Christmas Morning Traditions And An Easy Breakfast Casserole Recipe

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This post is written by me on behalf of Tyson Foods, Inc.. All opinions are entirely my own.

My favorite day of the year is Christmas Day. When I was a kid it was probably (mostly) because of the gifts but now, as an adult, it’s my favorite because of all of the uninterrupted time we have together as a family. The days leading up to Christmas may be chaotic with last minute wrapping, grocery shopping, holiday parties and everything else, but on Christmas Eve we start to slow down and then Christmas Day we really slow down.

Our day starts early with our boys, clad in matching Christmas jammies, coming in to wake us up. Daddy normally wants to snooze a bit but I sense their excitement so I hop out of bed to make sure everything, including my camera, is ready for the moment they come running out to see what special holiday surprises there are.

The boys head to the fireplace to see what Santa has brought them. They each get a gift or two from Santa and then a stocking full of candy, little trinkets and toiletries. After that they check to see if Santa ate his cookies and drank his milk and check our cat’s stockings to see what little toys Santa left for our fur babies.

After stockings, it’s time for breakfast. This is a tradition that my parents started when I was younger and I continue with my own kids. While my dad cooked a big family breakfast we’d get dressed for the day (and I’m pretty sure this was the one day a year that my three siblings and I got ready without having to be prodded to “hurry up”). Nowadays, we stay in our holiday pajamas all day but we do go and make ourselves a bit presentable for pictures while breakfast is cooking.

This tradition of breakfast before gifts is one of the most enjoyable parts of the day since we generally don’t get to sit down for family breakfasts. We have a variety of breakfast foods but the best part is the breakfast casserole that Sinisa makes. He usually prepares it the night before so it’s simple to pop in the oven Christmas morning. We are all about keeping it easy over here!

This year he is making a casserole with eggs, cheese, sausage, hash browns, peppers and onions. We made it for a quick dinner this past week, to test the recipe out, and the kids ate it, peppers and all. I’m sharing the recipe because if you are looking for an easy casserole idea for Christmas morning (or really any busy day this holiday season) this will be perfect!

Ingredients for the breakfast casserole:

  • 7 eggs whisked together
  • 1 1/2 cups of shredded cheese
  • One package of Jimmy Dean® Refrigerated Sausage
  • 1 1/2 cups of chopped peppers and onions
  • 10 ounces of hash browns

Directions:

1) Cook the sausage according to the package. We like using the Jimmy Dean® Refrigerated Sausage because the fresh, high quality pork sausage is made with a unique savory blend of Jimmy Dean® signature seasonings which really gives the casserole a great flavor and keeps the ingredient list low. NOTE: You can cook the peppers and onions with the sausage if you’d like to or you can add them to the recipe raw.

2) Add ingredients into a large casserole dish, layering them. We put uncooked hash browns on the bottom, added a layer of sausage and vegetables next, then poured the eggs evenly over the casserole before sprinkling the top with a generous layer of shredded cheese.

3) At this point you can either put it in the fridge if you are making it the night before or you can stick it in the oven. We cooked our casserole (in a covered dish) for 35 minutes at 400 degrees. Keep in mind that oven times vary so you’ll want to temp it and make sure it reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees.

That’s it. So easy but so delicious! We had “breakfast for dinner” the other night and served this casserole with a side of fresh fruit and doughnuts for dessert.

On Christmas morning, after we enjoy our breakfast as a family, we open gifts. The boys play with their new toys while we sit in front of the fire together. We play some of their new games they received and just relax in the glow of the twinkling lights on our Christmas tree. It’s the perfect day.

Want to recreate this recipe? Find all the ingredients you need for this breakfast casserole at Meijer. Tyson® products, like the Jimmy Dean® Refrigerated Sausage, are perfect for all cooking occasions and all holiday season long. Remember that the holidays mean many moments and many meals to share so make sure to stock up on things that will help you create easy meals so you are spending less time in the kitchen and more time with your family.

How do you spend Christmas morning? I’d love to hear about your family’s holiday traditions and any delicious meals you make!

I was selected for this opportunity as a member of CLEVER and the content and opinions expressed here are all my own.

Holiday Coffee Bar With DIY Chocolate Stir Spoons

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This shop has been compensated by Collective Bias, Inc. and its advertiser. All opinions are mine alone. #HolidayFlavorsAreHere #CollectiveBias

It’s no secret that Starbucks® is my go-to coffee brand. Ever since my boys were tiny (when I was lucky to get a few hours of sleep each night) I needed a good (strong) coffee to get me through my day. Nowadays, I get a lot more sleep since my boys are in elementary school, but I still enjoy my daily cup of Starbucks® Coffee.

With the holidays quickly approaching I thought it would be fun to put together a coffee bar. I kept the decorations simple, going with a plaid tablecloth and red and wood accents. I love the “baby it’s cold outside” theme as well so I included a cute sign to encourage my guests to enjoy a warm cup of coffee.

Along with the Starbucks® Holiday Blend 60ct K-Cup® pods, I added a jar full of Lindt Chocolate Assorted Lindor Truffles and some little glass jars of add-ins including nutmeg, sugar and crushed peppermint pieces. I also made stir spoons out of the truffles because what is better than coffee and chocolate? The sweet, rich taste of Lindt Chocolate Lindor Truffles brings out the sweet maple flavor of Starbucks®  Holiday Blend Coffee.

(Hover over the image above to shop directly from it!)

The spoons were simple to make. I used 12 Lindt Chocolate Lindor Truffles (dark and milk chocolate varieties) and melted them over low heat until they were a liquid. I then poured the melted chocolate into a silicone mold and refrigerated them for 2 hours. After the chocolate hardened I gently released the chocolate spoons from the silicone mold and placed them in a wooden tray. (The 12 truffles made about 8 chocolate stir spoons.)

The last things you’ll want to add to your coffee bar are holiday mugs. I love big mugs and this one with the words “choose joy” is one of my favorites! Once your coffee bar is all set up you will *have* to test it out. Let the scent of coffee brewing fill your room as you sneak a truffle!

If you entertain often, I’m sure you know how fabulous buying in bulk is so you’ll be happy to know you can find both the Starbucks® Holiday Blend 60ct K-Cup® pods and the Lindt Chocolate Assorted Lindor Truffle Bag at your local Sam’s Club in the coffee and candy aisles. You can enjoy 50 bonus stars with purchase of any one qualifying Starbucks® packaged coffee or K-Cup® pods at Sam’s Club through 11/1/17-12/26/17.

How are you preparing for the holidays? Will you be discovering a new holiday combination as you set up a coffee bar for your guests to enjoy?

DIY Favorite Memory Ornaments

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Disclosure: This is a sponsored post but all thoughts are my own.

One of my favorite things about the holidays is decorating our home for Christmas. Out of all the decorations that I own, none are more cherished than my personalized ornaments. Most of my personalized family ornaments are “dough” ornaments that I have gotten over the years, from my childhood and through my parenting journey. They all have our names and the year we received them. This year I wanted to try my hand at creating our own personalized ornaments but wanted to add some memories to the ornaments so every year when we pulled them out we would think about fun times we’d had over the years.

I’m loving rustic Christmas decor lately so I thought it would be fun to use round wood pieces to make some favorite memory ornaments for 2016. Originally I was going to get round wood pieces and drill a hole into them to make them into ornaments but I found pre-made wooden ornament packs in the woodworking section of my local craft store which made this DIY craft even easier. If you have a live tree you may even want to cut pieces off the bottom of your Christmas tree trunk (after the holidays) to make this craft. That would really make these ornaments special and personalized!

So other than your wooden circle pieces that have drilled holes towards the top you are going to need pretty ribbon and Sharpie markers. I chose to use the new Sharpie Extreme Permanent Markers because they are fade-resistant. There would be nothing more devastating than creating these special ornaments only to take them out of the decorations box years later to find the ink had faded and you couldn’t read the special memory that you’d written down! These new markers are also specially formulated for wood (along with plastic and glass) so I knew they’d be best for this project.

The first thing I had to do was switch out the twine for some festive ribbon. I got double sided ribbon that was polka dot on one side and striped on the other. I recommend using thin ribbon but if you have thicker ribbon, like I did, you can just roll it to get it through the hole in your wood. One it’s through, tie a knot in the ribbon so that you’ll be able to hang it on your Christmas tree. You’ll want to create one ornament for each person in your immediate family.

The last step is to write on the ornament. Using my green Sharpie Extreme Permanent Marker, I wrote everyone’s name and the year on one side of the ornament. I then asked my family members what their favorite memory from 2016 was and wrote that memory down on the opposite side. If you have younger children you might want to talk about some of the things you did throughout the year so you don’t end up with their favorite memory being what you did the day before because that’s all they can remember doing.

With this year being our first Disney trip I wasn’t surprised that both Jacob and Sinisa listed Disney as their favorite memory. Lucas thought back to one of our summer day trips at a local theme park and decided his favorite memory was when he rode roller coasters there. I had a lot of great memories this year but chose our Mackinac Island vacation, where I showed my family the place I’d loved visiting as a child, as my top memory.

I was so excited to put these ornaments on the tree and know that they are going to bring back wonderful memories every holiday season. I will be making these ornaments every year as our new family tradition.

What memories would you put on your ornaments?

 

50+ Stocking Stuffer Ideas {Something For Everyone!}

Dash Away Y'all

Disclosure: Some items were received for consideration but all thoughts are my own. This post contains affiliate links.

One of the last things “Santa” has to purchase every holiday season is stocking stuffers. “Santa” tries to limit the candy in the stockings and instead stuff it with small necessities and a few fun items. If you are still looking to fill your stockings I wanted to share some ideas of things you can put in them. This list has something for everyone from kids to teens to adults!

1) Nail polish and nail art - Espionage Cosmetics offers a line of cruelty free nail wraps in fun designs like the rose ones pictured above. They are easy to apply, do not require a heat gun, and when mastered it only takes 5 to 10 minutes to apply.

2) Socks

3) Deck of cards

4) Bath toy

5) Mini screwdriver

6) Keychain

7) Hair ties, bows or headbands

8) Gloves 9) Toothbrush – The kids love BrushBuddies! There’s a new Shopkins Brite Beatz one that plays the Shopkins theme song along to synchronized lights. Brite Beatz helps improve oral care making brushing fun for kids. Shopkins theme song will play for the dentist recommended two minutes. Shopkins Brite Beatz has fun characters on the handle and a comfortable grip for kids.

10) Gift card to their favorite restaurant

11) Chewing gum

12) Stickers

13) Small bottle of alcohol (21+)

14) Crayons

15) Body spray 16) Reusable bags – Urban Market bags are stylish, high quality, reusable shopping bags that are eco-friendly and completely washable. These bags are made from a lightweight nylon fabric with strong stitching that makes them extra durable and the ideal reusable tote bags that will last for years. Best of all, they are compact when not in use which make them ideal for stashing in your glove compartment box, your purse or anywhere else you may need to keep it.

17) Hot sauce

18) Makeup brushes

19) Money clip

20) Ornament

21) Gift card to a coffee shop

22) Stuffed animal – Bears for humanity is a great choice because for every stuffed animal purchased, another is given to a child in need. The bears are made using only certified organic materials by at-risk women in welfare-work programs right here in the US. They have a number of animal pals to choose from so you can find the perfect companion for the little one in your life!

23) Lip balm

24) Small notepad

25) Movie tickets

26) Jar candles

27) Comb or small brush

28) Luggage tag 

29) Headphones – Cozy Phones are awesome because not only are they headphones but they keep the head and ears warm at the same time. There are lycra, mesh lines ones for active people and also fun, fleece animal ones for kids.

30) Lotion

31) Coffee beans or K-Cups

32) Handmade soap

33) Things for their hobby- guitar picks, paintbrushes, soccer shin guards, etc

34) Makeup

35) Guides – You can purchase a guidebook that teaches a new language or skill but Deckopedia is cool because it makes guides in deck form. Fun ones include Mixology 101: The Art Of Crafting Cocktails and Natural Beauty Skincare, a collection of homemade beauty recipes.

36) Hand warmers

37) Bubble bath

38) Tie

39) Coffee Cozy

40) Hair gel or spray

41) Small games

42) Bubbles

43) Face masks – 7th Heaven makes a variety of single use masks that are available at Walmart. Their mud masks are enriched with nourishing active ingredients to deep cleanse, leaving skin fresh, clean and glowing. Peel off masks purify skin enabling all the natural goodness to nourish and pamper skin to perfection. Exfoliating masks deep cleanse and polish to remove stubborn surface blackheads and awaken dull skin and renew skin texture.

44) Tiny puzzle

45) Phone case

46) Scalp massager (I got these ones on Amazon for less than a $1 each!)

47) Pens and pencils

48) Selfie stick

49) Coins

50) USB charger – Ezisoul’s multi-port charger is the perfect travel charger because it let’s you charge 5 devices (phones and tablets) at once using only one charger. Engineered with Auto Detect Technology, this USB port charger lets you plug any device, Android and Apple, into any port and the smart charger will get exactly what it needs to charge the device rapidly and effectively.

I’d love to hear any other ideas you have!

