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Wednesday, December 4, 2013

My Family Christmas Traditions

I love the holidays and Christmas is one of my favorites.  Truly, I think I say that about every holiday but since it’s December and Christmas is here….it’s my favorite.  Growing up my mother used to make yarn ornaments and hang on the tree.  I loved spending hours just watching the lights blink on and off in different colors.  I know a lot of people like just white lights but I’m a color girl.  Blue, green, red, yellow; that is what a Christmas tree should be to me.

I have two favorite memories growing up as a child.  One was the night Santa came to our house while we were away.  We come back late at night to find our house all lite up with Christmas lights and gifts left under the tree.  Santa left a dollhouse for me along with chocolate covered cherries we got every year.  But my favorite memory of all time is staying up late at night with my older brother watching Planet of the Apes.  Not the remake but the old classic from 1968 with Charlton Heston.  I never looked at another Ape the same after watching that movie.  That was followed by another classic from 1984, Gremlins.  Who didn’t want a mogwai after watching that show?  Nothing beats the classics. 

Every family has their different holiday traditions and I am no different.  If you do not have any yet, then it’s never too late to start creating them for your family.  I’m going to share some of my favorites and I’m sure you have heard about a few of them. 

The start of the holiday season doesn’t kick off until our ride on the Polar Express to see Santa Clause.  You have not experienced a true Polar Express ride until you have taken your seat on the train out of Elkins, WV.  We have been going every year since we moved here and I will continue to go for as long as I can make my kiddo will go with me.  See my blog on the Polar Express for more information on this ride.

After that we look forward to watching A Charlie Brown Christmas.  This is, by far, the all time, MOST watch, show each Christmas in my home.  It has been playing since it first made its debute in 1965.  That makes this movie 48 years old this year and it’s still going strong for a thirty minute movie.  I love that my child gets just as excited to see it as I do.  Matter of fact, we sat cuddled under a blanket last night and watched it together.  This show will never get old no matter how old I get.

A new tradition that started last year was our Elf on the Shelf.   He magically appeared after Thanksgiving last year.  Since he cannot talk, Santa’s orders ;-), he brought along his story book to explain that he will be there every day until Christmas to watch over your child and reports back to Santa each night if your child has been good or bad.  The book tells the child every morning you will find him in a different spot in the house doing something good or bad.  Elf’s only get to leave the North Pole one month out of the year so they sometimes can get into mischief while they are at your house.  After reading the book, your child gets to name your elf.  Ours is Mario, yes, for Mario and Luigi.  It’s amazing to see your child get so excited to wake up and see what the elf did last night.  For example, Mario had fun last night and cut up paper with my child’s art supplies.  Some more ideas would be:
  •  Holding his Elf on the Shelf book to read the first night
  • Reading a book to other toys
  • Decorated the Christmas tree with underwear
  • Painted red nose on child why asleep with a note to look in mirror once they wake
  • Drinking pop and eating candy
  • Drawing a picture
  • Making a “snow” angle out of flour or rice
  • Taking a bubble bath in mini marshmallows
  • Fishing in the toilet with fishy crackers

Another tradition I have is an advent calendar.  My child has had one ever year since he was born.  I normally buy the Lego Advent Calendars but find them a little pricy for what you get in the box.  They also make chocolate ones but my child doesn’t care for the chocolate so those are not as fun either.  This year I decided to do something a little different and create my own. 

I knew I wanted to decorate my stairs with something different so the idea formed to make an advent calendar out of my stairs.  I started with a trip to my local dollar store and grab some ribbon, bow stickers and paper lunch bags.  While there, I also picked up art supplies and small little toys my child would love.  I was able to find a lot of books on sale for 25 cents at my local book fair and then grabbed a few candy bars for the grocery store to round off my creation.  I cut up the bags to make wrap each gift, thinking of the Christmas gifts on Little House on the Prairie being wrapped in paper.  I liked that better than the cartoon paper they sale nowadays.  Plus it was $1.00 for 100 bags…enough said.  After I wrapped each one I added the ribbon and bow and attached an ornament hook to the back of the package so I could let it hang off my garland.  It works great as long as your garland is tight on the rail.   Also be safe and do not put the hooks on your string of lights.  Not sure why, but the warning on the lights said not to. I need to work on my numbers but was running out of time and just used a sharpie to draw on them.  Next year, I will come up with something different, maybe glitter? 

