Sunday, December 1, 2019

Disney on Ice presents Dream Big in Toledo - Tickets Giveaway!

If your kids are anything like mine, they start asking to open "just one" early Christmas present starting around November 10. And also if they're anything like mine, they have about 18 million toys and don't *really* need more for Christmas. Which is why an excellent early Christmas gift is...
Tickets to Disney on Ice! Tickets start at just $15 each on Ticketmaster OR you can enter to win a family four pack of tickets right here on this very blog!!

About the show:
Courage leads the way for Disney's most adventurous heroes when Disney on Ice presents Dream Big comes to Toledo Thursday, December 19- Saturday, December 22. Join the wayfinder Moana and the greatest demigod that ever lived, Maui, on an action-packed voyage to restore the stolen heart of Te Fiti.

Explore the Land of the Dead as Miguel from Disney Pixar's Coco brings the festivities of Dia de los Muertos to the ice. Get tangled up in Rapunzel's hair-raising quest to see the floating lights. Travel to the kingdom of Arendelle with Anna, Elsa and Olaf in a dramatic retelling of the sisterly love that saved a kingdom. And discover the strength, bravery and kindness that inspired generation after generation with Jasmine, Ariel, Aurora, Belle and Cinderella.

Dream Big captures all the magic and adventure of Disney’s immortal tales through cutting edge figure skating, glamourous costumes and stunning set designs. Through innovative lighting and thrilling special effects, audiences are transported to a world of imagination, where heroes of every kind seek to fulfill their dreams. High-flying jumps, breathtaking skating and lovable Disney friends make Disney On Ice presents Dream Big an experience families will never forget!

Want to go? Of course you do! So here are the details:

Thursday, Dec. 19 at 7 pm
Friday, Dec. 20 at 7 pm
Saturday, Dec. 21 at 11 am, 3 pm and 7 pm
Sunday, Dec. 22 at 1 pm and 5 pm

Huntington Center, 500 Jefferson Ave., Toledo, OH 43604

Buy Tickets
Tickets start at $15 and can be ordered online at Note: ticket pricing is subject to change based on market demand.  WIN Tickets One randomly selected person will win four tickets to see Disney on Ice: Dream Big on opening night, Thursday, December 19 at 7pm! To be entered to win the tickets, all you have to do is: 1. Share this post on Facebook and/or tag a friend who would love to go see Disney on Ice in the comments of the Facebook post.
2. Comment below and tell me which Disney character you would most love to see on ice! (Make sure to include your first and last name in case you win!) (And please like I was promised more naps on Facebook if you don't already!) The winner will be randomly selected and announced on December 10, 2019!

Saturday, February 16, 2019

DIY Dormer Window Reading Nook for Kids

We have dormer windows on our second floor, and while they look super cute from the outside, the insides typically ended up looking like this:

Fancy, I know.
They aren't really large enough for most furniture, and the awkward placement of the heating vents meant that my initial dream of having window seats built in would have required re-routing a bunch of duct work. Which didn't seem worth it. So they just ended up being places where we put things that didn't have any other place to go.

See? Heating vent directly under the window. (And not centered. WHY IS IT NOT CENTERED?) Note to anyone building a house with dormer windows: don't put the heating vents there, or this space becomes even less usable than it already is by virtue of being a short, thin hallway leading nowhere.
Anyway, a few months ago, I suddenly had a great idea to turn them into little hangout spots for the kids, and then I had an even better idea to make them into reading nooks! I would have loved a spot like this as a kid, and it's also a great way to encourage my first grader to read!

I spent months assembling a bunch of stuff for the nooks (mostly from Ikea, Amazon and Sam's Club), and then a few days after Christmas, my mom watched the kids for a few hours while my husband Dan and I assembled everything. He was the power tools guy, and I was the design and wall decals woman. So without further ado... here are a ton of pictures!!

Ta da!!

They turned out every bit as wonderfully as I hoped, which is saying something, because I had really high hopes!

The bookshelves are Ikea photo ledges, and the curtains, lion and fairy pillows and giraffe lamps are from Ikea, too.

The unicorn and dinosaur chairs came from Sam's Club, and they're perfect because they allow room for the air from the poorly placed heating vents to come out underneath.

The wall decals and little circle rugs came from Amazon.

