Our Christmas Traditions

There is something about a tradition that makes even the mundane items feel special.  Traditions make a family stronger and make children feel more secure about their place within it. This is a list of our Christmas traditions and you might be surprised to find that most of the items are free or very cheap.

  1. Decorate the Christmas Tree and Reminisce – Decorating the tree is a whole evening of fun. Our Christmas ornaments are a hodgepodge of things we have picked up while traveling, gifts from loved ones, representative ornaments, and things we have made over the years.  (A representative ornament is something that represents an important person or phase of your life.  My husband choose a special one to add to our tree during the first Christmas season after his father passed away.)  We spend hours discussing the memories behind every one.  It is our first Christmas night of the season and is one of the things I look forward to most.  Bonding over shared memories of snowy Chicago trips, meeting Mickey Mouse at Disney World, or stories about family members.  It always puts me in the Christmas spirit.
  2. Christmas Eve Pajamas – This started with our oldest daughter’s second Christmas. She was a year old.  We were young parents on a serious budget.  I wanted to take Christmas morning photographs of her in festive pajamas.  Fourteen years later and we still buy our children festive pajamas every year.  They get to open that one gift on Christmas eve and they really look forward to it.
  3. Christmas Movie Night – We spend a night (or two…or three) watching family Christmas movies. We trade out the normal popcorn and M&Ms for hot chocolate and candy canes or cookies.
  4. Baking Christmas Cookies – Christmas and cookies just go together. We turn on some Christmas music and hit the kitchen every year to spend an afternoon making basic sugar cookies or chocolate chip cookies. It’s loads of fun and is a great option for a super cold evening. It’s also a super cheap family day.
  5. Building a Gingerbread House – We let the kids pick out a kit and we spend an evening gathered around the kitchen table building a gingerbread house. This becomes the centerpiece of the table for the rest of the season.
  6. Looking at Lights in the Neighborhood – Depending on the weather, we either walk or drive around our neighborhood to look at lights. We all enjoy seeing what our neighbors have come up with. If your neighborhood is not an option, consider looking up community lighting competitions near you.
  7. A Christmas Trip or Outing – We go somewhere holiday related every year. If we have the time, we go to more than one place.  We really love Christmas lights so we often choose places with great lighting displays.  Zoos, churches, farms, museums, drive-through light shows, concerts, nativity scenes, and petting zoos have all made the list over the years.  There are posts about some of our favorites.
  8. A Visit to Santa – We visit Santa every year.  Sometimes he is at one of our bigger outings and we see him while we are there. Other years we take the girls to see the mall Santa. We have also been to a few library Christmas parties where Santa was in attendance.
  9. Thoughtful Gifts – I take the girls out one day for shopping.  We typically leave early in the day, have breakfast, and spend the day crossing off everyone on their lists. I tell them in advance so they can get their lists together. Over breakfast, I review their list and set a budget for each person on it.  They decide where to go to shop and pick out items.  This makes their gifts more special and a better reflection of their relationship with the important people in their lives. Michael takes the girls out on a separate day to get my present.
  10. Wrapping Presents – My girls love to help wrap. They work together to wrap gifts for the extended family and friends. They help me wrap each others presents. They love putting bows on the gifts. The wrapping has to get done so why not make it a fun family time. Bonus: The kids get to practice their scissor and tape skills. Our family/friends love getting a present from the girls that they know was wrapped by them too.
  11. Giving Back – I think this is important all the time but we have made it a part of our Christmas tradition.  It helps us to remember what Christmas is really about.  Volunteering and donating get us in the spirit of the season.  We have given parents in need Christmas presents for their children to open on Christmas morning.  We have donated food, toys, coats, clothing, and money.  When it comes to donating or volunteering, go with what is near to your heart.
  12. Crafts – My girls love arts and crafts. We always have something going on around here.  I’ll have to start sharing some of our projects on the site.  Making pictures of Santa, decorating/making ornaments, candle making, jewelry, and wrapping paper/bows have all made it on the list over the years.  It’s so relaxing and fun to spend the evening crafting with my girls (glass of wine in hand, of course).
  13. Decorating the Window – Every season my girls redecorate the window by our front door.  We use gel clings most of the time.  I buy them cheap at crafts stores or at Target.  I let my girls pick them out.  During Christmas time they will often decorate the other windows in the house.  The sibling bonding is nice to see.
  14. Christmas Cards –We make or buy Christmas cards to hand out to friends and family.  It helps kids to practice handwriting and makes a personal connection in a world that is becoming increasingly digital.  There is something really special about those shakey letters on a Christmas card made by a first grader that warms the heart. It is important to remember that these times go by fast and those little hands will not always be so little.
  15. Friends and Family –We spend as much time with those close to us as possible. We take a trip to Grandma’s house. We see the family that we only get to see a few times a year. We attend or throw Christmas parties.  I just love being around everybody as much as possible.
  16. Christmas Music – I love listening to Christmas music and I really love singing it! Isabella, our middle daughter, is enjoying learning all the carols this year.
  17. Advent Calendar – This is fun for the preschool and elementry age group because it helps them to count down to the fun.  They also love getting a little treat everyday.  We do ours after dinner each night instead of in the morning because they often contain sweet treats like chocolate.
  18. Reading – Last but not least, we read Christmas stories.  There are so many good ones out there.  “The Grinch”, “The night before Christmas”, and “The night before the night before Christmas” (a family favorite) are pulled back out year after year.

