me asking what they should get the special little boy in their lives as a gift, especially with the holidays approaching.  And as a mom who despises clutter, I am VERY particular about what I purchase or encourage my family to purchase (even though most don’t listen) for my little guys.
So without any further ado, here is my list of 10 AMAZING toy-based gift ideas for boys aged 1-4.
10.  Melissa & Doug Vehicles

It doesn’t matter if they are trucks or cars, my boys LOVE any and all Melissa and Doug vehicles.  They are mostly wooden so they can take a beating when they crash into walls over and over, and I love getting them on sale at places like Home Goods, TJ Maxx, and Marshall’s.  My three year old also really enjoys taking apart and putting together the more sophisticated vehicles that are almost puzzles themselves!
9.  Playdough

One of our favorite ways to spend a rainy morning is to bust out the play dough.  It is great for building so many small motor skills and provides a great outlet for creativity.  Just make sure that you avoid all carpeted rooms since it is pretty tricky getting playdough out of fabric.  This holiday my boys will be getting their first “play dough” set so I am so excited to see how they use the tools, like this pizza set, to make their creations.
To see the rest of Amanda's list, click here!  And, spoiler alert, I totally want to get the last item on her list for my girls.  So much fun!
And don't forget to stop by on Monday to see my BOOK gift recommendations!
Have a Thanksgiving and an awesome holiday weekend!

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Gift Guide for Girls!

Hello!

Do any of you have little girls on your shopping list and aren't sure what to get them?

Well, do not fear, because I am here for you.  I have compiled some of the gifts that my girls have LOVED.  I kept them pretty "girl general" and not super specific to my daughters' interests.  

I enjoy toys for my daughters that are "imagination facilitators."  Meaning, I want their toys to encourage creative, imaginative play.  I think it's good for their little brains :)

Also, there are some gifts that aren't necessarily girl specific, so even the little boys in your life will be happy!



So, I present to you, in random order, The Top Ten Gifts for Little Girls!

Fisher Price Snap 'n' Style



Maggie and Gracie each have one of these (there are several different dolls with different hair colors, etc.) and they love to play with them together.  The clothes are really easy to put on, so they can do it themselves.  Any mommy of girls understand how key that is :)  I think it's helpful to put the doll's hair in a braid right away so it doesn't get all snarled.  Also, because my mother-in-law is amazing, she gave a drawstring bag with this to keep all of the pieces together.  I am an irrational crazy person when it comes to pieces.  But, a charming irrational crazy person ;)


Little Mommy Baby So New


We have 4 of these babies around, and they are well loved and consistently played with.  We actually have the older version of these which came as sets of twins.  I love that they have sturdy arms, legs, and head, but the body is kind of like a bean bag.  It's a great size for even a one year old, and Maggie (she's in Kindergarten) still plays with these.


Doll Stroller



My girls have LOVED the doll stroller.  We've gone through several of them, because they aren't the sturdiest things in the world.  They don't just push dolls in them; they push around books, and stuffed animals, and play food, and crafts, and sometimes even each other...hence the whole "going through several of them" thing :)  Gracie was just using our remaining stroller this week.  On a side note, these are helpful for new walkers who need just a bit of extra help keeping their balance!


Stuffed Animal Dog in Carrier (Pucci Pup)



My daughters are terrified of real dogs, but they each have and ADORE one of these Pucci Pups in a carrier.  They all still play with these puppies.  They love the accessories and being able to make a little bed in the carrier.  Other times, they leave the puppy out and carry around a bunch of beanie babies or other treasures.  


Melissa and Doug Beads


I love pretty much everything Melissa and Doug.  Who are they anyway?  I feel like they'd be really fun friends :)  Anyway, my girls all LOVE these bead sets.  They love to make necklaces for other people.  I love seeing them be so generous by giving away necklaces with the big beads and not even thinking twice about it!


Dora Backpack Play Set


My girls have an older version of this, actually.  They love to play Dora.  When Leah was littler, she and her cousin would pretend to be Dora and Diego and go on little adventures.  Gracie plays with this a lot and loves to put other things in the back pack, too.  This is totally an imagination facilitator.


