Wordless Wednesday

What better day than Christmas Eve to share a Wordless Wednesday? Here are a few moments from around our house lately…


Sharing our cookie…

Making gingerbread boys ‘n girls…

This last shot is one of two handmade projects for Hadman’s Christmas. I decided not to kill myself over them and chose just ONE type of felt food — he requested “pie” for Christmas, so of course I took him quasi-literally — and a felt board, which I’ll show in the future. Oh, and Santa’s giving the felt board. I’ve given him fake felt food in the past, so it’s clearly a “parent gift.” It’s also pretty cool that we can keep adding to his collection depending on his interests. Oh, and the textured one is apple and the other is blueberry (or use your imagination, really). 🙂


And, last but not least, our wish to you all. Thanks for reading, and we truly hope that you have a joyful holiday season.


How’re things with you guys? Ready for Christmas? I’ve got a little last-minute wrapping and one quick project to finish, aside from a couple of recipes and probably one or two “oops, forgot that!” loose ends to tie up. We’ll also drop off a neighbor gift and a treat and coffee at the police station before joining one of our family celebrations tonight. Let the fun begin!   

Free (Yes, Free) Holiday Gift Ideas

I’ve requested to Dave that we not only do a pretty sparse budget for each other (or, at least, it’s sparse to me!) this holiday season, but also to give each other one gift that costs nothing.

So, this could mean a lot of things. It could mean that you use something you’ve already got lying around that you haven’t gotten around to giving the person. It could mean making something by hand (whether you’ve got the materials lying around or had to buy them, it’s totally up to your standards of “strict” are). It could mean repurposing something around your house to give. Or, it could just be a huge act of kindness or unforgettable experience. The list goes on, really, but here are a few ideas…

Artsy Fartsy Stuff

Wall Collage 

This is best if you live with the individual so that you can surprise them with it, already-done. I’ve had a stack of Instagram prints (had a coupon, I almost think they were free or darn near close to it), but don’t we all have SOME picture prints floating around that we don’t know what to do with? Well, I’ve fallen for the personal yet organized look of a wall collage of same-sized prints. Mine just happen to be 4″ x 4″ but even rectangular shots (or pictures cut down to squares) can look awesome grouped sweetly on the wall. You can use that sticky tack stuff or tape (or spend a little money and get Command strips; I won’t tell). 

Handmade Wall Art
Similar to the wall collage, look around and see if you have any art supplies that would help create some wall art. Maybe you have an old canvas (or an ugly one you can paint over). Or maybe you have an old embroidery ring that’s begging for one of those quirky embroidered quotes (or an inside joke!) that you can hang. If you’re stumped, look for simple art ideas on Etsy or Pinterest. You can keep it simple, or if you’re on the artsier side, paint a family portrait or pet portrait for your receiver.

Repurpose an Old T-Shirt
You know that ratty old t-shirt that just won’t go away? Or the perfect vintage shirt with an awesome logo that they can’t wear anymore because they splattered paint on the bottom? Stretch it in a frame or create a quilt, pillow or bag! You’ll not only give it new life, but the giftee will love that they don’t have to say goodbye to it forever.

Knit a Scarf  
Again, this totally depends on your ability level and whether or not you have the materials around the house, but a scarf seems far easier than mittens or a hat, right? Think of the person’s favorite color (or if you know what color their favorite winter coat is, be sure it won’t clash) and get a move on!

Reuse, Reuse, Reuse

Look around and see what doesn’t seem to have a life anymore. It’s perfectly fine to re-gift something, especially if you personalize it a bit first. Like, you have way too many mugs in your life, so that set of white plain ones sit totally unused? Use a Sharpie (or paint pen, if you have one) to draw a design or cute quote, then cure it (may not be dishwasher safe). Or go ahead and spend a buck at the Dollar Store if you want to get new ones; I won’t tell. 😉

Nom-Noms

Favorite Cookies
You’re probably making a buttload of cookies for the holidays, anyway, right? Grab a large, clean mason jar and fill ‘er up. If you’ve got the time, feel free to add a label with a cute holiday saying (check Pinterest, there are a million), or just tie some burlap or a festive ribbon on and call it a day.

