Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Free or Thrifty Christmas Activities

It seems like Christmas Activities came upon us quickly this year!  I was sort of scrambling to figure out things that needed to be done early in the month--like the advent calendar and our Christmas Calendar--to make sure we didn't leave out any of our favorite traditions.  If you're feeling the same way, I wanted to throw a list of funtivities out there so you can jump on the sleigh!

1.  Every year we make a special December Christmas Calendar.  We throw all of our Christmas Traditions on it.  This year I stuck it on the refrigerator so that the kids could see what's going on (it also reinforces days/month/weeks/dates that we're working on for homeschooling) and an added benefit is that it keeps the front of my refrigerator tidier!

2.  Spend an evening making a special trip to the store as a family to buy a popcorn tin.  Watch a little Christmas show, listen to Christmas music, or write Christmas cards as you snack on popcorn.

If you don't want to spend $5-6 to buy one, make some of your own Hint of Cinnamon Kettle Corn and throw it in a tin or container you already have.  Dollar Tree would probably have a cute container, too!  This way you can participate in a fun tradition without spending extra.

3.  If you enjoy the religious side of Christmas, find a live nativity, or find a church choir performance.  Many of these activities are free.

4.  Go for a drive or walk to see Christmas lights.  Make hot cocoa and cookies when you get home.

5.  Invite friends over to sing carols and have dessert.  This is one of my favorite traditions!  We always had a LOT of Christmas music going as a kid.

6.  Listen to the Christmas channel on Pandora.com. It's free, and there is a lot of great Christmas music to be heard!

7.  Set up your advent calendar.  It's ok if it's December 3rd.  Everyone will still enjoy it.  Fill it with something inexpensive like jellybeans if you're on a tight budget, or fill it with activities, like, "Make Cookies", or "Sing Jingle Bells", or "Make a Christmas Card".  It can be fun and free or inexpensive.

8.  Watch the Reindeer Cam!!  My kids get a total kick out of this.  It's just a video feed of a couple of Santa's reindeer.  Santa appears at specific times (see the website for details).  He juggles, "Ho, Ho, Hos", opens mail, feeds the deer, etc..  It's great!

9.  Make your own Christmas cards.  I usually get free or inexpensive cards on clearance.  This Christmas I'm going to give them some markers and let the kids have at the box that I picked up cheap last year.

10.  Has anyone ever sent you an Elf Yourself?  Why not join in the fun???  You could even make it your virtual Christmas Card and save on stamps.

11.  If you're looking for some fun crafts to do with kids, or adding to your home school curriculum, here is a free Christmas Printable I found.  There are a ton out there!  You just have to look around.

12.  Today I will be cutting out some circles with my Cricut.  I'd had an idea to make a "Kindness Tree", sort of the way we made our Thankful Tree, but I didn't want it to distract from the Christmas Calendar.  So I'll be cutting out the circles, we'll write an act of kindness that we've done or that somebody else has done for us throughout the day, and on Christmas, we'll read all of those things.  I already see teeny tiny hints our family moving into the secular parts of Christmas, and I want to make sure our focus stays where we want it.  I think this will help.

13.  Make goodies for neighbors and friends!  There are lots of goodies that can be made for a great price.  Take the opportunity to get to know your neighbors or coworkers a little better.

14.  Put Christmas books under the Christmas tree until presents arrive.  They look nice, and your kids will enjoy pulling them out and having you read the books to them!

15.  Have a Special Night.  My husband's family always had a night where they would turn off all of the lights/electricity, light candles, and have some foods that Mary and Joseph would have eaten (olives, grape juice, cheese, nuts, figs--or fig newtons--etc.), look at pictures and read scriptures of their journey.  The family would then go to sleep by candlelight.  It is one of my favorite traditions that we have kept in our family.  It feels so good in our home on Special Night.  It's so quiet and reverent.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Ways I Saved

It feels like I haven't blogged in so long!  We had a wonderful Thanksgiving break, I hope you had one too, and now we're ready for Christmas.

We had our Pilgrim's Feast for school lunch on Tuesday (pictured above).  My husband came home from work that day and was able to participate.  It was just wonderful!  The kids really enjoyed it.  I used almost everything that I had on hand.  We just had to purchase some dried cranberries, which I needed for Thanksgiving dinner anyway.  We'll definitely be doing this again.  We'll just use classier plates next time instead of clearance Halloween paper plates  :)

I made bread, cookies, burritos and Thanksgiving dinner, all earlier in the week.  After that, I basically quit cooking and we've been eating leftovers or quick meals.  I'll be making something nicer for dinner tonight!  :)

I ordered my husband's Christmas gift on Amazon on Black Friday.  I'm not sure if it was a Black Friday sale, but it was a steep discount, and they had a $20.00$100.00 purchase from this brand.  This being an investment sort of gift, I decided to get the upgraded version with the coupon instead of getting the one I had originally planned on and going under budget.  I think it'll be more versatile and last longer.  I was happy with the purchase!

