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New Family Tradition: Jesse Tree

So, in years past, I have put together a fun Advent calendar for Kayne to make the countdown to Christmas meaningful and intentional. You can see some of our activities HERE and HERE. This year, I didn’t know if I’d be able to maintain that level of involvement with our big move and everything. We’ll still do a lot of those activities anyway, calendar or not. I was also thinking about how to make the countdown a bit more meaningful to the reason for the season.

So, I hopped on Etsy and typed in “Jesse Tree.” My final decision came down to this set of ornaments. I just LOVE them. They came all wrapped up in a burlap sack with a printed scripture guide.

We’ve been sitting down every night, reading the verses in the guide and discussing the themes. Then, my son will place the ornament on the tree wherever he wants.

I can’t wait to keep this tradition going. I’m thinking of buying the kids each their own set and tucking them away for when they move out of the house. I’m hoping that this is one of those traditions that they take with them for their own families and find comfort in the familiarity of the “back home” tradition.

Does your family do any sort of countdown to Christmas traditions? I love hearing stories about them!

Advent Calendar Ideas

When you’re an adult, most of the magic of Christmas is just a memory. Santa is a nostalgic part of your youth and it’s easy to become disgruntled about the commercialism of the season. But sometimes, you just want to reach back and grasp some of that sparkly Christmas dust and bring it back. I still love looking in windows at Christmas displays, peering at Christmas lights in passing, and I still love to hear the story of Jesus’ birth no matter how many times I’ve heard it before. Every year for the past 20-something years of my life, my grandpa would read the Bible story to us and relate it in some way to our lives in the current day. He took a fresh approach every year, so we always got something different out of it. When we were younger, we had to sit on our hands in anticipation of gift opening, but those memories are now the sweetest treasure. We lost grandma and grandpa pretty close together in the past couple of years. Last year was the final time we gathered as a big full family around grandma’s table. This year, that house where all the magic happened is completely renovated and up for sale and it hurts the heart of all their progeny. (Give your family extra long hugs this year, would you?)

It is time now, as parents, to create that magic for our own little family and begin traditions that will be carried on down the line. Perhaps one day the way we choose to celebrate will become one of our own unforgettable legacies. One of those traditions I hope to pass down is our version of the Advent calendar and some of the traditions that are created within that calendar (i.e. giving back, watching all the classic movies together) and celebrating Christmas for the whole month of December, building a climax to the actual holiday itself.

Here are the activities in our Advent calendar and a peek into our Christmas preparations:

Take a ride around town looking at Christmas lights
Rent Christmas books from the library and read together
Make Ninja Turtle ornaments (Inspired by these)
Festival of Lights
Send a letter to Santa
Make Christmas sugar cookies
Go buy a new Christmas CD/album
Eat dinner by candlelight
Have hot cocoa or cider together
Read the Christmas story in the Bible
Make a Gingerbread house
Make and hang coffee filter snowflakes
Bring hot cocoa (and money) to a bell ringer
Make reindeer food
Start embroidery project for grandmas (inspired by this)
Snowball Fight!!!!
Nighttime Christmas walk
Donut date
Think of a special gift for Jesus like the 3 kings
Make an angel tree topper (from here)
Play with Christmas cookie cutter and Play Doh

Here are some more ideas from two years ago when we did it!

Angel tree topper
Instead of a wishlist, my boy writes a love letter:)

Special North Pole mailbox

Kayne and Rayna with Santa

Cookies! We’re not fancy. Just gimme some frosting!

BLT’s by candlelight

Cutting down our own tree is a big tradition

Hot cocoa and Christmas movies

I used the printable paper from here and filled in our activities. Then wrapped them up, tied them with string, and put them in a simple Christmas box. Kayne just loves picking one out every day and looks forward to the simple ways that we’re building up to Christmas. Notice that these activities aren’t extravagant or extra time-consuming (I do have an infant at home!), but they are very meaningful and highly anticipated nonetheless. I hope you are inspired by this simple way of creating new traditions, gather together as a family, and create memories and perhaps even a legacy for your own children.

How are you celebrating this month?

Headaches and Christmas Trees and Shopping, Oh My!

These past four days off were such a thrill ride. I started with not feeling too well and ended up with some great memories.