What does your family do to celebrate?  Do we have anything in common?

Tips for Packing for Kids

Packing for children can be quite tedious and leave you questioning every choice. You don’t want to be bogged down by heavy luggage but you also do not want to be stuck without a spare outfit when you need it most. The first step to deciding how many outfits your child needs is to figure out what their normal daily needs are at home. Do they get dirty a lot? Are they toilet trained? Then consider where you are going and what your activities will be. Will you be outside? Any special outings that require a nicer option? What will the weather be like? Do you need to layer to accommodate changes throughout the day?

My oldest child is 15 so her needs are similar to an adult. I tell her if there is weight/space limitations. She typically brings an outfit for each day of a short trip plus a couple extra options. She may wear jeans or shorts more than once if it’s a city or mostly indoor trip. She will bring one nicer outfit to change into before a nicer dinner or outing. She will bring an extra swimsuit and sundress. Teens are capable of packing their own bags with little to no guidance. Travel is a learning experience. Packing and planning ahead is part of that learning. Make sure to give your teen ample time. When a teen makes poor choices, fails to plan, or waits until the last-minute, you must decide if you are going to bail them out or use it as a learning experience.

Children between 5 and 12 need more guidance. They can and should help with planning and packing for their personal needs. I tell my 6-year-old where we will be going and what type of outfit that requires for each day. She lays out her choices and I check to see if they are appropriate. I pack the good choices. I explain why inappropriate choices will not work and give her a chance to try again. Set very clear limits on toys. This may include the number of items, the size/weight of the toy, if it’s an electronic toy, if it needs to be quiet, and the space within the bag that can be allocated to toys. You may need to offer guidance and supervision depending on your child’s personality, age, and level of experience with these sort of tasks.

Babies through preschool age children require more thought into what to pack. How much to take will really be child dependent. A baby with reflux or frequent diaper blowouts will take extra planning. Can extra bibs help offset some of the need? Do not forget to take this into consideration when packing for yourself. I carry an old shirt for myself in the diaper bag at all times since I had the pleasure of driving home in a sports bra after a diaper blowout in a baby carrier at a park. Assume that a toddler and preschooler will get dirty or wet if the opportunity presents itself. You can let toddlers and preschoolers help by choosing between two items or by handing you things. You can also give preschoolers the ability to pick out favorite clothing pieces to build an outfit around. The more involved they are at this age the more independently they can pack later.

We aim for a couple extra outfits per week/trip for school age children and 1-2 extra outfits per day for babies through preschoolers. There are ways to work these extra items in without feeling like you have majorly over-packed. I typically pack 1-2 extra sundresses for my girls when going someplace warm because they are lightweight options. A swimsuit top can be worn in a pinch. I pack comfortable clothing to use as pajamas that can double as regular clothing in case of emergency. This is my go to for short trips and camping. Do you need your kids to be clean for dinner but don’t want to pack a ton of extra clothing? Consider having them wear the next days clothing to dinner. This has worked for us for normal dining options many times. Casual dresses and button downs with khakis can work on a child at nicer restaurants and still be comfortably worn for sightseeing. A clean onesie is all that’s needed for a baby in warm areas and a sleeper is acceptable in cooler ones. Babies are cute no matter what they are wearing so no need to stress over the perfect outfit for everything.