Two other women and I are in charge of the children's program at church.  We have been making the children a gift for Christmas and I was able to make my part of the gift from things I had on hand.  We have a budget, but I like using my stash of sewing and crafting items for others when I can.

We went to a tree farm to cut down our Christmas tree.  While we were there, we took advantage of the free hot chocolate they offered with the tree, and the children got to visit with Santa.  We stayed right within our budget!

We went to Costco (yikes!  It's hard to stay within a budget there!) and stayed right within our budget.  We found a beautiful Bible stories book for our children that came out of their school budget.

I prepared our December budget in our big budget book as well as the little sub-budget book.  I have notated each purchase and we're right on track for the month.

I had the children make a few crafts this week out of things we had on hand.  My daughter and I made a bracelet, my son had fun beading a "worm", the children made funny faces by gluing cutout shapes onto a paper face, and I had the kids glue leftover leaves from our Thankful Tree onto legal sized construction paper for Thanksgiving Dinner place mats.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving!

I'm wishing you a Happy Thanksgiving one day early.  Enjoy baking pies, mashing potatoes, basting turkeys and consuming awe-inspiring amounts of food while Giving Thanks!

Also, Happy Black Friday and enjoy the deals for me.  I'm pretty certain I'll be tucked into my bed, awaiting some pie for breakfast  :)

I'll be back on Monday with Ways I Saved and an awesome Manly Homemade Gift post later next week.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Pilgrim's Feast for School Lunch: A More Authentic Menu

(This is my very favorite Thanksgiving decoration that we have.  It was entitled "Harvest Angel")

As my husband and I have contemplated how we can better celebrate, appreciate our history and bring a greater spirit of thanksgiving into our home, we have found so many wonderful new traditions.

Our Thankful Tree has been a total hit.  Our kids so enjoy writing something down each night.  It has not been uncommon to hear, "I'm thankful for ____" from our children throughout the day.  What a blessing to have started it.  We'd been struggling to work on gratitude in our home and a fun, family-bonding activity has helped.  It is definitely on the tradition list!

We also borrowed a stack of Thanksgiving books from the library.  They have been wonderful to read to and the kiddos love them!

We watched A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving for a bit of fun! (Not an affiliate link)

In school, we have been working on coloring this Pilgrim, Pilgrim coloring book.  It's a free printable, and my children have enjoyed coloring it and talking about it over several days.  This could be a fun activity to keep kiddos busy while you're cooking!  We'll be gluing the pages onto construction paper for school tomorrow, as well as one other special thing.  Our Pilgrim's Feast.

About a week ago, I got to wondering what the Pilgrims REALLY ate, and decided that we needed to have a lunch at school where we try eating, as best we can, what the Pilgrims really ate.  After googling around a bit, this is what we'll be having for our Pilgrim's Feast tomorrow:

Corn (we'll be eating heated up frozen corn)
Bread (they ate sour dough bread, according to one source, we'll just go ahead and make French Bread)
Craisins (they are believed to have had cranberries available at the time in the area)
Walnuts (we'll be eating a mix of nuts that contains walnuts)
Radishes and Onions (I'll be sauteing these (seasoned) from our winter garden, which I'll let them pick)
Carrots (from the grocery)
Pumpkin Muffins (We'll talk about the way that they served pumpkin, and that the Indians taught them to grow it)

They also had a LOT of meat and fish, from what it sounds like, and the celebration lasted 3 days, not just one.  We'll be talking about this, not doing it.  I don't think I can cook that much!  Ha!  Also, I'll just be cooking a whole chicken for Thanksgiving day, so I'm not going to prepare any meat for the kids today.

I know this will be a school tradition as well.  They are VERY excited about it!  While we home school, this could be done on a weekend, or some other time, if you're interested in making it part of your traditions.

It's been fun to make sure we don't fly through Thanksgiving without much thought or gratitude.  I'm hoping that it will transfer us into a more giving than getting Christmas.

What are your Thanksgiving traditions?  Did you try anything new this year?

Monday, November 25, 2013

Ways I Saved

Remember when I told you that I hurt my back?  Well, it pretty much prevented me from cooking much for two days, so my husband got fast food for us a couple of times.  It messed up our budget a bit and I wished I had my freezer better stocked like it had been (seems like we've been incredibly busy since Halloween!), but I'm grateful my husband took care of us!  I really needed the rest.  It's getting better.

Last week I made homemade pizza, hot chocolate from packets we got for free, two batches of black beans and cookies.  I also made Simple Yellow Rice, and Cheesy Potato Soup,  We at lots of leftovers, too!

I had about 10 bananas that began browning pretty quickly, so I threw 5 of the REALLY ripe bananas into a ziploc that I will thaw out and use in a Banana Bread recipe, and I froze the rest into packets that I will use for a Banana smoothie that I like to drink for breakfast.

