Monday, December 16, 2013

Cheapskate Christmas

It would sound so much better to title this "Handmade Christmas," but who am I kidding? Most of the decorations on my tree are there because I was too poor or cheap to buy real ones. But as I sit here admiring my Christmas tree, I'm glad it's slowly grown over time. I added a garland this year, and it's my favorite tree yet. "Minus the fakeness" the boys would add. It's our first falsie tree. I have mixed emotions about that, but I'm choosing to celebrate that we could put it up on a whim in early December instead of having to wait until we were close enough to Christmas that the needles wouldn't be brown on the 25th.

The decorations:

Bling - I made these out of my old jewelry supplies. They totally disappear on our trees now, but we used to have to cram an itty bitty tree into our even bittier living room. Oh well, the boys still like them and they're fun to look at while we're putting them on and taking them off.

Stars/doves - I copied sheet music onto cardstock, then traced cookie cutters, cut out shapes, and attached ribbon. Would be so much easier with a Cricut or Silhouette, though!

Crocheted snowflakes - Wish I could say I made these, but I didn't. I could've though, if I knew how to crochet...

Picture frames: Found them at a dollar store. I think I gave $1 for a two or three pack. Anyway, I replaced their boring ribbon for my cute polka-dots and added tiny pictures, which I've left in their for three Christmases now. I'm just gonna roll with it and say it's for the nostalgia factor...

Boxes - These may be my favorites! My cousin, Samantha, makes these out of adorable papers. I followed her tutorial to make a bunch of tiny ones out of book pages and tied them up with twine.

Garland - string, fabric scraps cut with pinking shears, jingle bells, and paper hearts punched out of sheet music, maps, and book

There are also some cinnamon ornaments hiding on the tree somewhere, but a certain little elf ran around the house shaking the tin full of them and broke the majority of those...

The secret ingredient to this tree, despite the cinnamon mishap, is the child labor I employed to get it decked. These elves are actually pretty good decorators. I only had to move a few ornaments (unless you count the string of Christmas crap they left all over the house).

 My cheapness extends to my wrapping paper, too. I mean, really, it's just going to get ripped apart in a few days. I use a little bit of regular wrapping paper to add pattern under the tree, but for the rest of the packages, I have family save comic sections for me all year. I've also used newspaper, but I think I'd prefer the classified or some other section with fewer pictures. Those brown paper packages tied up with string are from packing paper shoved in every Amazon box I've gotten this month. It's a little wrinkly, but let's just say it adds to the charm. I also use brown paper lunch sacks for little, hard to wrap items. I just fold a little scrap of paper over the top and staple it. This year, I also decorated with twine, jingle bells, and monograms cut out of different papers.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Dashing Through the Snow

Since we've been trapped at home for 11 1/2 days, we've been a little cabin feverish! At least we've been surrounded by a winter wonderland to entertain us! We drove home through a wintry mix at noon last Thursday. The next morning, I woke up at an ungodly hour  (for a snow day) to, "Mom! It's a blizsherd!" followed by constant requests to get out in the almost-foot of snow that had fallen over night.

We finally relented when the sun was fully up. I was delighted, and then instantly sad/guilty to learn that all three boys can play outside with no parental assistance or entertainment. I just had to bundle them up, then send them on their way. All I had to do was monitor from the warmth of the other side of the window.

Even Max tromped along through the almost-foot of snow with glee. He survived almost a half an hour before one of his mittens fell off, then came inside screaming like he was about to die of frostbite. I figured it'd be a hard sell the next time everyone wanted to play outside. Wrong. He repeated the cycle every day. Beg to play. Go outside enthusiastically. Play like a trooper for 20-40 minutes. Come inside screaming like a banshee. Calm down and whine for hot chocolate. Cheer up immediately upon the first sip.

The most nerve wracking thing to watch, was the sledding. They chose a run down the pond levy that Ryan and I had used a previous winter when all we had was a laundry basket for a sled. It just so  happens to run right by some pine trees. Helpful for a Max stopper when he was trying to climb up the hill, but a little nerve-wracking for the Mama and Daddy watching from the window. I found out later when I joined in on the snow action that the danger looked a lot worse than it actually was. I also learned that Max is heavy! And earned a whole new respect for the boys, who had hauled him up the hill the day before, and my friend Laura, who ran a half marathon in the snow that weekend! Snow is tiring! But fun!

Hot chocolate became expected when the boys came in from the cold. I can't blame them. I've enjoyed it, too! It's my Grammy's recipe. It makes a ton and is delish! 

Grammy's Hot Cocoa Mix

8 qt box dry milk
16 oz. coffee creamer
2 lb powdered sugar
16 oz. instant cocoa
1 box instant chocolate pudding mix

- Mix all ingredients together in a small, clean trash bag.
- Store in a cute jar (and hide the other 13 pounds in empty creamer bottles under the counter - seriously it makes a ton!)
- Use 1/3 cup mix for each cup of hot water or milk. (Or just heat up a huge panful of water/milk mixture and dump in enough chocolate until it looks brown and tastes good)
- Top with whip cream, ice cream, or marshmallows (or all of the above, including two different flavors of marshmallows!)


I just got the call that we're off school again tomorrow. This'll make the 7th snow day, which means we've been full of family togetherness for 10 1/2 days (we dismissed early when the storm started brewing). Here's a breakdown of our time.