My head felt weird on Thursday night and Friday. I even tried to run on my treadmill, and my brain felt like it was bouncing and made me kinda dizzy. I was having some anxiety about it, debating about visiting the walk-in or not, but sometimes a headache is just a headache. A few Tylenol later, and we were bowling at the local lanes. My FIL is in a bowling league, and we’ve had the pleasure to help him get his practice in. We’ve gone bowling probably 4 times in the last 3 weeks. Such a fun, active experience for the entire family.

Thursday was all about turkey, pecan pie and being thankful for our family. I hope yours was too!

Did you try my Burn the Bird challenge? This li’l workout burned me some 262 calories in just 18 minutes. And I had some achy muscles to contend with the next day. Hurt so good. And it hardly felt like 18 minutes!

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Friday, with a revisiting headache, I laid low, read through some of my South Beach Diet books and hung out with my nephews. My sister dropped them off amidst the Black Friday shopping so I could spend some quality time especially with the youngest one, who usually runs away from me. Without his mom there, I finally got some good solid snuggle time with him. I just love those boys!

Saturday, I had had it with sitting home, so Peanut called grandma up to see if she wanted to go shopping, because Hubster had put in two long days and he just wanted to relax. We hit the mall the day after Black Friday, and I have to say, it wasn’t that bad. Peanut was an angel child. We broke up bits of shopping with a Build-a-Bear run and a stop at the indoor play area. We just had such a good time. Knocked off some Christmas shopping and even made a refresh to momma’s wardrobe just a little.

Sunday, we made a trip to cut down our Christmas tree. The place we usually go to has gotten quite picked over in the last few years, but we managed to find this gem in the jumble of half-dying, balding and Charlie Brown trees. The experience is always complete with a tractor ride and apple cider and popcorn afterward. We took my FIL along for the trip too. The weather was perfect for tree-cutting. Some years we have to trudge through a foot of snow and face sub-zero temps. This year, it was mild and snow-less. Perfect!

On our way home, I saw some odd things in people’s yards. Don’t know if I just never paid attention before, but only in Wisconsin… Remember those old Burger King playgrounds with the hamburger jailhouse? Totally saw one in someone’s yard. Hubster thought I was crazy to want to stop, so I don’t have pictures, but I totally remember hiding in these back when I could fit, circa the 1980s. Such great memories!

Another yard had an actual Ferris Wheel in it! Again, asking Hubster to pull over was futile, but I’ll get that picture someday. I mean, a Ferris Wheel! That’s like a grown-up kid’s dream backyard right? Cue Phineas and Ferb music. Haha!
What a fun few days off!
I have a longer stretch of days off coming up real soon that I’m really excited about planning, the days around Christmas. I’m going to start my to-do list now, so that I’ll be prepared and ready to take on new projects and memories when the 23rd rolls around. Right now, I’m dreaming up Advent calendar activities. I realize it’s already December 2, so I need to get on that already. We might have a 15-day countdown to Christmas instead of the standard 25, but that’s ok with me:)
What are you planning to do on your holiday vacation?

A Quick Christmas Peek

We indulged in way too much food (with NO guilt involved), ripped through a living room full of gifts, celebrated the birth of Christ, surrounded ourselves with family and cherished every minute of it.

On a funnier note, there seemed to be some epic snowman-making in a small nearby town (Omro, WI) where we visited family. OMG!!! Check out these pictures. The epic snowmen are bigger than the houses that stand behind them! One snowman has hubcaps for buttons. These totally made my day!

Hope you’re having a fabulous Christmas!

Advent Activities: Done!

The days leading up to Christmas have been filled with activity, generosity, creativity, meditation and anticipation. With the creation of our family’s Advent calendar, I made sure we had plenty of meaningful activities to do up until today, Christmas Eve.

I served up tea for two, because my Peanut happens to love tea:

Tea for Two

We visited Santa Claus and told him what we wanted for Christmas (Spiderman gloves:)

We wrote a letter to Santa and sent it. We even braved the mall just to get to the official Macy’s mailbox.

Peanut excavated (from the attic) and decorated his very own Christmas tree in his own room.
 We cut down a real tree for our living room, a regular family tradition.
We even decorated an outdoor tree for the birds:


We went out looking at Christmas lights.

We made traditional paper chain link garland:
Paper Chain for Christmas

And so many more things this Christmas season. We accomplished everything listed in our Advent calendar and then some…

We are all ready for Santa tonight. And right now we’re getting ready for my favorite thing of the entire year: the candlelit Christmas service at church.