Cucumber Bites Christmas Tree Appetizer Tray

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This shop has been compensated by Collective Bias, Inc. and its advertiser. All opinions are mine alone. #HolidayEntertaining #YogurtInspiration #CollectiveBias

One of my favorite ways to celebrate the Christmas holiday is to have my family over to spend time together. Christmas Eve is our big celebration at my house and I always have a table full of appetizers. I don’t just do parties a little bit. I go all out and make as many appetizers as I can. We then enjoy the leftovers as we lounge around on Christmas Day (because nobody really feels like cooking after all the work of the holidays has ended in ten minutes of unwrapping frenzy).

If you do any entertaining over the holidays you’ll want to make this fun Christmas tree shaped appetizer. I love cucumber bites but I decided to change them up a bit after having a gyro for lunch one day and wanted to make the topping for them taste somewhat like the tzatziki sauce I love. To do so, I added dill and feta cheese in to try to recreate the flavor. You could always add in some ranch mix instead of the dill and feta cheese if you’d rather.

Since I was making this recipe for the first time it was a bit of trial and error trying to get the thickness right. The texture of the creamy mixture on top should be similar to the texture of frosting. You don’t want it to be thin and runny. I think I nailed it after making a couple of adjustments.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup of Dannon All Natural Plain Yogurt
  • 8 ounces of cream cheese
  • 2 tablespoons of feta cheese
  • 4 sprigs of dill
  • 1 teaspoon of garlic
  • 1 teaspoon of lemon juice
  • 4 cucumbers
  • 1 pint of cherry tomatoes
  • Brick of cheese (optional for star on tree)
  • Crackers (optional for trunk of tree)

To start you will want to add your yogurt, cream cheese, feta cheese, dill, garlic and lemon juice into the cup of your food processor and blend until you have a thick, creamy consistency.

Once you have your topping you’ll want to cut your cucumbers and cherry tomatoes. Before cutting your cucumbers you can use a vegetable peel to take the skin off or you can leave it on. Cucumbers should be sliced about an inch thick and cherry tomatoes should be cut in half. Set aside the tomatoes and place the cucumber slices on your tray to look like a Christmas tree. You may need more than one platter if you have smaller sized trays.

To top the cucumbers I put the cream filling in a frosting decorator tube with a frosting tip but a piping bag works just as well. If you don’t have either of those you can always use a plastic sandwich sized bag and just cut one of the corners off to squeeze the topping through. I liked how fancy they looked with the special tip and I wanted to get some use out of the frosting decorator that I had discovered as I was cleaning out my pantry this week.

Once the cream mixture is on the cucumbers you’ll want to top each one with a piece of tomato.

The last step is to add the “trunk” of the tree and the star. Both are optional but I thought they really made things look festive. To make the trunk of the tree I stacked crackers on the tray and for the star I used a cookie cutter to cut a star out of a brick of cheese.

I love how my Christmas “tree” turned out and I know my guests will love eating these appetizer bites.

As I shared a couple weeks ago, I love using Dannon All Natural Plain Yogurt in my recipes because it’s made with only natural ingredients. While it can be enjoyed on it’s own, I often use it as a cooking substitute in recipes. Many recipes for these cucumber bites use other ingredients like sour cream or mayo but I chose to make mine with yogurt to make it a bit healthier. Yogurt is also a great base for any dips you may be making this holiday season!

 

You can find Dannon brand yogurt at your local Meijer store.

Will you be entertaining in your home over the next few weeks? If so, what kind of appetizers do you set out for your guests?

7 Ways To Celebrate The Reason For The Season

Silver and Gold

Disclosure: Some product samples were received for inclusion and this post includes affiliate links.

The Christmas season is the most hectic season of the year. From buying gifts, to going to holiday parties, to holiday baking, it’s so easy to get caught up in the “doing” that we forget why we are doing everything in the first place. Throughout all the busyness of the season I want to remind my family of why we are doing everything we are doing so I wanted to share a number of ways your family can celebrate Advent and focus on Jesus.

1) Serve others. It’s important to remember this is a season of giving more than it is a season of getting. Here is a list of 50 ways to give back this Christmas season.

2) Turn on some Christmas music that focuses on Jesus’ birth and sing along. My favorites are:

3) Do an Advent devotional with your family. For those with young children, we love Truth in the Tinsel: An Advent Experience for Little Hands ebook that includes 24 days of Scripture reading, ornament crafts, talking points and extension activities, plus fun printables and templates. For adults and families with older children I love Ann Voskamp’s Unwrapping the Greatest Gift: A Family Celebration of Christmas. She is such a beautiful writer! 

4) Throw Jesus a birthday party. We all attend a lot of Christmas parties but how about having a party for Jesus? We loved doing this with our kids to take the focus of Christmas Day off presents and remind us of the reason we are celebrating Christmas. Here are 10 ideas for the birthday party!

5) Make a CHRISTmas craft. From homemade nativities to angel crafts, I share ten of my favorite crafts that put Christ back in Christmas here.

6) Read about Jesus birth. During your Bible reading time, read about the birth of Jesus. Young children may also enjoy the beautiful pop-up version of The Christmas Story by Robert Sabuda.

7) Play a game that helps children learn and celebrate the true meaning of Christmas. “The Christmas Star From Afar” is a game that can be used for Advent or a Christ focused alternative to the Elf. The set encourages children to go on a hunt for their Star, similar to that of the Wise Men. Everyday the Star is hidden and the children participate in a fun hide-and-seek game to locate it. Once they have found their Star they move all Three Wise Men to its location. On Christmas morning the Three Wise Men reach their final destination when the Star is found at the stable with the newborn baby Jesus.

The activity book includes a wooden Star, a full wooden nativity scene that matches the artwork of the book, and optional scripture to use throughout the month. Help your children reconnect with the true meaning of Christmas by purchasing a set for your family here. Use the code ‘FOLLOWTHESTAR’ for 10% off of the set. You can also enter to win “The Christmas Star From Afar” using the form below!

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Our Family Christmas Pictures

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Disclosure: This is a sponsored post but all thoughts are my own.

Holiday photos of my family, both of me as a child growing up with my siblings and now of my own children, are some of my most cherished possessions. Looking at holiday photos makes me happy and I love being able to look back at how my family has changed and grown over the years.

While I get the kids pictures taken a couple times a year, we haven’t had a family portrait taken since Lucas was a baby. This year we decided it was time for another family photo so we headed to our local Portrait Innovations to get Christmas pictures taken. I wanted some of our family, some of Sinisa and I as a couple, some of the boys together and some of each of the kids individually. I loved that our photographer took into consideration what I wanted and made sure to get shots in different poses, and on a number of different backgrounds, so I’d have many choices to choose from. (As you can tell, I really loved their holiday background.)

Portrait Innovations specializes in giving customers a customized portrait studio experience with creative options for beautiful, professional portraits. Our photographer ended up taking close to 100 images during our photo shoot and I got to go through all of the images and pick my favorites. I loved that I didn’t feel rushed to go through the images and make my selections in a hurry as I have in the past at other studios. Another great thing about Portrait Innovations is that the packages are completely customizable so you aren’t stuck with a bunch of prints in random sizes that you’ll never use. You can also request edits, like cropping, on images to make sure all your images are perfect.

Want personalized gifts and keepsakes? Portrait Innovations makes it easy to create them while you are looking over your images in store or from the photo CD if you choose to purchase one. Photo gifts are perfect for holiday gift giving. I chose to create some ornaments and a canvas. I also got some photo Christmas cards to give out to my family.

Best of all, the prints were ready within 15 minutes of the order being placed. I like that I didn’t have to wait weeks for my prints. I am excited to get frames for our portraits and put all of our beautiful pictures up in our home! I also got the picture CD so I could share the images online and make more prints in the future if I want.

Do you still need to get your family’s holiday photos taken? This holiday season, preserve memorable moments in the best way with Portrait Innovations! They currently have a great deal going on now through December 11th. You can get a package with 42 holiday portraits for only $19.99 (Regularly $24.99), plus a free gift of your choice- either a mug or holiday ornament- (Regularly $25).  The Portrait Package includes 1-10×13 Wall Portrait, 2-8x10s, 4-5x7s, 4- 3x5s, 16-2x3s, plus, 5-5×7 Greeting Cards and 10 Gift Tags. There are never any sitting fees so this is a great deal! Find your closest Portrait Innovations here.

Do you get holiday photos taken every year?

Our Favorite Christmas Pajamas: Buy A Pair, Give A Pair

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Disclosure: This is a sponsored post but all thoughts are my own.

One of my favorite purchases every holiday season is a set of matching pajamas for my boys. Each year, on Christmas Eve, they wear their new pajamas when they go to sleep and wake up to celebrate Christmas morning in their festive jammies. (Truth be told, they pretty much lounge around all Christmas day in them!)

We’ve had Christmas pajamas every year and this year I found the cutest pair at Carter’s. With close to 900 styles, including 1-piece, 2-piece, 4-piece, and gown options in cotton, flannel and fleece in sizes newborn to 12 years, parents and gift-givers are sure to find the perfect PJs at Carter’s to outfit all the little ones on their holiday gift lists. I was thrilled to find out that Carter’s is doing something special for Giving Tuesday, which is November 29th, because I love supporting companies that give back. I also now have a reason to head back to the store and get another pair of pajamas for our New Year’s Eve celebration at home :)

Carter’s is partnering with Pajama Program to help further its mission of delivering new, warm pajamas to children in need. This year’s campaign aims to surpass $2 million worth of pajama donations. For every Carter’s pajama purchased at one of Carter’s 600+ US retail stores or online at www.Carters.com on Giving Tuesday (November 29), Carter’s will donate one pajama to children in need, up to 100,000.

If you’ve never heard of the Pajama Program, it’s a great charity. Pajama Program provides new pajamas and new books to children in need nationwide, many of whom are waiting to be adopted. These children live in group homes, shelters and temporary housing facilities and are shuffled often from one place to another. Many of them have been abandoned, abused or neglected. Most of these children have never enjoyed the simple comfort of having a parent tuck them in at bedtime with warm, clean pajamas and a bedtime story. Some of the children are living with their families below the poverty level, in desperate need of food, clothing and shelter. These two simple gifts of pajamas and books let the children know that someone cares – sometimes these are the only new things they have ever received.

Will you join me in supporting this great cause and giving back on Giving Tuesday?

Chicago’s BMO Harris Bank Magnificent Lights Festival Returns

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Disclosure: This post is sponsored by BMO Harris Bank but all thoughts are my own.

One of the most magical times here in Chicago is the Christmas season. The kickoff to the holidays starts with a fun event called the BMO Harris Bank Magnificent Lights Festival which includes a parade downtown Chicago along the Magnificent Mile, a tree lighting of a giant Christmas tree and a fireworks display along with other family-friendly activities. It’s an event we’ve had the pleasure of attending a few times and always enjoy. It’s nice to spend the day shopping downtown and then getting hot cocoa before we find a spot along the parade route.

Over a million lights are lit during the festival and the parade, led by Disney’s Mickey & Minnie, features spectacular floats, helium-filled balloons, marching bands, top musical performers and well-known Chicago mascots. Santa and his reindeer can be found in the parade, too!

This year’s event is on Saturday, November 19th. For the fifth consecutive year, BMO Harris Bank is the title sponsor of the festival and they are working with a few local businesses in Chicago to make the parade day even more special for their customers. BMO Harris Bank customers will enjoy discounts, perks and offers including:

  • 15% off at Dylan’s Candy Bar
  • Discounted holiday beverages at Dylan’s Candy Bar
  • Discounted parking with Spot Hero
  • 20% off a single item at the BlackHawks store on Michigan Ave

Some customers will also get to enjoy one of the best views of the parade from a special seating area! BMO will select 100 customers on parade day to enjoy the parade from grandstand viewing in the broadcast zone. Find out more details here.

Have you ever attended this festival in Chicago? I’d love to hear your stories in the comments below :)

 

 

 

More Time To Make Memories

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(Disclosure: This is a sponsored post.)

Food is a big part of the holidays and usually what I’m still needing to shop for the couple days before Christmas. Creating delicious meals and party favorites brings joy to many but unfortunately, shopping and preparing foods during the holidays can get hectic and add more stress to an already busy season. I love grocery shopping and sometimes lose myself while walking down the aisles looking for ideas and foods to inspire me but sometimes that leads to me spending too much time in stores which is not something I have an abundance of this time of year.

For over a decade I have enjoyed shopping at Sam’s Club to save time and money around the holidays. I can find a great variety of quality foods and save even more time this year with their new Club Pickup. Their Club Pickup is a free, “personal shopper” service that is focused on making shopping more convenient for members. Club Pickup provides an easy and quick pickup option through seamless ordering online at SamsClub.com from any computer or mobile device. The service is available at all 653 Sam’s Club locations. I love how this is done. In this tech-savvy world we all use apps and online shopping so Club Pickup is something that is very simple to do. I can place the order on my phone while waiting for the kids in the car pick up lane at school. During very hectic times (like this week!) there is also an easy reorder feature as well which is a great tool that lets me order go-to items quickly by creating a list of my past purchases.

One thing about Christmas that rings true is the plentiful parties and meals. Fantastic desserts and treats and great recipes that bring smiles to all.  That is one of the biggest reasons I shop at Sam’s Club around the holidays. I can stock up on all kinds of party favorites and new side dishes that also guarantee I will have leftovers (which is one of my favorite things about hosting).

This year we tried some new side dishes like sweet potatoes with pecan butter and marshmallows. We also bought the staples like scalloped potatoes. Sam’s Club has something for everyone.

