We’re preparing for our annual visit from our Christmas Elf, Christopher Pop-in-Kins. Last year I eased the late night panic attacks of “oh no, where is he moving tonight??” by creating a Christmas Elf Calendar filled with daily plans. This year I decided to do the same and once again share. Some of the ideas are repeats from last year (Snowman donuts are always a hit!) and some are new.

Christmas Elf Calendar 2014

One of my favorite new ideas? To have you elf wearing Mickey Ears! Colleen at Classy Mommy shares How to Make Mickey Ears for your elf. Such a clever idea! We have a Santa hat ornament with Mickey ears from a past trip to Walt Disney World that I plan to use (assuming it will fit on Christopher’s head – if not, he might just be playing with it!).

Another new idea is to leave Elf Kisses (i.e., Hershey’s Kisses). Kimberly at Kandy Kreations has a cute Elf Kisses Free Printable to pair with this treat.

Download the 2014 Christmas Elf Calendar here.

What’s your favorite Christmas Elf hiding place or activity?

My favorite part of decorating for the holidays is putting up our Christmas tree and hanging the ornaments. So many tell a story of a special time in our lives. There are ornaments to commemorate our first Christmas together, our cats, our alma mater, etc. And this year we need to add a new one to mark the newest addition to our family. Seeing as my own first Christmas ornament and her older brother’s came from Hallmark, it was only fitting that Elise get hers from there too.

Hallmark #KeepsakeIt Ornament Review & Giveaway

When Dylan was born, I quickly selected a Hallmark #KeepsakeIt photo holder ornament with zoo animals framing the picture – perfect for our little boy with the zoo themed nursery. I still smile at the memory of my 5 month old little boy wearing the knit Santa hat and excitedly seeing a Christmas tree for the first time.

Hallmark KeepsakeIt 2009 Baby's First Christmas

This year I knew I wanted to get a first Christmas ornament for Elise from Hallmark as well and, naturally, went straight to the Keepsake Ornaments section on Hallmark’s website to see what options were available. I was happy to find a photo holder ornament so both kids could have similar ones and Hallmark kindly sent it to me for her (I still need to add her photo):

Hallmark KeepsakeIt One Cute Cookie Ornament

The ornament looked great online and is just a beautiful in person. The colors are bright & cheerful and the single piece frame is very sturdy. While Dylan’s has a spinning center piece, the 2014 version is completely fixed except for the dangling heart with “one cute cookie” on the bottom. On the back you can add birth details such as date of birth, weight and length.

Hallmark is looking to share in the fun of the holidays this year with multiple giveaways and a sweepstakes. Share your Hallmark #KeepsakeIt memory with Hallmark’s #KeepsakeIt Sweepstakes here for your chance to win weekly prizes as well as the grand prize of Keepsake Ornaments and a family vacation. Contest ends 12/18/14.

And, Hallmark is giving one of my readers a #KeepsakeIt ornament. Hallmark will be choosing the ornament and sending it to the winner. Enter now until 12/12/14 using the Rafflecopter form below.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

If you are looking to get a special ornament or gift now, Hallmark currently has a $5 off a purchase of $15 or more coupon available. It expires 12/8/14. Perfect for holiday shopping or to treat yourself!

Disclosure: Hallmark provided me with one free Keepsake Ornament for review. No further compensation was provided. All opinions are strictly my own.

On Monday we celebrated my birthday and Elise turning one month. Still in a bit of disbelief we’ve already reached that milestone and also hard to imagine our family ever without her. We’re so blessed and grateful for our little girl. Even Dylan adores his baby sister.

Inspired by the November template challenge at Pixels & Company, I created this page for her album to mark the one month milestone:

One Month Layout

Supplies: P&Co November 2014 Template by Lynnette; Love, Actually: Part 1 and In Good Company collaboration kits from Pixels & Company; Simply You kit by Kim Broedelet; Spring Freebie Collection by Just Jaimee; The Scary Stuff mini kit by Dawn by Design; A Lovely Day: Two by Sugarplum Paperie; Scary Stuff Sampler by Miss Mint.

When Elise was born, we made sure she had a special big brother gift waiting at the hospital for Dylan when he came to meet her. Knowing our child already has a lot of stuff, we wanted to keep the gift simple & small. We decided an itty bitty from Hallmark was the perfect choice.

