Friday, November 28, 2014

Family Christmas Traditions

Christmas is a pretty big deal at our house.  My girls love any excuse to decorate the house and have a party.  I'm a little (but not really) embarrassed to say that we had two trees up 11 days before Thanksgiving.  We also put lights outside for the first time this year....also before Thanksgiving.  Don't be judge-y.  My 3 little ones were ecstatic and that's all that matters, right?!?!  Plus, everyone was sick and we were all stuck in the house for weeks with nothing to do but decorate for Christmas ;) 

There are so many fun holiday traditions to create with your family.  Here are my family's favorites:

Elf on the Shelf – Elvis arrives with the Elf on the Shelf book the day after Thanksgiving and stays with us through Christmas Eve.  This year he even brought his own ornament that he found on sale 75% off after Christmas last year!  What a great little elf!  If you need ideas of elf hiding places, Pinterest has tons of great ideas.

Letters to/from Elvis – The girls always have a lot of questions about Elvis (How old is Elvis? Does Elvis miss his Mommy and Daddy when he’s at our house all day?).  So we started writing him letters to get our questions answered.  Sometimes he even answers back on fun Christmas stationary!

Decorating the House – We bring up the Christmas tree and decorate the house over Thanksgiving weekend (or earlier if pressured by the kids!).  We bought a second Christmas tree at an after Christmas sale.  We wanted the kids to have a fun tree to decorate with all their homemade ornaments and the ornaments they receive as gifts.  So far, the tree only has lights, a tree skirt, a nativity scene and a few ornaments, but the kids LOVE it.  The especially love that they can take off the ornaments and play with them all the time.  Needless to say, it's a pretty bare tree!  We're hoping to get some more decorations after Christmas this year!

Mini Christmas Trees –  The girls each have a mini Christmas tree in their rooms. Even Clara got one this year!  I'll peek in their rooms at night (when they should be sleeping) and find them redecorating their trees! Here is Ava's tree - I found everything 40-50% off at Michael's and Hobby Lobby or at Dollar Tree.

Wrapped Christmas Books each day during Advent – Each child takes a turn opening a Christmas book each night for 24 nights that we read before bedtime.  The first book is The Story of the Nativity.  Each day during Advent, we read a new passage from this book.  The last book we open is The Night Before Christmas.

Good Deed Manger – During Christmas-time, anytime the girls do a good deed we write it down on a piece of paper attached a piece of yarn and the girls can put it in the "manger" (aka; a Christmas basket).  By the time Christmas comes, we have a nice, soft manger for the baby Jesus.

Christmas Music – I absolutely love Christmas music.  I have TONS of Christmas CD’s that I downloaded to my iTunes library so I can play my Christmas music all day long!  Some of my favorite songs are:
- Ave Maria by Chris Cornell
- Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) by Darlene Love
- Baby It's Cold Outside by Dean Martin
- Carol of the Bells from the Christmas Carols for Children album
- Children Go Where I Send Thee by Natalie Merchant
- Please Come Home for Christmas by the Eagles
- I Saw Three Ships by Sting
- It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year by Andy Williams
- Jingle Bells by The Brian Setzer Orchestra
- O Holy Night by Josh Groban
- Santa Claus is Coming to Town by The Pointer Sisters
- Silent Night by Stevie Nicks
- Star of Bethlehem by The Judds
- God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen/We Three Kings by Barenaked Ladies & Sarah McLachlan
- 12 Days of Christmas by Straight No Chaser
- Bells Will Be Ringing by Kelly Clarkson

P.S. - My guilty pleasure is the Jessica Simpson Christmas Album, Rejoyce - don't judge!

Christmas Shows – I love to record all the Christmas shows that come on TV between Thanksgiving and Christmas.  Click here for the 2014 ABC Family 25 Days of Christmas programming guide.

Christmas Events around town – There are always fun things to do around town.  Click here for a list of Christmas events around St. Louis.

Christmas Cards – I love to send out Christmas cards to our family and friends.  And I love to receive Christmas cards (hint, hint)!  We display all our Christmas cards in the kitchen.

