arts & crafts family fun motherhood

Adventish: A Holiday Idea Box


Sometimes the holidays stress me out. Some years I don’t care about the mayhem and I pinterest my heart out coming up with fun activities and covering the house in glitter and ribbons and twinkle lights then other years I’m like, “What if we didn’t decorate for Christmas at all and we’ll just wait and see if Christmas happens anyway?”

I’m feeling somewhere in the middle this year but with Advent starting on Tuesday, the pressure is on to either get prepared or pretend we forgot Advent was a thing and see if the kids notice (they probably won’t, don’t worry). I have a beautiful advent calendar that my step mom made the kids a few years ago and I love putting it up but have a love / hate relationship with filling it. Coming up with 24 creative ways to say “Yay! Christmas!” can be exhausting or expensive or cavity filled.


This year I filled our advent calendar with those little stickers that come on the ends of the personalized name tags that charities send you around the holidays when looking for donations. You know, the guilt labels that you end up keeping whether you donate money or not because why would you throw perfectly good address labels away? And the stickers have been piling up for nine years now at least, so I had a pretty hefty collection of them.

I kind of wanted to an advent activity thing, too, and put in fun activities to do each day but that just stressed me out again because what if I don’t end up wanting to do that thing that day – or you know, life happens so I don’t want to put something particular on a certain day only to have that event canceled and the advent calendar turn into a liar because I forget to change it. I worry too much, it’s okay. Also I couldn’t come up with 24 activities. But I had ten activities that are totally repeatable and can mostly be done with minimum or no prep at all and that’s where this strange little idea of mine started.


To make the box: I grabbed an old tea tin that just ran out of tea that smells all amazing and cinnamony. Then I went to, my graphic making / photo editing website of choice, and created this cute graphic. I knew my tin was 3 inches by 4 1/2 inches on each side so I went with those dimensions after googling pixel to inch conversions again. DPI continues to confuse me and my graphic is actually like twice as big as necessary, but that’s okay – I threw it in a word document, scaled the image size and then copied and pasted until there were four of them on one page and printed. I cut the graphics and wrapped them around my tin with some scotch tape to hold it all in place. Do I really need to tell you guys how to tape a piece of paper on a tin box? Probably not. Sorry.


To fill the tin: I decorated some popsicle sticks that I’ve had lying around my office as long as I’ve been a mother. I bought a box with like 1,000 popsicle sticks in it a million moons ago and I think I will have this box until the day I die. I took those charity address label stickers and stuck them on the tops of the sticks to look decorative and wrote activity ideas on the side of the stick. So fancy. (Pro tip: I filled the tin with gift bag tissue paper first because ten tiny popsicle sticks don’t really fill the tin and they looked sad. The tissue made the sticks kinda stand up and look more impressive.)

Here are our activities:

  1. Watch a holiday movie.
  2. Read a book together.
  3. Dance party!
  4. Family Game Night.
  5. Make paper snowflakes.
  6. Drink hot cocoa.
  7. Sing Christmas Carols.
  8. Family Compliment Day – tell every person in your family something you love about them. Enjoy all the feel goods.
  9. Christmas Craft Time
  10. Have a joke telling contest!

Feel free to steal my idea. I know it’s kind of amazing. What activities would you put on your popsicle sticks?

family fun mama kat's writers workshop

So very thankful.

Happy Thanksgiving guys!


Apparently I’m thankful for blog link ups this year! I’m linking up with Mama Kat’s Writer’s Workshop by answering the following questions found on her So Very Thankful You Tube Tag. Wanna play along? Just answer the following questions:

1. Name a color you are thankful for.
I am thankful for the color blue for giving my children such gorgeous eyes.

More of a gray blue these days but still stunning
She makes puddles out of people.

2. Something your spouse does that you are thankful for. My husband is amazing guys! It would take me a lifetime to list all the things he does that make our lives better. I am supremely thankful for his overall handy nature – his intelligence and hard work keep our appliances running, our home in good condition, our bellies full and heck – it made the desk that my computer is sitting on as I type this!
3. Something your kids do that you are thankful for. I have terrific kids. They are sweet, clever, silly and keep me on my toes. I am thankful for a son who is always willing to help out around the house and is always, always kind – he has the biggest heart and it makes me really proud. I’m thankful for a daughter who defies all stereotypes but isn’t afraid to embrace them sometimes, too. She can rock her princess dresses but is happy to roll around in the dirt, play video games or have a Nerf fight.