I sewed the Pokemon and mermaid blankets with fabric I found at Joann Fabrics.

Overall, the reading nooks have been very popular with our kiddos (our four-year-old has even camped out in hers a few times).

So there you have it. I'm super proud of these, and I love not looking at a random collection of items collecting in useless dormer windows anymore!

Have you found a good use for dormer window areas in your house? Do your kids have a special spot to read? Let me know in the comments!

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Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Slacker-Friendly Christmas Advent Calendar Activity List

For several years now, I've been doing an activity advent calendar with my kids. The idea is that each morning they open a little door to find a slip of paper that says what Christmas activity we'll be doing that day. My kids love it, and I really love it too. (I got our advent calendar at a craft store, but you can find them on Amazon, too.)

When I started out the first year, I had big, BIG plans of doing something amazing and festive and meaningful with my then-three-year-old son every day from December 1-24. It started out well. We decorated! We saw Santa! We went to the zoo to see the Christmas lights! Then a week or two in, I realized that I didn't necessarily feel like doing super-involved Christmas activities with a toddler every day for 24 consecutive days. It's not that I didn't want to do it at all anymore: I did and still do! But I wanted to be able to do the super fun stuff some days, and not leave the house or change out of our pajamas other days. Except that you can't tell a kid "We're going to do something fun and Christmassy every day!" and then not do something fun and Christmassy every day...

This was supposed to have a picture of our advent calendar in the background,
but I appear to have somehow LOST it. True story.

Enter the "Slacker-Friendly Advent Calendar Activity List". On days where you want to do something super fun and exciting ("March in a Christmas Parade!" "Horse-pulled sleigh ride in the park!" "Build a life-sized igloo out of milk cartons!"), do it. But if you have a day or two (or ten) where you still want to do something fun and Christmassy with your kids, but you don't want it to be a lot of work, this list should help you. (And even if you don't do an actual advent calendar, you can use this list for ideas of things to do when your kids start to declare themselves to be "bored" when they're stuck inside on cold winter days.) Whenever I mention buying something, I've tried to include helpful links - Amazon will pay me a few cents if you buy something using one of the the links I've included here, but none of the other links will. Just fyi.

I've divided the list into 5 sections:
Super-slacker activities that require literally no advance planning or preparation
Plan-ahead slacker activities that require you to prepare in advance but need little or no extra effort on your part on the days you actually do them
Stuff you were (maybe) going to do anyway activities that help you to incorporate your normal holiday preparations into an advent calendar activity
Things to do for others that help your kids celebrate the season by helping other people, and
Everything else, which is probably self explanatory.

Rather than pre-filling every box in our calendar with activities, I decide the night before (or even the morning of) which activity I'm up for doing each day, then just write it down and stick it in for the kids to find. That way our schedule can change or we can have an unplanned lazy day without it messing up our calendar.

Super-Slacker Activities 
These require either no prep at all or prep that you can do at home in a few minutes or less at the beginning of the activity. So if you forgot to plan ahead for an activity or just don't really feel like doing anything on a particular day, this is your go-to list. Some of these can even be used more than once. (Who's going to complain if they have to watch more than one Christmas movie in December?)

1. Watch a Christmas movie in your pajamas
Here are some available on Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime. If you don't have any of those, just schedule this for a night when you know there's a Christmas movie playing on TV, or watch a movie you already own. Combine with snacks, hot cocoa or candy canes if you want to make it even more fun.

2. Color a Christmas picture (or for older kids, do a Christmas word search or maze)
Just do a Google search for "printable Christmas coloring page/word search/ maze", then let your kids pick their favorite(s), print, and you're done. And if you're worried about accidentally going to a page with a computer virus or malware, Oriental Trading is a reputable online store that has free coloring pages here.

3. Make a video of the kids singing a Christmas song and share it on Facebook for friends and family to enjoy
Your kids get to be the star, and as an added bonus, friends and family get to see your cuties.

4. Eat a picnic breakfast/lunch/dinner next to the Christmas tree
You've got to feed them at some point anyway. Just spread out a blanket next to the Christmas tree, maybe turn on some Christmas carols, and ta da! "Christmas tree picnic" sounds way more fun than "The same meal I was going to serve you anyway, but on the floor", but it requires no extra planning or work.

