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Sunday, December 28, 2014


Jules here-

We know we've been slacking- the holidays got the best of us both.  I had all these idyllic plans for the Christmas season and I barely wrapped my presents and I'm still getting Christmas cards out.  Enough lame excuses and on to my reflections of Christmas.
Santa visit!
As my eldest is six years old, she clearly remembers the last few Christmases, and so family traditions have now officially been established.  The younger ones need to be reminded of special holiday events, but Grace reveled in every joyous moment.  Here are a few never-miss-Christmas-traditions:
  • Gingerbread/Graham Cracker Houses- For 4 years, my friend Tanya & I have rounded our children up for some delicious decorating of candy houses.  The children LOVE it; this year we had to delay our tradition until after Christmas because of my move, but we still did a "kit" gingerbread house before Christmas. 

  • Holiday TV Specials- Rudolph, Frosty, and Charlie Brown's Christmas-- who could miss these? The key is finding the time to DVR them all (or borrow the DVD's from the library).  I personally love surprising my kids with an unexpected stay-up-late movie night! 
  • Dollar-Store Shopping Spree-  As you know, I am a big spender.  So the dollar store is a perfect location for the kids to do some shopping on their own.  They love to buy gifts for each other, their parents, and grandparents.  I ended up with a Dora hairbrush this year and a new hot-pink make-up case.  Score.  Ems also does the "wrap-with-mommy" afternoon in which she takes one child up at a time to wrap his/her presents.  The kids love the special one-on-one time and to share the secret gifts!
  • Homemade Ornaments- I used to make Ems' kids ornaments every year, but I thought they might be out-growing the tradition.  However, Ems indicated that the kids LOVED getting their special ornaments every year with their name on them.  So, I re-instated this tradition with some child-assistance.  We created these foamtastic ornaments for all of our cousins.
    We made extra for us too :)
  • Christmas Eve Pajamas- My kids LOVE pajamas and as 99% of their clothing is hand-me-downs, this is the one time of year they get something NEW.  I scour stores for discounts and purchase comfy pajamas to unwrap before bedtime on Christmas eve.  I attempt to get Christmas-theme pajamas, but the last two years I could not find any cute ones!! They don't seem to mind what they look like- they just love the fleeciness!
    2013- Penguin Pajamas

  • Wrapped Items in the Stocking-  Honestly, I thought everyone did this.  Unrolling the two yards of wrapping paper to reveal a tube of chapstick is one of my favorite childhood memories.  Only in later years did I realize that so many people suffered from the boring concept of simply emptying out your stocking loot into a pile and looking at it. UGH.  Wrapped stockings are SO much better. Side note tradition: Silly-putty is a must-have item in the stocking, as well as a new toothbrush.  Grace remembered....
    Ready to open!
  • Church before Presents- Though some people think this tradition is harsh, my children don't even bat an eye at waiting to unwrap the mounds of presents!  When they first wake up, they get to unwrap the items in each stocking and then eat breakfast.  We scrub up, dress in our finest, and then go to Mass. After Church, the children's excitement builds and we are able to tear into the fantastic pile of presents.  Not only does this keep the "Christ" in "Christmas" it also slows down the mayhem and paces the present-chaos a bit better.  Plus- the pictures in their Church clothes are a bonus :)
    James gets his golf set!
    Play-doh is always welcome :)
    Grace expects these traditions now, and it makes me excited about the holidays when we have a mini-bucket list of things to do.  Besides the events listed above, we of course look at Christmas lights, make cookies/candies, write cards, and more.  I have avoided the Elf on the Shelf (Thank the LORD!) and expensive trips to see Santa at the mall (Though he was free at the Bass Pro Shops!) What traditions have you started?  Anything we should add to our Christmas repertoire?

Merry Christmas!!

Easy Rule #58790- You do have a few years until your kids start to remember Christmas. So try to think about which events you  would like to do every year.  Don't make it too difficult.

Easy Rule #8797- Even when you don't get everything done on your Christmas To-Do List, the holiday is still a blessed event.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

A Breather & Potty Time

Jules here-
Watching Pop-Pop shovel, again.

