Thursday, December 27, 2012

A few traditions

Our little family tried a few new traditions this Christmas.

I've already blogged about our North Pole Breakfast a million times. I promise I'm done after this :)

The Mini Express was a huge hit! We'll definitely do that again. When I made the tickets, I intentionally didn't put dates on it so they could be reused.

We had our two nieces over and enjoyed a Prep'n'Landing movie night. We had breakfast for dinner. My 4 year old niece kept saying, "that's my favorite!" Pancakes for dinner? "That's my favorite!" Popcorn during a movie? "That's my favorite!" Even though I was fighting a horrible cough and Ryan purposely spilled his popcorn all over the couch, it was a great night.

We hosted Christmas Eve dinner for my family. Although we've done that before, this year I added Grinch Punch to the dessert menu. Um, Yummo! The recipe calls for lime sherbet, which is difficult to find at the grocery in the days leading up to Christmas, so I substituted Pineapple sherbet instead. I actually think it probably made it taste better.

My nephew, Hunter, enjoying some Grinch punch!
Even though we already enjoyed the great light display at the City park, my original plan was to drive around town to see lights on houses in our town. The local paper published the winner of the Light Up Town contest along with the 4 runners up. On Christmas Eve Eve, we drove around and admired the scene. The first couple houses were awesome. I can't believe people in our town do up their houses so much! Who knew?? I actually forgot to take a pic of the winner, but these are the top two runners up.

The winning house had a Santa projector in their living room window which made it look like Santa was coming up to the window and looking around outside (at you). It was very realistic looking-- I even commented to Craig that I was pretty sure it was a real person dressed up like Santa. After thinking how cool it was, my next thought was, "we should buy that and set it up outside someone's bedroom window to really scare the crap out of them one night."

My point: it was equal parts cool and creepy. See for yourself:


Oh, and I captured some really great pics.

Our Christmas Cards book from this years cards

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Elf on the Shelf {Recap}

Recipe for a great Elf on the Shelf season:

- Lots of planning
- Too many dollar bin and dollar $tore trips to count
- A willing and helpful spouse 

And the critical ingredient...

This was the first year of our tradition and I couldn't be happier with how things turned out. 

It started with our first ever North Pole Breakfast (inspired by the superbly talented Jessica over at Lil Pumpkin Grace- must be the name ;)  

Although Ryan was more than a little confused when he woke up on December 1st, he quickly came to accept the sugary breakfast that awaited him. This also served as the introduction to the Elf on the Shelf. After a day of thinking about it, Ryan decided to name the Elf Jolly.

Overall, I consider this a very successful EOTS experience. The genuine wonder in Ryan's eyes and the excitement with which he greeted each morning made this an absolute pleasure for me and my husband. It's not far fetched to say that we enjoyed it just as much as Ryan did (and if you believe my dad, we probably enjoyed it more). I worried if Ryan being only 2.5 years old would be problematic-- maybe he wouldn't participate as much as I had hoped; or maybe he wouldn't "get" it. I was thrilled to be proven wrong. Ryan seemed to sincerely love every minute of it.

A few thoughts on our experience (I'm documenting this mostly for my own benefit :) )--

- Planning was critical. I'm a Type A personality who dives into projects 110%, so it was important to me that I followed through each and every day. What fun would it be if Ryan awakened to find Jolly in the same spot? I'm notorious for starting a project and never finishing it. In order to commit, I HAD to plan. I printed up a blank calendar and had every day planned out by mid-October. This helped with expenses too since I was able to snag most props for $1 or less. I bought a $5 tub at Target and kept it in the dining room so when I picked up a thing or two at the store, I could easily drop it in the bin and keep everything in one place.

- Ultimately I had a good mix of complex/detailed activities and then some easy peasy no-time-to-set-up plans. The list consisted of things I knew I wanted to do (lighted tree, the Elf Garden) and then I had a list of 2 or 3 really easy go-to activities (e.g. book club). 

- I should have planned ahead and compiled the Elf Recovery Kit sooner. Although Ryan did really well with not touching Jolly (except for the one time), I had planned to get something like this put together before Dec 1st, but just forgot. Thank goodness he touched Jolly on a not-so-busy day :) Now that I have it printed, I saved everything to use again next year. 

- From what I can tell, Ryan seemed to enjoy things that incorporated his toys or his favorite activities. As much as I loved stealing ideas off Pinterest being creative, at his young age, Ryan didn't quite understand some of the more detailed activities. Next year, I want to make more of an effort to use things Ryan likes. 

