A Fun Holiday Game

Happy Black Friday, y’all! I hope you had a wonderful time yesterday and stuffed your bellies to capacity (while giving lots of thanks for all we’re lucky enough to have…of course ;-)). Anyone doing a bit of shopping today, or are you officially getting the heck out of the way of the crazy shoppers?

Anyhoo, last week I posted a bit novel about how to keep the holidays relatively low-stress and simple. This week, it’s all about how we have fun – namely, a simple (there’s that word again) yet fun game that my mom discovered a few years back that we look forward to every year.

This is an awesome game involving gifts that you could play at a friends-only shindig, or at your annual family get-together. It can be adjusted to whatever your needs are. Whatever floats your boat!

Here’s what you need:

– One gift for each person in attendance (small, inexpensive, fun gifts)
– Two decks of cards

Yup, that’s all. My mother buys one gift for each individual and jots their name on the package (under a taped-on piece of matching wrapping), but you could buy a bunch of random doesn’t-matter-who-gets-what items. You could also put instructions on people’s invitations to bring one random $10 or less gift, wrapped. (If you do this, buy an extra one or two to have on hand in case *someone* spoils the party and forgets. Ahem. Nudge.) If you have guests do this, however, take a pen and write someone’s name (not the person who brought it) at the bottom of the gift. It tends to be difficult to see, on purpose.

So, when it’s time to get the game going, put all the gifts in the middle of the room and have a helper (this is our niece’s job) hand out cards to everyone in attendance (everyone should get 2-4, or more, depending on the size of the crowd). The person in charge (my mom) uses a separate deck to call one card at a time. When she calls your card, it’s your turn to select — either grab from the pile, or steal from someone in the group.

Guys. Seriously. This can be HILARIOUS or cut-throat…or both. It’s fun to see who ends up with what, and who fights over an oddly-shaped gift.

Oh, yeah, that’s important, too. You can either wrap things normally, or get tricky. (Like putting something that rattles in with a pair of socks, in a super huge box, so when people shake it they’re clueless about what’s in there.)

In the end, we look at the names on the bottoms of the gifts and hand them out appropriately, waiting to see what that strangely-shaped item really contains. Sometimes Mom will get all the girls the same thing, but the way they’re wrapped, they look totally different. Other times, everyone has a different item.

So, what do you think? Sound fun? Does your family do any fun holiday games? Please share! My mom’s always on the lookout for a simple addition to the fun. 😉

The Thankful Post

Happy Thanksgiving Eve, everybody! Things have finally died down here, with the Book Fair complete for another year and a few days off to enjoy the holiday. I get to hang out with the little guy today while Dave works one more day, then tomorrow it’s time to watch the parade (one of my favorite parts of the day! Especially the Broadway performances), eat a big breakfast, then head off to eat with our families for the “big meal” and dessert.

We’ve talked to Monkey about what this special holiday means, and it’s been a great opportunity to open his mind to the idea that we’ve super lucky (and some people aren’t). It looked like I nearly blew his mind when I explained to him that we’re so very lucky to have a house and food, and that some people, even little two-year-old boys, DON’T. *kerpow*

I thought it’d be fun to share a couple of simple, last-minute ideas for the holiday to help friends and family get hands-on sharing their thankfulness this Thanksgiving. This year, we’ll just be having a family talk or two about the things that we’re lucky and happy about, but I can’t wait to try some of these out in the future!

Some of these are simple enough to throw together in less than fifteen minutes, and will help you and your guests remember – amid the craziness of getting a meal together and trying to pull everything together – that the day is about more than perfecting your recipes and using your best china. And feel free to use these as jumping off points; do whatchya can!

Thankful Tree

Brown Paper Thankfulness

Gratitude Jar (and Chains)
(With free printable! Couldn’t be easier, really.)

Thankful Chalkboard Wall
(Could also be brown paper on the wall, easy peasy!
And I’d suggest using an old chalkboard if you have one, but that depends on if you’re cooking a turkey and have the time to make one from scratch. ;-))

Thanksgiving Light
(You could also do this on a white paper bag half-filled with sand. Just insert a candle and light. Luminaries always make me cry, but that’s another story!)

Frame of Blessings

Or, after discussing your blessings, have a “did you know” session about the history of Thanksgiving. Watch this brief video for a bit of the background. (They didn’t have pumpkin pie or sweetened cranberries due to the lack of sugar in the “new land.”) It’s also a good reminder of the original natives who were trusting enough to help the Puritans settle and successfully plant in their new, treacherous conditions. Anyhoo, we’re weird; we watch a different, lengthier documentary every year (sometimes twice) about Thanksgiving (and Halloween and Christmas, for that matter.) You could turn it into a Trivial Pursuit type game, if your guests are into it!

However you celebrate, whether you’re giving thanks openly (saying “grace” always made me terribly nervous as a kid!) or just using the holiday as an excuse to enjoy a great meal with your favorite people, my family and I wish you the happiest of days!

Our Makeshift Kitchen

Given Hadley’s propensity for pretending to be a cook with his beloved play food, I’ve been jonesin’ to get him (or, more likely, make him) a play kitchen for, like, ever. But, it’s kind of useless in our house. We live in just shy of 1,000 square feet and, while it works now, there’s not a ton of “just his” play space. It’s one of the things we’ll be looking for when we eventually move, hopefully in 2015.

