7 Christmas Traditions Your Kids Will Always Remember

Christmas Traditions

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Christmas is that time of year when life just seems to slow down and speed up all at once. It slows down because you’re taking in all the sights and sounds and smells, all the while speeding up because it seems to go from Thanksgiving to Christmas in like three days.

My parents always made Christmas special for us…not because they spent a lot of money on us, but because they spent a lot of time on us, making memories, and starting traditions that I have passed down to my own family. Here are the 7 things I look forward to most about the Christmas season with my family.

1. Christmas Light Nights
A simple internet search will likely yield a nice list of the best Christmas light displays in your area. We have 4 or 5 specific places we go every year, and it’s just fun to see how people go all out for the season. There is one home near us that has over 100,000 lights, and another home that boasts life sized gingerbread houses and a “real” Santa who gives out a little toy to each child that visits. We don’t usually tell our kids the evenings we’re going…I make a simple dinner to enjoy in the car and off we go once my husband gets home from work! The kids get excited to guess when and where we will be going.

2. Packing Operation Christmas Child Boxes
Tater (7) especially loves finding little treasures for other children as we pack our Operation Christmas Child boxes. We always choose the “Track Your Box” option so we can see where our box goes, and pray for the child that received it. Tater knows that Christmas is about giving, and packing the shoeboxes is a tangible reminder of that.
(See my post on shopping for an Operation Christmas Child Box on a Budget)

3. Decorating Our Tree
Every year, I buy one ornament for each of our children that has a meaning for the previous year. Sometimes it’s an ornament of a child’s favorite character, a new milestone, a new sport, or a token from a family vacation. Every year that we decorate the tree, we look back on each ornament as a special and treasured memory.

4. Decorating Sugar Cookies
This is probably the most anticipated of all our family traditions. We have a set of trusty Christmas Cookie Cutters that we have used for the last 10 years (they’re older than our kids), and buy every color sprinkle imaginable, along with chocolate chips, marshmallows, and shredded coconut. We cut out the dough, decorate the cookies, then bake them. We don’t use frosting, but if we did, we would bake the plain shaped cookies first, then decorate them. Lots and lots of laughter on Sugar Cookie Decorating night.

5. Christmas Movie Nights
We always have to watch Charlie Brown Christmas, Frosty the Snowman, and after the kids go to bed, A Christmas Story. We whip up some popcorn, maybe grab some leftover sugar cookies and hot cocoa, then sit in front of the warm fire and enjoy the show together.

6. One Christmas Eve Gift
This tradition goes back several generations in my family. After church on Christmas Eve, we come home and the kids open one gift. It’s always a pair of Christmas pajamas to wear that night (I prewash before I wrap them), and a new book about the birth of Jesus. We read our books after the kids are snuggled into their new jammies, then it’s lights out!

7. Christmas Communion
This is a special tradition from my husband’s family that my he carried on after we got married. On Christmas morning, after a breakfast of cinnamon rolls and tangerines from our tree, but before we open stockings and gifts, my husband leads us in Communion with some bread and grape juice to help us focus on the true meaning of Christmas, and to thank the Lord for our blessings. The best of which cannot be found under a tree.

This Christmas is going to be a little different because of family health issues, but it’s still such a wonderful time of year that I cherish. My husband gets some time off work so we can spend a lot of family time together, and we make wonderful memories each and every year. I love that our kids want our time more than anything, and these traditions help us make the most of that time.

What are your favorite family Christmas Traditions?

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7 Fun Ways to Keep Kids Learning on Summer Vacation

7 Tips to Keep Kids Learning on Summer Vacation
Just because school is out doesn’t mean that learning has to stop. Summer is a great time to give kids a love for learning by making it fun! Some of my favorite learning opportunities happen when we’re traveling and seeing new places, which means summer vacation is a great time to sneak some fun learning in!

Whether you’re traveling across the city or the state or the country in a car, ship, or plane, there are plenty of ways to turn your summer trip into a great learning experience.

1. Prepare Your Kids Beforehand
A few weeks before we went to Zion National Park earlier this year, I got Tater a bunch of maps and books that talked about the Park and the state of Utah. Introducing your kids to the location before you go will give them a sense of what to expect, so their eyes and ears will be open for learning! Maps (if you are a AAA member you can get them for free), library books, and travel shows on Netflix or YouTube are all great ways to get your kids ready for your trip.

2. Rethink Travel Games
I’m the first to admit, on long road trips and plane rides my kids spend plenty of time watching DVDs and iPad movies, but I still pack a bunch of travel games and activities. In addition to a few DIY Travel Toys, I also fill a binder with coloring and activity pages about our destination, photos of various landmarks we will see, and Booklets I print out from the National Parks Junior Ranger program. (Even if you’re not going to a National Park, you can still use it to print out information about landmarks from the state(s) you’re visiting.)