Homemade Granola 
You may already have the makings of this in your cabinet as we speak, so why not make a super big batch to dole out to all your friends and neighbors? No extra shopping needed.

Fudge
Mmm. Fudge. This pretty much goes hand-in-hand with the cookies, but I just wanted to make everyone aware: fudge. 

Favorite Meal
Make the recipient their absolute favorite meal, just be sure that it’s in your grocery budget (hence, y’know, practically free ;-)). Or, make a “gift certificate” to make the individual their favorite meal after the holidays. 

Chocolate-Dipped Strawberries
Okay, this may not be free, but all it really takes is the purchase of some strawberries (since we all have chocolate in our pantry, right? RIGHT??). And, I tell ya, they’re a show-stopper.

Keep It Simple

Create a “Thankful Jar”
This is a great gift for birthdays, Valentine’s Day, Father’s/Mother’s Day, and more, but I love the idea of gathering together the warm fuzzy feelings you have for a friend or family member and letting them know. I’ve done this for Dave (on Valentine’s Day), filling a mason jar with individual ideas of why he’s awesome and why we’re lucky to have him. You can fill it with 365 “favorite” things about the person for them to pick each day, or 52 (one for each week), or whatever! I just printed them off using Word and cut them out; easy peasy. 

Scavenger Hunt
This could be as simple as an indoor one at your house or as complicated as sending your friend or loved one around an entire city (think: your favorite haunts). The trick is to not make it too lengthy (especially if it involves schlepping all over town in holiday traffic) and to be as witty as your brain can possibly be. Oh, and don’t make the clues too hard or else you’ll get a tearful phone call. Maybe. It’s possible.

Homemade Coupons
This is a classic from our “we don’t earn an income, what can we give to Mom?” days, but you can modernize it for your current needs. Think of what you’re good at and see if you can give a “gift certificate” or book of coupons to help out. If you’re a budding photographer, offer free sessions. If you love organizing, offer up a day of helping to declutter one room. If you’re a cook, offer a free meal of their choosing (just wanted to see if you’re paying attention; this is a repeat from above, mwahaha).

Or, if it’s for someone you’re a bit closer to, make a booklet of kindnesses. If they have a little one at home, make one coupon of a homemade meal, another for an afternoon of babysitting, and still another a coupon for a girls’ (or boys’) night out. This is also your way to spend zero dollars at the holidays but offer a nice gift for later in the year, like taking a friend out to their favorite restaurant or your sweetie out to a movie (and popcorn, of course).

Movie Night at Home
Speaking of movies, this idea would honestly make my husband’s day. Gather together some popcorn (we use the loose organic kernels, so I’d put them in a simple brown paper bag with cute writing on it), a DVD or two that you already own (ours would probably involve “Citizen Kane,” a William Powell flick, or a fun ’80s rom-com), and anything else you like to enjoy at movies. If you drink soda, put a bottle or two in; if you snack on candy (and have some around the house), throw some in. You can bag this all up in a holiday gift bag or basket or popcorn bucket or, heck, whatever!  

Walk Down Memory Lane (Literally)
You can give a card saying that you’ll be (politely) kidnapping them for a day or half a day at the person’s convenience. Take them to some of the spots that have meant the most to you both over the years. For example, if I was going to kidnap my sister, we’d drive by our first home, walk the town, check out the schools, maybe “play” at the playground (although they’ve changed a ton over the years), and grab the makings for lunch at The Village Market (or junk food at the convenient store). For Dave, we’d probably walk around the town he used to live in, waste time at Barnes and Noble (and maybe Target), then I’d take us to lunch at one of the local places we used to eat a lot — like Raspberries Cafe. Or, feel free to do a nature walk or hike, if your giftee is into the outdoors.

