It’s Beginning to Look A Lot Like Christmas

At our first house, B and I always oogled the beautiful, big Christmas lights that perfectly outlined rooftops. We had small white twinkly lights at our old house and I had my wreaths on the windows, but we never invested the time or money into new lights for our roof line – partially because our upper roof line was so steep that B told me from the get-go lights up there weren’t going to happen.

But at this house, the roof is just ever so slightly more walkable, making the upper roof line Christmas lights-able. So, I started looking for Christmas light inspiration, and the first image I came across was basically a slightly grander version of our house. I jokingly sent it to B with text along the lines of, “I expect our house to look like this this year. And if we ever need more room, we can just add on over the garage and add dormer windows!” And B was equally as impressed with the lights (not so much the fact that I’m already doing additions to our house in my head. This girl just likes to be prepared.). So, we went out Christmas light shopping. And then I started to feel guilty, so I declared that the lights and his labor were my “Want” for Christmas this year.

House at Christmas

Every time I pull up to our house I just smile. I think one of the smart things we did was that we immediately started making memories here – from hosting Tom and Nell’s birthday here a week after we moved to just welcoming poeple in regardless of the state of a room or the entire house, moving in and living our real lives here has made a huge difference in making us feel at home. But, there’s something magical about decorating a house for its first Christmas with your family – the decorations inside and out just make it truly feel like its ours.

DIY Christmas Pillow

Christmas season can get so busy that if I haven’t already made something by Thanksgiving, it’s likely not to happen. But, last weekend I took Nell with me to look for table linens to turn into winter pillows. You know how I love to turn napkins into pillows, right? I’ll share the rest of the pillows I made last week, but here’s one that I made as a hostess gift for a friend. After not having much luck at my normal go-to stores, Nell and I were perusing the Target Holiday section when a simple, pretty Joy place mat jumped out at me. The place mat had perfect amount of sparkle, linen-y fabric, and was understated but pretty. I grabbed two – one for my house and one to give away.

  placemat to pillow

The process of turning a place mat into a pillow is so easy. I like to make pillow slipcovers so that I can more easily store seasonal pillows and just change out the covers as the seasons go, so that’s what I did. I cut a very careful slit at the back of the place mat in the back layer of fabric, then reinforced the cut fabric with scrap linen I had on hand. I made two button holes and sewed buttons for a button closure for the pillow, then just stuffed pillow forms I already had into the slipcover. It took me about 20 minutes to make this pillow, and cost me $3.50 plus the pillow form, which I already had.

 

It made for a fun, token gift, and one that I was proud to give as it fits in with almost any taste or decor. I’m linking up to Dare to DIY: Give Homemade Gifts this week. I’d love to hear what you think – then head over to Decor and the Dog to see lots of other great projects!

Cleaning Out Before Christmas

Every January I clean and purge and try to make sense of the new things that have come into our house over the holidays and determine what we no longer want or need. But this year, I decided to do my simplifying – or at least round one of it – before Christmas for a couple reasons. 1) I used to rotate toys frequently – like, every six weeks. But, we haven’t gone through the toys and purged things or even rotated things out since we moved six months ago, and it was long overdue. 2) I want my children to focus on the true reason we celebrate Christmas, not accumulation and greed. Presents are fun, and we absolutely celebrate St. Nicholas and his giving spirit in Santa Claus, but cleaning out, and giving to others, is the first step for Thomas (and soon Nell) to start to appreciate all he has and not all he wants. 3) Cleaning out helps me remember what the season is about, too. I mentioned last year that I can start to feel like I’m cycloned into the commercialism and feel like I’m not doing or giving enough. But enough is just what works for your own family, not what works for others. So by taking some time to take stock of our house – and to decide what we truly can do without and others might benefit from – helps me to remember the reason we give at all during this holiday season and also allows me more time to focus on things like lighting our Advent candles and talking about the birth of Jesus than worrying about keeping up with some other ideal.

