Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The week in review: when things don't go as planned...

This past week seemed at times to be quite the comedy of Christmas errors (including my intention to get this post up last Friday!).

All mostly went as planned Monday when we made it to the Christmas tree farm and cut down our tree just before the rain began. Then our tree sat naked in the corner for three days before we got any more than the lights in it.

I manage to make merengue cookies with the kids, but part way through my chocolate shavings began to get stuck in the piping tube because I hadn't chopped them small enough! (What a mess!) we had to make multiple trips to the grocery store for the necessary gingerbread cookie ingredients. And while the gingerbread decorating went well, every time I turned my back some little munchkin was shoveling handfuls if sprinkles in their mouth. Whew!

We managed to get the tree decorated (my candles are still sitting in a box next to my vacuum) and the wreath on the door (though the wreath kept sticking in the "Happy thanksgiving" window clings for several days before we got them down!)

As so many of my best laid plans and intentions fell crashing out of my hands this week I had a choice...to despair, through a pity party, and complain, or to realize that things don't have to go perfectly to be meaningful.

Our kids have had a blast helping decorate, make cookies, and take part in our disjointed advent activities. We've read the Christmas story from Luke and they are excited to celebrate the birth of Jesus. They don't need a thousands activities to make Christmas special, they need Mom and Dad to point them to what is most important, even when the tyranny of the urgent and less significant tries to take over.

I hope you are enjoying making memories with your family this Christmas season, and that you can be encouraged that things don't have to go as planned to be meaningful and significant.

Monday, December 10, 2012

The week in review: tis the season to be busy!

Our December is shaping up to be jam packed already. I love having special activities to do with our kids (and we make a point to do those with our advent calendar) and we were blessed this past week to enjoy time with family.

We visited a somewhat local train garden that Grandpa has taken us to the last 3 years.
It is fabulous!

We had silly fun together at home, singing songs and reading lots of books. Some favorites lately have been The Nutcracker by Alison Jay, Snow by Uri Shulevitz, and Mr. Willowby's Christmas Tree by Robert Barry.

I love how much fun and joy these two are!
Then we spent a few days in Williamsburg using a Groupon we purchased several months ago.

My family did many trips to Williamsburg when I was little for homeschool field trips, by I had never been to see it decorated for Christmas...beautiful!

Then we enjoyed ourselves at Great Wolf Lodge and wore our kiddos out playing in the waterpark. The Christmas decorations were beautiful here too, including an indoor snow!
I finally got my first batch of Christmas cookies baked! I feel quite behind on baking; it's one if my favorite things to do and I have so many memories of baking cookies at Christmas with my sisters. I had some fantastic helpers too.

Here's a look at some of my favorite cookie recipes as well.
Candy Cane Cookies
Cinnamon Sugar Biscotti
Candy Cane Biscotti
Molasses Sugar Cookies
Chocolate Crinkles

Friday, November 30, 2012

The week in review: It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas!

To keep things simple for December, I'll be posting each Friday a little review of our week, specifically the thrifty and frugal things we are doing to celebrate and enjoy the Christmas season.

This week I began to decorate with my kids, swapping our thankful tree for a felt Christmas tree and adding our stockings.

I finally stitched Will's stocking together (it was just pinned last year) and I'm so excited to see them next to each other. I can't even begin to imagine how many hours I put in cross-stitching their stockings!

The idea for the felt Christmas tree is all over Pinterest (check out Johnny In a Dress). I should have grabbed a yard of felt when I was at Joann's last to make it larger, but ended up just using the small rectangles and piecing them together. It was super simple, and has been a hit! I used cookie cutters as templates for the ornaments.
It was so great to pull my advent calendar activities and Scripture verses out of our Christmas box this year. I spent a considerable amount of time last year getting it exactly how I wanted it. I still need to put all the activities and verses in order along with some treats. Emma has been asking all week when we can get started!

I'm also incredible thankful for all the Christmas activities I packed away last year! Our sensory bin of Dollar Store items:

A few preschool pack activities (I think from 1+1+1=1, but not positive):

And a whole slew of Christmas stickers just waiting to go on coloring sheets and activities.

Before Thanksgiving I tackled a project one afternoon and was so excited to see how well it turned out....new skinny jeans!

This was a pair of Gap jeans passed on to me from a friend that were extremely flared at the bottom.

I turned them inside out and pinned them where I wanted, then sewed a brand new seam, removing the excess material. So easy, I highly recommend it!

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Shutterfly winner!

