Tips for An Inviting Home and Less Stressful Holiday Entertaining

I’m excited to share my tips for creating an inviting home and steps I take for less stressful holiday entertaining today! Click through to read more:

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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?

 

A Walrus Costume (and mini-tutorial)

My 3 year old decided last year on November 1st that he was going to be a walrus for Halloween 2013. His walrus obsession began when his Gigi took him to the Denver Museum of Nature and Science for a “Thomas Day” shortly after Nell was born, and continued into our trip to DC last November when we took the kids to the National History Museum. So, the walrus costume has been on my mind for a year, but I wasn’t going to get started until October since Rickie Fowler (I vetoed on account of no one in Colorado really following PGA golf outside of my dad, Mr. B and Thomas) and Peyton Manning (pretty sure he decided that he dresses like Peyton every day, so what’s the fun in being Peyton for Halloween?) were both thrown around as Halloween costume options for awhile.

  DIY Walrus Costume

Nell’s costume is a Carter’s Elephant (she loves elephants and we sometimes call her Nelephant, so it fit) and is basically a well padded sweatshirt with an elephant trunk on the hood, and her costume inspired me to create the walrus out of a brown hooded sweatshirt. We live in Colorado – chances are good there will be snow on Halloween, so Colorado moms know that costumes need to fit over a snowsuit (or just act like a snowsuit itself). When T was firmly decided on the Walrus on October 1st, I ordered a brown hooded sweatshirt from Amazon and found brown sweatpants at Walmart (of course they couldn’t sell a hoodie with their sweatpants, that would be too easy). Then, I googled around for my favorite walrus – the walrus costumes out there are kinda meh, so I just found a stuffed walrus whose face I liked and made the walrus face based on that.

Toddler Preschool Walrus Costume

First, I cut two bean shapes out of carmel covered felt to make up the walrus snout. Then, I cutout a quick heart shaped felt nose from black felt and hand stitched it onto one of the bean shapes at the top. I turned the bean shapes inside out and sewed the two sides together, turned them right side out and stuffed it to make a Walrus snout.  My mom was over while I was doing this and decided that a simple stitch around the snout would add detail and also that classic home-grown Halloween costume feel, so Caroline is responsible for the detailing. I also used the same colored felt for the walrus stomach – just to provide some variation in the costume. The tusks were the same idea – I cut four long curved tusks out of white felt, stitched two together twice to make two tusks, stuffed them, and sewed them to the snout. Then I attached the snout and tusks to the hood with a hand stitch, and cut two oval black walrus eyes to hand stitch on, too. Overall, it took me about an hour, and Thomas was giddy watching his long awaited walrus costume come together.

Walrus Costume

I love making Halloween costumes for the kids, but I’m also a reasonable person. Carter’s made a damn cute elephant and I bought it at Costco for $12.99. I spent more than $12.99 on T’s hoodie and sweatpants alone, though his costume didn’t total more than $20. Sometimes you have to make a costume (when your three year old decides he’s going to be a walrus, for example), and sometimes it’s okay to buy one (when your one year old’s only opinion is that every costume she passes in any given store is “MINE!”).

Walrus and Elephant costumes

Our walrus and Nelephant are pretty happy with their Halloween gettups – and Thomas is already scheming for Halloween 2014. Let’s hope it’s something I can make out of a sweatsuit. So, Happy Halloween from our zoo! Hope you all have fun and safe trick-or-treat adventures!

Simple 4th of July Mantle

*Don’t forget to leave a comment on this post with a book suggestion for a chance to win Ladies’ Night by Mary Kay Andrews and a Ladies’ Night kit to host a party with your friends.

The 4th of July is my single favorite holiday. Have I told you I tried SO hard to get Mr. B to agree to a 4th (or 5th) of July wedding? And I quote, “Em, I want our anniversary to be a day for us. Not America.” Cute, right? He’s persuasive, and since I hit gold in the husband department, I figured I could settle on the wedding date. But that’s beside the point. I love the 4th. There’s no pressure – just eat some unhealthy food, take a dip in the pool, wear some red, white and blue and have fun.

I’ve always had grand plans in the decorating for the 4th department, but as you probably know by now, my plans and my ability to execute sometimes have a disconnect. Or, I just don’t get around to things. More that.

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America the Beautiful Print

This year, I made an “America the Beautiful” print using Tagxedo and the lyrics to America the Beautiful – it’s basically Wordle but with shapes for the words – before we were moving. I like to procrastinate when I should be doing things like transferring our comcast service and packing, so I make art prints for holidays that are 3 months away. Whatevs. If you don’t want to make your own, you can download the one I put together here. And then I downloaded two free printables for the other side of the mirror on our mantle.

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The God Bless America Printable is available here. And the proud printable is available here (I had issues getting it to print, took me some time and then I ended up resizing the 8×10 to fit in a 5×5 square frame I already had).

That’s it. Our simple but patriotic mantle.

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You might have noticed that the 2 story family room – and especially this wall – is no longer 50 Shades of Brown. When I figure out the best time of day to photograph this room, I’ll show you all the changes – like our sectional, and kitchen counter stools.

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I have big plans for this wall eventually. For now, I’m making it work, because you have to love something in the meantime,too. But let’s just visualize for a second: Centering the fireplace (which peeks into the office behind this room) will be too costly, so instead we’ll just draw attention to the fireplace with molding and new tile surround, and change the cutouts into built-ins. Something like this. Or this. I just don’t love the drywall for a mantle look. Or the gigantic cutout that dwarfs what I originally considered to be a pretty substantial mirror. Or the cutout for a TV they stopped making in 1995. Why were they still designing houses for those TVs in 2001? But all of that is years down the road – when the other projects that are higher priorities have been done.