The point of going these places is to trigger positive memories and meaningful conversation. So, be ready to chat and keep things upbeat. Our hometown is a bittersweet place, but by keeping the memories realistically light, it could help to reconnect with a shared, fond past.  

What do you guys think? Have any great (free) gift ideas to add? Are any of these doable for you?

All the World’s a Stage

Kids are natural performers. Our little guy comes by it honestly, of course. Both his mom and dad were active community theatre actors before he came along (actually, we did a show in our first trimester, so…). When he sees a stage, he bolts for it. Lately, he’s been inclined to frequently “a-tap, a-tap, a-tappa,” doing his own version of tap dancing. Before he could walk, I held him up in amazement as his little legs flailed, his brow furrowed, attempting to emulate an Astaire routine he was watching. It’s apparently in his blood, but I also believe that the force is strong in all children.  

There’s a lot of awesome to be had from this level of creativity. It builds social and mental development, to say nothing of the confidence it creates.

But, what if your child is a major introvert? Does that mean that he or she will miss out on all of the benefits of “performing”? Absolutely not. Our guy isn’t always “on.” He has his shy moments. There are tons of very different ways to get the best out of this form of play (I like to think of it as play, at least), and oftentimes kids come to them naturally. Just watch the next time they’re playing independently and see if they’re actually, secretly, performing by doing any of the following:


Pots and Pans Pretending. It seems like almost all kids gravitate to the grown-up pots and pans, don’t they? Our little one uses them for their intended purpose…or, at least, pretends to be a chef. Others use them to let out their musical inclinations. Still others use them for, well, whatever the heck they want. I know it can be a pain at times, but let them and even encourage it. (Oh, and providing their own tools to continue this pretend play helps, too. If they like to “drum,” give them toy percussion instruments. We gave Hadley some cooking tools of his own and his own “pantry area”, too.)

Dance Parties! Dance and general bodily movement is so integral to brain development, it’s crazy. Certain motions trigger sections of the brain to start synopsing, such as cross-over hand and foot motions and other slightly complex movements. Plus, it’s a fun exercise that you can do as a family! It definitely helps us take ourselves less seriously (especially if it’s silly music) and even gets the parents off their hineys. 

The Type of Toy Matters. I’m building a post specifically about this, but I’ll just put the premise out here: “character” toys are fine, but make sure there’s a good mix of simple and creative toys available, too. I have a definite love-hate relationship with purchasing toys because it’s a character on a show that our little man loves, or buying the whole Disney gamut of products. Additionally, lots of toys DO SO MUCH (noises! lights! letters! songs! colors! gah!) that they don’t allow the rationalizing parts of a child’s brain do their thing. So, this Christmas we’ve been sure to ask Santa for more Duplo Legos, Play-Doh (I know, I should be making my own or buying eco), a generic doctor kit, and my “homemade” gift for him is for total imaginative play.  

Dress-Up. We’ve been working on a “dress-up box” for Hadman since well before he was born. Um, yeah, we’re a little weird. I think part of the reasoning is that WE love playing pretend, so we hope to encourage it if our kid(s) feel an interest, too. For now, he has one or two pretend items (like a bandana and a soft pirate hat) in with the rest of his toy stuff for if and when he wants to use it. As he gets older, he’ll have a designated dress-up area that he can pull whatever he’d like out of. Oh, and you don’t have to spend a million dollars on this stuff — perusing your local thrift shop may turn up some fake glasses or an awesome artist’s beret (just wash it first…ew).

Pretend of Any Kind. Whether it’s structured role play, play time with a sibling or friend, or just letting your child play independently, this is crucial to their development. It teaches problem solving, the ability to work (and occupy oneself) alone, and much more. Plus, as a parent, the first time you hear your child talking amongst himself about the scene he’s playing out before him? Melt. This is how we first heard his rendition of the alphabet. They open up this new side to the world, a completely non-self-conscious little person who will lay it all out because either they don’t realize anyone’s listening, or they don’t care. Can’t we all learn something there?

