Monday, December 29, 2014

Christmas Countdown Week 4

I had this post ready to go and was just waiting to get my photos uploaded before posting when LO AND BEHOLD my camera went and freaked out. Literally crazy. It thinks the battery door is open so it won't turn on, which means I'm having trouble uploading pictures from the camera to the computer. Bummer. So, for those of you who were waiting to see what we did to finish up our Christmas countdown, here's the text and a few bad cell phone photos. Sigh. I hope to get the camera issue fixed soon; thanks for your patience in the mean time.

Hard to believe Christmas is here already! I feel like December just FLEW by. We had a busy week, and had to be a little flexible with our activities due to bad weather.  Check out how we wrapped up our Christmas countdown below.

Day 22: Mistletoes craft.  I saw this idea on Pinterest and had to do a version of it.  It poured some green fingerpaint onto a plate, pushed Ry's feet into the paint (one at a time) and then stamped the feet on a 5.5 inch x 8.5 inch piece of cardstock.  Later, I added the word "Mistletoes" and bow at the top.  I plan to use these as thank you notes. They turned out so cute!

Day 23: Wrap presents.  Yeah, there's no way I would be able to wrap presents with a busy toddler running around. I imagine he would have WAY too much fun ripping the paper to shreds as I tried in vain to wrap items. I decided to avoid that catastrophe and just wrap the presents after he went to bed.  We left them out on our 3-season porch until after he was asleep on Christmas Eve, then moved the gifts in under the tree.  His little face was so cute when he saw the all the packages under the tree on Christmas morning!  He was like, "WOW!!"

Day 24: Christmas Eve service at church and t-shirt tradition.  It was a blessing to take part in our Christmas Eve service at church this year.  We sang several carols, the choir sang, and there was a vocal duet.  I accompanied on piano and that was challenging, but I enjoyed it.  I have to admit, though, I'm glad I don't have to practice the arrangement for the choir number anymore. I've been playing it multiple times almost every day for the last 2 months! Whew!!!  After the music, our pastor spoke for a few minutes on Christ.  Truly, Christ is the whole point of Christmas - not just his birth, but his life, death, and resurrection as well.

Also on Christmas Eve, I did our T-Shirt Tradition.  I know most of you have no idea what I'm talking about, so I'll elaborate.  A lot of families give their children special pajamas to wear Christmas Eve, etc.  I have kind of an obsession with t-shirts and have quite an extensive collection: t-shirts that have funny quotes or cute designs, or commemorate an event or vacation spot.  This is our 3rd year doing the Christmas Eve T-Shirt Tradition.  I typically pick a theme and buy coordinating t-shirts for M and myself (last year was Keep Calm shirts from LOL Shirts).  This year, we felt that Ry was old enough to join in, so we did a shirt for him as well.  I had originally planned to do a different theme, but I came across this Hobbit inspired t-shirt and knew I just had to do something similar for Ry.  Of course, once I picked his shirt design, I had to carry on the theme for both M and myself.  In the interest of frugality this year, I did iron on transfers and "made" the shirts myself.  I already had a couple of plain t-shirts hanging around that I never wear (because they're plain and boring), as did M.  I actually sewed a new shirt for Ry using this tutorial from Dana Made It and one of M's old shirts that had a stain on it.

Ry's shirt says, "I Eat Like a Hobbit" (inspired by this one) surrounded by a list of Hobbit meals (the book talks about the Hobbits eating 7 meals a day and sometimes I feel like Ry does too! It was perfect for him!).

M's shirt is a graphic of Gandalf, Bilbo and the 13 dwarves similar to this one.  I wanted something a little more understated, so I went with a simple  J.R.R. Tolkien quote: "Even the smallest person can change the course of the future." 

Fun fact:  You can download some Lord of the Rings/Hobbit fonts for free here.  It totally makes everything look more authentic!

Anyway, I digress. The point of our t-shirt tradition is that we wear the t-shirts Christmas morning while we open presents and take pictures. It's wicked fun. What will next year's theme be, I wonder?

Hope your Christmas season was jam packed with blessings and memories. Mine was!

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Christmas Countdown Week 3

Here's the recap of the Christmas countdown activities we enjoyed this past week.  See the countdown explanation here, the Week 1 summary here, or the Week 2 summary here.

Day 15: Hot cocoa with homemade marshmallows.  Check the bottom of this post for my own Dairy Free Hot Cocoa recipe.  Yummy.  I also made these homemade marshmallows from Urban Poser. It would have been a good idea to have a candy thermometer, but I wanted to try the recipe anyway.  Oops... I over cooked the honey syrup a little, so my marshmallows were a little dark and slightly "brown" tasting, but still good. I also loaded the whipped marshmallow creaminess into a pastry bag and piped it out in long rows on a sheet of parchment paper, then chilled it for a couple hours before snipping into mini marshmallows.  Super easy and cute.   Hot cocoa + marshmallows = YUMMMMMMM.