Tea Set


Again, this isn't the exact tea set that we have (ours is discontinued which makes me feel ancient), but it does the same thing.  Oh, and, of course, this is by our buddies, Melissa and Doug :)  This tea set is made of food grade plastic so they can use it!  When I'm feeling like the fun mom, I let the girls put water in the tea pot, sugar and creamer containers and we all sit at the table and have tea together.  We even have little snacks on the saucers.  It's so fun :)  There are a lot of tea sets out there, but a plastic one that you can actually uses and pour water out of is a must in my mommy book.

These next 3 are even more gender neutral than the above seven (in regards to the above toys, boys could absolutely play with them, too!).

Zingo




We LOVE Zingo!  It's a really fun take on bingo (obviously).  I like that the game is pretty short, so it's even good for little ones who don't have the longest attention span out there.  There are a lot of pieces, but they store really nicely.  The game is really sturdy, too.  We revamp the rules a little bit to work better for us, too, because there aren't Zingo police out there enforcing the specific rules :)


Blue Orange Games


I love how portable these games are!  I can throw them in my purse and pull them out at a restaurant while we wait for our food.  Plus, circle tins are just fun, and they keep the cards all together...again, my issue with pieces!  Our favorite Blue Orange games are:


  • Spot It!  Maggie is a freaking rock star at this game!  I swear she's going to be a spy someday!  There are a ton of variations of this game, plus Spot It Junior for even your littler little ones.  
  • Chef Cuckoo!  This game is like Chopped (the show on the Food Network) for kids.  Gracie especially likes it because it's so silly!  
  • Speedeebee!  This game is a little better suited for Leah (she's 8).  It's a really fun word game that's great for a group split up into teams.  When we play it all together, we be sure that they little girls are with me or Aaron so they are included.




My girls could craft all.day.long.  The above picture is of a scrapbooking kit that someone put together.  Most kids would love to receive a package including markers, watercolor paints, plain paper, scrapbook paper, glue sticks, glitter glue, scissors (plain and fancy edged), stickers, or whatever else you can think up!


Be sure to come back tomorrow if you need Gift Ideas for Little Guys!  My blogging friend, Amanda from Queen of the Land of Twigs and Berries will be here sharing her favorites.

And be sure to come back next week for gift ideas involving BOOKS!

Happy shopping :)


Monday, November 24, 2014

Slow.

I need to remind myself of this, so I'm going to guess that you need the reminder, too.

This is important:



This is productive:



Sewing buttons with Leah (even though it quite possibly takes 4 times as long) is worth it.


Leah and I literally shared each stitch.  She had a hard time finding the hole in the button when pushing the needle up from the bottom.  I would do that, hand her the pajamas, and then she'd push the needle down into the button hole.

We cuddled up by each other on the couch to fix Maggie's pajamas together...serving her sister and building her confidence. 

It took longer, but it was worth it.  Absolutely.

When a little one is having a hard time obeying and speaking kindly, sometimes the cuddle after she stands in the corner is the most important part of the process.

When it is witching hour, and everyone needs me, and dinner needs to be made, and backpacks have seemingly exploded all over the living room, and planners need to be signed, and snacks need to be eaten, and the dishwasher needs to be emptied so it can be loaded again, and spelling words need to be practiced, and, and, AND...

the most productive and important thing I can do is cuddle my physical touch/quality time girl who is an introverted feeler (for all of you love languages/Meyer's Briggs people).  

As we sprint into the holiday season, I need to remember:

I don't want to sacrifice what my girls really need on the alter of getting things done.

I don't want to work so hard to create an experience that I neglect their hearts.  

I am not defined by checking off all of the items on my mental to-do list. 

So, today I will be slow.  I won't rush her into and out of the minivan.  I won't get snippy when they need help and I'm in the midst of making supper.  I'll sit down and build blocks instead of cleaning her room.  I'll watch her do yet another cartwheel and her do a "handstand."  I'll look into her eyes when I give her an answer.  

A present mom is significantly better than a productive one.