Ah- the weekend! I didn't realize how full-tilt I have been going these past few weeks until I had a day completely off: no work, no travel, and no activities/events.  Because of an icy, snowy, mess my plans of attending a holiday parade were derailed.  Instead, it was a comfy pants and slipper day and it was fantastic. Usually my children have the allotted 30 minutes of TV time- but today, I splurged with a Mickey Mouse Christmas special AND my favorite California Raisin's Claymation Christmas (I found the full episode on youtube-- and if you have never seen it- watch it now it's 24 minutes. The Carol of the Bells is incredible).  If you have a big blank spot below, it's because you are on mobile- the youtube videos only work on your PC:

Though I did homeschool today, the 1 1/2 hours of TV time enabled me to just space out on Pinterest and pretty much do nothing. Glorious.

What did I look up most on Pinterest you ask? Well--
And the following:
So guess what we have succeeded with?  Potty training! Suddenly my newly-3 year old son just got it! However, unlike little ladies when they learn to use the toilet, there is quite a lot of collateral damage with training a little boy... Ems had already warned me.  Nothing did quite prepare me for the the continual "Push your winky down!" comments and the perpetual pool of pee that decorates the floor after he has finished.  I have just ordered a Thomas potty seat that claims to have a "really high spill guard" up front to keep accidents from happening... we'll see. No matter what- I am super proud of my big guy, James, for just suddenly getting being potty trained.
Big Guy is finally using the potty! Now only if he could control the fire hose....
A lazy day as a mom involves cooking, laundry, cleaning up urine, and more- but it also allows moms to not shower, put on make-up, or get kids dressed in "real" clothes.  I read tons of books to the kids, decorated a gingerbread house (a pre-boxed one) and truly cherished some down time.

Note the creative marshmallow snowman and cone-tree... NOT included in kit... we are just that clever.

Easy Rules #52104- The holidays are a hectic time, don't forget to stop and enjoy some Christmas TV and mindless Internet time.

Easy Rules #3587- When you have a day off and don't get out of sweatpants, make sure there isn't any photo evidence.

Top Ten Gifts for Kids

Ems AND Jules here-

We decided to team up for a pre-Black Friday post on what to (and what NOT to) buy for kids!  Our focus is on the younger set of children, because as kids get to the pre-teen era usually only technology-related gifts and/or very specific requests will suffice. 

After a dozen Christmases between us, we have experienced many wonderful gift-wrap explosions on holiday mornings-- and we have come to know which presents are actually useful and which ones will be lost, broken, or forgotten before New Year's Eve. Before you delve into our fantastic list... here are a few disclaimers:
  • Know your child: Some kids love to play with toys, some do not. Don't buy your child something "just to unwrap" when you know they will lose interest very quickly.
  • Our list is a suggestion, not every gift is perfect for your child!
  • Our list is focusing on things you can wrap-- the MOST appreciated gifts for multi-children families are: gift cards (to stores, restaurants, etc.), movie theater tickets and museum or zoo family-passes. 
  • All toys CAN get lost or broken! Teach your kids responsibility in caring for their possessions and have them clean up parts and pieces thoroughly.
  • The point of Christmas is NOT about gifts... it is about the Savior, so don't spend all your money on a crazy day of presents that your kids may not appreciate.
10. Magnatiles- Definitely the most expensive gift on our list, but they are worth it! If you want to ask grandparents to buy them-all the better! They are magnetic blocks that easily make castles, rocket ships, farmyards, whatever they can imagine.  Kids ages 1 to 10 really enjoy creating fantastic sculptures.  These are definitely an always-played-with-toy in our house!

9. Dolls- Now, we have never bought a doll directly for a boy, but little boys enjoy dolls too! From washing them in a sink to feeding them a pretend bottle, kids love to mimic parents caring for little ones.  You can pick up cheap accessories at the dollar store, and try not to spend too much on the doll-- fancy dolls become boring very quickly.
Last Christmas Doll bed & Baby

8. Family Board Games- Start a new tradition of a family game night or simply let the older kids rule over the younger ones in some hefty competition-- board games are an awesome gift! Start them with Candy Land and work your way up to Life & Monopoly (well, only if you want some real arguments...). And although we are focusing on the younger set, there really are SO many spectacular games out there that older kids enjoy --Pandemic, Forbidden Island, Clue, etc.--so really explore this area of gift-giving.  It's a great change of pace from PlayStation.

