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This is Aleah.

{Winter Vacation 2013:} Quebec City

We’ve just returned from our winter vacation to Quebec City, Canada, and to say we had a wonderful time would be an understatement. We enjoyed ourselves every bit as much as we did four years ago and honestly even more because we were able to share the fun with people we love. Read more [+]

Week 2 with Our Elf on the Shelf

Here’s what Rainbow was up to during her second week at our house:

Day 8

Last Saturday, December 1st, Rainbow arrived back from her nightly visit to the North Pole with a couple Christmas advent activities for Lauren.  They included a traditional chocolate advent calendar and a fun Santa beard advent activity. Because Rainbow landed on the stack of wrapped Christmas books from this year’s book advent (seen here), Lauren thinks the books are all presents from Rainbow as well.  (I’m okay letting Rainbow take the credit, really.)

I downloaded this adorable Santa Beard Advent calendar can be from Inviting Printables.  I printed onto 150g Brochure paper (but any paper would work) and glued the printout onto a piece of red cardstock for extra stability (always good with two-year-old).  Then I added some plaid ribbon for hanging.  Lauren LOVES gluing a “puffy thing” on each day!

Day 9

On Sunday morning, Lauren was delighted to find Rainbow reading Christmas stories to some of her stuffed friends.

Day 10

It took us a little while to find Rainbow on Monday morning.  I guess she was in a crafty mood and decided to “decorate” our milk like a Christmas tree.  Lucky, for Lauren she brought along some special Christmas cookies to go with that green milk!

Day 11

Rainbow was still in a crafty mood on Tuesday.  She made treat bags with white cheddar “Snowballs” for Lauren to share with all her friends at a special Elf on the Shelf playdate we were attending that day (read more below).

The printable tags Rainbow used were downloaded from AndersRuff.  (EVERYTHING these talented ladies create is absolutely adorable, so be sure to check out their site.) Who knew elves were computer savvy and crafty? You can download you’re own free printable tags here!

Day 12

With three other trees throughout the house, Rainbow decided Lauren needed a tree of her very own.  Wednesday, she set up a tiny four-foot-tall tree in Lauren’s playroom.  She added colored lights and left ornaments waiting for Lauren to decorate it with.  Lauren was SO excited! Here’s how the tree looked when she finished:

All of the ornaments are kid-safe, and Lauren LOVES un-deocrating and re-decorating the tree each day!

Day 13

Rainbow knew how late Lauren was up the night before, so she started making Mommy a latte as soon as she flew back from the North Pole on Thursday morning.  We’re lucky to have such a considerate little elf barista.

Day 14

This morning, Friday, Rainbow decided to land in our living room tree.

She brought Lauren a little Christmas tree craft too!

Did you miss last week’s post about what Rainbow did during her first week with us? You can click here to read all about it. I can’t wait to see what Rainbow has in store for Week 3!

Want more Elf on the Shelf ideas?

See Week 1 HERE!


See Weeks 3 & 4 HERE!

Before I wrap us this week’s post, I wanted to share pictures from two fun, Christmas playdates we attended this week. (This can also serve as an explanation for why I personally didn’t post much this week.  We were too busy having fun!)

Tuesday, our good friends Pam and Sarah hosted an Elf on the Shelf playdate.  Such a fun idea! The kids watched the animated Elf on the Shelf movie while sipping on boxes of chocolate milk (less messy than hot cocoa).

Both moms and kids alike enjoyed munching on red and green Christmas snacks, including these sweet “North Pole” cupcakes Pam served up.

Such a fun day!

On Wednesday, our sweet friends Erin, Mary, and Rosie hosted “A Recycled Christmas” playdate.  Together mommies and kids created Christmas houses from recycled containers and leftover craft supplies. Here are some of our finished works of holiday art:

Erin’s playdate idea was inspired by a post on one of my favorite blogs, Paging Supermom.  You can read all about their original “Recycled Christmas Village” here.  Life As A Mom also has some super-cute gingerbread house printables we used.  (Click here to visit the site and download.) Thanks for a great afternoon! We love you girls!

These are great Christmas activity ideas for children of all ages.  Lauren and I are lucky to have such fun and creative friends to celebrate with, and I hope they’ve inspired you to have some fun of your own.

Have a happy weekend everyone!

Soup To-Do List

It might be more appropriate to call this post a “To-Cook” or “To-Eat” list, but in any case, now that  winter’s just around the corner it’s time to start eating more soup. Some of these are recipes I’ve shared before (or need to share) and some are recipes I’ve pinned and want to try.    (Just click the recipe names for links to the full recipe.)