My creeper and princess at Halloween this year

4. A food you are thankful for. Dessert, obviously.
5. What recent good news are you thankful for? It’s been a rough few weeks for news but I’m thankful for the people around me who focus on hope and love and compassion even when it would be easier to focus on fear. It’s easy to look at all the sad things in the news and lose yourself down the rabbit hole – I’m grateful for the people who don’t let themselves succumb to that.
6. Name a drink you are thankful for. Lactose free milk because it lets me live in denial and keeps my coffee habit running strong.
7. Name a restaurant you are thankful for. I’m thankful for Olive Garden because it’s the location where my husband proposed (and was often the surprise awesome meal that I’d get treated to as a starving college student). Also unlimited soup, salad and breadsticks. Nothing else really needs to be said.
8. Talk about an animal you are thankful for. I think I’m supposed to say my dog because it would be weird if I didn’t right? He’s okay.

Is that not the poutiest puppy face you’ve ever seen?

9. Name a beauty product you are thankful for. The detangler from Ulta Beauty pretty much changed my life. Brushing my daughter’s hair often feel like a hostage situation with negotiations and subterfuge, but the detangler cut out a LOT of the drama. I’ve tried similar “imitations” but this one seems to have some magical quality that made everything different.
10. Name a cleaning product you are thankful for. Laundry pods make laundry so simple that my six year old can do it. We’re working on getting the kids to help out more with chores and although BB does still admittedly need to be supervised with laundry chores, MM at 9 can handle laundry from beginning to end now – and laundry pods mean I’m really not too worried  about whether he is doing a good job or not.
11. What social media platform are you thankful for? Haters can hate on Facebook as much as they want and I hear you, but that silly little website has helped me forge relationships with distant relatives, maintain friendships despite major moves and life changes and tentatively tip toe into new friendship with school moms, etc. It’s earned my thanks ten times over.
12. Tell us why you are thankful for the last person who texted you. That would be my handsome husband who I talked a lot about in question 2. I’m also thankful for nine years of marriage making our relationship stronger than ever. We’ve been lucky to grow together over the years and though we obviously have our ups and downs like every couple, he’s still the person I cannot wait to talk to each day, my sounding board and confidante and the funniest person I know.

when we were babies

13. Name a candy you are thankful for. Reeses Peanut Butter Cups (or Reeses Pieces) because of the magic that can happen when peanut butter and chocolate get together.
14. Name an app on your phone that you are thankful for. The camera app on my phone is pretty amazing and because of it, I manage to get tons of snapshots of the kids without lugging a camera around with me. Admittedly, I should probably lug the camera around, too, a bit more often – but so many moments get saved thanks to the convenience of a phone with a built in camera. I’m also quite fond of being able to have essentially my entire music collection on my phone, a GPS, email, pedometer, receipt scanner and obviously Angry Birds.
15. What are you looking forward to that you are thankful for? I am looking forward to shopping with friends from my women’s group for our annual Adopt a Family event and I’m thankful that we’re able to help people in need each year. I think the holiday season feels even brighter when you are reaching out to others and helping where you can.

What are you thankful for?

books meme tag

The Bookish Thanksgiving Tag.

Because we’re thankful for good books.


The Bookish Thanksgiving Tag was originally created by Erin and Becca – the premise is super simple. Each question lists a type of traditional Thanksgiving Dish and applies a type of book to said dish. Then you name the book. Ready?

Here are the Questions:

1. Bread: What book is purely fluff, and has no real plot line?

15749186To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han is pretty much the epitome of a light and fluffy read and yet it was soooooooooo good. I really want to read the second novel, but because of the intense light and fluffiness of it all, I remain firm on my plan to wait until there is a good deal being offered for it (or until I break down and get it from the library). In all seriousness, I really did love this book and the main character is someone I grew intensely fond of, but her love story is the supreme fluffiness that teenage romances often are.

2. Turkey: What book made you want to fall asleep?

17333230I wanted to love The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton because the cover is so gosh darned pretty but it was giving me severe Nathaniel Hawthorne flashbacks with descriptions so long and unnecessary that I could barely get through the first chapter in which nearly twenty pages go by and the main character is still standing in a doorway about to enter a room. About to enter a room, people. Friends who finished this one reported that the second half was better than the first, but I couldn’t even get through the first 1/24th of this one without nodding off.

3. Gravy: What book makes the whole series worth reading?

13125947Reached by Ally Condie! This was the third and final book in the Matched series and it really made the whole series, which had been giving me on again off again levels of interest up until book three. By the time the story had ended, the author had blown my mind, delivering a final plot that I still think about today. I usually find the third book or final book in a series a little disappointing, but I actually preferred this book over the previous two.