The 200% satisfaction guarantee on high-quality produce, meat and baked goods is the number one reason I keep going back and why I am always eager to try new offerings at Sams club.

We also purchased Holiday decor from Sam’s Club including Christmas plates and a festive, fresh wreath for the front door. Being able to check one thing off the to-do list without leaving the couch gives me more time to make memories with my kids.

50 Ways To Give Back This Holiday Season

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The Christmas season is here! All of the crazy Black Friday videos online made me realize today would be a great day to share my list of ways to give back during the holiday season. It’s important to remember this is a season of giving more than it is a season of getting. My family’s goal is to do at least a handful of these ideas each week leading up to the holidays. I tried to include a number of ideas that were either free or fairly cheap so even if you are on a budget you can find ways to give back!

1) Bake cookies for a neighbor

2) Buy gifts for a child on the Angel Tree

3) Take your family and friends to sing carols at a nursing home

4) Adopt a family and buy them gifts for the holidays (this can be someone you know personally or you can contact a charity in your town to find a family in need)

5) Send a care package to someone in the military

6) Volunteer at a food bank or a non-profit that packs meals for the hungry (like Feed My Starving Children in the Chicago area)

7) Donate art supplies to a local afterschool program

8) Pay for someone behind you in the drive thru

9) Donate toys, books and games to a children’s hospital

10) Babysit a friend’s children so she can have some time to herself

11) Donate clean water (charitywater.org)

12) Make a meal and drop it off to a new mom, someone who lost a family member or someone who is homebound

13) Leave a large tip for your waitress or barista

14) Drop off magazines you’ve already read at the hospital for people to read while in the waiting rooms

15) Donate pet food or cat litter to a no-kill animal shelter

16) Hold the door open for someone at a store and wish them a good day

17) Donate toiletries to a homeless shelter

18) Adopt a pet or use your social media channels to share about a pet that needs to be adopted

19) Host a pajama and book drive for the Pajama Program

20) Pay for someone’s groceries at the grocery store

21) Donate used items to a thrift store that gives back to charity (my favorite is Savers)

22) Bake treats to bring to your local school for the staff to enjoy

23) Put money in the Salvation Army bucket when you pass by (or volunteer to ring the bell yourself)

24) Shovel someone’s driveway for them

25) Donate food to the local food bank

26) Fill a shoebox for Operation Christmas Child

27) Hand out gas gift cards to those pumping gas at the gas station

28) Send a handwritten note to a loved one telling them how much you appreciate them

29) Make cards for those in a nursing home or hospital

30) Help grant a child’s wish through the Make A Wish Program

31) Donate blood through the American Red Cross

32) Buy a meal for someone in need

33) Donate to a cause that is important to you

34) Donate hats, gloves and other winter accessories- many Churches have “Mitten Trees” where you can donate them

35) Plant a tree in celebration or memory of a loved one through the Arbor Day Foundation

36) Have children create thank you cards for community workers and deliver them along with a treat

37) Volunteer your talents. Whether that’s offering your marketing services to a non-profit, cooking food for the homeless or tutoring children

38) When purchasing Christmas gifts, shop local or purchase an item that gives back (like something from the World Vision gift catalog)

39) Donate coats and blankets to a homeless shelter

40) Bring a gift basket of essentials to a new mom

41) Volunteer at an animal shelter

42) Offer to help someone clean their home or wrap their Christmas gifts

43) Donate toys to Toys For Tots

44) Pack ziploc bags or stockings with toiletries, snacks and an encouraging note and store them in your car to give to any homeless you may pass by this season

45) Make a blanket or pillowcase dress to donate

46) Volunteer at a nursing home

47) Head to the store and leave kind notes of holiday cheer on windshields

48) If you have a friend who will be alone for Christmas this year, invite them over to celebrate with you at your house

49) Send a letter to a hero in the military

50) Spend time with your loved ones. Remember- your presence is more important than your presents

What does your family do to give back? I’d love to read about it in the comments below!

10 New Cookie Recipes To Try

intel inside

#spon: I’m required to disclose a relationship between our site and Intel. This could include the Intel Corporation providing us w/content, product, access or other forms of payment.

One of my favorite things to do during the holidays is bake cookies with my family. I tend to make the same cookies year after year but this year I wanted to make some new varieties. I headed to Pinterest to see what I could find and wanted to share 10 of my favorites with you all! One of these will be in the oven on Christmas Eve but I’m still deciding on which one I want to bake.

Cake Batter Chocolate Chip Cookies from Sally’s Baking Addiction

Melt-In-Your-Mouth Eggnog Cookies from Cooking Classy

Pecan Snowballs from Southern Bite

No-Bake Peppermint Bark Cookies from The Suburban Soapbox

Strawberry Pinch Cookies from Eating on a Dime

Melting Snowmen Cookies from Better Homes and Gardens

Pecan Pie Cookies from Spend With Pennies

Hot Cocoa Cookies from Glorious Treats

Ultimate Grasshopper Cookies from Your Cup of Cake

Mocha Crinkle Cookies from Cake Whiz

I love being able to bring my tablet into the kitchen and follow recipe directions on it. I used to have to print out the recipe or write it down but now I can skip that step. Some websites even provide quick video tutorials and I can watch them while following the step by step directions as I watch. I like the crisp, clear images and the videos load really fast on my tablet all because of the Intel processor that’s inside of it. In fact, Intel Tablets have 1.9x better web performance than other tablets which means I can spend less time searching the web and more time baking this holiday season!

My Festive Kitchen {Target Gift Card Giveaway}

target holiday items

Target is my favorite store so I’m excited to be working with them on this sponsored holiday post and giveaway.

I can never seem to get out of Target without a cart full of goodies, so when I saw the holiday kitchen and entertaining aisles I knew I was in trouble. This is our first Christmas in our new home so it was the perfect time to add some seasonal items to our kitchen. Everything was so adorable and many of the things would be perfect for making my home festive while entertaining family and friends this month.

One thing my family likes to do is get together to decorate cookies. We bake sugar cookies and then let the kids decorate them however they’d like to with frosting, candies and sprinkles. Normally the toppings are in plain bowls but I love these Threshold stoneware bowls. Though they are red and white I can use them year round since they aren’t too Christmasy.

We also like to make peanut butter kiss cookies. The kids unwrap the hershey kisses for me. It’s their favorite job because they get to sneak a few candies while mommy isn’t looking. Target has lots of cookie plates. I picked up a couple along with a cookie jar since we always have dozens of Christmas cookies during the holidays.

Another thing I made for holiday guests this year is a mini hot cocoa bar. I put hot cocoa mix in a big glass jar, marshmallows in a mason jar, and then set mugs out. I used a large gift tag and red ribbon to add a little holiday cheer to the setup.

I love how much more festive my kitchen looks now! I think it is so welcoming and I can’t wait for family to come on Christmas day to celebrate with presents, cookies and mugs of hot cocoa!

How can Target help you celebrate the holidays? Tell me what you pick up from my favorite store to make your Christmas, Chanukah or New Years celebrations brighter for a chance to win a gift card!

One reader who comments with their answer below will win a $75 Target gift card. You can earn an extra entry for sharing this post on social media (just leave a second comment with the link).

This giveaway ends December 31, 2014 at 11:59pm CST. Must be a US resident and 21 or older to win.

The Christmas Pickle Tradition

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(Disclosure: We received a gift set in exchange for writing this post but all thoughts are my own.)

The Christmas Pickle Tradition is a wonderful holiday story that reminds us all about the true spirit of Christmas.  Follow the journey of Pickle Elf as he learns the magic of giving, and inspires Santa to begin this wonderful Christmas tradition.

Want to join in the fun this holiday? It’s easy!

Leave the pickle ornament by the milk and cookies for Santa to hang on your Christmas tree. In the morning watch your loved ones, big and small, search for the pickle. The first one to find it will receive an extra present from St. Nick! This is our first year doing the tradition and we can’t wait to see where Santa hides it on Christmas morning!

The beautiful gift set comes with a glistening pickle ornament, annual pickle finder and the beautiful Christmas Pickle Tradition book in a ready-to-gift box. If you’d like to start this tradition this year it’s not too late! You have until December 20th to ensure Christmas delivery and the shipping is free. Purchase this gift set here.

Holiday Bouquets From Teleflora And The Cake Boss

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(Disclosure: I received a bouquet from Teleflora but all thoughts are my own.)

Teleflora, the world’s leading flower delivery service, teamed up with the “Cake Boss” Buddy Valastro to create a brand new line up of holiday bouquets perfect for decorating, gifting and entertaining. Buddy’s floral collection features three new bouquets that capture the authenticity and spirit of his festive family holiday traditions.

The trio includes a holly motif-serving bowl, a gingerbread-house cookie jar and a merry mug. Each bouquet arrives professionally-arranged and hand-delivered by a local florist in your community with an exclusive holiday recipe personally created by Buddy. What a great gift for the person who has it all!

We received the Teleflora Holly Days Centerpiece. The holiday collectible table top serving bowl is adorned with a holly motif and is bursting with red and white holiday blooms and fragrant assorted greens. It’s the perfect addition to our holiday decor and I love how it brightens up our whole kitchen while making it smell wonderful.

I wish Christmastime would never end but sadly it does. It’s nice to know that your gift will be enjoyed for years to come because the containers these special bouquets come in are FDA approved to safely serve and store food and are oven, microwave and dishwasher safe. What a great addition to kitchens everywhere.

Which bouquet is your favorite?

 

 

Great Gift Ideas From Family Christian {Giveaway}

Family Christian gifts

Still have some names to check off your shopping list? I’m happy to be working with Family Christian to share some of the amazing gifts you can find in their stores and online.

Music- From Holiday CDs to the WOW series full of top hits to Casting Crowns, Family Christian has some great uplifting music. During the Christmas season I love to have holiday music on so I was excited to see Family Christian offering an exclusive ‘A Christmas to Believe in’ CD. Another CD I purchased was Casting Crowns new CD, Thrive. I have not heard the whole album but as one of the top Christian music groups out there I have no doubt that this will bring joy to anyone who receives it.

Kitchen Gifts- If you have someone on your list who spends a lot of time in the kitchen, how about getting them something special to use when they cook or bake? I love these little loaf pans. A great gift idea would be baking a little treat in them and then gifting the treat and dish together with a little note telling the person how thankful you are for them. There are also mugs, serving platters, kitchen tools, casserole dishes and more. Now through Christmas Eve select holiday gifts are 50% off so it’s the perfect time to pick up Christmas dishes, too!

Devotionals & Books- Gifting a book that guides others in quiet time is such a blessing- to them and to you! We love our Veggie Tales devotional but I was excited to give my boys the new Jesus Calling for Kids after hearing on Twitter about how great it was. All Jesus Calling books are 50% off right now. Another special book by one of my favorite Authors/Bloggers called Unwrapping the Greatest Gift: A Family Celebration of Christmas would make a nice gift for families looking to start an Advent tradition.

Willow Tree- I wrote a whole post about Willow Tree and all the beautiful figurines they have. Know a pregnant mom, a new dad, or a couple who just got engaged? Willow Tree makes the perfect gift to honor special life moments. Read more about them here.

Home Decor- The home deor pieces from Family Christian make ideal gifts! Encourage a friend with an angel figurine or a wall cross, or share one of their Christian plaques with an inspirational message. This ‘Be The Good’ print is one of my favorites.

Which Christmas gift idea is your favorite? Tell me in the comments below and you are entered to win a $25 gift certificate for Family Christian! Share the giveaway on a social network and leave another comment with the link and that will get you an extra entry. Giveaway ends December 24, 2014 at 11:59pm CST.

Good luck and Merry Christmas!

Stocking Stuffer Ideas: PEEPS {Now Minion Approved!}

peeps cake pops

Some of you may remember how I worked with PEEPS® last year and created a recipe for Chocolate Candy Cane Cake Pops with the PEEPS® Chocolate Dipped Candy Cane Flavored Chicks for their 24 Days of Peepsonality Advent Calendar. I had so much fun and am excited to be working with them again this year!

This year PEEPS® has teamed up with the producers of the “Despicable Me” movie series for a holiday treat you just can’t miss! Minions, those fun-loving, mischievous characters, have taken over nearly the entire PEEPS® Holiday collection for 2014 in their role as the official PEEPS® Taste Testers.

With new shapes and flavors like the PEEPS® Marshmallow Minions and iconic PEEPS® Chicks, the festive marshmallow treat are a perfect stocking stuffer for all ages. We received an assortment of flavors and my boys, my niece and my nephew enjoyed trying them.

 PEEPS® holiday offerings include:
  • NEW PEEPS® Marshmallow Minions (6ct)
  • NEW PEEPS® Hot Cocoa & Cream Flavored Marshmallow Dipped Chicks in White Fudge (3 ct)
  • NEW PEEPS® Candy Cane Flavored Marshmallow Chicks (10 ct)
  • NEW PEEPS® Large Marshmallow Snowmen (1 ct and 3 ct)
  • PEEPS® Milk Chocolate Dipped Sugar Cookie Flavored Chicks (3 ct)
  • PEEPS® Gingerbread-Flavored Marshmallow Gingerbread Men (6 ct and 3 ct)
  • PEEPS® Chocolate Dipped Candy Cane Flavored Chicks (3 ct)
  • PEEPS® Milk Chocolate Covered Marshmallow Mint Flavored Trees (individually wrapped)
  • PEEPS® Chocolate Mousse Flavored Marshmallow Reindeer (6 ct)
  • PEEPS® Marshmallow Trees (3 and 9 ct)
  • PEEPS® Marshmallow Snowmen (3 and 9 ct)
  • PEEPS® Holiday Rainbow POP (4 ct)

Which ones will you add to stockings this year?