Congrats to Sarah, who won the $50 prize from Shutterfly!

If you are looking for a great deal on photo cards, there are still several options. Check out this one from Cardstore via Moms Need to Know! http://momsneedtoknow.com/70-photo-greeting-cards-cardstorecom-free-shipping/
This includes your stamp for mailing, so it's a really sweet deal!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Thanksgiving Week

I mentioned yesterday in my Christmas Card post (enter the $50 Shutterfly prize giveaway!) that we have been doing a bunch of fun Thanksgiving related activities.

Here's a quick run through of some of our favorites; hopefully you will find a few ideas for over the Thanksgiving holiday this week!

Last year's "thankful tree" was much smaller scale. We modled after this craft on 1+1+1=1 and added things we were thankful for on each leaf.

This year I knew I wanted it to be much bigger and give both kids a chance to add as many things as they could think of. I used brown construction paper and cut out branches, then taped them to the wall. I just free-handed the tree, trying to make it look like a huge tree with lots of branches, but I traced the leaves. They've done a great job adding to our tree; it has many additional leaves at this point. It has also been a great teaching tool...the easiest thing for my kids to be thankful is all their favorite foods! But they are thinking outside the box a bit more now (and they both wanted to put each other on the tree!).

I was inspired by Housing a Forest to make shape turkeys. These took just a little bit of prep time and were a fun activity for both kids. We used it to work on not only shapes, but colors and sequencing/patterns.

Here's the finished product hanging up!

 Along with the turkeys, we've done several fall pictures, including a tree with the leaves made out of crumpled and wadded tissue paper.

We've also enjoyed using a number of free preschool packs that are Thanksgiving themed! Check out this one by Our Little Monkeys and another by 1+1+1=1. Some favorite activities include putting stickers on the white dots:

Measuring Thanksgiving items:

More stickers with a special visitor:

And lots of color by number fun with an Aunt!
 These puzzles are fantastic too!

 We'll also be making good use of some of the travel activities I posted about last Thanksgiving while we make the rounds with family and friends! Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

A Shutterfly Christmas Card Review (and giveaway!)

We've been having a lot of fun doing Thanksgiving activities recently! I'm planning a recap of those for tomorrow, but I have a Christmas giveaway to get started first today. :) I am so excited to once again be able to talk about Shutterfly Photo Christmas Cards! My family has enjoyed using Shutterfly for Christmas cards for a number of years (last year we used Treat, a Shutterfly company). The selection of cards is much bigger and in my opinion, better, this year.

 I'm a big fan of cards that are a little more traditional in color and styling, but also have plenty of options to personalize. Many of Shutterfly's photo card options allow you to pick the same design in different sizes, colors, and even choose between a folded or flat card. Shutterfly introduced a new size card this year - its HUGE at 6x8 inches! It does not require any additional postage to mail, but it is more expensive than the smaller cards.

The inside (of the folded cards) and the back (of the flat cards) has TONS of options to personalize with additional photos, a large amount of text, or some of each. I am very thankful for the opportunity to have some space to write a bit about our year to keep family and friends that live far away from us updated.

Shutterfly is also one of the easiest to use photo gift sites from which I have ordered. As I scrolled through different cards I used the little heart icon to mark several cards as 'favorites' and they were automatically saved to My Shutterfly. It made it so much faster to be able to look back at the ones I had marked to narrow down the card for our family.

I get personalized offers from Shutterfly via email (free photo books, prints, other photo gifts) frequently, and these make great gifts, since all I have to do is pay shipping. If you haven't signed up for Shutterfly's email list yet, I highly recommend it! You can also check out their current Special Offers for more gift ideas.

I'm keeping our Christmas card a secret for now, but I wanted to share a few of my favorites to give you an idea of some of the new styles that Shutterfly has this year.

Simple, with one photo on the front (and I love this shade of blue):
(Light and Joy)

A bit more whimsical and fun, especially if you have small kids:
(Clothesline Frames)

I like the pattern over top the photo in this one:
(Snowy Window)

as well as this one:
(Ornaments of Peace)

Share your family's top ten memories from the year:
(Our Top 10)

I love the beautiful script on the side of this one, along with the multiple photo spots:
(Flourishes of Joy)

Win It!

Shutterfly has generously provided me with a fantastic giveaway prize: $50 off a $50 purchase (excludes applicable tax and shipping. Offer expires 12/14/12)! For a chance to win, leave a comment on this post telling me how you would use the prize...Christmas cards? A photo calendar? Another photo gift? Make sure that your email is visible in your blogger profile or in your comment so that I can contact you if you are the winner. Comments without an email are not valid entries. This giveaway will run until 9pm Eastern November 26, at which point a winner will be chosen via random.org.