4. Stuffing: What book is stuffed full of action scenes?

13837The entire Songs of the Lioness series by Tamora Pierce is pretty action packed but Lioness Rampant I recall being particularly filled with battles. I loved this series because Alanna was not really your typical female lead – she was the one rushing into battle, rather than waiting to be saved by her knight in shining armor, she was more likely to be saving the knight. Alanna kicks ass. This is the 4th in the series, so make sure you start with Alanna: The First Adventure.

5. Mashed Potatoes: What book looked good, and then wasn’t?

84917I was really excited to read Girl Sleuth: Nancy Drew and the Women who Created Her by Melanie Rehak but I was pretty disappointed, mainly because it wasn’t really the book I thought it would be.  I loved one of Rehak’s other books Eating for Beginners so much but this didn’t have that same fantastic wit that I’d grown to love in EFB and the book was much more about feminism and women’s suffrage than it was about Nancy Drew – not an uninteresting topic, just not what I’d been hoping to read and ultimately it felt more like that stodgy traditional “nonfiction” that I was forced to read in school.

6. Cranberries: What book has the sweetest romance?

16068905This is really no contest. Cather and Levi’s romance in Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell will always be one of my favorites. A lot of love stories have to kind of trample everyone until you get to the good so that you don’t entirely still love everyone and a lot of teen or young adult romances give you that whole love triangle scenario and then play around with each angle, creating Teams that you inevitably side with, leaving some fans disappointed in the end when the main character finally makes their choice. In Fangirl though, Levi is simply perfection and there’s never much contesting that even if Cather doesn’t realize it right away.

7. Corn: What’s the corniest book you’ve ever read?

19085295Christmas at Copper Mountain by Jane Porter was good because Jane Porter is a terrific writer, but the plot itself required an enormous suspension if disbelief.  Everything ties into too perfectly of a bow too quickly so the realist in me was kind of heckling as I read – but again – Jane Porter is brilliant, so I kept reading anyway.

This is a short and sweet Christmas romance and if that’s what you are looking for, it’s totally going to deliver. But it might make you roll your eyes, too.

8. Green beans: What book is too long and needs to be shortened?

4407I loved Neil Gaimon, obviously and I really enjoyed parts of American Gods but petered out and never finished it. I think even Gaiman commented in the preface to the edition I was reading that he thought it should have been edited more than it was. I agree – it felt like the editor was too scared to touch it for fear of ruining any of the genius, but I think it really could have used a heavy hand of editing to pare down to the brilliance that was there if you had the time to dig through it.

9. Pumpkin Pie: What book do you read to get out of a reading slump?

I’m not much of a rereader so there really aren’t any books that I turn to with frequency so much as genres that I consider a sure thing. If I’m having a hard time finding a good book, I’ll turn to a beloved author like Janet Evanovich or a sure thing genre like a good dystopian young adult story or a celebrity memoir. Other times, I will think in terms of page length. If I just need something to get me back into a reading groove, I will sometimes look through my kindle or bookshelves for a smaller book that looks interesting – something that I can finish in a couple of days and then start something loftier. I also use this tactic to bridge the gap between book club selections or other reading goals so that I can finish a book club title closer to the time of our next meeting.

10. Dog/Cat: What’s your favorite Thanksgiving food that you would steal from the table?

I’m all about desserts so I’d be coming after the apple pie, especially if my grandmother baked it – or if dessert isn’t on the table yet, you know I’m eyeing that sweet potato casserole.

If you are playing along, comment with a link to your responses. You can also share your picks in the comments section below!

cooking & recipes eats family fun

Adventures in Baking: Why my pants are too tight.


Saturday was Dan’s birthday. He’s like an old man now and stuff. Or thirty. One of those. We celebrated by me trying not to drag him all over town running errands and by baking my first from scratch chocolate cake. Not one to mess around, I decided to make Valerie’s French Chocolate Cake that Smitten Kitchen blogged about a year and a half ago but I somehow never stopped dreaming about.

Guys, this cake is the stuff of dreams. Rich, chocolaty, moist, intense dreams like woah. Also her pictures are way better than mine, but in all fairness, I was using my cell phone in low lighting and my husband makes fun of me when I act like paparazzi over food stuffs. So.


Tomorrow is Thanksgiving and that means I’m baking my weight in desserts. Hopefully I don’t literally double my body weight but with cookies this good there are no promises.


I’m also making this apple pie and this peanut butter pie (except I’m just making the filling and calling it a dip) and these sweet potatoes. Where are my sweat pants again?