Candy Land fun!

7. Little People, Figurines, and/or Superheroes- We received the Little People bus as an early gift and added to our Little People collection through hand-me-downs and garage sales.  They are quite expensive new, but very attainable in the Craigslist world.  Plus any figurines you can get at the Dollar Store or Wal-mart can be used for imaginative play.  Children love to set them up on blocks, put them in rocket ships, or make believe they are climbing the "furniture mountains."  

Boys love soldiers and the plastic kind are affordable and easily replaceable. I usually buy 4 bags every Christmas and watch them go town! Well, to battle. Just be prepared for the inevitable rubble of strewn soldiers to be found in random nooks and crannies of your home. Take comfort in the fact that you are not out the big bucks. If a toy is going to get lost, it might as well be cheap!

Lissie Little Person

6. Doodle-Pad- The reusable service is great for car rides, dentists office or even letter practice.  We received a cheap one years ago, and it has been a great way to make quick, non-messy drawings.  You can go high end or super cheap depending on what you want.

5. Legos- Good for all ages, these are a gift that can really stand the test of time. Literally hours of play potential here. Rivaling the Magnatiles in price and the toy soldiers in "spreadability" (I made up this word to describe toys that literally creep into all rooms of your home), however, these are not for the faint of heart. Be sure your child loves to build! If he or she does, they are worth the investment for sure. Stuck for storage? I use an under the bed rollout bin to house all the Legos. And a tip: take pictures of your kids creations! It will make scrapping them at cleanup time MUCH easier.

A Lego contraption of Nate's: I think it's a gun? He's made candy dispensers and banks, too...very cool stuff!

4- Wooden Blocks- At first glance, blocks can be the standard, ho-hum gift. In actuality, if you teach your children to make roads, castles, prisons, etc. their imagination will blossom.  Using the figurines from #7 above, kids can make forts, create battles, re-create fairy tales or simply knock them over with rubber bands.

Mom tip: Just like with Lego creations, be sure to take a picture of their castles & towers so when a younger sibling knocks it down there will be fewer tears...

3. Play Food- We've witnessed kids of ALL ages who like to make pretend food in a kitchen. Don't have room for a real play kitchen? Just buy the food. Give the kid a box to be a microwave or an oven and let them imagine. Younger kids love making meals at a restaurant and older kids even like to join in! From make believe grocery shopping to a tea party- nothing beats imaginative play! 

Just watch out for older boy siblings who may be tempted to use the plastic French baguette as a bat or the canned veggies as grenades. Just saying.

2. Craft Kits- From Wal-Mart to AC Moores, craft kids are an easily attainable and very entertaining gift. From jewelry to race cars, kids can make anything from these relatively-easy-to-use kits.  Parents don't have to buy extra supplies and it usually cleans up quickly!

1. Coloring Supplies- No matter how many crayons a family has, it's never enough. Good quality (i.e. Crayola) crayons, markers, water colors, paper, stickers, etc. are always appreciated. Coloring and drawing can occupy children for hours, and rarely do they outgrow the creative outlet of art. Affordable, disposable, and much desired-- art supplies are fantastic!

Many kids like to draw, as opposed to color, so a ream of paper and a bunch of colored pens would be a super gift.

And not to be outdone--- here's a mini-list of things to avoid:
1. Battery-eating toys (After two rounds of batteries, these toys will never work again...)
2. Super noisy toys (These will end up hidden in a closet by a mother with a headache)
3. Take-up-a-lot-of-space-toys (Oh you got a great deal on the life-sized space ship? Um... keep it at your house we'll play with it there...)
4. Stuffed animals (They already secretly multiply without buying new ones)
5. Million-tiny-parts toys (They are destined for the vacuum canister).

Do you have any must-have toys that REALLY entertain your kids? Let us know via comments!! We want toys & gifts that keep kids AND parents happy :)

Either way HAPPY THANKSGIVING!! Now you better go shopping....

Easy Rule #35872- Don't go with the fad toys, because they put the "fad" in "fading interest."

Easy Rule #24532- Buy with storage in mind. Clear your home out before Christmas to make way for the new goodies!