I made the rule that my child can only open the gift after he has done his chores and homework for the night.  THIS is working great.  He loves searching through the gifts to find the number for the day.  The best part is, I was able to buy everything cheaper than what would have cost me to buy the boxed LEGO Advent Calendar.  Now that I know this is such a hit with my child, I will have all year to buy things to fill the bags.  I plan to dedicate a tote just for this that I will leave out in my closet, filled with lunch bags so I can just add a toy to the bags all year long.  It might even be fun to tape the bags up and be as surprised as your child opens them.

What would Christmas be without homemade ornaments?  My tree is filled with them and I wouldn’t have it any other way.  I think it makes a tree feel more part of the family then the Martha Stewart trees that always looks perfect.  So each year we add something new to the tree.
While putting the tree up this year, I let my child do must of the decorating.   He loves this part so I just sat back and watching mostly.  I even brought in a step stool so he could reach the top of the tree.  I keep thinking to myself that he is growing up so fast that I will not have much more of these moments before he is off making memories of his own.  As he brought out each ornament, he would ask a question about it or tell me something he remembered from years past.  I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed just something so small that still warms my heart to think about days later.

My sister always has an amazing tree and is a little crafty herself.  One year she had these tiny presents wrapped and used as ornaments.  I was shocked to find out she had wrapped empty cigarette boxes to make the ornaments.  The results were amazing and very pretty.  

A lot of people forget what Christmas is really about and focus mostly on monetary things.  I try not to let the season do this to me nor do I want my child to turn out this way.  It sucks sometimes when your child asks for a pricy toy that would break the budget and you have to make the choice between this one LARGE gift or more smaller items he asked for.  I’m lucky that I’ve taught my child that having the latest or best toy really isn’t what is important.  We talked about it and he was ok with not getting the latest gaming system and was equally excited about another toy 6x less then the gaming system.  I couldn’t have asked for a greater kid. 

My child is to young right now but another favorite tradition for me is volunteering.  I try to volunteer for our local food banks each year to help serve food to the homeless.  It’s always a humbling experience and I leave each time thanking God for the blessings he has given me and the opportunity to pay it forward in such a small way.  You don’t need to have lots of money to help others.  What most organizations need is just your time.

This year I was also asked to volunteer with the Classic Beauties and attend a gathering at the local Veteran’s Home.   Being a veteran myself, I jumped at the chance to attend this event and meet some of the guys that helped defend our country and make it safe and possible to have a Christmas this year.  These guys were amazing and I enjoyed hearing their stories and seeing pictures of their families.  I plan to add this to my volunteer services each year for as long as I’m able. 

Thanks for taking the time to peek into some of my traditions and I hope my ideas will inspire you to make your own and to live each Christmas as if it’s your last. 

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Polar Express In Real Life

File:Polar express.jpgWhen you think about trains the one that comes to my mind is the Polar Express.  In 2004 the children's movie was brought to the big screen putting every child's imagination to life.  The movie is based on a young boy who has his doubts if Santa is real.  One year on Christmas Eve, a magical train arrives and takes him on an adventure to the North Pole to meet Santa.  Although I'm really not a BIG fan of computer animated cartoons (I prefer the original), the movie weaved a wonderful tail of new friends and Santa magic along the way.

After the movie, cities started having their own "Polar Express" rides for the children.  I've been lucky enough to have taken my child on four Polar Express rides in his lifetime and I plan on doing them as long as I can squeeze it in before he gets to big to do it anymore.

Our first Polar Express trip was with the Cuyahoga Valley Railroad.  These tickets are so popular that they have to hold a lottery each year.  You must fill out your form of preferred days and send your money well in advance.  As the day gets closer the tickets will be mailed to you.  The night of the Polar Express ride, the children arrive in their PJ's and ride the train to the "North Pole."  Santa gets on and talks to each child on the ride back.  I thought this was a wonderful ride and planned on doing it every year but my plans changed and we moved out of state.

Our first Christmas in WV I spent searching for a Polar Express ride close to where we lived.  Jackpot!  I found one on the Durbin & Greenbrier Valley Railroad in Elkins, WV.  I ordered our tickets and went shopping for new PJ's.  It was a good drive from my house but there is a Holiday Inn next to the railroad so I booked us a room for the night and didn't feel like I needed to rush.  