Hallmark had sent me itty bittys Wonder Woman a short time before and he liked it minus it being a “girl toy” (when did my child suddenly start separating items by gender?). Thankfully, there is a large selection of itty bittys to pick from. As I had already created our Facebook announcement in the spring with the slogan “Every superhero needs a sidekick. Mine is arriving October 2014” and he loves all things superhero right now (especially a certain caped crusader), it was easy to narrow it down to one particular choice – Batman.

Big Brother Gift: Hallmark itty bittys Batman

The perfect big brother gift for a little superhero! Even Wonder Woman has been spotted out playing – I guess she’s cool again now that we have Batman to pair with.

This is not a sponsored post. Hallmark did provide me with one Itty Bitty as a gift and with no requirements. I purchased the itty bittys Batman toy on my own.

The weather has turned cold & dreary thanks to the “arctic chill” that’s covered half the country. It’s inspired me to start adding soup and slow cooker meals to our weekly meal plan. Here are the recipes for 5 of my favorites …

5 Soup And Slow Cooker Favorite Recipes

Slow Cooker Salsa Chicken – this is an easy, filling recipe I found years ago on SparkPeople: http://recipes.sparkpeople.com/recipe-detail.asp?recipe=672711 Put all the ingredients in your slow cooker. Let it cook all day. Then serve with rice (I use boil-in-the-bag as it’s easy, quick and impossible for me to mess up) and tortilla chips in a bowl or with rice and in a soft shell tortilla burrito style.

Crock Pot Chicken & Rice – a slightly different twist with cream cheese and Italian dressing mix from Stick a Fork in It: http://forkinit.blogspot.com/2008/01/dinner-reality-check.html Four ingredients, the slow cooker and rice = dinner done.

Slow Cooker Jambalaya – warm & spicy. A bit of New Orleans flavor from Plain Chickenhttp://www.plainchicken.com/2011/03/slow-cooker-jambalaya.html And the author is right, the jambalaya is excellent paired with cheesy biscuits.

Creamy Tomato Tortellini Soup – I spotted this recipe on Pinterest and wanted to give it a try as it looked & sounded delicious – tomato soup, tortellini … both favorites and must be good together. They were! I cheated a bit and used canned diced tomatoes with basil, garlic and oregano and left out the fresh basil as I didn’t have any. Also, I don’t own a hand immersion blender so the soup had a chunky texture instead of a smooth one. It was still delicious. Find the recipe at Two Peas & Their Pod: http://www.twopeasandtheirpod.com/creamy-tomato-tortellini-soup/

Trisha’s Chicken Tortilla Soup (pictured above) – this recipe from Trisha Yearwood can be found on Food Network’s website: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/trisha-yearwood/trishas-chicken-tortilla-soup-recipe.html It’s filling with chicken, black beans, kidney beans, corn, etc. I just made this for the first time last week and we all enjoyed it. Dylan actually requested I make it again! That’s a first. Grateful the recipe made enough that I have some in freezer and will be reheating for an easy dinner tonight.

What are some of your favorite cold weather recipes?

We try to encourage generosity and caring for others with our son throughout the year but especially in the holiday season. Last year we picked up a stocking from his preschool and filled it for the Salvation Army to deliver to a child locally. This year, Trent & Dylan picked up a shoebox at Chick-fil-a to fill for Samaritan’s Purse Operation Christmas Child.

Operation Christmas Child

I admit, I had heard of the shoebox gifting before, but didn’t really know the details. I was excited they started us on this adventure to learn more and fill our own box.

The world’s largest Christmas project of its kind, Operation Christmas Child, uses gift-filled shoeboxes to share God’s love in a tangible way with needy children around the world.

As Dylan has his own money in his wallet, I wanted to encourage him to contribute to the project. He decided to fill the box for a boy in the 5-9 age group. Before shopping, we read through the list of gift suggestions online and he wrote down the items he wanted to purchase. This included a toothbrush, toothpaste, bar soap, toy cars, a ball, socks, coloring book and crayons, etc.