St. Nick’s Day (December 6th) – The kids leave their shoes out before bedtime on December 5th in the hopes that St. Nicholas will come and leave them some money to buy a gift for a child in need (see “Toys For Tots” below).  They also get a new personalized ornament for the "kid Christmas tree".

Gingerbread Man Cookies – We make gingerbread man cookies and while the cookies cool we read the book The Gingerbread Man Loose in the School.  Sure enough, our gingerbread men cookies escaped while they were cooling just like the gingerbread man in the book.  We searched all over the house looking for our gingerbread men and finally found them on the kitchen table ready to be decorated.  Phew!
PS - This year we are going to decorate sugar cookies because I found a dairy, egg and nut free recipe that I want to try out!  In the past, Sidney has helped decorate the cookies but never got to eat them :(  I hope they taste good!  I'll let you all know!

Visiting Santa – The kids love to color pictures for Santa so that we have something to give him when we visit him at the mall.  Getting their picture taken with Santa is special too.

Toys For Tots – A couple of years ago we started the tradition of having the girls pick out a toy to donate to Toys for Tots.  This year, the girls have earned money by doing chores around the house that will go toward the purchase of the toy.  They will also contribute their St. Nick's Day money.  There is usually a Toys For Tots donation bin at the mall by Santa.

Letters to/from Santa – Before Christmas, we help the girls write a letter to Santa about how they've been and what they've been up to over the past year.  When the girls wake up on Christmas morning, there is a letter from Santa waiting for them.  Pinterest has some cute, free Santa stationary.

Portable North Pole Video from Santa – Santa sends video letters to the kids (and sometimes to Mom and Dad) before Christmas.  Click here to make your own video.

The Legend of the Candy Cane & Candy Cane Cocoa - One of the books that the girls open during Advent is The Legend of the Candy Cane.  We drink Candy Cane Cocoa while we read the book.  Click here for a yummy Candy Cane Cocoa recipe.  Click here for a free printable PDF that tells the Legend of the Candy Cane story.  We warm up Silk Chocolate Soy Milk for Sidney so she can have hot chocolate too.

Baking Christmas Treats for Family, Neighbors and Public Servants – I love to bake Christmas treats but I can’t (or rather, I shouldn't) eat them all by myself.  So we give plates of treats to our neighbors or bring them to our families’ houses that we visit over the holidays. Here are some of my favorite Christmas treats:

Neighborhood Lights – We are so lucky that there are many families in our neighborhood that decorate the outsides of their houses for Christmas.  We love to drive around at night and admire all their hard work!

Public Light Displays – We love to drive through Tilles Park to see the Winter Wonderland lights display.  Santa’s Magical Kingdom is a bit more expensive, but still lots of fun!  If you haven't seen Candy Cane Lane, you're missing out!

Gardenland Express – The Missouri Botanical Gardens has a great indoor holiday train display that the girls love to see each year.

Magic Reindeer Food – We sprinkle Magic Reindeer Food in our lawn the night before Christmas so that Santa’s reindeer will spot our house from the sky and stop to drop off the girls' gifts. Our reindeer food usually consists of M&M's, chocolate chips, oats, raisins and sprinkles.  We seal the food in a baggie and make a reindeer out of a brown paper bag.  You can also print out a free poem and tag for the back of your bag here.

Milk and Cookies for Santa/Carrots for Reindeer – We put milk and cookies out for Santa the night before Christmas on our “Cookies for Santa” plate.  We also put out carrots for Santa’s reindeer.
Yes, those are Thin Mints for Santa.  We ran out of time!

A Christmas Story – After Tim and I put the girls to bed on Christmas Eve, we start watching A Christmas Story while we wait for the girls to fall asleep so that Santa can come. It's a hilarious movie and it's coming to the Fox Theater this year!

Stocking Stuffers – Kids love those little junkie toys that make great stocking stuffers.  I go to Dollar Tree or the dollar section at Target before the holidays to find our stocking stuffers.