But, for now, we’ve gotten creative. We use bins and baskets to store most of his toys, but his “food” and anything he likes to use with it (like empty containers or spoons) has their very own makeshift home.

We have these cool but slightly crooked-door built-in cabinets between the living room and dining room. The living room side houses DVDs (perfect size) and one of the dining room ones holds decorative stuff. Awhile back, however, I cleaned out the final cabinet and decided it would be all Had’s.

It isn’t much, but finding a space that’s his very own is awesome. Oh, and he’s also only getting into my cabinets a fraction as much as he used to and he hardly gets into those “no, don’t touch” places as much. And, yes. We sucked at toddler-proofing.

I still hope to create a mini kitchen area for him in some future playroom, but for now, this spot doubles as an oven, a pantry, a fridge, and more. Pretty much whatever his mind comes up with, which is incredible.

What are some tricks that you’ve used to contain the clutter or give your little one some space that’s his/her own? I love seeing alcoves and bedroom closets transformed into little nooks just for them to play in, too. So cool!

Currently {11/21}

I figured it’d be fun to take part in the fun that is “Currently” about every month or so. Plus, it’s fun to get a little personal and current-eventy and introspective from time to time. Or, not s’much. So, please. Come along.

Oh, and you may notice that, for some weird reason, my list isn’t synched up to the other blogs linking up today. Um, whoops! I have no idea why that is. I grabbed the list from another blog that links up, but…yeah. I’ll do better next time. 😉

Just last week, I finished reading, of all things, a juvenile chapter book from the “Dear America” series. It’s the first book I’ve been actually engrossed in and was able to finish in a day (thanks, minimal vocabulary!). On one hand, I’m a tad embarrassed about that, but on the other hand, I’m all “I am woman, hear me roar!” So, yeah. That said, I’m still trudging through our Dick Van Dyke memoir. (He’s a great writer, but I’ve been slowing down in my reading.)

I’m thinking about what handmade gift I’ll be making for Hadman this Christmas. I’m between two things in my head, but am leaning in one direction: it will involve felt. Oh, yes. It will. The other thing will probably be a “when I feel like a project” type of thing. It’s way less fun. And, yes, I’m being super secretive. Neener, neener! 

I’ve been feeling pretty tired this week thanks to our annual Book Fair. It’s a one-man-band scenario, so it’s sometimes hard to get a bathroom break or grab my lunch (and I’ve had classes still coming in most of the week), but I also tend to feel energized by the thing. How can that be? Anyhoo, it’s kind of my mental kick-off to the holiday season. At the same time, I’m feeling super excited every time a new gift shows up in the mail, knowing I’m getting on top of my $#%@. Feels purdy good.

I can’t wait to be eating (that’s poor grammar, I know) that Thanksgiving feast. This year is my “mom’s year” which just means we’re going there for the meal (and probably small dessert), then off to Dave’s family’s to have more dessert and hang-out time. While I pretty much enjoy most of the fixings on Thanksgiving (boiled squash, not s’much), my absolute faves are the stuffing, gravy-gravy-gravy, and *homemade* pumpkin pie. Oh, yes, I’m very much a pie snob. Must be homemade. I’ll eat others, but I will die a little inside. 😉

OF COURSE, I’m dreaming of the holidays ahead. The fact that we (Dave and I, both!) have TWO WEEKS OFF again this year at Christmastime is insane and awesome (and I’m sure I’ll be sick of it by the start of week two). I’m doing well with my shopping, although I’m still planning a Black Friday excursion, even if to just one store. *I didn’t say Thanksgiving shopping, BTW, so don’t raise an eyebrow at me.* Side note: Totally had a weird dream about being at the March for Freedom with Martin Luther King, Jr. back in the day, although I didn’t see him for a second, was just surrounded by a mass of people in super realistic clothes (I could feel the fabric as they brushed by me, so real!). It was an out-of-body thing, totally.

So, what about you guys? What’re you reading/thinking/feeling/eating/dreaming lately? Share in the comments! Let’s chat!

Linking up at Harvesting Kale and and OT & ET. Welcome, if you’re visiting from the linky shindig! Er…welcome to you, regardless!

Holidays, the Simplified and Low-Stress Way

It’s probably no secret how excited I am about the holiday season this year. November is a crazy-arse month in our household, but we’re all really looking forward to Thanksgiving and Christmas (including the build-up to it). New Year’s maybe a little bit, but the whole holiday thing has us downright bouncy.

Last year, it was a different picture. I always enjoy listening to the Christmas carols, and seeing the magic through Hadman’s eyes last year was uplifting, but for some reason I just wasn’t super into it. We all have years like that, don’t we? It’s one of the reasons I wrote this little ditty about getting into the spirit of the thing.
The holiday season can clearly be a super stressful time. The gift that should’ve come a week ago that still hasn’t arrived. Trying to give that one impossible-to-shop-for person the best gift in the world. A million things to do and only this many days to do them. Traditions you want to uphold. Happiness you want to spread. Food you want to make.

I get it, I do. But, the last couple of years with a kiddo around have also helped me to take a few steps back and evaluate the situation. One lesson I did learn last year, especially since it was our first year with a very mobile child who was “getting” the idea of things more, was how to simplify. Since I wasn’t super into it and I was a pretty tired new-ish mama, I put in the bare minimum to get the most out of it. It was still a special, memorable, nice year, so this year I hope to maintain the simplicity, but with a touch more joy and magic.

