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The tree is up, the halls are decked and we are counting down the days until family 'comes to town'.

Most of our relatives are miles away from us so we really look forward to having them visit, especially during the holidays.

But I will admit, it can be a bit daunting to double the number of people in your house overnight.  So I love to find ways that the kids can help as we get ready for our guests.

One area I always let the kids take over is the kitchen table.  In addition to setting and clearing for meals, I also count on them to put together centerpieces, arrange cookie trays and create other festive ways to make the table look nice.

So today's "Get Ready for the Relatives" project are these adorable Cinnamon Scented Jingle Bell Placecards!

 

Placecards for the Holiday Table

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I participated in an Influencer Activation Program on behalf of Influence Central for Sprint. I received a sample device to facilitate this review.

 

Today I want you to take a walk with me -- it's the holidays; life is busy, and when life gets busy, I take a walk :)

For this walk, I brought along the new Sharp AQUOS Crystal smartphone as part of our latest Sprint Ambassador review.  My daughter was good enough to plug it in and charge it for me (please tell me I'm not the only one who forgets to plug in their phone).

First, I should tell you that a walk for me never seems to be "just a walk". 

It's when I go through my to-do list, try to relax and push aside the chaos, take photos of nature (something I love to do) and enjoy some music -- you know, the kind I like to listen too without the kids asking me to put on their favorite songs :)

I also like to bring along a family member -- ideally only one -- so that we have a few mintues to catch up about life too. 

And the best part about this phone -- it can accomodate everything I like (and need) to do while walking!

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 This post has been compensated by Collective Bias®, Inc. and it's advertiser.

 

 NorthpoleFun-1000-Sweepstakes-Ends-12-21-14-A

Photo credit: Heather from KitchenConcoctions

 

Enter the #NorthpoleFun Holiday Sweepstakes

Is your family ready for some holiday magic?

Perhaps an indoor snowball fight, holiday cookie baking session or Northpole call? 

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Tagged in: giveaway Holidays
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One of the last things we do to get ready for Christmas is put out the milk, cookies and carrots for Santa and the reindeer. 

It's one of the kids' favorite traditions -- pulling down the special plate that their Aunt made for them to use, trying to decide which cookies Santa will like the best and counting out 9 carrots (don't forget about Rudolph!)

But this year, we're IMPROVING upon our tradition in support of The Great American Milk Drive. 

 

 Cookies no Milk for Santa

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I hope your December has been going well.  For us, the days seem to be flying by -- the kids are on a countdown for winter break and we are all looking forward to family coming to visit for Christmas.

And with guests in mind, we have a few activities we are working on to make everyone feel welcome once they arrive.  We call them our "Get Ready for the Relatives" projects!

They are all super easy activities that require very few items and can be done with the kids (you must know me by now -- if it ain't simple, it ain't getting done around here ;)

Today's craft is a fun ornament or gift tag made from cinnamon sticks!

Cinnamon Stick Christmas Tree

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A number of years ago, we started a tradition at our house -- giving books for Christmas. 

Each year, our kids get to open one of their gifts early -- oh yea, they love that

When they come home on their first day of holiday break from school, there is a gift waiting for them -- we call it our 'winter break books'. 

And one of my favorite things to do with this gift is to turn it into some fun adventures for the kids.

A book is a great gift but pairing a book with an interactive toy, game or experience turns it into an AWESOME gift!

And I have a festive surprise for you -- not only are we sharing fun ways to Gift Books as Adventures, we also have one AMAZING giveaway for the holidays!

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Have you ever had an experience where a certain smell brings back memories?

It happens to me every year at this time -- the scents of Christmas take me back to years past.

The wonderful aroma of cookies, the amazing smell of a fresh tree -- it's like I'm a kid again :)

So when I started brainstorming about which book we would feature as part of the Story Book Advent with Rainy Day Mum, it didn't take me long to decide -- we were going to share an activity from one of my favorite childhood Christmas books!

The Sweet Smell of Christmas is a wondeful interactive scratch-and-sniff book!  The story follows Little Bear during the days leading up to Christmas as he encounters all the sweet smells around him -- baking gingerbread cookies, the piney smell of the tree, hot cocoa *yum*.

