Thursday, December 29, 2011

Our Holly Jolly Christmas!

We actually went to see Santa on the 15th, but I believe I forgot to post that photo. Here it is :)

Christmas Eve!

We only took video of C opening presents at home. But after that we spent the morning with J's family.
C got a leotard/tutu and ballet slippers from Nennie!

We headed to my parents' house around 3 to get dinner ready. Since my mom was at the hospital all day she wasn't home to prep a big traditional dinner. J and I had picked up crab cakes from our favorite place and some filet mignon for the non-seafooders among us so we got the food going while everyone else was on their way. The dinner was pretty spectacular (if I may say that about my own cooking) and I guess I was too busy enjoying it to take any pictures! After dinner we got right down to present-opening. We always have the kids dig right in and then let them play with their new stuff while the big kids adults open their gifts. 

Modeling her cousin's new hat- which just happened to match her outfit perfectly.

She was in heaven surrounded by gift bags. As soon as one was empty she took off with it on her arm.

Nana gave her a play shopping bag complete with toy food inside.

Amid a sea of toys, she's playing drums on a little metal box. Of course.

It wouldn't be Christmas (or any gathering with my family for that matter) without my brother harassing  someone...

We've spent the days since then trying to get everything unpacked, put in a place, laundered if applicable, and of course weeding out some older, less-used items for donation. Honestly, I think I enjoy watching our donation pile grow just as much as I enjoy getting/using new things. I've eliminated the need for an entire shelving unit in the play room, and that's after Christmas gifts. We know we plan to have more children, so not everything less-used gets donated. Some things are also being packed up for babies of the future.

Between the new goodies J and I were gifted and the many things we are constantly clearing out of the house, we're setting up for some fun projects in 2012. The biggest of which will be an almost complete kitchen overhaul! More on that in another post, though :)

Here's hoping your Christmas was as fantastic as ours! Stay tuned for a look back at our 2011 and a look ahead into our plans for 2012.

Friday, December 23, 2011

The Last Bit of Holiday Craftiness

Here's the last installment of my DIY holiday stuff for this year! Can you believe it's Christmas eve EVE?!

Cranberry Topiaries = fail.
Sadly, these were a failure. They may have worked out if I had given them a few tweeks, but by the time I had searched and found all the supplies I was not interested in going back to the drawing board to make design adjustments.

So, I started with the base. I just use floral foam trimmed-to-shape and stuffed it into the little pot. 

 Then I sat and trimmed all these little berries (this is actually only half of them) off of their twigs. 

After being trimmed they had this nice little stem that I used to poke them straight into the styrofoam ball. I loved that no glue was necessary... so I thought.

Not only did it look like this with all those big gaps between the berries,

but not all of the berries had nice long stems. You can guess what happened to the ones with short stems. If you looked at them funny they fell out.

So instead of cranberry topiaries, we have cranberries in a jar on the end table. Who knows, maybe I'll do something different with them next year, but at this point in the season that's where they're staying.

I might have been able to solve the issue of the gaps by painting the styrofoam ball a color other than white that would be less noticeable through the gaps. But that would require buying a whole thing of paint when I only really need enough to cover a styrofoam ball. And then what am I doing with the rest of that paint? It would be no good by the time I ever needed it for something again. Sounds like a waste of money to me.

Moving along, I made a "Pinspired" (Pinterest-inspired, get it? haha) gift for some friends of ours.
 Inexpensive bag of coffee beans + jars + small pillar candles + ribbon
Affordable, adorable. Everybody wins!

And, I made some really easy play dough for my nephews and niece.
2 cups of baking soda (that's one small box, in case you were wondering)
1.5 cups of water
1 cup of corn starch
Just mix together in a sauce pan and boil (stirring constantly) until doughy. I let it cool and then worked in some food coloring. If you wanted it all the same color then I guess you could put the food coloring in while it's cooking. The consistency is really nice and it makes about 4 softballs worth of play dough. 

Last but not least, and while not super crafty, I also got this idea from Pinterest. Rather than searching for a wrapping paper that I think is sufficiently stylish and cute (and therefore expensive), this year I simply bought a roll of brown postal wrapping paper. Yes, it looks just like a cardboard box. However, I once again utilized my wintry paper (also seen here) and monogrammed each box. It's simple, but still cute and personal.