Mommy productivity:

- Sewed 5 stockings and made each a monogram tag

- Made a new garland for the Christmas tree
- Decorated the tree
- Wrapped all of the presents - even adding "cuties" on a few

- Kept up with the laundry (a monumental accomplishment!)
- Graded all of my papers
- Redecorated the living room and bedroom
- Made a picture frame and a lamp shade cover

- Started on two top-secret Christmas presents I'm crafting
- Tried out a new cookie recipe by myself and baked 43 billion cookies with my sister- and mother-in-law

- Sorted through our DVD collection
- Finished Christmas shopping

Mommy counter-productivity:

- Kept up with the laundry (seriously! I think they sneak drawer-fulls in the hamper when I'm not looking!)
- Broke up 7 billion fights!
- Made huge decorating and crafting messes.
- Ran the dishwasher at least once a day.
- Declared I was NOT going to try to keep the house clean.
- Still felt like I cleaned constantly!

Boys' activity:

- Made 1000 Lego inventions, complete with vivid and detailed oral descriptions for any willing (or unwilling) ears
- Helped decorate the Christmas tree, which basically involved making the entire house look like a North pole raid

- Emptied the entire contents of every toy receptacle in the house
- Whined about having too many toys to pick up
- Engaged in 7,000,000,001 fights.

- Begged for snacks and "K-O-O-K-E-E"s nonstop
- Played in the snow twice a day.

- Begged to play on the Wii or Kinect or watch a movie 58 times a day.
- Watched at least 1 movie ever morning and played on the Wii or Kinect way over their regularly-scheduled 20 minute turn (survival mode, people, survival mode)
- Acted like they were mad when I chased them down to kiss them after seeing them under the "mistletoad," then taunted me 42 more times to try to get me to do it again.

I ran into my principal at the grocery store a few nights ago and asked him if he could arrange it so that students had to go back, but teachers didn't. I'm still crossing my fingers for Tuesday...


My biggest little baby turned eight today. EIGHT! I can't believe we've been parents for almost a decade! I can't believe this hairy little baby...

...has grown up to this handsome young man!

He's definitely in the in-between stage -- sometimes acting/looking like a little boy, but more and more seeming like a young man. So grown up, in fact, that I can no longer tell stories on him, as per his recent request. So, hypothetically speaking, if he saw a shaggy fur vest in a girls' juniors section and thought it was cool and wanted to spend his allowance money on it so he could dress up as a Barbarian and then his dad, who didn't hear his awesome plan, revealed that it was a very girly clothing item, I couldn't tell anyone about it, because that would be embarrassing. For example.  

But I can tell you what he's into/good at at this age. So I will:

1) Talking! He is very verbally verbose! And he can knock your socks off with some of his deep thoughts, too! 

 2) Engineering-type things - particularly building with Legos. Dude can build! Not only can he follow those crazy 80-page Lego instruction manuals, but he also freestyles with the best of them. This week he was making tiny Christmas packages complete with bows and decorative wrap-around ribbon. Next week it'll be some submarine/airplane concoction.

3) Socializing - Whether it's a little old lady in the nursing home (for real) or a little baby, he knows how to talk to his audience. He's very charismatic! We're just working on when to let others get a word in edgewise.

I'm so proud of my eldest and can't wait to see what kind of a man he grows up to be. Just not yet. Let him innocently wear teeny bopper Barbarian vests for a few more years...

Tuesday, December 10, 2013


Our littlest guy has been extra cute lately. There's something about this age that I love. While his face is slimming down and he's losing that baby look (wah!), he's still little enough to be full of funny anecdotes. Here are a few of the cutest things he's done lately that I just had to write down before I forget them:

- He's noticing letters, mainly those in his name. Any time he finds an M, A, or X, be it on a sign, box, or my shirt, he points to it and shouts, "Me! There's me!"
- He mimics other people's emotions, even when he has no idea why they're feeling what they're feeling. He's full of awkward laughs, delayed-response whines echoing those of his brothers, and excitement over things that don't even apply to him. Until now, Reed-and-Calvin were always a separate unit and he was the baby. Now, he's starting to lump himself in with the big boys. They (well, at least one of them) have to explain things to him all the time, and he answers in his I'm-trying-to-act-big, "Oh" followed by the cutest self-depracating laugh.
- He names his poops. It started when he noticed a two-fer and declared, "Friends! I got friends, Mom!" Since then, he's added "big chunks," a banana, crab, several snakes, and a kangaroo to his repertoire. You would think a mother would discourage such behavior, but I say if it keeps "friends" from getting  smashed in a diaper, you roll with it.
- The other day he was deciding if I had brown or blonde hair. We settled on blonde, but "some of your hair is dead." I was about to call the beauty shop, when he pointed to a darker section of hair and explained, "Somebody got it brown."
- He's always excited. Everything from the arrival of Grandma and Grandpa to it's time to put on your jammies, to an "I gotta poop!" announcement elicits yells, skips, and bounces.

- He's taken to being called "Squiggie," Ryan's latest name for him. For a long time he resisted all nicknames, insisting he was "Max Daniel Layton!" Then, he started adding on any recently coined names, "Yeah. I'm Max Daniel Layton Goober Sweet Swartzendroodle." Now, he asks to be called simply Squiggie. Squiggs is ok, too, but not Squiglet, unless Daddy is the one saying it.
- He wants to be my little hero. Twice now we've gone through a charade where he dons a cape and grabs a sword, then tells me, "Mom! Say you need me!" He waits expectantly, until I "need" him, then comes running, asks me where the bad guy is, then shoots his sword/rifle in the offending direction and trots off into the sunset. It's adorable! The first 42 times.

I sure do love that Squig!