Day 16: Watch a Christmas movie.  This one was for the grown-ups, but that didn't stop us from watching a kid's movie.  M chose Prep & Landing/Prep & Landing: Naughty vs. Nice. (2 short films I have on DVD) It took us about 45 minutes to watch both parts, and then of course we had to watch the "totally tinsel" bonus features:  hysterical "elf" versions of TV commercials and cast interviews. I personally wouldn't recommend this cartoon for really young children, but we thought it was pretty cute. You can watch the trailers here and here.

Day 17: Mess-free fingerpainting activity. I got the idea for this on Pinterest (where else!?).  I wanted to do more of a transparent consistency (a simplified version of this), but couldn't find my food coloring! So, I started with a squirt of hair gel (to make things goopy), then added some red, green, and yellow fingerpaint, then added some sprinkles for texture.  Next time we do this activity, I'll skip the sprinkles and gel and just do the paints - or, find the food coloring and do the activity more like the original idea.  Anyway, Ry Guy had fun with it! We'll definitely be doing more variations of this one in the future.

Day 18: Play "stuff the stocking".  This was an easy game that Ry Guy really enjoyed.  I gathered about 15 objects of different sizes, shapes and texture, and stuffed them into a Christmas stocking.  Then, we took the objects out and named them, then put them back in one at a time until Ry got bored with it. A good 15 minutes of entertainment there, though. Next year, we'll try having him reach in without looking and try to guess what the object is before pulling it out.

Day 19: Make cookies for the neighbors. In the past, I've done cookies or quick bread or goodie trays. But, last year I decided to do cookie dough instead and it was a big hit.  People get so over sugared around the holidays between parties and family get together.  It can get a little overwhelming. So, we decided to bless our neighbors with a package of frozen cookie dough balls that they can thaw and bake at their convenience. This year, I created a new recipe, Brown Butter Chocolate Chip Pecan cookies.  I may have to find a name that's less of a mouthful. They smell like toffee and got RAVE reviews from M and one of my neighbors who couldn't wait to indulge!  Check back for the full recipe post coming soon.

Day 20: Shop for stocking stuffers.  I had most of M's and Ry's stocking stuffers already, but I needed to get a few things for my other family members since we'll be doing stockings with them.  Wow is all I can say.  Traffic is crazy... so many people!  Now I remember why we try to avoid shopping in stores between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Yikes.

Day 21: Read the Christmas story in the Bible.  So we remember what Christmas is truly about, we read Matthew 1:18-2:12 and Luke 1:26-2:20. Familiar words, but what a great reminder! God is WITH us!!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The Ry Guy Report: 18 Months

Weight  22 lb

Height  29 inches

  • Engages in imaginative play
  • Points to show something interesting
  • Says 9 words (plus does sound effects, like "ding dong" and "vroom")
  • Shows affection to familiar people
  • Knows what ordinary objects are for (like telephone, brush, shoes, spoon)
  • Points to 2 body parts (nose and belly)
  • Scribbles on his own
  • Can follow one-step requests without gestures (like "go to your chair", or "bring the basket to Daddy", etc.)
  • Walks alone
  • Drinks from an open cup
  • Eats with a spoon
  • Helps dress/undress himself
  • Enjoys filling and emptying containers
  • Wants to do everything himself

Helping Daddy vacuum!

  • Imitating Mom and Dad (cooking, talking on the phone, folding laundry)
  • Drinking coconut milk!!!
  • Almond crackers
  • "Driving" the laundry basket up and down the hallway (even does the vroom vroom noise)
  • Helping Daddy sweep the floor
  • Christmas tree & lights
  • Christmas ornaments (hasn't broken any yet, just likes taking them off the tree)

  • Miscommunication
  • Changes to his routine
  • Teething (finally got 2 new teeth!)
  • Waiting... for anything...

Big helper! Ry loves doing anything Daddy's doing.

The Quotable Ry Guy  He tries to say, "coffee", but it comes out "kah-kuff" or something to that effect.  He enjoys helping Daddy make coffee in the Keurig every morning.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Christmas Countdown Week 2

Here's the recap of the Christmas countdown activities we enjoyed this past week.  See the countdown explanation here, or the Week 1 summary here.

Day 8: Call Grandma.  This one is pretty self explanatory. Ry Guy loves the phone, and he's called or texted grandma on accident several times.  This time we actually called her on purpose and he "talked" for a few seconds before wandering off to play. That's ok, Grandma loves it.