Here today are the things I learned that perhaps you can try, too. 🙂

Pick and choose.

This is the first step, and it’s a biggie. Make a list of all the things you do (or think you should do) for the holidays and give them a deep, hard look. How many of the things do you HAVE to do? Which ones do you and your family look forward to? Are there any things that you can do but on a much lesser scale? Which of the things are you doing out of obligation, either to just maintain a tradition or because you feel guilt-ridden to do it? Take a red pen to the list. Feel free to do this with your significant other or even bring your kids in on the conversation. You may be surprised at how much (or how little) attachment they have to certain things.

While you’re at it, lower your stress level by making one long (or short!) gift list to keep tabs on what you’ve gotten or still need to buy. I keep mine on Google Docs to avoid any inadvertent surprise-ruining moments, along with how much I’ve spent on each item (budget, people!).

Deck the halls!

Decorating for the holidays can be a super fun thing…or a major drag. This advice may sound like more work, but it really does help: pick a theme. Look at all your ornaments. Do they look like a mismatch of fun family interests and classic-looking ornaments? Embrace it by creating a 1950s-style of decor. Sprinkle your favorite ornaments around your home or on a plate/bowl as a centerpiece (add some greenery or a candle in the middle and it’ll look totally intentional), hang a festive pendant banner or wool ball garland (how fun!) and you’re done.

Or, do you have plenty of different colored ornaments floating around? Pick a two or three color theme and stick with it. Last year, we had an outdoorsy/winter wonderland sort of theme, along with extra branches of greenery from the tree, scarves to decorate the tree and along tables, and neutral and brown colors around the house. It was simple, yet warm, and helped me feel less overwhelmed, feeling like I didn’t need to use ALL the decorations in storage.

You can also throw all caution to the wind and pick out your absolute favorites. Who cares if things don’t totally match? Do what will make your heart sing every time you look around!

With Every Christmas Card I Write…
While evaluating your usual holiday to-do list, ask yourself if writing Christmas cards is a must-do. Aside from being eco-friendly to skip this task, it’s a huge task off your list. It’s never just writing the cards; it’s finding and buying them, buying stamps, tracking down updated addresses…you know the drill.

So, ask yourself: Do I feel totally weighed down by this task, or do I enjoy it? Do I feel guilty every time a Christmas card arrives from someone I didn’t write to, or does it just touch my heart that I was thought of fondly? Are there people on my list whom I’ve lost touch with; can I whittle down the list? Can I simplify the process with personalized pictures of our family with pre-written greetings? How many of my friends are online and could be forwarded a family photo and greeting instead of a card?

Now, don’t get me wrong. When we do cards (we always do them, but we strangely enjoy it), we always write a few sentences; we’re old school like that. I’m not a fan of just signing our names or sending a personalized family card with pre-typed messages, but there is nothing, NOTHING wrong with anyone who does it this way! It’s all about simplifying the tons of holiday tasks that weigh us down.

Even if you shave ten people off your list, it saves you some time. And, if all else fails, we like to do our cards over some hot tea or cocoa while watching our favorite Christmas movies after the little guy goes to bed. Making it a relaxing experience while getting in the holiday mood with Jimmy Stewart or Charlie Brown helps a lot.

Cookie Monster

Ohhhh, Christmas cookies. What a quandary this one is in our household. See, I was raised making tons of cookies (and pretty enjoyably so), eating them and sharing them with neighbors and…yeah. That was my thing. But, Dave (who thinks that chocolate chip is a holiday cookie, I kid you not) doesn’t really eat them and Hadley’s 50/50. And, wouldn’t ya know, all the batches create a million cookies each. Grr.

But, I don’t want to give it up. Instead, I make one type that I particularly like and one that I know the family will actually eat, including some form of cut-outs for Hadley to help with. This year, I may hook up with my mom so that we bake together and split the batches; she’s in a similar position.

So, my advice is to A) divide and conquer (hook up with friends/family to bake together and split the results – I way prefer this to a cookie exchange, but you can do that, too), B) simplify the amount of cookies you’ll be making down to your favorite, C) FREEZE what you can (frosting doesn’t always freeze well, so frost after, but if you bake some NOW and defrost some as you need them, it’ll save you time later), and D) gift what you make to letter carriers/teachers/neighbors/anyone!

Entertaining vs. Obligations

There’s a big difference between enjoyable entertaining and fulfilling obligations to hang out. Even before we were parents, we weren’t big goer-outers (formal term, yup) and cherished our down time to work on projects or just hang out watching a favorite holiday movie. We LOVE hanging out with our loved ones A LOT, but have long since figured out that we just need to stretch out the frequency of hang-outs, especially after the little guy came along. If that means saying ‘no, thanks’ to an invitation or two, so be it.

The idea of “entertaining” also needs to be analyzed. Are you going to do a huge rivals-Thanksgiving feast when a few friends are coming over just to hang out for awhile? Or can you do a simple meal or a few basic, delicious snacks with a festive beverage? Remember that your friends and family are coming for your company, not for your level of decoration or fanciness.   

Finding Inspiration

I love Pinterest, but between the fact that my family lovingly puts me in my “who do you think you are, Martha Stewart?” place if I go overboard and the fact that Pinterest Perfectionism is a real, honest-to-goodness disease that I’d prefer not to catch, I take it with a grain of salt. I think that’s the best way to do it, really.