I know what you're thinking, there are some projects I spoke of a while back that have not been worked on. This is true. And that's because I wanted to work on things that had to be done before Christmas first. The few that are left include- knitted pillow covers, a new wet bag for our cloth diapers, and whatever I was going to do with that purse. Don't worry, they're still on my list!

So there it is. Christmas projects complete. Stockings are hung. Gifts are wrapped. All that's left is to wait for the big day! We are really excited around here since our bebe is older this year (20 months tomorrow!) and we know she is going to be excited about her gifts. Christmas becomes a completely different holiday at that point. I don't think I've ever been more excited for Christmas morning than I am this year!  I'll be sure to return with lots of pictures to share. Until then, Merry Christmas to all!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Checking In

Just letting you know that I haven't retired from blogging without notice or anything scary like that! It's just that time of year, yknow? Last weekend was nuts. We helped my brother move into his very first home with his lovely wife and 8 week old baby! That's right. It was quite a day. Sunday was my mother-in-law's birthday so we celebrated with J's family for the day. And this week so far... do I even need to say it? I'm working hard on my to-do list. This is it, the home-stretch! As the Christmas countdown dropped into single digits, time spent in the workshop had to kick into high gear. Last night we had our annual "present wrapping party" where J and I pull out all of our gifts and wrap them together while listening to Christmas music. I love it. It makes the task of present-wrapping that much more enjoyable. Anyway, I do actually have some more projects to share- both failed and successful, haha! And of course, I'll share some of the things I hand-made for Christmas gifts this year. So check back to see those things. Meanwhile, I need to get back into the workshop (and you probably do too). The nap time clock is a-ticking!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

12 Days 'Til Christmas!

Ordinarily at this point in the holiday season I'm beginning to stress out. Shopping, wrapping, decorating, budgeting... not to mention regular life must go on. House still needs to be cleaned, baby still needs attention, groceries aren't going to buy themselves or whip themselves up into nutritious meals. This season, however, I would say on the Official Stress Scale of 1-10, my stress is at about a 3 (my nurse friends/family are loving that I just made that up). Regular daily life could have me above that at times, so for 12 days away from Christmas, I feel like I'm doing really well.

I was thinking about this fact and wondering what has made the difference for me this year. A few things came to mind...

1. No Budget Worries.
For years now I've had an automatic savings account transfer money every pay day into an account that's just for Christmas. I dip into it occasionally during the year if we have a lot of weddings hit one summer or something like that. But it's healthy enough that my holiday season isn't compromised as a result of those incidences. I have no idea how I would Christmas shop if not for that account. When the end of November approaches, I transfer it into our regular checking account and put it on a gift card so our joint account doesn't give away where we're shopping. So while this isn't something different I've done this year, it's something that makes a huge difference in my holiday stress.

2. Shop early.
This year I did 80% of my shopping on Black Friday online. Yes, I realize you can get better online deals by waiting for Cyber Monday, but I honestly worry about things being out of stock after Black Friday. However, instead of "shopping" on Black Friday, I spent the month of November loading up my carts on sites I knew I would be buying a lot from like and This way I had everything in the cart and just needed to sign in and click "checkout." I still got things on sale and was able to score every item I wanted. I've never planned gifts and pre-loaded my carts before but it was so nice to be able to shop casually and just drop things into the cart for later. I will definitely be using that method again in the future.

3. Keep it organized.
I'm generally an organized person so this isn't totally brand new either. I always make a list of people I need to shop for and jot down gift ideas and a general budget. I have a lot of people to shop for though, and it's easy to lose track of a few extra dollars here and there. So this year I took it to a new level and designed a full spreadsheet. Not only does it track the people I need to shop for, but their gifts, my budget for each individual, the actual cost of their gifts (and total cost if they got multiples.. luck them!), how much over or under budget I am on each person and overall, my total spending, how much is left total in the budget, and last but not least... the ideal type of wrapping for each gift! Oh. Man. It has been so helpful. I was able to go $26 over budget on one person and still remain $11 under total budget! I'd never know my budget to the penny like that if not for my spreadsheet. I think there may even be some money in there I can spend on the dog!