- While I had each activity planned well in advance, I didn't do well at planning where Jolly would hide. Sometimes that's what took the most time-- planning where to set things up. I knew what I wanted to do and I had all of the props, but finding a place to set it up was challenging. Note to self for next year: be more creative with where he hides :)

- The other time consuming aspect was that Jolly was often difficult to physically set up. He doesn't sit up well on his own so even though I knew I wanted him to play angry birds, getting him to sit down and stay in place was very time consuming (and frustrating). I had seen a post on how to make Jolly flexible (and therefore, more easy to handle), but I didn't think it was that necessary. I was wrong. Truth be told, I didn't want to sew. I'm pretty intimidated by sewing needles.

- I'm really glad I didn't start EOTS on the day after Thanksgiving. Most people I know start it then, but I knew my limitations and decided to wait until Dec 1st. I'm VERY glad I waited. The 23 days we did were plenty for us. 

- For next year, I want to plan a few more service oriented activities for Jolly to do. Although I think Ryan kinda understood the Canned Good donation tree from this year, I think that next year he'll be the perfect age to start truly understanding the concept of giving to others. This has nothing to do with the comment a gal posted on guest blog I did for another website about how she doesn't think I incorporated enough service-to-others activities into my holiday planning. All I can say to that is she clearly doesn't know us :) 

Today I packed everything up from this year, make a few handwritten notes as reminders/suggestions for next year and closed up shop for this season. 

Used a cardboard photo mailer to store the notes,
 Mini Express tickets, and Elf Recovery paperwork
Even though I'm glad it's over, it really was very fun. 

As an adult, recapturing the magic that we felt as kids can be difficult. This is the first year in as many as I can remember when I actually got goosebumps thinking about how magical the Christmas season can be-- seeing the twinkle in Ryan's eyes each morning and experiencing his excitement brought that back. 

Until next year...

Elf on the Shelf Day 23

Here we are-- over three weeks after our North Pole breakfast (I can't believe it's been that long since feels like yesterday!).

It's the final day of Jolly's first Christmas season in our home.

To celebrate, Jolly left us some Elf-sized donuts. Obviously he ate some of them too....

Ryan did really well with the Elf on the Shelf. Except for the one time, he never touched him. Nearly every morning, Ryan's first thought was to locate Jolly. He seemed genuinely surprised each time Jolly was in a new hiding spot. I loved seeing the sparkle of wonder in Ryan's eyes when he realized what exactly Jolly was doing (playing angry birds, enjoying a picnic, knitting an ugly sweater).

I can't say that Jolly's presence helped Ryan's behavior any, but we also didn't overly emphasize that aspect of things (per the book, the Elf is basically a scout for Santa and reports back to him every night about your child's behavior). It's not that I think that's a bad thing, but we just didn't think to use Jolly as a "you better watch out" tool. Ryan is also a very good kid, so maybe it's that we didn't *have* to use it. Maybe next year (not that I'm asking for him to misbehave!!)

I've got an Elf on the Shelf recap post planned where I'll review things I liked and things I need to improve upon for next year. Until then...

Elf on the Shelf Day 22

With a little patience and some special attention, look what grew!

See what happens when you use Christmas tree sprinkles? Christmas tree cookies sprout!

My sister and their elf, Santy, planted peppermint discs and grew candy canes. I like that idea too.

Elf on the Shelf Day 21

This was a really fun day for Jolly and RJ.

Jolly left an Elf Gardening kit for Ryan.

With instructions to:

1) Plan red and green seeds (tic tacs)
2) Water the seeds with Elf sprinkles (tree shaped sugar sprinkles) three times today
3) Wait for a magical treat to grow

Ryan really enjoyed planting the seeds (in a bowl full of sugar) and sprinkling them with the trees.

Craig and I went to see Wicked with Scott and Robin (LOVE that musical), so Tiffany and Gracie babysat. I think Gracie enjoyed watering too :)

After Wicked, we went to a fabulous Greek restaurant in St. Louis. Scott and Robin help us try new foods. I meant to take pics of the appetizer we had (fried goat cheese; I'm forgetting the fancy Greek name for it) which was DELICIOUS. They pour a shot of brandy on it and light it on fire. Opa!

Elf on the Shelf Day 20

Jolly got his magic back! Thanks to the Elf recovery kit from Santa and a little extra TLC from Ryan, Jolly was back to his old self today!

He grabbed a few local friends and had story time with one of Ryan's favorite books.

