Sunday, December 6, 2015

5 Ways to Celebrate St. Nicholas Day

This is the first Christmas I've really put some thought into traditions I want to start with my family. With Grace old enough to get excited about lights and the tree (I'd take a little less enthusiasm around the Christmas tree!), I wanted to start some traditions.

I wrote earlier about our Advent wreath. Another tradition from my family that I wanted to resurrect from my childhood was celebrating St. Nicholas Day. His feast day is Dec. 6, and he is the inspiration for our modern day Santa Claus. He used his inheritance from his wealthy parents to help the needy and became known for his generosity, especially his love for children.

We used to get candy in our shoes and set up our Christmas tree on St. Nicholas Day. I wanted to find some things that were meaningful yet simple enough to do with a toddler, and on a week night for those years when we're not lucky enough to have St. Nicholas Day fall on a weekend. So, setting up the Christmas tree was clearly out. Here is what we did instead:
  1. Filling shoes: I had to put the items under her shoes due to their rather small size. I included a piece of chocolate, an ornament and a Christmas book. I wanted to focus on things we could use during the rest of the Christmas season and would reinforce some of the things St. Nicholas represents.
  2. Donating toys: We visited a local story that is a collection point for Toys 4 Tots to pick out and donate some toys.
  3. Doing a craft: We kept things pretty simple. I just printed off a coloring sheet for Grace.
  4. Reading a story: I read a simple story I printed out online about St. Nicholas.
  5. Saying a prayer: We swapped our normal bedtime prayer with a prayer about St. Nicholas.
The St. Nicholas Center website was a great resource for ideas and materials. I got the coloring sheet, story and  prayer for there. The site has a lot of other great ideas as well as recipes, information about St. Nicholas, traditions and more.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Thanksgiving Scavenger Hunt

We hosted Thanksgiving at our house from my husband's extended family this year. I was a little concerned about my turkey making abilities, so I wanted to make sure I had something to keep the kids busy if it took a little longer than expected to cook the turkey, so I created a scavenger hunt.

As things turned out, I was freaking out that morning because the turkey was done early - two hours early! Visions of the National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation turkey flashed in my head. My husband stepped in, told me to calm down and thankfully the turkey was acceptable.

Due to my miscalculations on turkey cooking, the scavenger hunt took place after the Thanksgiving meal.

Part of the scavenger hunt included coloring a turkey coloring sheet, so I also put together a little "coloring station" buy putting colors, colored pencils and markers together in a basket.  

After completing the hunt, everyone got a prize bag with stickers, chocolates, cereal bar and hot chocolate.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Advent Wreath Tradition with Reflection and Prayer Guide

Growing up the Advent wreath was always part of our pre-Christmas traditions with a prominent place in the middle of our dining room table. I wanted to start the same tradition with my family, so I made an Advent wreath this year. I tinted small canning jars purple and rose and arranged them on a cake plate with some greenery. 

I also tried to find some history on the Advent wreath. The beginnings of the Advent wreath are uncertain. However, it is known that Christians adapted the tradition by the Middle Ages. While the history was a little unclear, I discovered a lot about the various parts of the wreath symbolize that I'd forgotten over the years, including:
  • Circular shape: With no beginning or end, the circle symbolizes God’s unending love for us.
  • Four candles: The four candles symbolize the 4,000 years (1,000 years for each candle) from Adam and Eve to Jesus' birth.
  • Evergreens: Signify continuous life.
  • Purple candles: Reminders that this should be a time of prayer and preparation.
  • Rose candle: Rejoicing that the light has won out over darkness with more candles lit than not lit (3 vs. 1).
Each Sunday in the four weeks leading up to Christmas, an additional candle is lit on the wreath. I created a "cheat sheet" with Bible verses, prayers and symbolism to reflect on as I light each candle. I thought I'd share it with others who are interested in starting a tradition of their own. 