Day 9: Learn Christmas signs. We've been working with Ry Guy on learning sign language since he was about 5 months old. He knows quite a few signs now, but we didn't know any Christmas related signs, so I went over to and we learned some new signs together: Christmas tree, Jesus, ornament, snowflake.  Also, I looked up the signs for cow, donkey, sheep and camel so we could do a sign for each of the animals in our nativity set.  Not sure how much he remembers, but now that M and I know the signs, we'll keep repeating them frequently this month and hopefully he'll pick up on them.

Day 10: Make smelling jars.  This is a Montessori inspired activity.  I used scented wax melts instead of the real item or essential oils, since that's what I had on hand.  The wax melts were scented balsam cedar, peppermint, and gingerbread.  I think Ry like the peppermint scent the best!

Day 11: Write and mail Christmas cards.  Also self explanatory. Confession: I don't know where my brain went, but it was definitely not present when I was addressing my cards. I put the wrong address down on two cards!  I had 82 on the brain for some reason, but no one I know has an 82 in their address. Sigh.

Day 12: Make Christmas cookies.  I LOVE to bake, but it's difficult to bake these days, what with all the food allergies.  I came across this recipe for Coconut Cut Out Cookies.  They were surprisingly good, although not as crunchy as I'd hoped. The coconut keeps the cookies pretty pliable. Instead of frosting, I created a sweetened nut butter spread (almost like a fondue!). See the bottom of this post for the recipe.  The verdict was YUM!

Day 13: Church Christmas dinner and white elephant gift exchange. The church dinner was a casserole potluck this year. Casseroles without any gluten, dairy, or eggs are a challenge. I came up with a roasted veggie and sausage "casserole" that seemed to be a hit. See the end of this post for the recipe. It was simple, but good!

We were surprised to discover that some of the ladies at church had put together little gift bags for the kids. Ry was very excited about his little stuffed dinosaur!

Day 14: Go sledding.  Had to adapt this one, as our beautiful snow is almost all melted.  Thankfully, the shady area in our backyard still has some snow, just a couple of inches.  We put Ry in our laundry basket and M pushed him around the backyard.  We called it a "Chariot Ride" instead of sledding.  After a few minutes, Ry wanted out of the basket and helped Daddy push the basket around for a while. Great fun!

Almond Coconut Chunks/Spread/"Fondue"
by Raye
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Keywords: no-cook blender condiment dessert egg-free gaps peanut-free refined sugar free soy-free
  • 1-1/2 c. shredded coconut
  • ¾ c. sliced almonds
  • 2 Tbsp coconut oil (refined)
  • 2 tsp raw honey
  • ¾ tsp ground cinnamon
  • ¼ tsp Real Salt
  • Dash ground nutmeg
  • Dash ground cloves
  • Process the shredded coconut down to coconut butter (45 seconds on highest speed in the Blendtec twister jar). Remove to a mixing bowl.
  • Add almonds to blender jar and process to a smooth almond butter (In Blendtec twister jar – 45 seconds on highest speed, 15 seconds on speed 2).
  • Add almond butter to coconut butter in mixing bowl. Stir in honey, cinnamon, salt, nutmeg and cloves. Stir until smooth.
Do one of the following:
  1. Dip cookies, cake pieces, etc. and place on a parchment paper lined tray. Refrigerate until set.
  2. Line a sheet pan (cookie sheet) with parchment paper. Pour mixture into pan and smooth top. Refrigerate until set. Use parchment paper to help you remove the mixture and cut into small chunks. Store in the refrigerator or freezer.
  3. Spread on top cookies or cake and chill until set.
  4. Eat with a spoon!! 

Roasted Root Vegetables and Sausage
by Raye
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 50-60 minutes
Keywords: stove top bake side entree gaps
Ingredients (8 servings)
  • 1 small butternut squash
  • 1 large yellow onion
  • 1 medium turnip (or 1/2 rutabaga) (or can substitute 2 potatoes)
  • 4 carrots
  • 1/2 lb bulk sausage
  • 2 Tbsp oil or bacon fat
  • Place fat in a 9x13 baking dish and place in the oven. Turn the oven on to 400*F. After a few minutes, when the fat has melted, remove the baking dish from the oven.
  • Chop turnip, squash, carrots and onion into bite sized pieces. Toss with melted fat in the pan. Sprinkle with salt, garlic powder and pepper.
  • Roast in the oven (uncovered) for about 40 minutes, or until veggies begin to brown.
  • While veggies are roasting, brown sausage in a skillet over medium heat. Set aside After 40 minutes of roasting, remove veggies from oven, add sausage. Return pan to oven until sausage is warmed through, about 5 minutes.
  • Remove from oven and serve immediately.
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Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Christmas Countdown Week 1

Here's the recap of the Christmas countdown activities we enjoyed this past week.  See the countdown explanation here.