From our family to yours–have an extra-special, warm and fulfilling Merry Christmas!!!

DIY Spray-Painted Christmas Pinecones

This year, while getting into Christmas spirit mode, I decided that instead of making paper chain links with my son, we would make something that was a little more “grown up” and suitably matched to the rest of our holiday decor. Not that there’s anything wrong with paper links; we just wanted something a little different but equally budget-friendly. Thus, the spray-pained pinecone project was born.

First, we grabbed a bottle of gold spray paint at the hardware store.

Scavenging for pinecones was another story in itself. It was not as easy as it seems, unless you know for sure where a pinecone tree is in your neighborhood or if you can easily identify that type of tree like a true naturalist. I couldn’t do either. Peanut and I went to one park that was a complete bust. We found one lone pine tree in the acres that we scoured, and that tree didn’t yield pinecones.

I decided to try one last spot just before giving up. We drove through our county park, and just as we turned a bend, I spotted a litter of pinecones below a small stand of pine trees. Peanut got excited about the find, especially since there was a playground behind the trees.

We gathered a whole tote-load. I tried to grab pinecones that looked pretty similar instead of a hodge podge.

Feel free to run after the geese and play on the trees and other natural fixtures while you’re there. It just makes it that much more fun.

Once at home, we laid the pinecones out on cardboard. While Peanut was busy playing, I gave each pinecone several layers on gold paint (it’s an adult job after all). He came back intermittently to check on the progress and give me a few encouraging “these are beautifuls.” The effect of gold spray paint on pinecones is indeed beautiful.

After the paint dried, I tied each pinecone with some matching gold ribbon that was left over from my wedding pew decorations (7 years ago!!!). Then, I let the decorating instinct kick in.

Some pinecones ended up on a cake stand that now holds our Nativity scene.

Some pinecones were strung through Christmas-y string to create a beautiful garland. Some were hung from a braided garland I made last year, giving it a refreshing new purpose and look.

It’s fun to take some simple spray-painted pinecones and turn them into a house-full of coordinating decorations.

What are your ideas for spray-painted pinecones?

The Birds Need A Christmas Tree Too!

One of our advent activities this month was to decorate a tree outside for the birds squirrels. After we found, cut down, and decorated our family indoor tree, we thought it would be fun to make one for our neighborhood critters too.

I had some pinecones leftover from a pinecone project I’ll be posting about soon. We decided to coat each pinecone in peanut butter and roll it through bird seed.

Pinecone bird feeder

Grandma also helped Peanut make a popcorn garland earlier in the day to up the festive factor. We hung the bird feeders and popcorn garland on a small, reachable tree in the backyard.

Pinecone Bird Seed

Later the next day, daddy watched a squirrel cut through the ribbon with his teeth and haul off a pinecone bigger than his head. That little bugger. I wish I had a picture! Watching how the pinecone treats were being consumed through the window made for a good laugh, a good story and a good feeling.


I hope to continue these decorating antics every year at Christmas. I’m pretty sure decorating an outdoor tree is going to become a family tradition we stick to as closely as we do our visit to the tree farm for our indoor tree. It’s so much fun! A simple way to bring a little extra brightness to these regular days as we continue counting down to Christmas. Plus, the whole experience made for some pretty special family time.

Any tips on how to feed a little more bird, a little less squirrel?

DIY Advent Calendar Ideas

I love the idea of Advent calendars because they present a way of bringing Christmas to the entire month of December. The anticipation that accompanies the countdown is unmatched–especially for a little boy at age 4. Typically, we mark X’s on calendars when we’re counting down the days to things like vacations and hunting season. For Christmas though, an Advent calendar does the counting for us, with plenty of fun and deliciousness built in.


Done a little differently, Advent calendars can also serve as an intentional way to make family time a priority. This year, we devised little activities or treats we could enjoy as a family. This way, every day in December produces the chance to make meaningful memories. Not only that, but we’re also generating new yearly family traditions (decorating a tree for the birds, picking out a new Christmas album, etc).


Our simple advent calendar was made with supplies from the Dollar Store or craft store. My Peanut and I simply went to town painting an $0.89 art canvas with acrylic paints I already had around the house.


Then, I cut 25 change rolls in half and arranged them in a Christmas tree shape.



We glued the rolls to the canvas and voila!


I printed a list of activities on a standard sheet of paper, cut them out, rolled them up, and put one in each roll. These are the activities we have been/are enjoying this December. Wouldn’t it be fantastic to make one of these for every month of the year just to make each day of the year a little extra special?