We arrived at the station early and waited to board.  While we waited the Railroad had several people dressed as Elves and Candy Canes that entertained the children.  They also had a miniature train set and gift shop to look in while waiting for the conductor to call your car.  Ten minutes before boarding, I was surprised to see close to 20 Chefs, dressing in all white (even hats) marching toward the train and singing Christmas songs.  They looked so much like the Chef's in the book that the children LOVED this. 

Our seats were called and we boarded the train.  The conductor gave each of us a golden ticket and told us to hold on to them for later.  The train was old but a classic.  Instead of train chairs attached to the floor, this train had tables with four chairs lining each side of the walls.  Awaiting us on the table were cookies and a glass mug we got to take home as souvenirs.  They were even nice enough to have a throw-away cup tucked inside the mugs so we didn't have to carry dirty mugs home.  So very smart. 

As the train started moving we got to watch the houses pass by.  And since this is WV, we also got to see plenty of deer eating in fields and the children thought it was real reindeers.  Not long into the ride, the Chef's all piled into our car.  Music started and they began to sing and dance to Hot Hot Hot Chocolate.  This was an amazing surprise and I had a ball watching them.  After the finished they filled our cups with hot chocolate and moved on to the next car.  A few of the Chef's stayed behind and while we ate and drank, they read the Polar Express book to the children.  During the rest of the ride, we were entertained by the Conductor "stamping" our tickets and the hobo hiding from the Conductor.  

Out of nowhere, lights lite up the woods.  They had created the North Pole in the middle of the woods with buildings and thousands of lights.  Santa sat on his sled waving at the children.  There were lots of people dressed as elves standing beside him, waving at all the children on the train.  Santa boards the train and makes is way to each car and visits with each child.  He sits at the table and really talks to the kids, not in any rush to move on to the next one.  He then gifts each child with a bell from his sled.  This is the first gift of Christmas in the movie. 

After Santa moves on to the next car, the Chef's, hobo and conductor are at it again, keeping the children entertained on the ride home.  One year we made fake snow and the children got to have a snowball fight on the train.  They also pass a stocking around and lets you pull something out which tells if you have been naught or nice.  The children and mom's all got nice but the dad's seemed to all get naughty.  The Chef's also had jokes to tell and puppets to play with.  

The last two years, I've noticed a spike in ticket sales.  I've had to buy my tickets earlier and earlier each year.  I bought mine in June for November and they were almost sold out.  I guess the word has gotten out about what a great ride it is for the children and now everyone wants to do it.  I may have to start getting my tickets in January :-)


Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Yellow, Pink and Orange Bridal Shower

In 2012, I was asked to help with my nieces bridal shower.  She didn’t have a theme but really loved the colors yellow, pink and orange.  At first I found it hard really hard to come up with ideas without a theme but I worked my magic and was able to create a few really good ideas that made her shower special.

Guest Book:

Instead of doing the same old guest book, we came up with the idea of leaving envelopes and having each guest fill it out so my niece wouldn’t have to locate everyone’s address for the thank you cards.  I used a foam poster board and covered it with flowered gift wrap paper I found at the dollar store.  I then decorated it with their engagement picture and random pictures from their childhoods.  We also left the album filled with her engagement pictures for everyone to look at.

Advice Board:
I used another foam board with yellow gift wrap paper for the advice board.  I strung a string from to push pins and hung tiny clips with different color paper so the guests could fill out advice to the bride that should could put in her scrapbook.

For the games we played several but the best was when each table picked a “Bride” and made a wedding dress for them using only toilet paper.  It was so much fun and we had a lot of creative “dresses”.

Creating party favors is my favorite thing to do.  I LOVE the idea of coming up with something and creating it from scratch rather than paying the huge price tag on party stuff.  Plus, if you do it yourself then you can put that special added touch that makes it stand out at any party.  I went with the yellow theme for the favors because of its warm and bright color.  When I think of yellow the first thing that pops in my mind is honey.  I really wanted to create jars of honey but after pricing the jars and the honey, it did not fit into my budget.  My next idea was to use sticks of honey and the Meant to Bee Honey sticks was created.

I ordered 100 honey sticks from amazon, along with the cute yellow ribbon with the bees on it. I created the tag and used glue dots to put the two sticks together.  I then tied the ribbon around the sticks and through the tag.  
I also made He Popped The Question and She Said Yes Bags (pink bags in the background) and added a microwave bag of popcorn and white paper.  I also made smores on a stick and used orange chocolate with chocolate hearts.
Last was my oreo truffles.  Everyone LOVES these and they are so easy to make for any party.  I always have tiny favor boxes on hand that I pick up at Wal-mart (100 to a box) for favors.  I picked up yellow flowers from the dollar store and pulled them off the stems.  I used a hot glue gun and attached to the top of the boxes.  I then used yellow ribbon that I also got at the dollar store to wrap around the box and added a tag made with card stock.  I used a cupcake liner and then added a truffle to each box.  