So, I pick my bits of inspiration – maybe one new recipe to try out or a neat homemade gift idea that doesn’t contain too many steps – but I don’t try to Pinterest-ify an entire shindig (or an entire holiday, for that matter!). After all, that’s FAR too much pressure to put on a very average person like me, and it’s definitely not the reason for getting together in the first place. It’s just not. 😉


This is a big one for parents of little ones, but we can all stand to look at our gift-giving practices to see if they can be put on a little diet, too. People have been reeling in the toy-giving, which we appreciate (it still happens, of course, and we want folks to enjoy buying for the little guy, but his first Christmas was insanely overboard). This year, though, Dave and I set a smaller budget for ourselves (along with a “one free gift” idea), and a bit for Hadman, too.

My side of the family has also decided to stop our Secret Santa tradition and just get for the four grandkids and my parents. It already feels pretty weird not to get for someone (a sibling or in-law), so who knows? Maybe we’ll reinstate it. But, either way, it’s a good way to have your family cut back — do a Secret Santa where you’re only getting for one person rather than 8 or 10 (or more). It also adds a fun element to gift-opening, figuring out who got whom.

It truly is about the time spent together, or the exchange of experiences rather than stuff, stuff, stuff. Oh, and since you will inevitably be shopping, make it far simpler on yourself and do as much as you can online. Believe me. Isn’t shopping in PJs far more relaxed? (Please. Don’t shop publicly this way. That was my high school look; we don’t have to go there again.)

Traditions or Burdens?
There’s a long list of holiday activities that you and your family can join in when celebrating the holiday season. Lately, though, I’ve noticed that list growing ever longer and even more complicated. Elf on a Shelf? Complex advent calendar activities?  
Chat with your significant other to see which things matter most. We’ve finally settled between real and fake tree (our fake one bit the big one a couple of years ago, so the last two yes-with-a-baby-around years we bought real), so since it’s something we’ve decided to make into a tradition, we’ll stick with it. In other words, if it’s important to you, keep doing it. If it’s not (or you find that it’s not worth the time you put into it — like those eight types of cookies that no one eats, or the real tree that you have to vacuum up after twice a day, not that that happens #okaysometimes), make a concerted effort to purge it from your holiday routine. And don’t mourn the loss too much, it zaps valuable energy you could spend having fun.

Speaking of Which… Schedule fun!
Remember how I said that November is a wackadoo month at school for me? It goes far too quickly and is spent prepping for and putting on a Book Fair, in addition to getting ready for Thanksgiving and trying to get holiday shopping underway (luckily, I don’t host Thanksgiving, so that helps a lot right now, although I make an equivalent meal at a different time…mmmm, leftovers). So, at such a nutty time, my husband and I try to schedule in a couple of dates, or dinners/meet-ups with friends who recharge our batteries, whom we haven’t seen in awhile, and we truly look forward to our time with family at Thanksgiving.

After Thanksgiving, we also get a sitter so that Dave and I can spend about half (or more) of the day getting some shopping done together. We figure out our Christmas cards (still unsure about buying or having some family ones made up this year), do some shopping for the monkey and other folks on our lists, and grab a quiet bite to eat. It’s an awesome, calm tradition that lets us focus on ourselves and our little family and the happiness of the season ahead.

When December hits, we also put IN PEN certain events that we look forward to annually (like when he meets up with an old co-worker/friend to read “The Polar Express” to kids and our annual trek to see THE Santa). Simple things like a drive to a local Christmas light show on a random evening or remembering that cookie-baking with a toddler can be a fun activity rather than a “gotta get it done” chore. You can keep the fun times to a minimum or pile them on, depending on how you and your family are feeling.

Because, at the end of all the stressful times that the holidays bring, isn’t it really all about having fun with the ones you love, finding gratefulness for your blessings, and doing more for those who are lacking?

Learning + Toddlers = Fun

For those a bit late to the party, I’m an educator by trade. (Some might say that a school librarian isn’t an educator, but dudes…I educate.) While I have no idea whether this is my lifelong calling, it’s definitely something I strive to do on a daily basis, whether the kids are in my classes or under my own roof.

But, when you have a two-year-old (or any toddler or kiddo, for that matter), it’s not always practical or realistic to have nice sit-down lessons. At this age, it’s all about making things palatable, like hiding veggies in meals and smothering things with cheese. (We all do it, guys, there’s no shame here.) Life’s also all about fun (as it should be), and it can be surprising what simple things kids can deem as a good ol’ time.

So, today I’m here with a few tips on fitting some simple, fun learning into your little one’s day. Even if you just pick out one or two to try here and there, you can feel a little bit better about the amount of times he’s watched the same Mickey Mouse Clubhouse on repeat. (Or, in our house, Duck Tales and Mickey Christmas Carol. Yep. It is what it is.)

Use toys as learning tools. We tend to over-think the early learning process. Simple is totally best at this stage. So, things like simple mathematical concepts are totally doable. “Let’s count how many farm animals you have!” (Depending on his/her stage, count along. Hadman’s great up until 13, but then repeats it several times and skips to 17. We’re working on it. ;-)) You could also line up four Legos, have him count them, then take one away and ask how many are left. Simple addition/subtraction like this will get his mind thinking in a different, problem-solving way than basic counting.