Day 1: Decorate the house for Christmas. Here's Ry Guy helping me decorate. He loves the window clings. We had to work with him a little on leaving the clings ON the window, though. :) Believe it or not, he doesn't actually touch the Christmas tree - he won't even step on the tree skirt. I'm not sure why, we never told him that he couldn't and he doesn't act afraid of it. Anyway, it's actually a relief; I don't have to worry about him pulling the tree over or breaking ornaments. It's fun to see him "OOOOO" over the lights and pretty, glittery decorations.

Day 2: Make a starlight box. A starlight box is basically a cardboard box with holes punched in the top (I used scissors, but a flat tip screwdriver would work as well). Then, you pop the light bulbs from a strand of Christmas lights through the holes and plug in the strand I took the idea one step further and covered the mass of wires on the top of the box with an extra piece of cardboard, wired on with twisty ties.  That way, my little "Busy Bee" couldn't get curious and pull all the lights out of the holes and do who knows what with them. I also wired the side of the box to the legs of my card table to give it a little extra stability. I didn't want to worry about the box collapsing while Ry Guy was playing with it. He's not known for being gentle with things at this point.

Verdict:  Ry Guy is a fan! He actually fusses and brings me over to the box repeatedly until I plug in the lights for him. It's pretty cute.

Day 3: Sing and dance to Christmas tunes. Currently, Jingle Bells is the fave. We typically listen to Pandora through our DVD player, so Ry Guy also likes to bring me the remote while babbling something I think resembles "tunes".

Day 4: Build a snowman. Bummer, dude. The snow was too crunchy and icy to build a snowman. But, M and Ry Guy took a walk around outside in the chilly air while I was in town at a dr. appointment.

Day 5: (date!) Warm your toes in front of the fire, sip hot cider and read a book together. This was a fun date for us. Yet more proof that a date night doesn't have to mean leaving the house or spending lots of money. This one was simple, but fun. I warmed up some apple cider in a saucepan and whisked in some cinnamon and allspice.  Yummm! Then we threw some pillows and a blanket down on the floor in front of our gas fireplace and finished reading the Princess Bride together.  I just have to say, that book ends kind of abruptly, but I really enjoyed the story. Fezzik is my favorite character! I love his rhyming! And there are SOOOO many quotable lines.

Day 6: Attend the Tree Lighting ceremony downtown. I was pleasantly surprised to find our little town has quite a few activities going on this month.  We went downtown to the gazebo and watched the tree being lit and sang carols with a whole bunch of people we didn't know. That sounds a little strange to some, but we really enjoyed it. It was kind of cruddy, rainy weather. I hope it's clear weather next year so they'll have a better turnout. Ry Guy didn't seem to know what to think. He just looked around wide eyed and didn't make a peep.

Day 7: Read a Christmas story book. We actually read more than one book. I got a few books from the local library and also had "The Crippled Lamb" by Max Lucado and "Part of the Family" by William Fullington here at home in my collection.  My mom used to read "Part of the Family" to me when I was little and we always displayed the book on a shelf during the holiday season.  When I got married, Mom gave me a few special ornaments from childhood as well as the "Part of the Family" book.  I'm excited to carry on the tradition with my family: Ry Guy and I read the book together this year and I have the book displayed on a shelf in my entryway.

That wraps up week one of the Christmas Countdown (or Advent Calendar).  Check back next week for more pics and activities as the Christmas Countdown continues!

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Frugal Christmas Countdown (or Advent Calendar)

There's about a million (slight exaggeration, but only slight) ideas on Pinterest for Christmas countdowns or Advent calendars.

Bummer, though, none of them seemed to really fit our family's needs, or they required lots of craftiness (which I am not lacking, but it does take time to be crafty and time is something that I do not seem to have enough of here lately) or would be expensive to put together, or just weren't what I was looking for.  So, I made my own. Typical, I know.

I knew I wanted to do something with clothespins and clip some type of card or pocket with an activity written on it, one for each day of December leading up to Christmas. I got some inspiration from Leigh Ann and Jamielyn (love LOVE their blogs!) and here's what I came up with (more about the activities later):

I have a habit of keeping cute Christmas cards from year to year. Most people only write on the right hand side of the interior of the card, so if you just cut that part off, you end up with a still useable picture from the front of the card. You can use these card fronts for all sorts of things, but that's another post altogether. 
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