For my first bridal shower, it was a huge success.  The food was awesome but created by someone else, which is why I don’t have that on this blog.    

Monday, November 18, 2013

Snowman Wine Glasses

With Christmas coming up, I saw this local class on painting snowman wine glasses and grabbed a friends and off we went.  In our town we have a place called Uncork and Create which allows you to bring an adult beverage, snacks and friends for a night of painting fun.  Normally it's a painting you can hang on your wall but this night we painted wine glasses.  

You walk into this room filled with wonderful art work and find long tables in the middle of the room.  Chairs, aprons and all your supplies laid out just waiting to be made into your masterpiece.  There is an instructor that will walk you through each step on how to make whatever the project is that night.  

My friend open her bottle of wine and served it up as the instructor began our steps.  We painted the white first using indoor craft paint.  This is only one coat and I used small circles to get the snowy winter look.  We then put our first coat of paint on the bottom.  I picked green and red to keep with the holiday spirit.  By then the white had dried and we put on the faces and moved on to the second coat on the stem.  After more wine and a few giggles we used our talents to add that special touch to make each one stand out.  I tried for snow flakes and small specs of snow.  I then added eye lashes for my girl and a bow tie for the boy.  After the last of the wine, they were complete.

The instructor gave us instructions for when we got home.  Once I got home, I set the oven to 350 degrees and put the glasses in the cold stove.  I set my timer for 30 minutes and went off to do something else.  Once the timer went off, I shut the oven off but left the glasses inside to cool.  After the glasses was cooled I hand washed them in hot soapy water and served them up with orange Kool-Aid for my kiddo and myself at dinner.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Ella's Paradise by A. Summberbell (Book Review)

I have been following Amanda's work since her first book, It Walked Among Us, and was excited to get my hands on Ella's Paradise. I purchased the hard back copy first but then grabbed the kindle version when she put it up for free just so I could have the extra copy to listen to while I worked.

Ella's Paradise, a treat for lovers of mystery/ghost stories, will have you wondering what will happen next with each page you turn. I'm a sucker for old houses and the history that follows them so this book had me interested from the beginning. The fact that it's around Halloween and the ghosts was an added bonus. Do not be discouraged by the number of pages listed. The paperback has close to 200 pages but the kindle only lists 152.

Leigh is a down on her luck woman who inherited her Uncles house (Ella's Paradise) after he mysteriously dies. Strange things start to happen pretty much as soon as Leigh moves in, from fresh flowers being left in the ballroom, to the sound of a giggling little girl echoing through the house in the middle of the night. With each new character brought into the book, Marin being my favorite, my mind was skipping ahead to see how this would change the story and what part they would each play in the end. Marin is Leigh's best friend and she had me cracking up. For example, "I prefer life among the living, thank you very much. That was beyond a close encounter, okay?" The book is a little slow at first as each new character is introduced but I promise the action picks up fast and you will not want to put it down until the end. The ending had a twist that I did not see coming and had me thinking how in the world did I miss this while reading. I found myself rereading the beginning that I thought was slow only to discover the hidden clues that were there for me to find.

This book gets five stars from me and I can't wait to read her next one. Amanda is going to be one of those writers I will be glad I've followed from the beginning.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Girls Night Out - Come Fly With Me (1940's Theme Party)

Every year an organization in my city called, Girls Night Out, puts on these amazing parties to raise funds to help fight domestic violence.  This unique idea was started by High Hopes Committee and initiated by Sandy Graff and Elsier Carter in the fall of 1998 and labeled it "Party with a Purpose."  This year was the 15th such party and I was lucky enough to attend.  Over the years these parties has raised over $1 million dollars to help the YWCA Resolve shelter and Hope House.  

