Creating Christmas Memories Week 1

We work hard to keep the Christmas spirit strong in our home. These are the activities we did the weekend right after Thanksgiving.

Christmas Tree(s)

The first thing we did as soon as Thanksgiving was over (besides ordering some presents on Black Friday) was take out all the Christmas decorations and had our 8-year old decorate the tree. Before and after the Seahawks game Dad rearranged the furniture so the Christmas tree would be right by the living room window. He also put lights on the two fir trees by the driveway.

Many of our Christmas tree ornaments and decorations come with their own stories like my husband’s Santa collection from his childhood that his mother turned over to us after we were married. These represent his various interests such as skiing Santas and musician Santa. Others were handmade souvenirs collected from countries we lived in and mostly non-breakable because those were the years when we had four cats and a baby.

Christmas Books

Our collection of Christmas books is meager, less than 12 in fact, but I found enough books in thrift stores and our public library so we could start reading at least one Christmas book each day. I made a list on Pinterest. You will note that many have Christ-centered themes, but other elements and characters associated with Christmas like Santa and Rudolph are also present. We have some of these, and have read about half.

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Advent Calendar

Back when we still lived overseas and always traveled during winter break I found a felt advent calendar that was easy to carry around. We still use it until now, but I was inspired by the 25 Days of Christ kit to come up with our own handmade advent ornaments. I found a tub of Christmas cookie cutters at the thrift store and used these to cut shapes from felt which I hand-sewed with polyfill fiber stuffing. They look cute with the number pins from Michael’s. But it wasn’t such a good idea after all, because I got very busy with other tasks and work as substitute teacher. It’s now Dec. 20 and I still only have eight. The idea was to match the ornament with the book we’re reading, so we have a Christmas tree, snowman, reindeer, sleigh, and even a dinosaur for the book “Dinosaur Christmas.” But even though I have 20 cookie designs, it also started to get difficult to match these to the books I have. Of course I will try to finish this project seeing that classes are over now.

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Lego Birthday Party on A Budget

Handmade invitations: for once I surprised my husband by not using PhotoShop. But our son is old enough to write his guests’ and his own name on each card. The circles are made of foam bought from the dollar store, and I used the tin cap from olive oil bottle to make the shapes.

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The decorations: Lego party favor bags, the punch out pinatas (more on that later)  and presents disguised as decorations. We also got yellow balloons, but forgot to draw faces on those.

 The t-shirts. I found the Lego man stencil from this site. The dollar store has colored t-shirts, although these were mostly L and M youth sizes, and I had to get the 2T and 3T sizes in white for higher prices elsewhere. Three methods for shirt printing were used with varying degrees of success. The original plan was to use heat transfers, and Wal-Mart sells these cheaper than Avery online, about $1+ per sheet; Michael’s was selling another brand for about $10 with only 3 sheets.

Because the celebrant was celebrating his 8th birthday I made two shirts with different designs. One involving the use of freezer paper as stencil and Tulip fabric paint. I got the instructions from here, although I used an 8-Lego man design. Cutting out 8 smaller Lego figures with an exacto knife proved to be tedious and messy. His second shirt turned out better, using the fabric paint to draw the Lego figure and adding a red balloon. To think I only came up with this to cover some mistakes with the heat transfer. But the ones who got this version were pleased that their Lego man had a face. One young guest refused his shirt and later declared it was “stupid” because it didn’t have any eyes or nose, ha-ha-ha.

The “birthday cake”. We have a tradition of not using traditional cakes, and so in previous birthday parties we used cupcakes to form a dinosaur, and brownies and sugar foam for the Angry Birds theme. This year my in-laws made rice krispies to resemble Lego bricks. Because one of our guests is gluten-intolerant we used rice chex. It looks messy but tastes good with semi-sweet baking M&Ms, even if the Betty Crocker cookie icing made it too sweet. Lego candles from Amazon and characters holding the candles completed the colorful effect.

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Rectangle pepperoni pizzas from Caesar’s also looked like Legos.

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The activities. Having a family with seven kids with tons of Legos living next door made our first activity possible. We declared a Lego building contest and our son picked the winner. Or rather, he declared everyone a winner, because he didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. We also had the toddlers category.

Our punch-out pinatas drew the most praises. When our guests’ ages ranged from 2 to 8 having them take turns to punch a hole to claim their party favors made a lot of sense. It was also easy to make, therefore, cheaper than buying a pinata; and we made three.

Lastly, the party favors that were supposed to go in the punch-out pinatas, are of course little Lego figures. Amazon sells them in packs, and I thought I got a good deal that cost $5 for an entire pack of 20 characters … except they arrived the day after the party, so be sure to order these 3-6 weeks ahead. At least most of our guests live on our street and go to the same school.

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I really went overboard with this party family and friends said, but there were actually other ideas that I didn’t have the time and energy to do anymore.

In the end, everyone had a great time. We didn’t have a single meltdown (although I came close that morning). And the kids look so adorable in their shirts.