Don’t worry, my husband is roasting brussels sprouts. So that makes the whole meal healthy again, right?


links science technology Uncategorized

Minecraft Hour of Code


Have you guys heard about Hour of Code at They have a bunch of free coding tutorials geared towards kids as young as 4 and as old as grandma that walk you through the principles of basic programming in an hour, with the complexity getting a little harder with each “puzzle” that you complete.

And to help pique your interest (or the interest of your kids) they have coding tutorials featuring popular characters like Elsa and Anna from Frozen, the cast of Star Wars, Flappy Bird and Minecraft.

My kids tried the Minecraft Hour of Code this weekend and both of them really enjoyed it (and successfully finished the whole hour). I played through the hour of code myself just to see what the deal was before I bothered calling them over and I was definitely impressed. I’m not a programmer and I’ve tried tutorials like this before and found them massively confusing. If I can’t figure it out, what are the odds that my six year old can?

These were simple enough starting out that anyone could jump in – and perhaps most importantly, the tutorials actually TELL YOU what to do instead of just dumping you into the program and saying “Good luck!”  So I was really excited to hand the reigns over to the kids and even more excited when they totally got it and then clamored over whose turn it was to go next. I’m planning to let them try out some of the other tutorials soon.

The coding in these tutorials is drag and drop but after each puzzle it lets you view the actual code that you’ve “written”, giving the user a peek into both the front end and back end of coding. Hour of Code is clearly becoming popular – even the president has logged on!



The Inside Out Book Tag.


I found this tag via Mom’s Radius and couldn’t resist playing along. Thanks to Christy & Erica at Novel Ink for putting together these awesome images. Ready to play?



Two picks: Yes Please by Amy Poehler for her amazing humor and wit and To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han for the sweet romance and ability to bring out the binge reader in me.




May B. by Caroline Starr Rose gave me all the feels. It’s beautiful and has a happy ending but the middle of the book is a real tear jerker!



Two picks: I kind of loved The DUFF by Kody Keplinger in spite of myself, you know? Some of the main characters choices are questionable at best. Despite being a rabid fan of the rest of the series, The Heir by Kiera Cass stars a main character who is pretty difficult to like.

the girl with all the gifts22557272

Two picks: The Girl With All The  Gifts by M.R. Carey is probably the closest I get to reading horror stories. This one was intense! The Girl on The Train by Paul Hawkins was a holding you by the seat of your pants kind of read.



Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson is a book that will have you stomping your feet, saying, “That is not okay!!!” Which is, you know, the goal.

books link up Uncategorized

What Are You Reading Wednesday: Code Name Verity


I’m linking up with It’s a Reading Thing again this week to play What Are You Reading Wednesday. To play, just follow these three steps:

  1. Tell us: What’s the name of your current read?
  2. Go to page 34 in your book or 34% in your eBook and share a complete sentence. (or two!)
  3. Answer: Would you like to live in the world that exists within your book? Why or why not?

15799591Right now I’m reading Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein.

Here’s an excerpt from roughly 34% into the book:

“I don’t believe it for a minute – that we wouldn’t have become friends somehow – that an unexpected bomb wouldn’t have gone off and blown us both into the same crater, or that God himself wouldn’t have come along and knocked our heads together in a flash of green sunlight. But it wouldn’t have been likely.”

I think I’d pass on living in WWII and definitely pass on being a prisoner of war. As much as I seem to be living vicariously there through all the WWII fiction I’ve been reading lately, I’d definitely rather experience these stories from the comfort of my own non-war torn home. But if I can hear like 80% more amazing Scottish accents in my life, that’d be swell. I’m listening to the audio version via whispersync on my Kindle and I find myself switching to audio just so I can enjoy the accent of the narrators,  Morven Christie and Lucy Gaskell

What are you reading right now?

books & reading quick lit

Quick Lit: November 2015


I’m linking up with Anne @ Modern Mrs Darcy to share the books I’ve been reading recently. She calls the series Quick Lit and the idea is to share short reviews of recent books – nothing lengthy or book reporty, just a quick note on what you read and if you liked it.

I’ve finished four books since we last Quick Litted, which would sound more impressive if I had not finished the last two over the weekend. Or maybe that makes it more impressive? I’m not sure. Either way, here’s what I’ve been reading – and that pretty picture over there <—- is where I’ve been reading them. Because new nightstands warrant new pictures.

