Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Advent Calendar

This time last year I was on maternity leave with Dustin.  I wanted to do something special with the kids to countdown the days until Christmas.  So after pinning many ideas I settled on an advent calendar filled with festive activities and special treats.  It was so much fun!

I mention that I was on maternity leave because that is how I had the time to do all these activities.  As I prepare to do the same thing this advent season I just can't help be slightly disappointed that I am now working 40 hours a week instead of having 40 hours a week to dedicate to Christmas crafts and activities.  I have a feeling this year's advent calendar is going to be scaled back significantly.  

Anyway, as I prepare for this year's advent calendar I had to go back and refresh my memory on all the things I did last year.  So here is it:

First the advent calendar. I bought an old wooden frame at a local thrift shop.  I wrapped cardboard with Christmas paper and strung twine across it.  Then I hung 24 squares using mini clothespins.  On the back I placed the activities of the day.  This is something I'll do differently this year.  I spent a lot of time planning the 24 activities but things would come up and I'd have to change things around.  This year I think I'll just plan a few days ahead.

Here was the 24 activities we did:

1.  Make hand print ornaments.

The original pin I found is not working anymore but if you search for salt dough Santa recipes there are many options. 

2.  Write a Letter to Santa

3.  Go to the "Old Time Fiddling Show"

4.  Make Cinnamon Ornaments
 Click here for the recipe I used. 

5.  Bake Christmas cookies

6.   Set-Up Nativity scenes

We set-up two Nativity scenes at Christmas.  One is the Fisher Price Little People one which I bought for Emma her second Christmas.  The other was handmade by my Aunt Margie. It has so much sentimental value for me as my mom has one identical to it.  I even had a friend build the barn which also matches what my mom has. 

7.  Do Hand/Footprint Crafts

8.  Collect items for the foodbank
9.  Watch a Christmas show with treats
10.  Make gingerbread houses (planned by local play group)
11.   Open special gift (Christmas books)
12.   Make special hot chocolate treat just for you

13.  Pick out Christmas tree
14.  Go to special Christmas brunch (planned by local play group)
15.  Decorate Christmas tree
16.  Help Mommy wrap gifts
17.  Drive around and look at Christmas lights
18.  Decorate Christmas candy trees
Love this idea of using waffle cones for decorating Christmas trees.  So much easier than gingerbread houses.
19.  Have a picnic in front of Christmas tree
20.  Make Christmas crafts
21.  Have dinner by candlelight
22.  Open special gift (new Christmas socks)
23.  Breakfast for dinner (special pancakes)

24.  Open One Gift (Christmas Eve Gift)
This was always a highlight for me when I was a child - getting to open a special gift on Christmas Eve.  I usually give the kids pajamas, a new book/toy and a special treat. 
I loved doing these 24 days of special activities with the kids.  Some days were easy-some days I cursed myself for starting it.  But the kids (especially Emma as Dustin was really too young to notice) I know really enjoyed it.  I've been thinking about all the activities for this year's advent and can't wait to get started (I better get on that...December 1st is on Sunday!).


Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Emma's Woodland Party

Planning for Emma's 4th Birthday party actually began when we were at a friend's baby shower.  The theme was woodland/forest and I was looking at all the cute decorations and thought this would be perfect for Emma's birthday. So I approached the host, we made a deal for me to purchase the decorations and I began pinning party ideas that were related to children's woodland birthday parties.

First up - party invitations.  Can't believe I have not figured this out earlier...invitations on Etsy!  So glad the host of the baby shower mentioned it to me. You pick the one you like, place your order, they e-mail you the digital copy, and you print at home.  All for a very reasonable price.  Here was Emma's by Printable Candee Designs.
I think I could write a whole other blog post on the discussions around the "invite list".  This was our first birthday party with Emma's friends from school.  Every time we sat down to compile our list Emma wanted to invite everyone plus we had our neighborhood and daycare friends.  But my sister reminded me many times during this process "it's her 4th birthday, not her wedding!".   So we got the list narrowed down and the invites went out.

Next came the decorations.  I was more than excited to be reusing decorations from the baby shower including the banner that I just put new letters on.

These were cute little stickers I found on sale at Michael's.  Emma and I picked pine cones in the backyard and I used them as place markers at the lunch table.  

For Dustin's First Birthday Party I had planned some children's games for the older kids in attendance.  They were somewhat of a disaster so I was a little nervous to plan some for Emma's party.  I'm certain the kids would have been happier to spend time on our play structure but I organized everybody (including some parents who were very good sports!) to go on a nature walk.  Emma kept saying her favorite part was the nature walk so I hope the kids enjoyed it! The nature walk ended with painting bird houses and a little pin the eyes on the owl. 

The menu consisted of mushrooms made from mozzarella cheese and tomatoes, Snail tails (ham and cheese wraps), ants on a log (celery, PB and raisins), sticks (pretzels), pumpkins (clementines with a celery stem), grapes on a stick and rabbit food (veggies).

We'd already had two birthday cakes so this party got owl cupcakes.

And as always I struggled with the treat bags.  I wanted to keep with the theme but couldn't find everything I wanted.  I'm also aware of the fact that I need to practice what I preach thus try not to fill the bags with things that will just end up in the garbage.  So the kids received a small bag they could decorate with markers, a juice box, coupons for a free treat at Wendy's, a pencil/eraser, their painted bird house and then bird seed molds that I made using this recipe.  I found I had to add a little more bird seed than what the recipe called for and I greased the inside of my cookie cutter with some lard but other than that they worked perfect.
As I mentioned, my sister gave me a lot of grief (all in fun) about this being a birthday party, not a wedding.  But I get a lot of joy from planning, preparing and throwing a party and I know I must have done something right when Emma is still talking about the nature walk four days after her party.

And of course, no party would be a success without the help from my fantastic family and friends (and parents who stayed for the chaos!) - everything was covered-crafts, food, and clean-up.  Thanks for all your help and generous gifts for Emma!  We are so grateful for the love you surround us with everyday!