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There are more great ideas for a fun Lego party here:

The Teal Pumpkin Project

The Teal Pumpkin Project is a campaign to make non-food or non-candy treats available as alternatives for a low-sugar, food allergy-safe Halloween. I first learned about it when it was launched last year, at about the same time that we were offering glow-rings and glow-necklaces. Even when our son went on his first trick-or-treating activity back in Nigeria, we’ve always appreciated it that people offered stickers, erasers, balls, etc., because he doesn’t like chocolates and most candies. Until now he still only likes strawberry-flavored sweets. He’s also concerned that he has friends and classmates who are gluten-intolerant and have food allergies.

The problem is this is a new campaign and most people have never heard of it. I had to make my own teal pumpkins because none of the major stores were selling these. I could not even find paint in teal, but managed to pick spray paint and acrylic paint. I was also able to buy fake pumpkins at 40-75 percent off on the 30th.

Of course, we also had the usual sweets. What is surprising is half of the trick or treaters chose the toys, especially the toddlers and tweens. The most popular items were the slime, Vampire fangs, and bouncing rubber eyeballs.

Our Very Own Kitchen Garden

It all started last year when tomatoes, potatoes, onions, and pumpkins started to sprout from the compost pile in our backyard. Last spring hubs began planting a variety of seeds and seedlings, inspired by our friends who run a CSA potager and neighbors. By summer time we began to enjoy fresh-picked herbs and vegetables like basil, parsley, sage, rosemary, thyme, mint, lettuce, onions, squash, bell peppers, baby carrots, potatoes, tomatoes, and even a few ears of corn and honeydew. We weren’t so lucky with cilantro. The sunflowers were crazy like 8 ft tall, so we’re not going to plant those again, even if they might have kept the squirrels and birds from eating the other produce.

The most amazing thing is the 60+ tomatoes that came from just two plants after he learned to pollinate the flowers using our son’s Sponge Bob vibrating toothbrush. So far we’ve made spaghetti sauce and bloody mary from these. Most of the time we enjoy them raw with pesto or on salad.

We planted the herbs on plant boxes so we can keep them indoors when it gets too cold. A cousin bought us a shelf-style greenhouse which fits them perfectly. I

Our Low Budget Star Wars Theme Party

11942310_10155945355870058_1502159359741420731_oFirst of all, we lucked out because a lot of Star Wars items are on sale as the latest movie will premier this Friday, Sep. 3. I found the Stormtrooper cut-outs in the clearance bin at Party City and the Nerf gun with laser light also on sale at Target. (You can always print from the Internet. We tied these to strings instead of gluing to cans or bowling pins to save ourselves the trouble of raising them up whenever they were hit. And the kids liked flipping over the targets that got hit).

But many of the props and materials used at my nephew’s 7th birthday party are easy to put together:

Luke Skywalker Costume

My husband gladly donated his old plain white t-shirts (size L), and all we had to do was remove the sleeves and cut the front. Extra brown fabric from a curtain became belts/sashes, and voila!

Pool Noodle Light Saber

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This one is a no-brainer. The first activity after our young Jedi apprentices donned their Skywalker costumes was to build their own light sabers, of course. They had silver and black duct tape at their disposal, and their choice of green, blue, purple, and red noodles ($1.99 each at Target). The celebrant decided he was going to be Darth Maul, and wrapped his tape around the middle.

These two simple things were enough to keep the kids engaged for hours. Best of all, the young padawans got to keep their costumes and light sabers. That was cool, because we didn’t have to bother with party bags.

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All we needed were two black poster boards ($1.70) cut and put together as a circle plus more duct tape. I did buy a black plastic table cloth from the Dollar Store as backdrop — decorated with foil stars (used a cookie cutter) — and ping-pong balls (a pack of six cost $1.50).

Optional feature: these cool TIE Fighters and X-Wing Fighters came from a boxed set of action figures on sale at Target.

11947731_10155945331360058_1612141535342922312_oSo the party was relatively a success, until the celebrant had a meltdown when his guests started to leave. I don’t think any of the kids actually wanted the party to be over.

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A French Market Garden in Spokane

a small family run market garden in North Spokane. This summer we signed up for a weekly share of harvest from the Le Potager French Market Garden, our own Community Supported Agriculture or CSA, just a mile away from where we live. The best part about this is it is run by family friends, our sons are classmates and playmates, hopefully BFFs.

Le Potager is a small family run market garden in North Spokane. It was established “to grow the most nourishing and nutrient rich food as possible, and do it a bit of French garden style. Potager is French for an ornamental vegetable or kitchen garden. Flowers and herbs are planted with the vegetables to enhance the garden’s beauty. We grow intensively on less than an acre and offer a number of rare European heirloom fruits and vegetables.”

Sean and Rachel Cruz managed to plant over 200 varieties of vegetables and herbs. So far we have enjoyed some “exotic” red spinach, purple broccoli, French carrots, French shallots, lemon cucumbers, red basil, and heirloom tomatoes. I have experimented with different recipes using their produce, and have posted these dishes on their Facebook community page and my own Instagram and Facebook pages.

Le Potager also sells produce at the Fairwood Flea & Farmers Market.