 

Last night, I pulled all of the toys out of the playroom and the hidden storage between our living room and back hallway and sorted like crazy. I have always sung the praises of toy rotation – it keeps toys interesting for longer, gives me a good opportunity every few weeks or months to assess what we have and the shape it’s in, and also let’s me observe how something is played with. I’m a firm believer that if kids are surrounded by tons of things, they forget what they have. But, right before we moved we did a major clean out, so upon moving into our new house, I just put all the toys in the playroom and basement. Most things got put in the toy rotation pile – almost every toy we had in the playroom got moved to a bin in the basement, and I brought up the peg puzzles that lost T’s interest about a year and a half ago for Nell to play with. The few toys I’d stored away when we moved in were returned to the playroom, and we kept our go-to favorites: the magnets, cash register and letters out to play with. My rule with toy rotation is that if I reintroduce a toy and it doesn’t get played with, it’s time for it to go away, so I’ll keep a pretty good eye on what gets played with and what doesn’t and likely have more to give away before December 25th.

 

After sorting what should enter back into rotation, I decided what we could do without. Toys that were missing parts or broken got taken straight to the trash. And toys that just weren’t holding the kids attention anymore – or things that never clicked with them – got put in a pile for Thomas to sort through. He can pick what he gives to other boys and girls who don’t have as many toys and what we’ll keep for a few more months to see if they get played with.

 

And then I kept going. I got rid of Christmas decorations I never put out – I was mortified that I’d not only kept for this many years but moved twice the cheap ornaments I’d bought to decorate my Christmas tree in my old Boulder rental. Old, frumpy garland went to Goodwill – someone, somewhere, might be able to resuscitate it. I went through our old electronics, cleared the memory and took them to Target to be recycled. And it feels so good! Our house is not minimal right now – there’s garland on the mantle, and lots of Christmas decorations everywhere you look. There are toys strewn about the floor of the playroom regardless of how many times we put things away. But it feels manageable, and I feel at peace.

How do you prepare for the onslaught of things for Christmas? Any thing you’ve put into place for teaching your young kids about the reason we celebrate Christmas? And read more about why how we keep gifts for our kids at Christmas under control here.

 

Holiday Gift Guide: Toddlers

I’m back with my toy and book recommendations for toddlers. This is a harder category for me, especially because my current toddler has an older brother, and so many of his toys are her favorites. But here are some tried and true things Nell has loved in the last few months (I’d say starting around 15 months for many of these):

Holiday Gift Guide Toddlers

*No affiliate links are used in these recommendations, and I am not sponsored by any of these companies to recommend these products. Just sharing what we love.

Melissa and Doug Fill & Spill Picnic Basket - Nell could happily put things in and out of containers all day long. She loves this picnic basket (and a similar purse), so any fill & spill type toy would be a huge hit for any kid. This was a favorite for Nell beginning shortly before her first birthday, and continues to occupy her time today.

Let’s Go to the Zoo (and most Lift the Flap Books) – My BFF Emily gave this book to T for his first birthday, and it saved us on several plane trips. We had to replace it when Nell was ready because it was so well loved, and I’ve accepted that we’ll just need to buy another copy when McKiddle #3 is about 1, too. The kids learn their animals and animal sounds reading this book (multiple times a day every day). I don’t know what it is, but this book (and other lift the flap books) just hook the kids in.

Fisher-Price Laugh and Learn Piggy Bank - We don’t actually own this toy ourselves, but my kids both play with it everywhere they go, and when Thomas was in physical therapy, his Physical Therapist always pulled this out for him to practice fine motor and gross motor activities (the kid wouldn’t move if a boulder was rolling at him, but put a fake penny in front of him and he was motivated…and honestly, he’s still money [fake or real] motivated to this day).

Baby Lit Books – These are just fun for me (my sister gave them to Nell for her birthday, but she and I geeked out over them for a good 20 minutes together), but Nell adores them. They were the first books my little mover and shaker would sit still for, and whenever I need her to just calm the eff down, I pull out Pride and Prejudice or Sense and Sensibility. If I had to guess now, I’d put my money on Nell being a high school English Teacher. She loves herself some Jane Austen, can muster up energy that no one else understands, and takes absolutely none of our – or anybody else’s – crap. Qualities every high school English teacher needs, I’d say.

Hide and Squeak Eggs – I do not understand why, but these are enchanting to babies and toddlers alike. That’s all.