First, my own Spicy Corn Chowder.  I wish I had frozen some fabulous New Jersey sweet corn to make this with, but frozen will have to do because I can’t wait until next summer to enjoy this soup again! Read more [+]

{Menu Monday:} Week of December 3, 2012

WOW! I can’t believe it’s December! The last month of 2012! Are you ready for Christmas? I think we pretty much are.  The house is decorated inside and out, gifts are purchased and wrapped (a few need to be shipped still), cards have gone out. I’m looking forward to having the rest of the month to enjoy the fun activities on my Christmas To-Do List.  Oh, and looking forward to going here…

I’m not sure it’s settled in that we’re going yet (and the trips only be in the works since last spring!) I’m very excited and so is Lauren.  She keeps saying, “Who wants to go to Paris? Meeee!!!!” Gotta love a two-year-old asking rectorial questions to herself (and answering)! Back to this week though…

Andy’s traveling, and Lauren and I have a busy schedule (meetings, playdates, gymnastics, storytime, crafts and activities).  It’s always good to spend time with friends stay busy while Daddy’s away.  Even though I should, I really don’t feel like cooking.  I’m also torn between wanting to eat “easy” things (because cooking when Andy’s gone is pretty much just cooking for me since Lauren doesn’t eat-anything) and wanting to eat healthy.  I see a lot of Lean Cuisines (and maybe a trip to Panera Bread) in my future… I have an idea of what we’ll eat for lunch and dinner each day, but I haven’t prepared a real menu like I normally would.  Sorry.  To make up for it keep reading for my “Soup To-Do List.”  It’s a collection of nine soups I hope to make this winter.

Happy Monday (and December), Everyone!

Our Elf-Week 1

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about how our family would be getting an Elf on the Shelf this year.  Well, I’m happy to announce that she has arrived! She made her first appearance the Saturday after Thanksgiving.

I think she was too tired from her appearance in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade to come any sooner.  (I know Mommy and Daddy were.)

Day 1 – North Pole Breakfast

The first morning she arrived Lauren’s elf brought some a special “North Pole Breakfast” including Mrs. Claus’ famous snow covered donuts.

Read more [+]

{2012} Christmas Book Advent

2011 Christmas Book Advent

I’m continuing the tradition of creating a Christmas Book Advent for Lauren this year.  (The photo above is from last year, and boy was it hard to get her to sit still on that pile of wrapped books!) Here’s how it works, wrap twenty-four Christmas books.  Then, each night before bed, your child can unwrap one to read as their bedtime story. It’s a sweet way to count down to Christmas.

Thankfully, I collected dozens of children’s Christmas books during the seven years I taught elementary school before having Lauren.  We’ve added to the collection each year since Lauren was born as well.

To prepare, I carefully went through all the books, selecting my own favorites as well as titles that are appropriate for a (nearly) two-and-a-half year old.  (To me choosing books on Lauren’s level and short enough for her to sit through is always the most challenging part.) I also tried to think about age-appropriate activities to go along with some of the books.  I know there are pins going around on Pinterest that have a books with an activity for each day, but that’s just not realistic for us. (I’m not sure if I feel bad about that or not.  We have a lot going on…)  I have a few activities I really want to do with Lauren, so I penciled those onto our full December calendar.  We’ll read the book that best corresponds the night before.

Here’s the order for this year:

December 1st: Llama, Llama Holiday Drama by Anna Dewdney

Do you know the Llama, Llama books? We love them all! This is one of the first new Christmas books we bought Lauren two years ago.  It’s still a favorite and that’s why it’s number one on our  list.  Like all Llama, Llama books, it has clever rhyming and a really sweet message.

December 2nd: My Penguin Osbert  by Elizabeth Cody Kimmel

This is another one of my personal favorites.  I’ve been reading and loving it since I was teaching back in Texas.  It’s great for bigger kids too!

December 3rd: Bears Stays Up for Christmas by Karma Wilson

Another favorite, I’m beginning to sound like a broken record! Bear is another character we love and there are lots of other “Bear” books you should check out year-round.

December 4th: Curious George Christmas Countdown

This is a brand new book.  Lauren LOVES George and counting is a big thing for us right now.  I know she’ll be excited when she unwraps this one!

December 5th: Frosty the Snowman by Steve Nelson and Jack Rollins

We’re going to try out this recipe for “Snow Paint” I found on Homemaking Fun via Pinterest as an activity to go along with this book. Looks cute, right? And Lauren LOVES sensory activities and art so it should be a double hit! Read more [+]

{2012} Christmas To-Do List

Image Source: (free printable) Craftily Every After

Over the past couple of weeks my Christmas To-Do list from last year, 2011, has been viewed nearly 200 times! Wow! I guess I’d better share what I hope to do in celebration of the season this year.  Without further delay here is…

My {2012} Christmas To-Do List

1. Holiday Baking

This will include, but is certainly not limited to, baking and decorating my second “from-scratch” gingerbread house (read about my first one here) as well as baking and “painting” my family’s famous “Van Dusen Christmas Cookies.” Lauren painted cookies for the first time at Halloween and she loved it.  I can’t wait for her to be a part of one of my family’s oldest and most-loved traditions.

2. Host a Cookie Exchange

This will be my “Third Annual” cookie exchange, so it’s safe to say it’s becoming a tradition.  Last year’s party was a “Winter Woodland” theme with a hot cocoa bar. (Click here to see all the details.)  This year I’ve chosen a “Christmas Candyland” theme.  You can check out the Pinterest board I’ve created for the event to get an idea of what I have in the works.