Magnet letters are my BFF. I need to buy another set since he’s used the crud out of these (read: half are missing), but our Melissa and Doug magnetic letters LIVE on the fridge. Recently while waiting to get packed up, Hadley had a bunny toy and a stuffed baby doll in his hands. We named what they were (“bunny” and “baby”) and while making the “B” sound several times, I asked him what letter they start with. He ran to the fridge and immediately started to search for the “B.” I’ve found my favorite new game, folks, and he LOVES getting claps and hugs for correct answers. Believe it or not, toddlers are people pleasers. 

Potty time is learning time. Let’s face it: waiting for potty to come out is a boring (sometimes excruciating) job. Turn it into a fun time by reading short board books together, doing a rhyming game, learning “patty cake” (Had can now do it all by himself. My proud mama heart bursts!), singing the alphabet, naming the parts of the body, and more. When I do the alphabet, I’ll pause for him to say the next letter, or lately we’ve even started trying to name things that start with the letter sound. Vowels are a challenge since they take on the sound of the letter following it (for example, “elephant” sounds like “L”), but moments like “What starts with an ‘M’?” “MAMA!!!” are awesome. (This tip goes for bath time and commutes, too.)

Never too early to read. Okay, so maybe you’re not like us. Maybe you don’t have a bedtime routine down yet. Maybe you thought your infant was too little to start reading to. It’s totally okay! Just know that it’s NEVER too early or late to read with your little one. There are so many studies touting the importance of early reading — that they feel love and security in the routine and one-on-one time, they learn the proper care and use of books (modeling how to turn the page properly and that we can’t turn the page until we’ve finished reading all the words), that books can teach AND entertain us…the list goes on. Establishing the routine also helps them settle down and learn expectations for each night; in other words, we have very little divergence from the regular routine (once in awhile I’ll bring him a sippy cup of water, but even that is pretty rare). Another awesome side effect? Seeing how their personal preferences and interests develop.

Give art meaning. I often draw a holiday symbol as a little coloring sheet to mix up our usual Sesame Street coloring activities, but you can take this a step further. Give your little one a sheet of white paper and ask them to draw something and describe it. (Sometimes it’s one word, sometimes it’s a full sentence.) Then, either write the sentence/phrase below the picture or post it on a piece of construction paper with a separate sentence strip below it. Show this to your child and read the sentence. You could also do the same with plenty of seasonal or concept-driven themes. For example, an apple stamping and write a fact from an apple book (or a basic fact like “Apples come from apple trees.”) to create a sense of importance to the art, but also teach a simple lesson.

Can’t say enough about independent play. I’ve heard that boys are better at this than girls, but I also feel that it depends on their environment. Hadley is, for the most part, an only child (aside from pets). He’s the only little one at his grandma’s house during the day. He’s the only little one at home, for now. While we do play with him often, he’s quite content to seek out his own time to play and pretend. I, however, was the fourth and youngest child in my family. I was used to having people play with me, so as I got older and they weren’t into my little kid games anymore, it stung and I had a very hard time playing independently. I truly believe that a greater imagination is developing in our little guy, as well as additional skills that I may not have been blessed with. People need to know how to be alone, how to occupy themselves happily, how to have an internal dialogue. I truly think it leads to deeper thinking and connecting, so I’m happy that our buddy is so happy doing this.

If you have more than one child, it’s AWESOME for them to play together – don’t get me wrong! They need that social interaction and to learn the ebb and flow of proper communication. However, trying out alone time (even if a couple times a week for a short period of time) will help them to develop this additional those imaginative, independent-thinking skills.

Kinetic play is just as important as the alphabet. We haven’t done a ton of this, but have just recently started to get into it. Let’s just say he LOVES it. We’ve been using traditional Play-Doh (I know! An eco-mama who doesn’t make her own flour-based solution?! Blasphemous!) and he adores squishing and poking his fingers in. He’s amazed by the rudimentary dinosaurs, heads, and other animals we make for him to play with — to think, he’s completely non-judgmental of poor artistic ability. (Dave’s awesome at it, though.) Getting hands-on gets neurons in his brain moving that haven’t hopped, skipped and danced before. I’m thinking of making a SIMPLE seasonal sensory box to up the fun (and brain activity).

Don’t be afraid to make a mess. This one can apply to the Play-Doh or any other artistic activity…or, heck, play, for that matter. It’s just not worth obsessing over a train track that takes over your entire living room floor or the fact that the paint project your kid’s mastering also includes painting every. single. finger. Besides, it’s not what life’s about. At any given moment, we have cat toys, random Little People and play food strewn about or stuck in unexpected storage spots. It is what it is. Visit anytime. 😉

That said, now’s a good time to teach responsibility. Yup, we can make a mess. It’s totally cool. But, we’re hitting on the “don’t play with the next thing until you pick up the last thing” rule in our house. We’re trying to keep it low-key and relatively fun, though, by making it a team effort. Sure, the kiddo is the one who made the mess in the first place, but by teaming up and helping him it seems like a) a more manageable task and b) almost FUN! “Let’s see how many puzzle pieces we can each put away!” or “Hadley, I forgot where the train pieces go. Can you show me, please?” can be a good starter.

Or, if your little one hasn’t started “helping out” yet, start by explaining the reasons. We already have, and he’s catching on a little at a time. Making them aware of a mess is the first step, stating that it’s okay but that it needs to be picked up is the next step, then just getting them to put ONE toy away is the final. Moving from this stage will happen gradually but surely, and the day that your child puts ONE toy away without argument seriously feels like you won the lottery. SIDE NOTE: Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood uses a great, short clean-up song that we sometimes sing to make it fun. Some moms hate these songs, but I’m a Daniel junky.  