Give The Gift Of Hope To Families In Need This Holiday Season

Photo courtesy of Heifer International.

Photo courtesy of Heifer International.

For many, the holiday season is a time filled with festivity and fun. For the more than 800 million people in the world that go to bed hungry every night, however, this time of year isn’t filled with the joy that it should be. Together we can change that by giving a gift that can make a meaningful difference for a family in need.

Heifer International works to empower millions to go from poverty to self-reliance by providing alternative gifts of livestock, seeds, trees, training and more to families in need. Heifer’s strategy is the hope that these families will pass on the gift—by sharing their animals’ offspring and their knowledge, resources and skills—to create an expanding network of hope, dignity and self-reliance that reaches around the globe.

Photo courtesy of Heifer International

So while you check off your holiday gift list and gather last minute ideas, consider making this the year you helped end hunger. Give an animal instead of a gift and help change a life! Heifer has some suggestions if you are interested in shopping from the Most Important Gift Catalog in the World:

* GIVE A GOAT Goats provide milk and extra income that lead to opportunities for education and improved healthcare

* GIVE CHICKS Chicks immediately begin producing protein-packed eggs for children and families

* GIVE A COW The gift of a cow can transform a family’s life providing milk, income, and manure for better crop yields.

For every donation, Heifer provides a free custom honor card, making it easy to honor someone special to you. To learn more about alternative gifting and Heifer International please visit: www.heifer.org.

Delicious Selections For Christmas Dinner

ham

(Disclosure: This is a sponsored post.)

For many families, Christmas dinner wouldn’t be complete without ham. In my family this hasn’t always been the case. See, I actually used to believe that I didn’t like ham because I had grown up eating salty ham. Enter HoneyBaked ham with their sweet, crunchy outsides and I discovered a couple years ago that I actually love ham. It just has to be the right kind of ham! I ate leftovers of this ham for days, most of the time just picking pieces out of the bag in the fridge because I couldn’t wait for it to hit my plate.

HoneyBaked Ham has such a great selection of items to complete your Christmas meal, from meat to sides to dessert. With picky eaters and a different taste buds this variety is important. Macaroni and cheese was a big hit with the kids and the adults enjoyed a little of everything.

Once dinner was over it was time for dessert. The kids were so excited to see the dessert tray they got to choose from. There were cookies, chocolate brownies and cheesecake slices.

Which one would you pick?

From now until 1/11/15 you can enter to win a $25,000 HoneyBaked Kitchen Makeover when you buy a Ham and Turkey Breast bundle.

Check out this amazing limited time coupon for $8.00 off any Bone-in Ham and Turkey Breast or Boneless Ham and Turkey Breast from HoneyBaked Ham to help you make your holiday dinner easy and delicious! (This offer is valid only at the following locations: Rolling Meadows, Orland Park, Villa Park, Morton Grove, Naperville, Chicago, Dallas, Fort Worth, Arlington, Plano, Mesquite, Hurst, Lewisville, Houston, Austin, Spring, Clear Lake, Sugar Land, Indianapolis, Ferndale, Grand Rapids, Roseville, Birmingham, Troy, West Bloomfield, Livonia, Flint, Dearborn Heights, Sterling Heights, Taylor, Ann Arbor, Canton Township, Oklahoma City, Pittsburgh, Mechanicsburg, Monroeville, San Antonio, Bellevue, and Lynnwood. For store addresses click here.)

Donate $1.00 to Feeding America during checkout at the register of any HoneyBaked store. $1.00=10 Meals!

Roaming Reindeer: Our New Christmas Tradition

roaming reindeer

(Disclosure: We received a copy of the book for review but thoughts are my own.)

My favorite holiday is Christmas. I love the extra family time and gift giving but one thing that really sets this holiday apart is all of the traditions that go along with it. From baking cookies to watching holiday movies to drinking hot cocoa while looking at light displays, everything makes the holiday just a little more special.

As my kids get older we occasionally add traditions in to the mix. We do Elf on a Shelf here (though our elf doesn’t do anything fancy) and this year we are also doing Roaming Reindeer. What is Roaming Reindeer you ask? Here’s a little more about this brand new tradition:

Gus and Sam are two of Santa’s reindeer.  They decide to visit girls and boys to help Santa see who’s being naughty or nice.  Sam gets sad whenever he sees a child who is naughty and ends up telling Santa.  Gus sticks around to keep watch.

When the two realize that there isn’t enough time to visit all of the children before Christmas, they call on their friends for help.  They send their friends off in pairs of two, and assign each pair to a home. Reindeer 1 will disappear to tell Santa any time someone has been naughty. Reindeer 2 will always stick around to keep watch.

On Christmas Eve, the reindeer disappear to help Santa deliver the gifts.  They will return again next year during the Christmas season!

If you are like me and forget to move the Elf you will love this because the reindeer stay in one spot most of the time! The only time one of them moves is if they have to go tell Santa something and then they can be gone for 30 minutes or a couple days. It’s not as rigid of a schedule as the Elf and I really appreciate how much easier it is.

Want Roaming Reindeer of your own? Purchase a kit here.

 

Baking Christmas Cookies With Betty Crocker {Prize Pack Giveaway}

Christmas cookie baking

Thanks to Betty Crocker for sponsoring this post and giveaway.

One of my favorite holiday traditions is baking Christmas cookies. I still remember all the fun I had in the kitchen when I was growing up and love reminiscing as I bake cookies with my own boys. When I was younger my favorite cookies to make were sugar cookies, corn flake wreaths, and peanut butter chocolate balls. Now that my kids are helping bake they generally are in charge of picking which cookies get made and their choices are chocolate chip cookies and sugar cookies (with lots of frosting and sprinkles!)

This year Betty Crocker sent us some baking supplies and my boys were excited to see their two favorite cookie mixes in the box. Luke decided he wanted to make the chocolate chip cookies and then use the frosting and icing to decorate them. He enjoyed spending time in the kitchen with daddy for some father/son bonding time :)

Betty Crocker wants to encourage you to spend some time in the kitchen with your loved ones this holiday as well! They have created a “kid’s corner” on their website and shared the top 10 cookies for kids. Each recipe also has a short how-to video as well. Tweet your cookie creations with the hashtag #GetYourBettyOn to share them with the folks over at Betty Crocker!

GIVEAWAY:

One person will win a Betty Crocker prize pack that consists of:

  • Kitchen tablet stand
  • Betty Crocker™ Mixing Spoon
  • Betty Crocker™ Oven Mitt
  • “Get Your Betty On” Apron
  • Gingerbread Cookie Cutter
  • Betty Crocker™ Sugar Cookie Mix
  • Betty Crocker™ Chocolate Chip Cookie Mix
  • Betty Crocker™ Whipped Vanilla Frosting
  • Betty Crocker™ Holiday Recipe Booklet 2014 – feat. The Top 10 Cookie Decorating Ideas of 2014

HOW TO ENTER:

Comment below with your favorite Christmas cookie

For an extra entry, share this giveaway on a social network and leave the link in the comments

Giveaway ends December 15, 2014 at 11:59pm CST. Must be 21 or older and a US resident to enter.

Share The Joy Of Life’s Milestones With Willow Tree Figurines

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I’m a Family Christian blogger and this is a sponsored post but all thoughts are my own.

There are some things in my home that just mean the world to me. Some are pictures, some are mementos and then some just represent something to me, like my collection of Willow Tree figurines.

I started my Willow Tree collection when I first became pregnant and bought the “Promise” couple figurine to signify the love between Sinisa and I and the “Cherish” pregnant figurine to celebrate the baby I was carrying. Weeks later I headed to the doctor for a sonogram and discovered I was carrying twins but then got the devastating news that I would most likely be losing one. The set of Willow Tree babies was available at that time and I got them. Every time I walk past them it’s a reminder of my angel baby, Avery. The “Our Gift” couple holding a baby completes my current collection. I hope to get the Mother & Son and the Quietly sets still to keep out year round in my bedroom.

Do you know anyone that is pregnant, getting married or going through major change in their life? I think that Willow Tree figurines would make great gifts. I think it means a lot to people to receive a gift that says “I was thinking about you” and “I’m there for you” instead of just giving a generic gift you could have bought for anyone.

I’m also excited to see that there is a Willow Tree Nativity set at Family Christian! What a beautiful centerpiece to have out at Christmas time. I think it would spark some great conversations during holiday parties with family and friends.

See the whole selection of Willow Tree figurines at Family Christian here.

Cookie Bouquets From Cookies By Design

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Looking for a fun, delicious gift to send to a friend or family member? Cookie Bouquets from Cookies by Design are the perfect gift idea! My boys received this ‘Merry Christmas’ bouquet and they were so excited when they found out the Christmas shapes were cookies that they’d get to eat.

The boys picked out their favorite designs and I chose the Christmas tree one to eat. I loved the detailed designs on the cookies. Every one was pretty perfect and it was obvious that quite some time was spent creating each cookie. They were also individually packaged which I thought was a nice touch.

Cookies by Design has a variety of other cookie bouquets for the holidays including beautiful poinesetta shaped cookies and elves going down the chimney. See the full line of available bouquets here.

I’m Christmas Shopping From My Couch This Year

intel shopping

#spon: I’m required to disclose a relationship between our site and Intel. This could include the Intel Corporation providing us w/content, product, access or other forms of payment.

*****

I used to love shopping for Christmas gifts. I enjoyed checking out the ads and made my shopping lists months in advance. I’m normally so on top of things that by Black Friday I am at least half done shopping for the gifts I need. This year is different though. I really don’t feel like shopping. Shopping has went from being one of my favorite stress reducing activities to something I dread. I don’t know if it’s because it means pulling my work-at-home-mom, yoga pants wearing butt out into the cold and driving through traffic to push around a cart in a crowded store or it’s because I just really want to do nothing after a long day of work and playing “mom taxi”.

Since the shopping won’t get done itself I’ve decided to make it a little more enjoyable and shop from the comfort of my couch while I catch up on my DVR’d shows. I have been using my new Acer Iconia One 7 tablet and have been loving how easy it is to use. Intel Tablets are up to 36% faster than other similar tablets. They also have added security features built in so I feel comfortable purchasing things right from my tablet.

To make life even easier I decided to start a Christmas wish list doc on the tablet so every time the boys tell me something else they want I can just add it to the list. I think it’s going to work so much better than all the scraps of paper Jacob has been giving me. When I do venture out to the stores I will always have the wish lists with me since I can easily keep the small tablet in my purse. It will also help when I get those calls asking me what the kids want for Christmas or, harder yet, what I want for Christmas (to which I normally reply- “um. Let me get back to you…” because my mind always goes blank.) My Intel tablet has a long battery life which means I don’t have to worry about the battery dying while I’m out and about.

Along with Christmas shopping, I think my tablet will come in handy when it’s time to make Christmas cookies next week. I can research ideas on Pinterest and bring my tablet into the kitchen when it’s time to follow recipes. It’s my tech must-have this year.

Tips For Navigating The Holidays With A Child Who Has Special Needs

special needs holiday

 

The holidays are coming! Christmastime is my very favorite time of the year. I love celebrating the birth of Jesus, giving gifts, baking cookies, holiday lights, the joyfulness, and the hustle and bustle of the season. My kids on the other hand? Not so much. I mean yes, they LOVE the whole gift thing and all the fun activities our family does, but it is also so overwhelming for them and causes many meltdowns. Additional planning goes into making sure everyone enjoys the season.

I’m excited to share some great hints to get through this holiday season for those parents of children who have Autism, Sensory Processing Disorder, and self-regulation difficulties. Cara Koscinski, MOT, OTR/L, Author of The Pocket Occupational Therapist, helps us navigate the holidays with some tried and true strategies that she personally uses and recommends to her clients.

Shopping

We are all familiar with the chaos and stress that ensues at the malls and stores during the holidays.  Scents, bright colors, and music can be extremely overwhelming to anyone, and this can be significantly magnified when a child has sensory processing difficulties.  Even standing in long lines can prove to be extremely uncomfortable for kids.

1) Allow children who are overwhelmed by sights and sounds of shopping to stay home.  Ensure that the child is comfortable and familiar with the sitter.  Allow kids to have a pajama and movie night while you’re shopping.

2) Children enjoy giving gifts, but if they cannot go to the store, purchase a few gift items for family members and set up a store at home.  We call ours, “Santa’s Workshop.”  Our boys choose a gift for family and they go to the “wrapping station.”  Help the kids to wrap and decorate the gifts with markers or stickers.

3) If a child must attend the shopping trip, schedule downtime or breaks for children to de-sensitize.  This can be located in the car with some crunchy snacks, a weighted blanket, and some calming music.

4) Keep organized and ask children to help you create shopping lists.  Permit the child to mark off completed tasks and errands so that he has some control of the situation.

5) Encourage children to make a list of preferred toys well in advance.  Give family lists of toys to choose from.  I even purchase the toys my children will enjoy and provide them to my local family members ahead of time.  We sometimes have a “trunk sale” and everyone chooses which gift they will buy and wrap for my boys.