Operation Christmas Child: List of Items

Then we went shopping to find the items on his list and, yes, he willingly took out his money to pay! I made a point afterward to let him know how proud I was of him spending his own money to help another child have a merry Christmas.

Shopping for items for our Operation Christmas Child shoebox

When we got home, we worked together to fit the gifts into the box like a puzzle. We barely got it all in!

We’re paying the shipping fee for our box online so we can print a barcode and track its journey. Dylan is excited to see how far his box will travel and what country it will end up end. Another educational value there in giving us a geography lesson as well!

OCC Web Banners
If you are interested in taking part in Operation Christmas Child, National Collection Week takes place November 17-24, 2014. Find all the FAQs here including details on how to pack a shoebox and links to drop off locations.

Has your family filled a shoebox before? Or do you have another cause you like to donate time or goods to during the holiday season?

This is not a sponsored post. Sharing purely because I think it’s a great way to share the joy of the season and God’s love with others. 

On Saturday, Trent & I celebrated our 11th wedding anniversary! It was a day filled with family & friends including attending two birthday parties for two sweet one year old girls (one a friend and one a niece). A busy, full day but one we enjoyed. Especially spending time with both our children. What a blessing indeed after 11 years.

For his card this year, I kept the design simple. I hand cut a felt heart, stitched it to a piece of gray/white patterned paper, and added a simple hand drawn outline.

Anniversary Card: Pink Heart

Supplies: white cardstock card by Die Cuts with a View; patterned paper by American Crafts; Tombow pen; pink felt; DMC floss.

I knew I wanted Dylan to have a special “Big Brother” shirt for when Elise arrived. Something he could wear proudly and show off his new status. I also thought it would be cute if she had a matching shirt with “Little Sister.”

Big Brother LittleSister Shirts

I decided to keep the idea simple and use the tried & true freezer paper stencil method. I created the text in Photoshop (although you could do this in most word/text programs too). Printed out, traced onto the freezer paper and hand cut.

Little Sister Shirt: Iron On Freezer Paper Stencil

Next I ironed the freezer paper to the shirts and painted in the letters. I decided to use 3 colors of fabric paint with 1 color to be the same on each. Knowing that Dylan’s favorite colors are currently blue & orange, I started with those for his. Then chose a light purple shade to use with the blue on hers. I loved the way they came out with their own unique look, but still coordinated.

Big Brother Little Sister Shirts: Painting

Typically I buy shirts for projects like these from the craft stores, but recently I’ve had difficulty finding the smaller sizes and most are short sleeve. I wanted long sleeve knowing she was due in late October and hoping both could wear their shirts a few times. I ended up going to Old Navy. I had used one of their plain long sleeve white t-shirts for his Valentine Robot shirt last spring and was very pleased with how well it held up.

The entire project from shirts to paint cost me less than $15.

Christmas, Hanukah, and more are just around the corner. Scary how quickly the year passes, isn’t it? That’s why Dylan & I went to visit a local store, Stone’s Education & Toys, last month to put together our own Top Ten List of holiday gift ideas for young kids. We spent an afternoon exploring, playing and searching to find our favorites. This took a while considering Stone’s has a HUGE toy selection in their new location. In no particular order, here are our 10 favorite gift ideas:

Stones Education & Toys: gift ideas

  1. The Young Artist’s Coloring Gift Set from Faber-Castell features markers, crayons, colored pencils & sharpener, stickers and 25 page pad. Ages 4+
  2. Genius Blocks™ from Hanz. These fun building blocks can interlock to build almost anything your imagination can come up with. There are no instructions included in the kit in order to inspire free thinking and creativity. Box states Ages 8+ but Dylan (age 5) was having a blast playing with them and had no trouble.
  3. Playmobil sets. Stone’s has plenty to choose from whether you want a small starter set or something as large as a pirate ship. Ages 1-1/2+
  4. Ready, Set, Stilts! from Alex Toys grabbed Dylan’s eye pretty quickly. I’m sure if there was a demo he would have tried it out. Ages 5+
  5. MagnaTiles come in various sized sets for ages 3+ and feature a fun way to build with assorted magnetic shaped tiles.