That’s our mantle as it stands today. With a little bit of 4th of July flair. Thoughts? Hope everyone has a wonderful Holiday week. I’m off to Minnesota tomorrow for a whirlwind trip for a sorority sister’s wedding (the sorority girls together sans husbands and boyfriends, things are sure to get out of hand), and next week I’m in one of my best friend since high school’s weddings, so blogging will be scarce until after the holidays.

Love Themed Valentine’s Mantle

Every year I get a little more holiday-y. Last year my cousin and I made Sweethearts for each member of our families – and I haven’t ordered new vinyl for Nell’s name, so that decoration’s not coming out until I get that done – so in three or so years (insert reason #529 why it’s way more practical to find out if you’re having a boy or a girl and share the name before its born. But I’ve never been one to do the practical thing). So, this year, I made a paint chip garland.

Valentines Paint Chip Garland

A few weeks ago, when I had a few minutes to kill while both kids napped and I was all caught-up on my work for the week, I was combing through the archives of one of my favorite blogs – Jones Design Company – and came across Emily’s paint chip garland tutorial and was smitten. So I put it on my to-copy list.

 

 

While Nell and I were looking for a mirror at Lowes a few weeks ago, I swung by the paint chip aisle and grabbed a few red paint chips for valentine’s day – and a few gray ones for my future actual painting needs. I felt a little bit guilty about taking 5 red paint chips, but told myself that I buy enough paint from Lowes (and everywhere else) that they can probably handle me taking five paint chips every few years. I see a neutral colored one in my bulletin board’s future.

And then I threw this card that I gave to B into the frame that usually houses our wedding invitation. Our wedding invitation would be love-themed too and totally Valentine’s Day appropriate, but I was in the mood for a change for February.

Valentine's Mantle

I have the coldest hands and feet known to man (sorry to report, Tom and Nell seem to have inherited my cold extremities), and I always try to steal Mr. B’s foot heat when we’re tucked into bed at night. The card works on our mantle – B is my perfect complement: We’re so alike in many – important – ways, and so different in ways that make us grow and change and become better people together.  Love that man and our family we’re raising together. That’s our Valentine’s Mantle 2013 edition.

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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Halloween 2012 – Corduroy and Lobster/Black Cat

As a kid, my mom always helped us come up with creative costumes. Sometimes it required buying some of the parts, she usually made others. I had a slew of not off the shelf costumes: Felicity Merriman, Madeline, a yellow M &M…the list goes on and on. Of course, back in the 80s, it’s not like Old Navy sold cute, soft cuddly, and warm costumes either…which we opted for last year. But if I have the time, I like to put a little bit of creativity into Halloween – even if it just means augmenting a store bought costume.
 
We started talking about Halloween in June with Thomas.  Mr. B and Thomas were both voting for T to dress as Rickie Fowler…which I was fine with, but not in love with, and I figure we might hold off until Thomas at least has more hair before that costume will really work. 
 
So I said to T one day, “Thomas, what do you want to be for Halloween? You can be Rickie Fowler. You could also be Corduroy. Or Duck or Goose, or…” His eyes lit up and he immediately chose his A Number 1 Buddy, Corduroy. 
 
 
The hunt was on for how to make a bear costume when I found a thick, warm one at Target and scooped it up. Then I bought 2 yards of green corduroy fabric, two yellow buttons and a quarter of purple fabric and wha-la….corduroys for Corduroy. For the most part people recognized him as Corduroy.
Nell had two costumes…the lobster that Thomas was two years ago and a black cat. She changed into the black cat for trick or treating because it fit in the Moby far more easily. 
 
 
I made it home for Halloween. It took some creativity because otherwise we’d be in New York until at least tomorrow if not Saturday or Sunday. But I was home and loved hanging with my kiddos and Mr. B! Thomas was totally into trick or treating…”I ring doorbells and get some candies!”, and even helped Mr. B hand out candy long after his bedtime when we returned from our own trick or treating.
Hope you all had Happy Halloweens.
 
 
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Fall Around The House

I love Fall. Enough to decorate for it – and keep decorations in storage the remainder of the year. And we all know that’s big for this minimalist. That being said, my Fall decor pales in comparison to so many others. But I’m taking baby steps. I think it’s the kids that are softening me up and causing me to embrace seasonal decor. As Thomas starts to discover the holidays and seasons and I watch his face light up at every pumpkin we see, it’s so much more fun. And I look forward to Nell discovering the magic of holidays and seasons, too. Just not too soon, little lady. I’m in no rush to move beyond the baby stage.  

So, our minimal seasonal decor tour begins at the console table just opposite the front door. Two white pumpkins and a little white gourd that Thomas and I made into a ghost.  They never stay here…Thomas pulls them off the console about thirty times a day and makes a “pumpkin patch” on the floor. The real pumpkin patch we’re taking him to this week is going to blow his mind.

And then you take about three steps into our living room and you’ve got our mantle. Featuring the pennant banner Kim sent me three years ago, the Fall printable that my mom and I made last year, Thomas’s pumpkin from his first pumpkin patch adventure with his Gigi and his pumpkin bucket.

And a few more steps into the kitchen, you’re greeted by my white ceramic pumpkin cookie jar/soup tureen. Two guesses which of those foods fills it at this house. Yeah, definitely not the soup.

And my kitchen bulletin board, with mustard fall fabric for a backdrop to our family pictures/invitations and Thomas’s pumpkin craft.

And that’s Fall inside this imperfect little house. If you’re just joining us and need a lay of the land, you can see how our house looks year round in this House Tour. How’s your fall decor shaping up?  Stop back later this week – I’m finally going to share Thomas’s board and batten nursery revamped to become Nell’s nursery. No big deal, she’s only four months old and I’m finally just declaring it as done as it ever will be.

Linking up to The Inspired Room.

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