Family Photographs

1)  Go at a time of day when children are well-rested and not hungry.  Do not rush and arrive early.  Even though you may not realize it, children pick up on your energy and mood.  Try to remain calm and relaxed about the photo shoot.  Some of the best pictures are candid and taken at un-expected times.

2)  Write a letter or speak to the photographer ahead of time.  Most studios will schedule extra time for children who have special needs.  Request a photographer who is patient.  If possible, schedule a photographer to visit your family outside of the studio.  We have found that this may be a more affordable option than a studio because of low-overhead costs.

3)  Use social stories and real-life pictures about what the child will encounter during the photography process. Practice often.  Explain that the bright lights/flashes are OK and will not hurt children.  Photography props are often wonderful distractions for kids.

4)  Permit a child to have a transition or “safe” item.  In every one of my family’s holiday pictures there’s an item that doesn’t quite belong, such as a train car or Minecraft figurine.  Remember that the memories of family being together should be more important than the “perfect” picture.

5)  Be flexible.  Consider that “fancy” clothes are often scratchy, have tags, and may contain textures that aren’t familiar to children.  Permit the child to wear comfortable versions of colors that you’d like the family portrait to have.  For example, last year we used blue and while colors.  My younger son will only wear soft sweat pants so we permitted him to wear blue sweats.  We all matched, and no one was the wiser!

Visits with Santa and Holiday Traditions

1)  Make a plan of all the things your family wants to accomplish during the holidays.  Allow your child to participate and explain that while there are things everyone must do, other things can be flexible.  For example, choose a visit to see the local holiday light show or the light-up night at the shopping plaza.  Post the schedule in a central location and review it daily.

2) As my children grew, I had high expectations that the traditions we had in our family would continue.  This was not the case.  Instead of feeling let-down, we decided to begin fresh.  Every year, I permit my boys to choose the types of lights on our tree, colored or white.  They love being given the choice.  We permit them to help decorate the tree and do not move the items which are clustered together or imperfectly perfect!

3)  No holiday is complete without the visit with Santa Claus….not true for all kids.  My older son never enjoyed or felt comfortable looking at someone in a costume.  It seemed as though he always knew that Santa was a “helper” and not the real deal.  To make the memory of Santa special, we take children who are younger, such as cousins or neighbors, to see Santa and my son enjoys seeing their excitement!

4) If children do agree to see Santa, create a social story with pictures of Santa, including his beard, velvet/soft red suit, and the setting in which Santa will be located.  Go to the location prior to the visit and watch other children.  Practice, practice, practice!

Holiday Parties

1) Give kids a job to do so that they will have a sense of belonging and success.  Even something such as helping to create place markers for seating or setting the table can give kids a feeling of accomplishment.

2)  Remember that heavy work is generally calming.  Include activities such as moving chairs, picking up and placing dirty clothes into a basket and carrying it to the laundry room, or vacuuming are great ways to encourage children to help to prepare for the party.

3) Encourage comfortable clothing and avoid new and scratchy clothing.  Family gatherings should be focused on providing fun memories and not on appearance.

4) Practice greetings ahead of time.  My son does not enjoy hugs, so we practice reaching out his hand for a handshake or high five.  Let family and guests know ahead of time that your child shows affection, but in a different way.

5) Consider food allergies and sensitivities.  Bring extra “safe” foods that match what others are eating to be sure children feel included.  For example, if cousins are eating macaroni and cheese, we prepare my son’s gluten free version and bring it along.  Out of respect for the host, talk with her ahead of time and thank her for hospitality.

6) Plan an “out” or an escape plan.  Even a short visit that is successful can create memories that last a lifetime!  Remind yourself that the holidays are about fun and not stress.  Don’t be hard on yourself or your child.

Family Gatherings

1) Utilize relaxation techniques such as deep breathing and meditation.  Social stories can help with anxiety.  Whenever possible, use actual pictures and rehearse as much as you are able.

2) Create a “safe-zone” to which the child can go whenever they feel overwhelmed.  Set a password or sign that your child can use to excuse himself.  Place a bean bag, calming music, a heavy blanket, and favorite hand fidget toy in the area.  Practice ahead of time.

3) Use calming scents such as vanilla during the party.  Essential oils can be calming in scents such as lavender.  Encourage your child to choose scents prior to the event and keep them accessible.

4) Create a letter to family members prior to family gatherings to explain your child’s wonderful progress toward goals and suggestions for conversation topics.  For example,

“Joshua’s had a wonderful year in therapy.  He’s learned how to tie his shoes, take one turn during conversations, and how to write in cursive.  Joshua likes Angry Birds.  Here’s a link to the Angry Birds’ website if you’d like more information.  Please know that even though he’s not looking directly into your eyes, he IS listening to you and loves you!”

5) At mealtime, make sure to serve a preferred food so that children who have feeding difficulties can successfully participate.  Encourage positivity during family mealtime.

6) Rehearse family’s names and match them to their picture.  We practiced family recognition beginning in November.  When the child is familiar with the person’s name, add the family member’s interest such as favorite color or food, occupation, or hobby.

What tips do you have? Share them in the comments below! :)

My Favorite Christmas Traditions At Home

popcorn 5

(Disclosure: This post was inspired by a special moment I had with Lucas while eating free popcorn from The Popcorn Factory.)

I am a big fan of traditions. As a mom, there are some traditions that I insist on keeping from my childhood and then others that I have started since having children. I wanted to share some of my favorite ways we celebrate Christmas and the whole holiday season in our home.

Decorating the tree with special ornaments – The tree we use may change but one thing that will always stay the same is the type of ornaments that are on it. I love handmade ornaments made with love by my kids and proudly display them. These ornaments mean the most to me and I love seeing how my children have grown from year to year. I also love dough ornaments that feature our names on them. We had a new one of these every year I was growing up and I think they are so special to have.

Baking cookies - Some years we bake a lot and some we only back a couple types of cookies but this is always a fun time. My favorite cookies to bake during the season are peanut butter balls (which are basically crunchy peanut butter balls dipped in chocolate), peanut butter “kiss” cookies, and sugar cookies. The sugar cookies my mom used to make are my favorite. The dough is rolled into a log, the log rolled in sprinkles, and then the cookies sliced and baked. They were soft and buttery with just the perfect amount of sprinkles.

Eating popcorn in front of the fire - Lucas and I were doing this last night and that’s what inspired this whole post! The Popcorn Factory sent us a big tub of popcorn and as Lucas and I were eating the delicious treat I thought back on how this was a tradition I loved as a kid. We’d always get a popcorn tin (sometimes more than one of them!) filled with 3 or 4 types of popcorn. My favorites are the cheese and caramel. Yum! We don’t have a fireplace in our current home but I’ve found that the “fireplace” app on my computer works perfectly. Turn some holiday music on and you have the perfect way to relax with your family! (BTW- If you want to order from The Popcorn Factory make sure to select ”overnight shipping” if you order Sunday or Monday in order for it to arrive on Tuesday in time for Christmas.)

Christmas Eve - Before we go to bed Christmas Eve we get in our Christmas pajamas, sprinkle “Reindeer Food” outside, leave cookies and milk for Santa, and read ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas. We then tell the kids they need to go right to sleep so Santa can come ;)

Christmas morning – This is the silliest thing but I am very particular about the order of Christmas morning festivities. We come down (still in our pajamas!) to see what Santa left us in our stockings and the one gift he left us, we eat a special Christmas breakfast and then we can open gifts. Not sure how that tradition will work in the future but as of now the kids are still okay with doing it that way :)

What are some of your favorite Christmas traditions?

 

Free Printable Holiday Gift Tags

paper coterie holiday tags

Check out the newest printable that Paper Coterie is offering on their blog! These cute holiday gift tags come just in time for all the gifts I’m going to be wrapping this next week. Find the link to download and print the tags here. Enjoy!

Chicago’s Favorite Chocolates

Fannie May gift ideas

(Disclosure: I received a box of chocolates for review but all thoughts are my own.)

You all know I love chocolate. As a Chicagoan, I am lucky to have one of the very best chocolate companies based right here in my area- Fannie May! I can’t remember a Christmas without a box of Fannie May chocolates. My favorites include their pixies and their mint meltaways. I also enjoy their boxes of assorted chocolates.

I’ll tell you a funny story that I am extremely embarrassed to share…. when I was younger (a long time ago) we had a box of assorted chocolates in the fridge. I don’t remember how old I was but I was young enough that I couldn’t just eat as many chocolates as I wanted because they were limited to a dessert item. Well I had my favorites and then flavors I had never tried. I was in the fridge one day when I decided that I wanted to try the other flavors but didn’t want to be selfish and eat the whole piece of chocolate so I took a bite of a few of them and left the other halves in the fridge.

At the time it made sense in my head to share the other half with someone else but, as you can imagine, my dad was not very happy that I had left half-eaten chocolate in the fridge. He probably would have preferred that I just ate the whole piece. Looking back I realize now that a knife would have been a better cutting choice than my teeth. I think about that story every time I have a box of chocolates from Fannie May and it brings back memories of my childhood every time I bite into a piece of chocolate. 

Along with the special memories I have of Fannie May chocolates, I think the chocolate is delicious. I took a look at their website and chose some of the gifts I think *someone* would like if you haven’t bought me them a gift yet ;)

Sea Salt Caramels

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Milk Chocolate Pixies

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Artisan Holiday Bark

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Mint Meltaways

I checked and it’s not too late to place your order for Christmas. There is a 20% off sale and free 2nd day shipping promotion as well. Head on over to their website for full details!

VeggieTales Christmas Printable Crafts

MerryLarrylogo[1]

(Disclosure: I am a VeggieTales Mom Blogger and received a copy of their newest movie. All thoughts are my own.)

When it comes to kid’s movies, some of our favorites are from VeggieTales. I love the positive messages that the movies share and the characters are so lovable. VeggieTales newest movie, Merry Larry and the True Light of Christmas, does not dissapoint. Check out the trailer for the movie:

The movie is about Larry The Cucumber and reminds people of the true meaning of Christmas. Larry is a Christmas elf at the Spring Valley Mall who just wants to spread joy at the holidays. When he meets a little girl with a big heart whose only Christmas wish is to help a friend in need, “Merry Larry” sets off on adventure that will light up the holidays like never before and show the town of Spring Valley what Christmas is all about – “Christmas shines most bright and true when you give the love God gave to you!”

To go along with the movie here is a fun craft you can make with your kids. Just print, color, cut, and hang!

Here’s another fun craft! Print out the page and have your child press their finger on an ink pad and use the fingerprint to make the lights part of the Christmas lights.

Have a very Veggie Christmas!

Top 10 Stocking Stuffer Ideas For Preschoolers

stocking stuffer ideas for preschoolers

I’m  excited to be joining in with a great group of bloggers for a special Top Ten Holiday Gift Ideas series. Please join us as we share our favorite books, games, building toys, pretend play toys, and stocking stuffers! Each participating blog will create their own unique list each week for each of the categories so be sure to stop by each of the links at the bottom of this post.

Here are 10 of my favorite stocking stuffer ideas that are not edible:

Art Supplies: crayons, markers, collage materials, little pads of paper, stamps and ink pads, stickers, playdough, art smock

Toiletries: mini bubble bath bottles, fun character toothbrushes, mini tubes of toothpaste

Vehicles: trains, cars, small planes, construction vehicles

Wearable Items: socks, hats, underwear, jewelry, gloves, dress up clothes

Figures: tiny dolls, Super Hero Squad super heroes, small princesses, dinosaurs, farm animals, characters from movies or TV shows

Games: Go Fish card game, character dominoes, Fruitominoes, game for electronic system

Musical Instruments: harmonica, recorder, triangle

Building Toys: lego bricks, wooden blocks, magnetic block sets

Books: any soft cover books that interest your kids, coloring books

Bath Fun: bath toys, bath crayons, bath squirters

Find more great gift ideas in these posts:

Stocking Stuffers for All Ages {Top Ten Holiday Lists} from Something 2 Offer

Top 10 Stocking Stuffers for Boys Ages 3+ from Stir the Wonder

Stocking & Stuffer Ideas for Kids from Powerful Mothering

Top 10 Stocking Stuffers for Preschoolers from Makeovers & Motherhood

Top 10 Stocking Stuffers for Preschoolers from P is for Preschooler

Inexpensive Stocking Stuffers for Preschoolers from Little Bins for Little Hands

DIY Stocking Stuffers Ideas from Creative World of Varya

 

 

 

 

Easy Cinnamon Dough Ornaments

Dough Ornaments

(Disclosure: This post is sponsored by McCormick. All thoughts are my own.)

The boys and I had so much fun making ornaments today. I found a McCormick recipe for a cinnamon dough that only used two ingredients- applesauce and cinnamon. It doesn’t get much easier than that!

I thought the recipe on the McCormick website didn’t seem like a lot of dough so I doubled the applesauce and cinnamon. I found that their recipe would have made plenty of dough for about a dozen ornaments so I’m sharing the recipe as it is on their site.