3. Be More Observant
Even on vacation, it seems we don’t notice the little details, and only pay attention to the “exciting” things. But, if they’re observant enough, your kids can learn a lot even in mundane situations:

  • Talk about construction styles and architecture as you’re walking down the street (architectural details vary widely between regions, and history plays a big role!)
  • Notice the license plates you see in a parking lot (often license plates will feature a state motto or important state feature).
  • Discuss how geographic location influences regional favorites on the menu while you wait at a restaurant (why does the South feature catfish, the Northwest feature salmon, and Hawaii offer Pacific mahi mahi?)
  • Ask about the landscape and how it’s different from where you live. Introduce geology and geography by talking about mountain ranges, lakes, rivers, and even the color of the soil or rocks. (Red dirt usually means iron rich, and gray rock formations could be limestone, shale, or granite.)

4. Take Pictures
Get your kids an inexpensive camera and encourage them to take pictures of anything that interests them. Give them more information about the things that captivate them, and when you get home start a scrapbook using the photos he or she took.

5. Keep a Journal
Encouraging your child to keep a journal of the things you’ve done and places you’ve visited not only preserves the memories, it also practices their handwriting and spelling skills. If your child is too young to write, have them draw a picture or dictate their memories for you to write down.

6. Choose Your Attractions
Children’s Museums, Aquariums, Zoos, and hands-on Science Centers are all wonderful attractions that provide learning while having fun first.

7. Don’t Force It
This is actually the MOST important tip. The goal is just to keep your kids’ minds active, you don’t need them to memorize information. You don’t need to test them, and if they don’t really want to hear about the history of the state or the engineering feat of the bridge you just drove over, don’t push it. Make memories, have fun, and learning will follow.

You Know You’re A Mom If You’ve Ever…

MothersDayFun

Mother’s Day is this weekend, and I am so grateful for the two little people that made me a mommy. I’m also grateful for MY mommy, who is my very bestest friend, and I don’t know what I would do without her. Just for fun, here are some universal truths about being a mom…you know you’re a mom if you’re ever….

Asked out loud: How on earth can they be hungry again? They. Just. Ate.

Been able to tell the time based on what show was on TV.

Thought to yourself, “Oh my goodness, I’m turning into my mother.”

Gone on an “quick, important errand” to Target as soon as your husband got home, just to walk the aisles in peace.

Sat on the couch at the end of the day and turned on the TV to Disney Jr. just because. And didn’t even realize it for at least two minutes.

Turned around to any and every child’s call of “mom” at the store.

Said one or more of the following phrases: “Stop or your eyes will stick that way”, “Sorry, that’s what’s for dinner”, “Are you sure you don’t have to go?”,”Why didn’t you go before we left the house”, “No, we’re not there yet”, or “Stop hitting/touching/poking/looking at your sibling.”

Referred to yourself in the third person every time you talk to your children, and didn’t even realize you were doing it.

Longed for 5 minutes of silence, only to panic after 10 seconds because it’s “too quiet”.

Said out loud “It’s just a phase”, but deep down you’re truly wondering if you’ll ever be able to sleep/take a shower/make dinner without 237 interruptions/show your face at the playground again.

Asked “Why doesn’t the doll have a head?” like it’s a normal, everyday question.

Found a french fry under a carseat that may be older than your youngest child.

Not been able to remember life before kids. And sleep.

Thanked the good Lord for caffeine.

Wondered where all that laundry came from, and how on earth are there not two socks that match in that entire pile.

Found yourself singing the “Clean Up, Clean Up” song when you’re picking up the living room. At 9pm. After everyone else is in bed.

Regretted all the times you refused to nap as a child.

Found something non-food related in the refrigerator, and it didn’t even strike you as odd.

Thanked your mom, because now you get it.

Forgotten how to be on time. And why on earth do their go shoes missing every single morning?

Gotten annoyed when someone told you to enjoy every second, because it goes by too fast. (They’re right, but it’s hard to see on exhausting days.)

Said “Excuse us” at the grocery store. When you’re alone.

Had your husband ask why you always refer to them as his children when they’re misbehaving, and your children when they’re being little angels.

Wondered how in the world they ever thought that was even a little bit of a good idea. (ie. Glitter and glue are not appropriate replacements for sidewalk chalk.)

Bought so many Magic Erasers, you may as well buy stock in the company.

Eaten the crusts off someone else’s sandwich. And considered it an acceptable lunch.

 Been full time chef, housekeeper, nurse, hygienist, chauffeur, tutor, therapist, personal shopper, hair stylist and accountant, yet ask for nothing in return. Except hugs and kisses. And maybe chocolate. But you wouldn’t change it for anything because being a mom is the best job in the world :)

Happy Mother’s Day, from my house to yours!

DIY Valentine’s Day Glitter Crayons

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Hi, my name is Sara, and I’m addicted to crayons.