Beware of buying new clothing for little kids for a trip. It’s a lot of extra pressure. They may not like the way it feels. It may get dirty or even ruined. It may get lost. Remember that this is supposed to be enjoyable. Relax your standards a little. A stained shirt is not the end of the world. Let the kids be kids. Let things go so that you can enjoy yourself.

World’s Largest McDonald’s

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This place is Huge!

When we were looking for a place for dinner we did not expect to end up at McDonald’s but I’m so glad we did. The World’s Largest McDonald’s is located in sunny Orlando, Florida. This place is massive and as family friendly as a restaurant can be. The menu is large and varied. Our food was really good. This is obviously an inexpensive meal for this area but you could spend a fortune in the arcade upstairs.

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There is extra parking in a lot next door.
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So Happy!

This was our first day in Orlando. We had spent the majority of the day in the car. The kids could not wait to run off some energy. But first we had to handle the fact that we were starving. I do not understand why but sitting in a car all day leaves me stiff, starving, and exhausted. Well, the stiff part I understand because I’m not exactly 20 any more.

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Seriously! Check this out!

Ordering is a little confusing because there are so many sections and the menu is huge. There are the typical burgers, fries, chicken nuggets, and happy meals but there are also salads, pizza, ice cream, and more. We loved the fact that the kids could indulge in fast food burgers while my husband and I got to enjoy more adult options. My husband went with the salad pictured above and I got a more modest grilled chicken salad without the fried tortilla bowl. They were both surprisingly fresh. We sat at a bar that was placed against a fish tank. My husband and our children adore fish so this was great dinner entertainment.

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Play Area

The play area is quite impressive. The photo above was taken from the parent area. There are a few chairs there. The lighting is a little weird because of the neon signs outside. This area is great for the kids to get rid of some energy. This was perfect for Isabella who was practically bouncing up and down after being stuck in the car all day. Right next to this is an arcade. We only played a couple of games before heading back to our hotel. This stop was a lot of fun and perfect for a family looking for a budget friendly meal.

 

Boardwalk Cafe in Pensacola Beach, FL

After a long morning of enjoying the beach and playing in the ocean we were starving. We did a fast rinse off and changed into sundresses or comfortable shorts. Then we were off to find a place that was befitting of our salty beach hair. We remembered that we passed an area near our hotel that had tons of restaurants and decided to go check it out.  We walked up to the outdoor seating area for the Boardwalk Cafe and it felt like just the place for us on that laid back family day. Ivy and I shared a decent burger and fries. It is a common practice in our family to share meals or simply order a couple of appitizers to share for lunch. Restaurant meals can be so huge that we end up eating only half which is a waste of both food and money.  Michael, the hubby, ordered a fish sandwich and had no complaints. Isabella decided on chicken strips and patiently waited until we finished eating to ask if we were getting ice cream.

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Stretching to get a view of the goodies inside

Ivy, Isabella, and I lingered over the ice cream case each picking out a scope of Hershey’s ice cream. The hubby was too full from lunch to even entertain the idea of dessert. There are not many things as lovely as an icecream cone on a hot day. Isabella did require a change of clothing and a good rinse after this treat but it was more than worth it.

 

Pensacola Beach, FL

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The Princess heading down to the sand in her Tutu

We had the pleasure of taking the family on a trip to the beautiful white sandy beach in Pensacola, FL in 2015. Lounging in the sun, playing in the mild waves, building sandcastles, and enjoying spectacular views was the perfect way to spend a day.

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Looking for little treasures

 

Parking was incredibly easy to find and there was a bathhouse near this area. There was an area there to spray off, use the restroom, and change into dry clothing before driving to our nearby hotel. The beach and parking are free. This area does have a lot of seaweed in the water during this time of year.

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Warning the sun here is not to be messed with! Layer on the sunscreen and drink plenty of water. Remind kids often to stay hydrated because it’s easy for them to get so busy playing and swimming that they forget to drink enough.

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What is it about the beach that makes you feel so at peace? I cannot wait to visit this little slice of heaven again! It is a great family beach to take the kids to. I highly suggest it! They are only young once. Make all the memories you can! This day will definitely be one I recall for years and years to come. Remembering Isabella’s jaw dropping at the vastness of the ocean, playing in the waves, collecting little shells, Ivy boogie boarding with her Dad, building sandcastles, and the sound of sweet little giggles as my legs were slowly buried in the sand will make me smile for years to come.

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