Ingredients:

Directions:

  • Preheat oven to 200°F. Mix applesauce and cinnamon in small bowl until a smooth ball of dough is formed. (You may need to use your hands to incorporate all of the cinnamon.) 
  • Using about 1/4 of the dough at a time, roll dough to 1/4-inch to 1/3-inch thickness between two sheets of plastic wrap. Peel off top sheet of plastic wrap. Cut dough into desired shapes with 2- to 3-inch cookie cutters. Make a hole at top of ornament with drinking straw or skewer. Place ornaments on baking sheet. (Note from me: Make sure it’s a non-stick cookie sheet!)
  • Bake 2 1/2 hours. Cool ornaments on wire rack. (Or, to dry ornaments at room temperature, carefully place them on wire rack. Let stand 1 to 2 days or until thoroughly dry, turning occasionally.).
  • Insert ribbon through holes and tie to hang. Decorate with opaque paint markers, found in arts and crafts stores, if desired.
The boys love seeing their ornaments on their little tree and I loved spending time with them making something we can keep for years to come.

How To Make Perfect Sugar Cookies

sugar cookies

With baking season in full-swing I wanted to share these 9 tips from Country Woman magazine to help you make the perfect sugar cookie. I’ll be baking with the boys tomorrow so these tips came just in time!

1.    Don’t Be Too Touchy: Use a light touch when handling the dough. Over-handling will result in tough cookies.

2.    Stay Cool: Refrigerate the dough before rolling for easier handling.

3.    Avoid Sticky Situations: Prevent sticking by lightly dusting with flour both the rolling pin and work surface. Be careful—working     too much extra flour into the dough will make the cookies tough.

4.    Start Small: Roll out a portion of the dough at a time; keep remaining dough in the fridge so it stays easy to work with.

5.    Create An Even Playing Field: Roll from the center to the edge, keeping a uniform thickness. Check thickness with a ruler. Uneven dough means cookies will bake unevenly, and thinner cookies may burn before thicker ones are done.

6.    Get a Clean Cut: Dip your cutter in flour or use nonstick cooking spray to keep dough from sticking to the cookie cutter.

7.    Take Out the Tools: Keep cutouts intact before and after baking by transferring them to and from the baking sheet with a large    metal spatula or pancake turner that supports the entire cutout.

8.    Keep it Simple: Limit designs and colors when decorating. Too many colors and shapes can be overwhelming.

9.    Leave Them Out to Dry: Let decorated cookies dry overnight before packaging them for gift giving or freezing.

15 Christmas Themed Sensory Activities For Kids

christmas themed sensory activities

We have one more week of school before the boys are out for Christmas break. Both boys get Occupational Therapy in school to help regulate their bodies so if I don’t have any sort of sensory activities planned for their two weeks off things will be really crazy at our house.

Here are 15 of my favorite Christmas themed sensory activities that I’ve found online. Click on the links to get all of the details so you can recreate the activities yourself!

Christmas Sensory Bin from Sow Sprout Play

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Messy Christmas Sensory Play: Demolish A Snowman from Fun At Home With Kids

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Peppermint Scented Homemade Finger Paints from Golden Reflections Blog

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Jolly Jello Sensory Activity from Growing A Jeweled Rose

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Hot Cocoa Sensory Tub

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Christmas Present Pasta Dig from Bath Activities For Kids

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Christmas Slime from Craftulate

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Ten Scents of Christmas Sensory Cards from A Little Learning For Two

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Fingerprint Wreath from 3 Dinosaurs

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Christmas Colored Gel Sensory Bags from The Preschool Toolbox

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Christmas Sensory Bin from Frogs, Snails and Puppy Dog Tails

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 Candy Cane Foam

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Christmas Sensory Table

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Christmas I Spy Bottle from Play and Learn With Dana

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DIY Holiday Touch & Feel Box from B-Inspired Mama

10 Handprint & Footprint Christmas Crafts For Kids

Handprint and Footprint Christmas Crafts

I think handprint and footprint kid’s crafts are so adorable. Here are 10 of my favorite Christmas ones:

Christmas Tree Footprints from House of Burke

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Reindeer Card with Handprint Antlers from The Craft Train

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Family Handprint Christmas Tree from Mama Smiles

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Footprint Snowman from Frogs, Snails and Puppy Dog Tails

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Hand and Foot Print Christmas Cards (Tree, Reindeer, Santa) from We Made That

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Snowman Hand Print Christmas Ornament from Glittering Muffins

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Hand Print Angel from My Little 3 and Me

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Handprint Christmas Wreath from NurtureStore

Christmas Pictures {Wordless Wednesday}

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A few weeks ago we went to get the boys pictures taken with their cousins. Here are my favorite images:

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Pictures With Santa For Children Who Have Special Needs

caring santa

Caring Santa is an opportunity for children with special needs and their families to enjoy a photo session with Santa. Extra care has been taken to support the sensory, physical and other developmental needs of children so they can enjoy this wonderful holiday tradition.  To learn more and find a location near you check out the website here.

Giving Tuesday {Giving Back To My Community Thanks To Kohl’s}

giving back with kohl's

(Disclosure: I was not compensated for this post. Kohl’s provided a gift card that I used to purchase gifts for others in the community.)

I try to give back to my community and those around the world all year round but I absolutely love the fact that there is one day that is called “Giving Tuesday”. This very special day is tomorrow, December 3rd, this year. What a great feeling to see people blowing up social media with talk of giving after a week of shopping and “getting”. When someone from Kohl’s emailed me and asked if they could send me a gift card to go shopping for others I was really excited. I enjoy working with Kohl’s on a regular basis and love that they give back to the community throughout the year with their Kohl’s Cares program. This was just more proof that I’m blessed to partner with such an amazing company.

Once I received the gift card I wanted to shop online right away because Kohl’s had fabulous deals and they were giving Kohl’s cash back so, like their commercial says, it’s like getting paid to shop! I had a few things in mind that I wanted to do with the money. My kids and I had chosen two “angels” off of the angel tree at Church to buy gifts for. The gifts would go to children who had parents in prison. I also wanted to purchase mittens and gloves for the mitten tree which would keep children and adults warm during the cold winter. With the remaining gift card balance I was going to get toys for a local gift mart. These toys would fill a makeshift store in a neighboring low income town’s school and gave parents the chance to “shop” for toys. Paying just $2 per toy allows parents to keep their dignity while being able to afford gifts for their children and then all proceeds go back into the local school. During my first few years of motherhood I would have been one of these parents so I’m happy to be able to help them.

I started with our angel tree gifts. Each parent in prison had written (or dictated) a note for their child that would be attached on the gift. It was humbling to see their Christmas wishes were so simple- they asked for clothes. The 3 year old wanted blue shirts and Spongebob themed clothes. The 6 year old’s wish was red clothes and Angry Bird themed items.

Gifts for the 3 year old- had a coloring book and crayons for him as well

Gifts for the 6 year old

The Angel Tree ministry is such a wonderful ministry and I’m so happy that we could bless not one, but two, kids this year. These kids will see gifts under the Christmas tree and a note from their parent that can’t be with them and I think it will bring such joy to them on Christmas morning.

I bought two 3-packs of mittens for little kids, a 3-pack of gloves for boys in elementary school, and a pair of gloves for a teenager or woman. Though it’s called a mitten tree I realized that we could have brought hats and scarves as well so I will definitely have to keep that in mind next year.

The mitten tree!

I’m still waiting on the second half of my gifts because I ordered the toys just a couple days ago. I found great deals on Thomas The Tank Engine, Melissa & Doug, Imaginext, and lots more to bring to the gift mart in a couple weeks. With my Kohl’s Cash I plan on buying some warm blankets to bring to a local homeless shelter. I bought a sherpa lined blanket from Kohl’s last month that I love so I think that I might get a few of those for the shelter. Again, a huge thanks to Kohl’s for providing the gift card and sharing the love this holiday season.

I hope that this post and the #GivingTuesday campaign have inspired you to think about new ways that you can give back this year. If you have ideas I’d love to read about them in the comments below!

12 Christmas Tree Crafts & Activities For Kids

Christmas Tree Crafts

The holiday season is finally here! I’m so excited to share some great Christmas crafts and activities with you all in the next month. Today’s post has 12 Christmas tree crafts, activities, and even a snack for kids. Enjoy!

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Footprint Tree Craft from The Preschool Toolbox

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Christmas Tree Of Hearts from Blog Me Mom

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Christmas Tree Sensory Bin from How Wee Learn

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Drinking Straw Christmas Tree from Reading Confetti

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Sticky Wall Christmas Tree Decorating from Gift Of Curiosity

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Recycle Crafts Christmas Tree from Teach Me Mommy

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Upcycled Christmas Trees from Hands On As We Grow

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Christmas Tree Playdough from Homegrown Friends

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Felt Pompoms Christmas Tree from Glittering Muffins

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Christmas Tree Hat from Green Owl Art

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Decorating Felt Christmas Trees from Buggy & Buddy

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Christmas Tree Crafty Snack from Kiddie Foodies

Gift Guide Is Live! 100+ Gift Ideas

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I am so excited to share that Making Time For Mommy’s 2013 Christmas Gift Guide is live!! Over 100 different gift ideas are featured and more are being added daily. There is something for everyone which makes shopping for Christmas gifts so much easier. Check back often for more ideas and some great giveaways that will be coming in the next month!

Also, if you have a young child and celebrate Advent make sure to check out my post about the Truth in The Tinsel Advent ebook for little kids. Use code “MAKINGTIME” for 20% off the ebook. Hurry because Advent starts on Sunday!

Hope you enjoy the rest of your holiday weekend, find some great deals and spend lots of quality time with the people you love.

Very Berry Christmas Tree DIY Centerpiece

Baddish-Driscoll-Berrytree-HR

This Very Berry Christmas Tree craft would make the perfect centerpiece at your holiday table!

Items needed:

  • one floral foam or green Styrofoam cone measuring 4-5 inches in diameter at the base and 12 inches high
  • one box of toothpicks
  • Four 1-kb containers of fresh Driscoll strawberries
  • 1 bunch fresh mint
  • 1 slice from a carambola fruit (also known as star fruit) OR slice of melon cut w/ start cookie cutter

Directions:

  • Wash the strawberries and blot them dry with paper towels. Pull off the green stem from each strawberry. Reserve a perfect strawberry for the top of the ‘tree’.
  • Push a toothpick halfway into the side of the cone, about 1/2 inch from the bottom edge. Secure a strawberry to the toothpick, piercing it through the stem end. Secure another strawberry right next to the first one. Continue securing strawberries to the cone in circular rows up to its top, covering the cone completely. Secure the reserved strawberry to the top of the tree.
  • Remove some mint leaves from the bunch of mint and tuck them between the berries, placing them at about 3-inch intervals.
  • Secure the star-shaped carambola or mango slice to the top of the cone using a toothpick.

Image and directions for this craft courtesy of Driscoll’s.

 

Chocolate Candy Cane Cake Pops With PEEPS {Recipe}

Peeps recipe with wording

I was so excited when Peeps reached out to me to participate in their online advent calendar and asked me to create a recipe using PEEPS from their holiday line. I love that PEEPS have expanded past their status as an Easter treat and was excited to bake with them. PEEPS sent me their Candy Cane flavored PEEPS that were dipped in chocolate. I decided to make cake pops with them and love how they turned out!

Here’s the recipe to make these Chocolate Candy Cane flavored cake pops!

Yield: 30 Cake Pops

Materials needed:

  • 1 box of chocolate cake mix and any ingredients required (water, eggs, oil, etc)
  • 2 bags of candy melts
  • 6 PEEPS
  • container of chocolate frosting
  • lollipop sticks
  • candy canes or sprinkles (optional)
  • Piece of styrofoam

Directions:

  • Prepare cake mix according to box directions and let cool
  • Once cool use your hands to crumble cake into bowl
  • Cut 6 PEEPS into small pieces
  • Add PEEPS pieces and container of frosting to crumbled cake and stir together
  • Roll dough into 1 inch balls
  • Melt about 15 candy melts and dip one end of lollipop sticks in frosting and then push into cake balls
  • Place balls in freezer for 30 minutes to one hour to harden
  • Melt ½ of the candy melts in a bowl and dip cake pops using the stick as a handle.
  • When done with each cake pop stick the opposite end of the stick in the Styrofoam so that candy melt coating can harden. At this point add sprinkles or crushed candy cane if desired.
  • Melt more candy melts as needed.

If you enjoyed this recipe make sure to follow along in December when PEEPS features 24 recipes (including mine) on their Facebook page. To find more PEEPS recipes, crafts and other fun holiday ideas visit www.Facebook.com/PeepsBrand/adventcalendar.

(Disclosure: As stated above, I recieved PEEPS to use in my recipe.)

Truth In The Tinsel: Advent Ebook For Little Kids

truth in the tinsel

(Disclosure: This post contains an affiliate link.)

Spend December impressing God’s Word on your kids’ heart! You’ll get 24 days of Scripture reading, ornament crafts, talking points and extension activities. Plus fun printables and templates!

This is the perfect book for kids of any age–from preschool to elementary!

I loved this ebook and enjoyed spending time making Advent crafts with my children a couple years ago. I’m excited to go through this ebook again with them this year.

Learn more about the ebook and purchase it here: Truth in the Tinsel (Use code MAKINGTIME for 20% off the ebook!)

Give With Purpose This Holiday Season {Giveaway}

world vision gift catalog

(Disclosure: I received a bracelet and earring set but all thoughts are my own.)