Stones Education & Toys: gift ideas

  1. Bilibo imaginative toy. This is probably better for a slightly younger age set, but Dylan had fun sitting in it and spinning around. Other uses include a seat, a hat, and well, almost anything a child’s imagination can come up with. Ages 2+
  2. Marble Run sets. We saw 3 different sized sets in stock and Dylan wanted them all! Use the plastic pieces to build tracks comprised of chutes, tubes and turns then send marbles through. Ages 3+
  3. GoldieBlox engineering kits for girls. This was clearly one of my picks. With my own professional background in architecture and engineering, it’s great to see toys that are encouraging girls that it is fun and cool to use their brains and excel in math & science. Ages 6+
  4. Roller Racer is a ride-on toy that a child can move by swinging the handlebars back and forth. Ages 3+
  5. Squigz are fun little suction cup pieces that can be connected together to create anything your child can imagine. These caught our eye on our way out of the store and we had to spend a few more minutes trying them out. Ages 3+

A quick background on Stone’s, the store was once a teacher supply store. I remember this from my college days so suffice to say it’s been around for a long time (let’s not officially date me here, ok? ;) ). Under new ownership, the store gradually expanded to a teacher/school supply AND independent toy store. Last year they moved to a gorgeous new building with plenty of room for both. We’ve shopped there before, but this was our first visit to the new building and Dylan was wide-eyed at how large the toy area was. Plus there are plenty of demos out for kids (and adults) to enjoy. Yes, he really did ride the Roller Racer around the store with the blessing of the owner & staff.

Stones Education & Toys

And, yes, Stone’s still sells plenty of teacher and school supplies. This is great for both parents and teachers. Need a gift idea for your child’s teacher? You’ll find lots of options. Homeschool or want to work with your child to improve in an area? Yes, Stone’s has everything you need to help your kids learn. Workbooks, writing tools, arts & crafts supplies, science kits, books, flash cards, etc. During our visit, the school supply section was busier than the toy section! Really. Stone’s offers such a wonderful selection, it’s not too surprising although I’m betting the toy section gets a lot busier in the next few weeks!

Mark your calendar for a couple of special events happening in store this month: Neighborhood Toy Store Day (Nov 8th) and Small Business Saturday (Nov 29th). Find out more details about these events and others by visiting Stone’s Facebook page and/or signing up for their newsletter.

Stone’s Education and Toys is located in Raleigh at 210 Hampton Woods Lane – right off I-40 exit 290. The store is open 7 days a week. Check their website or Facebook page for hours.

Disclosure: I did receive a store gift card for compensation for this post. The opinions expressed are are strictly my own.

Happy Halloween!

Minions - Family Costumes

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you already know we do family themed costumes each year for a party hosted by friends. Back in the spring we decided on Minions from Despicable Me and I asked my mom if she would knit us hats. Dylan requested the “one eye Minion” so that’s exactly what we got. After she finished 3, he commented how we needed a 4th for his little sister. Of course, Grama always listens to Dylan so she knitted a little tiny Minion hat for Elise – and good thing as she arrived in time for both the party and Halloween!

As for the rest of the costumes, here’s how we created them …

Dylan’s was the easiest and most “realistic.” I found a yellow sweatshirt and pair overalls at a consignment sale in September. The night of the party was too hot for the sweatshirt so he wore a short sleeve Minion t-shirt (spring consignment purchase) instead. I added the ‘G’ logo (download here) to the overalls with black fabric and Heat’n Bond (affiliate link). Super easy and no sewing required.

Minion Costume - Supplies

Trent &  I weren’t sure if we would make our friends’ annual party as it was 3 days after Elise’s due date. I kept things very simple in case we didn’t wear these (although I did joke they could be our “coming home” outfits from the hospital depending on her timing!). We wore our own jeans and I purchased new white long sleeve shirts from Old Navy that I dyed yellow with RIT dye.

Minion Halloween: Shirt Dying

And Elise? Well, I confess, she got just her hat plus a “My First Halloween” onesie I bought for her earlier in the year. Only after I had finished dying our shirts, did it even dawn on me I could have dyed a bodysuit for her as well. Oops. Blame pregnancy brain. She was still a pretty darn cute little Minion even in her own special outfit.

See our past family themed Halloween costumes here: Toy Story Halloween | Monsters Inc Halloween | Sharknado Halloween