4. Keep it simple.
In the past I've been one to search the world over for a "perfect" gift. I love giving gifts, especially if they knock your socks off. But this year I let that go in favor of simplicity and practicality. I've always been a believer in Amazon wish lists. If someone has one, I use it. While I used to stress over choosing the coolest thing on the list, this year I tried to think of what items would make peoples' lives easier. If they picked the stuff out, that means they WANT it, right? You can't go wrong, and it means less time I spend hunting for a "perfect" item.  I've also tried to focus on giving the kinds of gifts I'd want to receive. Practical, useful, meaningful, beautiful. Last year I made a lot of Christmas gifts. It was fun but time consuming. This year I've done a combination of shopping and making. Pinterest has been a fun resource. I've seen lots of ideas on there that I've been able to easily modify for adorable, useful gifts. Those are usually the ones that are most budget friendly too which is a win-win. I like that I can put something together in 15 minutes for around $15 that is still something I'd be delighted to receive. Even if I'm shopping instead of making a gift, keeping it to practical items makes shopping so much easier. A cozy throw blanket, some gourmet/homemade goodies, a pretty frame, tickets to a museum or event, or a delicious bottle of wine. Who wouldn't love those things? Your friend may not fall off her chair with excitement when she opens your homemade cocoa mix and hand-dipped chocolate pretzels, but the gift is sweet and heart-warming, and isn't that the point? Gadgets, schmadgets.

5. Enjoy.
The holidays really are about being with those you love. We all get caught up in the ritual of it from time to time and think that the food, gifts, wrapping, and party all have to be picture perfect. This year my step-dad, who has come through an intense round of chemo and radiation to treat cancer of his esophagus, will be having surgery on December 22nd to remove his entire esophagus. The chemo and radiation were very successful, but surgery is the standard next step for this type of cancer. Needless to say, our holiday celebration is going to be a little different than usual, and up until very recently, we had no idea what it would be like. Normally my mom spends the whole day preparing a traditional Christmas dinner. This year she'll be at the hospital most of the day and then come home for dinner and gifts with us. Now that his surgery date is official, we've decided to all pitch in to make a simple dinner at my mom's house, and then we'll exchange gifts as usual. So things are going to be different, but it's not about what we're eating, or who prepared it, or even where we celebrate since we were prepared to be in a hospital waiting room if necessary. We're just going to enjoy being together on Christmas.

Do you have any tips and tricks for keeping your holidays stress-free? Are you having an unconventional holiday celebration? Do share! You're not alone :)

Monday, December 12, 2011

All Good Things Must Come to an End

After almost 2 and a half years, we officially no longer have a roommate. Aunt Jennie, a.k.a. Nennie has finished graduate school, gotten engaged, and moved back to her parents' house which is closer to her work and fiance. We're sad that she won't be around for all the fun little traditions we've developed over the last 2.5 years, but so happy for her and all of the exciting things she has going on in her life these days. Luckily, as a nurse she'll have a few days off during the week, and we're pretty free during the week ourselves so there will be lots of coffee/lunch/play dates in our future. Since Nennie truly was a third parent to our little C, it's especially important that they get to see lots of each other. Though it was hard enough for us grown ups to part, I am eternally thankful that C is not big enough to have understood Nennie moving out of our house. I'm pretty sure we would have all just died, or Nennie would have had to live here forever if we'd had a scene anything like this one.

If you watched that video and are still able to read through your misty eyes, we have discovered the silver lining to this whole thing. C now has her own bathroom so we're no longer working around baby bath-time paraphernalia in our bathroom which suddenly seems considerably more spacious. Additionally, we now have another decently sized closet in which to store things. We intend to use it for all the baby gear that we no longer use, but need to keep for future babies. Those items are currently cluttering our basement, and let's face it, nothing assists a de-cluttering effort like a whole new closet in the house.

Overall, we feel like there are definitely more positives to this scenario than negatives. We'll miss Nennie living with us, but we'll just be that much more excited when we see her!