Green Toys Shape Sorter – I’ve tried just about every shape sorter out there, and this is my favorite. We have a ball one that is really great starting around age 2, but this one is perfect because it sits flat for young toddlers to manipulate, but isn’t too uncomplicated – it still keeps their interest. Such important fine motor skills in shape sorting (and it’s always fun to watch your kid get it for the first time) and great for learning shapes, too. For the record, we have the Melissa and Doug box shape sorter which I assumed would be awesome and I loathe it (purchased two years ago, so it could have improved in that time) – the lid comes off too easily, and the shapes are too complicated – and many of them too similar for young toddlers just beginning to develop the fine motor skills and shape recognition necessary for shape sorting. This Green Toys one is perfect – like I said, complicated enough, but not frustratingly so.

For more favorite toys for the 1 – 2 age set, check out Toys for 1 Year Olds written after Nell’s birthday this summer.

What’s on your toddler’s Christmas list this year? Anything you highly recommend that your own toddler has loved lately?

Holiday Gift Guide: Preschoolers

It’s so hard for me to wrap my head around the fact that it’s November. And while I’m firmly in the “No-Christmas-Music until December 1st” boat, I’m also firmly in the “wrap up as much of my Christmas shopping as I can before Thanksgiving” boat. So, I thought I’d do a few posts this week on the things my kids have been loving over the last six months or so. I always find holiday and other gift guides so helpful – if not for a specific toy than for an idea or genre of toy or book I hadn’t thought to explore yet, so for those of you wanting to get an early start on your Christmas shopping, these posts are for you!

Let’s start with my preschooler. These are some of our tried-and-true since his 3rd birthday. A lot of these really work for either preschool boys or girls, but keep in mind I have a 3 year old boy when reading these recommendations, and that he’s an All-American boy in terms of loving sports, cars, construction and all things letter and number related.

 

Holiday Gift Guide 3 year olds

 

*Please note, no affiliate links are used in these recommendations, and I have no affiliation with any of these companies, just sharing what we love:

Magformers - If I could only recommend one toy for this age group (and honestly younger and much older), these would be it. Last year I was planning on joining the Magna Tiles craze and getting those for T as a Christmas gift, but on our road trip out east Mr. B’s aunt gifted Thomas these Magformers to keep him entertained at her house, and then to take home with us. B and I are addicted to these – I could sit on the floor and build extravagant magnet structures for hours with the kids (Nell tears them apart, but I’m working on being okay with it). T has always enjoyed them, but has become particularly fond of them in the last six months. I think at some point me might still add Magna Tiles (or just more Magformers) to our playroom mix, but these are a bit more affordable and so much fun.

Activity Cones – Talk about a multi-useful toy. These are everything from an obstacle course, to football uprights in the backyard, to clown hats, to peg legs, to construction cones. Easy, inexpensive, imaginative fun.

Blutrack – This was how I bribed Thomas to potty train back in April (he’s a stubborn one, so he got a BIG gift for using the toilet the first time – I knew that was going to be our biggest hurdle so I took him to pick it out, and told him he could open it when he peed on the potty for the first time. It took two hours for him to decide toilets weren’t so bad, he wanted that race track so much). But anyway, I keep this put away most of the time, and pull it out on extra cold days or for playdates. A bucket full of match-box cars provides at least a solid hour of entertainment. And T’s face lights up when I get out his race track.

Bowling Set: Thomas received this from our old neighbors’ when Nell was born, and he has loved it for a year and a half. In the last six months though, this has been a favorite toy of T’s to pull out when he has friends over. Now that he can set up the pins himself, I like it more, too. Great for hand-eye coordination and beats the hell out of wearing borrowed shoes (though I’m sure a real bowling alley visit is in our future).

Garbage Truck and I Stink! – This is a great combo gift. I’ll be honest, the book took some adjusting to for me and Mr. B, but T and all of his preschool boy buddies absolutely adore it – and the more we read it, the more we understand why. T got the book from his birthday from a friend (after he repeatedly checked it out at the library, I suggested it when asked for ideas), and Nell gave him the garbage truck for his birthday, too. They’re both huge hits around here – and I’m pretty sure most boys would love this book with any type of garbage truck.