I made crafts with my kids.  The Fish Friend sewing project was a big hit and they have been playing with them quite a bit!  We also made some necklaces and bracelets, and one day I cut out a bunch of crazy shapes out of different colors of construction paper and they made funny faces out of them.  All of our crafts were done with things we had on hand, so they were free to us this week.

I organized my junk drawer and a counter that is a litter magnet.  When we bought that nice desk to complete our living room update, I knew I wanted to utilize the drawer, but I didn't want it to become cluttered.  So I've been thinking about what, exactly, I wanted to go in there.  I organized it very neatly, cleaned off that counter, cleaned up the junk drawer, and these areas have become highly efficient places.  It makes me happy!

My husband and I decided we wanted to pick up a new hobby together.  We found a lot of fun ideas online.  Geocaching, creating your own comics/cartoons, juggling (ha!), playing catch, watching all of the Ken Burns documentaries, etc.  We decided we wanted to go to the library together and pick out a book to read together, and we'll probably try geocaching one day when we can swap babysitting.  We've been wanting to for several months, now.  What I loved about THIS LIST in particular, was the title "Spend Time, Not Money".  Then the author provides many things that are free or very inexpensive.  It's empowering to have a list like that when there isn't a lot of spare money floating around.

We held a couple's budget meeting.

We took inventory or the clearance things I've picked up for our children over the year for Christmas.  We just have a few things left, and I'll most likely be making them.

How did you save money this week?

Friday, November 22, 2013

Easy Sewing Project for Boys or Girls

We love crafts and sewing projects in our house.  Two nights ago, we had about 30 minutes before bed and I wanted to do something fun but quiet with the kids.  We hadn't pulled my daughter's sewing kit out in a little while, so I decided that it would be the perfect project for us.

Instead of having my husband spend time with Little Guy while Little Gal and I sewed, I decided that I would let Little Gal work on a project that I designed (this pattern will come too!), and let Little Guy work on a different project that I designed.

It was wonderful to sew with both of them.  Little Guy is only 3.5 and I helped him handle the needle with the first few stitches, then let him do the rest while I held the fabric.  He was SO proud of himself.  Little Gal is 5.5 and was able to do her project almost all by herself.

If you have lots of children on your gift list for Christmas this year, this pattern could be printed out, the supplies gathered or purchased and given as a gift.  It would be very inexpensive, but meaningful.  Most children will need supervision, so this gift could be given with your time and attention attached.

The project that I created for Little Guy was a Fish Friend.  Print the pattern below, gather the supplies and your child, and let's go!


One sheet (9" x 12") of felt in desirable color
*Craft thread (embroidery thread would work, but this craft thread works great for kids)
Chenille Needle
2 buttons for eyes
One printable pattern

First, print and cut out the Fish Friend Pattern.  Use chalk or another marking tool to trace two Fish onto the felt.  Using scissors, cut the two fish out.  Mark the pieces where the dots are on the pattern.  This is where you'll sew the buttons on for eyes.

There is a large cutting margin since chalk leaves a thick mark.  If your child is older and wants it to be more precise, use an instrument that will leave a thinner line.  Instruct young children to cut within the chalk markings.  Remember, it is not going to be perfect, and that's ok!  They're learning and they'll build so much confidence as the positives are noted.

Select or allow your child to select the buttons they'd like to use.  You'll need two.  One for each Fish Friend piece.  Using a Single-threaded needle, tie a knot in the thread, and sew 4 stitches to attach the button to one piece.  Repeat with the second Fish Friend piece.

Now each of your Fish Friend cutouts has an eye sewn on, you need to lay the two pieces down, wrong sides together with the eyes on the outside.  Pin in place.

They will probably not match up perfectly if your child used a wide cutting margin.  Remember!  This is ok!  They are learning.  If you need to trim a bit, go for it.  It doesn't need to be perfect, but your child will be happier if it looks like a fish, not a rectangle.

Using the single threaded needle again, make large running stitches around the entire fish, about 1/4" from the edge, with stitches about 3/8" apart.  Tie off the thread, and you're done!  Good work!

*This is not an affiliate link.  This is simply the craft thread that we use and it is especially good for kiddo fingers.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Hmmm. What Happened to My Back???

Well, my friends, I had a wonderful post planned for today.  I took all of the photos for it, we actually had a sunny day yesterday so I had good light to take them in, and I even had a good amount typed out.  However, my lower back had been hurting for several days (note the foreshadowing) and when I was doing some garden work yesterday, I felt my spine work into a nasty throb.

I finished up my work oh so carefully--my neighbors probably thought I was nuts--and then went inside.  Could I rest yesterday?  Nope!  I just had to deal with it and everyone else had to deal with me wincing and grunting.  Ha!  I finally got to lay down at about 6:30.  Monday through Wednesday are a madhouse around here!  Sleep helped a bit, but I just couldn't finish up the post in time.

So!  This little Fish Friend picture is just a teaser.  I'm hoping to have the complete post up tomorrow.

Have a great Thursday, everyone!  It's almost the weekend!