Two years ago, my mother gifted me a 64-pack of Crayola crayons in my stocking. I still hoard them in my dresser, don’t allow my children to touch them, and open them to smell their crayon-y goodness after a long day. Few things in this world are as pure and delightful as a box of brand new pointy crayons. Who wants to give me an “amen sister”?

Okay, so now that we’ve established that I have an unnatural love for school supplies, I’m going to show you how to make your own homemade heart shaped crayons. Because it’s Valentine’s Day. Who doesn’t want heart shaped crayons for Valentine’s Day?? And, they’re super duper easy.

You only need two things. A heart shaped silicone mold and crayons. The heart shaped mold was at Michael’s for $9.99, but I found a 50% off coupon, so it was only $4.99. The crayon bag is filled with all the broken/partially melted/restaurant freebie/Dollar Store crayons I hold onto for this very reason.

First thing you want to do is heat your oven to 325 degrees. Then, sort out your crayons. For this project, I used all shades of red, pink, purple, and white.

Next, you have to get those pesky little papers off. Either you can be smart and use a knife to slice the papers off, or you can be like me. It’s possible I have purple crayon permanently lodged under my fingernail. It was a labor of love. How fitting.

Once all the pesky papers are off, snap your crayons into pieces and place inside the molds randomly.

Now comes the glitter. Glitter, glitter everywhere, on my floor and in my hair. True Story. Sprinkle your desired color (or colors) onto the broken crayon pieces. Tater chose the glitter, and she chose pink, purple, silver, white, and red.

Now, it’s time to melt these babies! Stick them into the 325 degree oven (put the mold on a cookie sheet so it doesn’t bend on the rack and give you uneven crayons), and allow to melt, about 15 minutes.

After about 15 minutes, they’ll look like this…hot liquid.

Pull the cookie sheet with the mold on top out of the oven and let sit, undisturbed, until completely cool. This is crucial! Completely cooled I tell you…you can’t rush love.

Or else you’ll end up with a broken heart

So please, for the love of the crayons, don’t release them from their heart shaped home until they’re completely cooled. It should take about an hour.

Slip them out of the molds once cooled, and feel the love.


These are going to make a great Valentine’s treat for Tater’s friends. If she weren’t homeschooled, I would totally make them for her class instead of giving candy. I’d tape them to pink card stock and write something witty like:

“I’m drawn to be your Valentine”
                                  
                                     OR
“I’m Cray-zy for you”
                                   
                                      OR
“You’re Crayontastic”

So, that’s it. That’s how you make crayons…Cray-zy easy, right? (Sorry, couldn’t resist.) Think of the possibilities for other holidays (I have a Christmas tree mold for Christmas, and a Star mold for 4th of July), and inexpensive party favors…you may become a crayon addict too. Not that that’s a bad thing, though…

DIY Lego Travel Tray

Last summer’s travel lap tray idea worked relatively well on our travels, but now that Stinker is really into Legos, and after I made the Lego Pattern Travel Game last week, I began to wonder if I could travel with Legos without worrying about them getting lost or thrown all over the place. Ah ha! It can be done!! A Lego Travel Tray. It takes 2 minutes to make, and only cost about $10. Now, Stinker can build some masterpieces on our next road trip or plane ride, and I won’t have to wedge myself under the back seat searching for missing Lego pieces. Not that I’ve ever done that before. Especially not Wild Style’s hair piece. Ahem.

Anyway, the shopping list is pretty straight-forward. You’ll need:

  • Cookie Sheet (I get mine at the Dollar Store. They cost $1, and are about 9″x12″.)
  • Lego Plate (This was the most expensive piece. I found one for $5.99, and it’s a 10″x10″.)
  • Magnetic Spice Containers (Michaels had these for $1.50 each, but I had a 15% off coupon)
  • Box Cutter (not pictured)
  • Super Glue or Hot Glue Gun (Not Pictured)

1. First, if you have a 9″x12″ cookie sheet, you’ll need to cut the Lego plate to fit the cookie sheet. Using a box cutter, apply firm pressure in a straight line, to cut off about 3 rows of raised dots. I actually cut off four, but start with three. Note: You’ll want to run the box cutter through two or three times. The plastic will actually break off where the cut was, creating a nice, even cut. My amazing grampa did the cutting for me. Because he’s handy like that. And because I can’t cut a straight line to save my life.

2. Next, use Super Glue or a hot glue gun to attach the Lego plate to the edge of the cookie sheet. You’ll want to leave room for the magnetic containers on the side. Allow to dry.

3. Fill magnetic containers with Legos, and place on the edge of the tray. Apparently I turned my tray between pictures. It was a Monday night after a very long Monday. I have no explanation.

4. Now you can enjoy Legos while traveling, and not have to wonder how Wild Style’s hair piece could have possibly jumped out of the car because you scoured every square inch of the backseat and found nothing save french fries that may be older than your youngest child. Again, not that I’ve ever done that, but just a helpful reminder. Because I care. 

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