Mini Micro Scooter- Thomas was adamant about wanting a scooter for his 3rd birthday after watching kids scoot around all spring in our old neighborhood. He tried out a friend’s scooter and I wasn’t that thrilled with it – it didn’t turn well, it was tippy. So I started my research and settled on the Mini Micro Scooter. It’s the only preschool sized scooter we’ve actually owned, but having watched Thomas ride other scooters, this one is hands down the best out there. It’s a daily internal struggle for T to decide if he’s going to scooter or ride his strider bike on our walks and park outings, and he rides it up and down our street with the older neighbor kids all day long. This is a bigger ticket item (but under $100), but I can’t recommend it highly enough.

For more Toddler and Preschool gift guides, check out my recap of Toys for Boys Ages 2 – 3. All of these items are still solidly in use daily at our house almost 6 months later, but repeating them felt redundant, so feel free to consider that list for this age group, too! Tomorrow I’ll share the toys Nell’s been loving lately for all of you with a young toddler.

What are your preschoolers loving these days? Anything you already have on your kiddos Christmas lists?

 

Christmas Recap

Technically, Christmas just ended yesterday with the 6th being the 12th day of Christmas and the Epiphany, so I figure I can eek out a quick Christmas recap post still. Right? Sure.
We started the festivities by meeting my brother’s family, my parents and my aunt at the zoo for Zoo Lights (my mom and dad delivered our gift for B and me – our Zoo Membership – early so we got everyone in on my membership with only having to buy one guest pass, which was awesome). Our zoo closes at five to get ready for Zoo Lights and reopens at 5:30, but we knew that the kids would get too cold and lines were crazy, so we went at 3:30 and planned to spend an hour and a half at the zoo. They started to tur the lights on around 4:30, and at 5 they started to tell us to make our way to the exits, but as we left, the music was playing, it was dark, and all the lights were on. It was the best zoo trip ever – animals and lights! A new tradition was born.
On Sunday the 23rd, I wanted to take Tom and Emma ice skating at the rink by our house while my brother and my dad were at the Broncos game. B came with us because I knew I couldn’t handle two toddlers on ice skates by myself on skates, and we had a blast. I skated with Emma, B skated with Thomas, and unfortunately for our future sports budget, T was a natural on skates and refused to get off the ice. Our oldest nephew plays hockey, and Thomas is obsessed because of Zack, but I just figured he’d have my coordination on ice and that would be the end of hockey. Oh well, we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.
Christmas Eve was perfect, but I still haven’t gone through all the photos. My great Aunt and great Uncle, as well as their daughter (my second cousin? cousin? I call her Aunt Debbie) were in town and my mom’s entire Colorado side of the family plus the guests of honor had a big, Scandinavian Christmas Eve dinner at my mom and dad’s house. It was perfect.
Christmas morning, we woke up at our house and the kids played with their Santa gifts before we all opened presents, then we headed to Mr. B’s mom and dad’s for brunch and games. It was a perfectly balanced Christmas – lots of play, lots of family, and lots of fun. 
And now, Christmas season is over. I took the tree down on the 26th, but left the outdoor wreaths and lights up until the season was truly over on the 6th of January. On to the new year!  Happy 2013!

DIY Activity Advent Calendar

My friend Kim is doing her Dare to DIY series again this year, and while our Christmas seasons get busier and busier, I try to participate when I can.  I’m making only one gift this year for my cousins’ families and our neighbors, but I can’t share that on the blog just yet. So, here’s a little DIY gift our neighbors dropped by our house on Friday night.
Our sweet neighbors showed up with two glasses of wine and an Activity Advent Calendar they put together for each family on our block. And it’s darling. They stayed and chatted for a few minutes and then continued down the block to the next neighbors house to deliver wine and an Advent Calendar…we figure they made six stops that night. We have the best neighbors and neighborhood ever.
While I didn’t do this myself, I thought it was too awesome not to share.
I’ve loved the idea of a Activity Advent calendar, but I just have never gotten my act together enough to make one. So it helps that my neighbors have their acts together.  And what a fun idea for a gift for neighbors or extended family – it’s an act of time and love to put it together, but doesn’t cost a ton of money. And the wine for the parents doesn’t hurt either.  Our neighbor put together 25 small red envelopes, punched out the circles and put 25 mini clothespins and a long strand of ribbon in each bag. And inside each envelope was a cute little tag for the activities we were doing.
We love the gift and we love our neighbors. Every time I start to think we could use more living space, I’m reminded of why we’ll never actually want to move. B and I joked as we opened Day 1 that it would have been awesome if they’d put totally extravagant activities in each little envelope, like “Make 4 dozen cookies for your neighbors two doors down” or “Take your children on a three day snowboarding extravaganza”. But our neighbors are much nicer than we are :) . I’m saving the envelopes and the activities so that I can just reuse this next year. Because we’ve already established I won’t get my act together to make a new one with new activities.
Link up with Kim and see what DIY gifts others are giving this year.