There are so many things I love about this book.  First, it's a vintage read that was originally published in the 1970's.  And you know how much I love sharing vintage books with kids (check out our full list of the best Vintage Kids Books to see our favorites). 

I'm also a huge fan of Richard Scarry and this story is written by his wonderfully talented wife, Patricia Scarry, with those endearing illustrations.  

Plus, interactive stories are just so much fun for kids (I can remember reading this as a child and scratching the scented circles as we turned the pages).

 

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When my kids were young, I loved to take them to the library. 

We would search the shelves for our favorite books and attend storytime sessions.

And sometimes we would explore a new area of the library -- which is how we found the children's periodical section on one cold and snowy Tuesday.

It's kind of hidden at our library, tucked back behind the non-fiction books in the corner.  But once you know where to look, there's so much to see!

So on that first day, we checked out a copy of Ladybug Magazine for Kids.  We read the short stories, enjoyed poems, sang songs and challenged ourselves with the puzzles.

And we put the magazine shelf on our weekly list of places to explore!

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How many times a day do we reach for our phone when we see something awesome?

Think about it – most of us never even grab  a camera any longer.  “Oh, I’ll just use my phone”, right?

Because we always want to capture those AWESOME moments --

 

 pumpkin patch

That gorgeous Saturday afternoon visit to the pumpkin patch.....

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 This shop has been compensated by #CollectiveBias, Inc. and its advertiser. All opinions are mine alone.

 

One of the holiday traditions that we look forward to the most in our family is having an Advent Calendar.  I remember having one as a child -- putting candy canes into the slots each day as we counted down to Christmas Eve.  And now we do one with our kids too.

Our countdown changes each year -- sometimes we have a traditional Advent Calendar where the kids open up the littles doors and peek in to find a riddle, joke or fun fact about the holidays.

And sometimes our countdown consists of hidden slips of paper that the kids have to hunt for in order to find out what we are doing that day -- an outdoor adventure, volunteer activity or easy fun at home with the family!

And then there are those years when I'll pull together an interactive Advent Calendar that not only helps us count down the days but also doubles as a decoration.

This is one of those years -- our oldest in a high school Senior this year so I know I won't have another countdown with him at home for the entire month of December.  It's a little bittersweet -- you love to see the kids grow up into confident young adults but you so miss those days when they would crawl up on your lap for a Christmas story.

So this year's Advent Calendar will include all of our favorite things from the past -- and best of all, I'm upcycling so many items as I create it!

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Have you ever read a book with the kids and thought "Wow!  I wish there was something more that we could do with the story." ?

Than boy do we have an awesome post for you today!

One of our amazing friends has created a book of extension activities to pair with the much loved story The Secret Garden. 

There are recipes, nature activities, fun things to make and great discussion ideas all organized by the months of the year.  It's a wonderful way to "bring a book to life" so to speak and really let the kids enjoy all the story has to offer.

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I participated in an Influencer Activation on behalf of #MC Influence Central for #MyLocker. I received product samples to facilitate my review as well as a promotional item to thank me for my participation.

 

The holidays are coming!  Yea!

I'm one of those people who loves the decorations, the sappy Hallmark movies, taking a walk in the first snow of the season and most of all -- finding a great gift that wasn't on someone's Christmas list.

Each year, I try really hard to find something unique for my family -- something they may have mentioned during the year or an item that will make life easier. 

You know, a unique gift that will put a smile on their face :)

So in the spirit of getting my shopping done EARLY so I can enjoy the weeks to come, I ordered a few custom t-shirts for my husband and daughter.

 

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My daughter is a HUGE fan of mysteries!

In fact, that will be our next book list which comes out later this week.  She enjoys scouring the pages for clues and trying to come up with a solution before the book gives it to her.

In real life, she asks a lot of those "detective" questions -- How, Why, Who? -- the perfect opening to creative problem solving.

During one of our recent mystery reads, she was intrigued by the idea of fingerprints. 

How are fingerprints made and where can you find them?