  • Downtown Art Walk: Morgan House, carriage rides (December 1, 6-9)
  • Enjoy a warm cup of apple cinnamon tea
  • Take a ride and look at Christmas lights
  • Rent Christmas music/books from the library
  • Go to the Dollar Store to pick up a new ornament
  • Play in the snow with hot chocolate after
  • Festival of Lights (December 4)
  • Take a walk around the neighborhood to look at Christmas décor
  • Put up lights/Santa stuff outside our house
  • Write a letter to Santa and send it
  • Visit Santa and tell him what you want for Christmas (Dec 8)
  • Decorate a Christmas tree outside for the birds
  • Make a new Christmas wreath together
  • Watch a Christmas movie together
  • Make/Decorate Christmas cookies
  • $1
  • $1
  • $1
  • Read the Christmas story in the Bible
  • Go buy a new Christmas CD/record
  • Donut Date
  • Find a special gift we can give to baby Jesus like the three kings did.
  • Camp out under the Christmas tree
  • Make hot chocolate (from scratch?)
  • Snowball fight!!!

Some of these activities had to be strategically placed on certain days when community events are happening. Due to the time involved and weekday constraints, some had to be relegated to the weekends (camp-outs, etc). As much as we love Santa, we tried to incorporate the real reason for the season as much as possible, such as renting Nativity books from the library and pointing out all the manger scenes among the decorated houses.


We have also been enjoying a piece of chocolate out of this good ol’ traditional Advent calendar.

How are you preparing for Christmas? Do you have any interesting Christmas traditions?

How to Spend my Christmas Money

So, I am notorious for holding onto chunks of change until I find something I absolutely adore. There are no holes burning in my pockets like there was in my husband’s. His Christmas money is long gone, spent mostly on the magnetic force that is his appetite. I joked that he’d have his money gone by Tuesday, following Christmas, and mine would be gone by June. Anyhow, here are a few things that are stealing my thoughts lately and will perhaps be the means to the end of my small Christmas stash (because I guess you’re never too old to get Christmas checks):

1. The Crosley Lancaster: I haven’t owned a record player since college when one of my friends decided to borrow my thrifted find and returned it in “not working” condition. But instead of updating my vinyl collection, I decided I just couldn’t part with them and must.find.record.player. This particular record player has a CD player and radio built in. Best of the old and the new. I have a feeling that when I pull off the bubble wrap and test out the fresh needle, my level of inspiration will skyrocket. This is an investment in my productivity people!

2. Washi tape: I am an improviser the the nth degree, but you can’t really improvise on pretty tape, right? This will get used for all sorts of projects from art journaling to banner-making and other pretties.
3. Speaking of art journaling, my first $30 was spent without blinking an eye on Elsie Larson and Rachel Denbow’s Art Journal All Year e-course. That was literally a no-brainer. No thought whatsoever. My fingers did the walking before my brain even had time to process it. I never make impulse buys, so that must tell you something… I might consider buying another e-course from Red Velvet as well.
4. Feist CD: Every Pandora station I tune into comes around to her in one way or another. What can I say? Love it!

I have already spent a few bucks here and there one treats for my husband, a trip to the thrift store and a trip to Office Max to get a fresh new sketchbook for the art journaling challenge (which I will offer a sneak peek in a future post:) Oh, and I bought my boy some requested fine-point pens for his second semester of college. I am so proud, I don’t even know how to fully express it!!!

Christmas Tradition Ideas From Our Home

This year, we started what we hope to become some new Christmas traditions with our son. Of course, cutting down a real tree has always been one of them.

But here are a few more that we added to the repertoire this year:

Washing dishes by the light of Christmas lights strung over the window:

Singing Silent Night at the candlelight service is also one of my all-time favorite Christmas traditions. Following church, we thought it would be so much fun to throw mattresses on the floor and have one big family sleepover on Christmas Eve, with an over-the-top pancake breakfast in the morning. (Hint: try egg nog instead of milk in your favorite pancake recipe-yummo!). Aren’t we cute?

My all-time best Christmas memories revolve around huge family get-togethers at my grandparent’s house with a huge feast and gift-opening frenzy. But the most cherished moments center around an entire extended family listening intently to my grandpa as he spoke about the First Christmas and the real meaning behind the holiday.

What are your favorite traditions and memories?