 
 
 
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Christmas Kitchen Centerpiece

I just got a new kitchen table and chairs (to go along with the completed banquette…3 years later…so hold your breath for a post on that one!) in our breakfast nook, and since I’m madly in love with this table, my old standard centerpiece (or what some would call Thomas’s shoes and Casco’s leash) just wasn’t going to do. So when I saw this Better Homes & Gardens idea on Pinterest, I beelined for the nearest Hobby Lobby to pick up some greenery and berries. I already owned my signature green colander and a green candle, so this was an inexpensive little project (especially since all Christmas items were 50% off).  For a girl who has always operated under the “I don’t really decorate for the holidays” motto, this is big, friends. The Hobby Lobby Christmas aisles were a new experience for me, but that’s another story. 

I’m kind of in love with the new centerpiece. The colander makes it so kitchen appropriate. More on the table, chairs…and banquette soon. I promise!

Dare to Eat Cookies: Family Swedish Spritz Christmas Cookies

It’s Week 3 of Kim’s Dare to DIY Challenge, and in week 3 we throw our food diaries out the window and eat cookies! I mean, how could I say no to that?

Being a girl who was born with a Mc last name and married a Mc (I took my maiden name as my middle name when we got married so I’m a double Mc kinda girl), I usually claim my Irish heritage. Because it’s just in your face like that. But there’s a significant Norwegian and Swedish contingent to both sides of my family, too (just ask my ribs…they’re very Norwegian). And that half of me really loves Scandinavian Christmas cookies.

I didn’t actually bake the cookies this year – my aunt made her grandmother’s (my great-grandmother Emma for whom I was named) Swedish Spritz cookies for our weekend in the mountains for Thanksgiving this year. But I would have made them for this week if my aunt hadn’t done all the work for me :) . And we actually have two family recipes – Grandma Emma’s cookies and Grandma Stella’s cookies. Pictured are Emma’s cookies, the recipe is Stella’s…they’re very similar. Just trying to keep you on your toes, friends.

Grandma Stella’s Swedish Spritz (Detroit Lakes, Minnesota)
Cream together:
1 1/2 cups Butter
1 cup Sugar
1 egg, beaten
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 teaspoons almond extract

Sift together:
3 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
Add the flour and baking powder to the creamed together mixture and force through a cookie press.

Bake at 400 degrees for 8 – 10 minutes

We love cookies. Swedish Spritz, Norwegian Krumkake, the secret McD family Christmas cookie cutouts. It’s no wonder I’m always dieting come January. Head on over to Kim’s blog to get even more great cookie recipes!

Christmas Card Display

I was so worried that we wouldn’t get Christmas cards this year, what with everyone claiming there’s no point in sending one because everyone sees the family pictures on Facebook first, anyway.  Bah humbugs.  Thank goodness for Shutterfly’s link building scheme that innundated Google Readers everywhere with the same post on every blog but assured me at least one more year of Christmas Cards.

And, since we were throwing a Christmas party this year, I couldn’t just pile all the cards in a bowl like I usually do.  Nope, they needed a prominent display.

I bought jute webbing (for reupholstering chairs) at Hobby Lobby and hung a strip on our basement door – which just so happens to be the first thing you see when you walk through our front door.  Then I used clothespins to clip the Christmas cards to the jute.

For the first week we had two cards on the ribbon and I was nervous.  But the cards have been flooding in and I’m loving it.  We’ll need an extra strip of jute next year if this pace keeps up.

Merry Merry!  I love this part of the holidays!