There is nothing better than a gift that gives back. I’m happy to be working with World Vision again this year to help promote their Gift Catalog. The World Vision Gift Catalog offers more than 250 items that help fight poverty and save lives here in US and around the world. With a financial contribution, donors can select one of the 30+ Handcrafted Gifts that can be shared with a loved one and at the same time help a person in need.

I received a Colors of Africa Bracelet & Earring Set to review. This gorgeous Zakale bracelet and earring set from Nairobi are made from recycled materials by Kenyan artisans. The people received a loan from World Vision to grow their business and lift themselves out of poverty. With a $100 donation people can get this set for free.

This colorful set would make the perfect gift for any woman or girl. I love how the beads really capture the light. Knowing the story behind the bracelet makes me even prouder to wear it.

Want to donate without receiving a gift? The Gift Catalog lets you choose how your donation is sent. Love playing soccer or have kids who do? Donate soccer balls to kids who would normally play with “soccer balls” made of banana leaves or rolled-up trash. Passionate about education? Give kids books and tools they need to be successful in school and help them fulfill their potential and even lift themselves out of poverty. Or maybe you just simply want to give a child food, water, or clothing to protect them from the freezing temperatures.

Want to go beyond yourself? I love these ideas that World Vision shared:

  • Organize a family giving night and have kids select charitable gifts from an organization such as the World Vision Gift Catalog. Talk with your children about how giving back changes lives of children and families living in poverty and that their efforts truly make a difference.
  • Host a house party for friends and family and ask your guests to contribute to a share of a group gift such as a farm animal, winter clothing or school supplies to families in need, or even a water well. Make the selection of the item, how to raise funds for that gift, and the collection of the money a collaborative, group effort.
  • After Black Friday and Cyber Monday holiday shopping, consider celebrating Giving Tuesday (12/3) and make meaningful, life-changing gift purchases such as medicine, mosquito nets or a fish pond.
  • Be active in your giving — volunteer at your local homeless shelter or senior living center; cook a meal or bake cookies for an elderly family member or neighbor.

GIVEAWAY:

One reader will win a bracelet and earring set like the one mentioned above

HOW TO ENTER:

{Do any or all of the following, leave a separate comment for each you do}

 1) Leave a comment telling me what gift you’d give a child in need

2) Share this giveaway on a social network

3) Comment on another one of my blog posts

Giveaway ends November 24, 2013 at 11:59pm Central time. Must a a US resident and 18 or older to enter.

Tiny Prints Holiday Cards {Giveaway}

tiny prints 1

(Disclosure: I’m receiving free Christmas cards from Tiny Prints but all thoughts are my own.)

I love Christmas. I have been known to decorate on November 1st because I love the holiday so much. Holiday cards though? I never get them out on time! It’s such a long process and I always need to make sure I find the perfect card. This year I decided to start early in hopes that my Christmas cards would actually go out before the holiday :)

I checked out the Tiny Prints website to see this year’s Christmas Cards collection and here were some of my favorites:

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There were so many other cards that I loved. This is going to be a hard decision! I love the Christmas ones that share the good news of Christ being born but these “year in review” cards are calling me so hoping I can incorporate both into one card somehow.

Tiny Prints is offering new trim options this year- Square, rounded, bracket, ticket & scallop trim options. They also have new design styles for 2013 – Contemporary, Classic, Vintage, Full bleed photos, All That Glitters, Bold Expressions, Simply Chic, Woodland Wonder & The New Tradition. I like that they have all these options so you can really customize your card. Another thing you can do to make your cards stand out is to add matching address labels and envelope liners.

Tiny Prints also has great photo gifts! Want to make your own Christmas, holiday, or New Years cards? Enter to win below!

GIVEAWAY:

One reader will win $50 off total order (plus free shipping) code at Tiny Prints

HOW TO ENTER:

Leave a comment telling me your favorite design

OPTIONAL EXTRA ENTRIES:

1) Pin your favorite card with the #TinyPrintsCheer hashtag

2) Share this giveaway on another social network

Giveaway ends October 25, 2013 at 11:59pm Central time. Must be a US resident, age 18 or older to win.

2013 Toys“R”Us Holiday Hot Toy List

2013-TRU-christmas-tree

As much as I want to deny it, Christmas will be here soon. For those of you who like to shop early I have the 2013 Toys”R”Us Holiday Hot Toy List. I’m excited to be working with Toys”R”Us this Holiday season and will be reviewing some of these hot toys! Here is the list representing the top new toys of the year in each age group:

THE 2013 #TRUHotToyList

Baby’s First Christmas
Grow with Me Activity Gym & Ball Pit
 
from Infantino®
Little ones will “have a ball” with this action-packed, grow-with-me activity gym, which has pop-up mesh sides so it can convert into a ball pit. Featuring an adorable sea turtle shape, the set is complete with 4 plush toys children will fall in love with, as well as 4 colorful balls. No batteries required. Ages 0 years and up.

13 Months to 2 Years
Laugh & Learn Crawl Around Car
 
from Fisher-Price®
Baby can take the driver’s seat with this fun-filled learning vehicle and let the adventures begin. With different play modes, little ones can get a head start on learning everything from their ABC’s to colors. This cruising machine can also help tiny tots develop gross motor skills as it encourages crawling. 3 “AA” batteries required (not included). Ages 6 months to 3 years.

Rollin’ Tunes Zebra from Fisher-Price®
The more baby rolls, the more fun they’ll have with this interactive Zebra, which is sure to become any baby’s best pal. The music grows louder as little ones keep rollin’ along and fun phrases keep the ride exciting. 3 “AA” batteries required (not included). Ages 12 months to 3 years.

2 to 4 Years
Big Hugs Elmo
 
from Hasbro®
Little ones are sure to fall in love with the first feature Elmo toy that can hug them back. When kids give their red, furry friend a hug, the interactive plush moves his arms to return the love. This cuddly, 22-inch lifelike Elmo has flexible arms and a soft head, plays 3 fun songs, features more than 50 animated sounds and phrases, and encourages pretend play. When little ones are ready for naptime, Elmo will even sing a lullaby and make sleeping sound effects to help soothe them to sleep. 4 “AA” batteries required (not included). Ages 18 months to 4 years.

Despicable Me 2 Minion Dave, Agnes and Gru Collector’s Edition Figures from Thinkway Toys
The quirky and lovable characters of Despicable Me 2 are here to make the holidays bright. These highly detailed Minion Dave (9-inch), Agnes (11-inch) and Gru (14-inch) interactive figures (sold separately) feature moving heads, eyes and mouths. Sure to ignite bouts of laughter, each character recites at least 30 phrases from the comical movie in their original voices and each responds to sound for back-and-forth conversation. 3 “AAA” batteries required for Agnes (not included). 4 “AA” batteries required for Minion Dave (not included). 3 “AA” batteries required for Gru (not included). Ages 4 to 12 years.

Disney Planes Wing Control Dusty Crophopper Remote Control Plane from Mattel®
It’s time to tilt and fly. Kids can have high-flying fun recreating the action seen in the Disney movie Planes, with this RC vehicle that offers role-play remote control, making the plane move as they do. This plane is fully equipped with sounds and phrases that amp up the action for a thrilling air venture. 2 “AAA” and 4”AA” batteries required (not included). Ages 3 years and up.

Doc McStuffins Deluxe Get Better Check-Up Center from Just Play
Kids will have all the tools they need with this set to enjoy imaginative play as they heal toys and give checkups just like Doc McStuffins. When the included Lambie is placed on the check-up table, tiny caretakers will delight in lights and sounds. Plus, future physicians will enjoy using the electronic Big Book of Boo Boos to make a diagnosis, slide in play x-rays to activate lights and sounds, use the cell phone for “chats” with Hallie and more. Kids can also use the portable scale to check their patient’s weight and take the ouches away with bandage stickers from the dispenser on the clinic door. This exclusive set includes 14 bonus pieces, including Doc’s child-size lab coat and new First Aid Kit with fun accessories, perfect for on-the-go checkups. 3 “AA” batteries required for Check-Up Center. 2 “AA” batteries required for play cell phone (not included). Ages 3 years and up (not included). This item will become available in October.

Imaginarium Mountain Rock Train Table from Toys“R”Us®
This wooden train table set delivers big play value for little ones with over 100 pieces and 23 feet of track, plus, lights and sounds bring playtime to life. Mini conductors can take the 8 included trains on a journey through 5 play destinations. From the two-tower bridge and two-level mountain pass, to the working swivel crane, train station and 4-door roundhouse turntable, kids will enjoy hours of train play. Plus, this ultimate set is compatible with other select wooden train sets and features a large storage drawer, so kids’ collections can continue to grow. 2 “AAA” batteries required (not included). Ages 3 years and up.

Imaginext® Batcave from Fisher-Price®
Kids will love helping Batman and his sidekick Robin with this secret command center equipped with superhero gadgetry, including a Batcomputer, secret walkways, a Batwing, elevator, jail and more. Turn the included Batman and Robin figures on any of the 3 activation disks to make cool things happen throughout. Plus, young superheroes can use the included launcher to blast projectiles at approaching intruders. And, when Batman needs to race into Gotham City, kids can place him on his Batcycle and send him off. To bring the fun of this Batcave to life, a complimentary, downloadable iPhone® Imaginext Batcave app is available. No batteries required. Ages 3 years and up.

My Little Pony Feature Princess Twilight Sparkle Pony from Hasbro®
Now, the magic of Equestria is in kids’ hands with this interactive pony. With one touch of her cutie mark, she will move her head and blink her eyes as she awakens. Brush her mane and Twilight Sparkle will hum songs and speak whimsical phrases as she’s being pampered. Plus, her iridescent turquoise wings and unicorn horn illuminate with a touch, creating enchanting patterns of light, and kids can push her along and watch as her wings flutter. 4 “AA” batteries required (not included). Ages 3 years and up.

Sofia the First Royal Talking Vanity from JAKKS Pacific®
Princesses in training can get ready for a royal dance with this gorgeous vanity inspired by Sofia the First. Standing over 3 feet tall, this vanity features 6 princess lessons from Sofia and lots of hidden surprises including a jewelry box that appears with a push of a magical button, hidden animal friends and a storage drawer to store trinkets. The vanity features 8 beauty accessories to complete the play including two perfume bottles, a comb, lipstick, necklace and a mini tiara. The set also comes with a complimentary magical lesson card to use with the Talking Magical Amulet, (sold separately). 3 “AA” batteries required. Ages 3 years and up. This item will become available in October.

You & Me Tub & Toot Doll from Toys“R”Us®
Little ones will love to splish splash in the bath with this Toys“R”Us-exclusive doll. Simply by lifting the interactive doll’s left hand while bathing, kids will be in for a fun surprise, as she giggles and babbles away. 3 “AA” batteries required (included). Ages 2 years and up.

5 to 7 Years
Battroborg 3-in-1 Battle Arena
 
from TOMY®
Let the battle begin! This one-of-a-kind set offers kids action-packed play using motion-controlled battling robots. The newest innovation in robot gaming technology, this set features Nunchaku motion controllers, allowing players to control the action in the ring by maneuvering robots to match their own motions. With 3 competitive game modes, competitors will enjoy head-to-head Battroborg battle, can practice their moves with training drones or master the art of combat against a self-propelled Battroborg robot. Includes 2 robots, 2 Nunchaku motion controllers, arena, 4 training drones, 2 sticker sheets and 2 face sheets. 8 “AA” batteries required (not included). Ages 6 years and up.

Boom Boom Balloon Game from Spin Master
Pressure mounts with each roll of the dice as players take their turn to poke the balloon. With every roll, the balloon stretches, squishes and strains, wondering if the next poke will make it pop. There are 12 silly-faced balloons inside the box and players can contact Spin Master to order additional balloons. No Batteries Required. Ages 8 years and up.

Disney Infinity from Disney Interactive
The worlds of Disney and Pixar collide for the first time ever with this all-new gaming platform. Integrating collectible figures featuring beloved characters from movies like Monsters, Inc.Pirates of the Caribbean and The Incredibleswith an immersive video game experience, players can bring their favorite characters to life in the virtual world by placing the figures on a Disney Infinity base, which transports them into the game. Players have two gaming options to choose from, including “Toy Box,” a mode where players can build and customize their own unique environments, and a story-driven experience, “Play Set,” which allows players to solve challenging puzzles, battle enemies and explore iconic Disney locations. The game launched with an initial line of 18 collectible interactive figures and 21 Power Discs that unlock special in-game powers, gadgets, vehicles and more. No batteries required. Ages 6 years and up (figures). Ages 10 years and up (game).

Flutterbye Flying Fairy from Spin Master
Children can experience the magic of real fairy flight with these enchanting Flutterbye Fairies. After magically rising and gracefully flying across the sky, guided simply by kids’ hands, she will rest on her display stand. 6 “AA” batteries required. Ages 5 years and up.

FurReal Friends® Cuddles My Giggly Monkey Pet from Hasbro®
Youngsters will go bananas over this interactive, giggly monkey. With over 100 realistic sounds and phrases, from laugh-out-loud silly to super sweet, responds to many classic play patterns like feeding, diaper changing, cuddling, tickling, swinging, and being rocked to sleep. She’ll move her mouth when children feed her from a banana-shaped bottle, and is ready for playtime, saying “whee,” when swung upside down. After a long day of play, this lovable pet will slowly close her eyes and start to snooze when rocked to sleep. Comes with a bottle, pink bow and removable diaper. 4 “C” batteries required (not included). Ages 4 years and up.