What about you guys? Any tips to add to the list?

Giving Back This Season

Ever since I not-so-long-ago posted about doing your holiday shopping through ebates (you can get a kick-back from what you spent, woot woot), I’ve been feeling a twinge of guilt. Okay, maybe more than a twinge.

I’m all about saving money, and even making it…not in a greedy way, but in more of the “looking for ways to live a simple, debt-free life with my family” kind of way. It is what it is. So, while I stand by the post I wrote, I also wanted to bring up a couple of other less materialistic/selfish ways to shop online this holiday season.

Online Shopping = Opportunity for Charity

Amazon Smile is something that Dave and I are trying to remember (that’s the hard part) to use these while doing our Amazon shopping this season. You can select an organization to support (we’re assisting Helping Animals Live Organization, or as it’s locally known, HALO) and that’s pretty much it. You shop through smile.amazon.com instead of amazon.com and they’ll donate an amount (I have no idea how much, honestly) to your selected charity when you purchase a product that qualifies for a donation. There are almost one million charities to choose from, too, and you can change your organization at any time.

It’s a bummer that everything’s not eligible for a donation, but every little bit helps. Especially when it comes to saving, protecting, and caring for wayward animals. Or, at least, that’s where our hearts live. 

Goodshop (and Goodsearch) is another system that we use to try to give back while shopping online, but you can actually raise money in other ways. If you search, game, or even grab coupons from Goodshop, you’re doing good at the same time. There are over 100,000 organizations to select from, from the Sierra Club to Toys for Tots and tons in between. Every time you search through them rather than, say, Google, it donates a penny to your cause. Every time you search and shop through their plentiful list of stores (why, hello, Target! Yo, Kohl’s! How you doin’, Old Navy?), a percentage of your purchase will get go towards doing good in the world. Oh, and you also get some pretty cool coupons and codes (similar to ebates, actually) while you’re at it.

I’m sure there’s more to the site (and accompanying app) than that, but that’s the general idea of the thing.

Closer to Home

This time of year, we also look locally to try and give back, too. We take part in my school’s “Giving Tree” (we buy an article of clothes and a toy for needy kids on Christmas and bring in food – I don’t know why, but I always buy a full meal, sans the meat – for a needy family). Last year, we brought donuts and coffee to our local police department before heading to be with our families on the holiday, and Hadley got an awesome cop bear out of the deal (we really didn’t want anything in return).

I have a thing about giving to a Salvation Army bell ringer, even when we’re not in NYC (which, um, we’re not very often). There’s just something so festive and heart-warming about it, aside from the fact that I used to volunteer. We also like to find out what our local humane society is lacking and do a drop-off. We’ve also been known to stop by local “Stuff the Bus” drives with an unused toy or two.

Wow. Just when you think you’re not doing enough, you type it out and realize you’re doing more than you thought. I guess I feel a little better about the ebates post! But, still, it’s just super important for us to do all that we can (and all we can afford to do) to help others out, especially at this sometimes tough time of the year. We especially focus on talking to our little man, who is slowly but surely catching on to the concept that it’s better to do good and think of others.

It’s also been said plenty of times before, but there truly is something wonderful in the feeling you get when giving to others. 

What things, big or small, do you and your family do to give back? 

Hadleyisms 3.0

Hey, guys. Back for a trip down Hadley lane. He’s been super, super verbal lately, and truly seems to enjoy being able to finally communicate sufficiently with us. His sentences are even evolving; sometimes just a noun and a verb, but more often than not they’ll include adjectives and more.

And I totally wish you could actually HEAR a lot of these phrases. When you see them written flatly on a screen, they don’t show the depth of his character or the bubbly way that he speaks. Y’all are missing out, folks.“Yittle bit?” This has been his big one. He’s asking to do something, and thinks that asking for a little (“I rock in chair yittle bit? I eat yittle bit cookie?”) that he’ll be likelier to get a yes. It’s actually pretty genius, and the way that he says it (along with his two little fingers showing how little he’s asking for), he knows full well it’s adorable. I’m just learning not to laugh and blow my “tough cop” attitude. (It’s usually when he’s stalling to go to bed.)

(He actually means “now.”) “We go outside TODAY?” (voice rises at end) “We eat lunch today?” “Me pet kitty today?” I mistakenly told him, “Oh, you mean ‘now’, right?” once, and he started using it immediately. Luckily, he slipped back into his “today” requests, which sounds far less demanding and even sweet. 

“Happy day!!!” He often starts dancing around and saying this at the most mundane of moments. Can’t say much more than that. It’s absolutely heart-filling.

“Circus Boy!!” Apparently I’m a human trapeze or something, because Hadley LOVES to climb up me, jump on my legs, pretend to “fly” (I hold him up), etc, all while shouting “Circus boy! I a circus boy!!” How he even knows what a circus is, I have no clue. Maybe from an old Mickey Mouse or “Peg + Cat”…? And how he knows about Mickey Dolenz’s first stint into fame, I’m even more clueless. (crickets chirping)

“Daddy, you a good person.” Dave wrote about this one, but it begs to be told again. This came out of the blue one day as Dave drove him to his mom’s. I had talked to him the day before in the car; just a stream of consciousness type of conversation, but I chatted about how nice and good his daddy is. Apparently, it stuck.