This years theme, "Come Fly with Me," required all women to dress in the 1940/1950's.  My favorite part was the hair.  I LOVE the way the women used to wear their hair in the victory rolls.  Thanks to pinterest, I was able to find several ideas and instructions on how to do this.  I practiced several days before the party to make sure I knew how to do it.  The problem was that the party was on Thursday night.  I worked Thursday and only had two hours to get ready.  My rolls didn't turn out they way I would have liked but I still had fun trying.  Make-up was another issue.  I really don't wear much of it and I NEVER wear lipstick.  From my research bright red lipstick was what they ladies wore so that is what I went with to complete my face. 
I also had a lot of fun looking for the right dress.  It just so happened that JCPenney had their summer dresses on sale for $10 so I was able to pick up this really pretty bright dress.  I added some cheap pearls from Wal-Mart and a pair of tear drop red earrings my mother-in-law had given me years ago.  I knew that there would be a lot of walking and standing so I picked some well broken in black heels.  Nothing fancy there because I didn't want my feet to hurt all night.  I did see several ladies who changed into flip flops by the end of the night.  I kept thinking it would be great to have some of those cheap ones that salon give you to wear after you get your toes painted in our gift bags.  Maybe next year.

The set up was rather nice.  The party was in a hanger at the airport and we had shuttle buses that would take us right to the hanger.  As we exited the bus there was guys waiting with drinks for us.  I'm not much of a drinker but I did try it and then tossed it.  The hanger had this really awesome old airplane that was a great place to take some really nice pictures with your friends.  The tables was really pretty.  Although there was not enough seats for as many people that was there.  By the end of the night this became more and more noticeable as everyone's feet started hurting.   I really enjoyed the large screen that played old black and white movies all night.  That was fun to watch and fit the theme nicely.

The food was provided by several local venders.  Each vender had their own tent set up and lots of finger food.  This set up could have been better.  There was a different plate with each vender and it made it hard to eat your food when there wasn't enough tables.  It was also kind of sad that three venders brought the same food (pulled pork on mini buns).  The food did fill us up and my niece was able to try sushi for the first time (and hated it).
Overall, I had a great night.  Some spots were a little boring but I will be going again next year. I also had the winning bid for a vintage pin-up photoshoot that I'm really looking forward to.  It was also kind of fun to wake up and see your picture on the front page of the newspaper.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Despicable Me Minions Birthday Party

This year for my sons birthday, he wanted to do a Minion Birthday Party.  I was very excited because I LOVE these cute little yellow things and couldn't wait to get started.  The only problem was, I couldn't find ANYTHING for his party that didn't cost an arm and a leg.  I'd rather spend the money on gifts and location rather than party stuff that will only get tossed in the trash later.

Since the party was also a pool party, I used sand buckets and filled with different treats.  We than had hamburgers (I forgot to bring the hotdogs) and chips.  I also brought small snack bags and filled with the remainder fishy crackers, animal crackers and pretzels and added to the goody bags so nothing got tossed in the trash or brought home at the end of the party.

I was able to find the plastic party goodie bags at my local party store but the price tag was close to $4.00 for 8 and I really didn't like the look of them.  I decided to see what I could come up with at a cheaper cost.  I started by making a trip to my local Dollar Store.  There I found plan yellow gift bags 10 for $1.00.  Next I tried to find the eyes on the Internet but ran into the problem of how much it was going to cost just to download the template for the eyes.  I decided to create my own computer generated template. 
Here is a sheet of 10 different eyes you can use for your bags, cups or anything else you need. 
I printed them out on Avery 5163 Shipping Labels and than took the time to cut them out (which takes a while) and peeled and stuck to the bags.  I just created a template for the pants and then used a black sharpie to draw the pockets and things on blue card stock.  It was easy to just glue these to the bags.  I then used my sharpie to draw a mouth of different shapes and sizes.  My son wanted to help and added hair to the bags.  I had all the supplies on hand but the yellow bags, so 10 goody bags ended up costing me 10 cents each.

I also wanted to make little minions that could go into the goody bags.  I used the template for the eyes and then created the pants and made a sheet of labels that I could cut and add to the mini cakes. My trouble was finding cakes that didn't have writing on the package.  I had no luck there so I had to make do with what I could find.  I also put the leftovers inside the goody bags as well.

I had a hard time finding cake toppers.  I was lucky enough to find this cupcake cake at my Kroger's and then found all the characters at ToysRUs.  It turned out rather great since I had his birthday party at the water park and didn't have to worry about cutting a cake.  The kids just grab the cupcake they wanted without an adult having to cut and put on a plate for them.

All and all it was a great birthday.  Everyone had fun and enjoyed the party.  I hope my ideas and templates help you create something magical for your little ones.