I think Ryan most enjoys the days when Jolly incorporates things Ryan his books, or his toys, or Angry Birds. As much as Jolly loves being creative and

Elf on the Shelf Day 19

Houston, we had a problem.

During Jolly's joy ride with Santa, Ryan just couldn't help himself and he touched the Elf!

If you know the story of Elf on the Shelf, then you know that touching Jolly is a no-no. If he's touched, he could lose his magic and no longer be able to fly to the North Pole to report to Santa.

The cool part was the Ryan admitted that he had touched Jolly (I didn't see it). He came into the kitchen while I was making lunch and said "Mommy! I touched Jolly and he didn't lose his magic!"

I explained that he *DID* lose his magic and that we'd have to wait and see what happened.

The next morning.....

Jolly was found resting in a Kleenex box. Fortunately, Santa sent an Elf Recovery kit (thanks to Over the Big Moon). A few times during the day, Ryan sprinkled magic Elf dust on Jolly in hopes that his magic would return. The kit also came with a cute poem and an Elf Certificate of Health. I'm just thankful I didn't have to make this stuff myself!

Ryan seemed remorseful about having touched Jolly and went the rest of the month without even going near him :)

Elf on the Shelf Day 18

Jolly is a bad boy at seen here on Santa's motorcycle.

(Somedays I wish we had some Barbie gear lying around. I would have loved to throw a Ken-sized leather jacket on Jolly...)

Elf on the Shelf Day 17

So, someone forgot to snap a pic of Jolly for Day 16...doh!

He was flying in the washing machine, though.

Through the front loading door, you could see him suspended in the air and every once in a while, he'd fly!

Ryan really got a kick out of this one...although it's probably the only year we'll get away with tying dental floss around the Elf's neck this set up.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Elf on the Shelf Day 16

Jolly brought Ryan a train and a copy of The Polar Express!!


Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Mini Express

All weekend, I told Craig I had a surprise for Ryan and him. I told him he wouldn't know when it was coming, but that he'd really enjoy it.

Saturday morning, a friend dropped off some grapefruits that we ordered to support Rotary. Craig thought that was his surprise because he loves grapefruit :) "Nope, it'll come though!"

We went ALL weekend without the big reveal. Then tonight, after we had dinner and skyped with the in-laws, Craig reminded me that I had a surprise for him and I must have forgotten about it. I acted all disappointed and put out that I had "forgotten." I apologized and said I was too tired and that I promised he'd get it tomorrow.

Then we headed up to put Ryan to bed for the evening.

After he changed into his PJs, Ryan found one of these handmade tickets on his pillow:

Turns out I had little surprise up my sleeve. It involved driving, Christmas lights, popcorn and M&Ms.

Ryan thought he was going to bed, but we were really going to drive through the City park of lights!

Buddy came too :)
Cheese! He was so excited! 

We drove to a local park which had a very nice (albeit small) display. The best part was the dancing lights that were timed to the music playing over the radio. For a small display, they did a wonderful job!

We had a great time and enjoyed supporting this community effort. Ryan really liked the lights, but I think he also liked the M&Ms and the fact that he stayed up an hour and a half past his bedtime :) You're only young once!
In the wake of the tragedy in Newton, CT, we're all hugging our kiddos more often and kissing them a little longer. It's deeply saddening and heartwrenching to think of what those affected by the shootings are faced with. I can't even imagine. I tear up thinking about a family who won't pick up their child from school anymore, or hear them laugh down the hall when they're settling down to sleep, or opening up their gifts on Christmas. Heartbreaking.

We all do what we can. Today, I made sure to spend time with Ryan as I made several dozen cookies for a cookie exchange tomorrow. Honestly, I probably wouldn't have included him in the baking pre-tragedy. Isn't that sad? I would have thought about how much he would have gotten in the way, what a mess he would have made and how I'd have to answer a million questions about what we were doing. I don't like admitting that, but this is what a tragedy does. It gives you a much needed new perspective.

He didn't get in the way, and he didn't make a big mess and he didn't ask a million questions. He did, though, laugh and smile and sing "Jinger Bells."

It was his first real time helping me out and we had a great time.Although he was very skeptical of the electric mixer, he ultimately made nice and we got some good eats to show for it.

Look at that smile! 

Did a great job mixing

"Um, ma, what's this thing?

"Pretty cool!"

Crunching the corn flakes for the cookies.

Delicious Cherry Winks (recipe compliments of my late Grandma Mac)

Bags of cookies for my first ever cookie exchange

I have a fun surprise in store for my little family tonight. It's going to be really fun. More to come on that....