“I brave! I a brave boy!” This came about for his flu shot (yes, we immunize and do the flu shots, although there’s tons of conversation between Dave and I as to whether it’s worth it). Since I know he’s of the age to rationalize things better, I had a big talk with him before we went for the shot, and bravery was a big part of it. When I picked him up to go to the doctor’s, he was ready and brave! This continued the next day during this conversation with his daddy…

(After Hadley coughs in the back seat.)
“You okay, buddy?”
“Me no sick, Dada! Me BRAVE!”
A moment later, puts his arm up in the air.
“You certainly are, buddy.”
Doesn’t that just say it all?

“We Need a Little Christmas”

Everyone has their own idea of when the Christmas/holiday season starts. Some say the day after Thanksgiving. Others don’t want to hear a single carol before December 1st. Still others are happy to deck the halls when the last Halloween treat is handed out. And none of these are wrong.

We all celebrate so differently, the bickering about it is unkind and rather silly. If you don’t want to hear the songs already, don’t listen to that radio station. If you don’t want to see the decorations being sold at your favorite store, veer that cart in another direction. No harm. But, ultimately, think about what’s being celebrated – good will on Earth! What’s wrong with folks getting into it when they’re not doing anything mean-spirited or hurtful? Nada. Do it when YOU want to and never mind the naysayers. (That said, my mood wanes depending on the year. I don’t like going nuts too early because it’s easy to get burnt out by it by, say, December 16th.)

So, what do you do if Thanksgiving has come and gone and you’re still not ready for jingling bells and Santa hats? Try one of my low-key ways to start getting into the holiday spirit.

1. Go shopping. I don’t mean for your gifts; that’s oftentimes an express highway to stress. (See below for shopping ideas that don’t suck.) Nope! Grab a holiday latte or some such treat and go to your favorite discount shop to stock up on your gift wrap and bags. Slowly and thoughtfully select your Christmas cards. Maybe pick a fun new decoration or two.

I find that thinking about the theme I’ll be wrapping my goodies in helps, especially when there’s a little holiday music playing in the background. Making it a relaxing errand helps you focus on the joy of the task rather than the million items you need to get.

2. Make your lists. This one may also sound stressful, but if you start early, this can be relaxing and even a bit fun. See, you’re not under a time crunch, and lists often help us feel organized and can definitely provide a sense of calm. Keeping them on your phone or Google Docs/Drive can keep them at-hand (and keep people from accidentally “finding” them), too.

First, I made my own wishlist (I talked about how it can help reduce some stress here). Look through your closet, think about the things you truly need, and daydream about what it might be nice to get. Cozy up with some cocoa, a blankie, and your favorite website (for example, West Elm or Target for me) and jot down what you’d like. Don’t worry about making it too lengthy; your gifters can pick what they want to get you and leave the rest.

Then, I used the same relaxed method to start brainstorming for my friends and family. Whether I could think of something to give or not, I wrote their names down to avoid forgetting them. Some folks sat there for a week with nothing popping up — others, I came up with five things for! I won’t be buying all that stuff, but I wrote them down just in case I need a birthday or Mothers’ Day idea later on.

Oh, and for a couple of people I was absolutely stumped on, I sent out a quick email. I’d much rather give them something they’d like (that’s not the biggest surprise) rather than a bad gift.

3. Listen to your favorite Christmas song. Everyone – EVERYONE – has a favorite Christmas song. Heck, I’ve got a handful. But, it’s not the holiday season for me until I hear “Sleigh Ride” (Boston Pops version, please). See? Everyone has their trigger song. I can’t help but bounce in the seat like a 5-year-old when I hear it, especially at the jazzy section.

I don’t mean “turn on the radio and deal with the crappy songs you hate” (I’m talking to you, Mannheim Steamroller), but just listen to that one awesome song you already know you love, then stop there. I often find myself getting totally sick of the constant rotation of songs early, so I have to take it in small doses. In the meantime, my favorite tune brightens my heart and gets me excited about the whole thing. Every. Single. Time.

4. Watch a low-fat version of a Christmas movie. Some holiday movies hit you over the head with the meaning of the season or take place totally around Christmas. Others, however, can be deemed Christmas movies only because one scene takes place on the special day. Watching one of these “Christmas Lite” movies can be just enough to pick up your Christmas spirit.

This time of year, I often gravitate to “Holiday Inn” (it’s about most of the holidays, not just Christmas), “Little Women” (definitely not a holiday movie, but a couple important scenes occur on Christmas), “Home Alone,” “It’s a Wonderful Life,” and a handful of other classic flicks that just have one or two Christmas scenes. Make sure you pick one that you know you’ll enjoy.

Oh, and if you’re up for it, watch a “full-fat” Christmas movie to REALLY get your spirit going. For me, “Elf” and “The Polar Express” make me super jolly.

5. Bake cookies. Again, don’t go overboard. Pick one of your favorite recipes — one that’s come down from your beloved grandmother or that you look forward to tasting every year — and make a batch. If you make a super huge batch, freeze them. Boom. One less you’ll have to make when you get invited to a cookie exchange. But, be sure to treat yourself to one (or, ahem, five); that’s the point of the thing.

If you’re in the mood, get a couple of types done before the hectic holiday schedule hits. Taking them from the freezer next month is way less stressful than baking all of them at once!

6. Put out some neutral decorations. Sprinkle a bit of decor around that can double for Thanksgiving and Christmas. I find that deer, branches, pine cones, white candles, apples and oranges, and grapevine wreaths can help make the area feel super festive.