19398490All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

This book has been getting a lot of hype and just this once I feel like the hype is deserved. Very well written with beautiful details that rarely felt excessive. I enjoyed the rotating narrators and was quickly captivated by the story. It took me a long time to read but it was worth the time. For a huge book written about World War II with a lot of predictably sad scenes, this book was readable and interesting from beginning to end. It is mostly told from the point of view of two kids who are basically growing up over the span of World War II – a blind girl in France and an orphan in Germany who joins the Nazi youth unwittingly to avoid a life working in the mines. It’s very much a coming of age story in addition to being a really thorough look at what war looks like from every perspective, from beginning to end. LOVED

Nightmares! by Jason Segel

20172134I was really impressed with this story. Nightmares! is about a boy named Charlie who is still reeling from this death of his mother a few years ago. His dad remarried and he really doesn’t like his new step mom, but the real issue is that Charlie has been having horrible nightmares and he can’t sleep and it’s making him really moody and alienating him from his friends and family. He’s convinced his step mom is a witch (literally) and that his little brother is in danger. From here, the story takes on a fantasy element – he ends up going to the Nightmare World and has to save his friends and his whole town. I have to admit, I saw some plot points coming early on – but I think I am probably older than the intended audience. My nine year old LOVED the book and wants to read the second one. REALLY LIKED

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

6071573I liked this book but I’m not sure I can say I loved it. I thought it was an interesting story and well executed but it definitely borders on preachy and parable-esque, too much in some ways. But it’s a short read and I definitely got something out of it so I’m glad I read it. The Alchemit is “the magical story of Santiago, an Andalusian shepherd boy who yearns to travel in search of a worldly treasure as extravagant as any ever found. The story of the treasures Santiago finds along the way teaches us, as only a few stories can, about the essential wisdom of listening to our hearts, learning to read the omens strewn along life’s path, and, above all, following our dreams.” I think this book would be better suited for YA readers who maybe haven’t thought about some of this stuff before. LIKED

P.S. I Still Love You by Jenny Han

20698530I wasn’t sure if this book would hold up to the first but Han’s writing is addictive and this story might have been even better than the first. I am still not sure if I am Team Peter or not but I’m definitely Team Lara Jean and I loved the insight into the double standards between men and women and her thoughts on dating today versus dating back in the 1950’s and the cyber bullying plot line. I think this would be great food for thought for today’s teens. It definitely brought me back! Make sure you read To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before first – both books are perfection. LOVED

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

Right now I’m reading Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein, which my book club will be discussing in the beginning of December. It’s another World War II story but written as a YA novel and I can already tell the two books will be vastly different in tone. I’m listening along with an audible upgrade and I have a major girl crush on the narrator’s accent.

What are you reading?


Winter Is Here: A Lunar Chronicles Release Party!


Is anybody else extremely excited about the latest book release in the Lunar Chronicles series? Clearly I’m not alone in my squealing party for one because there is a whole Lunar Chronicles Fun & Games tag thing (that’s a technical term) put together by the lovely Brittany at the Book Addict’s Guide. Thank to Mom’s Radius for jumping on the bandwagon and sharing this!

Ready to play?


The first party game I played is the classic MASH game – have you forgotten how to play? Luckily Brittany was helpful and reminded us of the rules in her post:

All you do is pick a number (any number you want) and count off each item on the list according to your number. (For example, if you pick two, you count Winter as 1, Scarlet as 2 and Scarlet gets crossed off. Cress as 1, Winter as 2 so Winter gets crossed off, and so on). Higher numbers are usually more fun because you don’t really know where you’ll end up! Once there’s only one option left in any given category, circle that option and you do not continue to count it as you cross things off.

Here are my results:


I am going to marry Thorne, be BFF with Scarlet, have a job as a cage fighter while living on Luna. I’m a master hacker driving a satellite through space. What an exciting life I lead!


Next up, we have to decide which of the Lunar Chronicle boys we want to kiss, marry or kill; choosing between Prince Kai, Thorne and Wolf. I chose…

KISS Thorne because I feel like everyone should try that at least once.

MARRY Kai because he is kind of an awesome dude and also he’s a king.

KILL Wolf not because I think he’s horrible or anything, but I’m not really down for the anger issues.

Lunar Chronicles Scattergories

Roll your real Scattegories die or pick your own letter and find words to match the following clues. I followed Lauren’s example and picked the first letter of my name: J.

1. A Character’s Name: Jacin Clay

2. A place in the book: Japan

3. A piece of technology or scientific data: I actually couldn’t find anything – but not for lack of trying!

4. Occupation/Character role: a judge? Were there judges? Or maybe jurisdiction enforcers or something? Jail guards?

The Lunar Chronicles Personality Quiz

I got Scarlet – who did you get?

The Lunar Chronicles Book Tag

You can see my answers here!