3.Christmas Crafts & Activities with Lauren

The MUST are daily Elf on the Shelf fun (read about it here), our Christmas Book Advent (read about last year’s here and this year’s here), and making Gingerbread playdough. Another thing I’m really looking forward to is visiting a local nursing home with our MOMS Club friends.  It’s always so nice and the kids love spreading Christmas cheer!

4. Family Polar Express Christmas Lights Night

This fun idea was inspired by Pinterest.  One night, while Andy and Lauren complete her normal bedtime routine (brush teeth, bath, PJs), I’ll quietly pop popcorn and make hot cocoa.  When Lauren climbs into bed, she’ll find a “Family Polar Express” ticket waiting! Surprise! We’ll all pile into our “Family Polar Express” (the car) in our PJs and drive around looking at Christmas lights while listening to Christmas music and enjoying cocoa and popcorn! So fun, right? Even though we’ll have read the book as a part of our Book Advent, I’m not sure Lauren will fully get the connection this year, but I just can’t wait to start this fun tradition.

5. Watch My Favorite Holiday Movies

Elf, Home Alone, and Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas top the list.  It just wouldn’t be Christmas without them.  A Charlie Brown Christmas is another must-see, and I’m a sucker for any Hallmark Christmas movie (which Andy can’t stand).  Are you a holiday movie lover too? I recently found this link via Pinterest.

It gives the complete daily schedule for ABC Family Channel’s “25 Days of Christmas.” JACKPOT!

Many of the things on this year’s list were on last year’s list too.  I love tradition, and I’m trying very hard to create special ones for our little family.  I’m also happy to say that I’ve already completed some of the things that were on last year’s list.  The house is decorated-hooray! (Pictures to come.)   We had our Christmas card photo shoot this past Sunday morning, cards have been printed, stamps have been purchase, address list has been updated and I hope to have cards in the mail by December 1st.  (I’ve acutally already received one card from a super on-the-ball friend! Way to go Jenny!)

As funny as it sounds, I’m already thinking of a few things for next year’s list.  They are things I just don’t think Lauren’s ready for this year but things I know she’ll love in 2013.  (ice skating in Central Park, seeing the Rockettes and the Nutcracker, a special Grinch family movie night)

Merry Christmas!


Update 2: Fall {2012} To-Do List Complete-Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade!

I’m happy to say I completed all nine items on my Fall {2012} Do-List! (See the full list here and my first update here.) The last thing to check off my list was taking Lauren to her first Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and I’m so glad we did!

We headed into the city on Wednesday morning so we could enjoy some pre-parade fun.  After checking into our hote, we had lunch at one of our favorite restaurants, Carmine’s.  Then walked down Broadway to see the parade balloons being inflated.  The Wednesday before the parade the balloons are inflated on the blocks on either side of the American Museum of Natural History (77th & 81st).  It is crowded, but it’s really fun to walk around and see.  This is a true New York activity and a favorite for our family.  When Andy and I lived in the city we’d go after work each year (even years that we didn’t go to the parade).  (Sorry,  I don’t have any Lauren-free pictures to share.) If you’re ever in the city for the parade this is a MUST DO.

After checking out the balloons we headed across the park to the East side for a little shopping.  Of course, we had to take Lauren to FAO Swartz.  It wasn’t her first visit, but she still had a wonderful time picking out Christmas gifts for her cousins, and herself.  After that, we headed to my all-time favorite store, Bloomingdales.  We ate some Forty Carrots frozen yogurt (another NYC MUST) and shopped until Lauren dropped, or rather had a mega-meltdown in the cashmere salon.

Then it was back to the hotel to (try and) rest up for the big day ahead.  Here are just a few of the (hundreds of) pictures we took…

We left our hotel between 6:00 and 6:30 AM.  Our goal was 6:30, and if you know me, you know I’m ALWAYS late, so this was HUGE for me! To be honest I was so excited and nervous about getting a viewing spot I could barely sleep the night before! Read more [+]

{Menu Monday:} Week of November 26, 2012

After a long weekend of Thanksgiving eating food really isn’t on my mind. None the less, I’ve made our family menu for this week, and here it is:

Monday: Buffalo Chicken Salad

Tuesday: Cheesy-Potato Soup with Salad

We’re expecting a little snow, so a warm bowl soup is the perfect dinner. Click here to see my post on this family favorite and get the recipe.

Wednesday: Salisbury Steak

Easy comfort food! Click here for the recipe.

Thursday: Pizza Muffins

These are Andy’s new favorite-fast, easy, yummy!

Friday: Beef Fajitas

Aside from our families, the biggest thing we miss from Texas is Tex-Mex.  We’ve had to learn how to cook our own, and we’ve gotten pretty good at it.  We make fajitas with flank steak and this great marinade.

It’s made by a small local company, Jardine’s, in Buda, Texas just minutes from where Andy and I went to college at Texas State.  (I even took my class on a field trip to their facility one of the first years when I was teaching.) Jardine’s products are widely available in Texas and can be found in specialty and gourmet stores around the country.  Lucky for us, Andy’s parents send us bottle by mail.  Thanks Debbie and Jim!

Happy Monday, Everyone!