Then, as you get more excited, you can add some more greenery, lights, and ornaments (I even use some warm weather knit clothes like vintage mittens or scarves), do your tree, and it’s done. Simple! 

7. Follow your nose. Try filling the house with the smells of the season and see if your heart follows. For me, scent is the biggest mood enhancer, so it only makes sense to try this one out!

You can light a festive candle (we’re currently using a pumpkin one I received as a gift, so it’s not too Christmasy) or make your own homemade concoction to fill your house with the warm, cozy smell of the season. Try boiling some cinnamon sticks and clove (even include some apple and orange peels) in some water, then simmer on low. Grab a cup of cocoa and a book, and you’ll be in the Christmas mood in no time. 

8. Shop locally. Ease into your shopping responsibilities by starting at a local place, well before Black Friday. The crowds will be far thinner, the traffic will be a tad less dangerous (you know what I mean!), and you’ll breathe a deep sigh of relief at least checking one present off your list.

But, why do I suggest the local edge? It’s more emotional, in a good way. As you probably know, we’re not huge Wal-mart (or huge corporation) fans, so I do enjoy hitting up, say, our local toy shoppe before trying Toys ‘R Us. Plus, knowing that I’m supporting a local company definitely makes me feel much better about the money I’m spending. 

9. Shop online. Wait, didn’t I just say to shop locally? Why, yes. Yes, I did. But, if you’re still not ready to venture out into the crowds, this is the next best thing. And, guess what! I’ve already started this way.

PJs. A cozy blanket. Hot tea or cocoa. A favorite show or movie in the background. And getting some stuff crossed off your list? Perfect combination. Low-stress shopping, and you can get a head-start. I always open the package to check for damage (and to know what came), then put the whole thing directly in my closet until I have energy for wrapping.

10. Start giving early. This is something we should actually do year-round, but the holidays are a particularly difficult time for folks, families and even animals who find themselves in need. And, honestly, what warms your heart more than knowing you’re making a difference?

While you’re out grocery shopping, pick up some inexpensive (but healthy ;-)) canned goods to donate to a local shelter. Check the ads and grab some dog and/or cat food and cleaning supplies (I “follow” our local humane society to see what their immediate needs are — they almost always include bleach). Grab one or two of the latest toys so that you’re ready to “Stuff the Bus” when the time comes. Part prep, part goodwill, all fun.   

11. Last but not least, celebrate the “now.” If you’re still not ready to get into the Christmas spirit, don’t push it. It’s not a big deal. Some years go by and I find myself not feeling the magic at all. Not. One. Bit. It happens. Then, other years, I’m ready and raring to go.

But, I do suggest that you take time to celebrate SOMETHING. If it’s not the joy of Christmas, maybe it’s taking the time to give thanks – truly – for things both big and small. Maybe make a list of all you’re grateful for. Other times, just a reread (or rewatch) of A Christmas Story is enough to get us out of a Scroogy funk.

Halloween Recap

My mind is totally heading towards Christmas (fully determined to have a low-stress, AWESOME holiday season this year), but I realized I should probably give a Halloween update before I forgot.

Because we all know I’m really, really good at forgetting. Like, expert.

The costumes came out, for the most part, great. Note that I said “costumes”…plural. Yep, Dave and I dressed up, too.

So, after all that talk of the awesome things Hadman could be, he still wouldn’t give up the apple idea. Luckily, I dragged his apple hat (homemade by a sweet relative before he was born), bought a super cheap, bulky red sweatshirt (Goodwill #1), and glued a worm and “organic fuji #5464” sticker to it. Green corduroys and a small basket that looks exactly like an apple basket (Goodwill #2 – tied my own twine to it), and he was frickin’ ecstatic. Like, he didn’t care how horribly ghetto and abstract the entire thing was. Not a bit.

The night before Halloween, I decided to see what we could put together. I grabbed two plaid shirts (Goodwill #3 & #4…mine was more gingham, actually) and a pack of bandanas from Kmart and we were good. Jeans and two silly braids later, we were farmers. Or, as Dave liked to say, “Apple growers.” Get it? We’re growing an “apple” …because our kid’s an apple, ya see. *ahem*

Even layering our clothes for the chilly night still looked like farmers. Pretty neat!

So, anyhoo, this is how it all went down. Dave picked Hadley up early from his mom’s house, we got the both of them all gussied up, and we sped carefully to my mom’s house the town over. We went trick-or-treating (I appreciate that, although we got a couple of pieces of toddler-friendly candy, she “treated” him to animal crackers, some organic bear grahams, etc) and grabbed a slice of pizza and this picture before heading back home. Hadley and I went to a couple of houses while Dave handed out our treats.

I tossed Hadley in the car to go to my uncle’s house (the man gives away FULL-SIZED CANDY BARS, people!) where Hadley did the perfect “trick-or-treat, Unca Mark, I wuv you!” recitation. Seriously, picture my heart jumping out of my chest, I was so proud of that little boy.

Then, we headed home, gave Had his own dinner and a few tastes of his “treats”, and waited for Daddy before watching Charlie Brown.

Dudes. It was perfect.

Oh, and, for the record: Comic books + spider rings + glow-in-the-dark fangs (although they didn’t seem to glow, no matter how much light I gave them) = HUGE SUCCESS!!! The kids didn’t miss the candy one bit. #tealpumpkinsFTW