This isn't a picnic. I just wanted an excuse to show you guys this picture
of my daughter sleeping by the Christmas tree four years ago.
5. Have a Christmas music dance party
Turn on some Christmas music on Pandora, and dance around the kitchen until everyone's tired. Santa hats optional. Older kids might enjoy learning a Christmas dance routine to a Christmas song by watching a video on YouTube instead.

6. Learn to make Christmas origami
A quick Google search turns up pages of Christmas origami tutorials like this and this. Use whatever paper you have lying around, or have the kids help cut squares out of Christmas wrapping paper to use.

7. Do Christmas yoga
(Yes, it's a real thing.) In case you haven't yet heard of Cosmic Kids Yoga, here's the scoop: Jamie is a yoga instructor with a fabulous British accent who tells kids a story while having them act it out by doing yoga poses. All of her videos are available for free on her YouTube channel, and she has a Christmas one available here. (And if they want to keep going after that one's done, she also does this one based on the movie Frozen, which could be vaguely Christmassy, because: snow.)

Plan-Ahead Slacker Activities 
For these activities, I buy the necessary supplies ahead of time (mostly from Amazon, Oriental Trading, and the Dollar Tree), and then pull them out as needed. The added bonus is that most of these require little to no extra work or participation on your part, beyond buying the stuff ahead of time. My advice: save at least some of these for the week before Christmas when you're out of other ideas.

1. Take a Christmas bath 
Since I bathe my kids anyway (hopefully you all assumed that about me), I just make their regular bath time a Christmas activity one night. Use bath color tablets for kids or food coloring to turn the water a festive color (I buy the color tablets at Wal-Mart, but Amazon has them, too), throw in some Christmas bath toys, buy Christmas soap on Etsy or in a store, and/or use a themed bath bomb (last year my kids loved these snowman bath bombs I found on Etsy). When there's snow on the ground outside, I've even handed the kids a big bowl full of snow to play with while they're in the bath.

2. Decorate with Christmas window clings
The Dollar Tree *almost* always has a pretty good selection of holiday themed window clings for every holiday. (You can also find some on Amazon or Oriental Trading.) I just go and pick up a bunch of them for a few dollars, and then when I'm ready, I give them to the kids and have them decorate our sliding glass door.

3. Read a Christmas story by the Christmas tree. 
I read to my kids every night at bedtime anyway, so each year I buy a new Christmas book or two, then at least one of our advent calendar activities is to read a new Christmas book by the tree before bedtime. For the past month or so, my kids have been super into Berenstain Bears, so I already bought this book on Amazon and have it waiting in a closet for one of my slacker advent activities.

4. Make Christmas ornaments
Oriental Trading has tons of ornament craft kits you can buy ahead of time, as do Amazon and most craft stores, or you could do the ever-popular glue popsicle sticks in the shape of a snowflake and then put glitter on them.

Pretty sure we got these from Michael's.

5. Do a Christmas puzzle
In the past, I've found Christmas puzzles at Wal-Mart (there was one that came with a kids Christmas music CD in the $5 CD/DVD bin) and in the Dollar Spot at Target. But if you can't find one in a store, there's always Amazon and Oriental Trading.

6. Make a Christmas garland or paper chain
If you want to have your kids use popcorn or construction paper and already have some on hand, this might be able to work as a super-slacker activity. But you can also buy pre-cut, self adhesive pieces of paper for a paper chain here.

Stuff you were (maybe) going to do anyway
Let's face it: Christmas is a lot of work for parents. Instead of making the activity advent calendar an extra thing you have to do on days when you're already crazy busy, just make your normal holiday activities part of the advent calendar by writing them down and putting them in the calendar when you were planning to do that stuff anyway.

1. Start another advent calendar
No joke, this is always day one of my advent activity calendar. I usually get my son the Lego Advent Calendar, and I've gotten my four-year-old daughter a Little People one and a Playmobil one (all available on Amazon. Target also usually has a really good selection of advent calendars.) If you want to do one of those or a chocolate advent calendar, there's your activity for day one: finding out they get a present/piece of candy every day for 24 days. You don't really get much more exciting than that, and this way, you don't have to try!