Other Ideas – I also found some more fun traditions that other families do to celebrate Christmas:
- Adopt a Child / Adopt a Family
- Special Christmas morning breakfast
- Write out a Christ-centered goal to start early for the New Year
- Bake a cake for Jesus’ birthday
- Advent Calendar – Do a special family activity each day during Advent
- Christmas crafts and Christmas coloring pages
- Take the whole family ice skating
- Host a White Elephant gift exchange
- Hang Mistletoe around your house
- Go see The Nutcracker or another Christmas-y production
- Make Hot Chocolate and watch a family Christmas movie
- Host an Ugly Christmas Sweater Party
- Donate canned goods to a food pantry
- Make a Christmas wreath
- Make a Gingerbread house
- Open one gift on Christmas Eve (i.e.; Christmas pajamas)
- Decorate Christmas sugar cookies
- Attend City tree lighting event
- Have breakfast with Santa

What are your favorite family Christmas traditions?

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Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Healthy Pumpkin Muffins

I stayed up late last night watching news coverage of Ferguson.  This is such a sad situation anyway you look at it.  I love my city and this is not how we want to be remembered.  I will continue to pray for peace for all those affected.

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, which is right around the corner, I felt the need to remember all the things we have to be thankful for despite the rioting, looting and destruction that is happening.  The girls and I got out our Thankful Turkey.  It's time to start filling out the feathers!

I also baked some Healthy Pumpkin Muffins for the holiday and for Ava's school lunches.

Not only are they healthy, but also Ava loves them!  And they fit nicely in our Ziploc Divided Containers. I read that Ziploc discontinued them.  Bummer!  We really love them.  I hope the 10 that I bought last us until Ziploc brings them back!

Enough about that; here's the recipe adapted from 100 Days of Real Food:

1 ½ cups whole-wheat flour (I used King Arthur's white whole-wheat flour)
1 ½ teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon nutmeg
⅛ teaspoon cloves
1 teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
2 eggs
½ cup coconut oil
½ cup honey (I like to use local honey)
½ teaspoon vanilla
1 cup pumpkin puree
½ cup raisins (optional)
½ cup chopped walnuts & pecans (optional)

1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2.  In a large mixing bowl whisk together the dry ingredients (from the flour down to the salt).
3.  Make a well (hole) in the center and throw in the eggs, oil, honey, and vanilla. Stir together thoroughly with a fork, but do not overmix.
4.  Fold in the pumpkin puree, raisins and nuts (if using).
5.  Generously grease a mini muffin pan (or other pan) and then pour in the batter.
6.  For mini muffins, bake for approximately 15 minutes.  For a loaf, bake for approximately 30 – 40 minutes.  For regular muffins, bake for approximately 18 - 22 minutes. Check for doneness by making sure a toothpick inserted comes out clean.
7.  Let muffins cool completely before storing.  We freeze ours.  Until I'm ready to pack Ava's lunch the night before school.  They are totally thawed by lunchtime the next day!

Yields: 24 mini muffins, 12 muffins or 1 loaf

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Thursday, November 20, 2014

Letter of the Week - Hh

H is for House
Here's what you need for this project:
- cardstock (6 different colors)
- cotton ball
- glue
- markers

Click here for free printable Upper Case Letter templates.

H is for Horse
Here's what you need for this project:
- cardstock (cream, tan, brown)
- googly eye
- glue
- scissors

Click here for free printable Lower Case Letter templates.

Sight Words
This week's Sight Words are:
- help
- has


Here are some library books we reserved to go along with our theme:

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Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Veggie Lasagna Rolls

The weather is getting cooler and it's making me crave pasta!  This is one of my favorite pasta dishes because it's healthy-ish and still tastes great.  I used the Lasagna Rolls recipe from the Skinny Taste blog and added a couple of things.

16 lasagna noodles, cooked
16 oz frozen chopped spinach, thawed and completely drained
1 package sliced portobello mushroooms, diced
1/2 medium onion, diced
15 oz fat free ricotta cheese
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 egg
Salt and fresh ground pepper
32 oz pasta sauce 
9 tbsp (about 3 oz) part skim mozzarella cheese, shredded

1. Preheat oven to 350°. 
2. Cook lasagna noodles according to package directions. 
3. While the noodles are cooking, saute onions and mushrooms in a pan.  Set aside.