See Shows. We have yet to take our guy to a show. He’s still at a very wiggly, won’t-sit-still age. He knows that Mama and Daddy like to see shows (rare these days, but still) and he’s asked to go, too, but I know full well that it’ll be a disaster of a night. However, we’re on the lookout for short, kidcentric shows (like “Sesame Street Live!” which comes around every year or so, or other short, live-action performances of famous story books) to give him his first performance. Another thing I’d like to try out is a public library read aloud or puppet show (I know, I’m a librarian and I haven’t taken him yet) since it’s so different than a one-on-one book reading at home.

Get Artsy Fartsy. Stock up on whatever art supplies suit your little one’s age and encourage an art project when you have the energy and time to do so. I lack in this department a bit, but even keeping around a little finger paints (I wait until about 20 minutes before bath time, strip him to his dipe and put him in his high chair to minimize clean-up) or crayons with a coloring book or two can help. I’m excited that he’ll be getting a Melissa and Doug kit for “early artists” where the color appears when you brush water on the coloring pages; perfect for our budding creative kiddo.

Listen to Music or Old Radio Shows. Not just for dance parties, we expose the whole family to a wide variety of music styles and genres (Dave has played classical in the car since he was an infant; I’m so proud!). I feel deeply that musical connection enriches our lives more than anything else, culturally speaking, in addition to opening up paths in the brain for deep development. Needless to say, I can’t wait until I get a piano in the house again. In turn, listening to old radio shows (usually the humorous ones, like “Our Miss Brooks” and “Fibber McGee and Molly”) opens him up to a new creative outlet and the concept that, not that long ago, this was the world’s most popular entertainment and news retrieval system. Not to mention, it’s still a stellar form of entertainment for the family.

Watch a variety of movies. We’ve fallen more into the “watching TV together” trap than we had initially hoped we would. However, we try to expose Had to more than just children’s fare. He’s totally fine with black and white (although, give him the option and he’ll pick color; can’t blame him too much), and knows who Shirley Temple, Andy Hardy, Robin Hood, Tiny Tim, Uncle Scrooge, and ALL the characters from “The Dick Van Dyke Show” are. He’ll see the Monkees and the old ’60s Batman, along with the Sesame Street we were raised with. I think the sensibility of these programs is a bit different and, at times, more thought-provoking and heart-warming than some of the stuff today. So, exposure to different cultures, realities, and even history helps broaden their knowledge (and gives them fodder for pretend).

Readers’ Theatre. If your kiddo is on the older side, just Google “readers’ theatre” (or any variation of the spelling), and you may be surprised at how much you find. This can range from the earliest reader’s abilities to a lengthy, multiple-person diatribe, from a fun, fluffy story to a serious non-fiction educational role-playing piece. The cool part of readers’ theatre is the fact that there’s no memorization involved (it’s literally just reading a script and adding some props and costumes if you like), and it’s highly flexible (you could have three people playing tons of parts of eighteen playing individual roles). Also, it helps readers of high and low levels continue to grow and increase fluency. I could go on, but instead, I’ll move to my next favorite subject. 

Read, Read, Read. Never underestimate the quietest bookworm, my friend. Their imaginations are often swimming with the most incredible ideas, diverse vocabulary, and problem-solving methods in the room. And, regardless of your child’s age, it’s never too late (or early) to start reading to them every night. I’d say that about 95-98% of Had’s evening routines have involved reading, from the time he was one week old. He might have been too young to understand the words or to even see the pictures, but the rhythm of the books and the nurturing sound of his father’s voice (Dave has read most of the books, although I sit nearby often) created a child who absolutely loves reading. At less than 2 1/2 years old, he knows all of his letters and recites the alphabet (with some issues getting from L to P, admittedly), and I attribute it completely to reading.

So, what do you think? What creative outlets do you and your family utilize? Anything to add to the list? Share in the comments!