InnoTab® 3S Exclusive Bundle from VTech®
Kids can learn, create and connect with the latest generation of the popular InnoTab learning tablet. Complete with Wi-Fi, this tablet opens up a world of interactive game play and educational fun. Included games teach reading, math, social studies, science and much more. Plus, children can play videos and music, take pictures and share their creations and messages by connecting to other InnoTab 3S tablets and smart phones through VTech Kid Connect. Equipped with a kid-safe browser, children can view pre-approved websites and connect to the Learning Lodge for hundreds of software cartridges and downloads for more learning fun. Also includes a rechargeable battery pack and AC adapter, plus a bonus folio case and headphones. Ages 3 to 9 years.

LeapPad Ultra from LeapFrog®
Built especially for little learners, this kid-tough tablet features a 7-inch hi-res touch screen, Wi-Fi with LeapSearch, LeapFrog’s kid-safe browser created with Zui and access to a library of more than 800 fun and educator-approved apps, games, eBooks, videos, music and more. The tablet includes 11 apps, 8GB of storage and a built-in rechargeable battery so the learning fun never ends. Front and back cameras and video recorders allow kids to take pictures and video, while the Photo Fun Ultra app provides cool picture effects. No batteries required. Ages 4 to 9 years.

Magic Jinn from Hasbro®
Children of all ages will love outsmarting this magical mind reader. All it takes is a touch of Jinn’s nose to begin, and through a series of questions, the intuitive creature will try to guess which animal kids have on their mind as they answer with “Yes,” “No,” “I don’t know” or “Maybe.” No one can tell what he’ll say next! 3 “AAA” batteries required (not included). Ages 6 years and up.

Skylanders SWAP Force from Activision Publishing, Inc
Skylanders is “mixing it up” with the newest game in the award-winning, top-selling franchise. This one-of-a-kind game builds upon the success of the franchise’s signature gameplay and collectible toy experience, adding an all-new dimension to the “toys to life” innovation. The game introduces a compelling play pattern – dynamic swapability – that lets gamers transform 16 SWAP Force inter-action figures into more than 250 unique characters by swapping the top and bottom halves of the toys. Fans also can play with their entire collection of more than 100 characters fromSkylanders Spyro’s Adventure® and Skylanders GiantsTM. No batteries required. Ages 10 years and up. This item will become available on October 13 on Nintendo Wii™, Wii U™, 3DS™,  Xbox 360™ and Xbox One™ video game and entertainment system from Microsoft, PlayStation®3 and PlayStation®4 computer entertainment system.

tabeo e2 from Toys“R”Us®
The next generation of tabeo, this all-new Android™ Jelly Bean 4.2 Wi-Fi tablet was created especially for kids. This unique 8-inch tablet is bigger, better and faster, featuring lightning fast performance to handle even the most action-packed games, sharper graphics, advanced parental controls, expanded storage and so much more. This tablet comes complete with high-impact screen protection, dual-facing cameras, an tabeo App Store packed with thousands of free, kid-friendly applications, plus dozens of preloaded premium apps. With included fan-favorite kids’ apps like Need for Speed™ Most WantedBejeweled® 2The Game of LifeTemple Run 2Fruit NinjaCrayola DigiTools Effects,Cartoon NetworkWWE and Playrific, children will enjoy hours of entertainment, fun and education. Available in a blue, pink or clear protective case, the Bluetooth™ enabled device also features an extensive ecosystem of products, including speakers, docking stations and licensed accessories. No batteries required. Ages 6 to 11 years. Available for pre-order now at tabeo.com.

The Ugglys from Moose Toys
Introducing the ugliest dogs around. These farting, burping, barking and growling interactive electronic pets are ready to start trouble with kids of all ages. In addition to making over 30 rude, repulsive and hilarious noises, each mischievous mutt with an attitude can be “tuned” to further amuse kids big and small. Using a button on each pup’s collar, kids can warp the sounds of their mischievous friends to disgust or delight. And, when the Ugglys are left alone, they’ll snore away until it’s time to play. 3 “AAA” batteries required (not included). Ages 5 years and up.

The Zelfs™ from Moose Toys
Collectors – big and small – will love this group of whimsical and quirky dolls. Each Zelf has its own unique persona and Zelf power represented by a Zelmark. The dolls also have matching charms and hair accessories that kids can use to style and tame their Zelfs’ colorful and spike-tacular hair. Imaginations will go wild, during endless hours of hair-raising play with these super cute characters available in 3 collectible sizes. No batteries required. Ages 5 years and up.

8 to 11 Years
Crayola® Melt N’ Mold Factory
 
from Crayola®
Look forward to creating unique, multicolored crayons and rings with this one-of-a-kind craft kit. Add a custom combination of colorful crayon bits to the melting tray, then turn it on and watch crayons melt together. With an included crayon and ring mold, pint-sized Picassos can pour the melted wax to transform crayons into custom multicolor creations – no two crayons or rings are the same. Includes melting tray, 24 crayons, 2 molds and 1 mold holder. No batteries required. Ages 8 years and up.

Ever After High Royal & Rebel Dolls from Mattel®
Ever After High introduces the children of famous fairytale characters. These 4 spellbinding teenage dolls will choose to either follow their parents’ footsteps or discover their own happily ever after. With Apple White, Raven Queen, Briar Beauty and Madeline Hatter (each sold separately), kids will love discovering the untold stories of the “Royals” and “Rebels.” No batteries required. Ages 6 years and up. These items will become available in November.

Kurio® 10s from Techno Source
Following up the best-selling, award-winning Kurio 7, this all-new, Android™ 4.2 (Jellybean) Wi-Fi enabled device truly takes family tablets to the next level with a new design, faster Quad Core processor and a larger, high definition 10.1” IPS touch screen. Great for games, movies and family fun, this exclusive tablet combines the advanced features kids expect from a cutting-edge tablet with Kurio’s unique, built-in parental control features that allow parents to set up customized profiles perfectly suited for each member of the family. Parents can adjust Internet access to ensure kids surf the web safely, manage applications by profile and even set detailed time limits by day of the week. Kurio 10s comes preloaded with more than 60 educational games and apps out of the box, and families can access hundreds of thousands more free apps through the Kurio Store and the most popular Android app stores. Available in black with an included blue protective bumper. Micro USB power adapter included. Ages 3 years and up.

LEGO Legends of Chima The Lion CHI Temple from LEGO®
LEGO lovers can engage in an epic battle for the CHI at the majestic temple with this 1,258 piece set. Kids can create different tribes with the 7 included figures and their weapons, as they fight to reach the CHI orb, or embrace the challenge to restore peace to Chima in a battle at The Lion CHI Temple. No batteries required. Ages 8 years and up.

MEGA® Bloks Call of Duty® Heavy Armor Outpost from MEGA® Brands
Kids will love recreating scenes from the wildly popular video game series with this 685-piece set. The main battle tank measures 12” (L) x 5” (W) x 4” (H) and comes with a large, rotating turret and tracks that really spin. This direct-fire, heavy-armored vehicle is nearly unstoppable during play combat. The buildable, improvised outpost and the camouflage mesh canopy can attach to the heavy tank to offer troops protection from hostile targets or weather conditions. The included Captain John Price and his team of 2 special ops troopers are highly detailed with extreme pose ability, and come with authentic interchangeable accessories and weapons that allow for mission-specific customization. No batteries required. Ages 14 years and up.

Monster 500 Toxic Terror Trap Playset from Toys“R”Us®
Unleash the fiendish fury! Kids and kids at heart will enjoy the twisting, toxic, monster action this ghoulish, exclusive playset has to offer. With one included character, Evil Clownevil, daredevils can smash through the doors of the freaky factory and topple the toxic, terrorizing monster, while avoiding being gobbled by the mutant gator all at the same time. Then, cars can be placed on the elevator before the hazmat mutant brings each vehicle up again. For additional fun, playset includes one Monster 500 trading card, which can be used to unlock a creepy character in the Monster 500 app available on Android and iOS. 3 “AA” batteries required (not included). Ages 4 years and up. This item will become available in October.

Playstation®4 (PS4) from Sony®
This next generation computer entertainment system combines rich content, fan-favorite apps and immersive gameplay with powerful graphics, speed, intelligent personalization, social capabilities and innovative second-screen features. PS4 places the focus on gamers, enabling them to play when, where and how they want. The bundle includes the console, DUALSHOCK®4 wireless controller, HDMI cable, power cable, wired mono headset and USB charging cable. No batteries required. Ages 6 years and up. This item will become available on November 15.

Shimmer N’ Sparkle Cra-Z-Loom Bracelet Maker from Cra-Z-Art®
The hottest craze to hit kids’ wrists this year, Cra-Z-Loom is the ultimate rubber band accessory maker with over 600 included mixed-color rubber bands. Children of all ages will enjoy designing colorful rubber band bracelets, rings, belts, pendants and more, including single, double or triple loop rubber band combinations. Ultimate fashionistas can use their imaginations and enjoy hours of totally trendy bracelet and accessory making fun. No batteries required. Ages 6 years and up.

Xbox™ One from Microsoft®
Introducing the all-in-one entertainment system. Where the best games and your favorite movies, music, sports and live TV come together in one place. Xbox One games look and feel incredibly real, with cinematic gameplay that rivals Hollywood. Watch TV or chat with friends on Skype while you play. With Xbox One, you can snap two things side-by-side on your TV, and switch from one to another instantly. Users can also watch movies and play games in HD with a Blu-ray playerAnd, with Xbox Live Gold membership (sold separately) users can access online multiplayer, Skype and additional features for the family. The starter kit includes console, Kinectsensor, wireless controller, HDMI cable and chat headset. Advanced TV hardware required. Games, add-ons and media content sold separately. No batteries required (console). 2 “AA” batteries required (wireless controller) (included). Ages 6 years and up. This item will become available November 22.

Y Fliker™ Carver Scooter from Yvolution
Kids are in for a smooth ride with this all-new, three-wheeled, all body-powered scooter featuring FLEX technology. Using the same motions as downhill skiing, riders only need to move their hips and legs from side to side to get going and keep moving. Thanks to the patented FLEX technology, kids can perform cool carving actions and master even the tightest turns. To put mom’s mind at ease, padded handgrips and a quick-response hand brake ensure every ride is a safe ride. No Batteries Required. Ages 5 years and up (C1 Model). Ages 7 years and up (C3 Model).

Zoomer from Spin Master
The perfect, playful family pet, this robotic dog will quickly steal kids’ hearts. Just like a real dog, children will be responsible for teaching him everything a puppy needs to know – and sometimes forgets. With life-like expressions and voice activated commands, this dog can learn dozens of tricks including laying, rolling, sitting and more. He even follows kids’ movements with his cute puppy eyes. Families can download the free iOS or Android app to learn everything there is to know about training this silly, interactive dog. No batteries required. Ages 5 years and up.

Big Kids
Crazy Cart
 
from Razor
Kids will love this ultimate drifting machine, which will allow them to drive, spin or drift like a pro. With the unique ability to drive forward, reverse, sideways, diagonally and spin in place, riders can cruise around like a go cart or lift the Drift Bar to kick it into Crazy Cart mode. Crazy drifts. Crazy spins. Crazy FUN! 2 “12V” battery system (included). Ages 9 years and up (up to 140 pounds).

**For those of you with children who have Special Needs make sure to check out the Toys”R”Us toy guide for differently-abled kids. You can find that here. Big thanks to Toys”R”Us for creating the awesome guide!**

Cousins {Wordless Wednesday}

cousins Christmas 2012

After a whole bunch of pictures this was the best shot we got of these 5, 4, and 3 year olds. Aren’t they all adorable in their little outfits? :)

Christmas 2012 {Wordless Wednesday}

Boys in front of the tree Christmas morning

Christmas Eve: Leaving cookies for Santa

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Lucas taking over the gingerbread house decorating

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Boys in front of the tree Christmas morning

Merry Christmas!

merry christmas

I hope you all have a fantastic Christmas with your loved ones! I know it’s early but I will be unplugging for a few days and spending time with my family.

Eggnog Martini Recipe

eggnog martini

So Christmas is almost here and I’m sure you are super busy with all the prep. I say once the kids are in bed tonight, you make yourself this yummy eggnog martini and relax on the couch! You deserve it!

To prepare:

1) Combine equal parts of Captain Morgan Spiced Rum, Bailey’s Irish Cream, Frangelico and prepared eggnog in a martini shaker with ice and shake well.

2) Strain beverage into a chilled martini glass with a graham cracker crust rim, sprinkle with nutmeg and serve.

3) Enjoy! :)

The above recipe and image is from Rock’n Fish. They have 3 locations in California: Manhattan Beach, Laguna Beach, & L.A.

Personalized Gifts From Personal Creations

personal creations

There’s nothing more special than a personalized gift that I know was created just for me. Personal Creations has hundreds of gifts for everyone and I loved exploring their website for some gifts for my family members. Here are some great gift ideas from their online store:

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I got a bookshelf for Lucas with his name embroidered on it. It was easy to assemble and made from brightly colored, sturdy canvas so I think it will last until he outgrows it. I like that it has his name on it but i wish that the name was up a little higher because the lower half is hard to see.

Still need some Christmas items? Personal Creations has those too! You can get personalized stockings, matching pajamas, and personalized ornaments.

(Disclosure: I received a gift card but all thoughts are my own.)