4. When the noodles are finished cooking, place a piece of wax paper on the counter and lay out cooked lasagna noodles. Make sure noodles are dry. 

5. Combine mushrooms, onion, spinach, ricotta, Parmesan, egg, salt and pepper in a medium bowl. 

6. Ladle about 1 cup of pasta sauce on the bottom of a 9 x 13 baking dish.
7. Take 1/3 cup of ricotta mixture and spread evenly over noodle. 

8. Roll carefully and place seam side down onto the baking dish. Repeat with remaining noodles.

9. Ladle sauce over the noodles in the baking dish and top each one with 1 tbsp mozzarella cheese. 

10. Put foil over baking dish and bake for 40 minutes, or until cheese melts. 

11. To serve, ladle a little sauce on the plate and top with lasagna roll.

This recipe makes 16 rolls (4-5 servings).  Enjoy!

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Thursday, November 13, 2014

Letter of the Week - Gg

G is for Gumballs
Here's what you need for this project:
- cardstock (red, yellow, white)
- pom pom balls
- glue

Poor Sidney has been sick for days but she's trying to muster up a smile.

Click here for free printable Upper Case Letter templates.

G is for Giraffe
Here's what you need for this project:
- cardstock (yellow, white, black)
- glue
- brown marker

Click here for free printable Lower Case Letter templates.

Sight Words
This week's Sight Words are:
- God
- go


Here are some library books we reserved to go along with our theme:

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Monday, November 10, 2014

1st Grade Halloween Party

I had such a fun time helping plan the Halloween party for Ava's 1st Grade class!  Take a look below if you need party ideas!  Also, click here to see my 1st Grade Halloween Party Pinterest board for other ideas.

The party was broken up into 4 parts.  It lasted for 1 hour.

Part 1
To start the party off, one parent read the book, "There was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Bat!" by Lucille Colandro while the other parents set up and decorated the room. Each time the word "swallowed" was read the kids stood up or sat down.
We set up 3 tables: two tables for the craft and one table that held the snacks and drinks. We decorated the tables with purple plastic table cloths.

Part 2
After the story we split the kids up into 2 groups.  One group played Pin the Eyes on the Monster and took pictures in the Monster Photo Booth and one group did the Spider Handprint Craft.  We switched after 15 minutes.

Pin the Eyes on the Monster
I made the monster out of card stock and adhered it to a piece of colored cardboard that I bought at Hobby Lobby.  To make the monster eyes, I used colored cardstock, circle punches in various sizes and googly eyes, which I stuck on with a hot glue gun.  To make the blindfold, I found these Halloween glasses in the dollar bins at Target and I covered up the eye holes with black card stock.  After the kids pinned the eyes on the monster they got to pick out a Halloween prize (Target dollar bin stuff).

Monster Photo Booth

I bought the digital file template of the Monster eyes and Monster mouths on Etsy.  I had them printed on white cardstock and taped them to orange and white paper straws.  For a backdrop, I bought 1 yard of the black and orange chevron print fabric from Joann's.  And another room mom had the Polaroid frame custom cut at Hobby Lobby.  We took each of the kids' pictures in the photo booth. 

Spider Handprint Craft
Another room mom purchased the square canvases at Blick Art Supply and painted them orange.  We used black acrylic paint for the handprint and a black Crayola marker to draw the spider webs/decorations. It got a little messy but we had wet wipes and paper towels to wipe off the kids' hands before they headed to the bathroom to wash up.
Part 3
The kids came back together to eat the Halloween Treat - Ghostly Grub!
We have some kids with food allergies and we like to try to include everyone in the snack so the Ghostly Grub consisted of mini marshmallows, popcorn, Skittles and Gummy Bears.  We found some cute ghost bags in the dollar bins at Target.  The kids LOVED it!

Part 4
We had some time left at the end of the party so we played Halloween Bingo.  The Bingo cards were made by Crazy Little Projects.  We used Smarties to cover the board.

Hope you had a Happy Halloween!!!

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