Disclosure: Shutterfly sponsored this post and compensated me, but all opinions are 100% my own. 

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Homemade Pizza: Garlicky Mushroom and Feta

This week's homemade pizza is much more on the gourmet side...mushrooms and feta cheese with a garlic infused olive oil sauce! This is not one that our kids are brave enough to try yet (though they like all of the ingredients separately), but I'm quite fine with not having to share this right now :)

For the crust, use any of your preferred crust recipes. To go with the gourmet toppings, I like to use the Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes A Day crust. Saute the mushrooms first (I do it this way), and they can even be prepped ahead of time along with the crust.

While the oven is preheating, place a generous portion of good quality olive oil (Trader Joe's is excellent and very reasonably priced) in a small sauce pan. Add 3 or 4 (or more or less, to taste) cloves of minced garlic to the oil, along with salt and pepper. Watch closely and allow to get nice and hot, but watch so the garlic does not burn. Taste frequently (and carefully!), adding additional seasoning if necessary.

Roll out the dough and place on a heated pizza stone. Brush the entire crust with the olive oil. I am very generous with the olive oil in the center of the crust. Add mushrooms and feta cheese, then sprinkle with parsley. Bake according to crust instructions, until nice and brown. Cut, serve, and enjoy!

This is a great break from traditional tomato-based pizza, and even though the toppings are a bit more expensive than regular homemade pizza, it is still considerably cheaper than ordering at a restaurant. That's a win in my book!

Other Pizza Recipes:
Deep Dish (Pizza Hut copycat)
Basic Recipe
Stuffed Crust
Bagel Bites

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Be Consistant! (Loving Books, Part 4)

I feel like I've learned a lot about how to encourage my kids to love books, especially great books, and I wanted to take a few posts to share some of my thoughts. Any time you delve into parental advice-giving it has the potential to be a nasty can of worms. So, I hope the book recommendations and thoughts on encouraging a love a reading are helpful. I'm not trying to make out like my way of doing this will work for everyone. 

So far I’ve talked about being selective about choosing good books for your children, as well as being intentional about finding and identifying good books. In this post I want to focus on the importance of building reading into your routine. Routines will look different for every family, and rightly so, as you encourage reading in a way that is specific for your children.

My children love to snuggle together on the couch when we have a time devoted to reading. They are not holding other toys and we minimize distractions. Our routine always includes reading the title, author, and illustrator to our children. When our children discover a new favorite book, they are able to ask for it by name instead of referring to it as “the cow book” or “choo-choo.” And most important for our family, when we go to the library to get new books, it helps them and us when we remember the names of favorite authors.

We make the library a weekly part of our routine. I can’t read every book before we bring it home, so I also make sure that I have one or two old favorites each week, in case the new books are not as good as I hoped. Some weeks we only have time for a quick trip to grab a few books, but many times we spend an hour or more looking through books, playing with the toys (and the computer!) in the children’s section, and talking with the librarians. The library has become one of their favorite places, and because we go weekly, they anticipate each trip and ask to go even more often.

Favorite ABC books

ABC: A Child's First Alphabet Book by Alison Jay
  One of our favorite author/illustrators. Each page has beautiful images and several objects to discover that go along with the letter.
The ABC Mystery by Doug Cushman
  A simple book with great rhythm. Follow the clues to discover "whodunit" along with Detective Inspector McGroom!

Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by Bill Martin, Jr and John Archembault
  The classic alphabet rhythm and song. We have this audiobook also and it is a hit.
Alphabeep: A Zipping, Zooming ABC by Debora Pearson
  Follow through the alphabet with cars, trucks, and other things that go.

LMNO Peas by Keith Baker
  This is an adorable book with occupations and activities for each letter of the alphabet. Great illustrations also.

Dr. Seuss's ABC by Dr. Seuss
  Another great classic. The board book is a good introduction for smaller children, but move on to the full version as soon as possible!
I Spy: An Alphabet in Art by Lucy Micklethwait
  Each page features a piece of artwork. Look for the part of the painting that corresponds to the appropriate letter. There are several books like this as well. This is a more difficult I Spy.

Also noteworthy but highlighted earlier...C Is for Caboose: Riding the Rails from A to Z and Baby Einstein: Alphabooks

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