Yay Legos!
2-3ish. Put up/decorate the Christmas tree and/or other Christmas decorations.
This one can be broken up into multiple days. If you go to a Christmas tree farm or store to pick out a tree, and you haven't done it yet, "Buy a Christmas tree" can be one day's activity. "Decorate the tree", "Hang up the stockings", "Put Christmas lights up outdoors", etc can all be their own activity if you want. Our tree is already up and decorated this year (I couldn't wait any longer!) but one of our activities is going to be "put up more decorations", and we'll set up the nativity scene (which my kids love helping with), hang up wreaths, and get out some odds and ends like snow globes that we usually put out for Christmas.

4-5ish. Buy/wrap Christmas presents. 
We break this one into multiple days as well. One day my husband takes them to get a gift for me, another day I take them to get a gift for him, and still another day, we buy gifts for grandparents, aunts and uncles, etc. And wrapping can take place on a separate day, too.

6. Mail out Christmas cards
If you weren't planning to do this anyway, feel free to skip this one. But if you WERE, older kids can sign their names to cards, put on stamps and address labels, or stuff envelopes. For at least two years, I've had both kids color/draw on the backs of some of the envelopes with red and green crayons until they got bored of it.

7. Play together in the snow and then drink hot cocoa
Confession: I hate going out in the snow. But if we get a lot of snow, I pretty much know that I'm going to have to take the kids out to play in it at some point. At least this way, it doubles as an advent calendar activity, and the lure of hot chocolate is usually enough to keep them from wanting to stay out (and keep me out) in it for hours. And if you love the snow, this is your chance to shine! Plan a snowball fight or snowman building competition with your neighbors, build a snow igloo, or do whatever else it is that people who like snow do while they're out there. Then invite me over for the hot cocoa part at the end.

8. (Insert your Christmas Eve tradition here)
Before our oldest was even born, I decided that I wanted to start a Christmas Eve tradition with our kids where the night before Christmas, they get a new pair of Christmas pajamas and a Christmas ornament. Some people go somewhere special on Christmas Eve, exchange certain gifts, or get a new book or movie. Whatever you already do, just put it in the activity calendar. It's the last day, you made it to the finish line, just stick with whatever it is you were going to do anyway, and congratulate yourself on finishing strong (or finishing at all).

Christmas Eve jammies!
9. Drive around and look at Christmas lights.
This one can be done alone or tacked on to anything else you have to do anyway. (Ie, "We're going to go return these socks to Kohls, and then on the way home, we'll do our advent calendar activity of driving around to look at Christmas lights!!") Ask around ahead of time to find out some good neighborhoods for looking at lights, and then do it either on its own or on the way to/from something else you have to do. Turn on a Christmas station on the radio, and enjoy!

10. Special Christmas lunchbox lunch
If you regularly (or ever) pack lunch for your kids for school, make a Christmas lunch one day instead of a "regular" lunch. Interpret this however you want: wrap each item of their lunch in Christmas wrapping paper, use a cookie cutter to cut out a sandwich into a Christmas tree shape, include mostly red and green foods (red and green bell pepper strips with hummus, red and green grapes, red and green apple slices, etc). If your kids aren't in school, make a Christmas lunch at home.

Things to do for other people

1. Go Caroling
Last year we went caroling around a neighborhood with a group from our church, and the kids (and neighbors) loved it! You can also ask a local nursing home if they would mind you bringing your kids to go caroling from room to room and spread some holiday cheer.

2. "Elf" your neighbors
This year before Halloween, we got "Booed" for the first time! Some neighbors filled a bucket with Halloween goodies, put it on our doorstep, rang our doorbell and ran. My kids were thrilled, and we then excitedly booed some other neighbors the next day. And apparently, there's an elf version for Christmas! Buy some goodies, print up a note here or make your own, sneak over to a neighbor's house and leave it on the doorstep, ring the doorbell, then run! It's like ding dong ditch, but your neighbors probably won't be mad about it.

3. Send a care package to a military service member who is deployed
I have a cousin who is currently deployed to whom we're going to send a Christmas care package, but if you don't personally know anyone who is deployed, organizations like Operation Care Package or Support our Troops have information on how to send care packages to US service members overseas who would like to receive some mail.

4. Make and hide kindness rocks
Making kindness rocks is a trend where people paint, draw on or otherwise decorate rocks and then hide them in pubic for other people to find and enjoy as a random act of kindness. Put a Christmas spin on the trend by painting a Christmassy picture or writing words to Christmas carols.