So I thought we would try to learn more about this since so many detective books refer back to "finding their prints!" :)

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Do you have a child who loves a good mystery?

Our youngest loves detective books -- in fact, when she first started reading on her own, that was all that she would read.

We would visit the library and search for any new mystery story that wasn't too scary.  She loved the mystery but not the spooky.  As the story revealed clues, it would draw her in as she tried to figure out what happened before she read it in the book.

Mysteries can be very appealing for kids, especially those who are just learning to read or might not enjoy reading.  They are usually stories that intrigue kids to keep reading as they uncover new clues and information with each page.

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I recently received an email with a question that caught my eye --

"Worried Your Kid Is Going To Break...Something?"

"Hell Yes!"  was all I could think because we have kids who are prone to injury.

Anyone who knows our family is not surprised to see one of the kids walking around with a cast or brace.  I swear that our family motto should be 'Play hard, get hurt, do it again'.

Let's see, the kids have suffered from a deep bone contusion while playing football, a broken wrist in basketball, a leg fracture with dance and four teeth knocked out during another basketball game.

And I only have 2 kids!

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We LOVE scavenger hunts and have shared quite a few --

our Playground Scavenger Hunt is fun throughout the year,

holiday hunts include a Halloween Scavenger hunt and Valentine's Day hunt

and the Zoo Scavenger Hunt is perfect for your next visit to see the animals.

 

Scavenger hunts are a great learning tool -- they help kids to hone their observation skills, practice reading and get out to explore the world.

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While I'm a BIG fan of Halloween and all the fun that goes along with it, I'm always bothered by the amount of candy we accumulate during all the holiday festivities.

Let's see, there's the trick-or-treat event at the zoo (we love the zoo in the Fall!), the kids' class parties, all the "You've been Boo'd" notes we find on our door and then all the candy from Halloween night.

We accumulate a lot of candy -- so much so that we donate quite a bit of it to a local charity.

So I am always on the look-out for some non-candy options -- especially ones that I can use as fun 'treats' for those special kids in my life (my own, neices, nephews, neighbors, etc).

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I've shared before about some of the struggles we had when our kids first started reading independently

If you have kids who are learning to read on their own then you know any parent who makes it through this stage deserves a freakin' medal of honor!

I am not kidding about this -- the loooong sessions on the couch, the tears and yelling "I can't do this", the way the kids will voluntarily offer to clean their room instead of doing 5 minutes of reading homework -- it's all true.

Helping kids learn to read can be one of the most challenging activities a family needs to do.

Did you catch that word?  NEEDS -- yep, a totally necessity.

Because once a child learns to read independently, a whole new world opens up to them!

And that other word - family.

Learning to read independently will not "just happen" during school hours.  It's so important for parents (and every other adult in a child's life) to assist with this activity.

But back to the issue -- learning to read is a struggle.  So how can we make it more enjoyable and entice the kids to WANT to practice?

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We were compensated for this post by Blickenstaff's as part of a campaign with The Mom It Forward Blogger Network and are thrilled to be working with them to share more about family traditions.

 

This is the time of the year when I always revisit our family traditions. 

I don't know if it's the approaching holidays or the fact that the kids are back at school and I yearn for more time together. 

Either way, I always have a goal of re-establishing some of our long standing traditions or creating new ones that fit our lifestyle.

Creating family traditions doesn't have to be any big, elaborate task.  On the contrary, many of our most loved traditions came about because they are simple, enjoyable and stand out in some way.

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 This post is sponsored by BuyCostumes and contains affiliate links. All thoughts and opinions are always my own.

 

I did a little math this week and came to an odd realization --

We have 2 kids and somehow over the past 17 years, I've helped them to create more than 50 costumes!

I know -- there's some crazy math there since Halloween only comes but once a year.

However, in the kid world, costumes aren't only created at Halloween.

Sometimes one is needed for a play or fun day activity.

And on some years the school sends home a note letting you know that the costume your child chose that year won't be accepted in the "themed" holiday parade they've decided to host in place of the normal party.

So in addition to cook, chauffeur, barber and chief planner, I can now also add "costume-maker" to my resume ;)

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