Download a printable Advent Wreath guide

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Sunday, November 8, 2015

Easy Pumpkin Pancakes

This past Sunday we woke up and weren't ready to be done with Halloween. Pumpkin pancakes seemed the perfect way to keep the celebration going. Despite the extra hour we earned with day light savings time, my schedule loving toddler was up bright and early and I was a little groggy. This means I wasn't looking to put my culinary skills to the test; I was looking for the path of least resistance. I was going for something more in line with Sandra Lee Semi-Homemade instead of Martha Stewart.

I was lucky to find a recipe that I made a few tweaks to, and in a matter of minutes, we were enjoying pumpkin pancakes!

Easy Pumpkin Pancakes
2 1/2 cups pancake mix
4 Tbls. brown sugar
3 tsp. pumpkin pie spice
1 egg
1 3/4 cups milk
2 Tbls. vegetable oil
2 Tbls. vinegar
1 can pumpkin puree

1. Combine the first three ingredients.
2. In a separate bowl, combine egg, milk, oil, vinegar and pumpkin puree
3. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix by hand until combined.
4. Heat up a skillet or fry pan to medium heat. Lightly coat with cooking spray and cook your pancakes!

Monday, November 2, 2015

Easy to make affordable bee costume: Perfect for last minute and under $10

The closest I got to getting her to wear her antenna.
One of my favorite memories growing up was scrounging through our house to put together Halloween costumes each year. My mom was a master at helping us do this. When I had Grace, it was one of the things I looked forward to - the challenge of turning her costume requests into reality with everyday items either around the house or easily purchased.

Being the only words she is close to saying is all done, she didn't have much input this year. But, she loves bugs, so it made sense to try to do something along those lines. I decided to go with a bumble bee.

Once we had our costume picked, I went to the place all good moms go to get overly ambitious and unrealistic expectations of themselves - Pinterest! At this point, I thought I would totally pull of a Pinterst worthy costume, and the Pinerest worthy photos to accompany it.

I headed to the local craft store to stock up on all of the supplies I needed to create my masterpiece. Grace made the first chip in my expectations when she refused to put the headband on her head. How was I going to have a Pinterest worthy bee without antenna?

Then I sewed on the ribbons to her shirt to attach her wings. They were too low, and the chip in my expectations grew into a full-on crack. Then I just flat out ran out of time and almost forgot the wings to attach to her shirt all together.

My expectations fully crumbled when it came time to do her photos. No little cooperative Pinterest model, or overly stylized "set" for that matter. But at the end of the day, I had a pretty cute costume (mostly thanks to the cute, but uncooperative, model) that I made for about $10. And hopefully Grace will see this as a small example that pursuing your creativity is more important than perfection.

If you're looking for an easy, affordable costume that isn't quite Pinterest worthy, here is how I made Grace's bee costume:

Tu-Tu Skirt
1 25ft. roll of yellow tulle ribbon - $3
Thin piece of elastic (18 inches long) - Had on hand

Black onsie - $3
Yellow tape - $2
Black pants - Had on hand

Headband - $1
Pipe cleaner - Had on hand
Two small pieces of tulle left over from the skirt

Screen door screening - Had on hand
Yellow tape

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Family Yearbooks: Tips, Suggestions and Ideas

Since having my daughter, I've started getting serious about documenting our life a little bit more. My brothers and I loved digging out the photo albums and looking through them when we were kids, and I wanted to create something similar for my family.

After obsessively searching the internet for the perfect way to go about this, I discovered that what was perfect for me was little nuggets combined from several other people. I thought I'd share my approach in the event that it has a nugget or two that others might find helpful.

Book details
  • 8.5"x11" book from Mixbook
  • Organized by month
  • Have ranged from 175-350 pages
Work Month-by-Month
I currently organize my books by month. This allows me to work on my book throughout the year instead of being overwhelmed at the end of the year.

Collect photos at the end of each month
Shortly after the end of a month, I download all of the photos from my phone, my husband's phone and my SLR camera. I also go out to an app our daycare uses to share photos, Facebook and a photo sharing site I use with my sister-in-laws to download photos. I put them in a folder labeled by month.