5. Take toys/clothes to a charity
Get your kids involved in giving to others by having them help to pick out a toy for a child who might not get many Christmas gifts otherwise and then donating it to a local charity. In the Toledo area, Mosaic Ministries collects new toys and gifts for kids. If you're not near Toledo, check to see if there's a Toys for Tots or Angel Tree collection site near you.

6. Pick out a birthday gift for Jesus
Every year, I explain to my kids that - since Christmas celebrates Jesus' birthday - it would be nice to give him a present. But since we can't actually hand him something, we read Matthew 25:34-40 in the Bible, and I explain that whenever we do something for "the least of these", we're really doing it for Jesus. Then we go to Compassion International's Gift Catalog online (they'll also mail you a hard copy if you want) and pick out a birthday gift for Jesus by buying income-generating and/or life-improving gifts for people living in poverty. In the past we've "given Jesus" livestock, vegetable seeds, hygiene kits, a trained birth attendant for a pregnant mom, a playground, and medical care for a baby or child. Happy Birthday, Jesus! Hope you liked your goat! (Even if you don't celebrate the birth of Jesus at Christmas time, this is still a great way to help care for people in need and teach your kids about helping others who are less fortunate.)

7. Bring cookies or other goodies to your local fire or police station
Just check to make sure they're ok with it first. Some might only be able to accept packaged foods or delivery from a restaurant for safety/health reasons. But if nothing else, you could always bring them handmade Christmas cards and a big thank you.

8. Make a card or gift for your mail carrier
If you do as much of your Christmas shopping online as I do, you've probably gotten to know your USPS mail carrier, UPS driver and/or FedEx delivery person pretty well. So why not have your kids help thank them for delivering all of your Christmas gifts to you? Make a card, decorate some cookies, or give them another small gift to show your appreciation. (Keep in mind that since USPS mail carriers are federal employees, there are specific guidelines regarding what types of gifts they can accept.)

Everything Else
Activities on this list are going to require some effort. (But if you didn't want to make at least a little effort, you probably would't be doing an activity advent calendar in the first place.) I'll be including links to places local to me (we live in the Toledo, Ohio area) in some of these, but if you're not nearby, look around to see if something similar is available near you.

1. Visit Santa
If you live anywhere near a Bass Pro Shop, that's totally the place to go. Free pictures with Santa (for the past few years, they've also given out a free picture frame with the pictures on certain days), along with free crafts, activities and games. If you're not near Bass Pro, let me know in the comments where the best place to see Santa is near you.

This frame was totally free!

2. Go to the zoo

The Toledo Zoo does its annual "Lights Before Christmas" which is beautiful and amazing, with over a million lights, rides, interactive displays, and a giant Christmas tree that is regularly voted one of the best in the country. If you're not near Toledo, check to see if the zoo closest to you does something similar. Even if they don't decorate with lights, a lot of zoos do something Christmassy that might be worth checking out.

3. Make/decorate a gingerbread house
Last year we bought a pre-assembled Wilton brand gingerbread house at the grocery store for under $10. This year we're going to be trying this one from Ikea. And if your kids are really young and not quite ready for a gingerbread house, get an ice cream cone, turn it upside down, cover it with green frosting, and let them decorate a "Christmas tree" with M&Ms or other small candies instead.

Ta da!
4. Make Christmas art at a local art studio
This year I'm super excited to take my kids to Copper Moon Studios - a create your own glass studio and gallery - to make glass Christmas ornaments! If you're not in the Toledo area (or even if you are) check out local point-your-own-pottery places or canvas painting studios to see if they offer any Christmas art classes for families.

5. Attend a Christmas show or play
Check around to local churches, schools and theaters to see who's offering Christmas shows and performances. In Toledo, the Stranahan will have live performances of the Broadway musical Elf and The Nutcracker. The new Grinch movie currently in theaters is another good option.

6. Make and decorate Christmas cookies
Pretty self-explanatory. (But if you want to make Christmas cookies without buying ingredients or any cleanup, check out Foodology or another place that offers recreational cooking classes to try a decorated Christmas cookie class where you get to make and take home your own cookies.)

So there's the list! If you have more advent calendar activity ideas, PLEASE share them in the comments! And as I think of more, I'll be adding them to the list above. Merry Christmas!!

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