B is off work this week and we’re enjoying lots of family time, so just dropping in to wish you all a very Merry Christmas and happy, healthy and safe holidays. Peace, in particular, is on my mind this Christmas season. Wishing you sweet moments with your families, loved ones and friends.
I love Christmas cards. I love sending them. I love receiving them. I love displaying them. I will never forget the year Thomas was born and there seemed to be a shift against sending Christmas cards – pictures were already on Facebook anyway. And I remember, in a very Emily fashion, making a proclamation that I will always send Christmas cards – and I will never post the Christmas card picture to social media before our cards are out. But, with all of my cards addressed and stamped (and hopefully making their way to the post office today), I figure I can share it on the blog now. This year I picked this colorful “Definitely Merry” card from Tiny Prints – I love the twist on traditional Christmas colors and the theme just seemed perfect for this very merry year. Nothing merrier than welcoming a sweet baby into the family!
In the past, I’ve always clipped the Christmas cards that come in throughout December to a piece of upholstery webbing hanging from our coat closet door. But last January, we hung the antique window that I found at a junk store in the cutout/niche between our living room and back hallway (you can read more about the hunt for the window here). And as soon as that window was up, I knew that’s where we’d hang our Christmas cards.
This was so easy. I just grabbed some twine intended for wrapping gifts when I found it this Fall. Last week, I strung four rows of the twine horizontally across my beloved antique window and used some heavy duty tape to keep them in place. I draped a paper circle garland across the top of the window, and as cards come in, I clip them up on the twine. It will get more and more crowded as the month goes on – and I can easily add more rows of twine if I need them.
I love two things about this setup. In our home, this window is the first thing you see as you walk through our front door. It looks cool on its own, but when it’s decorated, it definitely draws your eye to the window, so a prominent display for our friends’ and family’s holiday cards is perfect. Also, when I’m walking down our back hallway, I can see the pretty backs of the cards through the window. When I was selecting our card for this year, I definitely paid attention to the backs of the cards. The card I chose has fun typography on the back, and some of the ones we’ve received have cute stripes and polka dots.
So that’s our Christmas Card display for this year. It makes me happy. Last year, we had just moved into our home 6 months before Christmas (and I was 6 months pregnant with Peter) and I didn’t really have a feel for Christmas decor in our new home. But as we’ve made this house more “ours” throughout the last year and a half, it’s been even more fun to decorate for the holidays. So, more Christmas decor coming tomorrow!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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):
*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?
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.
*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?