Organize and edit photos by month
After I have everything collected, I open the folder with all of the photos in Bridge, an Adobe program used for sorting and selecting photos. You could easily do this with iPhoto or another similar program. I just use Bridge because it was I'm most familiar with. The first thing I do it go through all of the photos and label the photos I want to include in my book. I then sort my label so only the ones I want to use appear. At that point I take on editing the photos.

Create book by month
After the photos are edited and converted to .jpgs, I upload them to my photo site. I've found Mixbook works best for me. I then work on creating my pages for that month. For now, organizing the book by month works best for our family. However, I think that as Grace gets older, this may change. I don't want to do a soccer layout every single month :) So, I may split the book and do average, everyday stuff by month and then have a section for things like activities, hobbies, etc. that expand multiple months.

Take notes throughout the year
I often find that there are many things I want to remember throughout the year that I don't have photos, so I try to keep notes in addition to photos. I have a draft email I keep in Gmail account where I keep my notes. I try to take a few minutes on Sunday night or Monday morning to spend some time writing down things that happened over the past week that I want to remember. Sunday or Monday work best for me because the weekend is usually the most interesting part of our week, and I want to record them while they are fresh in my mind. I usually only takes me 5-10 minutes each work and I often work them into my layouts.

Include artwork, cards and other special items
In addition to photos, I also try to scan in artwork, cards, text messages and other special items to include in the book. I don't do every single one, but I try to do ones that we especially want to remember. Other special items might include event tickets, programs, certificates, etc.

Figure out your priorities
When I started creating my first book, I nearly drove myself crazy trying to create a book that included everything I wanted while still looking like an artistic masterpiece. I quickly realized that I had to decide what was most important to me. I think this varies for everyone but is important to making sure you don't get frustrated and quit. I love doing my books and consider it a hobby. For someone who doesn't enjoy it, you'd probably want to scale back on what you include. A scaled down finished book is better than a comprehensive book you never start.

Bad photos are better than no photos
My priority was documenting our life and not creating an artistic masterpiece. Therefore, I'd prefer to have a bad photo that reminds me of a moment instead of only including perfect photos.

Don't restrict it to the highlights
Most of my book focuses on our day-to-day lives and less on special events. Don't get me wrong, there were multiple spreads devoted to my youngest brother's wedding and the day Grace was born. However, most of my book is photos and stories of Grace playing in the living room, visiting the local park and meeting Blake for lunch when he works nights. We're pretty boring, so the highlights only account for about 2% of our lives, and I wanted the other 98% to be represented and remembered.

One family book vs. individual books
I know that some people prefer to do one book for each child. I'm planning to just do one book for the entire family instead. I do this simply because I find doing one book is plenty of work for me. Just the thought of doing more than one makes me stressed.

Make it interactive
I'm just starting to experiment with this in my current book. As an example, I took a photo of our living room one afternoon, completely torn apart by Grace. I wanted to remember these days, but it was an incredibly boring photo on its own. So, I turned it into a little game and put a list of items on the layout to find in the photo of the messy living room.

Blank pages at the endWithout fail, when I get every book and am looking through it, I remember a few things I forgot to include. To make sure these memories aren't forgotten, I've started putting a few blank pages at the back of every book. I use them to jot down stories and tape in photos I forgot to include in the book.

Things I include in my book
  • Our house - I try to take a photo of the front and back of our house as well as document any major construction work (remodels, landscaping, etc.). I think it is fun to look back and see how your house has evolved.
  • Our daily life - This includes things like the previously mentioned messy living room, trips to the grocery store, funny things that happened when we all got sick, the first time Grace tried out her new inflatable pool, etc.
  • Hobbies - This includes things like my husband's gardening and my new obsession with adult coloring books.
  • Developmental milestones - This is for Grace. I try to at least note when she gets a new tooth, started walking or started rolling over.
  • Artwork - I try to scan in a couple of special pieces of artwork Grace has created each month to include.
  • Special outings - This includes concerts, museum trips, days at the pumpkin patch, etc.
  • Holidays and birthdays.
  • Career - I try to note where we are working and if there are any significant career milestones, such as new job or a fun contract project.
  • School/daycare - I note special activities Grace did or funny stories her teachers tell us.
  • Vacations


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